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Op-ed: Feds’ priorities should include ‘green’ stimulus for small businesses

The following op-ed was originally published in The Hill Times.

By Priyanka Lloyd, Executive Director, Green Economy Canada

As we head into the fall, now more than six months into this pandemic, owners and operators of small businesses are anxious for some certainty in an uncertain time. While government measures have helped to keep the lights on and our economy has started to slowly find its footing, the future of Canada’s mainstreet still hangs in the balance. 

On September 23, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lay out his government’s vision for an economic recovery in a Speech from the Throne. How Canada approaches this recovery will determine whether we try to recreate the past, or take this unprecedented opportunity to build back in a way that ensures our economy can thrive without destroying our planet and leaving people behind. 

Many voices across the country, like the Task Force For a Resilient Recovery, are calling for a ‘green’ recovery — for the government to make major investments to increase energy efficiency, build more resilient supply chains, and cut our greenhouse gas emissions while boosting job creation for the long-term.

What few have specifically mentioned is how these kinds of investments could serve as a lifeline for small businesses during this time, helping them to permanently cut operating costs and rebuild with more resilience for the future.  

Small and medium-sized enterprises make up more than 99% of businesses in Canada, employ 9 out of 10 private sector workers, and contribute more than half of our GDP. These are the businesses in your neighbourhood — your favourite coffee shop, your corner grocer, your local dry cleaner, and countless other seen and unseen businesses that stitch together the fabric of our economy. Together, their success or failure will determine employment rates, consumer confidence, and ultimately, whether we are able to achieve robust economic growth while also addressing our worsening climate crisis. 

As we enter a recovery phase, we need bold green stimulus to support our small business community. Now, more than ever, small businesses need every advantage possible to get back on solid ground, including the substantial benefits they can gain from greening their operations. Take these examples:

  • Your Credit Union, a small financial services co-operative in Ottawa, installed a building automation system and was able to shave 30 per cent off its annual electricity bill.
  • Walker Emulsions, a wax and asphalt emulsions company in Burlington, was able to save $43,000 per year by installing a water softener to reduce build-up in process heat exchanges.
  • Heeman’s, a family-owned strawberry farm in London, was able to double the size of their greenhouse while keeping their energy use flat as a result of energy efficiency upgrades.
  • VeriForm, a small steel and metal fabricator in Cambridge, has been investing in energy efficiency upgrades for over a decade. It has been able to save over $2 million while doubling its facility size and expanding its workforce by 30 per cent. These investments have also allowed VeriForm to weather additional shocks like U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs.

Through our network of Green Economy Hubs, Green Economy Canada is supporting hundreds of businesses like these to become stronger and more resilient by embedding sustainability into their operations. 

Permanently lowering operating costs helps businesses withstand economic downturns, and leaves room to reinvest in jobs and growth, which keeps more dollars circulating in local communities. Multiply this impact across hundreds of thousands of small businesses and communities in Canada, and the result is not just recovery, but growth. Cleaner, greener growth with livelihoods intact.

As we look to rebuild, our small business sector must be at the heart of Canada’s recovery plan. So too must addressing climate change to avoid even greater turmoil to our communities and our economy than we’re seeing from COVID-19. If Canada is truly committed to a strong and lasting economic recovery, bold green stimulus is the best return on investment, benefitting businesses today while building a thriving, low-carbon economy for generations to come.