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Op-ed: Small businesses want in on green recovery, but need right support

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

By Priyanka Lloyd, Executive Director, Green Economy Canada

If the federal government is serious about a strong green recovery, it needs to get serious about helping small businesses build back better.

In December, the Liberals unveiled a new climate plan centred around a commitment to create over one million jobs while exceeding Canada’s 2030 Paris Agreement target. The plan included legislating our commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a carbon price of $170 a tonne by the end of this decade. At last, this gives Canada a strong framework to push forward on meaningful climate action, but successive federal governments have a record of bold rhetoric and disappointing results.  

Canada, remember, has missed every climate target it has ever set.

Little wonder that last year 75% of Canadians said they were seriously worried about climate change, as Climate Access recently reported. Despite being hard hit during this pandemic, we have also heard this concern echoed by small businesses through our work at Green Economy Canada, a non-profit network that helps businesses adopt sustainable practices. 

As Minister Freeland prepares to unveil a long-awaited budget on April 19, it’s essential that it includes a comprehensive green recovery package that sets us on the path to achieve our critical climate targets while acknowledging the realities of small businesses in this historic moment. While funding programs will be critical, equally important will be specific investments to build the capacity of small businesses to prioritize this work and modify their business activities to reduce their carbon emissions.

Take Highlevel Diner, a community staple in Edmonton, Alberta. Despite having gone from 40 employees before the pandemic to 10 now, they remain concerned about climate change, but face real barriers to action.

“One of the biggest barriers in reducing our emissions is a lack of financial resources and time,” said Adam Stoyko, co-owner of Highlevel, which has enlisted Green Economy Canada’s support to understand its carbon footprint and how to shrink it. “Even with funding programs out there, most of the time you’re too busy to look at these programs or know they exist. Having Green Economy Canada there is integral for us to move forward. We might not know what to do or the most impactful way to go about it, but they help to make it clear.” 

Jay Reesor, a long-time farmer and owner of Reesor’s, specializes in providing Ontario produce grown at their Markham farm. 

“As a farmer and food producer, I’m aware of what a normal climate is to grow crops and I’ve seen concerning trends in recent years. I want to do my share, and perhaps more than my share, to get to net-zero. But at the same time, as a small business we lack the time and resources needed to figure this out on our own,” said Jay. Reesor’s has joined a local Green Economy Hub to overcome some of these barriers. 

Highlevel and Reesor’s are not unique in their ambition to support Canada’s climate targets or in what they need to realize those goals. To seize the economic benefits of a green recovery and reach a net-zero future, hundreds of thousands of small businesses across Canada will need a new kind of support to rethink how they operate and make lasting changes that are good for the planet and their bottom lines. This includes support to help small businesses set goals aligned with Canada’s 2030 and 2050 emission-reduction targets — and to develop concrete plans to achieve them — the way that larger organizations are doing. 

This is exactly what small businesses like D.A.S. Concrete Countertops in Dieppe, New Brunswick are looking for. Co-founder Emma Thériault believes that businesses have an opportunity to lead by example and shift norms in their communities, but they need investments to support that.  

“The next budget could have a big influence on whether small businesses choose — and are able — to build environmental responsibility into the foundation of their own smaller-scale rebuilding efforts,” said Emma.

Our federal government finally has an ambitious plan for slashing carbon emissions and meeting its international climate commitments. To ensure a lasting green recovery for all and a healthy vibrant planet for future generations, it must now build the capacity for small businesses to do their part.