What do a Prairie farm, a marketing firm and an electronic payment company have in common?
They’ve all signed a pledge urging government to prioritize climate action.
More than 130 businesses have banded together through the non-profit BizforClimate.
"This is about mobilizing business leaders and business owners to speak up," said BizforClimate president Derek Earl. "We want to encourage a bolder, faster response in line with the climate science."
Earl was previously vice-president of World Trade Centre Winnipeg. There, he’d meet leaders looking to decarbonize their companies.
"The missing piece was, ‘Are businesses speaking up about climate? Are they stepping forward?’" Earl said. "We need to move the needle."
Earl found a gap: he said he wouldn’t see business owners at climate conventions and meetings he attended. So, he and a group founded BizforClimate in August 2020.
The board is comprised of well-connected members: there are presidents and chief executive officers from a range of business sectors on the seven-person team.
They began encouraging contacts to sign BizforClimate’s pledge. Companies who do so show they want politicians to prioritize limiting global warming to 1.5 C through emissions reductions.
"We want to build a long and impressive list and share that story with policy makers," Earl said.
Companies signing align with BizforClimate’s messages: climate change is an urgent problem, climate action is the best path to economic prosperity, and public policy is needed to achieve climate solutions.
"We want to build a long and impressive list and share that story with policy makers." – Derek Earl
Earl hopes signatories will take steps within their own networks to decarbonize or otherwise take climate action. However, BizforClimate doesn’t have the capacity to follow up, nor would they want to micro-manage, Earl said.
As of June 7, 133 businesses had signed.
Winnipeg-based Highland Electric did so in May.
"When I started Highland Electric (in 2015), I just decided that immediately we were going to do something differently," said CEO Ben Bruce.
He’d had enough of working on construction sites and seeing environmentally harmful practices. "A lot of job sites weren’t even recycling their cardboard. You’d notice a lot of garbage that blows away in the wind."
Bruce, 38, said he fishes and hunts; he wants to ensure his child can experience the same outdoors he did as she grows up.
His staff use reusable notepads, called Rocketbooks, to prevent paper waste. Highland Electric plants trees on the job, specializes in electric vehicle chargers and uses recyclable materials.
"I think it’s more just a choice that companies have to make," Bruce said. "You can either choose to use a company that packages things in plastic… or you can choose not to."
"When I started Highland Electric (in 2015), I just decided that immediately we were going to do something differently." – CEO Ben Bruce
Bruce said he hopes signing the pledge will signal to companies like his that being environmentally friendly is possible.
"You actually save costs," Bruce said, noting there’s generally a larger payment up front before the savings kick in. (For example, he had to pay more for a Rocketbook than a typical notepad, but now doesn’t have to restock.)
Maddie Thompson signed the pledge on behalf of Spark Media in May.
"I’ve been increasingly aware of (climate change) as there’s more events that are happening, more forest fires, that sort of situation," she said. "Before, it seemed like such a future thing."
Thompson shared the pledge on LinkedIn — she’s hoping it spreads awareness.
"Everything is going to get worse," she said. "What’s been on my mind lately, specifically, is food security. I think that’s going to be a coming issue."
Small things, such as businesses switching to compostable cups at meetings, do matter, Thompson said.
"It’s a sign of the times… that companies of all sizes, all over the world, are realizing that there are really good reasons for them to change their ways," said Danny Blair, co-director of the Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg.
"What’s been on my mind lately, specifically, is food security. I think that’s going to be a coming issue." – Maddie Thompson
Many will alter practices if they face pressure from customers, Blair noted.
"The public is much more sensitive to climate change, they’re much more concerned about climate change, and they will more so, over time, insist that the companies they do business with are themselves working hard to be carbon neutral."
Forty-three per cent of Canadians are willing to pay more for sustainable products, according to the third Canadian edition of the EY Future Consumer Index, released in December 2020.
Some businesses want to reduce emissions upon learning about climate change, Blair said.
There’s no specific date humanity has to reach net-zero by, he added. Instead, emissions reductions need to happen "rapidly."
"Every year that we go along and continue business as usual limits our ability to constrain climate change."
"In order for us to be successful in addressing climate change, we need everybody involved," agreed Curt Hull, project director of Climate Change Connection.
"Every year that we go along and continue business as usual limits our ability to constrain climate change." – Danny Blair
Hull and his team have spent 2 1/2 years researching a path to reducing emissions in Manitoba. Their final report is called: Road to Resilience.
Manitoba should electrify heating and transportation, Hull said, proposing "a (Second World War) level of effort, where we go neighbourhood by neighbourhood, improving the efficiency of homes and connecting those homes to district geothermal."
Various business sectors, including construction, will be needed, Hull said. "Every step we take to move away from fossil fuels and towards electricity keeps more of that revenue in the province."
Manitobans spent roughly $3.7 billion on fossil fuels last year, according to a provincial spokesperson. The figure is based on gas prices of $1.25 per litre. Manitobans spent more than $3.3 billion on diesel and gasoline for transport, and around $400 million on natural gas, the spokesperson wrote in an email.
BizforClimate is not government funded, Earl said. Some businesses who sign the pledge choose to donate money, though it’s not required. The board is volunteer-run.
Meetings with government and opposition members have begun, he said.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.