MONCTON – New Brunswick could soon have its own Green Economy Hub if Green Economy Canada‘s (GEC) plan to expand its network of local hubs outside of Ontario for the first time succeeds.
GEC has established hubs in seven communities, having more than 250 businesses engaged. But for the first time, it’s looking to bring the community-led hub concept outside of Ontario to support businesses in New Brunswick that want to transition to more sustainable and eco-friendly ways.
The effort is led by the New Brunswick Environmental Network (NBEN), which was selected through a request for proposal process.
“Businesses that want to tackle these issues, maybe they don’t know how to do a carbon inventory of their business. The hubs bring that expertise to them by workshops, technical workshops, site visits, all kinds of things. And then we put projects together with these businesses to help them,” said NBEN program coordinator Charles Thibodeau, whose work also includes the implementation of Shediac, Beaubassin and Cap-Pele’s green plan EcoVision2025.
“What we want to achieve is not only a victory for the environment but a victory for the businesses as well.”
There are seven more steps to establish the hub but NBEN and GEC have set up exploratory workshops in Saint John, Moncton, Bathurst, Edmundston and Fredericton to begin gauging interest. Hubs support local networks of businesses to set and achieve sustainability targets. They’d bring together a diverse group of people into the network, provide businesses with the tools they need, and celebrate milestones.
Organizers aim for the hub to launch with a grant, initially, but later be supported by membership fees and community involvement, among other things.
Around 40 people were present during the workshop in Moncton last Wednesday, including leaders of chambers of commerce and the New Brunswick Business Council (NBBC), owners of small businesses like Local by Atta and DAS Concrete, non-profit and public sector workers, and residents who wanted to see how they can help the cause.
Adrienne O’Pray, the president and CEO of the NBBC, says her organization is “absolutely” interested in helping get a hub established and promote the services to its members.
“I hear a lot of businesses that want to make a contribution. They’re starting to see that there’s an economic benefit, that it helps in employee retention, that it aligns with the values of their consumers and suppliers, and with their own values. So a lot of businesses want to find resources [to be greener],” she said. “I think a Green Economy Hub in New Brunswick is a place where we can really benefit and allow businesses of all sizes to really begin to understand how they can implement this as part of their overall business strategy.”
Hari Balasubramanian, a New Brunswicker who has worked for more than a decade in the environmental sustainability space globally and co-founded EcoAdvisors and EcoInvestors Capital out of Halifax, told the crowd in Moncton that businesses in the Maritimes are still behind on sustainability efforts.
Globally, climate change has been identified as a real material and financial risk by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, led by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg. Companies that don’t include climate change in their risk calculation and strategy are doing their shareholders a disservice. Hundreds of asset managers agreed and jumped on board Carney and Bloomberg’s train.
Large companies like global mining corporation BHP, with whom EcoAdvisors worked, Walmart, Starbucks, UPS, FedEx and others have already started making changes to their supply chain and operations or committed to be much greener over the next decade.
Small and medium-sized businesses in New Brunswick wanting to enter those supply chains should have demonstrated sustainability metrics for their products and services, Balasubramanian said.
It’s time to take the value of nature into account in business and policy. It’s not only good for the bottom line, but it’s also good for talent retention and attraction, he said.
‘This idea in the past that sustainability is a choice, that it’s going to damage your bottom line, is actually flawed and it’s the reverse,” he said. “We’re seeing a massive shift in how the culture of sustainability as corporate pillars in companies are really providing an anchor for retention, an attraction for talent, and grow the leaders, especially young leaders in companies.”
“It needs to be integral to everything we do and every decision we make,” he added. “Having it on the side will never, ever work. Having it integrated into everything that we do is going to be critical to success.”
John Wishart, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Moncton, says that global climate change conversation needs to be taken to the local level, too.
“I think a lot of businesses are probably open, and anxious and ready to get more involved in this. They just need some sort of focal point or some rallying point to get on board. And if designating greater Moncton as a Green Economy Hub is that, and if maybe the chamber can play a role in pushing that along, I think we’d certainly be open to that,” he said.
However, both O’Pray and Wishart agree that with New Brunswick’s economy historically natural resource-based, the conversation would have to include innovation in that sector as well as a transition that doesn’t ignore the fossil fuel industry suddenly.
“I don’t know where the magic is in this transition of moving away from a fossil fuel economy to something that’s based more on renewables. New Brunswick right now is in such a tough spot economically,” Wishart said. “I think it’s tough to just flip the switch and say, okay, we’re turning our back on that completely and we’re going this way. Because that interim period would be pretty rocky even though we know where we need to get down the road.”
“I think it’s the innovation [in natural resources development] and how can we look at these assets that we have and make sure that we’re making good policy decisions that are sustainable for the future,” O’Pray said.