Go Green: A special business feature

Toronto, Canada - Kermit the Frog may have once crooned, “It’s not easy bein’ green.” But that was decades ago. These days, using clean energy is fast becoming cost-effective, smart business. Frank Came, a senior advisor with the GLOBE Foundation, says, “Companies are awakening to the competitive advantages of the green perspective.”

GLOBE-Net recently reported the findings of a new Economist Business Unit study – A change in the climate: Is business going green? While it found that, globally, the shift to green is slow, firms that are taking action are discovering the advantages outweigh relatively low costs. “By 2010, more than half (55%) of (the 634 executives surveyed worldwide) expect these efforts to either impose no costs on their business, or else result in a net positive impact, mostly through savings on energy bills and increased sales for enhanced brands.”

Environmentalist Marlo Raynolds of the Pembina Institute suggests businesses start with a simple energy audit. “It will tell you where it makes sense to upgrade your lighting, refrigeration, or address other energy intensive aspects of your business.”

Beyond cost savings, Raynolds notes, “Customers are attaching a value to environmentally responsible companies and products. Tapping into that is just another way to help cover some of the initial costs of using clean energy.”

Raynolds says service providers such as Bullfrog Power (Ontario/Alberta) and GreenMax (Alberta) make buying green energy easy.

Count Wal-Mart among the converted. One of Bullfrog’s biggest customers, Wal-Mart is also the nation’s largest commercial purchaser of clean energy, a status that reflects only part of the retailer’s green efforts. In Canada, Wal-Mart’s measures range from adjustments to store lighting to outfitting some of its managers with hybrid vehicles and integrating sophisticated green building design elements into some of its new outlets.

Kevin Groh, director of Corporate Affairs at Wal-Mart Canada Corp., says Wal-Mart expects social, environmental and financial returns from its actions. Switching from 32-watt to 25-watt bulbs alone has so far resulted in a 20 per cent reduction in energy used on the sales floor says Groh. “It comes at an initial capital cost, but we expect a return on that in about a year. And in some cases, sooner.”

In Ontario, for the past two summers Wal-Mart’s dimming of its store lighting by one-third resulted in “a massive emissions reduction and a cost savings as well,” says Groh.

To help it multiply its returns, Groh says Wal-Mart advertises its measures to its customers, explaining the company’s actions and promoting sales of environmentally preferable products. It also engages its employees and supply chain partners in the discussion.

“Everything we’re doing on energy reduction is coming up a winner. You can get environmental benefit with business benefit,” says Groh.

Enbridge, Canada’s largest oil pipeline and natural gas distributor, is another clean energy proponent. Chuck Szmurlo, Enbridge vice president, Energy Technology and Power Generation, says, “Enbridge is looking for energy technologies and applications that benefit society and shareholders.”

Enbridge wind farms will soon supply power in Ontario as they do in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Wind also provides about 13 per cent of the power that supports Enbridge’s main oil pipeline. And the company will soon put a molten carbonate fuel cell to work at its Toronto headquarters.

This new-age technology produces electricity and eat from natural gas through a non-combustive, low-emission electrochemical process. In Toronto, the fuel cell will power a “pressure letdown” system, a critical component in the company’s gas distribution infrastructure.

Szmurlo says the addition of the fuel cell will result in “a completely green system that captures energy that would otherwise be lost, produces heat that replaces the combustion heaters in the pressure letdown system, and generates clean electricity for Ontario’s grid.” Marlo Raynolds says solar hot water systems are another viable solution for gyms, restaurants and other businesses. A Sunoco car wash in Markham, Ontario, for example, now preheats its water using 40 solar collectors. “There are very strong Canadian technologies, proven in cold climates, that can do the job and provide cost savings.”

Bullfrog Power president Tom Heintzman says, “I am impressed at the openness that businesses have shown towards renewables; very large national companies like RBC, Ivanhoe Cambridge, Wal-Mart, Cadbury – as well as small companies making the switch.”

He says going green doesn’t have to be all or nothing. “Companies can acclimatize themselves to buying green power.” Along the way, he says, they will begin to mitigate risk and build brands associated with the environment and healthy lifestyles. “It’s not just about being a good guy, it’s about being actively involved.”

This article was written by Randall Anthony Mang, Special projects editor for The Globe and Mail and President of RandallAnthony Communications Inc. It originally appeared in The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine.

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