Green organization helps Manitoulin businesses become more sustainable, new cohort this fall

SUDBURY—If you’re an Island business wanting to improve your overall sustainability but unsure how to go about it, Green Economy North (GEN) has openings for a fall cohort. GEN offers a business-focused program that helps businesses find sustainability and costs efficiencies at the same time, said David St. Georges, direction of communications and events for reThink Green, which runs the GEN program.

“The biggest message we’re trying to get out to businesses is that sustainability isn’t just about saving the world,” he said. “It is, but let’s also look at the economic benefits. We know that when you reduce what you burn or what you use, you save.”

The first cohort began working its way through the process milestones in April, and includes some Manitoulin Island businesses, including Split Rail Brewing Co., Country 103/Hits 100 and CDM Agency. Split Rail was recognized as GEN Member of the Year at reThink Green’s Sustainability Awards in April. Acting General Manager Barbara Erskine told The Expositor the mentorship and support from reThink Green has been key for Split Rail and they will continue on their journey to assess and reduce their carbon footprint.

The process is a journey. It can take a couple years to get through the milestone program. “Businesses can’t flip a switch,” Mr. St. Georges said. “It’s a measured approach. The first cohort is learning right now about their carbon inventories. They’re learning the science behind that, and in a simplified way that they can teach their own staff.”

It’s really a two-fold program that involves infrastructure and processes. Energy advisors help businesses understand where they’re “bleeding energy, in this case electricity and gas.” They look at the day-to-day processes and then bring in world-class advice and technology, he noted. GEN is part of Green Economy Canada and has access to additional knowledge and resources through the national organization.

People across Canada are participating in this program, he said. That includes people from Alberta to New Brunswick. He believes the program is good for any Island businesses, including smaller, seasonal businesses in the food and tourism sectors. “It’s not just Northern Ontario. It’s a world-class program and what I like about it is it’s run by people in the North and I think that makes a difference.”

Applications are being accepted until July 4 for the second cohort, which will begin in October (It is a membership-based program and there is a fee). The first step is to fill out an online application ( Simon Blakely, program director, will meet with the applicant and review their needs. They want to make sure the program is the right fit, said Mr. St. Georges. “It’s not just about getting you signed up, it’s about getting you signed up for what you actually need.”

The first milestone includes an initial get-to-know-you meeting with discussions around data, emission sources and first steps. A baseline energy walkthrough will take place during the second milestone, resulting in a greenhouse gas emissions report and an understanding about what improvements are needed. Milestone three will include emission reduction goals and pathways, and an action plan. The final milestone is where the results are seen.

“The biggest thing overall is just to reduce your carbon impact,” Mr. St. Georges said. “That applies to everybody, but maybe you’re looking at your fleet of vehicles whereas another business is looking at their utility bills.”

It’s not a cookie cutter approach, he added. “At the end of the day, you’re reducing carbon and saving money. We help you find those efficiencies that are there so if you don’t have a fleet, you don’t necessarily need to cut back on your gas and fuel costs.”

Another opportunity specifically for GEN members is access to a recently announced microgrant program through FedNor. “It’s a bump to help you start,” Mr. St. Georges said. “You want to change some windows or some lights, or you’ve got to get that furnace fixed because it’s not efficient anymore. It’s a very open grant which is very fortunate. Because this microgrant is being issued through GEN, we get to work really closely with individuals and make sure they’re right about the things that they need.”

The microgrant could help fund things like solar panels or a new roof (there is a lot of heat loss through old roofing) or it could be for more efficient equipment. The grant provides up to 50 percent of the project cost up to $5,000.

Businesses are great at what they do, said Mr. St. Georges. “They’re great at manufacturing steel. They’re great at driving tourism. They’re great at cooking food. But they’re maybe not as great at reducing their environmental impact, so we bring that to them so they can do what they do best. We help them do it in a more sustainable way.”