CME helps Alberta businesses go green, and save money along the way

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

If you’ve been to a Canadian Tire store lately — and how many Canadians haven’t — you likely wouldn’t have been aware of what was happening behind the thousands of items on the sales floor, but the iconic retailer provides a sterling example of how a shift to a “lean and green” way of doing business can benefit companies.

Canadian Tire’s shift to an aggressive waste diversion approach is just one example of how businesses can reduce their costs and become more efficient by reducing their environmental wastes, including their use of energy, water, materials, garbage, transportation and emissions.

This approach to business was so compelling to the Alberta branch of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), it worked with leading consultants to develop its Lean & Green 101 workshop and training program, which is being aimed at Alberta companies to help them improve their environmental performance and develop a sharper competitive edge.

“This program isn’t pie in the sky,” said David MacLean, vice-president of CME’s Alberta branch. “There’s an impression anything to do with environmental performance adds costs. We’re here to change that impression.”

Although CME represents manufacturers, he said the program has a broader target.

“This is about real cost reduction. This isn’t just about manufacturers. Any company with an environmental footprint can benefit.”

Lean & Green is “bottom line driven,” he said.

For instance, CME estimates companies engaged in the process can reduce their energy use by 15-20 per cent, cut water use by as much as 15 per cent, lower garbage use by 15-20 per cent and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as five per cent.

All of those reductions benefit the bottom line, MacLean points out.

The Canadian Tire example, one of many given during the one-day course, provides a good illustration.

The recovery (recycling) rate at Canadian Tire’s Toronto Distribution Centres has reached 92 percent, up from 63 percent in just a few years.

Ontario-based Brick Brewery provides another example. The craft beer brewery launched a water recycling program which led to almost 60,000 cubic metres of water being recycled, leading to an annual cost savings of $150,000.

The king of lean and green is Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC), which has been rated as one of Canada’s greenest employers for many years.

The combination of TMMC’s well known continuous improvement approach, along with its environmental management approach, which sees environmental engineering specialists embedded across all key departments, along with regular environmental audits and annual sustainability reports, has led to significant cost savings.

For instance, TMMC recycles 96 per cent of its physical waste, as well as having deployed a heat recovery steam generator that produces enough electricity to power the equivalent of 7,000 homes.

MacLean argues that companies like Toyota, which adopt a lean and green approach, do so “because it’s equal parts good business practice and the right thing to do.”

However, he emphasizes that companies need to be committed to the approach, rather than just giving it lip service.

He said CME has already seen the commitment that is required from 14 participants representing companies in the Edmonton and Calgary areas, who attended the first workshop, which was held in Edmonton on May 9.

“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

The workshop was led by Brett Wills, president of the Ontario-based Green Enterprise Movement, which has led the push in Canada toward lean and green business practices.

While many of the participants in the May 9 workshop are involved in oilfield services, MacLean said CME wants to see the program extended across all business sectors.

Wills has previously been involved in introducing the initiative to those in Alberta food processing, for instance.

Lean & Green, which is a pilot program at this point, will be an ongoing initiative of CME. The next workshop will be held in Calgary on Sept. 26.

Because the organization received a grant from Energy Efficiency Alberta to launch the program, participants can enroll in the workshop for only $150 per individual. Without the subsidy, MacLean estimates the cost would be at least $600 for the eight-hour workshop.

There are three stages to the program, beginning with the workshop. The next stage is what he terms the “diagnostic phase,” when a facilitator helps company employees conduct an assessment of a participant’s operations.

“The diagnostic process identifies opportunities for savings, and gives company an understanding of the payback period for any necessary investments.”

Finally, there’s a coaching stage, which has consultants provide five days of on-site coaching to help train staff, gain buy-in across the organization and develop internal systems to sustain and drive future improvements.

“Involvement in all three stages of the program is an intensive process, spread over months.”

MacLean believes the Lean & Green program can help a company attract younger, skilled workers.

“Younger workers value environmental performance,” he said. “If a company becomes involved in an initiative like this it helps it retain and attract workers.”

He adds that the initiative is very much in keeping with the widely adopted “triple bottom line” approach to business, which incorporates the social, environmental and financial aspects of conducting business.

MacLean said the Lean & Green initiative was introduced at an ideal time, with the Alberta and federal governments strongly committed to efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of businesses while also boosting their efficiency.

Energy Efficiency Alberta offers a number of funding initiatives aimed at helping businesses reduce their environmental footprint, the latest of which was announced on May 10. The $88 million Custom Energy Solutions program, backed by the Alberta and federal governments, “will help companies save millions of dollars,” he said.

Applicants can qualify for 50 per cent matching grants, which will help them pay for such improvements as installing higher-efficiency boilers, new HVAC systems and even software.

“If a company completes our lean & green program, they could (follow up) and replace all of their boilers and receive 50 per cent of the funding from this program,” said MacLean. “Our Lean and Green program can open the door to millions of dollars in supports from various levels of government.”

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