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Getting lean by going green Add to ...

The pain of the recent recession has led to some unexpected financial benefits for eco-friendly small and medium-sized businesses like Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in south central British Columbia.

Facing tough economic times, the Okanagan Valley winery looked for belt tightening measures to save money and along the way discovered it could also reduce its environmental impact.

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“We learned that making your business more efficient makes it more environmentally sustainable,” says Sandra Oldfield, Chief Operating Officer at Tinhorn Creek in Oliver, B.C. “We measured every part of our business from landfill waste and fuel costs to paper usage and air travel.”

The audit led to series of changes such as installing drip irrigation to save water, using biodiesel in tractors and even going to double-sided copies on the office printer.

The total value of the strategies is still being calculated, but one has already produced impressive results. By switching to lighter-weight wine bottles, Tinhorn Creek has reduced the cost of bottles by almost $30,000 in 12 months. The move has also reduced the environmental toll of energy, materials and truck delivery.

“An environmental organization called Climate Smart helped us go lean and green,” Oldfield says. “A formal program gives you the rigorous and comprehensive approach needed to set efficiency goals and ways to reduce your carbon footprint.”

Climate Smart is one of a growing number of companies and organizations that will help small companies assess their environmental footprint and recommend ways to reduce it.

It has recently partnered with BDC on a new “Lean and Green” pilot program to help small and medium-sized companies in B.C. incorporate “lean” thinking and environmentally sound strategies into their operations.

“Lean and green is the ultimate win-win situation,” says Guy Champagne, BDC Consulting Senior Partner for B.C. and Yukon. “You help save the planet, increase profits and enhance your reputation.”

Champagne came up with the idea for the Lean and Green Program when he saw a market opportunity for an integrated approach to operational efficiency improvements, energy reduction and climate change.

“Businesses have tended to see these issues as different animals,” he says. “But, in reality, you can kill all three birds with one stone.”

“Ecological sustainability is all encompassing. It takes us further than just seeking profits. We need to pay attention to the triple bottom line by considering the environmental, social and economic costs of what we’re doing.”

Champagne cites the example of another B.C. company, West Coast Air. It decided to take action on both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting fuel consumption of its floatplane service between Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

“Instead of just looking at the traditional efficiency matrix, they used ecological sustainability as the main angle of vision,” Champagne says. “As a result, the airline dramatically reduced its fuel costs and emissions by flying at higher altitudes and maximizing efficiencies in route planning and scheduling.”

West Coast Air is now officially carbon neutral.

Still, Champagne has found it’s not always easy to introduce lean and green thinking because long-term changes often challenge company culture.

“Culture change can’t be brought in over overnight,” he says. “But a structured, goal-oriented and data-driven approach has a far better chance of success.”

“It’s easier to get people onside if the benefits of a new strategy are well established and well communicated by the leadership.”

Champagne adds that consumers are also driving companies to go lean and green.

“In the past, companies often considered environmental issues as a burr under their saddles,” he says. “Companies now realize that green strategies can promote their brand and lead to strong consumer recognition.”

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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