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How businesses can employ sustainable transportation solutions

Ron Seftel is CEO of Bullfrog Power.

Transportation is the single biggest topic that society needs to address in order to create sustainable cities.

And yet, from numerous government plans to improve mass transit to disruptive automotive firms such as Uber and Tesla, the conversation on sustainable cities has excluded the role of most businesses.

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For years, businesses have focused on implementing internal energy efficiency initiatives, incorporating renewable energy supplies and waste-reduction programs.

Now, they need to become more thoughtful about the impact of their transportation. This includes considering how their employees get to and from work and applying innovative low-impact transportation solutions.

Whether through the adoption of renewable biofuels for their fleets and supply chains, sourcing from more sustainable suppliers or encouraging smart employee choices, there are steps businesses can take to set themselves and their communities on a more sustainable path.

Bike lanes or highways?

A couple of years ago, Bullfrog Power began the process of moving to a new office space. We faced a familiar trade-off: remaining in downtown Toronto, or moving to a less central, but more cost-effective location.

We chose what was best for our employees and, ultimately, our bottom line. Many of Bullfrog's employees bike to work or rely on public transit. This insight kept us downtown because businesses have a duty to both accommodate sustainable choices and encourage them. With some of the lowest vacancy rates in North America, we are clearly not the only company in downtown Toronto that feels the same way.

When you locate your business near municipal transit hubs and take into account where your employees live, you provide employees with additional incentives to commute via transit, bike, or even on foot, to send a strong message to government that businesses want to support more sustainable infrastructure options.

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Consumers also care about transportation choices companies are making

When Bullfrog launched its green fuel product for business, we looked closely at how consumers view companies' transportation choices.

Our 2016 Sustainable Business Attitudes Survey, conducted by Environics Research Group, found that 90 per cent of Canadians said it was important that businesses using vehicles, such as company cars, delivery trucks or long-distance tractor trailers, make efforts to reduce emissions from those sources.

Even more impressive was that 82 per cent of Canadians said that the use of environmentally friendly transportation, such as electric or hybrid vehicles or using green fuels such as biodiesel, would be important in their decision to recommend a business or product.

Finding your place

Across Canada, federal, provincial and municipal governments are implementing carbon-reduction policies and regulations. Important commitments are being made, from Canada's role in the Paris climate agreement to Oxford County (a rural jurisdiction in southwestern Ontario) setting a 100-per-cent renewable energy target.

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While some might question any role for business in an area as expansive as transportation, there is room for private enterprise, in conjunction with local government, to innovate and develop meaningful solutions.

Recently, we worked with TD Bank Group to address 100 per cent of TD's energy footprint for its Vancouver branches and a portion of its business-related travel in Vancouver.

By reducing the emissions of its own facilities, TD was able to contribute to Vancouver's Greenest City Action Plan, launched in 2011, with a goal of reducing community-based greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent from 2007 levels, by 2020. TD also encouraged the use of additional biofuels for its transportation to further reduce its environmental impact in the region.

TD's initiative is important because it is replicable, scalable and its impact has a clear community focus.

Do what makes sense for your business

The significant barrier to sustainable transportation options is cost, particularly if your business operates a fleet of vehicles or relies on complex logistics.

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One lesson we've learned is to avoid all-or-nothing propositions before taking action.

Even if your business isn't addressing 100 per cent of your transportation emissions, it's important to celebrate and communicate the action you are taking.

Why? Consumers want to know what companies are doing in a transparent manner. Consumers aren't looking for perfection, but they do want to see progress. This can be achieved by:

  • Making incremental investments in sustainable transportation. For example, add an EV charging station at your property or consider a green fuel alternative for part of a fleet or a flagship vehicle.
     
  • Encouraging employees to take greener forms of transportation by providing cycling infrastructure, such as an in-office bike rack or subsidies for purchasing bicycles.

Sustainability is a journey. Communicating a narrative of incremental, measurable improvement is how to build a reputation for authentic, thoughtful action on sustainability.

Make sustainability part of your business strategy

While it's important to start somewhere – transportation being one focus – sustainability efforts should not be limited to pilots or siloed efforts within an organization. Incorporating more sustainable considerations or options within your core business should become strategic opportunities.

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Unilever, a consumer-products giant, is a leader in this area. Its Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is a 10-year corporate strategy – not a sustainability plan, but a business plan – to double the size of Unilever's business while cutting its environmental footprint in half.

Future business success will be measured by an increasingly engaged public that will judge the credibility of your environmental strategy and your ability to deliver products and services in a sustainable manner.

Start now

Sustainable transportation options are a clear opportunity for all businesses – regardless of where they are on their sustainability journey – to build a reputation for meaningful and relevant action on climate change.

By finding ways to green your supply chains, incrementally adopt new transportation technologies or simply encourage smart employee choices, it has never been easier to contribute to the creation of sustainable cities and communities.

Executives and human-resources experts share their views in the ongoing Leadership Lab series. Find more stories here.

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