As climate change research and efforts in sustainability gain momentum, businesses are focused on making ESG (environmental, social and governance issues) a priority, both to keep up with changing times and to contribute to environment-saving efforts.
A recent survey of 1,449 hiring managers and 200 C-Suite executives conducted by employment agency Robert Half revealed that 36 per cent are actively developing clear ESG strategies, and 44 per cent are hiring new support staff to aid with ESG activity.
Beyond salary, one of the most common topics candidates ask about in interviews is the business’s ESG activity, the survey found. And only 40 per cent of respondents felt their company was doing enough for ESG – 19 per cent weren’t even aware of any ESG efforts in their workplace.
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As Earth Day arrives on Saturday, OBJ has compiled a list of some of the companies in Ottawa and beyond that are fighting the good fight and making sustainability and ESG commitments a non-negotiable priority.
Two local entrepreneurs want to show the world the difference a private-sector business can make on a global scale, starting with their bottles of African-sourced forest honey.
Paul Whitney and Liz Connell, co-founders of African Bronze, have developed a business model that helps marginalized communities in Africa get ahead, preserves threatened forests and environments, and protects pollinators, all while distributing honey packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
Based in Cardinal, African Bronze works with several African forest honey projects that, collectively, employ more than 10,000 beekeepers in Zambia and Tanzania. The company is organic, fair-trade and a certified B-corporation and was named Best For the World: Changemakers by B Lab three years in a row.
African Bronze uses forest honey harvested from wild African bees reared in traditional hives made of renewable forest resources like hollow logs and sustainably harvested bark.
“One (beekeeping) project in Tanzania offsets 200,000 tons of carbon, which is directly attributable to beekeeping. The forest captures all that carbon and the forest is actually growing with the beekeepers there protecting it,” explained Whitney. “And we’re sending money directly back into the hands of some of the most marginalized people on the continent.”
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There has been a lot of attention in recent years on how emissions from farms contribute to environmental damage, with fertilizer and methane emissions getting most of the bad press. One major food producer in the region is trying to do something about it.
In 2022, Burnbrae Farms, which has two facilities in the Brockville area and additional operations in southern Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, released its first public sustainability report and announced its intention to become carbon neutral by 2050.
The commitment follows the company’s efforts, which started in 2016, to track emissions. It also follows Burnbrae’s purchase of two solar fields – one in 2019 and the other in 2021 – aimed at reducing the company’s greenhouse gas emissions and increasing its use of renewable energy.
The company’s sustainability plan, which has 28 goals, includes a mix of new and existing objectives. It plans to promote water conservation within its facilities, support innovation and clinical research trials on egg nutrition, and transition its chickens out of traditional housing by 2036. It also sets a waste diversion goal of 100 per cent by the end of 2025, up from the current 92 per cent.
In addition to operating five of its own farms, along with distribution and production facilities, Burnbrae partners with 400 Canadian farmers across the country. Burnbrae was named as one of the Companies to Watch in 2023 by the Eastern Ontario Business Journal.
Kingston startup Cyclic Materials is working to build a closed-loop recycling pathway for the rare-earth elements (REEs) that help give electric motors a low environmental footprint.
Rare-earth elements, or REEs, can be found in everything from wind turbines and electric vehicles to cellphones and hard drives – anything that uses powerful permanent magnets. Mining these elements, however, is difficult. Deposits are small and costly to extract and doing so can have a negative environmental impact.
With two patent-pending technologies, Cyclic Materials can isolate the magnets containing the REEs, which can then be recycled.
The company received $3.6 million in federal funding earlier this year, and CEO Ahmad Ghahreman said by the time its technology is ready for commercialization, the “business side will be ready.”
“Basically, in the startup life, every dollar counts,” Ghahreman told OBJ. “And this funding we’ll be using very carefully towards a huge scaleup of our technologies … It will help us make our technologies more mature and create the supply chain we need to make it commercial.”
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For Smart Living Properties, a local real estate developer offering turnkey rental solutions, sustainability is more than a buzzword. Earlier this year, the principals were searching for new ways to demonstrate to stakeholders that the company was serious about reducing its carbon footprint. That was when Smart Living discovered Smart Forests.
“We wanted something tangible, where you are actually contributing by actions towards net carbon zero,” says Ryan Denyer, who joined the company in 2011 and now serves as director of product and brand.
Canada Forest Trust (CFT), founded in Ottawa by well-known entrepreneur Gary Zed, aims to connect the dots between the rapidly increasing needs of businesses and organizations to get to net-zero emissions and a tangible solution that creates practical results.
In plain language? CFT builds forests for its clients to help them get to net zero.
Using the company’s proprietary carbon calculator, companies and individuals determine their impact on the environment. CFT then guides them to the type and size of forest they need to build. From there, it is a five-step process to achieve the stated goals, beginning with procurement of the land.
“Democratizing forests to make them accessible to all Canadians so we can all do our part to get to net-zero emissions,” Zed explains. “Many social impacting investments can be out of sight, so the biggest fear is whether you are truly having a measurable and transparent impact. So, CFT is about an authentic turnkey program where you can experience forest building in a transparent way.”
‘Democratizing forests’ is what this ESG-based company is all about
Founded four years ago, Ottawa startup Fieldless Farms has landed its hydroponically grown produce in more than 40 Farm Boy stores in Ontario as well as Massine’s Your Independent Grocer and McKeen Metro Glebe in Ottawa.
Fieldless currently supplies two types of lettuce mixes – Northern Crunch and Ontario Sweets. Its produce is grown at a climate-controlled, 20,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Cornwall without the use of pesticides and using renewable energy.
Fieldless Farms uses special technology to grow all of its produce indoors, so the ideal climate can be had year around, despite our Canadian weather.
“We want to scale this very large – we want to be a national success story. We want to play a major role in shortening supply chains for Canadians using controlled environment agriculture,” CEO Jon Lomow says.
Growing entity: Fieldless Farms raises $17.5M to sow seeds of cross-Canada expansion