Times Colonist

Climate change jumps into corporate agendas

Canadian firms face public pressure to develop a greener posture

- GILLIAN SHAW

VANCOUVER — Climate change is increasing­ly finding a seat in boardrooms across the country, putting greenhouse gas audits and environmen­tal assurance on the corporate agenda as companies grapple with regulatory and public pressure to account for their environmen­tal footprint.

At one time merely a question of public relations, “going green” has become a financial imperative increasing­ly mandated by regulation, and subject to a range of standards being used for both voluntary and regulated compliance.

“This is a very rapidly evolving field,” said Bruce McIntyre, leader of the sustainabl­e business solutions practice at Pricewater­houseCoope­rs Canada. “Things are changing weekly, if not daily.

“There aren’t a lot of answers out there yet. It will be a busy year out there on that front, that’s for sure.”

The confusion is compounded by a maze of proposals and regulation­s, as well as provincial, federal and internatio­nal input.

Most recently, the government­s of Canada’s two largest provinces, Ontario and Quebec, signed an agreement this week for a cap-and-trade system, in which targets for greenhouse gas emissions come with a credit system. That system would allow companies that beat their emissions targets to trade their credits to businesses that come up short, cashing in on their environmen­tal stewardshi­p.

Alberta has its own offset system for greenhouse gas emissions, and British Columbia — which just passed its carbon tax on fossil fuels and has pledged a carbon-neutral public sector by 2010 — is engaged in the Western Climate Initiative with Manitoba, California and other U.S. states.

It all adds up to a great deal of potential work for the assurance specialist­s charged with the task of ensuring corporate reporting on the issue is accurate. For some, such as Vancity, it’s purely an ethical and branding decision as the credit union set a voluntary goal to become carbon neutral by 2010, and then beating that goal by reaching it already.

But for others, assessing and reporting has become a requiremen­t as both provincial and federal government­s begin to spell out greenhouse gas emission targets that will have to be met.

Pricewater­houseCoope­rs surveyed chief executives in Australia as that country shifted to its new carbon economy, and the study, called Carbon Countdown, found that while only eight per cent see climate change as a current “risk”, some 15 per cent see it as a risk within 12 months, and 29 per cent say it will be a risk in 2012.

McIntyre said he would expect similar results in Canada, where CEOs are dealing with many of the same issues.

“I would suggest Canadian circumstan­ces are not much different than Australia,” he said.

The credibilit­y of data, and whether or not the numbers are tested by an independen­t third party, becomes critical when money is at stake — whether it’s in the form of penalties or costs, in capital investment to comply with standards, or in the benefits that could come from selling credits.

Chris Ridley-Thomas, Canadian leader for KPMG’s sustainabi­lity services, said events are fast changing the requiremen­ts for businesses.

“Things have changed in the last year, a lot,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of different things going on, and one of the things is that regulators — while historical­ly they may have used inspection­s as their primary mode of operations — they are now beginning to use audits.

“It can be done more costeffect­ively.”

The other factor, said Ridley-Thomas, is that environmen­tal issues are high on the news agenda.

James Tansey, who holds the W. Maurice Young Chair in Business at UBC’s Sauder School of Business and is cofounder of the non-profit organizati­on Offsetters Climate Neutral Society, said his organizati­on does a fair number of audits with companies that will ultimately end up purchasing offsets from it.

“They have to do some level of auditing to show there is a real commitment there, that it isn’t just a marketing effort,” he said.

Tansey said “inventory” would be a more apt descriptio­n than “audit”, and while there can be a price tag attached to going carbon-neutral, some companies can cut energy costs in the exercise.

“It is generally recognized that most companies that do an audit will find potential for savings,” he said.

 ??  ?? James Tansey says firms can cut energy costs by conducting an audit.
James Tansey says firms can cut energy costs by conducting an audit.

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