Ottawa’s Green Recovery

By Sharon Coward, Executive Director of EnviroCentre

In March, Ottawa hit one year of living with covid-19 pandemic restrictions.  Here in town, owners and operators of small businesses are wondering what’s next.  What is the path from today to a sustainable tomorrow?

Canada’s approach to economic recovery today will determine whether we choose to recreate the past, or take this unprecedented opportunity to build back in a way that ensures our economy can thrive without destroying our planet and leaving people behind. 

As the federal government prepares to release its 2021 Budget, voices across the country continue to call for a ‘green’ recovery — a recovery that will allow businesses to build back in a way that ensures our economy can thrive without destroying our planet and without leaving people behind.  For most, this means the government making major investments to increase renewable energy supply and energy efficiency, build more resilient supply chains, and cut our greenhouse gas emissions while boosting job creation for the long-term.

But what if these very investments that preserve our collective future could also serve as a lifeline for the small businesses that serve our communities today, helping them to cut operating costs and rebuild with increased resilience for the future? 

Green Economy Canada, the national network of Green Economy Hubs for business (of which EnviroCentre’s Ottawa Green Business Hub is a part) is advocating hard for the federal government to remember our small businesses in its approach to green recovery. 

There is no question: we need green stimulus.  But we also need green stimulus to specifically support our small business community. Small and medium-sized enterprises make up more than 99% of businesses in Canada, employ 9 out of 10 private sector workers, and contribute more than half of our GDP. These are the local businesses you love — the Hintonburg Market, Black Squirrel Books, Purple Urchin, your local dry cleaner, and countless other businesses that stitch together to make up the real fabric of our communities and our local economy.  There is a good chance you work for one of these small businesses.

It is no exaggeration to say that the success or failure of small businesses post-pandemic will shape in real time local employment, consumer confidence, and the ability of our local region and residents to achieve economic stability while also addressing the core issue of our time – climate change. 

The good news is, opportunity abounds.  Businesses that embed sustainability into their operations become stronger and more resilient.  Permanently lowering operating costs through energy efficiency and conservation measures makes it easier for small businesses to withstand economic downturns, and creates room to reinvest in jobs and growth, which keeps more dollars circulating in local communities.

Multiply this impact across the eighteen thousand or so small businesses here in Ottawa, and you start to see real impact, impact in terms of jobs, and impact in terms of climate, clean air and better lives.  Multiply it again across the hundreds of thousands of small businesses and communities in Canada, and the result is not just recovery, but a cleaner, greener country with strong, distributed economic growth.  This is an economy where small businesses and local economies have not been left behind.  The government and experts alike recognize the need to get businesses on board with sustainability and emissions reductions, but to date initiatives supporting business to take meaningful climate action have largely excluded small and medium sized enterprises.  

The federal government has the opportunity, today, to choose to support the kind of healthy, locally-driven economic growth that will bring our communities back to stability over the coming years.  Will it?