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The pandemic: An ideal opportunity for adopting green business practices

Words of wisdom | Oct 28, 2020

With the advent of Covid-19, some retailers have neglected or even abandoned their best environmental practices. Hélène Saint-Jacques, Project Manager, Sustainable Economic Development at PME MTL, actually thinks that this is the perfect time to re-evaluate and implement green initiatives.  

Within the context of the current health crisis, the fear of contamination from reusable packaging has, in many cases, incited governments, retailers and consumers to turn to single-use solutions: bags, cups, masks, gloves, etc.  

Never mind the impact of certain specific measures, like suspending deposits. Think about restaurateurs, who are now limited to offering take-out or delivery, which has increased the demand for plastic and polystyrene containers. At stores, they are now protecting cashiers using plastic screens and equipping employees with plastic gloves and visors. Finally, the consumption of hand sanitizer – primarily distributed in plastic bottles – has also skyrocketed. 

On a different note, look at hospitals, where the use of “disposable after use” equipment is favoured over sterilization for budgetary reasons. 

From a structural and administrative perspective, a large number of developmental projects with an environmental theme have been suspended or fallen by the wayside, often because of the impossibility of working with certain officials who have been reassigned to more urgent duties related to the pandemic. 

An opportune time for action 

In light of all of this, it is time for a new perspective, and for seeing the current crisis not as an irritant, but as a perfect opportunity for rethinking some of our approaches. 

Consider, for example, a quartet of entrepreneurs called Coop Boomerang, who launched a food repurposing pilot project in the middle of a pandemic. This initiative is aimed at combatting food waste by collecting distiller grains, the residue of beer brewing. Although usually thrown out, composted or fed to animals, this material is sometimes loaded with untapped nutritional properties for human consumption. Boomerang repurposes distiller grains by transforming them into flour to be used in healthy and tasty food products, all the while reducing the environmental impact of food waste. 

These types of projects are structuring and based on outside-the-box thinking, and have a real impact. Furthermore, since the beginning of the pandemic in March, the companies and organizations that have made the most of their opportunities are those that have implemented solid environmental initiatives. 

The pause that has been forced upon us by Covid-19 has also given entrepreneurs a commodity that they don’t usually enjoy – time. Why not take this time to reflect on a new offer or a revamped business model? It’s time to go beyond basic recycling, because simply transferring a product from one bin to another does not equal reduction. The goal is to actually find a new place within the ecosystem, and the possibilities are endless. For example, a bakery delivering products to its regular restaurant or institutional clients using containers assigned for their exclusive use instead of disposable bags. In a different vein, Covid-19 has enabled Ville de Montréal and its logistical partners to implement a bicycle delivery system for orders from retailers. Another example is restaurant owners forming a hub to organize the distribution of common products and reduce the number of daily deliveries. The same principle can be applied to offices. Is it really necessary to receive 20 deliveries every day? The Colibri project, based out of the downtown Voyageur bus terminal, is also very promising, and could be copied throughout the city.  

One idea can bear abundant fruit 

All it takes is a simple ides to get a project off the ground and see it through to fruition. Toward this end, an event like the Cooperathon can act as a springboard. This is an open innovation challenge and competition that spans 25 days. Participants (entrepreneurs, students, designers, developers and other change agents) are invited to submit innovative projects with a positive impact. They receive training and coaching, attend workshops and establish contacts for future partnerships. At this year’s event, PME MTL is proposing a challenge related to local purchasing and sustainable procurement.  

Half of the participants only present a single idea – not even a project in the embryonic stage, but simply an idea. However, the Cooperathon helps them to position themselves and determine whether they want to move forward, as was the case with the group behind Boomerang. The project itself didn’t even exist when the members signed up for the event. Then, little by little, what started out as just an idea became a concept that took on real structure one piece at a time.  

No more excuses, it’s time to act 

Pandemic or not, we have everything to gain by once again prioritizing good environmental practices at the heart of our business operations and activities. Taking advantage of the Semaine québécoise de réduction des déchets (Québec waste reduction week), a number of organizations* in the restaurant, public health and environmental spheres have joined forces to publish the Guide des bonnes pratiques sanitaires en alimentation pour la gestion des contenants et autres objets réutilisables (Guide to best food practices in managing containers and other reusable items). 

This free and downloadable guide (in French) offers a plethora of advice, debunks certain myths and clarifies some misinformation. For example, it explains that single-use containers create a false sense of security, because the reality is that they may have been handled by multiple people from the time they were made until they reach the hands of the purchaser. Compared to reusable containers that are cleaned in accordance with a methodical and rigorous procedure, single-use containers cannot guarantee cleanliness or microbiological safety. Therefore, reusable containers are more advantageous from both an environmental and security standpoint.  

Another useful resource that companies should be familiar with is Synergie Montréal, an organization that offers services in the circular economy. PME MTL offers expert coaching services for marketing innovative products related to clean technologies and sustainable development practices. When it comes to financing, the Fonds Écoleader (Ecoleader fund) provides assistance for companies looking to hire experts to help implement eco-responsible practices or prepare for the acquisition of clean technologies. 

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This article was written in collaboration with Hélène Saint-Jacques, Project Manager, Sustainable Economic Development at PME MTL Centre-Est

Coopérative Incita, CRPE (Cafés et Restaurants Pour l’Environnement) La vague, Circuit Zéro déchet, Direction régionale de santé publique du CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’ île-de-Montréal, Association québécoise Zéro Déchet and Montréal-Métropole en santé. 

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