This is the second in our series highlighting innovation and creativity within our region’s business sector.
Transitioning to a green economy, one in which businesses prosper symbiotically with the environment, is a concept that has proven easy to romanticize, but difficult to bring to fruition. The cost and logistics of making environmentally friendly adjustments to an established operation often seem prohibitive to business owners. On top of that, the specialized knowledge needed to tackle challenges like reducing a cooperation’s carbon footprint, water use, energy consumption, or waste output can be overwhelming for people already balancing a full schedule and a tight budget.
Helping businesses navigate these obstacles and reach their goals – from local sourcing to increasing efficiency to carbon neutrality – is an ambitious small company called Synergy Enterprises, founded in 2008 in Victoria by Jill Doucette. Jill grew up in Grand Forks, a community of 4,000 in the interior of B.C. built largely on farming and family-run businesses. At 17 she came to Vancouver Island to study biology at the University of Victoria. She was off to a strong entrepreneurial start when, shortly after moving here, she decided she would start a house painting company to pay for school. Jill organized contracts during the school year and spent all summer painting. Still a teenager, Jill was working 100 hours a week, had 17 employees, and was saving enough to finance her degree.
While at UVic Jill took a course on climate and society. It was during that class, she said, that she decided “if you’re going to do business, it has to be a business for good.” She took every environmental elective she could find and volunteered with organizations she admired in an attempt to learn as much as possible. After going to Japan for the World Student Environmental Summit, an experience she said gave her a global perspective and really stressed the need for environmental action in the business sector, she learned how to calculate carbon footprints and got to work. She developed a carbon footprint report format that she used to tell companies what their total emissions were, where they came from, and how they could be reduced. Black Stilt Coffee (now Hillside Coffee and Tea) was the first business Jill made carbon neutral – and the first carbon neutral coffee shop in B.C. She helped them reduce their energy use by 20%, shrink their carbon footprint by 66%, divert 98% of their waste away from landfills, and saved the business far more than they invested in the process.
From a marketing perspective the shift was hugely beneficial. Jill measured customer loyalty and staff retention throughout the transition and found a twofold increase in both. Staff stayed twice as a long, no small feat in the restaurant industry, and they no longer needed to advertise to attract new customers – now they had a story that people wanted to be a part of. Figure 1: Synergy’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report for their client Monk Office, a company that reduced their total emissions by 79% between 2007 and 2012.
Since then, Jill and her team have worked with dozens of other companies from a wide range of industries including The Bay Centre, The Village Restaurants, Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours, Cascadia Liquor Stores, Canoe Brewpub, Big Wheel Burger, Habit Coffee, and Monk Office. Jill has also been involved in the design and direction of many local non-profits such as the Food Eco District Restaurant Society, an organization of sustainable restaurants in Victoria, the Vancouver Island Green Business Certification program, a sustainability certification program used to evaluate and verify environmentally friendly businesses, Synergy Sustainability Institute, the non-profit branch of Synergy Enterprises that develops sustainability initiatives, and she launched the Vancouver Island Green Economy Hub website to help people find companies and initiatives working to build a green economy on the island. In addition, the proceeds from her two books, Greening Your Office: Strategies That Work and Greening Your Community: Strategies for Engaged Citizens, go to supporting local environmental non-profits.
Synergy’s innovative and enthusiastic approach to creating a green economy in B.C. has helped dozens of local companies reduce their impact on the environment while being mindful of their bottom line. Using data and metrics to quantify a business’s operating practices and their potential for change, Jill and her team take a business perspective to environmentalism. “We appreciate a business’ constraints and work within them,” Jill said.
Transitioning to a green economy may be a daunting concept, but Synergy and their clients are proof that it is not only possible, it’s already happening.
June 23, 2017