Articles, English

Addressing climate change through small business actions

By Dr. Christopher Luederitz


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Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Christopher Luederitz offers insights into the PIVOT project and his work with small businesses in the Mont-Saint-Hilaire biosphere reserve to address climate change.

Carbon emission reductions are conventionally conceived as individual actions by a single actor such as a government, an organization, or an individual. According to this reasoning, addressing climate change requires each of them individually to do their part. Yet, research increasingly points to opportunities for addressing climate change through collective actions. These types of actions are not only required because system-wide change depends on multiple actors within and across the private and public sphere to act simultaneously, but the potential for achieving substantial emission reductions is often contingent on the coordinated efforts of many within one sector.

The PIVOT project responds to this gap by amplifying the voices of small business owners across Canada as they transition to the low-carbon economy. It was conceived by researchers from the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative and the National Film Board of Canada. PIVOT harnesses the power of stories to document—online and in real-time—the growing movement of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are future-proofing their businesses and setting themselves up for success in a changing world. As an action research project, PIVOT’s goal is to use social networks and peer support to accelerate the large-scale adoption of sustainable business practices. An underlying assumption of the project is that SMEs follow, believe, and listen to other SMEs, and a vibrant online community is thus the mechanism that will enable peer-to-peer inspirations. This is why the platform was developed to provide a space for SMEs to share their accomplishments, discuss challenges and questions, and discover visionary SME leaders that drive the transition to sustainability forward (see Figure 1).

Screenshot of the  PIVOT online platform

Figure 1: The PIVOT online platform

As part of the PIVOT project, we analyze collective climate actions of SMEs in the Mont-Saint-Hilaire biosphere reserve in Quebec. We ask: How can SMEs achieve carbon emission reductions through collaborative initiatives? To explore this question, we sought to engage businesses beyond those already pursuing sustainability initiatives and contacted over 400 SMEs in the region. Through this outreach, we engaged over 40 SMEs in in-depth conversations to learn about the challenges these businesses face in addressing climate change. The impacts of climate change – from extreme weather events that disrupt business operations to new agricultural pests and eroding infrastructure due to extended droughts – are increasingly felt by many across the biosphere reserve. In Canada, the causes for these impacts are in no small part related to SMEs, as they account collectively for more than 200 tons of carbon which is equivalent to the emissions from the country’s transportation sector. 

Following these observations, we organized a workshop with SMEs in the Mont-Saint-Hilaire region to learn about opportunities for collective climate actions. The workshop aimed to create space for owners to imagine collaborative initiatives relevant to their own business. In total, we explored ten different initiatives ranging from support networks and the circular economy to collective financing and regionalization (see Figure 2). A commonality across these proposals is that opportunities for changing business operations to significantly reduce carbon emissions involve new practices that depend on other SMEs doing the same. The workshop, as well as the interviews, demonstrate that many SMEs are interested in engaging and supporting such actions. However, they often do not have the resources and capacity to initiate and coordinate collaborative initiatives. Accordingly, a key role in reducing emissions in the private sector falls to intermediaries such as local municipalities or non-governmental organizations.

The next step for the project is thus to direct the research toward multi-sector collaboration in the Mont-Saint-Hilaire region. At the end of August, we will organize another workshop, this time bringing SME owners together with civil servants and non-governmental organizations to discuss opportunities for collaborative climate actions in the region. While climate change constitutes a collective action problem with global reach, this research will shed light on how efforts by municipalities and non-governmental organizations can support SMEs in local places to transition to the low-carbon economy.

Illustration of collaborative climate actions in Mont-Saint-Hilaire

Figure 2: Illustration of collaborative climate actions in Mont-Saint-Hilaire

Headshot of Christopher Luederitz

Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Christopher Luederitz offers insights into the PIVOT project and his work with small businesses in the Mont-Saint-Hilaire biosphere reserve to address climate change.