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Protecting the environment makes good business sense

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Ottawa -- The 'jobs vs. the environment' debate of the past is changing to reflect what businesses have actually experienced, says Scott Vaughan, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his report tabled today in the House of Commons. (Pictured left).

The report presents far reaching assessments of the federal government's approach for dealing with Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and its management of contaminated sites.

The government's approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is unlikely to meet Canada's target for 2020, says Vaughan. He noted that despite some improvement in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, it is unlikely that there is enough time is left to achieve the government's 2020 target to reduce Canada's emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels.

'Environment Canada's own forecast shows that in 2020, Canada's emissions will be 7 percent above 2005 level, not 17 percent below it,' said Mr. Vaughan.

With respect to the management of contaminated sites, the federal government has made progress identifying contaminated sites for which it is responsible, and to date has closed almost half of them. However, addressing the remaining sites will be a major challenge, says Vaughan.

'The government has reported its combined environmental liabilities at $7.7 billion', said Vaughan. 'Many of these sites are buried and out of the public eye, but they will impose human health risks and environmental and financial burdens for generations to come.'

The most far reaching aspects of this year's Commissioner's report touch on the broad issue of business and the environment.

'Two decades ago, some feared that controlling pollution or protecting forests would stifle economic growth, cripple productivity, and suffocate innovation,' said Vaughan in his 'Commissioner's Perspective' commentary.

'But businesses are finding innovative ways to lower costs while meeting environmental targets.'

'The Commissioner's Perspective' notes that during the Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago, many saw a choice of either economic growth or environmental protection; time has proven that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Today, businesses have found cost-effective, efficient ways to comply with environmental regulations. Many businesses in Canada and abroad have reaped returns on their investment in environmentally sustainable practices, and are making sustainability a permanent part of their business agenda.

Decades of experience in environmental regulations show a range of approaches beyond the comparatively static command-and-control regulations, notes the Commissioner. 'The one priority consistently expressed by business leaders is the need for regulatory predictability, allowing sufficient time to invest in new equipment.'

Most business leaders said that environmental issues mattered to them because of competition and corporate reputation in the global marketplace. One third said that adding sustainability to their corporate goals had strengthened bottom-line profitability.Commissioner Vaughan cited a 2011 global survey of business executives, conducted by the MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group. More than 70 percent of the 3,000 executives in over 100 countries that were polled said that sustainability had a permanent place on their business agenda-an increase from the previous year.

Notes Vaughan, it is no surprise that businesses are constantly finding ways to lower costs while meeting regulatory or other environmental targets. He cites an analysis by Harvard Business School's Michael Porter, one of the world's leading authorities on business competitiveness: firms that meet stringent environmental regulations tend to have higher rates of innovation and productivity than industries that do not comply with those regulations.

Porter's explanation is simple: pollution, inefficient energy systems, and industrial waste all represent wasted profits. Firms that reduce pollution are more often productive, innovative, and competitive.

Similar findings were noted in a 2010 report by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives Canadian business leaders said that in terms of the bottom line, it makes sense to improve energy efficiency.

Summing up his commentary, Commissioner Vaughan questioned whether the actual business experience and more inclusive measurement of the costs and benefits of environmental protection would continue to change the jobs-versus-environment debate.

Citing the enormous costs of cleaning up contaminated sites as an example, he stated 'Contaminated sites are a monument to poor planning, inadequate environmental assessment, and weak environmental regulations.'

'These sites are an expensive reminder that future generations must live with mistakes we make today.'

'The Commissioner's Perspective' is available for download.

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