Derek Wong is a panel judge for Earth Day Canada, keynote speaker at Skills for the Green Economy, and a guest speaker at the University of Toronto.

Mediaplanet: What prompted Canadian businesses to seek sustainable operations?

Derek Wong: Many Canadian businesses got into green initiatives to save energy costs. Cost reduction is the easiest way to get executive buy-in, which is a key to success. But industry leaders are now pursuing the next level benefits. Walmart, Unilever, and Grand & Toy are collaborating extensively with their suppliers, industry associations, and customers for deeper life-cycle analyses. This unlocks the next phase of rewards in operational efficiencies, brand reputation, and customer loyalty.

These types of initiatives often lead to a deeper understanding of one’s business, which is why greener companies consistently deliver better financial returns than their non-green peers. My analysis shows the five Canadian companies on Carbon Disclosure Project “A List” (TD Bank, Bombardier, TransCanada, Teck Resources, CN Railway) outperformed the S&P/TSX by 56% in the four year period from 2010. Going green does not mean giving up profits for environmental good, it’s actually good for both.

MP: What are the day-to-day benefits of pursuing sustainability?

DW: Employee engagement through sustainability is an area many businesses overlook. LoyaltyOne engaged their staff while they built a solar rooftop at their call center. Through smart engagement strategies their turnover rate dropped dramatically by 12 percent in one year.

This improvement translates to human resource savings estimated in the range of $10 million per year, a far greater impact than energy savings or even profits from new products.

MP: What are some tips on running successful corporate sustainability projects?

DW: ➊ Choose a project that is not just philanthropical, but also connects to your core business. Coca-Cola for instance drives water conservation projects in Toronto because their core business relies on water. Reducing water risk is not just good for the environment, it’s good for their business. This strategy appeals to both green-minded and profit-minded executives.

➋  Seek external collaborations. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s global survey found companies most successful in turning green activities into profits collaborate more than others. Toyota Canada collaborated with Region of Waterloo to lower water usage. HP Canada collaborated with World Wildlife Fund to drive employee engagement. Collaboration adds value.

➌ Let your green-minded employees help. Surveys find about 15 percent of Canadians live a “super green” life style. Their home is already greener than their workplace and they wish their employer would follow suit. TD Bank used this approach by deputizing employees as local green champions to bring about an internal green movement. With them as your ground troops, a small green team using smart engagement strategies can drive large projects.