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BDC leads Canadian SMEs towards a greener future

BDC leads Canadian SMEs towards a greener future

In a conversation with Pierre-Olivier Brodeur, lead sustainability and decarbonisation projects incubator at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Brodeur discussed how new positions are being formed to account for sustainable practices and focus on climate solutions in the finance industry.

BDC is a Crown Corporation, it is therefore owned by the state of Canada and governmentally mandated to support privately owned Canadian companies. BDC provides services to businesses across three main lines: consulting services and venture capital investing, financing, and lending, but does not offer grants or subsidies to companies.

Brodeua features in AXA Climate’s whitepaper exploring how different corporate leaders are transitioning their own role to inspire sustainability transformation in their organization and wider sector. He leads the climate accelerator and decarbonisation initiatives within BDC, directing a multidisciplinary team to develop solutions and support sustainable projects for Canadian entrepreneurs to transition to a low carbon economy. These solutions range from loans to consulting, tools, and advice.

“The way we work is to test sustainable initiatives, pilot them in an agile way, and experiment with terms and conditions at a small scale to be able to develop solutions that meet not only the banks’ need but more importantly, our clients’ needs.”

Brodeur explains that his role was only created just over a year ago, as part of a “strategic evolution exercise” BDC implemented to address topics such as climate and diversity. He is still learning on the job alongside many new people in the sustainability sector, as his background is in digital marketing.

On the need for talent in the skyrocketing sustainable finance sector, Brodeur comments:

“It's a balance. On one hand, when you decide that you really want to accelerate your activities in that field, you need to get seasoned professionals to launch projects. However, on the other hand, I see a very high level of interest in the field. There are a lot of people in banks that want to learn more about sustainable finance, that want to make a difference in their workplace and for the planet, and are willing to go and take courses to learn as they go. These people know the bank, the environment, and the clients; so it's a very good option to upskill the workforce.”

There is a sense of urgency in the financial sector today, Brodeur expresses, when it comes to sustainable action and transparency with carbon emissions.

“Looking at Canadian SMEs, our survey established that about 50% are ‘leaders’; companies that have put projects into action and plan to do more. About 35% are ‘beginners’; so they may have done a few things and they are open to doing more if it makes sense for their business. Then around 50% haven't done anything and don't plan to do anything because they don't feel the urgency or the relevance for their business. We are supporting the leaders, but the leaders will continue to act even without our support. The main challenge is providing the beginners with green opportunities and slowly building that awareness in the segment of businesses making no sustainable action to make a change, because if they don’t they will be left behind.”

Brodeur emphasises that sustainable commitments have been made by every major financial institution at this point, and the time for commitments has passed in favour of action. The two main obstacles for this action to take place is knowledge and cost.

He states that there is a “green premium” attached to sustainable initiatives compared to traditional operations, which is difficult for both banks and consumers to overcome. He adds that BDC is experimenting with various options to make sustainability more affordable and accessible, such as flexible pricing for sustainable products and repayment options. To encourage more SMEs to act sustainably, BDC has a climate action sector and also offers free consultations to aid businesses in developing green projects.

Brodeur mentions that green buildings are becoming more common for companies looking to become more environmentally-friendly. Companies are looking in to the most sustainable options for office spaces that require less energy consumption and moving from gas and fuel heating to electricity, which are green solutions.

Citing an examples of companies that BDC has worked with to provide sustainable solutions, Brodeur points to Green Beaver, a cosmetics company that has beencollaborating with BDC to create more organic products with less chemicals.

To explain how BDC is addressing ESG as a whole, Brodeur remarks: “Our main challenge is to show entrepreneurs that investing in sustainability for your business is a good business decision. In term of diversity, what this means for us is to look at how we can reach undeserved communities, black and indigenous communities across Canada who historically, have difficulty accessing finance. We investigate why that is, why are there barriers for these entrepreneurs? Sustainable finance is not just about financial institutions, it's about partnering with other entrepreneurs, with universities, with government programmes, and more. Nobody can do it alone.”

There are new sustainable-focused professions emerging, and while technical expertise is needed more and more, positions such as Brodeur’s are about integrating sustainability into every aspect of a business. Therefore experts are needed across the board to learn about sustainable standards and conceptualise how to apply that within existing roles. Sustainable action is necessary in all industries, and that is only just being realised.

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