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Scaling Impact for a Low-Carbon Future

Considering and understanding the scopes and spheres of impact that businesses have is crucial in effectively scaling up and accelerating the pace at which we can collectively drive positive changes toward net-zero and a low-carbon economy. A direct correlation exists between the size of a business's operational footprint and value chain and its “zone of impact”. This is especially true for Canada’s infrastructural industries, whose impact zones extend across the country and internationally in some cases.

In the latest session of 'Navigating the Just Transition roundtable series', hosted by the UN Global Compact Network Canada, key players from Canada's Industrial Transport, Engineering, Aerospace, Shipping, and Electrical Provision sectors converged. This gathering marked a significant step in fostering a collaborative environment for these influential industries. These sessions aimed to create a benchmarking platform, facilitating a dynamic dialogue centered around the unique challenges and burgeoning opportunities that these sectors face in their journey towards sustainability. This dialogue is integral in shaping a roadmap for these industries, not only within Canada but also in their international operations, as they progress towards a low-carbon future.

Challenges of Scale and Cost

Many of Canada’s large-scale transport and shipping service providers are faced with the daunting task of not only transitioning to more sustainable fuel sources but also moving to widespread electrification, which requires these businesses to retrofit or replace much of their physical infrastructure. There is a significant cost associated with these transitional processes, and this has the potential to impact the cost at the individual consumer level, such as airfare, to offset some of these expenses. 

Considerations about improving grid capacity at scale to support these new widespread and accelerating electrification transitions are also very much a part of the conversation within these industries when strategizing the internal shifts necessary to enable positive action toward the Just Transition in Canada.

Localized, Community-Level Implications

Another nuanced complication being discussed from Canada’s Infrastructure sectors is the understanding that to meet the unique needs of specific communities within their service catchment areas across the country’s diverse geographic span, businesses will be required to take a multi-faceted approach. 

For instance, while conversations are being had within the Aerospace industry regarding the banning of short-haul flights to improve sustainability efforts, exceptions may need to be made to continue servicing remote, fly-in communities in northern Canada.

Challenges of winterization were also highlighted when discussing the implementation of certain new technologies within Canada’s breadbasket provinces where temperatures as low as -50o C have been recorded this winter. 

Also, understanding the historical association of the electric vehicle transition with affluence has been driving conversations about ensuring the affordability of appropriate charging structures for communities without historical access.

Ensuring equitable access and localized sustainability solutions for individuals and communities across the country is foundational to the principle of Leaving No One Behind, and is a core tenet of being able to successfully, collaboratively, and collectively reach a net-zero, low-carbon future as part of the Just Transition.

Education & Training

Partnerships, including initiatives with universities, trade schools, interns, and organizations like the Environmental Defence Fund were identified as tools to supplement research and innovation and can serve as both upskilling opportunities for those newly entering the workforce seeking experience, as well as reskilling opportunities for existing staff.

Integrating a mix of both broad ESG and DEI topics, as well as more skill-specific, technical and engineering advancement opportunities into the annual training cycles for employees is an approach used by some to include employees at all levels, and embed sustainability throughout their standard business operations. 

However, while having knowledge-sharing conversations, educational partnerships and training opportunities are excellent tools to communicate and advance the baseline individual and business understanding of sustainability issues, and strategizing plans toward net-zero, these efforts must be accompanied by tangible, measurable action. 

Canada’s large-scale infrastructural industries are aware of the aspirational goals being set, as well as the general scope of their impact zones, but the importance of achieving concrete results through collaboration and the need for better alignment across industries and stakeholders are emphasized as priorities. 

Ultimately, there is a strong sense of urgency in needing to push beyond goal-setting and strategizing conversations into accelerated, collective action together.

UN Global Compact Network Canada intends to continue providing support and advocacy for our participant companies in understanding the Just Transition and guidance on best practices. Stay tuned for more opportunities to engage in peer discussions as well as upcoming educational programmes on the Just Transition.

Written by Megan Grace Halferty, Sustainability Coordinator, UN Global Compact Network Canada

30 January 2024

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