Eco-conscious emissions?

Businesses try to find balance between reducing their environmental impact and providing the energy people want

Companies like Shell Canada Limited and Toyota Canada Inc. hand out scholarships to reward students for their ‘green’ work. Kirsten Edelvang Young

Big businesses across Canada are taking responsibility for their environmental footprints by partnering with eco-friendly organizations to reward students for their ‘green’ work.

One such company is Shell Canada Limited, which is among the country’s leading producers of oil and gas and holds 30 per cent of parent company Royal Dutch Shell’s global resource base.

“Shell is working to find that right balance to meet the growing needs of society for energy while at the same time ensure we are reducing our impact,” Shell spokesperson Ed Greenburg said.

In a joint effort with the non-profit National Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Shell has run the national Shell Conservation Internship Program for over 20 years. Offering 16-week terms to university students and graduates yearly, the program provides the opportunity to survey, preserve and manage some of the NCC’s 2,000 conservation sites lands all over Canada.

“Hopefully, we are training the conservation leaders of tomorrow,” Greenburg said. “Having these interns experience what we’re doing to be more environmentally responsible as a company, we feel it has helped them realize that Shell is serious about it.”

According to Greenburg, the company has contributed millions of dollars to support over 5,000 environmental preservation, research and recovery projects through the Shell Environmental Fund (SEF). The fund provides money for grassroots community projects that yield environmental benefits.

Green efforts by businesses have become increasingly popular in boardrooms across the country according to Winnipeg senior public relations and corporate communications consultant, Adam Dooley.

With years advising senior level executives and his own company, Dooley Communications, Dooley sees the current influx of eco-friendly initiatives as a must for companies today.

“In the case of an oil company or a car company to ignore that their product has a negative impact would be irresponsible,” he said. “If then they can take steps to promote positive options, it shows they have moral fibre.”

While there are some companies with moral goals, others use environmentalism to further their public image, according to Anne Lindsey, executive director of the Manitoba Eco-Network.

“Some groups take this opportunity as a way to get their logo on our work and it can be seen as greenwashing,” she said.

The network is an umbrella organization for non-governmental organizations in the province.

Over the years, Lindsey has seen waves of interest in environmental commitment by major companies.

“There are some really strong public relations agendas that say, ‘We can be corporate citizens. It looks good on an annual report if we’re making an effort,’” she said.

Another company taking steps to be greener is Toyota Canada Inc.  Since 2003, they have teamed up with Earth Day Canada to hand out 20 high school scholarships of $5,000 a piece.

With 13 North American manufacturing plants, Toyota funds the scholarships that reward students with excellent grades and environmental community work such as reducing energy use, recycling initiatives and consumer issues.

Such contributions are markers of a societal shift in thinking about consumption of energy, according to former scholarship selection committee member and Dean of Environment, Earth and Resources at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Norman Halden.

“I think finally people, in a broader sense, are getting the idea that they’re using too much energy,” he said. “I don’t know if offering scholarships and internships is the perfect solution, but it’s an effort. A person who gets a scholarship might go on to do environmental work or become influential. But that takes time.”

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