As the climate action manager for the City of Victoria - the commercial hub of the capital region - Allison Ashcroft knew that she needed to engage the business community. As the one person on the city’s sustainability team, she also knew that she needed help. With her background as an accountant, Allison turned to data - and data that would inspire.
"I knew that businesses were time restricted and not commonly engaged by local governments," Allison said. "I was looking for something that was short, sweet and visually captivating."
The result was the first Business Energy and Emissions Profile (BEEP) with the emissions profiles of the four highest-emitting sectors, coupled with a call to action. Allison’s accounting rigour inspired a series of iterations that ultimately created a digitized version that includes evidence-based trends, captivating visuals and an interactive mapping element that shows carbon hot-spots on a dashboard.
“We knew that if we found a way to make it more accessible, dynamic and attractive, people would use it more,” Allison said. “People could play with the new dashboard a lot more than a static graphic.”
The positive reactions from businesses to the data, as Allison began using it, made her rethink her approach to data.
“I first realized how significant this was when the dashboard showed the impacts spatially,” she said. “It really drew businesses in, especially since it was a map of a city they knew. When they could see that eight hotels had 60% of all the impact in the industry, there was no need to do a big education campaign. You just engaged those businesses.”
This began a series of targeted engagements. For example, the BEEP allowed Allison to see that restaurants could save 2-4% of their operating costs if they implemented energy reduction measures. She knew that profit margins for restaurants averaged only 2-4%, and that most of their expenses were fixed in salaries and food costs, so that this savings would be an invaluable doubling of their profit margins.
Allison knew that hotels had a big water footprint, and though the BEEP didn’t measure water, used its energy data to engage hotels in the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program and its H2Otel Challenge.
"It starts a conversation with businesses that want to be engaged," she said. "The education helps businesses start to take action before regulations come down."
The reverse is true too. The early business insights from emissions reductions programs like Climate Smart can make regulations smarter. Climate Smart’s program allows companies to not only find their biggest opportunities for action, but to track progress over time. By seeing the ROI for businesses, Victoria could decide whether to scale up the projects at the sector or building level.
“We like to see what works at a smaller level” said Steve Young, the City of Victoria’s Climate and Environmental Sustainability Specialist. “That can then be used to inform policy development.”
Steve was part of the BEEP prototype team, and has begun to experiment with overlaying BEEP data with building age and construction type and socioeconomic data, to find new opportunities for emissions reduction.
“If we overlay that information, we can create really targeted policies,” he said. “This is how we can get the best benefits from them.”