“In business, you’re either a painkiller or a vitamin. A painkiller is something that’s costing you and needs to be fixed right away. A vitamin is nice to have but you’ll survive without it,” explains Angela Nagy, founder of GreenStep Solutions. “Sustainable practices used to be a vitamin. Now, whether it’s because of consumer demand, industry reliance, or because climate change is directly impacting you, it’s become a painkiller.”
GreenStep has been providing assessments, software, and certifications that support organizations as they seek to measure and improve their climate impact and sustainability efforts. By designing a self-assessment tool and building their own carbon footprint software, they are able to identify the current level of a small to medium-sized business’s impact and what actions they need to take. With their unique approach, GreenStep has been able to work with notable Canadian organizations such as Pela, Tentree, FortisBC and BC Hydro, and more recently has been supporting businesses as far across the border as China, Italy and Norway.
Since starting up in 2008, GreenStep has persevered as a “vitamin”. However, now they are acting as a painkiller creating solutions that enable businesses to recognize and rectify the impact they have on the environment. While more and more businesses embrace new sustainable practices, GreenStep’s founder Angela Nagy always knew this is where we were headed.
“When I was younger, I saw two choices for my future: Become a professional activist with Greenpeace or start my own business and save the world,” recalls Angela. “I chose becoming an entrepreneur because I knew I could tear down barriers, break rules and put myself on the bleeding edge of change.”
While working with GreenStep’s first consulting client, Sysco Kelowna, Angela realized that there was a gap in the sustainability-assessment market. While companies like Deloitte, PwC and McKinsey could evaluate larger companies, no one was providing affordable assessments to small and medium-sized businesses—especially the tourism industry. The critical piece? Turning the assessments into a tech resource.
“We want to make sustainability accessible by breaking it down into chunks that small business owners can use as a guide and develop an action plan that doesn’t require them to hire someone for tens of thousands of dollars,” says Angela. “We’re building these DIY tools that are either free—for those getting started—or feasible for small businesses.”
We want to make sustainability accessible.
In 2012, Angela joined Accelerate Okanagan’s Venture Acceleration Program with an idea of how they could turn GreenStep’s assessments into a tech solution to find their product/market fit. It was during this time that Angela was introduced to Fraser Campbell, a mentor who would continue to lend his guidance even after she had left the program. “He was instrumental in helping me get through those times and fight for what I had worked for,” said Angela.
To facilitate its goal, GreenStep acquired carbon footprint software and a licensed sustainability program. A few years later, they wrote their own assessment criteria that organizations could use to determine their sustainability performance and compare their score against other businesses. The outcomes of this tool are then used by GreenStep’s team to support the business in pursuing certification for its sustainable practices or to develop recommendations and strategies to reduce its environmental impact.
This assessment has been recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and even led some destinations to make a game of their scores, “A tourism organization in Ontario has issued a challenge to their counterpart in BC stating that they’ll achieve a better score,” Angela laughed.
The criteria in the assessments are broken down into key sections that look at:
- Management of the organization
- Socio-economic impacts in areas like the labour force
- Local purchasing
- Natural and cultural heritage (from local artisans to indigenous culture)
- Environmental impacts
- And eco-efficiency (energy, water, waste and carbon)
Even if you don’t care about the polar bears or the ice caps, it just makes business sense.
While the internally developed self-assessment tool was gaining traction, the software they had acquired needed to be rebuilt in order to meet the needs of GreenStep’s audience. The added scope meant that the team needed to wait until it was easier to sell a tool l that would be used to determine a business’s carbon footprint based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Now, with so much growing interest in carbon measurement, GreenStep is bringing its carbon footprint software to the forefront of its offerings.
Even without a dedicated marketing or a sales team, clients are finding GreenStep. Positive referrals and search engine results have pushed Angela to focus on hiring more practitioners to keep up with the demand the team is facing. Though, this doesn’t come as a surprise to Angela, “the business case for sustainability is an easy one to make. Even if you don’t care about the polar bears or the ice caps, it just makes business sense.”
From supporting businesses year after year (and attending Climate Reality Project training with Al Gore), Angela is well-versed in the organizational benefits that come from sustainability, “A business can expect to see around 5% savings per year on its energy-related costs. Often these don’t require a lot of upfront investment and, with available rebates combined with GreenStep’s EcoFund program, no upfront cost. Depending on how aggressive the business is, over 5-7 years, that savings can reach up to 75%.”
By examining a business’s purchasing policies, there may even be an opportunity to save 30% in waste reduction. For example, most organizations utilize single-use plastics for things like utensils or cups. Not only is there a lot of cost in resupplying these items but there is also a cost associated with having someone haul all that garbage away.
An unexpected benefit can be a business’s increase in revenue. By offering new products or services that focus specifically on sustainability in some way, there is potential to see a 10% increase in sales. This is because, when given two similar options, customers will choose the one with the option that has a positive impact on the environment even if it costs a bit extra.
The last benefit that Angela explains is employee productivity, attraction and retention. “It can be difficult to measure but there is a ton of research that shows people want to work with companies that align with personal values and are making a positive difference. They’re more loyal, they stay longer and do better work.”
W Venture was perfect to help me manage GreenStep’s growth.
As GreenStep continues to grow and gain traction, Angela has been grateful for the support she’s received from her mentors and local networks. During her time in the W Venture program, she had the opportunity to work with a group of women entrepreneurs, share experiences and lend support. Notably, Shannon Susko, author of the 3HAG Way, delivered training that came at just the right time. “She took us through the concepts from her book and then I locked myself in a hotel room for a few days and started planning the business in 3-year cycles,” recalled Angela. “W Venture was really significant in helping me to manage GreenStep’s growth over the last few years. The timing was perfect.”
Now, GreenStep is looking to hire an international team so that they can better manage their incoming clients and proactively target businesses around the world. However, Angela is adamant that GreenStep will always be a Canadian-based company and that she is enjoying the support found in the Okanagan. “There’s an amazing entrepreneurial community of great people to be inspired by. Being a part of the Women’s Equity Lab and their awesome network of women—who have spent their entire adult lives building really successful careers for themselves—has been amazing.”
Looking to the future, Angela is eager to expand the audience for GreenStep’s assessments and introduce new tools that can bring sustainability to more industries. Though she does hope to see a transition in why businesses seek out GreenStep’s services from being predominantly financial and operational motivated to doing what’s right for the planet.
Angela references a cartoon by Joel Pett that illustrates her sentiment:
Connect with Angela and learn more about GreenStep Solutions.
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