The Erb Institute partnered with the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative (DCAC) to produce the toolbox Climate Change Strategies for Detroit Small Businesses. This newest toolbox in the Erb Institute’s Sustainability Management Toolbox series lays out four broad climate change goals that apply to all businesses and institutions, large and small alike. In an interview with Erb Institute Managing Director Terry Nelidov, he explains how this toolbox was created and how Detroit small businesses can leverage it to create change.

Q. How did the Climate Change toolbox come about?

Kimberly Hill-Knott is the former director of policy at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ) and current project director at the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative, as well as a current member of the Erb Institute External Advisory Board. She heard about Erb’s Sustainability Management Toolbox series, which provides actionable, step-by-step processes for “doing” sustainability.

Kimberly came to us with a suggestion for a new toolbox aimed at making the business case for small businesses in Detroit to contribute to the DCAC’s Detroit Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Q. What exactly are Erb toolboxes?
Managing Director, Terry Nelidov using Erb Toolboxes in Executive Education Program.

At their core, Erb toolboxes are a great tool for businesses to comprehensively scope, assess and implement an action plan to improve business sustainability. The toolbox starts with an assessment of the business risks and opportunities, and then it addresses considerations related to goal setting, business strategies for delivering on those goals better than your competition, planning for implementation, establishing metrics for measuring success, and allowing for continuous improvement.

Q. Why have DCAC and Erb worked together to create a toolbox to build on the Detroit Climate Action Plan? Who is the toolbox for and what can people expect to learn from it?

The Climate Change Strategies for Detroit Small Businesses toolbox provides a simple, step-by-step approach to creating and implementing a climate strategy. This toolbox is built around the business case for climate strategy—in other words, how does a climate strategy help a small business in Detroit reduce business risk, leverage business opportunity, and by so doing, contribute to the DCAC’s ambitious climate goals for the city?

Q. How do cities’ climate action plans, like DCAC’s, approach the future of sustainability?

A companion piece to the DCAC toolbox is a landscape assessment we did of leading U.S. cities’ climate action plans. We found that most climate strategies focus on the impact of large companies. But what about the thousands of small businesses in each of those cities? How do the 50,000+ small businesses in Detroit contribute to the city’s climate targets? Equally important, how do they become more competitive and more profitable by doing so? What’s the business case for small businesses to improve their climate impact?

Q. Why might businesses in Detroit want to be actively involved in sustainability solutions?

As the Detroit Climate Action Plan suggests, all sectors of society—business, government, nonprofits and academia—have an unique role to play in achieving Detroit’s climate targets. Large companies have increasingly demanding purchasing criteria, with ever higher requests of their suppliers to reduce the climate impact of the products and services that go into the large company’s value chain—and whose carbon content eventually goes into the company’s final offering of products and services.

In many cases, small businesses will want to reduce their climate impact (such as energy consumption or water use) simply because it saves money, improves efficiency or builds employee loyalty. In other cases, the business case for climate improvements stems from the buying criteria of their big-company clients. The forward-looking small businesses that can reduce, and report out, their climate impacts will have a clear competitive advantage over their competitors that have no climate story to tell.