Companies hitching their strategy to electrification and the environment can start by engaging their own workforce
The suggestion from the Cascades Inc. employee made a lot of sense to management: Since Cascades is primarily a recycling company dealing in paper and packaging, why not encourage its employees to also reduce their environmental footprint?
The employee, an IT technician at Cascades’ head office in Kingsey Falls, Que., said he wanted to buy an electric car and would appreciate a place to charge it while at work. Management — which is also looking for ways to cut carbon emissions in its processes and supply chain — went a step farther and surveyed its 1,400 employees in town to ask what they wanted.
“It showed 60 percent of our employees would consider buying an electric car if the company installed charging stations, but [the survey] really told us two things,” says Hugo D’Amours, Cascades’ vice-president of communications and public affairs. “It told us the major obstacle was the price of the car, and they were worried about getting to work and getting back home without recharging their batteries.”
So, in November 2017, Cascades began a pilot project of installing Level 2 charging stations at all its plants in Kingsey Falls. It also offered a $2,000 subsidy to all employees who wanted to buy either an electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
Today, the company has 50 charging stations across Quebec — where the provincial government pays up to half the cost of their installation — and has helped 80 employees to buy electric vehicles. Last month, it announced a similar program in Ontario, including the installation of another 30 charging stations.
Threat versus opportunity
For companies whose business more directly hinges on the transformation to electrified mobility — where employees might see the change as a threat to job security as much as an opportunity — similar initiatives carry even great weight.
Consider Volkswagen Canada. Its parent is betting the company’s future on a complete shift to electric vehicle production as of 2026. And so, last summer, as part of its effort to win over its more than 300 employees, the company extended an offer to them all: take a new, all-electric e-Golf home for the night, just to try it out.
“Letting the work force feel the change — in their own lives — is an imperative first step before we can take it to our customers and beyond,” explained VW Canada’s president and CEO Daniel Weissland, in a recent op-ed in The Globe and Mail. “They need to stand ready and willing to take on the challenge — and, by every indication, they’re up for it.
Weissland’s effort is the sort of initiative that Ron Groves, education manager for the non-profit Plug’n Drive lobby group, would endorse. As an organization working to increase awareness and use of zero-emission vehicles, he says the best promotion for ZEVs comes from drivers who experience them as fleet vehicles at work, and then want to bring their benefits home.
For people or companies that don’t have that opportunity, Plug’n Drive has an outreach program that takes ZEVs to businesses and community centres to offer test drives.
Overall, however, corporate support for EVs “is very sporadic,” says Groves. “It’s great that companies have been putting in charging stations, but it’s usually employee-driven, not company-driven.”
More fleets create more awareness
There are other exceptions. The federal government now has a “Greening Government” strategy, which calls for 75 percent of its new light-duty administrative fleet vehicle purchases to be either ZEVs or hybrids. By 2030, the aim is for at least 80 percent of the administrative fleet to be ZEVs. Already, all new executive vehicle purchases must be either ZEVs or hybrids.
“That’s massive,” says François Lefèvre, Nissan Canada’s chief marketing manager for the all-electric Leaf. “The key thing we’re lacking in Canada is awareness and education. If more companies buy electric vehicles, and more government fleets include electric vehicles, people will see the cars on the road and say, ‘Hmm, I’m looking at the price of gas at $1.33 a litre, and I’m seeing more Nissan Leafs on the road, I need to get with it.’”
Corporately, Nissan Canada has installed a half-dozen Level 2 chargers at its headquarters that are reserved for employees during work hours and a Level 3 charger available for anyone. Like other car companies, it offers employees a deal on vehicles, but nothing extra for EVs or hybrids.
D’Amours says Cascades was motivated to help its employees with the additional cost of buying an EV because “environmental considerations are slightly higher in our company than some others. A lot of people come to work for Cascades because of our values and how we do them.”
In fact, he says the company is considering expanding the program to more of its 11,000 employees in North America and Europe, though only to regions where the electricity is cleanly and sustainably created.
“It’s not what we call a material expense for the company. Frankly, I think the payback was very much the buzz that we created with employees, and the pride that employees have been showing in the company they work for that invests in a program like this.”
That’s the same sort of reaction VW Canada’s Weissland was after with its employee outreach. And he said he’s seeing it. “They’re excited by the change, and the challenge. And I think that flows from a place of true belief in the initiative. They know that more and more Canadians want to make the shift to an electric vehicle. Because many of them want the same thing for themselves and their families.”