Canada’s Family Businesses Leading Global Sustainable Development Efforts: A Survey Insight

Published: Apr 18, 2024

TORONTO, ONTARIO – In a groundbreaking survey by the Family Enterprise Foundation (FEF), Canadian family businesses have demonstrated a solid commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), establishing leadership in driving social and environmental change in privately owned businesses.

The survey, titled Are Canadian Family Businesses Engaging in Sustainable Development Practices?, is part of the global Family Business for Sustainable Development (UNCTAD-FBN-I) Initiative which launched in 2020. It reveals that Canadian family enterprises have significantly prioritized sustainability within the work practices of Canadian family enterprises. Canada is the first country to report on its family business commitment to environmental and social sustainability plans.

“Our survey shows that Canadian family businesses are stepping up to tackle environmental and social challenges,” said Karen Alko, Manager of ABC Recycling, and member of the Family Enterprise Canada Board. “Climate change is the top priority. Coast to coast, we have seen the devastating impacts of uncontrolled forest fires to a month’s worth of rain in mere hours. At the same time, family businesses have focused on important social issues, such as health, education and fairness for all Canadians. This shows they understand that sustainability means looking at the big picture and caring about our planet and its people.”

The survey included a mix of quantitative and qualitative questions to understand the engagement of Canadian family businesses with the UN’s SDGs. Findings show a clear prioritization on climate change, with over 70% of respondents identifying it as their top environmental concern, followed by sustainable communities and waste reduction. This reflects a direct response to the visible impacts of climate change across Canada, from coast to coast.

Overwhelmingly, 80% of responding families have identified a ‘purpose beyond profit,’ with a significant portion having documented and communicated this purpose publicly to their business associates. This highlights a broad shift towards purpose-driven business models that seek economic success through positive contributions to society and the environment.

“The survey points to a firm conviction among Canadian family businesses that collaboration with other stakeholders is a major success factor in addressing environmental and social challenges,” said Aaron Gillespie, FEF Board member, and CEO of COBS Bread. “This team-based approach, and a readiness to lead by example, positions Canadian family businesses as leaders in the sustainable development landscape.”

Regarding social issues, health and well-being, education, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lead the concerns of family businesses, signaling a strong commitment to fostering societal well-being alongside their economic activities.

Canada’s history and treatment of its Indigenous population are challenging subjects, and not everyone is willing to confront them. Surprisingly, Indigenous reconciliation and rights receive low emphasis at 14.1%, overshadowed by DEI, economic inequality (29.7%), poverty (28.1%), social inequality (28.1%), and peace and justice (21.9%).

“This raises questions,” said Olivier de Richoufftz, General Secretary of FEF. “Has recent governmental focus on these areas led to public disinterest? Or does a general lack of familiarity with Indigenous communities promote an ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ mentality?”

With varied approaches, 58% of family businesses have incorporated environmental practices into their strategies and operations. Financial donations and advocacy are prominent actions taken towards social causes, with a significant majority of businesses willing to invest financially and personally in social issues.

The survey also highlighted that Canadian family businesses’ commitment to sustainability points to an even more sustainable future. As the next generation assumes leadership within these businesses, estimated to be 40% of Canadian family enterprises in the next decade, there will be increased attention on environmental and social challenges.

“Looking ahead, the challenge for Canada’s family businesses is to build on their financial commitments with more hands-on involvement in sustainability initiatives,” added Ms. Alko. “This means funding and leading projects that address the pressing issues of our time. To ignore our planet is not good for anyone’s business.”

Several Canadian case studies of sustainable family businesses are cited as part of the research by the FEF.

About Family Enterprise Canada (FEC)

Family Enterprise Canada is the national voice for family-owned businesses, advocating for their success and vitality. Supporting a community that accounts for 49 percent of Canada’s GDP and employs seven million people, the organization provides resources, education and a unified voice for family enterprises nationwide.

Media Contact

Kathryn Hendrick
Phone: 416-277-6281

Lost your password? Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.