Small businesses and their customers: The future to reducing emissions at scale

By: Alastair Handley (c) 2021

Most of the narrative around emission reductions has predominantly been about multinational corporations making net-zero commitments and governments taking action to reduce emissions through taxes, carbon markets, and/or regulation. Much less discussion is dedicated to small, medium enterprises (SMEs) and climate conscientious consumers, even though there are 31,000,000 SMEs in North America.

If those SMEs could achieve an average emission reduction of 33 t/CO2e/year (that’s equivalent to the emissions for 6 average cars in a year) that would result in just over 1 Billion tonnes of CO2e reductions annually. That would be huge! Is It possible? That is what I intend to find out, and that is where my focus is now.

Before I share a bit of my vision for SMEs, I want to provide some context on the journey that brought Radicle and me to where we are today. The short story is this: nothing is easy, and it takes hard work and perseverance to achieve big things.

I was a naïve entrepreneur in 2008 when I founded Radicle to develop carbon credits for Alberta’s Carbon Market. My vision of what we could achieve was limited by my mindset and my focus on the business’s survival. I had no idea how to run a company. More than once, I had to dip into my savings to make payroll. There were many occasions when I couldn’t pay myself. It was scary, but the team and I kept working through good times and challenging times and grew more confident with each win.

As the market grew, so did the competition and some of those competitors were large multinational corporations with a long reach and deep pockets. As our big competitors got more aggressive, we had to learn to compete with them on value as we could not compete on price. As a result, the phrase “Price is what you pay, and value is what you get” took on real significance.  Fortunately, we offered our clients good value and used the carbon credit development software I had written to drive efficiency gains. We stayed in the game, took our lumps, and adapted to an ever-changing business environment.

By 2011 things were on a roll: our client base was growing, we were starting to make money, our systems were more efficient, the team was strong, and the future seemed certain. But nothing is ever certain.

On December 10, 2011, our office was destroyed when a drunk driver drove his F-150 truck through our office. Through the front doors and out the back wall into the arms of the police. Crazy, but true.

When I got the news, I was sure that we had lost the company. The office was destroyed. It was devastating; I was devastated. Yet instead of quitting, which would have been easy, the company rolled up its sleeves and went to work to salvage our files and anything else of value, establish a new office and started rebuilding.

When I think back to those trials and tribulations, I remember something that Ed Alfke, my mentor, friend, and current business partner, said. “Just remember, the insurmountable obstacles in front of you today are only speed bumps in the review mirror”. That simple phrase epitomizes the attitude all successful entrepreneurs have, and it is what I say to myself even today if things go sideways.

We dug ourselves out of the old office as we rebuilt the business. It was touch and go for a while, but we kept moving forward, and by 2013, with the help of mentors and co-workers, we established a firm footing and started to grow. By the end of 2014, we had purchased many of our competitors’ books of business and tripled our client base. We began to expand internationally, and since then, we haven’t looked back. Today, I am proud to say that Radicle has been recognized as a Deloitte Technology Fast500TM company in North America three years in a row.

2008: Our office following being destroyed by a truck.

In 2008, we were a small carbon credit developer with a secret sauce that enabled us to grow: a proprietary carbon credit quantification platform developed to codify a systematic credit development process. This software system allowed us to scale the business while maintaining and implementing stringent credit development controls and procedures. This system was the foundation to attract investors and expand the business.

Today Radicle operates in 3 countries and employs over 70 people, and we are still growing. We are planning to hire 20 more people before the end of the year. Additionally, I am turning my attention to a new opportunity: helping SMEs face and respond to the challenges of transitioning to a low carbon future. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

We need to help SMEs if we expect them to reduce their emissions. I believe that the required help consists of these three things:

1.   Education

2.   Tools

3.   Support


We live in a world fraught with carbon confusion. The world of carbon is full of jargon, acronyms, polarized opinions, and politicization. Net-zero, carbon-neutral, scope 3 emissions, insetting, carbon credits, carbon offsets, carbon accounting, compliance units, voluntary units, verification, validation, carbon foot-printing, and the list goes on and on. 

We can’t wait for business owners to learn this information organically. We need to develop and provide curated training material and coherently deliver it to businesspeople. We also need to provide post-training support to keep learning and reinforce the fundamentals of carbon accounting.


We need to provide SMEs with software tools that will help them quantify the emissions from their businesses. Once they know their emissions, they need to understand how they can reduce those emissions and track them over time.


It’s simple. As consumers, we can choose to do business with companies that care about our environment and our shared future. But we can only do that when we know that a company is taking real action to reduce its impact on the environment. To get there, we need to provide education and tools so SME’s can become climate-smart businesses.

I am making a conscious effort to spend my money on businesses that are taking action to improve the environment. I will walk farther to support an establishment that shares my long-term goals and believe that more people today are prepared to do the same thing.  

More importantly, Radicle is investing in companies that are taking action to improve the environment. Last year we invested in a company called Climate Smart Business because we believe in their vision and mission and want them to succeed. Climate Smart Business exists to educate SMEs and provide them with the tools to quantify and reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Climate Smart Business, now a Radicle company, recognizes that we can achieve a more significant environmental impact by working together. Our combined experience, knowledge, skills, and technical abilities have changed how we think about our business and what we are working to achieve. (If you want to take a peek at what we are building, check out these recent case studies from Nature’s Path or Reid’s Automotive.)

Personally, I see a future where millions of SMEs around the world understand the carbon jargon, the importance of reducing emissions, and have the tools and support to succeed. And that is the future I am shooting for!