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Ikea, Eileen Fisher make business case for reduced waste

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Companies that have embraced waste reduction as part of their business strategy will share the secrets of their success at a conference in Vancouver this week.

It’s been described as the “circular economy” and it’s a business trend that’s as much about the bottom line as it is about sustainability.

In recent years, large retail brands such as IKEA and clothing designer Eileen Fisher have embarked on campaigns that urge customers to reuse and recycle their products, from setting up recycling depots for used furniture to encouraging customers to return used clothing. 

More than 500 people are expected to attend the Zero Waste Conference on Thursday and Friday at the Vancouver Convention Centre. The conference, now in its eighth year, is founded by Metro Vancouver in collaboration with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the National Zero Waste Council. 

“Businesses are certainly increasingly expected to be considering sustainability and responsibility in everything they’re doing,” said Christie Stephenson, executive director of the University of British Columbia’s Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics.

“I think that’s a trend that’s only gong to pick up steam.”

Municipalities and other governments with bulging landfills are pushing back on producers to create less waste. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Stephenson said customers and stakeholders concerned about the fate of the planet are driving sustainability initiatives, as are cities and other governments dealing with bulging landfills. 

But companies that embrace the sustainability trend find that it has financial benefits as well.

For starters, research from the Conference Board of Canada indicates that companies with an explicit social purpose like sustainability as part of their mandate have more loyal customers and better employee retention.

Some companies are creating new revenue streams from reselling their used products. Others are saving costs on materials in the long-term by recycling old items. 

The circular economy is all about reshaping business models to reduce and reuse waste and return it into the production cycle.

“The circular economy is sort of business innovation at its best. It’s an efficient use of resources,” Stephenson said. “Business are seeing that there is a business expectation that translates to a business case.”

Waste as a resource

Brendan Seale, head of Sustainability for IKEA Canada, will be at the conference this week to share his company’s long-term sustainability strategy.

Seale said IKEA plans to become a full zero waste business by 2030. To do this, it’s looking at product design — it intends to use more recycled materials. It’s thinking about using materials that are more easily recyclable and can be added back into its supply chain. 

“We don’t really think of waste as such. We really think of materials as resources and how we can maximize the value of those things,” Seale said. 

Stephanie Bartels, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, points out that raw materials are becoming increasingly expensive and hard to access. 

“As we need more and more materials to make more stuff, we’re going to run out of those materials,” Bartels said. 

Adding business opportunities

Some IKEA locations in Europe have recycling locations on site where customers can drop off furniture that’s broken or that they no longer need. Seale hinted that the same service may be coming to Canada. 

The recycling centres provide another touch point with customers — when they come in, they may choose to browse for more products to buy. 

Sustainability could be considered a tricky subject for a company synonymous to some for cheap goods that aren’t known to last long. But Seale counters that stereotype by pointing to another one of IKEA’s sustainability initiatives: dipping into the used goods market. 

Seale said the pervasiveness of second-hand IKEA products speaks to their durability and attractiveness. The company has partnered with second-hand online listing service Kijiji to highlight IKEA products for sale on the platform. 

IKEA also sees the second-hand market as a business opportunity to expand its product line to include more secondary items that could spruce up older ones, like sofa slipcovers. 

Building brands

The second-hand market is a large part of clothing designer and manufacturer Eileen Fisher’s sustainability initiatives. 

Megan Arnaud, the company’s retail leader for its Renew take-back program, will also be speaking at the conference next week.

The program accepts used clothes from its customers. The ones in good condition are resold, while the tarnished ones are either mended or disassembled for their raw materials. 

“Our product is made with high-quality materials. There’s a lot of care that goes into the sourcing and production of our pieces,” Arnaud said from her Seattle office.

“And so we want to harness those materials as resources that can be remade to start their journey all over again.”

SFU’s Stephanie Bartels said the driver for these types of programs isn’t entirely altruistic. Companies like Eileen Fisher can use buy-back programs to reinforce their brand as high-quality and timeless.

As Arnaud points out herself, it’s good for business. Arnaud said the resale wing of the Renew program is a significant source of revenue. 

“This is becoming a viable part of the business. We’re producing revenues that show that this program has a future.”

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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