A Talk With Chantal Forgues: SME’s shift in response to COVID-19

Written by Sarah Valliere

October 30th, 2020

Successful entrepreneur and current stay at home mom, Chantal Forgues, uses her empathy and determination to move forward in her success. Within the past year, she left her position as Program Coordinator at District 3 to open her own sustainable consulting firm, LYRIA, and started homeschooling her daughter.

Between 2008-2009, Forgues left her mark as president of John Molson Sustainable Business Group (JSG) and sustainability Coordinator at Concordia University. From liaising with different university departments, to pursuing further sustainable initiatives, to developing annual sustainability objectives for Concordia, Chantal has continuously sought to expand the topic of sustainability everywhere she can.

In 2019, Forgues launched LYRIA Sustainability Consultancy, a firm that works with small and medium sized businesses to increase sustainability practices, implement sustainability structures and systems, and perform sustainability measurements and reporting. Large businesses have the resources for consulting so Chantal wanted to use her contacts in allocating to small resources. She primarily wanted to focus on the social aspect with regards to accessibility, HR practices and ways for the company to get involved in services as a way to give back to the community.

As we are all well aware of, the COVID-19 pandemic is one for the books. Economically, it has devastated the majority of businesses. However, the ones at higher risk are the SMEs. While large businesses have the means and economical resources to counter obstacles such as COVID, smaller businesses do not

What SMEs DO have, however, is creativity and the ability to adjust quickly. Chantal suggests that this challenge can quickly be turned into an opportunity.

She insists that “a good business is a business with a willingness to not be stagnant.”

In this climate, there is a great opportunity to focus on other parts of your business that have been left on the back burner, such as customer service or digital issues.

In times of such uncertainty tested by COVID, sustainability seems to prove as a reliable and stable practice. This is why some larger firms are shifting their perspective on sustainability as their earlier approaches deem unsuitable in a crisis.

However, small businesses are thinking the opposite. Though Chantal had taken a break with consulting to be a stay at home mother, she noticed that many of her clients seem to be happy with pausing the “green button”, so that they can focus on profit. In a staying-afloat perspective, many SME owners are voicing that the GHG are just not a priority. They are taking this time to get their feet on the ground, to get ready for post-COVID.

 

“Take this time to plan and adjust to impress your clients”

So…what now for SME? 

Two things: “Take this time to plan and adjust to impress your clients”, Chantal urges.

For any green business, it is important to cultivate a culture around sustainability. This is an opportunity for small/medium companies to embrace the change that comes along with COVID-19 by making a plan of action with regards to their sustainable goals for the future. Forgues emphasizes that it is a chance to impress your clients by being adaptable and positive. While this is a challenge time for everyone, it is important to keep our heads up and embrace/ adapt to the changes.

What advice do you give graduates who want to pursue sustainability in their field?

                                                                                                                       “Don’t expect it to be easy”, Chantal giggles.

The reality is that people are required to go through a lengthy hiring process before they can pitch a sustainable initiative. Moreover, these initiatives are often funded by third party organizations. Creating meaningful change within a business takes time. Forgues explains that while businesses are beginning to view sustainability as a “competitive advantage”, it still takes a lot of effort to prove that it is worth it. That said, she insists on the importance of staying “creative, passion-driven, and gutsy”. One way of doing this is to start with smaller-scale initiatives, run by employees, that launch eco-friendly projects within the company. These green teams are often volunteer-based, they have the potential to be funded by the company as well. 

“Don’t look out for opportunities; however CREATE your opportunities.”