Smart Prosperity’s Research Network conducts world-class research focused on a stronger, cleaner economy. This Spotlight Series highlights the activities of faculty and student researchers alike, showcasing the breadth of expertise and activities of our Research and Student Networks.

In this edition, we caught up with Matthew Hoffmann and Michaela Pedersen-Macnab. The team was awarded funding through Smart Prosperity’s 2018 Call for Research Proposals for their project titled “The Interaction of Public Green Economy Policies and Non-State Green Economy Initiatives: A Case Study of Green Economy Canada“. 

Hi Matt and Michaela. You’ve spent the last few years exploring the question of how non-state green economy initiatives interact with the provincial/national policies that are seeking to catalyze the emergence of the green economy. As described in your recent working paper and blog, the first portion of this project found that there is a notable omission of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in emissions reductions programming at all orders of government. Could you tell us more about the big questions the next stage of the project is seeking to address?

Michaela: That’s absolutely right. In our dataset of federal, provincial (Ontario) and selected municipal policies aimed at supporting decarbonization in the private sector we found that SMEs were almost entirely left out of available support and programming. This is notable given that SMEs represent 98% of Canadian businesses, employ over 70% of the Canadian workforce, and produce 30% of Canada’s total national emissions. The good news is that there seems to be a real opportunity to engage these businesses in the push to achieve Canada’s net-zero by 2050 target and move towards a low-carbon economy.

Matt: In the next phase of our project, we are looking at the relationship between governments and non-governmental organizations, and the impact of this relationship for supporting decarbonization among SMEs in Canada. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are providing much needed capacity-building support to SMEs, however, these programs are voluntary for SMEs to join. NGOs appear to have initial success in attracting SME members in their first few years of operation, but hit a membership plateau that is difficult to break through. We are interested in exploring how governments might be able to better support NGOs to attract and retain members, with the long-term objective of normalizing low-carbon business practices in SME operations.


Are you able to give us a sense of what the early results of the current stage of the project are suggesting and what this means in terms of implications for NGOs?

Michaela: There seem to be two reasons that explain plateaus in voluntary membership. First, voluntary programs seem to attract “first movers” in the SME community, which are businesses that were already interested in making low-carbon changes to their operations. Second, we find that attracting and retaining members is becoming more challenging for voluntary programs as businesses are increasingly aware of emission reduction practices, and believe they have enough knowledge to go at it on their own.  This is an unintended result of the normalization of low-carbon practices in the business community: general awareness may give businesses the confidence to try integrating these practices on their own but they lack the capacity to make effective or transformational changes. We have some good evidence of this from interviews with NGOs and policymakers, however the next phase of our research will include consultations with SMEs themselves to learn more about why these firms either leave voluntary programs after a couple of years, or why they aren’t interested in joining in the first place.


Matt, you’ve been involved in a number of other research projects and initiatives, including The 100 Resilient Cities Initiative: A Natural Experiment in the Politics of Creating a Sustainable World. What are some of the big issues this work is hoping to tackle?

The 100 Resilient Cities Initiative is fascinating both academically and practically. It was an initiative funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to get cities working on building resilience—their ability to deal with a range of shocks and stressors. Our team is interested in a couple of aspects of this initiative. First, after working for six years, getting 100 cities on board, and providing significant resources, the initiative abruptly ended in 2019. We’re interested in seeing what the lasting impact of this initiative was as we actually know relatively little about the impact of transnational initiatives like this one, once they stop actively working. Second, we’re exploring the opportunities and challenges that a broad approach to sustainability in cities (resilience-based) might present for catalyzing decarbonization and just transition.


Michaela, you have a background in international relations, having previously spent time with Global Affairs Canada. Do you want to tell us a bit more about those experiences and if any of the insights you gained are shaping your current work?

I think the clear thread through both this research with Smart Prosperity Institute and my previous research and professional experiences in international relations is the importance of effective governance of organizations and institutions themselves. Unfortunately, so many of the roadblocks in climate governance are self-imposed, but invisible to the organization itself. Finding ways to align organizational incentives with the normative goals of institutions is really what motivates me and my research.


So after this project is complete, what is next for you both?

Matt: My main focus is learning as much as I can about how just transitions to a low-carbon world are being (and can be) envisioned and pursued. I’m especially interested in figuring out ways that academics can be useful in this process and work with communities in developing pathways forward.

Michaela: My focus over the next couple of years will be on my doctoral research, which looks at data sovereignty and transparency norms in the international community. Specifically, I ask how international organizations can incentivize (or alternatively, sometimes hinder) member states from sharing accurate and reliable data on important global challenges like climate change. 


Thank you, All and best of luck on the project!


  • For previous Researcher Spotlights, click here.
  • For more on the Smart Prosperity Research Network, click here.
  • For recent Working Papers produced by the Research Network, click here.