Earth: “Taxing” the Environment Less
In this column I normally write about tax as a levy [charge] against income or goods and services. However, in this issue I am going to talk about tax in a different context [way]; I am going to discuss what the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is doing to reduce the amount it taxes, or burdens, the environment. CRA has approximately 40,000 employees (about the size of Timmins) across Canada in more than 150 facilities.
In 2005/2006 CRA processed about 25 million personal and 1.6 million corporate tax returns. They responded to over 25 million public enquiries. The CRA website had 30 million hits and over 50 million forms and publications downloaded. Clearly the CRA is a large organization that can have a significant impact on the environment.
In 1997 CRA began to look at itself with an eye toward “…requirements for managing sustainable development …”. From 1997 to 2000 CRA did not implement any action towards sustainable development, but it did already have electronic tools for the delivery of services in place for the public. By 2001 the CRA had developed “ad hoc” [improvised, temporary] plans for saving paper and it continued to improve and develop its electronic delivery services. From 2004 to 2007 the Canada Revenue Agency continued to increase its commitment to sustainable development by developing a systematic approach to measurement of paper savings, incorporating [including] sustainable development concerns in its negotiations with partners and by encouraging its employees to consider methods of “sustainable work travel”.
So how and what did they do? In Ottawa and surrounding regions, the CRA implemented a transit pass program for employees, and created a national commuter and business travel strategy for all employees. Again from 2004 to 2007, paper consumption was reduced each successive year and 60% of solid waste was diverted from landfills.
One of the most successful aspects [parts] of CRA’s plan has been the implementation of electronic filing services. The use of electronic filing services (such as Efile, Netfile, or Telefile) has grown each and every year since 2001. In addition to electronic filing initiatives, the CRA has implemented “My Account” as a component of its web site (www.cra.gc.ca). My Account allows you to view certain personal information, scheduled benefit payments and account balances. You can change your address and even make limited adjustments to your tax return. All these activities, in addition to simply being more efficient, also reduce the need for paper.
These successes have been brought about by increased engagement and communication with employees and managers. CRA regularly sponsors Earth Day, Environment Week and Waste Reduction Week throughout its organization. In 2006, CRA developed a Sustainable Development Innovation Fund, which rewards employees who create ways to maintain further sustainable development within their organization.
I believe the Canada Revenue Agency is serious about reducing its impact on the environment. This is helped by the fact that many of the initiatives and programs the CRA is using lead to lower costs AND greater efficiency.
If you’re interested in finding out more about what CRA is doing for the environment, I recommend you check out the following website: www.cra.gc.ca/sds.
Michael L. Crawford, BA (Hons), CMA
Michael Crawford is a Certified Management Accountant who works with owner managed and small businesses to solve business, accounting and tax problems.