Sustainability CoLab Launches!

We finally did it. Three years in the making, we launched Sustainability CoLab at Artscape Wychwood Barns, announcing everything from:

  • The funding: $385,000 of $500,000 required for a three year mandate, coming from a mix of public sector (the Ontario Trillium Foundation),  private family foundation (Metcalf Foundation), and Corporate Partners (TD Bank Group and Sun Life Financial)
  • The Board: Comprised of three national sustainability leaders – Paul Bubelis, Executive Director at Sustainability Network, Karen Clarke-Whistler, Chief Environment Officer at TD Bank; and Matthew Hoffmann, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto;
  • The members of the CoLab network:
    • Affiliate Members: Niagara Sustainability Initiative (Niagara Region) and Sustainable Waterloo Region (Waterloo Region)
    • Emerging Members: Durham Sustain Ability (Durham Region), Sustainable Kingston (Kingston), EnviroCentre (Ottawa)
    • The Staff: Priyanka Lloyd (Director of Operations), and myself as Executive Director (with Tova Davidson now hired as the Executive Director of Sustainable Waterloo Region)
    • Readiness to begin supporting Affiliate and Emerging Members

Many people asked me two similar questions throughout the night: Was I excited? And how did it feel?

Of course the first question is easy – yes, euphoric even. But why?

My excitement stemmed from a simple realization: this first cohort of communities were selected from the nine applications we received exactly because they are leaps & bounds ahead of where SWR was at when we launched in 2009. SWR was started by a couple recent university grads that didn’t know anyone, admittedly were very naive, and had little more than pennies in their chequing accounts. And while I’m proud that within 4 years the Regional Carbon Initiative soared to the level of success it did – financial self-sufficiency, 13% of the workforce engaged, commitments equivalent to 10,000 cars off the road each year – it did so against the odds. It required more than a little tenacity. Plenty of luck. And passion that fueled crazy decisions, like volunteering full-time for indeterminate periods of time.

So, not only will these communities have all the support of the CoLab network – mentorship, templates & resources, peer to peer events, shared branding, etc… But outside of all this, they’re led by fantastic Executive Directors at existing organizations with established credibility in their respective communities. And they have huge support already. A brief summary:

  • Niagara Sustainability Initiative (NSI) – Launched in 2011 and received twice the amount of Trillium funding in half the time that SWR did when it got started. NSI now has 14 Carbon Project Partners, is actively running sustainability events, and manages 50,000 tonnes of GHG emissions annually.
  • Durham Sustain Ability – Has been active in Durham Region for 30 years and launched the Durham Partners in Project Green (DPPG) Program in 2011 to help businesses become more environmentally sustainable. DPPG already has an established network of over 100 businesses and will be working with CoLab to incorporate GHG target-setting into its model.
  • Sustainable Kingston (SK) – A non-profit that was born out of the City of Kingston, SK is an important implementation vehicle for Kingston’s vision to become the most sustainable City in Canada.  SK has a list of over 100 community partners (non-profits, for-profits and public institutions) that are prime early candidates for participation in a GHG target-setting program.
  • EnviroCentre – While conversations about developing a business-focused, GHG target-setting program are just beginning in Ottawa, EnviroCentre has 15 years of experience working with the community on GHG reduction initiatives. EnviroCentre joins the CoLab Network at a particularly good time as Ottawa’s community and corporate GHG reduction goals are being renewed this year, and an Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict is being developed.

Wow. The contrast with where SWR started has never been starker. As for what last Thursday felt like? Well, most of all, it felt special, joyful and energizing , simply because so many other people – over 225, including many senior representatives & leaders from all sectors of Canada’s sustainability community – came to hear what we’ve been working on for the past few years. And of course whenever you work hard on anything, particularly something you feel is important, it’s so wonderful to know that others feel the same way.

Yes, this is still a big experiment. We haven’t yet proven this will work anywhere outside of Waterloo Region. But I’m excited because we have every reason to believe it will.

The ingredients are all there: we have the power to do some incredible things over the next three years. We can change the conversation on how business engages in the solution to climate change across this province. And that, I’m excited about.

If you are as well, feel free to email me anytime and see here for a list of ways to get involved.

– Mike


Launch Photos



















Sustainability CoLab-14CoLab Launch Seated Attendees

Sustainability CoLab-67


_AKB8264Sustainability CoLab-80 CoLab Member photo


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