Organizations, companies commit to a greener region

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: April 18, 2013 [ WEB ]

WATERLOO —

Businesses and organizations in the region are becoming Canadian leaders in environmental sustainability by taking a unique, collaborative approach in developing green strategies.

On Thursday, Sustainable Waterloo Region celebrated 58 local organizations — representing 13 per cent of the region’s workforce — that have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions at its annual evening of recognition.

The organizations have become members the Regional Carbon Initiative, a program Sustainable Waterloo Region launched almost five years ago under its mandate to encourage environmentally sustainable practices within companies.

“I’m excited by the foundation that we have here, by the potential,” said Mike Morrice, executive director of Sustainable Waterloo Region.

“I really feel that right now, we’re just at the cusp of something even bigger.”

Through their commitment, 16 of the member organizations will collectively reduce emissions by 45,000 tonnes in the next ten years — the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars off the road annually.

Those numbers will continue to increase as the remaining members — and future members — develop their own reduction strategies.

Organizations are not developing these strategies alone.

Through their membership, organizations receive support from Sustainable Waterloo Region with software that measures their current emissions, tips on building a “green team” within an organization and they learn from experts in sustainability how to make reducing emissions easier.

Although the program is voluntary, organizations become accountable to one another by publicly sharing their progress — and Thursday’s event saw over 400 guests.

“By virtue of the community being a part of this conversation … that really helps to keep this a priority for the organizations involved,” Morrice said.

While the goals may seem lofty — with some organizations planning to reduce their emissions by upwards of 80 per cent — the actual transformation of business practices and developments can be seen across the region.

Wilfrid Laurier University, in setting targets to reduce emissions by 25 per cent as the campus grows, created a policy that any new buildings must be constructed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (or LEED, a certification program) silver standards or higher.

The City of Cambridge installed a geothermal heating and cooling system at the W.G. Johnson Centre, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 tonnes and reducing hydro costs.

The Mennonite Central Committee created a program that requires all departments to pay an internal carbon tax on air travel. The funds are then used for sustainability projects such as making their building at 50 Kent Ave. in Kitchener more energy efficient.

These projects have positive economic impacts on the region as a whole, Morrice said.

Member organizations have been able to connect with local companies that provide environmentally sustainable products and services, such as Enermodal Engineering, WalterFedy and XCG Consultants, in developing their carbon-reduction projects.

“What happened, really, it’s created a local sustainability marketplace,” Morrice explained. “As more companies make commitments, they’re turning to local sustainability practitioners to complete the energy audit, to help them with their greenhouse gas inventories, to look at solar (products).”

The growing interest in emissions reduction also has the potential to attract new companies and experts to the region as a “green” market is established.

As that market expands locally, Morrice is looking at possibilities beyond the region’s borders as well.

Twelve communities across the country have contacted Sustainable Waterloo Region with an interest in developing similar initiatives and two independent projects, in Niagara and Hamilton, have already been launched.

“It speaks to the leadership that we’re starting to show as a region,” Morrice said.

“What’s happening in Waterloo Region is that this isn’t about showing up to events, putting logos on a website and going back to the office. The intention here is actually toward making commitments to action because it’s in the individual business’s best interest economically, as well environmentally.”

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Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.