The founding idea for Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR) emerged from research projects completed by Mike Morrice and Chris DePaul under the guidance of Dr. Barry Colbert at Wilfrid Laurier University’s School of Business & Economics. Their research focused on the business implications of imminent carbon pricing mechanisms and the viability of establishing a not-for-profit in Waterloo Region that would help organizations achieve carbon reductions through collaboration and education. While searching for organizations that used a similar approach, they found inspiration in the business model and success of Sustainable Silicon Valley and CivicAction (formerly the Toronto City Summit Alliance).
In July 2008, Sustainable Waterloo Region incorporated as a not-for-profit with a vision for an environmentally and economically resilient community that prioritizes the well-being of current and future generations. The first SWR educational forum was hosted in January 2009 with over 200 people in attendance showing strong interest in local greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions.
SWR’s next goal was to launch the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI), a program that would help local organizations advance the sustainability of their operations through GHG emission reductions. Two community Working Groups collaborated to develop a locally relevant carbon reduction framework for members of the RCI. At the same time, a passionate team of staff and volunteers was formed to support the work of SWR and our programs.
The Regional Carbon Initiative Launch Event was held on June 16th, 2009 with hundreds of local supporters in attendance. During the event, we announced the first three Pledging Partners of the RCI and introduced the Guide to the Regional Carbon Initiative, which details the official reduction framework, reporting procedure, and GHG accounting methodology used by all RCI Pledging Partners. At the end of the RCI’s first reporting year, the achievements of program members were celebrated with the community at our first Annual Evening of Recognition and recognized in our year-end report.
Since the launch, RCI membership has grown into a strong network of over 60 organizations focused on setting and achieving impactful GHG reduction targets.
While the RCI was developed to support corporate-level GHG reduction targets, the leaders at SWR and REEP Green Solutions, another local non-profit, wanted to also encourage community-scale action. SWR and REEP Green Solutions worked closely with four University of Waterloo students to conduct a research project in 2009-2010. The research revealed a strong rationale for developing a region-wide GHG reduction target and action plan through community collaboration with key stakeholders, such as the Region of Waterloo. To collectively move the project forward, SWR, REEP, and the Region of Waterloo formalized their collaboration in 2011 and became the three lead organizations of ClimateActionWR.
Key to the collaboration was the valuable partnership from the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo, as well as local electric and natural gas utilities. These partners worked to gather the local expertise and data necessary to first complete a community-scale GHG Emissions Inventory and Forecast in 2012.
In 2013, ClimateActionWR presented local councils with a Climate Action Plan to reduce region-wide GHG emissions by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. A Climate Action Plan for Waterloo Region: Living Smarter in 2020 was unanimously endorsed by City Councils of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo as well as Regional Council. The action plan now acts as a guiding direction for municipalities, organizations, and people across the community to implement solutions that enable us to achieve this 6% reduction target.
In January 2012, the Region of Waterloo launched TravelWise with the goal of encouraging more sustainable travel choices among local businesses. Being a natural fit with SWR’s mission and area of expertise, SWR provided services to the Region throughout the 2012-2013 pilot period that helped to grow TravelWise and deliver program services to members. With the successful conclusion of the pilot, SWR and the Region have entered into a partnership agreement to continue working together to evolve and grow the TravelWise program.
SWR is committed to growing our impact through the Regional Carbon Initiative, ClimateActionWR, and TravelWise, as well as through new program development and partnerships. Our Compass, SWR’s strategic plan, helps us to remain intentional in how we scale our impact. As we explore new opportunities we are dedicated to maximizing the individual and collective successes of organizations across Waterloo Region. Visit our Strategic Plan webpage to learn more.