This month, Sustainable Waterloo Region reached a milestone, announcing its 60th member of the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI). When we launched the RCI in June 2009, 60 members seemed well out of reach with only 3 members in what was still very much just an idea. However, these ambitious and visionary first members – VeriForm Inc., Enermodal Engineering, and Athena Software – turned out to be the seed for our future growth.
This initial group helped prove that setting greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, and achieving them can, in fact, have incredible benefits to a business’ bottom line and perhaps, more importantly, to an organization’s culture. These same seeds are now starting to reach beyond Waterloo Region and into cities across Ontario where similar not-for-profits are interested in supporting businesses to make commitments to sustainability in a financially self-sufficient way.
So what does 60 RCI members mean to Waterloo Region? It means that:
1) GHG commitments are becoming normalized in our business community. Now seven prominent insurance companies, including Sun Life Financial, Manulife Financial, and Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan, have already or are on-track to setting long-term GHG reduction targets. Two major academic institutions have prioritized sustainability in their strategies, with Wilfrid Laurier University announcing a 25% reduction target over 10 years, and the University of Waterloo announcing membership in the RCI last fall with intention to set a target;
2) The RCI is now a self-sustaining program, whereby revenues from membership, and event sponsorship support all programming costs – drastically reducing the demand on local and provincial grant funding;
3) We’re generating national envy, in both the business community where national offices in Toronto and elsewhere are engaging their local chapters in the RCI, as well in neighbouring regions where local leaders are starting to design programs in their community using SWR and the Regional Carbon Initiative as a pilot to build upon.
Some think that unique conditions in Waterloo Region have led to the RCI’s success. People have pointed to the particularly cohesive and collaborative Waterloo Region business community, or the “barnraising culture” in our region as a unique success factor. Likewise some point to our unique leadership, from not only our founder and executive director, but from leaders in local government and business. However, when I speak to leaders in communities like Niagara, Sarnia, Hamilton, and Peterborough, they don’t feel that a lack of a “barnraising culture”, or a lack of leadership will hold them back. Instead, given the right kind of support, they can build this culture of collaboration and this leadership to create change in their own communities. It’s an objective, not a hindrance. That is what Sustainability CoLab, our new program focused on supporting similar programs across Canada, can enable and what we are seeing 60 members in the RCI inspire.