When we launched the Regional Carbon Initiative in June 2009, one of our speakers – Derek Satnik from Community Renewable Energy Waterloo – candidly told the audience that (5:30 on the video below) “it’s amazing to me to look around Canada and see how people are watching, believe it or not – Waterloo – and looking for this Region to come up with good ideas that work, so we can share them”.

To be honest, though inspired by these types of remarks, I also felt like it was mostly rhetoric, as would be expected as part of any presentation on this type of celebratory evening. But in our journey with the Regional Carbon Initiative to-date, I’m increasingly witnessing this phenomenon first-hand. For example, this weekend I participated in a panel discussion at the University of Toronto, as part of a 3-day conference on climate change, featuring keynote speakers Bill McKibben, Elizabeth May, and Andrew Weaver.  I was joined on this particular panel by Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada, and Clare Demerse, Associate Director of the Pembina Institute’s Climate Change Program. The discussion centered on how we can all “Work Together” across sectors to accomplish meaningful environmental change.

As part of this discussion, I was asked to share our process of setting the carbon reduction framework that standardizes how voluntary carbon reduction targets are set for current members of the Regional Carbon Initiative. Organizers of the conference felt our process – focused on decision-making from a multi-sectoral “External Working Group” – was unique in how we engaged the community to work together in solving a unique problem. The proposed framework needed to identify what greenhouse gases (GHGs) would be included in reduction targets, how member organizations would be ranked, and how ambitious the reduction targets would be. A more detailed explanation of this process was featured  on page 32 of the November 2009 issue of Exchange Magazine.

What makes this process particularly interesting to reflect on is that we are now able to share some of the early results of our approach, now just over one year since launching the Regional Carbon Initiative. Namely, that 46% of the 22 External Working Group participants are now part of Regional Carbon Initiative member organizations, and a full 82% continue to work with Sustainable Waterloo Region in various other forms (e.g. event sponsorship, participation on our Advisory Board, etc…)! Of course we’re pretty excited by this strong support from External Working Group members, and we think we learned a few things about this type of collaborative work along the way.

So, I bookended my contributions to the conference panel with three core tenants that I think have been crucial to our success with this particular process, and to some extent with respect to the Regional Carbon Initiative as a whole:

  1. Focus on relationships: Any collaborative work across sectors has to start with intentionally building meaningful, trusting & long-lasting relationships
  2. Inclusion leads to buy-in: The process is often at least as important as the outcome, and you need to involve everyone in that process if you expect them to buy-into it. And this involvement can’t simply be a rubber stamp. In our case for example, participants in our External Working Group were responsible for voting on the decisions that became the foundation of our reduction framework.
  3. Use a multi-sectoral approach: With a challenge as complex as climate change, and in a field as diverse as sustainability, solutions must be multi-sectoral, increasing the amount of shared expertise and breaking down traditional silos. In our case, if we didn’t have both the business and NGO communities as part of our process, I don’t think the outcome would be a framework that is as ambitious, yet realistic, as ours tries to balance.

In fact, interestingly enough, elements of all three of these ‘tenants’ made their way into Sustainable Waterloo Region’s 5 values, online here.

So I hope to have provided conference attendees some insight as to our experience in collaborating across sectors in Waterloo Region, and this blog post captures some of the highlights. My slides from the discussion can be downloaded here.