Last Wednesday morning, I was a part of a very special event: Niagara Sustainability Initiative’s first Educational Forum.

As I excitedly walked up to the registration table at the event, three very pleasant volunteers asked me my name, provided me with a nametag, and followed up this very typical registration process with an unusual, yet familiar, round of questioning: “How did you get to our event this morning?” (I drove), “What kind of car” (a Toyota Yaris), and “Did you carpool?” (No). Although odd to some, at Sustainable Waterloo Region we have always asked these questions in order to offset emissions from attendees’ transportation. The similarities continued throughout the morning and in fact, towards the end – following an expectedly engaging presentation from Paul Rak, President of Veriform (a Gold Pledging Partner of the Regional Carbon Initiative) – NSI Executive Director Evan DiValentino even spoke to a slide that specifically outlined the direct ways they had replicated Sustainable Waterloo Region’s model, as a means of drawing attendees’ attention to the fact that their concept in the Niagara Region is based on a successful approach. I also spoke for a few minutes to communicate to attendees the success we’ve had in Waterloo Region to-date, the types of organizations that we’ve been working with, and the exportable nature of our work. Throughout the morning, there was a certain energy in the room that reminded me of our first Educational Forum on a snowy day in January 2009.

So how did we get to this point?

Well, while in the midst of an internship with Sustainable Waterloo Region partner organization e3 Solutions, Evan attended our Evening of Recognition in March of last year. Inspired by our work and the grassroots support base assembled in Waterloo Region, he asked for a copy of our business plan and we started ongoing phone conversations outside of work hours, typically on Sunday mornings. From here, several other communities across North America began showing interest in similar coaching support, and we moved the ongoing calls to a weekday, consolidated into one conference call, and gave everyone the opportunity to share progress, challenges and receive support. NSI is the first of these organizations to host an event, and as you might imagine, I’m very proud of what they’ve put together. Evan and his team of staff & volunteers have accomplished an incredible amount in a short period of time. A shining example is Trillium funding – they received more funding much more quickly than we did in 2009. And this makes sense: with an example to follow, there is less risk for Trillium as a funder. Fantastic.

Now, this also raises some big questions our team & Board with respect to the sustainability of this continued coaching support, without dedicated resources or funding. I’ll continue sharing the implications of this more strategic question in my next post, following a discussion with our Board on the topic this week.

For now, congrats again to the entire Niagara Sustainability Initiative team! They hosted an impressive first event Wednesday morning, and I’m excited to continue to be a part of the sustainability conversations (& action!) they will surely bring to the Niagara Region.

-Mike

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