While I often spend time in conversations related to planning and strategizing the future direction of this organization, I find reflecting on our work is equally important. And as I sit to write this post, my alma mater (Wilfrid Laurier), is in the midst of their Fall commencement ceremony – where they give students the opportunity to reflect on their time at the institution. So the timing feels right, not to mention that one of our own team members, Miles DePaul, is there to receive his Masters degree from the newly formed Balsillie School of International Affairs.

Looking back just six months, I’m amazed by how many areas of the organization have changed.

Most exciting for me is the number of new programs we’ve launched:

  • The Climate Collaborative: In August we formally announced this new partnership between Sustainable Waterloo Region, REEP and the Region of Waterloo, where we will be developing a community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory and reduction action plan for all of Waterloo Region. Three years in the making, I’m thrilled with the extent to which area municipalities and our local utilities have participated in the work to-date, and I can’t wait to share more about the vision. This is a unique opportunity to unify our region on working together towards sustainability, to include everyone in the process and to rally support from every area of our community.
  • Community Partnerships: We are currently researching the opportunity to move beyond informal coaching of other communities (like Niagara and Hamilton) towards a scalable program that assists other regions adopting similar models. This program would help regions across Ontario advance their community-driven and action-oriented efforts towards organizations working towards sustainability targets.
  • Policy Engagement: Recognizing the importance of addressing sustainability at a policy level, we developed a Board-approved, non-partisan approach to policy engagement that also provides additional benefits to our current service offerings. I’m excited with our two efforts completed to-date. First, we supported Region-wide light rail transit, which was approved by Regional Council in mid-June. Second, we partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation to release an expert review of Ontario energy policy to a crowd of 150+ at our first educational forum of our 2011/12 Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) event season.

At the same time the RCI has continued to see success with new efforts. We’ve brought on seven new members, while adding new resources, including a toolkit to assist members in creating a GHG action plan.

Internally, of course we also just completed a complete rebrand, renamed to Sustainable Waterloo Region, and have moved into our new home at the Tannery District in downtown Kitchener.

And how have we added the capacity to do all this? The staff team has grown from 3 FTE + 1 person on short term bridge funding, to 6 + 1 person on a short term contract (4 of which have degrees at the Masters level or higher – yours truly not being one of them!). And this doubling of staff has in turn enabled us to create, fill and support 12 new volunteer positions.

I’m so proud of our team for the impact we’re having, but more so: I’m excited for the conversations, the action, and the progress that organizations of all shapes and sizes across Waterloo Region are making – and the leadership this community is showing for others across the province.

With this excitement comes unique and interesting challenges. As we continue to grow the RCI, how do we continue to improve service without adding additional staff? Beyond the RCI, what does it look like for a start-up, grassroots eNGO to move beyond just one flagship initiative?

And what does this change look like:

  • How do you maintain a common culture when you add 15 new people to a team of 30 in less than six months?
  • How do you maintain adequate communication across the organization, while still encouraging people to work “where and when they’re at their best” and while a majority of team members have other full-time commitments?
  • What effect – if any – does this all have on an organization’s governance model?
  • What about me – as Executive Director, how does this shift where I spend my time: what meetings should I participate in, and how can I aim to more strongly empower the staff team?
  • And what of the big challenges – what effect does all this change have on them? Of note, we are still hoping to see more RCI members making GHG commitments (we hope to have an announcement about this soon!), we still are yet to break-even on earned-revenue and our staff still isn’t fairly compensated (though we’re on the right trajectory).

While I was hoping to get at some of this here, instead I’ll use some of these questions as a launching point for my next post.

In the meantime, we’re definitely not sitting on our laurels. Our next educational forum will bring a high profile CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) to share with our community her lessons and learnings on approaching sustainability in a truly cross-functional way. RCI members will be transitioning to a “version 2.0” of e3 Solutions’ carbon accounting software on Dec 1, just in time to make reporting easier in advance of our 2011 Report (to be released Apr 2012). And of course all the new programs identified above – namely policy engagement and community partnerships – will need to find ongoing program models. And all the while, the Board continues to investigate other potential initiatives that would support local organizations to integrate sustainability into what they do, beyond anything related to GHGs.

My good friend Mary Jane Patterson – Executive Director at REEP – often signs off emails with a fitting mantra: “Onwards and upwards”.