Forget logic for a minute.  Does 2 + 2 always equal 4, or can it add up to something greater?

There is something innately satisfying about being able to quantifiably measure progress.  Success may be defined by a 2% decrease in the unemployment rate, a video that goes viral with 6 million hits, a marathoner shaving their personal best time by 11 minutes, or a more efficient process that increases assembly line production by 30%. When results are associated with numbers, we can grasp the magnitude of our progress and/or justify continued action.

It’s little wonder then that the average Canadian has found it difficult to rally behind the Kyoto Protocol target of a 20% reduction in national greenhouse gas emissions from the 1990 baseline level, when we’re not sure how to quantify and track our contributions as individuals, organizations, or communities towards that target.  While it has its merits, in the long term this national target has proved too ambiguous, too large, and too far from our daily lives to be able to sink our teeth into.  In response to this, the community level is increasingly cited as the level where real action is felt, where targets become meaningful, where people get excited, and where progress can realistically be numerated.

At Sustainable Waterloo Region, the primary focus to date has been working one-on-one with organizations through the Regional Carbon Initiative to provide them with the networks, resources, and expertise necessary to achieve GHG emission reductions.  Meanwhile, for the past 12 years the team over at REEP Green Solutions has been dedicated to empowering homeowners with the services, tools and programs they need to use energy and water wisely.  This support of individual organizations and homeowners – along with impactful environmental and energy initiatives of local governments, electric and natural gas utilities and other community groups -has shown tangible results here in Waterloo Region, but still left us with a question of a larger scope, “How can this positive action be captured on a community-wide scale and translated into greater, widespread change?”

Thus, as I’ve introduced in an earlier blog post, the Climate Collaborative has emerged based on the conviction that by involving a broad range of stakeholders through one comprehensive process to community-wide action planning on greenhouse gas reduction and energy efficiency, our collective effort can create something greater than we might each be able to achieve alone.  Call it what you will: collaboration, economies of scale, resource efficiencies, the multiplier effect…  I call it just plain good sense.

Recently, the collaborative completed its first major milestone:  a community-scale GHG emissions inventory for Waterloo Region using 2010 as a base year which also includes a 10-year emissions forecast out to the year 2020. The inventory shows how our combined local energy use, traffic volume, waste sent to landfill, and some agricultural activities adds up to Waterloo Region’s “community carbon footprint”). This inventory and forecast will provide a solid foundation on which to develop a local action plan towards setting a realistic yet ambitious GHG reduction target for our community, and then quantifiably tracking our progress against that target.

For me, both personally and professionally, this type of work really adds up. The ability to loop in environment, business, planning, local leadership, and municipal issues – all melded together with a good dose of passion for this community and just the right amount of fun – means that I genuinely enjoy getting up and going to work each morning. I look forward to continuing to talking with you, and many others, about energy, climate change, greenhouse gas reductions and all things related in Waterloo Region.

As we move forward with this project over the next year, the theory of a “sum greater than all of its parts” will continue to show its truth.  Many, many actions executed by a variety of organizations and people will add up to one big difference in the GHG emissions produced by our community, and result in countless spin-off benefits to public health, air quality, and local economic development, among others.  Ultimately, it will be something much greater than any one of us could do alone.


2 thoughts on “A Sum Greater than all of its Parts

  1. David Nichol says:

    This is a great idea! For a long time now I have been of the opinion that most issues will need to be addressed at the local level. I don’t believe that a national strategy is the best or most effective idea.The reason for this, like mention in the article, is that you are able to achieve greater buy-in, debate and scrutiny when decisions and ideas are presented locally. It would be wonderful if all of our cities took on initiatives like this one. We would have a much better idea of what strategies work and which don’t. I think that many strategies based on local needs and circumstances implemented at the community level is the way to go.

    Good luck moving ahead with the project! I looking forward to hearing more about it!

  2. Sarah Brown says:

    Thanks for your comment David! Discussion and action on issues at the local level is certainly interesting, and in a best case scenario can blossom and scale-up to inspire and contribute to action at broader levels too (be they provincial, national or global). There are over 1000 communities worldwide that have committed to the Partners for Climate Protection program (encouraging!). Among those, our region is unique in that the Region and three area municipalities are progressing along the milestones collaboratively through one process, and also with significant involvement and leadership from two NGOs (SWR and REEP). So far, this approach is showing success and I’ll be happy to keep you and everyone else updated as we move along!

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