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.

2 thoughts on “Reaching a Tipping Point: What 60 Members Mean, and Why it Can Be Replicated

  1. Peter Croppo says:

    Very interesting reading & kudos to the forward thinkers & original group members.

    I am somewhat disappointed that cite conversations with civic leaders – but don’t mention anybody from London. What are you doing to advocate RCI to London – is that the Sustainability CoLab focus or next step???

    Also, RCI appears to be a collection of very large Corp entities – how are you reaching out to smaller enterprises with smaller facilities??? As is usually the case, smaller businesses are often not part of the program – not because they are intentionally left out but mostly because they see their overall size not being much of a contributing factor. Might I suggest that Tim Hortons with about 3500 locations makes for a formidable energy consumption.

    Are the Architect/Engineering firms with RCI actively reviewing the impact of retrofits to the increasing demand on energy – it makes sense that the greatest impact on energy reductions will come from existing buildings.

    Thanks for the opportunity to dialogue.


  2. Miles DePaul says:

    Peter – I appreciate your comment and question!

    Regarding London, this is certainly a city we would be thrilled to engage with more and I’d argue would be perfectly suited to launch a RCI-like program (i.e. a social enterprise focused on business commitments to GHG reduction). To date we’ve had a few interested individuals, but our next step would be to look at convening a session in London to bring together all potential champions of such a program. Please do reach out if you have some ideas or thoughts on this.

    Great point about small vs. large facilities, while we haven’t worked with Tim Hortons to date, we have quite a few smaller businesses apart of the RCI and of course the value of membership to them is different than it might be to larger organizations. I can point to Whiting Design, Athena Software, AET Consultants, and VeriForm Inc. as some of the small businesses that have set commitments and achieved GHG reductions in their operations from energy consumption, office type, air travel, etc. We designed the RCI with your concern in mind, to ensure that the program is open to as many sizes and sectors as possible, and throughout we have ensured we build services that can support our diverse membership.

    If I’m understanding your third question, you’re absolutely right that the greatest energy savings would come from building retrofits as opposed to building entirely from the ground up. That said, the RCI is a program that supports business to monitor their GHG emissions in line with the GHG Protocol (i.e. scope 1, 2, and air travel within scope 3). This means we monitor the energy use of onsite buildings, but will not monitor the energy use of a clients building of one of our architect/engineering member firms. We hope that their clients are doing their own GHG and energy tracking, either within the RCI or elsewhere. I hope this answers you’re question, but I’d be glad to clarify.

    Thanks again Peter – happy to keep the dialogue going.


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