Niagara, The Green Energy Capital of Canada.
Two years ago the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce threw this title around and this summer the regional council voted to begin marketing Niagara as The Green Energy Capital of Canada.
It sounds pretty impressive but it wasn’t without controversy and flies in the face of a region that is often too humble for its own good.
I recently sat down with Evan DiValentino, the founder and Executive Director of the Niagara Sustainability Initiative (NSI) to talk about this subject amongst other environmental challenges that Niagara faces.
Evan indicated that this was a title that Niagara has earned due to the abundance of renewable energy that has been generated here over the decades.
When I asked why should we care?
Evan explained that there was a public argument that the term “green” is overused, wouldn’t we rather refer to it as clean energy or renewable energy. He went on to say that you don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.
At the end of the day, this title should be less about claiming a mantle that is already earned but be more about raising the bar for the future of Niagara.
Generating energy is one thing but we need to consume less. Taking this title seriously can lead to changing our mindsets about sustainability and setting higher standards in our efforts as a community to consume less.
We need businesses to encourage their work force by making good decisions in the workplace and employees to take those good habits home with them. This has been a powerful force of change in the public school system where the children return home and are leading the way by turning off lights and recycling.
The loud minority can’t decide energy policies.
I don’t think you are ever going to have 100% on board for any decision. Most people want to do good things and there will always be (a small number) that don’t want to make any kind of change.
At any political level, you have to look at developing smart policies that reflect where we want to go both economically and with our energy plan.
The thing that Evan emphasizes is that for many people, the environmental concerns and sustainability issues have to be framed in a way that resonates with society. For instance, a parent cares because their child has a higher chance of contracting asthma due to air quality, an entrepreneur is engaged when the cost of doing business is impacted by rising costs of fuel and utilities.
5 Ways To Make Your Business More Sustainable:
(courtesy of Evan DiValentino of Niagara Sustainability Initiative)
- Approach things differently. Instead of saying “this is the way we/I’ve always done things,” say “how can I do this differently to reduce environmental impact and resources (time, money, products) needed to produce the same result”.
- Involve others at your place of work. People like to be part of something they helped create. It’s a simple case of avoiding telling your colleagues what they have to or should do, and allowing them to help shape what initiatives are put into place. Green teams often help with this, but be sure to include people from different disciplines.
- Look at case studies/best practices. There is nothing wrong with copying sustainable initiatives that other organizations have implemented. Your organization’s slight modification of the idea in order to adapt it to your needs can help drive innovation.
- Make sure the project makes business sense. There is little point in hemorrhaging money into “green” projects if it means you’re going to be out of business in a year’s time. The best sustainability-related projects reduce environmental impact while reducing costs. The green team can investigate projects to determine if they’re viable or not. If your organization is large enough, somebody from finance is hopefully on the green team. If not, engage the finance department for assistance because you will ultimately have to go through them anyway.
- Implement and celebrate. Implementing a sustainability project, whether it is lighting, waste reduction, going paper free, using toner-free printing, etc., is an important milestone that should be celebrated. A staff celebration is in order.
To make sure you are successful, make sure that you monitor your results. You need to make sure that your project is achieving what you set out to achieve. Tracking is very important to ensure that the wheels don’t fall off.
The list above is to create your strategy and address the big picture, of course don’t forget the basics: energy efficiency, turning off computer monitors/lights, increasing the thermostat setting in the summer and decreasing it in the winter, purchasing green products and services, reducing waste, carpooling, and smarter fleet routing.
Evan DiValentino moved from Burlington to go to Brock in the pursuit of a degree in Biology. After graduating, Evan got a job with a local environmental lab and continued his education at Niagara College. When it was time for his internship in carbon emissions and green house gas management there were no local opportunities and he was required to go to Toronto.
As a student here he certainly appreciated the aspects of culture and geography but it was specifically the people of the region – the pride and character of being from Niagara. He felt like part of a community and recognized that there were untapped professional opportunities.
Staying in Niagara became one of his goals.
Evan incorporated Niagara Sustainability Initiative 3 weeks before graduating from his Niagara College program. He was motivated to create an organization dedicated to enhancing sustainability in Niagara and to offer the kind of training and volunteer opportunities that he couldn’t find locally.
Niagara Sustainability Initiative is a non-profit organization that relies on a team of passionate staff and volunteers (currently 20 and counting).
These volunteers aren’t a bunch of hippies in overalls.
The 2-year-old company is already drawing the interest of young, educated, hard-working professionals in the form of volunteers and corporate partnerships with a passion to become involved.
Evan confessed that he may have been a little naive when he started but quickly learned the landscape.
NSI provides an opportunity for local organizations to capitalize on a changing consumer landscape – a consumer landscape that demands environmental responsibility. It is NSI’s goal to help the public and private sectors of the Niagara Region achieve this transformation to contribute to an environmentally and economically sustainable community.
They accomplish these goals through events, education, grassroots initiatives and corporate partnerships.
One of their corporate initiatives, The Carbon Project is designed to measure, manage and reduce green house gas emissions from transportation, commuting patterns, vehicles, facility energy consumption, as well as electricity and natural gas.
This program has been well received because we are at a time where resources are more scarce and expensive and that adds to the motivation to find solutions. The data NSI gathers is used to develop plans to manage assets, expenses and this leads to public recognition and a differentiation for their public marketing.
Evan admits that it is tough for some companies to get their head around the fact that they may not be doing a good job of running their company in a green way and there is a perception that it is disruptive to have someone come in and look at their day-to-day operation.
A company is usually willing to sponsor and donate to good environmental initiatives, but more reluctant to think differently about how they approach their operations. This requires a change in culture and that is a more complicated process that requires education and building of a critical mass.
There isn’t a cookie cutter approach to becoming “green.”
Just start looking at the way you are doing things.
Look at things differently. Using waste to provide a basic example, Evan explains how a call centre would accumulate baskets of waste that is primarily coffee cups. He suggested that an organization that provides a travel mug to their employees empowers their team to help address a problem and reduces the recurring costs and waste with a simple solution.
Most people care about the environment and if you provide them with a convenient option to make a better decision they will usually take it.
Evan’s leadership and the programs offered by the Niagara Sustainability Initiative will go a long ways towards making Niagara worthy of the title The Green Capital of Canada.