Establishing a green community

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After an evening of celebration with businesses, volunteers and government officials, Sustainable Waterloo Region executive director Mike Morrice admits that the environmental change the organization has brought to the community thus far is only the beginning.

Founded only three years ago by Mike Morrice, fellow students and alumni at Wilfrid Laurier University, Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR) announced in its annual report on Apr. 12 that it has expanded its membership for its regional carbon initiative (RCI) from 29 to 41 in the past year. Of those members, ten have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by a total of 42,550 tonnes — the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars of the road.

Morrice wants to see these numbers increase.

“41 organizations is certainly a good start but nowhere near the impact we’re hoping to have and the progress we’re hoping to see across this community as more businesses buy in to make measurable, meaningful changes,” said Morrice of the growing members SWR will help to set targets of lowing their carbon emissions.

One of the challenges he addressed in getting the attention of businesses is showing them how becoming more sustainable can ultimately help their bottom line. “There are examples from manufacturing to non profit … that a business case has been successful for them and by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions they’ve been able to save money and attract better employees and really get ready for a transformational shift to a low carbon economy,” said the SWR founder.

An example that Morrice kept falling back to was his alma mater, WLU, which released their Sustainability Action Plan with the approval of the university board of governors last week.

“I’m very proud of the progress that university is making and the real steps they’re taking; that Laurier joined the RCI two years ago with real intention to put in place sustainability actions,” he said. “To now be at a point where in many ways that’s now coming into fruition … that’s just really exciting.”

The five-year action plan Laurier has committed to includes a carbon reduction goal of 15 per cent.

In addition to carbon reduction in the region, Morrice hopes to look at other environmental factors, like water and waste, to help businesses and their employees become more sustainable overall.

Yet for making any of these goals a reality, Morrice said, “It goes back to the theme of the [annual] report — this is all about people of action.”

At many of the member organizations, SWR has inspired them to set up “green teams” among their employees to lead sustainable practices within the company.

Colin MacIntosh, property service manager for House of Friendship in Kitchener, spoke during the annual report announcement on Apr. 12. Exemplifying that three quarters of green initiatives are driven by green teams, MacIntosh said, “Our green team is the heart that will pump our sustainable initiatives throughout the organization.”

And while SWR’s focus is on sustainable practices in businesses, the behaviours they promote translate to the individual lives of employees.

Looking at the influence the push for sustainable practices is having, Morrice concluded, “There’s certainly a lot of transfer between behaviours and change practices in the workplace that definitely go home [and] create that larger cultural, social norm shift that we’re really excited about.”

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