Businesses leaders across Canada recognize that it’s no longer enough to provide an excellent product—they must also be seen to be contributing to meaningful social change. As such, organizations are rethinking their brands through the lens of social and environmental action, and engaging their customers in a new values-founded conversation.
Bullfrog Power, Canada’s leading green energy provider, brought together a panel of business leaders to the Westin Ottawa, which chooses green energy from Bullfrog. Joining the panel were: Joel Lalonde, CEO, Your Credit Union; Sheila Whyte, Founder and Owner, Thyme & Again; and Rodney Wilts, Partner, Windmill Development Group. Moderated by Mike Wilson, Executive Director at Sustainable Prosperity, the panel discussed case studies and strategies related to how businesses are contributing to a better world.
Below is a summary of each of the panelists’ contributions and learnings.
A community geared for positive change
Joel Lalonde, Your Credit Union
Your Credit Union is a financial services co-operative operating in Ottawa and Cornwall, Ontario. As an organization jointly owned by its members, Your Credit Union focuses on giving back to the community: the credit union sector contributes more than four times the amount of any other bank to community development (relative to scale). Your Credit Union also holds a $60 million lending portfolio to support small businesses and start-ups.
The organization’s current challenge lies in communicating its sustainability strategy to members and addressing their feedback. To communicate its environmental goals to its members, Your Credit Union is partnering with non-profit Carbon 613 to develop a sustainability plan.
Lalonde believes, however, that Your Credit Union’s membership is one of its greatest strengths to driving positive change. “The great thing about our culture is that when we do something, we do it all the way—and that’s because we’re member-owned,” he says.
Connecting communities through sustainable agriculture
Sheila Whyte, Thyme & Again
Thyme & Again is an Ottawa-based restaurant operating for more than 25 years. During that time, Whyte says, “we were always conscious of where our food was coming from—promoting local farmers and businesses alike.” Thyme & Again is a founding member of Savour Ottawa, which pairs farmers and their produce with restaurants to promote local sourcing. Thyme & Again is also the first restaurant in Ottawa to join Feast ON, an initiative created by the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance to encourage food tourism in Ontario.
Whyte emphasizes the power of stories to inspire others to drive positive change. Whyte spoke of Thyme & Again’s partnership with Fogo Island Fish, a Newfoundland-based fishing project. Fogo Island Fish tackles cod shortage by implementing a fishing supply chain that rewards responsible fishing with increased local employment, higher quality produce and a lower environmental impact.
“We agreed to source from Fogo Island Fish and now their cod is on our menu full time,” Whyte says. “We’re helping another community and promoting a great cause to our own community.
Reigniting the drive for greener urban spaces
Rodney Wilts, Windmill Development Group
Windmill Development Group is a developer focusing on environmental and social sustainability in the construction of its properties. Wilts has witnessed a concerning trend: the development industry’s scaling back of environmental initiatives in new LEED building projects.
“In 2007, we developed the LEED-Platinum Great Canadian Theatre Company and it was an exciting experience,” he explains. “In the past few years, however, I’ve seen backtracking when it comes to green building projects—even though it is much easier today to design and build with environmentally friendlier materials.” Wilts believes that developers need to surpass the status quo of green buildings in order to inspire widespread change.
More than the individual buildings, however, Wilts cites a number of urban planning elements that are key to a sustainable urban community: reliable transit, walking distance to major services—and access to nature. “Our vision of a sustainable city relates not just to environmental sustainability, but also social sustainability—where people can afford to live and raise their family.”
A united vision for a green economy
Mike Wilson, Sustainable Prosperity
Wilson believes that a new Sustainable Prosperity project will lay the foundation for a united, country-wide effort across all levels. The initiative, named Smart Prosperity, is a policy road map and pledge from Canadian leaders to achieve “a stronger cleaner economy that builds a better future for all Canadians.”
To maintain Canada’s stride with the world’s economies, Smart Prosperity encourages traditional industries to embrace a low-carbon economy and support cleantech innovations. The initiative aims to include business leaders, ENGOs and First Nations communities in the transition to a greener economy. Leaders who have pledged their support for the plan include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Venture Communications CEO Arlene Dickenson and Bullfrog Power Chairman Greg Kiessling.
“The global economy is shifting to a greener direction, rewarding sustainability and resource efficiency,” Wilson says. “Canada needs to move more aggressively down the path to innovation.”