The Optimistic Responsibility Advocate

As you might surmise from the time that has elapsed since my last post, I’ve been busy! Before another month goes by, however, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about some of the projects and initiatives I’m working on that have taken up so much of my time lately, and share some observations I’ve made along the way.

Sustainable Building

Courtesy of CMLC

In 2007, the City of Calgary established the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation to oversee the community revitalization of the Rivers District in the City Centre.  East Village, the birthplace of Calgary, had, over the years, become neglected and characterized by crime, social issues, and infrastructure problems.   CMLC has developed a new Master Plan for the area, which envisions a prosperous, mixed-use, sustainable community in Calgary’s downtown core.  Since last year, I’ve been working with CMLC to develop a sustainability strategy that will help translate that vision into reality on the ground.  Right now I’m developing a Sustainable Builder’s Guide and related tools and resources that will encourage the adoption of sustainable building practices by developers, building owners and managers, and residents in East Village.   I’m also working with CMLC to integrate sustainable business practices into all of their operations, and we’re finding new ways to tell the sustainability story of the community. You can explore East Village here!

Renewable Energy
I have two clients proposing a total of five renewable energy projects in British Columbia: four run-of-river hydro projects and one tidal energy project.  The tidal energy project is really exciting, because it will be the first of its kind on the west coast.   The project uses an innovative vertical-axis hydrokinetic turbine that can be deployed in any moving water – a stream or river, irrigation canal, industrial outflow, or tidal setting – with very little footprint and minimal environmental effects.   Plus it’s Canadian technology, developed in Calgary, Alberta by New Energy Corporation!   For both clients, I’m providing advice on environmental assessment methods, making sure that key sustainability issues, like cumulative effects, are appropriately addressed, and helping to navigate the regulatory process.

Sustainable Community
In my “spare time”, I chair the Board of the Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative, and in that capacity I’m involved in the planning and execution of a wide variety of projects, from governance capacity-building to facilitation of multi-stakeholder dialogue, community values assessment, sustainability issues scanning and analysis, and more.   One of our projects right now involves the development of a community web portal that aims to connect residents and visitors with community groups, businesses, and other people with similar interests, building social capital while promoting local economies.   We have about 17 programs underway this year, not counting the urgent development issues that come up from time to time in this mixed rural/urban community!  You can follow us on Twitter @SASCIdotca or find us on the web at www.sasci.ca.

And as if that were not enough…
I’m organizing a sustainability-themed conference (for alumni of my high school, University of Toronto Schools), kicking around a nascent plan for a mentorship program for corporate responsibility practitioners, and nurturing a few other ideas to foster networking and learning among sustainability and corporate responsibility advocates.   In addition, I have several other ongoing consulting assignments and some really exciting new sustainability management opportunities in the proposal stage, in Canada and overseas!

And what have I noticed lately, through my involvement with these and other initiatives?

  • Recession or not, more companies, more organizations, and more communities, big and small, are acknowledging the need to integrate sustainability considerations into their planning and practices.
  • However, significant barriers to integrating sustainable practices remain, and include – but, sadly, aren’t limited to – lack of awareness and understanding, emphasis on cost instead of benefit, inadequate resourcing, organizational and community capacity, lack of vision, and lack of leadership.
  • The reliance on community organizations to deliver much-needed economic, social, and environmental services is ever increasing, but these organizations continue to struggle with capacity issues arising from inadequate funding, staffing, and volunteer fatigue.
  • Meaningful public dialogue around many sustainability issues – including ethical governance, environmental protection, social wellness, and economic development – is stifled by partisanship, entrenched and vested interests, incomplete knowledge, short-term outlooks, and complacency.
  • The human condition – for example, fear of change, fear of the unknown, the dichotomy between self-interest and communal well-being, self-limiting beliefs, insecurity – receives too little attention in sustainability advocacy.
  • The notion of personal accountability has been eroded, in many cases replaced with a focus on rights, rather than privilege and responsibility.
  • Creativity, courage, and big-picture thinking are in short supply, especially in the political arena.

We are experiencing a period of widespread economic and social disruption, driven in large part by technological, cultural, and environmental change; it’s natural to find this unsettling, as we struggle to navigate new and unfamiliar territory.   Yet I remain optimistic, for we have been through this kind of change before.   Moreover, in principle, we are now much better equipped – in terms of knowledge, resources, networks, and tools – to achieve transformative change for the benefit of ourselves and all who follow us.  Rather than leaving the direction and outcomes of change to chance, we have the opportunity to take responsibility and guide our organizations, our communities, our society, and ourselves towards a sustainable future.   Happily, I have the good fortune of working with clients, colleagues, and champions who share this vision.

  1. Thanks for sharing this update, Celesa. You have a lot on the go; I find it assuring to know that you have navigated your way into these important undertakings and will continue to influence change. – Cathie

    • Thanks for the feedback, Cathie! I think it’s important to have a reminder that one doesn’t need to be a sustainability specialist to be a sustainability champion – there are many opportunities to integrate sustainability considerations into our personal and professional lives! Taking personal responsibility is one of the most important things we can do; if everyone did just that, we’d be much closer to that sustainable future!

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