A Catalyst for Change

Building Partnerships for a Better Environment.

Founded in 2008, Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR) is a non-profit organization, fostering collaborations that enable organizations to convert sustainability interest into action. The organization was built up around their flagship program, the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI).

The RCI is a program designed to assist local organizations in reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to improve the sustainability of their operations. By becoming a RCI member, SWR enables organizations to make commitments to GHG reductions, collaborate with other environmental sustainability leaders in the community and gain valuable education regarding cost-effective reduction projects. Members of RCI are able to connect with a network of other sustainability-focused local organizations and professionals and SWR supports them in reaching their carbon reduction goals with advisory services, progress tracking, and public reporting mechanisms.

Joining SWR is a true partnership, explains Executive Director, Tova Davidson. “SWR is committed to providing support and working with our members to achieve their carbon reduction goals. We’re at their side to help them succeed.”

Upon joining the RCI, members receive guidance from SWR in a variety of areas, from establishing their own green team, to determining how to best reduce GHG emissions. This might mean simple changes for a business, such as changing light bulbs, or upgrading HVAC and heating and cooling systems, to broader behavioural changes in their workforce such as carpooling, cycling to work, or leveraging other sustainable transit options. In addition, members are given access to SWR’s MemberLink, a collaborative space where members share ideas and resources relating to environmental sustainability.

Partnerships are the foundation of SWR, explains Tova. “ We know that a collaborative approach is a powerful means to reach our targets. It is our vision to build networks for sustainability and have organizations work together to create change that is environmentally sustainable opposed to just environmentally friendly. We need to create long-term solutions that make both environmental and business sense. That’s what makes, membership in the RCI is a win-win.“

To date, 14% of the Region’s workforce has joined SWR in working towards achieving their vision of a sustainable environment. With over 63 members, membership in the RCI has seen a 630% increase since 2009, and across Waterloo Region, members have committed to reduce 900,000 tonnes of GHG emissions through a community climate action plan. Tova outlines there are four main factors that drive companies to join the RCI: cost savings, green branding, risk mitigation and employee retention and attraction.

“The way the world looks at environmental sustainability is changing. Employees are demanding their workplaces adhere to sustainable practices,” says Tova. “Bright young minds are actually refusing to work for companies who are not committed to working towards a sustainable environment. They want to see sustainable practices built directly into business plans. Our members recognize that sustainability is good for business, good for employees, and it’s good for the community.”

SWR has traditionally focused on attracting individual organizations to its membership, but over the last six months, it has introduced a collaborative facility membership that brings tenants and landlords together to make sustainability a reality. The David Johnston Research + Technology Park is the first research park within that category, where under one membership the 40+ companies located within the Park are required to set and report on targets as one entity.

“Partnering with SWR is the first step in making an impact in our community. Businesses account for a large portion of carbon emissions; if all companies in Waterloo Region place more emphasis on sustainability, then just imagine the difference we could make.” Carol Stewart, Manager, R+T Park, “ At the park we are always taking on new challenges to better our community and with a significant amount of business developing in our region right now, it is a great time to encourage sustainable behaviour and lead the charge.”

As one of the newest members within the RCI, one of the R+T Park’s first priorities will be to work with SWR to form its Green Team.

“R+T Park’s Green Team will be unique, as it will be comprised of landowners, facility owners and residents of the park. This will allow for a truly multi-dimensional and collaborative approach,” says Tova. “The good news is the park is already starting from a great baseline. Many of the buildings in the park are green (the park’s Innotech building was the first in the region to achieve LEED Gold NC status and other buildings are LEED candidates) -- but there is always room for improvement and innovation.”

R+T Park’s partnership with SWR could see the installation of charging stations to promote the use of electric vehicles, and implementation of the TravelWise program, a program designed to encourage employees to make sustainable commuting choices and other carbon reducing initiatives. R+T Park will also be a designated station stop on the route of the Region’s new light rail transit (LRT) system, offering employees working within the park new sustainable transit options - an initiative that fits perfectly into the Park’s future carbon reduction plans.

R+T Park’s membership in the RCI speaks directly to the vision of SWR, Tova Davidson explains. And its membership is setting a new standard across the region and beyond – providing inspiration for other research parks in North America and around the world.

“With a 10-year commitment to our program, R+T Park is setting a new standard for like organizations. They have committed to reaching out to every business and to every employee to collaborate and work towards reaching their targets. I think that is amazing.”