En route to Paris: A low carbon economy is emerging in Ontario communities


Guest post by Mike Morrice, Executive Director, Sustainability CoLab

Disclaimer: the views expressed in the following blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

“Why wouldn’t this work anywhere else?”

That was the question that inspired us to create Sustainability CoLab three years ago, followed quickly by the question that has kept us focused since: “And what influence could a whole network of these programs have together?”

CoLabTransSmallNow 15 months since CoLab launched—and as momentum builds towards Paris this December – we can begin to share how the low-carbon economy is taking root in communities across Ontario.

Today, the program that inspired us to create CoLab – Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) – continues to thrive. The RCI brings together a roster of unlikely players employing 14% of Waterloo Region’s workforce in a shared sustainability journey: learning from each other, connected to a network of support, and reporting back on results against targets to reduce their carbon impact.

Meanwhile, six other organizations across Ontario have begun to not only adapt this program for their communities, but to innovate on top of what’s been tried already. Together this network of networks criss-crosses the province; a hub of Ontario’s low-carbon economy.


CoLab is seeing the ripple effects first-hand: businesses are setting targets that simultaneously reduce their environmental impact, increase their profitability and stimulate the low-carbon economy. As we move closer to the Paris summit, we have tangible examples showing us how a better, more sustainable economy is not only possible, but that progress is already underway.

In Waterloo Region, for example, more than 65 organizations across sectors and industries have set targets to reduce their GHG emissions by over 53,000 tonnes. As they do so, they are switching to low-carbon products and services and realizing a positive return on their investment. In 2013 for example, five organizations that set GHG reduction targets in Waterloo Region spent $70,000 on energy audits, then $90,000 more on low-carbon projects identified in those audits. One of these – Conestoga Mall, owned by Ivanhoé Cambridge – has already met their 20% carbon reduction target (five years early) and has now increased their target to 40% by 2020.

Meanwhile, the Niagara Sustainability Initiative’s (NSI) Carbon Project is working with 23 businesses committed to reducing over 6,000 tonnes of carbon pollution and Durham Sustain Ability has re-launched Durham Partners in Project Green in January 2015, and already has 18 businesses committed to setting their own carbon reduction targets. Meanwhile organizations in Ottawa (EnviroCentre), Sudbury (reThink Green), Kingston (Sustainable Kingston) and York Region (Windfall Ecology Centre) are following suit.

More details can be found in our 2014/15 Annual Report, released this week.

While it does provide encouragement, community-led action alone isn’t sufficient to address the climate crisis. We need our political leaders to rise to the challenge in Paris. We need more ambitious action at the national and international level, and we need it soon. In the meantime though, by no means are we resigned to sitting on our hands waiting on our representatives to deliver a solution. Instead we can begin to paint the picture for the economy we need, making it that much easier for our elected officials to take the next step.


This blog is part of the En Route to Paris series. In preparation for the Conference of the Parties (COP-21) taking place in Paris this December, we created a series that showcases Canada-wide initiatives promoting a low-carbon economy. The En Route to Paris series posts will expose the views of experts who collaborate with us in our initiatives focused on ‘Energy and the Economy.’ Our goal is to support initiatives geared towards transforming the discourse on climate to illustrate all the benefits of sustainable development. 

Click here to view other posts in the series