FCG Communications Manager and writer, Beatrice Ekoko had a conversation with Priyanka Lloyd, Executive Director of Green Economy Canada (GEC) for this Partner Feature blog post. Priyanka helped to start the organization as the founding director, back in 2014 to scale a successful program from Waterloo Region.
Green Economy Canada (GEC) is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to accelerating Canada’s transition to a vibrant and sustainable low-carbon economy. Through their network of 10 ‘Hubs,’ they are working with 300+ organizations (of all sectors and sizes including non-profits and charities), to take action on climate change, build sustainability into their operations, and contribute to a better future for generations to come. GEC brings together, supports and celebrates local businesses in setting and achieving sustainability targets. With national interest in the Hub model, their goal is to establish 20 Hubs across Canada by 2024.
Over the past several years, GEC has partnered with FCG and has been developing connections in communities like York Region and Sudbury, where there are 17 faith organizations that are working to reduce their carbon footprint through their participation in GEC’s local Hubs.
When did you start getting interested in climate related work?
From a values perspective, when I was very young, a lot of it, I can attribute to my brother in the things that I was hearing about. Inconvenient Truth came out when I was an undergraduate. I actually took a 4th year environmental course intended to be a “bird course” which ended up being the best course I ever took. I had to spend 8 weeks with a living thing, and document how I was feeling, what I was observing. I chose a sweet potato. I felt sad when I had to compost it! That was definitely a catalyst. Then, when I did my Masters in biochemistry (McGill), I was pretty appalled by how everything we used in the lab was discarded. So I started the lab waste reduction task force, working with the waste management folks at McGill.
When I did my MBA at Laurier there was a professor there that shifted my worldview, and planted the seed as to how business could be a force for good; how do we harness the force that business plays in our social structure to solve some of the environmental problems that we face? I love that as a challenge!
How did GEC come about?
Sustainable Waterloo Region had developed a program of how to engage businesses to take voluntary action on climate change. And really, this was born out of frustration, years of stalled international negotiations around climate action. There was the idea that business communities could lead; that we didn’t have to wait for higher orders of government to get their act together and create meaningful change.
Can you describe the Green Economy Canada model and what is unique about it?
It’s unique in that it’s a non profit program that currently requires businesses, in signing up, to commit to setting a sustainable target and publicly reporting on the progress made. It pairs that commitment with all the support that they would need to achieve their goals – tools, training, workshops, one-on-one support. In addition to that accountability piece, we celebrate their achievements, recognizing that we are all on a journey. It’s also about building a community and learning from peers. That combination of both individual and collective is one of the things that sets our model apart.
As well, the Hub model is really focused on how to bring together the private sector, governments, non-profits, civil society, and academia to collectively solve our sustainability problems. It exists to do so through building that local network of organizations, creating demand for green products and services to build that green economy and fostering collaboration to effect bigger systems change. We are not trying to replace consultants, or other international standards, but ask, “how can we act as a catalyst and convener to bring all the pieces together and help businesses engage in a way most of them aren’t doing?”
What about ‘just transition,’ and the intersectionality of social issues with climate issues? Has that been something you have been able to broaden your understanding of, for yourself and for your org?
It’s an area we are still working on. There's a lot of learning for us, to be honest, and unlearning as some of these issues have become more acute. How can we learn not just for ourselves what these issues mean, but actually develop a program for businesses to holistically understand these issues for themselves? So equity and inclusion is an area we want to grow in.
Can you talk about how you collaborate with FCG?
A charitable partner, FCG has been a long-time collaborator. Part of that stems from the fact that a number of FBO are part of our networks. What is nice is that our network can support some of the goals that FCG is trying to advance, in sustainable efforts be it mosques, churches etc. We work collaboratively, helping us strengthen the tools, and expand the geographic reach of the support that we provide with the hope that in addition to faith-based orgs, we can generally engage orgs of all sizes and sectors in the green economy. With our mutually aligned goals, we are interested in how we can support each other.
What’s Changed for GEC in the last few years?
The times have changed! Now with more support federally, and with communities declaring climate emergencies, the landscape is changing. In terms of the last couple years, we definitely have seen larger organizations recognize that for them, it actually is less voluntary at this point. They are getting pressure from investors, from regulations that are coming down the pipe, in terms of aligning with net zero goals. For the small and medium sized orgs in Canada which represent 99% of businesses and contribute to half of our GDP, employ private sector workers, I would say, the change has been slower, and frankly, there has been less recognition and less targeting on the part of local, federal and provincial policies.
This group is much more diverse, more heterogeneous, and for us, it’s a particular passion area about “How do we engage the bulk of the economy in making that transition?” Because it’s not just about dollars per tonne and strict emissions reduction. It’s about “How do we support the workers and the people to make sure the transition is inclusive, and that we are bringing people along, and that every person that is behind that business can see themselves belonging in that low-carbon future?”
You work with municipalities. What are some of the key learnings you can share?
For us, to bring the Hub model into a community, having municipal support is key; where there is less municipal support, it’s been harder for the model to take root. There’s a role for each level of government around this. Pembina Institute recently did a policy scan, on a project that we have been working on, looking at how to support small/medium manufacturers to get to net-zero emissions. One of the pieces of research they cite is, 18% of the policy set came from municipalities and jurisdictions. So what we’ve heard in our conversations is that municipalities are looking for ways to engage small and medium sized businesses, but when we think of simple things like incentive funding that’s available to implement projects, how those projects are designed, minimal levels of investment a business would need to put in to make it feasible, criteria, etc., historically, all of these factors haven't been considered through the lens of a small organization.
The work that we are trying to do is messy and challenging. There’s a reason the small business community hasn’t been supported; time constraint, less money. At the federal level, the pieces in the budget that are there for climate action are for clean tech, heavy industry, agriculture –all great and needed, but the stuff of businesses is digitalization, loans to recover from the pandemic. The signals with what’s in that budget is, “Focus on these other things and just keep on doing your thing, climate change is not your thing, we’re doing it with this one group of people that need to address it.” I think, one, that’s the wrong message. We are not going to get to that economic transition without engaging the bulk of the economy. The second part of this is that small and medium orgs, we are not doing enough to prepare and equip them for what’s coming. How can we expect them to support and endorse progressive policies like the carbon tax, which economists have said is the most efficient way to help reduce emissions, if they don’t understand the changes that are coming, or why it’s needed?
Long term funding is an issue for our kind of organizations. Thoughts?
I think there is a missing piece which we are trying to fill, as nonprofit organizations (NPOs). To your point, about investment and support especially for sustainment, the idea that we don’t do enough and providing enough long term funding that orgs like ours can make mistakes and adapt, and see what’s working and what’s not, and have the freedom to pivot and maintain staff, do all that important work for long term transformation.
If we look at faith-based orgs (FBOs), a lot of them are volunteer-ran, the role of NPO is to fill that gap that the market is not filling, so that people don’t get left behind, but I don’t think we are at a place right now, where at any level we are adequately valuing the importance of capacity building and putting dollars to that in the way that it needs to be funded.
How do you deal with climate anxiety?
When we see things at COP27, or the latest projection that we are still on track to increase emissions, there’s a griefing there. This world is so beautiful. At the same time, I have two young children. I remember when the 2018 IPCC Landmark report came out and I remember sitting on my couch and I cried.
The hope for me? The work I do everyday. It's the people and the work that we are doing together that gives me hope. There’s the idea of an ice cube melting; there’s a bit of a change that kind of happens from one state to another when all of a sudden there’s a transition. It’s not linear. So, there are many forces at play: carbon tax, bigger players, individuals, youth who are asking, “This is our future, what’s happening to it?” There’s a lot of people that care; it’s not just one person.
What is your vision for GEC? For yourself?
It goes back to our mission, accelerating Canada’s transition for net-zero. I hope we can be a central part of the transition that needs to happen, and support those 1.2 million businesses in Canada to understand the cost of inaction and the opportunities. There is so much beauty that awaits us. What does it mean for everyday life? For us, working in this space, we’ve never been to a net-zero future, and so we are asking people to take a leap of faith to shift from something that they know, into a future that feels uncertain and unknown. But I think when you can break it down, like, energy. Energy is so closely tied to emissions. One of the biggest sources of carbon comes from buildings. Inflation got you down? Cutting energy costs will put money into your pockets; everyone can relate to that, and it cuts emissions. Or transportation– it’s one of the biggest sources of emissions. And we can all get behind the idea of waste–nobody wants to waste.
What we’re passionate about is the part that we don’t talk about enough as a society: “How are we equipping people and organizations who don’t come from traditional green sectors to understand how their role relates to the low carbon transition?” In the same way that every company needs to be digitally literate, similarly, even businesses that do not have sustainability in their titles need to understand, “How is climate change impacting my business? How are the social issues that we face, impacting my org? What is the role I can play and ideally, contribute to solving some of these challenges we face?” That’s the part we haven’t invested enough in. It’s about how we are building the knowledge and skills in everyday people to make sense of and contribute to this transition.