Let’s Green Toronto

Imagine the potential of an organized  city!

As part of the Live Green Toronto Community Animation Project, I spearheaded a research project to show how Toronto’s community groups support the greening of Toronto. Alas, the Project was cut three years into the five year mandate, but the final draft listed well over 100 organizations.

It’s quite something to consider the full potential of the voluntary sector, and how it can contribute to meeting our common environmental, economic and social goals.

Click here to read the full report.

Doors Closed

So here’s the situation. It’s 2005, and energy conservation is the top environmental issue. The big blackout in 2003 was the crisis that helped bring in a new provincial government with the promise action on conservation and renewable power.

In response to the Province’s “Ontario Conserves” campaign, we at the Conservation Council of Ontario (CCO) had launched a mirror campaign, “We Conserve” to promote voluntary leadership. We needed a quick win – a campaign to tackle a hot-button issue and win support for conservation. We found it in air-conditioned sidewalks. In the heat of the summer, retailers were running air conditioning with wide open front doors to entice customers into their super-cooled stores. The public response was visceral – “Why should I have to conserve energy at home when stores are blasting out air-conditioning onto the sidewalks?!”

The easy approach would have been to organize a boycott, or call for provincial regulation or city by-laws. But we saw the potential for a win-win situation by promoting stores that did the right thing.

We designed a simple poster that could be printed in small batches to include local distribution partners and sponsors, and put out the call for community groups and volunteers to help distribute posters. In particular, we asked for
help for a one-week blitz leading up to the second anniversary of the blackout on August 14, 2005. The response was amazing: over 5,000 posters were distributed by 24 organizations in 15 communities.  Here’s the full 2005 final report.

The campaign peaked in 2006 (campaign report) and continued for five years before being retired. It was a tremendous success, in terms of building partnerships, developing a culture of conservation, and in curtailing a wasteful practice. The campaign was adapted in the United Kingdom, and at least one utility, Toronto Hydro, has integrated the message into its conservation marketing with a window cling for stores:

We estimated that the campaign helped save up to 2 MW of power, which is a drop in the bucket of the 18,000 MW of power used across the province, which means the true value of the campaign was in its contributions to building a conserver ethic – a cultural foundation for ongoing and deeper action.

Where next? One of our goals for Doors Closed was to use the single issue as a stepping stone to develop a more comprehensive approach to promoting business leadership. You’ll find many of the ideas in the Doors Closed campaign have been incorporated into the Climate Leaders campaign for Climate Action Canada – including movement-based marketing and voluntary leadership.


Smart Growth

It’s 2002, and urban sprawl is running rampant in Ontario. Several of Ontario’s environmental leaders attend a national smart growth conference in Winnipeg, and we return with a recognition that if we need to join forces to tackle the pro-development forces.

The Ontario Smart Growth Network (OSGN) was formed in 2003, hosted by the Conservation Council of Ontario and with the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, the Sierra Club (Ontario Chapter), the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, the Pembina Institute, and the Toronto Environmental Alliance as early provincial members. All told, about 80 groups from across the province sign on, and the campaign to replace urban sprawl with smart growth is on. With Jane Jacobs endorsing our vision for smart growth, and with a groundswell of public concern, we were able to turn the Province around.

The OSGN and its members were instrumental in creating the demand for a new approach to planning and development, and in 2005, the Province introduced the Places to Grow Act, new density requirements for municipalities, and the Ontario Greenbelt to protect prime farmland around Toronto.

With success came the challenge of implementation, and here things fell apart. The Growth Plan included very little funding for community engagement (outside of setting up a Greenbelt Foundation). Even now, at a time when community engagement and support is vital for achieving the goal of a “complete community”, there is precious little funding available for community projects or provincial organizations, let alone a provincial network.

The OSGN wound up in 2016.


Community Action

Is there a simple, low-cost way to organize and support community-based action?

Back in the early 1990’s, Environment Canada was looking to engage communities on pollution prevention through the national Green Plan. I proposed we first help local groups to organize for action, with a community network and a community action plan. A community organizer’s manual was developed through the Conservation Council of Ontario.

Seven Ontario communities took up the challenge. Three of them (Elora, Port Hope, and Thunder Bay) used their community action plans to secure provincial funding under the Green Communities program. The City of Toronto network ran a Toxic Free campaign to promote alternatives to household hazards, and the City of Cambridge still hosts annual community network meetings to this day.

The community manual has since been updated, and additional resources are available on the Climate Action Canada website.

Jane’s Walk

How to get people interested in urban design and community building? The solution: Jane’s Walk, an annual celebration of Jane Jacobs and the work of community leaders around the world.

In 2007, as chair of the Ontario Smart Growth Network, I came up with an idea for a series of community walks to showcase community design and local groups. The idea was picked up by friends of the late Jane Jacobs, and within three months we ran the first Jane’s Walk on the first weekend of May.

In 2016, over 1,000 Jane’s Walks took place in 212 cities in 36 countries across 6 continents.

Live Green Card

The City of Toronto needed a way to connect green consumers and businesses. The solution: a green discount card.

While working with the City of Toronto’s Live Green program as a community animation manager, I was introduced to a couple of young entrepreneurs with an idea for a green points card. We adapted their idea to provide residents with a green discount card that would also support local businesses that offer green products and services.

The Live Green Card now has over 500 participating businesses.