We get it! Nobody wants to read another #sustainability report.
Working with our amazing marketing team of Steven Hobé, CM and Mitsuo Hosokawa we boiled our 2020 Integrated Report down to a pithy three pages of high impact reading. Enjoy.
Okay, not all by ourselves. In fact we had a lot of help. Wild + Pine is a sustainable forestation company based in Alberta that uses ground breaking technology to restore Canada’s forests. Wild + Pine created the Forest B project to allow fellow Certified B Corporations to come together to sponsor tree planting that will create a new forest and sequester carbon.
Ecotone is proud to announce we’ve signed on as a sponsor for Wild + Pine’s Forest B project.
Forest B is a nature-based climate action opportunity designed for Canada’s B Corp community. This collective action initiative will bring together leaders in Canadian business in taking tangible steps towards a livable future. Located near Pine Lake, AB, this monumental project will restore 25 hectares with over 57,000 trees & shrubs. So far 27 Certified BCorps have come together to make this happen. If you are a Canadian B Corp you have till October 15th to get on board: https://wildandpine.ca/forest-b/
The Canadian B Corp community is growing—we are now more than 400 strong. It is time that we become known to our communities. Citizens want impact and that is what each of our companies is offering the world. Forest B is more than a nature-based climate action opportunity designed for Canada’s B Corp community. This initiative will allow us to raise our voices as one community. Forest B is an opportunity for our community to show consumers we are here, that we are building a new economy, and that they can join us.
Scientists have warned the next decade is critical to keep Earth’s warming to below 1.5C -now is the time to create a new economy that is good for people and planet.
Ecotone is proud to be Certified B Corporation! What we love about the BCorp movement is this type of collaboration and shared purpose. Please join us! BCorps are not cliquey! Wild + Pine has a sponsorship option open to everyone, because we all need to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. Click here to get involved:
About Certified B Corporations
Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. B Corps form a community of leaders and drive a global movement of people using business as a force for good.
Interview with Christine Martin, Former Director of Volunteers at Evergreen
Christine Martin has known Andrew Simpson for over fifteen years through their connection to Evergreen Brick Works. They share a mutual passion for sustainability and the power of mobilizing passionate individuals to affect positive change.
What has been your own journey with sustainability?
I’ve always been passionate about nature and cities. I first ran the Toronto Botanical Gardens’ volunteer program, and then subsequently Evergreen. I was actually a volunteer myself until about twelve years ago, when I assumed the role of director for that department.
What drew you to volunteerism specifically?
It’s funny because my background in university was biochemistry, but I really love working with people and I’m kind of an organizational geek. I also enjoy big picture thinking, as well as fine detail strategy. I had also been doing volunteer management in the refugee sector, so my skill set was perfect for Evergreen at the time. I believe that volunteers play a crucial role in supporting organizations’ work — they are really the heartbeat, and that’s truly what I love about it.
Name a couple of Evergreen initiatives that you would highlight?
In the past four years one project at Evergreen that was extremely pivotal was helping get the Don River Valley Park project off the ground. That was a brand new initiative.
It was really exciting, allowing volunteers to contribute to the whole program design. We wanted to draw on their expertise to bring this project to life. We had a core group of twenty to thirty people working on this at any given time, and then every four to six months, we would refresh the team. They would help us bring kids and families into the valley to lead walks, to have festivals and celebrations, and develop educational programs.
The second goes back to when I first met Andrew, when we were figuring out how to mobilize members to try and get a farmer’s market and children’s programs happening. We did a lot of testing and modelling, and this subsequently grew into what became one of the biggest markets in the city
When did you first meet Andrew?
I first met Andrew when we were both volunteers fifteen years ago, in the Brick Works design stage. We were helping research some of the social enterprise pieces, looking at for instance in a retail setting, what kinds of things would help drive sustainability. Andrew was leading some of that community outreach.
I remember Andrew was also one of the core members who worked on Saturdays at the market, early, early in the morning. And he’s continued to help with that for years. It’s amazing.
How did Andrew contribute to Evergreen?
What stands out for me is Andrew’s sense of dedication. He is really committed. He also helps mentor other people, because he has so much experience and knowledge. He’s that person you can depend on.
In recent years, he has been a great resource and asset to draw upon in terms of his knowledge in the sustainability sector, drawing upon that knowledge for special projects and thinking about the site itself, low waste programs, or future cities work.
What is your next chapter?
I’ve been pursuing a Masters of Design at OCAD, the Strategic Foresight & Innovation Program, for the past two and half years. It became obvious to me that I needed to move on in order to focus on finishing that. My hope of course is that this will allow the opportunities to look at new things.
Eventually, I would enjoy working for a small social good organization or consultancy, where I can contribute strategic thinking, possibly with a focus on city building and civic engagement.
About Evergreen: Evergreen is helping make cities flourish.
Cities that are low carbon, inclusive to all and sustainable at their core. Cities to live, move, work, play, learn and thrive in.
Since 1991, we’ve been facilitating change. Working with other city builders to convene, collaborate and catalyze ideas into action. Our teams connect with many stakeholders to lead with a mindset focused on solutions. We collaborate to develop innovative ideas and catalyze change by testing solutions, developing prototypes and scaling projects.
Through our award-winning suite of programs, we have actively engaged Canadians in creating and sustaining healthy urban environments in our schools, our public spaces, in housing and transit systems, and communities themselves.
Flourishing cities start here—at a site, in a neighbourhood, on the ground— where spaces become great places, and have a real and lasting impact, creating a better world for all.
Volunteering at Evergreen
Evergreen’s volunteers are vital to make our cities flourish. They are city builders who support a host of projects and programs at Evergreen Brick Works (Toronto) and across the country (primarily Metro Vancouver).
Through volunteering, you can take action and make your city better:
- Learn, grow and share your expertise and skills
- Get active, connect with nature and improve your health
- Build connections and be part of an amazing team
- Have fun while giving back
- Our volunteers will receive training and learning opportunities, regular communications, ongoing support and appreciation. Volunteers have opportunities to provide input and to grow, with opportunities for leadership roles.
Read the full report here:
Interview with Catherine Berka, Toronto Ravines Advocate
Cathy Berka is a true advocate for Toronto’s ravines. She has worked with the University of Toronto, multiple residents associations, and advocated for funding from Toronto’s City Council.
When did you first become interested in the Toronto Ravines?
I became interested in the Ravines six years ago. It all started with two students from the University of Toronto coming to my door and asking for access to the ravine where we live. They were doing a study at the time, and happy to have me tag along to see what they were doing. I was totally enthralled with the study and decided to get involved. I guess that was the beginning of it all.
When the study was completed, I was quite alarmed to find that we had lost roughly 40% of our native tree species in the ravines. Norway Maple, which is a very aggressive, invasive non-native had taken over, growing from 10% to 40% since 1977. This further fueled my passion to make a difference.
I started working with the U of T group, Toronto Ravine Revitalization Science, helping to fund raise for research, which allowed more interns to work the following summer. We also expanded the study from one person to five students. And every year we’ve had at least that many students working in the field doing various studies on the state of our ravines.
I was then put in contact with some of our residents associations, who were also interested in ravine work. I am in South Rosedale, and they were from Deer Park and Moore Park. From this, we created a mid-town ravines group.
Currently we have eight residents associations in that group. From this, in partnership with U of T, we have also formed Seeds To Saplings (S2S), which is all about growing native trees at our schools. We are now up to nine schools where students are getting involved in their eco-clubs and part of their science curriculum’s. And we hope to expand that programme all over the City of Toronto.
What’s exciting is that kids have a lot of energy and taste for climate change and mitigating global warming. So we aim to have this programme in every school, where they can be actively growing native trees.
How did you first meet Andrew?
The first time I met Andrew was at the Faculty of Forestry at U of T. Andrew was there doing a native tree growing session. Then a year later, we met again at the Toronto Botanical Garden Symposium. My organization had done a presentation on having a conservancy in Toronto to manage the ravines, much like they do in New York City.
Andrew shot me an email after and said he’d like to get involved. So, as luck would have it, we needed some work done around finding out what other conservancies exist in Canada, and Andrew took up the mantle. From there he was on the bandwagon!
Moving forward, Andrew was an avid player in carving out what our messaging should be. We were presenting to the City of Toronto Executive Committee at the time, and Andrew was pivotal in terms of the level of detail we should be offering them. And after our presentations at City Hall, they passed seventeen motions regarding ravine restoration and management.
This built momentum in our cause, with people willing to get involved in stewardship in both the private and public sector. So instead of waiting for the city to move on the multiple motions, we decided to get the ball rolling ourselves. This involved first writing a manual in order to accelerate, facilitate, and get even more people involved. As well as having more autonomous stewardship.
I am so pleased to say that we now have twenty four stewards and seven students working on this project during the summer months.
Further to this, Andrew then suggested we have a web-based portal. He saw this before anyone else did. The portal could be used, for instance, in recruiting stewards and documenting other associated details. Andrew is currently researching other communities that may be willing to share their technology. We are very excited to see this rolled out.
What is your hope for the future?
I think the major issue that we have is awareness and education about the ravines. What we’re trying to educate people about is that the ecological health of the ravines is at a serious tipping point, and that invasive species have aggressively come to dominate. Because ravines represent a huge proportion of the biodiversity in our city, as well as our tree canopy and our land, it’s very important real estate to look after.
People believe that our ravines are going to be there forever, which is just not the case. We need to allocate more money and energy behind protecting that space.
It comes down to people getting involved, removing invasives and growing native trees. Everyone can grow a native tree, even if you don’t have a backyard; you can grow it in a milk bin on your balcony. It’s that simple. Let’s all do our part to protect Toronto’s ravines.
More about Toronto Ravine Revitalization Science
“We are Forestry at Daniels, at the University of Toronto, located at the St. George campus in the heart of Downtown Toronto. We love ravines because they are the biodiversity hotspots in urban areas. We launched Toronto Ravine Revitalization Science to assess and restore the biodiversity and ecological integrity in the Toronto ravines.”
Ecotone’s 2019 Integrated Report is available here:
Interview with Sandra Lester, Sustainable Design Consultant
Sandra Leigh Lester is Founder & CEO of affectingchange, helping nonprofits, NGO’s and corporations discover ways to use design to create more energy efficient healthy and resilient buildings.
Sandra is a sustainable design guru who has created many game-changing projects that have set precedents and have won, in total, over seventy-five awards. In her spare time she advocates for climate change solutions, and was a volunteer Community Engagement Leader for Project Neutral.
When did you realize your passion for climate change?
I came to realize that the severe weather events predicted by climate change scientists really trigger me on a post traumatic stress level. When I was eleven years old, a quarter of my city got wiped out by a tornado. It was Woodstock, Ontario, 1979. Within minutes I went from baking cookies at my friend’s house, without a care in the world, to helping my parents do whatever they could in a decimated war zone.
I didn’t realize until later on that buildings were designed in response to climate.
This became more apparent to me when I went to Australia as an exchange student. Before I had traveled only to similar climates as my own. Australia had a very different climate but similar colonial culture. So they had took the same architectural inspiration and putting this in a different climate.
I came back to Canada, and decided to study architecture. From there I went full out on the extreme of designing in response to climate. In 1994, my thesis as an architectural student was designing a manned mission to Mars.
Since then, my life has taken me in a variety of directions. In my twenties, I headed back to Australia, where I took on the position of Art Director for an ad agency. I also went into interiors and graphics, corporate interiors and project management. I moved back in 1999, and that’s when I really got into creating green interiors.
Fast forward to 2010, when I started up my own sustainable design consulting practice. I am now working on projects across Canada, the States, and overseas.
How were you first introduced to Andrew Simpson and his company Ecotone?
Andrew’s daughter and my son were in the same grade at a local school together. I met Andrew when the kids were quite young and I knew him from the neighbourhood. I also kept bumping into him at green events. We ended up chatting about green things happening in the city.
Andrew was looking for people with various backgrounds to sit on his company’s board, and he explained that my area of specialty would be a good fit. And so I joined.
What drew you to Ecotone and it’s area of specialty?
What I found in my years of sustainable design and buildings is that we have all the technologies we need in order to create net zero buildings right now. What’s stopping us are the decision making and financial systems that are in place. I found that the data Andrew would be gathering for his company clients allows them to make better decisions. Making those decisions from a place of power for the long term, instead of the typical corporate short term decision-making.
I see Andrew’s work as being the role of empowerment for corporate leaders. Andrew enables these leaders to take the data he provides to create more sustainable buildings, taking into account carbon footprint, and corporate social responsibility. Companies are then willing to invest in buildings that are beyond current code requirements, which is really what’s needed if we are going to keep the climate to less than six to eight degrees of warming.
On a personal level, I know Andrew is very passionate and dedicated about what he does both professionally and as a volunteer for several organizations. He is also incredibly supportive of both individuals and colleagues. For instance, on the side, I run a non profit called Cleantech Innovation Centre and Andrew lends his time as a Board member.
I would say, I can always count on Andrew to come through on whatever he sets his mind to—he’s a wonderful ally and a good friend.
More about affectingchange
Established in 2010, we help nonprofits, NGO’s and corporations discover ways to use design to create more energy-efficient healthy and resilient buildings. We work alongside architects and their design team acting as an impartial advisor. We are experts in passive design that will reduce your heating and cooling loads and save your capital costs. Our initiatives for corporate clients have a payback of nine years or less. Indoor environmental quality and design for wellbeing are our other area of expertise. Use our strategies to create workspaces that will attract talent and make them more productive. We have been enabling companies like yours to create award-winning facilities. Hire us and discover the affectingchange difference. We have a network of experts that can help you and we look forward to working with you. For more info go to: https://affectingchange.com/
Ecotone’s 2019 Integrated Report is available here:
Interview with Chris Henry, Cyber Security Consultant & Wellness Coach
Chris Henry began his journey over 25 years ago, working in global organizations recognized for caring cultures, including Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Grant Thornton. As an Executive Advisor and Life/Rhythmic Diet Wellness Coach he works with Management Teams, Boards, entrepreneurs, organizations and individuals to reach their Rhythmic Potential within themselves, with their partners and with their customers.
Chris also brings this expertise, approach, and an extensive knowledge in cyber security to guide organizations to create secure online community platforms that support the activities and impact of their membership.
How did you come to work with Andrew Simpson and the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI)?
Andrew and I mainly worked closely together on the Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) in use by CSI and Social Innovation Canada. Andrew created and implemented the specifications of what was needed in order to see the first phase customisations for the Partnerships team come to fruition. This phase included customizing the CRM with the fundraising workflow, milestones, reporting and data structures needed by the Partnerships team.
What was truly exciting for us was working with them to see how the CRM could support and truly benefit their efforts in raising funds for the various people and planet programs and initiatives they deliver. As a reporting system, the CRM would help build the foundation needed to track the pursuit of gifts from private, public and corporate sources.
A lot of the work Andrew focused on was configuring Salesorce in terms of reporting and workflows so the “in process” status of new, annual and won applications could be easily determined. A component to this was developing the Stewardship Workflow that tracks ongoing activities in order to remain current and connected to CSI givers.
What was it like working with Andrew as a fellow consultant?
Both Andrew and I were consultants working with CSI, and so there was commonality, with a shared understanding and approach. We both recognized the need to keep the project moving toward its end goal of launching the new CRM, while providing guidance for CSI through each of the different stages.
I would say that, in this respect, Andrew was always willing to go the extra mile for the client, which really impressed me. He never shied away from seeking out all the answers to questions being asked, even if he didn’t know the answer initially. He was a pleasure to work with.
What is next for you?
Right now I am focusing my time in the area of wellness for organizations and individuals. With organizations this takes into account revenue, operations, cyber security, and digital wellness.
It’s about what I call, the new conscious economy, helping organizations be more responsible and mindful in their actions. Thinking about resilience, people, and nature; as well as taking into account sustainability. I now do a lot of work through craftsight wellness community, which is an initiative I created to shine a spotlight on what I term, Creators of Wellness. In essence, craftsight.com is a social enterprise platform to help establish the new #ConsciousEconomy where we work together #curatingwellness and #enablingchoice for one another by finding, sharing and rating #wellness foods, products, services, creators and experiences.
I have also been expanding my Rhythmic Diet Wellness Coaching. This focuses on guiding others in preparing for, and bouncing back from, life traumas by igniting their Rythmic Potential using Tibetan, Chinese, Energy and Sound Medicine principles. I currently run these and other wellness events through the craftsight connected circle live shows https://craftsight.eventbrite.com. Although times are tough for many small businesses and consulting agencies right now, I feel hopeful that we can support each other through this time in an inclusive, caring, and meaningful way.
Ecotone’s 2019 Integrated Report is available here:
I must admit it felt strange working on this report during the pandemic – reflecting on our achievements in 2019 when the world felt like it had completely changed. Did this make the report irrelevant? Not at all–but it did force us to pause and reflect on what was important – both personally and professionally. The title of the report “Toward a Shared & Durable Prosperity” was aspirational–these goals are more relevant than ever. What follows are some reflections on writing a report when the world has turned upside down.
Lessons From Preparing an Annual Report in a Pandemic
- Purpose Matters More than Ever. As a Certified B Corporation we know the value of purpose – it’s what sets B Corps apart from other companies. In fact the title of the report was inspired by the B Corp motto of “a shared a durable prosperity”. This resonates more than ever as the pandemic is shining a light on those two themes – durability and sharing. Businesses that are durable – built on solid business models that take care of people and planet are the ones that will survive. Sharing is something that comes naturally to B Corps; its in their corporate DNA.
- Strong Relationships Matter More than ever. Our existence as a company is built on relationships – with our customers, our staff, our vendors, our board and our communities. Nothing we accomplished in 2019 was possible without these trusted partnerships. In the midst of the pandemic, these relationships will be absolutely vital to survival.
- Be Self Sufficient, but not Sufficient in yourself. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of modern business–from the danger of long supply lines now suddenly cut or just in time inventory that seems like a very risky strategy. A lot of businesses will start to look at returning to some old fashioned values of being self sufficient – whether this means making more things in your own shop, having more inventory on hand and more cash in the bank – even if this is the opposite of what they taught in business school. Another old fashion value will hopefully also make a comeback — looking out for our neighbours and people in our communities who are struggling to get by.
- Not Business As Usual. When the world stopped at the beginning of the pandemic a lot of people were able to stop and listen and think about what was important. Covid has exposed the inequities in society-low income and racialized communities have been hit much harder; we need to address this as part of the recovery. There are many variations of the “Just Recovery” –but it boils down to rebuilding our economy to provide for the needs of all while living within the Earth’s planetary boundaries. Oh yeah, and not killing ourselves working 60 hour weeks!
- Focus on Value Creation. One thing the <Integrated Reporting> format does really well is show how the six capitals–manufactured, financial, human, social, intellectual and natural–are used to create value. Every company needs to know what they do well and focus on that; and then pivot to serve new markets exposed by the pandemic. For Ecotone our focus is on bringing a sustainability lens to our client’s software implementation projects as documented in this interview with Chris Henry about our role in The Centre for Social Innovation’s digital transformation project.
- Blurring of Professional and Personal. By now we’ve all seen most of our colleagues children on various Zoom calls; lets just admit that we are all human beings with personal lives. Its time to stop splitting ourselves in two before walking into the office. We need to bring our whole selves to work; there may be some baggage but there is a whole lot of creativity and passion that we’ve been leaving at home. And if the trend to more remote work takes hold-it will be about bringing our work selves home!
- Self Care. Now more than ever we need to take care of our bodies and our minds. That is why Ecotone is a proud founding member of The Roots Collaborative, a co-op of sustainability professionals focused on integrating personal wellness with sustainability.
So thank you for taking the time for me to explain how our 2019 Integrated Report is still relevant; I hope it was convincing. Now I hope you will read it! But more importantly I hope it will spur you to action –how can you make your company better while serving your community and protecting our planet. It comes back to purpose; what are we put on Earth to do?
Finally, I wish to thank everyone who made this report possible – our customers, our staff, our board, and our fellow travelers on the road to flourishing. And finally a big thank you to our marketing partners – Hobe Hosokawa – for their great work on strategic communications and graphic design.
Tout est possible…
Interview with Halyna Zalucky, Founding Member of The Roots Collaborative
Halyna Zalucky is a passionate advocate for the balance between environment, social, economic, and personal wellbeing. Halyna met Andrew Simpson through her work with The Roots Collaborative, as they helped shape the genesis of the organization to what it is today, and provide leadership and guidance for communities and businesses to incorporate new and innovative business models.
Why is sustainability so important to you?
I believe that sustainability is a way of being and living more mindfully. I feel that I have been on a journey through my life in order to figure out what that looks like. But I would say the inspiration came from my studies in Migration Theory in Belgium, where the three pillars of environment, society, economy became more apparent to me. My interests then shifted to enforced displacement, and research into environmental degradation due to climate change. It was when I returned home that I found the Centre
for Social Innovation (CSI), and began my journey with the Roots Collaborative.
What is The Roots Collaborative?
Essentially it is a not for profit cooperative where a group of sustainability professionals come together to work on projects that promote well-being—in the environmental sphere, social sphere, and economic well-being. We also have a fourth pillar, which is our own personal well-being. This includes our mental, emotional, and physical health. It was very organic how the organization unfolded, and felt like the next logical step in
the evolution of how we understand sustainability.
How has Andrew, and his knowledge of business, impacted the organization?
Andrew has been with the organization since the very beginning. He really helped design, develop, and co-create our organization in a very unique way. I truly value his input and approach. He is a very reflective person. He will sit back in a meeting, take in what’s going on, and then has a tempered and insightful response to what’s being debated or proposed, which elevates the discussion.
As CEO of Ecotone, Andrew gravitated towards more the business development
piece, as head of our business development working group. He took the lead in designing our strategy and process around working as a team and making sure we provide a quality service, whether we are serving the community or a business. He has always been a proponent of tapping into our shared wisdom, in order to create systems & processes that inspire innovation.
As a B Corp, Andrew also possesses a specific knowledge set, how companies can move from being more profit oriented to more open and aware of how they impact the environment and society, and striving toward improving that impact.
Through Ecotone, he is expanding his work around sustainability reporting, which as an organization, we very much value, because it’s such a huge piece of the puzzle to give companies the tools to reflect on their own internal policies and practices and be able to report on those.
He also brings a broader understanding of new and innovative business models, which I think there is currently a huge trend towards. So, not the status quo of hierarchical organizations but much more collaborative and inclusive.
What projects has your organization initiated?
We’ve run several seminars on the theme of the business case for sustainability, showing how this line of thinking is a wise business decision.
We’ve also worked on community projects, such as the Home Energy Savings Initiative, around building infrastructure, energy efficiency and conservation. That project focused on homes, educating homeowners and renters on how they can reduce their energy through simple means.
Currently, we are focusing on the notion of resilience, and fusing this with sustainability. This is becoming increasingly relevant. This encompasses resilient finance, infrastructure, human resources, business models, and supply chains.
I know that Andrew’s business, Ecotone, is all about moving forward in a way that is inclusive and caring towards society and towards the environment, so that it is a shared space. Andrew has always recognized that what we do now, in that shared space, has an impact on our future.
We always need to recognize that our actions have an impact, so that we can sustain ourselves as organizations, as people, and as a society.
More About The Roots Collaborative
Our group consists of a diverse membership of social entrepreneurs who are working collaboratively to share their expertise in the areas of governance, social and environmental impact, and personal wellbeing. We engage with communities, companies and not for profit organizations. Our mission is to tap into our collective wisdom to create systems and processes that inspire innovation.
Our Three Cs
We take a holistic approach to our work. To us, sustainability involves not only
economic, social and environmental stability, but is dependent on our personal
wellbeing. All are connected.
We collaborate with our clients and partners to tackle complex problems and
find lasting solutions.
We are a Co-operative and thus both practice and preach the value of democracy. We work to co-create solutions with our clients and ensure all voices within an organization are heard and valued.
For more info:
Ecotone’s 2019 Integrated Annual Report is here:
We are very excited to release our 2018 Integrated Report. For the first time we have also created a video to introduce the report to a broader audience.
This is our second report using the Integrating Reporting methodology focusing on the six capitals. Our biggest impact is on human capitals and smallest is environmental. As a service based business this makes sense as we are people serving people at the core of our business and create little impact on the environment.
New this year we are linking our reporting the the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are excited to join the growing movement of businesses aligning their sustainability initiatives with the SDGs.
We continue to have a fruitful engagement with the B Corp community, which continues to flourish here in Canada and around the globe. We are proud members of the Centre of Social Innovation and work closely with our collegues at The Roots Collaborative.
Thanks to our writer Samiya Hirji and our marketing partner Hobe Hosokawa Marketing who made the report sparkle!
You are find our 2018 report here. Enjoy and we welcome your feedback.
There is a something happening down on the waterfront that I think is the most exciting and innovative project anywhere in Toronto and perhaps all of Canada. Its a project that will completely redefine how we will think of our waterfront when it is complete – dare I say “world class”! Of course I am talking about the the naturalization of the mouth of the Don River. For over one hundred years the Don has ended by making an unnatural right turn into the Keating Channel, which has made it prone to flooding and polluted.
New dockwall under construction for Villiers Island. Photo credit: Andrew Simpson
The project will put the river back to a semblance of its original meandering route when the Portlands was one of the largest swamps in Canada. By following a meandering path that will slow down the river and provide flood protection to 240 hectares of the Portlands, it will unlock this land for development.
The new river will form the heart of an amazing new park (one of many developed by WaterfrontTO) which will support walking, cycling, canoeing and kayaking all in a natural environmental less than four kilometres from downtown. This new district is called Villiers Island and is slated for a mix of residential and commercial development. But what I think is the most amazing feature of the project is that it will restore a wide range of ecosystems – self regulating communities of plants and animals that will be re-introduced with all the ecosystem services we take for granted like sequestering carbon, filtering pollution from the water, and cleaning the air, to say nothing of the natural beauty. Humans pay nothing for these services upon which our very survival depends.
All this has been made possible by an investment of $1.2 Billion of public money from the three levels of government. Make no mistake, the governments will get a great return as those 240 hectares will now be available for development.
So how does this relate to that other project on the waterfront: Quayside, you know the one getting all the attention about innovation? Last month, Sidewalk Labs released its long awaited Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) for the Quayside district.
Part of the proposal considers Villiers Island as a location for their Canadian Headquarters as part of an Innovation Zone. Given that Villiers was not part of the scope of WaterfrontTO’s original RFP for Quayside, this seems like more than a little overreach.
There are two arguments that often get used to support projects like Quayside: nothing happened on the Portlands for 100 years – and that government can’t innovate. Both are false in the case of WaterfrontTO. There is close to 20 years of hard work based on extensive community consultation. It is even longer when you include the work of grassroots groups like Bring Back the Don, which first proposed the idea of re-naturalizing how the Don meets the harbour.
Do we need innovation to address crucial urban issues like housing affordability and climate adaptation? Absolutely, we need to look at ideas from around the world. Toronto has no monopoly on good ideas. In fact, our weak mayor system is just one example of our governance structure showing its limitations in responding to these critical issues. Which begs the question “why not let Sidewalk test their ideas out here, what is the worst that can happen?”
To answer this I will use an old story from the technology business. When IBM introduced their PC in 1981 they outsourced two crucial pieces of technology – the processors and the operating system (DOS). Those two companies – Intel and Microsoft became the de facto leaders in their respective sectors and to this day, almost 40 years later, have near monopolies – due to that decision by IBM. In the #SmartCities industry we are in 1981, at an inflection point where decisions made in the next few years will establish the embedded technologies – the SmartCities Operating System – that will determine how cities around the world function for the next generation.
There are huge and long lasting implications to the SmartCities conversation. We need to take the time to get this right. It is a much bigger discussion that is beyond just technology. It is about democracy and governance. All three levels of government and the civil sector need to understand and shape the policies and governance structures that will guide the SmartCities conversation. We need to ask ourselves who are SmartCities for? Who benefits and who is excluded (purposefully or by omission)? This should not be left to a vendor, which in the current vacuum of leadership is what has happened in Toronto with Sidewalk.
So how do we move forward?
- Familiarize yourself with the contents of the MIDP.
- Attend the WaterfrontTO public consultations: https://quaysideto.ca/get-involved/public-consultation/
- Follow #BlockSidewalk for important discussions about this topic: https://www.blocksidewalk.ca/
- Engage your politicians about the SmartCities discussion.
- Don’t let anybody push us to make a quick decision. Toronto technology sector is booming.
I remain cautiously optimistic that great things will continue to happen on the waterfront. Let’s not sell ourselves short by thinking we can’t innovate – clearly we can, and we have a new river to prove it!
Andrew Simpson is a Principal Consultant at Ecotone Software Consulting Inc. providing clients with technology and sustainability solutions. He is also a founding member of The Roots Collaborative, a cooperative of sustainability and wellness professionals.