The Most Innovative Project on the Waterfront

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.

Dockwall for Villiers Island under construction east of Cherry St.

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.

https://waterfrontoronto.ca/nbe/portal/waterfront/Home/waterfronthome/projects/don+mouth+naturalization+and+port+lands+flood+protection

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?

  1. Familiarize yourself with the contents of the MIDP.
  2. Attend the WaterfrontTO public consultations: https://quaysideto.ca/get-involved/public-consultation/
  3. Follow #BlockSidewalk for important discussions about this topic: https://www.blocksidewalk.ca/
  4. Engage your politicians about the SmartCities discussion.
  5. 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.

Ecotone Named B Corp Best For The World 2018 – Governance Honoree

BFTW-2018-Governance-Color

It’s been an exciting week here at Ecotone!  On Monday we released our 2017 Integrated Annual Report and today we were proud to be recognized by B Lab with a Best For the World 2018 – Governance Honoree.  We believe this is no coincidence!  In fact we see them as inextricably linked – our governance strategy is founded on our amazing board and our dedication to detailed and transparent integrated reporting.

Ecotone is so honoured to  be recognized in the global @BCorporation community for creating positive impact in the way we do business with a spot on the Best for Governance list! See our score and learn more about the other honorees here—we’re in
great company. #bestfortheworld18  bthechange.com

The Governance portion of the B Impact Assessment evaluates a company’s overall mission, ethics, accountability and transparency. It measures whether the company has adopted a social or environmental mission, and how it engages its employees, board members and the community to achieve that mission. This section assesses employee access to financial information, customers’ opportunities to provide feedback, and the diversity of the company’s governing bodies. Honorees scoring in the top 10 percent set a gold standard for the high impact that business as a force for good can make around the world. We made the list thanks to exceptional practices like having an active and engaged board, and producing detailed integrated reports.

2017 Integrated Annual Report

Cover Page

We are excited to share our 2017 Integrated Annual Report with our stakeholder community.

Our overarching goal for this report was showing the link between strategy and sustainability.  Being our third report this could have been easier, but we chose to up our game and follow the Integrated Reporting format which sets a high bar in terms of both content and data.  The format is a systems thinking approach to reporting that goes far beyond the financial focus of a traditional annual report to measure a company’s impact on society and the broader environment.

The format is extensive and thorough, the sections are:

  • Purpose and Stakeholders
  • Governance
  • Business Model
  • Risks and Opportunities
  • Strategy and Resources
  • Performance
  • Basis of Preparation
  • Outlook

Data requirements are also extensive as they require reporting on a company’s impact on the six capitals: manufactured, financial, intellectual, human, social and natural (see definitions in the Performance Section).  The first three are traditional balance sheet items and data was easily to find.  The other three have evolving methodologies to quantity both in monetary and intrinsic value.  We choose some simple methods to reclassify existing data into one of the six capitals in order to rank the overall impact of each.

This allowed us to get a relative comparison of our impact across the six capitals.  Ecotone’s change to the six in 2017 was in this order:

                Human

                Manufactured

                Financial

                Social

                Natural

                Intellectual

If you want to see the numbers you are just going to have to read the report.

Please take a look and share your comments and feedback on how we can make this report better in the future.  Or if you want to learn more about how we did it.

 We realize we are a small company with a tiny impact, but our goal is to challenge all companies – large and small- to do this level of reporting.  Imagine the scale of change this would drive if every organization was constantly thinking and measuring its impact on the six capitals instead of just one.

Ecotone 2017 Integrated Annual Report

Data Visualizations

What I learned from my Integrated Report

Integrated Reporting

As we prepared to start working on the 2017 edition on what was to be Ecotone’s third integrated report  I wanted to push us to a higher standard with a more formal methodology vs our previous reports where more ad hoc based on a simple (but effective) triple bottom line structure.  I wanted to be able to model good reporting to our clients what showed reports that were action based and tied to strategy. I did not want a report that looked pretty that no one would read.  After a number of discussions with Bob Willard of Sustainability Advantage, author and speaker on the business case for sustainability, he suggested the International Reporting IR Framework.

The <IR> framework is a set of guidelines to help companies create a comprehensive integrated reports.  The focus is on how a company impacts the six capitals -financial, manufactured, intellectual, human, social, natural over various time horizons.

 

Here’s what I learned:

  1. It’s a challenging framework.  

But to paraphrase Kennedy “we don’t do things because they are easy but because they are hard”.  Part of what makes <IR> to challenging is that it is so comprehensive.  It’s start with considering the purpose of the business (the why) and the stakeholders (the who), next it covers the governance structure of the organization,  then an exploration of the business model, risks and opportunities, and resource allocation.  Only then do you get into a detailed accounting of the performance of the company against the six capitals. Finally there is a discussion of report preparation and finally outlook for the future.  It’s a lot of ground to cover.

  1. Data is only half the battle.

Being our third report I thought it would be fairly straightforward as we had put systems in place in prior years to capture the data.  <IR> added two challenges: the six capitals required reclassifying a lot of our data but more importantly <IR> focuses on a lot of things beyond performance metrics – they why, how, who and what of the business as outlined in the previous section.

  1. The Flourishing Business Canvas Helped A lot.

Back in December/January Ecotone participated in a workshop series called Business Design For Success which was focused on helping companies get B Corp Certification, but more importantly it was about the intentional design of businesses to be focused on the triple bottom line. One tool that we used throughout was the Flourishing Business Canvas – an extension of the traditional Business Model Canvas (BMC) but adding a social and environmental layer.  In retrospect this went along way to preparing the content for our report.  Unlike the BMC, the Flourishing Business Canvas specifically addressed natural capital through sections for ecosystem services, biophysical stocks, and ecosystem actors.  It also takes a stakeholder vs shareholder approach.  It specifically addresses governance as well as both value co-creation and co-destruction which is inherent in the six capitals model in that everything is interrelated.

  1. A Framework too Far.

Our original goal for the report was to use The Future Fit Business Benchmark (FFBB) as the evaluation methodology.  Future Fit is a new benchmark with uses 23 Do No Harm Goals plus 20 Do Some Good Goals to help evaluate if companies are truly sustainable.  But as we started down the <IR> path it seemed like there was a potential to try to do too many things and none of them well.  We didn’t want the report to be too long.  But FFBB is a great benchmark worthy of its own supplemental report to be issued later in the year.

  1. Tell a Story.

As mentioned in lesson #3 our data was in pretty good shape, but numbers alone are meaningless – we need to tell the story of our company and how we create value for multiple stakeholders across the six captials.  Fortunately <IR> provides an excellent framework for this.  Thanks to Barry Martin from Hypenotic for bringing up the issue of “why would someone want to read another report, it must be compelling”.  You’ll get to judge for yourself in a few weeks whether we meet this bar!

 

 

 

Ecotone Announces Partnership with Sustainability Dashboard Solution Carbon and More

carbon and more logo-1

We are excited to announce we have signed a reseller agreement with Gem-Up Inc. to sell and support their Carbon And More SaaS Sustainability Dashboard tool.  Targeted to the SME sector, the software quickly lets companies communicate their environmental and social impact, using a visually engaging dashboard which you can link to your corporate website.  The dashboard can report on the following

Environmental Factors:

  • Carbon emissions and offsets
  • Employee travel
  • Energy consumption
  • Water consumption
  • Paper and waste production
  • Air Quality

Social Factors:

  • Employee volunteer hours
  • Corporate donations

Carbon and more dashboard

In addition to the shareable dashboard, the system can generate a weekly email to your stakeholders with the same information, helping to build your brand and leverage your impact.  The solution is perfect for small to medium enterprises that want to self report their metrics but don’t have the expertise to employ complex sustainability frameworks.

Benefits:

  • Cloud based, no software installation required
  • Easy to use, no technical knowledge required to setup
  • Easy to understand for all stakeholder segments
  • Visually compelling, infographic style presentation convey a professional image

Software comes in three editions:

  1. Boutique Edition for up to two users.  Free
  2. SME Edition for up to 100 users.  $USD 19/month.  Includes shareable dashboard.
  3. Enterprise Edition for unlimited users.  $USD 49/month.  Includes shareable dashboard and Team challenges.

Contact Andrew Simpson at (416) 706-6412 or email: andrew@ecotonesoftware.com to arrange a demo.

You can also start a free 30 day trial here: https://csr.carbonandmore.com/#/register

 

2016 Integrated Annual Report

We are excited to share our 2016 Integrated Annual Report with our stakeholder community.  This is our take on a combination of the traditional annual report which is primarily focused on financial performance, and a sustainability report which highlights environmental and social metrics.  By combining these into a single report, we feel we are leading by example in modeling a triple bottom line approach to business, and showing how we can help our clients automate their own sustainability reporting.

In 2016 we achieved a major milestone in becoming a Certified B Corporation.  We believe in B Labs mission to “make business a force for good” which aligns with our values around service to our customers, communities, and the environment.  We see in the B Corp movement, an army of potential collaborators who recognize the myriad of opportunities in products and services with triple bottom line benefits.  This was apparent when we attended the annual B Corp Champions Retreat held in Toronto this year.  It was amazing meeting so many purpose driven companies who are genuine about doing well while serving people and the planet.

Talking to fellow B Corps reinforced the value of our revised service offerings around sustainability reporting and CRM for the Cleantech.  We are confident these strategies will lead our growth in the coming years.

2016 saw us devote a lot of time and energy to helping address the Syrian Refugee Crisis both as private sponsors and as co-founders of WelcomeHomeTO – a not-for-profit that connects resources, organizations, and people supporting newcomers.

We continued to support our local community both as donors and active volunteers to various environmental not-for-profits.

We hope you will take a few minutes to look at our report and think about how your organization would follow our lead in sharing your triple bottom line story.  We’d be happy to help you start on that journey.

2016 Integrated Annual Report

Bob Willard: Sustainability ROI Workbook Master Class

The Roots Collaborative, a co-op sustainability consulting company that I helped to co-found is please to present Bob Willard conducting a half day workshop on his upcoming Sustainability ROI Workbook. This a great opportunity to take a deep dive on this tool for building the business case for your sustainability initiative.
Wednesday May 17th, 9-12 am
Centre for Social Innovation

Registration
https://goo.gl/oSWfuE

2015 Integrated Annual Report

We are pleased to release our first annual Integrated Annual Report.  So what exactly does this name actually mean?  We were originally going to call it our “Integrated Sustainability Report” – integrated to cover the financial aspects of an annual report and sustainability was to encompass the environmental and social dimensions.  After conversations with our board about the goal of normalizing triple bottom line reporting to put all three elements are on equal footing, it was decided to change the name to emphasize an evolution of the traditional annual report to have a broader meaning.

So why did we do it?  As part of our B Corp Assessment we committed to producing an annual sustainability report that would be reviewed by our board and publically available.  As a small service based company our environmental footprint is negligible, but we thought there were ample opportunities to share the many initiatives Ecotone has undertaken to live up to our mission ”…to enable clients to achieve their sustainability goals by leveraging people, process, and technology.  We strive toward a net zero environmental footprint from our operations and work to make a positive contribution to our communities.”

Some highlights we’d be happy if all organizations large and small were to follow: formalized 1% for the planet donation program, paid our fair share of taxes, used public or active transportation to office and clients, performed pro bono consulting for NFP clients, contributed volunteer roles on solar co-op, and tracked our environmental footprint in energy, water, and waste.

The goals of the report were to present information so it was transparent, comparable, easy to understand and relevant.  In doing so we hope to model good data stewardship to our clients and encourage companies of all sizes to share more information about their efforts to balance their financial, environmental and social impacts.

You can find our report here.