I'm thrilled to have launched TheChange and to see my vision of advancing the sustainability movement locally coming to life with the help of a great team and community support. A couple months post launch, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on my journey to date.
I grew up on the West Coast of BC and was raised to be environmentally conscious and socially active. I’ve always been interested in getting involved with companies that are built to make the world better. They are why I wake up in the morning, and the inspiration for the kind of company I hope to create.
In late 2007, I came up with the concept for an online platform that connects people to companies that align with their values. It started as an extension of my personal interests, and then became a business opportunity when I noticed the demand increasing for corporate responsibility, green jobs and eco-friendly products/services.
It’s late August. You’re sitting on the banks of a river in northwestern BC, tall spruce trees stand behind you and thickets of highbush cranberries cluster along the riverbanks. Then the steady sound of the river changes for a moment and a dark flicker in your right eye becomes a grizzly - a big female grizzly - busting her way up the riverbank about 20 feet away with a fat wriggling salmon in her mouth. You don’t move. You can’t take your eyes from her. She barely notices you or your awe as she eats. Then she rambles back down the bank into water that is shimmering, thick with the shadows of spawning salmon.
To an observer this moment has visibly moved you. Yes, at first you were a bit afraid, but now that it’s passed, you feel something else, something more edifying. You are amazed. You know you have had a once in a lifetime experience. In this time of climate change, declining wild salmon populations, and disappearing wilderness, you are aware that what just happened is unique – increasingly, terrifyingly unique. You also know that the future of that place, the river, is endangered.
What if you could change that? What if you had a chance to influence the way environmental decisions are made in British Columbia; to radically raise the bar on the role ecological and cultural values play in land use decisions – would you take it?
The Taku Watershed in northwestern BC has no roads, no sea lice, and no industrial development. It spans nearly two million hectares of intact wilderness ecosystems, ranging from deep cool rivers carving through broad fertile valleys to airy mountain peaks.
It is home to all five species of wild Pacific salmon, as well as grizzly and black bears, wolves, mountain sheep, caribou, moose, goats, wolverines, and countless more animal and plant species.
But the BC government is currently negotiating with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in a land use planning process that could allow acid-generating mines to open in the watershed, destroying the character and quality of habitat in this watershed for wild salmon, and all that depend on them, for generations to come.
You can do nothing. Or, you can use this opportunity to influence the way we value wilderness, wild salmon, and grizzly bears; to act for those places that are intact, that are abundant with life, that are strongholds for wild salmon; to protect the future of places with the power to touch you at the edge of your being.
In the Taku there is an opportunity to protect salmon before they are imperilled. Let the BC government know what the Taku and places like this mean to you. Remind our representatives that wild salmon need wild rivers.
Hi. My name is hanspetermeyer, and I'm a dance-aholic.
That's a good thing. Dancing keeps me physically fit. It puts me in the arms of women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. It keeps my heart and mind opening to change.
I can't reduce all things in life to what happens in the dance space - but I try. Something happens when two people dance together. It speaks volumes about how we deal with change.
I'm not naturally graceful when it comes to making or accepting change. Just ask my ex's. Nevertheless, I think I'm making progress. Dance is a big part of this. It gives me a metaphor and a practice for being a little more open, a little more flexible.
For many children, back to school means back to homework and cramming, report cards and “How long is it until spring break?” For most children, school is a necessary evil; but does it have to be such a trial?
I have sat down to write this post a bunch of times, and can't seem to nail it.
I have now been back from Bologna a few weeks, and parts of it are receding into memory, but other parts are still extremely fresh and current. I have been trying to make sense of it all, but am having trouble summing it up succinctly. If someone asks me about the trip, I can either smile and say it was amazingly interesting and inspiring and then stop, or I can go on for a good ten minutes fumbling to explain what I experienced (check out parts 1 and 2 of my journey, or all my blog posts about it).
Okay, so the title is a bit of a joke. I’m not someone who makes up grand theories, but the past week and a bit in Bologna has really got me thinking about history, culture and the way we run businesses.
You’ve probably heard of carbon offsets. They are the intangible vouchers you can buy to counteract your impact on the climate every time you burn fossil fuels or otherwise cause the release of greenhouse gas emissions. I had known about the idea of buying and selling carbon for about ten years before I was offered a job with Offsetters in Vancouver, Canada.
“Offsetting? But I don’t believe in offsetting,” I recall thinking. Carbon credits were spurious, the good ones were painfully difficult to create (lots of paperwork involved) and, at the best of times, they just resulted in a net-zero impact on the climate – for every emission reduced, someone else lets one go.
My first exposure to carbon trading was in the spring of 1999 when I attended a climate change conference in El Salvador. International delegates had been invited to explore some of the opportunities and risks associated with the carbon trading schemes of the new Kyoto Protocol. A hot topic was the Clean Development Mechanism, a Kyoto program to encourage investment in developing nations through carbon trading. Would this just be another way for wealthy countries to exploit poorer ones? Would carbon reductions be pursued at the expense of other social and environmental impacts? At this time the carbon market was still just an idea but it was already becoming contentious.
I later moved to Vancouver to work with a company that designed and installed solar water heating systems. My first assignment was to support the company’s involvement in an experimental carbon-trading scheme called GERT (the Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Trading Pilot). GERT offered a means of learning about carbon trading by doing it, with participants from government, industry, and environmental groups. It was an interesting concept, but the reporting and analysis seemed endless. We were quantifying something that didn’t exist (a lack of emissions) and could never be proven. We had to calculate, research, and reveal a lot of data, and we were at the whim of a committee to review and scrutinize our claims. I had strong doubts that the business world would ever participate in something like this.
I spent the next seven years designing solar water heating systems and working with other experts in renewables and energy efficiency across the country. We would always evaluate the CO2 reductions associated with our projects but we couldn’t really assign any monetary value to them. When Offsetters approached me, they were looking for someone with my project experience to head their sourcing department. I was impressed by Offsetters’ perspective on the emerging carbon market: their mission was to lead by example with high quality projects and to prove that offsets could be a legitimate part of the climate solution.
What about all that paperwork? It’s still there, but the industry has evolved and the process is more streamlined than it was back in the GERT days. There are internationally recognized quality standards, third-party validators and verifiers who sign-off on the project and the numbers, as well as registries where the public can view the transactions and confirm that each credit is unique and not being double-sold. It appeared that the international carbon market was becoming quite sophisticated and that it was an opportune time to help build the local market in B.C. and across Canada.
Okay, but what were the actual projects? I looked at the Offsetters portfolio: ground-source heat pump installations at five community buildings including care facilities for seniors and the disabled as well as a First Nations school and Band office; energy efficiency measures at a commercial greenhouse, supporting local food production and reducing their exposure to natural gas price shocks; international development projects in Cambodia, Uganda, and India that brought energy efficiency and resource security to small communities. I was impressed. The projects supported appropriate technologies and they had real social benefits outside of the carbon trade.
I realized that I was being offered the opportunity to seek out and develop more great projects to add to this list. As you may have guessed, I took the job.
So what about the issue of the net-zero impact? That every tonne offset is countered by another tonne emitted? Well, I soon discovered that people who pay for their carbon emissions have a strong interest in reducing them over time. And they do. Our repeat customers are proof of this. Over the long term, they save money and reduce risk by fine-tuning their operations to make a smaller impact. In the short term, they support new projects that make a difference right away.
It’s a great job and I enjoy the challenge. I suppose I’m still an offset skeptic in the sense that I scrutinize every project and every aspect of the process. After all, if I see anything wrong, it’s now my job to fix it.
Morgan McDonald has a background in mechanical engineering and over ten years of experience designing and describing sustainable energy systems. He was a founding director of the BC Sustainable Energy Association and is an educator on solar heating systems. Morgan also plays piano and keyboards in the innovative avant-rock group “Fond of Tigers”.