Chris Rickett from Partners in Project Green interviewed

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I recently got a chance to speak with my friend Chris Rickett from the Partners in Project Green conservation authority out in Toronto. They are doing great work to help businesses save money and go green. In the 10 minute interview, we discuss how they help businesses in the GTA.

Interview transcript

Chris Rickett: Partners in Project Green

Jonathan Brun: Hi, I’m Jonathan from Nimonik and today I’m with Chris Rickett from Partners in Project Green.  It’s a conservation authority based out in the general Toronto area. And Chris, I was hoping you could give us a quick overview of your conservation authority, what you guys are doing, and kind of what makes it a bit different from your typical conservation authority.

Chris Rickett: No problem. So, Partners in Project Green is actually an initiative of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. So there’s 36 conservation authorities across Ontario that basically work on watershed management and environmental management across the province with their partner municipalities, all on a watershed basis.  Here in Toronto, we’ve kind of expanded a bit of our mandate and we do a lot of work around rebuilding, and sustainable development, these types of things.

So, over the past few years the Toronto Region Conservation Authority developed into a number of public-private partnerships.  For instance, working with hospitals across Canada on energy management, or the Mayors’ Megawatt Challenge where we work with municipalities across Canada on energy management issues.  The Toronto Region Conservation Authority is also home to the World Rebuilding Council.  So, we actually work to promote green building not only locally here in the GTA where our regulatory authority lies, but also globally in trying to set up chapters in other countries.

And then, basically in 2008 we developed this initiative called Partners in Project Green in partnership with Greater Toronto Airport Authority, the region of Peel, the city of Toronto, the city of Brampton, and the city of Mississauga, to basically develop an initiative to engage the industrial and commercial community around Toronto Pearson.  And the overall goal there was really to…how do we reach out to this community, to help them improve their financial and environmental performance.  But over the medium-long term really turn it, transform the area into an internationally recognized eco-business zone.  So, we want this place to basically be home to where the thought leaders are on sustainability.  So, when you’re looking for the most competitive, and most profitable companies, we also want you to be looking for the most sustainable, when located around the airport.  So, when you want to see a food processor that’s gone carbon-neutral, we want you to look to Molson Breweries.  When you want to see a logistics company that’s working it’s way off the grid, we want you to look to Lange Transportation.  So, the initiative is really giving the tools, and the programs, and the projects to companies locally to push the bar around sustainability, and really start to not only push themselves, but also their neighbors, those who live in their sector, or locally, nationally, and hopefully globally.

Jonathan Brun: So, how many companies are involved in the project at this stage?  And then how do they become involved, in a sense?  Are they by default involved if they’re set up in one of the four regions you cover, or do they have to sign up and pay membership fees.  What’s sort of the relationship between your project and then the member companies?

Chris Rickett: No problem.  In the area itself, really just to give you a kind of scale idea, is that we’re basically talking about 12,000 hectometers of industrial land surrounding Toronto Pearson.  So, basically if you walk out in any direction until you hit residential areas, in the area we focus on around the airport, in that area there’s about 12,500 companies employing around 350,000 people.  So, it’s actually Canada’s largest employment area.  How do we work with companies?  To develop Partners in Project Green, we engaged over 200 and some-odd companies nationally, and developed the overall initiative.  And in our first year in operations, 2009, we engaged over 250 companies in specific sustainability projects, whether that be training activities, or giving assessments, or helping them purchase free products, or whatever.  How companies get involved–basically if you’re in the area, you’re allowed to access our programs.

Chris Rickett: There is a membership fee.  To utilize those programs, however, it’s actually based on a channel-partner agreement.  So, if you’re a member of one of our partner organizations, your subscription fee is paid.

Chris Rickett: So, for instance, a lot of the companies are already members of the Board of Trade, so since the Board of Trade is one of our partners, then they don’t actually have to pay a subscription fee.

Jonathan Brun: Okay

Chris Rickett: It’s actually very…more of a…in most cases, there is actually no subscription fee.  But we do  put a value on it because we realize that people are skeptical when they get offered something free.  So, we put a value on it.  But it’s still paid for if you’re with one of our partners.

Jonathan Brun: So, what’s one of the . . . I guess the first stage is for them to look at your website and see what resources are already available.  And then, how involved do you get with your members in terms of their specific operations and trying to see potentially what best practices that you’ve done with other companies are transferable to them, or developing things specific to them?  I mean, what’s your level of involvement? Are you more of just an information provider to them, or do you do things on the ground?

Chris Rickett: We’re a solution provider, at the end of the day.  There’s lots of information out there.  Just pointing people to the information doesn’t usually get the job done.  So we like to think of ourselves as solution providers.  We have a whole bunch of programs with Partners in Project Green, so we do everything around eco-efficiency opportunities and identifying, providing free assessments around energy waste production opportunities.  We have a program around developing an energy plan for your facility.  We have different green purchasing programs, where basically we went out, negotiated, reduced cost on green technologies: everything from building envelope technologies to green energy with Bullfrog Power, and basically used the size of the area to get a reduced cost that companies then can access through the network, lots of stuff around restoration, and of course removables, and lots of training and networking opportunities.

What we really position ourselves as being is, is we’re not here just for one program, so you don’t just come get an assessment and then go away and figure out how to do it.  We’re really here for a relationship, and to develop a deep relationship.  So, a company, typically what happens is I’ll sit down with a company when they first learn about the project.  And I sit down with them and get into detail about what we do and how we can help them, identify what their priorities are.  And then based on their priorities, we typically give a meeting, you know ten things we’ve gotta do. . . to get really deep with the company.  For instance, one company’s working on a bio-gas facility.

And so, they really needed all the right [???] agencies to get together around the table so they could make a decision.  And we went out and organized that meeting with the various ministries to get everybody around the table, so we could leave that meeting going, “Who’s going to do what, and where are we going to go from here?”  So, we basically try to leverage the knowledge that’s in the area to push, and of course all our network and the conservation authority, which you know, has deep roots in the government, to help companies be innovative and push projects forward.

Jonathan Brun: Yeah, so I mean, it sounds like your primary role is a facilitator between different parties that can bring a solution to a company that otherwise might not have the internal resources to do it themselves.  And so, can you think of maybe, one or two projects that you’ve been involved with that’s really moved some companies toward being greener, whether it’s on air missions, or whether it’s on waste or any kind of green initiative where you feel that Partners in Project Green has made a big difference, and saw a project that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have gotten done.

Chris Rickett: Yeah, for sure.  There are lots of examples.  And I think it really, while we do lots of assessments, and we identify lots of easy opportunities in facilities to reduce costs, some of the things that really jump out that really show the leverage of the network are . . . For instance, we were working with a company on a retro-fit of an office building, and we were really trying to convince them to look at geo-thermal for that installation, but they were very hesitant, didn’t think it worked, didn’t think the payback was there, all these types of things.

But, just down the road we have a colleague, [???] committee, Lange Transportation, who basically retro-fitted a 70,000 square foot, 30-year-old building for heating and cooling off geo-thermal.  And I said, you know, how about you go for a tour of their facility and you can talk one-on-one with the president of that company, and you can hear their story.  And, “We’ll do that.”  They came, I introduced them to Eric.  They had a tour of the facility.  They left that building going, “Ah, you know what? I think we’re going to do geo-thermal now.”  And that’s actually happened in two cases, right, in our first year of operations, right.  So that’s pretty huge.  Just that personal interaction of a project, and a technology that someone else wasn’t comfortable with or [???], but being introduced to somebody locally who is doing it, who has actually done it and realized the returns, and they walked away from those meetings going, “Yep, we’re in,” from the get-go.  So both of those projects are in [???] right now in 2010.

Jonathan Brun: No, and I mean, I think the role of introducing one company to another that’s done, already started or has completed a green initiative is a huge thing.  Because, I mean, we read so much on the internet, whether it’s case studies, best practices, these fantastic stories about, you know, Wal-Mart doing this, or some other company doing that.

But when it comes time to implement it, I’ve seen a lot of companies, they like the idea and then they go to do it and they hesitate because they’re just not . . . there isn’t that, there’s a lack of confidence that the case study that’s nice on paper is actually going to translate to something real.  But when they get to interact with another colleague or another human and another company who’s done it physically, I think that makes a world of difference in terms of their levels of confidence, and that these green initiatives can have an interesting payback and that they’re not just good PR stories.

Chris Rickett: There’s green stories out there.  There’s businesses doing this stuff anyway, and what we really like to do is highlight how innovative these companies are, and how much further ahead the business community is than the public realizes.  And even more so, that the business community is way ahead than the regulatory side, especially when it comes to things like greenhouse gas emissions, and moving the bar that way.

Jonathan Brun: All right, yeah, well no, I definitely agree and I think that’s a good way to end our chat.  Let’s have faith in the ability of the business community to take action and to take these initiatives and move forward and get their operations greener, but at the same time make their operations more efficient and more financially viable.  So, I just wanted to thank you.  I’ve been sitting with Chris Rickett from Partners in Project Green, which is based in the Toronto Pearson airport area, and we’ll have a link up to his website along with this video and you can, if you’re in that area, it’s definitely worthwhile reaching out to them, and if not maybe just take a look at their website and try and get some inspiration.  They have fantastic case studies and lots of useful information on the site, even for those who aren’t in the region.  So thanks again Chris for taking the time to talk to us, and I hope we’ll be able to do this again as you help more and more companies in your area.

Chris Rickett: Thanks for the opportunity, Jonathan.

Jonathan Brun: Thanks.