Agents of Change 10.0

Agents of Change 10.0

< Back to Articles | Topics: Spotlight | Contributors: Emily Bednarz

For the past decade, Business Voice magazine has put the spotlight on changemakers in the Halifax business community. From youth entrepreneurs to risk-takers to PPE manufacturers, our Agents of Change series has highlighted the diverse and innovative leaders that push our city forward.

This year, moving forward means facing climate change with determination and imagination. Our Agents of Change for 2022 have placed sustainability at the core of their business policies and practices, and they have invaluable insights to share with businesses who are prioritizing a greener future.

Greener spaces

In October 2021, Nova Scotia passed The Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act. The Act details 28 goals related to climate change, including the strongest 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target in Canada.

How can we meet such ambitious targets? Both Evergreen and Sprout Dwellings approach sustainability by reimagining and reconfiguring our city streets and living spaces.

Jennifer Angel (CEO, Evergreen)

Jennifer Angel is the CEO of Evergreen, a national not-for-profit. “Evergreen works across sectors to solve some of the most pressing issues cities face — like climate resilience, access to nature, public space revitalization, and building vibrant and inclusive places,” says Angel.  “Our goal is to create cities that are livable, green, and prosperous for everyone.”

Reaching this goal means re-envisioning what city spaces are built to prioritize. “For the past 100 years, we’ve been building cities for cars — and we’ve achieved that,” says Angel. “Public infrastructure is a powerful tool to shape the way we live, how we move, and who gets to participate.”

“Cities can be places where everyone sees themselves and can feel a sense of belonging, where diverse people can come together in the social life of community,” says Angel. “They can be places that are carbon intensive, or they can be green, regenerative, and walkable. People, and increasingly policy makers, are realizing the power of public infrastructure to influence the change we need. And cities are at the centre of that for their density of people, activity, and development.”

In 2018, Evergreen launched Future Cities Canada, a national initiative that provides a collaborative platform for civic innovation. Future Cities has supported projects with focus areas like data and technology, housing affordability, and placemaking. Angel explains: “We aim to build capacity and connect city builders across the country with the resources, tools, tested solutions, people, and support networks they need to advance projects in their communities.”

The impact from Future Cities Canada can be found in places like Bridgewater. In 2019, the town won the Smart Cities Challenge for the program called Energize Bridgewater, which tackles energy poverty using community engagement activities, neighborhood energy retrofit programs, and technology solutions to manage and monitor community energy use.

“We see good momentum in this work around the world and an increasing understanding of the importance of social infrastructure,” says Angel. “We look forward to working with public and private and community partners across the country, including in Halifax, to challenge our assumptions about public infrastructure, prioritize places for people, and centre inclusion and environmental regeneration alongside economic growth and wellbeing.”

Sean Kirkwood (Partner, Sprout Dwellings)

Similarly, the team at Sprout Dwellings focuses on sustainable neighbourhoods, one small house at a time. In September 2020, Sean Kirkwood and his business partners — Oliver Nemeskéri and Erin Crosby — founded Sprout Dwellings to develop backyard suites and cottages where families have enough space to live, work, and escape.

The team is united by their commitment to promoting sustainable development — environmentally, economically, and socially. “We are developing high-performing energy efficient structures that are built-to-last with multi-generational and varied usage in mind,” explains Kirkwood.

“Passive design” is one of the principles the Sprout team applies to their homes, which includes considerations like airtightness, ventilation, lighting, appliances, and insulation. “One area that we are particularly proud of is our engineered slab-on-grade process. We use a product designed by a local engineer, where concrete is poured into the foam surrounding it without the need for traditional wood forms. It ultimately results in a better insulated structure, which is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Creating homes that are built to last with ethically sourced materials is at the heart of Spout Dwellings ethos. “We source as much of our materials as possible from local or Canadian suppliers and manufacturers,” says Kirkwood. “We believe that Sprout Dwellings offers housing solutions to meet the needs of a growing population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs — the true definition of sustainability.”

Greener products

Kirkwood adds that Halifax is home to many innovators when it comes to sourcing sustainable and ethical products. Scotia Kelp Products and Reazent are two such examples.

In 2015, Darron Hill founded Scotia Kelp to treat his skin ailments and sensitivities with natural sources. Since then, the business has expanded to include products for animal and plant care. “We have created three products that offer healthy, viable alternatives to the chemical-laden products currently on the market,” says Hill. “They are 100% natural, absorbable, biodegradable and environmentally responsible.”

Darron Hill (Founder, Scotia Kelp Products)

Sustainability is a part of Scotia Kelp’s mandate and practices. “Using natural, sustainable resources to help heal and protect our environment is a key element of our business,” says Hill. “We hand-harvest the fresh storm-tossed kelp without disturbing the habitat, thus minimizing our environmental footprint and impact.”

Sustainable means local, for Hill. “All our suppliers for bottling, packaging, labelling and supply services are all local,” he says. “We believe it’s vital to support local businesses as much as possible. Our oceans are being depleted, the air we breathe is polluted, and our land is disappearing.”

“We must consider the impact our products have on people and their communities,” he continues. “As a business owner, it's important to take a lead role in providing consumers with healthy products that are manufactured using environmentally responsible practices and delivered in environmentally-friendly packaging.”

Hill adds that Scotia Kelp products are environmentally-friendly in packaging and purpose — their plant food can be used to deliver nutrients to plants and soil. “Kelp helps restore nutrients and condition the soil to create a fertile canvas for plant growth,” he says. “It helps plants to grow strong from root to tip, increases the yield, and increases a plant’s ability to manage a variety of stresses — like drought and frost.”

Sumit Verma, Founder and CEO of Reazent, agrees that our reliance on chemical-laden products has negatively impacted the environment, particularly when it comes to farming and fertilizers. After working in the chemical industry, Verma founded Reazent in 2019 with a desire to create positive change through innovative alternatives.

Sumit Verma (Founder & CEO, Reazent)

“Materials from the chemicals industry are mostly derived from petroleum sources, and so they have a huge carbon footprint,” says Verma. Consumers and businesses are looking for sustainable solutions, but the chemicals industry is not able to fulfill that need. I realized that presented a big opportunity — and a big challenge.”

Verma and his colleagues set out to improve the environment by focusing on agriculture. “The reason we chose this industry is because agriculture uses a lot of synthetic chemicals — such as fertilizers and pesticides — that are all based on petrochemicals,” he explains. “We developed a technology that has the same effect as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, but without their harmful effects on the environment."

Verma concedes that pricing and profitability is still a hurdle for businesses looking to sell sustainable and organic products. “The general consensus from farmers about organic alternatives is that the moment you switch from conventional fertilizers and pesticides to organic alternatives, your agricultural production declines,” he says. “But that's an opportunity for companies like us. We realize that if you keep offering organic alternatives that make your operations sustainable, but reduce your profitability, that's not a good value proposition.”

Greener futures

All four of our Agents of Change have valuable insights into building greener spaces, products, and futures in Nova Scotia and beyond.

In addition to agriculture, Verma believes that improving city infrastructure and building practices are key to combatting climate change. Thanks to work from innovative organizations like Evergreen and Sprout Dwellings, investors are ready to make change happen, says Verma. “If you ask any venture capital firm what the hottest investment area is right now, they will certainly tell you it’s sustainability and climate change.”

Hill also sees positive movement forward when it comes to funding. “The view of sustainable business in Nova Scotia and Halifax is supportive and encouraging,” he says. “This region is highly dependent on natural resources and tourism, so it’s important to promote and support sustainability in businesses here. There are a lot of programs and incentives that offer opportunities to become more sustainable — but I think we need to speed up the approach.”

Kirkman questions whether efforts in Nova Scotia to promote sustainability have been as proactive as they could be. “To be perfectly honest, it feels a bit reactionary,” he says. “The opportunities are there, and momentum is gaining but I believe that, as Canadians, we typically have a short-term view on cost when it comes to expense. I would hope that Nova Scotia would recognize and support efforts by smaller businesses such as ours, who are more nimble and faster to explore new technologies. But ultimately it will be large scale developers that will create lasting change and a difference for our environment.”

Angel agrees that a greater sense of speed and agility is needed on a large scale. “I think we are saying lots of the right things and making some good progress,” she says. “But there needs to be a greater focus and urgency on incentivizing businesses to solve problems, and we need to rethink our infrastructure priorities.”

While Angel suggests that we “need to be more intentional about centering people and planet in our decision making,” she adds that we also need room to innovate. “We need to create space for experimentation in public policy and city building in pursuit of better solutions, and we need to move with much greater speed and agility.” 

Together, our Agents of Change all highlight the importance of partnerships, cooperation, and collaboration. “If we could activate a system wide collaboration across public and private sectors and the community, I think we would be able to meet the scale, complexity, and urgency of the challenges — and opportunities — before us,” says Angel. “It’s an all-hands-on deck situation, and a key win would be an activated and supported network of collaborators, working together to improve our communities.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Spotlight

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