Canada’s leaders in sustainability

 2017 Clean50 Award recipients are leaders on the path toward greater sustainability and a low carbon future (pictured with Ontario Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell at the Clean50 Summit in Toronto, September 2016). Christian De Santana

2017 Clean50 Award recipients are leaders on the path toward greater sustainability and a low carbon future (pictured with Ontario Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell at the Clean50 Summit in Toronto, September 2016).
Christian De Santana

Canada’s Clean50: Six years of identifying, recognizing and connecting sustainability leaders

The Canada’s Clean50 Awards were created in 2011 to identify, recognize and connect individuals who were doing the most to enable Canada to move towards a low carbon future.

“At the time, as we engaged with various members of the sustainability and clean tech communities, as well as governments across Canada, we realized that almost all the players were operating exclusively within their own silos,” says Gavin Pitchford, CEO of founding sponsor and award steward, Delta Management Group – the leading search firm in Canada for “green” professionals and chief sustainability officers. “Everyone was dealing only with their own narrow issues, and no one was tackling climate change issues from a much-needed broader perspective.  

“We also realized that various organizations’ efforts to improve their environmental footprint were hugely dependent on who led them – and that environmentally responsible action typically followed the leader both in – and out – the door,” he adds.  

“Obviously, as a search firm, we have always understood how important leadership is, and so we saw an opportunity to accelerate progress for Canada by recognizing and then connecting these leaders from across the full spectrum of industry, government, venture capital, environmental advocacy and academia – and introducing them to each other.”

The awards are handed out at the end of the Clean50 Summit, which is held every September in Toronto, and attended by over 95 per cent of incoming awardees, as well as a substantial number of past winners. The summit provides a full day of problem-solving in work groups custom-designed to optimize new connections between honourees, while encouraging them to work together to tackle environmental problems.

In the six years that the Clean50 has given awards, it has gathered numerous stories of connections that have led to improved environmental performance. One example that Mr. Pitchford cites involves a Canadian clean tech startup that is in the process of having its fuel-saving technology adapted by one of the world’s largest retailers. He also points to a major municipality that is considering a shift to wheat-based paper supplied by an innovating company.  Both came directly from meetings at the Clean50 Summit.  

The summit and award dinner aren’t about glitz: they are very much about facilitating solutions. The 2015 Clean50 Summit was attended by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who spoke at length about their shared belief in the prosperity a low carbon future offers to Canadians. This year’s summit included an address from the past CEO of Shell Canada, Lorraine Mitchelmore, the first oil company executive to advocate for carbon pricing, as well as long-time environmental policy advocate and now Ontario Lieutenant Governor, Elizabeth Dowdeswell. Both encouraged honourees to keep fighting to help Canadians better understand the importance – and the opportunities that a low carbon economy can offer.

The Clean50 honourees are selected by Delta after a comprehensive review process. Potential recipients are identified by Delta, by existing members of the Clean50 and through nominations made on the Clean50 website.  Those under consideration are asked to respond to a detailed questionnaire and then selected based on those submissions, as well as deeper background inquiries performed by Delta’s team. In all, over 500 people were considered for the awards this year, based on their contributions over the prior two years.

Mr. Pitchford says Delta has noted a resurgence in companies tackling their environmental footprints since last year’s federal election and the introduction of carbon pricing.

“Under the prior government, major companies were cutting their sustainability teams,” he says. “Now we’re seeing some investment again.”

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