Waste Management & Renewable Energy
Six recent Emerald Award winners
The nonprofit organization Alberta Emerald Foundation is our province’s champion of environmental excellence, recognizing achievement in management, technology and education through its Emerald Awards program. For the past 29 years, the Emerald Awards have recognized and celebrated the outstanding environmental achievements of large and small businesses, individuals, not-for-profit associations, community groups, youth and governments. Here are six recent Award recipients:
Almost everyone has heard of Goodwill: the century-plus-old organization that sells donated clothes and household items at a minimal cost. But the opening of the Goodwill Impact Centre (GIC) in Edmonton in 2017 illustrates how this not-for-profit is taking its commitment to reusing, repurposing and recycling to the next level. The GIC—the first of its kind in Western Canada—sells overlooked treasures from Edmonton area thrift shops at an even greater discount, helping to keep what ends up in landfill to a minimum in the process. In fact, in 2018 Goodwill Industries of Alberta diverted over 13 million kilograms from local landfills and is aiming to be a zero-waste operation.
But the GIC’s impact goes even deeper than that. For over half a century, Goodwill has created employment and training programs for Albertans with disabilities and the new Impact Centre means the organization can expand on that commitment. What’s more, GIC volunteers clean and inspect surplus children’s books to donate to marginalized families, and GIC’s You Can Ride 2 program gives children with coordination challenges access to adapted bicycles. “We need to keep innovating to find new ways to reuse, repurpose or recycle items that are not usually diverted from local landfills,” says Mortimer Capriles, Goodwill’s director of sustainability and innovation.
MacEwan’s Office of Sustainability launched the Sustainability Leadership Council in 2016 to help students bring their sustainability projects to life. Since then, the SLC’s volunteer squad has grown from 10 to 35 people and has been involved with more than 20 projects. The SLC partnered with the City of Edmonton’s Compost Doctor in 2017 to host four vermicomposting workshops, making worm bins accessible to over 60 participants. It has also hosted climate-related workshops, the Earth Hour Race, and has supported Suite Score, which provides campus clothing donations to the Bissell Centre.
On campus, the SLC has taken steps to curb food-related waste and more. Their Green to Go initiative provides reusable plastic containers to students and staff; the Stationery Station makes gently used stationery available free of charge to students, which helps cuts the costs associated with buying school supplies and has diverted more than 100 boxes of stationery from landfill.
“For us, it’s really about recognizing these students who’ve provided an enormous amount of time to bring attention to sustainability,” Kerstyn Lane, Sustainability Engagement and Outreach Advisor, says of the Emerald Award. “Achieving that recognition for a program that’s only a few years old is impressive and will help raise awareness about ways in which anyone may get involved to support the well-being of their environment and communities.”
Winner: Small Business
College H.U.N.K.S. Hauling Junk & Moving
Inspired by the original College H.U.N.K.S. in Tampa, Fla.—a one-stop pickup for junk removal with an eco-friendly twist—Leon Kassian opened the first College H.U.N.K.S. franchise in Canada in 2016. Whether the H.U.N.K.S. (Honest Uniformed Nice Knowledgeable Service) are supporting a family that’s downsizing, helping an office declutter or removing debris from a construction site, the company makes sure that over 80 percent of what it takes is recycled or donated to partner non-profits, or otherwise disposed of with as little environmental impact as possible. In 2018 alone, the company diverted 613 mattresses and box springs, 392 office desks and 168 fridges and freezers from landfills.
The H.U.N.K.S. draw inspiration from their partner organizations, including Goodwill of Alberta and Habitat for Humanity. They stay motivated by their desire to help protect the environment, finding innovative ways to keep landfill waste to a minimum. “Our goal is to become 100 percent self-sustainable,” says Kassian. “Each and every day, we are inspired by thinking of different ways to execute the three R’s. Will we ever get there? Tough to predict—but we sure are going to try.”
Empower Me, Alberta’s first energy efficiency program, targets hard-to-reach communities and bridges cultural and language gaps so that people across all communities receive important energy and utility consumer protection education. That’s essential in a province in which upwards of one in five households are paying more than double the national average when comparing percentage of income spent on utilities. The program’s Energy Mentors are already rooted in their communities and can readily connect neighbours with information about rebates, savings and safety.
Empower Me also works with organizations such as food banks and family services to host workshops on energy efficiency in 16 different languages. Any eligible participants at these workshops receives an energy savings kit worth $90. In addition, its Home Upgrades pilot program helps support Albertans who otherwise can’t afford to do the renovations that will reduce their utility bills. So far, the program has benefitted more than 100 homes, reducing each home’s utility bills by an average of $1,800 total since the upgrades.
Michelle Riccetto, Business Development manager at Empower Me, says that winning the Emerald Award means that more people will learn about the organization “and our commitment to ensure every hard-working Albertan—from newcomers to Indigenous people to seniors and lower-income families—receives the consumer protection information they need to ensure they can keep energy costs affordable.”
Winner: Large Business
Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD)
Calgary and Edmonton, AB
Since expanding to Alberta in 2005, SPUD has demonstrated how a social enterprise can “change the world, one bite at a time.” The online grocery service sources and delivers healthy GMO-free food from local producers and farmers who respect ecological habitats and animal welfare. Part of SPUD’s commitment to sustainability involves modelling how we can minimize food waste in innovative ways. Pre-ordered purchases result in an accurate estimate of inventory, so perishable items are not stocked unnecessarily. As Canada’s lowest-waste grocery company, SPUD sends less than 0.5 percent of its products to landfill.
SPUD’s Let’s Not Waste campaign uses social media to educate consumers by providing creative tips for reusing or redirecting food waste. The company is also working on becoming 100 percent responsible for all the packaging it sells by the end of 2019. Any food that can’t be sold is donated to Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farm every week for livestock and compost. Blue Mountain co-owner Kris Vester believes SPUD deserves the Emerald Award because it was setting an example of environmental commitment and leadership “long before the public awareness of issues surrounding food waste had reached the critical mass necessary to persuade most enterprises to take steps to reduce waste.”
Winner: Emerald Challenge: Climate Change
Indigenous Electricity Technical Working Group (IETWG)
The Indigenous Electricity Technical Working Group (IETWG) arose out of the Government of Alberta’s commitment to achieving its target of 30 percent renewable energy by 2030 while fostering a greater socioeconomic capacity for the province’s Indigenous Peoples. The group—which brought together First Nation and Métis leaders, technical experts, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) and provincial and federal government representatives—was created to explore Indigenous participation in the growing renewable energy industry. Roundtable talks generated discussion about financial and strategic aspects of the energy industry so that Indigenous communities could make informed decisions about how best to participate in these initiatives.
The province’s Renewable Electricity Program was created to promote large-scale renewable energy projects; in the first round of development bids, they took a holistic approach to evaluation, including social aspects of the proposals. For the IETWG, that meant that alliances with private energy companies had to include 25 percent Indigenous ownership and quality job outcomes for the partnering First Nations. At the end of the round, they selected the Blood-Kainai First Nation, the Sawridge First Nation and the Paul First Nation bids to build five new wind projects in southern Alberta.
Those groups not only achieved their social, economic, environmental and cultural objectives, but they also set an historic precedent, as the “most cost-effective Indigenous utility-scale renewables program in Canada.” The IETWG overcame numerous hurdles—land regulations, tight timelines, the social and cultural differences within the diverse group of stakeholders, just to name a few—in order to support Indigenous participation in Alberta’s electricity market.
The Alberta Emerald Foundation is a registered nonprofit organization and operates almost exclusively through dedicated community partners and volunteer contributions.