Canadian Business and Water Leaders Talk Innovation

The sustainability challenges facing Canadian business leaders and water experts are unsurprisingly similar:

“How can companies design resilient sustainability programs that can survive leadership changes, economic downturns, political shifts and other setbacks?”

How can Canadian municipalities become ideal water sustainable cities--soon?

Two new reports, Blue City: The Water Sustainable City of the Near Future and Simplifying Complexity: The 8 Sustainability Challenges for Canadian Business in 2014 outline the shared concerns of consumer engagement, innovation, resiliency and shared responsibility that cut across sectors and industries.

Blue City is the fourth and final report in a series produced by the Blue Economy Initiative, a project funded by Canadian Water Network, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.

Far from a science fiction future, the 17 water-related professionals interviewed imagine a water sustainable-city that is fairly close at hand—with some practices already in place in innovative municipalities. In this water city, water is visible throughout the city, there is a culture of conservation and responsibility is shared with citizens.

The authors identify four areas of innovations to make the transition:

  • Financial responsibility – In this city, water is priced, and that price is based on full life cycle costing, including future infrastructure investments--and provincial and federal infrastructure grants are consistent. Customers understand that rates reflect the real cost of service.
  • Customer-oriented information – Utilities share more, giving customers information on their water usage, like a cell phone or hydro bill does—so customers can behave differently.
  • Cutting edge technology – As infrastructure comes up for renewal, the city of the future tries new approaches like onsite or neighbourhood rainwater harvesting, and source separation to recover energy and nutrients from grey and black water.
  • Progressive regulation and governance – In the ideal city, performance based regulation should encourage conservation and innovation, while focusing on end goals. An independent regulatory body might be needed.

Municipalities in Canada are moving in these directions. The report highlights the town of Okotoks, Alberta, which managed to only increase water usage by 15% while the population increased by 46% between 2002 and 2010. Through bylaws and incentive programs, homeowners and builders are being encouraged to retrofit with high efficiency toilets, showerheads, appliances etc., and developers receive density bonuses for including indoor and outdoor conservation features in new construction.

Leadership Challenges

When Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) gathered their Leadership Council to talk challenges for 2014, the result was eight questions identifiable to many corporate sustainability managers. Like the water sector, Teck, Tim Hortons, TD Bank and other Canadian business leaders are advancing sustainability while operating in complex systems.

According to the report, in 2014 top of mind for companies are ways to increase resiliency and reduce complexity “by facilitating better alignment about sustainability goals and responsibilities among different stakeholders and forces.” 

How can companies engage most effectively with activists and NGOs, how can businesses incorporate Aboriginal viewpoints, how can they build consumer support for their sustainability initiatives, and how can they integrate sustainability along their value chains?

Like the water sector, leaders are also asking how innovation and sustainability can be linked in a pragmatic way. 

And the number one priority challenge, according to NBS – how can businesses act for tomorrow today?

Canada is said to have an $88 billion water and wastewater infrastructure deficit. Bryan W. Karney, Associate Dean of Cross Disciplinary Programs, University of Toronto notes, 

“Infrastructure is a recurring problem. You don’t solve it once for all time, you solve it continually. Infrastructure is to water services what exercise is to health.”

The same is true as Canadian businesses focus in 2014 on the actions that will continuously simplify their operating environments while bringing shared value to communities.

Read Blue City: The Water Sustainable City of the Near Future
Blue Economy Initiative

Read Simplifying Complexity: The 8 Sustainability Challenges for Canadian Business in 2014
Network for Business Sustainability