Business Sustainability & Environmental Awards

March 21, 2018 7:00 am

Sky is the limit

Wide-ranging panel discussion reflects sustainability’s infinite possibilities

Simple questions often get the most interesting answers, as was the case during a lively panel discussion at Sustainable Saint John’s annual breakfast awards event on March 21, at the Delta Brunswick. Moderator Chris Peterson, Sustainable Saint John’s co-chair, kicked things off by asking the speakers what sustainability means to them.

There was no single or simple answer. The diversity of replies from the trio of panelists reflects the broad opportunities to keep building a culture of sustainability in Saint John.

For Seth Asimakos, general manager of the Saint John Community Loan Fund, sustainability can refer to survival ­– that of his organization and the livelihood of its clients – as much as to the green initiatives and collaborative culture the loan fund wants to nurture.

“For us, it’s important to have the discussion and try,” he says.

At Commercial Properties, which manages more than a million square feet of property, sustainability is a “think-green mantra” that permeates the organization, which constantly seeks new ways to be more sustainable. It recently installed electric vehicle charging stations at a couple sites.

“It’s sensible,” says Emery Whalen, the company’s operations manager, says of sustainability, “because it’s healthy, it’s economical and it’s the right thing to do.”

Michel Losier, NB Power’s executive director of energy efficiency and community engagement, says sustainability is top-of-mind for he and his colleagues, as the energy sector transforms from provider to “energy curator.”

“Working towards sustainability is working towards building trust,” he says. “When I see sustainability in action, I see customers and employees engaged trying to make a difference.”

That definition could apply to all three organizations.

Asimakos spoke of the Social Enterprise Hub, his organization’s building on Price Edward Street, which is “all about collaborative action,” he says, “where the intent is to not only collaborate around social and administrative functions, but environmental, as well.”

One potential project is putting solar panels on the roof for clean energy, but also as part of a livelihood project for un- or underemployed youth who could learn how to install them.

Meanwhile, NB Power faces a paradigm shift of possibly unprecedented proportions.

Driven by “decarbonization, decentralization and digitization,” Losier says a total reversal of the energy supply chain is underway, as informed and empowered customers demand more choice, such as solar and other power-generating options.

“How do you make a symphony out of all that?” he says.

As technological innovation proceeds apace and society evolves, organizations need to embrace sustainability holistically.

“It’s not a one-and-done,” Losier says. “It’s every day.”

 Whalen points to his company’s recycling program, which expanded last year to include batteries and electronics. Commercial Properties collected over 500 pounds of the former and 5,000 pounds of the latter.

“Don’t discount the small stuff,” he advises. “It can really add up, just like those batteries did.”

All three panelists expressed optimism about the future.

“It’s an exciting time,” Losier says. “My vision for our company is an enhanced quality of life in New Brunswick through energy solutions. What does that look like? How do we bridge it?”

Whalen capped it off nicely.

“People, planet and profits. That’s where we have to go.”

Event review provided by Kate Wallace of Pigeon Creative