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Photo: Ottawa Energy Collective Impact.

CityMakers: Ottawa Energy Collective Impact is putting together a complex solution to tackle a complex problem

By Nickie Shobeiry on August 13, 2018


The Ottawa Energy Collective Impact aims to reduce Ottawa’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

The project brings together Tucker House, Ecology Ottawa, Sustainable Eastern Ottawa, as well as the steering committee: Canadian Green Building Council, Envirocentre, Faith and the Common Good, Sustainable Enterprise Alliance. It also includes the City of Ottawa and other key stakeholders including developers, academics and engineers in the city to tackle this vital challenge.

Below, we speak to Kara Stonehouse, Executive Director of Tucker House, and Robb Barnes, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa, about this incredible project.

What is the Ottawa Energy Collective Impact?

Kara: It’s a collaborative effort for leadership in the city around greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction. Some groups, like the City, can work top-down, and some environmental organisations work top-up. We meet everyone in the middle to really align, and make strong visions that everyone has a piece in. Climate change is a complex problem and you need to bring a little microcosm of the system together so you can see it from all the perspectives. This way, solutions have good buy-in, are based in reality and can actually make a strong, a collective impact.

We meet everyone in the middle to really align, and make strong visions that everyone has a piece in.—Kara Stonehouse, Executive Director of Tucker House

What are your roles in the project?

Kara: I’m representing Tucker House Renewal Centre, a sustainability and environmental education retreat centre. We received the funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. I have the vision and passion for collective impact, and when I saw this grant was available, I really pulled it together.

Robb: Ecology Ottawa is a grassroots advocacy organisation that works to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada. We have our ear to the ground in terms of the incremental policy changes that would get us moving in the right direction. We’ve got some of the connections in City Hall, and are often in direct conversations with councillors about next steps on moving Ottawa forward. What we bring to the table is an awareness of where the City’s at and where we’d like to go.

Ecology Ottawa is a grassroots advocacy organisation that works to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada.—Robb Barnes, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa

What exactly is the relationship between this project and the City?

Robb: Ecology Ottawa often works as an advocacy organisation and as interlocketers on the political level. This Collective Impact project is much more comprehensive. We’re trying to work with some of the council leaders as well as at staff level, and at the bureaucratic level. Climate change is a very complex problem, and solving it will require some very complex solution. Getting that microcosm of the variety of players needed to make it happen beyond the political level to the staff level is how we’re engaging the city – through all facets.

What’s it like having so many diverse stakeholders in the room? How do you reconcile competing priorities?

Kara: Reducing GHGs by 80% is huge – no little organization could do that, even the City can’t do that. But when you pull everyone together and present a vision for Ottawa that’s so clear, you can leverage of hundreds of thousands to billions of dollars from the federal government, or from private funding streams. It’s being so bold and big that you actually draw in more support and possibility.

Photo: Ottawa Energy Collective Impact

You’ve recently had a successful strategic meeting. What’s the biggest challenges of bringing people together in a room like that?

Robb: The good news about Ottawa is that the community is tight-knit enough that there weren’t huge surprises. We know an advocacy organization works differently to a charity, but the collaboration was easy and quite seamless, as long as we understood up front what the differences were. Everyone committed to the same vision fundamentally.

Kara: The next steps will be more challenging, asking people to put up resources and go together on funding applications to create bodies and legal structures. That’s going to be difficult – but this longer process will support that trust-building and alignment.

Let’s imagine we’re in 2050. How did you get there? How did you engage the public?

Robb: It’ll require sustained attention and investment. That aspect of communications will be challenging, but it’s a direction we’re alreading moving towards. More and more people are intuitively understanding how severe climate change can get. In terms of how we get there, the Collective Impact’s focus on buildings is a really interesting one: it’s where about half of the city’s GHG emissions come from right now – 49%. We know that a majority of the building stock standing today will be standing in 2050. It’s really a question of how we retrofit these buildings in a way that’s cost-effective, and easy for various actors to engage in. The broad scope of the challenge is something that’s fairly well-defined at this stage.

Kara: If people demand net-zero housing, businesses will think its viable to create them. We know there’s approximately 300,000 buildings in Ottawa. What our Collective Impact could create is a structure to identify which buildings should be retrofitted first, and really encourage those owners and developers by saying their building has been identified by the community, and offer a program where they won’t lose money over the long-term.

It sounds like a complex and daunting challenge, and of course it is, but the good news is we’re not reinventing the wheel here.—Robb Barnes

Robb: It sounds like a complex and daunting challenge, and of course it is, but the good news is we’re not reinventing the wheel here. We know there’s other jurisdictions like California who are hitting and exceeding their climate targets, there’s municipalities even within Ontario that are moving towards the 100% renewable energy. There are a lot of great examples of leadership all over the world. The Collective Impact process as a methodology is the thing that’s been tried and tested. We’re confident in the process.

What’s the one thing you hope people will take away from this conversation?

Robb: Climate change, however complex and long-term the challenges, is solvable, and it’s solvable when communities come together with a plan. That’s what we’re trying to help do. It’s absolutely possible and everyone has a role.

The next upcoming event open to the public is September 18th on social finance. Tickets are $100 and spots are limited. Email for more information.

You can learn more about the project here. Plus: keep your eye out for their upcoming website and podcast!