Community Planning Courtesy of Rio Tinto Alcan

Rio Tinto Alcan’s (RTA’s) focus on social sustainability presents a unique opportunity for 50 community members in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec who are engaging in strategic sustainability training from The Natural Step Canada.

RTA first engaged with The Natural Step in 2007, and has since been working towards a sustainability vision with ambitious targets addressing the social and environmental aspects of their business practices. Three years later, RTA identified the need to nurture community knowledge around sustainability so that the communities in which they operate are strong proponents of their own sustainability vision with concrete actions and guidelines. The region of Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec, is home to three RTA facilities, and over the next six months, 50 of its community members are receiving in-depth training in The Natural Step Framework, fully funded by RTA. In return, participants commit themselves to attend 45 hours of in-class, interactive instruction, and to complete 60 hours of homework where they practice directly applying lessons learned to their own organization. At the end of the six-month period participants will leave the course with a first draft of a sustainability analysis and an action plan for their organization created by their own hand, and the tools and knowledge needed to be a change catalyst.

In the first two-day session held in February, participants received Sustainability for Leaders: Level 1 certification, and a strong foundation in The Natural Step Framework. “This is a really great group of individuals,” said Alex Magnin, TNS Sustainability advisor and program lead. “In the first sessions everybody was engaged and was very excited about the opportunity to participate in such a program.”

Along with receiving a thorough education in sustainability, participants are thrilled about the opportunity to engage in dynamic interactions with a network of individuals from their community. In what is a rare occurrence, diverse sectors are represented in the group, including academia, business, government, non-government, and public health. The sharing of experiences and cross-sectoral discussions enhanced the learning in TNS-led exercises, and are highlighted as an important success factor in numerous participant evaluation forms. For example, one participant noted that “the workshop exercises promoted knowledge sharing among participants and provided a great opportunity for networking.”

By learning to speak the same language around sustainability, using the same tools, and having the opportunity to compare and exchange stories of their challenges and opportunities around sustainability, participants from the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean area are building a strong local network.