Highlighting Sustainability Leadership: Nina Gales, Town of Olds

After working on the town’s sustainability plan for three years, Nina Gales, the Town of Olds Manager of Corporate Affairs, reflects on how far Olds has come “Margaret Mead championed the power of local action to change the world: I think the town is beginning to think like that”.

The Town of Olds, Alberta is a rural community with a rich agricultural heritage that acts as a regional service centre for nearby cities of Edmonton and Calgary.  In turn, it is faced with unique pressures as a result of both its thriving local population and from external pressures.  In recent years however, one of the more distinguishing characteristics of the Town of Olds’ is the stand they have taken on the sustainability. Thanks to leaders such as Nina Gales, and the commitment of an engaged and passionate community, Olds has set itself apart as a leader in the field. As a result of actively and strategically thinking about sustainability, they are beginning to see the change they have been working so hard to achieve.

Olds has taken significant strides to become more water efficient through the implementation of new water policies, incentive plans, conservation bylaws, toilet rebate programs, rain barrels usage and youth education. Similarly, energy conservation methods have been used to construct their new sports complex, and are being promoted to the community at large. In 2008 the green renovation of their sports complex saved the community an estimated 1,398 Gigajoules of energy valued at over $13,000.

Building on a deeply rooted desire to reduce waste and stemming from the goals of the Parks and Recreation department, the new strategic plan helped with the continued success of an organic composting program in 2008 that kept 34% of total waste out of landfills. Change is being noticed at all levels, from every day decision making in the home, to community organized action, to municipal policy changes. 

 "The biggest change has been at our council meetings. Council is much more aware of different issues, and the developers and all the people who come to council meetings as a delegation are much more versed in what we’re trying to do as a community”, stated Gales. It is clear that this drive towards sustainability has become more than a long term goal; it has become a new way of life for the community.

“Sustainability is something we must do in order to survive as a community with the global challenges we are now facing. We know that the sustainability movement won’t be successful if we can’t think beyond our own boundaries. We’re changing world views because of TNS, and inspiring people to understand how they as individuals contribute to global problems – and solutions” shared Gales.

To witness the town’s success today, it is incredible to know that the drive of one person was strong enough to create a transformational change movement. Nina Gales, starting as an intern, recognized that all the great acts of green occurring in Olds were happening simultaneously, but in a disorganized way that did not help the town achieve a common long term vision for sustainability. Seeing an opportunity in a pilot project being run by Alberta’s Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), Gales made a pitch to key groups, including Council, to show them how all the work they had been doing could be brought under one strategic plan.

“When I came across the AUMA pilot project, I knew that was the perfect way to help my council see the logic.  I pointed out the environmental initiatives, the strong community involvement and social networks in Olds, and the exciting innovations that were helping to define our community. This argument was strong enough to get Council and the community to support the project” said Gales.

After her internship expired Gales again found herself making a pitch to Council: this time to have them hire her, full time, as the Manager of Corporate Affairs; a position which she created, and for which she wrote the description.  This description had sustainability embedded at its core. Successfully employed, it was in this role that Gales was able to continue her previous efforts in guiding Olds towards sustainability.

 “It’s been an honour to have a leadership role in a community that’s already really spectacular. They had been doing so many great things and I was able to come in and point that great energy in a direction that would help them achieve more success”, said Gales.