Think Outside the Silo: How New Collaborations Will Smooth Canada’s Path to a Low Carbon Economy

By Brent Gilmour, David Hughes, Mike Morrice, Elizabeth Sheehan

It won’t exactly be a sleepy summer for many of Canada’s bureaucrats and policy makers, as federal and provincial officials roll up their sleeves to hammer out the nation’s first national climate change strategy.

Working groups are cranking away on conference calls, parliamentarians are hosting town hall meetings, and Environment and Climate Change minister Catherine McKenna has invited citizens to pitch ideas via her team’s Let’s Talk Climate Action web portal—and thousands have already done so.

It’s all coming to a head this October in the form of a plan that will not only help our country cut enough climate pollution to meet our Paris Agreement obligations but also, along the way, effectively reinvent our energy systems and economy.

A whole new world awaits us on the other side, one in which carbon pricing and other climate policies and regulations are a fact of business life. Which begs the question: How can we ensure Canada’s enterprises and communities prosper in this new, post-Paris era? How can we equip them with the tools and the know-how they need to not only adapt, but save money and thrive?

We think the answer begins with collaboration.

This week our four organizations, all with deep ties to Canadian communities and local economies, announced we have come together to form The Low Carbon Partnership. Our partnership aims to smooth the path to a climate-friendly future and help Ottawa meet its carbon target. We lead initiatives that help Canadian businesses and communities take action on carbon pollution, increase profitability, and grow the low-carbon economy.

We’ve got a solid head start. Our founding members—Climate Smart, Sustainability CoLab, The Natural Step Canada, and QUEST, also known as Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow—collectively reach more than 1,200 businesses that generate more than $100 billion in revenue. Our organizations, which will continue operating independently, are also in direct contact with leaders in hundreds of communities across Canada.

We came together this past March at the GLOBE 2016 sustainable business summit in Vancouver—literally next door from the First Ministers’ Meeting on climate change—when we realized that we could make a bigger positive impact, more quickly, by working together.

Our initiative has attracted endorsements from Glen Murray, Ontario’s minister of environment and climate change, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, and leaders from major energy companies, financial institutions, and others.

These are early days for The Low Carbon Partnership; we’re still figuring out how to best play to our collective strengths. But we’ve already come to understand a few guiding principles that we believe will help Canada tackle the climate challenge head-on.

First, we aren’t going to solve this from our silos. Different sectors and subsectors don’t often cross-pollinate, and few mechanisms exist for institutions and bigger players to connect with their small and medium sized brethren. That’s a missed opportunity, because over the years we’ve discovered that a lot of carbon-cutting innovation actually happens down on Main Street, in tucked-away corners of the economy.

Second, while the challenge of transforming our economy is huge, so are the opportunities—and Canadians can tap into more of them by bringing a rich variety of stakeholders around the same table. In our experience, unlikely collaborations really do yield great results. When diverse stakeholders share data and practices in an atmosphere of trust, hidden efficiencies and new opportunities come to light.

Finally, we must acknowledge that change is difficult and that some will need a little extra support before jumping in with both feet. While private-sector and community climate leadership yields reduced costs, increased quality of life, boosted reputational capital, and greater long-term resilience, it can also put many businesses and community leaders well outside their comfort zones. We need to provide opportunities for leaders to mentor peers, listen to their concerns, and create solutions together.

Time is not on our side. After many years of federal inaction, in which provinces, local governments, and the private sector have taken the lead, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to all pull in the same direction. We’re excited to work together—and with everyone across civil society and the public and private sectors—to make this Canada’s moment.


Brent Gilmour is the executive director of QUEST, David Hughes is the president and CEO of The Natural Step Canada, Mike Morrice is the executive director of Sustainability CoLab, and Elizabeth Sheehan is the president of Climate Smart Business. For more info please visit