Emerald Awards recognize and celebrate environmental excellence across all sectors in Alberta. A third-party panel of knowledgeable judges was tasked with selecting a maximum of three finalists per category, one of which will be named the recipient at the 27th Annual Emerald Awards on June 5.
COMMUNITY GROUP OR NOT-FOR-PROFIT ASSOCIATION: GRASSROOTS
Government, land owners, producers—it’s tough to bring people and groups together and agree on how to address a problem. In this case, it’s about the increasing conflicts between large carnivores and agricultural land users in southwest Alberta. But, using neighbour-to-neighbour coffee table discussions and with research and government support, the Waterton Biosphere Reserve’s Carnivores and Communities Program (CACP) is successfully tackling the complex issue of human/wildlife conflict with a customized, one-size-doesn’t-fit-all approach.
From annual park clean-ups to an invasive plant program, the Weaselhead/Glenmore Park Preservation Society aims to protect and maintain Calgary’s urban spaces for the benefit and enjoyment of all and to protect and maintain the rich biodiversity and natural ecosystems of the area. Community stewardship is paramount–5,000 students and adults (and 250 volunteers) participate in the Society’s education programs each year—inspiring many to a lifelong love for and care of the outdoors.
For 20 years, the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley has promoted sustainable communities and environmental stewardship; engaging youth, residents, area visitors and businesses with educational programs, research and outreach workshops.
Past achievements include an Aquatic Restoration program (over 8 tonnes of invasive weeds and garbage removed from the region), and the innovative Natural Steps to a Sustainable Canmore program. Youth have benefitted from the Biosphere EduKit and Wild Smart programs, which examine bear, wolf, cougar, elk, bison and water, while others still have learned to use bear spray or compost with worms. This has meant an estimated 10.5 tonnes of food waste being diverted yearly from the landfill.
COMMUNITY GROUP OR NOT-FOR-PROFIT: LARGE ORGANIZATION
Recycling programs abound, but how many offer homes, businesses, schools and community facilities free collection containers and bags, free pick-up service and a tax receipt for donation of empties? The Winnifred Stewart Association (WSA) Empties to Winn (ETW) program does just that, diverting over 46 million containers from landfills in its 12-year history—that’s a half-million containers collected and recycled each month. ETW operates in over 300 Edmonton neighbourhoods and surrounding areas, with pick ups from over 13,000 individual sites.
After 40 years serving Calgary communities with a number of environmental programs, Green Calgary has found a new niche as the voice for those just starting their ‘green’ journey. From youth programs in waste, water and energy efficiency to adult efforts on food sustainability and green cleaning, Green Calgary is refocusing its attention on environmental literacy, awareness and action for all Calgarians.
As of Spring 2017, those looking for DIY how-to guides, children’s literature and documentary films (on topics like pollinators, biodiversity and climate change) can visit Green Calgary’s Little Green Library, or access expert help at the newly-minted Green Hub interactive help desk. Green Talks are part of the re-launch too, bringing environmental experts to community members.
SAIT’s Green Building Technologies (GBT) Lab and Demonstration Centre is Calgary’s first net-zero commercial building—a living research lab that is an innovative example for the green building and structure sector to see, feel and understand how to design, build and live more sustainably. Working with government and industry partners and available for research and development to post-secondary students (capstone projects) and for public tours, the GBT Lab is getting rave reviews in the short time it’s been open, and it continues to get requests for facility use.
EDUCATION: SCHOOL OR CLASSROOM
If there’s an example of taking the classroom out into the real world, Innovate has to be it. In fact, there’s no classroom at all with this unique program. Instead, Edmonton high school students host and attend career fairs on urban agriculture, create gym-sized maps to understand the migration routes of bears, and install solar panels on school rooftops.
Teacher Aaron Dublenko works with students and teachers from local high schools (Queen Elizabeth, Argyll Centre), and even with teens from across the province in a dynamic online platform, around sustainable development and environmental awareness. Working with the idea that though students may not have decision-making powers, they can still be agents of change, Dublenko has helped grow the program from simple beginnings in 2007 when he was a science teacher at Queen Elizabeth.
Many schools have outdoor courses or one-time camp experiences, but Calgary’s Arbour Lake School goes further with its Environmental Wilderness and Outdoor Club (EWOC). Operating as an option class with lunchtime meetups, EWOC’s grade 6-9 members take part in outdoor adventures, action projects and regular environmental learning opportunities.
After attending the 2017 CAWST (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology) Youth Wavemakers Summit, EWOC members were inspired to create a living wall that represented living more sustainably. The club engaged a local seniors home to learn about how to care for different plants, modifying the wall to include solar panels, grow lights and an aquaponics system. Together with community partners, EWOC then organized a similar day-long school summit that focused on local and global water issues. Some 60 students attending the summit left with an action plan to work on an environmental issue of their choosing.
We all know about the savings that come from switching out home light bulbs in hanging fixtures and lamps to LED, so imagine what can be saved when an entire city retrofits street lights with LED luminaires? That’s just what Calgary has done with a four-year, $32 million project, laying claim to the largest LED retrofit in Canadian municipal history (and even finishing the project 1.5 years ahead of schedule).
For 10 years, Working Well has been educating some of the estimated 100,000 Alberta households that rely on water wells for drinking water about well design and construction, operation, protection and maintenance. From farmers and ranchers to acreage and recreational property owners, Working Well’s efforts insure that rural Albertans who rely on groundwater have a safe and secure supply.
Through a series of hands-on workshops, technical experts teach well owners about groundwater fundamentals, including common well problems, contamination risks and well decommissioning. Growing demand has meant continued expansion of the program, which has seen over 7,200 rural property owners in 170 communities participate in 270 workshops. The program is jointly administered by Alberta Water Well Drilling Association, Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, among others.
A 10-year project to reclaim and revitalize marginal municipal land—the largest project of its kind in St. Albert’s history—has become an opportunity to enhance a former landfill with sports and recreational facilities, protect the Sturgeon River and to put the City’s natural environment pillar of sustainability into action.
Riel Park went from a sewage lagoon cell in the 1950s, to a dry landfill (1970s) to development of recreational facilities in the 1980s-90s. Facing the need for new recreational spaces in the fast-growing community and potential impacts to the river from the historic sewage lagoon and landfill, the City opted to reclose the landfill to more stringent 2005 standards.
Talk about inspiring—leaving a job (and pension) just three years before retirement because you see a need for change. That’s the story of Dirk and Nanja Struck, whose dedication to sustainable living set them on a different path 20 years ago, one that helps Calgarians live in a more environmentally-friendly way.
The Barrelman is a small family business that produces rain barrels from food grade barrels that are rescued from the waste stream. It started when Dirk worked in commercial bakeries and saw the ingredient-barrels headed for the landfill. Feeling there was a better way, and with just a few barrels and designs, Dirk teamed with the local non-profit Green Calgary. The business has been a growing enterprise ever since.
In his 35-year career with Alberta Parks, Steve Donelon has never been the business-as-usual type. Instead, his time has been marked by a dedication to Alberta’s natural spaces, making a positive impact on air, land, water, flora, fauna, biodiversity and youth engagement through innovative approaches to park management.
Donelon’s focus on insuring minimal impact to park spaces started early on, when he was a Park Ranger and Conservation Officer in Kananaskis. He earned the nickname of ‘Mr. No’ because it was a regular response to applications for development or land use not backed by science.
Lonny Balbi offers the secret of success for Calgary’s Bike to Work Day, a one-day event now in its 12th year with over 5,000 participants peddling into the city core – keep it simple.
Long advised to have registration fees and sponsors, Balbi has instead kept the event bare-bones, determined that anyone can hop on a bike that day and ride for the fun of it. Hosting the event early in the season fuels the hope that cyclists will enjoy the experience and do it all season long.
When a large corporation in Alberta’s oil sands teams with a neighbouring First Nations community to repurpose reclaimed land, it’s a good thing. But when a threatened species of wood buffalo flourish, creating a genetically pure line of animal that is culturally significant to this and future generations of the First Nations people of Ft. McKay, it’s a great thing.
In 1993, 30 wood bison from Elk Island National Park were released onto land reclaimed from Syncrude’s mining operations. While bison had been native to the region, they had already disappeared before the oil sands projects were developed. So, blessed by Fort McKay elders, bison were set free to forage on the reclaimed landscape once again.
At facilities near Edmonton, Nutrien (formerly Agrium) is taking an innovative approach to reclamation and the beneficial use of phosphogypsum (PG), a gypsum by-product of the phosphate fertilizer industry. What may be the first-ever forest planted on a PG stack, the project is inspiring other industrial landowners to consider different approaches to reclamation.
By establishing woody crops—primarily willow, hybrid poplar and white spruce–on 325 hectares of PG stacks (48 million tonnes of gypsum), Nutrien is also providing valuable data for the concept of creating soil. This is especially of interest in countries where agricultural resources are scarce. In the last decade, Nutrien’s reclamation research with the University of Alberta has enabled six students to earn Masters degrees around the project.
PUBLIC EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
Bridging the gap in environmental education that can exist between teachers and students, government and community groups, Lethbridge’s Natural Leaders Project (NLP) unites all elements in an immersive, year-long environmental leadership experience–transforming engaged citizens into natural leaders.
Using field trips, case studies, guest speakers and social action projects with a ‘where we live, what we do day-to-day’ focus, NLP fosters stewardship and builds relationships and knowledge among all cohorts. In the last three years, 1,410 students and 27 teachers from 12 schools joined 40 City employees in naturalization events (planting wildflowers, trees and shrubs), waste diversion projects, school-based composting and recycling, clothing swaps and habitat creation (installing bird and bat houses, and bug hotels) in community spaces.
Calgary students and residents know the gem they have in the Fish Creek Environmental Learning Centre. For over 35 years, its home in a 1,300 hectare urban park has connected people with nature: the birds, animals and landscape not only create an outdoor classroom for 15,000 students each year, it’s also a space for the 180,000 residents in 18 communities bordering the park to enjoy cycling or a walk.
What better way to learn about forest ecology and sustainability—not to mention feel ownership of Alberta’s environmental landscape–than with a hands-on visit to a real Alberta forest? For the last 20 years, Inside Education has been bringing forest education to life for students with dynamic, full-day curriculum-based programs at five demonstration forest sites across Alberta.
Rustic and real working demonstration forests (of old growth and new, with natural foothills, parkland, and boreal forest) are located in Kananaskis, Rocky Mountain House, Strathcona County, Whitecourt, Grande Prairie and now Fort McMurray (a pilot project). Some 6,000 grade 4-12 students and teachers from urban, rural and Indigenous schools enjoy unique, field-based environmental education programs at little or no-cost (transportation is often covered too, allowing the broadest geographical reach).
SHARED FOOTPRINTS AWARD
The Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration (RICC) was born of necessity. Because boreal woodland caribou are a threatened species, and because their large ranges overlap with oil, gas and timber resources in Alberta, a group of energy and forestry companies in the Cold Lake and East Side Athabasca River (ESAR) caribou ranges of northeast Alberta chose to go beyond individual efforts.
Formed in 2012 when Devon Canada Corp. committed to lead a coalition of companies operating in caribou ranges to address mitigations at a regional level, the RICC works across tenure and lease boundaries to coordinate habitat restoration and conduct research on caribou ecology and landscape relationships. The Government of Alberta has called the RICC a model for caribou range planning in the province.
Have you ever wondered where rain and snow melt goes beyond the storm drain? Some assume such water is treated and then sent out into the river, but that’s not the case. Now, thanks to CreekWatch, citizen scientists are finding out exactly what pollutants are in these water sources—everything from concrete and plastic to garbage and animal droppings.
A spinoff of the popular RiverWatch program, a student-focused and province-wide endeavour, CreekWatch started in 2014. Utilizing municipal and provincial water monitoring expertise and HSBC water program funding, and overseen by government and watershed groups, CreekWatch volunteer citizen scientists in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Cochrane and beyond use RiverWatch’s specialized kits to collect and report data from urban creeks.
When Redemptive Developments (RD) started as a social enterprise in Edmonton seven years ago, its aim was to create employment, help diminish poverty and invest in the community. Becoming one of the biggest mattress recyclers in Western Canada was never on the radar.
But that’s what has happened. In 2011, under the umbrella of its charity, The Jasper Place Wellness Centre (JPWC), partners from business and social work backgrounds found initial success for RD with one pick up truck and a trailer for junk removal. Seeing the furniture and mattresses that were filling the landfill, RD then created Salvage, a second-hand store that diverts useable furniture from the dump and offers affordable options to vulnerable community members.
Carbon Credit Solutions Inc. (CCSI) has gone from start up to Canada’s most successful clean tech company, growing a whopping 805 per cent since 2014 and becoming the largest aggregator of carbon credits in North America. The 40-member CCSI staff (and growing) are global leaders, with an advanced software platform for measuring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions and creating carbon credits.
When the company emerged in 2007, Alberta was just launching its carbon market. At that time, its biggest challenge was overcoming limited understanding among farmers about how carbon credits could help them transition to more sustainable agricultural practices that insure ecological and economic stability. In a decade, CCSI has grown its client base to over 2,700 farmers (creating $36 million in income for Alberta farmers) while saving the energy industry $30 million in compliance costs.
What began 16 years ago when painting contractor Calibre Environmental Ltd. wanted to find an innovative way to deal with leftover paint, is now a company reaching the three million gallons of recycled paint mark, with six million kilograms of paint cans kept out of the waste stream.
Calibre Environmental Ltd. Is a key player in the Alberta Paint Stewardship Program, collecting post-consumer paint throughout Alberta and western Canada before processing and selling the 100 per cent recycled paint in stores under the EcoCoat brand. The paint is of premium quality and the most eco-friendly on the market, meeting or exceeding standards of more expensive virgin latex paint.
Fort McMurray junior high students Chintan Desai and Krish Shah aren’t your everyday 14 year-olds. After wildfires ravaged the area in 2016, the pair—who had already been part of the RM of Wood Buffalo’s Green Teen program—wanted to do something to help replenish what nature had taken away. The result was Eco YOLO: Eco, for the environment, and YOLO, because you only live once, so protect the planet, explain the teens.
As an Engineering and Leadership student at the University of Alberta, Kabir Nadkarni champions renewable energy and conservation education. When part of the City of Edmonton’s Youth Council exploring solar options for City Hall, Nadkarni discovered a knowledge gap among Albertans interested in sharing a partial stake in owning, leasing or using solar electricity through a community project. That pushed the student and Sara Hastings-Simon to co-author the Alberta Community Solar Guide—a widely-available resource for developing more accessible, affordable and equitable solar projects.