Panel discussion at First Evening of Recognition in 2013.

Sustainable Hamilton Burlington (SHB) was originally launched as Sustainable Hamilton in June 2011 by Sandi Stride with the help of a Founding Board of Directors and small team of volunteers.

One of the first actions was to recruit a cross-sectoral advisory committee to gain input from sustainability experts in academia, municipal and provincial government, NGOs, and businesses large and small. Over the summer of 2011 this committee reviewed several sustainability measurement frameworks to provide guidance on a program that would meet the needs of organizations in the Hamilton and Burlington area, as well as one that would help address the key local environmental, social and economic issues. The committee decided on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) www.globalreporting.org, the de-facto world standard in corporate sustainability reporting for its world-wide acceptance and suitability for a wide range of organizations and sectors. The newly formed volunteer team then went to work on creating a comprehensive toolkit and other support programs. The Sustainable Hamilton Reporting Initiative was launched in early 2012.

Promotional image for First Evening of Recognition in 2013

In 2013, our first annual Evening of Recognition was held at the Royal Botanical Gardens, celebrating the accomplishments of the first eight Sustainable Hamilton Reporting Partners. We also created the Sustainable Hamilton Experiential Learning (SHEL) program, to extend its mission of mentoring the next generation of sustainable business leaders. The work started with the SHEL program now continues with the new Collaborative Experiential Learning (CEL) program.

In 2014 we were invited by the City of Hamilton to sit on the Steering Committee of the Community Climate Change Action Plan, where Sandi Stride also co-chaired the Local Economy and Business Task Force to engage the business sector in the climate change discussion. Climate Change became a key focus of our programming. In fall of 2014 the organization moved into a new office at The Seedworks on Catharine Street North in Hamilton, providing a home for volunteer meetings and office space for staff and volunteers. By the end of 2014 it had become evident that there was a growing interest in Burlington as well, but the name Sustainable Hamilton was proving to be a deterrent to Burlington-based organizations. The decision was made to re-brand as Sustainable Hamilton Burlington, and the new name and logo were launched at the June 2015 Evening of Recognition, followed by a new website in September to reflect our new brand direction.

The mayors of Hamilton (Fred Eisenberger, right) and Burlington (Rick Goldring, left) take part in a panel at SHB’s 2016 Evening of Recognition.

In January of 2016 SHB we joined the Sustainability CoLab Network (now Green Economy Canada) which gave us access to extensive capacity-building resources and networking as well as support from the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change while retaining our own unique value proposition. We began the process of incorporating the CoLab greenhouse gas (GHG) target-setting and reduction parameters and software into our existing program. The fall of 2016 saw the re-launch of our core program as the Sustainable Business Initiative (SBI). This was prompted by two factors: input from members who asked for more flexibility for reporting on their organization’s unique situations; and the need to adapt the program to incorporate the Sustainability CoLab emphasis on climate change and GHG reporting. All members are now required to set a sustainability target which can be measured and improved on over time.

2017 opened with a dramatic shift for the organization, when a Grow Grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation allowed us to hire long term full and part time staff to augment the work of Founder Sandi Stride, the volunteer team and occasional work term contracts. As a result of this expansion, we suddenly out-grew our desk(s) in the Seedworks co-working space. Thankfully the owners of Seedworks renovated a unique new office for us — which we then completed with a recycled shipping pallet green wall, upcycled table and Interface carpet tiles. We then set about rolling out the use of B Analytics to help companies set material goals, track performance across time, and compare against similar businesses. We also introduced an option for members to set a waste diversion target. This provides another alternative to carbon target setting. The Waste Diversion Target Framework was developed in consultation with other network members of Green Economy Canada, local waste consultants, the Recycling Council of Ontario, and our SBI member base. Another project in 2017 was our partnership with the City of Hamilton and Climate Smart to deliver a Hamilton Business Energy and Emissions Profile (BEEP): a full report and data visualization tool that allows users to see local GHG emissions by business sector, business activity (i.e. electricity) or business size.

Sustainable Business Initiative Stages, Sustainable Hamilton Burlington
The milestone framework central to the new Sustainable Business Initiative (SBI)

However, 2017 ended on a melancholy note for SHB, as our tireless founder Sandi Stride moved on from her role with SHB to take over the Executive Directorship of the Centre for Climate Change Management (CCCM) at Mohawk college. A collaboration between Mohawk College, the Cities of Hamilton and Burlington and Sustainable Hamilton Burlington, the CCCM was designed to support action on carbon emissions reduction and accelerate transformation to a low carbon economy. The heart of SHB’s partnership with the CCCM is the Industry Partnerships Initiative (IPI). Through our partnership we continue to work closely with Founder Sandi Stride.

As of early 2018, SHB was able to officially say that both our home cities, Burlington and Hamilton, had joined our Sustainable Business Initiative. In the summer of this year, after acting as interim director for the better part of a year, Kim Gutt accepted an offer to become our new Executive Director. One of Kim’s first official acts was to preside over the launch of the Business Climate Action Toolkit (BCAT). Created in partnership with the City of Hamilton, the BCAT is a free online resource-hub, equipping businesses with sector-specific resources, case studies, tools and support services to facilitate action on climate change opportunities and risks. As 2018 began to draw to a close, SHB launched an ambitious new event, with the announcement of the first annual Sustainable Business Expo: the Bay Area’s first-ever tradeshow focused on sustainable business and intended to provide the connections, solutions and inspiration that businesses need to take their potential beyond ‘business as usual.’

2017 contained a milestone only indirectly related to our organization, but deeply relevant to our mission: in 2014 public opinion/environmental research body Ecoanalytics began asking poll respondents “[w]hen do you think climate change will start to harm people living in Canada?” In 2014, 35% of respondents chose the answer, “climate change is already harming people in Canada”. By 2017 that number was up to 55%: for the first time that year the research showed that a majority of Canadians looked around at events like recent and devastating wildfires in British Columbia and Alberta, and costly flooding in Ontario, and realized that climate change was a danger that needed to be addressed not by future generations, or future governments, but by us right now.

Sandi Stride, Kim Gutt and Eleanor McMahon at 2018 Evening of Recognition, Sustainable Hamilton Burlington
Passing the TorchLocal MPP and long time SHB supporter, Eleanor McMahon gives Sandi Stride SHB's first Lifetime Achievement Award (left). Sandi Stride embraces incoming Executive Director Kim Gutt (right). At the Evening of Recognition 2018

There are currently a wide variety of businesses and other organizations participating in the Sustainable Business Initiative: committing to measuring and reporting on their triple bottom-line progress. Through its programs and many community partnerships, Sustainable Hamilton Burlington is inspiring the two cities organizations to do well by doing good – and contributing to a positive, sustainable future for Hamilton and Burlington.