A new initiative to sustain your community
Sustain Your Community, or simply Sustain, is a three-year initiative funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and delivered by EnviroCentre, an Ottawa-based nonprofit. Sustain will work with five Ottawa communities to carry out several projects in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide cost-savings services to residents, and support citizen engagement.
Sustain targets low-income, under-resourced and multicultural communities in urban, suburban and rural settings. The initiative is framed by the needs of these communities, working within four key themes: energy conservation, water conservation, sustainable transportation, and food security.
The initiative began in 2014 and is currently engaging the communities of Lowertown, Beaverbrook, and Constance Bay. Two additional communities will be engaged by the end of 2015. Sustain will conclude after its projects are developed and implemented in all five communities by the end of 2017.
EnviroCentre is an Ottawa-based nonprofit that provides practical services and programs to help individuals, families, and organizations conserve energy, improve environmental health and act more sustainably. EnviroCentre has over 15 years of experience in progressive engagement and greenhouse gas reduction interventions in the Ottawa community. They work with important stakeholders throughout the city such as Ottawa Community Housing, the City of Ottawa, Citizens for Safe Cycling, and the Debra Dynes community.
EnviroCentre's vision is to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions through inspired environmental action and positive change. Sustain is one of the ways the organization is using its expertise and long-standing relationships with its partners and supporters to put its mission in action.
Sustain is engaging Ottawa residents that have not traditionally been involved in greenhouse gas reduction projects. The rationale for engaging low-income and under-resourced communities is based on the growing income inequality and costs of living in Ontario since the 1980s. One in five low-income households in Ontario spends an average of 12 percent of their income on utilities, compared to the overall provincial average of four percent. These families often have to choose between heating their homes and other basic needs such as paying rent and buying healthy food.
Alleviating poverty is critical to addressing climate change. Sustain focuses on meeting the needs of these priority communities through four overarching themes: energy conservation, water conservation, sustainable mobility and food security. While the specific projects will be determined by community members, some examples of what will be done include energy audits of private households, distribution and installation of water-saving kits, implementation of a bike share program, and the organization of pop-up farmer's markets.
Sustain seeks to achieve five major outcomes:
1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy conservation, water conservation, sustainable mobility and food security
2. Decrease isolation and increase participation of vulnerable groups such as low income, youth, seniors and rural residents through engagement in concrete projects to improve homes and communities.
3. Enhance community capacity and volunteerism through active engagement in working groups, and through training and networking opportunities.
4. Expand community green infrastructure through specific installations determined by local communities.
5. Establish and sustain environmentally focused, community-led social enterprises in one of the four target priority areas (energy, water, transport, food).
These will work with existing local organizations, with support from EnviroCentre to build capacity to envision, plan, and implement community based projects.
In order to achieve these outcomes, Sustain is establishing and empowering grassroots movements in each community, called Action Committees.
The initiative is already underway in the communities of Lowertown, Beaverbrook, and Constance Bay. Since August 2014, EnviroCentre has been working with local organizations, including the Lowertown Community Resource Centre and the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre to carry out project start-up and planning work.
During the months of November and December, information sessions were held in each community. Using presentations and an interactive World CafŽ, residents were introduced to the initiative and given the opportunity to provide preliminary feedback, including their needs, wants, and concerns relating to each of the initiative themes, and sign up as interested members of the community. Summaries of the sessions that included all the feedback gathered were then sent to stakeholders.
The first Action Committee meetings were held in February and March in each community. Members of the community and representatives of various local organizations who expressed interest in the Information Session were invited to a community meeting in each location. During each of the meetings, attendees were presented with the goals and objectives of Sustain, and had the opportunity to form or join an Action Committee, decide and finalize community priority themes and discuss possible projects for 2015.
Currently, Action Committee members in each community are working closely with EnviroCentre Coordinators to develop and plan projects to be implemented, starting this Spring. In the coming months, members will be engaged in a city-wide training session on how to bring their ideas to action.
By the end of 2015, projects will be implemented in each community, and two new communities will join the initiative and begin identifying priorities and receiving support for projects. The subsequent stages of the initiative will see ongoing support to all five participating communities and their respective projects and enterprises.
Michael Chung is EnviroCentre Program Assistant.