Work Like Nature story featured at the Centre for Civic Governance



“Every time I walked the waterfront, I saw it as a bit of a disaster. I could see what was wrong and what could be right,” said Adrian Rowland, a coastal engineer and West Vancouver resident.

West Vancouver’s urban shoreline is a mixture of sandy beaches, rocky shores, grassy parks, seaside trails and luxury homes. Much of its expansive waterfront has been altered by development over the last 100 years. With these changes, the foreshore became less accessible for residents, less ecologically diverse and more vulnerable to storms.

Could the community work with nature to reverse the damage? Read the rest of the article at the Columbia Institute's Centre for Civic Governance


Naturehood writes guest post for IPAC Vancouver



What could you do to reduce your ecological footprint or enhance the environment at work?

If you’re not sure how to get started, the experience of Beverly Olds, a portfolio director with the Government of Canada who helps oversee the Alaska Highway in northeast British Columbia, offers insight.

The Alaska Highway winds past small communities, over rushing rivers and through stunning landscapes. It’s a lifeline that must be safe and accessible for drivers, but that doesn't prevent Olds and her colleagues from also supporting the wildlife traversing it, the watercourses passing under it and the people living along it.

Olds portfolio includes an 11-year, multi-million-dollar highway maintenance contract. "We chose to make sustainability something that bidders are scored on. We're maintaining a highway, so it's not what you think of first when you think of sustainability," said Beverly Olds. Olds shows us that any role, even one that involves overseeing asphalt, oil and road salt, can improve its relationship with the environment.  

Here are four steps to start greening your work, whether you're in policy development, infrastructure management, human resources, or any other area.


Step 1: Look beyond the environment to address multiple benefits

Your first order of business is to get buy-in and funding for your greening. If your green action provides benefits beyond the environment, you'll be in a better position to garner support from your boss, colleagues and the community. 

"One thing that helped us get funding was presenting the project as an integrated package," said Olds. For example, they proposed restoring habitat with indigenous plants and supporting economic development by making best efforts to hire local First Nations companies to do as much of the work as possible, including the planting.

If you tackle green action from many angles related to your role—i.e. stimulate the local economy, reduce the risk from extreme weather, enhance job satisfaction—then you can leverage those benefits to gain support for your greening efforts.


Step 2: Understand other perspectives 

Sustainability thrives in and relies on collaboration. And to collaborate, we need to see things from the perspective of our colleagues, bosses and community. Olds, for one, has to rely heavily on technical experts. "I'm not an engineer or operations manager; I'm an economist. I have a strategic partnership with my operations manager and the engineering staff. The big challenge [when it comes to green action] is giving strategic direction when you're not the subject matter expert, and the subject matter expert can keep saying no to you," said Olds. 

To consider the perspective of each of your collaborators, ask yourself:

·      What core thing is this person trying to do every day?

·      What concerns will they have (i.e., safety, costs or efficacy)?

·      How can this eco-action help them do a better job?


Step 3: Consider a variety of avenues that relate to your role

If you focus your eco-efforts on issues that aren't central to your work role, such as participating on an office "green team," you can’t as easily leverage your time, expertise or funding, and sticking with your commitments will get harder as you get busy. Olds and her colleagues use maintenance contracts, infrastructure replacement contracts and funding streams to scale and embed green action into their work.

Although your methods will depend on what's available to you, some avenues for action could include: 

  • Revising contracts, procurement protocols or work processes to include sustainability principles.

  • Developing internal sustainability policies.

  • Revising job descriptions and team roles to include sustainability language and responsibilities.

  • Revising external policies and legislation overseen by your department or ministry.

Brainstorming a list of tools that you could use to leverage your day-to-day action is an effective step as you start greening your role.


Step 4: Leave room for continual improvement 

Your action doesn't have to be perfect from the beginning. "Plow trucks head out every morning and do pretty big loops," said Olds. But she wonders whether it is necessary to physically patrol the highway to investigate conditions. Her maintenance colleagues argue that this is the only way to ensure the route is safe. However, while that's currently true because of spotty satellite reception, the technology is changing very rapidly. 

"Each year, the contractor is to let us know how they’ll continually monitor the road condition. Because if at sometime they can put weather sensors every 10 km because the sensors have gotten very cheap, then rock on," said Olds. 

The lesson: don't let perfection slow you down; instead, adopt continual improvement as a principle.

Start the steps right now

The environment doesn't have to be a "when I have time" add-on to your already heavy workload. Like Olds and her team, you too can integrate sustainability into your daily responsibilities if you look at the benefits beyond the environment, consider multiple viewpoints, come up with many avenues to include sustainability, and make a plan to constantly improve.


Seek out your eco-allies


It’s challenging to find like-minded colleagues who share your passion for the environment in a sea of status quo.

When my kids started kindergarten I was keen to connect with other parents who share my environmental values. I thought this would save me from lamenting rising gas prices on the playground, getting odd looks when I bring my own plate to the school barbeque and explaining our ‘no presents but your presence’ birthday parties. And hey I figured when I was ready to start a green initiative at the school I’d be set for supporters.

Being an observer, I watched for cues from kids and parents to see who might be a good fit. I eyed the girl eating bulk dried fruit and stalked her parents to identify their transportation preferences. When I saw bike helmets and mud-splattered legs I knew I’d found new friends.

Maybe you’d rather not practice the slightly creepy act of stalking your co-workers to uncover how they commute or what they eat for lunch? 


Ask your colleagues what they do outside of work

Instead, use nature as a conversation catalyst.

Dr. Steve Schein, author of A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership, interviewed sustainability leaders to understand why they care about leaving the world better than they found it. A common theme was that leaders had spent time in nature, often as kids. I’ve found a similar connection. When I ask people why sustainability is important to them they often begin by talking about spending their childhood in nature and that they continue to value getting outside regularly.

Talk to your colleagues about their summer vacations and what they did on the weekend. When you find stories of beach walks, mountain hikes or lazy days on the water you’ve revealed a potential ally.


Start a weekly nature walk

Finding the time to have these conversations between meetings, deadlines and managing your team can be tricky. Instead, you need to carve out time to have deeper conversations with your team members, other managers or senior staff.

If there’s a nature trail or two close to your workplace start a weekly lunchtime walk.

Madeline Sloan, Sustainability and Wellness Coordinator at Lorna Vanderhaege Health Solutions, recently started a weekly lunchtime nature walk with her co-workers. “Convening and engaging in and with nature is refreshing for your mind-body-soul, and doing it together builds community within your organization,“ said Sloan. She found that the benefits of nature walks with colleagues goes beyond building relationships.

“Convening and engaging in and with nature is refreshing for your mind-body-soul, and doing it together builds community within your organization.“ ~ Madeline Sloan

Sloan's sentiment that spending time in nature is good for our body and mind is backed up by research. For example, researchers in Japan studied 280 participants across 24 forests and found that a 15-minute forest walk lowered their cortisol (a stress hormone) along with their pulse rate and blood pressure. Walking in a concrete urban environment didn't have the same effect.  There’s more and more research to support the benefits of time in nature to your productivity, mental well-being and physical health. The Nature Principle by Richard Louv offers a wealth of information and inspiration.

Conversations are easier when they happen consistently and without distraction. I can’t promise you won’t talk about gas prices but over the weeks I hope you'll develop a rapport and begin to support each other as you make a difference. Put up a sign and post to your internal mailing list that this week, at lunch, you’ll be walking in nature.


Big City Hippies reviews Work Like Nature

Work Like Nature Book Review By Madeline Sloan

I really enjoyed Work Like Nature: Sustainability Lessons From Ecosystems For Your Job Or Business  by Lea Elliott – it’s a perfect companion to those green initiatives you’ve been dreaming up for your workplace! 

Lea pairs information with action, providing exercises at the end of each chapter for you to really focus in on the learnings, and take actual steps towards greening your business and life. Click here to read more.

Naturehood writes guest post for Thriving Vancouver

Four Steps to a Greener Brand

Do you aspire to green your brand? Be forewarned: It’s challenging, as Kerri McKenzie and her colleagues discovered. McKenzie researched, developed and sourced materials for the outdoor gear retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) at its head office in Vancouver. Four lessons from her experience can help you green your supply chain with more reward than headache. 

During her thirty-year career McKenzie has seen poor mill practices. Early on she visited a mill in Taiwan. "There was this guy in rubber boots. There’s water on the floor and he’s carrying buckets of dyestuff. When you work with powders, it’s in the air, it’s in your ears, hair, everything. He was just walking along with buckets sloshing about with this chemistry and tipping it into machines,” said McKenzie. It wasn't only inside the mills that McKenzie witnessed detrimental practices. "I've seen bright green, blue, red, yellow rivers. People are bathing in there, and they’re getting their drinking water.”

McKenzie has also seen the flip side, such as at a denim mill in India. "Indigo dying is fairly toxic. At the end-of-pipe, they had a water filtration system. The water was so clean there were fish living in it," said McKenzie. Here, a typically detrimental dying process was releasing what appeared to be clean water.   

But how does someone sourcing textiles, like McKenzie, confirm the process really is more environmentally responsible? And how do consumers, who may never visit a mill, trust a brand’s sustainability claims? 


1. Secure reputable third-party certification

A reputable third-party gives a brand the necessary oversight. MEC has partnered with a third-party certification program called bluesign to provide assurance to its staff and members.  

Bluesign is dedicated to improving the sustainability of the textile industry across the textile supply chain from chemical producers to clothing retailers. Other Vancouver area clothing companies also rely on bluesign to help green their supply chain, including Arc’teryx, Lululemon, and Boardroom Eco Apparel.

 Does a reputable third-party certification program exist in your sector? Talk with your industry associations and competitors to learn about sector-specific options or explore a general sustainable business certification, such as Certified B Corporation (B Corp).


2. Show foot-draggers the damage they’re causing 

Certification provides industry standards and transparency but McKenzie also had to convince other staff that it was worthwhile to pursue. Designers were one of McKenzie's biggest hurdles.

When designers choose fabric they have to meet a lot of criteria, including performance, affordability, and aesthetics. Requiring environmental criteria further constrains and frustrates designers, especially if the technology to make an envisioned design bluesign-approved doesn’t yet exist. “Bluesign creates guard rails. You have a tool box and this is all you can use," said McKenzie.

To convince MEC designers of the importance of greening their brand McKenzie took them to a mill in India. "We were standing in this big room with dye machines, chemistry, water, coal power and fire. It was remarkable, and this [designer] stood there with her mouth open. She looked at me and she said 'I get it, I get it.' You have to see it. You have to feel it. You have to breathe it in," said McKenzie.


3. Commit to a date-stamped and measurable goal 

For five years McKenzie and her colleagues worked hard to bring bluesign-approved materials to MEC, but they weren't making significant progress. That changed in 2013 when David Labistour, MEC's CEO, set a lofty goal for all materials used in MEC-brand apparel be bluesign-approved by 2017. Leadership from the top of the organization and a measureable goal, with a deadline, gave McKenzie the support she needed to stand up to opposition.


4. Don’t waver

In Japan, for example, many of the mills resisted certification. They felt their regulations were strict enough. McKenzie was very consistent with her message that materials had to be bluesign. Finally, she told them MEC would phase them out if they aren't bluesign-approved. It wasn't an easy choice.   

"That was pretty scary because we had to find alternative sources for very, very technical products.” Japanese mill orders dropped off dramatically but today MEC is back in Japan. Japan's four largest mills are now bluesign system partners.

To-date, 87 percent of materials for MEC-label products are bluesign-approved. This achievement is due in large part to MEC's goal and McKenzie's persistence. We’ll have to wait until 2018 to confirm MEC has achieved its 2017 goal of 100% bluesign but it’s well on its way.

Now, it’s your turn. Start putting these four lessons into motion today to experience the satisfaction of successfully greening your brand.


Editor note: Kerri McKenzie is now a Textile Development Specialist at Arc’teryx

Naturehood publishes article in The New Brewer

5 Lessons from Nature to Green Your Brewery

A dark green, forested hillside frames Crannóg Ales, a farmhouse brewery in British Columbia, Canada. Douglas fir trees dot the forest, with brown trunks too big to reach your arms around. The ground is littered with soft, moist brown fir cones twice the size of a hop cone. The fir cones are both the trees' growth strategy and food for the squirrels. The trees defy gravity by carrying water and nutrients up their trunk without a pump. The soil, composed of tree needles and fallen branches, stores rainwater for the trees to use when they need it.

Next door to the forest, Brian MacIsaac, co-owner of Crannóg Ales, approaches brewing like a fir tree. Click here to read the rest of the article.