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A changing climate: Sustainability and social responsibility programs

With Paul Lansbergen, Katherine McColgan, Beth McMahon and Coro Strandberg

In October 2019, CSAE hosted a roundtable on sustainability and social responsibility programming at their annual conference to discuss the exploding trend of environmental activism. The latest surge of interest in climate change and civic accountability has been boosted by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who led four million people in the largest global climate strike in human history (Time, 2019).
Weekly climate strikes fueled momentum and underscored the importance of conversation about practical action regarding the future of the planet.  Coinciding with the climate strikes was a panel discussion on how associations can take important action to put sustainability on their own agendas. The panel, moderated by Coro Strandberg, included Paul Lansbergen, president of the Fisheries Council of Canada, Katherine McColgan, executive director of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations and Beth McMahon, chief executive officer at the Canadian Institute of Planners. Their associations’ unique stories excerpted below, demonstrate the importance and viability of social responsibility as it pertains to climate, as well as the broader array of sustainable development goals (SDGs) articulated by the United Nations (UN). 

From AssociationTM, by CSAE. © United Nations, 2015.
Sustainable Development Goals (Sdgs)
In 2015, the United Nations (UN) developed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), urgent calls to action for all developing and developed countries to implement by 2030. See how you can improve your association’s strategic plan by implementing some of these goals now: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300

Beth McMahon, Canadian Institute Of Planners

The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) is a professional, membership-based organization. Urban planners are on the forefront of the pressures of urbanization. Talking about sustainability is something I do multiple times a day on numerous fronts. We have over seven thousand members across Canada and around the world and work with the provincial, territorial institutes and associations, which are the regulators. CIP acts as a bridge point; we are taking a leadership stance in tackling a lot of concerns. Our members feel that they are seeing the best and worst of some of our ecological, environmental and social pressures. Planners, through our code of ethics, have a responsibility to serve the public interest so there are a lot of conversations about what that looks like and how to balance those pressures. Certainly climate change adaption is a huge issue, but so is mitigation. Mitigation has garnered a conversation and we feel very strongly about working with other allied professions, including architects and engineers, on how we address it. In terms of the built environment, healthy communities and equity is something we look at through so many different lenses: housing, transit, access to recreational space. If you think about where parks are planned in more affluent communities and near access to green space, these are some of the things that we look at and consider. This goes even further towards being considerate of our profession’s composition and diversity, who we see and don’t see within it.

I feel so fortunate because I have such a supportive board and membership that want to be involved. If anything, it’s about managing expectations because we all want to move so quickly. In the last year we have formalized three new national policies, one on healthy communities, one on reconciliation and professional practice and one on climate change. As a result of the work that was done by the committees and consultant, some of the provincial associations have now built on them — and it’s influencing professional development and our competencies at a regulatory level. We’re starting to see spillover we never anticipated in the exam process, the curriculum, the university programs — and we’re thrilled. We also work at an international level with our counterparts around the globe. Our leadership is now impacting international conversations as we collaborate and work together.

We’re also looking at aligning the SDGs and our own policies. In fact, at our 2019 conference we had a huge map across a whole wall with each SDG listed and we asked planners, “which SDGs are you actively working on?” And every single SDG had at least one dot with, of course, most coming under SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and 13, Climate Action. It was so inspiring; I think our members were really surprised by how many areas we were working in.

One of the things I think is unique is that all of our committees have mandate letters they are responsible for, and we use the letter to link their work back to the SDGs. Most recently, we developed our Social Equity and Diversity Committee’s mandate letter to specify that they were responsible to develop a gender equity and a gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) policy for the institute, linking it back to SDG 5, Gender Equality, and 10, Reduced Inequalities. Because of this focus, we now have a gender equity policy that we’re enacting in the Institute. We’re trying within so many different layers of our work to reflect the SDGs and to help support our members in terms of both their individual practice and the association.

We are also really thinking about our institute’s physical impact, how and where our meetings and conference are held. We just committed to developing and implementing a carbon neutrality plan for the association in 2020. One of the things we are looking at is our meetings, which have always been held in Toronto and Ottawa. Now we’re doing an analysis on where our carbon footprint would be lowest, based on the composition of our board or whatever committee might be meeting. Our last meeting was in Regina, which was far lower in cost for meeting facilities and people’s flight times on average. These are the kinds of lenses we are now starting to think about. I even started looking up hotels that had sustainability programs beyond “hang up your towel if you don’t need it changed.”

Another project we are working on is with Simon Fraser University, having signatories across the allied professions committing to climate change adaptation and resiliency together. We meet regularly and our policy people report back on what they’re doing, share information, data and metrics — so the conversation is a commitment to keep going. I know my organization is really advanced, but we can only go as far as other people we work with, allied professions, government policymakers, communities and citizens. It’s so important for each one of us in our work that we’re having those conversations.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is, because the SDGs are meant to be achieved by 2030, 2020 is really that ten-year mark. There’s lots of time left, so if you’re just coming to this, if it’s a first and it’s pretty new, you still have time to learn more and consider it. For us in 2020, these goals will be the foundation for our strategic plan and will anchor and frame the conversation with our members. It also allows our members to have similar conversations with some of their peers. I feel like the more associations work with the SDGs, the greater it will affect businesses, community organizations and individuals, allowing each to speak in a similar language, which makes it easier to advance industry sustainability.

Paul Lansbergen, Fisheries Council Of Canada

Fisheries Council of Canada (FCC) is a national trade association representing fish processors and has been in existence since 1915. The companies that FCC represents are across Canada on all three coasts. They’re small, medium and larger sized companies that are mostly privately held. There are also some Indigenous enterprises within our membership. Participation in the sector is quite broad and most, although not all, of our members that process fish also harvest. FCC is the only national association for wild capture. There are regional, provincial and species-specific associations.

For us, sustainability is in our DNA. We endorse fish as a healthy resource — failing to do that is only jeopardizing our own future. We also promote a prosperous industry that plays a vital role in our economy. Because we are the national trade association, we act as a liaison between the industry and government to influence a variety of policy areas from fisheries management, trade, safety, innovation, economic development of coastal communities, the environment and more. We employ 80 thousand Canadians and export seven billion dollars of products a year to 139 countries; much like other sectors, exporting to global markets is vital to us.

There are six trends and issues from the UN’s list of sustainability goals that our industry faces.

1. Global Food Insecurity/Security
We have an increasing population and growing affluence. Both of these are leading to a mounting demand for protein. Fish and seafood are one of the more sustainable sources of protein, but our fish resources are not failsafe. How do we meet this demand without jeopardizing the vitality and abundance of our oceans and fish stocks, whether in Canada or around the world?

2.  Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation
Our oceans are changing, the water temperatures are increasing. There’s acidification and oxygen levels are impacted. These changes are affecting the food web and fish stocks around the world. We’re seeing this already in species distribution, where the habitat is the source of a lifecycle. Canada is working very hard to understand these impacts, but we really need to accelerate and intensify that activity.

3.  Biodiversity and Marine Conservation
There is a global concern about biodiversity loss and that’s leading to more ambitious action on marine conversation. However, in Canada, we’ve felt like we’re chasing a “number of protection” rather than focusing on effective protections. FCC wants to look at being more strategic and how we need to identify the attributes needing protection. What are the threats and vulnerabilities? We need to solidify these to select the right tool for the job.

4.  Plastics Pollution
Everyone has heard about the immense amount of plastics pollution in the ocean. The vast majority of these plastics come from 10 rivers in the world. A small portion does come from lost fishing gear, but it’s a larger problem elsewhere in the world, as Canada has robust regulatory regimes. We need to address these sources and recover what’s already in the ocean.

5.  Marine Science
We need science in order to understand our fish resources and ocean ecosystem. We rely on the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to conduct the necessary scientific research. They make all the fisheries management decisions and determine what is sustainable and what is not. Because of cuts from previous governments, they are playing catch-up on doing this fundamental science.

6.  Coastal Communities
The demand side looks great, but on the supply side we have challenges. If we are successful, our coastal communities are going to do very well. If we fail, they are going to face the economic brunt and the social impacts that go with that.

The six trends above are not the only challenges our sector has faced. Another is the fragmentation of the industry in its industrial structure and its association structure. FCC hasn’t been able to tell our story because we’re too disjointed. The first step to change is to tell the story we have. I’m very proud of our sustainability plan — we have a robust regulatory regime and many jurisdictions in the world do not. We are among the global leaders in adopting sustainable fisheries management, about two-thirds of our landings are certified and that’s in stark contrast to the global average of about 14 per cent. FCC has a good story, but we haven’t been telling it in the context of the SDGs. The SDGs are getting more attention in policy discussion and public discourse and, as any communicator will know, how you tell your story is just as important as what the story is. Our first step in beginning our sustainability efforts is to start communicating our story in the context of the SDGs and for us the most important goal, by far, is number 14, Life under Water.

As we tell our story I’m sure we will find some areas where we are lacking in the data or evidence and we will find some room for improvement. It’s a journey and there’s nothing wrong with taking baby steps, you don’t have to be in the mindset that it has to be a huge leap. Yes, these are very large challenges and it has been a struggle, as our association and industry is going through a tremendous amount of change. We have completed our first strategic plan, we changed our annual budgeting process and strategic work plan for the year, we revamped our conference, and we’ve gone through unprecedented focus and attention from the government on our sector. A lot of things are on our plate, yet we’re still finding time and energy to look at telling our story.

So, what are the takeaways? First, mandate letters for committees is huge. Our committee structure within our council is not very effective and I’m still trying to think of ways to reinvigorate those committees.  Another takeaway is we launched a career development program specifically for the sector. For the program next year I’m going to add a component about the SDGs. Our future leaders will have this ingrained in their thinking much sooner.

Katherine McColgan, Canadian Federation Of Library Associations

The Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA), or Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliothèques  (FCAB), is a national association whose members are library associations. Some may be familiar with the Canadian Library Association (CLA) that previously existed. In 2015 CLA closed its doors and the Canadian library community realized that there still was a need for a national voice, primarily focused on advocacy and policy development that could speak to a number of issues that one organization could not do on its own. This is how CFLA was born. I’m their first executive director and we finalized our first strategic plan in September 2019.

At CFLA we’re asking, “What is an area or a role that we can focus on that other organizations are not addressing?” We also look at some of those things that affect all library sectors. In these conversations, we realized there wasn’t an organization out there for the library community that was concerned with SDGs. Primarily, our goals are from an advocacy standpoint. Really thinking about what is concerning to libraries and where is this space libraries can focus on? One of the biggest things we have been working on is the recommendations that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on Indigenous matters. We formed one of the first committees that examined these recommendations. We’re primarily working around Indigenous knowledge preservation, language preservation and training for Indigenous peoples to help us in understanding how to do this in a thoughtful and meaningful way with communities across the country. Our association is always asking, “How can we create a stronger Canada and a stronger Canadian economy?” We think the answer is by building communities through stronger and more inclusive programming and how we integrate the focus of inclusiveness, and information and programming in that sense.

Of course, climate change is something we concern ourselves with. Libraries are probably the epitome of the circular economy. More and more of our buildings are being developed, renovated and built under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Library Archives Canada and the Ottawa Public Library are in the process of developing a new joint facility in Ottawa under LEED Gold.

Another way we focus our attention on these initiatives is through our committees. These groups are charged with putting into place our first strategic plan. The plan was developed with an eye to what libraries are doing in support of the SDGs. We’ve identified that we actually are addressing:

  3.  Good Health and Wellbeing

  4.  Quality Education

  9.  Industry Innovation and Infrastructure

10.  Reduced Inequalities

11.  Sustainable Cities and Communities

17.  Partnership for the Goals

We are in the preliminary stage of talking with our members on where they see our focus and where they want to see the federation moving in developing this strategic plan. We currently have four strategic committees and they are all charged with developing work plans in support of the strategic directions to address the SDGs. The main priorities are thinking about what strategic initiatives are affecting our ability to carry out the strategic plan and what SDGs we are facing in being successful.

In our lobbying efforts both pre-, during and post-election, everything we talk about to the government, whether MPs, elected or non-elected officials, is what libraries are doing to support the SDGs. Even if it’s not their portfolio, when we’re talking to officials about funding community developments, we let them know that by their department doing this, they’re helping to support the government’s role in achieving the SDGs by 2030. We’ve developed a toolkit that all of our members can use when speaking with government officials about these important initiatives. We also engage on an international level with the International Federation of Libraries and Canadian Federation of Library Associations, engaging in conversation with the United Nations on support for the 2030 goals and what libraries are doing. We try to ensure they have an understanding of what Canada is doing in support of these goals and engaging in local conversations.

The main way you get these initiatives on your strategic plan is leadership. You need to have someone to spearhead these ideas, a champion passionate about sustainable development. It can be sort of like a broken record, but it starts to build in the association culture as the conversation becomes normalized. When you start meeting with your members or start having these conversations, it becomes a natural part of the association’s direction. As a staff person of an association, I can talk until my face is blue and my members are going to go, “yeah, yeah,” but if I have a champion on the board, that’s socializing the idea—that’s where you’re going to get a lot of the legwork. It’s been a really interesting process to be looking at running an association, our programs and the things we do through the lens of the SDGs. It brings up a lot more social awareness to the work that we’re doing.

So what can every association do? Coro Strandberg sums up the main takeaways from the panelists’ own experiences:

•  Build social and environment sustainability into committee terms of reference and work plans

•  Include sustainability in professional development and curriculum

•  Engage international partners in discussions and collaboration on sustainability

•  Improve the sustainability impacts of your conferences

•  Build sustainability in your strategic plans

•  Include sustainability in your lobby agenda and engage proactively with government in advancing sustainability issues relevant to your sector

•  Provide a member toolkit to help them improve their sustainability practices

•   Communicate your sustainability story

•  Develop the data and evidence of your sector’s social and environmental footprint

•  Consider third party sustainability certification for the association or its members

•  Include sustainability in your code of ethics and in your economic, trade and export development efforts

Coro also notes that the top priorities shared by the panelists are climate change, sustainable communities and Indigenous reconciliation, and point out that associations could access a free benchmark to self-assess their sustainability best practices. She adds that an easy way to get started is to understand where your association is today — and where you would like to be in the future, creating a roadmap to close any gaps you find.

Whether you focus on the UN SDGs, or on your own definition of sustainability, the new decade presents an opportunity for us all to consider how we can enhance our member value proposition while we make a stronger contribution to a sustainable future in which all can thrive. 

“Time 2019 Person of the Year: Greta Thunberg,” Charlotte Alter, Suyin Haynes, Justin Worland, Time, 2019. https://time.com/person-of-the-year-2019-greta-thunberg

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