It’s the kind of seminar Guy Dauncey is expected to lead. The founder of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association has spent a lifetime developing a vision and putting into action plans for a sustainable future.
But even he was a little taken aback at the full room gathered Friday for a green-economy networking session.
“It may be a sign of the times that so many people have come out at eight in the morning for a session on the green economy. It’s like it has gone mainstream ... that it has normalized,” Dauncey said. “What I also find interesting is while there are a lot of faces I recognize, there are so many faces I don’t know. That tells me there’s been a high speed of evolution and this is no longer seen as a side thing.”
The green economy certainly appeared mainstream, as nearly 200 people packed a small conference room for a networking and strategizing breakfast sponsored by the Capital Regional District and Vancity Savings Credit Union.
The two-hour event, dubbed The New Business As Usual, was designed to bring together a broad group of people to meet and share ideas on how best to accelerate the emerging green economy in Greater Victoria, including new financing models and the roles of new technologies.
Sarah Webb, climate action program manager with the CRD, said the room may have been filled with a disparate group of businesspeople, industry representatives, academics and the non-profit sector, but there was a common thread that tied them all together.
“They are people who care about community investment and care about the environment,” she said, noting they are the kind of people who see opportunities in an emerging green economy.
Webb said the format, which encouraged people to mix, mingle and share ideas rather than be held captive to a series of panel discussion or speakers, was a nod to the collective experience in the room.
“Everyone in this room is a wealth of knowledge,” Webb said.
“We wanted to provide a space for these people with something to offer the chance to connect with each other — they can connect, listen to great stories and help make more of them.”
Maureen Cureton, green-business manager at Vancity, has heard plenty of those as the largest credit union in the country often looks to help finance environmentally sustainable ventures.
“What’s drawn us here is we want to believe green business and the green economy is the new normal, I don’t think we are there yet, at least it’s not mainstream,” she said, though she was quick to add there are a slew of companies Vancity deals with that are on the path.
Cureton also said Vancity has led by example and has proved green business is good business.
She estimates they have saved millions in operating costs with environmental efficiencies in their 64 office buildings, and said engaging their clients, members and staff in sustainable endeavours has translated into a healthy bottom line.
“It’s been good for business. We have $16 billion in assets [under management] and almost 500,000 members,” she said.
Dauncey said the overriding message of “green business is good business” has gained significant traction and not only has it translated into healthier bottom lines, but healthier employees and work environments.
“Staff want to be part of making a difference in the world,” he said, noting when that happens companies see less turnover and absenteeism.
Renowned architect Franc D’Ambrosio said the green economy has come a long way, but there’s also a long way to go. “It is becoming mainstream, but it’s an education process,” he said.
The good news for people like Dauncey and D’Ambrosio is young entrepreneurs appear to be hitting the business world with sustainability in mind.
Dana Stephenson, co-founder of Riipen, an online platform that helps students and companies connect with each other to give students real-world experience while giving businesses an idea of what kind of talent is out there, said the green economy is top of mind.
“Students in Victoria are especially into the green economy and sustainability,” he said, noting his company was at the event to network and spread the word about their product.
Riipen.com is currently in beta testing.
The site is almost like a virtual marketplace that encourages students to establish a profile showing who they are and what they are interested in and where their talents and passions lay.
It does the same for companies, and encourages them to post challenges, assignments and contract work students can apply for.
“The idea is to build those links and networks students need,” he said, adding the assignments give them real-world experience that cannot be taught in a classroom, as well as a foot in the door.
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