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Feature Writer
Brenda Bouw is a freelance writer and editor, as well as an author and ghostwriter based in Vancouver. She has more than 20 years of experience as a business reporter, including at the Globe and Mail, Canadian Press and the Financial Post.

Greening the concrete jungle

Are low-carbon aluminum, cement and steel pipe dreams or the blueprint for a brighter future?

The production of steel, cement and aluminum collectively accounts for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions and demand for the industrial materials is on the rise. A handful of pilots are underway to develop zero or nearly-zero carbon versions of these carbon-heavy materials, but the pace of change is hampered by a dearth of investment.

Pilot examples include Sweden’s Hybrit, which aims to replace coking coal with hydrogen and electricity; Quebec’s Elysis, described as the world’s first carbon-free aluminum smelting process; and Carbicrete, also from Quebec, which is developing cement-free, carbon-negative concrete.

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Top company profile: The Co-operators

The coop insurer sells climate insurance products and then invests those premiums for positive impact

The Co-operators Group, an insurance and financial services organization, is expected to operate differently than many of its financial services peers. The company’s cooperative business model means that profit has to be balanced with the needs of its clients and community. That’s a responsibility the Guelph, Ont.-based company does not take lightly as it tries to boost the sustainability performance of its operations and many of its products and services. For example, the Co-operators was the first insurer to offer water damage coverage in Canada’s most vulnerable areas as well as storm surge coverage in coastal ones providing some protection to people whose homes are standing in the path of increasing climate chaos. The company also provides generous employee benefits such as a mental health package for families in need.

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Power of the people

Community ownership of wind farm projects can diminish the backlash against the renewable energy source.

When the 10 turbines started rotating at the Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm in late 2016, they brought more than just green energy to Ontario’s Oxford County – they brought in revenue.

Gunn’s Hill – owned by the Oxford Community Energy Cooperative (OCEC), the Six Nations of the Grand River and developer Prowind Canada – is Ontario’s first community-sponsored wind farm and Canada’s first wind initiative to include both coop and Indigenous ownership.

The $9-million project included individual investments of $1,000 to $10,000 from 136 coop members. The project is meeting its goal of providing a rate of return of between 10 and 11.11 per cent to investors, OCEC executive director Miranda Fuller says.

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2018 top company profile: Hydro-Québec

The public utility decided to overhaul its corporate culture in order to become a better corporate citizen.

One sure sign Hydro-Québec is doing something right by its stakeholders is the growing number of requests the public utility says it has been getting to sponsor local sports teams across the province. More employees also appear to be wearing clothing with the company’s logo around the office and out in the community.

“A few years ago, they were shy of putting the logo on them,” says Éric Martel, president and CEO of the public utility, which manages the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Québec.

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Top company profile: Saskatchewan Research Council

The research and business organization is committed to operating more sustainably

Since it was founded in 1947, the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) has been helping companies grow and then later find ways to reduce their energy, water and waste. The SRC has also developed tools that allow companies to analyse their overall carbon footprint.

Then, earlier this decade, the provincial Crown corporation realized it had overlooked one key stakeholder in its mission to improve environmental performance – itself.

“It was a laugh/cry moment a few years ago when we realized we should be applying some of these tools to ourselves,” says Laurier Schramm, president and CEO of the SRC, one of Canada’s leading applied research, development, demonstration and technology commercialization organizations. “We decided that we couldn’t be all that we could be if we weren’t conducting our own business in a responsible manner and if our communities and partners didn’t perceive us to be doing that.”

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Steel work

The world is going to need a lot more steel in the coming decades, but reducing emissions remains a daunting task.

When it comes to building a low-carbon economy, the steel industry is both part of the problem and part of the solution.

Steelmaking is energy intensive and one of the world’s leading industrial sources of greenhouse gases, generating nearly two tonnes of CO2 emissions per tonne of steel produced and accounting for about five per cent of total GHG emissions. On the flip side, steel is essential to building the infrastructure required in a low-carbon economy - everything from wind turbines and electric vehicles to mass transit systems. Another bonus with steel is that it’s recyclable.

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2017 top company profile: Vancity

The B.C.-based credit union continues to lead corporate Canada on sustainability.

It would be easy to begrudge Vancity for receiving yet another honour for its corporate citizenship if it wasn’t working so damn hard to earn it.

Canada’s largest community credit union has been tackling some top-of-mind social issues ranging from racism and refugees to gender equality and affordable housing. Meantime, its membership and assets under management keep growing. Today, Vancity manages about $25.6 billion in assets, up seven per cent from 2015, and has a goal to grow that further to $40 billion by 2020. It wants to see its membership reach 600,000, up from about 523,000 today.

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Getting up to speed

Preparing Canadian freight rail for a low-carbon future

When it comes to environmentally friendly modes of transportation to move goods across Canada, the train is considered best.

About 28 per cent of Canada’s emissions come from the transportation sector and of that about four per cent is from railways.

Canada’s freight rail industry says it has reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity by about 40 per cent since 1990, while increasing its workload (measured in revenue tonne kilometres) by 83 per cent, according to the Railway Association of Canada (RAC), which represents the passenger and freight industry, including leading players such as Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP).

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Training tomorrow’s workforce

Canadian colleges are beginning to prepare students for a low-carbon job market, but more work is needed.

Canada’s clean technology industry is growing at four times the rate of the overall economy, putting increasing responsibility on educators to prepare workers for the transition to a low-carbon future.

When it comes to post-secondary education, colleges in particular are poised to provide the job-training skills required for everything from water and soil testing to home energy retrofits and stakeholder engagement.

Colleges across Canada are making changes to their curriculum and adding instructors with sustainability and cleantech industry expertise to help educate the next generation of workers. Still, experts say more can and needs to be done to embed sustainability across the entire educational system to help meet both growing skills demand in the workforce and society’s expectation of more environmentally friendly organizations.

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The future of mining

The mining industry has some catching up to do.

When mining financier Robert Friedland took the stage at the World Copper Conference in Chile earlier this year, he outlined the future of mining in a way that brings hope to an industry suffering from a collapse in commodity prices and a society looking for solutions to shift to a low-carbon economy.

His presentation included a slide showing the new Tesla Model 3, said to require about 65 kilograms of copper per car, or about three times that of a conventional vehicle.

“Copper is the king of metals,” Friedland told the industry audience. When it comes to solving the world’s environmental problems, he added, “every single solution drives you to copper – solar power, wind power, electric cars, you name it.”

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