“Are you really a carpet company?” asked the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. “I am just so inspired by what you are doing and that is an unexpected outcome of being here this afternoon.”
That’s just one of the comments I heard during an event that Interface and the David Suzuki Foundation convened in Toronto with an esteemed group of leaders from across many business sectors, including commercial real estate, energy, tech, banking, building and construction.
Our goal was to facilitate a dialogue with these leaders to spark new thinking and challenge one another to raise our ambition levels to address climate change. As we embark on our Climate Take Back mission, we’re eager to partner with other thought-leading, reputable, influential organizations to advance our thinking on carbon.
Long time champion of the environment and world-renowned geneticist, Dr. David Suzuki opened with reflections on some of the first science-based research and early predictions he had seen on global warming in the 1970s and 80s. He lamented the slow, detrimental pace to address the largest issue facing humanity while atmospheric carbon continues to reach unprecedented levels. He reinforced how governments don’t tend to be the pioneers of change and that the business community has an opportunity to leverage its influence and innovate.
“We need to shift the game!” Dr. Suzuki exclaimed during his opening speech. He pointed to Ray Anderson as an example of a unique visionary who fundamentally understood the interconnectedness of life on Earth and redesigned his business accordingly. Sustainability just makes good business sense on a finite planet. Dr. Suzuki talked about Ray’s original vision for climbing Mount Sustainability to zero footprint and the relevance it still holds today for the business community.
I found it quite meaningful to have the opportunity to reflect on the evolution of our journey with a thoughtful, iconic ambassador of the environment like Dr. Suzuki. He supported Interface from the start of our climb up Mount Sustainability as one of Ray’s “Dream Team” advisors. At the age of 81, Dr. Suzuki remains one of the world’s strongest, most passionate and insightful champions of sustainability.
Members of the audience asked for his perspective on the current political climate and how this will impact needed advancements. Dr. Suzuki said he refuses to lose hope and referred to US President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord as a gift to the rest of the world. The galvanizing of efforts around the world, including governments and business leaders stepping up to form new alliances and coalitions tells a very hopeful story.
Following Dr. Suzuki’s opening, Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat passionately reinforced how citybuilding is key to a healthy climate future. Addressing tensions between needs and wants is part of the challenge. She stressed the importance of learning to live “smaller,” drawing lessons from New York City where residents are among city dwellers living with the smallest environmental footprints in North America.
I then had the honour of joining a panel discussion with Jennifer Keesmaat and Lisa Bate, green building guru and principal with B+H Architects, to share perspectives from industry and the building community. How do we go beyond zero carbon? Believing it’s possible is the first step. The group acknowledged that this can be hard when dominant media messaging is doom and gloom and explored the need to reframe the conversation. We have an opportunity to create the future that we want, but we start by asking what that looks like. Creating a climate fit for life needs more than the energy transition. It’s time to broaden our understanding of the carbon opportunity and shift it from a liability to a resource.
In addition to sharing our Climate Take Back plan and Proof Positive prototype tile, the panel shared other examples of solutions underway, including Canadian innovations like Carbon Cure. Carbon Cure technology recycles waste carbon dioxide into greener, more affordable concrete products.
My biggest takeaway? Dr. Suzuki echoed what climate leaders said in our recent survey to climate leaders: business as usual is a barrier to creating a climate fit for life. The solutions exist and they are starting to shift the game, cultivating a new wave of climate optimism. Game on!