Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

A Conversation About Sustainability Action

Howard E. Woodin ES Colloquium with Mike Morrice, Executive Director of Sustainability CoLab

A Conversation About Sustainability Action: How and Why We’re All Needed to Create the World We Want

May 8, 2014

Post by Otto Nagengast ‘17

In his last year at university, Mike Morrice was preparing to begin a successful career in the tech world. He had spent the last four years working toward a duel degree in Computer Science and Business Administration at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. But Mike came across a series of books, including Deep Economy by Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, Bill McKibben, that changed everything. Mike had what author David Foster Wallace described as an “awakening from dullness.” He began to deeply question the world around him and his place in it. As part of an independent study, Mike created a business plan for a project called Sustainable Waterloo Region, which aimed to promote sustainability across the Waterloo region through collaboration.

In 2008, Sustainable Waterloo Region launched the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) with $200,000 in initial funding and three member firms. The aim of the initiative was to reduce the carbon footprint of firms in the Waterloo area. In exchange for annual membership fees ranging from $500 to $5,000, Sustainable Waterloo would provide services like software, consulting, and literature that would enable firms to reduce their carbon emissions. At the end of 2013, 68 firms were members of RCI, and together these firms employed 14 percent of the workforce of Waterloo. RCI has reduced Waterloo’s CO2 emissions by 53,300 tons, the equivalent of taking 12,000 cars off the road.The program’s retention rate is 84 percent, and, due to the membership fees, the RCI is breaking even, making it a self-sustaining program. Sustainable Waterloo has been such a success that it was expanded into Sustainability CoLab. The aim of CoLab is to replicate Sustainable Waterloo’s success throughout Ontario. Five organizations were chosen to be part of the new project.

Mike is one of Canada’s most successful and promising social entrepreneurs. His success has brought him numerous accolades including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. But Mike began his talk by bluntly saying, “I won’t be sharing any answers with you.” Mike believes that the solution to climate change is a fundamentally personal question. Quoting Rainer Maria Rilke, Mike encouraged us to “live the question,” and he presented his own work as one example of someone living the question. Mike believes that there are two necessary components in the transformation that will enable us to overcome climate change. The first is a paradigm shift, or reawakening. For Mike, his reawakening came from a series of books that he read in his last year at college. The second component is a reconnection back to nature. Mike is a firm believer in the three-nested dependencies model. The economy rests inside society and society rests inside the environment. Both our society and economy depend on nature.

Mike fully understands that addressing climate change is a daunting task, but he believes that “relentless incrementalism” will prevail. By including individuals in the decision-making process, we can enable people to experience the necessary personal paradigm shift and enable them to take ownership of the decisions. Through CoLab, Mike aims to localize for each community. By giving each individual and each community the space to innovate and then the means to share ideas, CoLab can create stronger networks and make initiatives more successful.

Mike concluded by reminding us that his work is just his attempt at finding answers. To overcome climate change, we all need to live the questions and try to find our own answers.

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