The Alberta Emerald Foundation is its province’s good-news environmental storyteller, championing environmental excellence in management, technology and education with its Emerald Awards program. Over 2,500 initiatives and innovations have been honoured by the AEF since 1992 (they receive over 100 nominations each year). This raises public awareness of environmental preservation as a necessary adjunct to economic growth and resource development.

Achievement of quantifiable, sustainable change is the criterion for Emerald consideration, and from the classroom to the corporation, a variety of sectors and projects are eligible. Large or small business, government or community group, not-for-profit organization or individual (including youth) — anywhere commitment to the environment is a priority, the Foundation hopes to identify and celebrate it. Following are two recent Award recipients:

Redemptive Developments – winner in Small Business Category

Edmonton, AB

Founded in Edmonton seven years ago as a social enterprise, the aim of Redemptive Developments (RD) was to create employment, diminish poverty and invest in the community. Becoming one of the largest mattress recyclers in Western Canada was never part of the plan – but now it’s the reality. In 2011, under the umbrella of charity The Jasper Place Wellness Centre (JPWC), partners from business and social work backgrounds helped RD find its early success in junk removal with only one pick up truck and trailer. After recognizing the overflow of furniture and mattresses in landfill, RD started Salvage, a second-hand store diverting useable furniture from the dump to vulnerable community members.

About 30,000 mattresses are landfilled every year. In their 10,000 square-foot west end facility, RD employs dozens of seasonal employees, rivalling even big players such as 1-800-Got-Junk. RD’s team separates mattresses largely by hand, for donation or sale of the wood, foam and metal components. Evergreen Mattress Recycling began with hotel and retail clients, then won the contract to recycle mattresses from City of Edmonton’s Waste Management Centre. In 2017 alone, this social enterprise kept 51,000 mattresses out of landfill sites – with plans to hit 100,000 this year.

“Growing a business is always a challenge,” says RD Chief Operating Officer Henry Motta. “Social enterprise loans and other funding helped overcome the inevitable hurdles that faced us. Now RD is sharing lessons and inspiring other business initiatives, which means more job opportunities for the city’s most vulnerable. We’re meeting our goal of employing disadvantaged Edmontonians, and providing them with a living wage. Recognition from the Emerald Awards helps potential customers find us. We plan to expand beyond Edmonton to become a regional leader.”

Beaver Creek Wood Bison Project – Winner in Large Business Category

Syncrude Canada & Fort McKay First Nation

A large Albertan oil sands corporation teaming with a neighbouring First Nations community to repurpose reclaimed land? That’s a great thing. But when it coincides with the rejuvenation of a threatened species of wood buffalo, that’s exceptional. Said animal is genetically pure, and culturally significant to this and future generations of Fort McKay First Nation. Thirty wood bison from Elk Island National Park were released onto land reclaimed from Syncrude’s mining operations in 1993. While bison were once native to the region, they’d already disappeared before the oil sands were tapped. The new bison were blessed by Fort McKay elders, and set free to forage on the reclaimed landscape.

“This started as a small project,” says Will Gibson, media relations advisor for Syncrude. “We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with our partners at Fort McKay Environmental Services. Working with a keystone species, and having our responsible development recognized by the Emerald Foundation is meaningful.” A quarter-century later, what was a five-year effort to assess the forage-crop capability of reclaimed landscapes for large animals, has become a working partnership at Beaver Creek Bison Ranch. Today, 300 wood bison graze on 300 hectares of land, with some 100 calves born yearly. This population – prized for its health – is managed through sales as breeding stock to other bison operations. Roundups for inspection and vaccination, and threats from Fort McMurray’s 2016 wildfires, have presented challenges, but Syncrude plans to open more habitat and allow for an even greater rotation of grazing.

“Not only does the project prove that foraging plants can survive on reclaimed land,” Gibson says, “it’s also successfully reintroduced an at-risk species to the region.” The Beaver Creek partnership has been recognized with conservation herd certification status, as part of a genetic preservation project led by the Universities of Calgary and Saskatchewan, Canada Food Inspection Agency, Parks Canada, Calgary Zoo and Northwest Territories government.