Recognizing Alberta’s environmental leaders

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 300 recipients and 800 finalists have been showcased by the Emerald Awards since 1992. 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:

Bike to Work Day

Calgary, AB

Simplicity is the secret of success for Calgary’s Bike to Work Day. Now in its 12th year, this eco-friendly initiative eschews registration fees and official sponsors for strong word of mouth and volunteer support. Event founder Lonny Balbi insists on a lack of fanfare to keep entry barriers low – all you need is a bike and the desire to ride it. The Emerald Foundation is happy to award Balbi some much-deserved publicity: after all, he’s inspired on the order of 5,000 participants to pedal into the city core early in the season, with the hope they’ll like it so much they keep it up.

“Most people have a bike in the garage,” says Balbi. “We want to inspire making a habit of getting on a two-wheeler.” It’s the perfect city for such a sentiment. Calgary is crisscrossed by a wealth of well-established bike paths, and now enjoys a growing network of protected bike lanes on its downtown streets. Balbi uses them to get to his own office, despite having a parking spot. “I drive,” he says, “and I’m a pedestrian too.” He appreciates the issues from all sides – especially in light of the safety concerns that keep many hesitant about joining a culture of regular ridership.

Event partners host ‘energy pit stops’ for Bike to Work Day, providing refreshments and bike tune-ups. Riders who visit a central location in Eau Claire Market can enjoy a free pancake breakfast, giveaways and the chance to win a free bike. Cycling vendors have provided service and merchandise in the spirit of getting Calgarians on two wheels instead of four. For his part, Balbi sweetened the pot this year by offering donations of $1 for every participant to local cycling charities. “We’re a small event,” he says, “but the Emerald Award is a much-appreciated way to get the word out.” There’s bike-friendly momentum to back Balbi’s play, with some downtown companies offering lockup space, and loaner bikes for employees to attend meetings in the core. Families and school groups have joined in the fun, too.


Fort McMurray, AB

“Trees are natural protectors,” says Fort McMurray junior high student Chintan Desai. Maybe teens are, too. Desai and Krish Shah, both 14 years old, formed Eco YOLO – an environmental group meeting weekly at Ecole McTavish Junior High to replenish what nature took away in the Fort McMurray wildfires. Already involved with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s Green Teen program, Desai and Shah believe ‘You Only Live Once’ (YOLO), so you should take care of the planet (Eco). In spring of 2017, they led 11 Eco YOLO members and enlisted the help of like-minded teachers in recruiting over 200 city youth to replant 1,650 young trees at Saprae Creek. This recovery effort for 590,000 hectares of forest lost to 88,000 people living and working in the region – the largest natural disaster in Canadian history – has raised over $17,000 in funding from Chevrolet Canada, Intact Insurance and local sponsors.

The Eco YOLO team learned protocols for planting the ‘right tree in the right place’. “Even though fires are part of natural ecosystems,” Desai says, “we used fire-resistant types of trees: low-moisture deciduous and conifers. These will help stop soil erosion and also clean the air. The forest on the outskirts of town can regenerate on its own, but it’s important to give trees in the urban area a head start.” Eco YOLO’s passion and commitment are matched by their partners Tree Canada and Alberta Parks, the latter of whom they worked with to plant 2,500 lake area trees this spring (alongside 400 more of their junior high peers). “We know others are doing great things,” says Desai, “But we’re honoured and proud to win the Emerald Award. It’s beautiful to see new trees growing from the seedlings we planted.”

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