Eco-Business Zone Links Economic and Ecological Goals

This article was written by Kathryn Cooper in June 2008. This month we're showcasing some of our best, in celebration of four years of WorldChanging Canada.

Pearson Eco-Business Zone
Pearson Eco-Business Zone

There has been much speculation that the current downturn in the economy will squash the momentum toward green initiatives in business. Yet, a survey of 65 sustainability executives of Fortune 500 companies in November, 2008 indicated that 80% of companies plan to maintain or increase levels of sustainability-related spending in 2009 (Panel Intelligence Survey).

In fact there are a growing number of businesses that are convinced that the joint pursuit of economic and ecological goals is good for performance and profit. Business leaders are coming to understand that resource inefficiencies that are causing environmental degradation almost always cost more than the measures that reverse them. Hawken, Lovins and Lovins quote in their book Natural Capitalism that industry moves, mines extracts, burns, wastes, pumps and disposes of 4 million pounds ( 1.8 million kg) of material each year to meet the needs of an average middle class, North American family. Struggle as individual citizens may to decrease their individual ecological footprint; much of their contribution to environmental degradation lies in the hands of industrial decision makers who struggle with making “doing good,” good for business.

Combining competitiveness, performance and eco-friendly operations is the goal of a new initiative called Partners in Project Green: Pearson Eco-Business Zone. This initiative targets a 12,000 hectare business zone surrounding Toronto’s International Airport. It is Canada’s largest employment area with a workforce of over 350,000 in 12,500 businesses. Home to automotive, logistics, warehousing, food processing, plastics and airport related industries; the zone is a heavy consumer of resources. Collectively the business community uses 46,447,000 GJ of natural gas, 108,563,000 m3 of water and over 5,801,000 MWh of electricity annually.

Not an overnight revelation, The Partners in Project Green is the culmination of a decade long partnership between the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). The eco-business concept grew from the TRCA’s drive to improve water quality, storm water management and creek restoration through and around the airport lands. Studies of water quality issues pointed to the need to actively engage local businesses and municipalities. Today the Partners in Project Green Steering Committee, representing the GTAA, local municipalities and area companies, including Molson, Bayer, Unilever, Bentall Real Estate, and Lange Transportation, has created a strategy for greening the local business community. The project’s aspirational vision is for all parties to collaboratively transform the lands into an internationally recognized eco-business zone.

Partners in Project Green Steering Committee

The concepts of eco-industrial networks, clusters and parks that promote efficient and effective use of resources are not new. The first eco-industrial park was established in Kalundborg, Denmark in 1995, modeling industrial symbiosis; where the wastes or by-products of one industrial facility become an input or energy for another. The Pearson Eco-Business Zone however is unique in many ways. First, the Partners in Project Green leadership team is a separate not-for-profit, public-private partnership housed in the TRCA. It receives long term funding from all three levels of government, as well as the founding partners, such as GTAA. Chris Rickett, the project manager sees the organization as a catalyst that brings business, local governments and the wider community together to create value for business while greening the community. Second, unlike most eco-industrial parks, the vast majority of the business area is already developed; which means that “greening” strategies focus on retrofitting existing businesses and infrastructure. According to Rickett, “The businesses in this area want to be greener and they want help doing it. The ad hoc establishment of networks is not that successful. Our initiative will enable long-term relationship building for meaningful, long-term results.”

Scott Armstrong, Communications Director for the GTAA, the other founding partner, agrees that much can be gained in learning from and working with neighbouring businesses and municipalities. For instance, the airport’s water treatment facility treats all storm water running through its lands, not only water originating on its own property. Neighbouring municipalities and businesses also affect the quality of the water. “Everyone wants clean water,” says Armstrong, “if we can work together, water quality will be much improved and our facility can spend less on treatment”.

Remarkably, environmental and social sustainability are explicit components of the GTAA’s corporate strategy. Armstrong says that the environment has been a cornerstone of the business since the GTAA started managing the facility in 1996. In the first few years management focused on getting infrastructure and systems in place; now the focus is on optimizing those systems. The organization uses annual environmental targets through its ISO 14001 certification to maintain its leadership as an environmentally sustainable business. Examples include crushing and reusing concrete from terminal demolition to build new terminals; capturing and recycling concentrated de-icing fluids; and leading airports world-wide by participating in Earth Hour. “Earth Hour was instructional,” says Armstrong. “We reduced energy consumption by 10%, nearly 3 MW, without affecting customer service. This really got everyone's attention, and has led to numerous initiatives.”

Although Partners in Project Green has only been in operation for a few months, three collaborative projects are already in progress:

  1. Biogas Feasibility Study — The zone has over 200 food processors and related food wastes that could be used to generate energy through biogas processes. The initiative has organized a group of interested parties and arranged the funding of a feasibility study for the establishment of a local biogas generation facility.

  2. Energy Efficiency Initiatives — Partners in Project Green has organized a one-window eco-efficiency audit and implementation program that offers a free walk-through assessment; a cost-shared eco-efficiency audit; an implementation plan and assistance with finding grants and other incentives to implement the plan.

  3. Smart Commuting Initiatives — With a little over 350,000 daily commuters around the clock public transportation is critical to the business needs. Partners in Project Green is working with Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority, and Smart Commute, a local community group, to ensure effective green transportation to the eco-zone.


Additionally, eleven project teams have been established to focus on a number of opportunities including: waste reutilization and exchange, the capture of energy from the waste steam of natural gas electrical generation plants, green building retrofits, green purchasing, storm water and naturalization, and public policy regulatory alignment.

Recognizing that businesses acquire “green” knowledge in different ways; events, workshops, newsletters and a website are tools being used by the Partners in Project Green to bridge this knowledge gap. A searchable Green Business Directory and Best Practice Database on the Partnership website connect companies so they may learn from one another.

Yet, notwithstanding the method of knowledge acquisition, the essential ingredient may be one of organizational “readiness” explains Doug Dittburner, Chief Engineer and Energy Team Leader at Molson Canada. In 2005 Molson – Coors developed corporate-wide measures and targets to conserve energy and share best practices. In 2008, they set the global “year on year” target of reducing energy utilization by 4%. It is this strategic focus that made Molson’s the perfect candidate for a Process Integration (PI) analysis supported by NRCan ecoENERGY initiative, and Enbridge Gas. “The PI study looked at our systems as a whole. It made a lot of good recommendations on how to heat and cool our processes more effectively,” notes Dittburner. “Everybody is looking to put capital into places with a good Return on Investment, and most of the recommendations had a payback of three years or less. It was an easy sell.” Dittburner is excited about the prospect of Partners in Project Green as a facilitator of networking and collaboration. “I like that we can exchange ideas with peers that are not direct competitors,” says Dittburner about the possibility of a shared biogas facility with other food companies in the zone. “We are all onboard, anytime you can turn waste into money, people get pretty excited.”

Some might look at the Partners in Project Green objectives and suggest that moving 12,000 businesses toward economic and ecological efficiency and effectiveness is impractical. Even Peter Senge observes in his recent book The Necessary Revolution, that “…shaping a sustainable, flourishing world for life beyond the Industrial Age …represents the greatest learning challenge humans have ever faced…” However, he further asserts that this is not “pie-in-the-sky rhetoric or intellectual idealism”, but that organizations are already working together on this. Perhaps the Partners in Project Green initiative is a “case in point”.

For more great WorldChanging Canada articles of green business, see: