From the business case to building a sense of community, what is it really like to create better, more sustainable places to live, work and do business? Joe Pitts-Cunningham shares insights from the brains behind three of our One Planet Communities
“Working at Zibi is a dream come true” – Veronik Samson, One Planet Living champion
Veronik Samson is the One Planet Ambassador at Zibi, a mixed-use development of 2,500 residential units, office and retail space under construction in the heart of Ottawa, Canada.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Zibi
My background is in science, and my masters degree was in environmental sustainability, so part of my role at Zibi is dealing with the technical side of sustainability – helping set baselines and creating platforms to monitor our performance so the process is as smooth as possible.
The other part of my role as One Planet Ambassador is to engage our community - staff, residents, commercial tenants and construction workers alike to achieve the One Planet goals established in Zibi’s One Planet Action Plan.
Working at Zibi is a dream come true. When I was doing my Masters, we visited the development during our orientation week to learn about it and I thought it was fantastic. To get a job here straight from my degree is incredible.
I feel very fortunate that my colleagues trust me to use my creativity to tackle this aspect of my role and try new things to build the community we envision. For example, before Covid, we were going to run a smoking cessation programme in Spring 2020 to all interested construction workers.
We were also running up to 2 One Planet Living events a month for residents pre-Covid, from composting workshops to zero-carbon talks. We’re now offering this kind of engagement virtually through an enhanced social media presence – we created a One Planet Ambassador Instagram page (@zibiopa) for sharing pictures and live stories about activities to do during COVID, home workouts to stay healthy, low-carbon snack recipes, environmentally-friendly habits to take.
What do you like about the One Planet Living® framework?
I love the One Planet Living framework. It’s so holistic and you can easily and realistically live sustainably using the ten principles. In fact, since working at Zibi, One Planet Living has inspired me to sell my car and only travel sustainably and actively!
It’s also a very inclusive and collaborative view about how a community thrives, a perfect fit for Zibi. We’re a small sustainability team with a big vision so it’s vital for our staff, construction workers and residents to actively support what we aim to achieve.
Alone, our action plan seems overwhelming but once we have conversations with people, they buy into the ethos and it becomes a project that inspires passion in everyone involved.
Engaging people with sustainability can be tricky – how have you found it?
We have such a range of people to engage - about 140 residents, hundreds of construction workers and 50 staff members onsite - so it does depend on the person. And sometimes it can be a hard sell.
In Ottawa – compared to Vancouver or Toronto – people are less likely to pay a premium for sustainability when it comes to housing. Especially when you consider that Zibi is a long-term project and there will be ongoing construction for the next 10+ years.
For construction workers, achieving One Planet Living means that there are new requirements to follow which can seem like added obstacles.
But what people quickly realise is that these ‘obstacles’ create an environment for innovation, and doing things differently really creates a sense of belonging within the community. That’s what I love about the One Planet Living framework - its flexibility helps deliver an ambitious sustainability plan and its simplicity engages people and inspires them to contribute to solutions because they can understand our vision.
We’ve had some waste management problems recently and I put a shout-out to residents for ideas to tackle these and was surprised by the number of responses. People know about One Planet Living and they know that we’re passionate about achieving our goals – they understand that we’re all working together towards a community that benefits everyone.
Are there any other success stories you could share?
With my colleagues, one of the first things I did was install whiteboards in the office. Every week I write something new about sustainability. Sharing stories and statistics about what other companies are doing and their successes was particularly engaging. This proved a great conversation starter and people started to ask how their own area of work could help us achieve our sustainability goals.
For residents, we recently created a gardening committee at our first condo building. After just two meetings, they were doing everything themselves – I’m impressed by how dedicated and organised they are and committed to sustainable practices. With Covid, they’ve also had to create a strict rota to make sure the plants are being watered and all the tools are being cleaned properly.
In terms of our construction workers, I love the story about Francois Charette, our Head of Health and Safety, on the Quebec site, who has been collecting waste material (with permission!), stripping it down in his spare time and taking it to recycling facilities.
He donates the money he receives in return to food banks – to date, he has collected 126 thousand metric tonnes of recyclable material and has raised tens of thousands of dollars which has been donated to Moisson Outaouais, a regional food bank.
What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and how have they changed with Covid?
Our summers are always really nice, so we were looking forward to Summer 2020 to attract people to the site using our temporary event spaces – making the most of our location on the Ottawa river shoreline.
It was a bit of a shame when we realised it wouldn’t be the summer we had imagined, but our marketing team was amazing at coming up with alternative ideas in such a short space of time. We’re going to do a drive-in theatre and a live concert series that will be streamed online.
The lockdown has also given us time to do a lot of behind-the-scenes work, like putting our monitoring processes in place. So when we do get to open again, we will have little distraction from our more hands-on work.
What advice would you give someone who was thinking about using One Planet Living?
Be patient! Surround yourself with passionate and driven people and trust the process. The flexibility of the framework can seem scary at first but ultimately, it makes your project very unique and alive.
Doing the right thing – which is what I think One Planet Living represents – is almost always harder but much more rewarding in the end. Ultimately, at Zibi, it’s our job to make living sustainably easy and attractive for the people living and working here.
Zibi has launched its 2019 One Planet Action Plan review.