As Go the Ecosystems, So Goes the Economy

An energy and environment expert reflects on the post-Covid recovery.

When daily life is humming along more-or-less routinely, it is easy to lose sight of just how uncertain the future really is, even during the best of times. And these are not the best of times. The pandemic has brought an abrupt halt to business as usual in our personal lives and in our economy. We do not know how long it will be before the threat of the virus can be brought under control or even whether the worst is still to come, but it is not too soon to be thinking about what things need to change when this is over.

Over the past three months, I’ve been discussing the post-COVID economic recovery with economists, federal ministers, clean energy experts, business leaders and others through a series of web panels sponsored by Corporate Knights. Prior to each panel, I collaborated with clean technology finance expert Celine Bak, public policy consultant Gillian McEachern and Corporate Knights editor Toby Heaps to write a series of white papers exploring how Canada could create a green economic recovery. 

We analyzed the potential contributions to the recovery from building renovations, renewable electricity, electric vehicles, heavy industry, forestry and agriculture, and even the petroleum industry.  We found that with investments well within the normal capacity of the Canadian economy, and with the creative partnership of the public and private sectors, we can reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 240 million tonnes per year by 2030. That would put Canada on the path to a carbon-free economy within a generation, while creating more than twice as many jobs than have been lost to the virus.

It has been clear for some time that our economy is on a collision course with the natural ecosystems in which it is embedded, and because of that there is a large and growing body of know-how for making the transition to zero carbon. By 2030, Canada could create millions of job-years of employment by greening the power grid, electrifying transport, upgrading our homes and workplaces to be more comfortable and energy efficient, and resetting our agricultural, forestry and industrial production systems on a course for sustainability. With the pandemic-triggered prospect of renewed public investment, and with the creativity up-and-coming leadership is bringing to the game, a door has opened to a positive, practical future in which we rebalance our relationships with the atmospheric and other global ecosystems on which our prosperity depends.

The pandemic response has served as a powerful reminder of the extent of our mutual vulnerability. But it has also highlighted our mutual dependence and the importance and of the effectiveness of our social and political institutions when aligned by a common purpose. This will serve us well during the post-pandemic recovery, which, I hope, will be characterized by innovation and renewal. 

The investments (blue bars) and employment impacts (grey bars) over the next decade for a green economic recovery that cuts annual greenhouse gas emissions by 240 Mt CO2e by 2030.


SSG Open Letter to Minister McKenna on the Green Recovery

The Honourable Catherine McKenna, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Infrastructure and Communities
House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

CC: Mr. Andy Fillmore, M.P.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities


Dear Minister McKenna,

As we respond to the recession caused by the pandemic, Canada has an important opportunity to simultaneously address the climate crisis. We ask that you support the strong work cities have already done with their climate action and investment plans. Implementing the plans creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and high financial returns, while greatly reducing GHG emissions, but they need support for full realization. Federal stimulus in the form of a  revolving loan facility of $100 billion could enable plan implementation, giving the needed economic boost to move past the recession.

There is good precedent for green stimulus. Renowned economists Joseph Stiglitz and Nicholas Stern crunched the numbers on 700 stimulus programs launched after the 2008 global financial crisis. They determined that green stimulus programs outperformed traditional ones, generating more jobs and higher monetary returns while addressing environmental and climate issues.

As government economic recovery plans are developed, we ask that you take this opportunity to harness and support the unique powers of cities. At Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG), we have seen the power of climate action and investment plans to create jobs and address the climate crisis firsthand. Over the past five years, we have developed dozens of these plans, covering over 30 percent of the Canadian population in 60 municipalities across the country, including Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Halifax, Markham, Ottawa, and Sudbury. We also have projects underway for Vancouver, Hamilton, and many other communities.

Each plan shows the numbers behind new job creation estimates, equitable development investment required, and what the expected returns will be. For example, a $60 billion (incremental) investment in Toronto’s decarbonization over the next three decades—including residential energy efficiency retrofits, renewable energy installations, and electric vehicle infrastructure—would create 327,000 person years of employment and create $62 billion in avoided costs, savings, and returns ($2 billion net). In Saskatoon, a similar decarbonization plan with $11.5 billion (incremental) investment over the next three decades would generate 54,800 person years of employment and create $17.7 billion in avoided costs, savings, and returns ($6.2 billion net).

Cities are ready to go. The plans are supported by communities, have been passed by Councils (most unanimously), and implementation has begun. The hitch is that full implementation requires significantly more capital than cities can access, through funds from Federation of Canadian Municipalities or otherwise. Much of the investment must be made in the 2020s to jumpstart burgeoning green industries and avoid locking in emissions from the development of more carbon-intensive infrastructure.

This is where green stimulus comes in. Targeted investments, in coordination with the Canada Infrastructure Bank, financial sector, and all levels of government, would firmly place Canada on the path to a zero-carbon future while kick-starting the economy and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. Most of the plans’ investments generate financial returns. Establishing a revolving loan facility of $100 billion for city climate action plan implementation across Canada would provide the level of capital required, safeguard that capital, and limit the new debt added to the books.

The actions you take today in response to the worst recession since the Great Depression will lay the pathway to Canada’s future. We have a choice between carbon-intensive economic development that locks in emissions levels that are disastrous for the planet, or low-carbon investments that safeguard the planet for generations to come while providing enhanced quality of life and rewarding jobs. Our cities—home to 80 percent of our population—have a critical role to play.

We would be pleased to share our insights and expertise on these roadmaps to support your efforts in developing a green stimulus. Thank you for your consideration of our request

On behalf of Sustainability Solutions Group,

Yuill Herbert, Co-Founder and Principal

Jeremy Murphy, Principal

Naomi Devine, Communications Director and Senior Consultant


Are you our next Business Development + Communications Coordinator?


Business Development and Communications Coordinator

Full Time, Permanent

Location: Flexible


Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG) is a collective of Canada’s leading climate change planning professionals. We are an innovative workers cooperative that collaborates with clients to develop meaningful, creative strategies to integrate ecological, economic and social sustainability in their projects, organizations, and communities. We pride ourselves in working closely with our clients to achieve real, on the ground, social and ecological change through projects of unusual integrity. As a team, we demonstrate that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts – we build on each other’s experiences, enthusiasm, skills and innovation. SSG’s approach to work is unique because it embodies the following principles:

  • Action-focused
  • Based on solid theory
  • Considers the whole picture
  • Participatory in design and implementation
  • Fosters social change
  • Takes care of the commons

Our vision is a world of decarbonized, equitable, healthy communities for everyone. We are urban climate change planners, incorporating many skill sets and experiences in our team.



The purpose of this position is to coordinate SSG’s business development and communications activities. The Coordinator will perform many diverse tasks, including leading the RFP monitoring and proposal writing process, researching new business opportunities, maintaining SSG’s customer relationship management (CRM) software, and managing SSG’s web and social media presence. The Coordinator will work with SSG Principals and staff to ensure that SSG’s efforts align with the goals in its business development and communications strategies, updating the strategies where required.

SSG works closely with its sister company, whatIf? Technologies Inc (WiT). SSG’s and WiT’s business development and communications efforts are one in the same. The position will work closely with – and carry out a number of tasks directly for – WiT.


  • Administration and streamlining of SSG’s process for monitoring and responding to requests for proposal (RFPs)
  • Researching business opportunities for new markets and new services
  • Coordinating and administering meetings of SSG / WiT joint Business Development Group
  • Planning and coordinating SSG’s participation at various conferences
  • Leading communications efforts in all areas – including maintenance of the website, management of social media, newsletters and marketing materials – as guided by SSG’s Marketing Communications Group
  • Monitoring all business development and communications activities to ensure they align with SSG’s business development and communications strategies
  • Working with SSG Principals to update business development and communications strategies as required



The successful candidate will have the following qualities and attributes:

1. Excellent project management skills

2. Excellent communication skills, written and oral

3. A high degree of self-motivation and ability to navigate ambiguity

4. A commitment to continual improvement and best practice

5. Flexibility to adapt to different levels of workloads and schedules

6. Proven track record of success working on project teams

7. Ability to think critically and creatively

8. Strong attention to detail

9. Strong problem-solving skills

10. Comfort with working virtually with a distributed workforce

11. Familiarity with and/or enthusiasm for workers co-operatives

12. Ability to work in a non-hierarchical environment

The successful candidate will have the following technical skills and proficiencies

  1. Proficiency with GSuite (Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc.) and/or MS Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
  2. Experience managing web and social media platforms for professional organizations

The following technical skills and proficiencies are considered assets but are not requirements for the successful candidate:

  1. College or University degree in Project Management or Event Planning or Communications
  2. Proficiency with Adobe Creative Cloud design applications (i.e. Spark, Photoshop, InDesign)
  3. Familiarity with city governance as it relates to urban/community planning, and knowledge of sustainable development practices
  4. Familiarity with and/or enthusiasm for workers co-operatives


SSG workers are paid according to a salary scale that factors in years of professional experience and years worked at SSG. SSG workers are paid an hourly rate based on monthly hours worked. SSG expects salary of the successful candidate to fall close to $30/hour.

SSG offers a generous benefits package.

This position will be eligible for membership in the cooperative (i.e. co-ownership) within roughly six months. SSG distributes a minimum of 50% of its annual net income back to its members. Income distribution is in the form of shares or as cash, as determined by SSG’s Board of Directors.


Some travel may be required (maximum estimate 10-15 days per year).

Occasional overtime may be required.

SSG offers flexible work hours.


If interested, please send a cover letter and resume to Colin MacDougall at colin (at) no later than midnight on November 24, 2019. In the cover letter, we encourage you to speak to your interest in working with a worker’s cooperative.

For more information about worker co-ops in Canada, see the following resources:

Depending on the number of responses, we may be able to contact only those candidates whom we wish to interview.


26 September 2019


Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax – Sustainability Solutions Group (Canadian Co-op), a leading local government climate change planning consultancy, will suspend services and join young people in their Global Climate Strike actions around the world on September 27th, 2019.

“SSG supports the actions of young people around the world who are demanding action on the climate crisis,” said Yuill Herbert, SSG Principal. “The urgent need for action is evident in our work every single day.”

Municipalities across Canada are increasingly declaring climate emergencies. SSG is supporting several in developing plans to respond to these declarations.

“Meaningful action to prevent dangerous climate change requires political courage and our analysis indicates that there are few downsides,” said Mel de Jager, SSG Principal. “Reducing climate change will create new jobs, people will feel healthier, and household and business energy costs will go down.”

SSG members will show solidarity with youth climate strikers, adding our voices to demand action from provincial and federal governments to end fossil fuel use.

“Supporting the climate strike is imperative for every single person on this planet,” said Naomi Devine, SSG Communications Director. “Now is the time to work for a climate-friendly future for all.”

The following co-operatives and democratically run businesses in Canada will be joining SSG on September 27th by supporting planned Climate Strike actions in their communities:

  • The Agency for Co-operative Housing
  • Affinity Bridge
  • Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation
  • CanTrust Hosting Co-operative
  • CoEnergy Co-operative
  • Pathway to Paris
  • Realize Strategies
  • La Siembra Co-operative
  • Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative
  • SolarShare
  • Urbane Cyclist Worker Co-op
  • Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-operative
  • WhatIf? Technologies
  • 1000 Cities for Carbon Freedom

About SSG

SSG is one of Canada’s leading climate change planning consultancy for local governments. Since 2004, SSG has completed community energy and emissions plans and climate action plans for more than sixty municipalities, including some of the most innovative projects in North America. Our work encompasses over a quarter of the Canadian population.

We have offices across Canada, including in Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. SSG was founded youth climate movement leaders and is incorporated as a workers cooperative, differentiating ourselves from conventional businesses in terms of governance, transparency, democratic participation, and contribution to community.

About the Global Climate Strike

Young people have woken up much of the world with their powerful Fridays for Future school strikes for the climate. As we deal with devastating climate breakdown and hurtle towards dangerous tipping points, young people are calling on all of us across the planet to disrupt business as usual by joining the Global Climate Strikes on September 20, just ahead of a UN emergency climate summit, and again on September 27.

Together, we will sound the alarm and show our politicians that business as usual is no longer an option. The climate crisis won’t wait, so neither will we.

For more information on the Climate Strike, please visit:

About Climate Emergencies

List of Governments who have declared climate emergencies: CQ/edit#gid=0

About Worker Co-operatives in Canada

Worker co-operatives are businesses that are owned and democratically controlled by their members. The main purpose of a worker co-operative is to provide employment for its members through operating an enterprise that follows the Co-operative Principles and Values. When new employees join the business, after a successful probationary period they are encouraged to apply for membership. The worker co-op is, in principle, designed to provide benefits not just to the founding members but also to all future employee/members.

For more information, please see this resource from the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation:




Media Contacts

Naomi Devine

SSG Communications Director



Yuill Herbert 

SSG Principal


Enabling Low-Carbon Cities: The Role of Energy + Emissions Modelling

As an affiliate event to the Global Climate Action Summit held in September 2018 in San Francisco, Sustainability Solutions Group hosted a one-day symposium on modelling energy use and greenhouse gas emissions mitigation in cities. The event was a presentation and discussion forum for cities’ climate action success and challenges to date, and a discussion platform to determine future requirements and opportunities in modelling low carbon pathways for cities. The symposium convened top modelers, policy makers, academics, consultants, non-profits, and other key thinkers on city climate action.

Energy and emissions modelling is empowering cities to create informed climate policy. In leading cities, modelling is evolving to include broad land use, financial, and societal considerations, which is enabling urban policy that is balanced and effective in addressing climate and societal issues simultaneously. There are critical challenges in extending these approaches to all cities and in distributing climate action throughout city management and operations. With leadership from local, regional and senior governments, cities can secure resources, adopt leading approaches, and use appropriate modelling processes to create effective policy and achieve substantial progress in mitigating GHG emissions.

This brief draws on the presentations made and the discussions held during the day-long workshop. Download the full report here: Enabling Low Carbon Cities – SSG Symposium 1903_vIssued

Day 1 at the IPCC Cities & Climate Change Science Conference

The day started with the sun beaming in through a wall of glass looking out over Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. The discourse on cities was hopeful- tinged with periods of critical thought and realism. Presenters, including the Mayor of Edmonton, Don Iveson, talked about the need to track consumption-based GHG emissions; but the mechanisms that cities require to influence consumption of their citizens are both politically and legally limited. Many speakers talked about green jobs and low-carbon cities as engines of economic growth and development, while others reflected that economic development itself is the source of GHG emissions. Irrespective of the pathway forward, there is no question that the role of local governments and cities is gaining prominence and an increasing focus of UN agencies and other entities in the world; if cities can’t dramatically bend the curve, then there is no way that the world will achieve the necessary reductions of 1.5 degrees. Mayor Iveson emphasised this point with a story about UNFCCC COP 13 in indonesia; as a deputy mayor his option was to represent a non-profit organisation at a side event of a side event. Luckily, times have changed: urban areas are now a primary focus with an IPCC focussed conference on cities.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release a much anticipated report on what it will take for the world to stay within 1.5 degrees later this year; this report include a chapter on the role of cities. This 1.5 degree report is expected to the basis of extensive discussion at the next COP later this year, in Poland. In 2024, the IPCC will also  prepare a special report specifically on cities.

One of the most remarkable speeches was from Aromar Revi of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) and a lead author of the urban areas chapter of the upcoming IPCC report. He highlighted coal plants as stranded assets but said that the most signficant stranded assets are our cities, noting that economic activity, people’s homes, cultural centres in many great cities are at risk from sea level rise.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement (UNFCCC COP 21/CMP 11), countries identified Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), which were promised emissions reductions, in the lead up to the conference. Three years after those commitments were agreed upon in Paris, we’re about 1 degree above the 1850-1900 mean, which is two thirds of the way to the 1.5C level and halfway to the 2 degree level. The current INDCs are the fast elevator to 2 degrees; the question now are: could we experience an overshoot, how big will that overshoot be and how long will it last? If we had started GHG emissions reductions seriously in Rio de Janeiro (in 2012), we may have had the gift of choice but now societies need to accelerate the transformation of our energy systems, land-use, cities and regions, governance and financing.

Ultimately though, Aromar points out, the transition is a question of behavioural and cultural change. And if this transformation occurs, the empire, he indicated, will strike back as this is the nature of the systems. In this case, Aromar drew on the example of Gandhi taking on the greatest empire of the world at the time as a source of hope and inspiration; he concluded that ultimately the objective is to transform not only the system but ourselves.

In discussing future climate impacts, a presenter pointed out that the climate of the prairie provinces will resemble that of Texas by 2050; imagine what Texas will look like. The impacts are Increased precipitation early in the growing season and then longer, hotter dryer growing season, creating a need for some form of water storage. The researcher has developed and costed a natural infrastructure system that will provide water storage and protect the City of Winnipeg from flooding. In 2011, the City of Winnipeg experienced a major 1 in a 300 year flood. To protect the City, berms were broken to allow water to spread onto farmland, which both failed to protect the city and caused a nearly $1 billion loss in agricultural activity. A subsequent drought resulted in a further $1 billion in crop losses. No existing civil infrastructure mechanism could both prevent the floods and store water from that “rainy season”. The proposed natural infrastructure system not only solves these problems but also provides a spider web of ancillary benefits. In order to implement this system, a new form of agency will be required to raise the $5 billion required for implementation and generate returns from the different forms of benefits delivered.