All the talk about social innovation could lead one to the conclusion that it is something brand new, something emerging.  In fact ingenuity, creativity and innovative problem solving is ongoing and has been around forever.   One of the primary values of the emerging social innovation discussion is to shine a light on old and new innovations.  To understand what creates or produces them – what sustains them – what the common design principles are.  All for the purpose of deepening our innovative capacity to solve stubborn social and environmental challenges.

To that end I offer ten British Columbia environmental innovations.  This list isn't exhaustive, perhaps controversial.  They are all a work in progress.  I encourage you to develop similar lists on other innovations wherever you live.  We know they exist don't we?

Two notes about my criteria.  Have a look at the design principles flagged by Ezio Manzini in a previous post .  And I'm following Frances Westley's  suggestion that social innovation is any initiative, product, process, program, statute that profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows, relationships, attitudes, habits, routines, customs of any social system.

Here in no particular order, are ten snapshots of, 'made in BC' environmental innovations:

  • Environmental footprint:  A measure of human demand on the earth's eco-systems.  Bill Rees at the University of British Columbia is the originator of the concept and co-developer of the method.
  • David Suzuki: Canada and one of our globe's best know environmentalists.  Communicator, author, activist, teacher, broadcaster and researcher, Suzuki has had immense impact on cultural awareness and attitudinal shifts toward sustainable ecology. That's one of the toughest, slowest moving but critical variables to address in making change.
  • Greenpeace – likely the world's most formidable direct action environmental organization, Greenpeace had its origins in Vancouver in the early 1970's.
  • Agricultural Land Reserve: The ALR, one of the many social innovations ushered in by Bob Wiliams, was established in 1973 to protect valuable farm land in British Columbia.
  • Farm Folk/City Folk:  Co-founded by Herb Barbolet in the 90's, Farm Folk/City Folk set the framework for a local sustainable food system and a cascade of other innovations: farmers markets, 100 Mile Diet, city farming and so on.
  • Commission on Resources and The Environment: Conceived by former Premier Mike Harcourt and led by the formidable Stephen Owen the Commission pioneered a multi-stakeholder wilderness, environmental, resource and land use planning approach 1992-95.  The Commission began the important move from 'the war in the woods' to dialogue as a prerequisite to bridging the trust divide, nurturing relationships, understanding and genuine collaboration.  See Justin Longo's  On the Saturday Morning Soccer Field: A Habermasian Perspective on the British Columbia Commission on Resources and Environment.
  • Great Bear Rainforest is the name given by environmental groups to an immense area of unspoiled temperate rainforest on the coast of British Columbia.  The campaign and eventual conservation agreement pioneered new ways of working together; solutions that addressed social, economic and environmental concerns; new social financing solutions; and new First Nations governance structures.  See the recent publication by Tides Foundation: Place of Power: Lessons from the Great Bear Rainforest by Merran Smith.
  • Canopy: Conceived and powered by Ashoka fellow Nicole Rycroft  Canopy is responsible for the greening of the book and magazine industry around the world.  Thanks to Canopy over 650 publishers (think Harry Potter), mills and printers use recycled paper, no longer making paper made from virgin tree fibres in temperate rainforests.
  • Carbon Tax: Boldly introduced by former BC Premier Gordon Campbell in 2008, BC's carbon tax provides incentives for behaviour that reduces carbon emissions.  Campbell was the first North America political leader to introduce carbon tax shifting.  It remains North America's only large scale carbon tax.
  • Panarchy: CS 'Buzz' Holling is a genius. Decades of studying the resilient adaptive capacity of eco-systems led he and colleagues to theorize panarchy – "as an antithesis to the word hierarchy and as a framework of nature's rules, hinted at by the name of the Greek god of nature, Pan. Panarchy is the structure in which systems, including those of nature (e.g., forests) and of humans (e.g., capitalism), as well as combined human-natural systems (e.g., institutions that govern natural resource use such as the Forest Service), are interlinked in continual adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring, and renewal."   His formative work years were in BC and he, fortunately, has retired to Vancouver Island. 

What have I missed?  What does your list look like where you live?

Behind each of these innovations are folks, oprganizations and institutions who are strengtheing our capacity to respect and take care of each other and every other living thing.

To mangle the bible: By their fruits we will know and multiply them!

Related Posts:

Two Views of Social Innovation

Social Innovation – Doing More With More

One Comment

  1. Jason Mogus

    Great post Al, well thought through. I’d agree with all 10 of your points. I learned something too!

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