Committee gives sustainability fund green light

By Suzy Kendrick

Valentine’s Day at city hall had one woman’s heart all a flutter this year.

Mary Hegan, chair of the environmental advisory committee sat upright in her seat at the planning and environment committee meeting Feb. 14, waiting to see if her “baby” would get to take its first steps.

With heartwarming success, it did.

The committee unanimously passed the recommendation by the advisory committee to create an Ottawa Sustainability Fund.

“I’m very pleased,” Hegan said excitedly, just after the motion was passed. “The city is a major player and we need them to get started on this project.”

The Ottawa Sustainability Fund will provide financial support to initiatives and organizations that enhance the “environmental friendliness” of Ottawa.

The fund will be at arm’s length from the city. To get it started, the advisory committee is asking city council for an initial, one-time contribution of $10,000. Further funding would come from developers, businesses and individual citizens.

“Ottawa is the nation’s capital and should be a leader for a green city,” said Hegan after the recommendation passed. “Over the last three years, starting with the Ottawa 20/20 plan, Ottawa has made a major commitment to the environment. Now the challenge is to implement it.”

The recommendation went before city council on Feb. 22. If approved, the Community Foundation of Ottawa, a non-profit organization created by and for the people of Ottawa, would manage the fund by connecting with donors.

The foundation currently manages more than 500 individual funds.

Barbara McInnes, president of the Community Foundation of Ottawa, says she is looking forward to the project.

“This is so important,” she says. “There is a huge need in the community and the world because without taking care of our environment, nothing else matters.”

McInnes says talks about the Ottawa Sustainability Fund began over a year ago. Since then, the environmental advisory committee has been working very hard to put its plan in motion.

“This is an idea that a lot of people got behind and many more people will,” McInnes says.

During preliminary research, Hegan says the advisory committee looked at different models for municipal environmental funds including the Toronto Atmospheric Fund.

It was established in 1991 to finance local initiatives combating global warming and improving air quality in Toronto. Projects funded by TAF have saved the City of Toronto $17.5 million.

“Other cities will continue to be ahead of us if we don’t make a major thrust,” Hegan says. “But, the key is that we have amazing resources in our citizens.”

She says Ottawa’s public servants, retirees, high tech sector and young people will get behind environmental projects.

”They know what the fund is about and this is such an opportunity to mobilize that knowledge.”

Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes says the fund would be a great way to invest in environmental projects without using the city’s tax base.

“I think that this fund could grow to be helpful and people in Centretown could apply for money to plant trees, help with waste reduction and water improvement,” she says.