Waterloo hosts inaugural Hub for Sustainability Integration conference

Waterloo president Vivek Goel and former Environment Minister Catherine McKenna
Waterloo president Vivek Goel and former Environment Minister Catherine McKenna speak at a fireside chat
Industry and academic leaders  discuss strategies for integrating sustainability into business amid a changing global climate landscape

The impact of climate change on the ever-evolving landscape of sustainability and business was explored on Thursday during the inaugural Hub for Sustainability Integration Conference.

The conference, held at the Delta Hotel in Toronto, was hosted by the  Hub for Sustainability Integration  -- a partnership between the School of Accounting and Finance and the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo.   

Panel discussions explored current trends in climate, energy, and nature; navigating a disrupted economy; and how to integrate sustainability into organizations as well as the various opportunities and pitfalls that come with it.

"I am encouraged to see the cross-section of professionals, industry leaders, researchers, faculty and students represented here today," said Vivek Goel, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waterloo, during remarks made to conference attendees.  

"In today’s rapidly changing world, it will take a collaborative effort to shape a financially sound and environmentally responsible future. The ultimate goal of our HUB for Sustainability Integration is to ensure sustainability is a consideration in all business decisions."

Catherine McKenna, former Environment Minister, was the conference’s keynote speaker and highlighted why carbon pricing is a smart economic decision policymakers and businesses need to adopt.

"I am a Canadian who cares about doing right by the environment, doing right by the economy, and doing right by people including affordability," McKenna said during her keynote address. "We’re actually doing things that are the most affordable way to do things to create incentives for people to reduce emissions, and where they have more money in their pockets."

McKenna also discussed the efforts being made around the world to step up efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels as part of a global plan adopted by the Paris Agreement to lower emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. However, there remains a lack of adequate investment in clean energy despite demanding subsidies and charging higher prices for fossil fuels.

"We’re all’in a coalition of states, cities, regions, financial institutions and corporates. So, the world is moving on and national governments are playing a significant role, especially in fossil fuels. We are making very good progress and no one can stop progress because the economic case is clear and the environmental case is clear," McKenna said.

Barbara Zvan, president of the University Pension Plan, spoke during a morning keynote session and highlighted the need to integrate sustainability into business strategy and operations amid record-breaking heat waves and severe weather events in Canada. She also noted that none of the Canadian companies on the pension fund’s watchlist disclosed their plans to align their capital deployment to help reduce global greenhouse emissions to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.  

"Our overarching goal is to leverage the power of the collective voice to promote the just transition to net zero economy, meaning a transition that does not leave workers, communities and equity deserving groups like Indigenous people behind," Zvan said.

Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, also spoke during the conference, noting that financial costs associated with climate change show that insurable claims due to catastrophic loss have exceeded $1 billion annually for 14 out of the last 15 years, the majority of which is from residential basement flooding. That’s impacted the housing market in areas like Quebec and Atlantic Canada as some insurers won’t offer mortgages to areas that they deem the flood risk too high, he said.

"We’ve been asleep at the switch to some degree because we haven’t been preparing for these floods that are getting more challenging over time," Feltmate said.
David George-Cosh