Part 6: The Impact of Innovation on Building Resilient, Sustainable Economies

The Institute of Southern Georgian Bay > 2021 Events > Part 6: The Impact of Innovation on Building Resilient, Sustainable Economies

Our Sustainable Future: Get Inspired, Get Informed, Get to Work!

7-Part Online Discussion Series, February – November, 2021
We believe that Southern Georgian Bay can meet today’s needs of the planet,

its people, and economic vitality…without compromising the needs of future generations.

Part 6 – The Impact of Innovation on Building Resilient, Sustainable Economies
November 17, 2021

Innovation to lead our future


In Part 6 of the Our Sustainable Future series, the potential impact of innovation on our regional economy was explored with knowledgeable panellists who brought a wealth of personal experience to the table. Moderated by Community Futures South Georgian Bay’s Gillian Fairley, each of the speakers offered a perspective on the opportunity for innovation to guide future resilience within a world economy facing a sustainability tipping point. As leaders who are helping to build communities of innovation, panelists spoke of “boots-on-the ground” experiences as models for others to consider.

Business strategist and Co-founder and COO at Strexer Harrop Consulting Group (SHCG), Tonya Kraan, suggested there needs to be more openness and regulatory policy shifts to allow for alternative ways of doing business. She said municipalities should become more flexible and explore ways to address problems and work with business partners to demonstrate creative solutions.

Grey County’s Climate Change Initiatives manager Linda Swanston reminded participants of the dire state of the planet. She said we all need to work together within communities to act in even small ways to make a difference. Innovation may lower Green House Gases, but that is only the beginning of a paradigm shift needed in all areas of our lives.

Melissa Gerrard, National Expansion Director at Green Economy Canada, spoke about the new ways innovative companies are building consumer trust, recruiting talent, attracting investors, limiting risk and becoming changemakers. Her organization works with companies to build their capacity, connect them to resources and provide tools. They guide small and medium-size enterprises to transform and thrive toward a low carbon economy.

Presenters offered solid examples, provided proven pathways and offered tips and methods to move toward more innovative communities. A lively audience chat during the event offered additional insights and a question and answer period allowed for expansion on some pertinent points toward building regional resilience in Southern Georgian Bay.


In this session, the Institute asked panelists to present examples of innovation and how these could inform our efforts toward tackling the outcomes of Sustainable Development Goal #11. The outcomes include progress on housing, environmental challenges, transportation, integrated planning and protecting our cultural and natural heritage. Panellists showed how innovation offers a process to achieve these positive outcomes. These innovators offered insights into how we can nurture the new thinking required to do things differently. They shared examples of how and where the transition to sustainable economies is happening now.

Innovation defines problems in a robust way, engaging more than the “usual suspects” and acknowledging the multi-dimensional challenges and flexible solutions available. Experimentation, prototyping and testing ideas leads to unique opportunities to invest talent and resources into more impactful initiatives.

Together, all participants explored how cross-sector dialogue inspires true innovation when various people and businesses work together to meet social and environmental concerns. In examining these issues from a variety of perspectives, the Southern Georgian Bay region could become a leader in nurturing resilient and sustainable communities of innovation.

This series installment was supported by The Institute of Southern Georgian Bay with our lead partners: The Towns of Collingwood, The Blue Mountains and Wasaga Beach and the Municipalities of Meaford and Grey Highlands and our supporting partners: Community Futures South Georgian Bay, Greenland Consulting Engineers and Julia White/Co-operators.


  1. Explore partnerships and collaborate on innovative solutions to pilot and scale-up unique models across all sectors. Just do it.
  2. Seek inclusive opportunities to be flexible in decisions and solutions. Shift policies to allow for innovative demonstrations and trials. Plan. Do. Act.
  3. Connect with people where they are and give them opportunity to become involved, engaged, and informed. Advocate for change together.

WHAT INNOVATION MEANS with Marilyn Struthers

As an introduction, innovation specialist Marilyn Struthers gave an overview of the innovation process. Struthers’ background is in organizational development and strategic initiatives in support of sustainability and leadership in social change organizations. She is a facilitator, researcher, writer and coach to the social sector and plays a key role on the series’ Design Team.

Struthers suggested innovation generally indicates a new method, idea or product. To innovate, she said, is the act or process of introducing change. Social innovation then is the process of developing and applying effective solutions to systemic social and environmental problems.

She stressed that all problems are not created equally. Simple problems can be addressed in the same way that one might follow a recipe process, while more complex issues need methods which involve more minds in creative and multi-dimensional ways as these problems are dynamic and may shift and grow as they are being solved.

As an approach to social innovation, Struthers suggested it is important to engage diverse players in the conversation and seek multiple perspectives and generative relationships to develop something no one could create alone. She suggested there are many resources around collaborative thinking and ways to adapt processes to guide innovative communities.


5c6d9f336cd946ed9b92a1a35d6e1ce9-0001Gillian Fairley, general manager of Community Futures South Georgian Bay, has assisted the development of small businesses in our regional community for over 10 years.

In her opening comments, she emphasized the work of the South Georgian Bay Innovation and Technology Accelerator. This newly-created non-profit organization has a mission to help businesses within the community grow through technology. It rolled out its first four-week intensive program in the summer of 2021.

Fairley is enthusiastic about the regional opportunities for innovation and impact. She introduced the panellists, who each provided their perspectives on innovation and building capacity for more innovation in our communities.

Tonya Kraan COO Strexer Harrop Consulting Group - SHCGPANEL PRESENTATIONS

Tonya Kraan is an economic development specialist and innovative business strategist. As former General Manager at Community Futures Peterborough and from a prior role as Innovation Manager for the City of Kawartha Lakes, she had specific examples to share. Co-founder and COO at Strexer Harrop Consulting Group (SHCG), Kraan works with clients on  sustainable economic and creative marketing strategies. As a process improvement specialist, she designs and implements innovative solutions.

With a focus on building opportunities for innovation, she described her role as a “translator” between industry and municipal staff, often working to bring public and private sectors together. A pragmatist, her “plan, do, act” process outlined the need to create a diverse team of varying perspectives to identify desired outcomes and search for new ways of doing things to face existing and emerging challenges.

A communication strategy is critical in all phases of any plan, to keep people informed and aware of the project. Bringing together all the players is essential and will allow for many viewpoints to be seen and expressed. Casual groups allow for discussions outside of official channels to investigate new technologies, look for unique ways to address problems and inform impacts with all people involved and engaged. In this way, residents, businesses, municipal staff, and activists can all meet and share their thoughts in an open and inclusive way.

Her action-oriented approach resulted in Kawartha Lakes invitation to over 40 companies to run demonstration projects so they could test innovative solutions prior to official adoption. Many new technologies were explored to find ways for the community to innovate. Often these chances to try something new brought benefits of data collection, while also engaging the community in awareness about issues being tackled.

Linda Swanston.20210725_111554

Linda Swanston is the first Manager of Climate Change Initiatives at Grey County. As an experienced sustainability and climate action leader, she brings her demonstrated history of working in municipal government and the environmental sustainability sector to our area. She worked in several incremental roles at the City of Toronto in environmental research, planning and policy development, including managing and coordinating the implementation of TransformTO, the city’s unanimously adopted climate action strategy. She likes to work directly with community to find innovative and transformative initiatives to meet climate change and activate community benefits.

She noted immediately that “climate change is here and it is now.” Though this may seem obvious, she said there is no time for delay or room for excuses. Grey County has a draft Climate Change Action Plan on the county’s website. Swanston’s position will see her work directly with stakeholders of all kinds on implementing the plan as it rolls out.

With the county since August 2021, Swanston is already talking about potential opportunities for farmers and landowners to receive carbon offset credits through sustainable sequestration. She also sees initiatives like the electric vehicles purchased by the City of Owen Sound as a way to lead to more infrastructure to support this technology.

She suggested indigenous leadership and knowledge will also be essential to accelerate regional environmental stewardship. Swanston added communities of innovation benefit many areas of the region – from job creation to new technologies in energy and healthier communities. There are opportunities arising like the Grey Bruce Hydrogen Hub, already attracting leading green energy companies. These will become magnets for more innovation and investment.

Mel Gerrard.HeadshotMelissa Gerrard is National Expansion Director at Green Economy Canada. In her role, she manages all aspects of how the organization supports the development and launch of Green Economy Hubs. Her experience is in advancing action on climate at local, national, and international levels. She supported stakeholder engagement for Waterloo Region’s Climate Change Action Plan while at Sustainable Waterloo Region. She also worked on the Partners for Climate Protection Program at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Gerrard is passionate about enabling Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

Focussed on the change in business and how greening commercial processes can “transform our economy,” she believes community-based hubs are key to setting and sustaining targets across any region.  Gerrard activates change by working closely with business within a community. She helps existing businesses learn how to solve problems and attracts new green businesses based on available resources. As businesses goes green, communities benefit overall.

“It’s a better way to do business,” said Gerrard, adding the first Green Economy Hub in Waterloo is now nine years old and still growing its influence and impact. Most of the Hub’s network are small and medium-sized enterprises, but they have reduced GHGs by the equivalent of taking 40,000 cars off the road for a year. “This is where the world is headed.”

Innovative communities support business in their greening process. It starts with knowledge and awareness. Business owners often don’t know how to address climate change.  So, hubs like Waterloo’s run capacity-building workshops, offer tools and resources to measure impacts and provide one-on-one support to fill staffing gaps to complete the process.

Hubs engage employees and promote friendly competitions to show how we are “all in this together.” Case studies, public recognition, promotions and community awareness all lead to a stronger region.

Q & A: as moderated by Gillian Fairley, several questions came up:

Q1. How can we enable more innovation in our communities?

MG: Look for unexpected allies that show impact in what they are achieving. Look to how you can accelerate the support of others’ work, then bring that lens to any work you are doing, especially when you connect new collaborations.

LS: Ask a lot of questions. Be curious and as humble as possible. Be ready and eager to learn from others.

TK: Create some sort of forum to engage people in how to adopt innovation locally. Cottage associations can explore community ideas – listen to ideas and explore how you implement it here. Innovation is a different process. Ask how do you modify policies and processes on how to do things differently? For example, standard Request for Proposal (RFP) processes don’t allow for innovative out-of-the-box thinking within scopes of work. Perhaps do Request for Information (RFI) processes to seek ideas to meet desired targets (like clean water or less chemicals) rather than prescriptive models.

Q2: How do we engage planners and developers in innovation?

TK: Show success stories. Take them on tours of demonstration buildings in low carbon construction. There is a lot of opportunity in the green building sector.

Q3: Gillian – can you please update us on the Hub on Hume project and if you will be working with Melissa?

GF: Mark Palmer (of Greenland Engineering) is leading the Hume Innovation Hub project and would be the best person to respond to this question. Mark is “a champion of innovation and active in green space” and is a very engaged partner with Community Futures South Georgian Bay as well as other innovative organizations in the area.

Q4: Each of our speakers talked about new and unusual partnerships as key to innovation. Would there be any good tips on encouraging such partnerships in the community?

TK: There are lots of ideas out there, and most are practical. Take tours of areas and white-board a wish list. Talk to people directly about their ideas. Sometimes small items can make a big difference. Ask employees what tech they want. Make a target list for demonstrations – offer testimonials to try something or see if you can get it at cost. Often RFP processes require previous examples as nobody wants to be first to try an innovation. Step up and be willing to demonstrate technology to boost innovators into more potential business.

LS: Do something tangible together. Policy isn’t always grounded in the tangible. Advocates working together to create something can be really powerful. Balance crisis awareness with tangible action. It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.

MG: It is helpful to consider what potential stakeholders need and how can those needs be met through collaboration. For example, take net zero pathways – what does it look like? How do we get there (are there policy gaps)? What are the supports needed (tech knowledge)? Take it to think tanks, hubs and specialist groups (such as the Delphi Group in Toronto) for consideration. Then share your learnings with policymakers and funders.

GF: Come at it from a problem perspective and have a pilot approach.

Q5: What can we do to support the work?

GF: Reach out to the network. Engage with who is here. There is a lot of wealth in community and people are willing to help. Seek collaborative support of business growth.

LS: Get involved and get informed. Take advantage of your democratic rights. Connect with politicians. Make submissions to your council. Support innovation and communicate your support to local government.

TK: Be like neighbourhood watch and mobilize your community to get involved. Invite municipalities to speak to your groups and provide project outlines. Network at business after-hours events and seek introductions to others through your Chambers of Commerce. Talk to people where they are at.

GF: Be prepared to meet people in the middle.

MG: Socialize the idea and desire to take climate action so people know how important it is to community members. Support stronger sustainability action.

Q6: If we were 10x bolder, how would we build the capacity to innovate in our region?

TK: Find what you aspire to. In strategic planning we don’t do SWOT anymore to look at weaknesses and threats, we do SOAR to seek strengths, opportunities, ASPIRATIONS and RESULTS. So, for example, you aspire to end a boil water advisory, then let the people who know what they are doing solve that.

LS: Implement a climate action plan. Look at science, set a goal and determine how to get there. Look at what is possible and what is necessary. Set visionary goals to apply to outputs even if you don’t know how to get to them. Don’t be scared away.

MG: Don’t let needing to know how stop you. What about if you are open to failing forward? Just go for it. Dream about what we could create together.

TK: Innovation can be scary for municipalities when they have responsibilities and for instance, in water quality they are not able to take regulatory sidesteps. Seek out ways to get the results you want in a different way.


Buildings contribute 40% of greenhouse gases. The greenest buildings are ones that already exist. Re-purposing, renovating and retrofitting existing structures for zero emissions is far more efficient than demolitions and new constructions.

Community Heritage Ontario and National Trust are lobbying for incentives to re-purpose and retrofit heritage buildings. I will contact Linda with more info. New builds are less green especially if materials are imported.

Very excited at the prospect of energy-efficiency building retrofit program, led by municipalities in partnership with credit unions or multiple levels of government.

Grey County’s emissions come 44% from agriculture. What partners can we find in the farming community to promote regenerative agriculture and other solutions?

Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario

Farmers For Climate Solutions

Farmers for Climate Solutions Canada – Brent Preston is on the board and he is owner of The New Farm near Glen Huron. It is a regenerative farm.

Barrie is celebrating innovation with their Innovation Awards program.

So very impressive to see and hear these young female environmental leaders who will definitely make a huge difference with their impact going forward. “Drawing attention to this crisis with collaboration” is prescient, indeed!

Gillian’s leadership makes a huge diff.  She is well connected and knows the who’s who – but equally/more important also knows the key points of focus through business to enhance a greater SGB for all!

Join your local climate action team. There are 8 in Grey County. Marilyn can put you in touch with the one in your municipality.

Grey Bruce Climate Action Network GBCAN – people working with their municipalities on climate.

Additionally, Collingwood Climate Action Team and Wasaga Beach Climate Action – busy building community, talking climate change to normalize the language and how we all can play a role and innovate along the way.

Great ideas and have tried to capture them down!

You can measure your household or business carbon footprint at  The data we gather will be used to help inform municipalities on climate change initiatives.

BC Energy Step Code made it mandatory for government and industry to meet net zero by 2030. It is policy they are driving innovation to help support this change.


Community Futures South Georgian Bay:

South Georgian Bay Technology & Innovation Accelerator:

Strexer Harrop Consulting Group (SHCG):

Grey County Climate Change Action Plan:

Grey Bruce Hydrogen Hub:

Green Economy Canada:

Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario

Farmers For Climate Solutions

Measure your carbon footprint at