Vote for Toronto’s Greenest!

Vote for Toronto’s Greenest!

Do you live in Toronto? It’s time to vote. Go ahead, make your choice!

A little early, you say? I’m not referring to the provincial elections. Nor the races for mayor and the dozens of other city councillors who are canvassing and campaigning.

No, there’s a different collection of candidates vying for your attention and votes this week. The Live Green Toronto Awards are underway, which seek to surface Toronto’s greenest youth, individual, group, small business, and corporation. Over 40 candidates have uploaded short videos (90 seconds or less) to win $2,500 in cash, the Live Green Toronto award, and air time on CP24. The Awards are in their ninth consecutive year, with this being the second year of public video voting.

Acting upon the Climate Change Action Plan in July 2007, the Live Green Toronto Initiative was established to support, engage, inspire and celebrate those who are taking action on environmental issues and helping the City reach its environmental goals. With $11 million in funding, the program activities include:

  • The development of a one-stop website and comprehensive engagement strategy

  • A membership card for deals and discounts at green businesses

  • A major annual festival, support for retrofits and other emission reduction initiatives for homeowners

  • Community animators to support neighbourhood and community groups

  • Two community grant funds to develop ideas and implement projects

  • The awards, which help recognize those making Toronto ‘cleaner, greener and more liveable’

While there is plenty of progress to boast about on each of those activity areas, the different direct funding mechanisms are of special interest here.

Firstly, there is the $2,500 cash prize for each of the five winners in the awards. Live Green Toronto also makes a significant effort to ensure that promising entrants, ideas and opportunities get plenty of exposure, media coverage, and – crucially – connections. Last year, the candidates achieved over 200,000 online views and tens of thousands of votes were registered. The winner was also part of the Live Green Toronto Festival that took place in July 2013. While the award program uses online, television and print media to highlight worthy initiatives, a team of community animators provided direct support and facilitated access to finance for over 180 projects.

The greater portion of direct funding to community groups is channeled through the Community Investment Program and Capital Projects Fund. The former is available to explore and develop ideas, with grants ranging from $1,000 to $25,000. The latter is ten times larger and focused on implementing capital asset projects, ranging from $10,000 to $250,000. (The Capital Projects Fund was closed in 2012.) Since 2008, each dollar of investment has allowed grantees to leverage $4 from third parties. The Environment Office itself was able to use approximately $1.8 million raised from corporate and community partners towards total grants of $3.7 million.

A summary of grant recipients and selected detailed project summaries are all available on the Live Green Toronto website.

The search for Toronto’s greenest, however, is sparked by the Awards. Research around the world has shown that prizes can be effective ways to spur engagement and innovation and that bears out here. Each of the five categories of awards features diverse entries: youth (8 entries), individual (16), group (9), small business (8) and corporation (3).

Here are a few selections from this year’s field of excellent candidates:

  • The Toronto Tool Library is helping people rethink traditional ideas about ownership and encourage a culture of sharing
  • Aidan Nolan crowd-funded over $5,000 to repurpose old canoes as planters in five city parks
  • Amitis Nouroozi‘s recycling card game is an easy, fun and bright learning tool that can be used at all age levels
  • A Ward 21 neighborhood worked together to create a ‘green map’ of the ward
  • Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is a hospital that hosts an annual Earth Matters Showcase to celebrate going green at Sunnybrook
  • Swapsity has been organizing swap meets for the last three years, diverting 30,000 items from land fills
  • Kenneth Morgan, who is homeless, generates electricity using a wind-up toy.

The winners will be announced on May 30 and have their videos screened at City Hall.

The Live Green Toronto initiative is a great example of a city government actively supporting efforts to address social and environmental issues. While there is room to expand this support, notably by re-starting the Community Animators program and the Capital Projects Fund, it is heartening to see an openness to new approaches in what are often perceived as incredibly bureaucratic structures. This is the kind of support that helps take ideas and innovations to the mainstream. So go through the candidates and see if you like something.

Votes will be accepted until 12:00pm on May 12, 2014. Make your choices today!

Editor’s Notes: The Live Green Toronto Awards are sponsored by Toronto Hydro and the City of Toronto, with CP24, the Toronto Star and Metro providing media support. The winners will be chosen by a combination of votes and judges.

An interesting alternative funding mechanism also launched by the City in 2009 is the Eco-Roof Incentive Program, which provides $75 per square metre for green roof projects and $2-$5 per square metre for cool roof projects.

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