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Sault Ste. Marie Climate Hub on the importance of partnerships to foster collaboration in solving the climate crisis

"Partnerships are crucial to gaining credibility and action in any community."

· Advocacy Stories
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Can you present the Sault Climate Hub for those who do not know you?

The Sault Climate Hub is a non-partisan group of concerned citizens advancing climate change mitigation and adaptation to align Sault Ste. Marie with scientific, aspirational and global targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions through action, education, engagement and other activities. The hub is part of the Climate Reality Project Canada that serves as the Canadian component of a global movement of more than 21,000 diverse and dedicated volunteers, from 154 countries around the world. We have a dedicated group of about 15 volunteers who meet monthly to plan actions in Sault Ste. Marie. Further we have an active and engaged community on social media and approximately 400 contacts on our mailing list.

The Sault Climate Hub is very active and you had the chance to establish several partnerships. Can you tell us more about the importance of partnerships in order to share best practices, build bridges, and foster collaboration in solving the climate crisis?

Partnerships are crucial to gaining credibility and action in any community. As a new group, we reached out to similar minded organizations to help establish a "community" of those who care about climate change and the issues with it. The greater community will take notice when you're aligned with other more established groups who have done a lot of good things. In order to solve the climate crisis, we need as many people engaged and on board as possible. Partnerships are a great way to work towards that. By partnering with other groups and entities we can increase our reach exponentially.

What are your best practices to build partnerships for community resilience? Can you give us an example of your most successful partnership? Can you also mention the challenges that you sometimes face?

Reach out, listen, step up, be respectful. Don't be afraid to jump in and volunteer. Volunteer based groups are ALWAYS in need of help, so be supportive of what others are doing. In terms of how we actually go about this, so far it has been a case of having a specific project or action in mind and then brainstorming which groups in the community might make sense to work with. For example, for Earth Day in 2022 we wanted to share a climate related reading list with the community and we thought the public library might be interested in this idea. So, we just reached out to them with our idea and the collaboration grew from there. Ideally when we think of partners to work with, we want the project to be mutually beneficial. This allows both groups to feel valued and that everyone's efforts were worthwhile. A significant challenge in climate action work is reaching beyond and not always "preaching to the choir". Partnerships are essential to help give credibility to our work as a climate hub within the community as well as allow us to reach new audiences.

Another challenge we would like to make note of is finding the right balance between working together and also still being able to call groups out for more action when we see room for improvement. Our collaborations with the City of Sault Ste. Marie and PUC Services Inc. (the Sault's electricity and water provider) have been among our most successful. Through conversations with members of these organizations we learned that we all had a common interest in educating the community about electric vehicles. With that baseline in mind, we proceeded to collaborate on a number of events, including hosting booths together at local festivals and hosting an Electric Vehicle Showcase. We held the Sault's first Electric Vehicle Showcase in October 2023. By sharing resources and contacts among the three groups we were able to invite a number of local electric vehicle owners to show their cars, find a suitable property to hold the showcase, create a partner prize pack, advertise in the media, and have a number of attendees come out to learn about electric cars. This collaboration was a great example of the saying 'if everyone does a little bit, no one has to do a lot'.

Municipalities work on shared objectives through direct consultation among staff as well as participation in associations and working groups. Through the partnerships you built, what can we learn from municipalities’ efforts to address climate change?  

Municipalities are an excellent opportunity for taking significant climate action. Changes can be made at the city level that would be more difficult at higher levels of government. For example, by-laws can be enacted to make change and municipalities can set examples for the community through electrifying fleet vehicles and retrofitting buildings. However, whether such opportunities are always acted upon is another story. In many cases, there is still much more that can be done. Non-government groups, like climate hubs, can help municipal staff push climate action projects forward and vice versa. Furthermore, it's important that municipalities hear from constituents and Sault Climate Hub can help bring those opinions forward. Despite the many opportunities at the municipal level, the province is sometimes the thing that holds back a municipality in terms of funding and policies.

Did you have the chance to explore other types of collaborations? For example, how do you include Indigenous communities' voices in the work you do?

We are always open to more and improved collaborations, and we're excited to see which partnerships we can build in the future. The extent of our involvement with Indigenous communities so far has been inviting members to speak at rallies and webinars. For example, we had the chance to listen to Sue Chiblow of Garden River in one of our webinars talk about understanding the Annishinaabek worldview of climate change. Sue Chiblow is an Assistant Professor at Guelph University's School of Environmental Sciences in Indigenous Environmental Stewardship. Garden River First Nation is adjacent to Sault Ste. Marie and its members have worked collaboratively on many initiatives with the city and other groups through the years. While we have invited individuals from the indigenous nations in the area to speak at webinars and rallies, we recognize there is certainly more we can do to work together.

Thank you to those who contributed to this interview : Walter Chan, Sandra Trainor, Greg Cull, Ted McPherson, Carmen Niessen-Nelson, Paul Hazlett, Rob Fleming, Tobin Kern, Ethan Roy, Kara Flannigan, and Danielle Hudson.