Mike Morrice is creating local networks of companies, citizen organizations (COs) and governments to significantly co-create ambitious, yet realistic, public commitments to address global environmental challenges.

This profile below was prepared when Mike Morrice was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.


Mike Morrice is creating local networks of companies, citizen organizations (COs) and governments to significantly co-create ambitious, yet realistic, public commitments to address global environmental challenges.


Mike believes that to catalyze a systems-change to major global environmental challenges, we need to build action and collaboration into the communities we all live in. In light of the failure of global responses to climate change, Mike and his organization Sustainable Waterloo Region are creating bottom-up solutions that inspire and facilitate local communities and companies to design and implement their own action plans for addressing climate change. Companies and their employees publically set targets to reduce negative environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, develop sustainability action plans and measure their impact. Mike involves the media to showcase these corporate commitments, strengthening accountability and improving each company’s public image as they set and meet aspirational but achievable targets. Mike’s community-led, action-oriented approach to advancing sustainability is creating concrete results at the local level while inspiring and motivating national governments to take more ambitious action.

Unlike consultancy firms or other environmental incentive programs, Mike puts community engagement at the core of the approach by working closely with municipal governments, local trade associations and chambers of commerce to establish community-owned programs and frameworks. He is demonstrating that involving local businesses that represent major community influencers, while also engaging their employees in sharing learnings with their circles of influence outside of work, societywide impact can occur. Mike’s model first involves employees from targeted companies to create the framework for future commitments in order to inspire their buy-in. Through this experiential learning, the employees then become their company’s internal champions to ensure they participate and work towards meeting commitments. As a result, Mike is creating a deeper, long-lasting commitment to changing values and behaviors to address climate change and make Canada a leader in this area. He is currently launching a national network organization, Sustainability CoLab, to evaluate and expand his model to communities across Ontario and eventually reach a national scale.


According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in 2007, the 100-year linear trend (1906 to 2005) shows that global temperatures have risen by 0.74 degrees Celsius. The temperature increase is widespread throughout the globe and is greater at higher northern latitudes.

The overwhelming challenges of climate change are well-known: global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70 percent between 1970 and 2004. Carbon dioxide is the most important anthropogenic GHG and its annual emissions grew by 80 percent between 1970 and 2004. Global increases in carbon emissions are due primarily to fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution.

Despite the rising need to tackle climate change, policymakers around the world are often far removed from the direct, concrete effects of climate change, and they have proven unable to effectively mitigate the risks associated with projected increases in GHG emissions. The United Nations Conference of Parties, which represents the most significant attempt at international action on climate change, has been unsuccessful at mobilizing real action on addressing the causes of climate change, despite bringing relevant international actors together annually for the past sixteen years. In addition, commitments adopted by national governments to reduce GHG emissions are insufficient to address the causes of climate change. For instance, the Canadian government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below the 2005 levels by 2020 is insufficient to render major impact and does not include an enforceable action plan that would ensure that these targets are achieved. While the global policy makers remain paralyzed from taking action, climate change continues to affect ecosystems.

While global institutions and policymakers are failing to act, there has been little exploration of the community-led approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Realistic greenhouse gas reductions goals can only be achieved by working with communities because they are affected by both climate change and their national governments’ commitment to GHG reductions. Furthermore, the members of the community—the businesses, the municipal governments, academia, and other local organizations—do not naturally have the tools and resources to advocate and engage in policy change, within the organizations, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Mike recognized that, rather than futilely waiting for national governments and intergovernmental coalitions to create effective policies to reduce the negative impacts of climate change and act on sustainability concerns, local communities and businesses present the potential to create long-lasting environmental and social impact. In fact, they could even be the leaders that governments look to follow. It is upon this premise that Mike launched his organization, Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR) in 2008 Rather than focusing on global institutions, Mike works with the community at the grassroots level to design programs for organizations to commit to real action on sustainability.

Through Mike's pilot work at SWR, he catalyzes communities of support for tangible action and advances environmental sustainability of organizations across the Waterloo Region in southern Ontario through collaboration. Mike assists local organizations to prepare for a low-carbon economy by working locally with businesses, institutions, and COs to co-create ambitious yet realistic public commitments to address climate change in concrete ways. His organization provides the resources, education, mentorship, and connectivity to local networks necessary to support these businesses and organizations to achieve maximum impact.

One of Mike’s most established and recognized programs is the Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI), which facilitates voluntary target-setting and reductions of carbon emissions in organizations across Waterloo Region. It connects them to the networks, resources, and expertise necessary to achieve carbon emissions reductions. Member organizations commit to, report, and work towards meeting a ten-year carbon emissions reduction target, while SWR provides services related to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and publicly communicates these Pledging Partners’ collective reduction targets. The RCI connects members to the information and people necessary to achieve reductions. These include the GHG Services Directory, which links RCI members to experienced GHG service professionals who help them identify and realize opportunities to reduce emissions. MemberLink, the RCI online community, is a repository of resources and platform for online collaboration, while also providing access to all RCI services including a carbon accounting tool, event registration, and member forums. Finally, the SWR’s team fully supports in the development of a sustainability strategy and also trains members in setting up a carbon accounting tool, which quantifies and reports member organizations’ GHG emission data.  Mike provides members with credible, third-party public recognition for their carbon emissions reductions through year-end reports, annual Evenings of Recognition, connections to local media, the Sustainable Waterloo Region website and social media sites.

RCI member organizations are top leaders in industries such as insurance, management consulting and accounting, as well as COs. The members pay an annual fee, which varies between US$500 to US$5,000 per year, based on the number of employees. SWR receives about US$110,000 per year through membership fees, about 60 percent of the budget for RCI activities. Mike raises the remainder from event sponsors, attendees, and grants. By mid 2013, Mike plans for revenue from membership fees to finance the full cost of RCI expenses.

Currently, 42 companies in the Waterloo Region are members of Mike’s first pilot program. Nine of these are Pledging Partners that have made public commitments and 33 are observing members who are working towards setting targets. Currently, the members across Waterloo Region have made public commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 43,000 tones. Since the first Pledging Partners signed on with SWR in 2009, they have already reduced their emissions by 840 tones. Projects completed are as diverse as the membership. For instance, 18 percent of the projects undertaken by members correct equipment inefficiencies to reduce GHG emissions—using smart technology like timers and sensors to limit energy consumption when not in use.

Recently, Mike’s organization launched a series of policy engagement efforts, including advocating in favor of the region-wide light rail transit system. This stance was informed directly by looking at what policy barriers impede RCI members’ ability to advance their sustainability. Where systems-level change is needed, policy efforts are utilized to address a macro-issue that cannot be addressed by individual companies. Mike also co-published a report with the David Suzuki Foundation to inform the public dialogue in advance of the 2011 Ontario provincial election on how Ontario’s energy future impacts local business sustainability.

To date, Mike has spread his model to two other communities in Ontario (Niagara and Hamilton Regions). SWR’s impact has also recently inspired similar start-up organizations in London, Ontario and Charlotte, NC. With a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation he is launching Sustainability CoLab to scale his impact provincewide and is collaborating with several organizations dedicated to social and environmental innovation to make this happen.

Recognizing this right moment in history, in which the world understands the urgency of climate change and is receptive to Mike’s approach, Mike is designing this separate enabling organization with the intention of scaling Mike’s idea, linking local initiatives together to exchange best practices, leverage funding opportunities as a coordinated group, and collectively seek systems-level changes to issues of business sustainability. As part of this process, Mike's vision is for Sustainability CoLab to enable, inspire, and coordinate communities interested in bringing his model to their regions. Mike envisions that this coalition will identify and accelerate the environmental systems change to which he is committed.


Mike grew up in a middle-class family in Montreal and moved north of Toronto when he was 12-years-old. An avid hockey player at the time, he took action when bylaw officers cracked down on the legality of playing street hockey. He petitioned and mobilized community members to engage in dialogue with the city to change bylaws so that young people could play hockey in the streets. Mike attended Wilfrid Laurier University for his undergraduate studies, where he concurrently completed two degrees—a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Computing and Computer Electronics. During his studies, Mike co-founded the Campus Environmental Coalition, which served as one point of contact for students and administration to connect to environmental groups on campus. This group then lobbied the university administration to create a campus sustainability coordinator position—a role which has since gone on to create an ambitious Sustainability Action Plan for the University.

Mike’s journey toward the creation of Sustainable Waterloo Region began when he read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. This book equipped him to begin questioning his own worldview and led to a transformation of his perspective on how human beings relate and connect with the natural environment. Consequently, Mike read several other relevant texts including Derrick Jensen’s manifesto End Game, which examines the violent and self-destructive nature of the human condition, and literature by Paul Hawken, which led him to understand how his business background could be used to effect the change he envisioned. Through his readings, Mike grew determined to change the way he and humans everywhere participate in this culture, and he sought to pursue an independent study project on carbon policy that later became the first iteration of a business plan that he would later model when launching SWR. In Mike’s own words, SWR is his response to Dan Quinn and Derrick Jensen, reshaping communities’ roles with the environment by empowering them to take action on climate change.