Celebrating our sustainability leaders

What began as an idea scribbled on the back of a restaurant napkin in 2011 has developed into a sought-after award for sustainable development in Canada that is changing and inspiring leadership across the sector.

Canada’s Clean50 celebrates outstanding sustainability achievements across 16 categories, selecting 50 individuals or small teams from well over 500 nominations. The work of these sustainable development and clean tech leaders is making a difference and driving others to make big and small changes to benefit the environment.

The impact of the 2015 Clean50 announced in September is impressive: Collectively over the past two years, honourees who actually measured their impact contributed to their employers’ efforts across North America to cut 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, saved or produced green electricity totalling 2.9 billion kWh (roughly equivalent to turning Toronto “off” for 39 days) and reduced water use by 1.6 billion litres (turning off Niagara Falls for 50 minutes). Combined with additional outcomes, they achieved the equivalent of taking all the cars in B.C. and Saskatchewan off the road for six months a year.

At the same time, they transformed their businesses into more profitable, resilient companies.  
“This impact proves that we don’t just need to adapt to climate change. We can actually beat it back if we take the steps that some of these organizations have taken,” says Gavin Pitchford, founder of Canada’s Clean50 awards and chief talent officer at Delta Management Group.

Recipients come from a wide range of public and private organizations across Canada in sectors such as retail, telecom, financial services and energy, and range in age from 20 to over 65.

Mr. Pitchford says organizations often pursue sustainability because they’re interested in saving money and passionate about protecting the environment. There’s usually a business case showing a return on investment within three to four years, but often in as little as four to six months, he says.

“Smart organizations recognize that it’s not something that needs to cost them a lot of money, and in the end it will save them money and reduce risk,” says Mr. Pitchford. “It also helps attract the best employees.”  

Gordon Hicks, president of real estate management company Brookfield Johnson Controls (BJC), is a 2015 Clean50 honouree, awarded for his work helping to reduce energy use among the company’s building portfolio.

Mr. Hicks oversees the management of over 134 million square feet of Canadian real estate and engages clients regularly on the issue of climate change. He has helped to reduce BJC’s own greenhouse gas building intensity by 16 per cent in the past two years alone.
Mr. Hicks says the first big change the company made, when he took on the role in 2006, was to ban pesticide uses across his client portfolio.

“We started to change the perception that weeds on lawns were a bad thing,” says Mr. Hicks.
BJC has since focused on the reduction of waste, as well as water and energy consumption. For instance, low-flush toilets were installed in several buildings, and clients are encouraged to embrace zero-waste programs.

Dr. Vicky Sharpe, the founding president and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) and one of only four two-time Clean50 honourees, says the awards help bring together leaders across different sectors who are committed to growing sustainability.
What she finds encouraging is that there are 50 honourees each year.

“That speaks to sustainability, that not one entity or organization can do this alone. This is about powerful grassroots,” says Dr. Sharpe, who is now strategic advisor to the board of directors of SDTC. “One of the real values of the Clean50 activity is that it brings together a diversity of viewpoints and knowledge.”

Dr. Sharpe believes Canada ranks well on the global stage when it comes to providing clean tech sustainability solutions.

“We have some great companies with some great products; now we need more investment from capital markets and greater uptake by industry.”


Canada’s Clean50 honourees each year are the 50 leaders whose efforts have done the most to advance sustainability and clean capitalism in Canada over the prior two years. Winners are chosen from over 500 nominees across 16 different sectors, by sustainability and clean tech search firm Delta Management Group, with advice from industry advisors, and based on the nominees’ submissions.  

Delta founder Gavin Pitchford created the award in 2011 to bring together leaders from numerous sectors with a view to encouraging cross-community learning and collaboration that could inspire others.  

Honourees commit to participate in sharing knowledge with each other and to attending the Clean50 Summit, held each fall in Toronto.  

Sector categories include Advocates (ENGOs) Angels (clean tech investors), Buildings, Cities, Clean tech, Consultants, Education, Financial & Services, Manufacturing & Transportation, Primary resources, Public sector, R&D, Renewable energy, Retail & Consumer, Technology, and Traditional energy.

Clean50 awards also recognize 15 leading sustainability projects – and 10 emerging leaders under the age of 35.