Preface – Rethinking Sustainability

Program Inception

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The REFOCUS educational program was designed to share the valuable experience gained through Harbourfront Centre’s (HFC) efforts to sincerely address its sustainability. 

To put it simply, HFC is not a sustainable organization or mandated to deliver sustainability-focused education. HFC’s vision is to be a vibrant home for the culture of our time, inspiring people through the magic of the creative spirit. Our mission is to nurture the growth of new cultural expression, stimulate Canadian and international interchange and provide a dynamic, accessible environment for the public to experience the marvels of the creative imagination.

HFC is a registered charity with a very unique organizational profile. Commissioned on a 10-acre site within the heart of Toronto’s waterfront, the organization assumes responsibility for municipal services like waste management and snow removal on behalf of the City of Toronto. Furthermore, the organization fosters a highly entrepreneurial culture, rarely seen outside the private sector, which enables a wide range of projects and businesses to be developed that branch out well beyond HFC’s core mandate.

In 2007, HFC decided it was time to meaningfully address the sustainability of the organization as a whole. With little internal expertise or budget to lend, the organization struggled to find a path forward. The industry consultants interviewed were not able to demonstrate the capacity needed to build a strategy that would encompass HFC’s entire operation. Researching the industry and progress of other committed organizations across sectors, HFC came to several key realizations:

  • Most companies and organizations were acting in the absence of a truly complete strategy, taking narrowly focused approaches and making incremental change.

  • The field of expertise was still immature and in need of more meaningful approaches to addressing sustainability.

  • Dozens of government and non-government organizations were pouring resources into educating and financing organizations committed to addressing sustainability.

At a standstill and not knowing how to proceed, HFC stepped out onto a tiny branch, taking a bold position no one had expected: HFC committed to building a comprehensive sustainability strategy and, from it, a replicable and publicly shared model. As a charity with much of the breadth of operation of a municipality and the entrepreneurial tact and risk-taking of a profit-making business, it was thought HFC’s intended sustainability model would be applicable to municipalities, businesses and non-profits alike. The belief was that an altruistic and ambitious commitment to building needed capacity would attract new partners, supporters and the resources, presently unavailable, which would be necessary for success. That belief, fortunately for us, turned out to be true.

We garnered numerous partnerships, including the contribution of millions in funding and in-kind support and resources; most notably with the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Government of France’s Agency of Environment and Energy Management (ADEME). That led to the development and implementation of a complete strategy that has allowed us to adopt dozens of projects, both basic and ground-breaking. We have reduced operating costs in perpetuity while assuming virtually no financial risk to the organization.

REFOCUS, and this guidebook more specifically, represent the most exceptional outcome of Harbourfront Centre’s altruistic commitment. 

We hope you find REFOCUS valuable to your organization and welcome you to become a participating and contributing member of our community of supporters.

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