Sustainability group shutting down

The Bluewater Sustainability Initiative is no longer, well … sustainable.

The agency founded to ensure Sarnia-Lambton’s cultural, economic, environmental and social future has held its last official event.

It’s shutting its doors in June after eight years.

BSI has held many events and groomed numerous projects since 2006.  Workshops on alternate energy and recycling were held. Reports on the wellbeing of Sarnia-Lambton were released regularly; the most recent called “Community Snapshot 2014.”

Bio energy and hybrid fuel projects were also pursued. The annual Suncor Sustainability Award was handed out to deserving citizens, and local teens were encouraged to get involved through the BSI Gen Y program.

“Our board members feel BSI has met its objectives and laid the groundwork,” said Chairperson Mary Jean O’Donnell.

She said she respects her board’s decision but feels some disappointment that the office at Lambton College will close, its executive director laid off and its initiatives in search of new champions.

“There is definitely more work to be done,” O’Donnell said. “We’re hoping the community will keep moving forward.”

The agency’s main goal was to develop bio and hybrid fuel alternatives in Sarnia-Lambton. Those initiatives have started at the University of Western Research Park on Modeland Road and will continue there.

“BSI successfully supported the development of bio and hybrid projects, and the originators of our group should be proud of that,” said O’Donnell.

BSI evolved from a two-day conference at Lambton College that attempted to identify what would ensure long-term stability for the community. The group existed on a shoestring budget with money from local sources like the college. Then, in 2011, the Trillium Foundation provided a $147,500 grant over three years.

At the time, board member and economic development leader George Mallay said the grant would provide time for BSI to figure out how to be sustainable.

But time ran out.

“We can’t reapply to Trillium without proposing a whole new project,” O’Donnell said. “I’m sure there’s something we could make work but the board’s decision is to disband.”

Mayor Mike Bradley said BSI was important to the community’s progress in recent years. Shutting down the office shouldn’t shut down the initiatives it started, he said.

Bradley spoke at the BSI’s final event, the Sarnia-Lambton Sustainable Communities Conference on April 24.

“I don’t see this as the end; I see it as one chapter closing and another starting,” he told about 100 in attendance at the Lambton College Residence and Event Centre.

While progress has been made, no one should be entirely happy with the status quo, Bradley said.

“Are we satisfied?” he asked.  “The answer is a very loud no.”

– Cathy Dobson