Green Roofs and Walls take root in San Francisco

As I type from my home in Toronto, it’s pouring outside, capping off a cool wet summer that featured several deluges that ground the city to a halt. As extreme weather events become ever more frequent in urban areas across the globe, how can cities adapt? One solution is to ‘green’ our infrastructure by creating vegetated surfaces on buildings that help to capture and mitigate stormwater, absorb and deflect blazing heat, and even provide essential food to urban dwellers.

CA2013LogoThese benefits, and others, were addressed last week in fantastic San Francisco, at the 11th Annual CitiesAlive Green Roof and Wall conference hosted by Black Current Marketing client Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. Under the thematic umbrella of ‘Securing Urban Resiliency with Living Architecture: Food – Water – Energy’, over 700 professionals – from architects and landscape designers, developers and roofing professionals, to engineers, academics and policymakers – showcased the industry’s most amazing and resilient projects, shared the most up-to-date research, and evaluated the leading policies that are driving the implementation of beautiful, functional, valuable green roofs and walls across North America and around the world.

The event’s most exciting announcement was delivered right off the top by prominent city Supervisor David Chiu. Working with ultra-effective non-profit urban planning organization SPUR, San Francisco has committed to a new Green Roof Roadmap that sets out essential steps to bring a critical amount of plant-topped buildings online across the city. Demonstration projects, simplified permitting and other enablers in the workplan now need to be implemented to ensure those who plan and design green roofs can build them too. We’ll be excited to see and hear how San Francisco’s plan progresses at CitiesAlive 2014 in Nashville.

CitiesAlive Nightlife at California Academy of Sciences (credit: Ryan Silsbee)

CitiesAlive Nightlife at California Academy of Sciences (credit: Ryan Silsbee)

Another CitiesAlive highlight was the green roof and wall themed ‘Nightlife’ event at the iconic California Academy of Sciences, where delegates viewed the venue’s spectacular undulating green roof while hundreds of local citizens answered green roof and wall clues to win prizes in the CitiesAlive scavenger hunt. What a great opportunity to engage local citizens and build support for the new green roof roadmap – kudos to the outstanding Local Host Committee, a team of volunteers from across the San Francisco region who brought passion, creativity, funding and energy to many aspects of the conference!

CitiesAlive Student Design Challenge

CitiesAlive Student Design Challenge

From all accounts, CitiesAlive San Francisco garnered rave reviews. An entertaining panel discussion lead by local design star and lauded organicARCHITECT Eric Corey Freed challenged designers focused on sustainable design to stop apologizing for doing the right thing, and to learn to reframe the questions to get to ‘yes’ for ecologically sustainable design decisions by their clients. Great stuff. The truly exciting TransBay Terminal project in central SF, featuring a 5.4 acre public rooftop park, was another local project highlight that thrills. A new CitiesAlive Student Design Challenge saw over 2000 people vote online for ten international submissions that redesigned a community centre to make it greener and safer for local children; congratulations to the winning team from Guatemala’s Universidad Francisco Marroquin who took home the grand prize of $2000 cash and VectorWorks software downloads.

CitiesAlive Green Roof, Wall & Wine Tour: Ellis Creek Project

CitiesAlive Green Roof, Wall & Wine Tour: Ellis Creek Project

From visually sumptuous and educational guided tours of green roof and walls in the region, to stellar programming around the urban resilience theme, to new Green Roof Professional training courses and a hopping industry trade show, CitiesAlive San Francisco was a truly exciting place to be. My personal highlight, after the long days of the conference came to an end, was a tour of green roofs and walls in Sonoma County – including the gorgeous Awards of Excellence winning Ellis Creek water treatment plant rooftop by stellar local designers Symbios Design – which ended with a wine tasting lunch at which I shared stimulating conversation and lots of laughs with a wonderful group of engaged and energetic green roof professionals. These are the happy moments of our lives … and in this case it took place right next to a lush and lovely green roof.

Thanks San Francisco for a wonderful conference! And see you next year in Nashville!

Black Current Marketing would like to especially thank conference partners the City of San Francisco Planning Department and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, GRHC’s corporate member sponsors and association and media partners for bringing invaluable funding and support to CitiesAlive.

Learn more about green roofs and walls at and


Community Power opposes Bill 39 (Ontario)


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Community Power Co-ops Urge MPPs to Support Feed-In Tariff, Oppose Bill 39 

TORONTO—Community power groups are opposed to Bill 39, a private member’s bill scheduled for a vote at Queen’s Park this Thursday, and are urging their MPPs to oppose it.  The Federation of Community Power Co-operatives (FCPC), an umbrella group representing over 20 community power organizations across Ontario, is concerned that Bill 39: An Act to provide for control by local municipalities over renewable and affordable energy undertakings aims to terminate the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program that has provided much-needed support to Ontario’s burgeoning renewable energy industry and the community power sector.

“While the Bill’s title suggests good intentions, its contents would unravel years’ worth of hard work to get the renewable energy sector off the ground in Ontario,” said Judith Lipp, Chair of the FCPC, “The Feed-in Tariff program provides the necessary framework for a thriving green energy industry, which will enable the transition to a green economy. It is also the only policy framework that enables the citizens of Ontario to become owners, decision-makers, and economic beneficiaries of energy generation.”

Bill 39 proposes to amend the 2009 Green Energy Act to allow municipalities to limit the promotion of energy conservation and to restrict activities around renewable energy projects, renewable energy sources or renewable energy testing projects. It also amends the Electricity Act to prohibit the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) from entering into contracts to purchase electricity derived from renewable energy sources unless the price for it does not exceed the price for power derived from non-renewable sources, including cheap coal and nuclear power.

“This Bill really aims to turn back the clock on energy policy in Ontario,” says Janice Ashworth, of Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op. “Ontario residents have shown they are keen to invest their own money in renewable energy, and the FIT program is essential if co-ops like ours are going to help them do so.”

Community power co-ops help improve Ontario’s green energy experience by enabling more community involvement in projects, and allowing the economic benefits of green energy generation to stay in the communities where projects are built. Any resident of Ontario can join a community power co-op and as a member, invest in the co-op’s renewable energy projects and have a say in the co-op’s activities.

The Federation of Community Power Co-operatives (FCPC) is a coalition of groups developing member-owned renewable energy projects across the province. The FCPC facilitates co-op led project development at the highest possible standards by sharing collective experiences, expertise, knowledge and tested development tools and resources.  The FCPC has launched a petition against Bill 39.

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The petition and links to more detailed information are available at:

For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact:

Judith Lipp, President, FCPC. jlipp@trec.on.ca647-701-6032 (cell)

Janice Ashworth, Operations Manager, OREC, and Director, FCPC.,613-296-8232

Community + Solar Rooftops

If Warren Buffet can buy the world’s biggest solar farm, why shouldn’t we be able to own shares of renewable electricity generation?  Thanks to Ontario’s pioneering community power co-ops, we can.

SolarShare is a community solar power co-op that has invested millions of dollars in rooftop solar power projects across Ontario.  In turn, everyone in the province is invited to become a co-op member and invest in SolarShare bonds.  The secured $1000 bonds pay a 5% return annually over a 5-year term, and buy down the debt that built the projects.  These projects are already installed, producing clean power and getting paid by the provincial utility, resulting in a very stable investment. Where else is your money reliably earning 5% per year? 

Hazel McCallion, Mayor of Mississauga, at SolarShare rooftop solar ribbon cutting celebration

With Hazel McCallion, Mayor of Mississauga, at SolarShare rooftop solar ribbon cutting celebration

2012 marked several milestones for SolarShare: After 18 months of negotiations with the provincial body in charge of co-op regulation (which had never seen the likes of their bonds), SolarShare was given the green light to sell multiple bonds to members previously limited to one bond per person.  Pent up demand from members quickly brought in SolarShare community equity, and the co-op topped $1,000,000 in ‘community solar bond’ investments within weeks!

SolarShare also entered into a partnership with pioneering green energy retailer Bullfrog in late 2012, and celebrated at a ribbon cutting ceremony of a new SolarShare-owned rooftop solar project in St Catharines in December.  It’s great value alignment between the two organizations, which share a mission to increase the opportunity for green energy engagement by members of the public.

Community power is a win-win-win for member-investors, communities and the planet, and 2013 promises to be a stellar year for community-owned power in the province of Ontario.  Personal favourites include the new York Solar Co-op, and ZooShare, a biogas power project that will utilize animal waste from the Toronto Zoo (in additional other currently unused bio-projects) to create energy.  SolarShare has a number of new projects slated for installation in 2012 as well.

Black Current Marketing helped with the launch of SolarShare bonds in 2011, and I’m personally proud to be a SolarShare member / investor / volunteer board member and co-chair of the board of SolarShare’s founding renewable energy co-op, TREC. Here’s looking forward to another strong year for ‘people, power and profits’ in renewable energy in Ontario.

Gobble up Urban Agriculture!

Eating good food and growing food certainly quality as a couple of my favourite things!

For the past several years, through media, friends, colleagues and clients, I’ve experienced a growing awareness of the complexity of food we put in our mouths and meals.  At one end of the the discussion is the growing market for healthy food providers, including free range, local and organic foods.  At the other end of the spectrum lies rising levels of obesity and diabetes related to fast food, poor nutrition, and sedentary lifestyles.

Toronto is known as a North American leader in the global movement for sustainable food. Final boxIn August 2012, the Urban Agriculture Summit brought together hundreds of professionals who engage in the food and nutrition discussion through a particular lens … what about food grown within our cities?  How can urban agriculture play a meaningful role in our daily lives? Although the Summit had one theme – ‘around the world, people are growing food in cities – broadly speaking, two distinct voices emerged as we solicited content for the 4-day Summit that took place at Ryerson University, Toronto.


City grown food for social good: A social enterprise and social justice contingent – lead by Summit partner and dynamite Toronto NGO FoodShare –  meets the need for healthy food for everyone, not just those who can presently afford to eat the best and often most costly food.  Keynote speaker Will Allen, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and Founder and CEO of  esteemed American organization Growing Power, delivered practical ideas of how to feed those in need while providing life skills, social stability and a healthier future to low income and disenfranchised communities.  Local organizations that are literally breaking ground in this area include the Toronto Food Policy Council (who announced their ‘GrowTO Urban Agriculture Action Plan” at the Summit),The Stop Community Food Centre, Sustain Ontario and many other amazing, effective and admirable non-profit initiatives that serve citizens in the Greater Toronto Area.

Building the business case for Urban Ag: The flip side of Summit programming focused on the business case for urban agriculture: How to grow food in cities and turn a profit? Black Current Marketing exists to support businesses that  target a sustainable future, so it was particularly gratifying to gather together inspiring pioneers in this field.  Paul Lightfoot, the CEO of BrightFarms, finances, builds and operates greenhouse farms on the rooftops of supermarkets, cutting time, distance and cost from the produce supply chain. Martin Blake, VP at developer Daniels Corporation, believes “urban agriculture is essential to life in the 21st century city. That is why we … are adding balcony and roof top food production gardens, edible landscaping, composting and urban agriculture initiatives to our condominium communities”.  Architect Joe Lobko of DTAH is a visionary urban designer who has brought multi-disciplinary social hubs like the Evergreen Brick Works to life.

Inspiring solutions to some of our greatest challenges!  Thanks to client Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, I was able to meet leaders in the urban agriculture community from across the GTA and well beyond our city, to learn and be inspired by a diversity of individuals and groups who aim higher for our social and economic health.  Read the resulting Summit declaration, written by dynamo Wayne Roberts, on the Summit blog.  Photos of the event provided by Green Fuse Photographer Laura Berman.

2012 Highlight – Social Finance

A few weeks early perhaps, but as 2012 draws to a close, here is on of my favourite things …

Social Finance:

What is this ‘impact investing’?  In a nutshell, it’s a means of tackling complex social and environmental problems with economic opportunities.  How?  By actively placing capital in organizations, businesses and funds that generate social and/or environmental impact and a financial return to the investor (

SFF highlight reel

As the trend towards ‘impact investing’ penetrates the mainstream, social finance is increasingly influencing where long-term visionary individual investors, pension funds and banks place their funds.  In early November, 350+ delegates participated in the 2012 Social Finance Forum at MaRS Discovery District to engage around the topic of ‘Measuring up’ – how to valuate social and environmental attributes along with economic returns.

Highlights of the event, presented by the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, included RBC President / CEO Gord Nixon announcing a $1 million partnership with the CII (amazing!), Dragon’s Den star Arlene Dickinson proclaiming the ‘coolness’ of social finance (heck yeah!), and the Federal HRSDC Minister Diane Finley asking attendees to help the government come up with social finance solutions (um, sure). The first Social Finance Awards and a series of awesome videos profiling Canadian B Corps were personal ‘likes’ of the Forum.

Watch the highlights reel here for a recap of the sold-out event, which was webcast due to high demand … see if you can catch Black Current Marketing event organizers at work! And thanks to Black Current’s valued client MaRS Centre for Impact Investing for bringing us on board in 2012.

Read a previous report on social finance published the Centre for Impact Investing in 2011, co-written by Rebecca Black: “Mobilizing Private Capital for Public Good”.

PhotoSensitive: Sharing the Energy Project

For more than 20 years, PhotoSensitive has been capturing powerful images to achieve social goals.   Working exclusively in black and white, talented professional photographers from across the country work voluntarily and outside their usual sphere to capture images reflecting annual themes such as homelessness, AIDs and immigration. The goal: moving public awareness and discourse forward around social justice issues.

SolarShare Rooftop Installation

Working in conjunction with the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA), this year’s Photosensitive theme is ‘energy’.  I’m excited about working with Photosensitive photographers to capture the spirit of community-owned power for The Energy Project exhibition in fall 2011 and eventual book publication.

Great images are being generated at the site of a 440kW rooftop solar system being installed in Mississauga over the months of April and May.  The array is owned by SolarShare, and is one project in a portfolio of Ontario-based solar projects that are generating clean energy and revenues by participating in the province’s Feed in Tariff program.

SolarShare will be selling 5-year solar bonds to the public later this year, providing a unique chance for Ontario residents and business to own solar projects without the cost of putting panels on their own roof.  To find out how you can participate and benefit from community-owned solar, sign up here.

Managing the Message: WindShare Turbine Maintenance

Crane lifting rotor to hub of Ex Place turbine April 2011

This week, the iconic wind turbine at Exhibition Place on the Toronto waterfront was undergoing maintenance to replace a worn bearing with a shiny new, 8-foot-across bearing.  Two massive cranes were on site, as were engineers and project managers from both of the turbine’s owners: the WindShare Co-operative and Toronto Hydro.  The media also touched base to report on the turbine’s ‘down time’, resulting in an article in the Toronto Star, which was fairly accurate, and one in the Globe and Mail, which included factual errors that WindShare is addressing through their website, blog and twitter account (@windshare) and through direct communication with the journalist who reported inaccurate information.  The turbine is set to resume power production tomorrow.

The Ex Place turbine is 50% owned by WindShare, a group of 400 citizens who pooled investment to erect the first urban turbine in North America ten years ago.  There was a sense of wonder in the city when that turbine went up – most people had never seen one, let alone stood at the base of one.  Thousands of schoolchildren and adults have since been educated about wind energy at the base of that turbine, as it continues to produce a modest amount of renewable power for the local power grid.

Anti-wind organizations and sentiment grabs most of the headlines about wind in Ontario, and the CanWEA wind industry association has launched their own campaign to provide a voice for supporters of wind power (who, based on numerous polls, represent the majority of Ontario citizens).

Here’s the challenge: Where does the story about community-owned wind power (like WindShare) fit into this polarized conversation?  If it’s true that ‘your own pigs don’t stink’, community ownership in willing host locations is a viable option to generate local support for (and investment in) wind power, as well as generating clean energy.

WindShare is a pioneering co-op that has provided concrete examples of how (and how not) to build community-owned renewable power generation in Ontario.  Look to the TREC Renewable Energy Co-op, founding organization of WindShare, for more opportunities in the near future to participate and invest in community-owned, community-supported, and community-benefiting renewable power projects across the province.

Hello from Black Current: Marketing a Sustainable Future

Welcome to Rebecca Black’s blog on This is my first post. I’m going to use this site to describe the projects, clients and events that have been my main focus (and bread and butter) since starting Black Current Marketing in 2007.

First up … I’m currently the Director of Communications for the Community Energy Partnerships Program.  The Community Energy Program awards grants to support Ontario citizens and groups who are developing their own renewable energy projects in the province.  The application basically acts as a pre-feasibility study for these projects, and grants cover up-front, early stage costs associated with that stage of project development.  Visit our website for more information.