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Coalition Building: One Story at a Time

By Kristi L. Heiman

· Other bloggers,General

The solitary becomes the collective and from there comes a profound shift. Efforts to minimize the effects of environmental degradation starts with ordinary citizens whose activism begins with a news story, campaign, or a friendly conversation. Green Neighbours 21 (“GN21”) formed in Toronto in February 2007 when 60 residents of Ward 21 congregated at a community centre to launch monthly meetings to help energy savings in homes. Volunteers spearhead green events under the direction of a steering committee directing task groups for specific projects.

For Lee Adamson, a retired research scientist in gynecology and obstetrics and active member of GN21, she engaged in the stance against climate change when she “became concerned with the trajectory of the climate.” Adamson opted for early retirement to focus on climate change in her neighbourhood. During our discussion, she enthusiastically shared her story of critical components to successful local green organizations and issues neighbourhoods must tackle to launch new coalitions. Ms. Adamson pointed out the most critical components of strong localized environmental associations constituted community centres (e.g. libraries, cafés, shopping centres) and personality dynamics of individual members to design and implement specific projects. The organization adopts a policy of approaching a community to educate the public on the environmental consequences from climate change. Adamson stated, “We will not go in with an agenda and want to find out and only work on what they are passionate about.” Once a group is formalized, monthly gatherings, creatively entitled “Lemons to Lemonade,” permit an open forum for members to articulate their frustrations on the most pertinent environmental issues faced by Torontonians to reach the city’s aggressive GHG target of 80% reduction below the 1990 level. Many concerned residents are working hard to find solutions to reduce the city’s waste, clear garbage from St. Clair Avenue, improve home insulation, save trees that have not been watered, and remove organic materials at waste sites.

Ms. Adamson explained several successful initiatives since the group’s inception. The novel Repair Café, which celebrated its 5th anniversary, was the brainchild of a craftsman and his wife to teach people to use hand tools and provide weekly free repairs on Sunday. For the last decade GN21 in partnership with Transition Toronto has hosted the annual Ecofair and offers educational seminars on home energy rebates by the provincial government.

As I compose this piece, I ponder on the question of the problem of solidifying the network among communities striving to become energy efficient but lacking the physical and personal infrastructure. How can volunteer-led groups mount cohesive platforms to initiate and modify behaviour to reduce fossil fuel consumption to protect the environment? Through ingenuity and tireless efforts, we can prevail.

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Kristi is currently on sabbatical from the ALM Program at the Harvard Extension School. She received her B.A in History from Villanova University, MBA from LaSalle University, and JD from the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. Over the summer, Ms. Heiman is volunteering with the Montreal Climate Coalition while studying Advanced Beginner French at the YMCA International School of Languages. Ms. Heiman frequently visits Montréal. Her favourite activities include swimming, hiking, yoga, learning French, and following the Montréal Canadiens.

Contact Kristi at

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