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Green nation: Do eco-conscious consumers encourage Canadian corporations to be more eco-friendly?

Living in highly populated southern Ontario, it's easy to forget that the Canadian economy is dominated by resource extraction: minerals, oil, gas, water, lumber. Many of our biggest companies do their work far from urban centres. The distance between, say, a downtown person recycling their shopping bags and what's happening in the Alberta oilsands can feel vast. But we're closer than you think. Many of the companies that run and support Canada's resource sector, the people who shape environmental policies and many of their best customers are right here.
This week's annual Green Living Show has a strong consumer focus, presenting products and services that try to be more environmentally friendly than other options. Since it's a curated show, attendees can trust that exhibitors have met the eco-friendly criteria set out by organizers. But the show is also trying to bridge the gap between personal, corporate and government responsibilities when it comes to taking care of our environment.
"The conversation gets more sophisticated over the years," says Laurie Simmonds, president and CEO of Green Living Enterprises, which organizes the show. "We're a resource-based economy and that's not going to change. Canada is a leader in the space so we should be driving new technologies and capitalizing on that globally. How do we green the resource sector? How do we create and own the technologies around cleaning up and using less water, reducing the footprint of the resource sector and then exporting that technology? This year, we're seeing great big corporate giants investing in clean technologies and it's an amazing thing to witness. When you see things like Enbridge investing in Morgan Solar, [they are developing] huge innovations and forward thinking technologies. If these leaders are investing in them, it's a signal to the public at large that this is the way things are going."
The Green Living Business Forum, a one-day off shoot of the show, puts these industry leaders in a room together to let them learn from and inspire each other. The Green Innovations and Inventions exhibit is a 1,500-square-foot display showcasing some of the most promising clean technologies created by Ontario-based companies and entrepreneurs. While many—like BionX's electric bike conversion kits and ecobee's Internet-connected thermostat—will appeal to green-conscious consumers, other ideas—like Hydrostor's underwater energy storage system or Pond Biofuel's system to turn carbon dioxide into biofuel—are targeted at front-line business-side players.

Decisions made by the big players on which green technologies to adopt (or not adopt) have ramifications on all of us, even if we don't see these technologies in our everyday lives. So the forum is a way to remind Torontonians that there is an intimate loop between consumer behaviour, financial markets, resource-based businesses, and cleantech research and innovation. The ideas that entrepreneurs and inventors come up with here in the GTA can make a difference right across the country and the world.
"This is a way we can partner with big business and drive the economy in a clean way," says Simmonds. "You can do good and do well."

You can read Yonge Street's story on the Green Living Show's Marine Diversity exhibit here.
Paul Gallant is Yonge Street's managing editor.
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