Rallying the community around sustainability
It is immediately obvious that Paul Holden didn’t grow up in Canada. “You can tell from the accent that I’m from England,” he chuckled when asked about what brought him to the position of President and CEO of the Burnaby Board of Trade (BBOT).
It was the publishing industry that brought Holden to Canada. He worked in that industry in England and Hong Kong for about 30 years before moving here. Then in 2011, an opportunity arose in the BBOT, and he took it.
“One of the things I enjoyed in the publishing industry was relationship building,” said Holden. “Networking, meeting people, bringing different groups together – this was an opportunity to do that with the business community here in Burnaby and with other stakeholders.”
Six years later, he said he loves it. “I love the work that we do here, I like the way that we support business, the way that we bring business and other partners in the community together – it’s been a very enjoyable six years.”
And he’s proud of the BBOT’s approach to the work they do. “We’re one of the very few Chambers anywhere in Canada which operates under a triple bottom line mandate with whatever we do,” he said. “We make sure that we look at those through the lens of economic, social and environmental sustainability, and that again has helped us remain relevant and understand what it is that businesses are now looking for.”
When Holden was interviewing for his position several years ago, one of the exercises he went through was presenting to the board of directors what his vision would be, and what his priorities would be if he got the job. “The word I used most often in that process was ‘relevance,’” he said. “It seemed that the Chamber of Commerce movement was looking for ways to become more relevant to the changing demographics and to a new generation of business owners and business leaders. Remaining or becoming more relevant was seen to have been a priority, so when I came here it was looking for ways to be relevant and to engage a broad range of businesses, was what I identified as being a priority.”
One way Holden and his team are doing that is through a sustainability program, The Pledge for a Sustainable Community.
Although it was something the environmental committee had been discussing when he arrived, when he came into the organization, he made it a priority, and it launched in 2012.
“What we wanted to do with the Pledge was to invite businesses to go public with the initiatives they intended to create to become more successful, and share those inner pledge directories, so that their employees, customers or anybody could see what it was they were planning to do, and then to work with them to provide them with information and education they might need to get to that point,” he explained.
They now have 150 businesses that have signed up for the Pledge.
And the Pledge isn’t just an accountability measure. Part of the idea is to help businesses stay ahead of the curve. “If regulation does come down the line, if there’s a requirement for businesses to become sustainable, we’ve found a way for our businesses and our members be ahead of the game so to speak in that area,” he said.
They also hold events that serve as a means for businesses to get together to discuss issues and opportunities, as well as hear from experts on sustainability.
“It would be ideal if we could do this with B.C.-based chambers to see if we can bring it into their communities as well.”
Not only has the Pledge program seen success in the Burnaby business community, but after hearing about it, the Chamber of Commerce in Tempe, Arizona also adopted it.
“It took us a while to work with them, to create it in the right format, but they were able to launch their version in the second half of last year,” said Holden. “We’re working with them to make sure they can inform their own community on how to get engaged and to help them become successful with their version of the program.”
The program earned them the Western Association of Chamber Executives’ Core Competency Award, given for innovative programming by Boards of Trade and Chamber of Commerce from across Western Canada and the United States which are successful and can be replicated by other Chambers and Boards.
Holden added that he’d like to see some Chambers closer to home adopt it. “We would hope that we’d be able to do the same kind of thing with any Chamber anywhere,” he said. “It would be ideal if we could do this with B.C.-based chambers to see if we can bring it into their communities as well.”
He said the benefits to Chamber relevance could be big. “If the board of directors and the staff of the Chamber feel that this is an area that would be important to them in their quest to become more relevant, then I think this program fits the bill perfectly,” he added.
This profile is part of the BC Chamber's Leaders in Action series.