Professional Profiles

Former student changing the world for his daughter


By Amy Robertson

Richard MacLelland has one passion: making the world better for his daughter, Emma.

The urban planner travelled all the way from Halifax, N.S., to attend the SFU City Program’s boot camp in sustainable city planning four years ago.

“I came back a changed person,” he says.

In 2006, MacLelland began thinking differently about work. He had worked in off-shore energy for 10 years, and he enjoyed it—except for the fact that it kept him away from his wife and three-year-old Emma more than 80 hours per week.

He knew he needed a change—so he took a job in purchasing with the municipality of Halifax and began working closely with the manager of the Sustainable Environment Management office. In 2007, MacLelland and a handful of others flew across the country for the three-day sustainability course.

MacLelland will never forget those three days.

The boot camp’s focus was the development of a sustainability charter for the city of Surrey, B.C.

MacLelland, whose department was in charge of implementing sustainable practices for the city of Halifax, says it was a great fit for his team—Halifax is very close in size to Surrey.

The power of collaboration

“We learned that it’s important to collaborate and empower people to make the changes necessary to make a better community,” he says.

“The key thing about making momentum is just getting at it—simply talking about it and not worrying about being perfect at it.”

The linchpin for MacLelland was the presentation by Ken Cameron, who managed policy and planning for the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

“He made a statement that’s very clear in my mind,” MacLelland says.

“He was going through a slideshow and taking us through climate change, and he put up a statement (that says) we’re coming up at a tipping point … The world is going to continue … but humanity at a species is at risk.”

MacLelland immediately thought of his little girl at home and was horrified at the thought of the world that she and her children might live in if he didn’t change something.

He knew he had to dedicate his career to making the world better for her. He started as soon as he got home.

“They key thing was to collaborate and talk to people and just get at it,” he says.

Richard and Emma MacLelland

One step at a time

First, he contacted the province to begin a sustainable procurement collaborative. Now the Regional Municipality of Halifax works together with hospitals, universities, and other municipalities in Nova Scotia to make sure they’re buying the most ethically-produced uniforms and the most environmentally-friendly vehicles, computer paper, and electronics.

MacLelland has since been promoted to manager of the Sustainable Environment Management office, and sustainability is his passion.

A key project he’s taking the lead on is called Solar City. It’s a pilot project that will allow 1,000 Halifax residents to begin heating their water using solar power.

MacLelland’s team calculated that using solar power to heat water would reduce residential coal energy consumption by 30 per cent. Halifax residents who choose to participate in the project need only opt in.

Seven hundred people signed up for the project on the first day.

MacLelland is working on funding right now, and he hopes installations will begin this fall.

He knows he needs to go after people’s hearts more than their minds, so whenever he does his sustainability presentation, he concludes with a picture of his daughter. His co-workers tease him good-naturedly, calling it his Emma Speech.

But her future is what drives him—and he believes that the future will drive others as well.

“My over-arching goal is to simply leave my daughter with a better world than what I started with and make sure that she’s able to enjoy a world that I’ve enjoyed, and my parents have enjoyed—and that her kids and their kids can have the same thing.”