The global is the local – why UNSDGs should matter to Calgarians

By: Angelina Patoka

In the Western world, particularly in highly developed cities, there is frequently a nonchalance to global governance. Even though Sustainable Cities and Communities is the eleventh Global Goal, many Calgarians (like many urban citizens in the West) seem to think of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) as distant endeavours, which are geared towards aiding ‘poorer’ countries in the spirit of internationalism and sometimes paternalistic post-colonialism.

However, in truth the Global Goals relate to a multitude of diverse and interconnected issues that do affect cities like Calgary. ‘The global is the local’, and what is truly irrelevant is whether one’s city is Conakry (Guinea) or Calgary.

Considering this, where does Calgary stand? How do the Global Goals relate to our municipality?

UNAC-Calgary talks to Patrycja Drainville, Calgarian, sustainability practitioner, Global Compact Network Canada board member to learn more.

“Global frameworks have always set the tone in the direction for action,” says Patrycja. She frames interest from a holistic point of view, wherein Calgary and Canada take part in what she describes as “the closest thing the world has to a sustainability strategy.” In short, the UNSDGs and the Global Compact represent unprecedented multi-stakeholder governance with a strong emphasis on accountability.

It may seem like this approach isn’t anything new or innovative; after all philanthropy existed before the United Nations itself. However, the 2015 Goals and the Global Compact are in fact the first de jure instances where non-state actors are formally included in the sustainable governance of the world and the communities that surround them.

This is a dramatic shift from the realist politics of the twentieth century, when the majority of political energy concentrated all authority and accountability in the hands of sovereign states. Such pluralism entails greater social responsibility that can be addressed by a variety of groups with different resources and versatile problem-solving tools.

In other words, the SDGs are important for Canadian and Calgarian businesses because sustainability is much more than developing technologies for the sake of efficiency. It is about societal investments which aim at uplifting communities and maximizing the potential of as many people as possible.

The benefits of considering ‘the local as the global’ are further amplified by the direct impact of the UNSDGs and the Global Compact. These frameworks enable every country to assess and consistently measure its own progress in a timely fashion as we edge closer to the deadline of the 2030 Agenda.

International information exchange can also aid a country with inadequate resources recognize what areas ought to be prioritized or changed in its quest for sustainability. For instance, Patrycja notes that Canada prioritizes four areas: climate change, gender equality, economic equality and indigenous reconciliation.

The pan-Canadian framework includes federal commitments like data collection by Statistics Canada that contributes to an imperative domestic and international information pool, and a 2018 $49 million commitment over a thirteen-year period to enhance coordination across all levels of government and civil society.

Patrycja anticipates the increased cascading of these federal initiatives down to the provinces and municipalities, as well as increased action at every level within society.  She notes that positive changes regarding sustainability and corporate accountability are already happening.

These changes are mobilizing the investor community, civil society, government and businesses in new and innovative ways. Investors have been particularly vital to capturing the attention of many different CEOs and CFOs, as a company’s sustainability is fast becoming a key consideration in trade and regulation.

This is precisely where networks like the Global Compact can find opportunities to aid companies that are interested in sustainable strategy that would in turn help bolster an entire community.

Businesses hold just as much power to lead the way towards sustainable strategies, and this power is rooted in a company’s willingness to accept accountability and transparency.

Even in Calgary, the practice of SDGs is not based on the oil and gas industry alone. Some of the most prominent local employers that align themselves with sustainability, and are indeed Participants in the Global Compact’s network, include TELUS and Nutrien. As an example, the latter is a Canadian fertilizer company that is also invested in Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Considering the ongoing pandemic and recent economic downturns, it isn’t surprising to see how this Goal may be of relevance to Canadian communities and the future preparedness measures of the Canadian government.

Patrycja recognizes that not all companies in Calgary have global ambitions. However, she points to the fact that with global tendencies shifting towards practices like carbon neutrality, even the smallest local businesses can find a way to integrate themselves into the larger global picture.

“No matter how big or small your organization is, there is a role for you to play,” says Patrycja. Networks that are aligned with the UNSDGs provide advocacy arms that can propel one into shaping and advancing Canada’s sustainability agenda, as it is a way of giving a voice to smaller businesses that feel muted amidst policy discourses.

One thing is clear: sustainability is the future, and an increasingly globalized Calgary is well on its way to be more sustainable than ever before.


Patrycja Drainville, Associate Director, Sustainable Finance, Scotiabank

Patrycja is an award-winning, sustainability and ESG professional in the Canadian business community. She currently works with Scotiabank’s Sustainable Finance team to provide ESG advice and solutions to corporate, financial, public sector, and institutional clients and deliver on the bank’s commitment to mobilize $100 billion of sustainable financing by 2025. Patrycja has extensive experience advancing sustainability strategy with medium and large North American energy companies leading the way in ESG integration, corporate strategy and reporting opportunities for the sector. She also held the role of Chair, representing the oil and natural gas sector in the development of the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable & Transition Principles and Taxonomy.

Patrycja holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the University of Calgary and is currently working towards her MBA at Dalhousie University specializing in Sustainable Finance. She is board member of the Canadian network of the UN Global Compact, an active mentor and board member of the University of Calgary’s sustainability student association Fuse Collective and was awarded the 2018 Young Women in Energy Award, recognizing women in the oil and gas industry for their leadership, innovation and community service.

Meet water and sanitation warrior – Laura Kohler


By: Rida Rehmani

It’s clear to see that Laura Kohler is passionate about her work and the impact CAWST water and sanitation projects have on the lives of people around the world.

The Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) is a world-renowned Canadian charity and licensed engineering firm that has its roots in Calgary. CAWST addresses the global need for safe drinking water and sanitation by building local knowledge and skills on household solutions people can implement themselves.

Senior knowledge and research advisor, Laura Kohler joined CAWST in July 2016. She has a PhD in Civil Systems Engineering and MSc in Environmental Engineering, both from the University of Colorado Boulder, and a BA in Civil Engineering from Carroll College in Montana.

For World Water Day, March 22, we sat down with Laura to find out about her work leading sanitation projects in Africa and South Asia.

What drew you to join CAWST?
I joined CAWST specifically because of the type of organization it is.

In my first few years in the development sector, I worked with Honduran municipalities to design and implement water supply systems. In that role, I struggled with how some of the work was being done. While unintentional, I realized that I was taking jobs from highly capable local people, which didn’t sit right with me. Ultimately, this led to me going back to school to address my own knowledge and skill gaps and later joining CAWST.

When I came across CAWST at a conference in 2015, their approach intrigued me. CAWST focuses on capacity development to support different stakeholders, practitioners, and professionals, who implement water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs and services locally. CAWST strengthens the capacity of local people and organizations to make their own decisions and meet the WASH needs in the areas where they work.

Which project has been your favourite and what impact did it make to the local community?
I love my work because of the people and professionals I get to work with globally. Professionals such as emptiers (among others) do the real and often thankless job of emptying and transporting fecal sludge to be treated and disposed of. They face health and safety risks, and often social stigma due to the nature of their work. This isn’t easy. It’s our job to consider the challenges they face and how best to support them to address those challenges. These professionals protect the health and welfare of people and the environment by doing their job, so it seems reasonable that we can work to make it a bit easier.

Laura Kohler, bottom left, in Lusaka, Zambia in 2018 with emptiers from Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda

In 2018, I led a CAWST project to understand the challenges with servicing latrines and septic tanks, including but not limited to emptying. The same project also identified how existing trainings by academic programs, institutions, and NGOs serve to address those challenges.

As we were exploring, we ended up working with a number of emptiers from across Africa to articulate their needs, who historically had been talked about in discussions about sanitation service delivery, rather than included directly in the conversation. In 2019, the Pan African Association of Sanitation Actors (PASA) launched, which was a step-change in history. While CAWST wasn’t directly involved in their formation, we were excited to participate and celebrate their official launch. Since then, emptiers have had a distinct and strong voice at the table, while envisioning and troubleshooting sanitation service delivery across Africa.

How has COVID-19 impacted the 2030 water and sanitation UN Sustainability Development Goal (SDG)?
According to the UN, as of 2018, 2.3 billion people still lacked basic sanitation services and 4.5 billion people worldwide lacked safely managed sanitation services.

Even before the pandemic, we were estimated to be off-track to meet 2030 SDG – 6. The pandemic has further affected our progress and has added additional complexities to service deliver in a number of ways.

It is estimated that 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy (half of the global work force) lost work either partially or completely within the first month of the crisis. Continued WASH services, such as emptying, require that households are able to pay, even if the amount is small, to have their latrines and septic tanks routinely emptied to avoid additional environmental and public health hazards. This has caused a ripple effect where household financial limitations affect the frequency of emptying services, both affecting the livelihoods of the emptiers as well as presenting an added public health risk of overflowing latrines.

Additionally, training and support activities have migrated online, which unintentionally excludes participants who have unstable internet, low bandwidths, or no mobile device to connect. So while certain frontline workers continue to take risks for the safety of others, the type of support they can access has been greatly affected by COVID-19.

How can Calgarians support UNSDG 6 – clean water and sanitation?
I’ve noticed is that the SDGs are less known domestically. I have observed this in Calgary as well. At the end of the day, the SDGs are global commitments, so awareness in our own city is the starting point. These aren’t just problems which impact the poorest countries of the world – these are global concerns and we are all responsible.

Laura facilitating an exchange with emptying service providers to understand their challenges and the knowledge and skills required to address them to inform better training.

What I hope for is that we understand the value of the services that we have and often don’t have to think twice about — like access to clean water. Unfortunately, we don’t have to look beyond our own borders to realize that not everyone has that same access. This realization makes it easier to comprehend the challenges that other countries face.

Here is my plug 🙂 Please consider supporting CAWST by volunteering and donating, so that we can continue to do what we do. Our doors (while virtual at the moment) are always open, if you would like to learn more about what we do and how you can contribute.

Learn more:
UN Sustainable Goal 6 – water and sanitation

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