Making Zoo Poo a Household Name

Cocktail dresses and ties packed the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library for the ClimateSpark Launch Gala on Tuesday night. Bay Street bankers rubbed shoulders with climate change activists and entrepreneurs, sipping organic red wine and talking about poo.

Wait, what? Yep, this refined crowd couldn’t help the toilet humour as ZooShare, the biogas cooperative and CSI member who turns zoo poo into energy, won the Toronto Community Foundation’s Green Innovation Award.

The Centre for Social Innovation teamed up with the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Toronto Community Foundation in 2011 to launch the ClimateSpark Social Venture Challenge. This amazing project had three phases.

In ClimateSpark Ignite we used an online platform to find, support and evaluate projects that reduce the causes and impacts of climate change. In ClimateSpark Accelerate we took ten winners from the Ignite phase and brought them through an in-person, two-day business development bootcamp at CSI Annex. Finally, in ClimateSpark Launch the finalists had their chance to pitch for up to $750,000 in funding and financing.

The Ignite phase was an amazing experiment in crowd-sourcing that attracted 2,300 registered online participants, 61 entries, 40 expert reviewers, 20,500 site visits by 9,700 unique site visitors over three months, and more than 3,000 comments.

“I’m taking away a very strong feeling of support from Toronto’s environmental and social innovation communities—through the many excellent online questions and the number of poo jokes made, it’s clear to me that people are eager to support ZooShare’s mission,” said Daniel Bida, executive director of ZooShare. “Participation in ClimateSpark really helped to hone the unique selling points of the project as a result of getting feedback from so many individuals and experts from around the city.”

ZooShare, a nonprofit cooperative, is planning to build a biogas plant at the Toronto Zoo’s existing compost facility that will convert zoo poo and food waste into methane, which will be burned to generate enough electricity to power 500 homes. Solid and liquid by-products will be sold as fertilizers. ZooShare plans to finance its operations by issuing Community Bonds, as pioneered by CSI.

SolarShare is another ClimateSpark finalist and nonprofit co-op raising money with this social finance innovation, allowing Ontarians to invest in community-based solar energy installations across the province.

“The best part of the competition was having a chance to meet some of the other groups and learn about what they were doing,” said Julie Leach, member relations coordinator at SolarShare. “The chance to pitch to investors gave us the opportunity to improve the content we use for presentations and also improve our presentation skills.”

We were thrilled to see another CSI member walk away with grant money on Tuesday night. Young Urban Farmers was boosted by CSI as part of the Youth Agents of Change competition. Young Urban Farmers, a nonprofit organization, helps people grow organic food in the city, converts underutilized backyards into thriving vegetable gardens, and distributes the food via a community shared agriculture model.

“There was an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm in the competition between participants, mentors, sponsors and organizers,” said Kate Raycraft, a hub coordinator at Young Urban Farmers. “There was a genuine sense that the projects we are working on can and will make a difference in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and that was truly inspiring.”

Raycraft says the most challenging part of ClimateSpark was quantifying the carbon impact of their operations.

“This was definitely a valuable exercise, and something we will continue to build upon in the future,” she said. “We were lucky to have the assistance that we had in modeling and projecting this.”

Without any doubt, all of the finalists are working on trailblazing initiatives. From carbon-cutting schemes, to rooftop gardens, to collaborative consumption, CSI is proud to have provided support to these innovators and entrepreneurs with so much pootential…

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