Cathryn Atkinson, The Globe and Mail, December 4, 2007
VANCOUVER — When Ian Gill decided to leave his long, successful career in
journalism 13 years ago, the environment correspondent got a lot of offers from
organizations keen to employ the erudite ex-Vancouver Sun, ex-CBC staffer, but one in particular caught his eye.
"It was either jobs or the environment," he recalls about attitudes about serving
environmental causes. "I didn’t really hear anyone say ‘jobs AND the environment.’ Only Ecotrust did that."
So the Australian-Canadian, who had moved to British Columbia in 1981, helped create Ecotrust Canada in 1994 as an offshoot of an American non-profit group by the same name.
Ecotrust Canada aims to establish a "conservation economy" around the country, one
where economic opportunity improves rather than harms social and environmental
conditions, said Mr. Gill, 52.
The organization helps local businesses, institutions and communities to take part in the conservation economy by raising and brokering capital; by consulting on marketing, finance, management, and human resources; and by connecting conservation entrepreneurs to each other and to the marketplace.
"We funded almost $10-million over seven years in small and medium enterprise loans, and mostly on the B.C. coast in forestry and fisheries, tourism, renewable energy," he said.
Two very different but significant examples, he said, were the locally run and owned
Trilogy Fish Company in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, and a new aboriginal-run forestry company in nearby Clayoquot Sound, Iisaak Forest Resources. Iisaak emerged from the wreckage of years of industrial forestry, in the form of a joint venture between the central region chiefs and MacMillan Bloedel Ltd.
What impresses him most, said Mr. Gill, is the fact that nearly every loan has been
repaid. This has encouraged Ecotrust to diversify its services, "We’re in the process now of starting up a private equity fund to enable investors to invest in renewable energy projects," he said.
"The uniqueness of what we are doing there is that our investors will help to finance the participation of first nations in these deals in order to create not just an environmental return but a social return as well."
Overall, Ecotrust Canada’s team of 30 has helped set up or support 80 separate
businesses, about a third of them stemming from aboriginal entrepreneurship.
"I look forward to the day when there is no such term as social entrepreneur because
there is nothing unique about an entrepreneur with an investment that has a social return," said Mr. Gill. "In time, I think this will be obvious and second nature. But at the moment it is new and groundbreaking."
Mr. Gill lives in Vancouver with his partner Jennifer and their three children.