Investing in climate action means investing in community: Brian Montgomery

APRIL 16, 2018


Brian Montgomery eats, sleeps, breathes and now (with CoPower’s Green Bonds) invests in fighting climate change. We caught up with “Hamilton’s climate champion” to learn more about his approach and the secret to the city's outsize success as a municipal climate leader. As Senior Project Manager Air Quality and Climate Change, his impressive portfolio includes GHG reductions, economic impacts, health, adaptation, and air quality.

When I started out at the City of Hamilton in 2005, climate change was viewed as an international issue, barely on the radar as a municipal concern. You mentioned “climate change” and people’s minds jumped to rising sea levels on Pacific islands and melting ice caps with polar bears stranded in the Arctic.

When we present on climate change to city council or the community, I always state that they’ll see no slides with a local polar bear on an ice flow in Hamilton Harbour. Instead, we use a great photo from the Hamilton Spectator in 2012 of a man going through a flooded local Tim Hortons drive-thru on a raft. It gets some laughs, but our goal is to bring the issue home locally, shortening the psychological distance between international headlines and what we’re seeing on the ground in terms of impacts in our community.


“Today, Hamilton is recognized across North America as a municipal climate change leader. I’d say our secret has been investing in community driven solutions.”



Today, we’re recognized across North America as a mid-sized municipal climate change leader. I’d say our secret has been understanding and investing in community-driven solutions.

One of Hamilton’s strongest assets is a history of community engagement and localizing grassroots solutions. This began in the 1990s with Vision 2020, Hamilton’s first sustainability plan, and continues today with Our Future Hamilton. There’s an understanding here that unless the solutions are relevant, that the community buys in and sees a role for itself in implementing them, they won’t stick. 

When tackling a new problem, people often look to template solutions or standards imported from elsewhere. It’s great to take inspiration from other regions, but without the hard work of localization, citizens will see through your proposals. I say no empty feel-good statements or fancy documents. Just get to the point, and then invest the time, effort and money to make the change happen with the community.


Talking to community members 

"No empty feel-good statements. Just get to the point, and then invest the time and money to make the change happen."


A great example of pounding the pavement to get buy-in and get people talking about local solutions were our pop-up climate conversations. The team and I would show up at independent coffee shops and libraries in rural communities, three or four stops each day, with a banner saying “Let’s Talk about the Weather.” What Canadian can resist talking about the weather after all?

People often make the point that individual weather events can’t be directly tied to climate change. But day-to-day weather is a big part of how people experience climate change, and the conversations were fascinating. People would say: “I don’t believe in climate change, but I have observed this change” or “a farmer friend of mine experienced that”. You’d see people connecting the dots between climate change and ice storm blackouts, or the the simultaneous droughts and massive rain bursts we’ve experienced. This allowed for respectful and real conversations with citizens on their home turf, where they live their daily lives. People gave us straight responses and appreciated our coming to them.


People would say “I don’t believe in climate change, but I have observed this change” or “a farmer friend of mine experienced that.”


Brian Montgomery at a pop-up climate conversation


Those conversations then fed into the Hamilton Community Climate Action Plan process. Over fourteen months of engagement with the community we identified actions and opportunities to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, looking at agriculture and food, education, infrastructure, energy, land use, buildings, our local economy, health, transportation, water and natural ecosystems. Out of a list of over 300 potential solutions and ideas, ten priority actions were chosen by the community to support the Hamilton’s goal of 80% carbon emissions reductions by 2050. We’ve already achieved our first milestone of 20% reductions by 2020, ahead of schedule.


"Transformational change is happening and we all need to get behind it. For those of us with the capacity, that can mean investing."


It’s important to me to buy in on a personal level too. I’ve put my own money behind the climate initiatives that have come out of the community because I believe in them and in the people and groups driving them. Beyond CoPower Green Bonds and SolarShare bonds both of which include solar projects in Hamilton, I’ve also invested in the Mustard Seed Grocery Co-op and bringing Community Car Share to Hamilton.

Transformational change is happening locally. We need to be aware of it and we need to get behind it. For those of us with the capacity, that can mean investing. People proposing projects often look to the traditional routes, for example, government grants or the support of big business or banks. And if that isn’t forthcoming the project or idea hits the wall.

When we wanted to bring car sharing to Hamilton for example, I had conversations with big players like Zipcar and Autoshare and they said we were too small a market at the time. So naturally, the community set out to explore the challenge ourselves. After overwhelming support and interest expressed at public consultations, the community ended up choosing to bring the Kitchener-Waterloo Car Share Program to Hamilton. It’s been a great success, thanks to community and policy support, local investment and membership shares.

"Sometimes you have to go to your neighbour."


Sometimes you have to go to your neighbour, your friends or community. People are shy about asking for money and investment for local ideas. But in reality there are lots people like myself looking for these types of opportunities. Bring a strong business plan or project that supports local positive transformal change and you’ll find backers.

Since starting this journey, Hamilton has made an impressive dent in our climate change goals, but there is still lots of work left to do here and in municipalities across Canada. Having witnessed it first hand, it all starts with investing time, energy and money in local solutions and local community.



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Editor's note: Brian invested in CoPower's second issuance of Green Bonds (Green Bond II). Our third issuance (Green Bond III) is now available for investment.

The client testimonial that appears on this page was solicited by CoPower and may not be representative of the views of other investors or potential investors in CoPower Green Bonds.  Please consult the CoPower Green Bond Offering Memorandum for all material information in respect of CoPower Finance Inc., CoPower Green Bonds and the terms of the offering.