Created in 2019, the Project Zero incubator program is an impactful initiative focused on introducing and implementing circular economy concepts in British Columbia, Canada.
How it started
The Vancouver Island-based non-profit Synergy Foundation focuses on green business, food security and the circular economy. Their core projects — the Vancouver Island Green Business Collective (VIGBC), FED Urban Agriculture Society (FED), and the annual Ecostar Awards Gala — represent these collective interests. Additionally, Synergy Foundation’s goal of being “Circular by 2040” envisions that British Columbia will exist as a thriving circular economy in the next coming decades.
In late 2018, Synergy Foundation — spurred by Board Chair, Paul Shorthouse (now also managing director of Circular Economy Leadership Canada) — recognized the potential of an inclusive, circular economy, utilizing this vision to reduce emissions, packaging and waste associated with “business as usual”. The Project Zero Incubator Program (Project Zero) was created the next year.
Project Zero is funded in part by Vancity Credit Union (Vancity), a financial cooperative that serves the needs of its more than 525,000 member-owners and their communities in the Coast Salish and Kwakwaka’wakw territories. Vancity is a leader in environmental sustainability through their internal operations and the investments they make in the communities they serve. They have supported Project Zero from the very beginning, providing strategic development and financial support. Over the last five years, Vancity has been a vital partner to the program.
The program in action
Project Zero is an eight-month-long business incubator program that supports innovation on Vancouver Island. The project helps business ventures to implement circular practices, and advocates for change and opportunities to help them to circularize. The pilot program, including nine ventures, was launched in 2019.
While all entrepreneurs face challenges during their start-up phase, the last few years — with major supply chain disruptions and the COVID-19 pandemic — have brought an even tougher series of significant challenges, as well as new opportunities.
Originally designed as an in-person program, during the pandemic Synergy Foundation shifted Project Zero to an online platform, essentially removing barriers and geographical restrictions for participation. While initially a challenge, disrupted supply chains also provided an opportunity to strengthen supply chain resilience.
Practices encompassed in the circular economy include: repairing goods locally; manufacturing locally; and purchasing locally. Circular economies are not dependent on goods coming from overseas or out of province, and they create local supply chain resilience within communities. Thus, during the pandemic, many people became more aware of the opportunities associated with circular economies, and how they can support supply chains.
Success and impact
Synergy Foundation’s Manager of Program Operations, Georgia Lavender, is also the lead on the Project Zero program. She identifies Project Zero’s successes as a business incubator, as evidenced by the results from the first three years of the program. “Cohorts from 2019, 2020 and 2021 have produced 29 successful ventures, and created over 85 local, green jobs. And, in 2021, 50 percent of ventures were founded by women,” says Lavender. “In addition to Project Zero, Synergy Foundation has been working to build capacity in the circular economy, and in 2021, 1100 people attended workshops and events related to the circular economy.”
BinBreeze uses wood waste and naturally derived minerals to create an all-natural, non-toxic composting powder. The powder dehydrates the food waste and eliminates fruit flies. “This company has successfully appeared on the Dragon’s Den program, and is available in over 500 retailers across Canada.”
Polar Engineering engineers heat and energy systems, and, according to Lavender, “has created many new jobs”. The business now operates on five continents, and uses innovative technologies to achieve emission reductions.
While Vancity remains a crucial funding partner to Project Zero, the project has received additional funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Victoria Foundation, BC Hydro, and the City of Victoria. Synergy Foundation is also currently seeking additional funding for the program.
The future of circular Victoria
In 2012, the City of Victoria created an Official Community Plan that provides direction for changes and growth in the city. This 30-year plan supports a goal of a “zero-net solid waste community” to be achieved with partnerships in both the private sector and with the Capital Regional District (CRD).
The city’s Zero Waste Victoria strategy, approved in 2020, is strongly aligned with the principles of a circular economy, and the overall vision of Project Zero. This strategy outlines a transition towards municipal waste reduction that is more circular and sustainable. The report proposes strategies to achieve a 50-percent reduction in landfill disposal by 2040, and emphasizes material reduction and reuse. Using this percentage of landfill reduction as a metric, Synergy Foundation’s vision of Circular by 2040 may produce outcomes that surpass the city’s Zero Waste strategy in the same timeframe.
In addition, in 2019, the city’s mayor stated, “We will be known globally for our climate leadership practices, multi-modal transportation options, and innovative approaches to affordable housing.” When circular economy principles are applied to the construction and real estate sector, they potentially provide benefits that include: reducing waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; improving the resilience of supply chains; creating new economic investment and employment opportunities; enhancing natural ecosystems and urban green spaces; and providing greater equity and related social benefits.
Similarly, in the context of municipal economic priorities, the city’s Strategic Plan has also identified “nurturing of the business community” and “fostering an entrepreneurial spirit” as areas of opportunity for improvement. In addition to helping the city improve on its socio-environmental metrics, Project Zero is well positioned to support these objectives.