How Resource Works became a Top 50 energy influencer in just five years

A consortium of Canadian universities including UVic and the University of Alberta, backed by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, ranked our not-for-profit as one of the country's 50 most serious voices to be reckoned with in 2019. 

This was amazing news for us. Founding executive director Stewart Muir discusses the Resource Works mission.

Resource Works set out in 2014 to communicate with British Columbians about the importance of the province's resource sectors to our personal well-being. The goal was to demonstrate how responsible development of British Columbia's resources creates jobs and incomes throughout the province, both directly and indirectly, while maintaining a clean and healthy environment.

We also saw it as a foremost priority to explore the long-term economic future of British Columbia as a place that depends on the responsible development, extraction and transportation of the province's resources.

Back when we were getting started, I spoke to scores of people in industry, government, academia, communications and civic society about how such a mission should be approached. We conducted polling and deliberated among ourselves on issues that most affected public interest connected to the resource sector. Initially, we thought this would be a pretty straightforward task. In the end, it took six months of outreach and introspection before launching to ensure that we had gotten things right.

Due to the nationally integrated nature of Canada's trading economy, it has been challenging to stay within the geographic framework of British Columbia. Just consider the strategic significance of the west coast ports that get Canadian goods to international markets irrespective of origin. As the project has evolved, we have become less concerned about sticking to a notional geographic division, because ultimately it's a Canadian question.

Our not-for-profit governance structure, led by a volunteer board, has allowed us to be inclusive and accountable in our activities, ensuring that our core mission remains at the centre of all we do. This structure has allowed us to fundraise for a modest operating budget that employs me as executive director, supported by a part-time administrator, a social media program, and the ability to perform a small number of research projects from year to year that we publish on our website. The term "shoestring" hardly begins to describe our budget. 

We have worked with First Nations, municipal leaders, academic and community leaders to get past the conflict and into collaborative solutions for some of the most pressing resource issues of our time. Our Community Conversations program has brought together diverse viewpoints to examine complex and sometimes heated issues in a constructive and respectful atmosphere.

I have written for numerous publications about the challenges facing Canadian resources: The Vancouver Sun, the Calgary Herald, the Financial Post, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Province, are only a few of the publications that have published my analysis. I'm a regular commentator on a couple of radio shows, and in 2018 I produced and directed the Homeland Journey documentary that for the first time brought forward the authentic story of how indigenous people in Canada are realizing their aspirations through rural opportunities in natural resources. 

Recently, we learned that the $4.5 million Corporate Mapping Project had worked over the past four years to determine who are the most influential groups in the Canadian fossil fuel space. A number of the influencers were determined to be the large banks, major international energy companies, the National Energy Board, the BC Oil and Gas Commission, and think tanks.

And there was Resource Works on this list, an unexpected member of an august group. 

According to its authors, composing the list required what the project called "extensive research on the economic organization of the industry and its reach into wider society." Although I recently argued that Resource Works could have arrived at the same list in a much, much, much more cost-effective way, the huge expenditure of public funds behind the mapping project shows that university presidents and federally-appointed academic research funders understand the significance of our work (even though some of them are woolly headed about what makes the world go 'round).

On reflection, I would say that having an extremely limited budget has been a primary success factor rather than an impediment. It has kept us lean and focused, allowing Resource Works to compete successfully with wealthy organizations flush with tens of millions of dollars, or hundreds of millions, in funding aimed at shaking the confidence of Canadians in the natural resource economy. 

Conservation and environmental protection messages are important, and many worthy initiatives do not receive the support they deserve. The flip side of modern eco-activism is that altruistic and desirable aims are, increasingly, paired with high-volume, fear-of-innovation messages delivered with Internet-era precision and impact. The pessimist conclusion is that the world a bleak place with no future, even though it is solely because of access to energy and other resources that humanity is healthier and more prosperous than at any time in recorded history. The practice of publicizing questionable, or just plain wrong, information is one that responsible professionals supporting natural resources could never countenance. 

In British Columbia alone, documents filed with Elections Canada show that the following organizations that exist in whole or in part to challenge responsible resource development have registered to spend their money on advertising in the 2019 federal election:

  • Citizens of My Sea to Sky Society
  • Dogwood Initiative
  • Force of Nature Society 
  • Georgia Strait Alliance 
  • Greenpeace Canada 
  • LeadNow Society 
  • Pacific Wild Alliance 
  • Raincoast Conservation Foundation 
  • Sierra Club of British Columbia Foundation 
  • Stand Environmental Society of Canada 
  • Tides Canada Initiatives Society 
  • West Coast Environmental Law Association

The public will be hearing from them over the next few months. Bear in mind this list is for British Columbia alone, with many more such organizations operating elsewhere in the country.

Driving resource-based activities out, to jurisdictions where they face less scrutiny, is not a win-win solution for the environment. It takes six average workers to equal the GDP contribution of a single worker in natural resources. Yet governments increasingly feel pressure to treat resource workers as throwaways whose efforts are not needed for Canadian prosperity. Resource Works has had to be not six, but sixty times, as effective as these resource opponents in order to be competitive. Incredibly, Resource Works has accomplished that and is now considered to be a serious player in the resource information space. This is, to me, an enormous vote of confidence in our values, ideas, team members and volunteers, and Board and Advisory Council.

As an education and advocacy organization, Resource Works will continue with its steady work to elicit information and make it accessible to supporters in a fact-driven and neutral way. It's important information. When you consider that 74 per cent of the energy that Canadians depend on every day comes from fossil fuels, it's pretty obvious that there is a serious responsibility attached to ensuring that innovation and social responsibility – the things we advocate for – should be at the heart of how any resource should be developed.  

I wish there were ways to find collaboration space with groups like those listed. Over the past five years, I have joined more public panels, debates and other discussions with representatives from those groups than anyone else in British Columbia. Often, I'm the only one who has come ready for a conversation, while the other participants are armed only with talking points. We've got to do better than this.

What will the next five years bring? If anything, the task has become even more challenging today than it was in 2014. The stakes are larger. Segments of the public remain uncertain about the foundations of energy and resource responsibility. The risk grows that Canada will retreat from its status as a world-class innovator and a country that can provide for its citizens, while its trade competitors prosper at our expense.

Minerals, forest products, and foods from Canada are needed by the world. Energy usage in the fastest-growing regions will be served one way or the other, and that is why Canadian energy products are eagerly wanted as part of a transition to both prosperity and the low-carbon future.

It is reasonable to believe that when our 10th anniversary comes around, Resource Works will have further grown its influence. In order to be truly effective and build on the successes of the first half-decade, commitment is needed. For the journey ahead, I welcome ideas on how we can succeed. You can reach me at: [email protected]

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