A border community
Situated on the shores of Lake Huron, the riding of Sarnia-Lambton in Southwestern Ontario is part of a rich agricultural region that enjoys one of the warmest climates in Canada. Largely known for its traditional petrochemical industry, the border community has more recently evolved into a centre for bio-industrial research and the development of newer eco-friendly technologies.
Thanks to its position at the centre of the Great Lakes corridor, Sarnia-Lambton has outstanding access to major markets in Canada and the United States. In the early 2000s, the region established the Sarnia-Lambton Biohybrid Chemistry Cluster in partnership with Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, Western University, Lambton College, and local industry to accelerate growth for new enterprises in the sector. Today the Cluster is helping to diversify the economy, change the future of production in Southwestern Ontario, and drive sustainability. Central to this evolving economy is the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.
Changing the future
For over a decade the Research Park has been home to the country’s largest clean-tech incubator, the Commercialization Centre. One notable company participating in the incubator is Origin Materials, a US biochemical startup that was attracted to Sarnia-Lambton after scouting other locations around the world. Instead of using petroleum, the startup uses plant-based materials that are easily accessible in the area like wood chips, corn stalks, and wheat straw – common byproducts of the nearby agriculture industry. Thanks to newly-formed alliances with the world’s two largest bottled water companies—Nestle and Danone—they have developed and launched a bio-based plastic bottle made from 100 percent sustainable and renewable feedstock. As other international clean-tech companies arrive, Sarnia-Lambton’s influence will continue to grow nationally and around the world.
I was eager to visit Southwestern Ontario as it reflected a very real example of the need for resilience when faced with transformative change. This area once had the highest standard of living in the country, due to its border location and a history of agricultural and industrial power but its recent story was one of economic decline and environmental challenge.
Sarnia-Lambton had questions about its future: Where can we find hope and promise? How can we balance economic growth with environmental health? How can we cope with change?
During my visit to the region, I was invited to visit the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park. I was struck by the collaborative spirit and forward-thinking of the tenants of the Research Park. It was clear in my many conversations that the questions the community had been forced to ask itself were being met with innovation and imagination. By utilizing the existing infrastructure, resources available from the agricultural surroundings, and skilled labourers from the college, many of the whom were part of retraining programs, the area has begun to reinvent itself.
The story of Sarnia-Lambton is important for all Ontarians – it shows us what can be achieved when we reimagine a future with people at the heart of decision making. Though economic opportunity appeared to take priority over environmental stewardship and social cohesion, it is apparent that the community has embraced the concept of sustainability, listening to all sectors of the community, applying lessons from the past, with the objective of creating a resilient future for all. The story is a work in progress and one worth watching in the coming years.Sustainability