You’ve probably heard of the term “sustainable development”, but did you know it was an Ottawa environmentalist that coined the term? James (Jim) McNeill was a pioneer environmentalist who coined the term in the Brundtland Commission’s report “Our Common Future.” Upon his passing, his daughter, Cathy Hodgins, made a generous donation to Ecology Ottawa to honour his legacy.
“I think I was looking for an organization that was making a difference locally with both policy and on the ground, boots in the dirt,” says Cathy.
And we went boot-first straight into the dirt! With Cathy’s contribution, Ecology Ottawa was able to give away 1,500 trees to homeowners in Ottawa to fight the Emerald Ash Borer crisis, which has destroyed 25% of our urban tree canopy. Since 2014, Ecology Ottawa’s Million Tree Initiative has been working to mobilize residents and plant trees across the city as a gift for Canada’s 150th birthday. Cathy’s contribution also helps us bring trees to the private lands in people’s backyard, engage Ottawa residents in a movement to re-green our city, and educate the public about invasive species and their damage.
It was also what Jim would have liked. “I was looking for an organization that was planting trees in the Capital during the 150th, as Dad was a proud Canadian and a big fan of Wangari Maathai (a Kenyan environmentalist and founder of the Green Belt Movement). We wanted to make a contribution in Dad’s name that would help make the city he loved more beautiful and sustainable.”
“Dad was a huge policy wonk – so I wanted to look for an organization that was effectively pushing City Hall to move forward in this area. A group that would hold power to account (like Dad tried to do in his time with the World Bank). But not just a single-issue group – one that had a broad vision and a depth of vision.”
Our tree campaign recently advocated for a strong Urban Forest Management Plan, a long-term vision and strategy to enhance our tree canopy and protect it from systemic threats like invasive species, development and climate change. After three years of advocacy, citizen mobilization and partnership development, the Urban Forest Management Plan received unanimous support from City Council this summer.
Cathy’s contribution did not stop there. She came to our office one afternoon with a bag full of memorabilia from her father’s estate, to be used in the EcoFest silent auction. This included a United Nation watch, buttons and stickers from multiple international environmental conferences, and other collectibles from his career. At the event, Cathy stayed near the silent auction table to tell interested bidders about her father’s life, his contributions, and the story behind each piece.
Cathy and her commemoration of Jim MacNeill encourages us to continue advocating for our local environment where we live, work and play.