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RBC water hero helps save Canada’s world-renowned outdoor laboratory

May 9, 2014 - By day, Winnipeg’s Glenn Crook is vice president, commercial financial services with RBC. But Glenn also has a secret identity as one of Canada’s unsung water heroes. Recently, he helped save one of the most prominent freshwater research programs in the world: the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northern Ontario, one of the only whole-lake, outdoor laboratories available on Earth.

Glenn Crook - Vice President, Commercial Finacial Services

Glenn Crook - Vice President,
Commercial Financial Services

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Since the area was secured by the Canadian government back in 1968, the ELA’s 58 lakes have attracted scientists to study the impacts of stressors and pollutants from human activity and industrial development on freshwater, and have resulted in some important breakthroughs.  

Yet in 2012, the government announced it would no longer support the ELA, causing an outcry among scientists, environmentalists and concerned citizens alike. 

That’s when Glenn leaped into action.   

Through his involvement with the RBC Blue Water Project, Glenn already had a strong understanding of why water matters, but he’d also taken the opportunity over the years to meet a wide range of like-minded people and organizations that shared his concern. One of those organizations was the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) a policy research institute based in Winnipeg, with a stellar global reputation.

So Glenn connected the dots.

“I thought it was the perfect opportunity for these two organizations to collaborate,” says Glenn. “I knew the IISD would benefit from the resources the ELA provides, while the ELA would benefit from having a global partner and expanded programming.”

Glenn not only pitched the idea to the ELA and the IISD, he also joined an advisory committee to assist IISD with planning and helped secure $80,000 from the RBC Foundation to develop the business plan that would ultimately result in the merger. And this story just celebrated a very happy ending: in April 2014, IISD announced that it would be taking over the operations of the ELA.

“It was truly a team effort,” Glenn was quick to point out. “We had talented people on the committee, a wealth of knowledge and support from Shari Austin (RBC VP and Head, Corporate Citizenship) and the leadership of Scott Vaughan”.

“The $80,000 donation from the RBC Foundation was instrumental in helping this business plan, and ultimately the transfer, succeed. We are also grateful to Glenn for his leadership,” said Matthew McCandless, executive director, IISD-ELA. “Pressure on water quality is a growing crisis in many countries, and we need science to help chart a course to protect increasingly precious freshwater resources. IISD’s operation of ELA will ensure that Canada’s role at the forefront of freshwater research is not only maintained, but flourishes.”

More about the ELA

In its 44-year history, ELA research has led to more than 1,000 scientific papers, 130 theses and a Stockholm Water Prize laureate. The ELA has helped scientists conduct research and develop solutions to global challenges related to fresh water, such as nutrient-loading, contamination by metals and organic chemicals, climate change adaptation and impacts of resource extraction. This research has made many important contributions to water management policy in Canada and around the world.

Under IISD, the ELA will expand to include training, workshops and field courses to educate and benefit local communities, as well as the greater scientific community. IISD is already in discussion with several universities in Canada and the United States about getting involved too.

RBC has supported IISD since 2009, donating $430,000 to date. The IISD is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba and has offices in Ottawa, Beijing, New York and Geneva.