Karen Farbridge is a straight-forward, confident, and extremely successful woman in Ontario’s sustainability community. As a previous leader in municipal government, she is charismatic and focused on making the world a better place.
When the former Mayor of Guelph is asked about her proudest accomplishments from her 11 years on council, she is quick to bring it back to the importance of community engagement. “Advancing our practice around engagement and rethinking how local government is involved with sustainability is what I feel the most proud of,” Farbridge says. “People are looking for connections to place and community and they find them in different ways in their lives, and I found it in this way in my own life.”
Farbridge has been involved in the environmental and government non-profit and public sectors for over 20 years. Most recently, she established her consulting agency, Karen Farbridge and Associates after her final term as mayor in 2014. “The key focus is to implement projects that accelerate growth to create low-carbon and resilient communities,” Farbridge says. “That can entail work with the public sector, [for example] with Natural Resources Canada and Municipal Affairs Ontario, and also in the private sector. It also includes work with Research institutions, such as University of Guelph and York University and the Columbia Institute out of B.C.”
Farbridge has several projects on the go and uses her extensive experience in the political realm to help various organizations with sustainability initiatives. She helped the Columbia Institute in B.C. write a report, Top Asks for Climate Change: Ramping up Low-Carbon Communities, that included a report card assessing climate change initiatives, labelling the successes and which areas needed improvements. The report was released on June 1 and focuses on how the federal government is progressing towards goals pertaining to the Paris Agreement.
Farbridge is also contributing to a collaborative project with the Ontario Climate Consortium and the University of Guelph via the Community Energy Knowledge Action Partnership. This project studies net zero and low-carbon developments across five different Ontario municipalities, taking into account testimonies from a number of urban planners, economic development officers, and community management officers.
Long before becoming mayor, Farbridge was involved in municipal politics. She became a city councillor in 1994 while also working for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Guelph at the same time. She obtained a PhD in biology and spent 10 years in academics at University of Guelph. Farbridge encouraged council to develop a group plan on climate change that focused on the Kyoto protocol. As her career progressed, she served her first term as mayor of Guelph in 2000-2003 and her second and third terms from 2006-2014.
In between her terms as mayor, Farbridge worked with the University of Guelph to develop a community energy plan that was later implemented. “I ran again for Mayor in 2006. That community energy plan was brought forward to the new council and it was adopted,” Farbridge says. “Since that time, I put a lot of time into promoting the community energy plan.”
Farbridge has received several awards including the City Builder Award from the Canadian Urban Institute in 2014 for her leadership in sustainability and community energy. She also received the Clean 50/Clean16 Award from Delta Management Group in 2014, which is awarded annually to 50 individual leaders who are advancing clean and sustainable development in Canada. In 2012, Farbridge was the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General of Canada for her contributions and achievements to Canada. Farbridge was elected Guelph’s first female mayor in 1999.
Farbridge is passionate about mentoring women and plays an integral role in environmental charity Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative, which promotes women leaders involved in nature. The organization is currently creating a mentorship program where Farbridge and other notable women in the environmental sector help younger women forward their careers. She is also a part of a mentoring project to help women who have a start-up businesses in Guelph, and has a relationship with a woman in the city to help her build up her start-up.
When Farbridge is taking a break from combatting climate change, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and is looking forward to a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park this summer. She is clearly a nature lover and has made a considerable impact within the sustainable community in Ontario.
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