Pembina’s new boss a bird-watching business guy who is passionate about the environment

Blog - Dec. 13, 2010 - By David Dodge

He's a bird watcher, a veteran of the theatre, a mountain lover and a graduate of Asian Studies with an MBA. Ed Whittingham is the new executive director of the Pembina Institute — and no, he doesn't have a ponytail.

Ed WhittinghamEd takes over for the accomplished Marlo Raynolds, who did sport a long ponytail until the organization's 25th anniversary celebration earlier this year, when both he and the Institute's founder Rob Macintosh auctioned off their long locks as a fundraiser.

At the end of a careful selection process, the Pembina Institute chose to hire its new executive director from within. As director of the Institute's corporate consulting program since 2005, Ed is already a driving force behind Pembina's pragmatic, research and solutions-oriented approach.

Ed came to the Pembina Institute because of a fateful pond hockey game in Canmore, Alberta. As the story goes, Marlo Raynolds knew something about Ed beforehand, but through the course of a hockey game the two carried on a fractured conversation as they skated by each other. At game's end, Marlo inevitably suggested that Ed come and work for Pembina.

Ed WhittinghamAnd so he did. At the time, Ed was working on his MBA focusing on corporate sustainability, and he had already worked for several other environmental organizations. Ed's education and experience was a perfect fit for the Institute.

"Coming to Pembina allowed me to work with corporations on environmental solutions — and to help shape Pembina's approach in the process," says Ed.

Ed is not a man who fits the "tree-hugger" stereotype.  He is both a birdwatcher and a hunter, and he's a rather clean-cut fellow who could blend in with the lunchtime crowd on Calgary's busy Stephen Avenue. But his theatrical roots shine through in his public speaking and his infamous ice-breaking exercises at meetings.

Growing up in Ontario, Ed  loved to spend time in the provincial and national parks. He picked up an interest in the natural world from his father, who had a penchant for learning about trees and plants. This early education in the outdoors followed Ed to western Canada.  

"When I came out west to the Rocky Mountains I discovered its wildlife, especially its birds," Ed said. "Seeing birds active reminds me we are not the only species on the planet and that the choices we make affect other species of life. So it seemed natural for me to get involved with the environmental movement as a way of protecting the environment."

For Ed, working on climate change, oilsands and renewable energy "has a real bearing on the mark we leave on our environment and our economy."

Ed says he's both excited and honoured to be taking over the reins of the Pembina Institute, a think-tank with 60 staff in offices across Canada that focuses on working with governments and corporations on solutions. 

"We aim to be tough but fair, by advocating sound environmental policies that make good pragmatic sense," Ed explained. "By taking a dual approach, by working proactively with companies, governments and municipalities consulting on things like climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency, we help them — and then we glean knowledge from consulting and use that to advocate for good, wise environmental policies."

Ed makes his home in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta where he lives with his partner Yuka Ozawa and his children, Alice and Beck.

If you run into Ed, ask him to show you his favourite birding app. After all, he considers his iPhone to be an electronic bird guide that just happens to also work as a phone.

David Dodge
David Dodge

David was the host and producer of the Green Energy Futures multimedia series.


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