Setting the record straight on Pembina’s consulting work

Blog - Sept. 10, 2013 - By Ed Whittingham

Judging from the many conversations that unfolded on Twitter over the past few days, there appears to be a lot of confusion around how fee-for-service consulting works and why an organization like the Pembina Institute is committed to producing some of the best sustainability consulting services in the business. As our clients know, our consulting work is one of various approaches that support our mandate — to lead Canada’s transition to a clean energy future.

Our work with the City of Calgary

Calgary is just one example of more than 60 communities we’ve worked with on climate and energy plans since 1992. The goal in all of this work is to support communities that are looking to reduce environmental impacts, energy waste and the cost of power generation and consumption in ways that are practical and economically feasible.

Pembina was first contracted by the City of Calgary in 2007, to inform the development of its Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan. It was an important and timely project, as communities are increasingly looking to manage their energy use proactively and finding financial, environmental and reputational benefits from doing so.

We worked with the city for more than two years to develop the project and secure funding for it from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Province of Alberta. Once the project officially began, a team of experienced staff at the Pembina Institute worked for over a year on a detailed research report with extensive appendices — 122 pages in total with over 300 references to other publications. The report has always been publicly available on the City of Calgary’s website.

The final year of the project focused on supporting City staff in writing the Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan. This involved many drafts, refinements, internal and external stakeholder engagement, and many levels of approval before it was presented to Council. After a public debate, council approved the plan by a vote of 14-1. Needless to say, we were very proud of the work we had done for the City of Calgary and are pleased to see Calgary making progress to reduce carbon emissions.

Setting the record straight

While the Twitter trail on this issue reflects the usual range of absurdity and snark, some of the statements and allegations made in relation to our work with the City of Calgary are both serious and misleading, and we want to address them directly.

On the issue of funding: the work we did for the city of Calgary is public and has always been on the public record. When we enter into a fee-for-service contract, we agree to produce a specific set of deliverables that are owned by the client, and we are compensated accordingly for those deliverables. Our clients do not fund our policy research and advocacy work; for that, we rely on funding from individuals and foundations.

On allegations about political affiliations: The contract with the City of Calgary was signed with Pembina before Mayor Nenshi was elected. The Pembina Institute is staunchly nonpartisan, and we pride ourselves in being able to work with partners across the spectrum to advance clean energy solutions. Pembina has never donated to any politician or political party, and we never will. And while we are not aware of any of our staff having worked on the Mayor’s campaign, like most employers we neither dictate nor limit our employees’ activities outside of work. 

On the Mayor’s video: Mayor Nenshi was kind enough to provide a short video clip for our first annual Toronto Un-Gala last January, introducing the Alberta-born Pembina Institute to a Toronto audience. The video was not posted on the Pembina Institute website, and it was not “pulled” or hidden in response to questions about our work with the City, as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Sun News have claimed; the mayor’s office posted the video on YouTube for the event, and changed the settings to private a few days later as they typically do for such videos. The Pembina Institute event was sponsored by Shell, Scotiabank and Suncor and featured welcome statements from many other prominent Canadians.

On Sun News’s deliberate and disingenuous smearing of our professional staff: Our reports are always prepared by those with the necessary experience and knowledge, and Pembina’s consultants and analysts have some of the best expertise in Canada on issues related to transportation, energy efficiency, climate policy, electricity generation and environmental management in oilsands development. The lead author of the report in question, for instance, is a professional mechanical engineer — exactly the skill set required to examine options such as energy efficiency, renewable energy and transportation technologies. All consulting firms need copy editors and designers to ensure that the quality of written materials meets a high standard of excellence, including Pembina.   

On being labelled “anti-oilsands”: Pembina has researched the environmental impacts of oilsands development for over 20 years. We conduct factual research on policy gaps and environmental impacts and continually promote solutions to encourage responsible oilsands development. We have never advocated for shutting down the oilsands. Rather, oilsands companies hire us for our expertise in addressing environmental issues in their operations.

Further questions about our funding

As a non-profit organization, we take transparency seriously. We work hard for every dollar we earn and our various sources of funding are outlined in detail on our website and on our blog. You can also find examples of our corporate clients and the communities we have worked with on our site, and you can download reports on everything from how well Canadian firms are competing in clean energy to the current impacts of oilsands development.

We know some people don’t want to see Canada transition to a clean energy future, but it’s clear that reducing emissions and developing energy in a responsible way is in the best interests of Alberta and Canada. We remain committed to working toward a safer climate and a more secure and sustainable energy system for Canadians, and we invite you to join us in that work.

Ed Whittingham
Ed Whittingham

Ed Whittingham was the Executive Director of the Pembina Institute until 2017.


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