John Maude’s speech began predictably enough, with stories and humour marking the milestones of Maude Financial’s 35 successful years in Wetaskiwin. Friends, family, business associates and city council members listened and laughed along in the audience.
Then, at about the halfway point, Maude took a different tack.
“As I helped my clients accumulate wealth, I began to observe two things: 1) the more money people have, the more they complain about taxes; 2) the more money people have, the more they consume, and the less regard they have for the consequences of that behaviour. These points are in direct opposition to my own values, and to the way I approach the power and responsibility that come with wealth.”
That power and responsibility keep him up at night, he said, since his daughter encouraged him to take a survey that showed it would require 9.7 planets to sustain everyone in the world on his Canadian lifestyle.
“I feel a growing sense of responsibility to do what I can do to make this world a better place to live, not only for my family and future generations, but for people I will never, ever meet, who struggle day to day for things that we in this room take for granted,” Maude said, challenging his audience to “do more” (practice generosity) and to “do less” (consume resources). He finished his talk with a slide covered in photos of his grandkids.
“It’s not about us. It’s about them.”
“We had people come up afterward and say, ‘Geez, I’m a little surprised you didn’t challenge us more,’ and I said, ‘Did you see who was in the room? I mean, you can only go so far,” Maude said earlier this year, laughing. “You can’t come across like a radical nutbar. It just doesn’t work. Already, a bunch of people think we’re slightly off.”
Five and a half years before the presentation, he and his wife, Susan Quinn, had approached city council with a proposal to ban plastic bags in grocery stores; the idea never gained traction.
But thanks to that anniversary speech, the newly elected council was interested, and Wetaskiwin became the second municipality in Alberta to go bagless.
Maude and Quinn donated $15,000 worth of reusable bags to head off resistance to change, but the city hasn’t had much pushback at all.
“It’s just amazing,” said Quinn. “Most people come prepared now, but if they (mostly men) end up with their groceries and no bag, they’re kind of like, ‘Oh.’ And then they just carry them out!”
“But the next time they have a bag,” added Maude.
The couple has been “doing less,” taking steps to reduce their impact on the planet, for years now. Maude Financial has been carbon neutral since 2007 when their daughter convinced them to explore the offset process.
Including employee commutes and four to five flights a year for business, the office produced 63.2 tonnes of carbon per year, based on an estimate from a company called Offsetters (clients of which include the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the Barenaked Ladies), which sells offsets and funds projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The whole cost is about $21 a tonne to offset,” said Maude. “It costs us about $1,400 a year, which is ridiculously cheap.”
“Sustainability is important to us. And to anyone, really, who has children and grandchildren, this should be a huge part of their lives.”John Maude, financial advisor and solar advocate
Far from giving Maude license to produce emissions at will, guilt free, the offset assessment prompted him to reconsider the three-quarter ton suburban he was driving and switch to a hybrid, and then a Tesla.
“You know what I think will make people make different decisions? Carbon tax,” Maude says, citing a report that says the most cost-effective way for Canada to meet its emissions targets is to have a $210-per-tonne levy. “People would go kind of crazy about that, but it is the cheapest way to get there.”
Maude and Quinn had solar in mind when they bought and renovated their current home, a 1929 farmhouse a few minutes outside Wetaskiwin, but a provincial pilot program that covered 30 per cent of solar costs on farms allowed them to put in a 10 kW system, which covers their electricity consumption (including the Tesla), as well as two solar hot water panels.
Quinn said that Maude, as a financial adviser, “realized that our solar panels are part of our financial investment. There is a payback. It’s not short-term, but there is a payback.”
“It’s part of our fixed income portfolio,” Maude added.
In addition to their own residential array, the couple have influenced eight or nine other friends to install solar. They’ve also attempted to “do more,” funding or helping to fund solar arrays on the roofs of Drayton Valley Clean Energy Technology Centre, Pigeon Lake and Wetaskiwin high schools, and Wetaskwin’s Drill Hall, as well as solar hot-water panels that provide about a third of the energy needed to heat the Olympic-sized swimming pool at the Manluk Centre.
It has been something of a disappointment to them that these projects haven’t prompted a bit more pride and excitement within the city.
“I think about the Reynolds Alberta Museum,” said Maude. “People come to see that, but do they know that the City of Wetaskiwin has solar panels on its swimming pool? For people who don’t live here, it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, well that’s pretty progressive for a small rural town!’
“It’s just an awareness thing,” he said. “You can’t just say it once. It has to be repeated over and over for people to finally go, ‘Oh! There’s something to that.’
The current provincial government does not offer residential solar subsidies, making going green less viable for the average Albertan. However, the City of Edmonton is leading the way in offering environmental financial incentives.
With Canada’s north warming at three times the normal rate of the rest of the world, and Canadians producing three times as much emissions as other G20 countries, “we have a major problem. But people just think, ‘Well, it’s China’s problem, it’s India’s problem. It isn’t. It’s everybody’s problem,” said Maude. “We only represent point something of the emissions, but we have to be leaders, too, and show the way for other countries.”
Note: Newo Global Energy was not involved in the installation of any of the solar systems referenced in this post.