In 2002, the Lower North Shore of Quebec, Canada was struck with a fishery crisis resulting from the closure of the local crab and cod fishery. For the affected small isolated communities along the Gulf of St Lawrence, this was complete devastation. The communities were founded and completely dependant on the fishery and were forced to look for new ways to earn a living. More than two hundred fishermen and plant workers lost their livelihood. From this group of unemployed workers, a small group of women decided to look at what kind of sustainable industry could be developed within the region. This group of resilient women, along with support from the local regional development group, the Coasters Association created the Lower North Shore Solidarity Bio Products Cooperative.
With sustainability as its core value, the Cooperative has been developed as a model to build local knowledge, local capacity and local leadership through collaboration and partnership with global partners. Considering the standard definitions of sustainability, integrating social, economic and environmental factors the Cooperative set out to create something that would last and build on the region’s resources. Adopting a holistic approach, the Cooperative has concentrated on developing education at all levels (university, college, adult education, high school and elementary), development of partner networks (provincial, nationally and internationally), integration and development of business clusters, and a view of looking at local assets and instead of limitations for development of resources and infrastructures.
Sustainability of the Lower North Shore Solidarity Bio Products Cooperative model has been built on three pillars:
The Social Pillar: People Focus
Building local knowledge and capacity is a critical need for community development within the local region. Instead of looking to the outside for skilled human resources, the Cooperative is working to provide education opportunities for local people. This enables people to learn necessary skills to support development of the bio-economy and to enable local leadership for research, business development and partnership opportunities. One of the key successes was creating a distance master’s program with UQTR in environmental science for two (2) local youth. This master’s program allowed local people to be trained to carry out bio extraction processes for both marine and land based plants. The Cooperative is a membership based model with equal voting rights for each member and allocation of benefits are based on a member’s contribution to the cooperative.
The Environmental Pillar: Planet Focus
With a vision for sustainable harvesting practices for all resources from the local land and sea, the Cooperative has assessed and studied local lands and waterways, identifying an extensive inventory of bio-resources that offer opportunities within the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries. The Cooperative has implemented a zero-waste policy and aims to become an enterprise using 100 % of all products it is harvesting. For example when algae is harvested it is sent to the manufacturing facility and then waste is used to create compost which is then in turn used for agriculture aiding in food security creating a circular economy. We are also in the research phase of using algae residues to create bio degradable packaging.
The Economic Pillar: Community Prosperity Focus
As a Northern rural and remote region, the Lower North Shore of Quebec faces multiple challenges from a social and economic perspective. Developing a local bio-economy requires a model that is built on strong local leadership, strong business models and strong global partnerships. Ensuring sustainable and profitable development of local resources is a primary aim of the Cooperative in continuing to build the bio-sector and grow the local economy. The local economic model targets development of high-end pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food products in an efficient and responsible way that provides long-term benefits and profitability for the region, as well as for the members and partners of the Cooperative. The coop has established a food brand called Parallel 51 and is currently in the process of establishing a brand for cosmetics. These product lines provide great benefits for the coop members. The Cooperative envisions through its holistic approach of focusing on social and environmental issues, that sustainability and profitability will be the outcome. Social initiatives have an impact on consumer behaviour and employee performance, while environmental initiatives such as energy efficiency and pollution mitigation can have a direct impact on reducing waste.
Building on a Local Model for a Global Bio-Economy Network
The Lower North Shore Bio Products Solidarity Cooperative is now looking to share its model with other regions and believes there is a real value chain in global collaboration of rural and remote regions for research, development and innovation. Building on traditional ecological knowledge for scientific proven research will bring quality, high-end, blue products to the industry from these regions and networks and collaboration will be key to enabling the regions to explore synergies, best practises and partnership opportunities. Connecting bio-economy cooperatives can provide an excellent platform for bringing together community leadership, researchers, policy makers, industry and investment for sound bio-economy development and long term sustainable well-being of rural and remote regions.