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Harnessing passion for an efficient Nova Scotia

Posted by Miriam Breslow on December 14, 2015 in News

When D.M. Stoneman arrived at the School for Resource and Environmental Studies in 2008, he was a student activist eager for change. As an undergraduate in Ontario, Stoneman was involved in various social issues. “The one that always spoke loudest to me was environmentalism,” he says. Stoneman was ecstatic to be accepted into the Master of Resource and Environmental Management program in SRES.

 “The program was great,” he says. Stoneman’s advisor, Dr. Michelle Adams, changed his view of environmental issues: “She showed me that these problem can be solved not just from the outside, with protests and campaigns, but also on the business side.” Like all MREM students, Stoneman studied the social and political dimensions of environmental management as well as biophysical sciences. In the Management Without Borders course, he worked with students from the other Faculty of Management schools to research carbon trading for the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. “Between these courses and working with people with different backgrounds and different goals,” says Stoneman, “I think it took a great amount of passion and really funnelled it into a way to make positive change in a sustainable manner.” Stoneman also benefited from his internship at Debert Industrial Park, where he performed environmental audits for businesses. “I learned that you go in there and you think, ‘Oh, great, I’m going to show these people how they can save money and water and do all these great things.’ But sometimes you hit a brick wall.” Businesses often resist change, says Stoneman, and it’s necessary to adapt the message to discover what resonates with them.

Stoneman is now applying these lessons to a new business. Thinkwell Shift, which he founded with partners Len Preeper and Carrie MacDonald, uses marketing insights to understand customers and provide them with customized options to make their homes and businesses more energy-efficient. The business grew out of Thinkwell Research, a marketing research and public opinion company founded by Preeper over a decade ago. Preeper was looking for a new endeavour for Thinkwell, and Stoneman and MacDonald had ideas about applying customer understanding to resource conservation challenges that appealed to him.

The bulk of Shift’s work is with Nova Scotia’s energy efficiency utility, Efficiency Nova Scotia, for which Shift implements numerous energy efficiency programs. Stoneman and his colleagues work with business owners and homeowners to make and maintain green changes, from installing energy-efficient lightbulbs to performing audits. Their goal is to change customers’ behaviour around efficiency by helping them find options that work for their lifestyle. Stoneman’s MREM degree prepared him well for discussions with customers. “That’s what I think separates us from everybody else,” he notes. “We really start with the customer in mind and build the service around them to make sure that they get the support they need.” For homeowners, he explains, that could be about comfort; for technology fans, it might involve a device that connects their lights to their phone; for business owners, it is often about cost savings. Shift has also started working on a Green Schools program brought to schools by Efficiency Nova Scotia. Its goal is to educate students about energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Shift inspires Stoneman and his colleagues. “You wake up and you’re excited to go into the office,” he says, “because you know that at the end of the day, you will have made a tangible difference in somebody’s life. We hear from businesses that are able to save money and because of that continue on. We talk to people who enjoy the products that we’ve given them and it really makes a difference.”

He also notes that Shift embodies the goals of Nova Scotia’s recent Ivany Report by keeping young people in the province: “We had two of our recent hires say that had they not gotten this job, they were going to Toronto.” Shift employs five SRES students and graduates, and has previously hired SRES interns. “We’ve found that a lot of the top candidates in job searches happen to be SRES students. They’re passionate, they’re motivated, they’re high achievers, and they’ve all been great communicators.” Stoneman is thrilled to have SRES students working at Shift, and maintains a strong relationship with the faculty, staff and students, speaking in classes each year. “SRES gave me so much,” he says. “It was this turning point in my life where I went from unbridled passion to a focus and a goal and I just want to make sure that other students have that same opportunity.”

Shift currently has 15 employees including Stoneman, MacDonald and Preeper at the helm, and continues to expand its base of clients. “I don’t think it’s going to be the same in five or ten years,” he says. “I hope it’s evolved.” Stoneman sees himself with Shift for years to come, doing the work he loves. “I think as an environmentalist you always want to change the world’s mindset,” he says. “This is positive work.”

(L to R) Brittany MacGillivray, MREM ’12; Cameron Tucker, BMgmt Candidate; Jessica Ellis, MREM ’15; D.M. Stoneman, MREM ’10; Sarah Rosenblat, MREM ’16 and Trudy Spooner, MREM ’09.