Raj tells the Emerald Award audience, “How we act in the world begins at home in our hearts.”
By Cari Kilmartin & Kaz Haykowsky

Early this June, Newo received an Alberta-wide environmental accolade: the Emerald Award, given to organizations and individuals “addressing and mitigating the effects of local, regional, and global climate and environmental issues.” 

We were recognized for work that follows the Seventh Generation principle, the philosophy that the decisions we make today should consider effects seven generations into the future

Founded by Rajan Rathnavalu in 2016, Newo is a non-profit social enterprise with a mission to “explore ways to share abundance (‘weyotan,’ in Cree) through harmonious relationships (‘wahkohtowin’) and build an economy based on more than scarcity and competition.” We specialize in solar-PV design and installation, energy audits, food-sovereignty initiatives and skills training for people with barriers to employment, and have partnered with organizations including Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission, Yellowhead Tribal Council Development Foundation, Edmonton’s Bissell Centre, and Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.

Newo team members Kaz Haykowsky, Rajan Rathnavalu and Maroof Ahad attended the Emerald Awards in Calgary, June 1, 2022.
Raj accepts the award from Mark Kruger, sustainability specialist at Suncor. (source)

While Newo team members were honoured to be recognized for their commitment to the environment in the Legacy category for a non-profit or community group, the fact that the award is sponsored by Syncrude Canada Ltd., the largest operator in Canada’s oil sands industry, presents something of an ethical quandary. 

“Syncrude represents a part of all of us,” Newo team member Kaz Haykowsky said. “It represents a huge part of the wealth that we have as a province. It consists of real Albertans who are supporting families, and doing good work in their communities. They create good jobs, build infrastructure to get us around, and contribute to our quality of life. But at the same time, all of that abundance, all of the wealth that we have, that ease of access, that fuel that allows us to get around this province, is also presenting some serious challenges to our future quality of life.”

Newo hopes to use this opportunity to start a conversation about how we as Albertans can  create an economy in which we restore and protect the natural world, and take care of each other as neighbours and family.

“With the honour of this award comes a responsibility to engage in dialogue,” Haykowsky said.

In his acceptance speech, Raj told the Emerald Award audience, “If you go on a journey that’s very long, and you’re off one degree, you end up far away from where you want to be. At Newo, the foundation for our vision is: how we act in the world begins at home in our hearts.” He encouraged his listeners to pay attention to their own internal compasses. “If we can all make these tiny little steps inside, I think we can get on a good path.”

A reception following the ceremony offered the chance for Raj, Kaz and other Newo team members to engage with representatives from Syncrude, a promising start to a dialogue we trust will go interesting places.

“Part of the problem with our current economic paradigm is the pressure on companies to generate profit for shareholders,” Kaz said. “No company goes out into the world intending to destroy community or ecology, however, shareholder pre-eminence creates an ethic where everything else comes second.”

Winning aside, the Emerald Awards proved to be an inspiring celebration of good work being done by people in communities across the Prairies. 

“Our province already has the human and material resources we need to solve the social and environmental challenges we face. If we work together, we can continue to share the abundance of this land for seven generations and beyond,” Kaz said.