Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
The Halifax Shambhala Centre is part of an international community dedicated to meditation and the establishment of an enlightened society. Since 1986, the Centre has offered meditation instruction, spiritual teachings, and community gatherings to its memberships, which now numbers close to 600 people.
In 2007, the Halifax Shambhala Centre became one of 14 Sustainability Partners of the Atlantic Canada Sustainability Initiative (ACSI), a collaborative program designed to build capacity and momentum toward sustainability. Using The Natural Step as a guide, ACSI partners committed to take action on sustainability within their organizations.
To explore how sustainability could be realized within the activities and spiritual practices of the Shambhala Centre, members formed a Sustainability Initiative group comprised of senior students, the director of the Centre, and other community members with a strong commitment to sustainability.
“At the heart of our spiritual teachings is that we are all compassionate human beings,” explained Richard Peisinger, coordinator of the Centre’s Sustainability Initiative group. “We are all connected with each other and the world around us in an utmost and dear way. This is part of our daily path, so sustainability is naturally bound to this.”
The group began by conducting a baseline assessment of Shambhala’s operations. By examining their existing practices, they identified a number of areas for improvement, including lowering their energy use, reducing transportation demands, switching to biodegradable cleaning products, and encouraging more sustainable purchases. The group led education sessions to introduce sustainability to the Shambhala community and initiate dialogue.
“Our primary focus has been to touch the intelligence and commitment of each person individually, in all the ways we live our lives – our families, organizations, and livelihoods,” said Peisinger. “Sustainability is starting to be part of the way we see ourselves.”
Some of the specific outcomes of Shambhala’s sustainability work include the development of a Green Purchasing Guide to help Shambhala members choose more sustainable products and services. As a result, the Centre has committed to using 100% recycled and Forest Stewardship Council Certified paper products, reusable dishware, and is now purchasing 20% bio-diesel heating fuel from a local manufacturer.
Following a building audit, the Centre also made a number of low-cost building renovations and behavioural changes to reduce its use of water and energy. These included insulating the hot water tank and piping, air sealing under exterior wall outlets, reducing toilet water usage, and installing sustainability signage throughout the building.
Although the Shambhala Centre’s formal commitment to ACSI ended in April of 2008, the organization continues to pursue sustainability. Following a series of community engagement workshops, the Sustainability Initiative group created a vision, principles, objectives, and a five year action plan for sustainability. These have been submitted to the newly-formed Shambhala Governing Council, which will address them as one of its first acts of business.
“We started by making changes in our own organization,” Peisinger said. “Now we hope that other Shambhala Centres around the world will see what we’re doing [in Halifax] and be inspired to take action in their own communities.”
“We understand environmental and social sustainability as an essential fulfillment of Shambhala Buddhist wisdoms of basic goodness, interdependence, and concern for the welfare of all beings.”
Excerpt from the proposed Halifax Shambhala Sustainability Vision