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David Chappell believes in green

by Catherine Morrison

David Chappell, accompanied by his handsome guide dog, Jagger, cuts an elegant figure in well-cut glen plaid. He considers himself lucky to have spent most of his career in work related to better management of the environment.

It may not have been a deliberate choice, but - as the recipient of three prestigious awards for work around environmentally responsible procurement - it feels to him like a "happy accident" that landed him, in 1982, in a job advising the public about conservation and renewable energy with Energy, Mines and Resources.

Since then, he has been an Environmental Programs Officer with the Materiel Management Branch of Transport Canada and has held several posts with Environment Canada related to environmental stewardship and compliance. In 1998, he went to Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) as an Environmental Management Officer with Real Property Services.

Listening to Chappell, one hears a man who is passionate and articulate, especially on the subject of what he does for a living and how that relates to his personal value system. "We all need to understand that we have this one planet, and we have to be more accomplished stewards of that planet," he says. "The federal government, as the largest single organization in this country, with purchases on the order of $8 billion a year, has a role in driving that paradigm shift. Those of us in government can have an impact through the choices we make."

Since he's been with PWGSC, Chappell has been working with the Sustainable Development in Government Operations (SDGO) initiative, building interdepartmental consensus around a strategy for "greening" government operations. The strategy was published in June 2000 in a "guidance document" drafted by Chappell. Entitled Sustainable Development in Government Operations: A Coordinated Approach, the guide proposes an approach to sustainability of federal operations, offering a toolbox of collaboratively developed performance measures and a sample set of targets.

In June, just a month after the tabling of the Commissioner's report, the performance measurement guide won full approval by the federal Deputy Minister's Sustainable Development Co-ordination Committee. Chappell, with evident relish, related how he received a call from Michael Nurse, then Assistant Deputy Minister, who brought the document before the committee. Nurse called to pass on enthusiastic praise from Alan Nymark, chair of that blue-ribbon committee: "Michael, you and your staff have managed to turn a swamp into a solution."

Chappell won two awards in 2000 for his work on the guide: one from the Interdepartmental Network on Sustainable Development Strategies, an annual award recognizing the employee who makes the greatest contribution, at the interdepartmental level, to sustainable development within the federal government; the other was the Minister's Award for employees of PWGSC in recognition of exceptional performance and achievement.

This bonanza was not his first experience with recognition for his work. In 1997, Chappell was named the Materiel Management Institute's Environmental Manager of the Year.

Chappell credits his success to a couple of factors. One is the intellectual rigour he acquired studying mathematics as an undergraduate and philosophy at the graduate level at the universities of Calgary and British Columbia.

The other is his skill at communicating, particularly that side of the human communications equation that involves listening. He feels that over the years he can go past the words he is hearing to the ideas and feelings being expressed - a skill that has become especially acute, he figures, since he lost his sight in an accident in 1973. His hearing is his chief means of sensing the world around him.

Chappell uses a kind of reverse voice-recognition software to read electronic documents and e-mail - an advanced communications technology. The software translates text into a "voice" transmission. Listening through earphones, Chappell can specify, via his keyboard, that the text on his screen be transmitted more slowly, a word at a time, or a letter at a time. As a crack typist, he is as comfortable with word processing.

By his own admission, Chappell is "not the least bit sensitive about being blind." You can sense the twinkle in his voice when he says it may even have been an asset, subtle perhaps, in building trust and consensus. "People tend to cut you a bit of slack," he explains, "and I'm usually pretty good at helping folks get past whatever initial discomfort they may have in dealing with a 'disabled' person."

Besides, he says, "There's the memorability factor. You tend to remember the blind guy with the dog."

Catherine Morrison is a writer based in Chelsea, Quebec. Her work is also published in the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail's print and online editions, as well as in Canadian Consumer, Asia Pacific Magazine, the Edmonton Journal and C.A.R.P. Magazine. She was a full-time writer/broadcaster for CBC Network Television and CBC TV and Radio, Winnipeg and a contributing editor and columnist for Winnipeg Magazine.



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