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Next Up: Leor Rotchild launches DIG

Rotchild was riding high in his career in the energy sector. So why did he decide to leave it all behind?

When he was younger, Max Fawcett wanted to make a mint in the markets. Now as the managing editor of Alberta Venture he gets to write about them. Close enough, right? He can be reached at mfawcett@albertaventure.com

Dec 30, 2013

by Max Fawcett

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Rotchild says DIG reflects the changing nature of Calgary, where people now put tremendous thought into methods of reducing the environmental impact of events
Photograph Bookstrucker

In early September, Cenovus Energy announced that it had been listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, which recognizes companies that show leadership in corporate responsibility, for the second consecutive year. More impressive, perhaps, is the fact that Cenovus was the only North American oil and gas company to make that list. But the person who may have been most responsible for that achievement was nowhere to be found when the news release announcing the accolade went out. That’s because 38-year-old Leor Rotchild, the person who helped draft and implement Cenovus’s first CSR policy as its advisor for corporate responsibility, left the company a few months earlier to start his own business.

In July, Rotchild officially launched DIG (for “Do It Green”), a company that helps people organizing festivals, special events and conferences manage their environmental footprint and create zero-waste events. And while it’s a new business, it will be focused on doing something that Rotchild already has plenty of experience with. “I’ve been volunteering with the Calgary Folk Festival for a long time,” he says, “and a lot of this came out of the Calgary Folk Festival and their environmental program, which I’ve been managing.” The Calgary Folk Festival’s environmental program is also where he met Chris Dunlap and Matt Dorma, who are now his partners at DIG.

“I think everybody should have the opportunity to see the inside of the oil industry. But I think everybody in the oil industry should maybe step away from it for a while, just to get a reality check.” – Leor Rotchild

For Rotchild, the decision to leave Cenovus and strike out on his own was a huge risk, one that involved less money, more work and greater uncertainty. It also meant leaving a company that he liked working for, and one that had afforded him plenty of opportunities. But so far, anyways, it might be the best decision he’s ever made. That’s because just weeks after Rotchild left Cenovus, DIG got the chance to work with the Alberta Flood Aid concert. “It was one of those decisions where you’d love a project like that to come along when you’re at a stage where you know you can deliver – it’s a 30,000-person event,” he says. “We said yes, because who knows when an opportunity like that will come along again.”

That decision has already paid dividends, as the event allowed DIG to showcase its services to the concert’s A-list group of supporters and suppliers. “When you’re talking to people like the Calgary Stampede and the folks who run McMahon Stadium, these aren’t your typical tree-hugging environmentalists,” Rotchild says. “These are very mainstream, well-established people who run well-established organizations, and I think the fact that we’re able to demonstrate to them that we’re bringing value is a huge win for us.” It also exposed them to a whole universe of potential new clients. “It really got our name out there. We’ve been getting lots of people calling.”

Rotchild has always had a passion for the ideas – environmentalism, corporate social responsibility and community-building – that inform DIG. Prior to joining Cenovus in 2010, he worked for four years at Nexen as a senior analyst for social responsibility, while he’s volunteered more or less since he arrived in Calgary with a variety of organizations including the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival and the Calgary Folk Festival. That background explains, in part, why he decided to take the leap and start his own company. “I’ve been working on environmental and corporate social responsibility issues for a long time now,” he says, “and I’ve always found that environmentalism is associated with something that’s very serious. It’s a cost and a risk, and we need to manage and limit it. That’s not the way I see it. It can be fun, it can be engaging and it’s an opportunity to build a relationship with your audience. And it’s an opportunity to learn something. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”

With DIG, his goal is to help clients, be they festivals, event planners or conference organizers, do just that, both by establishing environmental benchmarks and giving them the tools they need to meet them. And while some folks in other parts of the country might like to believe that people in Calgary are only concerned with finding new and better ways to pull fossil fuels out of the ground, Rotchild – who was born and raised in Toronto and spent a few years living in Israel and London, England, before settling in Calgary – says DIG’s mission reflects the changing nature of the city from which it springs. “It’s a vision for Calgary,” he says. “It’s a vision that if you come to Calgary, whether it’s for a Stampede breakfast or a business conference or a big music concert, you should leave feeling like you’ve been somewhere where they’ve really put a lot of thought into the environmental impacts of the event. And it was fun.” He’s not about to stop there, either. “If we can do that for Calgary, we can do that anywhere. I want to take this national. I want to go as big as possible with it, and truly make it a Canadian success story.”

It’s not there yet, of course, and Rotchild is quick to point out that the company’s early success doesn’t guarantee it anything going forward. He’s also aware of the fact that by leaving Cenovus when he did, he effectively traded a well-marked (and well-compensated) career path for something far less certain. But he’s at peace with the choice he’s made, and it’s one he thinks others could stand to try themselves. “I think everybody should have the opportunity to see the inside of the oil industry. But I think everybody in the oil industry should maybe step away from it for a while, just to get a reality check. Financially speaking, it’s not the same as any other career.” On the other hand, he says, he’s gained a degree of freedom that he didn’t have before. “To be able to create your own reality like that, to design the lifestyle that you want and the career that you want? I feel unbelievably blessed to be in that position.”

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