Small- and Medium-Size Enterprises (SMEs) employ nearly 90% of private-sector workers in Canada, suggesting that they are well positioned to become hubs of social, cultural and economic change. The MSSI Sustainability Transitions theme will build strong and innovative research in close collaboration with SMEs and with agencies and organizations that support them. The theme will be solutions-oriented, hinging on the recognition that sustainability will create economic opportunities as the world reorganizes and pivots towards solutions. The theme will focus on two main streams. i. Understanding and sharing stories of SME’s sustainability decision-making processes, motivations for change, obstacles and opportunities for a sustainable transition. Within this stream, novel stories and narratives will be developed in close collaboration with the National Film Board, Turbulent, Wapikoni Mobile and the Business Development Bank of Canada. SMEs will co-create stories about their sustainability actions and co-design policy, with federal, Indigenous, provincial, municipal and non-governmental regulators, using evidence-based methods. ii. Studying and promoting the development of metrics such as goals, indicators, and standards that could stimulate transitions to sustainability and permit the measurement of progress. The broader implications of reliance on metrics will also be analysed from empirical and theoretical points of view. The theme fosters direct and full partnership with a range of partners from outside academia through the co-creation of research frameworks and methodologies. The Theme’s vision is to develop novel interdisciplinary research, knowledge-transfer and engagement as a way to close the sustainability action gap.


Theme co-Leads

Dror Etzion

Dror Etzion is an associate professor of strategy and organizations at the Desautels Faculty of Management, and an associate member of the McGill School of the Environment. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Strategy Studies in Organizations, a Senior Editor at Organization Studies., and the VP Finance at the McGill Association of University Teachers.

Dror joined McGill in 2008, after completing his Ph.D. studies at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. Previously, Dror worked for 5 years in the Israeli software industry, and also spent a year at The Natural Step, an international non-profit research and consultancy organization focused on sustainable development.

Dror's current research program focuses on “grand challenges”: the unyielding, intractable problems that characterize the Anthropocene. His work suggests that managing for sustainability through local, open, emergent initiatives increases the recruitment of diverse stakeholders, fosters creativity, and yields impactful outcomes. In other work he is examining business approaches to managing the energy-water nexus.

His research has been published in Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal, Organization Studies, Academy of Management Perspectives, Journal of Management and other outlets. 

Catherine Potvin

What I like to do on week-ends is walking in the forest. And this is also what I do as a professor at McGill University. I am a plant biologist who specialized in tropical forest ecology and conservation. Tropical forests play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle and for species conservation. Besides they are amazingly beautiful and express the full imagination of nature! I am very preoccupied by climate change and, with my research group, we are passionately searching for solutions. These entail the study of land uses and the protection of forests in full respect for the people that live in or from them. This is why the banner of our laboratory is “Science for empowerment”. For 20 years now I have been collaborating and learning from Panama’s indigenous people. Outside of academia they are my main partner. How did I get there? I earned a B.Sc. and a M.Sc. at l’Université de Montréal, and then, in 1985 I completed a Ph.D. in Botany from Duke University in North Carolina. My next step was to come back Montréal for postdoctoral studies in statistics. I joined the Biology Department at McGill University 25 years ago already. Besides all this, I am a proud mother and grand-mother.

Research Areas:

  • Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning
  • Livelihoods Empowerment and Biodiversity
  • REDD+: Carbon and Co-benefits
  • Science to inform Climate Change Policy

Jaye Ellis

Professor Ellis, who holds a joint appointment with the McGill School of Environment, teaches and conducts research in the fields of international environmental law, public international law, international legal theory and international relations.

Her D.C.L. focused on principles of international environmental law and their influence on the development of international regimes for environmental protection.

Jaye Ellis’s current research project focuses on the intersections among law, politics, economics, ethics, and science as these social systems are brought to bear on problems of environmental degradation. One facet of this research addresses the increased importance of transnational law, paying particular attention to the role of non-state actors in transnational space.

Professor Ellis is interested in supervising graduate students working on international legal theory, transnational law and non-state actors, constitutionalisation of international law, science and technology studies, and autopoietic theory.


Pivot (formerly Catalyst) is a movement to amplify the actions of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to halt carbon pollution. By bringing together the SME community with a team of scientists and communicators, we connect leaders, promote their actions and amplify their impact.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Pivot has been adapted to amplify the voices of Canadian SME leaders at this challenging time. Read more here and follow them on Twitter (@GoPivotorg) to stay up to date.

Sustainability Metrics

This project will study and promote the development of metrics such as goals, indicators and standards that could stimulate transitions and measure progress of SMEs. It will also examine the broader implications of sustainability metrics, such as the processes through which they are designed and the outcomes for sustainability.

Three propositions
  • Metrics are necessary to address wicked problems

    • Overwhelming complexity
    • Need for rapid transmission through networks of legible, actionable information
    • Need for feedback and learning
  • Decentralised, flexible decision-making

  • Legal and political systems must adapt

Three observations
  • ‘Metrics cannot be norms:’ role of rights, duties, and obligations

  • Suspicion of metrics

  • Legal and political systems: process; trust and confidence

Metrics as hybrids
  • Meeting point of science and governance

  • Validation: potential boundary object

Coming soon

Theme photo credit: 2000 Murnongs, by Azin Emampour, Xiao Lin, Qidi Li (Aspect Studios, Melbourne)

Co-lead discussion

Back to top