Kris Frederickson

Water Wisdom: Kris Frederickson Shares The ABCs of ESG

Growing up swimming and fishing in Manitoba’s many lakes gave Kris Frederickson one idea of what water meant, and he saw another side through the lens of the oil sands. Later as part of an Australian internship, he learned about how the predominantly dry country also experienced flash floods, requiring a lot of attention on water. “Water seemed to be a focus for me in terms of it means so much to people. It's so important to our economy and to our way of life that I started focusing my attention on water,” he explains. 

Frederickson has lived and worked in Calgary for fifteen years, far from rural Manitoba where he was raised. He studied biosystems engineering at the University of Manitoba and worked as a summer student and intern with Alberta oil companies. His first year of university was tough but things got better from there. Not quite ready to leave university after his undergraduate degree, he stayed for a master’s degree in engineering.  Beyond his engineering degrees, Frederickson completed an MBA in Indigenous Business and Leadership at SFU, bridging his knowledge of technology with business and economics. He loves learning what makes solutions work and why. 

"The state of the world now is that a lot of times people don't value informal learning. You really have to blend the street smarts with the book smarts together."

When he went to work in the field, he worked in water management with one company for a few years before deciding it wasn’t what he wanted. From there, he worked with the Canadian Environmental Assessment agency for four years. With the oil patch boom, he went to work with an oil company doing environmental assessment and internal and external environmental reporting. Through a variety of roles in corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), he worked his way up to be the Director of Sustainability at Keyera in Calgary, a pipeline and processing company that also makes a gasoline additive which makes gasoline more efficient.  

Ever since his undergraduate studies, Frederickson has been driven by social ideals and a desire to fix the world. The first of his Metis family members to graduate from university, his parents emphasized the importance of education, something that inspired him to excel. His dad left school in grade ten to become a cabinet maker and small business owner and his mom attended only a semester of university and they both worked hard so their kids would have the freedom and opportunity to go to university. 

Looking at water treatment results on reserves in his undergrad he started analyzing why facilities weren’t working well. As part of his graduate studies, he tested something called a membrane bioreactor to treat wastewater, trialing a small scale unit on reserve where he lived for a year. As he shared in his thesis, the technology was effective but not practical for the community given the costs and difficulties they had in operating it. He learned that appropriate technology had to meet a community’s needs and be sustainable over the long term. 

His advice to students thinking about leaving their home community is full of understanding, sharing, “Leaving your community is hard… No one grows when they're too comfortable… It's important to put yourself into slightly uncomfortable situations and learn from those situations and not be afraid to fail. You have tools and ways of being and whatnot that you can take with you and support you through that discomfort.”

Illustration by Shaikara David

He compares it to the discomfort of working out and the sense of satisfaction after. In high school he got easy A's, where university forced him to work harder, getting C's and D’s instead for similar effort. He had to learn a new way to learn and it was a shock to the system. Finding a cultural fit in a professional setting was also a challenge, given he’d had no role models in his life for his new context growing up in rural Manitoba. The Engineering Access Program Frederickson attended, geared towards getting Indigenous people into the field, helped a lot. It took a more well-rounded approach to helping Indigenous graduates find success beyond systemic barriers. 

If he could share a message to his younger self it would be about seeking balance. Medicine wheel teachings helped him find balance and he wishes someone had told him sooner that driving himself so hard towards success without taking care of himself and finding a support system wasn’t sustainable. He would have liked to have strived towards being more well-rounded and centered. He would also tell himself to be careful and purposeful about what he commits to.

To keep his mental health in check, he continues to pursue that balance, staying physically fit, getting outside and even playing the guitar. While he doesn’t consider himself to be a talented musician, he enjoys the practice as a form of active meditation. It keeps him focused on the task at hand much like when he’s out running, giving him a break from all the analytical rigour of the day. Cooking is something else he enjoys, along with playing with his three kids. He carves out time every day for his marriage and his family, free of outside pressures. 

When he needs inspiration, he looks to innovation and finding new ways of doing things. Senator Murray Sinclair’s quote about innovation brings him hope as he thinks about the problems around him and the creativity that goes into understanding and solving them. He’s also inspired by Sinclair himself and the mentors he found along the way at Simon Fraser University who had inspiring stories. He is motivated by trying to put into practice the wisdom that’s been shared with him and by all his interactions with his children. 

From Manitoba’s lakes to the oil sands and the flash floods of Australia, Kris Frederickson has been focussed on water for most of his career. With a love of learning flowing from his family, he’s learned to treat water, people and the planet better and how to talk about it so people understand. Now settled into a career in sustainability, he’s seeing the ripple effects of the choices he’s made.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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  • Date
    April 18, 2024
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