Recognizing Environmental Excellence: An Alberta Emerald Foundation Case Study


Alberta Emerald Foundation & Submittable

The Alberta Emerald Foundation recognizes and celebrates environmental achievements and stewardship in the western Canadian province of Alberta. The foundation uses Submittable to collect applications for the Emerald Awards, an annual environmental awards program, and its Youth Environmental Engagement Grant. It has also utilized Submittable for surveys and event registration.

Case study quote

Dubbed the “good news storytellers for the environment,” the Alberta Emerald Foundation (AEF) works to showcase environmental excellence and innovation in hopes of inspiring others to take action.

Since 1992, its flagship program, the Emerald Awards, has recognized more than 800 finalists and 300 recipients from more than 120 Albertan communities for their creative thinking and innovation in environmental management systems, technologies, and education programs. AEF also offers youth grants aimed at educating and empowering Alberta’s next generation.

With only two full-time staffers, and ever-increasing programming and public interest in the organization, efficiency is key. But AEF’s previous database tool wasn’t up to the task: Outages and service issues were common, especially near deadlines when an influx of last-minute applications would cause the system to crash—right when their team had to rely on it most.

“We needed software that would be trustworthy for us, and also user-friendly for the people engaging with our foundation,” Gregory Caswell, AEF’s Interim Executive Director, said. “Because ultimately, if a system isn’t working for people, they don’t blame the system; they look to you. We needed something to represent us well.”

A Helping Hand

With Submittable, AEF achieved that much-needed stability, with the confidence that if there was an issue, a responsive support team was there to help. “What I’ve really come to appreciate is the customer service,” Caswell said. “In the past, I was the person fielding support questions. I’d literally be five minutes ahead of the people I’m trying to help; it was stressful and time-consuming.”

Now, Caswell knows he can point applicants with technical questions to Submittable’s team; across the board, applicants report back that support was “friendly and helpful, and their issue was resolved quickly.”

“That’s such a relief for me because I have so many other things I should be worrying about,” he added.

Another benefit of Submittable for AEF is the software’s ability to accept all types of content—not just text-based applications. “We’re meant to be recognizing environmental excellence, not the ability to write, so it’s wonderful to be able to provide multiple application options, like video,” Caswell said. “It evens out the playing field.”

Engaging Volunteers, Saving Time

AEF operates almost exclusively through contributions of time and talent from committed volunteers, from board and committee members, to those individuals who judge the Emerald Awards nominations each year. It’s important, Caswell notes, to make every volunteer experience a positive one.

For the Emerald Awards, a panel of about a dozen knowledgeable third-party judges with cross-sectoral experience narrow down nominees to a maximum of three in each of the 12 Emerald Awards categories. Then, one in each category is selected as the recipient.

Before Submittable, AEF’s process involved downloading application PDFs and putting them in a shared Google Drive folder. There were ongoing issues with files, as well as judges not being able to access materials properly. “When we showed Submittable to our judges, they were so excited they applauded,” Caswell said.

Now, with full application materials, judge’s review notes, and attachments in one platform, it’s easier for everyone, including Caswell, who says the software has cut down his administrative workload considerably. “I would highly recommend Submittable to anyone who needs an application management system. We love it.”

Keriann Strickland

Keriann Strickland manages content and branding for Submittable's marketing team. She's a recovering journalist, mountain lover, and gifted spiller (and speller).