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NICHOLAS CHARLES SONNTAG

NICHOLAS CHARLES SONNTAG

October 10, 1947 – June 27, 2015
Nicholas (‘Nick’) Sonntag, a Canadian engineer and expert in sustainable development internationally, died unexpectedly of a heart attack at home in Gibsons, BC, on June 27, 2015. He was 67.
In the course of his singular career, Nick made a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. His lifelong commitment to making the world a better place was empowered by a very bright intellect coupled with a deeply caring heart. His career in sustainable development spanned over 40 years and he led development efforts around the world, from China, Thailand and Vietnam in Asia, to France, Sweden and Switzerland in Europe, and many places in between including all over North America.
Nick immigrated to Canada from Britain as a child at age five with his parents Paul and Katie Sonntag and attended schools in North Vancouver. Nick’s engineering and business roots were at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where he graduated in engineering in 1970 with a B.A.Sc. in Engineering (Engineering Physics), and then earned a Masters degree in Management Science, M.Sc., in 1975.
In 1979, after four years working in scientific research at UBC, Nick and some other UBC grads formed ESSA (Environmental and Social Systems Analysts). Their new company was one of Canada’s first sustainability consulting firms. This Vancouver-based Canadian firm became the first Western environmental consulting firm permitted by the Vietnamese government to work in Vietnam after the war and the company eventually established an office there.
Nick’s abundant personal characteristics included an irresistible charm and sense of humour. His social IQ was one of his greatest assets, exemplifying the qualities of a diplomat. It was these traits, coupled with his expertise in sustainable development, that saw Nick recruited as the Chief of Staff to Maurice F. Strong, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (‘UNCED’), based in Switzerland. This watershed international summit, which focused on the future of our planet and humanity’s impacts on it, was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It was the largest gathering of heads of state that has ever taken place and was popularly referred to as the Earth Summit. In his senior role, Nick became Canada’s sustainable development ambassador to the world. His role included interacting with the office of the presidents and prime ministers of over 120 countries. This began the international lifestyle that the family so readily embraced over the following decades.
In 1995, Nick was again identified to take on a major international role in sustainable development. The renowned Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the world’s second largest environmental research institute, recruited Nick to become its Executive Director, and the family moved to Stockholm in 1996. Nick’s work and family thrived in Stockholm and this period is remembered fondly as a very important time in the growth of Nick’s family and career.
The next major chapter in Nick and the family’s life took place in 2000, when he was recruited by one of the world’s largest engineering firms, Denver-based CH2MHill, to bring his sustainable development expertise and engineering background back to Canada to become President of the national engineering firm, CH2MHill Canada.
As a result of his success leading CH2’s Canadian engineering practice and his familiarity with working in Asia, Nick was identified as the man to drive CH2MHill’s expansion into China. In 2004, Nick and Linda moved to Beijing where they began their sojourn in China and their love affair with this ancient country and its people. In all, the Sonntags lived a total of six and a half years in Beijing in two separate stays.
After the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, a new role was created at CH2MHill and Nick became the company’s global Senior Vice President of Sustainable Development and moved back to Vancouver.
However, as much as he relished this new opportunity, Nick felt strongly that his time in China was not yet finished. During this new period, Nick became familiar with the groundbreaking work that a homegrown clean technology company in Vancouver, Westport Innovations Inc., was doing with clean engine technology that came out of Nick’s alma mater, UBC. In 2005 Nick left CH2MHill and not long afterwards became the Executive Vice-President of Westport. By 2007 Nick and Linda were back living in the same apartment building in Beijing, with Nick setting up Westport’s business in China and utilizing his many relationships, skills, and engineering background to negotiate agreements for Westport with partners in China and to oversee those relationships. It was a happy time for Nick and Linda, and satisfying for Nick as he saw the fulfillment of many of his efforts in China. Nick’s final overseas posting was in Lyon, France, where he led the European business for Westport. Nick and Linda enjoyed their two-year stay in Lyon until their departure in 2013.
Upon retiring from the world of international sustainable development in 2013, Nick directed his attention and energies to the well being of Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast. It is said that global sustainability is ultimately about thinking globally while acting locally. Nick and Linda, and their long-time friends, Gerry and Nancy Zipursky, formulated a plan to create an active centre for the community in the form of the Gibsons Public Market. As a founding member and President of the Gibsons Public Market Building Society, Nick was able to make concrete his abiding belief in sustainable development at the local level.
Nick was a devoted family man and loyal friend, who treasured the close relationships in all aspects of his life. Throughout his distinguished career he acted as a mentor and role model for dozens of aspiring colleagues. He was an inspiration to many people with his positive outlook, inclusive worldview, and commitment to a positive future.
Nick was predeceased by his father, Paul. He is survived by his mother, Katie, his wife, Linda, his son, Christopher (Morgan), his daughter, Catherine (Guillaume), and his extended family in Chilliwack, Vancouver, California, and the UK.
To honour Nick’s lifetime of work in sustainable development and his commitment to Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast, the family requests that in lieu of flowers or other gifts you make a contribution to the development of the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre, which will be a featured part of the next stage of the Gibsons Public Market. Please direct your donation to the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation for the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre Fund. All donations made payable to the Foundation will be met with a tax receipt. Donations may be made in two ways: online at the website of the Foundation at: www.sccfoundation.com; alternatively, you may mail a cheque made payable to the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation at: Gibsons Public Market, 473 Gower Point Rd, Gibsons, BC, V0N 1V8. If you would like to share stories and memories about Nick’s life, you can do so on a special Facebook page set up for this at https://www.facebook.com/inmemoryofnicksonntag?ref=hl
A public celebration of Nick’s life will be held on October 10, from 2 pm to 4 pm, at the Gibsons Public Market, located at 473 Gower Point Rd., Gibsons, BC.

 
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