In Ottawa we have taken the bold step of creating a segregated bike path through the downtown core running East-West. It provides cyclists with a safe route that is easy to ride - no parked cars or other obstacles to slow you down. You can easily see fellow cyclists and getting across town is now hassle-free. It also provides cyclists with an opportunity to move North South using one of two existing pathways (the Rideau Canal or the Percy-Bay connection) and then move across town along Laurier.
Well I finally tried out the Laurier bike lanes and it was a revelation. No more battling Bank Street or O'Connor and the buses and traffic. In fact it was a weird feeling - so safe and so easy - I was shocked. I have been a cycle commuter and recreational cyclist for 20 years and I have to say this is the best idea and biggest leap forward since employee showers and secure bike parking. It can only help to increase cycling.
Why is this important? Unlike regular bike lanes which are simply painted on the pavement, or recreational pathways which allow bike traffic along with pedestrians, runners and other non-motorized users "segregated" bike lanes are part of the road network but are physically separated from the rest of the street by a cement curb or some other structure. These bike lanes are a first for Ottawa.
According to www.go-biking.ca segregated bike lanes have been used with great success in European cities including Copenhagen and they are considered very bicycle-friendly. In recent years, segregated bike lanes have started popping up in the downtown core of cities across North America. Such lanes have been established or are planned in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto and New York City (and the list goes on). With the addition of of Bixi Bikes in Ottawa I am hopeful that cycling will be safer, easier and embraced by more residents going forward.
Communities all over Canada have developed sustainability plans and other similar plans that do a great job of engaging local stakeholders and the public. They are a treasure trove of information for businesses - a direct support to marketing for companies that are interested positioning their products and services to meet the emerging needs of Canadians.
They also provide great economic development support by demonstrating that communities that are engaged and committed to revitalization. These things matter to entrepreneurs looking to move or expand or locate new operations. They are also important to potential residents who want to live in complete communities that balance well-being, prosperity and respect for nature.
So what do you do if you are a business and you are interested in learning more or an economic developer hoping to make his or her community more attractive to new busines, residents or visitors? There are now almost 100 plans linked to Share the Wheel www.sharethewheel.com - go through the site and look at what communities have done. Look for a clear vision statement and clear objectives that describe the future that they want to see. Finally look to see what kind of engagement was undertaken and if in doubt just call them. They would be happy to tell you.
Hopefully all businesses, not just those committed to CSR, will seek out communities that understand what their stakeholders and residents want to see in a more sustainable future.
Recognition is a great way of raising awareness about your sustainability program because you are rewarding the behaviour change that you seek as a community. People love to be recognized, even if the focus is on a certificate or public notice rather than an actual prize. Here is a great example of recognition at work in Boston where they have been providing awards for five years.
Green Residential Awards - The Mayor's Green Residential Awards recognize residents and residential organizations in Boston that are committed to sustainable living. Winners in this category demonstrate exemplary sustainable practices in their community and in their homes.
Green Business Awards - Green Business Awards are given to businesses that demonstrate extraordinary performance related to sustainable environmental practices.
Sustainable Food Leadership Awards - Sustainable Food Leadership Awards are given to businesses that demonstrate extraordinary efforts to provide fresh and local food in the most sustainable manner.
So if you embark on a planning process, what are good engagement numbers? What would be a good turnout for a meeting to discuss a complete overhaul of an official plan, official community plan or municipal development plan? What about a sustainability plan?
In discussing this issue with colleagues, I suggested that if you can get 150 people to participate in a meaningful way you are within the norm for a city with 25,000 or more people. For smaller rural communities getting 2 percent of residents is likely a good target. The kicker is that participation in a planning process is WAY more important than voting but far fewer people do it. As practitioners we care about the opinions of citizens and stakeholders, as do our clients and elected officials.
These days efforts are made to get more people to participate. The four best examples that I know of for sustainability initiatives are as follows: about 100,000 in Mississauga (pop. around 700,000) about 5,000 in Markham (pop. around 250,000), about 18,000 in Calgary (pop. around 1.2 million) and over 34,000 in Winnipeg (pop. around 700,000). Does this make these initiatives more democratic, more informed or better? Does a higher number give a politician more confidence in the final outcome? I think that it does, especially if the process has a clear ground up approach at the core.
Typically, at the core of engagement exercises is a process to learn about values and secure a consensus. The other important contribution that citizens and stakeholders make is input into visioning exercises. Working to interpret what citizen values are and then further to capture a vision statement or a visioning document that both reflects and leads a municipality are important tasks. Visioning exercises help to open up the minds of elected officials to the will of the people. Done properly a vision statement and values can strongly influence everyday decision making, especially if it is in the core of a sustainability plan, a strategic plan or a master planning document for land use, transportation, water/wastewater or waste management.
Furthermore, it is an important extension of democracy. I would like to believe that democracy is far more that having the right to vote, and that really it is the opportunity to influence public policy and our community by participating in community engagement exercises like visioning. Now we just need to get more citizens to realize this and take advantage of it.
So I am blessed in the sense that I spend good chunks of time thinking about sustainability and sustainable development from with other people who are immersed in studying the various applicable theories and philosophies, and they are all great thinkers. I am referring both to the writers and my friends…. You know who you are J.
I really enjoyed an article I read recently entitled "What is sustainable development?" for many reasons but one of the things the authors touch on is the utility of the Brundtland definition of sustainable development. It is the most widely used because it is simple and ambiguous. It is
Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
And what I find when I work with communities is that we need to discuss the definition of sustainability because it isn’t second nature to most people. We discuss the need for a definition and one of two things typically happens.
1.They decide to create a localized definition, or
2.They agree to consider a small subset of definitions and select the one that is the best fit.
Either of these options is OK. It is all part of a feeling out process that happens early on which we call developing a shared language and a common understanding. These two concepts are really important.
The shared language is essential. Most people have only a minimal understanding of sustainability but have participated in some kind of group exercise that moves towards a strategic plan or a vision or a mission statement. Each term used in the journey can have a different meaning to each participant. So we need to establish a shared language beginning with the definition. Then we need to define goal, objective, vision, theme and so on and agree to refer back to these definitions along the way. When working with a team of people to develop the integrated community sustainability plan for Kingston, Ontario in a weeklong session at Queens University we even went so far as to post all of our definitions on the wall to keep us on track.
Common understanding is an agreement on the process to follow, the vision, values and principles. It is agreeing on the purpose of the exercise which in most cases is to develop a sustainability plan. Developing a common understanding involves bringing all participants together to review a recommended approach and then localizing it in response to the good ideas generated by a group of local residents and stakeholders. Once a common understanding is achieved you are good to go.
I also find that there is a transcendency that occurs with the definition of sustainability or sustainable development. You transcend words and move to a confident understanding that guides you. And then it becomes personalized. You reflect on various definitions, case studies, and viewpoints and you adjust your own feelings about sustainability.
Finally there are other ‘concept’ words out there like sustainability. A good example would be innovation. Most would agree that innovation would be good for most companies, cities or countries. But we would need to find a definition. But would the definition of innovation for Pepsi be the same as that for a university or a city administration? And if not, would that be bad?
In the end with sustainability or sustainable development we seem to arrive at the same place: looking forward 25 to 100 years; using four pillars; accepting nature or the environment as our ultimate constraint; and being concerned about concepts like well-being, freedom, creativity or human expression, eradication of poverty and human rights.
Kates, R W., Parris, T M, Leiserowitz, A.A. 2005. What is sustainable development. Environment, 47(3), 8-21.
World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987 p. 43.
These days there are lots of great sustainable buildings being built all around North America. It is now possible to look at doing a full design or using specific features, such as geothermal heating, and learn a great deal from the work of others. But what if you are not building or renovating? The Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC) is also an example of how to reduce the impact of operations by working with your clients. But more on that later.
The VCC was awarded the LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification in 2010 making it the first conference facility to receive this distinction. What makes this over the top impressive is the fact that the Platinum level is the highest level of achievement and it is very difficult to attain.
So what are the Vancouver Convention Centre’s main sustainable design features and practices?
a six acre living (green) roof , the largest living roof in Canada and the largest non-industrial living roof in North America
a sophisticated drainage and water recovery system, which has successfully reduced potable water use by 72.6%
83% of construction waste has been diverted from landfill
an extensive facility-wide recycling program that recycles an average of 180,000 kilograms of materials annually, nearly half of the total volume of waste generated
purchases “green power” electricity generated from low-impact renewable sources
a restored marine habitat built into the foundation of the building
a seawater heating and cooling system that takes advantage of the adjacent seawater to produce cooling for the building during warmer months and heating in cooler months
natural light and ventilation maximized throughout the building
local BC wood products used throughout the building
In addition to creating a fantastic space that will be on display to visitors from around the world, the VCC also selected some very practical steps that they can take to reduce the impact of their operations beyond building maintenance.
Their Sustainable Event Guidelines gives event organizers a road map for reducing the making their conference or event and they are an active partner in this noble goal. They cite the following benefits:
Save resources and reduce waste
Enhance brand and public image
Create market opportunity
Showcase environmental technologies and best practices
Educate and motivate event participants and employees
Encourage market transformation
Meet and exceed the expectations of event participants
Recently I wound up in a discussion about local foods with a large group of people, all via email, that was sparked by an online video by Hellmann’s – the mayonnaise people http://www.vimeo.com/5477517. The video discusses the fact that most of the food that makes it to our tables is not local, in fact much of it is far away.
In Canada, we import 53 percent of our vegetables and almost all of our fruit. Even Ontario, with some of Canada’s best agricultural land, imports $4 billion more than it exports. Agricultural land has been under pressure for decades and much of it has been converted to non-agricultural uses such as suburban housing.
The point of the campaign is to get Canadians to think about buying local food, and most importantly to ask for it at the places where we shop. I have heard many stories in the places where I work about regular people asking the manager at the local chain supermarket “Why do you have corn from California when there is terrific corn grown less than an hour from here?”
The other interesting aspect of local food is that it brings people together – it is a conversation starter. The idea of getting people to come out and talk about a sustainability plan or their vision for the future can be a tough sell. Organizing a local workshop or inviting a speaker on local foods is almost always a sure thing. It is a great way to engage the local community.
So here are five steps to take to include local food in your community sustainability plan.
1. Hold a workshop on local food that starts with a good speaker and ends with a good discussion. Promote it well and draw a crowd.
2. Use your workshop as a recruiting tool to find local residents who would be interested in taking action on local foods. Ask each volunteer to audit a local food supplier and bring back the results.
3. Contact local restaurants, preferably through a local association, business improvement area or the chamber of commerce. Find out who is including local food on their menu.
4. Create a media release to highlight the results of what you have found and stress the fact that everyone can increase the availability of local food by asking for it at the supermarket and at restaurants, and most importantly by buying it. People need to value freshly grown, healthy local food and pay for it.
5. Go to the press with the media release and target a wide range of outlets from local radio to community newspapers. Get all of your information up on a web site.
There are many great local food campaigns from ‘Local Flavours’ run in Eastern Ontario by the Frontenac Arch Biosphere to ‘Get Fresh’ run in Victoria, BC with lots of programs in between. Pick one, copy it and enjoy a great meal.
Planning, planning.... all good in theory but what difference does it make if you are not an implementer? Working in the County of Peterborough I was challenged by two astute municipal politicians who said, essentially, convince me of the value of yet another plan. Good point by them.
So let’s get to the bottom of this. What good is a plan if you don’t actually implement what is in the plan or use the plan as a strategic framework to make change happen? The answer is easy, a dusty plan that became dusty from being relegated to the shelf and forgotten. Or maybe these days a lonely file on a computer that hasn’t had its ‘read’ status updated in years.
So what can we learn from successful implementers? Well let’s look to the business world for some advice, not because they have all the answers but because they are a complete spectrum of achievers from early adopters to laggards, the ones who only do things when they are forced to do so by laws, customers or gravity. OK I made up the gravity thing. My inspiration is a report that I found through Twitter which you can find at http://ow.ly/4jZD0.
The MIT Sloan School of Management and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a research report entitled, “Sustainability: The ‘Embracers’ Seize Advantage” based on a survey of more than 3,000 business executives and managers. Here is their list and my comments.
1. Move early – even if information is incomplete. Sustainability is a moving target and it always will be. Find the low hanging fruit, get your municipal staff behind your ideas and let the whole community know what you have done. Positivism inspires action.
2. Balance broad, long-term vision with projects offering concrete, near-term “wins.” Every group has dreamers and doers. You need to get the doers on side by finding projects that they can implement. Use your sustainability plan to guide the projects you take on.
3. Drive sustainability top-down and bottom-up. OK so this is business speak for moving through the organization, but the principle is ask and tell. Bring your employees or community members together, lay out the vision and ask them for suggestions. And don’t just take the ones where they tell the municipality to do stuff – get them to commit themselves, their organizations or businesses to community action.
4. Aggressively de-silo sustainability. Ann Dale is the Canada Research Chair for Sustainable Communities and this is one of her core principles. Get all of your departments talking to each other – public works, waste management, parks and recreation, etc. Sustainability is everyone’s job and with a good plan that has a vision and objectives you can influence all aspects of operations if you bring all the players to the table.
5. Measure everything (and if ways of measuring something don’t exist, start inventing them). Start with the obvious – waste, energy efficiency, and water conservation – and find ways to measure success. Telling the public that you saved $50,000 in energy costs and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6 tonnes is real and convinces people to keep supporting your sustainability plan.
6. Value intangible benefits seriously. Apparently businesses make investment decisions based on a combination of tangible benefits, intangibles and risk scenarios. They care if they are seen to be supporting community development, health, education, culture or the many other things that come with a good sustainability plan. Get the benefits straight and ask your local businesses to join your sustainability push. They may say no, but more and more they are saying yes for all the right reasons, not just the money reasons.
7. Try to be authentic and transparent. Tough one but most good politicians know this lesson. Size up the situation and be clear about what you are trying to do and why. If things are not working out just as planned you can always change. Think about compact fluorescents and the fact that they are hazardous waste when they die – we can manage the waste, we do already. But acknowledge the trade-offs and accept advice and ideas for improvements.
Hope this helps. And thanks to Reeve Joe Whelan and Deputy Reeve Joe Taylor for reminding me that the value of plans is in the implementing after the planning is done.