Vancouver, the Green Profusion


Fonds mondial pour le développement des villes (FMDV)

In 2009, the Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, gave new impetus to the city’s environmental policy by launching the “Greenest City 2020” initiative: environmental issues are now not only seen as a challenge, but also as sources of sustainable opportunities.

They are a challenge due to the urgent need to implement programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

They are opportunities because the rapidly growing green economy sector is now seen as the main engine for economic growth, well-being and wealth creation at the local level.

The municipality’s approach is thus clearly based on a rationale for healthy competition with other cities and it uses the “green” argument as a way of making the city attractive and raising its international profile. And it has done an excellent job.

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Green territorial marketing: a driver for the city’s attractiveness

Uniting for progress: joint definition of a 10-year integrated action plan

In February 2009, the Greenest City 2020 programme was launched on the initiative of the Mayor. This planning tool aims to give the municipality the means to become the “greenest city in the world” by 2020.

A coordination team (Greenest City Action Team – GCAT), comprising 18 experts representing different stakeholders (city staff and elected officials, civil society, private sector and universities), was then tasked with defining ten goals, with quantified and measurable targets and the corresponding activities to be implemented.

It subsequently defined an integrated action plan (Greenest City Action Plan – GCAP), which takes up the activities to be implemented in the short term (priority projects for 3 years) and in the medium term (strategies for the period until 2020) via ten working groups comprising a team of city staff (from different departments) and a Committee of External Experts, all volunteers representing different sectors (private, civil society and universities). A total of some 70 city staff and 170 institutions are involved in defining the action plan.

The GCAP was adopted by the City Council in July 2011 and dozens of priority projects are today in the implementation phase. The first annual report will be published in July 2012 and will present the progress made in implementation and the progression of the results.

The community’s approval is essential to the success of a project of this magnitude. Consequently, the definition of the action plan involved an intensive consultation process with the community via a far-reaching communication campaign. According to the municipality, between 2010 and 2011, 35,000 people (almost 6% of the population) took part in the different activities (conferences, “Talk Green to us” Internet platform, workshops…) and 9,500 are estimated to have been actively involved. Andrea Reimer, the City Councillor in charge of the project, says that in 2009, 50% of the community supported the project and 10% were strongly opposed to it, while 3 years later the approval rate had reached 85%. The re-election of the mayor in December 2011 also shows the widespread support for the initiative.

Partnerships have been established between the municipality and local NGOs, companies, traders, universities and research institutes in order to scale up the involvement of local stakeholders. In addition to pooling the expertise of these different stakeholders, they also disseminate information to specific networks and thereby promote project ownership. According to Andrea Reimer, “The local actors own the plan as much as we own it and it makes it really alive in the community”. Jennie Moore, a researcher at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, says that the programme has helped strengthen the social dialogue, which is estimated to have increased by 50%, and notes that the activities related to environmental sustainability implemented in the city by the different stakeholders are estimated to have risen by 20%.

At the same time, the Greenest City 2020 programme has prompted a reorganisation of the administration by giving greater importance to the Sustainability Group, which has directly reported to the Deputy City Manager since 2009. The cross-sectoral interaction required for the implementation of the planned activities has mobilised and channelled all the municipality’s departments towards common objectives and improved communication between them. However, the enthusiasm of the staff, generated by the Mayor and City Council’s leadership, and the pursuit of efficiency in resource management should be counterbalanced with the lack of investment in additional human resources. This has led to a large overload of work and to former activities being neglected (notably in the Social Department).

Financing the transition

While a large part of the programme has been financed by the city’s existing resources (Sustainability group’s operating budget) and has benefitted from in-kind support from various local stakeholders, the public engagement process and the extensive communication work have come at a substantial cost. This has required external financing, via a EUR 207,000 Federal Government subsidy through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund.

As for the operations set out in the action plan, they are to be financed by the operating budgets of each department in charge of them, following the approval of the City Council.

According to Andrea Reimer, “Green is about efficient use of resources.” The project’s financial sustainability is guaranteed by working closely with the Financial Department to ensure the feasibility of each activity, combined with these efficiency targets. There is already a visible return on investment from the initiative, since the municipality estimates that investments earmarked for the green sector will reach close to EUR 320m at the end of 2012.

“The green economy”: an engine for Vancouver’s growth

The City’s Economic Development Strategy defined in 2011 gives a central role to the green economy (3 to 6% growth per year). The action plan aims at securing Vancouver’s international reputation as a “Mecca of green entrepreneurship” by setting the quantified targets of doubling the number of green jobs by 2020 (2010 baseline) and doubling the number of companies actively engaged in a greening process for their activities (2011 baseline).

The Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC), the municipal agency in charge of the city’s economic development, has integrated these two objectives into its internal action strategy and is responsible for defining and overseeing the implementation of the activities related to it. To do so, it has established partnerships with universities, which are tasked with reviewing existing initiatives, presenting the good practices of other cities and establishing recommendations on the strategy and priority activities to be implemented by 2020.

High-potential green sectors

According to the VEC, five green industrial sectors have the greatest growth potential: clean technologies, green buildings, materials management and recycling, local food production, sustainable services and education (70% of growth comes from the clean technologies and green buildings sectors).

Among the VEC’s strategic activities, substantial support is given to green tech companies sector: the VEC not only guides local businesses by providing advice for international development, it also supports international companies seeking to establish themselves in Vancouver (2 large companies set up an activity there in 2011 generating some EUR 20m in employment and direct investment for the city, and between 5 and 8 companies are expected in 2012).

Other activities aim at supporting the development of local green businesses and promoting innovation: the creation of incubator programmes (technical and financial support) and the development of showcasing activities give these companies the opportunity to have priority in supplying green products to the city through a pre-procurement system.

Moreover, two Green Enterprise Zones (GEZ), which are a kind of sectoral “green hub” gathering innovative green companies and research institutes, have been created by the VEC. The aim is to build an environment conducive to growth and to attract local and international green companies, as well as skilled labour. A first GEZ is located in the Southeast False Creek neighbourhood, the Olympic village from the 2010 games, which is a model neighbourhood for environmental sustainability; a second is located in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, which is a hub of urban problems (poverty, social exclusion, crime, etc.). According to James Raymond, a researcher at the VEC, “The aim is to make GEZs the greenest place to work in the world.”

For a collective green integration approach

Green jobs for all

Following the implementation of some 40 priority projects between 2011 and 2014, green jobs (integrating a social sustainability criterion) will be created either through existing jobs, but which have greenified, or through jobs created in new sectors. Another 10,425 green jobs are expected to be created (against 14,900 jobs in 2010, i.e. 4% of total employment in Vancouver) in 7 sectors (see graph). Roughly 45% of the jobs created will be destined for unskilled people who face the most barriers to employment on the job market. 15% of the jobs created will be low barrier jobs; 15% will require high school studies and 15% technical studies or training in trades.

In 2009, the VEC set up the Campus City Collaborative (C3) Programme as part of its strategy to develop local talent and attract and retain human capital. The aim is also to fill green job vacancies that will be created by the development of the green economy (according to the NGO Globe Foundation, Vancouver will experience a shortage of 60,000 skilled workers over the next decade). This partnership between the City of Vancouver and six academic institutes is designed to promote research on the means required to achieve the targets set by the Greenest City Initiative, train a skilled and specialized workforce and increase dialogue between universities and the private sector in order to tailor training to demand.

Distribution of additional green jobs generated by 2020, through greenest City aCtion plan (total 10,000)
from FMDV, 2012

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foreCast green jobs growth
from FMDV, 2012

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Incentives to greening local companies: private stakeholders take ownership of the objective}}

The VEC promotes clean growth by implementing activities that give incentives to businesses greening their operations. Between 10 and 15% of local companies are actively engaged in a greening process and publicly pledge to measure and improve their carbon footprint and performance relating to energy (fuel, buildings and travel), water, the use of paper and waste.

The City is expecting 2,700 more companies to engage in a greening process by 2020 and is setting the example by targeting carbon neutrality for municipal activities by the same deadline (travel, energy, waste management and food supply).

The Corporate Climate Leader Programme, in partnership with the Climate Smart organisation, allocates subsidies to companies which are earmarked for technical advice to green their practices and thus improve their marketing and increase their market share. In addition, the VEC offers free energy audits to local companies (consumption measurement and identification of ways to reduce consumption) and guides them in their search for subsidies. In order to firmly establish the process in stakeholders’ direct environment, the VEC focuses at local level by approaching local businesses and traders’ associations.

Vancouver Green Capital, the city’s flagship brand

Taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, which turned Vancouver into a “green showcase” and attracted over EUR 93m of direct investments, and thanks to the leadership of the Mayor, Gregor Robertson, the Vancouver Green Capital brand was registered in 2009. It aims to promote and position Vancouver as the world capital of ecology, a green Silicon Valley and a regional hub for excellence in research and innovation on green technology and the green economy.

The VEC aims to strengthen green territorial marketing in the city by supporting and recognising local green companies’ development efforts (e.g. restaurants using local food could display the Vancouver Green Capital logo), helping the city’s Tourism Department develop its communication strategy to increase green tourism and conducting trade missions abroad (notably in Asia) in order to support the development of local companies and attract foreign firms.

The fact that Vancouver was ranked as the third greenest city in the world by the Economist in 2011, along with requests for advice from large cities abroad, show that the city is firmly on the green map and that its territorial marketing has been a complete success, thus ensuring its attractiveness.

Social sustainability… still an issue

While economic growth and environmental sustainability are the focus of the action plan, this does not prevent the social dimension from being taken into account. Although 45% of the green jobs created will be destined for people facing employment barriers, a number of other activities plan, for example, to contribute to the integration of Downtown Eastside, a sensitive neighbourhood of the city.

Socially oriented activities, such as local food production (via community gardens, hanging gardens, neighbourhood coalitions, etc.) will create green jobs which require little qualification and will strengthen social ties by increasing interaction between generations and different social classes.

The actions of the social enterprise EMBERS (Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society) and its Green Renovations Programme launched in September 2010, show how local stakeholders have integrated the green action plan into their activities. Thanks to EUR 120,000 of financial support from the city, EMBERS Green Renovations plans to train unskilled workers from Downtown Eastside and refurbish 5,000 housing units from now until 2020 by offering building weatherisation services (energy efficiency reducing air leakage by between 15 and 20%).

However, according to Mary Clare Zak, Director of the city’s Social Affairs Department and Jennie Moore from the British Columbia Institute of Technology, it is still difficult to take the social dimension fully into account in the development of green programmes defined like the Greenest City Action Plan was at the outset. In the future, more in-depth examination of the social aspects should include issues such as access to housing or the integration into the city of vulnerable populations other than those in Downtown Eastside.

Promising results for a sustainability ambition

Greenest City 2020 is a city project characterised by major long-term planning and structuring work based on the unifying theme of environmental sustainability, which is promoted as a driver for economic growth and green wealth creation.

The proactive political management of this new approach has generated real enthusiasm on the part of city staff, who saw in the Mayor and City Council’s leadership the possibility to (inter)act rapidly.

Although it will not be possible to achieve all the objectives by 2020, the development of an ambitious integrated action plan, with quantified and measurable targets, gives hope that horizontal interaction between departments and sectors will be permanently established. It has also mobilised and channelled the interests of local stakeholders around common and appropriated goals.

Three years after the launch of the initiative and one year after the adoption of the action plan, a number of operations have solidified political determination, which has been displayed notably through the adoption of dozens of legislative reforms and the reorganisation of the city administration.

It is already possible to measure environmental impacts (progress can be seen at all levels), social impacts (low-skilled jobs, integration of an enclave neighbourhood, neighbourhood associations strengthened) and economic and financial impacts (green jobs created, local and international companies supported, foreign investment attracted, green city marketing). In addition to the improvement in the environmental quality of life of residents, the economic and social dimensions integrated into the strategy would appear to underpin a green revolution in urban development practices shared by local stakeholders.

However, in view of the complexity of the issues and challenges of Greenest City 2020, more resources should be allocated to the human resources required to lead and oversee the activities which are launched, as well as to the social dimension of the programme. Otherwise there is a risk that the dynamics and inclusive process will run out of steam or be weakened. To ensure the success of the initiative, the city will need to invest more directly in social sustainability, the cornerstone of the development of a city, and in the future, the action plan must be conceived as a sustainable development plan and no longer just as a green plan.

This will make it a total success.

from FMDV, 2012

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Vancouver 2020, A Bright Green Future, 2010

Greenest City Action Plan, July 2011

The Vancouver Economic Action Strategy: An Economic Development Plan for the City, 2011

Vancouver’s Green Economy, Green Economy Working Paper n° 1, VEC, July 2010

Achieving Vancouver’s Green Goals through Low-Carbon Economic Development Zones, Green Economy Working Paper n° 2, VEC, July 2010

Plateforme internet pour participation public, “Talk green to us