How to be green – lessons from Vancouver

20130707-232844.jpg The City of Vancouver took a bold approach to trying to become the ‘world’s greenest city’, many cities are also aiming for the same accolade such as the City of Sydney’s 2030 plan but the City of Vancouver has chosen to adopt the ecological footprint approach – a much more transparent and rigorous approach to defining a sustainable city.

Again from the book “Is sustainability still sustainable?” the authors cite some of the data and analysis of Vancouver’s approach.

Vancouver’s Current Footprint
“The City of Vancouver is home to approximately 600,000 people and covers 11,467 hectares.” The city estimates that its ecological footprint is 4.2 gha (global hectares) per person – not bad considered Australia’s average is 7.8 gha per person.

The make up of the ecological footprint of the average Vancouverite is very similar to the average Australian – food 51%, Transportation 21%, Buildings 16%, Consumables 14% and water less than 1%.

The authors go on to note that the “data does not include contributions from provincial and national government public services (such as treasury and military) that take place outside the city for the benefit of all Canadians. Vancouver City staff estimate this to add an additional 18% or 0.76gha per person.”

Wow, just two levels of government adds 18% to each Canadian’s footprint, I wonder what Australia’s three levels of government adds to the average Australian’s footprint!

So what is Vancouver committing to?
In their Greenest City 2020 Action Plan they are committing to reducing the city’s ecological footprint by 33 percent by 2020 and 66 percent by 2050.

The action plan includes food, transportation, buildings, economy, waste, climate change, water, access to nature, clean air and the Ecological Footprint.

Is it enough?
Well getting to a 66 percent reduction by 2050 is not an easy task and it’s a very commendable target to set but is it enough?

Well a 66% reduction of 4.2 gha per person would get them to 1.4 gha per person plus the 0.76 gha for the government gets them to 2.2 gha per person. Still 0.5 gha per person more than what a fair earth-share or One Planet target would be.

The authors of the book summarise it very well.

“The question remains: even if citizens were willing to do all they could, how would Vancouver shave another global hectare off the average Ecological Footprint? Recall that senior government services from which all Canadians benefit, account for an estimated 0.76 gha per capita of Vancouver’s Ecological Footprint.”

Ecological Footprint in Government

We need the definition, rigour, transparency and analytical calculation of ecological footprint embedded within the policy and governmental decision making to effect change at all levels of our society.

We are seeing citizens, corporations and cities improving their environmental impact and now we need to see policy and government decision making to do the same.

Only then can we really understand our more detailed impact on the environment.

Update – calculation of the 66% reduction was incorrect in the original post, I have now adjusted the figures to be accurate.

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