7 Lessons from Canada’s Environmental Pragmatism

In two words? Canada executes.

Having just returned from extraordinary Vancouver, I can appreciate how its greenness extends beyond the pristine meadows of Stanley Park to thrive in the souls of its dwellers who witness their slightly higher taxes at work in the form of a well-maintained, pothole-free environs. It’s not just bells and Whistler. It’s beauty that exists down deep, even in the success of enacted laws that put the U.S. and its stagnating bipartisan representatives to shame.

No wonder Vancouver’s goal of being the greenest city in the world by 2020 gives it yet another edge in livability. Sure, San Francisco and Portland are weaning off the foreign fuel nipple, but our neighbors to the north might outwit and out play us by focusing on the most winning survivor tactic of all: spawning green jobs like rabbits – some 10,400 in the next eight years.

According to the Vancouver Sun, the city is now moving ahead in 10 key areas that range from greening the economy by securing the city’s international reputation as a mecca of green enterprise, improving food production, cutting greenhouse gases and making walking, cycling and public transit the preferred transportation option for its citizens.

In terms of the jobs, some 300 are linked to expansion of the city’s district energy program, while another 900 comes from clean tech trade missions spurring the relocation of companies. Another 600 are predicted in the farming sector – urban growing, farmers’ markets, food processing and street food vendors. While Canadians agree being greener is a matter of conscience there is nothing like the promise of income to perk up commitment to conservation.

The good news is the green strides are not just limited to Vancouver. Throughout the country, progress is being made and used as a benchmark for what is possible if civic leaders go the distance. Here are some of the initiatives:

Switching Off the Coal

The province that has become a teenage girl destination because of Justin Bieber might now be better known for a reliance on green energy as it shuts down four coal-burning power plants even before its 2014 target date. It’s part of a 10-step transition to generate all of its electricity from fuel sources such as biomass to cut nasty carbon dioxide emissions. So far, coal production has dropped 5% while wind generation rose 80% – a reduction of pollution equal to the annual emissions of seven million autos.

Sparing the Trees

One of Canada’s largest media corporations, Quebecor, is making a sizable dent in its newspaper, magazine and book publishing distribution through its Concrete Actions initiative – the switch to printing on 100% recycled paper will spare more than 79,000 trees and 215 million liters of water. Meanwhile, it planted more than 210,000 trees as part of a program to plant roots for every Videotron customer who participates in online billing.

Victoria’s Dockside Green

While Vancouver sets out to lead the world in green building design and construction, Dockside Green in the heart of downtown Victoria, B.C. is setting records as a green development – earning its second residential LEED platinum ranking through the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) for two towers called Balance. Comprising 171 homes, it matched Phase I in earning a record 63 out of 70 points, serving as a model for sustainable community development. The high score was based on several key factors, including: biomass gasification using wood-waste to create heat and hot water; improved insulation, green roofs, exhaust air energy (heat) recovery, reduced lighting power densities with energy-efficient fixtures and occupancy sensors.

Boosting Subway Systems

Ottawa has coughed up $1 billion in funding to improving the public transit in the Greater Toronto Area to “cut the commute, clear the air and drive growth.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said traffic congestion had become a top issue – blamed on a $2 billion a year loss in productivity. Across the country, refurbishing and improving public transit has become a cause célèbre according to HuffPo Canada. While leaders look for ways to get people off the streets and on nicer, roomier subways, they are netting results through simple, targeted incentives. Examples cited: The Toronto Transit saw sales go up 57% by giving monthly pass customers a small incentive for buying a year’s worth of passes in advance: Meantime, Montreal has a huge response when offering s small incentive if customers bought their monthly passes off-peak and off-line from a participating retailer rather than transit ticket booths.

Giving Edge to Organic Food Producers

Canada’s organic producers now can circumvent red tape to expand their products locally in grocery stores and to export to Europe through an international agreement giving the country an edge in the European Union, the single largest market for organic products in the world. A result of an extensive analysis of the Canadian and EU organic production and certification systems, The Canada-European Union Organic Equivalency Arrangement allows the healthy exchange of imports and exports of certified products without need for additional certification.

Embracing E-Waste Recycling

It appears everyone is getting into the act, including the annual Live Green Toronto Festival where visitors recycle nearly 3,300 media items in one day – swapping good DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs and records to keep them out of the landfills. Since 2004, Canada-based Sony, Panasonic, Bell and other companies have stepped up their own recycling programs, recognizing that while technology enhances our lives the downside is the short life cycle and ultimate disposal of products that can break down in landfills and poison the environment. As members of Product Stewardship Canada which implements recycling solutions for end-of-life electronic products, the companies participate in take-back programs in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, and will soon expand to other provinces.

Making Way For More Bikes

Not all commuters are thrilled about it, but Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, who peddles to work each day, is making way for bike lanes in the bustling city. Gregor recognizes that a true commitment to being the greenest includes letting more bikers share the streets – yes, even those bikers who forget to wear helmets or signal when they change lanes. Does it make the city a better place to live? Well, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper, biking improves cardiovascular health which makes people happy, reduces gas and bills and makes the air cleaner – which pleases Fraser Valley, where Vancouver’s pollution blows.

Images: Coolin Sights; Mediamag; Lightrailnow; CBC;The Globe and Mail, alexindigo

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.