Roy Brooke, Director of Sustainability, City of Victoria
ipolitics.ca - Wednesday, July 4, 2012
By Roy Brooke
A once-contaminated shoreline in Victoria, B.C.’s Inner Harbour now houses Dockside Green, a thriving community that broke eco-design records, remediated contaminated land and reintroduced streams, native plants and fauna. Dockside Green has a centralized plant that burns waste wood for heat, incorporates affordable housing and allows residents to grow hyper-local organic food in rooftop gardens.
Nearby, the Atrium shopping, restaurant and office complex revitalized a drab part of downtown. Outside, rain gardens offer a pleasant break from the usual grey paved sidewalks. Beyond bringing a slice of nature into the city, they collect and filter rain water and run off so it can return naturally back to the water table. The Atrium’s design takes advantage of natural light and its energy system is designed to have the lowest possible lifecycle cost.
Sustainability used to focus on saving energy and wasting less. Such efforts remain vitally important, and offer scores of opportunities to increase efficiency and profits. However, these “Sustainability 1.0” initiatives are really about doing less bad.
By contrast, projects like Dockside and the Atrium look beyond Sustainability 1.0. They are bolder versions of sustainability that are not only about ‘less bad’, but also about restoring and regenerating ecosystems, increasing biodiversity, and eliminating waste by using it as a source of fuel and food for new life – and creating wealth and health along the way. We could call such efforts examples of “Sustainability 2.0”.
It’s not just developers forging Sustainability 2.0 projects. Ordinary people in ordinary neighbourhoods are doing extraordinary Sustainability 2.0 things. Victoria is home to North America’s first Transition Street initiative, in which neighbours are getting together to save water and energy, use less by sharing at a neighbourhood level, and empowering themselves to achieve personal and community resilience.
On once-barren Victoria rooftops, vegetable and pollinator gardens are starting to appear. These welcome bees and insects back into the city where they increase biodiversity, challenge assumptions that wildlife and cities cannot mix, and provide a more humanizing urban experience. Elsewhere, groups are working with vulnerable communities to plant gardens.
No-one is forcing people to take these actions. Projects like the Atrium get built because of demand. People build more vibrant, resilient communities because they can, and because doing so empowers neighbourhoods. Sustainability 2.0 is underway because it creates a better, more connected, more beautiful world to live in, and usually saves money to boot.
Scale is the challenge now. Individual Sustainability 2.0 projects are great but many more connected, pervasive and coordinated projects are needed; systems are needed. We must dramatically ramp up existing solutions to a scale equal to the planetary challenges we face.
What would this involve?
First, it’s about abandoning tired old arguments that saving the planet isn’t possible or affordable. Evidence demonstrates otherwise. Looking only through a financial lens, sustainability can save money, create jobs, and increase productivity. It can also help Canada tap a massive global demand for green goods and services. Add a lens that considers health and well-being, and the case is overwhelming.
Second, it is about recognizing and celebrating sustainability leaders. Our choice of heroes shapes our aspirations as a society. It also helps us define and encourage the kind of initiatives that we want.
Third, we need to understand and address the challenge of scale itself. A comparison can be made between the evolution of sustainability and that of the internet.
Ten years ago, Web 1.0 allowed people to use only tools and information provided by others. Now, with Web 2.0, people empower themselves. Facebook, Twitter and Youtube allow us to contribute our own content, not wait for someone else to do it. Such a change must continue to occur with sustainability.
We need enabling tools, approaches and mindsets – the sustainability equivalents of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube – to allow individuals citizens neighbourhoods and communities to scale up what works and what they want.
This is partly an empirical question: What has driven existing projects? Why and how have innovative ideas scaled up elsewhere? How does a system emerge from projects? Concerted efforts to address this question and act upon the answers are needed.
It’s also about recasting the challenge. Sustainability 2.0 cannot simply be about ‘doing good’ or a bolt-on afterthought after the real work is done. It must be about living better, healthier and wealthier lives in more beautiful surroundings. This, in turn, can be achieved by creating and using tools to wring maximum social, environmental and economic benefit from everything we decide, build and do. This will help us create the content of a future we want.