Case studies in sustainable governance models.
Kathy Thomas and Jim Hamilton
Published September 15, 2006
EcoPerth is a non-profit organization created in 1997 primarily to address climate change issues within the town of Perth, Ontario (population approximately 6,000) and the surrounding rural area. The creation and initial growth of ecoPerth was nurtured by funding from the Climate Change Action Fund. A wide range of projects have been undertaken and successfully completed, ranging from a formal energy retrofit of municipal properties to tree planting projects, bulk purchases of energy saving solar heaters, initiatives to encourage cycling and carpooling, awareness campaigns, and market opportunities to promote consumption of local produce.
EcoPerth is a volunteer driven organization focused on action, rather than on planning or studies. EcoPerth has a Board of Directors whose members have included the Head of Public Works, the Chair of the Business Improvement Association, as well as the owner of the local newspaper, local store owners, and councilors.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
The ecoPerth website summarizes its goals and modus operandi as follows:
“Perth has set out on the road to show how a small town, in central Canada, can respond to the issues of climate change. Partnering with local businesses, groups and individuals, ecoPerth is about making projects happen - projects that are environmentally sustainable and economically efficient.”
The goal of ecoPerth is addressing climate change by minimizing waste of energy, water, and other scarce resources, and promoting a sustainable community. To date, over 40 different projects have been successfully implemented.
EcoPerth is loosely structured around four main areas, each of which encompasses a variety of individual projects. These four areas are:
A detailed list of projects undertaken under these four areas is included in Appendix A.
From an infrastructure perspective, the projects that focus on transportation could have a potential impact on reducing the need for additional roadwork in addition to reducing green house gases through reduced vehicle use. The projects undertaken under the umbrella of green initiatives and buildings initiatives help to preserve the greenscape, improve water management and use, and improve energy consumption and efficiency. Taken as a whole, the various projects lead to a more sustainable and livable community that engages its citizens, strengthens local cooperation and interaction (both social and economic), and reduces waste.
EcoPerth is sustained by volunteers and has received support via several government grants and incentives. Where feasible, ecoPerth promotes and builds on government programs, such as Natural Resource Canada's Energuide for Houses Program, the One Tonne Challenge and the Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative that was useful in the solar water heater project. A partnership with the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) provided the funding to develop a guide for other municipalities to use to follow the lead established by ecoPerth.
Critical Success Factors
One of the critical success factors that is a distinguishing hallmark of ecoPerth is its action orientation. In contrast to the usual approach to projects aimed at modifying consumer behaviour, which includes a preliminary planning phase, followed by an awareness phase and culminates in an action plan/implementation only after the foundations have been thoroughly laid out in the first two phases, ecoPerth focuses on action.
Project Focus and Volunteer Engagement
In keeping with the philosophy of facilitating action, the ecoPerth model encourages volunteers to become champions by assuming responsibility and ownership to complete specific projects. Volunteers can be individuals, local businesses, community associations, or concerned citizens. Projects have clearly defined goals and the end achievement is typically a tangible product or event.
The original three environmental consultants who were involved with the creation of ecoPerth continue to work with the organization a decade later, assisted by hundreds of volunteers from the private and public sector and the community at large. This provides continuity in leadership, governance and maintaining the vision of ecoPerth.
The focus on a wide range of concrete “do-able” projects, many of which require only minimum funding, has ensured the engagement of a broad segment of the community over time, from business to individuals to schools to service groups. EcoPerth encourages partnerships and hands off projects to other organizations where it makes sense to do so. EcoPerth avoids duplication of efforts by creating strategic partnerships and ensuring appropriate co-ordination within the community.
At its start, the completion of one large project (the retrofit of the town hall, arena, etc.) by the town acted as a catalyst, raised its visibility, created momentum and lent credibility to ecoPerth in the community.
Community Contact Information
Bob Argue is one of the three people who were instrumental in starting ecoPerth, and is the person who was interviewed for this study. His coordinates are:
Action oriented (not planning and feasibility studies).
Diversity and parallel action on multiple ideas, for projects big and small, to as many people/sectors as possible, and encouraging volunteers to “catch” those projects they could champion and implement (an effective technique to encourage commitment and buy-in).
Publicizing many small, discrete, self-contained projects that could be initiated, replicated and completed by different volunteers or service organizations or sectors, with relatively fast results, as well as offering larger more complex projects.
Letting the community decide what projects are appropriate, thereby promoting local decision making and autonomy.
Offering encouragement, nurturing and critical, timely feedback.
What Didn’t Work?
Plans requiring lengthy feasibility studies, lots of documentation, and long waits for approval resulted in burning volunteer resources on work that did not always provide tangible evidence of progress.
Plans to introduce Energy Service Company (ESCO) energy retrofits to smaller organizations were not initially successful. Further research is ongoing.
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
The federal Climate Change Action Fund provided the impetus to create kickstart ecoPerth. Aproximately $200,000 in funding over a two-year period was provided after a successful application was made in 1998. The funding was used to develop the capacity and infrastructure of ecoPerth and provided critical seed money to fund four part-time positions (capacity) over two years, and for a range of expenses such as newsletters, print ads, public meetings, etc.
Additional funding has been provided more recently via a grant for $2,400 from the town to subsidize ecoPerth's rent plus $20,000 from the Laidlaw Foundation to work on children's and environmental issues.
EcoPerth is run by volunteers and many current projects require investments of time rather than significant capital investments.
Analysis of this case study leads to several key observations:
A grassroots approach, focusing on discrete projects, and a minimal emphasis on hierarchy and approval processes/procedures appears to be particularly efficient and effective in a small community setting, and would likely be replicable in other rural/small town settings. There are also useful lessons here for larger communities. EcoPerth has received several awards and widespread recognition as a model for other communities to replicate.
In the early stages, it was important for ecoPerth to complete a number of small, but do-able projects, to do them well and build credibility within the community, as failure, particulary in small communities, is highly visible. On a positive note, as a corollary, successes could also be easily observed and noted. A number of visible early successes helped to generate a positive atmosphere, leading to further interest, momentum and commitment to more volunteer effort to champion further projects within the community.
In order to obtain buy-in and ensure volunteer engagement and project ownership, it is preferable to select projects that demonstrate clearly identifiable benefits, including economic savings and/or measurable reductions in use of limited resources or harmful substances.
Volunteer work is an essential component of this model, but a certain degree of funding is still required to pay for expenses that cannot be totally absorbed or subsidized, such as printing costs, and meeting/speaker costs, and most crucially, to initiate momentum in early planning phases.
In conclusion, ecoPerth is a self-organizing, non-hierarchical organization that elicits passion and commitment in the community from its organizers and volunteers.
The ecoPerth website includes this link to assist users to download documents developed as a result of ecoPerth initiatives, and which may be useful to replicate projects.
Another useful resource is the Eco-communities link on the website, which includes numerous downloadable files for other communities to use as templates, with examples of press releases, promotional material, etc. This project was completed with assistance from Ontario Healthy Communities Association and the Trillium Foundation.
Refer also to CMHC's June 2001 Research Highlight Socio-Economic Series Issue 82. EcoPerth: A Small Rural Community Takes Action on Climate Change
Detailed Background Case Description
For nearly a decade, ecoPerth identified projects and found local champions to initiate and follow through on a wide range of initiatives to address climate change and the broader aspects of sustainable development within the Perth area.
Three environmental consultants with a local firm (REIC) wanted to engage the community in sustainable issues at about the same time as the federal Climate Change Action Fund was created. The consultants provided the impetus to create ecoPerth and were successul in applying for $200,000 in funding over a two-year period from the fund. The initial funding was used to develop critical capacity and infrastructure and provided seed money to fund four part-time positions over two years, and for a range of expenses such as newsletters, print ads, and public meetings.
EcoPerth is run by volunteers and many current projects require investments of time rather than significant capital investments. The three environmental consultants who helped to create ecoPerth in 1997 continue to the present time to dedicate their time and energy, assisted by hundreds of other volunteers who have given their time and spearheaded individual projects. Volunteers are expected to take on the responsibility for the completion of specific projects.
EcoPerth's focus is clearly on action and project-oriented. Detailed governance structures and procedures, hierarchical decision-making processes, and formal documentation/studies are all eschewed to the degree possible in favour of simply making change happen. The assumption is that awareness will follow action rather than necessarily lead in the challenge to create a more sustainable community. Typically, once there is a critical mass of support to initiate and complete a project, it is given the go-ahead. Volunteers are encouraged to take on projects because many projects require a manageable chunk of time, require minimal funding, and can be completed within a short- to medium-time frame. Volunteers can thus feel that can accomplish a specific tangible goal, rather than making a commitment of unknown duration and scope.
Projects are divided into four main categories - transportation, buildings, green, and communication (Refer to Appendix A for a detailed listing of projects.) The Transportation Team currently has ongoing projects to increase bicycle usage, reduce idling in vehicles, help find alternatives to conventional family cars, promote/facilitate carpooling, and encourage use of a daily commuter bus to Ottawa. These initiatives, as well as certain projects within the buildings and green portfolios, such as the rainwater conservation program, programs for pesticide free natural lawns, and programs to encourage the patronage of local food producers (e.g. farm gate sales, Local Flavour campaigns, etc.) have links to and/or impacts on infrastructure requirements.
The Buildings Team sponsors a variety of projects to reduce energy use in area homes and municipal buildings. Of particular note, are the Municipal Building Energy Retrofit program, undertaken in conjunction with an ESCO that has resulted in ongoing annual savings of $40,000-$50,000 and carbon dioxide savings estimated at 450 tonnes per year, and the promotion of solar domestic hot water systems through the use of bulk ordering, with attendant cost savings for consumers.
The Communications Team arranges for speakers, contributes articles to the local media and promotes awareness of ecoPerth and the opportunities for citizens, organizations and businesses to take action on their own or to partner with others. In many cases, ecoPerth provides the catalyst to bring together groups/individuals to tackle a specific project, providing a forum for interested people to find useful information and links to other interested parties.
EcoPerth has made effective use of partnerships with a broad range of partners. Some partnerships, such as with the Town of Perth, have been longstanding. Other partnerships developed to facilitate single strategic projects. Partners include:
the Corporation of the Town of Perth
Downtown Heritage Perth Business Improvement Area
the Lanark and Leeds Green Community
the Perth Courier (local weekly newspaper)
Algonquin College, Perth Campus
Many local businesses and groups
Enbridge Consumers Gas
Ontario Health Communities Coalition
Green Communities Association
the Federation of Canadian Municipalities
ICLEI Partners for Climate Protection
Natural Resources Canada
the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)
the Climate Change Action Fund
Safe Communities Partnership of Perth and District partners on projects of mutual interest.
CMHC, in a 2001 research article about ecoPerth identified four key factors for viable projects:
Doable: money, time and resources are available, likelihood of success is good
Champion: to initiate the project, to keep it moving
Economic: direct benefits with measurable payback makes it easier to sell
High profile: increases awareness, be creative to create visibility
While avoiding meetings and studies as much as possible, ecoPerth's leaders acknowledge the usefulness of scheduling periodic reviews of projects as well as documenting community baselines. Periodic reviews help to avoid prolonged use of limited resources on projects that may turn out to be less viable and which should be dropped, or spending time maintaining projects that could logically be assumed by another organization or group. The development of baseline data permits the measurement of the impacts and benefits of various projects.
Efforts to apply the ESCO model of financing were used effectively to retrofit municipal buildings (e.g. town hall, arena, etc.) to higher standards of energy efficiency, generating significant savings. While plans to promote the ESCO model among other businesses have not been successful to date, due to the lack of economies of scale and lack of capacity within the community, ecoPerth's leaders continue to look for ways to adapt the process to facilitate the adoption of ESCO financing for smaller scale projects.
The ecoPerth website has evolved over time and now provides a wealth of information. The website is a useful resource, well-organized, highlights the range/purpose/scope of different projects both completed and ongoing, and leads to other useful links. It is designed to pique the interest and participation of future volunteers.
How quickly and effectively can the lessons and achievements of ecoPerth be replicated in other small towns?
To what degree can the lessons and achievements of ecoPerth be applied to larger urban centers? What modifications, if any, would be appropriate?
Resources and References
CMHC Research Highlight, June 2001, EcoPerth: A Small Rural Community Takes Action on Climate Change.
Hamilton, J. and K.I. Thomas. 2004. Innovative Community Energy Projects, Department of Natural Resources, Canada, Government of Canada.
The range of ecoPerth projects that are currently up and running. Taken from the ecoPerth website
|The Building Team
|Rainwater Conservation Program||Rain barrels have been made available to the public.|
|A Bright Idea||Good qualilty 15-watt compact fluorescent light bulbs come gift wrapped!|
|Soap Bubble Greenhouse||Environmentally-friendly soap bubbles to shade and insulate greenhouses.|
|Solar Domestic Hot Water Systems||A bulk order allows systems to be installed at a substantial discount to residents.|
|Municipal Building Energy Retrofits||An Energy Service Company has been selected to work with the town, businesses and institutions for energy efficient retrofitting.|
|EnerGuide for Houses||A local contractor has been certified and equipped to provide "EnerGuide for Houses" audits with computerized blower-door equipment.|
|Christmas Light Timers||Downtown Christmas lights have been put on timers. Now there's a bright idea!|
|Energy Conservation||We all learned something about energy conservation during the blackout, but the trick will be to not forget what we learned. What actions did you take?|
|The Green Team
|Truckload Tree Sale||A buck and a quarter a tree, they're almost free!!|
|Farm Gate Sales||Encouraging small local growers, and reducing the distance food travels.|
|The ecoPerth Recipe Column||Providing recipes, storage tips and nutritional information about currently available local produce.|
|Towpath Plantings||Encouraging a corridor for humans and animals along the Tay.|
|Local Flavour Campaign||Encouraging local food retailers and restaurants to feature locally grown food.|
|Pesticide Free Naturally Campaign||Shows people how to wean their lawn off drugs, and encourages them to promote that with a lawn sign.|
|Reel Mower Promotion||reel mowers are available for trials and demonstrations with a discount coupon also available.|
|Local Food Box||Local growers and consumers have been brought together via Food Box Programs and increased space at local retailers.|
|Roll Over To Clover||EcoPerth is encouraging people to overseed their lawns with White Dutch Clover. It's drought-resistent, hardy, outcompetes weeds, and adds nitrogen. What's not to like?|
|Local Flavour Businesses||By supporting restaurants, bakeries, and grocers that use local produce, we are not only supporting them but also the farms and growers whose goods they use.|
|ecoRide||This started as a local bulletin board for listing rides wanted/offered.|
|Green Shift||Helping us to find alternatives to the conventional family cars|
|Perth Bicycle Users Group "PBUG"||A group formed to promote bicycles as an alternative transportation system.|
|Bicycle Salvage at the Landfill Site||An area established at the landfill site where old bikes are left and can be reclaimed or used for parts.|
|Tire pressure clinics||Tires are checked and inflated to proper pressure and literature on energy-efficient driving habits distributed.|
|Anti-Idling Signage||No-idling signs installed at the rail crossings in town.|
|Commuter Bus||Did you know there is a daily commuter bus running from Perth to Ottawa and back?|
|Polar Bear Plunge||The recipient of pledges for the January 1, 2004 plunge is ecoPerth.|
|First Class across Canada||Two of Perth's grade four classes are racing their way across Canada! Well ... sort of.|
|Personal Action Pledge||A survey, feedback, and action card to prompt individual/household action.|
|Speaking Engagements||Presentations to various age groups and organizations on climate change and ecoPerth activities.|
|Kyoto and You||A look at both the big and baby steps we can do help in the effort.|
|Tay River EcoFest||A great open air fest celebrating stewardship.|
|Awards and Recogition||ecoPerth gets Perth, Ontario named as a top three finalist in Energy Efficiency Awards.|
|Green Link||Helping people to access green products and services, including “green” power.|
|Neighbourhood ecoPerth||Bringing neighbourhoods together in joint green projects.|
Published October 18, 2006
In 1990, the City of Toronto committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2005, relative to 1988 levels. To meet these mid-term objectives, the city implemented several mechanisms including:
To reduce carbon dioxide emissions and energy use in general, the EEO implements a range of programs focused on all sectors of the Toronto community. Programs include:
the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) focusing on emissions emanating from built structures, including:
the EEO estimates that projects initiated through its programs have a value exceeding $100 million.
In 1991, the TAF was established to promote global climate stabilization through financing local projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or absorb carbon from the air, educate the public in climate change matters, or foster climate-change partnerships with senior levels of government, educational institution, business, and non-governmental organizations. Toronto City Council endowed the TAF with $26 million to provide loans and/or grants to local projects on a revolving fund basis. Projects have ranged from installation of energy efficient street lighting, to “greenups’ of over 12,000 homes, naturalization of school yards, investments in energy retrofit projects, and the development of plans for the city’s Bikeway Network. In 2000, city council expanded the TAF’s mandate to include the promotion of better air quality. From its inception to the end of 2002-2003, the TAF granted some $7.9 million to various local projects. In addition, the TAF loaned or made financial commitments of $29 million in support of projects focused at reducing green house gas emissions.
Without belittling either mechanism, the EEO programs can be thought of as focusing on established mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as energy performance contracting and in-house efficiency programs. The TAF, on the other hand, appears to emphasize new approaches and solutions such as providing start-up financing to develop a car-sharing service for Toronto at 50 locations across the city, and encouraging individuals and households to reduce noxious air emissions through limiting the use of two-stroke engines and/or replacing older small machines, such as lawn mowers, with newer models. Working together, both mechanisms have been remarkably effective in creating widespread support, both within the Toronto citizenry and supportive industries.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
Mid-term global change targets such as those identified for the EEO and the TAF focus primarily on air quality and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Through the EEO, targets are primarily reached through the introduction of energy-saving technologies within buildings. In addition, efforts are made to encourage the use of energy-saving vehicles as well as a community-wide recognition of the need for energy savings and how these can be accomplished. The TAF, to use its own words, "has focused largely on incubating community and city initiatives aimed primarily at energy efficiency, alternative means of transportation, the creation of carbon-sinks through the greening of, houses and/or schools, for example, and the possibilities of green power."
To summarize, the main sustainable development characteristics of the two programs are that of energy efficiency, and the creation of a livable community through the improvement of air quality.
Critical Success Factors
Critical success factors include:
the EEO and the TAF programs' participatory design, which places the final decisions for projects with outside decision-makers such as building owners, bankers, homeowners, school trustees, etc., and the active participation of the Toronto populace, which both organizations make considerable effort to maintain;
the continuing support of city council, both for supplying operating funds for the EEO, and for participation in roundtable discussions and environmental/sustainability planning; and,
the availability of project financing using various mechanisms such as energy performance contracting, ‘on-bill’ financing, or free balances within existing capital budgets to finance projects.
Community Contact Information
Toronto Atmospheric Fund
Toronto Atmospheric Fund
Energy Efficiency Office
City of Toronto
The mid-term targets and implementation mechanisms for climate change within the City of Toronto run parallel to those to develop a sustainable community. This has resulted in supportive financial mechanisms (see case study concerning energy performance contracting), has created a substantial network of interested parties, and demonstrated that success is possible. To a large degree, much of the success of both agencies can be attributed to the continuing strong support of the City of Toronto Council as well as local community leaders. Also, in TAF's case the initial endowment enabled the agency to focus on the development of new projects and community collaboration as opposed to fund raising.
The BBP and the TAF have initiated several innovative financing vehicles that have resulted in the go-ahead of several projects, ncluding the BBP's Loan Recourse Fund, and the TAF's substitution of leasing arrangements for purchases of appliances. The TAF has also pioneered techniques to finance energy efficiency improvements in new condominiums using ongoing condominium fees as opposed to initial purchase prices for the condominium units as a means to make the financing of the improvements more amenable to home-owners.
What Didn’t Work?
The targets are mid-term and are limited to a sub-set of sustainable community objectives. In addition, the targets and implementation strategies, although successful in themselves, have been put in place without the benefit of detailed and integrated objectives related to other aspects of sustainability within the Toronto area such as urban infill, the creation of village centres or sustainable transportation. In this regard, Toronto has developed an environmental plan and created a Roundtable on the Environment to deal with sustainability matters.
The planning process is essentially target based, and not supported in any methodical sense with concomitant adjustments to municipal planning and/or decision processes. The upshot of this is that it is difficult to initiate and/or implement wider projects, such as an energy-savings project, that require the co-operation of a multi-residential building, a near-by factory or a local school to be fully effective or even financially viable.
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
The EEO forms part of the municipal government of the City of Toronto, and as such its operating costs are subsumed within the city’s budget. Funding for the EEO's projects comes from:
the EEO, mainly for smaller demonstration-style projects such as the Employee Energy Efficiency at Home Project, and planning and policy development;
the private sector for large-scale energy efficiency improvements using performance contracting. Over $100 million has been invested since the inception of the program;
the TAF for bridge financing of energy efficiency projects; and,
the BBP's innovative Loan Recourse Fund to finance projects within the multi-residential and medium/small buildings sectors through loan securitization and adding loan repayments to gas.
In 1992, the City of Toronto endowed the TAF with $26 million following the sale of real property assets. The TAF uses the income from the endowment to finance loans and grants to projects initiated within either the private or public sectors.
Analysis of this case study presents leads to three key observations:
The mid-term targets and implementation mechanisms for climate change within the City of Toronto run parallel to those to develop a sustainable community. This has resulted in supportive financial mechanisms, has created a substantial network of interested parties, and demonstrated that success is possible. The consequence is that mid-term programs, when participatory in nature, most likely will provide a good base for further more in-depth planning with respect to sustainability within communities.
The Toronto targets, with all of their success, are mid-term and are limited to a sub-set of sustainable community objectives. In addition, the targets and implementation strategies, although successful in themselves, have been put in place without the benefit of detailed and integrated objectives related to other aspects of sustainability within the Toronto area, such as urban infill, the creation of village centres or sustainable transportation. In this regard, Toronto has developed an environmental plan and created a Roundtable on the Environment to deal with sustainability matters.
Funding to finance the achievement of mid-term targets can be enormous. In Toronto, over $100 million has already been invested, using private sector lending techniques. Estimates suggest that this represents only a small portion of total potential investments.
Detailed Background Case Description
In January, 1990, the City of Toronto committed to reducing the city’s net CO2 emissions by 20 percent by the year 2005, relative to 1988. To attain this, the city undertook several initiatives, two critical ones being the various programs associated with the EEO and the loans and grants of the TAF.
The Overall Strategy of the Energy Efficiency Office
The City of Toronto’s EEO develops and coordinates an energy efficiency and conservation strategy for the city. In a nutshell, the strategy involves all sectors of the city (i.e. government organizations, universities, schools, business, and citizens) in a mid-term effort to conserve energy and be energy efficient. The strategy emphasizes public participation as well as a wide dissemination of energy-conserving knowledge. The strategy also focuses attention on the monetary savings that accrue to better energy use, and tries to lever these in various fashions to finance energy-savings investments using private-sector financing. While difficult to fully measure as many investments made as a result of EEO activities are not always recorded (such as those encouraged within the residential sector), total investments made as a result of EEO programs are well above $100 million accounting for approximately 4% of the 1988-based target. The city estimates that potential investments using EEO supported and private-sector financed mechanisms could exceed $3 billion.
Programs of the Energy Efficiency Office
The EEO programs impact most aspects of energy use within Toronto, and are specifically designed to serve the varying needs of the residential, commercial and institutional sectors. Programs include:
Technical Assistance and Support to the industrial, commercial and institutional sector through:
Enhancement of Residential Energy Awareness through:
The Better Buildings Partnership consisting of a series of sub-programs including:
The Employee Energy Efficiency at Work Program to promote energy conservation through the better management of office equipment power loads. For example, the methodical shutting-down of office copiers during non-office hours can save up to $50 per machine in unused energy,
The Better Transportation Partnership, a public-private partnership, to reduce smog emissions through seeking out new and emerging technologies. For example, the partnership purchased more than 100 alternatively fuelled vehicles for the city's fleet; and,
The Better Buildings New Construction Program to have new buildings designed to be at least 25% more energy efficient than those designed only to meet minimum requirements of the Model National Energy Code for Buildings as issued by the National Research Council.
The Overall Strategy of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund
In 1991, the TAF was established to promote global climate stabilization through financing local projects that work towards that end. TAF’s mandate is to promote:
global climate stabilization through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane;
local air quality;
energy conservation and efficiency;
public understanding of global warming and its implications for the urban environment;
"carbon sinks" such as Toronto's urban forest that absorbs carbon dioxide from the air;
related scientific research and technology development; and,
partnerships with non-governmental organizations, other levels of government, business and academic institutions.
To undertake its mandate, the Toronto City Council endowed TAF with $26 million to provide loans and/or grants to local projects on a revolving fund basis. The endowment came from the sale of municipal lands. TAF-sponsored projects ranged from installation of energy efficient street lighting, “greenups’ of over 12,000 homes to naturalization of school yards, and the development of plans for the city’s Bikeway Network. From its inception to the end of 2002-2003, TAF has granted some $7.9 million to various local projects. In addition, TAF has loaned or made financial commitments of some $29 million in support of projects focused at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
TAF's stated priorities for the period 2003-2006 are in the areas of:
energy conservation and efficiency; and,
reducing the fossil fuel content of energy sources.
Community Efforts and Programs of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund
Public education and outreach is a key element in TAF’s commitment to global climate change stabilization. To undertake this and serve as its public education and outreach partner, TAF created the Clean Air Partnership (CAP), a registered charity founded in June 2000. To achieve its mandate in support of TAF, CAP delivers programs such as:
publishing a Clean Air and Environment Guide and distributing it to over 1.7 Ontarians;
delivering 20/20 The Way to Clean Air, a program to encourage individuals and households to reduce their own air emissions such as reducing the use of two-stroke engines and/or replacing older small machines, such as lawn mowers, with newer models;
hosting the GTA Clean Air Online website,
working with students and teachers to reduce waste in schools through CAP’s Cool Schools program; and,
hosting the annual Smog Summit, and the GTA Clean Air Council, an intergovernmental group including towns, cities, and all four regional governments in the GTA.
Typical Loans and Grants of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund
The TAF makes about $8 million of its endowment fund available to finance mandate-related initiatives. For example, TAF provided:
bridge financing to the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative to support construction of the Exhibition Place wind turbine;
start-up financing to Autoshare to develop a car-sharing service for Toronto at 50 locations across the city;
financed Toronto Artscape Ltd to retrofit in two Toronto artists' facilities - 1313 Queen Street West and Gibraltor Point Centre for the Arts; and,
green loans to Tridel to finance the incremental costs of constructing new condominiums that exceed energy efficiency standards set out in the Model National Energy Code by 30 percent. An initial test project, Verve, is now on the market, and ten more are planned.
Using interest accruing from its endowment, TAF provides grants to local projects, typified by the 2004 projects described below.
Natural Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency, Buildings Division.
Resources and References
Major references for this case study include:
City of Toronto, Toronto Atmospheric Fund.
Toronto Atmospheric Fund, Consolidated Financial Statements of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund for Year Ended December 31, 2005.
Toronto Atmospheric Fund, Toronto Atmospheric Fund 10th Anniversary Report.
Toronto Atmospheric Fund, 2002-2003 Annual Report.
Moving Towards Kyoto: Toronto's Emission Reductions 1990-1998 - Technical Report - RIS International Ltd. & Torrie Smith Associates Inc. - April 22, 2003.
Moving Towards Kyoto: Toronto's Emission Reductions 1990-1998 - Policy Report - RIS International Ltd. & Torrie Smith Associates Inc. - April 22, 2003.
The City of Toronto's Corporate Energy Use and CO2 Emissions, 1990-1998: A Progress Report - Philip Jessup, June 1, 2001.
Yuill Herbert, Board Member, Canada Research Chair on Sustainable Community Development, Royal Roads University. Director, Sustainability Solutions Group
Published June 22, 2007
In 2004, the City of Calgary was the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a sustainable building policy, a policy that, amongst other things, commits all city-owned new building development and existing facilities undertaking major renovations to meet, or exceed, the silver level of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard. The city used a participatory and cross-departmental approach in developing its policy to ensure buy-in from independent business units. Additionally, the adoption of LEED as the city's standard helped familiarize consultants and developers with what has become an industry standard. LEED is a comprehensive approach that delivers ecological, social, and health benefits without imposing significant additional up-front costs, and results in long-term financial savings. The completed Cardel Place, Crowfoot Library and Country Hills Multi-Services Center are high profile and highly successful results of the adoption of the city-wide policy and its subsequent implementation through an industry-wide standard.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
Buildings clearly have significant ecological impacts. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that buildings in OECD countries account for 25 to 40% of total energy consumption (UNEP, 2007). Moreover, buildings represent a significant opportunity to reduce contributions to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). For example, Danny Harvey, a noted climatologist and economist argues that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 30% with no new technology by simply retrofitting existing buildings in Canada, and can achieve 60% GHG reductions with new technology.
By some estimates, the materials used for new building construction and repairs and renovations of existing buildings accounts for 40-50% of the total flow of raw materials in the global economy (ibid). The associated environmental impacts include the energy used for extraction, manufacture and transportation, the impact on the local ecosystem of, for example, mining or logging and ultimately disposal after the materials have exceeded their useful lifetime.
The City of Calgary selected the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design as one of its building standards (it is also piloting BOMA's Go Green standard on City-owned buildings), thus building on what is becoming a common certification standard. The environmental benefits of the LEED are widely documented including significant reductions in the consumption of water, energy, greenhouse gas emissions and materials usage. The LEED criteria also impacts the urban form through preference for the selection of brownfield sites and support for non-vehicular traffic modes.
While LEED is explicitly an environmental standard (hence the name Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a number of studies point to a range of social and economic impacts (Kats, 2006, Kats et al, 2003). A recent study, Greening America's Schools: Costs and Benefits (Kats, 2006) reviewed 30 schools that used green building strategies throughout the United States and assigned dollar values to those benefits (Table 1).
Table 1: Financial Benefits of Green Schools ($/ft2) (Kats, 2006)
|Water and wastewater||$1|
|Cold and flu reduction||$5|
|Cost of greening||$(3)|
|Net financial benefit||$71|
It follows that the benefits above could apply to all types of buildings. An extensive survey of the literature regarding the relationship between indoor environment and worker health by William Fisk (2000) concluded there is “relatively strong evidence that buildings and indoor environments significantly influence the occurrence of communicable respiratory illness, allergy and asthma symptoms, sick building symptoms, and worker performance”. Fisk estimated the potential annual value of improving indoor environmental quality in the US at from $6-$14 billion from reduced respiratory disease, from $1-$4 billion from reduced allergies and asthma, from $10-$30 billion from reduced sick building syndrome symptoms, and from $20-$160 billion from direct improvements in worker performance that are unrelated to health.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention hosted a workshop to initiate a discussion amongst a wide range of disciplines on the impacts of the built environment on mental and physical health (Dannenberg et al, 2003). The built environment has significant, yet variable influences on mental health as a source of stress, as an influence over social networks, through symbolic effects and social labeling, and through the action of the planning process itself (Dennard, 1997). The LEED does not explicitly address issues of mental or physical health; however, the LEED does include extensive implicit health advantages (Table 2).
Table 2: Health Benefits of LEED
| Health Benefit
||LEED Credit (CaGBC, 2004)||Impact|
|Reduced public health hazards||SS 3 Redevelopment of contaminated sites||reduces public health hazards|
|WE 2: innovative wastewater technologies||reduces wastewater|
|Reduced use of off-gassing chemicals||EQ 4: Low-emitting materials||
reduces indoor air contaminants that are oderous, potentially irritating, and/or harmful to comfort or well being
|Walking and cycling||SS 2: Development density||encourages development in urban areas|
|SS 4.2: Alternative transportation||bicycle storage and changing rooms|
|SS 4.4 Alternative transportation||reduces parking requirements|
|Indoor air quality improvements||EQ Prereq 1: Indoor air quality||minimum indoor air quality standards|
|EQ Prereq 2: Environmental tobacco smoke||prevent or minimize exposure to tobacco smoke|
|EQ 1: Carbon dioxide monitoring||CO2 levels are an indicator of air quality|
|EQ 2: Ventilation effectiveness||ensuring sufficient levels of air change|
|EQ 3: Indoor air quality||managed air quality during construction|
|EQ 5: Indoor chemical and source pollutant control||minimized exposure of building occupants to potentially hazardous particulates|
|EQ 6: Controllability of systems||ensures the occupant has control over the thermal, ventilation and lighting systems|
|EQ 7: Thermal comfort||humidity, temperature and airflow|
|Use of dayliighting||EQ 8: Daylighting and views||provides a connection between indoor spaces and the outdoors through the introduction of daylight and views|
Note: WE= Water Efficiency, EQ= Environmental Quality, SS=Sustainable Site
Critical Success Factors
Leaders and Champions. The City of Calgary's Sustainable Building Policy was initiated and driven by a small group of employees and city councilors with the support of local architects and consultants. Thus, it had both concurrent political and bureaucratic champions, as well as leadership from practitioners. The idea for a proactive policy came out of the experiences of Richard Allen, the city's employee responsible for energy retrofits of city-owned buildings at the time. Allen realised that it would make more sense to design energy efficiency into new buildings as opposed to retrofitting these buildings post-occupancy. The initiative also relied on compelling communicators to describe the case for the policy. Many other individuals also made significant contributions to the development and implementation of the policy.
History of Environmental Leadership. The City of Calgary has a long history of environmental leadership including a wind-powered public transit system, recent significant decreases in per capita water consumption, the development of a 100-year sustainability plan through imagineCalgary, tracking of performance through the State of Environment Reports (initiated in 1998), and a 50 percent reduction target for city greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. The sustainable building policy was built on prior learning and was a natural compliment to existing initiatives.
Acceptance of LEED as the Market Standard. There are a wide range of green building rating tools. Among them are Building Operations and Managers Association GO Green (Canada), the Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environment Efficiency (CASBEE) (Japan), GB Tool (developed for the Green Building Challenge), Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)(UK), and the LEED. In North America, the LEED has emerged, however, as the standard for new construction. There are now LEED projects in 24 countries, 35,575 LEED-accredited professionals, and more then 867 million square feet LEED certified (USGBC, 2007).
Community Contact Information
Russ Golightly, Project Manager,
Water Centre, City of Calgary
PO Box 2100
Karen Wichuk, Senior Sustainable Infrastructure Engineer
Corporate Engineering, City of Calgary
PO BOX 2100
The City of Calgary's Sustainable Building Policy was implemented in an inclusive and careful manner beginning in the summer of 2002. The founding committee included representatives from all the departments, including Environmental Management, Water Services, Waste & Recycling Services, building operations, health and wellness and the Aldermanic Office. The multi-stakeholder approach to the development of the policy was key to ensuring corporation understanding and consequently buy-in. The combination of political and administrative leadership as well as representation from across the city's business units helped to integrate the policy into the city operations. In 2003, a pilot project encompassing new building construction was introduced and succeeded in gaining consensus from both council and committee. The scope of the pilot project was then expanded from new buildings to include major retrofits.
At the societal level, the policy successfully both internalises and mitigates costs that are typically carried outside of the economic system, costs that are borne instead by the ecosystem, human health, and public infrastructure. The City of Calgary's policy essentially states that the city will bear the cost of reducing these impacts by building sustainable buildings. However, as it turns out the cost of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and toxic indoor environments actually results in financial savings for the city. By internalising environmental costs, the city is saving money through taking a win-win approach as advocated, in particular, by Hawken et al. in their book Natural Capitalism (1999).
The City of Calgary has an unwritten policy of leading by example as opposed to legislation and this policy is very much in that vein. The effect of its program has been the extensive involvement of consultants in each of the city's LEED projects, providing a training ground of sorts. From these experiences, the consultants in turn have been active in promoting green building strategies to their clients in the private sector and encouraging them to undertake LEED projects. In 2005, three City of Calgary facilities received LEED certification—the Crowfoot Library, the Country Hills Multi-Services Centre and Cardel Place. By the end of 2005, there were nine projects listed for LEED certification in Calgary and by the end of 2006, there were 28 (CaGBC, 2007). While this increase follows the general trend for LEED certification, in 2007, Calgary had the third highest number of LEED-registered projects in Canada.
Crowfoot Library (LEED certified) used natural daylight, energy efficiencies and other strategies to reduce its total electricity requirements by more then 30 percent.
The Water Centre was also influenced by the policy. The Water Centre is the largest office building built by the City of Calgary in the last twenty years and combines two large city business units that were previously distributed in five separate buildings. The use of an Integrated Design Process (IDP), a common green building design strategy, fundamentally changed the nature of the project. Originally, the Water Centre was intended to host 180 people, however, in the course of the design process it became clear that it would make sense to house all of the related city employees in a single space and so the project grew to house 300-400 offices and 400 field staff.
Green building aspects include 70 percent storm water reductions, 50 percent reduction in potable water, 60 percent savings in annual energy consumption over a standard building, ventilation using fresh air, and day-lighting. The landscaping includes 5 acres of native grasses and wildflowers, demonstrating the use of low-water use plants and materials. The expected lifetime of the building is 100 years, twice that of comparable structures. It is also anticipated that the building will improve delivery of water services in Calgary by facilitating improved communication between employees who were previously in different buildings. Total construction cost was $33 million.
What Didn’t Work?
The City of Calgary's Sustainable Building Policy still has its challenges and detractors and while it is widely adopted, issues remain. The biggest challenge to a complete uptake relates to organizational structure; city business units operate independently and there are seven units that own buildings.
In the case of the Water Centre, a key challenge was the on and off loading of team members. For example, the office people in the construction management company work on design and tender and then pass it onto others to build the project. The transfer of knowledge regarding the green building strategies from one group to another can slow the process down and extra budgeting for this component would have been helpful. In addition, some aspects of integrated design and decision-making may be compromised.
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
A key feature of the city’s policy was a commitment that the policy would not result in additional total building costs, and the Water Centre was a successful example of this commitment. Certain green building strategies including high efficiency filters, construction waste management, the purchase of green power and additional commissioning work added approximately $200,000 to 300,000 to the total (less then one percent on a project costing $33 million), however, most of these items pay back through savings in operational costs. The mechanical and electrical strategies, for example, resulted in energy savings with a 12- to 15-year payback (Interview with project manager, 2007).
There is considerable debate as to whether green building strategies result in significantly higher capital costs. A survey of six early green building case studies in Canada indicated that there was actually a capital costs saving of 5.6 percent (+5%,+8%, -41%, 0%, 0%, -5.6%) (McDonald, 1997). However, other studies in the US indicate, on average, small premiums (Kats, 2003, 2006, Bradshaw, 2005). A more accurate conclusion that parallels the results in Calgary is “Costs range widely; some projects added significant costs and others actually saved money. In every case, an integrated design process and early commitment to sustainable design enable high achievement” (Matthiessen & Morris quoted in MacDonald, 2005). In the case of the Water Centre, after the IDP and a decision to combine two city departments, the budget increased significantly; however the project manager indicated that green building strategies for a project this size do not cost more then conventional construction. Cardel Place, as well, illustrated that significant capital and operating savings are possible within a conventional budget.
A verification system is another aspect of the policy, addressing the question of how well the buildings are performing. The policy relies on LEED verification systems as long as the cost of LEED certification, including consultants and pertinent analysis is less then $5.00 per square foot. If the anticipated cost for certification is higher then $5.00 per square foot, the building is not certified, but is instead reviewed by an independent third party to ensure it meets the Sustainable Building Policy minimum level of LEED silver certification (City of Calgary, 2005).
The City of Calgary's Sustainable Building Policy has been successful in delivering high quality, green buildings for city operations and achieved significant health and environmental benefits. While the policy covers only city-owned buildings, one interviewee indicated that consultants involved in city-owned green building projects were active in delivering green building projects to the private sector. The link, however, between city-owned green buildings and any uptake by the private sector of green building in Calgary is not clearly demonstrable, because the increase in green buildings in Calgary may also be attributable to a general trend of an increasing number of LEED-certified green buildings across Canada.
One component of the definition of sustainable development is equitable access to resources—ecological, social, and economic (Dale, 2001). While the City of Calgary's Sustainable Building Policy effectively addresses human health and environmental issues, and lowers the financial burden of city-owed buildings and infrastructure on future generations, it does not explicitly address this component of sustainable development. Other city programs including Encouraging Sustainable Communities and the Affordable Housing Strategy, do, however, address these areas and members of the team responsible for the sustainable buildings policy are actively involved in these initiatives.
Detailed Background Case Description
In 2001, the City of Calgary (2001) passed a comprehensive environmental policy that focused on leadership:
to conserve, protect and improve the environment for the benefit of Calgarians and the regional community. The City of Calgary will integrate sustainable social, economic, and environmental objectives into a co-ordinated decision-making process to maintain high standards of living, social harmony and environmental quality.
The city's Sustainable Building Policy (2005) came into effect on September 13th, 2004, after a year-long pilot program. The vision of the policy is as follows:
“The City will develop sustainable buildings that will enhance the indoor and outdoor environment, reduce the impact on natural resources and provide long-term savings to the citizens of Calgary.”
The policy defines a sustainable building as a building which:
“...integrates building materials and methods that promote environmental quality, economic vitality, and social benefit through the design, construction and operation of the built environment. A sustainable building merges sound, environmentally responsible practices into one discipline that looks at the environmental, economic and social effects of a building or built project as a whole. Sustainable design encompasses the following broad topics: appropriate management of land, efficient management of energy and water resources, management of material resources and waste, protection of environmental quality, protection of health and indoor and outdoor environmental quality and reinforcement of natural systems through the integrated design approach."
A key aspect of the City of Calgary's policy is its use of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) as a standard. LEED was developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC, 2007) a non-profit organization as a standardized system for rating new and existing commercial, institutional and high-rise residential buildings according to their environmental features. The LEED uses a point or credit system and based on the points achieved, assigns the levels of certified, silver, gold and platinum. LEED points are awarded in the areas of sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation and design process. The Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) has modified the LEED standards for the Canadian context and is now certifying buildings in Canada.
A second important component is the policy's inclusion of life cycle analysis. A significant barrier to green building projects is a higher initial or capital costs, costs which frequently deliver both environmental benefits and operational savings, such as reduced electricity or water consumption over the life of the building. A conventional costing analysis considers only the capital costs and does not account for benefits over the life cycle of the building. The City of Calgary's policy specifically supports the life cycle costing approach with the goal of achieving the highest, most cost-effective environmental performance possible over the life of the facility, a significant shift in the city's approach to financing buildings.
In 2004, the City of Vancouver was another early adopter, creating a similar green building policy that committed all city projects to meet LEED, but at the gold level. The city's green building strategy, however, is a work-in-progress including a by-law review that is likely to include a regulatory component for all buildings constructed in Vancouver (Mikkelsen and French, 2005).
What are the key barriers to implementing sustainable building policies in other municipalities?
What is the impact of building design and green buildings in particular on mental health and worker productivity?
How can municipal or city policies address the issue of higher capital costs that result in long term benefits?
Resources and References
Bradshaw, William et al (2005). The Cost and Benefits of Green Affordable Building. New Ecology Inc and Tellus Institute. Available at www.newecology.org.
Canadian Green Building Council (2004). LEED Green Building Rating System: Reference Package for New Construction and Major Renovations Version 1.0. Available at www.cagbc.org.
Canadian Green Building Council (2007). Database of LEED registered projects. http://www.cagbc.org/leed/leed_projects/index.php Accessed March, 2007.
City of Calgary (2001). City of Calgary's Environmental Policy. www.calgary.ca.
City of Calgary (2005). Sustainable Building Policy. www.calgary.ca.
City of Calgary (2006). State of the Environment Report- Third Edition. www.calgary.ca.
Dale, Ann (2001). At the Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Dannenberg, Andrew et al (2003). The Impact of Community Design and Land-Use Choices on Public Health- A Scientific Research Agenda. Public Health Journals. American Journal of Public Health. September, 2003. Vol. 3, No. 9.
Dennard, Linday (1997). More then Bricks and Mortar? Mental Health and the Environment. Human Relations. A review of a book by David Halpern. Vol. 50, No. 4.
Fisk, William (2000). Health and Productivity Gains from Better Indoor Environments and Their Relationship with Building Energy Efficiency. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment. 25:537–66.
Hawken, Paul, Lovins, Amory and Lovins, Hunter (1999). Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Little, Brown and Company. Website: http://www.natcap.org/.
Kats, Gregory (2006). Greening America's Schools: Costs and Benefits. Capital E. For the American Federation of Teachers, American Institute of Architects, American Lung Association, Federation of American Scientists and the US Green Building Council.
Kats, Greg et al (2003). The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings. Sustainable Buildings Task Force.
McDonald, Rodney (2005). The Economics of Green Building in Canada: Highlighting Seven Keys to Cost Effective Green Building. Thesis for Royal Roads University.
Mikkelsen, Dale and French, Trish (2005). Vancouver Green Building Strategy. Standing Committee on Planning and the Environment. City of Vancouver.
NRCAN, (2007). Update of Commercial Building Incentive Program 2006-2007 Funding. Office of Energy Efficiency. http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/commercial/newbuildings.cfm.
United Nations Environment Program (2007). Buildings and Climate Change: Status, Challenges and Opportunities. www.unep.org. Accessed March 20, 2007.
United States Green Building Council (2007). Green Building, USGBC and LEED. www.usgbc.org.
Published December 20, 2006
In five years, United We Can, a downtown eastside Vancouver recycling project, evolved from a loose ad-hoc network of “binners” (dumpster divers) into a thriving business enterprise and an increasingly healthy community of workers engaged in providing an essential recycling service to their broader community. Today, United We Can employs 33 people full-time, most of whom had not been previously employable. On average, there are 700-750 street people visits a day, with 300 core binners coming every day. United We Can has an annual revenue of 1.6 million dollars, and recycles 50,000 bottles a day, processing more than 20 million cans and bottles each year, all of which would be lost in the waste stream without this enterprise.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
United We Can is a concrete example that by doing something good for the environment (the ecological imperative), in this case reducing waste through recycling, you create jobs (the economic imperative), thereby augmenting agency (the social imperative), and is one of the few concrete examples of ‘achieving sustainable development’ (Dale and Robinson 1995) in Canada.
This case study is about how people in a ‘marginalized’ community self-organized and then accessed outside resources to move from surviving to getting ahead by creating their own physical place, a recycling depot that makes significant reductions to the traditional waste stream, that would otherwise not occur without this social enterprise. This physical place then provided a space to facilitate building collective social capital through increased connection and a sense of community, leading to psychological space for some, and for many, personal recovery.
United We Can is the only social enterprise in this country that fundamentally integrates the ecological, social and economic imperatives equally. Many initiatives are now attempting to reconcile ecological and economic imperatives, whereas the social dimension is always forgotten. Their organization is also contributing to the revitalization of a downtown community in the heart of Vancouver, that many define as marginalized.
Critical Success Factors
The following factors were identified as being crucial to the success of this initiative:
Community Contact Information
Executive Director and Manager
39 East Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6A 1M9
Tel: 604. 681-0001
Encorp Pacific (Canada)
Tel: 604. 473-2406
What Didn’t Work?
United We Can is now at another critical juncture in its evolution, very typical of small businesses as they seek to diversify both their leadership and increase skill sets and training, and as they try to expand the scale of their operations. Its very existence, in spite of its success, is critically dependent upon decisions now being considered by the City of Vancouver. The City of Vancouver is now locking some of the garbage bins in the alleyways, and the two largest commercial waste collectors who own the large bins (Waste Management and BPI) are complying with the directive from the city. Ostensibly, they are being locked to prevent fires or people sleeping in them and then getting caught when they are emptied in the morning. There is anecdotal evidence that some Vancouver residents object to the binners scavenging through the garbage in what is essentially their urban backyard. It is hoped that the initiative undertaken by another group of binners, the creation of a Binners Association, where each binner is given an identity card, a variant on a union in some ways, so that police and residents will know they are ‘employees’ of United We Can will alleviate some of these concerns.
Financial Costs (A) and Funding Sources (B)
Since 1995, United We Can is now self-sustaining and runs as a traditional business enterprise.
First United Church (Dendorff-Morris Trust Fund) $150.00 Victoria Park Square
VanCity Community Loan of $12,500
Anonymous benefactor donation of $12,500
Prior government funding for rent and wages to build internal capacity
Detailed Background Case Description
A binner is a street person who takes recyclable material from the big blue garbage bins hidden in the back alleys of downtown Vancouver and returns them to retailers for money. Prior to the establishment of United We Can, binners were dependent upon the largesse of store owners, who were often adverse to having street people seen in their stores, and resented taking back recoverables that they had not sold, and often convinced the binners to accept goods in lieu of cash, in some cases, items such as chewing gum.
United We Can was founded by Ken Lyotier, himself a ‘dumpster diver’ or ‘binner’. In five years, it grew from a loose ad-hoc network of binners to a social business enterprise providing an essential infrastructure service to the broader community, recovering over 20 million cans and bottles a year, that would otherwise have been landfilled. They recycle 50,000 bottles a day, which averages out to 100 bottles sorted each minute at their depot. They average 700-750 street people a day, with 300 core binners every day.
In 1992, Ken Lyotier and a friend organized a one-day bottle depot in Victoria Square, a local park, to pay street people to bring in empty cans and bottles, which at that time were not covered by the current bottle deposit system. The event was a big success in terms of the media coverage of the ‘mountain of garbage’ collected and of the social capital subsequently built between the binners, normally a very solitary occupation, as they waited to be paid for their shopping carts of non-refundable bottles and cans.
The Human Resources Ministery of the British Columbia government approached the organizers to learn what had happened, and suggested that consultants be hired to organize further community workshops. The organizers of the original one-day depot convinced the Ministry that workshops should be organized from within and by the community, and that the participants should be paid as consultants for their time. Again, street people lined up for the workshops at local community centres, and had a lot of expertise to share with the government officials.
From these workshops, the binners, again building collective social capital through simply connecting with one another, realized they could run their own bottle return system, although it took about another four years for the core group to make their vision operational. It took about three years for the group to incorporate as a non-profit organization. Following this incorporation, a line of credit was secured with VanCity, and with a loan of $12,500 from their Community Loan Fund and $12,500 from a benefactor, United We Can was established as a formal bottle deposit. In its first year of operation, 4.7 million containers were recycled putting $360,000 back into the community through handling fees. At this time, the provincial government paid for the rent and the initial wages for the men and women working on the project.
The operating principle behind the organization was that it would hire people who would not be hired by anyone else, and there would be no exclusions because of active addiction or health. Ken Lyotier became its Executive Director and Manager. There were several operational difficulties in the first years, specifically convincing many of the binner community to become involved. Because the project’s wages and rent were provided by the government, the group was able to initially bank all revenues. As the project grew, a major problem developed when handling fees did not cover costs. However, in 1998 the provincial government brought in new regulations to include containers not earlier covered (juice and water) and, in 1999 when polycoated containers were added, United We Can began to make money, still continuing to bank as much as it could. The organization achieved charitable status in 1996.
Following on this success, there are currently four other business streams in development. These are: The Collection Services, which through truck and tricycle hauling, is now offering container collection directly from larger volume commercial and residential consumers in the downtown area; The Bike Works which offers qualified instruction, sales and repair tools for low-income residents and depot users who need to maintain their bicycles and, as well, maintains a fleet of bicycles for small-scale local pickups; The Bintek Computer Lab, using the recycled computer equipment acquired from dumpsters by binners and received by donation, rebuilds consumer-ready systems, which are then sold at affordable prices to low-income residents; and Happy Plants, which ‘recycles’ plant cuttings taken from the garbage and grown into larger plants for sale to the wider public. In addition, The Crossroads & Lanes Community Clean Up campaign is a public space environmental clean up campaign designed to reclaim city lanes and make them vital links in the urban landscape.
Will the City of Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Regional District working together with Encorp Pacific (Canada) develop a strategic partnership with United We Can, which integrates social and environmental policies to produce more efficacious results than isolated planning? Or on the other hand, will they lock down the dumpsters and effectively reverse the successes already achieved?
Will the service agencies working in the Downtown Eastside be able/willing to change their perspective to one based on social capital and how would this approach apply to United We Can?
Can United We Can successfully diversify its leadership and train others to take on more leadership roles?
Can United We Can develop a leading-edge and innovative waste management plan for the future that integrates environmental, social, and economic policies allowing it to become a showcase for sustainable community development or allowing it to become sustainable in the long term?
Will municipal and provincial governments commit to investment strategies that institutionalize projects like United We Can into their waste management systems?
Will it be possible to have unprecedented cooperation between government departments and levels of government, and to develop successful strategic partnerships between the private sector bin owners and the product manufacturers to make the United We Can type of project sustainable in the long term?