Case Studies in Sustainable Infrastructure Library

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Case studies in sustainable energy.


A Microgeneration Strategy for Canada - Part 1

A Microgeneration Strategy for Canada - Part 1

Published 2006

Case Summary

This case provides an overview of the potential for microgeneration policy in Canada. It does not provide a detailed analysis of existing or recommended policy options. Instead, it draws attention to the opportunities that microgeneration provides, and shows how other jurisdictions have seized on these opportunities while Canada lags behind. This case is based on a review of relevant literature and on interviews with stakeholders in the microgeneration industry.

The case presents microgeneration technologies as part of a strategy to transition to a low carbon economy. It explores the way in which microgeneration has captured the imagination of the public and policy-makers alike in the UK. The barriers to microgeneration in Canada are considered as well as an outline of government initiatives designed to overcome those barriers, and concludes by suggesting elements for a microgeneration strategy for Canada.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Microgeneration in the transition to a low carbon society

Canada’s Greenhouse Gas emissions are rising sharply, with energy use in buildings accounting for approximately 30% of emissions (CETC-Buildings Program website). While Canadians are concerned about climate change (Environics Research, reported in Refocus Weekly, 2003), many people feel helpless to act alone, and often do not connect their day-to-day behaviour with climate change. Even in a time of rising energy prices, most consumers find it difficult to link their always-on standby lights with the monthly energy bill, let alone with carbon emissions. It is not surprising that government exhortations to conserve energy appear to be largely ineffective, and successive government programs have failed to engage citizens in the fight against climate change.

At the same time, growth in Canada’s renewable energy lags far behind other nations (Martinot). Despite some of the world’s most abundant renewable resources, and a population that overwhelmingly supports their use (Refocus Weekly, 2003), Canada’s renewable energy industry receives far less government support than that in Germany, the US, Spain or Japan. As a result, Canada’s renewable energy companies, some of them world leaders, often rely principally on exports because domestic markets are held back by limited government support, red tape, and inefficient policy.

Most of Canada’s electricity is generated in large, centralized plants, often some distance from the centres of population where most energy is consumed. While this creates some efficiencies through scale economies, more than 7% of Canada’s electricity is lost in its transmission and distribution (1999 figure; World Bank, 2002). Since Canada’s electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions in 1999 were 134 million tonnes, transmission and distribution losses imply a substantial carbon penalty. With a huge, renewables-rich land mass and a geographically dispersed population, Canada is ideally placed to become a leader in developing small-scale, distributed renewables, or ‘microgeneration’.

Microgeneration enables efficiencies, brings energy production close to the consumer, and empowers Canadian businesses, families, and individuals to make sustainable choices. Microgeneration technologies include both heat and power generation technologies, such as solar water heaters, solar photovoltaics, small wind turbines, biomass heating, and micro-hydro. Typically, microgeneration refers to a scale of less than approximately 100kW – a scale that involves meeting energy needs for single buildings or developments.
A vision for Canada 2050:
"Solar heating and power systems are viewed as the norm, with one in three single family homes using a solar water heating system and one in 10 using photovoltaics." (National Round Table on the Economy and the Environment, 2006).

Engaging the public

For most of us, energy use is largely invisible and unconscious. We simply are not aware of the stand-by lights, the power ratings of our toasters and lightbulbs, and the efficiency of the furnace. Exhorting the public with campaigns to conserve energy had poor results in the past, and although most Canadians are concerned about climate change (Bueckert, 2006), many feel helpless to make any positive changes in their own lives. Environment Canada’s evaluation of the One-Tonne Challenge program found that many people remained unaware of how they could make changes in their daily lives to reduce emissions (Environment Canada, 2006). Encouraging sustainable energy consumption is not straightforward. Canadian energy prices are relatively low, and do not reflect the true environmental and social costs of energy production and consumption. In any case, despite recent price hikes, many consumers find it hard to link the monthly bill to their day-to-day behaviour. But however difficult it may be, failing to engage with consumer behaviour is not an option if Canada is serious about cutting emissions. Microgeneration technologies provide opportunities to engage Canadians in the fight agains climate change with a positive and empowering approach.

Introducing clean, affordable energy generated within their own homes and businesses enables people to see and understand their own energy use, and to be proactive in reducing their emissions. Microgeneration technologies help people to see the bigger energy picture, and help to make people more aware of their energy choices and use at home. This sets residential-scale energy apart from larger alternatives – it is a real way of engaging people with the origins and impacts of energy and the implications of consumption, and combating the apathy that so often accompanies climate change concern.

"I see micropower in terms of a battle for hearts and minds, really, as much as the more mundane but very important fact that it can be part of the energy supply". (UK Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, 2006).

A recent study in the UK found that households in which microgeneration technologies have been installed are generally more aware of the energy use in their home, and adapt their behaviour accordingly. This was even true of microgeneration technologies in social housing, where the residents themselves had not made the decision to install the technologies. These residents had never thought of themselves as environmentalists (Dobbyn & Thomas, 2005). In the US, experience from the Sacramento PV (Photovoltaic) Pioneers program demonstrated how homeowners felt benefits from the satisfaction derrived from, and status acquired in being a leader in sustainable energy (Smiley, 2003).  Microgeneration is a visible reminder to the whole community of climate change solutions and self-sufficiency.

“I tell people all the time that I generate my own electricity.. I love it.. I think it's fascinating.”(Homeowner in Lancashire, with wind turbine. Dobbyn & Thomas, 2005).
Microgeneration technologies can make a difference not only in businesses and households, but also in other applications. Schools in particular can reduce their energy bills while educating a new generation about society’s options for a clean, low carbon future.
“A lot of parents seem to notice it and ask what we’re doing. It’s good for them to see new things going on in the school.” (Teacher, Scottish primary school with solar panels. Dobbyn & Thomas 2005).

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Canada’s deployment of renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar is significantly behind that of many other countries, while Canada’s greenhouse gases continue to increase. Canada is lagging behind other jurisdications efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and no longer providing the progressive leadership that the international community has come to expect of Canadians.

Microgeneration technologies can help achieve a reduction in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Many microgeneration technologies are zero carbon renewables: micro wind power, solar PV and solar thermal, and biomass heating and Combined Heat and Power (CHP). These technologies directly offset energy from carbon emitting sources. Others use renewable energy to supplement traditional sources: ground and air source heat-pumps, for example, use a small amount of electricity to extract heat and cooling from the earth and air.

Realisation of the full market potential would result in the installation of over 600 MW of small wind turbines and greenhouse gas emission reductions of over 300 kilotonnes CO2e per year (equivalent to removing over 50,000 cars from the road).” (Marbek and GPCo, 2005). The solar resource is also huge, again with the southern (populated) areas of the prairies particularly richly endowed, and also southern Ontario (Morris, 2006). On a typical July day, Toronto receives more solar energy than Miami (McGonagle, 2006). In Canada’s forested areas, where wind resources are constrained, bioenergy represents an enormous opportunity. It is worth noting that the provinces that are most dependent on fossil fuels for electricity, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, also have the richest microgeneration resources.

Already, despite very limited deployment, microgeneration technologies are reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. For example, active solar heating systems currently operating in Canada replace around 23,200 tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year, while the solar thermal collectors sold during 2004 alone will replace, over their lifetime, 122,600 tonnes. (SAIC, 2005).

Microgeneration technologies alone are not the solution to Canada’s energy policy needs, as they will not serve all of Canada’s energy demands, but neither is the contribution of microgeneration vanishingly small. Modelling for the UK government, based on learning curve estimations of future costs, has suggested market penetration of small (< 50kW) wind and PV could reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 6% by 2050 if net metering tariffs are in place (Energy Savings Trust et al, 2005). While this would clearly be different for Canada, the UK's experience demonstrates that gains from microgeneration are small, but potentially significant. There is an urgent need for further analysis to assess the potential for market penetration of microgeneration in Canada to reduce emissions.

Providing clean, affordable power to Canada’s remote communities

Micro-scale technologies are potentially the most cost effective, and clean energy choices for Canada’s rural and remote communities. Many rural and remote communities rely on diesel generators for power. Diesel generation is dirty, carbon-intensive, and expensive to run due to the high cost of transporting fuel to remote areas. Small-scale renewables in remote communities are not only a clean and carbon-free alternative, but would also reduce day-to-day living costs for some of Canada’s most vulnerable communities. While rural and remote communities represent a vibrant, unsubsidized market for solar PV technologies, with a cumulative installed capacity of 11.67MW in 2003, representing a nearly 10-fold increase in PV over the preceding decade (Ayoub and Dignard-Bailey, 2003), many communities could benefit from cost-effective renewable power.

Reducing infrastructure needs and enhancing robustness

Electricity in Canada is produced far from the point of consumption. The electrical system requires substantial investments in transmission networks to move power around the country. As electricity demands rise over the coming years, costly upgrades to transmission systems will be needed. In any case, long-distance transmission brings inefficiencies into the system. Microgeneration reduces or delays that need, by meeting demand closer to the point of use and thus reducing the need for increased transmission capacity. This economic benefit of microgeneration is not always captured in cost comparisons, which typically represent generated, rather than delivered, electricity costs. This fails to represent the costs of infrastructure and the efficiency losses of long-distance transmission (WADE, 2005).

Microgeneration technologies can also enhance system robustness, and help to prevent black-outs: meeting some electrical load locally reduces the strain on long-distance transmission lines. Studies after the 2003 black-outs in Eastern Canada and the US found evidence that a few 10s of MW of distributed PV could have prevented the black-outs (Perez and Collins, 2004).  Canada’s electricity transmission infrastructure is inefficient and stressed, and distributed renewables can ease this pressure (CanREA, 2006). The National Energy Board recently concluded that:

“Alternative and renewable resources and demand management are becoming more important in addressing … supply adequacy.” (National Energy Board, 2005).

PV technologies, in particular, reduce energy demands during summer peak loads, on hot sunny days when air-conditioning demands spike.

Providing opportunities for Canadian business

Canada already has world-leading companies in microgeneration technologies. In BC, Carmanah Technologies is a leader in both off-grid and on-grid solar systems, while Xantrex Technologies is a leader in low-voltage power inverters essential for grid connection. Canada has international strengths in small wind (Marbek and GPco, 2005), and other power technologies (Umedaly, 2005). However, while global markets for microgeneration technologies are growing, Canada’s domestic market lags behind. Supporting microgeneration in Canada will provide opportunities for Canadian companies to develop and compete globally.

“Global demand for small, environmentally friendly power systems is rapidly accelerating. In Canada, there is a huge potential market among homeowners and small business operators.…the micropower market could provide thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.”(Micropower Connect, 2006).

Critical Success Factors

Lessons from the UK experience:
  1. Dynamism at the local level played a key role in fostering the development of policy.
  2. National government leadership was essential in encouraging local level progress to spread.
  3. Enabling straightforward grid connection is essential and a pre-requisite if economic instruments such as capital grants are to work.
  4. Microgeneration can capture the public imagination, and engage public debate around energy futures.

What Worked?

Progress in Canada:
  1. Canadian governments have already recognised many of the benefits of public support for microgeneration technologies, and both the federal government and provincial governments have taken important steps to remove barriers and enable growth in microgeneration markets.
  2. The Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative (REDI) was established in 1998 to provide $51m over 9 years to solar air and water heating and biomass heating in commercial buildings.
  3. The Class 43.1 Capital Cost Allowance tax incentive for the purchase of renewable energy equipment has been valuable for supporting the small wind market.
  4. PST exemptions or rebates on renewable energy purchases offered in PEI, BC, and Ontario. Nova Scotia provides a 10% rebate for solar water heating, and $200 for certified clean-burning woodstoves, while the Quebec Energy Efficiency Fund provides $400 towards solar wall installations, a form of active solar air heating. In BC, a project of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, partnered with provincial and federal governments, Vancity Credit Union, and BC Hydro, is providing support for homeowners and communities to access rebates for solar hot water systems.
  5. Natural Resources Canada and a range of industry associations and other stakeholders have made progress over the last few years in tackling some of the systemic barriers.
  6. In 2006, a new National Standard of Canada was issued covering grid interconnection of microgeneration technologies, providing a basis for harmonized rules across Canada.
  7. The Ontario Power Authority’s Standard Offer Program, which provides a guaranteed price for electricity generated from renewable resource installations under 10MW.
  8. The federal government has provided support to a number of Canadian industry associations representing the microgeneration industry, either with core funding or for specific projects. Government support has also been available for the development of product standards and training and certification programs. Other support has been targeted at raising awareness of small-scale renewables.
  9. The Aboriginal and Northern Community Action Plan (ANCAP) was developed to help northern communities respond to the challenges of climate change, through adaptation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This includes supporting renewable energy projects, as well as resource estimation (through a Wind Assessment program), and community energy planning in remote communities across Canada.
  10. There are many Canadian municipalities that have installed small-scale renewable systems, often as part of initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of civic buildings. The federal government's Green Municipal Funds, which is administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, has been an important source of support for these projects.

What Didn’t Work?

Barriers to microgeneration in Canada include:
  1. Energy systems and markets are structured and regulated in such a way as to unfairly exclude small producers, by barring entry into energy markets, failing to compensate small producers for their generated energy, and a host of issues associated with codes and standards, building regulations, and permits.
  2. The process of connecting to the grid needs to be carefully regulated to ensure safety and reliability, but the process of interconnection is often overly complex, and some observers have suggested that the lack of uniform interconnection standards across the country has been ‘the number one interconnection barrier for small renewable systems.’
  3. Codes are vital for ensuring that products and buildings are safe and reliable, but they need to be updated as new technologies emerge. This has not always happened.
  4. Canada currently lacks straightforward training and certification systems for installers of many microgeneration technologies.
  5. Local by-laws and planning rules have usually been designed without consideration of micro-renewable technologies.
  6. In an energy system dominated for decades by large, centralized power generators and heating fuel providers, many homeowners, developers, and policy-makers simply do not know about or understand the alternatives.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Although they typically have low operating costs, most microgeneration technologies involve large up-front capital costs, and frequently long pay-back timeframes. This is particularly true in Canada, where electricity prices are very low. For many homeowners concerned about reducing their energy bills, upfront costs are a major disincentive, particularly given the difficulty in accessing the financing mechanisms available to investors in large centralized energy systems. High upfront costs were cited as one of the principal barriers to increased microgeneration by most of the industry figures contacted, reflecting the results of recent surveys (Marbek and GPco, 2005).

It is often argued that the high upfront costs of microgeneration technologies are a reason to delay support until costs have come down through R&D. This is often a self-defeating argument, given what we know about the relationship between cumulative installations and cost (see figure below). Removing the barriers to adopting microgeneration technologies will allow costs to fall, and for microgeneration technologies to establish self-supporting markets. This, of course, does not mean that microgeneration should be given a blank check, but rather that targeted support can create momentum for change.

Furthermore, current electricity prices benefit from existing infrastructures or “heritage assets,” such as large hydro projects and other facilities where investment costs have been recovered. Cost comparisons need to be based on the incremental costs of meeting rising demands, which can be higher than electricity prices from existing installations (National Energy Board, 2005).

The Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative (REDI) was established in 1998 to provide $51m over 9 years to solar air and water heating and biomass heating in commercial buildings. It provides up to 25% of the cost of these systems, and in 2002 support from REDI was extended to ground source heat. While it has provided much needed support for the development of the renewable heat industries in the commercial sector, and is considered to have been a successful program, it has not engaged with homeowners to bring renewable energies to a wider market.

PST exemptions or rebates on renewable energy purchases are offered in PEI, BC, and Ontario. Several provinces have also developed grants for renewable equipment purchases: Nova Scotia provides a 10% rebate for solar water heating, and $200 for certified clean-burning woodstoves, while the Quebec Energy Efficiency Fund provides $400 towards solar wall installations, a form of active solar air heating. In BC, a project of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, partnered with provincial and federal governments, Vancity Credit Union, and BC Hydro, is providing support for homeowners and communities to access rebates for solar hot water systems.


Micro-generation should appeal to Albertans' sense of themselves as an independent, entrepreneurial breed of Canadian. It will highlight policies that have worked both in Canada and overseas, providing Canadian policy-makers with clear examples of how policies to foster microgeneration have been successfully applied. Right now, there is no policy for crediting microgenerators for any excess power they create. The report is based on a review of relevant literature and on interviews with stakeholders involved in the microgeneration industry. It will shortly also be accredited to install wind turbines. It was with great interest that I read this stellar article by Chris Turner in Alberta Views Magazine. The dishwasher-sized contraption generates electricity as it produces heat. Because of technological advances, microgeneration now includes handheld solar and wind-power recharging devices for personal electronics, as well as advanced photovoltaic and wind-turbine products to power homes and factories.

A Microgeneration Strategy for Canada - Part 2

A Microgeneration Strategy for Canada - Part 2

Published November 29, 2006

Detailed Background Case Description

Capturing the public imagination: microgeneration in the UK

The Leader of the Opposition wants to install a wind turbine on his roof (Clover, 2006). The Mayor of London believes that his measures to foster distributed generation in London will be one of the most important parts of his legacy (Livingstone, 2006). Major privatized utilities are buying significant stakes in emerging microgeneration companies (Scottish & Southern Energy, 2006). Over the last few years, small energy has become a big deal in Britain.

The explosion of interest in microgeneration has come about as a result of sustained concern about climate change in energy policy circles, together with concerns about rising energy costs and about the need to make a transition to a sustainable, low carbon energy system. The context in the UK is of course very different from that in Canada, with liberalized electricity markets for over 15 years, rather than the near monopoly situations that exist in many Canadian provinces, and substantially lower electricity prices. Many of the issues, however, are the same – interconnection, codes and standards, rewards for generation, local planning issues, and high upfront costs faced by consumers. The UK experience illustrates how microgeneration can become an empowering and positive way to engage the public in energy and climate change issues.

Microgeneration on the policy agenda

Several stages have enabled the UK to move towards a mainstreaming of microgeneration. Interest in microgeneration arose from an awareness that distributed power could reduce the stress on overloaded transmission lines, reduce dependence on imported energy supplies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and bring down energy bills for homeowners. In 2000, the government established a working group to address the barriers to increased distributed generation. As a result, in 2003, a uniform set of codes and standards for microgeneration installation and interconnection was established, providing installers with a single set of rules. This enabled a change in regulations to allow customers to install microgeneration equipment and connect to the grid without having to obtain permission from the local distribution network operator, greatly easing the administrative and regulatory burden on customers and installers. This was a key step in enabling microgeneration to establish a respectable niche in energy markets. Also in 2003, the government introduced incentive programs providing up-front grants to homeowners and communities buying and installing accredited microgeneration systems, often up to 50% of installed system costs.

Responding to increasing enthusiasm for microgeneration among lobbyists and policy analysis, the UK government committed to developing a ‘Microgeneration Strategy’ by the end of 2005, in its Energy Act of 2004. As the government was developing the strategy, others joined together to support the emerging microgeneration agenda. Green groups and thinktanks advocated in favour of small-scale renewables, with Green Alliance publishing a ‘Microgeneration Manifesto’ in 2004 (Collins, 2004). This laid out the potential benefits of microgeneration for the UK, and suggested elements for the government’s Microgeneration Strategy.

Industry stakeholders with an interest in microgeneration also grouped together, forming the Micropower Council, in 2004. The Micropower Council includes renewable energy companies and industry associations, and five of the UK’s six biggest utilities. Since then, the Micropower Council, along with the Renewable Power Association, has played an important role in providing a link between policy-makers and the industry.

The Microgeneration Strategy, published in 2006, included £30m in deployment funding through a Low Carbon Buildings Program. This program also provides lists of accredited installers and retailers of microgeneration equipment, and information on available grants and incentives for communities and homeowners interested in installing microgeneration technologies. Later in 2006, HM Treasury announced a further £50m of support for microgeneration, and Parliament passed the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act, which included additional measures for supporting microgeneration. The measures included a requirement for utilities to provide customer-generators with compensation for power exported to the grid, and requires the government to explore exempting microgeneration technologies from planning permission requirements.

Local governments lead the way

Perhaps just as important as the development of the national strategy has been the quiet microgeneration revolution sweeping through town halls around Britain. In 2003, The London Borough of Merton announced a new planning policy, which required all new development above 1000m2 to provide 10% of its anticipated energy needs from on-site renewable energy equipment. Part of the rationale for the policy was based on greenhouse gas reductions, but it was also intended to reduce energy bills in new homes and businesses in the borough, providing a long-term competitive advantage (London Borough of Merton, 2006).

“Home energy generation rarely leaves families unchanged in their outlook and behaviour...It seems that microgeneration provides a tangible hook to engage householders emotionally with the issue of energy use…householders describe the sheer pleasure of creation and self-sufficiency.” (Dobbyn and Thomas, 2005).

The government's planning office, at first sceptical of the policy, eventually allowed it and, in 2004, issued policy guidance on renewables that explicitly supported such measures (“Planning Policy Statement 22”). By this time, several other councils had adopted the policy, and by 2006, more than 100 councils were actively developing policies that have come to be called “the Merton Rule”. In June 2006, the Minister for Housing and Planning made clear the extent to which the government now supported the Merton Rule, by saying that:

“In particular, the government expects all planning authorities to include policies in their development plans that require a percentage of the energy in new developments to come from on-site renewables, where it is viable.” (UK Minister for Housing and Planning, 2006).

When the policy was announced, there was a general expectation that the development industry would be vigorously opposed, but this has turned out not to be the case. Planning officers from boroughs that have introduced the policy describe how developers have generally been co-operative.1

Microgeneration captures the public imagination

When Microgeneration Strategy was launched, there was real enthusiasm and support from the public, politicians, and the media. The diagram below indicates the way in which the British press responded to the public interest in microgeneration around the time of the publication of the strategy. The support shown for the strategy has been argued to be a result of the way in which microgeneration is a positive way of engaging citizens with climate change, rather than a negative ‘nagging’ approach.

Moving towards mass markets?

Many of the important barriers for UK microgeneration have been overcome, but many still remain. The industry is united, however, and has momentum, and there is a strong vision of what can be achieved driving developments.

The spread of municipal initiatives to promote microgeneration through the planning system is generating much of the current market, but this is restricted to new buildings. In 2006, Britain’s biggest home and garden retailer started selling domestic roof-mounted wind turbines. With a rated power of 1kW, the turbines are being sold at $3000 CAD, including sales taxes and installation, putting microgeneration technologies within the reach of ordinary homeowners.  Curry’s, one of Britain’s biggest electronic goods retailers, has also started selling solar PV equipment, at an installed cost of $14,000 for a 1kW system.

Urban turbines

Building-mounted wind turbines are relatively new – and controversial in the wind industry. Technical problems with vibration, turbulent air flow and noise have caused some wind experts to reject urban wind turbines as a fundamentally bad idea. A technical appraisal of building-mounted wind turbines suggested, however, that their deployment could be substantial, and that most of the technical barriers can be overcome (Dutton et al, 2005). There is little experience, however, with urban wind systems in practice, and it is difficult to get independent estimates of cost and performance.

Regulatory barriers and market structure

The barriers to microgeneration are systemic, and efforts to support microgeneration must similarly involve federal, provincial and municipal governments in partnership with utilities, developers and the microgeneration industry.

Energy systems and markets are structured and regulated in such a way as to unfairly exclude small producers by barring entry into energy markets, failing to compensate small producers for their generated energy, and a host of issues associated with codes and standards, building regulations, and permits.

“The structure of most electricity markets in Canada is not conducive to distributed generation... The deployment of low-impact renewable electricity applications is still largely up to the discretion of regulated monopolies, which have little incentive to do so”. (The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), 2003).

Canadian energy markets developed around large, centralised generating plants, such as large hydro installations and coal-fired power stations. The institutions, regulatory frameworks, and habits that govern the market have considerable inertia, and help to ‘lock-in’ often inefficient systems. This is increasingly known as ‘carbon lock-in’ by scholars of technological change, and implies that economic instruments and public persuasion campaigns alone are unlikely to change consumption behaviour and purchase decisions. Institutional and regulatory barriers also need to be tackled (Unruh, 2000).

Access to the grid and compensation for electricity generators

Some renewable energy technologies are unpredictable in output because of the intermittency in sunshine and wind, and output does not always match domestic demand. When a microgeneration system produces more electricity than the homeowner is using, the excess power ‘spills’ into the local distribution grid, and is used by neighbours. These neighbours are billed by the utility for this power exactly as if it had been produced centrally, but unless systems have been put in place, the producer receives no compensation. ‘Net metering’ arrangements, in which customer-generators are compensated for their exported power at the retail electricity rate, are one way of restructuring the market so that the customer-generator receives a fair price.

Net metering is an important step in enabling microgeneration. As the experience of Manitoba demonstrates, however, a broad range of additional barriers can act to prevent widespread take-up of microgeneration even when net metering is in place. Manitoba Hydro operated a net metering scheme for more than 10 years, but the number of customers signing up was disappointing (The New Energy Resources Alliance (NewERA), 2006). Net metering does not automatically mean that it is straightforward for customers to install and connect microgeneration technologies, and straightforward interconnection may be more important in enabling microgeneration than rewards for energy exports. While several Canadian utilities have introduced net metering policies, it is frequently a time consuming and difficult process to get connected, not least because the utility has little incentive to do so. Getting connected was cited as a major factor by owners of grid-connected renewable energy systems in a recent survey, even where net metering systems exist (Henderson and Bell, 2003).

The process of getting connected to the grid needs to be carefully regulated to ensure safety and reliability, but the process of interconnection is often overly complex, and some observers have suggested that the lack of uniform interconnection standards across the country has been ‘the number one interconnection barrier for small renewable systems’. Furthermore, it is a problem that many utilities do not have any standards at all for small grid-tied systems. (Micropower Connect, 2006). Consequentially, many customers wishing to connect microgeneration technologies to the grid go through a complex, time consuming and expensive case-by-case inspection and approval process, or through a standard process designed for much larger generators. Standards are essential to provide safety, and maintain system and power quality, but they are also essential in facilitating straightforward grid connection.

Codes & standards

As well as the interconnection standards mentioned above, product safety and performance standards, and building, electrical, and plumbing codes form an important part of the regulatory environment for microgeneration technologies. The processes of testing and certifying products and adapting codes can be costly, time-consuming, and present a significant barrier to the diffusion of new technologies.

Codes are vital for ensuring that products and buildings are safe and reliable, and they need to be updated as new technologies emerge. This has not always happened, as the example of the solar hot water industry demonstrates. The National Plumbing Code calls for solar hot water systems to conform to a (now outdated) standard that was only ever intended to apply to a particular type of solar hot water system. No laboratory in Canada was certified to test systems to determine if they met the standard, so it was impossible to obtain certification to the CSA standard. As a result, in many areas it became difficult to get planning and plumbing permits, or insurance. This has had a negative impact on the Canadian solar thermal industry, and is only now being addressed, with Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Solar Industries Association working with the Canadian Standards Association to develop appropriate standards and testing facilities (McGonagle, 2006b).

Consumers are rightly cautious about trusting uncertified products, but even where appropriate standards do exist, such as in the PV market, smaller manufacturers and importers cannot always afford the cost of CSA testing (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2006). Without support, product certification can be a further barrier for many small-scale emerging microgeneration technologies.

Skills & accreditation

Many microgeneration renewables take energy from the local environment: local solar, wind, earth energy and water flows are harnessed to provide for local needs. The result is that many systems are not simply ‘plug-and-play’, but need careful installation to perform properly.

Canada currently lacks training and certification systems for installers of many microgeneration technologies. This leaves potential consumers confused, cautious, and even vulnerable to poorly installed systems. As with product standards, certification is essential for consumer confidence in the industry.

The problem is particularly acute for the solar thermal and ground source heating markets. Both the Canadian Solar Industries Association and Canadian Geo-exchange Coalition have identified a pressing need to develop training programs and certification schemes. The Geo-exchange Coalition notes that “[w]e receive phone calls everyday from desperate customers trying to decipher who does what and who is accredited by whom, under which authority, and so on. In many cases those customers finally decide not to proceed with an installation because of the lack of market cohesion. They are afraid and confused.” (Tanguay, 2006).

Zoning and planning restrictions

Local by-laws and planning rules are usually designed without consideration of micro-renewable technologies. As a result, permitting and planning processes can be expensive and time consuming, as no set procedures are in place. For example, zoning policies such as height restrictions frequently do not include small wind turbine towers in lists of exempt structures (such as silos, water towers, and church spires). A recent review suggested that:

"Few if any municipalities, regions, provinces or other government structures possess an ideal package of policies governing small wind turbines." (Rhoads-Weaver et al, 2006).

In Ontario, other zoning problems have occurred when municipalities question the use of renewables in residential areas. Since the introduction of the Standard Offer Program, there has been at least one case where a resident in an areas zoned as ‘residential’ has been instructed not to install microgeneration equipment, as this has been seen as ‘commercial activity’ by the municipal authority (Ontario Power Authority, 2006).

Many municipalities do not have the capacity to develop renewable-friendly zoning and permitting policies, and are often unfamiliar with the technologies. Without support and direction from provincial governments and organizations such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, these local-level barriers will remain.

Awareness and mindsets

In an energy system dominated historically by large, centralized power generators and heating fuel providers, many homeowners, developers, and policy-makers simply do not know about, or understand, alternatives.

The microgeneration industry consistently cites lack of awareness as a major barrier across a range of technologies, including small wind (Marbek and GPco, 2005), solar thermal (Ipsos-Reid, 2002; SAIC, 2005; where it was the single most frequently cited barrier), solar PV (Industry Canada, 2003) and bioenergy (Canadian Bioenergy  Association (CanBIO) 2004).  Customers and developers are ignorant as to the costs, benefits, performance, and often even the existence of many microgeneration technologies. While industry associations and the federal government’s CanREN website provide useful information to potential consumers, there is no single source of information for residential scale renewables, for homeowners to find out what would, or not, work for them. 

Another problem are the misconceptions about microgeneration technologies. For example, many environmental NGOs have not been supportive of biomass combustion technologies, believing them to be a serious air pollution hazard. The Greater Vancouver Regional District prohibits biomass combustion unless emissions are less than natural gas combustion (Bradley, 2005), even though certified clean burning stoves and fireplaces can reduce smoke emissions by 90% compared with conventional wood systems. (Government of New Brunswick, 2001).

It is not just consumers' and developers' lack of  knowledge and absence of information, which act as barriers to the diffusion of microgeneration technologies. It is also the mindsets of policy-makers and utilities, accustomed to a model of centralized generation and control. Challenging and broadening this mindset is one of the challenges for microgeneration policy.

Progress in Canada: removing barriers to microgeneration

Canadian governments have recognized many of the benefits of microgeneration technologies, and both federal government and provincial governments have taken important steps to remove barriers and enable growth in microgeneration markets. Canada does not, however, have an integrated strategy for moving the implementation of microgeneration renewables forward. Indeed, existing mechanisms, which support microgeneration renewables are fragmented, and Canada’s flagship renewable energy support structures specifically exclude the microgeneration sector. While these policy measures have been carefully designed to foster renewable energy technologies at least cost, they miss opportunities to promote microgeneration.

Canada’s principal federal mechanism for supporting wind power, the Wind Power Production Incentive (WPPI), provides a guaranteed price, or feed-in tariff for electricity produced from wind. The WPPI excludes wind installations of less than 500kW, although it does have a lower cut-off of 20kW for remote and northern communities. Similarly, while the current status of the Renewable Power Production Incentive (RPPI), announced in the 2005 budget, is unclear, Natural Resources Canada’s September 2005 Discussion Paper on the RPPI suggested that it would only include technologies with a capacity of greater than 100kW (Natural Resources Canada, 2005).

The Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative (REDI) was established in 1998 to provide $51m over 9 years to solar air and water heating and biomass heating in commercial buildings. It provides up to 25% of the cost of these systems, and in 2002 support from REDI was extended to ground source heat. While it has provided much needed support for the development of the renewable heat industries in the commercial sector, and is considered to have been a successful program, it has not engaged with homeowners to bring renewable energies to a wider market.

Similarly, the Class 43.1 Capital Cost Allowance tax incentive for the purchase of renewable energy equipment has been valuable for supporting the small wind market (Marbek and GPco), but it excludes most applications of renewable heat technologies, and there is a cut-off limit under 3kW for solar PV. This is above what most homes would choose to install. Canadian Tire, which started selling small wind and solar PV technologies, advertises an on-grid solar system with a rated capacity of 2.8kW, just under a cut off of 98% of solar PV installed in Canada is below 3kW (Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA), 2004).

In general, provincial governments have been better at targeting support to micro-renewables, with PST exemptions or rebates on renewable energy purchases such as offered in PEI, BC, and Ontario. Several provinces have also developed grants for renewable equipment purchases: Nova Scotia provides a 10% rebate for solar water heating, and $200 for certified clean-burning woodstoves, while the Quebec Energy Efficiency Fund provides $400 towards solar wall installations, a form of active solar air heating. In BC, a project of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, partnered with provincial and federal governments, Vancity Credit Union, and BC Hydro, is providing support for homeowners and communities to access rebates for solar hot water systems.

There are signs that the federal government is considering some form of incentive for supporting microgeneration. In September 2006, Environment Canada issued a request for proposals for work assessing different possible economic instruments to provide incentives for small renewables in the home and farm sectors.

Progress for microgeneration has been made

Despite the lack of a federal incentive program or integrated strategy, Natural Resources Canada2 and a range of industry associations and other stakeholders have, however, made progress over the last few years in tackling some of the more systemic barriers. This is vital – incentives and financial support will not be sustainable if the regulatory frameworks and supporting institutions are not in place to allow the market to become self-sufficient. Poorly targeted incentives can create industries with a culture of dependency, with no incentive to drive down costs and build more robust markets.

Grid access and interconnection standards

For electricity generating technologies, the potential problems of interconnection to the grid have been addressed, since 2001, by Micropower Connect, run by Electro-Federation Canada , and supported by Natural Resources Canada and Industry Canada. Micropower Connect has worked to develop guidelines for interconnection of distributed electrical resources, and published a set of guidelines in 2003. This was followed with a review of the status of interconnection guidelines, codes and standards in Canada in 2006, which made recommendations for uniform interconnection standards to be adopted across Canada. Power generation and infrastructure are provincial responsibilities, and the report argued that:

“It is important that provincial regulators understand the importance of adopting national or international standards, and enforcing consistency within their jurisdictions.” (Micropower Connect, 2006).

In 2006, a new National Standard of Canada was issued covering grid interconnection of microgeneration technologies, providing a basis for harmonized rules across Canada.

While many provinces still need to develop effective interconnection rules, the models and standards now exist, with Micropower Connect having done much of the initial work, and providing a forum for interconnection guidelines to move forward.

Restructuring markets: export price agreements for microgenerators

The way in which utilities manage energy resources, including microgeneration, is governed by provincial rules, resulting in a variety of different approaches across Canada. Around 8 major utilities now have net metering programs (Henderson and Bell, 2003), with the programs in BC and Ontario particularly well advanced (NewERA, 2006). Several others have other grid-connection and compensation programs that are less generous than net metering, but that provide some payment for electricity exported to the grid (Henderson and Bell, 2003).

Net metering schemes include all forms of micro and distributed generation, including those based on fossil fuels, such as natural gas combined heat and power. The only current example of a production incentive specifically aimed at renewable distributed generation in Canada is the Ontario Power Authority’s Standard Offer Program, which provides a guaranteed price for electricity generated from renewable resource installations under 10MW. This is a complementary program to Net Metering, which also operates in Ontario, and customer-generators can choose which program will suit them best. Ontario’s Standard Offer Program issues 20-year contracts, providing consumer-generators with a guaranteed income from their power system for 20 years. While it is too early to draw robust conclusions about the impacts of the program, the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) estimates a 400% increase in sales of grid connected PV in the first half of 2006 (CanSIA, 2006). In total, 250 kW are reported to have been installed in Ontario as a result of the program, more than double the capacity of grid-connected solar PV in Canada as a whole in 2004.

Supporting the industry: product codes and standards, training and accreditation, and the support of industry associations

New industries take time to build the institutional strength that supports the development of markets, and the capacity to address regulatory and other issues. Industry associations are one way in which industries can act together to overcome common barriers. The federal government has provided support to a number of Canadian industry associations representing the microgeneration industry, either with core funding or for specific projects. This includes the Canadian Geo-exchange Coalition, the Canadian Bio-energy Association (CanBIO), the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) and the CanSIA. 

Government support has been also been available for the development of product standards and training and certification programs. For example, NRCan has been working with CanSIA to provide 90% of the costs of certification for solar hot water systems.  The Canadian Geo-exchange Coalition is also working with NRCan to develop both product standards and a training and certification system for installers.

Other support has been targeted at raising awareness of small scale renewables. This has included, for example, funding for the Canadian Wind Energy Association to develop a ‘small wind’ website, to provide information to potential customers, policy-makers and investors on the options for small wind power in Canada. Natural Resources Canada's Canadian Renewable Energy Network (CanREN) website also provides information and case studies on microgeneration.

Clean power to northern communities

The Aboriginal and Northern Community Action Plan (ANCAP) was developed to help northern communities respond to the challenges of climate change, through adaptation and through greenhouse gas reductions. This includes supporting renewable energy projects, as well as resource estimation (through a Wind Assessment program), and community energy planning in remote communities across Canada.

Microgeneration in the planning system

This study is unaware of any clear examples of provinces or municipalities actively streamlining efforts to get micro-renewables through the planning system more quickly.  There are many Canadian municipalities, however, that have installed small-scale renewable systems in their communities, often as part of initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of civic buildings. The federal ‘Green Municipal Funds’, administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, has been an important source of support for many of these communities. One example is the Drake Landing subdivision in the City of Okotoks, Alberta. A solar seasonal storage system will provide 90% of the heating needs for the 74 homes involved.

Research Analysis

Microgeneration offers a real opportunity for Canada. It can reduce greenhouse gases, provide opportunities for Canadian businesses, and engage the public in the fight against climate change. At the moment, that opportunity is being overlooked.  Many of most important barriers have been overcome, however, and there is real potential for an integrated microgeneration strategy to bring clean and reliable microgeneration within reach of Canadian homeowners and businesses, allowing microgeneration to move from niches into mainstream markets.

A microgeneration strategy for Canada

A Microgeneration Strategy for Canada would consider including some of the following points:

Federal actions

  1. Set ambitious, but realistic, targets for the uptake of microgeneration in Canada. Targets would be based on analysis of the potential market for microgeneration in Canada (similar to work carried out in preparation for the UK’s Microgeneration Strategy – Energy Savings Trust et al, 2005). This would provide a clear signal of the federal government’s intention to remove barriers to microgeneration, stimulate private sector support, and raise awareness of microgeneration.
  2. Consult industry views on the establishment of a microgeneration industry association or forum, which would provide policy-makers, developers and customers with a single point of contact for the industry, and provide a space for discussing how best to move forward with support for microgeneration. Such a body should include utilities, as well as microgeneration technology companies.
  3. Develop a web-based information hub, possibly managed by an industry association, to enable customers and developers to access information on technologies, incentives, prices, and certified products and installers. This would build on the work of the existing CanREN website.
  4. Support for industry to develop appropriate codes and standards, and accreditation schemes.
  5. Support for training schemes for installers and technicians.
  6. Establish a process for the harmonisation of interconnection and metering codes and standards across Canada, leading to uniform codes and standards across all Provinces. This would build on the work of Micropower Connect.
  7. Lead by example, through a program of public procurement of microgeneration building on the Federal House in Order’s On-site Generation at Federal Facilities program.

Federal or provincial incentives

Measures to encourage consumer uptake could be funded through a ‘public benefit charge’ on energy bills, which is essentially a hypothecated tax earmarked for microgeneration support.

  1. Tax incentives: Sales tax rebates, expansion of the federal Capital Cost Allowance class 43.1 to all microgeneration technologies.
  2. Grant schemes or ‘buy downs’, to reduce the capital costs for microgeneration customers. Capital grant schemes must be carefully designed to ensure that incentives for cost reduction remain, and that a subsidy-dependent industry does not develop.
  3. Feed-in tariffs, providing a guaranteed price for electricity generated by microgeneration.
  4. Low interest loans, or ‘net financing’ schemes, where loan repayments equal energy bill savings from the microgeneration installation. A program for farmers, who often have high energy costs and abundant opportunities for microgeneration, would be particularly valuable.

Provincial actions

  1. Require utilities to provide fair export prices for customer-generators, such as net metering arrangements.
  2. Support microgeneration through building codes, for example, by introducing a requirement for buildings to be ‘solar retro-fit ready’.
  3. Enable and encourage municipalities to develop innovative policies to promote microgeneration through the planning system. ‘Merton Rule’ style policies, which make the incorporation of renewable energy a requirement of development, would currently not be legal in most Canadian municipalities. Provincial legislation covering the powers of local governments could change to promote such policies.
  4. Lead by example, through the public procurement of microgeneration technologies for public buildings.

Municipal actions

Municipalities can take three broad approaches to supporting microgeneration renewables within their communities.

  1. ‘In-house’ microgeneration. Most municipal efforts to promote small scale renewables to date have focused on the development of renewable energy in municipal buildings. This provides examples of leadership within local communities, but municipalities can do much more beyond their own operations.
  2. Enabling microgeneration. Removing barriers to the installation of microgeneration is essential in fostering microgeneration markets. Municipalities can adopt streamlined permitting rules for renewables, such as the model zoning guidelines for small wind developed by the Canadian Wind Energy Association (Rhoads-Weaver et al, 2006).
  3. Promoting microgeneration. Municipalities can go further than simply removing planning and zoning barriers by taking an active lead in promoting microgeneration through the planning system. Although ‘Merton Rule’ policies are not currently possible in most Canadian municipalities, other possibilities include reduced development permit fees, and making the inclusion of on-site renewables a consideration in re-zoning applications.

Strategic Questions

The potential for municipal action to enable and promote microgeneration through the planning system should not be underestimated. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy estimated that a third of the buildings that will be standing in Canada in 2050 have not yet been built (NRTEE, 2006). This is a massive opportunity to change the way in which energy is produced and consumed.


  1. It is not only in the UK that municipal planning policies have fostered microgeneration. In Spain, a policy pioneered by Barcelona required all new buildings to source a percentage of their hot water needs from solar water heating systems. This policy was taken up by dozens of other municipalities, and in 2006, entered the national building code.
  2. In particular, Natural Resources Canada's Integration of Decentralised Energy Resources program run by CETC-Varennes.

Resources and References

Anon, 2003. Poll shows Canadian enthusiasm for renewables. Article on a poll conducted by Environics Research Group. Refocus Weekly, October 1st, Toronto.

Ayoub, J. & L. Dignard-Bailey. 2003. Photovoltaic technology status and prospects: Canadian annual report 2003. Canmet Energy Technology Centre – Varennes, Natural Resources Canada.

Ayoub, J., Dignard-Bailey, L., and A. Filion. 2000. Photovoltaics for Buildings: Opportunities for Canada: A Discussion Paper, Report # CEDRL-2000-72 (TR), CANMET Energy Diversification Research Laboratory, Natural Resources Canada, Varennes, Québec, Canada.

Bradley. 2005. Canada Biomass-Bioenergy Report. Climate Change Solutions, Ottawa.

Bueckert, D. 2006. Canadians more worried about climate change, support Kyoto targets: poll. Article based on findings of McAllister Opinion Research poll, September 6th 2006, Canadian Press.

CanBIO, 2004. Barriers to increased bioenergy use and some solutions. Canadian Bio-energy Association, Ottawa.

CanREA, 2006. Distributed generation in Canada: maximising the benefits of renewable resources. Model National Renewable Energy Strategy for Canada. Canadian Renewable Energy Alliance.

CanSIA. 2006. Sales of grid connected PV systems soar in Ontario. Canadian Solar Industries Association Press Release, July 24th 2006.

CanSIA. 2004. Towards a sunny future for Canada: Federal fiscal policy recommendations for empowering Canadians to make their own contribution to climate change through the use of solar technologies. Canadian Solar Industries Association Report C02, Ottawa.

CETC-Varennes Building Program, accessed October 11th, 2006.

Clover, C. 2006. Power struggle over miniature wind turbines. Daily Telegraph, 13th  March 2006, London.

CMHC. 2006. Photovoltaics – Maximising performance and assuring a safe installation. Photovoltaic Factsheet, Canadian Mortgage and Houseing Corporation, Government of Canada. Accessed on October 11th 2006. 

Collins, J. 2004. A Microgeneration Manifesto. Green Alliance, London.

Dobbyn & Thomas 2005. Seeing the light: the impact of microgeneration on the way we use energy. Report for the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable. UK Sustainable Development Commission, London.

DTI, 2006. Our Energy Challenge: Power from the People. The Microgeneration Strategy, Department for Trade and Industry, HM Government, London.

Dutton, Halliday, and Branch, 2005. The feasibility of building mounted/integrated wind turbines (BUWTs): Achieving their potential for carbon emissions reductions. Final Report. Report for the Carbon Trust. Energy Research Unit, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, CCLRC, UK.

Environment Canada. 2006. Evaluation of the One-Tonne Challenge Program. Government of Canada, Ottawa. Available online at: 

Energy Savings Trust, Econnect, and Elementenergy 2005. Potential for microgeneration, Study and analysis: Final Report. Report to the Department for Trade and Industry, HM Government, London.

Government of New Brunswick. 2001. White Paper: New Brunswick Energy Policy. New Brunswick Natural Resources and Energy, Fredericton.

Henderson & Bell 2003. Small-scale renewable energy systems, grid connection and net metering: an overview of the Canadian experience in 2003. Report to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Government of Canada.

Industry Canada. 2003. Unleashing the power of on-grid photovoltaics in Canada: an action plan to make PV an integral component of Canada’s energy future. Industry Canada, Ottawa.

Ipsos-Reid 2002. Survey to gauge awareness, knowledge and interest levels of Canadians toward solar domestic hot water systems: Final Report. Report to Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa.

Keirstead, J. 2006. Microgeneration in the News. Small is beautiful blog, 26th April 2006.

Livingstone, K. 2006. Foreword, in Powering London into the 21st Century. Mayor of London and Greenpeace, London.

London Borough of Merton. 2006. The Merton Rule 10% Policy Briefing. Informal Briefing Note, London Borough of Merton.

Marbek and GPCo 2005. Survey of the small (300W to 300kW) wind turbine market in Canada. Report to Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa.

McGonagle, R. 2006. Toronto as a solar city. Dan Leckie Forum, May 29th 2006, Toronto.

McGonagle, 2006b. Plumbing inspectors solar hot water workshop. Canadian Solar Industries Association, March 31st, 2006.

Micropower Connect 2006. Connecting micropower to the grid: a status and review of micropower interconnection issues and related codes, standards and guidelines in Canada, 2nd Edition. Report to Natural Resources Canada, Industry Canada, and Electro-federation Canada.

Morris, R. 2006. The solar and wind resource in Canada. Pollution Probe Green Power in Canada Workshop, Montreal, November 3-4, 2003.

National Energy Board, 2005. Outlook for electricity markets 2005-2006: an energy market assessment. Government of Canada, Ottawa.

New Energy Resources Alliance. 2006. A review of net metering policy and practice in Canada. New Energy Resources Alliance, Calgary, AB.

Natural Resources Canada. 2005. Renewable Power Production Incentive: a discussion paper Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa.

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. 2006. Advice on a long term strategy on energy and climate change. Report of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Government of Canada, Ottawa.

Ontario Power Authority 2006. Question SOP12858M, Standard Offer Program Q&A. Accessed October 11th 2006. 

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Rhoads-Weaver, Asmus, Savitt Schwartz, MacIntyre, Gluckman, Healey, 2006. Small wind siting and zoning study: development of guidelines and a model zoning by-law for small wind turbines (under 300kW). Report developed for the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

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Scottish and Southern Energy (2006). Scottish and Southern increase investment in microgeneration. Scottish and Southern Energy Press Release, 5th May 2006.

Smiley, 2002. Building integrated solar photovoltaic and small-scale wind. Green energy study for British Columbia. BC Institute of Technology, Burnaby, BC.

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Unruh, C, 2002. Understanding carbon lock-in. Energy Policy 28: 817-830.

WADE 2005. Projected costs of generating electricity (2005 update): WADE’s response to the report of the international energy agency and the nuclear energy agency. World Alliance for Decentralized Energy.

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I think it would take a lot more than just £30m to implement large scale microgeneration systems but looking at the bright part this is a great start, every time I read about these kind of project I get more hope for a good future. Looking in my neighborhood I see people begin to understand the importance of implementing these systems and I know for a fact that even more people would go for it if they chould afford it. That's why I think it's highly important to develop these systems on high scales so that everyone to have one, this would really make the difference.
Gerrard at Austin HVAC


Microgeneration works on scale of single dewellings or communities may ease the pressure of energy use at a community level, e.g., municipal interest in the UK in implementing microgeneration. Microgeneration is seen as empowering the public with regards to climate change, yet lack of awareness on how they can make changes in their own lives appears a major barrier in Canada to implementing more microgeneration.

What tools/techniques/incentives and sticks could be used to increase microgeneration in Canada at a household and municipal level?
Anne Landry


Each team member will post one question prior to the on-line discussion.

On March 2, 2007 the team will meet for 2 hours in one location to discuss the questions posted in regards to the case study both in person and on the Community Research Connections web page.


In a situation such as this where there are and will be early adopters, there is a challenge to keep momentum moving through communities and across Canada. Early adopters may feel isolated and without support (sharing stories, information) during the time lag between early adoption and microgeneration entering mainstream energy production. If early adopters feel isolated they may abandon their projects before a return is recognized. In which case a project with the goal of national-wide microgeneration adoption would be slowed or halted as early adopters drop out before a critical mass of support and use is generated.

How can early adopters from communities that are separated geographically, culturally, and politically connect with one another?


I was suprised that little of the case study dealt with environmental impacts.
While many of these micro generation systems are expected to be used in housholds, microgeneration also also includes microhydro systems of which BC has plenty on the books. Each system requires interconnection agreements to be set up. As you can imagine, interconnection from remote micro hydro system can result in huge environmental impacts. One such system in the southern interior proposes to interconnect over a mountain pass and construct 90km of new transmission corridor through fairly pristine habitat. The question I have is, what are the cummulative environmental impacts from numerous microgeneration facilties compared with larger facilities? Are remote micro generation facilities that need to inter connect truly green technology?

I agree - I think that micro generation facilities that interconnect need to have some sort of planning associated which examines cumulative impact. I agree that we need to kick-start the industry, but not at the expense of the environment. We need to look at the sustainability of the industry and establish it so that it is sustainable. I don't think the planning needs to be onerous. We have enough experience with resource planning across the country to know the minimum requirements needed to develop a plan that would maintain the sustainability of the industry. We also have the luxury that the microgeneration industry is not well developed yet. So why not develop the industry in a manner that is sustainable right from the outset.

Jennifer Vigano

I like your idea about social impact assessment Brad. I think if we are going to make these systems truly sustainable, then social, environmental and economic sustainability all need to be a part of the planning process. So often when we resource plan we don't consider the impacts over social, environment, and economic domains.

As we all discussed, socially as well we need to consider smaller remote communities and the sustainability impacts here (in the microgeneration sustainability plan). Perhaps we need to look at 'micro' not only at a household level but at a hamlet level. There are a lot of tiny northern communities of 50 households or so (less or more) that could pool their resources and develop their own micro electrical utility that could serve the community/hamlet. Could we then take this even futher and look at have a multi function utility that would take biosolids from wastewater treatment and garbage, feed it into an incinerator to create electricity which would then power drinking water treatment in addition to provide homes with energy. There are many social issues around human resouces - this could create new problems around education and competency, but this could also resolve some of the labour shortages that currently are experienced in remote areas.

Jennifer Vigano


In the UK it seemed that there were a couple of industry groups who worked closely with the UK government to advocate for microgeneration and advise on visioning and policy development.

In Canada, the federal government, some provincial governments and a whole host of industry groups have worked with microgeneration; however a vision for microgeneration, strong unified advocates, and a strategy seem vague. Canada is different than the UK obviously both in terms of geography, and governance (it has to consider intergovernmental relationships).

Who is best placed to provide the leadership needed to develop a vision, a strategy, and advocate for microgeneration in a way that meets the needs of municipal, provincial, and federal governments, and the sector?

Jennifer Vigano

In reply to by Jennifer Vigano


Just a quick comment:

One stop shops are a great idea, and I agree with your list above, as these are all things that need to happen.

On a side note - having lived in a building with a roof top wind turbine for 4 months - its a bad idea. It was a 400 Watt turbine (you can buy at Cdn tire) and the instructions specifically said not to mount to buildings, but they did it anyways....and it really does disrupt your sleep patterns.


As a consumer, I am interested in implementing alternative energy options for two reasons: security of energy supply during power interruptions caused by wind and severe storms (more frequent occurences lately) as well as GHG reductions. It wouldn't take a lot to provide incentive for me to implement microgeneration if I knew that conection was facilitated (easy) and efficient. The financial incentives most likely to attract me to this would be secondary to the ease of access, but undoubtedly a consideration. My sense is that direct rebates would be very effective.

Net metering arrangements would also provide an incentive.

I think that a variety of incentives can be appropriate. If it is a large capital purchase, e.g., an array of solar panels, then a zero interest or low interest loan may work best.

If it is a lower cost item, like a small wind turbine (that is now sold by Canadian Tire) a direct rebate may provide the necessary incentive.

I wonder what kind of incentives might be appropriate to encourage new builders to make use of microgeneration when starting a new project? It would seem that designing buildings, homes, with microgeneration built in would be more effecient than add-ons and retrofits so this should be encouraged, especially as the background information states that "...a third of the buildings that will be standing in Canada in 2050 have not yet been built."

I wonder why so many of the new technologies or smaller scale technologies are not better known? It seems as if the large hard technology projects get more attention and attract major funding. More particularly, the first step for greater energy efficiency is to implement demand management strategies?

One approach I think to encourage microgeneration is demonstration projects. Incentives for providing funding can be tiered at different levels, so that it does not all go to large projects. A progressive municipality could then apply for funding to use microgeneration in municipal buildings and communicate this widely to citizens. The municipality could then also provide financial incentives for individual projects and offer some technical expertise to assist with set up and getting through the paperwork.

Leading by example.

Do you think there is a possibility of micro generation creating a bunker type society where people will ultimately become self sufficient, intending to remove themselves from society, and ultimately removing the need to protect and sustain the collective. Could we then end up with the sense of urgency creating a sense of survival?

I think its largely a social issue. I wonder if society expects to be serviced by the big utilities so it has no incentive to look into smaller technologies. In urban societies we expect to be taken care of in this regard. So, if there is no incentive to explore these smaller/new technologies, no political demand is created (mandate) therefore political decisions for the allocation of infrastructure funding lean towards the larger infrastructure projects that serve the majority of the population.

What about price...Canadains have low low prices for electricity. Why look into alternatives when you pay so little for electicity. There is no incentive to create the demand.

Jennifer Vigano

I agree strong leadership is required, possibly from a team of stakeholders, but the driver I believe should come from a single body. If power companies are looking to avoid mega projects why are they not more interested in incorporating micro generations strategies into their planning? Based on the BC energy strategy it is not entirely clear how serious they are about developing this technology. Perhaps they have discounted it because it is not a large enough energy saving component compared to other options?

If that is the case it should be clearly addressed in their document or the barriers to implementation should be part of their discussion. As Canadians become more aware of the climate change issue they would appreciate opportunities to do their part. This argument should be used for implementing alternative options, regardless of whether the utility sees it as a significant way to reduce energy use. I sense a huge thirst for individuals to participate in energy reduction but they just don't see the options clearly.

I agree strong leadership is required, possibly from a team of stakeholders, but the driver I believe should come from a single body. If power companies are looking to avoid mega projects why are they not more interested in incorporating micro generations strategies into their planning? Based on the BC energy strategy it is not entirely clear how serious they are about developing this technology. Perhaps they have discounted it because it is not a large enough energy saving component compared to other options?

If that is the case it should be clearly addressed in their document or the barriers to implementation should be part of their discussion. As Canadians become more aware of the climate change issue they would appreciate opportunities to do their part. This argument should be used for implementing alternative options, regardless of whether the utility sees it as a significant way to reduce energy use. I sense a huge thirst for individuals to participate in energy reduction but they just don't see the options clearly.

While I agree with you Wanda, I think I am still of the mind that most of the succesfull intiatives out there have a champion who furthers the issue. I agree that an advocacy team needs to support the champion, a multi-stakeholder group as you've suggested...I think that's where I was sort of going with this, more of a champion for the issue.

Jennifer Vigano

Good comments,

I think you definitely need collaboration and cooperation between all levels of govt and the utility provider. Here’s some thoughts:

1. The Feds are in charge of Climate Change (to the best of my knowledge) and likely there would be some potential funding from them – perhaps they could develop a general national program (thus showing a “vision” and enabling them to measure Canada-wide results).
2. Provinces (again to my knowledge) have regulatory authority over power generation. For example, Nova Scotia Power is a private corporation, but the Province has a Utility and Review Board that regulates their efforts. Based on their connection to power use, the Provinces could adopt their own incentives that could attach to the overall federal initiative.
3. Municipalities could help in other ways. For example, Pembina Institution talks about giving loans that are attached to properties vs. attached to people – which could make it easier for people to get past the high up front costs: “Using local improvement charges to finance building energy efficiency improvements: a concept report.”
4. Utilities – provide incentive in terms of making it easier to hook up with net metering, among other things…

Cooperation between all of these groups is essential, as it’s hard for many people to understand the connections between these efforts – so a “one stop shop” is important.



Ontario seems to have a more transparent system for net metering…
However, they state in the article that additional permitting may be needed to actually interconnect. Chris Henedrson's "plug and play" model is what is actually needed for net metering to work.

Another issue with net metering is power quality. For example, we don't have brown-outs in BC and in generaly power voltage is excellent quality (ie we can all sit here with our laptops plugged directly into the wall and the power quality is OK for the computer). BC hydro is not keen on having everyone dump poor quality power onto the grid network I don't think.


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


One thing to keep in mind is that BC does not have sudden power surges such as in Ontario as we are not all blasting air conditioners at the same time. However I think BC does face energy surges from starting up the large turbines associated with hydro?


There is a risk involved with pushing for microgeneration. This is difficult to explain without a graph, but I will try.

Early in a technology the price of production is expensive and you have your early adopters. At this point more carbon is being produced to construct the products (e.g. solar panels) then is being reduced through the use of microgeneration.

As time and technology advances, prices come down, there are more adopters, the technology becomes carbon neutral as the amount of carbon to produce the products is balanced by the amount of carbon saved in microgeneration. (Note, this argument could be using 'energy' instead of 'carbon').

Further down the curve the situation becomes carbon positive where there are many adopters and technology as advanced to a point where less carbon is used to produce the products and more carbon is saved by microgeneration.

The risk zone is between the carbon negative and the carbon neutral points in time. If a concept such as microgeneration stops with the first early adopters and does not reach carbon neutral stage the goal of reducing carbon output not only is not realized, but carbon output is actually increased.

Hi Wanda,

Good questions. I also wonder about the GHG impacts of producing these renewable technologies, but haven’t found a quick answer either way. However, it’s something that needs to be considered – eg. same with fuel cells, if the energy going into the fuel cells was initially created by burning coal, then what is the point? That said, I do question the ability of early adopters to be carbon positive – it would really depend on the number of years the system is used (ex. If a PV system is used for 10 years it may not be carbon negative, but if it’s used for 20 years it could overcome the GHG threshold and become carbon negative ??? – at least one would hope ).

It is important to get past the early adopters like you say. I think energy prices will be the biggest facilitator of change.


Deep Water Cooling

Deep Water Cooling

Levi Waldron
Published September 19, 2006

Case Summary

Deep water cooling involves using naturally cold water as a heat sink in a heat exchange system, thereby eliminating the need for conventional air conditioning. We compare deep water cooling systems in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Toronto, Ontario, and find that this technology has significant ecological benefits and long-term economic benefits. This technology requires that a client with a large cooling need is situated near a deep, cold body of water, and payback times vary depending on the site. Diffusion is hindered by the low cost of energy. The City of Toronto's approach, in which many buildings are serviced at once while piggybacking onto existing water piping and pumping capacity, can deliver cost savings on a shorter time span. Other locations in which heavy air conditioning users are located next to deep, cold water bodies could use this technology to encourage sustainable building.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

In many areas of the world including North America, air conditioning imposes a significant load on local electrical systems. Air conditioning is required even in temperate areas, as technologies such as lighting and electronic equipment produce significant indoor waste heat that must be vented to the outdoors. Cooling can be particularly troublesome as it is thermodynamically more difficult than heating and demand is intermittent; air conditioning demand can trigger summer brownouts and voltage drops on hot summer afternoons. Air conditioning currently consumes 18 percent of US electrical output (Cox, 2006); any technologies that can considerably lower the energy demand of air conditioning will create a significant drop in electrical use and mitigate the associated environmental concerns of greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. 

Conventional air conditioning functions by transferring heat from the air to a chilled medium, and then uses a compressor, motor, and refrigerant to transfer the heat from the chiller medium to the outdoors. If it is warmer outside than inside, heat must be pushed “uphill”, a very energy intensive operation. Significant energy savings can be realized if heat can instead be transferred to a mass of cooler material with a high capacity for absorbing heat, such as water, eliminating the need for a compressor-based cooling cycle. Water is not only a good heat sink, it also has an unusual relation between its density and its temperature. Like most substances, water becomes denser as it cools, but unlike most substances it reaches a maximum density at 3.9 degrees Celsius. As a result, in winter, cold water on the surfaces of oceans and lakes cools and sinks through the warmer water below. In summer, the warm surface layers float on top of the cooler water below, as it is less dense. A layer of perpetually cold water is created below a certain depth, known as the hypolimnion.

Over the years, there have been many suggestions on how to utilize this cold water; for an exploration of some of these suggestions, see (Lennard, 1995). One of the simplest applications, however, involves pumping hypolimnion water to the surface and using it as a heat sink. Hypolimnion water would be pumped from the water body and into a heat exchange unit where it comes into contact with a closed cooling loop. The heat exchanger takes the place of the traditional “chiller” or air conditioner.

Energy savings of up to 90% over conventional air conditioning can be achieved, depending on how the system operates. The system requires only the energy to run the pumps and the fans that blow air over the cooling loops. As conventional air conditioning units are no longer needed, the need for ozone harming chemicals such as CFCs would be eliminated.

Though the impact of deep water cooling is generally positive, some concerns have been raised that, if overused, the cold water source could experience “heat pollution”, which would negatively affect habitat and species composition. In the oceans, such effects might occur at the local level, but the amount of heat involved is too small to have a large scale effect. Lakes are another matter. A study of Lake Ontario estimated that up to 20,000m3/s of water could be withdrawn from the lake and used for cooling without changing its physical properties (Boyce et al, 1993). For the Great Lakes, the maximum draw amount is very large. The maximum amount will be lower for smaller lakes, however, and must be taken into account in discussions on the sustainability of deep water cooling using lake water. The projects discussed followed established procedure for construction in coastal area, but long-term effects might not yet be known.

The opportunities in Canada for expanding deep water cooling are quite large. Both Halifax and Toronto could greatly increase their use of this technology without creating a serious environmental hazard. Other cities that could take advantage of this technology include Victoria, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Hamilton, Yellowknife, Kingston, and St. Johns. As well, there are hundreds of smaller centres located next to deep bodies of cold water that could utilize this form of cooling. One of the theoretical barriers to future expansion is what Gregory Unruh calls “carbon lock-in” (2000), as energy technologies have co-evolved to require carbon-based fuel and their return-on-investment increasingly favours large scale technologies and discourages the diffusion of non-carbon options, even if economically sound.

Critical Success Factors

Success in both of the study cases hinged upon the private-public partnership model. This model provided the means to overcome the high up-front costs associated with this technology.

In the City of Toronto case study, what really pushed the project forward was the pairing of deep water cooling and deeper water intakes for the drinking water supply. In effect, two major projects were combined into one, a good use of holistic planning processes that differed quite a bit from more traditional planning processes where different infrastructure needs are considered separately. Enwave’s Kevin Loughborough reported that this is the first such combination of uses with this technology. Toronto’s success was also supported by the establishment of Enwave as a “middleman”. Individual developers didn’t have to install the infrastructure, they just had to make the choice to hook into the cooling network. The Toronto project succeeded as it had support from individuals in government and in business. The Purdy’s Wharf project went forward because the developer was willing to take a risk on fairly new technology. The projects' “champions” worked together to move their projects over various hurdles.

Community Contact Information

Enwave can be contacted through their press office at; the corporation is interested in developing other deep water cooling projects. Purdy’s Wharf is a private development.

What Worked?

Each project achieved its goal to significantly lower energy use. Economies of scale seem to be applicable here as well; larger projects might be more practical as a bigger cooling load can be displaced with a similar initial infrastructure layout. Each building that hooks onto the Enwave system lowers the cost per displaced kWh. The larger and newer project in Toronto, which continues to expand, has attracted more attention partly due to its location in a city experiencing significant smog problems and electricity shortages. The Purdy’s Wharf project, however, demonstrates that, in certain situations, deep water cooling technology can also work successfully on a smaller scale.

What Didn’t Work?

The Purdy’s Wharf project did not create a widespread adoption of the technology even though it is considered a successful project. This probably was due to the low cost of energy at the time of the project, a lack of comparable projects, and as it was one of the first in the world. Also, a developer wanting to mimic the Purdy’s Wharf project would have to start from scratch as the infrastructure has capacity for only the one development. One could say that deep water cooling has now hit a “critical mass” of sorts with several large projects in the planning phase, including projects in Hawaii and the Persian Gulf. Kevin Loughborough says the main factor in a successful deep water cooling project is geography. Key ingredients for successful projects are a high density cooling cluster located near a renewable cooling resource.” (Loughborough, per. comm.)

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Purdy’s Wharf

The Purdy’s Wharf project was funded jointly as a demonstration project by the development company, JW Lindsay Enterprises Limited, and the federal government. Reports of the costs vary, but there is a general agreement that the cooling system paid for itself in a little over two years. Currently, the cooling system saves the complex over $100,000 in energy costs and maintenance costs. The largest expense is the pumping cost, plus the minor expense of copper anodes.

Toronto Deep Lake Water Cooling

The Toronto deep lake water cooling project was a major project with initial expenditures near the $200 million range (Canadian Press, 2003). Capital costs continue as the urban pipeline network expands. The project was a public-private partnership:  $33 million was funded by the City of Toronto’s pipe repair fund (Moloney, 2004), the federal government provided low-interest loans, and Toronto Hydro provided incentives to companies to hook their buildings up to the system in order to overcome the high initial capital cost. Kevin Loughburough of Enwave commented on the up-front costs:

“The pay back on the project requires a patient investor. It can be compared to a hydroelectric dam project in that it is capital intensive at the front end, but costs very little to operate over the long-term. The return on the project is competitive with other investments.” (Loughborough, per. comm.)

Research Analysis

This case study involved interviews and a literature search. It reveals that deep water cooling projects deliver impressive energy savings, but that initial investment is high and serves as a barrier to development. The case studies suggest that large-scale installations of this technology are better positioned to overcome the inertia of the high start-up cost and high payback time. An intermediate agency that bears the infrastructure costs and the initial risk can be useful in encouraging developers to use the technology. Sites with year-round access to deep water cooling might be preferable, and support for start-up costs is a major factor in the success of these projects. 

Detailed Background Case Description

This case study involved a background literature search and the investigation of two deep water cooling projects in Canada. The first project is the Purdy’s Wharf project on the waterfront of Halifax, Nova Scotia, which was constructed in 1986 and expanded in 1989. The second project is the Enwave Corporation’s Toronto Deep Lake Water Cooling Project, which began to provide cooling to buildings in 2004 and continues to expand.

The two projects are both public-private partnerships, but represent vastly different scales of application of the technology. The cooling media is also different. Purdy’s Wharf draws upon seawater and Toronto’s project uses fresh water.

Purdy’s Wharf

The Purdy’s Wharf office complex sits on the waterfront of Halifax, and buildings extend out over the harbour on pilings. Cold seawater is drawn from the bottom of the harbour through a pipe to a titanium heat exchanger in the basement of the complex where the closed loop of water, cooled by the sea water, is then pumped to each floor of the building where fans blow air over the cooling pipes to cool the air. The seawater is returned to the harbour floor. The project was jointly funded by the Government of Canada and the building’s developer, and was intended to serve as a demonstration of the technology. The project was constructed from 1983 to 1989 and consists of an 18-story tower, a 22-story tower, and a four-story retail centre. The total area cooled by the system is 65,000 sq. meters.



Purdy's Wharf Deep Water Chiller

The Purdy's Wharf Deep Water Chiller

Purdy’s Wharf required innovative technologies in order to mitigate the corrosive power of seawater. Piping is corrosion-resistant polyvinyl and polystyrene. The pumps are made of stainless steel.  One of the challenges to this project was to control marine growth. Initially, chlorine was used to prevent marine growth in the system, but this was both costly and potentially environmentally damaging. The chlorine system was replaced by cathodic protection provided by copper plates.

To provide proper cooling, the water temperature must be below ten degrees Celsius. The intake for the pumping system is located less than two hundred meters offshore at a depth of 18 meters where conditions are appropriate for cooling for ten and a half months a year. Purdy’s Wharf operates conventional chillers in the late summer when harbour temperatures are too high. Mapping of the harbour water temperature column was provided by the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and the Fisheries and Oceans Research Lab.

Toronto Deep Lake Water Cooling

The Enwave Corporation’s deep lake water cooling project is a much larger project than the Purdy’s Wharf initiative. Pipes extend five kilometers into Lake Ontario and draw water from a depth of 83 meters to the John Street pumping station where heat exchangers cool Enwave’s closed cooling loop that snakes through downtown Toronto. Lake water, slightly warmed, then goes on to supply Toronto with drinking water. This sharing of drinking and cooling water saves pumping water out of the lake twice, and the new deeper water intake solved the problem of algae blooms tainting Toronto’s water in the summer. The idea of providing cooling to Toronto using lake water had been considered at various times, but the project began in earnest in 2002 (Deverell, 2002). As of June 2006, 46 buildings were signed onto the system of which 27 were already connected (City of Toronto, 2006). As the system nears capacity, energy savings will be 85 million kWh, for a CO2 reduction of 79,000 tonnes annually, or the equivalent of 15,800 cars. The total cooling load will be 3,200,000 square meters, or fifty times the area of the Purdy’s Wharf complex. 61% of this capacity has been sold. (City of Toronto, 2006). There is some discussion to expand the system once capacity is reached. Energy savings are about 90%, and as the required cold water is available year-round, the need for supplementary chilling is eliminated. The Toronto project is jointly-owned:  57% by the municipal pension fund and 43% by the City of Toronto, and is thus an example of a public-private partnership.

Strategic Questions

  1. Does the outfall of warm water cause ecological damage in a Halifax-style project?

  2. What mechanisms could best encourage this sort of project? An end to energy subsidies, a carbon tax, grants, or further public-private partnerships?

  3. Would more demonstrations projects help to speed the diffusion of innovative infrastructure choices?

Other Resources

Deep Water Source Cooling: An Untapped Resource

Resources and References

Boyce, F, Hamblin, P, Harvey, L, Scherzer, W, & R. McCrimmon. 1993. 'Response of the Thermal Structure of Lake Ontario to Deep Cooling Water Withdrawals and to Global Warming.' Journal of Great Lakes Research 19(3) 603-616. 

Candian Press, 2003. “Lake Water to Cool Downtown” Toronto Star. Feb 28, E11.

City of Toronto “Deep Lake Water Cooling and the City

Cox, Stan 2006. Air Conditioning: Our Cross to Bear. AlterNet.

Deverell, J. 2002. “Enwave Launches Deep-Lake Cooling Project” Toronto Star. June 20, B02.

Lennard, D. 1995. 'The Viability and Best Locations for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Systems Around the World.' Renewable Energy 6(3) 359-365.

Molony, P. 2004. “Pipe Funds Diverted” Toronto Star, May 24, B02.

Unruh, G. 2000. 'Understanding Carbon Lock-in.' Energy Policy 28, 817-830.

Lenore Newman

More info regarding this question can be found at "Oceans in Distress" which discusses commercial exploitation of our oceans, and cautions us regarding potential impacts on fragile deep-sea communities.

When looking at ocean exploitation and Halifax, I would think that discharge might be timed to coincide with high tides - and this might lessen environmental impacts - as the volume of ocean water would significantly increase, and this might minimize temperature fluctuations created by warm water outfalls. Do you know about this?

Hello Team:
That is a very good point about using the high tide for discharge times and the fact the temperature fluctuations would be minimize. They would have to discharge the water closer to the shore and to the surface to provide that environment where the wave action can effectively mix the warmer discharged water. The discharge times would only take place at certain times; therefore, there would have to be a holding tank until the scheduled release time. This would increase the actual volume of water released at any one time. According to Van Ryrin & Leraand (1992), the temperature of the discharged water is 12.6 °C which is approximately ~6 to 8 °C cooler than the sea. That is a high temperature difference compared to the ocean water. Most regulatory guidelines state that the surface water temperature should be within 3°C of the ambient air temperature. Even with wave action and volume, the temperature around the discharge point would still be slightly evaluated until release is completed. But this would be better than releasing regularly causing the species composition around the discharge area to change. In a freshwater environment, evaluated temperatures are more of an issue to the environment. The main environmental issue is that benthic invertebrates are highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Different species has different preferences to temperatures; therefore, the species composition near the discharge point will be different than 100 meters away. A solution to this issue would be to use a cooling pond to bring the water to ambient temperature prior to release. Another consideration for the adverse effects of this technology might be releasing metals, bacteria, and fungi to the natural environment. Over time, this may effect the marine ecosystem. For example, the point made by Kevin during the World Café was that copper can be very damaging to marine life. Copper fragments may be released into the ocean over a period of time from pressure of the water flowing through the copper plate in the piping system. The copper would then settle to the bottom where it may taken up by bottom-dwelling benthic invertebrates and adversely effecting them. The solution would be to regularly monitor the released water to determine metal levels, bacteria counts, and fungi etc over time period and determine a baseline.

Van Ryzin, J. & Leraand, T. (1992). Air conditioning with deep seawater: a cost-effective alternative. Ocean Resources 2000. Retrieved on February 18, 2008 from:

Good discussion about the environmental impacts to water quality Leah. Lise’s idea is a valid one regarding the discharge into high tide to reduce the impact. “The solution to pollution is dilution.” Although this seems facetious, it is a potential disposal solution for some effluent, for example sewage effluent. I think if the only change in water quality is temperature, it is appropriate since most of the impacts would be localized. However, it is important to realize that it only takes small changes in temperature to have an effect on aquatic life.

If we are talking about other substances, such as metals that can become bioaccumulative, then other options would have to be considered, such as Leah’s holding pond suggestion (or remediation ponds).

Here is our B.C. Aquatic Life guideline for protecting freshwater and marine aquatic life.

Freshwater Aquatic Life
- lakes and impoundments + or - 1 degree Celsius change from natural ambient background
Marine and Estuarine Aquatic Life + or - 1 degree Celsius change from natural ambient background
the hourly rate of change up to 0.5 degrees Celsius
see narrative in footnote
2. The natural temperature cycle characteristic of the site should not be altered in amplitude or frequency by human activities.

This is another link that can explain some of the effects of temperature on aquatic biota, including benthic invertebrates as Leah suggested as well as fish:…


Lise and team,

Interesting comment Lise, you have stumped me. This idea didn't cross my mind at all while reading the case study. I will check out the link you provided.

Having only read this case study once, the first thing that jumped out at me was the issue of buy-in. How does a community get buy-in for an energy savings project whose intial investment is very high while other low cost energy is available? How do you create that sense of urgency for change?

In reply to by tanji


Tanji, you brought up another good point about getting buy-in for a project with such a high initial investment. It was interesting to see that the Toronto case really “pushed the project forward” by tying the project to an essential need, drinking water. By linking the project to something that is a human need, it seemed like it was easier to get support for the project.

It also sounded like champions within government and business supported the project and were able to move through barriers. If you can get collaboration from a number of organizations that can potentially benefit from the project then it is more likely that it will succeed.

In reply to by tanji


Great comments from all, and a good question about "buy-in". It takes me back to economics where we looked at bio-thermal energy and did cost projections to determine how long it would take before we recovered our initial investment and realized savings.

I fully agree that having public/private partnerships is a good idea.

I think that in terms of deep water cooling, and in keeping with our discussions on sustainable community deelopment, large projects like this would be good candidates for deliberative community forums (this topic is covered in one of our pre-readings - but my link didn't work.) Try this link…

I think that the science is important in anticipating and addressing community concerns related to ecosystem impacts, but I also think that there will likely be a large segment of the population interested in energy savings - as the cost of energy is soaring.

Sorry - but I'm not fully conversant with this web interaction - and did want to go back to re-read Leah's comments. I'll wait to hear back from you all.


At first glance this new infrastructure can be regarded as sustainable, since the impact to the environment seems very minor initially. Temperature is really the only element that may initially be affected. Maybe compared to other cooling technologies this is a better option, but everyone or everything might not agree; especially the one fish that needs the temperature to remain consistent to spawn.

Over time another issue that might arise and cause this type of technology to be unsustainable is the overuse of the water resources (eg. lake). A lake can only handle so many water withdrawls before the lake ecosystem will be affected.

This idea brings up another issue of what are the limits in sustainability. Do we worry about the one fish that might be affected or do we focus on protecting 80% of the population? (This question was inspired by a second year student who had a question about threshold limits for development. At what point is a new development project not approved?) Very good question (tough thesis topic though) Often decision makers base their decision on just one issue at a time. It’s just recently that they are starting to consider the cumulative impacts of developments. Who sets the limit to development? We all equally have the right to use the land.


I STRONGLY encourage you to copy whatever you type into these comment boxes before you hit 'post comment.' I just spent a long period of time putting my thoughs down, went to hit 'post', and lost it all - no idea where it went. Subject was 'Community Engagment' in case it pops up elsewhere.
This is frustrating to say the least.


Jody - I agree with you, the success of these projects (well, Toronto anyways) was likely due large in part to the collaboration between government and private industry.

I am trying to consider these projects in more of a local context, for example, my hometown of Nelson. Nelson is situated on the shores of the deep Kootenay Lake and has the characteristics required for a deep water cooling project. Nelson recently revealed its Master Water Management Plan. The plan calls for a 7$ million dollar expansion to develop a new water source and reservoir to meet 'growing water demands.' Regrettably, the plan does not consider any demand-side water management practices. I guess my point here is that I am wondering how deep water cooling projects really get off the ground in the absence of strong, progressive Municipal leadership? In Nelson, visionary and environmentally conscious leadership (in government) is lacking, as evidenced by the lack of discussion regarding water metering or any form of demand-side management (among other things). On the ladder of engagement, Nelson sits at about the Therapy or Informing level regarding water and energy resources.

This case study thoroughly explored the mechanics of deep water cooling projects, but I am missing the link between how these types of projects go through the process of being great ideas to actual projects. For a project of this to occur in smaller communities, who would have to be the 'champion' to get it going in the absence of environmentally conscious political leadership? What key players and stakeholders would have to be at the table? Governance is an important aspect that should be considered. As Jody highlighted, connecting deep water cooling to the provision of drinking water supplies would be an integral part of getting support. For deep water cooling projects to succeed in smaller cities, community involvement would have to move from consultation up the chain through placation and partnership and on to some form of delegated or citizen control.

Hello All:
Great comments. In regards to the buy in for Toronto deep-lake-water cooling project was an easy project to pass. The city council approved the investment into the project and footed some of the bill. This helped a great deal to get it to go through. However, the actual customers who use the system benefited from the savings of having the project. Jody and Tanji are right that most of the collaboration was mainly with the government and private industries. I found the meeting minutes from City of Toronto Council and Committees regarding the feasibility of the project. Here is the link: They stated that a pre-design study and environmental assessment was done to allow for public input and confirm project viability while maintaining the security and integrity of the water supply system. I am not sure to what degree the public input was. For large business, the project was economic benefit. Customer savings through Deep Lake Water Cooling were demonstrated after May 2006 when Hudson's Bay Company [HBC], Canada's oldest diversified general merchandise retailer, switched to Enwave's system for its Toronto office tower. HBC energy savings are projected at 3,571,200-kW per year, the equivalent of powering more than 350 homes (Toronto Hydro-Electric System Ltd, 2006). That certainty makes the project appealing for industries just with the savings from switching to this system. For industry buy-in, they have to be large enough to have the economic benefits. If the businesses were too small, the initial investment would not pay off for a long time. The capital costs for deep-well water cooling (fresh or sea water) are between $2 to $5 million, which includes the pipeline, heat exchangers, and chilled water distribution system. The payback period for these systems ranged between 5 and 6 years for a large business and 9 to 17 years for the businesses with the smallest air conditioning loading (Van Ryzin & Leraand, 1992). The main factors that influence the economic viability of a deep-water cooling system are (Van Ryzin & Leraand, 1992):
 The distance to the water source
 The size of the air continuing system
 The environmental conditions such as temperature of the water, climate, and wave or currents etc. For a place like Halifax – the local seafloor bathymetry needs to be assessed.
The mechanisms to encourage this type of project would be mainly economic benefits for the initial buy-in from industries and businesses because it directly benefits them.

Van Ryzin, J. & Leraand, T. (1992). Air conditioning with deep seawater: a cost-effective alternative. Ocean Resources 2000. Retrieved on February 18, 2008 from:

Toronto Hydro-Electric System Ltd. (2006). Toronto Hydro-Electric System Limited Conservation and Demand Management 2005 Annual Report. Ontario Energy Board File No. RP-2004-0203/EB-2004-0485.


Tanji states: I guess my point here is that I am wondering how deep water cooling projects really get off the ground in the absence of strong, progressive Municipal leadership?

How crucial do you think individual and group leadership is in sustainable development? If sustainable community development is to become the norm then surely it has to become normal and not reliant on such leadership? How do you think this could be encouraged?

I think group leadership is crucial in sustainable development to drive a vision, direction and specific action, which should be mainly coming from the public sector. There needs to be facilitator to build upon the strengths and credibility with the stakeholders to engage partners involved with the opportunities sustainable development presents. I believe even when sustainable community development is normal you still need group leadership and a facilitator to drive the process forward. People need accountability and responsibility to put things into action. However, there will be less time spent on educating stakeholders on the concept of sustainable community and more time spent on the actual process itself. This can be encouraged by educating people on the successful experiences to achieve sustainable communities and how the actual process of getting to an agreement on the specific action. There is a lot of useful information about leadership and networking in the book below.

Gilchrist, A. (2004) The Well-Connected Community: A Networking Approach to Community Development. Bristol, Polity Press.

I think this a very good question and goes back to the idea of how we embed sustainability concepts through knowledge - and I don't mean that in the tradional sense where we aquire knowledge through forums (although that is possible)or by taking courses. The goal of municipal governments, especially if they are seeking re-election is to give the voters what they want, and particularly if there are public/private partnerships which would lessen the blow to taxpayers. Where there is a value added component (sustainable development)to an infrastructure improvement, the ability of govenment to achieve buy in from community members is enhanced. Additionally, because of their standing in the governance structure, both federally and provincially, municipal governments are in very good strategic positions to capitalize on various subsidizes and grants to address this very issue.

At this point, I am not convinced that a "sustainability mantra" is maintsream thinking. The ususal suspects appear at council meetings and support sustainability initiatives. An even larger group want to understand what it all means and what it will cost them as takpayers.

I think that a number of sucessful sustainability initiaves within communities will allay some of the suspicions related to s.d, change the culture, and sustainability will become an expection rather than a value-added component.

As Tanji and Leah have pointed out, leadership is important to get a project such as the deep water cooling project off the ground. It would be especially challenging if the governing body who should be responsible for supporting such an initiative does not want to lead the process. I have learned that leadership does not have to come from the top, as David Bell stated that leadership can come from the side. A good leader can influence decisions through social capital. Another good point made was that the community has to be engaged. This can be instilled by achieving creativity and discovering concrete solutions. Leah’s right when she says that you need leadership to drive the process forward. And it is becoming more clear to me that once people realize a common goal and are engaged by enhancing their capacity to contribute then a movement can gain its own inertia.

I see where you are going with this Jody - lateral leadership and the importance of it. (Unrelated, but I noticed during our World Cafe the other night with the MALT team that the woman who 'led' the session and was the primary speaker and appeared to be directing things was really not the 'leader' of the group. Based on my conversations with the team members and seeing how they interacted with each other and got each table talking and into a dialogue, you could easily see that Beverly was leading - laterally).
By building bridging and vertical capital, the idea of a deep water cooling project could become a reality. I think that to get a project of this size off the ground, there would need to be a great deal of energy and planning put into the development of nodes and networking in the early stages so as to gain momentum and support for the project.


Other than this wonderful website of course, would you know where to get information about such innovative technologies and their success if you were a community member, councilor or municipal officer wanting to get such projects looked at in your own communities?

One of the barriers is, after all, a lack of knowledge and lack of experience in what can be done.

In reply to by Chris Ling


For municipalities and government interested in renewable energy options, and specifically deep water cooling, a good place to look would be Enwave's website. Enwave is the private partner in both the Toronto and Halifax deep water cooling systems. Enwave can be found at

For individuals wanting to learn about deep water cooling in general, both National Geographic and the Scientific American have online articles featuring this topic -… and….

Natural Resources Canada also has some very interesting information on deep water cooling available at

If a community is specifically interested in the use of ocean water, Natural Resources Canada discusses this in detail at…. This information is entitled "Seawater Cooling System for Buildings".

All of this information is only a "click away" for many Canadians. For a number of communities in northern British Columbia, however, high speed internet is not yet a reality.

For those without internet access, government publications can be obtained by phoning toll-free to Ottawa. Similarily, Enwave can be contacted by contacting its main office in Toronto.

For magazine publications, I believe that interested parties might have to head to a library. Fortunately, most libraries provide computers for internet access - and I think that librarians would be happy to assist anyone new to computer technology.

I found the Economist article on Deep Water cooling to be very interesting and informative. If focuses on the specifics of Toronto's experience and highlights how many buildings are serviced and other fringe benefits. A number of buildings on the system are putting the cooling units on the roof. This in turn free's up space for other things.

This particular article might be useful for someone wanting to get more technical specifics on deep water cooling in an applied setting. A Cool Concept. June 7, 2007. Retrieved from

Alternatively, I found it interesting to learn that there are currently seawater cooling systems in Tahiti, Curacao, Korea, Malta, the Cape Verde Islands, Haiti and Mauritius. I didn't realize how long this technology has been in use in other regions of the world. In 1986, the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Hawaii began to successfully use seawater air-conditioning. Their program has since expanded to other neighbouring buildings. This and other useful information can be found in;

Cummins, Joe. The Blue Revolution: Air Condition and Energy from Deep Waters of Lakes and Oceans. Retrieved from

Tanji and Lise, all those websites are very insightful. However, if I were a community member, councilor or municipal officer, I would be confused about the information because I would have no technical background to understand what it really means. I think the project manager should educate his stakeholders and engage them to ensure that they understand the language and the scale of the proposed project. Transparency and clear language is important to ensure everyone understands what the scope of the project and how it will effect him or her personally. After reading these websites regarding deep-water technology, I am a little confused myself with the technical terminology used in some of the articles.
To help remove some of the barriers (i.e. lack of knowledge), I would suggest that the project manager and/or lead individual should organize a stakeholder meeting right from the start and continue throughout the proposed project to educate and inform them using the following techniques:

1. Use the language of the stakeholder group.
2. Select the appropriate engagement approach. This may be focus groups, individual or small group interviews, surveys, formal referrals, key-person meetings, advisory councils or some other. The approach chosen should reflect the engagement objectives, stakeholder capacity, cost and time constraints, and whether qualitative or quantitative information is required (Industry Canada website, 2008).
3. Consider getting outside help. A professional facilitator or consultant can help with the details of the engagement plan.
4. Find shared values amongst the members of the stakeholder group
5. Ensure there is transparency and trust
There are other ways to ensure common understanding and knowledge, for example, the company can hold informal 'open houses' and multi-stakeholder workshops during the planning phases of major new projects.

I thought of a little more regarding stakeholder engagement. It would be important to map and prioritize stakeholders according to likely influence, impact on the project, and credibility to engage. Engage directly with key stakeholders to understand their interest in the project, any ground rules and expectations. This enables to formulate and facilitate an appropriate engagement – in individual meetings and/or roundtables. This helps with strategy development or options needed towards the project and ensures the loop is closed with the involved stakeholders in a way that builds their trust and confidence.

To answer question # 3 of the case study. ‘Would more demonstrations projects help to speed the diffusion of innovative infrastructure choices?’ I would agree that more demonstrations of these types of projects would help the speed of innovative infrastructure choices. However, in respect to the deep-well project, Tanji brought up the fact this type of technology goes back to 1986. So in other words, there were a lot of demonstrations of the success of this type of technology. As well as there was no real evidence that this type of infrastructure has caused adverse effects on the environment. It has been in use for a long time.

Energy Efficiency for Homeowners

Energy Efficiency for Homeowners

Josh McLean and Chris Ling
Published February 28, 2007

Case Summary

As a Kyoto Protocol signatory, Canada initiated some programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The federal government's  EnerGuide for Houses (EGH) program provided financial incentives to encourage homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes (related to heating and cooling). Despite the government grants and the financial benefits to be gained from energy savings, the number of homeowners following through with upgrades in the EGH program was relatively low. This case study examines why homeowners took part in the EGH program and what types of barriers they encountered during, or prior to, renovations. 75 participating homeowners in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) were surveyed, and eight experts interviewed. Financial reasons was the main reason given by the participants for taking part in the program, but financial reasons was also cited as the principal barrier to completing the recommended upgrades. The case analysis also provides recommendations for any successors to the EGH program.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will continue to increase (leading to environmental, economic and social impacts) unless atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) levels are reduced. There is “a very high confidence” that natural ecosystems are already changing due to the impacts of climate change (Parmesan and Yohe, 2003). Examples of potential climate change impacts include more droughts, melting of mountain glaciers (Hyder (ed.), 2005), human health impacts from disease and air pollution, rising sea levels from melting polar ice, impacts to ecosystems and forests from changing weather patterns, and the associated economic impacts resulting from these changes (David Suzuki Foundation, 2006).

Reducing the use of fossil fuels will help reduce the severity of climate change impacts (Office of Energy Efficiency [OEE], 2005). Relative to its GDP, Canada produces 25% more GHG emissions than the average for the industrialized world (Bramley, 2005). On a per capita level, Canada is the second highest user of energy compared to other International Energy Agency countries (Luxembourg is the highest and the United States is the third highest) (Natural Resources Canada [NRCan], 2005a). Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada agreed to reduce its GHG emissions, between 2008 and 2012, by 6% below 1990 levels (Government of Canada [GOC], 2005). In November 2002, Canada developed a Climate Change Action Plan with goals of reducing GHG emissions by 240 megatonnes per year. The federal government later ratified the protocol on December 17, 2002 (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC], 2006).

In April 2004, Environment Canada reported that Canada’s 2002 GHG emissions were 28% higher (731 million tonnes of GHG emissions) than the Kyoto target to be reached by 2012 (572 million tonnes). In 2005, the federal government increased its original reduction targets to 270 megatonnes per year by 2008-2012. Following the federal election in the spring of 2006, the Conservative party formed the new government and announced it would halt Canada's participation in the Kyoto Protocol to satisfy one of its election platform promises. Subsequently, Natural Resources Canada announced cuts to many climate change projects and, in October 2006, the federal government unveiled its new Clean Air Act, a ‘made in Canada’ approach that did not include the Kyoto Protocol (CBC, 2006).

Whether or not the federal government honours it, the Kyoto Protocol is not a final solution to the climate change problem. In fact, by 2050 global GHG levels should be 50-60% lower than 1990 levels in order to stabilize the GHG levels at twice that of the pre-industrialized area (GOC, 2005). Other groups, including the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation, recommend even greater levels of reductions, 80% by the year 2050 (Bramley, 2005).

Approximately 17% of Canada’s energy use comes from the residential sector (NRCan, 2005b). This sector includes four types of housing: apartments, mobile homes, single attached homes (duplexes and row houses), and single detached homes (GOC, 2004). The majority (64.5%) of the residential buildings in Canada are single detached homes (7,191,540), followed by apartment buildings (18.5% - 2,061,257), single attached homes (15.5% - 1,721,416), and mobile homes (1.5% - 195,176) (NRCan, 2005c).


Critical Success Factors

Promotion of the federal EGH program was crucial to recruiting homeowners, however, in Nova Scotia many applicants to the EGH program were unaware of the matching grants program available from the provincial government, which affected the take-up rate of the federal program. If applicants had been made aware of the additional funds available from the province, this may have also resulted in more upgrades being implemented.

The key component of the EGH scheme was not only the grant available to homeowners, but included access to the audit opportunity and the specific recommendations and advice for homeowners for improvements in energy efficiences. Although the financial aspects of energy efficiency are the most important motivation, this related to cheaper energy bills in the long term, rather than the grant in the short term.

Community Contact Information

Josh McLean
e-mail: or
tel: (902) 420-8803

What Worked? 

  1. The energy audits were a popular component of the program, with many respondents saying they would consider paying for an audit even if it was not part of a wider grant program.
  2. The advice and the recommendations are more important than the grant, as the majority of homeowners responded that they would have upgraded their homes with or without the grant – the audit and advice were key.

What Didn’t Work?

  1. Loss of support from the federal government was clearly a major problem, and most of those surveyed felt it was a poor decision.
  2. There was a lower number of homeowners conducting a ‘B’ audit and thus accessing the grant funding. This was due to planned upgrades not completed, or  homeowners thinking there was little prospect of having achieved significant energy savings to be awarded a large enough grant to cover their costs, making the second audit unnecessary.
  3. Some homeowners felt that there was not enough time allowed under the program to complete the upgrades to qualify for the grant.
  4. Most homeowners felt that many upgrades were prohibitively expensive.
  5. Many homeowners were not aware of the availability of matching funding from the Government of Nova Scotia to complement the federal EGH grant.
  6. The grant process was confusing to applicants as it was difficult to predict how much grant the homeowner would receive after paying for the renovations.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Under the EGH program interested homeowners paid a fee (typically $150) to receive an energy audit on their home. The actual value of the audit was approximately $300; with the federal government subsidizing half of the upfront cost.

A federal grant of up to $4,580 was then awarded based on the change between the first audit (A) and the follow-up audit (B) ratings. The average grant awarded under the program was $780 (2005 figures).

Originally, funds were available for a homeowner’s principal residence. In July 2005, the individual grant level was increased (from $3,348 to $4,580) to include landlords' low-rise residential buildings meeting the criteria for the program (NRCan, 2005d). In the 2004-2005 fiscal year, over 77,000 homes in Canada received an EGH evaluation, and over 17,000 grants were awarded, worth over $10 million (NRCan, 2005a).

Additional energy efficiency incentives were available to Canadians participating in the EGH program. For example, $100 grants were automatically available for homeowners who replaced older gas or oil-fired heating systems with Energy Star rated systems. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offered a 10% rebate on CMHC mortgage loan insurance premiums if buying a house with an EGH-rating of 80 or higher, or if renovating an existing home and increasing the EGH rating by at least 5 points (and having a minimum rating of 40) (CMHC, 2005). Some organizations offered zero or low interest loans to help finance the cost of the renovations. For example, the VanCity Credit Union in British Columbia offered low interest loans when borrowing money to pay for upgrades recommended by the EGH program (VanCity, 2006). The Government of New Brunswick, in addition to a $50 rebate on the cost of the EGH visit, also offered either a zero interest loan up to $10,000 to help pay for EGH-related renovations, or an HST rebate on the cost of renovations of up to $1,500 (Efficiency NB, 2006). Other financial incentives, as reported by Green Communities Canada [GCC] (2006c), existed for most provinces and some territories, and were normally offered through the provincial/territorial governments, utilities, gas providers, banks or credit unions.

The Government of Nova Scotia provided $4.5 million to support the EGH program incorporating:

  1. matching the federal grant up to $1,000;
  2. providing a rebate on the cost of the EGH A audit ($150) and an additional $400 to the available federal and provincial grants, for single seniors with incomes of less than $25,000 or to seniors with family incomes less than $40,000 (Nova Scotia Department of Energy [NSDE], 2005a); and,
  3. an energy savings kit (valued at $50) that contained products and materials to reduce energy use up to $100 per year.

Following the cancellation of the federal program the Government of Nova Scotia implemented the following:

  1. a provincial EGH-type of grant of up to $2000;
  2. any low to modest income citizens, with single net incomes of less than $25,000 or family incomes of less than $40,000, were provided a rebate on the cost of their EGH audit, and an additional $400 was added to the EGH provincial grant; and,
  3. an energy savings kit (valued at $50) to all EGH participants (NSDE, 2006a).

As of November 2006, the province also offered the following:

  1. a $200 rebate when purchasing an efficient wood burning appliance (pellet stove or an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified wood stove);
  2. a 10% discount on the installation cost of a solar hot water heating system;
  3. up to a $750 rebate for buying an energy efficient oil burning furnace or boiler and indirect hot water tank;
  4. rebates on high efficiency natural gas heating equipment (although natural gas was only available in a small geographical area); and,
  5. either a full or partial subsidy to pay for EnerGuide for New Houses (EGNH) evaluations (NSDE, 2006b).

The average income of homeowners taking part in the EGH program was higher than the average for HRM, $78,000 as opposed to $46,946 (Statistics Canada, 2006) suggesting a potential financial barrier for applicants  – suggestions to remove this financial barrier has ranged from upfront, interest-free loans to larger grants and other financial support.

Research Analysis 

  1. As the prime motivation of applicants taking part in any EGH or equivalent program is to reduce energy bills, it seems essential to stress the link between energy efficiency and saving money in any education or publicity program for energy efficiency – rather than the environmental benefits that these programs can provide.
  2. The federal EGH program suffered from a lack of partnerships between the three levels of government, utilities and other energy providers.
  3. There is a disconnect for homeowners between high energy bills and programs perceived as ‘environmental’ that espouse energy efficiency. A stronger link needs to be made in the publicity between these two perspectives.
  4. Other problems in achieving upgrades is the time to complete them and the lack of available contractors – any EGH administration could link homeowners to contractors able to carry out the relevant improvements.

A summary of the recommendations drawn from the case study research on the federal EGH program follows: 





Develop partnerships

More funders allows for additional incentives (eg. zero interest loan).


Promote upgrades as an investment

Overcomes financial barriers (help it make financial sense).


Make zero interest loans available

Overcomes financial barriers (up front money to pay for renovations).


Conduct schedules follow up calls

Reduces information and knowledge barriers that occur after the A visit.


Replace the word ‘grant’

Reduce confusion about how program works (keep simple and easy).


Investigate options for contractor certification or education

Determines whether contractor certification is feasible in relation to government programs.


Research how grant amounts affect level of upgrades completed

Determines how program funds are most effectively used.


Target other groups

Allows more of the population to benefit from energy efficiency upgrades.

Detailed Background Case Description

The federal context

EnerGuide for Houses (EGH) is a residential energy efficiency program developed in the 1990’s and initiated in 1998 (GOC, 2006b). In August 2003, NRCan initiated the EGH Grants for Homeowners program in an effort to further reduce energy use (and associated GHG emissions) in the residential sector (GOC, 2006a). Under the EGH program, interested homeowners received an energy audit (‘A’ audit) on their home. A certified auditor evaluated the home for areas of inefficiency relating to heating and cooling. This included an investigation of the levels of insulation throughout the house, measurement and documentation of all windows, doors, heating, hot water, cooling and ventilation systems, and a blower door test that determined the level of drafts in the home. The house received an initial energy rating between 0 and 100. Typically, the older the home the less efficient it would be, and therefore the lower the rating. Upgrade options were modeled in a software program to determine the level of potential energy savings. A report was given to the homeowner with recommendations and advice on how to improve the energy efficiency of the home, presenting upgrade options in terms of their level of anticipated energy savings. Homeowners then had up to 18 months to complete the desired upgrades, after which a second evaluation (‘B’ audit) determined the new EGH rating.

A federal grant of up to $4,580 was awarded based on the improvement between the A audit and B audit ratings. The grant was based on the margin of improvement in the energy efficiency of the home rather than the amount spent on upgrades. By 2005, the average grant awarded to homeowners was $780 (NRCan, 2005d). Upgrades which could improve the space heating or cooling energy demands of the house, and thus the rating, included adding insulation, draft proofing, upgrading old windows and doors, and upgrading heating, cooling, ventilation and domestic hot water systems. On average, upgrades could help houses older than 25 years save 35% of energy use (OEE, 2005).

The Nova Scotia experience

From 1990 to 2001, the total emissions from the Nova Scotia residential sector grew by 8.2% (Hughes et al., 2005). The NSDE (NSDE, 2005b) provides similar results, with GHG emissions increasing by 10.5% between 1990 and 2003; a rate of increase that was identified to be less than many other provinces. Average energy use in homes in NS includes: space heating (64%), water heating (20%), appliances (12%) and lighting (4%) (NSDE, 2005c). By 2005, only 1% of the homes in Nova Scotia had received an EGH evaluation (Lipp and Cain, 2005).

In an effort to further reduce energy use, Nova Scotia ‘piggybacked’ onto the federal EGH program to promote energy efficiency upgrades in the province. On October 12, 2005, the NSDE announced its Smart Energy Choices program. Part of this program included an energy savings kit containing:

  • Lighting: 2 LED night lights and 3 compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs);
  • Water conservation: 2 faucet aerators and 1 low-flow showerhead;
  • Draft proofing: 1 package of foam gaskets for outlets, child safety caps, a roll of v-strip weather stripping and a storm window kit (NSDE, 2006c).

As of March 2006, despite the available grants, the number of homeowners who had followed up with their audit B was relatively low. For example, Clean Nova Scotia (CNS), a non-profit environmental organization had conducted many of the firts EGH audits in HRM. By March 2006, the level of audit B visits (homeowners applying for the grant) was approximately 20% (McKegney, pers comm., 2006). Similar observations were noted by Bird (2006), where in Waterloo Ontario, one of the EGH delivery agencies (Residential Energy Efficiency Project) had evaluated over 6,300 homes, since 1999. By October 2005, however, only 12% applicants had conducted enough upgrades to receive an audit B visit and grant. This figure of 6,300 homes includes those that had been evaluated before the grant existed, although the trend of a low level of follow-up visits was similar. Although grants existed, to fully discover how to help homeowners reduce energy use it is necessary to understand the motivations of homeowners and the barriers that exist to increasing the home’s efficiency (Dodge, pers. comm., 2006).

Post federal EGH cancellation

On May 12, 2006, the new Conservative federal government cancelled the EGH program (GOC, 2006a).  The cancellation affected those who had not yet taken part in the program. Homeowners whose audit A was completed by that date were still eligible for the federal grant. The 18-month timeline, however, was shortened for many applicants, as all files were required to be submitted to NRCan by March 31, 2007. EGH participants were encouraged by NRCan to have their audit B completed by February 28, 2007 (NRCan, 2007). Since the cancellation of the program, some provinces and utilities have taken steps to reinstate similar programs at the provincial level. On October 3, 2006, the NSDE announced that it had reinstated a provincial-level EGH program at least until March 31, 2007. The NSDE also offered additional incentives for purchasing energy efficient products.

In addition to these programs, NSDE’s Smart Choices for Cleaner Energy – The Green Energy Framework report outlined plans to participate in the anticipated federal EGH for Low Income Houses program, among other efficiency initiatives (NSDE, 2005d).

Taking part in the program

According to a survey of 75 Halifax-area homeowners who participated in the EGH program, the main motivations (in order of frequency of response) for taking part in the program were:

  1. to help reduce energy bills;
  2. to gain knowledge;
  3. to improve the home’s energy efficiency;
  4. to get the government grant;
  5. to help the environment;
  6. to improve comfort within the home, and
  7. because it was recommended by a friend or relative.

Participants undertook and planned the following energy efficiency upgrades:

  Implemented Planned
Draft proofing  34 14
Attic insulation  24 17
Windows  20 22
Insulating walls  18 8
Basement / crawlspace insulation  18 17
Other energy upgrades not related to EGH  11 2
Heating systems  9 2
Doors  9 8
Exposed floor insulation  2 1
Adding a ventilation system  2 5
Building an energy efficient addition  1 0
Solar hot water panels  0 1
Domestic hot water tank  0 1
Total  148 98

Homeowners asked to identify the barriers faced in implementing the audit A's recommended improvements, cited concerns about the cost or affordability of the renovations, lack of time to complete the upgrades, and the availability of qualified contractors.

Resources and References

Bird, T. (2006). Energy efficiency audits: identifying perceived barriers to implementing recommended actions. MAES Thesis. Waterloo: University of Waterloo.

Bramley, M. (2005). The case for deep reductions – Canada’s role in preventing dangerous climate change. Vancouver: David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (2006). In depth Kyoto and beyond: Canada-Kyoto timeline. Retrieved February 30th, 2007 from:

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2005). Energy efficient housing made more affordable with mortgage loan insurance. Ottawa: Government of Canada. 

David Suzuki Foundation. (2006). Climate change impacts. Vancouver. Retrieved February 30th, 2007 from:

Efficiency NB. (2006). NB existing homes energy efficiency upgrades program. New Brunswick Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency.

Government of Canada. (2004). Your guide to the one tonne challenge. Quebec.

Government of Canada. (2005). Project green: moving forward on climate change – a plan for honoring our Kyoto commitment. Quebec.

Green Communities Canada. (2006a). Home retrofit incentive grant. Peterborough.

Green Communities Canada. (2006b). Ottawa urged to restore popular EnerGuide for houses programs.

Green Communities Canada. (2006c). Programs that piggyback onto NRCan’s housing programs.

Hughes, L., Bohan, K., Good, J., & Jafapur, K. (2005). Calculating residential carbon dioxide emissions – a new approach. Energy Policy, 33, 1865-1871.

Hyder, M (Ed.). (2005). Global warming impacts bring China to the table. Global Environmental Change Report, 17, 1-4.

Lipp, J., & Cain, S. (2005). The energy accounts for the Nova Scotia genuine progress index. Halifax: Genuine Progress Index for Atlantic Canada.

Natural Resources Canada. (2005a). Improving energy performance in Canada – report to parliament under the energy efficiency act for the fiscal year 2004-2005. Gatineau: Government of Canada.

Natural Resources Canada. (2005b). Energy efficiency trends in Canada, 1990 to 2003. Quebec: Government of Canada.

Natural Resources Canada. (2005c). Survey of household energy use in 2003: detailed statistical report. Ottawa: Government of Canada.

Natural Resources Canada. (2005d). Eligibility criteria for grants under the EnerGuide for houses retrofit incentive. Ottawa: Government of Canada.

Natural Resources Canada (2007). Home improvement – important notice. Ottawa: Government of Canada.

Nova Scotia Department of Energy. (2005a). Energy plan will provide relief and savings - news release. Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Department of Energy. (2005b). Nova Scotia Power.

Nova Scotia Department of Energy. (2005c). Quick tips – that will save you money this winter and all year long. Halifax.

Nova Scotia Department of Energy. (2005d). Smart choices for cleaner energy – the green energy framework. Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Department of Energy. (2006a). Program will help Nova Scotia homeowners cut energy costs – news release. Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Department of Energy. (2006b). Smart energy choices – rebates and incentives.

Nova Scotia Department of Energy. (2006c). Nova Scotia EnerGuide for houses program: questions and answers.

Office of Energy Efficiency. (2005). The EnerGuide for houses service.

Parmesan, C., & Yohe, G. (2003). A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature, 421, 37-42.

Statistics Canada. (2006). 2001 Community profiles – Halifax regional municipality. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

VanCity. (2006). Bright ideas home financing.

Other Experts

  1. John Brennan, former Chief of the Federal Buildings Initiative, Natural Resources Canada;
  2. Donald Dodge, Program Administration Officer, Conserve Nova Scotia (formed by the Nova Scotia Department of Energy);
  3. Carl Duivenvoorden, Residential Sector Manager, Efficiency New Brunswick;
  4. Gary McKegney, EGH Advisor, Clean Nova Scotia;
  5. Kai Millyard, Special Projects Consultant to Green Communities Canada, Evaluation Manager;
  6. Paula Steele, Energy Efficiency Program Coordinator, City Green (Victoria);
  7. Peter Sundberg, Executive Director, City Green (Victoria);
  8. Bruce Young, Certified Energy Manager, Atlantic Coastal Action Program Cape Breton.

Energy Performance Contracting

Energy Performance Contracting

Jim Hamilton
Published October 18, 2006

Case Summary

The City of Toronto supports the use of energy performance contracting (involving comprehensive energy and water retrofits and building renewal initiatives) with respect to both private and public buildings located within the City of Toronto through the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) located within its Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE). BBP and OEE form an integral part of the city's efforts to contribute to global climate change. (Please refer to the Governance case study entitled “Mid-term Objectives: An Urban Experience, Toronto, Ontario”.)

Energy performance contracts (EPCs) provide a comprehensive turnkey service to retrofit facilities. In essence, they offer "one-stop shopping" for building owners and managers to upgrade facilities to make them more energy efficient. Typically, contracts include replacement/upgrading of HVAC systems, window replacements, upgraded lighting systems, etc. and are all inclusive in that they encompass capital investment and financing, engineering and design, project management, energy maintenance, specialized employee training, construction, commissioning of improvements, and so on. A major feature of EPCs is that building owners and managers use private-sector funding to finance the energy improvements in their facilities.

Costs for comprehensive building retrofitting, when combining short- and long-term investment opportunities, typically pay back over an eight- to ten-year period. To date, the BBP has produced up to $100 million in energy savings investments involving 155 buildings spread across Toronto. The investments have created approximately 3,000 jobs, mainly within the construction trades and the engineering sectors, and reduced building operating costs by $6 million, and CO2 emissions by approximately 72,000 tonnes per year, ongoing.

The majority of the money invested has come from the private sector through the firms contracted to undertake the energy/water retrofits. One estimate suggests that extending the program to all larger buildings within the Toronto metropolitan area would require an investment in the neighbourhood of $3 billion. Evidence suggests that the BBP presently has the capacity and momentum to increase energy savings investments by 400 to 800% with a concomitant 572,000 tonne reduction in CO2 constituting upwards of 30% of the City of Toronto’s CO2 target.

Major buildings included within the program include: the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, the Toronto Public Library, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Toronto headquarters, First Canadian Place Tower, Ryerson University, Toronto City Hall, and others.

Experience demonstrates that BBP sponsorship of energy performance contracting is indeed successful, but use tends towards larger buildings as well as favoring the institutional and large multi-residential sectors with significant exceptions such as the First Canadian Place Tower. To counteract this, BBP has put in place other programs focusing on smaller commercial and residential structures. While successful, their results are less than those of the energy performance contracting initiative.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Municipal sponsorship of financial techniques such as energy performance contracting provides ready and large-scale financing for widespread implementation of energy efficiency and water conservation projects. Such projects, in turn, reduce ‘smog’ creating chemicals, thus making down town areas more livable.

In terms of sustainable development in its broadest sense, municipal support of energy performance contracting provides a necessary financing tool to achieving sustainable development through the implementation of energy and water saving equipment and processes. The tool, however, is based on investors finding positive financial returns using new, but well understood technologies.

Critical Success Factors

Critical success factors include:

  1. an initial target set by the City of Toronto in 1990 to reduce the city’s net carbon dioxide levels by 20%;

  2. continual support of Toronto’s City Council through sustained political support by elected municipal officials;

  3. widespread and ongoing community involvement that has included city council, the citizens of Toronto, the utility companies, building owners, and suppliers (in this case essentially energy management companies that provide energy/water retrofit services to building owners). In some instances, Toronto’s Office of Energy Efficiency created the linkages; in others, the office coordinates these relationships; and,

  4. the presence within Toronto of an energy management industry capable of delivering requisite energy management services such as engineering studies, planning, building reconstruction, product delivery (e.g. HVACs, windows, lighting fixtures), and energy monitoring services.

Community Contact Information

Sean Cosgrove
Energy Consultant, 
Energy Efficiency Office 
City of Toronto
Phone: 1 416 392 1454

What Worked and What Didn’t Work?

The contracting and financial techniques tend to favor larger institutional and multi-residential buildings due to economies of scale and a preference for shorter investment horizons than those provided for with EPCs. Also, the use of EPCs often requires the carrying of additional debt for extended periods of time which many commercial and smaller businesses find difficult or unable to manage. As well, commercial enterprises can often earn a higher rate of return by investing in other endeavors such as enhanced marketing. The Office of Energy Efficiency provides other techniques to support smaller building s as well as the commercial and residential sectors. The impact of these alternative techniques has yet to be fully assessed.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

The BBP has sponsored energy performance contracts valued at $100 million. The EPCs provide a comprehensive turnkey service for energy efficiency improvement within a facility or group of facilities. Elements of the contracts encompass capital investment, engineering and design, project management, energy maintenance, specialized employee training, construction, commissioning of improvements, and so on.

With an energy performance contract, external private-sector funding is usually used to finance improvements, although in-house funding can be used. Typically, the owner of a facility enters into a formal agreement with what is known as an Energy Service Company (ESCO) where the ESCO in turn borrows money from the private sector on its own behalf to finance the energy improvements. The ESCO repays the money from the savings accruing from the reduced energy consumption. Once the borrowed funds have been repaid and the ESCO has earned an agreed-upon profit, the energy-efficiency investments become the property of the facility owner, and all future energy savings from that date are credited to it. The ESCO also provides a guarantee that should energy savings not equal the initial borrowing plus accrued interest by the end of the contract, the ESCO must make up the difference. With the BBP, facility owners have both taken advantage of ESCO-supplied funding, and self-financing using proceeds from City of Toronto debentures.

The BBP also has a Loan Recourse Fund to finance energy-efficiency improvements in smaller commercial facilities and the residential sector. Historically, these sectors have tended not to take advantage of energy performance contracting either because they lack a capacity to attract funding or because expected savings are not large enough to warrant the engineering expertise normally associated with energy performance contracting. The Loan Recourse Fund provides financing through Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. Loan repayments are made through charging an additional amount on monthly gas bills, which in essence treats these loans as a lien on property, hence transferable should ownership of the property change.

Research Analysis

Analysis of this case study leads to six key observations:

  1. BBP support of energy performance contracting is undoubtedly a success in that $100 million of energy savings investments have been made.

  2. While the program has had unqualified success with respect to larger and institutional facilities, success in the commercial field and residential sectors has not been as great due to a lessor capacity to attract funding and/or to take on debt. This phenomenon, however, is not untypical.

  3. The innovative Loan Recourse Fund, operated through Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc, needs careful monitoring to assess both its potential impact on energy/water savings within the commercial and residential sectors and its transferability to other communities.

  4. BBP objectives, and those of the City of Toronto’s Office of Energy Efficiency derive more from a concern for climate change and energy/water savings than from arriving at a sustainable community. Nevertheless, success with respect to municipal support of energy performance contracting undoubtedly serves both sets of objectives.

  5. EPCs are financially based. They must provide a positive rate of return and as such will tend towards well-tested and reliable “off-the-shelf” technologies.

  6. Plans for EPCs are normally comprehensive, but can lend themselves to 'cherry picking’ as a means to enhance returns on investments and, therefore, limit the full degree of possible energy savings. The degree to which cherry picking occurs depends primarily on how early building owners/operators want to use energy savings to finance other operating expenditures.

Detailed Background Case Description

The Better Buildings Partnership

In 1990, the City of Toronto committed to reducing the city’s net carbon dioxide emissions by 20%, by 2005, relative to 1988 levels. To aide in this, the city, inter alia, put in place the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) to assist building owners and managers to contribute towards the city’s objectives. In establishing the BBP and its objectives, the city consulted with a wide range of key stakeholders including: Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, Toronto Hydro and Ontario Hydro Energy ltd. Also consulted were financial institutions, building owners and managers, the environmental community, trade unions, community groups, equipment manufacturers, and the construction energy/water efficiency service delivery industries.

Key to the BBP is the sponsorship of energy performance contracting through the Large Office Building Program, which focuses mainly on larger institutional structures. The BBP also, however, provides programs aimed at assisting other types of facilities. These include:

  1. the Residential Energy Awareness Program designed to increase the public's general knowledge of energy efficiency and conservation in the residential sector;

  2. the Small/Medium Commercial Buildings Program, which provides planning and other tools to assist participants of this sector to realize energy and expanding cost savings;

  3. the Multi-Residential Non-Profit Buildings Program to assist non-profit organizations providing housing assistance to Torontonians;

  4. the In-House Energy Efficiency Program to retrofit municipally-owned buildings; and,

  5. The BBP Loan Recourse Fund to assist the financing of energy retrofits in the smaller commercial and multi-residential sectors.

Energy Performance Contracting Defined

Energy performance contracting (EPC) is a key element of the BBP’s success to date. EPCs provide a comprehensive turnkey service to retrofit facilities. In essence, they offer "one-stop shopping" for building owners and managers to upgrade their facilities to improve energy efficiency. EPCs are typically all inclusive in that they encompass capital investment and financing, engineering and design, project management, energy maintenance, specialized employee training, construction, commissioning of improvements, and so on.

One of the more attractive features of EPC is that building owners and managers can use private-sector funding to finance energy improvements in their facilities. Under a typical energy performance contract, a department or agency enters into a formal agreement with what is known as an Energy Service Company (ESCO). The ESCO then borrows money on its own behalf from the private sector to finance the energy improvements, and repays it from the savings attained through reduced energy consumption. Once the loan has been paid off and the ESCO earns an agreed-upon profit, the energy efficiency investments become the property of the building owner, and all future energy savings accrue to the building owner. The ESCO undertakes this while at the same time guaranteeing that the savings will indeed occur. If not, the ESCO must make up the difference over the period of the contract as well as surrender the energy efficiency investments to the building owner.

Alternatively, building owners can directly finance energy retrofits. An ESCO would then provide a similar turn-key service less financing.

Typical Savings from Energy Retrofits

A Natural Resources Canada survey of ESCOs suggests that the benefits of energy retrofits can be substantial. Studies of projects using only commercially available energy efficient equipment and processes indicate:

  1. energy costs can be reduced by as much as 25% and, in some cases, as much as 40% in existing general purpose buildings such as offices or classroom facilities, 40% in laboratory complexes, and 10% in central heating plants;

  2. energy costs can be reduced by up to 40% by modifying standard practices in designing and constructing new buildings;

  3. savings are ongoing, and contribute directly to sustainable development; and,

  4. an overall improvement of indoor working environments through enhancements such as the installation of modern lighting systems, the removal of drafts, better lighting through the installation of modern windows, improved air circulation, etc.

The survey results also point out that substantial improvements can be achieved through renovation of facilities that have already been retrofitted for energy efficiencies in the past five to ten years. This occurs as commercially available energy efficiency technology tends to remain current for only seven to eight years, after which an additional 10% energy reduction can be achieved due to improved technology.

Description of a Typical Project

Municipal Facilities Including Toronto City Hall

Municipal facilities within Toronto were retrofitted taking advantage of an energy performance contract, the details of which follow:

Project Savings

Annual Energy Savings: 6.6 million ekWh
Project Cost: $4 million
Annual Cost Savings: $570,000
Payback Period: 7 years
Annual Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Reduction: 6,598 tonnes  


7 city buildings
788,779 square feet
Municipal buildings/facilities, including City Hall, St. Lawrence Market, and Allen Gardens
Features: natural gas and electric heating, central air conditioning, district heating system for City Hall.  

Building Improvements

Lighting retrofit (City Hall - 1st and 2nd floor)
Asbestos remediation (City Hall - 1st and 2nd floor)
Water-efficient technologies and measures
Building automation system upgrades (City Hall)
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system upgrades
High efficiency chiller replacement (City Hall)
Condensate heat recovery (City Hall)
Air sealing
Conversion from electric heating to natural gas.

Toronto City Hall

Toronto City Hall (source: Wikipedia Commons)

Major BBP Projects Undertaken

The BBP has sponsored over 150 projects. Major ones include:

  • The Toronto Community Housing Corporation at 25 Mutual Street
  • The Toronto Public Library at 789 Young Street
  • The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at 250 Front Street
  • The First Canada Place Tower
  • Ryerson University at 350 Victoria Street
  • St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic School
  • St Patrick Catholic School
  • John Ross Robertson Junior Public School
  • The Ellesmere Yard at 1076 Ellkesmere Road
  • Toronto City Hall
  • Nisbet Lodge at 740 Pape Avenue
  • The York Condominium Corporation at 301 Prudential Drive
  • The Metropolitan United Church at 56 Queen Street East

Retrofits include items such as:

  • indoor lighting replacement and upgrades,
  • lamp and PCB ballast recycling,
  • building automation systems upgrade,
  • boiler upgrades,
  • air sealing,
  • heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) retrofits,
  • washroom renovations,
  • water-efficient technologies and measures.

Detailed information on these projects and others is available at

Other Experts

Natural Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency, Federal Buildings Program 

Strategic Questions

  1. What financial models can be put in place to assist the retrofitting of individual homes?

  2. What lessons can be learned from the experience of the BBP’s Loan Recourse Fund, and are these lessons transferable to other communities?

Resources and References

Natural Resources Canada “Energy Performance Contracting Primer
Natural Resources Canada “The Federal Buildings Initiative
City of Toronto “Better Buildings Partnership: Program Information
City of Toronto “Toronto Atmospheric Fund
City of Toronto “Energy Efficiency Office



Renewable Energy on Prince Edward Island

Renewable Energy on Prince Edward Island

Yuill Herbert
Published November 29, 2006

Case Summary

Despite its population of just 138,000, Prince Edward Island (PEI) has undertaken an ambitious renewable energy strategy that has delivered innovative policies, public engagement strategies and economic benefits. PEI was the first province in Canada to adopt renewable energy tariffs as a policy mechanism to encourage wind development. The tariff is balanced with a renewable energy portfolio standard goal of 15 percent of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2010; but because this goal will be met by 2007, the Minister increased the target to 30 percent of all of Prince Edward Island’s energy requirements by 2016. In order to initiate wind energy development, the provincial government, through the PEI Energy Corporation, constructed the first two wind farms and in so doing set the bar in terms of public consultation and financial benefits for future private developments.

Another component of the strategy involves innovation such as the Hydrogen Village, a project that builds on the island-based Atlantic Wind Testing Station’s expertise in hybrid wind-diesel generator systems to use only clean fuels. PEI is also developing a biofuels strategy to offset fossil fuel consumption resulting from transportation.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Prince Edward Island’s approach to renewable energy is multi-faceted with social, ecological, and economic dimensions. The province’s energy goals are as follows (PEI Energy Corporation, 2003):

  1. Ensure security of supply

  2. Improve price equity for citizens and businesses

  3. Encourage diversity of supply

  4. Achieve minimal environmental impact

  5. Promote efficient energy usage

  6. Support economic development

Environmental Benefits

Prince Edward Island is highly dependent on fossil fuels; approximately 80 percent of PEI’s energy needs are met using fossil fuels (PEIDEE, 2004). As a result, PEI’s greenhouse gas emissions totaled 2090 kilotonnes of C02 in 2003 (Environment Canada, 2006).

Table 1: Source of PEI’s Energy, 2004



Petroleum products


Imported and oil-fired electricity




Electricity from on-island wind power


Source: PEIDEE, 2004

While these emissions include transport-related emissions, Prince Edward Island’s electricity is also primarily dependent on fossil fuel. Since the installation of two submarine energy supply cables, Nova Scotia Power (NS Power) and New Brunswick Power (NB Power) have provided the majority of PEI’s electricity, 94 percent in 2004 (PEIDEE, 2004). Both NS Power and NB Power are highly dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation, to the tune of 88 percent (Nova Scotia Power, 2005) and 85 percent (New Brunswick Natural Resources and Energy, 2001) respectively.

The only on-island power generation is an oil-fired power plant run by Maritime Electric, and the North Cape Wind Farm with eight wind turbines rated at 5.28 MW (PEI Energy Corporation, 2003).

As a result, PEI’s initiative to shift to wind energy has significant environmental benefits. For example, the eight wind turbines at North Cape reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 13,000 tonnes per year (Natural Resources Canada, 2001).

Economic benefits

In announcing the renewable energy strategy, Premier Pat Binns highlighted the local economic development aspects of renewable energy, "Each year, some $440 million leaves Prince Edward Island, as fossil fuels are imported to heat and power our homes and fuel our vehicles. This target is about keeping more of those dollars in PEI to strengthen our economy. And it is about creating new opportunities for Island farmers and a healthier environment today and for future generations" (Renewable Energy Access, 2006).

The wind energy project has attracted significant investment. Ventus Energy has two wind farm projects underway in the province with a total rated capacity of 108 MW. Both projects are funded entirely through private financing from venture capital firms such as Wellington Financial LP (Ventus, 2006). The total investment for the two wind farms is $230 million (City of Summerside, 2006).

PEI Energy Corporation also took measures to maximize the economic benefit to islanders, setting the standard for future private developments. Two and a half percent of gross revenue from the turbines is distributed to local people in a revenue sharing agreement- the person whose land the turbine is on receives 70 percent, those who are directly impacted receive 20 percent and those who are impacted but are further away receive 10 percent. The corporation ensured that all the turbines were placed on private property even when publicly owned property was available and had a comparable wind resource (Interview with PEI Energy Corporation official).

The province decided on an alternative ownership model in the development of a new 30 MW wind farm near Kings County, with a "government and co-op" approach. A PEI Energy subsidiary will own the wind farm, and a "wind-energy cooperative" will become a shareholder in the PEI Energy subsidiary. Prince Edward Island residents can then become members of the co-op by investing in it and the government intends to make investments in the wind co-op project qualify as a "Registered Retirement Savings Plan" under Canadian law (Global Power Report, 2005).

On December 1st, 2006, the PEI Government will begin marketing a new $56 million bond issue called the Eastern Kings Wind Farm Bond. Listed as five-year bonds with a five percent return, they will be available only to PEI residents up to a maximum purchase of $10,000 per year. The bond issue ensures that islanders have the opportunity to benefit financially from the wind turbines (Interview with PEI Energy Corporation official). The money raised will be used either to pay down the debt on the turbines or to finance new developments.

A two percent royalty paid from one two-megawatt turbine in one of the windiest locations on PEI could generate a long-term annual royalty of $10,000. Given that the average 100 acre farm could handle two to three of these windturbines with minimal impact to existing land use, the potential annual royalty payments add up to $30,000 (Douglas, 2005).

Tourism is an ancillary benefit. The Wind Energy Institute has become a major tourist destination with 60,000 people visiting each year (CanWEA, 2006).

Critical Success Factors

History of Innovation

Prince Edward Island has a long history of innovative environmental initiatives. The Institute of Man and Resources was born in the midst of the 1970s energy crisis. In 1975 with the support of then Premier Alex Campbell, the institute’s program included ‘analysis, invention, adaptation and application of appropriate energy, food and crop production and living and shelter systems,' however, it quickly narrowed down to a focus on energy. In 1978, the institute published a paper titled the Prince Edward Island Wind Energy Program, which detailed a program involving wind speed testing, the integration of wind energy conversion systems, applications for farms and testing of machines at the Atlantic Wind test site (Lodge, 1978). Another famous venture, the Prince Edward Island Ark, was conceived in cooperation with the New England-based New Alchemy Institute. The Ark was an experimental building that was heated with passive solar and tested indoor agriculture. An unfavourable political climate in the early 1980s resulted in the conclusion of the Institute of Man and Resources, but its legacy continued in the Atlantic Wind Testing Station (Varty, 2004).

The Atlantic Wind Testing Station (AWTS) was formed in 1981 by the institute and was designated the Government of Canada’s wind energy research station. In 1983, the world’s largest vertical axis wind turbine, a 500 kW machine, was installed for testing purposes. In 1984, Natural Resources Canada assumed responsibility for the site and AWTS became involved in international projects around integrated wind and diesel systems. In 1994, the University of New Brunswick established its Renewable Energy Research facility at the site, and in 2001 AWTS was involved in the development of Atlantic Canada’s first commercial wind plant, the North Cape Wind Plant. In 2003, Vestas selected North Cape for testing its V90, with a 90 MW rating, the largest wind turbine in North America, and in 2005, the AWTS was announced as the site of a wind-hydrogen village. In 2006, the name was changed to the Wind Energy Institute and a research building was constructed.

AWTS’s work focuses on four key areas:

Technical innovation: AWTS helped develop a vertical axis wind turbine, was instrumental in the development and deployment of wind-diesel systems and helped improve smaller wind turbines

Testing: AWTS has tested a wide range of turbines from 0.05 kW to 500 kW, both for performance and for long-term operation.

Developing collaborative relationships: AWTS works with industry, researchers and government agencies.

Information transfer: AWTS has become the point of reference for inquiries regarding wind across Canada, as well as hosting nearly 100,000 visitors each year.

The 20-year history of experimentation with wind energy, both at the AWTS and by the population in general, resulted in a pool of technical skills and a public familiarity with the technology that has provided a solid foundation for a major expansion of wind generation capacity.

The general population has supported and even driven the development of wind energy on PEI, support that is derived from an awareness of environmental issues. This awareness has manifested itself in other innovative policies such as the Conservation Strategy for Prince Edward Island. In 1987, the provincial government initiated a public consultation process that brought together government officials, industry, business leaders, local community groups, leaders of indigenous groups, and churches, to demonstrate that economic development can proceed in harmony with environmental goals. The plan spanned 20 years and sought to demonstrate that conservation and economic development need not conflict, but can proceed in harmony (Co-ordinating Committee for Conservation, 1987).

In 2004, Premier Binns had sparked a storm of controversy with his suggestion that the Island become free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (Government of Prince Edward Island, 2004). While the idea has yet to become law, PEI residents debated the idea at length, and the question ultimately arrived at the floor of the provincial legislature.

Natural Resources

Unlike other provincial jurisdictions in Canada, PEI doesn’t have extensive natural sources of energy such as hydro or petroleum; the province has historically been dependent on imported energy. The insecurity of this system was highlighted when one of the two submarine electricity cables was severed in 1997.

The island does, however, have extensive indigenous resources of wind energy (Natural Resources Canada, 2001).

Political Climate

Because PEI is a small province with a population of 138,000, it is difficult to mobilize the financial resources required to undertake major capital-intensive projects such as wind energy from the private sector. The provincial government has, therefore, played a key role in initiating the development of wind energy, firstly through creating a policy environment and secondly by initiating wind energy development by constructing two wind farms through the PEI Energy Corporation. These initial wind farms also set the bar in terms of public expectations for future developments, and ensured that wind energy has widespread support amongst both islanders and politicians.

In 2001, when the PEI Energy Corporation approached the federal government to increase its support for the Atlantic Wind Testing Station, they instead responded that they would support the development of a wind farm.

Thus, the ability of PEI Energy Corporation to pursue the initial wind farm at North Cape was, in part, due to the Government of Canada's commitment to purchase electricity from emerging renewable sources. The federal and provincial governments committed funding over a ten-year period toward the purchase of electricity generated by the wind turbines (Ibid).

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Wind energy on Prince Edward Island is being funded by a mix of private sector, community and public investment.

The two wind farms owned by the PEI Energy Corporation are financed using a mix of federal and provincial government money - the federal government and the PEI Government committed $4.5 million and $1.1 million respectively, over a 10-year period toward the purchase of electricity generated by the wind turbines (Natural Resources Canada, 2001). This will be supplemented through private investment collected through the issuance of bonds available to PEI residents.

Ventus Energy has two wind farm projects underway with a rated capacity of 108 MW, funded entirely through private financing from venture capital firms such as Wellington Financial LP (Ventus, 2006). The total cost is estimated at $230 million (City of Summerside, 2006). Summerside Electric, a subsidiary of the City of Summerside, committed to purchase nine MW a year over 20 years from Ventus Energy.

Maritime Electric, PEI’s utility, signed a twenty year agreement with Ventus to purchase the power from its nine MW Norway Wind Farm at the rate of $0.0775 per KWh. At $18 million total cost, the wind farm will generate 31,000 kWh of green power for approximately 5000 homes and offset 30,000 tonnes of emissions each year (Ventus Energy, 2006). Ventus’ West Cape Wind Farm, rated at 99 MW, is being built in two stages, with a completion date in 2007-2008. The power generated by this farm will be marketed off-island.

Research Analysis

The PEI Government took a highly proactive and cautionary approach to wind energy development. Careful research ensured that the province learnt from other jurisdictions with extensive experience in wind development, in particular Europe. As a result, PEI’s approach includes a range of features innovative in the North American landscape including:

  1. No development zones

  2. The combination of the portfolio standard with the renewable energy tariff

  3. Extensive public consultations

  4. Issue of public bonds

  5. Payment scheme for impacted residents

  6. Ownership of carbon offsets

Because PEI Energy Corporation was able to construct the first two wind farms on the Island, it was able to set a high bar in terms of public expectations for revenue generation and public consultation. Future private wind energy developments will have to meet this standard, thus ensuring that wind energy on Prince Edward Island benefits local residents.

In the case of Prince Edward Island, the utility was a major roadblock (interview with PEI Energy Corporation official) and continues to present challenges. For example, the utility charges a penalty against wind developers for incorrectly forecasting wind output, called an energy imbalance charge. Each day the wind company predicts how much power will be generated the next day; if the wind is not as strong as anticipated, in the case of Prince Edward Island, the utility has to phone NB Power to request additional power. Similarly, if there is too much power, the utility has to request a reduction. The intermittency of wind energy means that a power plant somewhere must be on standby to compensate for the variation, and from the perspective of a utility, this is a stranded asset which could otherwise be generating power for sale.

These challenges are being overcome through inter-utility cooperation, both between Atlantic province utilities, and between New England States and Atlantic provinces. The Minister of Energy on Prince Edward Island chairs an inter-provincial council of Atlantic energy producers and has hosted a meeting on PEI for New England producers.

The PEI Government's commitment to ensure that the economic benefits of wind energy accrue directly to PEI residents is innovative. The three key aspects of this strategy include issuing public ‘wind farm’ bonds, committing 2.5 percent of total revenue to residents impacted by the development, and retaining ownership of the carbon offsets that result from wind developments.

While wind farm developments typically attract backlash focused on the issues of noise, bird kill and visual impact, PEI has not yet encountered resistance due to the following factors:

  1. High level of public understanding of wind power, due to PEI’s history of experimenting with wind

  2. Careful public consultation around new developments

  3. Opportunity for PEI residents to receive economic benefits

  4. Use of designated areas restrictions to ensure wind developments occur in areas with low population density and high wind regime

  5. Maximizing the benefit of each wind turbine by selecting a few larger rather then many smaller wind turbines

Detailed Background Case Description

Historically, PEI has been dependent on importing electricity. Increasing petroleum prices, recognition that PEI has significant wind resources, and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions all contributed to the island's focus on wind energy.

Efforts to promote renewable energy on PEI consist of a mix of policy instruments, including the province's Renewable Energy Act, innovative pilot projects such as the Hydrogen Village, and an established research program called the Wind Energy Institute.

PEI's Renewable Energy Act, which was passed during the fall 2004 session of the Legislative Assembly and came into effect December 31, 2005, requires utilities to acquire at least 15 percent of electrical energy from renewable sources by 2010. Initially, the policy included a section that committed the province to a target of 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2015, but in recognition of the technological challenge stemming from intermittency of wind power, this section was withdrawn. In the near future, the PEI Government will announce a new target of 30 percent of PEI’s total energy needs – including transport and heating - be supplied by renewable energy by 2016. The increased scope is intended to stimulate biofuels such as ethanol (Interview with PEI Energy Corporate official, 2006).

Other elements of the policy include:

  • Minimum Purchase Price Regulations establish the price utilities must pay for power produced by large-scale renewable energy generators (those capable of producing more than 100 kilowatts of energy). The PEI Government has set this rate at 7.75 cents per kilowatt-hour, with 5.75 cents of that a fixed rate and 2.0 cents a variable rate that may be adjusted annually to reflect changes in operating costs. The variable rate will be tied to the Consumer Price Index.

  • The Designated Areas Regulations are designed to ensure that large-scale (more than 100 kilowatts) wind farm projects take place in areas where development is economically viable. The criterion for identifying the zones of inclusion – areas where development may occur – is an average wind speed of 7.5 metres per second. The regulations do not mean that any development may proceed; proposed projects must receive all necessary approvals and are subject to any existing development restrictions and the Environmental Impact Assessment process. They must also comply with requirements under the Planning Act Subdivision and Development Regulations, for setbacks from buildings and other structures.

  • The Net-Metering System Regulations make it more economically feasible for Island homeowners, small businesses, or farmers who have an interest in generating their own electricity, to install small-scale generating systems – those that produce 100 kilowatts of energy or less. Under the regulations, any excess energy that small-scale generators supply to the electrical grid will be credited at the same price paid for power purchased from the utility.

  • The PEI Government maintains ownership of the environmental attributes of any wind energy development. Any carbon credits or ‘offsets’ that are generated are treated in the same manner as oil and gas royalties, on the basis that the wind is owned by the people of Prince Edward Island, and therefore any greenhouse gas mitigation benefits that result from its use also belong to the people of Prince Edward Island.

  • Renewable energy projects and appliances receive a provincial sales tax exemption.

At the time it was introduced, PEI’s Renewable Energy Act was considered the most progressive policy measure in North America (Gipe, 2006-1). Renewable energy technologies need financial incentives because they have three limitations: higher costs due to commercial immaturity; capital intensiveness relative to long-term costs; and, potentially intermittent production.

The PEI Government used a combination of policy mechanisms to stimulate investment in wind energy, including the first implementation of a renewable energy tariff in Canada. While the renewable energy portfolio has been the policy of choice in North America, renewable energy tariffs have been used extensively in Europe. The portfolio approach addresses the problem in a linear fashion: X amount of generating capacity is required, therefore, issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for X, and build X. A Renewable Tariff mechanism is less prescriptive: problem X requires so much generating capacity, therefore, what is the price that will stimulate the rate of development desired (Gipe, 2006)?

PEI elected to use a portfolio standard, 15 percent by 2010, in concert with a renewable energy tariff; this policy in combination with other factors has meant that the 15 percent target will be met three years early. While the portfolio standard ensures the utility has a standard, the renewable energy tariff ensures that the wind farms will be economically viable and prevents the utility from ‘squeezing’ the developer post construction (Interview with PEI Energy Corporation official).

Renewable Energy Tariffs

One of the most innovative aspects of PEI’s strategy is the renewable energy tariff (RET). RETs are determined from the cost of developing the resource plus a reasonable or “prudent” profit. While this approach was the norm in North America from the 1920s until the 1990s, neo-liberal induced deregulation attempted to sweep aside the cost-based determination of tariffs, favouring an unregulated market instead (Gipe, 2006).

Advantages of RETs include:

  1. Simple, transparent

  2. Simplified interconnection

  3. Prices sufficient to drive development

  4. Lengths sufficient for profitability

  5. Prices differentiated by technology

  6. Prices differentiated by resource

Because PEI’s RET is used in concert with other policy measures, it is considered non-standard. When it was introduced, the only other jurisdictions in North America that employed this measure were Minnesota, Washington State and recently, Ontario. There are serious discussions regarding renewable energy tariffs in British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

On a number of fronts, Ontario’s new Standard Offer Program, a standard RET, is more innovative then PEI’s mechanism (Gipe, 2006-1). While only wind energy is viable at PEI’s tariff rate, Ontario’s tariffs vary according to the technology. Ontario’s Standard Offer Program is also limited in size to 10 MW, thus ensuring that one or two companies don’t come to dominate the market. PEI’s tariffs are available for any project.

Gipe (2006-2) states that RETs generate more capacity more quickly and more equitably. They are effective because they grant high financial support, while minimizing the costs of transaction for the developers in relation with their obliged purchases, and by limiting quantity risk and price risks for them. Guaranteed over the long term with sufficiently high prices to generate a profit, banks easily agree to lend (Sawin, 2004). The transaction costs between purchaser and developer of the energy in this arrangement are also minimal, since the rate is set at a constant amount for an extended period with possible small adjustments. It is also possible to avoid a contract between developers and purchasers.

Critiques of this measure fall into three categories (ibid): there is no market incentive to reduce development costs; high tariffs lead to an installed renewable energy capacity that is sub-optimal; and, too much rent goes to the developers. The first argument is countered by the fact that producers can increase their profit margin by reducing their costs, a powerful incentive. The issue of too much rent going to developers induces a higher learning effect, as this rent is re-invested in technical innovation. In terms of the second argument, that the capacity may be sub-optimal, this depends on the level of the pricing and the willingness of investors to invest at that level. This contrasts directly with the mandated targets system in which governments set a minimum share of capacity and let the market determine the price. In the tariff system, the share of capacity will increase with a constant price. In the mandated target system, the share will stay the same while the price per unit of energy decreases, which may be beneficial to the public, if these savings are transferred to the public.

Table 1: Renewable Energy Tariff and Quota System


Renewable Energy Tariff

Quota System

Is it a market model?

The price is political, the amount is decided on a market

The amount is political, partly set by market, partly political

Does it further competition between equipment suppliers?

The equipment producers as a group can expand sales and profit by lowering production costs

Equipment producers face a 6-8 year politically set production quota. They can expand profits by lowering costs and increasing sales prices.

Can it differentiate the price between good and bad “politically desired” wind sites?

Yes, as happens in the PEI model

No, same price is paid everywhere.

Can it price differentiate between the first years and last years of the production of a given renewable energy (RE) plant?

Yes, as happens in the German model

No, same price is paid everywhere.

Can it lower the price in conjunction with RE technology improvements?

Yes, in the German model 2002 wind turbines are 1.5 percent cheaper than 2001 turbines.

No, the quota has to be set for 6-8 years and new improved wind turbines are getting the same price as older inefficient ones

Does it support neighbours and local investors?

Yes, the foreseeable prices make it possible for local communities to borrow from banks.

No, the fluctuating and politically manipulated prices make it difficult to secure loans.

Does it put a cost pressure on equipment producers?

Yes, almost the same cost pressure is put on high and low wind performance sites.

No, in general the coastal sites generate high profits and the inland sites are more marginal.

Source: Hvelplund, 2001

RETs have also incubated a whole new manufacturing sector by allowing a steady flow of manufacturing orders from many diverse project developers. In Germany, 45,000 people are employed in the wind industry alone, and this is forecasted to grow to 110,000 by 2010. This success contrasts sharply with the inherent boom and bust cycle experienced under the periodic release of project tenders (RFPs).

There is little or no cost anticipated for the provincial treasury. The prices for the power delivered using RETs are incorporated into overall system pricing and are borne by the ratepayer.

Resources and References

Canadian Wind Energy Association (2006). The Sights and Sounds of Wind.

City of Summerside (2006). Summerside Electric to Purchase Renewable Energy.

Co-ordinaring Committee for Conservation (1987). A Conservation Strategy for Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Douglas, John (2005). Wind Energy: PEI’s next cash crop. Prince Edward Island Potato News. January 2005, Volume 6, Issue 1.

Environment Canada (2006). Canada’s National Inventory Report.

Finon, Dominique (2006). The Social Efficiency of Instruments for the Promotion of Renewable Energies in the Liberalised Power Industry. Centre International de Recherche sur l’Environnement et le D´eveloppement (CIRED) EHESS & CNRS, Paris, France. Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 77:3 2006.

Gipe, Paul and Chabot, B. (2006)-1. North America’s First Electricity Feed Law: Standard Offer Contracts in Ontario, Canada. DEWI Magazin Nr. 29, August 2006.

Gipe, Paul (2006)-2 Advanced Renewable Tariffs: Trends and Key Elements. Powerpoint presentation at the Standard Offer Contract Forum. Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.

Global Power Report (2005) Prince Edward Is. takes a co-op approach to build 30-MW wind farm in Kings County. New York: Jul 14, 2005. p. 13.

Government of Prince Edward Island (2004) Farm Net - Legislature to Debate GMOs. Government of Prince Edward Island.

Government of Prince Edward Island (2006). Renewable Energy Act. Chapter R-12.1.

Hvelplund, Frede (2001). Political Prices or Political Quantities. New Energy.

Industry Canada (2005). Government of Canada Supports Development of Alternative Energy Project. Government of Canada.

Interview with PEI Energy Corporation Official (November, 2006). By telephone.

Lodge, M. (1978). The Prince Edward Island Wind Energy Program. In Renewable alternatives; Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Conference, London, Ontario, Canada, August 20-24, 1978. Volume 1. (A79-31401 12-44) Winnipeg, Solar Energy Society of Canada, Inc., 1978. p. 13.

MacQuarrie, Wayne (2003). Presentation titled: Renewable Energy- A Prince Edward Island Perspective. At the Green Power in Canada Workshop Series, October 1, 2003, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Natural Resources Canada (2001). The Winds of Prince Edward Island to Provide Greener Power.

New Brunswick Natural Resources and Energy (2001). White Paper: New Brunswick Energy Policy.

Nova Scotia Power (2005). Renewable Energy.

Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (2004) Advanced Renewable Tariffs for Community Power Development in Ontario.

Doncaster, Deborah; Gipe, Paul and Macleod, David (2005). Powering Ontario Communities: Proposed Policy for Projects up to 10 MW.

PEI Energy Corporation (2003). Prince Edward Island Renewable Energy Strategy: Public Discussion Document.

PEI Department of Environment and Energy (2004). PEI Energy Framework and Renewable Energy Strategy.

Renewable Energy Access (2006). PEI Canada Fueling Its Economy with Renewable Energy Target. 

Sawin, Janet (2004). National Policy Instruments: Policy Lessons for the Advancement & Diffusion of Renewable Energy Technologies Around the World. Presented at the International Conference for Renewable Energies, Bonn. Worldwatch Institute.

Varty, John (2004). Review of The Institute of Man and Resources: An Environmental Fable. ALAN MACEACHERN. Charlottetown: Island Studies Press, 2003. Pp. 142, The Canadian Historical Review. University of Toronto.

Ventus (2006). Press Release titled: Wellington Financial leads $29 million financing for Ventus Energy Inc.

Ventus (2006). Press Release titled: Ventus Energy Inc. Announces Power Purchase Agreement for PEI Wind Farm.

Yuill Herbert

Wind Power Generation

Wind Power Generation

Jim Hamilton
Published November 8, 2006

Case Summary

As a source of electricity, wind power has many advantages from a sustainability perspective. Aside from equipment manufacture, it carries with it little ecological impact, produces no green house gases, physically takes little room for implementation (one reference quotes 2 per cent of a farmer’s field), and substitutes for a number of environmentally problematic technologies such as the burning of coal or gas, the creation of new hydro reservoirs and/or the use of nuclear energy. Consequently, many see wind power as a potential, if not an integral part of a sustainable solution for Canadian communities.

Several initiatives have proposed that directly link wind power to the needs of nearby communities, such as the Wolfe Island Wind Project at Kingston, Ontario.

A number of planning and economic issues offset the advantages of wind power. On a kilowatt hour cost basis with today’s technologies, wind power appears twice as expensive than other power sources, and to take advantage of economies of scale typically requires a size of investment that often is beyond the means of smaller communities. In addition, wind supply can be intermittent, and there is anecdotal evidence that the maintenance costs of wind turbines may be considerably higher than initially anticipated.

The Wolfe Island proposal evolved into the Ontario Power Authority awarding a contract to the Canadian Hydro Developers Inc on November 21, 2005 for 86 wind turbines to be located on Wolfe Island just east of Kingston, Ontario. This investment, valued at approximately $410 million, is sufficient to power 75,000 homes, a population base more or less equivalent to the larger Kingston area. The investment can be seen as a major step in creating a sustainable community in Kingston and the surrounding islands; however, the investment also requires the “deep pockets” of the Ontario Power Authority to proceed and the ready availability of a grid-based alternative to provide continuity when the wind stops blowing. An environmental assessment is now underway to assess the proposal.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Wind power undoubtedly supports environmental sustainability, and hence as a tool can play an integral part in the development of a sustainable community. As noted above, it produces no greenhouse gases, physically takes little room for implementation, and substitutes for a number of environmentally problematic technologies such as the burning of coal or gas, the creation of new hydro reservoirs and/or the use of nuclear energy. Intermittency is a problem. Nevertheless, within a larger grid-system, when not intermittent wind power does directly substitute for less sustainable technologies such as oil/gas generation.

Critical Success Factors

Critical success factors include:

  1. a significant upfront investment to take advantage of economies of scale, especially with respect to linking into electricity grids so as to have an alternative in intermittent conditions;

  2. a “deep pocket” to finance the additional costs of wind power investments at least until per unit costs begin to approach those of other power sources;

  3. proximity to a wind-strewn area. This of course presumes that the investment will be undertaken as an integral part of a community’s sustainability plan. It can be maintained that wind power should more properly be considered a provincial-wide matter; and,

  4. linkage to a long-term plan. Wind power requires significant investment with returns spread over 20 to 25 years and planning horizon should reflect this.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Natural Resources Canada notes that modern wind turbine generators cost between $1,500 and $2,000 per kilowatt for multi-turbine wind farms. Smaller individual units cost up to $3,000 per kilowatt. The Wolfe Island Wind Project (referred to above) will put down 86, 2.3 megawatt turbines with an estimated total cost of $410 million or very slightly over $2,000 per kilowatt. Financing for the project will be through Canadian Hydro Developers Inc on the basis of a long-term contract with the Ontario Power Authority.

The Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition estimates that wind power costs range from 8 cents to 10.2 cents per kilowatt hour, exceeding the 2002 average actual wholesale prices of electricity in Canada by 1.2 to 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour depending on province. If costs for administration, distribution, marketing, etc. are included, the additional costs increase to 3.2 to 11.8 cents, implying that provincial energy agencies are paying a considerable premium for wind power. To partially offset these differences, the Government of Canada's Wind Power Production Incentive offers a financial subsidy of one cent per kilowatt hour to suppliers of electricity generated through the use of wind power.

In remote areas, the cost of generating electricity using diesel generators can range from $0.25 to $1.00 per kilowatt hour as opposed to $0 .10 to $0.12 for wind power, making wind power clearly cost effective in these sorts of situations where and when good wind is available.

Research Analysis

Analysis of this case study presents leads to four key observations:

  1. As a technique, wind power provides a renewable and sustainable energy source, but is problematic as to cost with today’s technologies.

  2. Wind power is only one of several renewable technologies leading to electricity generation and/or effective energy management.

  3. For wind power, it is not clear whether the appropriate planning/implementation authority should be at the community or at the provincial level due to the intermittent nature of wind power.

Detailed Background Case Description

The Environmental Impact of Wind Power

As a source of electricity, wind power provides many advantages from a sustainability perspective. Aside from equipment manufacture, it has little ecological impact, produces no green house gases, physically takes little room for implementation (one reference quotes 2 per cent of a farmer’s field), and substitutes for a number of environmentally problematic technologies such as the burning of coal or gas, the creation of new hydro reservoirs, and/or the use of nuclear energy.

The following, largely taken from the Canadian Electricity Association’s publication entitled Power Generation in Canada, compares the environmental impacts of electricity generation options:

Impact of Electricity Generation Options

Technology Air Pollutants GHG(1) Water Use (2) Extraction Waste Other
Demand side Management None None None No Disposal of replaced equipment Reduce demand results in reduced emissions
Reservoir hydro None Low Flow pattern changed No No Fish migration, flooding
Run-of-river hydro None None Minimal No No Can interfere with recreational activity
Nuclear None None Thermal discharge Yes Radioactive High water cooling required
Natural gas Low Medium Thermal discharge Yes No Moderate water cooling required
Oil-fired generation High High Thermal discharge Yes Yes (3) Moderate water cooling required
Conventional coal High High Thermal discharge Yes Yes (3) Moderate to high water cooling required
“Clean coal” with CO2 capture Low Medium Thermal discharge Yes Yes3 Increased coal consumption per MWh
Energy recovery generation None None Low No No  
Geothermal power None Low Low No Yes Odour
Wind power None None None No No Bird/bat kills
Solar PV None None Low For manufacturer, only Yes High energy consumption during manufacture
Tidal power None None Non-consumptive No No Other impacts unknown
Wave power None None Non-consumptive No No Other impacts unknown
  1. Greenhouse gas emissions from energy conversion process only, not as a result of equipment manufacture or construction.

  2. Difficult to compare for different technologies.

  3. From ash management and/or flue gas treatment.

Comparative Technological Features

Wind power is considered an intermittent technology for generatng electricity in that its production of power can be variable. Nevertheless, the output of wind power can be integrated into long-term power planning if the technology can be twinned with more controllable technologies such as reservoir-based hydro or oil/gas plants as outputs can be varied to compensate for wind power down-times as well as service peak load situations. To put this into context, electricity usage in Ontario on July 16, 2006 typically varied from just over 14,000 megawatts at 6:00 am EDT to almost 23,000 megawatts at 6:00 pm.

The Wolfe Island project is an example of a wind-power based renewable energy project. The Ontario Power Authority cites other examples within the Province of Ontario including:

Wind Power Project Capacity Status
Melancthon Grey Wind Project Phase 1, Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc. (Shelburne) 67.5 megawatts Complete
Melancthon Grey Wind Project Phase 2, Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc. (Shelburne) 132 megawatts In progress
Erie Shores Wind Farm, Erie Shores Wind Farm L.P. (Port Burwell) 99 megawatts Operating
Prince I Wind Farm, Superior Wind Energy Inc. (Prince Township) 99 megawatts In progress
Prince II Wind Power Project, Brascan Power (Prince Township) 90 megawatts In progress
Blue Highlands Wind Farm, Superior Wind Energy Inc. (Blue Mountains) 49.5 megawatts In progress
Kingsbridge I Wind Power Project EPCOR (Goderich) 39.6 megawatts Operating
Kingbridge II Wind Power Project, EPCOR (Goderich) 158.7 megawatts In progress
Kruger Energy Port Alma Ltd. Partnership, (Port Alma) 101.2 megawatts In progress
Enbridge's Leader Wind Project A Leader Wind Corp., (Kincardine) 100.65 megawatts In progress
Enbridge's Leader Wind Project B Leader Wind Corp., (Kincardine) 99 megawatts In progress
Ripley Wind Power Project, Suncor Energy Products Inc. and EHN Windpower Canada Inc. Accione Energia, (Ripley) 76 megawatts In progress

The following is derived mainly from Power Generation in Canada and compares a few major technological features of various wind power technologies, particularly with respect to responding to changes in demand and to seasonal variability.

Technology Ability to Deliver Base and Peak Loads Amenability to Seasonal Variation
Demand-side management Will generally reduce peak load demand and/or shift load. Some measures reduce year-round energy use (or base load). Little variation. Some measures may save more energy in the summer months while others in the winter months.
Reservoir hydro Can change output rapidly thus serves both peak and base loads. Little as storage generally buffers variability.
Run-of-river hydro Case specific. Plants are subject to changes in seasonal flows which can be significant for smaller facilities. Generally low or little production in winter months due to freezing.
Nuclear Limited ability to change output (or base load). No variability
Natural gas Can rapidly change output, especially to serve needle peaks; generally too expensive to serve base loads. No variability
Oil-fired generation Can rapidly change output, therefore ideal to serve peak loads. Output can be limited during SMOG days.
Conventional coal Mainly used for base load, but can be used to serve peak loads. Output can be limited during SMOG days.
“Clean coal” with CO2 capture Mainly used for base load, but can be used to serve peak loads.  
Biomass Biomass systems can change output somewhat, but are generally not as flexible as oil/gas systems. None, as long as there is a sufficient storage of biomass.
Energy recovery generation Usually used only for base load as applications normally run at a high capacity level providing little opportunity to increase output to serve peak loads. Depends on fluctuations of heat source.
Geothermal power High capital cost requires continuous high output leaving little opportunity to increase output to serve peak loads. No variability
Wind power Reduces output of peaking plants when running, but requires backup power for periods of low production. Average seasonal capacity varies between 20 percent in the summer to 40 percent in the winter.
Solar PV Has a daylight hour base, thus mainly supplies peak consumption. There is less light in the winter, which reduces output.
Tidal power Output should be regular and predicted very accurately. None
Wave power Intermittent (see wind power above) See comments on wind power.

Comparative Costs of Electricity Generation

The Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition estimated in 2002 that wind power costs range from 8 cents to 10.2 cents per kilowatt hour, exceeding the 2002 average actual wholesale prices of electricity in Canada by a cost premium of 1.2 to 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour depending on province. If costs for administration, distribution, marketing, etc. are included as well, the cost premium increases to 3.2 to 11.8 cents. For comparison, the following table presents comparative estimates of actual wholesale prices of electricity disaggregated by province.

Province Estimated Average Cost per KWh for Base Power
Alberta 3.5
Ontario 4.0
Quebec 3.4
Prince Edward Island 6.9
Nova Scotia 4.5
Newfoundland 5.9
New Brunswick 6.3
Manitoba 3.8
British Columbia 4.7
Saskatchewan 2.5

The Canadian Electricity Association published a similar assessment in 2004, whereby it approximated wholesale costs for generating electricity in Canada using various technologies, and compared these to the current costs of producing electricity, which range from 4.7 cents per kilowatt hour in some provinces to more than 7 cents in others. It must be noted that these estimates are at best approximations and will vary from project to project. The following table presents the comparisons.

Approximate Wholesale Costs of Producing Electricity in New Projects*

Technology Used

Approximate Cost Range (cents per kilowatt hour)

Current Average Production Costs 4.7 to7
New Projects  
New reservoirs 5.5 to 12
Capacity increase in reservoir hydro 2.5 to 4.5
Run-of-river hydro 3.0 to no limit
Nuclear 5.5 to 7.0
Natural gas 6.0 to 7.5
Oil-fired generation 7.0 to 13
Conventional coal 5 to 6.5
“Clean coal” with CO2 capture 5 to 6.5
Biomass 5.5 to 18
Energy recovery generation 7.0 to 9.0
Geothermal power 6.5 to 9.5
Wind power 6.0 to 14
Solar PV 8.0 to 25 and more
Tidal power 8.0 to 12
Wave power 8.0 to 11.5

The Government of Canada's Wind Power Production Incentive offers a financial subsidy of one cent per kilowatt hour to suppliers of electricity generated through the use of wind power.

Other Experts/Resources

The Canadian Wind Energy Association

Wind Energy Institute of Canada

Ontario Sustainable Energy Association

Strategic Questions

  1. Will new technologies make wind power an economically viable alternative?

  2. Are provincial and/or federal subsidies necessary for the economical production of wind power?

  3. Should communities with available wind-strewn areas considerable power sharing agreements with provincial power authorities as part of long-term sustainability plans?

Resources and References

Major references for this case study include:

Canadian Electricity Association, Power Generation in Canada: A Guide.

Natural Resources Canada, Wind Energy Production Incentive.

Natural Resources Canada, Technologies and Applications.

Independent Electricity System Operator,  Your road map to Ontario Wholesale Electricity Prices   Canadian Wind Energy Association, How Wind Energy Works.

Canadian Hydro Developers Wolfe Island Wind Project.

City of Kingston, Local Wind Power.

Ontario Power Authority, Generation Development.

Queen’s Journal, Winds of change blowing on Wolfe Island.

Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition, Enhancing Sustainable Economic Development in Canada with Renewable Energy.


This comment has been submitted by Lane Giesbrecht as part of the ENVR545 course requirements.

I found this to be a very informative case study on the benefits and challenges associated with producing wind generated energy. As a resident of northern British Columbia I am very interested in the feasibility of using wind energy in conjunction with the existing hydro-electric projects as an alternative to the proposed Site “C” Clean Energy Project to meet the Provinces growing domestic energy needs. The Site “C” Clean Energy Project is an estimated 7.9 billion dollar hydro-electric dam on the Peace River of northeastern British Columbia with a projected annual capacity of 1,100 MW and a 350,000 ha flood zone (BC Hydro, 2013). According to the BC Sustainable Energy Society (2013), only 390MW of the provinces 43,000MW of electricity is currently being generated by wind power even though the Province has abundant wind resources. This puts British Columbia far behind the 2000MW of wind energy currently being produced in Ontario on an annual basis (BC Sustainable Energy Association, 2013).

One of the negative aspects of wind energy discussed in the case study was its intermittence and the need for back up energy during periods of low energy generation. By combining wind generated energy with the energy derived from existing hydro-electric sources in BC (such as the WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon Dams) the problem of intermittent energy production could be alleviated and a constant source of energy could be obtained without the need for further dam construction and flooding along the Peace River. Technology could then be used to increase the efficiency of the process so that wind energy use would be maximized during periods of high wind energy production and hydro energy during periods of low wind energy production.

Although the costs associated with wind generated energy are generally higher than other energy sources these costs can be minimized by considering the savings to natural capital. For example, unlike hydroelectric projects, wind turbines do no result in the flooding and loss of agricultural land, recreational areas, forest ecosystems or fish and wildlife habitat. Furthermore, as stated in the case study, wind turbines do not emit GHG emissions during their operational stage which lessons pollution abatement costs when compared to other more GHG intensive energy production methods. As a result, it can be argued that wind generated energy is actually cheaper than other energy sources due to the resulting natural capital preservation and decreased pollution abatement costs.

I think that provincial and federal subsidies are necessary for the economic production of wind power. By subsidizing wind power the government bodies will be able to encourage the production of an energy source that does not result in the loss of natural capital or GHG emissions during its operational life. This will save the provincial and federal governments money on natural capital and pollution abatement costs, create jobs and position Canada in a more environmentally conscious global position.

I feel that the generation of wind energy in British Columbia is a clear step towards reducing British Columbia’s reliance on hydroelectric energy sources to meet the provinces growing energy demands without compromising its economic, social or environmental values.


BC Sustainable Energy Association (2013). The Future of Wind Power in BC. Retrieved May 20,2013 from…

BC Hydro (2013). Environmental Impact Statement. Retrieved May 20, 2013 from… reports.html



Case studies in sustainable governance models.


EcoPerth: An Action plan and Governance model to address climate change from a Small Town Perspective

EcoPerth: An Action plan and Governance model to address climate change from a Small Town Perspective

Kathy Thomas and Jim Hamilton
Published September 15, 2006

Case Summary

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:

  1. Buildings Team

  2. Green Team

  3. Transportation Team

  4. Communications Team

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

Action Orientation

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:

Telephone: 613-268-2907


What Worked?

  1. Action oriented (not planning and feasibility studies).

  2. 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).

  3. 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.

  4. Letting the community decide what projects are appropriate, thereby promoting local decision making and autonomy.

  5. Offering encouragement, nurturing and critical, timely feedback.

What Didn’t Work?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Research Analysis

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.

Other Resources

The ecoPerth website

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:

  1. REIC Perth

  2. the Corporation of the Town of Perth

  3. Downtown Heritage Perth Business Improvement Area

  4. the Lanark and Leeds Green Community

  5. the Perth Courier (local weekly newspaper)

  6. Algonquin College, Perth Campus

  7. Many local businesses and groups

  8. Enbridge Consumers Gas

  9. Ontario Health Communities Coalition

  10. Green Communities Association

  11. the Federation of Canadian Municipalities

  12. ICLEI Partners for Climate Protection

  13. Environment Canada

  14. Natural Resources Canada

  15. the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)

  16. the Climate Change Action Fund

  17. 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:

  1. Doable:  money, time and resources are available, likelihood of success is good

  2. Champion:  to initiate the project, to keep it moving

  3. Economic:  direct benefits with measurable payback makes it easier to sell

  4. 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.

Strategic Questions

  1. How quickly and effectively can the lessons and achievements of ecoPerth be replicated in other small towns?

  2. 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.


All About Perth

Appendix A

What's Happening?

The range of ecoPerth projects that are currently up and running. Taken from the ecoPerth website

The Building Team Current Projects
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?
Relamping Project TBA
The Green Team Current Projects
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.
Shoreline Naturalization TBA

The Transportation Team

Current Projects

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?
Communication Team Current Projects
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.

This case study for EcoPerth provides a great example for how communities can act on climate change. The action oriented process that ecoPerth took allowed citizens to get engaged to improve their community’s social, economic and environmental framework through a variety of tangible, do-able projects with identifiable benefits.

What I found surprising about this case study, but very inspiring, is that ecoPerth showed that you do not have to spend a lot of time planning and changing people’s behaviour before implementation of actions can occur. By simply making changes happen, citizen awareness will follow the initial actions, and this will help lead to behavior change and create a more sustainable community. This model, of less planning and more doing, can be used by other communities struggling to keep volunteers and the greater community engaged in sustainability and climate change projects.

I am also really happy to see the ecoCommunities website that evolved from ecoPerth, as it provides a valuable resource tool for other small and medium sized communities working to take action on climate change. This tool allows the successes of ecoPerth to be shared and repeated in other communities. I am excited about a few easy actions that I could see implemented in my community right away, such as the pesticide free campaign. I only wish this website was updated, as all the resources are dated 2004. The same goes for the main ecoPerth website, as it is also out-of-date. The website still references federal government programs, such as ecoEnergy and the One Tonne Challenge, both of which have been cancelled for some time now.

I would be really interested in seeing some updated information on how successful ecoPerth has been since they this case study was prepared. The case study indicates that ecoPerth had developed community baseline measurements to review their successes, but I was not able to find any information on how well they have done in their 16 years of operation. The ecoPerth website does not contain any information into these performance measures.

Overall, the ecoPerth case study is a great learning tool for smaller communities looking to take action on climate change, which many are presently doing. Even without updated measurement information, I will recommend this case study to leaders in my community, as there are many great actions we can take immediately in an effort to improve our community sustainability and action on climate change.


The action oriented focus of the Ecoperth project is its main selling feature and probably why it has been so successful to date. I have witnessed numerous "good ideas" that have been quashed because of too many pre-planning commitments.

There seems to be an enormous amount of time dedicated to resolving issues before the action starts. The issues become steeped in controversy and nothing happens on the ground. In an action oriented appproach the motivation to solve problems and continue with the project seems to be much more of an invigorating and pragmatic approach.

Mid-term Objectives: An Urban Experience, Toronto, Ontario

Mid-term Objectives: An Urban Experience, Toronto, Ontario

Jim Hamilton
Published October 18, 2006

Case Summary

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:

  1. the City of Toronto’s Energy Efficiency Office (EEO); and,

  2. the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF).

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:

  1. the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) focusing on emissions emanating from built structures, including:

    1. the Better Transportation Partnership to encourage new energy-saving technologies;
    2. the Employee Energy Efficiency Program to reduce the use of energy within day-to-day operations; and,
    3. the development of Toronto’s Energy Plan to identify future needs for energy and feasible options to meeting these needs.
  2. 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:

  1. 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;

  2. 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,

  3. 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

Philip Jessup
Executive Director
Toronto Atmospheric Fund

Mary Pickering
Associate Director
Toronto Atmospheric Fund

Sean Cosgrove
Energy Efficiency Office
City of Toronto

What Worked?

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:

  1. the EEO, mainly for smaller demonstration-style projects such as the Employee Energy Efficiency at Home Project, and planning and policy development;

  2. the private sector for large-scale energy efficiency improvements using performance contracting. Over $100 million has been invested since the inception of the program;

  3. the TAF for bridge financing of energy efficiency projects; and,

  4. 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.

Research Analysis

Analysis of this case study presents leads to three key observations:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

The Objective

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:

  1. Technical Assistance and Support to the industrial, commercial and institutional sector through:

    1. project support;
    2. administration of consultant studies;
    3. database development of energy efficiencies gained through EEO programs; and,
    4. technical assistance to in the review of Toronto Atmospheric Fund applications for loans and/or grants.
  2. Enhancement of Residential Energy Awareness through:

    1. information booths;
    2. public presentations, home and trade shows such as the City of Toronto Renovation Forum; and,
    3. web sites.
  3. The Better Buildings Partnership consisting of a series of sub-programs including:

    1. the Large Office Building Program, which has already resulted in some $100 million in energy savings investments using energy performance contracting;
    2. the Small/Medium Commercial Buildings Program that provides technical information and financing techniques through the Loan Recourse Fund to assist this sector to realize energy savings. The Loan Recourse Fund provides financing, through Enbridge Consumers Gas, by offering “on-gas-bill” financing and collecting to eligible building owners. (Traditionally, financial constraints on small/medium commercial properties typically make project financing difficult to obtain);
    3. the Multi-Residential Non-Profit Buildings Program Buildings, again using financial techniques such as energy performance contracting, to lower the operating and maintenance costs of multi-residential structures through energy and water conservation;
    4. the In-House Energy Efficiency Program, which retrofits municipally owned buildings;
    5. the Loan Recourse Fund (see above), which provides innovative funding through Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc to building owners by securitizing loans. The fund, in essence, levers or takes advantage of often unrecognized monetary savings accruing from better energy use; and,
    6. the BBP Building Registry Program, which recognizes and celebrates building owners' achievements in conserving energy.
  4. 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,

  5. 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,

  6. 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:

  1. global climate stabilization through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane;

  2. local air quality;

  3. energy conservation and efficiency;

  4. public understanding of global warming and its implications for the urban environment;

  5. "carbon sinks" such as Toronto's urban forest that absorbs carbon dioxide from the air;

  6. related scientific research and technology development; and,

  7. 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:

  1. renewable energy;

  2. energy conservation and efficiency; and,

  3. 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:

  1. publishing a Clean Air and Environment Guide and distributing it to over 1.7 Ontarians;

  2. 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;

  3. hosting the GTA Clean Air Online website,

  4. working with students and teachers to reduce waste in schools through CAP’s Cool Schools program; and,

  5. 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:

  1. bridge financing to the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative to support construction of the Exhibition Place wind turbine;

  2. start-up financing to Autoshare to develop a car-sharing service for Toronto at 50 locations across the city;

  3. financed Toronto Artscape Ltd to retrofit in two Toronto artists' facilities - 1313 Queen Street West and Gibraltor Point Centre for the Arts; and,

  4. 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.

Approved in 2004
Grant recipient
Description of Project


ACCESS Riverdale Inc. Financing Cool Shops Greater Riverdale $10,000
Canadian Environmental Law & Pembina Institute Follow-up to Ontario Electricity Strategy $10,000
City of Toronto Exhibition Place Photovoltaic Installation - Feasibility Study and Project Pilot $250,000
Evergreen Brick Works Renewable Energy Feasibility Study $80,000
Green$aver Low Income Residential Rewards Program $88,250
Income Security Advocacy Centre Low Income DSM Programs for Toronto $35,000
Jackman Avenue Public School Green Roof Project $25,000
Ontario Clean Air Alliance Monitoring and Promoting Coal Phase-out $200,000
Second Harvest Doubling Food Waste Diversion $10,000
University of Toronto Facilities & Services Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction Strategy $225,000

Other Resources

Natural Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency, Buildings Division.

Strategic Questions

  1. Both the BBP and TAF make wide use of financial incentives to achieve their objectives. Are incentives sufficient or are stronger mechanisms required such as regulations?

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.


Towards Green Buildings: Calgary

Towards Green Buildings: Calgary

Yuill Herbert, Board Member, Canada Research Chair on Sustainable Community Development, Royal Roads University. Director, Sustainability Solutions Group  
Published June 22, 2007

Case Summary

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)


 Energy  $9 
 Emissions  $1
 Water and wastewater  $1
 Increased earnings  $49
 Asthma reduction  $3
 Cold and flu reduction  $5
 Teacher retention  $4
 Employment impact  $2
 Total  $74
 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
Station M
Calgary, Alberta
P: 403.268.5979

Karen Wichuk, Senior Sustainable Infrastructure Engineer
Corporate Engineering, City of Calgary
PO BOX 2100
Station M
Calgary, Alberta
P: 403.268.8843

What Worked?

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.

Ongoing measurement of the performance of the LEED buildings has demonstrated the following results:
  1. Cardel Place (LEED Gold) is designed to capture cold air from the outside and from the rink and melting snow for cooling purposes. Heat is reclaimed from the co-generation system for the swimming pool. The facility was designed to integrate naturally in the landscape, and by recessing part of the building into the hillside the insulating characteristics of the earth significantly reduce the building's energy needs as well as its exposure to rain, snow and wind. A study by Hemisphere Engineering Inc. compared Cardel Place against other recreation facilities: overall energy use index was approximately 20 percent better than the next best facilities and over 40 percent better than the least efficient facilities. Initial capital costs were 2 percent less than the closest facility and 15 to 20 percent less compared to the worst. Water reductions over the other facilities ranged from 65 to 90 percent (email correspondence with current Sustainable Infrastructure Manager, 2007).
  2. Crowfoot Library (LEED certified) used natural daylight, energy efficiencies and other strategies to reduce its total electricity requirements by more then 30 percent.

  3. Country Hills Multi-Services Centre (LEED Silver) achieved an energy performance 52 percent better than the national energy code requirements. 79 tonnes of construction waste was diverted from the landfill and the naturalised landscape is exclusively irrigated through storm water collected and filtered through an on-side retention pond.

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).

Research Analysis

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).

Strategic Questions

  1. What are the key barriers to implementing sustainable building policies in other municipalities?

  2. What is the impact of building design and green buildings in particular on mental health and worker productivity?

  3. 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

Canadian Green Building Council (2004). LEED Green Building Rating System: Reference Package for New Construction and Major Renovations Version 1.0. Available at

Canadian Green Building Council (2007). Database of LEED registered projects. Accessed March, 2007.

City of Calgary (2001). City of Calgary's Environmental Policy.;

City of Calgary (2005). Sustainable Building Policy.

City of Calgary (2006). State of the Environment Report- Third Edition.

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:

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.

United Nations Environment Program (2007). Buildings and Climate Change: Status, Challenges and Opportunities. Accessed March 20, 2007.

United States Green Building Council (2007). Green Building, USGBC and LEED.


I chose this topic because of my interest in the development and implementation of best practices in sustainable building infrastructure. It was interesting to see that the City of Calgary initiated long term planning for future development; and, to be one of the first (and leading) examples of how policies are implemented in order to support the environment while reducing the overall ecological footprint. It was noted that the buildings that make up a city are one of the largest contributors to GHG emissions due to its heavy reliance on non-renewable energy sources, the use of unsustainable building materials as well as improper waste management practices. The combination of these factors affects the condition of the environment. According to the Canadian Research Connections (CRC) website it was brought to my awareness that “The materials used for new construction of buildings and repairs and renovations of existing buildings, by some estimates accounts for 40-50% of the total flow of raw materials in the global economy (ibid) “ (CRC, n.d). That is a huge amount of material. So it remains evident that in the building and construction sector, attention needs to be drawn about where materials are coming from and the embedded environmental costs that are associated with these materials. Additionally, calculating environmental costs (or valuation of ecosystem services?) still remains an issue.

What was interesting to note was that, the implementation of green technology significantly improves the condition of a building as well as reduces the environmental impact; similarly, additional health benefits were related to incorporating these environmentally friendly measures (social benefits).

Strategic Questions

1. What are the key barriers to implementing sustainable building policies in other municipalities?

Some of the barriers associated with sustainable building in other municipalities are that the initial cost of investment is high. Some cities do not have the landscape to support such alterations. It is important to have a good team with government support along with professionals in the building sector so that proper planning and implementation of policies can be practiced.

2. What is the impact of building design and green buildings in particular on mental health and worker productivity?

Absenteeism is reduced, the occurrence of asthma attacks, cold and flu are minimized in which productivity levels increase as a result. It was also noted that the built environment has an impact on overall stress levels. This makes sense because people are creatures of the environment, whether it is natural or built; it does tend to affect our well-being.

3. How can municipal or city policies address the issue of higher capital costs that result in long term benefits?

It would be helpful to provide examples of cost-benefit analyses to companies (potential building projects) so that investors and stakeholders can evaluate how integrating green features lead to savings. It is important to see how costs (whether social, environmental or economical) are mitigated. A city’s policy should ensure that all public buildings are either built green or retrofitted, while grants can be given to private building owners to help with the costs that are associated with sustainable building projects.


Leadership By Example – Towards Green Buildings: Calgary

As a Calgary resident, it is encouraging to review this case study and appreciate the City of Calgary’s commitment to “leadership by example”. This case study also provides a solid historical foundation for understanding where Calgary was at in 2004 and how far they have come in blazing a path towards adoption of Sustainable Building Design in Calgary.

This case study clearly shows how Calgary was motivated to use their position as a land holder and operator of municipal buildings to implement a triple-bottom line approach (economic, social and environmental) to new and existing buildings. By adopting a the LEED standard for new construction and renovation, City projects can be evaluated and continually reported on through Life Cycle Costing. Further the City had begun piloting the Go Green standard of BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association), which has since evolved into the BOMA BEST (Building Environmental Standards) program, version 2 (BOMA, 2013).

As the City of Calgary triple-bottom line benefits become evident and are reported upon this encourages other builders and operators to explore this approach. A recent news article (…) , reported that the City was reaping a benefit-to-cost ratio of-10-1 to 12-to-1, that is for every dollar spent on a LEED Gold certified building the City was achieving from $10 to $12 of triple-bottom-line benefits. This type of life-cycle-costing and the ensuing free advertising helps government truly fulfill the “leadership-by-example” role and provides a clear demonstration to the business community that the spectre of short-term planning initiatives no longer have a place in development/redevelopment decisions.

The case study explains how the City of Calgary’s Sustainable Building Policy was initiated and driven by small group of employees and city councillors with the support of local architects and consultants. Given the timing of the implementation, one suspects that Calgary may have also been motivated by a 2005 Federation of Canadian Municipalities Report (Anielski & Wilson, 2005) stating Calgary had the largest ecological footprint in Canada. Irrespective of motive, Calgary acted to introduce numerous footprint reduction strategies including waste and water reduction initiatives, a triple-bottom-line policy, sustainable transportation initiatives and the sustainable building policy, (City of Calgary, 2010).

The City of Calgary’s 2011 Sustainable Building Policy Annual Report, (City of Calgary, 2012) lists 12 LEED-certified City-owned and City funded buildings, including fire stations, community centres and maintenance facilities. Also encouraging is the recent news from the Canada Green Building Council reporting that the 1000 LEED projects landmark has now been reached in Canada (Green Building Council, 2013.May), with Alberta leading the way with 29% of all LEED registered projects in Canada (Canada Green Building Council, 2012, October).
The City has also achieved LEED platinum certification on the redevelopment of a downtown, 80-year old municipal building (…) , showing they are intent on not solely resting on the laurels of LEED gold, and striving towards even higher standards. Further a variety of other recently completed non-municipal buildings have also achieved or are in the process of achieving LEED Platinum certification including the Calgary City Centre Building (, Eighth Avenue Place ( and two new University of Calgary buildings, the Energy, Environment and Experiential Learning Building and the Child Development Centre (… ) Even the oldest operating school in Calgary, the 100-year old Connaught School ( , is now LEED platinum.

Knowing several City employees I must also comment on the intangibles of the City approach, specifically the pride several employees relay to professional peers when discussing the buildings they work in. To say some employees “gush” over their buildings would be an understatement. I have attended several meetings where staff takes unabashed pride at listing the LEED characteristics of the buildings they work in, from energy and water savings, bike sharing and day-lighted work spaces. This enthusiasm can do nothing but motivate other professionals to seek similar benefits in their workspaces.
This employee wellness aspect is touched on by the case study in referencing the implicit health advantages of LEED on aspects of mental and physical health as well as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) discussion on the impacts of the built environment on mental and physical health. These links require further in depth evaluation, however as a the human health impact of “tight” buildings have been called into question report especially the health impact, caused by reduced fresh air circulation and the potential for increased toxic exposure to the off-gassing of building materials (Wargo, 2010). Clearly this is an avenue for further study that requires a balanced approach to reconciling the relationships between new building standards, employee health and concern over the ecological footprint of buildings.

All in all this case study was an excellent introduction to one municipality’s experience in the implementation of a “green” building policy. The ongoing delivery of this program is achieving real results and the ongoing public interest and adoption of the LEED certification shows that significant progress can be made when an organization steps up and shows “leadership by example”.


Anielski, M., & Wilson, J. (2005). Ecological Footprints of Canadian Municipalities and Regions. The Canadian Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Edmonton, Alberta: Anielski Management Inc. Retrieved from…

Building Owners and Managers Association. (2013). The BOMA BESt Program: An Introduction. Retrieved from…

Canada Green Building Council (2012, October). Alberta leading LEED in Canada. Perpectives Alberta Chapter. Retrieved from

Canada Green Building Council (2013, May 21). Canada Green Building Council celebrates 1000 LEED certified projects in Canada. Canada Green Building Council. Retrieved from…

City of Calgary. (2010). 2010 State of the Environment Report . 4th Edition. Retrieved from…

City of Calgary. (2012). Sustainable Building Policy. 2011 Annual Report. Building a Great City. Retrieved from…

Wargo, J. (2010). LEED Certification, Where Energy Efficiency Collides With Human Health. Environment and Human Health Inc. Retrieved from

United We Can

United We Can

Published December 20, 2006

Case Summary

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:

  • initial seed funding from local socially progressive enterprises such as VanCity;
  • strong leadership from within the community;
  • ability to access diverse types of social capital;
  • progressive provincial and municipal policy development;
  • government regulatory changes to the bottle deposit system at critical junctures;
  • the project had the time and space to self-develop and evolve within its own timeframe and was not driven by externally imposed deadlines or accountabilities;
  • the presence of other non-government organizations in the same field, such as Encorp Pacific Canada;
  • access to critical seed funding to build capacity.

Community Contact Information

Ken Lyotier
Executive Director and Manager
39 East Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6A 1M9
Tel: 604. 681-0001

Sandy Sigmund
Marketing Manager
Encorp Pacific (Canada)
Tel: 604. 473-2406

What Worked?

  • existing community experience with the activities and a deep understanding of community challenges (this was not a new activity introduced from outside the community);
  • community-led and driven;
  • a strong belief and vision in the “possibility of change”;
  • visionary leadership by its founder;
  • progressive municipal policy development;
  • immediate tangible benefits and services directly to the community;
  • prudent internal financial management;
  • building of strategic alliances external to the community;
  • external communications.

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.


  1. First United Church (Dendorff-Morris Trust Fund) $150.00 Victoria Park Square

  2. VanCity Community Loan of $12,500

  3. Anonymous benefactor donation of $12,500

  4. 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.

Strategic Questions

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. Can United We Can successfully diversify its leadership and train others to take on more leadership roles?

  4. 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?

  5. Will municipal and provincial governments commit to investment strategies that institutionalize projects like United We Can into their waste management systems?

  6. 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?


I'm posting to make sure I've figured out how to do this (I joined the space over a year ago but it's been a while since I posted). Clearly, I’ll want to consider the case study in more detail and plan to do so on the weekend.

In 2000, I was in Manchester taking the AA1000 Course (a sustainability assurance standard) from the Institute for Social and Ethical Accountability As part of our program, we went on a tour of a social enterprise which is now known as FRC Group, a furnishings and removals business which was founded in 1988 in Liverpool.

I just did a quick surf of the internet to see what was happening with FRC now and found a case study about it on the Social Enterprise Coalition website Like any enterprise (social or traditional), FRC has its challenges. What I found interesting reading the FRC case study was that the City of Liverpool’s council has a Social Economy Team.
One of the questions for our case study on United We Can relates to whether governments would commit to investment strategies to institutionalize social enterprises such as United We Can. I was curious about the governance structure for the City of Vancouver and whether it is even set up to do so. While I didn’t do an exhaustive review, I did find the list of Standing Committees. The only one which seemed might be appropriate for this question is the Planning and Environment Committee. According to the City of Vancouver website,

“the objectives of the Committee are to deal with neighbourhood planning and protection; environmental issues; community issues; and cultural and ethnocultural issues. Its current topics include local area planning programs, zoning issues, housing initiatives, social policy development, children's policy, Vancouver Arts initiatives, continuing public health care initiatives, heritage matters, noise complaints and environmental issues.”

While some of the objectives and topics of Vancouver's Planning and Environment Committee touch on the periphery of United We Can’s concerns, it doesn’t appear that any encompass all three imperatives of sustainable community development. I suspect that the Liverpool Social Economy Team is more intentional about the three imperatives in its deliberations particularly given its support of and business transactions with FRC.

As alluded to earlier, I only poked around a little bit on the Vancouver and Liverpool websites so I don’t have the full picture. Having said that, perhaps one of the ways in which all social enterprises could thrive in Vancouver (including United We Can) would be to refresh the objectives of the Planning and Environment Committee to take an integrated approach to sustainable community development. Of course, this may already be the case but Vancouver’s external communication on its website depicts the Committee’s approach in silos.

As we’ve discussed already, our government structures are sometimes slow to keep pace with emerging realities despite the good intentions of members of the public service. But that shouldn’t stop the pursuit of positive changes particularly in a way that engages in dialogue with those affected by the decisions being considered which, in this case would include United We Can, local businesses, local communities and residents.

More later.

Laura de Jonge


In Vancouver's East End, the residents are considered a social issue (a politically-nice way to say a problem). United We Can demonstrates a successful application of an unconventional approach. It also demonstrates that the approach to the East End can be successful with focused, incremental steps.

With the challenges that United We Can currently faces, it's interesting that it's external forces that are threatening to undermine its success.


This is a pretty fascinating story about what one/more individual(s) from within a community can accomplish. What strikes me as particularly innovative is the following:

The organizers of the original one-day depot convinced the Ministry that workshops should be organized from within the community, and that the participants should be paid as consultants for their time.

We so often turn to "experts" who are from outside a situation, but who have educational/other credentials, and silence the voices of the critical group of interest in doing so. Had the control of the situation been lost at this critical point, in handing over the project to consultants, I am sure that the project would not have gotten as far as it did (engagement would have been lost and it may have foundered there). I guess some credit is due to the city of Vancouver for pursuing this somewhat unorthodox approach, in paying the community participants, although certainly the individuals who acted as spokespersons for the community did an outstanding job in selling this alternative way of following up on the initial success.

After I posted the above comment, I thought a bit more about the benefits of having the community itself organize the structure of their enterprise. Does this mean, in Pille's terms, that there would be better structural coupling than had a consultant developed the project? By that I mean that the organizers were very familiar with both the niche/environment that existed in Vancouver and the structural elements (i.e. the street people)who would be part of the organization interacting with the environment/niche, and the organization was thus perfectly tailored to the environment due to this self-organization. (Sorry if this is confusing, I am trying to think and write in Pille terms and am finding it somewhat awkward). In other terms, this is simply that governance based on in-house expertise/local wisdom about the surroundings/circumstances will result in more appropriate design.

I think you hit the nail on the head Claire. In community development consultants are often brought in to assess and evaluate the 'situation' and offer 'recommendations'. In international development this is known as a Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA). Keep in mind the 'rural' aspect is a bit derogatory as the methods are not very different to those used in urban community consultation they are just applied to a rural context. RRA methods do work in the right context, but not when your dealing with an issue that is rooted in social capital and social trust. The alternative method, which is what Ken and the other organizers used, is known as Participatory Rural Appraisal. These initiatives are initiated by the community who may ask facilitators (acting as a coaches) to guide the process. This is community empowerment, and can act as a catalyst for increased social capital and social trust.

This is where structural coupling comes in. Community members often know what works best in their context and can tailor solutions that take into account the local condition. If the City of Vancouver (CoV) had brought in a consultant to organize a meeting and evaluate the possible solutions the process most likely would have never begun because the process would not be tailored to reflect even the simplest things like when and where is the best place to conduct the meeting. If you picture Pille's bubble figure she used to describe structural coupling the community is one bubble with lots of intricacies. The initial meeting and what came to be United We Can is a blank bubble. When this blank bubble is handed over to the community to mold and shape to reflect their unique set of circumstances (ones that only they are really aware of) and their beliefs/values, the potential is awesome. People can have relationships with process and policy just as they can with a person. Having a consultant set up a process and implement a policy with little involvement of the community is similar to having a blind date setup up by a friend...if that friend knows you very well it may work, if they don't it will probably fall apart.

Subsidiarity: governance (design and implementation) at the level of society closets to the activity being considered. As you noted Claire, this works because the dialogues and decision-making that occurs is informed by local beliefs and values regarding local 'societal conditions' (a term I coined for my thesis which refers to such things as
• Societal interactions (e.g. how decisions are made, resource distribution, etc.);
• The types of institutions that are present (government, private industry, economy, religion, civil
• Reliance on the environment and its quality;
• The relationships between community members; and
• The history of the conditions in the community. )

The outcome is buy-in and trust in the process and policy, things that are essential to success.

I think this is can be extended to how many businesses conduct their work (hence corporate social responsibility) because businesses, like governing, often forget that their business (or policies) cannot succeed without the buy in of their consumers (or citizens).

sorry for the rant :)


I'm not sure about the willingness of the service agencies in the DTES to change to a social capital perspective as I see that this is a matter of interpretation. From the quick research I did, it seems that they are dealing with a social aspect... i.e. the services they render are mostly related to health care, addictions, housing etc. but not necessarily all components of social capital.

From the list of services and their descriptions I had a thought that perhaps in dire situations, one overlooks the environment and sustainable development for more immediate needs such as food, clothing, shelter, safety etc. and that perhaps this is what the service agencies see as all that's required for social capital.

As for how the social capital approach could work for United We Can (UWC), I think the hiring criteria for UWC was one of the keys to their success. Exclusion of certain members of society due to addictions etc. could result in loss of potential human resources. I can see though why the service agencies may screen certain people out due to restrictions or stipulations on their funding (e.g. only helping recovered addicts), and/or their own personal mandates. Redefining their concept of social capital and acting on it, could result in the introduction of all those services to people who may not have willingly taken such services.



Wasn't Louise Comeau fantastic today? She has such passion, understanding and presense.

She reminded us about the importance of political leadership. She was glowing about your B.C. Premier. "He gets it." And because he gets it, he makes things happen, such as the carbon tax.

She reflected differently on the failed prime ministership of Paul Martin. Such a wasted opportunity. (I won't get into the irony of the Cretienites, figuratively from the grave, being able to poison Martin's potential Camelot.)

So very often, we work within bureaucratic structures to try to effect change, and sometimes we are able to achieve some significant advances. Sometime, we're not.

Louise reminded us today what can be achieved with real leadership from the top. For United We Can, the leadership may have to come from the municipal level. Does Vancouver have another Gordon Campbell? How about a Louise Comeau?

What struck me most about Louise Comeau was her courage. Although it's taken me a few days to post, that's allowed me to ponder after I wrote down “courage” during her presentation. I found this lovely write up about the word “courage”:

• “Courage comes from an Indo-European root that gives us heart, cardiac, cordial, core and record among many other "heartful" words. Courage, at root, is cour (heart) plus - age (process or realm). So courage grows out of a sense of the how and where of the heart. Courage is heart-work. Deepening our sense of courage we might ask how does the heart work ... not in a medical sense but an experiential sense? The answer is obvious to all who have listened to or felt their pulse ... the heart works one beat at a time. It is the mortal tempo that frames the mystery of our lives. Imagine it as a stone drop spindle rising and falling to spin our story's thread. Heart work, courage, is a continuum; the thin strong thread twisted between eternity and our mortality. Courageous virtues are not recklessness, bravado or ferocity but steady careful attention to the detail of daily mystery. Courage's deepest intuition and wisdom is to drum eternity into time so it is seen, felt, remembered and given away. All living beings share this rhythmic ringing of the death tempered edge of eternity, the faithful witness of the everyday wonder we conspire to inspire and pass on.”

I think that Louise embodies these words. Whether or not you agreed with her positions at the time, the activist path that she chose for herself is not an easy one and I’m sure she was very lonely at times.

I thought of my own work within a corporation which is, of course, very different but at times requires courage. We all need to have it. I then thought of the word “encourage” or to give heart. I thought about some of our conversations and Rick Kool’s talk a couple of years ago about how the environmental movement sometimes comes across with despair which can repel people. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and have caught myself not always being encouraging (“reckless, bravado or ferocity” as noted above).

One of Ann Dale’s messages is that we need to bring more kindness and compassion to our movement (and our lives generally). I take that to mean, in part, to encourage or give heart to others. Our voices are so very important and I want to use mine to "encourage" rather than "discourage". When I think back to our World Café with the MAL program and talking about great leaders that I’ve known, I would have to say that the common thread among them was their ability to encourage others.

I’m looking forward to hearing Ken Lyotier’s story of courage this week.


rkustra states that: Vancouver's East End, the residents are considered a social issue (a politically-nice way to say a problem).

The United We Can approach, rather than pursuing only social issues such as drugs, crime, housing etc. tackles all the imperatives - environmental (recycling), social (acting as a focus for social networking and support) and economic (providing and income for marginalised people normally excluded from the economy).

This approach is having significant positive benefits in the community.

The question is, is this because all three imperatives are being addressed? Or is this link to sustainable community development largely irrelevant to understand the project.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding Chris' comment, but I don't know if we can apply causality that I don't think it is possible to say that the approach was successful/the outcomes beneficial because all three imperatives were addressed (i.e. the end was determined by the process).

I imagine that the project was not designed to tackle all three imperatives - it may have been more of a coincidence of factors in time. I remember once hearing an author speak about a book he had written while his marriage was breaking up. He related that a reviewer had written that there were strong themes about relationships in his novel - which surprised him greatly. He hadn't designed the book to have specific themes, they were just inherent in the writing as it emerged. It seems like the three imperatives coincided in this project without any intent to design it as such. The social and economic aspects are perhaps necessarily there in any project dealing with a marginalized community, but the fact that the enterprise the project was built around was recycling was not by design to include an ecological component in the project.

That the inclusion of this third (environmental) dimension of sustainability may have influenced its success is undoubtedly true, however, in that the enterprise was acceptable to many people because it was ecologically beneficial- and thus beneficial to all. However, maybe people value the thriftiness of making money from the waste stream as much as they value the ecological component of recycling.

On the other hand, maybe the social capital produced through this project/program is amplified because of the three imperatives being addressed - in that the project can resonate with, and generate support from more groups/networks because it is integrated.


I agree with Claire that perhaps this was a combination of actions that occurred as coincedences. Perhaps the aim of the group was not environmental at all and their pursuit of economic and social capital resulted in an inderect benefit for the environment.

I think this is why there is difficulty in expansion of the services by united we can. The same economic and social capital emperitives are not seen as prioities elsewhere (outside of their organization or community). Success for them has bred notriaty and attention from the rest of society who are not necessarily seeing the economic and environmental benefits, but noticing only potential (perceived) social issues from united we can's activities.



Claire's right. The bottles are something of financial value that the addicts can recover and sell to the depot.

I wonder why United We Can has not expanded its operation to other revenue streams. My supposition is that there is nothing else that is condusive to the capacity of the addicts. When it comes to the recycles, they can collect and drop off the items whenever they are able. There is very little in our structure economic system that allows that degree of individual freedom.

Too bad they couldn't grow a community garden on asphalt.

The challenge now being faced by United We Can made me reflect on one of the lectures last week. Among the greatest threats to social capital are vested interests, alienation, distrust, disconnection and anomie. But United We Can has demonstrated an ability to rise about those challenges in the past, and will have to draw on all the strengths of its leadership and its supporting network once again.

I apologize for the typos -- the program is not allowing me to edit this before posting.


I started thinking this potential GVRD policy through, thinking of the potential outcomes. While it could be an all out poor policy for the UNited We Can community, maybe there is an opportunity for the community to team with industrial, commercial and residential building owners (or who ever is responsible for arranging waste management) to cooperate in an advanced recycling program. This might involve a Vancouver wide program to increase the use of recycling bins by residents and businesses. If increased waste seperation could be achieved, the result would be a more efficient process for binners to obtain the recyclables and a safer working environment so that they are not dumbster diving. If this initiative was begun in advance of a lockup policy, its possible the impact of the policy could be limited. In essence UNited We Can would be expanding its building pickup program, but instead of using trucks to do pickup, members of the community would be doing the collection as per usual.

This would be a great opportunity for companies and bulding stratas to improve their community and meet their social and environmental sustainability goals

(I apoligize if my ideas are a bit scattered or not complete, I was a bit tired when I wrote this. I would be happy to clarify if need be)

It's likely time in our discussion group to re-visit the basics: The City is requiring the bins to be locked, ostensibly "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."

What are the options for United We Can? Here are three (you might suggest more):
1. We're told that another group of binners is giving identity card to binners so that police and residents will know they are ‘employees’ of United We Can.
2. United We Can could challenge the validity of the rational for locking the bins.
3. United We Can could try to dialogue with other stakeholders to see if there are alternative solutions that meet the needs of the other stakeholders and United We Can.

I'm not sure what the first option will produce. Since the binners and United We Can carry little political power, option 2 sounds pretty risky. The third option seems a better approach. It could also build more long-term social capital within the total community.

Whatever course of action United We Can chooses, it may have to look for support from its broader constituency. This sounds like a live-or-die situation in which United We Can will need all the allies it can muster.

Carlos and Ryan, what you are talking about in terms of finding solutions is what I’ve heard coined as “moral imagination” which has been described by Johnson (1993 as cited in Tuana and Lau, n.d.) as:

“an ability to imaginatively discern various possibilities for acting in a given situation and to envision the potential help and harm that are likely to result from a given action.”

In Calgary, we had a recent example of applying moral imagination to a problem. As many know, homelessness is a huge challenge in many urban centres. The severity is amplified during periods of extreme weather where people can literally freeze to death. As it is, our local shelters are packed to the rims.

(Just as an aside, until a few years ago the system was also set up in a way that was a huge barrier to families since there wasn’t any accommodations for them. Genders are segregated and children aren’t allowed resulting in the splitting up of families with the father staying in a homeless shelter and the mother and children staying in a women’s shelter which has a scarcity of beds as well.)

Sometimes in addressing larger issues, we focus on long term sustainable solutions and forget about meeting immediate needs and vice versa. I say this because one of the immediate solutions that Calgary found to the burgeoning homeless problem was to establish an emergency shelter in an industrial area which can house 400 people a night. It sounds so cold to me especially having visited shelters and seeing the sleeping conditions. Plus, of course, finding somewhere to establish more “beds” is a challenge because of NIMBY (not in my backyard). So, while not ideal, setting up this shelter in an industrial area meets an immediate need but doesn’t provide a long term sustainable solution.

The good news part of this story was that this allowed some people to exercise moral imagination. In 2004, Street Level Consulting reported that 45% of shelter users have jobs. That leaves a large percentage of users without jobs. Calgary has also been experiencing a labour shortage to the extent that some businesses have had to reduce hours of operations, sometimes closing early or one day a week (maybe not such a bad thing).

Anyway, someone came up with the brilliant idea of having a job fair at the emergency shelter which, as I noted, was in the industrial area where the jobs are located. Some of the people applying for jobs had 20-30 years of experience. While people living in the shelter are likely shuttled to and from downtown each day, this was also a good solution because the jobs were in close proximity to the shelter. Often because of commuting, homeless people with jobs arrive at the centrally located shelter so late that there aren’t beds left resulting in them not performing well at work the next day. Also, those organizations that showed up for the job fair knew that the applicants were living at the shelter so wouldn’t have qualms about hiring someone whose address was a homeless shelter (sometimes a barrier to employment).

This was a very positive outcome but, as noted earlier, homelessness is an issue that needs long term solutions. The Calgary Committee to End Homelessness estimates that, at the current rate, homelessness in Calgary would increase from the current 3,400 to 15,000 by 2018. It has an ambitious ten year plan to address the issue which I haven’t reviewed. However, a cursory word search of the 10 year plan didn’t indicate that social enterprise or entrepreneurism was considered. Maybe I’m out of touch about what’s happening in practice but I hear very little about social enterprises like United We Can in Calgary. Social Enterprises, particularly those that encompass all three imperatives of sustainability afford a tremendous opportunity, especially if they take into account lessons learned from other social enterprises like United We Can. They are an important and effective component to both meet immediate needs and support long term solutions.

Calgary Committee to End Homelessness (2008). Committee unveils Calgary’s 10 year plan to end homelessness. Retrieved March 2, 2008 from

Street Level Consulting (2004). The streets of Calgary Part 1. Retrieved March 2, 2008 from


As I've been reviewing Prof. Dale's "at the edge," I've come across a few quotes that mesh with my previous suggestion that a broader dialogue is required to attend to United We Can's current dilemma.

Page 147: “The dialogue framework that I am proposing integrates some features of matrix management by prioritizing policy domains across government and shortening feedback loops through multistakeholder processes.”

Page 148: “These collaborations, however, must transcend dualism (Dillon 1998) and avoid the temptation to assert the superiority of the opposite in order the prove the worth of the alternative….Any framework for governance, therefore, must tie policy development to illuminating deeply rooted values and beliefs about how the world works. This is because…human activities can no longer be sustained according to current biases and imbalances. Respect for diversity and nurturance, and a potential for oneness mediated by reciprocity, should be regarded as integral to our human condition (ibid.). Indeed, the strength of civil society in the twenty-first century can be expected to become increasing dependent upon interconnected webs of relationships and reciprocal influences.”

Page 149: “Thus, the policy development process is opened up to an enlarged decision-making context that is able to incorporate the diversity of public values and paradigms of which government must be cognizant. Debates about competing perspectives, and about preferred states, are replaced by discussions about policy alternatives…Most important, however, this modified model opens up the process to feedback and evaluation from outside government. In this way, governments will become sensitive to negative as well as positive feedback loops. The detection of feedback and the evaluation of processes and outcomes should be conducted by those directly affected by the policies; that is, by stakeholders closest to the problem (i.e. multiple scales).”

It is fine to say that more dialogue is necessary, but I think that is an oversimplification of a very complex problem. The binners have their own network and internal social capital, and the residents and store-owners have their own. Maybe the first step is to develop or identify the nodes and try to build social capital between those networks - at this stage, with everyone so positional and conflicting values present, is a positive dialogue possible? I think getting to the point of dialogue is likely a long and tentative process. I do agree that dialogue is necessary, but when and how is it appropriate? Is the how it is managed more important than when - i.e. can you always have a productive dialogue if the process is managed well, or do you have to find those moments when you have a configuration of elements that makes dialogue possible....or do you have to build that configuration in order to make dialogue possible?

Then we also have Pille's note that you can't manage for process and for outcome. It seems that Ann's dialogue approach is not outcome-oriented - no specific result is envisioned. But maybe some stakeholders come into dialogues with their minds set on a specific outcome. They want their way, or the highway. This can be a huge source of conflict - so the expectations of the dialogue process and potential outcomes must be explicit.


Wow, you guys have been doing some good thinking and reading. I am a bit bleary-eyed and worn out from the weekend, but it has also occurred to me in reading your postings that the backlash to the binners that seems to be happening may be related to a lack of bridging/vertical social capital. I posted earlier that the project seems to have good structural coupling - in that it was developed by the community of homeless people and thus worked for them. However, did this result in backlash because although this process ensured that the outcome would work for the binners, it might not suit the others? I don't know how the process to develop the enterprise took place, but if there was no cross-networking - i.e. representatives of store owners and residents involved, then they may have some fears, or a simple grudge that they weren't involved - they may resent being voiceless. As a result, there is this backlash.

In terms of vertical capital, from my understanding that would be capital up to people of authority - i.e. the city. Has the City staff turned over since the enterprise began, and they lost some support along the way? Or are the residents who may have been voiceless pressuring their municipal representatives to shut down the project? I am wondering if a homeless person can vote - or is the way our voting system set up (i.e. you have to show ID and have an address) exclude homeless people, and in this sense they are disenfranchised and have less power than residents who can exert pressure on their elected officials?

In terms of solutions to these setbacks, is some form of non-confrontational dialogue possible so that the root causes of the issues can be engaged, and mutually acceptable solutions negotiated?

I think as Ken said today, only by living as a binner was he actually able to see the entirity of the situation and its complexity. Unfortunately, the majority of people do as he said, they refuse to acknowledge the existance of street people. I think its sad and sick for people who have never had any bad confrontations with homeless people (e.g. North Van youth) to be so scared of them. Eventhough we have our own homeless in North Vancouver, they blend in so your seldom can identify them. How can we possible hoep to gain a greater understanding as people and policy makers if we can't learn to except the situation and the people?! Only once we approach the situation in 'love' can we truly see past those issues which are obvious, and truly begin to understand the way things are and how to create the greatest impact.

It's interesting hearing your experiences. I'll share one of mine, not with street people, but with another systemically disadvantage group: First Nations.

The highlight of my career has been coordinatoring my company's creation of a partnership with a Cree Nation to joinlty build, own and operate a billion dollar generating station. My senior contact with Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation was a former Chief. Through the seven or eight years that it took to bring the project to fruition, he and I became quite close. He's invited me to stay at his home, and even though our professional interaction concluded a couple of years ago we still talked by phone this year on New Year's Eve.

Norman lives on the northern reserve in a house owned by the band, as is all housing on the reserve. The house needed painting a couple of years ago, but Norman did not see that as his responsibility. After all, he said, the band owned the house. In due course, the band hired someone and bought the paint, and the house was painted.

I share that little anecdote with the following comment (which might stimulate a response from you): Our federal policy that restricts private property ownership on reserves is one of, if not THE, most socially-disfunctional policy in the history of our country.

Norman is a hard working member of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation who is committed to the betterment of his community. It is, as Ken said yesterday of his sense of belonging to the East Side, a place where Norman feels connected, where he belongs.

I feel very privileged to have heard Ken's talk yesterday. He demonstrated how humility is on of the main requirements of a leader and I agree that his Xi is well directed and that may explain how things come his way.

I found his saying that united we can is important to not just cash flow, but a connection to the community comforting. This dispelled my belief that the main intent for starting the program was economics and that environment was a side benefit. It was refreshing to hear him indicate that their mission is three-fold (economic, environmental and social sustainability) at UWC. He indicated that they create place, meaning and value to people in the community who may otherwise not have access to the mainstream resources.


Now that you have had the distinct advantage of hearing about this project from one of the main proponents, how does this effect your interpretation of the case study?

I was amazed by Ken, he had such integrity and strength to remain true to his convictions of what is right for the community. I am most impressed by how systemic his understanding of the issues is - and how eventhough he is providing a voice for people in such a hard place, he doesn't resort to protests or other confrontational means to make his frustrations known - he just continues to try and work with people. So, it seems that the structural coupling - being built from within - was definitely part of the success, as he evidently has a very strong understanding of the community needs and the required approaches. I think he also spoke to this more eloquently than I can - my notes say something of the lines that it has to come from where the community is at, the people are at. That gets at something a little beyond the niche/entity congruence of structural coupling, but I don't know how to state it otherwise.
I also thought his comments about how the program - providing people with a wage - enables them to get back into our culture, which is a culture of consumption, were really telling. These people were indeed working - and to many people's benefit, through the environmental gains of their binning - but instead of being accorded respect, people were ashamed to look them in the eye or tried to make them go away. However, a person who is a garbage man for the municipality, or a septic trunk pumper, doesn't get treated with disrespect....yet how different are the trades they ply? Equally "dirty" in some respects, yet they are within are system, not outside it.
I have to admit that I often don't know how to handle homeless people. I am most relieved when I can interact with them by giving them some food, but this usually only works out if I am approached after I have gone grocery shopping. I take the approach he mentioned, often enough, of pretending I don't see them. Yet at the same time, I often think - how many steps away from this am I, really?...had I not had the head start of having the parents I did, not being plagued by any mental illness, and had I not made the good choices and interacted with the right people as I did in highschool, it could be me on the street. I had a set of happy circumstances to my favour - parents of middle income, school in a good neighbourhood, etc. But how much of where I am at now is luck, rather than anything else? Homeless people make me count my blessings, quite literally.

In reply to by cmcneil


Interesting point, Claire, about blessings. One of the thoughts that I had during Ken's talk was, "I wonder how many paycheques away from the street even people that we know are, maybe even people in our cohort". As a former single mom, I used to worry about that even though I had good support. Yet, I knew that if I needed it I would be able to count on my family although it would have been hard to ask. I can’t imagine not knowing that’s there.

The Tyee (2007) reported that, in Vancouver, roughly one in 17 residents are at risk of homelessness. According to the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness, more than 70% of Calgary’s homeless have mental health issues (we experienced major cuts to mental health funding in Alberta when our health care system was regionalized in the mid-90s, an example of what Chris talked about when there is a disconnect between scales of government and community and a lack of integration – the mentally ill basically fell through the cracks and it is still a problem over a decade later).

Our family was witness to this vulnerability several years ago when my daughter’s boyfriend (now husband) turned 18. On his 18th birthday, his father and step-mother told him that he needed to move out of the house right away since they could no longer accommodate him when their fifth child (blended family) was born that same day. No support (emotional or financial), nothing – just go! I’m not sure what would have happened if we hadn’t been there to provide a safety net (and you wonder why people call me Mama).

It’s also been interesting how often people have reacted in a manner which suggests that we shouldn’t have helped him in the way we did – that it wasn’t our job and why can’t young people just learn to look after themselves. Well, it’s kind of hard when your father is a former biker, your mother has been in jail and you’ve more or less raised yourself. Amazingly, while this young man is still trying to find his way at 23 (and who of us had that figured out at that age), he has a solid value system.

My point is there seems to be such a lack of compassion sometimes, something that Ken really showed us today. He doesn’t go to people’s negative space (he mentioned the yelling, swearing, etc.). Rather, he was able to share with us the reality of life in that sub-culture of society and be quite matter of fact about the reality of it yet show such depth of feeling about his sense of community.

For those of us who have been brought up with the blessings that Claire shared and with which I’ve been privileged as well, it’s almost outside of our frame of reference to imagine the lack of support. Yet, it’s interesting how insulated we can become from some of these impacts.

I know that we had some discussion in class where some thought that diversifying neighbourhoods is a good idea and some didn’t. I’m not sure where I stand on that and, to some extent, I think a more important thing is what we choose to see. Claire mentioned being uncomfortable being around homeless people and I think that is different from them being invisible. I’ve been out with colleagues walking to lunch and they just walk right by people on the street, oblivious. I think, for some, it hurts and so they just shut off. Others have strong judgments for whatever reason. I’m simply curious about people’s lives. As I alluded to above, any of them could have been me.

I remember one time on a very cold day coming upon a very young couple on the street huddled up under a blanket. I squatted down and talked to them about their situation and expressed curiosity that they weren’t taking advantage of some of the services that were available to them. They told me (and I made reference to this problem in another post) that there wasn’t anywhere that they could go where they could stay together as a couple because men and women are segregated in shelters.

In pondering all of this right now, it makes me wonder to what extent shelters enter into dialogue with clients when it comes to designing their programs and services and to what extent they harness the social capital that's potentially available. This was precisely one of Ken’s points about how the government or social agencies have an agenda and they don’t necessarily align with what’s truly needed. Back to Pille’s point that Claire mentioned. Perhaps they’re set on the result and they don’t necessarily have the process that will best serve the users.

Calgary Committee to End Homelessness (2008). Committee unveils Calgary’s 10 year plan to end homelessness. Retrieved March 3, 2008 from
The Tyee (2007). Vancouver’s SROs: “Zero Vacancy”. Retrieved March 3, 2008 from

In reply to by Laura de Jonge


Both of you (Laura and Claire) speak about how you wonder how close from the streets some people actually are. In North Vancouver the working middle class are the new group for homeless. With and average of 70% of household income needed to pay for housing in North Vancouver its a wonder more people are not homeless. Its amazing to think that someone who puts on a suit to go to work everyday can't afford a home. There use to be a great report about North Vancouver's middle-class homeless online but I can't find it. Instead check out this link for other resources.

I've been lucky to hear many stories like Ken's, but these other individuals were victims of runaway hosuing costs not substance abuse or personal hardships. Furthermore, these people are not unskilled or lack the prevailing culture like many in the east side; these individuals are trained professionals with post-secondary educations. My fiancee and I live somewhat scared that if we were invicted we would have no where to go but to live with my parents since there is no rental (new or old) units available in North Vancouver. Sure we could move, but why should 2 working professionals not be able to live in their hometown.

I too found it interesting how the opportunities that put Ken on his path all seemed to just happened. GOes to show that the world works in mysterious ways.

I also found his response to Peter's question interesting ( with regards to socially responsible investments). At first I was taken aback, but then I got to thinking....United We Can is the most socially responsible investment anyone could ever make! Some shares in a socially responsible trust or company will mean nothing to people in the east end. Investing that money in good growth funds that generate profit for reinvestment into the community through United We Can is an excellent policy, while also being a place based solution (in context, one based on local beliefs and values).

I had the opposite reaction to Ken's response to Peter's question - I thought he had a very respectful way of pointing out that Peter's question was really a question from the world of privilege. Socially responsible investment is in some ways a means for the wealthy to divest some guilt (I am being a bit deliberately provocative) or try to mitigate the impacts of their wealth, and is really something that resides in the world of those who have, not those who have not.

One of the interesting threads through Ken's conversation with us today was how many times he talked about someone else just calling him up because they had heard about what he was doing and they offered to help. What fascinated me about this was that I think he must have a strong belief or faith in good things happening to him. Do you know people who are living really good lives yet complain that nothing good ever happens to them?

I was also impressed by his great humility, something that I think is a core characteristic of a good leader. He acknowledged that he sometimes behaves in ways that aren't entirely kind (I think he used the word cruel). Honestly, I don't think that we can ever truly realize our greatness and contribute in the highest and best way possible unless we can acknowledge our own shortcomings.

He was so genuine.

In reply to by Laura de Jonge


Okay, I think this is my last post for tonight especially since I need to spend some time prepping for our presentation tomorrow.

When I was training to be a personal development facilitator twenty years ago, one of the things that we had to experience was what it would be like to, as Pille would say, "live in conversation" in a way in which we hadn't previously for 24 hours.

Our assignment would depend on what we were working on personally in our lives. So, for example, someone who had an attitude of being afraid of homeless people or who didn't quite understand how one unlucky even can alter a life resulting in a dire situation would be tasked with living on the street for a day. This was eye opening for all of us.

My own assignment related to a belief that I had at that young age that people judged based on physical appearance. I went to a make up artist who made me look grossly repulsive. I then went out and lived that experience, making it as real as possible. I challenged myself to go to that place of love that Pille talks about and I was amazed at how loved back I was by so many strangers. Yes, there were people that were uncomfortable and looked away but, for the most part, people were so warm. It completely challenged me to let go of an idea which I had been "conserving".

My point is not that we all need to go out and do something like this. Rather, that at the heart of it we're all looking for what Ken shared with us so eloquently today - a sense of community in whatever form that takes for each of us as individuals. Pretty simple.

He's probably the last guy on the planet to think that he's extra-ordinary but it will be interesting at our MEM ten year reunion to hear how our time with him today may have altered our lives. He's truly a great NODE.


A few final thoughts before I pack it in:
I thought there were a lot of interesting points regarding governance issues raised through Ken's comments. All the rules about how many and what kind of cans and bottles you can take back, etc., seemed to suggest a governance structure that was a little unwieldy. Power dynamics, Ken it possible to avoid them?

Secondly, I thought that Ken beautifully expressed something that I never recognized about the homeless - that it is a community. Ottawa doesn't have a district of homeless and disadvantaged people like Vancouver does, but there is certainly an area downtown, near the soup kitchen and shelters, where there is a higher density. I always thought of them as individuals with their own stories, but never really as a collective. Yet Ken described the great gift of United We Can - even in its early, informal stages of one-day events - as the opportunity to bring people together and make connections. I don't know why soup kitchens or shelters might not have functioned to do that, yet the United We Can process did - it raises some interesting questions again about structures set up by outsiders and whether they can function to fulfill their aims.

Part of what Ken said that United We Can events gave people was that they were "part of something". Shouldn't we all have the opportunity to be part of something? To have meaning? Somehow this captures the sadness of homelessness best for me - that these people are not part of something. Someone spoke in class that the people who survived concentration camps all had some kernel of something meaningful that they could hold onto in the face of all the horror. Yet, from Ken I would suggest that we can't create these kernels of meanings for the homeless, as outsiders, but maybe have to help them somehow do it themselves. Ryan, perhaps this is what your First Nations work has managed to do. We describe it in terms of capacity building and bringing income sources into communities, but is it fundamentally something more basic that community development does?

Finally, in terms of the legacy that Ken will leave me with, I think Laura is right - he is one of the take-homes from the MEM program that I will be talking about for years to come. I am appalled at how close-minded we become, as middle-class or privileged people. At a recent gathering of Chelsea mothers, I was disgusted to hear one woman complaining that a senior's residence might be built in a field adjacent to her home. I guess she would prefer to have the field than the seniors. How do we knock ourselves at of our selfishness and learn to "love" in the Pille sense - accepting others'legitimacy, holding a place for others in our lives, and in so doing build and become communities again? I think this is what sustainability is all about - it seems as though if you start with this sort of intention, the rest should follow! I don't know if any of you have read Alistair McLeod's book No Great Mischief - there is a line in it somewhere - "all of us are better when we are loved". I think what I have learned over the course of the residency is an addendum - "all of us are better when we love".....
Take care all,

About three years ago while taking my Uncle home to Richmond, we saw a homeless person with a shopping cart full of his wares. I was slightly taken aback by my Uncle's reaction as he was touced by seeing this gentleman and he begun questioning what could be going on in the man's life that he'd be homeless. Living in Coquitlam at the time (and working in New Westminster) this was not a new sight to me but it was the first time I had seen a homeless person in Richmond. My frequent encounter with the homeless at work and where I lived made me take seeing them and their plight for granted. My Uncle's questions of concern and thoughts of possible reasons for a person to become homeless brought me back to relity to examine the why and not take people for granted. I realised that instead of taking people and their plight for granted, I should see myself as part of the community. As ken indicated, the people in the comunity need each other and they motivate eachother.


I was reading Pille's papers on emotion and something in it reminded me to post my earlier thougt and the following... In the transcribed presentation of The Matter of Emotions, Candace Pert says "...the biggest challenge to remaining human is the isolation that we are facing more and more" (2001). I'm sure there are many reasons why poeple become homeless, from being released at the age of majority after foster care, to drug and alcohol abuses, but I think our society can also be blamed for ostracizing individuals when they need our help the most.

I think the operating principle of UWC in hiring people who would not normally be hired by others is noble and links to the requirement of inclusivity in governance. A small gesture of that type can go a long way in giving people a sense of pride and ensuring cooperation among the workers which in turn feeds governance from the workshop up.

Nana Osei

Nana, your post prompted me to pull out one of my favourite books by the great Canadian, Jean Vanier called Becoming Human (1998). I spent a lot of time going through this book again for Pille’s pre-residency assignment. Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, an international network of communities for people with intellectual disabilities, another group of people that is often excluded and on the margins of society.

One of the chapters in the book is called “Belonging”. Vanier writes, “What is the need to belong? Is it only a way of dealing with personal insecurity, sharing in the sense of identity that a group provides? Or is this sense of belonging an important part of everyone’s journey to freedom? Is the sense of belonging akin to the earth itself, a nurturing medium that allows plants and trees to grow and share their flowers and fruits with all?” As I wrote this, I thought that this might come in useful for my part of our presentation on Thursday.

This lovely little book which is rich in spirituality was given to me ten years ago as a gift by my company’s Chief Legal Officer, not someone you would typically expect such sentiments from especially given in the workplace. He gave it to me on the occasion of me having spoken to our CEO and executive team about my secondment to United Way. It was the first time the company had done a secondment and I had been asked to speak to them about the program and whether they should continue doing it. Some of you have heard me talk about using the “L” word in the board room and that was the time that I did. Ten years later, the program endures at my company.

That book is one of the most valued and treasured gifts that I have ever received and I’ve referred to it often. The gentleman who gave it to me retired last June and I had the privilege of honouring him publicly. He was surprised when I pulled the book out, described how important it had been to me over the years and then read what I thought really embodied his leadership:

“. . . to become fully human is not a question of following what everyone else does, of conforming to social norms, or of being admired and honoured in a hierarchical society; it is to become free to be more fully oneself, to follow one’s deepest conscience, to seek truth, and to love people as they are. The point of inclusion is the belief that each of us is important, unique, sacred, in fact. We can only relate to others and begin to include them in our lives and society if we have this primary belief.”

Wouldn’t that describe Ken as well? Again, some of this came up for me when I did Pille’s assignment but having the benefit of the last two and a half weeks just takes all of this so much deeper. Nana wrote about her uncle asking what could be going on in someone’s life for them to be homeless. This is a question that I ask frequently about people in many circumstances, “What must be going on in that person’s life for them to be arrogant or fearful or depressed or consumeristic or fill in the blank?” Can I see beyond their behaviour to that important, unique and sacred being that they are? Of course, this is easier with some than others and it can be fleeting but I have yet to find someone with whom I can’t do this. Here’s a final message from Vanier’s book:

“We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common, broken humanity. We all have wounded, vulnerable hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood; we all need help.”

I commend the book to you.



I expect many of us with a penchant for environmental sustainability have a small 'l' philosophy to life. Whether you share this philosophy or not, let me ask you:

Should we question the value of a binner?
Should we question the value of an addict?
What do they contribute to social capital?
What do we contribute to social capital?

Be honest: How would you feel if there was a proposal to open a hostel for homeless people a couple of doors down from where you live?


I don't know what the answer is to the East Side. That's okay: nobody has "the answer."

I do believe in community/social responsibility. That doesn't mean that my social commitment is unconditional. It comes with boundaries, responsibilities and accountabilities.

From this course, this discussion forum, and particularly Ken's discussions, I have a greater appreciation that our greatest contribution can to be to empower people -- when they are ready to be empowered, in this own manner and pace. For the East Side, that's social capital.

Okay, so maybe I'm making up a word. I'm not sure. Ryan, your challenge to be honest is provoking. I have another one of my little books with me that I referenced in my thesis. This is how it starts, "One of the salient features of our culture is that there is so much bulls**t. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share."

Today, Anita Burke talked about transparency and showed us a continuum with "top secret" at one end and "rigorous honesty" at the other. Telling my truth is something I strive for. I think I've come a long way over the past two decades. I don't directly lie but there are times when I may not be as forthcoming as I could be. As I aim to do this though it becomes increasingly difficult to not use my "voice", something that took me a long time to claim. I remember the precise moment when I lost my voice when I was six years old and I don't mind talking about it although it seems irrelevant at the moment. So, as we chatted about in our team deliberations after class, voice, legitimacy and story are all important parts of good governance - again, Ken, modelled all of this to us.

So, should we question the value of a binner or an addict? I don't think so. I don't think any life can be quantified. Would I want a homeless shelter in my neighbourhood? Likely not but that also makes me think about the home for unwed mothers that I stayed in as a teenager. It was almost thirty years ago but my "emotional" memory tells me that it "felt" like I was in a community that felt home like. It would be interesting to go back there now that I live a different lifestyle and see what kind of neighbourhood it actually is. (Ryan, we should talk about this since you mentioned you were aware of this agency.) And, yes, we had a sense of community or belonging as described in my earlier message.


PS you may have to read the following several times as it is a bit of verbal yoga:)

The interaction of these ideas is the cornerstones of this residency for me. How they interact in there own configuration of consensual coordinations (don't be afraid...its just language). We remove just one of these components the whole thing falls apart. I think each is a part of this set of interactions that must occur in order for each of them to be optimized and realize the paradigm shift we need to remain relevant in the centuries to come. ( I know I'm going very high level and abstract with this but we are talking about a system of relationships which worked perfectly during the birth of United we can.) Sustainability is a cog in the wheel...part of our process as a culture to realize a means of surviving. We use sustainability in community development and busines to guide progress (the good kind); really sustainability boils down to being another grouping of consensual coordinations. Once we understand them and have accpeted sustainability as a legitimate view of the future, like so many other distinctions that inform our language and culture, sustainability will be absorbed and regarded as the way of the world (much like a hunter-gatherer society was the norm)and we will forget the consensual coordinations that got us there (the endless number fo life-cycle analyses and GRI reports)

To reach the point where making sustainable decisions is second nature will rely heavliy on the other terms I listed at the top. Only by communicating the stories of place and space (values and beliefs) through our networks and into governance and having them accepted as legitimate can we achieve sustainability. United We Can worked because it created this lineage. We must never forget the power of local action and community engagement to achieve a better tommorow.

Sustainability through communication and integrity...that in a nut shell is my key takeaway from the past 2yrs...and I will make sure to live this learning


As you know, each day I've been bringing in the Globe and Mail that was being delivered to me and I wasn't reading. I usually walk in and give it to Rosanno first and never get back to it.

Today was different. The provincial election was held in Alberta yesterday. Chris, who lives in Alberta as well, was sitting behind me and he talked about how disappointing the landslide victory of the conservatives was (all of the other parties lost seats). I was shocked when I checked online last night. As I was talking to Chris and Stephanie (also from Alberta), I found myself tearing up, profoundly sad not because of the politics of it (which are irrelevant to my point here).

Rather, I was sad by the increased lack of diversity in our government, having a much greater realization from the work with this team of what good governance is. We're moving in the wrong direction.

Land Use Planning

Land Use Planning

Case studies in sustainable land use planning.


Long-Term Planning Initiatives

Long-Term Planning Initiatives

Chris Ling
Published on January 4, 2007

Case Summary

Boom and bust cycles of economic growth, as evidenced recently in Alberta and Fort McMurray demonstrate the need to anticipate future development needs and to respond with the supporting critical infrastructure.  Other communities face other infrastructure challenges, limits to growth, such as Okotoks. A further challenge is to support this growth, but not at the cost of a community’s current and future ecological capital. The most critical tool a community can have in place to proactively implement sustainable development is integrated community sustainability plans, and in particular, long-term planning.

This case study examines three cities with different approaches to long-term planning. Edmonton has a fiscal approach, considering the costs associated with the replacement of current infrastructure and setting out strategies to manage the replacement over time – this raises the question of how to incorporate a holistic systems approach to sustainable development in the context of a largely economic strategy. Ottawa and Calgary both start from a vision document for the city involving community participation and long-term planning horizons using the principles of Smart Growth as a framework for development  (100 years in the case of Calgary and initially 20 years in the case of Ottawa although this is expected to be expanded to a considerably longer period). Calgary additionally uses Triple Bottom Line accounting (Elkington, 1997) to link short-term policies to the overall sustainable development vision.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Sustainable development is a process of reconciliation of three imperatives—the ecological, the social, and the economic (Dale 2001; Robinson and Tinker 1997). In communities where an ad hoc reactive planning process is the practice, this is hard to achieve as the long-term big picture is difficult to see if decision-makers are focused on individual land units and individual land uses. Consequently, decisions are often made that appear adequate in the short term, and may provide economic and social benefits in the short term, but seldom address long-term development, that is, community sustainability.

The advantages of a long-term planning horizon are that decision-makers within a municipality have a reference document against which decisions are made and against which progress can be measured. The long-term perspective of the planning policy enables planners and decisions-makers to advocate against short-term gains that any given development may offer, if it is likely to act against long-term sustainability, and similarly, anticipate longer-term development needs in an integrated framework.  Without these long-term perspectives set in a policy framework, the long term is in danger of being missed in the face of the short-term perspective. This reduces the ability of developers to argue in favour of such short-term development that may, in the short term, provide income, jobs, and development opportunities, but in the long term does not reconcile the three imperatives, putting undue strain on the viability of a community. The long-term holistic approach to planning is better able to provide real and sustainable benefits (Clayton and Radcliffe, 1996).

The approaches to long-term planning described are contrasted with an example of where a lack of long-term planning exists and where past decisions with a short-term focus created problems. The example used in this case is Fort McMurray (The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo). The short-term horizon has led to a shortage of housing, a lack of personnel for essential services and an infrastructure that services neither the business community, the citizens of the town, or ultimately the landscape adequately.

Other comparisons are made in this case. There is an examination of largely economic considerations of infrastructure replacement and management in Edmonton with its goal to ensure that:

“infrastructure assets continue to meet the needs of Edmontonians in the future” Edmonton City Council (2006)

This is considered a weak approach to sustainable development as opposed to the more holistic and systematic approaches taken in Ottawa and Calgary. Ottawa’s approach is based on two documents. The city's visioning process created Ottawa 20/20, supported by a detailed and comprehensive Infrastructure Master Plan. The vision document began with a Smart Growth Summit in 2001 and then used the results of the summit to inform a city-wide citizen’s consultation exercise to produce the strategy. This is supported by detailed and comprehensive Infrastructure, Greenspace and Transportation Master Plans as well as plans for all aspects of service delivery in the city, allowing all imperatives of sustainable development to be considered in an integrated framwork. The Infrastructure Master Plan, for example:

“provides strategic directions and an integrated infrastructure planning and policy framework which will direct the City’s continuing efforts to maximize value, including the role infrastructure plays in protecting the natural environment. The Infrastructure Master Plan plays an action role by presenting those priority short and medium term infrastructure opportunities considered to effect the greatest increases in the value of the services provided.” (City of Ottawa, 2003).

Building on Ottawa 20/20 and the city's conference hosted in 2004 (Choosing our Future:  Planning for Long-term Community Sustainability), the City of Ottawa is now in the initial phases of beginning a new project, Beyond 2020: Building a Resilient Sustainable Community.  This project blends long-term emergency planning initiatives with the preparation of an integrated sustainability plan to address long-term planning, and will incorporate timeframes ranging from 40 to 100 years.  

Calgary is as well extending the boundaries of long-term planning. The basis of long-term planning here is the 100-year horizon of Imagine Calgary. The city's vision document, developed through consultation with over 3,000 Calgarians, is a statement of what the residents of the city would like the city to be like in a mutigenerational timeframe. This document is supported by a series of 30-year target documents towards which it is practical for city operations to work. Budgets and operational activities are tied to a three-year business cycle using the Triple Bottom Line accounting method for budgeting and monitoring. This again provides a holistic framework for the integration of the imperatives of sustainable development.

The questions raised then, are concerned with focus – from Edmonton’s fiscal approach to Calgary and Ottawa’s holistic, inclusive approach. Another is an issue of scale: what is the more effective timeframe for a visioning document – the reactive nature of development in Wood Buffalo to the 100-year multigenerational visioning exercise in Calgary? Another is the question of methods – what are the best tools and operational mechanisms for delivering sustainable development in the long term?

Critical Success Factors

  1. Competent staff – change in management process that is required if long-term visions are adopted, this means municipal staff need to be well trained and supported in the acceptance and adoption of new integrated approaches.

  2. Top down support for grassroots initiatives – while many initiatives are initially developed at the grassroots either within or outside of the municipal organization, they will likely fail if support from a council member is not achieved. The senior individual is then best placed to drive the initiative into the operation of city and ensure it achieves lasting presence within the operational facets of the municipality.

  3. The recognition that energy costs are going to become hugely expensive – this will impose greater strain on unsustainable infrastructure.

  4. Strong links between vision and policy and service delivery.

  5. The sharing and development of best practice across, between and within municipalities.

Community Contact Information

Konrad Siu
Director, Office of Infrastructure and Funding
Strategy at Edmonton.
Ph: (780) 496-5579,

Steve Wyton
Manager, Corp. Asset Management
Infrastructure Services (#224)
The City of Calgary
PO Box 2100, Stn M., Calgary, AB, T2P 2M5
Ph: (403) 268-5746
Fax: (403) 268-2066

What Worked?

  1. A significant degree of community participation in the development process. These plans are more robust as they have community support from the start, and as a result it is politically harder for the municipality to adopt contradictory policies and ignore the plan process. Similarly, public support for the tenets of the plan will be greater and as a result programs that are included in the plan have a smoother delivery.

  2. Institutional linkages from decision-makers to grassroots and from policy through programs to projects.

  3. The use of sustainable development tools to provide a guidance framework for infrastructure management and development.

  4. The use of Smart Growth and community planning to guide the visioning process.

  5. Two speed approaches with vision documents linked to planning documents containing practical action steps.

  6. Linking the concept of sustainable development to better provision of services as a communication tool, both for citizens and to service delivery staff.

  7. Leading by example – for instance the adoption of LEED standards for municipal buildings in Calgary, and the creation of pilot and demonstration policies by Ottawa.

What Didn’t Work?

  1. The impact of surrounding municipalities and provincial strategies on the demand and pressure on infrastructure in major urban centres makes adhering to a long-term vision potentially difficult.

  2. Reactive approaches to infrastructure provision make thinking in the long-term impossible and create a provision of infrastructure based on short-term pressures, crisis management, and ultimately create barriers to sustainable development.

  3. Trying to implement new ways of operating, such as Triple Bottom Line, or budget competition and working to long-term strategic documents is not possible without adequate training for staff, and adequate operational linkages between policy and practice.

  4. The language and jargon of sustainable development creates a barrier of understanding for the operational application of principles and policies.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

In 2005, the capital budget of the City of Ottawa was $612,298 million; the value of residential starts was $1,146,564 million and non-residential starts $553,436 million. If these levels of activity were to continue for fifty years, the capital assets in the City of Ottawa would approach $112 billion. Assuming that half, or even one third, of these capital assets are redeveloped or replaced to create sustainable infrastructure, the price tag of making an Ottawa-sized community sustainable will be in the neighbourhood of $30 to $50 billion in 2005 prices.  An effort of this size and its financing can only be done within the confines of a well-thought out long-term plan.  It is simply too big for an ad hoc approach.

The City of Edmonton estimates that the lifecycle of its infrastructure is 50-years: Is this an appropriate time frame for long-term planning? It certainly allows for planning strategies to consider the whole life-cycle of current infrastructure.

Table 1 breaks down the asset value of infrastructure in Edmonton, the total of which is $20.2 billion.

Table 1: Value of Edmonton’s infrastructure

Asset Class


Replacement Value


Sanitary, storm and combined sewers (includes manholes and catchments), and wastewater treatment.

$ 8.41 billion

Road right-of-way

Roads (arterial, collectors, local; curbs and gutters), sidewalks, bridges, gates, streetscapes.

$ 6.37 billion


Horticulture, trails, hard surfaces, playgrounds, sports fields, parks and associated infrastructure (climbing gyms, etc.).

$ 1.48 billion

Transit facilities and equipment

LRT system facilities and equipment, transit centres, bus equipment and systems, trolley system.

$ 1.02 billion


Civic offices, public works yards, emergency response and police buildings, and libraries.

$ 0.67 billion


Transit buses, city vehicles and automotive shop equipment.

$ 0.61 billion

Traffic control and lighting

Traffic signals, signs, street lighting and parking meters.

$ 0.54 billion

Affordable housing

Non-profit housing, community housing, and seniors’ lodges.

$ 0.22 billion

Recreation facilities

Arenas, leisure centres, swimming pools, Fort Edmonton, Valley Zoo, etc.

$ 0.53 billion

Waste management facilities

Administrative facilities, transfer stations, processing facilities, landfill operations.

$ 0.19 billion

Technology equipment

Servers, networks, all communication equipment.

$ 0.11 billion


Emergency response and police equipment, library contents.

$ 0.09 billion


Total replacement value

$ 20.2 billion

Source: Edmonton City Council’s Infrastructure Strategy, 2006

The annual revenue available to the city for infrastructure rehabilitation or replacement is $260 million – meaning the city would be able to replace 1% of infrastructure each year; this suggests there is a shortfall of 44% of the required funds. These funds either have to come from other sources, or a significant reduction in infrastructure provision is inevitable.

In Calgary, the city manages over $28 billion of infrastructure (City of Calgary, 2005). Maintenance and growth of this infrastructure is projected to cost $10 billion over the next 10 years, although some savings are also projected over this figure by moving towards infill development rather than the construction of new infrastructure to greenfield development. In common with Ottawa and Edmonton, this is not a figure the city can adequately cover without long-term planning and the identification of savings.

The number of cities in Canada for which this is going to become a major consideration is likely to increase significantly as Canadian Municipalities begin to adopt Tangible Capital Assets accounting (see for example the Public Sector Accounting Board’s website), which will provide an increased requirement of municipalities to consider their capital infrastructure and the costs that it imposes upon them. This means that long-term management of infrastructure will increase in importance and that best practices for the development and replacement of infrastructure in a sustainable way needs to be disseminated now. There are two main sources of support for city infrastructure managers in the development of long-term plans – the principles of Smart Growth are widely adopted across Canada, and a substantial source of best practices information is available from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Government of Canada’s InfraGuide website.

This is without considering sustainable development – but a simple replacement of existing infrastructure. The adoption of Smart Growth or other holistic approaches to infrastructure provision and management will alter the degree to which the economic bottom line will drive management decisions. The goal will be that the development of sustainable infrastructure will reduce maintenance costs and, through the use of long-term plans based on sustainable development, these future savings can be costed to offset upfront investment.

Research Analysis

Long-term planning allows municipalities to assess current assets, future needs and allow for provisions to be made to set aside resources to move a city in a more sustainable direction over time. Large-scale change is only achievable over time, and planning for this means it is more likely unsustainable growth will be prevented, and change can be initiated. A long-term plan does not automatically lead to sustainable development, and the vision and strategy needs to have some guiding principles – most often in Canada these are Smart Growth strategies and the participation of community groups and residents. The vision also needs to be strongly underpinned with short-term objectives, targets and deliverables that are directed by the strategy and monitored and evaluated accordingly.

Functional city regions make it easier to deliver systemic and holistic sustainable development. While municipalities within regions can clearly work together, where city regions are present the uncertainty and pressure felt, particularly by downtown cores, is reduced and long-term planning for sustainable development stands a greater chance of success. This broader scale focus is also important for smaller communities impacted by fast changes for which they lack the resources to deal with – support for long-term planning for sustainable development must be present at the provincial and federal levels of government – this means both financial resources, and the dissemination of best practices and training.

Training is vital. It helps service delivery personnel get to grips with the often jargon rich and ‘fuzzy’ planning and strategy documents. It is crucial that service delivery personnel, not to mention the wider community, understand the linkages between these long-term strategies and the day-to-day, year-on-year management of infrastructure. Properly resourced and trained operations staff working in the short term is a vital part of delivering long-term strategy, and if adequate links are not made then a strategy will fail. This is also vital for the implementation of interdisciplinary collaboration within the municipality, across departments and with community partners.

Detailed Background Case Description


Calgary is the 1st ISO 14001 certificated municipality in North America, and recently won an award for being the best in environmental achievement of any municipality in the world. There is a policy of excellence in engineering design: new municipal buildings must be of LEED silver standard, and they are trying to for mandatory gold or even platinum design working with the Canadian Green Building Council. This legacy has led to a culture of due diligence that has put pressure on the city to maintain their position as world leaders.

Imagine Calgary: A consultation process involving 3,000-4,000 citizens produced a 100-year vision of Calgary as a community. This was then supported by a 30- to 40-year program of targets for each infrastructure sector. The aim is to align legislative policy, the sustainability agenda, and on-the-ground delivery. The delivery process has been designed to remove the budgetary decisions and maintain the long-term perspective severed from the political cycle. This culturally embeds the strategy and vision, making a success delivery more likely. The delivery process is based on competitive tendering of operational units for a share of city budget. The tendering competition is based on the degree to which operations for the next three-year business cycle move infrastructure towards the 30-year targets, and delivers maximum benefits to the triple bottom line of the city. In this way, more expensive short-term investments can be offset against gains in social or ecological capital in the future.

Each infrastructure sector has a 10-year asset management plan and a 3-year business plan. Budgets are not fixed – and this is a recent change brought in to create a mechanism to put sustainability principles into business units in the corporation, unit budget holders compete using value gained across the Triple Bottom Line in the long term.

The process involves a number of assessment stages:

  1. What are the long range life cycle requirements?
  2. What is the social impact?
  3. What is the cost if the investment is not made?

The infrastructure coordinating committee makes the final decision – this is then moved to council and city management for approval. This whole process contains elements of performance measurement, transparency and accountability of the managers to the infrastructure committee, the council and the citizenry.

The process is further strengthened by having a robust process for disseminating ideas and initiatives through the municipal structure. Typically, initiatives are developed at the grassroots, either within or outside of the organization. Ideas are then communicated up the hierarchy – council and senior management support is vital to the success of initiatives as it is they who have the ability to champion proposals and ensure the whole organization is informed and incorporates the ideas. The residents of the city are crucial to the process and there are formal partnerships with the city-wide community associations, which receive operational funding from the city.


Ottawa 20/20 is the City of Ottawa’s long-term, 20-year growth strategy, the first step to achieving a multigenerational vision and strategy akin to that adopted by Calgary. It uses the tenets of Smart Growth as the basis for policy development and involves significant community consultation. This led to a series of guiding principles for the city's long-term development:

  1. A caring and inclusive city
  2. A creative city rich in heritage and unique in identity
  3. A green and environmentally-sensitive city
  4. A city of distinct and liveable communities
  5. An innovative city where prosperity is shared among all
  6. A responsible and responsive city
  7. A healthy and active city

This vision is supported by a comprehensive official plan, and component infrastructure, greenspace and transportation plans, and a variety of other service delivery master plans for the same period. These plans were developed after the visioning exercise to create solid strategies and short- and medium-term action plans to achieve the vision.

Community participation is important in the plan as the focus on sustainable development requires changes in service provision and community behaviour if it is to be successfully implemented. Community participation in this process enables these changes to be discussed by and with the community and acceptable strategies to manage the change proposed and developed.

Change in behaviour is not restricted to the community; operational changes and the municipal culture also have to change to ensure that the necessary policy integration and collaborative requirements of sustainable development in the long term are implemented. Sustainable development in the long term and across the scale of the city region requires interdisciplinary, collaborative approaches to deliver, within the municipality and between the municipality and community partners. One way in which this change must be manifested is that the city must lead by example and demonstrate possibilities and concepts for others to follow. Of course, all this is set against the need to move the city in the right direction through a process of monitoring and evaluation of short-term projects in the context of their contributions to the long-term goals.

The disadvantage of long-term planning, however, is that strategies are harder to deliver and to break down into short- and medium-term projects, easy to deliver. Longer time horizons are better for sustainable development, but the management process also needs detailed short-term actions. Forman’s paradox of management applies as well to time scales as it does to spatial scales when it comes to the delivery of sustainable development in a city region.

“We are left with the paradox of management. One can more likely cause an effect at a fine [short time] scale, whereas success is more likely to be achieved at a broad [long time] scale.” Forman (1995)


Edmonton’s long-term strategy for infrastructure provides a detailed breakdown of existing assets, their project lifespan, and replacement cost. This approach to sustainable infrastructure is top-down, concerned with asset management. Sustainable development is a policy goal, but in the context of infrastructure in Edmonton seems to be largely concerned with long-term funding. What community involvement is incorporated is largely one-way with the city communicating and informing citizens, rather than with citizens being actively engaged with the city authorities in the development of the plans as in Ottawa and Calgary.

Edmonton’s strategy is also very concerned with the impact of 100,000s of commuters coming in from surrounding municipalities, putting pressure on Edmonton’s infrastructure without Edmonton having much control over the future development of these infrastructures. This is in contrast to the situation found in Ottawa and Calgary where amalgamation of the surrounding municipalities into a functional city region seems to have created a critical mass to address infrastructure concerns on a systematic basis.

The primary goals of Edmonton's strategy are:

  1. Evaluate and report the state of infrastructure needs.
  2. Implement sustainable infrastructure asset management practices.
  3. Ensure adequate fiscal tools and resources to fund infrastructure assets.

Although the three imperatives of sustainable development are nominally part of the infrastructure plan, these three main goals suggest the focus is really on the continued management and support of existing infrastructure proposals.

Clearly, the infrastructure strategy does not work in isolation, and is supported by a 10-year Municipal Development Plan. In addition, the infrastructure strategy has a continuous biennial review process attached to it, identifying needs, assets and condition of the infrastructure as it stands. This process is the adaptive component of the strategy and allows for change to the policy in the future based on adequate delivery of infrastructure services.

The Municipal Development Plan links with the infrastructure strategy primarily by addressing the expected rapid growth of the city over 10 years and the demands this will place on that infrastructure. The strategy aims to reduce the impact on infrastructure development in the medium term by encouraging infill development and also provides the necessary intra-municipal linkages between service delivery areas, and inter-municipal linkages providing the opportunity to create more city-region scale development decisions. Sustainable development, however, barely features in the plan. The exception is the section of the plan referring to the delivery of sustainable infrastructure, but how can the infrastructure be sustainable if the plan which it serving is not?

Fort McMurray

There has been much journalistic reporting in recent times, based on concerns in both the public and private sector, to the effect that Fort McMurray in the Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality is expanding in an unsustainable way as a result of the growth of the oil sand industry. Despite rapid growth and development in the region, the provision of infrastructure has been left to the municipal region and to the private sector wishing to expand operations in the region.

The Premier of Alberta is quoted as stating that:

government intervention is not an option. The market must prevail. If we tamper with the marketplace, it's hard to undo what's been put in place by legislation or policy.” (Premier Ralph Klein quoted in the Province, Vancouver, BC Aug 29 2006).

This is despite both the private sector and the public sector recognizing that more investment is required to support the planning process.

Industry needs to play a bigger role in addressing concerns that infrastructure in northern Alberta lags far behind the pace of oilsands development.” (Charlie Fischer CEO of Nexen Inc, quoted in Peace River Block Daily News, July 14 2006)

I have to come up with $814-million I need over five years for infrastructure. I can tell you it's going to escalate. I can tell you I can collect a certain amount in taxes, but there is definitely a gap that I can't cover. I can't do it on my own.” (Mayor Melissa Blake quoted in National Post Aug 16, 2006)

It is likely fair to say this problem has arisen from the sheer pace of economic development, but the lack of adequate forward planning by all levels of government has created the infrastructure problem. Such problems are more likely to create infrastructure that is not sustainable in the long term as it has been created under pressure, without adequate time to plan, and consequently decisions are likely to have a short term frame of reference.

Strategic Questions

  1. What is the best scale to enforce strategic planning decisions? Currently the power rests with municipalities yet the system in which they are operating is frequently larger than that. In Edmonton the surrounding municipalities have a significant impact on the city services.

  2. Is the scale of the city authority the best for carrying out this scale of policy? In Ottawa and Calgary, municipalities have amalgamated creating functional city regions allowing a more systematic approach to planning. Does amalgamation make sustainable development more possible?

  3. The scale is also important over time. What is the best time horizon for different levels of detail and strategy? What is the best balance between detail, flexibility and the reality of delivery?

  4. Similarly, the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo is struggling to provide infrastructure in the short term for fast economic growth. Would a long-term strategy have foreseen this fast growth or been able to adequately provide for it. The province is unwilling to support the municipality. What is the best response for the provision of sustainable infrastructure in areas which are affected by external forces? Are they better handled at a higher level of government?

Resources and References

Clayton, A.M.H. and Radcliffe, N.J. 1996. Sustainability: A Systems Approach. London: Earthscan.

Dale, A, 2001. At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Elkington, J, 1997. Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Chichester: Capstone Publishing.

Forman, R., 1995. Land Mosaics: the ecology of landscape and regions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Robinson, J. and Tinker J, 1997. 'Reconciling Ecological, Economic, and Social Imperatives: a New Conceptual Framework' in Surviving Globalism: Social and Environmental Dimensions, T. Schrecker (ed.). London: Macmillan p 71-94.


This particular case study was interesting to me as I happen to spend a lot of time in these cities as well as live in Edmonton and work in Fort McMurray my focus will be on those communities. The first thing that came to mind in this case study for me was how different the communities actually were, from an economic perspective to an environmental perspective which may make long term planning in all cases difficult, though very important.

Many people may not think of Edmonton as a green community, however many forget that it currently has North America’s largest urban green space (the River Valley) and a state of the art waste management facility long with a waste management centre of excellence (EWNCE). Their composting facility alone has allowed Edmonton to divert up to 60% of residential waste for the land fill and 20% of waste is recycled (including bio solids) (Edmonton 2013). Edmonton is currently struggling with aging infrastructure especially in regards to sewer lines. As well, Edmonton is struggling to keep up with increasing population and public transit (Light rail). Throughout this Edmonton has made some strides at being a greener city, more sustainable city with different forms of infrastructure.

Based on the reading it is questioned whether Edmonton is taking the right steps, using an economic based approach instead of a more holistic view, that is a hard question to answer. Edmonton is economically more focused on long-term funding as it does not have the same benefits that Calgary or Ottawa has, nor in the past did Edmonton plan its infrastructure in an efficient manner as Calgary. Calgary also has potentially funding from oil companies supporting the city, while Ottawa is the capital of Canada and has a reputation to withhold along with funding from the Federal government. IN the past Edmonton has not focused on the feasibility and utilization of the infrastructure, but more as a reactive situation to its ever growing city (similar to Fort McMurray now). At this point in time it is hard for the city to not focus on the economic side of things, as the planning in the past has made long term planning now much more difficult.

Fort McMurray does struggle. And still to this day, the provincial government will not step in. Accordingly funding is allocated based on the population census of the city. However in Fort McMurray many will crowd themselves into a house to lower costs of living, but for fear of being hit harder with taxes extra will lie about the number of people in the house. This lowers the census numbers for Fort McMurray. The population of Fort McMurray was 76,797 according to the R.M. of Wood Buffalo's 2010 municipal census, which included a shadow population of 1,539 residents. However, the 2011 Municipal Affairs Population List published by Alberta Municipal Affairs presents Fort McMurray's population as 64,773, which includes a non-permanent (shadow) population of 2,184 and its 2007 permanent population of 62,589 (Wikipedia 2013). This struggle alone makes it difficult for the city to create the sound infrastructure the booming town requires. I don’t believe that planning was a ever a factor since the population is continually increasing in the north, and the city is struggling as we speak to even provide housing. They are currently trying to get more land from the provincial government , which is a fight in itself as those lands had been allocated certain oil companies already.

Throughout writing the above I realized and the point I am trying to make is that that the cost of infrastructure is not just an economic or social decision. In order for a systematic approach to planning to work best, there needs to be input from all levels, starting with the higher government (Federal and Provincial) and then the municipal governments making sure to involve the citizens of the city. In the situation of Fort McMurray, they currently do not have the governmental support they need, and though many believe that the oil industry should be fitting the bill for the infrastructure, in the end the economic shortfalls are due to poor planning from above.

The Strategic Questions:
As I eluted to already, strategic decisions should not only fall on municipalities. Edmonton short falls with the surrounding areas is due to ‘greed’ from other municipalities as they too are struggling finically to meet their budgets and sustain their communities. For instance, the County of Leduc near Edmonton actually receives the taxes from the Edmonton International Airport as it is on their land. Edmonton in the past has tried to buy it, but if they did the County of Leduc would lose out on a lot of revenue they need for infrastructure. This to me shows that the Federal/Provincial governments are not making it a big enough priority of infrastructure. The National Post (2013) noted in April of this year that ‘The Parliamentary Budget Office shows the federal government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars less each year on infrastructure than it has planned, with only half of the $8.8 billion from the “Building Canada Fund” projected to be spent over a seven-year period. The Budget Office report shows the government isn’t meeting its planned annual infrastructure spending commitments due to ongoing expenditure delays.’ With our federal government also not planning for the long term how can we expect the municipalities to be able to cope?

If Edmonton amalgamated with surrounding communities, it would definitely help make a more sustainable developed area. Earlier I noted that the City of Edmonton composts 60% of its waste, therefore lowering the amount that goes to the landfill. However Edmonton shares its landfill with other surrounding communities, whom have chosen not to contribute to the Waste facility and therefore all of their waste goes directly to the land fill. Using that as an example I think if these communities started to work with Edmonton more, there would be the ability to create infrastructure that could serve the Capital region as well as provide a more sustainable area.

From reading these case studies I think having a long term goal and initiative is important, like Ottawa and Calgary, however as they noted management need short term actions. Optimistically medium-range planning would be the best possible outcome, however realistically each short-term government focuses on one or two things, which may not be the goals of the next government. Edmonton’s economic based initiative, has its merits, however without communication with other municipalities and governments, they will constantly just be trying to keep up with the Jones’s.

This topic was more difficult than I expected as infrastructure planning, is not just a planning exercise. There are so many components, and politics and economics sadly are the drivers. It is hard to think sustainability when in many cases to be a sustainable community you need the money to create sustainable development. If a community is already struggling from that front, how do you find more money to focus on the future and not on the right now. In the case of Fort McMurray I am not sure if long-term planning would have helped the infrastructure problem. It may have relieved it, however a boom of that magnitude is hard to predict. At this time I think all levels of government need to focus on some forward planning to create better long term budgets to assist communities with their growing infrastructure needs and aiding in progressing to more sustainable communities. We all have to do our part, from recycling etc, and in order for a city to aid in a more sustainable future, they need the support and financial backing of their governments and citizens.

Wikipedia. (2013). Fort McMurray. Retrieved on May 21, 2013.

City of Edmonton. (2013). Edmonton Waste Management Centre. Retrieved on May 21, 2013.…

Edmonton waste management centre of excellence

National Post. (2013). Canadian Politics. Retrieved on May 21, 2013.…

Triple Bottom Line in Practice: From Dockside to Dockside Green

Triple Bottom Line in Practice: From Dockside to Dockside Green

Chris Ling, Katherine Thomas and Jim Hamilton
Published March 22, 2007

Case Summary

This case study explores the planning process that has led to the development of the Dockside area of the City of Victoria. The adoption of a tendering process for potential developers based on Triple Bottom Line (TBL) methodology has meant that smaller, more progressive development companies were able to compete for the land. It has also meant that developers were given the flexibility to offset a lower bid for the land in favour of social and environmental benefits.

Two Canadian companies, VanCity and Windmill Development, partnered to design and develop a $600M bid for the development of the 15-acre Dockside Green site, which will incorporate remediation of contaminated land and the ultimate development of a green community. The completed site will consist of residential, office, commercial and light industry buildings, and public spaces that are greenhouse gas positive from an energy perspective and will be substantially built to LEED Platinum building standards.

The development is currently being built and, therefore, it is hard to say exactly what will be successful or not for the community that eventually lives there, but the foundation for a sustainable community has been put in place.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Sustainable development is a reconciliation of environmental, social, and economic imperatives (Dale 2001; Robinson and Tinker, 1997). Possibly nowhere is this more important than in the design and construction of the neighbourhoods and developments that make up our human habitat (Register, 2006). Many innovative developments are made more difficult through the planning and governance regimes of our municipalities that can work against progressive solutions to development problems (Moore, 1996).  It is vital, therefore, that ways of encouraging and supporting, rather than hindering innovative design and sustainable buildings are incorporated into municipal decisions.

This case study demonstrates one such decision-making technique that was used by the City of Victoria. The method used a decision matrix of criteria representative of local environmental, social, and economic concerns. This allowed potential developers to discount environmental and social benefits from the price they were prepared to pay for the land. In addition, the bid process set minimum sustainable development standards. These standards included financial capacity for the project, knowledge to deal with the contaminated land found on the site, a commitment to at least LEED silver standard development, and a commitment to partner with local community associations in the design of the site.

The criteria matrix follows Triple Bottom Line principles (Elkington, 1998): an accounting mechanism that allows environmental and social components of business activity to be considered alongside economic considerations. This was used as a basis for a list of criteria developed by the City of Victoria in collaboration with cross disciplinary and cross institutional partnerships including the local community and the developers interested in bidding on projects. What resulted was an opportunity for developers genuinely interested in sustainable development being able to compete on an even footing with more traditional single bottom line developers. What has resulted is development with as small a footprint as technically feasible, and an opportunity for the introduction of state-of-the-art environmental technology. With the Dockside Green site, what has happened is the full integration of all local partners, including the developer, community associations, and the City of Victoria, in the conceptualization, design and ultimate development of a significant public amenity on what was previously a derelict and dangerous site. Both the city and the developers have, or are on track to receive a profit from their investment.

The attempt in the development stage of the project is to create a sustainable community that, through integrated design, is cheaper and more energy efficient in which to live, offsetting any increased development costs through the use of green technology and system thinking. It could be said that the development is a sustainable community using green buildings – if it is considered that a green building is one that adopts energy technology without considering the economic and social component, a sustainable building being one that also incorporates social and economic components (Dale and McDonald, 2004). This development had the increased costs of the technology offset in the early stages by an acceptance of a lower purchase price for the land, which was compensated for in a holistic way by gains in social and environmental benefits.

Critical Success Factors

  1. Transparency – the Triple Bottom Line criteria were publicly published so that prospective developers and the community knew what was being asked for.

  2. Partnerships – At all stages of the project, interdisciplinary and open partnership were developed. Some of the key ones include:

    1. Interdepartmental partnerships within the City of Victoria
    2. the City of Victoria and British Columbia Building Corporation (no longer in existence)
    3. the City of Victoria and the Vic West Community Association
    4. VanCity and Windmill Development
    5. Dockside Green Ltd and the City of Victoria
    6. Dockside Green Ltd and the Vic West Community Association

      Every one of these partnerships was vital in the development of the project. Initial partnership with the city provided necessary real estate and inter-disciplinary expertise that enabled the creation of a valid and sustainable business plan for the site. Later partnerships with the Vic West Community Association enabled local needs and requirements to inform the design and build process. Finally, the partnerships during development helped ease some of the institutional difficulties inherent in the implementation of a novel and progressive development.
  1. Windmill Development as a company had the necessary flexibility of operation and sustainable development knowledge to take the Triple Bottom Line bidding mechanism and make the most of the opportunities presented. Joe Van Belleghem's leadership throughout the process meant the developers were more innovative than the city required, leading to a more sustainable development than the minimum asked for.

Community Contact Information

Joe Van Belleghem
101-1117 Wharf Street
Victoria, BC V8W 1T7

Detlef Beck
Director, Community Enterprises
Vancity Enterprises + Dockside Green
3075 Douglas Street, Victoria, BC, V8T 4N3
T 250.519.4249

Kim Fowler (Formerly of City of Victoria)
Director of Development Services
City of Port Coquitlam

What Worked?

  1. The TBL bidding mechanism enabled added value development without compromise for financial gain.

  2. Involvement of community associations and other groups allowed the concerns of the community to be fully incorporated into the development process.

  3. Incorporating a full range of environmental, social, and economic concerns into the development and the master plan.

What Didn’t Work?

  1. Subsequent conditions added to the bid process have frustrated development. For example, the initial proposal from the city was that the social component of the Triple Bottom Line approach would be met by public amenity open space and general neighbourhood and social space improvements in the area; this was in agreement with the Vic West Community Association. Due to political concerns raised on city council, a social housing component was added to the development bid. This was not integrated in a way that made it fully workable, and has proven to be one of the biggest challenges to the development.

  2. There has been a lack of understanding in the city of the complexity involved in creating a novel development. On occasion, this has led to frustrations on the part of the developers with the amount of time taken for city approvals involving novel techniques and technology.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

The Dockside site was initially sold to the city by the province for $1 due to the environmental liabilities on the site. The city invested a significant amount into site remediation prior to development, and as a minimum, had a requirement to recoup these investments and did not want to take any loss on the transaction.

The city's break-even point on the sale was slightly less than $6 million, although the market value of the land was likely higher. So with this as its baseline, the TBL  approach allowed added value from the proposed social and environmental benefits to offset the financial payment for the land itself.

The actual cost of the development for Windmill/VanCity is estimated at $600 million, of which $8 million is slated for the purchase of the land. The Windmill/VanCity proposal represented the lowest of the received bids in terms of what was offered for the land, but included significantly more environmental and social benefits.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities made $350,000 available to support the development of innovative sustainable infrastructure. These funds were used in part to offset the costs for documentation, the processing costs for the sewage treatment infrastructure, and to help address the costs associated with developing and obtaining approval for the treatment system, which required amendments to the Waste Management Act.

Development charges within the City of Victoria are uniform, and do not vary according to the impact that a particular development may have on existing infrastructure. This can be perceived as a disincentive for developers to implement sewage and storm water treatment systems that minimize water use and the city's costs. However, the development charges are an order of magnitude lower than what provincial auditors recommend, and consequently any review by the city could result in a large hike in development charges across the board. It should be noted that in some Canadian cities developers’ charges for contaminated sites have been rescinded to encourage brownfield recycling, for example, in Kingston, Niagara Falls, and Ottawa.

Part of the partnership process between the developer and the city has involved the sharing of administrative costs for the Dockside project. The City of Victoria provided a dedicated staff member for the development and Dockside Green Ltd pays for part of the costs of that position.

Research Analysis

The TBL mechanism used to deliver a sustainable masterplan for the city's Dockside lands resulted in an innovative and successful development that would otherwise likely not have been possible. The development gives clear indications of being environmentally and economically sustainable. What differentiated this development from other similar developments, such as South East False Creek in Vancouver, is that the city did not intend to simply award to the highest bidder for the land and, therefore, the winning bid was able to offset financial costs with the potential non-economic benefits the proposed development would provide; these being judged through the decision matrix in the RPF.

The one possible shortcoming of the development is the social component to the project. The final master plan incorporated a social housing component that appears not as well integrated as it could have been. As to whether the difficulty with incorporating the housing has compromised the sustainability of the project is moot. The social housing component was not requested by the local community association, and it was not originally part of the city’s business plan, which saw the social component coming from increased public amenity and the creation of a walkable neighbourhood.

There were many challenges faced by all partners in the development process. Nevertheless, the project has provided profist for the city, potential profits for the developers, and significant environmental improvements to the Dockside site. Included within this has been the creation of a state-of-the-art sustainable development, which minimises energy consumption and incorporates other ecologically-friendly systems into the site up to LEED Platinum standards. There are internal elements of social sustainability, with a walkable design and public transit solutions for transport from the development, as well as significant public amenity. There are many proposed community design elements in the project that will provide these benefits including:

  1. First ever master planned neighbourhood to reach LEED Platinum status
  2. Fresh air ventilation systems
  3. All appliances and fixtures and fittings designed to be low energy
  4. Neighbourhood heating provided by a wood gasification plant
  5. On-site sewage treatment and heat recovery
  6. Grey water recycling systems
  7. Permeable surfaces to improve water drainage
  8. Car sharing program and integrated transport planning with a shuttle bus serving the community and harbour ferry terminal
  9. Public amenity open space
  10. Working relationships between the community association and First Nations

Details of these can be found on the Dockside Green website.

These innovations happened despite the inertia of the city’s development by-laws and the attitude of the utilities; it is a testament to the strength of the partnerships involved in the development that, by and large, the combined effort of the stakeholders worked through the problems.

At the root of the project is the use of the TBL criteria matrix in the Request for Proposals (RPF), with respondents encouraged to offset the maximum bid price with social and environmental benefits. The city then chose the bid which had the highest value to the community rather than the highest monetary offer for the land. This, along with strong leadership within the city and Windmill Developments ensured that the sustainability of the project was assured.

Detailed Background Case Description


For many years, the abandoned Dockside site has been a problem for the City of Victoria. Initially owned by the Province of British Columbia, the province sold the site to the City of Victoria for $1. Environmentally damaged, the site had seen previous failed attempts at remediation, mainly for light high-tech redevelopment. These failures, combined with general dissatisfaction with respect to other redevelopments in the area, had drawn the concerned attention of the local community associations as well as other interest groups. The reasons for failure are various, but a critical factor was the lack of strategic planning to guide such a process and the absence of a “champion” committed to leading the redevelopment of the site. 

In 2001, another attempt was started to redeem the site, and generate new vitality in that part of the City of Victoria.  The approach this time, however, was to first form key partnerships to assemble the knowledge and experience required and to keep front and centre the desire to create a sustainable development on the site. 

The first partnership of note was with the British Columbia Building Corporation (BCBC). The City of Victoria had a memorandum of understanding with BCBC to support each other when appropriate. This partnership was activated for the Dockside project in order to bring significant real estate experience to the project, a set of skills lacking within the city's administration. BCBC was able to provide the necessary skills to assess site development risks, to address preliminary archaeological and heritage concerns, and to manage the site prior to sale to a private-sector developer.

Next, the City of Victoria created an interdisciplinary project team, deviating from the city’s standard operating procedures, which like most cities are highly “silo-ised” and hierarchical. This internal partnership brought together planners, development economists, engineers, financial personnel from within the city as well as representation from the local community associations. A steering/management group directed the development of a business case to include an analysis of contamination on the site, an exploration of development options, and proposals with respect to land-use and design. 

The Vic West Community Association was particularly concerned about the site as it had serious reservations about other recent developments in the same area, both in the way in which they were managed and the resulting outcomes. The city project manager ensured that the community association was involved from the start in the development of the business case and design parameters for the project, and that community association representatives were integrated into the project’s management and steering committees. As a result, from the start the community association was in a position to veto the development and to be fully engaged in the decision-making process at every stage. The city, however, also took a policy decision to only involve the community at large at key moments in the process to avoid consultation fatigue.

The tendering process

It was during the initial business plan development phase and development of the partnerships that the city made the decision to employ a fully sustainable approach to the project using a TBL methodology. In the words of the city’s project director:

“Why wouldn’t you? If you can sell the land for $12M then fine, but if you can sell the land for $8M and can get $6M of public amenity developed for you then even better.”

The design of the evaluation grid permitted the awarding of additional points for proponents' bids which exceeded the minimum environmental standards, set at LEED Silver, and encouraged the winning developer to put forward a proposal based on achieving Platinum standards for most buildings. Interested proponents were informed as to the general nature of the contaminants within the soil, and were required to include appropriate remediation in their development proposals.

The second stage of the process was the creation of the development context. There was a strong desire to avoid focusing on zoning because of the perception that it tends to preclude flexibility and ,therefore, innovation and, by extension, sustainable development. Instead, a ‘sandbox’ approach was taken, whereby the zoning was applied to the desired masterplan, rather than set up in advance, therefore limiting the final proposal.

The main financial requirement from the ity was that the development should at least pay back the city's costs of remediation and other works already carried out on the site. Two general approaches to the site were developed: a high-tech light industrial development, which the city preferred; and, a mixed use development, which the project team backed. Both options were considered commercially feasible and within the city’s risk tolerance limits in that they would enable the city to at the very least break even – meaning the site needed to be sold for at least $6 million.

These two options were then presented to the Vic West Community Association. The light industrial option retained the current density of development and was the city’s preferred option. The second option was a mixed use development with residential, office and light industrial elements – and a significant public open space amenity and storm water management. This option represented an increase in density from the previous use of the site of 2:1. The city project manager would have preferred an increase of 3:1, but this was considered too much by the Vic West Community Association and the city council. The mixed use ‘New Urbanist’ style development was the one chosen by the community, and was also the preferred option of the city’s multidisciplinary project team.

Planning guidelines were then issued to seek expressions of interest from interested developers. These guidelines included the TBL assessment grid against which all expressions of interest and tender were going to be assessed. The assessment process and the scoring mechanism were made publicly available online for full transparency.

The assessment grid was based on a total of 300 points, with 100 points allocated to each of the three components - economic, environmental, and social elements – in accordance with typical TBL methodology. The method encouraged a holistic approach to building and infrastructure design and the provision of public space. In essence, the grid would place the emphasis on sustainability, and sustainable land use planning. Interested parties had to fulfill two mandatory criteria: the demonstrated capacity of the developer to finance the project; and, demonstrated capacity and knowledge necessary to address the environmental remediation requirements of the site.

The criteria and weighting for the evaluation were determined by the project steering committee and included recommendations from the community, from the business development process, and the various members of the transdisciplinary project management group. Expression of interest respondents were also asked to comment upon the criteria and suggest improvements that would lead to a more sustainable project.

The process returned five short listed expressions of interest and a number of suggestions to the TBL criteria.  Modification to the criteria, largely limited to a movement between categories and to the weighting, was then carried out and the RPF distributed to interested parties. One part of the bid process was for developers to present proposed development plans to an open meeting of city council. This fostered an openness and transparency in the bid assessment process, and also allowed council members to gauge the reaction of the general public to the bids. By this stage, three of the bidding developers had withdrawn from the process. The reasons are unclear, but it is suspected that the TBL approach proved to be too progressive for some larger more established development companies – meaning that the risk involved with the process meant that the development was not a priority for them in a very vibrant development market in British Columbia. The eventual winning bid – that of VanCity and Windmill Development for Dockside Green – was awarded a standing ovation when the formal presentation was made to council.

Despite the increased complexity of the tendering process, selection of the successful proponent was gained in a shorter time span than typical for a project of such a scale.

The developer’s perspective

Windmill Development has experience and expertise in developing environmentally responsible ”green” building projects in various sites across Canada; Dockside Green, which will cost approximately $600M is the largest and most ambitious project to date. Capital for the project was raised through a partnership with VanCity Credit Union, split 1/3 for Windmill Development, and 2/3 for VanCity. Windmill Development brought the environmental expertise to the project, while VanCity provided the expertise related to the social aspects of development. Both organisations have significant development expertise and both have a commitment to sustainable development.

VanCity is the largest credit union in Canada with 325,000 members and encompasses a number of subsidiary companies, such as VanCity Capital Corporation and VanCity Enterprises, which have different areas of expertise and have participated in different aspects of the project. For example, VanCity Capital Corporation provided funding for investments in alternative sources of energy (biomass heating system) for the project.

VanCity Enterprises has expertise in developing innovative and affordable housing as well as working with NGOs.

With its focus on sustainability, the Dockside Green project fits with the VanCity brand, its reputation, and interest in social issues. VanCity will also have an opportunity to potentially leverage its investment in Dockside Green by developing financial products tailored to meet the needs of Dockside Green businesses, residents and workers.

Joe Van Belleghem, partner in Windmill Development and the public face of Dockside Green is one of the founders of the Canada Green Building Council. He became interested in environmentally sustainable development and realized that to achieve the most benefit and the most sustainable systems, it was necessary to work with large scale projects, which, because of size, can incorporate features supportive of sustainability.

Windmill Development found the collaborative and iterative planning process based on the TBL to be a very positive feature of the process, and welcomed the opportunity to bid on a project using these principles. In addition, the transparency of the process made the City of Victoria’s TBL-based process easy to work with. The rating criteria and points allocated within the grid matrix were published on the city website and available for all to review upfront, a mechanism existed to facilitate proponent responses, and a fairness advisor was engaged during the process to ensureall developers were treated appropriately.

The part of the project that has proven the most difficult is the provision of social housing. Within the grid on which the RPF’s were evaluated, affordable housing was awarded proportionately few points, notwithstanding the political pressure to include social housing within the project. Social housing was not a major part of the city's nor the community association’s initial aspirations for the site, but emanated from a subsequent decision of city council. In alignment with VanCity’s interest in affordable housing, Dockside Green will include a contribution of $3M towards providing approximately 50 rental units and 26 ownership units geared towards families with incomes in the range of $30,000-$60,000.

It should be noted that the affordability of housing is a major issue in Victoria, which is one of the most expensive cities for housing in Canada. The project's critics have found the housing component of the development an easy target in that the number of affordable units is lower than originally suggested, and the majoritiy are small, one- or two-bedroom units, and not larger dwellings more suitable for family use.

During consultations with the community, the developers addressed concerns that included sightlines, architecture and pedestrian-friendly design. For the developer, working with the community was a positive experience, involving regular meetings, which started at the beginning of the process, and were ongoing. The process started with consultations over a largely blank canvass, rather than a set model around which details were discussed. The general attitude was to explore issues until a solution evolved that everybody could accept. The main concerns of the community were sightlines and the appearance of the architecture as the community felt that previous developments in the area had not provided an attractive environment. Meetings occurred bimonthly and involved 15 members of the Vic West Community Association and the developer’s staff. The community association has a long history of local activism, and is considered to represent the local population.

One challenge faced by the Dockside Green partners has been the difficulty of managing expectations. The Dockside Green development is innovative and has generated considerable publicity, as well as support, and has been perceived as a vehicle to resolve a number of the City of Victoria’s problems with respect to housing, social issues, business challenges, and the environment. Throughout the evolution of the project, it has been necessary to reconcile financial management imperatives, which are typically conservative and risk adverse, with the desire to test new technologies and complex approaches.


The Dockside model and TBL assessment mechanism has not been used for subsequent City of Victoria developments. A contributing factor is that the personnel that championed the method have departed. As a consequence, there appears to be little interest or expertise to apply sustainable development approaches to planning decisions. The model has been exported to the Municipality of Port Coquitlam by Kim Fowler, the former city project manager for the Dockside Green project.

Strategic Questions

  1. Is there any way to embed the learning from novel development projects into changes to the municipal by-laws, zoning and so forth?
  2. What sustainability assessment mechanisms are best suited to tendering processes?
  3. Can inter-disciplinary working practices be institutionalised?

Resources and References

Dale, A, 2001. At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Dale, A and McDonald, R. 2004. The Economics of Green Buildings in Canada,. E-Dialogue held on October 7th 2004.

Elkington, J. 1997. Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Chichester: Capstone Publishing.

Moore, J. L. 1996. "An introduction to what is stopping sustainability, part three." New City Magazine, Vol. 17. No. 1, p 24.

Robinson, J. and Tinker J. 1997. 'Reconciling Ecological, Economic, and Social Imperatives: a New Conceptual Framework' in Surviving Globalism: Social and Environmental Dimensions. ed. T. Schrecker. London: Macmillan p 71-94.


From Dr. John Robinson's video shown Monday morning on barriers to achieving sustainability:

The most important issue to deal with lies in governance - all of the big collective decisions based on land use need public and community involvement - there needs to be a focus on collective decision making. This is characterized in the Dockside Green project through addressing institutional barriers, encouraging public support,and creating partnerships between private and public sectors.


Often the context of current issues is very normative. Dockside Green is no exception. The fact that the City of Victoria, specifically the planning department, valued the social and environmental benefits was instrumental in implementation of the project.

Furthermore, current sustainability issues are often beyond any one sector to solve. This was clearly evident in the Dockside Green. The City alone did not have the real estate expertise to assess and develop the site. The developer alone would not have been able to build the project without the financial support from the lender and concept and administrative support for the City of Victoria.

Sustainable development demands collaboration from many partners. In Dockside Green the multiple internal and external partnerships and networks were instrumental.

Scientific uncertainty, incomplete information as well as impossibility of predicting an outcome are also common to the context of sustainable development. To what degree do you think these were a factor in the Dockside Green case study?


In Dockside Green many common barriers to sustainable development were overcome. For example, some solicitudes, silos, stovepipes were addressed through creation of internal partnership of various departments within the City of Victoria.

A lack of shared meaning, which is another common barrier, was articulated by the City through publicly posting TBL criteria, being open to proposals, rather than unilaterally creating a zoning policy and master plan, as well as transparent discussion of development option with the Vic West Community Association.

Similarly, a technological lock in was avoided through being open to proposals and not identifying any particular technology. Instead, the City of Victoria and the Vic West Community Association provided guidelines and TBL criteria.

Furthermore, in Dockside Green a piece-meal approach was overcome through the use of comprehensive TBL criteria. Even social housing, which was initially left out, was latter added to the project requirements.

Among other barriers to sustainable development are the mismatch between political and ecosystem boundaries and multiple jurisdictions in a given area. The fact that these barriers were not an issue in the Dockside Green is a factor that assisted with the implementation of the project.

Do you see any other barriers that were overcome in this case?

Several barriers were encountered on the front of permitting/approval throughout the development. One such barrier identified was the sewage treatment system and necessary ammendments to be made to the waste management act. Costs associated with the development and approval of this system were in part supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.


There are several critical factors that can foster innovation, creativity and competitiveness. Among them is rapid knowledge diffusion. Posting TBL criteria on the website and making it publicly available was the first step in achieving it. However, dialogue and contact with community association as well as establishing relationships with developers was more important for rapid knowledge diffusion.

Another factor in fostering innovation, creativity and competitiveness is the formation on multi- and trans-disciplinary partnerships. Although many partnerships were formed, public-private partnerships seem to be missing. Had the City of Victoria formed a partnership with the developer, more affordable housing units could have been implemented. For example, the City of Vancouver followed a Collaborative Planning Model, under which the developer would build affordable housing units, which are then managed by a housing society. Similarly, partnerships with research entities also seem to be missing. Had such networks been created, more innovative solutions would have emerged.

To what extent do you think other forms of collaboration could have benefited this development?


Various types of social capital are needed to implement sustainable development. When bonding, bridging and vertical capital has been formed, it becomes possible to make the collective decisions that Kristi referred to in her post of Feb 21, 2008 :

"The most important issue to deal with lies in governance - all of the big collective decisions based on land use need public and community involvement - there needs to be a focus on collective decision making. This is characterized in the Dockside Green project through addressing institutional barriers, encouraging public support, and creating partnerships between private and public sectors." (Kristi Peters Snider)

In Dockside Green bonding and bridging social capital has been formed, which made it possible to make collective decision by the City of Victoria and Vic West Community Association and the proponents on the type of development and TBL criteria.

It also seems that specific nodes, i.e., certain individuals, were key to moving Dockside to Dockside Green. When these key individuals left the City, the City of Victoria did not use the TBL mechanism that they developed. Loosing the nodes resulted in the loss of the other social capital that these nodes were connected to.

What was the role of the vertical social capital in this case study?

Re: What was the role of the vertical social capital in this case study?

The vertical social capital likely consisted of those individuals with the initial vision who pitched the idea and to the higher levels within the City management who eventually approved the concept.

I agree that bonding and bridging capital has been created and would add that this is not limited to the Dockside Green project or even the City of Victoria itself. This is evidenced by the fact that at least one of the champions (if there were indeed several) of this idea has exported the concept to another municipality within the province. Given the ease with which information is exchanged through the internet and other media, the project participants will likely serve as bridging social capital for a multitude of communities looking to implement similar projects.


Dockside Green has required what was referred to in a lecture as "unprecedented levels of collaboration and partnership". This project would not have gone much past the conceptual stage if it hadn't been for progressive thinking. As the summary indicates, there was a champion or champions within the City itself who first had the vision and the foresight to realize that something this innovative could not be implemented within the silos that are typically associated with urban development. By issuing an RFP that utilized a triple bottom line criteria the City set the stage for those wishing to participate. Companies bidding for the project by default had to consider the ecological and social aspect as opposed to following the traditional economically dominated design. Public consultation and consideration of environmental impacts is slowly becoming part and parcel of large project management however these activities are normally a small part of the overall effort. The criteria set out for Dockside Green required that social and ecological aspects be critical portions of the project throughout its design, construction and operational phases. Although all the entities that have seen the project to completion deserve credit, a significant portion of the accolades should go to those with the initial vision for having the courage to think beyond the common model.


The extent to which different stakeholders were consulted/engaged in the Dockside Green project has contributed significantly to the success experienced to date.

By involving the community association from the outset the developers ensured that their input was not only considered but that it became an integral part of the project. Unlike projects that are carried out under the traditional structure and have consultation only at the front end, Dockside Green developers held regular meetings with the community through the design and construction of the site. It is likely (though not clear from the summary) that the bonding capital at the community level that contributed to this process (i.e. the community as it existed before) will continue as the building becomes inhabited and will expand to include the building inhabitants. By involving the community from the start the developer helped not only lay a foundation for the initial members of the community to accept the project (assuming their concerns were not only heard but were also incorporated to the extent practical) but also easy for the residents of the building to become part of the community (no resentments, not considered outsiders). On a less positive note, there was apparently a sector (perhaps not from the immediate community but from the community at large) who felt thst these efforts were not comprehensive enough since there has been criticism claiming that the project itself did not include a social housing component.


The TBL methodology utilized in this development became a tool for engaging the community in sustainability. Citizen engagement can improve the development processes of projects through cooperation and inclusion, and by contributing to a vision of what the development will add to their community. "People feel more attached to an environment they have helped to create, and therefore, they will manage and maintain it better"(Chris Ling). Community engagement provides an important source of information about the nature of that community, the environment in which it is situated, and what the needs are. (Community Profiling)

There is a great paper on community engagement from Smart Growth BC ( This reminded me of the 3 questions at the end of the case study:
Could the Smart Growth principles in general be a way of encouraging change in municipal zoning and bylaws to ensure more sustainable development? Does anyone know what the role of Smart Growth is? (It is fairly new to Alberta)


One would suspect that through use of SD practices,records would be kept as to who participated (stakeholders), what were the concerns (environmental, social, economic), and what challenges were encountered and how these were resolved.

In terms of stakeholder engagement, the city of Victoria could potentially map stakeholder interests. The map could be then be used to steer planning sessions. Although the innovation of this project likely may inhibit the ability to draw upon current interests for various areas, key organizations are could be assessed for inclusion into the initial map.

How could we incorporate "technological innovation" into municipal by-laws? The Dockside Green project identified financial risk as the lead contributing factor to inclusion of technological innovation.

I'm not sure how technological innovation could be incorporated into municipal by-laws, but one option that has been identified is to give precedence to projects that include green technology/LEEDs certification etc., in the permit process. Incorporating this into building and land use planning (if that is what the departments are called in BC!)would encourage developers to produce more green projects.

"I'm not sure how technological innovation could be incorporated into municipal by-laws, but one option that has been identified is to give precedence to projects that include green technology/LEEDs certification etc., in the permit process."

With out a doubt we need to see stricter regulations in building codes. It is not a green bandwagon issue, it just makes economic sense. More efficient building design will ease the problems are country will be facing with power and water in the years to come. This could be put forward by the ministry of municipal affairs and housing (federally), or the Ministry of Forests & Range and Minister Responsible for Housing (provincial). I am not sure the extent to which the municipality has power over such regulations.


The main criticism that is often levelled at the Dockside Green project is the lack of affordable housing provision. A criticism that is levelled at 'green' or 'sustainable' developments such as this is that they are for the rich - and that being 'green' genuinely or otherwise - is an added value commodity and not for everyone.

How can such sustainable projects be made available for everybody, and what needs to be in place to make these developments affordable (if that is indeed a laudable or realistic goal)?

It may be that the high costs associated with Dockside Green residencies are a function of the housing costs in Victoria in general and downtown Victoria specifically. In many ways sustainable choices come at a premium (organic foods, fuel efficient vehicles, etc.) and therefore a higher income is required to afford them. Paradoxically people with low incomes often have a smaller environmental fooprint (no vehicle, no air travel)that is often a result of purposeful actions directed at saving money rather than good intentions towards the environment. Perhaps one way to make projects like Dockside Green available to everyone is through the use of subsidies for sustainable housing.

The idea of offsets has been discussed in the sense of land costs. As discussed amongst our group, encouraging home offices or business (such as an artist studio) could offset the costs of the lower cost unit. I'm not a fan of handouts nor am I a fan of living in a 500sq. foot box, but perhaps a fund could be establihed through which tenants with businesses or home offices could borrow from at a low rate of interest in order to top up their mortgage. They would essentially be paying more upfront, but offsetting it with savings attributed to their need for office space or business. Although, this would have to also be looked at in the sense of how they will account for this on their taxes.

On another note,

Social housing often brings with it a social stigma, such as "it will lower the value of my property." A sense of ownership is likely necessary to remove this stigma while at the same time an opportunity to feel part of a community. Would the conversion of adjacent buildings (i.e. older units)and inclusion of those into the sustainable community be one means to offset the costs associated with new development? Therefore, rather than looking to build to serve that new complex (i.e. utilities, services, etc.), the developer and city could be encouraged to look at inclusion of existing older buildings to within their plan. I sense that I may be creating a ghetto here...

There is definitely a stigma associated with social housing, despite the fact that not all tenants are created equal. A comment I heard floating around the classroom the other day that I thought was interesting has to do with affordability, but from another point of view. "My partner and I both work hard and would love to live in downtown Vancouver, but we can't afford to - instead we are way out in Surrey. Why should low income citizens have the opportunity to live downtown in social housing that isn't available to people like us?" --- I would love to hear everyones opinion on this comment!
On another note, there is a social housing complex at the end of my street (about 12 units), and it is a complete disaster - donated furniture, mattresses, and garbage on the lawns and spilling into the streets, scary looking men sitting in idling cars in front of the townhouses, etc. Who wants this on their street?
On the other hand, I do know the False Creek co-op housing has been quite successful, so I try not to generalize...

"My partner and I both work hard and would love to live in downtown Vancouver, but we can't afford to - instead we are way out in Surrey. Why should low income citizens have the opportunity to live downtown in social housing that isn't available to people like us?" --- I would love to hear everyones opinion on this comment!

This is one topic I would prefer not to touch with a ten foot pole. In general I feel I am not knowledgeable enough on this topic to give opinions or insights. The guest speaker in Ann Dales class today may have been a useful resource in this regard. I can relate to both sides of the argument, and it is a case by case scenario. Examining it from the perspective of my neighborhood I grew up in, I would have to say the concept of NIMBY easily applies. I worry that anything I say on this topic can be taken the wrong way so I will stop here....


I wonder if affordability criticism arose from ineffective community engagement. The fact that social housing was a requirement added by the City of Victoria later in the process demonstrates that neither the City nor the community association, nor the developer engaged all stakeholders who had an interest in the development.

It appears that there was no wide and open community engagement. The community was represented by the Vic West Community Association. However, it is unclear who is represented by the community association and who is not. It seems that engagement of the community association almost reached the point in the engagement wheel that was close to the tipping point when empowerment transforms into elite and manipulation.

The fact that there were no more green developments after the key individuals left, means that engagement was very basic and did not reach out far enough. It did not translate into the capacity building.

Good community engagement results in ownership of the result. Improving the site is part of living there. From this case study it’s unclear whether the people who planed to live in this location participated in the concept design process.

Good points Katherine - it is not clear who the Vic West Community Association was, and to what extent they represented the opinions of the community at large.
It is unlikely that the people who plan to live at Dockside Green had any involvement in the planning process, unless they were already living in the Vic West community. However, development of that site might have been seen as a huge improvement over the contaminated waste land that it had been for so long. It may not have been too difficult to achieve community support with limited community involvement based on this alone.


Currently the green development costs more than traditional development. And cities are trying to require social housing components within those developments. I wonder if these artificial requirements result in social alienation of individuals who end up living in this social housing. Does this artificial incorporation of social housing help create a functional diversity?

On the other hand, as pointed out earlier, the ecological foot print of people with low incomes is lower. So people with higher incomes can afford to pay to reduce their ecological footprint, because even though direct benefits (such as pride and comfort of living in a green community) occur to them, the indirect benefits occur to the society as a whole.


The concept of sustainable community is subjective. To me a sustainable community is the one that mimics a living system. Such a community, in the process of their existence, would be able to create conditions for the enhancement of the system of which they are a part. It means that it would use the waste generated by others as a recourse and would only produce waste that can be used as a resources for others.

A living system is a representation of recursion. It’s an autopoietic network of networks. Thus, to be sustainable, communities need to be not only autopoietic living systems themselves, but also consist of neighbourhoods and individual buildings that are autopoietic living systems. To be sustainable communities need to achieve the same level of complexity as mature ecosystems.

In order to achieve this vision of a living community, communities must meet a number of principles that are met by biological living systems. For example, there must be a functional diversity. In sustainable community this would translate into a diversity of uses: residential, commercial, industrial and natural uses, as well as a diversity of people who live there: singles, families, people of different ages, incomes, occupations. Furthermore, a system must be created uses benign manufacturing processes. In sustainable community it would translate into green building materials and processes. A comparison of ecological footprint of social systems, like a community with a footprint of natural living systems can be used to design a sustainable community. These principles were articulated by many authors, one of whom is Janine Benyus and the Biomimicry Institute.

I think the Biomimicry model fits well in the sustainable community model for new developments, and perhaps works best for larger developements (although Katherine perhaps your knowledge and expertise in this area could expand on this further), but what about established communities? Or single family residential developments? I think that governance plays a large role, and the municipality has the greatest opportunity for influence through urban and land use planning.


Kristi brought up an interesting question on whether incorporation of biomimicry is easier at the single dwelling level or a multi-unit/neighbourhood development. I believe it is actually easier to implement at the single dwelling unit, because you have much more control of the house as system. Any individual can create a “living building”, which would generate its own energy process its own waste, etc. The technology to do so already exists. The main barrier at this level is cost. In comparison at the neighbourhood level (either new or existing), a developer does not have full control over the project. Not only you have financial barrier (which is complicated by the fact that lenders do not want to finance unproved technologies), you also have legal barriers in the form of building codes, by-laws, zoning that cannot be addressed by the developer alone, or the residents alone.


I agree with Kristi’s point that governance plays a large role. I think it is particularly apparent during the integrated community planning. Dockside Green appears to be an example of a project that supports the broader Capital Region plan, particularly with respect to water and waste management. One of the key success factors of the Dockside Green was the development of place-based policy. TBL criteria were specific to the Dockside site and the context in which it exists, rather than the use of generic criteria.


The Dockside Green is a prime example of environmental leadership. Had it not been for a few key individuals who were driving the TBL assessment and were prepared to take risks, the project would not have happened. Dockside Green is also an example of what I call “tough” leadership – an ability to make unpopular or risky decisions. It may look like common sense to an outside, but the decision to sell the site for $8M, rather than $12 may have been a difficult one, so is the decision to insist on social housing component. Do you see any specific learnings related to leadership in this case study?

Dr. David Bell suggested that leadership needs to be in all sectors and requires things to be brought forward in order to make change. Also, leaders must avoid hopelessness and despair to envision a different reality. Dockside Greens inclusion of "low-income" housing was difficult and seen as limited. However, the ability of a multi-diciplinary team to reach their objective shows leadership in this case. The focus on governance to set the objectives and formulate this partnership with the developer is something to follow for future development. Although, I am unsure as to how well the process was documented. Failure to audit/monitor the progress would limit success of leadership.

The planning process for Dockside Green was proactive in terms of support, influence, and integration of the social, economic, and environmental imperatives required to maintain equity, diversity, and the functionality of natural systems in communities. (Chris Ling). The case study definitely demonstrated the principles of integrated planning; integration, scale, governance, and inclusion. It seems however that the project was the result of a vision of a small group of leaders, not the result of a culture of change in the governance structures or municipality. Perhaps the circumstances around Dockside Green (contaminated abandoned land on prime waterfront) made it a unique project for testing this type of community planning. (Where the City of Victoria was prepared to sell the land at a very reasonable price - perhaps the case would have been much different if the land was not contaminated.)


This is in reference to discussions regarding private and public partnership towards achieving goals that are otherwise unattainable.

Michael Williams was instrumental in revitalizing many degraded buildings in downtown Victoria. The most notable being Swans hotel and restaurant. Though his process of community involvement was negligible compared to the dockside green project, I bring up this comparison because it would not have been feasible for him to achieve this goal without considerable financial assistance from the public sector. Likewise the government would not have had the vision nor the expertise to do the job as well as Mr. Williams. This is often a necessary partnership towards building a more vibrant community, as long as interests of the private sector are not overpowering. The late Michael Williams donated the majority of his possessions including a considerable amount of real estate to the University of Victoria.

"Michael Williams was instrumental in revitalizing many degraded buildings in downtown Victoria."

Again, and example of an individual that has made a difference - why is it that so much positive work is done, or driven on, by a relative small number of people? What is about the governance system that relies on these (often maverick) individuals to achieve important advances?

"why is it that so much positive work is done, or driven on, by a relative small number of people? What is about the governance system that relies on these (often maverick) individuals to achieve important advances?"

These "mavericks" possess the vision, drive, connectedness and guts to go where people entrenched in governance systems would not dare go for fear of making a mistake. After all, the goal of an elected official is to get re-elected (in most cases).


Not to stray off topic here, but I will anyhow. This approach to development is a relatively new concept that I believe is a good one. So in looking at how this can be examined and reapplied to other cities I thought of my home town. There are vast expanses of lakefront land in the Greater Toronto Area GTA minutes from the downtown core that are too polluted for residential zoning. It would be in the city and the provinces best interests to develop this area (or part of it) into a functioning LEED certified community. The city is broke so we would have to look to the province for assistance on this one. One would think that this would be an attractive endeavor for the provincial government, not only to buy GTA votes but also to hop on the green wagon a bit. It would also reduce commuting and redefine the cities waterfront.

Paramount to a project like this one is timing. I believe it would be much more difficult if not impossible to implement an alternative project such as the dockside green if the real estate market was not booming as it is. Also in times of recession green is not a priority for many, sadly it is often more of a luxury. Feeding the family is more important than buying recycled toilet paper (or any other green product at a premium). I bring up these issues of timing to stress the need for expediency in exporting this methodology to other projects across the country. In re-applying this project to other cities, it will be important to keep in mind what did not work. I see this method as a valuable tool for future developments.

In reply to by pdixon


Agree that timing is an important factor with regards to sustainable community development. Another factor that seems to go hand in hand with this is the 'environmental' or 'sustainability' culture within the municipal administration. I say hand in hand because there might be champions at lower levels within the City administration but if they are unable to build vertical capital by influencing their superiors their initiatives go nowhere. On the other hand, if the ideas exist, if there are champions and management is receptive you end up with a culture that can see the project through. This is not to say that timing and receptiveness alone will result in success as there are many other influencing factors such as governance structures, community involvement, funding, etc.


This sustainable community looks great and incorporates many green infrastructure techniques to become low emitting but not self-sustainable. With all the green technology used I am curious to know why this project did not use solar technology to help power the community. Since there is a major solar project subsided in the City of Colwood right next door. I understand that this project took place in 2007 and the Colwood project wasn’t until 2011 but if it was going to be a transparent and open floor, the project would have had more than just Vic-west community association as the social aspect of the TBL.I understand the cost of solar photovoltaic cells is costly but if the city of Victoria is selling the land well below the market value and the point of the project is to have a green sustainable community, why not solar energy?
An example of a truly greening community is Feldheim, Germany. In 2009 in Feldheim, a village of 43 homes near Berlin, households put down about 3,000 euros each to help pay for the village heating system. Half of the 1.7 million-euro cost was covered by a grant from the European Regional Development Fund (That is close to how much The City of Victoria gave away the land below market value) the remainder was financed with a bank loan paid back through heating bills. As renewable energy prices drop, every household and business has the incentive to become a stand-alone power plant. The soccer pitch lights are hooked up to a 450,000-euro local grid that in October 2010 made Feldheim the first German municipality to run entirely on its own renewables-fueled generators.
Since the major disappoint of the project was the social housing and the difficulties of incorporating that aspect into the project. Wouldn’t it be important to reduce long term costs on low income families? This is just one example of new community developments that cities might want to think about when greening a project. Of course the utility companies don’t like this idea at all, but I can’t stand paying overly inflated hydro with new smart meters.
Overall I believe the city and the government had best intentions to take contaminated land create something useful and liveable. With more planning I believe that they could have built a truly self-sustainable green community that people could live, work, and play and be off the grid. Furthermore sell energy back to surrounding communities. However when private business is involved the end result of the triple bottom line is profit.

Insight on social sustainability within Dockside Green

Insight on social sustainability within Dockside Green

Published January 24, 2012


Kathryn Lange, MA in Intercultural and International Communication candidate, Royal Roads University
Robert Newell, CRC Research Associate, Royal Roads University


Created as LEED-­ND standard community development, Dockside Green (Victoria, B.C.) aims to be a model of environmental sustainability. Dockside Green employs innovative, state-of-the-art green development practices to achieve sustainability, and the community is regarded as Victoria's first environmentally sustainable community. However, to comprehensively and functionally become a sustainable community, a community must achieve sustainability on social and economic levels as well as the environmental.

This case study examines the social aspects of Dockside Green. Through narrative and community interaction, the article aims to construct an image of lifestyles within Dockside Green to determine how environmental innovations influence social sustainability. The case study provides further research and different perspectives to the Triple Bottom Line Practice: From Dockside to Dockside Green case study, contributing to a fuller picture of how Dockside Green is operating as a sustainable community development.

Download the article here.


What makes a city liveable?

What makes a city liveable?

Chris Ling, Jim Hamilton and Kathy Thomas
Published December 19, 2006

Case Summary

Many aspects of urban design and new approaches to city form are based on the concept of liveability. These approaches recognise that design and structure can be very influential in the life of a town or city and indeed to the building of community in and of itself.  They also create novel contexts for a community to develop in a more sustainable way. This case study looks at two communities of very different size, the Town of Okotoks and the City of Vancouver, both of which, for a number of years, have been attempting to implement development based on quality of life and sustainable development. The case study considers the different challenges faced by implementing liveability in these two contexts, and the degree to which a liveability agenda has contributed to sustainable development in the two communities.

The Town of Okotoks considers the sustainable development of the community to be about liveablity.

"The subtle shift in mindset that has taken place in recent years is that today, there is less concern about attracting growth and more concern about managing growth toward a positive and proactive vision we have for the community - an end state that preserves the enviable lifestyle we have come to expect in Okotoks."

(Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)

Over time, the City of Vancouver has moved from liveability issues towards sustainable development in response to grassroots pressure and changing global concerns. In both contexts, market forces, in particular development interests and typical planning design paradigms, have made it difficult to fully implement the ideals of liveability, but in both cases, grassroots community support has made the challenges easier. Also, in both cases the adoption of a liveability agendaarose from the recognition of limits to growth. In Vancouver, it was a result of transportation limits, and in Okotoks, it was a result of limits to the ecological capacity of the watershed.

Sustainable development is the prime human imperative of the 21st Century (Dale, 2001).  In the Town of Okotoks, sustainable development has been embraced, both politically and throughout the community. Liveability came first in the City of Vancouver, however, and there is some degree to which the city needs another shift in thinking to fully integrate the two agendas.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Liveability is critical to the establishment of a sustainable community, if for no other reason than if it is not present people will not stay in the community. But 'liveability' as a term is exceedingly difficult to define. For some, it is intrinsically tied to physical amenities such as parks and green space; for others to cultural offerings, career opportunities, economic dynamism, or some degree of reasonable safety within which to raise a family. Where liveability is linked to sustainability and infrastructure issues it is normally as an alternative development model to the expansion of sprawling suburbs with low densities of both population and services and where infrastructure provision is costly to ecological, economic, and social capital (Kunstler, 1993): see for example the Federal Transportation Livability Initiative in the US (Fischer, 2000).

The definition of liveability appears without limit; yet, somehow it forms part of the sustainability equation. In Canada, the liveability agenda cannot be considered without reference to the City of Vancouver, which is frequently described as one of the most liveable cities in the world (see for example the Economist Intelligence Unit’s livable cities survey reported by CNN.) In 1976, the city developed a liveability agenda when quality of life and environmental concerns won out over a city model based on a highway network. The city recognized the need to compete against expanding suburbs to maintain a vibrant downtown, to avoid the decay of the urban core seen in many North American cities. Although its policy has clearly been successful in many respects the liveability of the city, even the downtown core is not without its critics particularly with reference to service provisions for families that wish to live in the downtown core and the residents who cannot afford to live there. (Where’s liveability without schools? Vancouver Sun, July 6th 2006). The Downtown Eastside community highlights that not everyone has the access or the opportunity for liveability, and homelessness continues to be a major policy issue. This case study examines the degree to which to the City of Vancouver has the capacity to tackle 21st Century concerns and wider issues of sustainable development.

In its key sustainability document the Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, the Town of Okotoks addresses liveability through the use of overall themes in establishing planning priorities: demographics (integrating generations), leisure (giving individuals and groups recreational opportunities), and cocooning (to redefine and strengthen the sense of community). In 1997 and 1998, community-wide surveys assisted in the preparation of the 20-year legacy plan, a relatively long term in the context of municipal planning in Canada. The surveys defined a set of desirable futures for Okotoks that went well beyond just issues of physical sustainability. Proposed futures included improved life-long learning opportunities, provision of active and passive recreational and cultural activities, a holistic approach to community well-being, and a place where spiritual, artistic and aesthetic values are respected and encouraged. Of course, the degree to which the legacy plan has been successfully implemented is open to discussion, and the town reviewed its progress after five years and identified areas of concern.

A complementary case study of the importance of using transit-oriented sustainable development principles as exemplified by the town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire (just south of Montreal) and the development of Village de la Gare's concept of liveability not dissimilar to that of Okotoks is considered in more depth as a stand alone case study for this project.

The wider theme of what constitutes liveability remains undefined. A team of researchers at Queen’s University joined a multi-university group to address this. The team will focus on three themes that, while not directly related to sustainability, seem to significantly impact liveability within communities. These themes are:

  1. social space;
  2. talent attraction and retention as well as economic dynamism; and,
  3. the overall amenability of local governments to the development of a progressive economy.

The components of liveability as seen in the City of Vancouver are:

  1. protection of the environment;
  2. maintenance of a diverse economy;
  3. provision of accessibility through land use;
  4. delivery of services for residents and businesses;
  5. housing choices;
  6. balanced city budget; and,
  7. the involvement of citizens in planning and delivery.

There are certainly frequent parallels between the liveability agenda and the agendas of choice and New Urbanism approaches to development, often linked to the development of sustainable community. It has to be said that the aims of a liveability policy on communities are focused on quality of life, rather than implicitly on sustainable development, but there are inevitable improvements for sustainable development through reduced car transportation, increases in greenspace and opportunities for social capital and participative planning regimes.

Critical Success Factors

Critical success factors in the identification and implementation of liveability as an integral part of sustainable communities are:

  1. the value of liveability as an overall theme, among others, in the development of a community’s sustainability plan;

  2. the overarching role of public engagement in the articulation of what is meant by liveability;

  3. an acceptance that liveability may differ significantly from community to community;

  4. a recognition that liveability extends to economic dynamism and career opportunities as well as recreational, aesthetic, cross-generational and cultural activities;

  5. the ability to embed liveability concerns into the culture of the municipality rather than politically motivated short-term initiatives; and,

  6. the recognition that the provision of a diverse residential community with a full complement of services, means that a system approach to both the city region and the individual neighbourhood is required. This will ensure that individual neighbourhoods do not become liveability ghettos, but have a real and vibrant place within the whole city region context.

Community Contact Information

Rick Quail
Municipal Manager
Town of Okotoks
PO Box 20, 14 McRae Street,
Okotoks, Alberta T1S 1K1

Thomas Osdoba
Manager, Sustainability Group
City of Vancouver
1800 Spyglass Place
Vancouver, BC
V5Z 4K8

What Worked?

Matters of liveability need to be addressed early within planning processes so as to reconcile the imperatives of sustainable development. These imperatives can obtain legitimacy if they are explored and integrated within the participatory planning process.

Community involvement and support, combined with a willingness of municipal officials to accept and work with the grassroots means the question of liveability in the local community is better understood, and the concept is more integrated into policy, planning and political will.

Ensuring that, in large residential developments, developers are required to incorporate sufficient service provisions for the people living there. This means that there is concrete provision of services for communities within walking distance – a key component of liveability. Mixed use buildings and development is encouraged as the development of residential capacity is intrinsically linked with the development of commercial capacity.

The key elements of the planning process are leadership at multiple levels with political, bureaucratic and community leaders developing strategic alliances between the grassroots, community leaders and bureaucratic leaders. This needs to be supported by policy diffusion, education and training within municipal authorities, and a system perspective that looks at relationships between municipalities.

What Didn’t Work?

Although early in their study, researchers at Queen’s University suspect that liveability within communities will suffer if they do not:

  1. offer sufficient social space so that effective innovative-based networks develop that support the overall themes of the community e.g. the research networks found within the Silicon Valley or the sport training networks resulting from the extensive Olympic and other training facilities at Canmore, Alberta;

  2. provide an economic dynamism with a critical mass of entrepreneurs, diversity and creativity,  sufficient to attract and retain talented people;

  3. encourage a culture within local governments to support innovation both in economic and cultural matters; and,

  4. recognize that if a city is focused around a particular large institution or industry sector, e.g. a university, resource extraction then sufficient consideration needs to be made for service and employment provisions for spouses and family members of those employed by the institution.

In short, liveable communities have to provide meaning to people’s lives beyond just being a point of residence.

In Vancouver, the liveability agenda is at risk of becoming stale. The questions and issues, which created the movement are now largely answered and resolved. There are  new issues and questions now for which planning is needed planning. There is a risk that the city will rest on its reputation and fail to act in a timely and innovative manner. This is a form of inertia, normally seen in less progressive environments, but is nevertheless a growing concern in the city.

The Greater Vancouver Regional District is also a significant player in the liveability agenda, but through political changes in the region as a whole, its contribution has become recently muted – stressing the importance of embedding liveability and sustainable development principles within the operation of the municipal structure and to some extent removed from political change in the short term.

The challenge is that liveable communities become concentrated in the downtown and wealthier areas of a city, with fringe areas and less affluent suburbs left with lowest cost development leading to highest long-term costs to the triple bottom line, despite it being easiest to implement liveability into new development. Retrofitting liveability, if this is at all possible, is much harder based on the design of existing infrastructure and the use of mixed use planning regimes – building this into an existing car-focused infrastructure and mono-functional planning zones is problematic. Why, therefore, does liveability in Canada seems to be largely integrated into downtowns and infill developments, and not in expanding suburbs?

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

The choice regarding the costs of infrastructure is twofold:

  1. increasing costs to provide services and infrastructure to increasingly sprawling and lower density suburban residential communities with both market forces and zoning policies restricting the degree to which services can be located near people, or

  2. increasing density and multi-use zoning to allow for a more efficient use of resources and the provision of services near the people that access them.

A liveable community is also an efficient community, and will cost less to maintain in the long term. For example, green building programs in Vancouver from the 1990s have shown that there are real economic and sustainability benefits to such design. Unfortunately, residential developers are behind in adopting such technologies (

Research Analysis

Although both the concepts of liveability and sustainable development can be difficult to define, both are crucial to the well-being of communities, that is, their resilience, their stability, and their future. These concepts, therefore, need to be defined, and continually refined, by each community and embedded in a dynamic planning process. There is clearly an accepted general conceptual definition in the planning and academic milieu, but it is not a straightforward concept to communicate. Everybody would agree that ‘liveability’ is a good thing, but are unlikely to agree to what that means. For some it would be choice, for others new urbanism style development, for others perhaps urban forms that would be the antithesis of sustainable development – large house, large lots, large cars. Similar problems are faced with other, certainly positive, but nebulous concepts such as quality of life. For the delivery of sustainable infrastructure, it is the components of liveable communities that support sustainable development that should be encouraged, other components of ‘liveability’ such as those espoused by the City Vancouver and the Town of Okotoks, will develop as the result of public participation in the planning process. Tthis means that liveability should be seen as a policy of participation and inclusive planning rather than any preset physical infrastructure goals.

If this policy is implemented on a neighbourhood scale, it will also ensure a development of local distinctiveness, a sense of place and community identity. These are important components of sustainable communities (de Figueiredo, 1998).

Many case studies, including this one, show that real success in delivering liveability and sustainable development requires both grassroots activism and political leadership. What then should be proposed for those communities where neither or only one of these is present? Perhaps liveability is a suitably all encompassing term that can win the necessary support for a more progressive urban policy?


Detailed Background Case Description

Town of Okotoks

Okotoks is facing a period of growth, which for many communities would mean the growth of car-orientated suburbs and a steady decline in the vibrancy and vitality of the downtown core. This would lead to a lower quality of life or a decline in liveability, for the town as a whole. The challenge for the municipality is to put in place an urban growth policy that allows for controlled development of the town, expansion of the population, and economic opportunity without reducing the social and natural capital that gives the town its competitive edge and character.

In 1998, in its Municipal Development Plan the community set limits to growth of:

“a Sustainable Community of no more than 30,000 citizens.” (Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)

This is based not on economic or social limits, but on the carrying capacity of the watershed. Thus, its future development uses a framework or principles of ecological limits to growth.

Combined with this has been a long standing realisation that the key to a successful and liveable town is the downtown core:

“The business districts of our towns and cities, with their shops, services, civic functions, and cultural opportunities, historically have been the magnetic centres of towns, places where people are drawn to do business, shop, visit, spend money, wine and dine themselves, and just watch other people. Main Street is the core of a community, a place that sets the tone, creates the identity and personality that makes the community memorable. We can perceive its roots in the style of buildings and the layout of the streets and public spaces. We can see the current level of community interest and pride reflected in the development of amenities to attract people, and in the care shown for everyday upkeep” (Downtown Idea Exchange, 1993 cited in Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)

The focus of the community, therefore, has been the development of good quality of life over unlimited economic growth, based on ecological limits and principles of quality urban design. As the plan states:

“Neglect of the downtown core would be like creating a heart without a soul.” (Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)

The Town of Okotoks displays the characteristics of full community engagement in the planning process found in many examples of sustainable infrastructure development and sustainable communities detailed in the various cases studies on this website. This strong linkage between the community and the municipality delivers an urban form that agrees with many of the concepts detailed in such planning and design philosophies as Smart Growth and New Urbanism. These types of communities are what people want, and that is what makes for a liveable community. The challenge is providing a mechanism that delivers this type of development without stifling the ability of the private sector to work in partnership with the community to create a diverse economic base upon which the community will depend. This has been a concern in Okotoks:

“In the past, revitalization efforts have largely failed due to lack of grass roots and resident business community support and initiation of revitalization ventures.” (Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)

In 2003, Okotoks' development plan was reviewed to assess the progress against the plan. Overall, the plan delivered an improvement in liveability and the degree to which Okotoks was becoming a sustainable community whilst incorporating growth within the ecological limits of the watershed. There were, however, some shortcomings in implementation (Okotoks MDP Review 1998-2003, 2005).

  1. Industrial assessment growth is lagging behind residential and commercial assessment growth and must increase to meet the MDP target of 22% commercial-industrial assessment by build-out.

  2. There remains considerable work to be done within the river valley and escarpment areas to restore disturbed natural areas.

  3. There has been virtually no mixed-use development outside of the downtown.

  4. The improvement of 32nd Street, including the critical link across the Sheep River, is absolutely vital to ensure the development and viability of existing and planned industrial areas.

  5. The majority of local roads continue to be developed with mono-sidewalks rather than the separated sidewalks suggested in the MDP.

  6. There is almost no development-ready industrial land in Okotoks.

  7. Architectural regulations have not yet been developed and implemented for the Downtown.

  8. A gateway features for Downtown has not yet been developed.

  9. Public art in the Downtown is encouraged, but few examples exist to date.

  10. A site for a community Transit Hub (preferably in the core of the community) has not been established.

Of these shortcomings, possibly the most crucial for sustainable development would be the lack of economic diversity represented by points 1 and 6, and problems with transport represented by points 4, 5 and 10, as well as the lack of delivery in ecological improvements in degraded areas, point 2. They all represent ways in which the town could become more liveable. Many of these issues reflect the difficulty of getting the local business community on board with the sustainable development agenda. Businesses, particularly industrial ones, find it challenging to shift thinking to a more long-term, holistic approach where economic activity is intrinsically linked to liveable and sustainable communities.

City of Vancouver

In the 1970s, the city's planning process was strongly influenced by the City of Vancouver's response to vocal opposition to the routing of a freeway through the city. This led to a generation of planners focused on liveability and secondarily sustainability. This has strengthened over the last few years as the popularity of greening and sustainable development has grown in the community at large, nationally and globally.

The highway proposal in the 1970s was designed to keep people in the suburbs coming into the downtown in order to maintain the thriving commercial and economic core of the city. Suburban development in the surrounding municipalities led to the need to attract people into the downtown otherwise the centre of the city would die. The city did this by promoting and implementing self sufficiency – in effect saying to suburban municipalities that they should provide for themselves, while at the same time providing new opportunities for living in the downtown – rather than accepting that people will move to the suburbs necessitating providing transport for them to get to the downtown, a model adopted in many other North American cities. Instead, Vancouver started building residential development in the downtown core to ensure the vibrancy was maintained, partly triggerd by the need to revialtalise the downtown core to complement the development taking place for Expo 1986 at the edge of the downtown core.

In many ways, now the liveability agenda is actually holding back sustainable urban development. It is the new inertia and to some extent the city is coasting on its successes of the past, and not addressing the newly identified issues of the near future. The frame of reference has not adapted or evolved to respond to new challenges and changing contexts.

As a concept, sustainable development has been entrenched deeply within the senior management levels within the city and, to date, has little transformational impact. It has been left at the level of urban form and design and often limited to the downtown core. Inertia is deeply ingrained as a result of the past self-sufficient approach taken to counteract the expansion of the suburbs.  As an extreme example, the municipality even has its own asphalt plant developed to insulate the city from cost shocks. Development like this creates a huge capital inertia to overcome, the existing infrastructure choices shape future decisions.

The question, therefore, is how does the city shift from the current generation focused on liveability, which is limited in its impact and not necessarily sustainable to a position focused on sustainable development and making real advances in infrastructure and sustainable communities?

Fundamentally, there must be a move to multifunctional / interdisciplinary approaches within the municipality and a shift in functional alignment. What this means is to recast engineering services as ecosystem services. For example, back lanes are currently used for garage access and emergency access and garbage collection. It could be argued that these represent municipal subsidies for motorists wishing to store their vehicles off the road. Should the municipality subsidise single occupancy vehicles? Should the municipality be, in fact, utilising these spaces multifunctionality and bringing ecological, and social uses into these spaces in the form of urban agriculture, composting and community gardens? For other considerations, see the Downtown Eastside case study on this website.

Pressures to change are again coming from the very motivated and activist grassroots of the city. This, in turn, is reaching the attention of politicians, who see the rewards of pursuing such an agenda at council. This is a similar cycle of change that was observed in the 1970s and as such is a positive sign for future development, and supports evidence from many of the case studies considered in this project that grassroots and community initiatives, combined with senior city-level champions are frequently the driving force behind the development of sustainable community.

Meeting regional concerns is also a challenge for the City of Vancouver city council. Translink, the regional transit provider, is looking at the regional perspective for infrastructure development. The city has lobbied for increases in Translink's services to keep up with in-city demand, while Translink is focused on the wider region. The region as a whole recognises that road building is not the answer although there is pressure from the provincial level to further develop the highway system. In the past, the regional partnership within the Greater Vancouver Regional District was very proactive in driving a liveability and sustainable development agenda, but the GVRD is  constrained by its mandate and the municipal politics of the region. In the 1990s, the GVRD had good ideas supporting planning for sustainable development, but new elections changed the board and the GVRD focused less on sustainable development, and the  sustainable regional plan lacked any real application. In reality, low density suburban development is still the norm in almost all new subdivisions across the region. Suburban sprawl is starting to be addressed, but it is a slow process.

Signs of change and progress is the city instituting a framework based, in part, on the Natural Step (primarily for internal communication as it is rather overly technical for use in community engagement.) and partly on See-It, a software framework tool developed by Visible Strategies to link all aspects of the policy for which the City of Vancouver has influence to the Triple Bottom Line. These approaches all consider the importance of a long-term integrated perspective to planning and management, and can help to create a common framework for moving forward. Then, a consensus or consent needs to be built around these sustainable development principles – all conflicts can then be referred back to these principles. This process in Vancouver can be built on existing strong foundations already in place from decades of progressive urban policy provided the inertia of existing policy can be overcome.

Strategic Questions

The danger is that liveable communities become concentrated in downtowns and wealthier areas of a city, with fringe areas and less affluent suburbs being left with lowest cost development leading to highest long term costs to the triple bottom line. This is despite it being easiest to implement liveability into new development. Retrofitting liveability, if this is at all possible, is much harder as it is so based on the design of existing infrastructure and the use of mixed use planning regimes – building this into existing car-focused infrastructure and mono-functional planning zones is problematic. Why, therefore, does liveability in Canada seems to be largely integrated into downtowns and infill developments, and not in expanding suburbs?

How can plans and planners for that matter, avoid becoming static and realize the dynamic nature of the planning process, that is, adapt and evolve over time as the community itself evolves and yet, shape that course sustainably?

One question that evolves from is case study is a question of spatial scale. Is there a threshold of community size that is too big to create a sustainable downtown at the expense of other regional centres? Okotoks, a relatively small community is based around a sustainable downtown. Vancouver, a large city-region, has tried to develop liveability around a sustainable downtown, yet the city has serious transport problems and could certainly not be described as sustainable in its current form.

To what extent can planning impact the development of a sustainable community? In both Okotoks and Vancouver, there are many ideals in the planning documents and urban policies affecting the communities, yet delivery seems problematic.

Resources and References

Dale, A. 2001. At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.

de Figueiredo, P. 1998. Local Distinctiveness Strategies to promote economic competitiveness, in Context, Vol. 60, on-line edition.

Fischer, E. 2000. 'Building Livable Communities for the 21st Century.' Public Roads. May/June, pp 30-34.

Kunstler, J.H. 1993. The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape. New York: Simon & Schuster.


This is a great discussion on liveability!

As communities discuss sustainability it seems as though the topic of liveability is often discussed as well. This only makes sense because liveability is critical to the establishment of a sustainable community.

The case studies from Okotoks and Vancouver really help to explain and understand the concept of liveability. The case studies show how liveability is different in different communities, which is expected because it is highly dependent on what the residents view and value as a liveable community. I think by focusing on building residential developments in the downtown Vancouver took an important and essential first step. The downtown tends to be the heart of the community and with people living in the downtown they are more likely to care for it, which will often be apparent in the feel of the area. In addition with more people around safety is increased. In my community residential developments in the downtown are limited and because of this the downtown is not the most desirable or safest area; it lacks vibrancy.

From what I understand about liveability, I think a liveable community should include the following: a focus on the residents and quality of life; it should be walkable – some essential services within walking distance of your home, including transit service (if it is available in the community); it should have inviting public spaces; mixed use buildings; and it should be safe for people of all ages. When I look at these factors it becomes quite obvious how sustainability and liveability are linked.

Also, the case study mentions that is it very difficult or impossible to retrofit liveability. I understand how it would be difficult and this really emphasizes how important it is to incorporate these features in the planning stage. I am wondering if any communities been successful in retrofitting liveability?



I picked this case study because urban liveability is of great interest to me. Vancouver is my favourite Canadian city and Okotoks lies just south of my hometown Calgary. While the topic of liveability and sustainability is relevant and important, I found this case study was a very high level theoretical look at what liveability is and how to implement those theories in the planning stages. It provided little concrete examples of what liveability looks like at the ground level.
Despite good intentions and purposeful planning, from what I can see as a frequent visitor to both cities, is an unqualified failure on both accounts. Despite Vancouver’s beautiful backdrop of mountains and ocean, it is still a very car-centric, very large urbanized city suffering from horrendous traffic that does have a vibrant central community that only the very wealthy can truly enjoy. If people have to drive into the city to enjoy the attributes of liveability, how can this be sustainable? This problem is directly addressed in the case study, but no realistic alternatives are suggested.
Okotoks is a bedroom community 50 kilometers south of Calgary. That label (bedroom community) alone should disqualify it as sustainable/liveable as the majority of its residents drive into Calgary daily. As stated by Ling, Hamilton and Thomas in What Makes a City Liveable? They sate: “In short, liveable communities have to provide meaning to people’s lives beyond just being a point of residence.” The center of economic activity is not in the center of town, but is located in two ‘consumervilles’ (box store clusters) along the major north/south axis of the town. The community has stated that they want to limit the size of the town to 30,000 residents. After discussing this topic with a local developer, it seems that this target will be surpassed, as Okotoks is growing rapidly, suffering from insufficient planning, greedy developers and the unquentionable demand for low-density housing. The town needs the ever-increasing tax base from expansion to fund infrastructure. Stay small and don’t develop, or expand to develop, it’s a vicious circle. Add the quandary of a limited supply of fresh water and the circle tightens.
The term liveability remains undefined. There is a reference to sustainable development through reduced car transportation, increases in greenspace and opportunities for social capital, but these are all vague notions with little substance in proactive solutions for urban planners or city residents that are desperately seeking liveable cities.

Clint Marble


Clint brings up an interesting question about liveable community. First, everyone in the world has a different definition of what would make a liveable community. Many of the towns today in Canada struggle with the lack of transportation. I currently live in Edmonton, and unless you are in the downtown sector, public transportation is not very economical or practical. And like most other cities I think more and more people want to live in 'suburbs' as they see it safer for their children, quieter and maybe a slower way of life.

I can see why it is hard for a community like Okotoks that use to be a sleepy community to keep up with the demand for space and growth. I think a lot of people are looking for the sleep community feel with all the amenities. For me personally I also like the idea of quieter community and looking into the possibilities of moving to a smaller community. However after looking at my ecological footprint, moving to smaller community will lead to an increase in my footprint instead of reduction.

In some ways it is easier for a community to long term plan for a liveable and sustainable place. A town can put in strategies to plan for the future, i.e. if the population raises to what % will we implement public transportation and where will it go? Also it is easier to implement green spaces (which highly makes a community liveable) before development comes in, then after. Mature green spaces are more appealing than the new areas. All this however is easier said then done, as many places will never be able to determine the growth of the community and at what scale.


After reading this article, the concept of liveability will surely stick with me. I work for a Municipality in the GTA with a population of ~120,000 and we are right in the thick of creating our Sustainability Plan. For many reasons, this municipality doesn't have a downtown and it has just dawned on me that this negatively affects my opinion of how liveable this town is. It lacks that critical communal gathering space and is exploding with big box stores instead, and it feels as though the community has no history (which is untrue). It also feels like certain age groups are completely absent from the community, which again reduces the liveability. Economic dynamism, social space, and mono-functional planning zones...all things that have sparked my curiosity. And the notion that municipalities are starting to look at ecosystem services - fabulous! new buzz word.

I think that this case study presents a perspective on communities that I had previously given minimal thought to. I think that the population cap is a very interesting concept and I will be sure to keep an eye on how that goes over the next few years as they get closer and closer to capacity. The concept of liveability is a great overarching term that I will be sure to incorporate into my work much more frequently. And I will be certain to make a point to stop and explore Okotoks a little more closely instead of just passing through as I have done for years. This article just gave me a different perspective into an area of sustainability that I haven't paid much attention to, so thank you to Chris, Jim and Kathy for opening my eyes just a little bit wider!

Clint- I couldn’t agree with your comments more.

I think it is wonderful that Vancouver and Okotoks have injected livability into their municipal development plans, but I am unsure of the degree to which either city has achieved livability. I suppose that like sustainable development, livability is a process rather than an end point (Robinson, 2004) and that by engaging in that process in a thoughtful manner, both cities may get further along than other cities in the process toward enhancing livability and, perhaps as a side benefit, sustainability. Certainly, both cities will have made strides towards livability because they have looked at their planning policies through the lens of livability.

By contrasting Okotoks to Vancouver, the point that jumped out at me (and is addressed in different ways in the case study) is that livability is entirely subjective and very exclusionary. As the case study and a few subsequent comments note, the term “livability” is inherently difficult to define. The type of subjectivity that I’m more concerned with is that the same place can be exceedingly livable to one person or group of people while being completely “unlivable” to another person or group of people.

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about Canadian cities lately as my husband and I debated which one to pick for our upcoming relocation. Our judgment of different cities’ livability (or different elements that contribute to livability) guided our discussions. Our ultimate decision was to exclude Vancouver from consideration because we judged that we couldn’t afford to live there in a way that would feel livable for us. One of many considerations was that the cost of living is so high that we may have been pushed further away from the city core, which would have increased our commute – a deal-breaker for us. If we had a couple million of dollars to spend on a house, Vancouver would probably be (for us) the most livable city in the country. But without those deep pockets, the equation changes significantly. The case study brought this topic up – and it was written in 2006! As we all know, the economic story in Vancouver has changed quite a bit since then.

As you mentioned, Clint, Okotoks serves as a bedroom community to Calgary. I’m sure that’s not its purpose in life, but at least a portion of Okotoks’ population commutes to Calgary daily during the week. For many (myself included) that is not a marker of a livable community. Without a requirement to commute, perhaps Okotoks is perfect – I don’t know it well enough to judge.


Robinson, J. (2004). Squaring the circle? Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development. Ecological Economics 48(4), 369-384.

Leith Anderson

Good stuff Jim. I think that Ann Dale's on-line poll is attempting to collect this type of data.

I might suggest that as we move up the needs (to number 4 or 5) different people have different needs/wants as well though. You can not group everyone together as wanting the same things, which is why a livable city should have the ability to offer many different choices.

Having stakeholder dialogue and local voting is important to develop all of this.

I think this is a creative and interesting tool for looking at the needs of different people living in a city. I think that if this tool were to be used on a practical level, again accessibility must be considered. How do we make sure to include people who speak a different language, people who are mentally unwell, people who do not have a set "home" so that their needs and perspectives are not forgotten?

What does my liveable city look like:

My liveable city is one made up of little communities where people feel connected. These nodes are comprised of housing areas with families, students (as long as they don't party to all hours of the night and respect their neighbours) and seniors living in proximity to each other. These nodes need places or events where people can congregate and meet. Streets are small and safe (I find traffic noise stressful). Green space is required, it does not need to be an expansive forest but it does need to be more than a grassed soccor feild. recreational areas are good but people need to re-connect with nature (whether they think they do or not). And lieability also means being able to exit the city in a reasonable amount of time, to get into the country. In Hfx I can be floating among the costal island in 20 minutes and I live downtown. Active transportation opportunities is imperative in my liveable city. New developments just outside the city are absolutely car-centric, very depressing.


So how do we get people buying from local suppliers? Whether it is food or furniture? I think this will come with an increase in socialization. (Is socialization a word?) As people become acquainted with their neighbours and feel connected to a community I think they will consider buying from the small business's that are operated by neighbours. Am I naive? or will they continue to go to walmart?

A diverse local economy is more sustainable: keeps profits in the community, resilient to economic bust, etc.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


I think there is a paradox of modern individualism - choice is the goal of retail. Sorry - choice at the lowest price. So a few companies make lots of different tomato sauces so we have low-cost centralized production and choice at the supermarket shelf - but very low diversity in choice between communities. The same tomato sauces across Canada. And the same cheap furniture/stuff from China at Walmart.

I think this globalization of trade - at the expense of local production and retail has been fuelled (excuse the pun) by cheap energy. It is artificially low cost to move the Tomato sauce across the country - there is not room, economically, for the local producer to compete against centralized production and artificially low transportation.

I think this aspect of liveable cities cannot be solved by the communities themselves - but is an issue of global trade and global energy policy. (Of course the cynic in me suggests this will all work itself out soon, when the oil economy shifts, and we have to grow vegetables in our own back yards again. Progressive policy will soften that drop/shift.)


In reply to by b1samis


Try to answer questions/themes with the reply button right below them.

If everyone could also try and label their subject with the subject they are responding to it would potentially make things a little bit easier.

In reply to by b1samis


Everyone has a different view of liveability and as such dialogue is necessary to determine the vision.

The long term imperative of sustainability may not be considered without government intervention. People aree protecting their own interests , as Ian mentioned, and these are usually short term.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


I agree with you totally Calinda but why are kids still littering? Anti-littering campaigns hae been part of the school curriculum at least since I was a kid and that was quite a while ago and the roadside ditches next to school are absolutely filled with chip bags and pop cans. Perhaps a different kind of learning is necessary, experiential learning. I'm not an expert in experiential learning but I picture children and youth going into nature to experience it and connect with it. Will litter then be more meaningful to them?

I think I may be going into a tangent.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


Yes, I agree Calinda that we must consider youth when looking at these issues. And, building upon what Solveig mentioned (yeah, epigenesis!) how can we take this a step further and actually involve youth in decision-making?

I think experiential learning would definitely tie-in to this. I think it would be awesome if schools (including RRU) altered their curriculum to centre around on-the ground problem-solving for current issues. For example, a grade 4 class could spend a semester looking at how to make their schoolyard more "liveable" and, in the process, integrate required curriculum.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


A friend of mine works for a "sustainable design" architecture firm. They are developing some great ideas. However they do NOT revolve around affordability. They focus on energy conservation, interesting design (I think that livable cities are interesting to look at) and live/work developments to reduce the reliance on the car.

Again, sustainability may be expensive. So livable/sustainable cities need economic opportunity and support to those living on the edges.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


Yes Alix, you are absolutely right. This venture is risky - and to send the right message it must be successful. If they start dropping components of the initial design (first its affordable housing, next goes the onsite waste treatment, next it will be the sustainability showcase thing you know it is just another overpriced overhyped land development). They must follow through on the complete package and we as consumers should be encouraged to reward them (by buying up the units) and demand more developments like this. And the circular argument ends back at costs...we have to pay the price (which I have no problem with) as long as they provide the service as promised.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


The original proposal from the City did not have the social housing component as a very important part of the project (in fact Windmill have done more than they were asked to do by the City)

The City saw the social component being mainly in the quality of the neighbourhood and the public amenity.


I used word for my first post (Sustainability as a disguise) but found that process to slow so I tried to get caught up on the discussion via reply and I don't have a copy of it.

The coles notes version is…

1. Safety – I have a huge issue with the amount of break and enters in the city (and property crime).
2. Close to amenities – Usually the only time I can get out for a walk is to go to the store; more people should do this.
3. Size of condo shoeboxes downtown – How can you raise a family in a 500 sq foot “studio” apartment. Downtown living is great for single yuppie types, but once married with kids you are forced to the ‘burbs.


Here goes with what may be my final thoughts.

There are a number of good ideas in this dialogue that can be condensed for an action plan. I think the discussion has two flavours - "the problem" and "the solutions". Some may match up.

We seem to have focused on the urban issue - living in the core, and that there are divisions between urban, suburban and rural communities. I agree. And there should be. Communities need to self organize based on the motivations that brought them together in the first place. In some cases, the steel mill or the car plant are the unifying force. In some cases, the community is a rural network of widely dispersed living centred around a small community hub.

I think finding services within your community is important. People are now finding they have to travel to another "community" for basic services, including food, medical care, culture, etc. The more they find those services within their own "place", with all of the emotional connections described above, they will feel attachment.


I agree Al.

I would also include economic benefits/opportunities to any livable community. If people do not have the opportunity to work near where they live, they will either need to commute or end up homeless/on-the-fringe contributing to crime.

I feel too rushed to wrap-up at the moment and think it would only dilute the quality of my other posts.

Thanks to everyone for their contributions. I really liked this disucssion forum, although that sucks that Ian was not really able to contribute. Perhaps you could add-in some comments post-discussion Ian. I don't have a problem with that.

In reply to by jhibbard


Two minutes to go.

Making a city liveable and sustainable is critical. there are linkages but we need to be cognizant of both terms. One does not necessarily beget the other. I guess, like others have said keeping ecological, economic and social balance in mind.

I thought this was a lot of fun, thanks all.

For me the first step in achieving a “sustainable” community is to recoup waste due to inefficiencies. Communities should be designed to reflect this, and the first thing that should be visited is getting people out of their cars. Since when did we loose walking as a mode of transportation. People will circle the block five times to find the “perfect parking spot”, what happened to walking a few blocks to get where you are going? Have we become so dependent on time that we can’t spare ten minutes to get where we a re going? And this dependency on time is emphasized by our work. Be there by 8 leave at 5 mentality. People should try and live closer to where they work, again I see this as efficient thinking. But a new problem arises? How many people spend their entire life at the same organization? It appears our workforce is way more fluid than in previous generations (generations whose design or concept for urban planning is usually built upon). In short, if I were supreme ruler I would take three initiatives…Tough on crime (take back the streets and stop living in fear); tough on vehicles (access to the downtown core would be accessed only by service vehicles (delivery, transit, cabs), and tough on sustainable development (holding developers accountable for what they “say” they will do). I acknowledge that these efforts are difficult to enforce and only exist in the fantasy of my head…



Case studies in sustainable transportation infrastructure.


Alternative Road Allocations, Whitehorse

Alternative Road Allocations, Whitehorse

Levi Waldron
Published January 24, 2007

Case Summary

This case study examines the practice of converting existing four-lane roadways to multimodal two-lane roads, often referred to as alternative road allocations or "road diets," although this study avoids the latter rather value-laden terminology. The road space gained from the reduction in automobile lanes may be allocated to bike lanes, widened sidewalks, a treed centre median, or other uses. The common feature is the reallocation of existing automobile space. The loss of automobile space is usually made politically feasible by improvements in traffic flow efficiency, for example adding left-turn lanes, harmonizing automobile speeds, and eliminating lane changes, which maintain preexisting car traffic flow rates. This case study focuses on two alternative road allocations, Fourth Avenue and Quartz Avenue, in Whitehorse, YK.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Alternative road allocations hold the potential to enhance transportation safety for all road users, reduce congestion and transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, encourage healthy active transportation, and improve aesthetic appeal of the roadway. The City of Whitehorse lists the following goals for its transportation infrastructure and education plan:

  1. reduction of transportation related greenhouse gas emissions;
  2. increased awareness and use of walking and cycling, particularly for downtown commuters;
  3. increased awareness and use of public transit and carpooling;
  4. improved safety for road users;
  5. greater use of cycling by city employees for business trips in the downtown area;
  6. greater public understanding of the linkage between transportation choices and greenhouse gas emissions;
  7. a healthier lifestyle for residents and visitors; and,
  8. reduced fuel consumption and congestion.

Critical Success Factors

Changing the status quo of existing road design priorities is a difficult and significant political risk. Acceptance by a sufficient majority of road users is critical both to implementing changes and keeping them in place, as evidenced by the rapid reversal of some of the redesigns in Whitehorse. In other cases, the redesigns have gained broad acceptance by ensuring that automobile travel times and volumes are unaffected or improved by the modifications. Alternative road allocations are not a technological "fix" to unsustainable transportation patterns; whether they remain in place and whether they provide an environmental benefit depends on the depth of government and public support for the principles and realities of sustainable transportation. To achieve substantial transportation sustainability improvements, they must be just a part in an ongoing process of incremental changes in attitude, habits, demand management strategies, and increased access to public infrastructure transportation choices.

However, for individual alternative road allocation projects to be approved and remain in place, some of the critical success factors are:

  1. an existing critical mass of support and demand for change from pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and local residents who benefit the most from improved safety and aesthetics;
  2. minimal adverse effect on travel times for car users; and,
  3. the amount of parking along the roadway is unchanged or increased.

Essentially, to be politically feasible the alternative road allocation must be seen as a "win-win" situation, where some benefits to sustainable transportation users are realized without any sacrifice by automobile users.

Community Contact Information

Mr. Wayne Tuck, P.Eng.
Manager, Engineering and Environmental Services
City of Whitehorse
Telephone: (867) 668-8306
Fax: (867) 668-8386

What Worked?

The Whitehorse alternative road allocation projects are part of a city-wide integrated greenhouse gas reduction strategy including other infrastructure changes, public education and outreach, and transportation demand management (City of Whitehorse, Stage 2: Detailed Proposal).

What Didn’t Work?

Upon completion of the Whitehorse 4th Avenue project, drivers along one stretch of road began experiencing delays during the evening peak period. One of the most disappointing outcomes of the alternative road allocation projects was the reversal of many of the project's important features only one month after completion. As a result of negative public feedback from some affected drivers, parts of the 4th Avenue project reverted to their former road allocation, including eliminating the separate bike lane in favour of designated bike lanes with on-street painted bike logos, and reversion to a four-lane roadway. The city is planning to widen the roadway to include a dedicated cycling lane in 2007.

Although surveys of improved recreational trails have indicated a 35% increase usage (Progress update of Whitehorse project), monitoring use of the new road system has proven to be challenging. This is due in part to the high variation in the number of people using alternative transportation, significant seasonal changes and limited vehicle traffic monitoring capacity (i.e., Whitehorse is not able to determine the number of occupants per vehicle). Thus, there is not yet an indication of whether the restructured roads and other efforts have produced significant changes in transportation choices.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Financial information for the Whitehorse project is from The Whitehorse Driving Diet (2003) and include only the actual costs of developing the infrastructure as the city did not include public consultations and other political expenses in the project's budget. The 4th Avenue alternative road allocation project, covering slightly more than 1km of road, cost $530,500 and was shared by the City of Whitehorse ($30,367), Yukon Electric and Yukon Energy ($50,000), and the Transport Canada Urban Transportation Showcase Program ($176,833).  The Copper and Quartz Road alternative road allocation project cost $63,000, shared by the City of Whitehorse ($42,000) and the Urban Transportation Showcase Program ($21,000). The Robert Service Way and 4th Avenue roundabout project cost $110,000, which was paid for by the City of Whitehorse ($73,333) and the Urban Transportation Showcase Program ($36,667). These funds were used for:

  1. re-painting existing four lane roadway to two lanes with a centre two-way left turn lane and bicycle lanes;
  2. retrofitting traffic signals to suit new road geometry;
  3. adding parallel parking bays where required;
  4. installing mid-block crosswalks with refuge islands where needed for major pedestrian crossing locations;
  5. upgrading street signs and pedestrian/cycling markings;
  6. removing existing curbs where necessary to expand intersection area;
  7. constructing new raised concrete curb centre island and approach splitter islands; and,
  8. landscaping of the roundabout islands and edges.

Research Analysis

The City of Whitehorse is using soft and hard measures to determine the number of people commuting by alternative means to the downtown core, as well as other benefits from the infrastructure changes. Techniques include vehicle counts using on-street tube counts, intersection loop counting systems, visual traffic counts, trail intercept surveys, trail counters and city-wide surveys (City of Whitehorse Showcase Description):

  1. measurement of walking, cycling and vehicular activity using combinations of visual observation and on-street tubes, intersection loop counting systems, trail counters and trail intercept surveys;
  2. transit ridership counts and on-board surveys;
  3. motor vehicle collision records;
  4. interview surveys with pedestrians and cyclists;
  5. travel surveys of area households and downtown employees;
  6. travel logs maintained by carpooling and Travel Smart participants; and,
  7. participation in special events.

It has been difficult for Whitehorse to assess changes in transportation choices, due in part to the high seasonal variation in the number of people using alternative transportation and to limited vehicle traffic monitoring capacity (i.e., Whitehorse is not able to determine the number of occupants per vehicle). While trail surveys have provided good data, they may not be the best measure for determining accurate modal splits as the majority of trail use is recreational rather than transportation-related.  A more conclusive follow-up report is expected in June 2007.

Detailed Background Case Description

Whitehorse is a small capital city of 21,000 people, with a downtown business centre and an “upper area” stretching several kilometres outside of downtown where about 2/3 of the population lives. Fourth Avenue and Quartz Avenue are two primary arterial roads connecting the upper area to the downtown, which were converted from four automobile lanes to two automobile lanes plus a two-way centre left-turn lane and bike lanes in 2004. A roundabout was also installed along 4th Avenue to reduce motorized vehicle delay, slow the speed of traffic, and improve the safety of all road users. The roads are also in the process of being beautified by burying overhead power and telephone lines, and upgrading the street lighting.

These projects are part of a larger process the the city began in 2002 to promote sustainable and active transportation. The process began with a public design workshop with city representatives, NGOs, and private citizens, which identified alternative road allocation options including replacing automobile lanes with bike lanes and installation of roundabouts. With further public consultation, these were incorporated into a city-wide transportation policy known as the Active Transportation Programme (Wayne Tuck, Personal Communication). At this point, the city made a successful application to Transport Canada's Urban Transportation Showcase Program. This program provided some capital funding for the infrastructure projects in exchange for being a showcase program and providing reports on the success and lessons learned from the program. Whitehorse's Active Transportation Program is multi-faceted, including (City of Whitehorse, Stage 2: Detailed Proposal):

  1. infrastructure changes to reduce barriers to active transportation;
  2. public education and outreach to promote greenhouse gas emissions reduction and information; and,
  3. transportation demand management programs to reduce the level of drive-alone travel.

All of the infrastructure changes outlined in the first stage of this proposal have been implemented. Actual construction on two alternative road allocations occurred in 2004, after another public consultation process just before construction. Upon completion of the lane reduction, drivers experienced delays along the downtown stretch of 4th Avenue during the peak evening rush. These delays may have been considered minor in many large cities, but caused immediate concern among drivers unaccustomed to such delays (Wayne Tuck, Personal Communication). Concerned drivers requested an emergency meeting of city council to review the changes, at which the city decided to revert two blocks of 4th Avenue to 4 lanes, eliminating the bike lanes for about 200 metres, but leaving over 1km of 4th Avenue in its new configuration.  As part of the decision, council planned to reinstate the bike lanes at a later time by widening the road to accommodate them in addition to the four motor vehicle lanes – a “win-win” situation. “Quite a few people” felt that council overreacted, and should have given people time to adjust to the new situation (Wayne Tuck, Personal Communication).

These projects are relatively recent, but the City of Whitehorse has completed an opinion survey of the opinions of residents, and has taken efforts to measure changes in transportation patterns as a result of the modifications.  Preliminary assessment of the success of these projects in meeting their goals are detailed in the Urban Transportation Showcase Program (2006) and summarized below:

  1. increased awareness and use of walking and cycling, particularly for downtown commuters: citizens survey in early 2006 found that "77% of citizens report that walking and cycling to the downtown core is good/excellent compared to only 49% in a 2002 survey and 47% in a 2004 survey";
  2. greater public understanding of the linkage between transportation choices and greenhouse gas emissions: citizens survey in early 2006 found that 96% citizens know about GHG reduction programs, with 68% reporting the they have made changes to their transportation means as a way of reducing their personal GHG contributions;
  3. improved travel time for cyclists, minor improvement for drivers;
  4. reduction of transportation related greenhouse gas emissions - not determined;
  5. increased awareness and use of public transit and carpooling - not determined;
  6. improved safety for road users - not determined;
  7. greater use of cycling by City employees for business trips in the downtown area - not determined;
  8. a healthier lifestyle for residents and visitors - not determined; and,
  9. reduced fuel consumption and congestion - not determined.

The 2006 citizens survey shows that the road transformations have improved residents' opinions of the walking and cycling-friendliness of these arterial roads and affected immediate aesthetic and safety benefits.  However, this and other alternative road allocation projects have been designed to have minimal or no inconvenience to drivers, and there is still a lack of evidence that this approach will have a significant impact on transportation choices. 

Creating a friendly street structure for cyclists, pedestrians, and transit users is an important aspect of increasing access to more sustainable transportation choices. Alternative road allocations are one aspect of the process for existing automobile-centred roads, but such projects are likely to meet stiff opposition from existing road users and be politically unpalatable if they try to change habits too quickly or without a broader recognition of the need for sustainable transportation and an integrated sustainable transportation plan. These initiatives are unlikely to achieve sustainable transportation targets such as Whitehorse's goal of significant greenhouse gas emissions unless they:

  1. build on existing initiatives;
  2. are part of an integrated strategy linking land use planning and transportation;
  3. are implemented in areas which already have enough support from local residents and businesses to pass the initiatives through the public consultation processes;
  4. have sufficient public commitment to their implementation and goals; and,
  5. are backed by the political will to maintain the project in the face of some negative reaction after implementation, which is inevitable even after extensive public consultations, and benefits are measurable and clearly communicated to road users.

In many places, the main barriers to implementing alternative road allocations are likely to be political will and public support, rather than actual infrastructure costs or technical challenges.

Resources and References

Interview with Mr. Wayne Tuck, P.Eng., Manager, Engineering and Environmental Services. January 24, 2007.

Urban Transportation Showcase Program website, Whitehorse case. ( Retrieved December 20, 2006.
Useful links:

Progress update of Whitehorse project

Road Diets: Fixing the Big Roads

Transport Canada website, St. George Street Revitalization: "Road Diets" in Toronto.

(…). Retrieved February 12, 2007.

Levi. Waldron

As the Alliance petitions the Governor and the General Assembly to join together to ensure that any and all revenue collected from highway users are invested wisely. One wonders what these TIGER Grants are going to be used for. The Department of Transportation has so far lined up TIGER Grants, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for St. Paul, Minnesota, Dallas, and a project in South Carolina. Dallas is getting street cars – it's anticipated that this might be a prelude to light rail projects, which are darlings of people that want public transport, but not as good as it could be. (The trolley systems used to be amazing, until GM manipulated congress to let them buy them out – thanks lobbyists!) It's basically huge payday loans essentially to our own economy, but one wonders when we'll see payoff.


This case study along with the other three case studies found within the Transportation section of the Case Studies in Sustainable Infrastructure link all speak to the need for public engagement in the form of acceptance of the project by residents, cooperation and partnerships between government, NGO’s and the public and specifically, as noted in this case study, “an existing critical mass of support and demand for change” is required.

Despite apparent support through extensive public consultation and despite the fact that this alternative road allocation project was designed to have minimal impact to drivers, the City Council decided to revert part of the road back to its original configuration upon drivers’ complaints of traffic delays following the implementation of this road reallocation initiative.

It would appear that in regards to aspiring to sustainable transportation infrastructure we are challenged with balancing the need for public support that demands the implementation of policies that only require incremental changes of behavior against criticism of policies that do not appear to be sufficiently influential in achieving sustainability targets or having a significant impact on transportation choices.


By converting the four lane roadways into multimodal two lane roads, we are allowing more traffic conjunction. The sustainable development characteristics is really essential for better road safety and the goals put forward by transportation infrastructure and education plan is practical to achieve

Integrated Transportation Strategies, Mont-Saint-Hilaire

Integrated Transportation Strategies, Mont-Saint-Hilaire

Jim Hamilton
Published September 15, 2006

Case Summary

In 2002, the Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire put in motion the development of a multi-functional suburb focused around a new heavy-rail commuter station providing service to downtown Montreal. ( and Called Village de la Gare, the village uses transit-oriented principles. popularized in Europe and the United States, to put in place high-density development that:

  1. provides 1,000 residential units within walking distance to the station to be built over ten years, of which 400 are already constructed;
  2. reduces the need for automotive transport in favour of walking and bicycle paths;
  3. creates a multi-functional district -residential, commercial and institutional-within close proximity of the commuter station;
  4. allocates approximately a 14 per cent of the overall site to green space, including retention of natural characteristics such as stands of trees and interesting vistas; and,
  5. provides easy “walk-to” station commuting to Montreal. All residential units are within 750 metres of the station.

Beginning in 2002, the development, which will be phased in over ten years requires modifications to the town plan of Mont-Saint-Hilaire especially with respect to the distribution of zoning density and location, and will feature “old fashioned” building designs to better blend with the older sectors of the town and the rural nature of the surrounding area. The new commuter station is an extension of an existing heavy-rail commuter line to the south of Montreal, and was put in as an integral part of the development.

Data to date suggest a significant drop in automotive usage (although a formal study has yet to be undertaken), and a 30 to 40 per cent increase in the value of condominiums located near the commuter station. Design of the development has single family houses near the periphery of the community with a gradual transition from high to low density moving from the commuter station to the already existing community.

Key to the development was a conscious effort to put together a win-win situation to support Mont-Saint-Hilaire as an environmentally sustainable and scenic community, to increase commuter traffic, and to provide reasonable returns to developers.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Village de la Gare purposely integrates the development of high-density accommodation with transit-supportive urban design. In short, it directly tackles the suburban problem by creating a village centre around a commuting station, permitting people to enjoy both the advantages of sustainable small-town living with the career choices that connect with the larger Montreal metropolitan area. For those not commuting, the purposeful design of a multi-functional community base near the station (that fully integrates commercial and institutional services with nearby residential units) supports the development of a healthy local economy and a livable community.

Located on a rehabilitated former industrial site (sugar refinery) near the edge of Mont Hilaire, the development aims to promote the natural setting at the edge of the mountain, while reducing development pressure around the mountain. This would be accomplished through installing services close at hand within the village, thus encouraging people to walk or bicycle.

The site had some minor contamination, primarily an elevated PH level. The developer paid for the clean up of the site rather than seek available government funding for the work as it was believed that the time required to apply for and comply with government processes would have caused undue delays in constructions.

Critical Success Factors

Critical success factors include:

  1. the presence of an existing train service within easy commuting distance to Montreal (about 35 kilometers) that was extended to Mont-Saint-Hilaire;
  2. the quality of the design and location of the station necessary to promote the use of the commuter train service thus leading to concrete results;
  3. acceptance of the project by the residents within the town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire. Following consultations within the community, the town put in place zoning by-laws that define high densities near the commuter station and lower densities moving away from the station towards an adjoining river and the existing town;
  4. the need to create and adhere to a long–term plan, and not be distracted by parties wishing to deviate from the plan; and,
  5. the development of a detailed integrated long-term plan, as well as the development of and control of standards related to type of housing, architectural styles, and allowable construction materials in order to maintain the overall integrity of the development.

Leadership for the project came essentially from the community as a response to protect the overall ambiance of the existing community, as well as the associated World Heritage site. Once conditions for developing Village de la Gare were in place, private sector interests made corresponding investments.

Community Contact Information

Bernard Morel
Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec

What Didn’t Work?

The initial plan focused on preserving naturalscapes, especially land along the river, places to walk and enjoy nature, etc. and neglected to incorporate playing fields such as baseball diamonds and soccer pitches. This has been rectified.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Once fully developed, the project will require investments in the neighbourhood of $150 million. Initial investments and responsibilities are shared as follows:

  1. by the Agence métropolitaine de transport, which constructed the station, the costs of which will defrayed through commuter revenues and general provincial transportation subsidies; and.
  2. by the private developer whose costs will be covered through sales and leases of the residential, institutional, and commercial units.

Research Analysis

 Analysis of this case study leads to these key observations.

    1. The critical need for a champion given the complexities associated with atypical land development. In this case, development depended critically on the ongoing and long-term cooperation of the people of the Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, the town council, the town planning committee, several provincial government departments, a metropolitan transit authority, as well as private developers.
    2. Zoning density is critical in transit-oriented sustainable development. Put simply, at Village de la Gare, development has to occur within 750 metres of the commuter station, which demands zoning densities significantly higher than those typically experienced in Canadian municipalities.
    3. The project focused on transit-oriented development (TOD), which generally subscribes to most, if not all, principles of sustainable communities. For further discussion of TOD, please refer to the TDM Encyclopedia at The municipality of Mont-Saint-Hilaire extended these concepts well towards sustainability, especially when one considers that the town plan was adjusted to take into account protection of the UNESCO site and the agricultural and historical nature of Mont-Saint-Hilaire.
    4. The project takes full advantage of an existing capital investment, namely the rail link to Montreal. Putting aside financial returns normally associated with commuter rail links, the project in itself would appear financial viable. Most investments are from the private sector, and are based on returns earned through sales and leases. Public sector investments on basic infrastructure would be covered through usual tax levies, either development or land taxes.

Detailed Background Case Description

The Initial Situation

With a population of 14,500, Mont-Saint-Hilaire ( is located approximately 40 kilometres from downtown Montreal on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, and in part has served as a “bedroom” community for the larger metropolitan area. The town plays another role, however, in that it possesses a wealth of natural features, as well as having a significant a significant agricultural presence. In addition, in 1978, the UNESCO designated the nearby mountain to the town as a World Biosphere Reserve because of its unique biological and geological features.

In terms of size, the overall Mont-Saint-Hilaire community covers 43 square kilometres with 100 km of urban roads, 30 km of rural roads, and 24 km of highways owned by the Quebec Ministère des Transports. The town has four bus routes (two of which pass by the railway station).

In 2000, the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) ( restored rail commuter service to the south shore, and in 2002, as far as Mont-Saint-Hilaire. Departure and return times to Montreal are generally matched to conventional work schedules with four inbound departures to Montreal in the morning and four return trips in the evening.

Following AMT’s extension of rail service, the Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire considered adopting a TOD approach to land development to create a sustainable community that emphasizes:

  1. high density;
  2. a within walking distance ‘city-centre’ that features a variety of functions, with residential, commercial, and institutional uses all close together in one area; and,
  3. conformity with the land surrounding the town, i.e. the physical features that led to the UNESCO designation, the agricultural community and the character of the older section of the town.

The Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire is the first town in Quebec to use this concept, although it is very popular in Europe and the United States.

The Development Phase

Following the initial considerations, objectives were clarified in that land development had to:

  1. offer a new way of living in suburban Montreal, similar to what is being done in a number of the world’s major cities;
  2. create a multifunctional district or ‘city centre’ around the existing public transit system;
  3. preserve the town’s natural character;
  4. reduce development pressure around the nearby mountain; and,
  5. encourage a non-automotive environment.

This translated to a concept of developing 1,000 housing units on a completely rehabilitated former industrial site (sugar refinery) where the basic traffic area extended no more than 750 metres from the station, with land densities correspondingly higher in the immediate area of the station.

Four potential sites were studied, using multi-criteria analysis focusing on the functional and practical aspect of the station, traffic, user comfort, and infill development. The final choice was, to a large extent, determined by the physical location of the railroad bed, as well as the absence of contamination and minimal environmental impact.

Municipal Interaction

The project required extensive interactions on the part of the Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire including:

  1. modifications to the town plan to incorporate sustainable development principles, especially the role of public transit to achieve this;
  2. harmonization of its by-laws and the issuance of construction permits in support of sustainability;
  3. re-zoning to establish the required distribution of building types and densities (high density near the station, low density near the river); and,
  4. inclusion within building permits of a site development and architectural integration plan that complies with applicable by-laws.

Technical Features

Technical features include:

  1. ultimate expansion to include upwards of 1,000 residential units;
  2. coverage of approximately 73 hectares (100 football fields), or 30% of the urban area of the town;
  3. development of the natural features such as a waterway and linear park;
  4. comprehension inclusion of traffic calming measures such as traffic circles, and a street grid design that makes it difficult for drivers to find short cuts to the station;
  5. a building layout that features older designs and conforms with the architectural style in the existing town,
  6. retention of tree stands;
  7. commuter station architecture reminiscent of traditional station designs;
  8. the use of berms to buffer train noise;
  9. the location of a 600-space “park-and-ride” lot is near the station; and
  10. railroad sidings located in the industrial area to reduce railroad noise.

Strategic Questions

  1. What triggers a community to consider sustainability as a long-term objective?

  2. Do the livability aspects of sustainability change dramatically across generations, and how important are these? Put differently, how important are economic incentives to community sustainability such as career and employment opportunities in line with those typical of a large metropolis?

  3. What is the role of the private sector in developing long-term sustainability plans?

Resources and References

Cervero, R. 1998. The Transit Metropolis. Washington: Island Press.

Dittmar, H. & G. Ohland. 2004. The New Transit Town: Best Practices in Transit-oriented Development. Washington: Island Press.

TDM Encyclopedia “Transit Oriented Development"

The Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire at , and

The Urban Transportation Showcase Program



Nice case study. Very interesting.

What is a heavy rail commuter station. A regular non-commuter line converted for commuter use?

Where do these posts go?

Chris Severson-Baker


This is an interesting case study as I know of St.Hilaire so am happy to see the initiative being taken in Quebec cities.

As discussed with Owen, I think that you are correct in your assumption Chris.

I am curious to know who or what started this initiative within the community as the study states that the leadership came from within the community. Their motivation must have been strong as they were not derailed in their quest for a sustainable transportation system.

I will have to see if I can find the ridership for the train and how successful it has been with linking the bus to the train station to increase ridership.

I am not sure where these posts go.


In reply to by sednie


Nice pun - derailed.

I had the same question - it is left a myster in this write up - was this led my municipal government with community engagement? The write up suggests that private developers were not driving the process - engaging the community.

It is my sense that in Calgary - where I live - the municipal government convenes community engagement for changes to infrastructure (e.g. - widening a road) with the public when there is an established community - but i have not witnessed community engagement led by government in new areas. This tends to be done by developers - and the focus is on marketting the new development successfully rather than addressing concerns etc. I should pay closer attention to the process for infill development however...


Chris Severson-Baker

In reply to by seversonbaker


The write up mentions

a long range plan developed by the community was in place and was stuck to;

leadership came from the community;

the final impact of the development was 1000 residential unit and over 30% of the urban area;

the development was user pay (sales and receipts).

This is novel in light of your experiences in Calgary Chris and my own.

How do you get a collective vision? A long range plan? One so accepted it does not come apart at the first developer pressure?



This is an example of integrating transportation option to enhance the sustainability of the commuter town. What about trying to remove the need for transportation out of the town by increasing economic opportunities so people can live and work in the same place? How feasible do you think this is, and which should be the for community planners?

I suspect that in Montreal like other growing cities in Canada there is constant pressure on nearby communities as the new houses go to commuters. Sometimes the new community members are not able to afford a comparable house closer in to where they work - these people tend to be younger.

One approach that a community planner could take would be to look for ways to attract others on the demographic spectrum - like near retirees who will spend more time and money in the community which will create more employment in the community comared to one that is only being utilized during the day and weekends.


Chris Severson-Baker

I see two interrelated issues here: the sustainability of the community and the sustainability of the lifestyles of those who live in the community.

Removing the need for transportation would decrease the flows into and out of the community, potentially reducing the openess of the community. I would suspect the flux of money from the Montreal commuters into Mt. St. Hilaire has a tremendous impact both positive and negative.

Individual sustainability has to be considered for those who are commuting. Why do you live so far from your work? How long do you plan on commuting? What impact is this having on your family?


Hi Owen

It looks like the commuter population is a part of the economic diversification of the town. I would imagine it may have been an agricultural centre at some point but that will have changed over time as things become more centralized.

AS for why people would like to live there. I know people who commute to Montreal from teh south shore for a number of reasons. A- they are from the area and work in Montreal, B- They don't want to live on the island in the city. C-They want to live in the country. D- they can't afford to live in teh city.

I am not sure how affordable these condos and houses will be and if they will be more so than on the island. However, if people want to raise their children in teh country this may be a much better option than in the city.


I am following you and thinking about individual sustainability, in particular the social aspect.

How sustainable is it to have one member of a family leave the community and commute to work on a daily basis? The commuter does not get to partake in the daily interactions of the family unit as he (or she) are gone before breakfast and return home after dinner.

I give as an example my daily commute which I do with my kids. I feel this is one of my most important interactions with them. When biking we discuss a variety of things from God, to their interactions with their friends. Most topics we cover are about a week old. The commute is a chance for reflection for them and my chance for input into their lives. I feel I am establishing a routine which I can use as they grow older (teenagers) and be able to connect with them.

It is half an hour I have each day with my girls. I also get to see their friends, their friends parents, and their teachers when I drop them off.


With regards to Sara's point about people moving to Village de la Gare because they can't afford to live in the city, it states in the case study that the value of the condos in the area of the commuter station has increased by 30 - 40%. I am curious as to whether a price increase such as this creates barriers to certain segments of the population that the community may have been designed for/to attract in the first place, thus creating a homogenous community of high income dwellers.


I hear you Ginny

Bowen Island just west of Vancouver (20 minute ferry ride) has possible an extreme version of this problem. The island has gone from a hippy hide out to an affluent commuter community. The cost of housing has increased so much that the services offered in the village are mostly staffed from Vancouver. You can't make enough serving in a restaurant to afford to live on the island.

I wonder if Mt. St. Hilaire has a social horsing policy in place as part of their Vision. Integrated - not segregated.


Hi Owen

I have been thinking about the victorian type housing that you mentioned the other day and wondering if it really is sustainable? Would you not accomplish teh same thing in row housing? It may be more sustainable as if it was planned right, a large shared green space could be incorporated into the plans which would bring people together more so than the porches. It seems that the desire to have a single family dwelling is driving some interesting development. If the houses are so close that you can talk porch to porch then there is wasted space between teh houses as you can't really use it as it is so narrow. The other question is how often do people sit on their porches? The only people that I see sitting on their front porches are the the old people. Others tend to have back yard patios that they hang out on. If the green space was attached to the backyards of row houses than it would facilitate at least seeing ones neighbours and potential social interaction. I think that the desire to have a single family dwelling is not necessarily a sustainable thing especially with urban sprawl. I think that in cities we have to start getting comforatable with the idea of shared space and closer dwellings ie density. In rural areas things are different as people have been mentioning in class, although when housing starts taking over agricultural land then it is not a good situation, well in most cases I would say.

In any case, my two cents.


Sara points out Victoria style housing may not appeal to many people - on the other hand I have noticed that when backyards are connected people tend to build very large fences to block out their neighbours. The place where I live - has parking lots off to the side - and you have to walk in to get to your house and your house is attached to 4 other units. If you wanted to you could do a big circle walking through the complex for 10-15 minutes and never have to cross a road. But - most people hate the idea of not being able to drive to the front door.

Key to sustainability communities is alot of variety - so everyone gets what they want - but the community design does favor walking and transit over cars - and the density is appropriate for the area - and the buildings are smaller - and use dramatically less energy.

Variety is the key - with the house sizes

Chris Severson-Baker

As noted in the case study, integrating the development of high-density accommodation with transit-supportive urbn design tackle the "suburban problem" by creating a village centre around a community station, permitting people to enjoy the advantages of sustainable small town living with the career choices that connect with the larger metropolitan area.

Transit oriented development (TOD) has developed in response to the increasing trend toward commuter commnuties in an effort to minimize the reliance on vehicles therefore minimizing pollution and creating communities which favour person powered modes of transport within the community(e.g. walking and cycling) and provide residents with easy access to goods and services.

The development of transit oriented communities does create employment opportunities through the establishment of businesses required for delivering goods and services to the local community. However, the majority of employment opportunities that arise are likely to be low income opportunities (e.g. baristas, cashiers, salespeople etc.). If transit oriented development occurs in a community, I would suspect it would be difficult to create a context within which the career aspirations of those attracted to the commuter community could be met. Businesses that operate within cities adjacent to such communities operate within the downtown core for key reasons including proximity to their clientele, other business partners and suppliers. Relocation to a commuter town such as Mont St-Hillaire/Village de la Gare would thus not make sense for the majority of businesses operating within the city core.

My thoughts would be that the need for commuting could be minimized through the adoption of flex work policies by the businesses located within the city in recognition of the trend that their employees are not residents in the areas in which they work. Through such policies, people living in commuter towns may then be provided with the opportunity to work from home at least minimizing the number of trips required to and from the office in any given week. This also provides employees with the opportunity to get more out of their communities on the days which they work from home, and as Owen suggests in one of his posts to enhance the sustainability of their own lives through creating the space and time to interact with family and friends given time will not be used through a daily commute on those days.


Ginny, I agree that it is important to look at work options to see what can be arranged to cut down commuting. This can be done quite easily for some jobs but not so for others. I for one would be into working 1 day a week from home.

The other issue, is family and social dynamics. Yes, the commuting does take people out of hte village, but they are going to have to do that any way, it may be a choice or it may be their only option or the best option for their situation. Owen, I think that you are extremely lucky in your commuter option with your daughters as I do think that it is extremely rare and more challenging in different locations.

How can this apply to sustainable transportation. I think that we have to recognize that people are going to commute so how can we make that more sustainable. The other would be to start examining how to create situations which will increase someone's options so that they can choose more sustainable actions.


Hi Sara,

I wonder if there is anyway that community can be formed on the commute? Back to the Bowen Island example. The layout of the ferry allows for large groups to gather and have discussions. The same boat every day has led to a community bulletin board to be established by the cafeteria so announcements and minutes from the community meetings are posted for all to see and read. I would look for some way for the commute to tie people to their Community.

My commute was extremely well planned. Part of my choice to locate to a smaller town was so I could be within bicycling distance of my work. All part of the choices we make. This one was made in consideration of my family and for personal health. Yes I am lucky to be able to make choices. The choice I made was not luck.




Interesting point of whether or not the town should look at building up the economy so that people don't have to go into the city. We spoke about this idea during our discussion earlier today.

After our discussion, I was wondering what exactly is a sustainable community? Where are the boundaries drawn? I realize that there are the three social, environmental, and economic pillars, but when someone says a sustainable community what do you think of and what do you say it is? If a border is drawn around the community is a sustainable one one that can survive without having to cross over the boundary? Anyways.

The other question which is brought out with the otehr posts, are suburb or commuter communities (like st.Hilaire where people are commuting to Montreal for work) a one industry town such as a mining town or a forestry town (ie rely on only one economy as its major income source and once that is gone the community has a hard time surviving). Are there any other income sources. If the majority of hte money is coming in from the people working in Montreal (ie they make the money and use it to buy stuff in stores and it trickles down)instead of having other sources of income within the town, it does seem tor rely on one source. Although I suppose one could say that the people in Montreal work in different areas so it is not completely one source.

Although, if they have this park, there may be another source of income, tourism.


Hi Sara

In addressing your first point on the sustainability of Mt. St. Hilaire from the three pillar approach. There is the UNESCO heritage site of Mt. St. Hilaire. I do believe that this is preserved due to its rarity of geological and ecological characteristics

I wonder what this does to give the community a sense of place and how this sense of place can be used to support the three pillars from an inside out approach. By this I mean instead of looking to Montreal for economic and social aspects can the community create them here?

The boundaries around the town will always have to be open. If tourism becomes an economic mainstay then people will have to come in.


Hi Folks

Yes, there will be some flux over the boundary but at what point do you say that is enough. About waste, does shipping your waste out of the boundary impact your being sustainable. I would say yes. At what point does one draw the line with all the interactions between areas with food and material goods adn cash flow?

I agree with you sustainability requires an openness of boundaries and a flux of materials and energy across those boundaries. Similar to us as humans, food in waste out, ideas in ....stagnation or dynamic response.

How do you engage and understand and change in response to all the impact of those fluxes on the community, on the surroundings to the community, on other communities?



Just another quick thought. I was thinking along the lines of what you said Chris with trying to get retired people into the town. I would think that a situation like this may be quite apealing to an older person as it seems that there is a transition from single family dwellings to a condo with lower maintenance and work required. Being able to get around by walking may be another selling point as they don't have to drive and they do get their exercise, don't older people love to walk? I am not sure if they will need to get into town on a regular basis but it may be easier for them if they ahve to get into Montreal to get to a big hospital ie it may facilitate their mobility.

On the other hand, as only looking at the retired people coming into town, there will be money, I suppose it is another source ie not Montreal, but the focus will be on people support (Ie I can't remember the word but therapists and what not). SHould the town also be looking at attracting other industry or professional services (ie not heavy dute industry but creative things and engineering etc). So that money will be coming from multiple sectors.




I just had a thought tonight. I will have to reread the case study again and check it out. Initially when i read the case study my thought was what triggered the leadership within the community to develop this sustainable transportation system or little village with in their town. I think that I would like to know more about the motivation as I think that it will make a difference on the long term actions of the community.

I have thought about two possible reasons for the decision to go this way and I think that the long term outcomes will be quite different from the town for the two of them. ACtually the outcomes may not be that different just different time scales.

So the first thought is that they built levillage du gare based on a community need. It was a need within their community and they ran with it. Great. If this is the case, I believe that they should be able to move ahead with other areas of sustainable development within their community as they 'believe' in the concept or at least recognize its value and have enough motivation to do something.

The second motivation would have been a way to attract people to their town which was made possible as they had access to the railroad track and teh company was willing to work with them. THis may have been another economic sector and a way to keep the town alive and diversified. AS montreal grows, the towns around it are becoming more suburb like as people are communiting. However, I htink that ST.Hiliare is too far out to drive or only the die hards would do it. In order to get people to move to St.Hilaire would be to cater to the people looking to live outside of montreal and off the island. However, as the drive would be too long, by developing a train and sustainable communitication it makes it possible for people to live in st.hilaire and work in Montreal. If this is teh case, is sustainable transportation being used as a marketing ploy and not because the community really believes in sustinable development. If this is the case, I don't know how easy it would be to continue sustainable development within the town as it is not at their core yet, it is a marketing tool and current trend. However, over time if people are moving their as they are attracted to sustainable transportation, than as their numbers grow, they may be able to tip the balance and get teh town moving in a sustainable way in its other areas.

In the end does it matter what their motivation is? It was a good step forward but what will happen now and how will the town grow?

I would think that it would be important to know the context behind the councils decision so that if someone wants to continue sustainable development within the town they will be able to deal with the potential barriers and hurdle that they will need to get through to get the ball rolling. It will be easier to keep the ball rolling than to start it rolling.


Mt. St. Hilaire is on the south shore of the St. Lawrence river. The south shore is generally less contaminated by urban sprawl most likely because crossing the river to Montreal must be a commuting nightmare due to the limited number of bridges.

The commuter rail capitalizes on its own segregated bridge.


Hi Folks

There is a actually quite a bit of sprawl on the South Shore. There are industries on the south shore as well as commuter towns. There are a few bridges and a tunnel in which you could access Montreal from the south shore. There are also towns such as Longueuil that has Pratt & WHitney Canada, there are also colleges etc. I think that there are more and more people moving to the shore as they want to get off the island. This commuter rail service should really help the commuter traffic.



After rereading the case study I had a couple of more thoughts.

So the town took advantage of the rebuilding of the railroad station to help add diversity to their town ie the Montreal commuters. It looks like the station is a small section of the town. The other thing which helped was that they didn't seem to have to put forth any funding ie the transporation agency paid for the railway station and the private developers paid for the buildings. The two things that I am curious about was who in the town actually planted the initial seed of sustainable transportation and if the town had had to pay for it, would it have been so successful?

To add to the successful integration of the community within the town and area there are probably a couple of things that they could do. In the area there is quite a bit of agriculture. I am just wondering if there are any farmers that would be interested in having a market of sorts at the station. It would benefit the community as it would be promoting locally grown produce and building social contacts within the community.

The second thought if they wanted to add to the economy would be to provide easier access to the UNESCO heritage site by having the train work on weekends in teh opposite way so that people in montreal who wouldn't be able to get to the park other wise, could take the train and explore the park. This would be good for the local economy for tourism and the local farmers could set up a market and it would be beneficial for the people in Montreal as they could get back to nature. There may also be a ski hill in the area so they could use the train to bring skiers from montreal to the hill as well.


Hi Folks

I was just think that we may want to explore some of the concepts that were discussed in class such as the context for this initiative, what is the shared value or meaning, what was the social structure that was used bonding, bridging and vertical, and the type of networks were needed to get this to work.

They needed a few different levels and government departments to get this off the ground as well as local buy in and the developers.

Within the community, what was done to get the people on side and how did they ensure that the long term plans were not changed. Was there a crisis? I don't know what the financial situation of the town is so not sure if they needed a greater tax payer base.

I was also wondering how the bus service to the train station is working and if they will develop a greater bus service for the town and local area to take advantage of the train station.

The developers also paid for the clean up, another thing that probably facilitated it for the town ie they didn't have to pay for it adn as the study says it was completed faster as they didn't have to wait for the government to do it. I am happy to see that the developers paid for it as they are the ones who will be benefitting finanically from this development and not the government (well directly I suppose). I am sure that they were able to cover the cost of clean up in the price of the houses and condos.

Hi Sara,

I have also been thinking about the concepts in the course - and how they applied in the case study. It highlights a limitation of case studies - unless someone takes the time to write an entire book about what happened the case study is really just a teaser - it provides ideas but answers few questions.

I would be interested to know what was the percieved or real crisis that prompted the various parties to cooperate and fund studies etc?

I wonder too - how many of these creative sustainable community initiatives are as a result of a need vs reacting to a threat

Chris Severson-Baker

Interesting point - re: segragated bridge that may make the train more attractive than cars.

I think this is a key to enhancing public transportation in general - you can get there faster on the bus, train, etc even if it is not as comfortable. It was done by luck in this case - but it could be a policy choice to subsidize transit more than cars.

In car-first places like Calgary - it makes more sense to drive into the ocre some days because the bus takes just as long to get there - and you have to wait for it to come - and it drops you off close but not exactly where you want to go.

Chris Severson-Baker



I do believe that heavy rail is a reference to using rolling stock and a rail bed similar to that used on industrial rail lines. It is more robust, expensive to build and as the name implies heavier so more energy to run. The Fraser Valley West Coast Express and the Toronto Area Go trains are examples of heavy rail commuter trains.

Light rail has little to no rail bed with lighter rolling stock. Vancouver's Sky train and Toronto's TCC Rocket are examples. They are great at stop and go between stations.



Sustainable community development
One of the questions that arose in my mind when reading the case study was whether the development at Village de la Gare/Mont St. Hillaire satisfied the ecological, social and economic imperatives of sustainable development as we discussed in class. I wanted to provide a summary of my considerations in relation to this question.

Ecological Imperative
As was noted in the case study, the motivation for the development arose from the community in order to protect its overall ambiance as well as the adjacent heritage site. While TOD may satisfy these goals as defined by the community, it is unclear as to whether the development truly “works with nature”. As noted by Sara in one of her earlier posts, waste minimization and management was not clearly referenced in the case study. Given expansion of the community, what are the existing and planned efforts to minimize and manage waste? Given the surrounding area is largely agricultural based, is there potential to develop a community composting initiative in collaboration with farmers in the surrounding area? Such initiatives may serve not only to divert waste from landfill but also to minimize the requirement to transport waste. Further, the case study does not reference issues pertaining to water supply and discharge. Will locally available resources be able to supply sufficient water to meet the demands of the community? Where is the effluent from the community being discharged and can local waterways sustain such a discharge? While development of the community is focused around sustainable means of transportation for the commuter population, based on information in the case study, the development does not seem to truly satisfy the ecological imperative and work within the means of the local environment. It does not appear that the community has identified its context within the larger bioregion of which it is a part and whether the development will persist within the carrying capacity of the land to provide ecological services.

Social Imperative
Through review of the case study, it appears the majority of criteria for meeting the social imperative, including livability and quality of life, health and well-being, and community engagement, have been met. However, as was noted in our online discussion, the increase in the value of the condos surrounding the commuter station may not satisfy the equity and social justice criteria of the social imperative through creating barriers to lower income segments of the population.

Economic Imperative
The development of Village de la Gare was innovative insofar as they used concepts of TOD, a model popularized in Europe and the United States, in Canada. The development may provide the community with a competitive edge over other commuter communities in the area given access to the commuter rail station and the creation of a pedestrian friendly township with access to goods and services. The questions for me arise around whether the community will be able to provide its residents with a high quality of life at lower costs, and whether the development of the community will result in less resource use over time (e.g. the ability of the surrounding environment to meet water needs as well as assimilate wastes). The nature of the development also raises questions as to whether it will create conditions for economic resilience, diversity and adaptability. Further, I question whether the development of itself was designed and built in accordance with sustainability principles such as those set out in the LEED standard.

If sustainable community development is perceived of as a process of reconciliation which provides equitable access to resources (ecological, social and economic), it is not clear if Village de la Gare/Mont St. Hillaire could truly be considered a sustainable community, or one, in the words of Dr. Bell, that has truly connected the dots between the ecological, social and economic spheres which comprise sustainable development.


Hi Folks

Just something to mention regarding waste and composting. THe government of Quebec has put in place some regulations about the various waste streams and managing waste. From what I understand there is a big drive (may be mandatory) for composting, recycling and to minimize waste to landfill.



As per Chris’ discussion of Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation and South Lanarkshire Council’s Wheel of Participation in class, processes such as those implemented in the development of the Village de la Gare result in a degree of citizen power and empowerment through the effective participation of community members in the decision making and planning process. Both the local government and community members gained a better understanding of the issues the community considered important, resulting in an increased likelihood of support and success of the chosen development path. Processes to determine the path development was to take were also based on the knowledge of local community members. Community involvement in planning and decision making processes (which included development of a long term community plan) created a sense of ownership over both process and results, manifesting a stronger sense of belonging and place. Those that were actively involved in the process were also afforded the opportunity to enhance their skills and capacity as well as to develop new relationships and connections with others in the community, thus augmenting social capital within the community (Ling 2008, Griffiths 2001). The degree of community participation in the project likely had a strong influence over its success, emphasizing the importance of social capital in the implementation of sustainable development concepts at the community level.



One of the criticisms that is faced by sustainable development as a marketing concept, one that is very common in new green development, is that it is a value added commodity that prices folks out of the market - leaving them to suffer on the in sprawl development. This case is one example, Downtown Vancouver another example, Dockside Green here in Victoria another.

Is this just the inevitable way of the world, can sustainability be made available for all? What would happen if everywhere was developed in line with sustainable principles?


Chris, you raise an interesting point about gentrification and the price of green development. Yes, I think that it is a marketing tool right now and people who can afford it are buying into it to ease their guilt. I thought that one of the things about Dockside Green was that it was suppose to provide for a community thus a certain percentage of its units were to be financially affordable to low income people. I believe that that was one of its mandates. However, I thought that I might have heard rumours that they were trying to work their way around this idea. The other question would be, what do they consider as low income. In any case, it does give a solution to gentrification which is through government ie permits, requirements to build, etc, low income green housing can be made available.

The other option is to get groups working together to make it affordable. In Ottawa, a cooperative managed to get a deal with: developers (they supply the solar hot water heaters at a whole salers rate (or something along those lines), a grant from NRCan, and the rebate that one gets for installing a solar hot water heater; which managed to get the cost of installing a solar hot water heater down to about $3000 from $6000. Now this is still too expensive for some but it does make it available to a lot more people at $3000 rather than $6000.

I suppose the other thing is that as long as it is not massed produced, the cost will be high which puts it out of the range of many people. But as there is more demand and more suppliers, teh cost should go down. It has over the past little while ie there are a lot more geothermal heat pumps going in now then there were a few years ago.

So what can be done? Is this something that hte government needs to take initiative with? In Ontario there are cash back schemes for making your house more energy efficient ie they give a certain amount back per window, door that is new. This is also at the Federal level.

The problem is the high front end cost. If there was a way that people could have access to funds at the beginning and pay it off as they realize the savings of the energy saving devices than it may be more feasible for people.


Hi Folks
It is late so I will try and be coherent.

It was brought up in class the other day that the size of houses has increased 3 fold (or a huge amount) over the past few decades. It has been facilitated by better building codes and material.

Just reflecting on my own situation and those around me, I don't have a lot of money so am very concious with heat, water, and electricity. I look around and see that others in a similar situation are consious of these factors as well. The reason for this (well I have other motivators as well) is the cost associated with these factors. If people don't have a lot of money they will try and cut costs by reducing their consumption. Therefore, they are being more "sustainable" then others who are not concerned about money.

With the houses, instead of saving resources overall, the resources going into houses increased (bigger houses) and the energy required stayed the same ie even though technology was better it didn't really save a lot, it permitted people to have the bigger houses at a similar operating costs. So they can say that their house is R2000 certified (or what ever standard) and that eliminates their guilt as they have done something for the environment.

I am wondering if it is the same for these other technologies. I suppose that they don't have quite the same environmental impact, however, does it take away the guilt and conciousness of people towards the environment ie I have green technology so I have done my part and keep going.

I am trying to remember which lecture, I think that it was Louise, who stated that basic solutions have been overemphasised so people think that they can continue their habits provided they recycle and buy energy efficient lightbulbs. In any case, does the green technology and how it has been marketed promote this type of guilt free behaviour or unresponsible behaviour. (I am trying to think of a better work for guilt).

In any case I would tend to think that people who are short of money do what they can to save money ie insulate their house, reduce consumption ie wear a sweater in the winter and light clothes in the summer.

Actually a completely other beef that I have is the business dress code. Part of the air conditioning demand is to ensure that men don't overheat in their suits. It seems a little bizarre to wear all that clothing in the summer. wouldn't it be better to be more casual so that the air conditionning can be turned down?


Hi team,

As Sara noted, Chris L. raises an interesting concept in regards to green development pricing people out of the market. Another example of this is the Millenium Water ( development that is currently underway in Vancouver. A suite under 600 SF (not incl balcony) starts at $450,000 with the most luxurious of suites going for a cool $3.5 million. When I first heard about this new green development, I was very much interested in looking into purchasing a suite. However, as a first time home buyer, I was not prepared to sell my soul to the green devil to be able to truly live my values in this up and coming sustainable development complex. Millenium Water is not just pushing people in a low income bracket out of the market but those in the middle income bracket as well.

However, with that said, it is my hope (and we gotta have hope don't we?!) that as green building standards and sustainable community development practices become the norm instead of the exception, that the prices for living in green developments will come down.

Without relying on hope alone, there must be, as Sara suggests, pricing mechanisms through which developers can recover their ROI for installation of features that meet green standards/sustainabile development principles. For example, the development of innovative P3 partnerships may be one mechanism through which sustainable communities are able to become more accessible to all segments of the population.



Hi Folks

I was just looking through the environmental bulletin and cultural bulletin that the town has published and I think that they are a very dynamic town. It took a bit to find these publications, hence the late post. In looking at the dynamics of the town it makes sense that they were able to implement sustainable transportation. There is also an inter-municipality bus line that ends up in Montreal, so there was existing public transportation to Montreal for commuting, however I would imagine that the train is much more popular.

In any case, it seems that the town is very proud of its heritage and culture. The bulletin covered the art festival, the apple festival, the history, and published a long list of cultural activities that it will be putting on for the next 3 months (from the date of publication). They also promote the Biosphere Reserve (ie Mountain) as a unique area to be protected.

on the environmental side, they are moving ahead with waste reduction, GHG emissions, water use, pesticide ban, and community support. With waste reduction, they have to reduce the amount going to landfill by 60%, I think that they are aiming to have only 40% of their waste go to landfill by 2010. THis is a provincial initiative or at least there is pressure from the province. To do this they are only having waste pick up once every two weeks (following the example set by other communities in Quebec) which the mayor is really supporting. They have green yard waste pick up as well. For more difficult waste, they have containers where people can dispose of construction waste, asphalt shingles, concret, and garden waste such as rocks and dirt. In Quebec there are a couple of cement kilns that use asphalt shingles and other similar waste for energy. There is alos a hazardous waste depot which is run on a regular basis.

They are looking at reducing GHG emissions. They have restricted water use and promote water conservation and for people to be ecologically responsible. They also require permits for tree removal and pesticide application. This gives the council control over the trees and pesticide use. They promote pesticide use as a last resource.

Finally what impressed me is that they have a green line that citizens can call if they have questions and problems that they can't solve. This green line gives them access to an environmental/ecological consultant who can help them with their problems and even visit the citizen's site of concern. Not only does this help citizens but it presents a good opportunity to educate and sensitize the citizens about environmental solutions and how precious the environment is.

In any case, in looking at the town, I can understand why they were able to embrace the sustainable transportation project. As well there is a strong sense of community, which should help any one moving there to fit in as there are a number of events that they can participate in. THe train station idea also gives the locals a feasible option to stay in the community that they love and still work in Montreal.


Hi Sara,

Are you referring to the environmental bulletin that I showed you in our meeting on Sunday? I believe it is in French so not accessible to all in the group.

Dr. Ling - Please note that available background documentation that I found is in French.


Mobility HUBs, Toronto, Ontario

Mobility HUBs, Toronto, Ontario

Levi Waldron
Published January 21, 2007

Case Summary

A transit route is only as good as its weakest link, and potential users may be lost because of a lack of options at the beginning or end of their potential route, or by the cost and inconvenience of changing transit systems across municipal boundaries. The concept behind the New Mobility HUB project is to fill in these gaps with a network of hubs across Toronto, which conveniently link multiple modes of sustainable transportation. The Exhibition Place New Mobility HUB is the first site of the project, located where GO Train service between downtown and the suburbs and three local Toronto transit lines converge. Launched in April 2006 by the partnership Moving the Economy (MTE), this hub added short and long-term bicycle storage, a BikeShare station, Autoshare car sharing, a taxi hotline, wireless hotspot, and bicycle and transit route maps.

Figure 1: The Mobility HUB concept (Moving the Economy, 2006)

 Figure 1: The New Mobility HUB concept (Moving the Economy, 2006)

Sustainable Development Characteristics

The transportation sector generates 26% of all global greenhouse gases, and passenger transportation accounts for 60% of emissions from transportation sources. In Canada’s 13 largest cities, over 75% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions are due to personal transportation, and 97% of this is from private automobiles (National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, 1998). In short, the use of private automobiles for personal transportation is a significant sustainable development challenge on a global scale, and the adoption of sustainable personal transportation is imperative. Personal transportation choices, however, can be difficult to understand and to change, and are tied up in infrastructure, convenience, habit, and culture. Since 80% of buildings standing today were built in the last 50 years (Kunstler, 1993) when the private automobile became the dominant mode of transportation in developed countries, only a few areas of some cities were designed in a way that facilitates transit, cycling, and walking for utilitarian transportation. Invariably, municipal and regional transit systems have problem areas with infrequent service, long distances between the nearest service and peoples' destinations, municipal boundaries requiring a second fare payment, lack of schedule and route information, or uncomfortable waiting areas. The goal of the New Mobility HUB project is to close these gaps and lower barriers to sustainable transportation by making it simple and convenient to combine regional transit, municipal transit, cycling, taxi, and shared cars in a single trip. Moving the Economy, the Toronto group behind the project, has demonstrated through case studies in other cities and market research in Toronto that easy to find, easy to recognize, and easy to use mobility HUBs can encourage cycling and transit use and reduce numbers of private automobile trips (Jones, 2006).

Critical Success Factors

One of the most critical factors for ongoing success of the HUBs identified by Executive Director Briana Illingworth will be more formal agreements with partners about responsibilities beyond initial set-up and launch, such as who will maintain the HUBs (B. Illingworth, personal communication, September 29, 2006). For example, the lock-box containing BikeShare keys for the Exhibition Place pilot HUB has broken, but there is no funding for fixing it. The drink machine that was initially part of the pilot HUB has disappeared, and Illingworth is not sure why or whether it will be replaced. Partnerships so far have been formed by letters of intent from cooperating organizations, but Illingworth believes that more formal agreements will be necessary for critical aspects of future HUBs.

It is not clear whether many of the users of the pilot HUB are aware of its existence or understand how to take advantage of it. Signage is minimal, there is no kiosk or information desk, and many people comment on the lack of facilities on the north side of the GO train tracks. MTE does not have sufficient resources to make these improvements, but communication and usability will be critical to the success of each HUB and the project as a whole.

The Smart Commute Association conducted a random survey of 1,000 Hamilton and Greater Toronto Area (GTA) commuters and determined a number of factors critical to encouraging the adoption of sustainable commuting patterns in general. Some of the critical success factors identified in this survey were (Feasibility Report, 2006):

  1. Convenient access to tickets and route information near work, school, home, or transfer points was cited as important for one-half of transit commuters.
  2. Integrated fare payment, one-stop shopping: one-half of public transit commuters indicated that paying a fare twice in order to go from one public transit system to another would be a deterrent to them using public transit more often.

  3. Potential for more bike-transit commuting: while most transit and bicycle commuters do not regularly bring their bicycle with them on public transit, almost one-third (31%) said they would consider doing so.

  1. Most commuters have well established travel patterns. Only 15% have been using their current mode for less than one year, while 36% have been using their current mode for two to seven years, 22% for eight to fifteen years, and 24% for sixteen years or more. They cited satisfaction with their current commute arrangement and the lack of alternative viable transportation options as primary reasons for not wanting to switch.

Taking into account the survey responses as well and the HUB goals of improving mobility and reducing emissions and congestion, Moving the Economy identified the following critical factors for determining suitable locations for future HUBS.

  1. Are existing transportation services at the location underused? Could they benefit from marketing and branding with a HUB?
  2. Is the location under-serviced? Could it benefit from new transportation services?
  3. Does the existing transit service already operate at capacity? Would attracting more riders pose a problem for the transit provider?
  4. Would developing a HUB at this location encourage anyone not to take their car, or would it just be transferring trips from one sustainable mode to another?

Community Contact Information

Briana Illingworth
Moving the Economy, Project Lead

What Worked?

In MTE's public survey, respondents overwhelmingly (88%) liked the idea of having a network of New Mobility HUBs across the city. Convenience of travel was a top priority for most respondents, with popular actual and potential benefits of the New Mobility HUBs including (Jones, 2006):

  1. integration of fares between transit systems;
  2. easier connections and shorter waiting times;
  3. easy to find and read schedules, accessible by phone, internet, and on location;
  4. bank machines, internet connectivity, coffee shop, and pay phones;
  5. availability of Bikeshare and AutoShare vehicles (see descriptions of the Bikeshare and Autoshare programs); and,
  6. the wide range of the services offered at the existing HUB was seen as useful, with none of the services ranked as extremely or very useful by fewer than a quarter of the respondents.

The formation of partnerships during this test phase of the New Mobility HUB project was seen as a great success, with all partners ready to continue with the next phase of the project.

What Didn’t Work?

The project feasibility report identified a number of issues to be improved (Jones 2006, p. 29).

  1. Signage and branding at the HUB is small and easy to miss, but the project lacked the budget and time to arrange a more noticeable and impressive presence.
  2. The site is not accessible for three weeks every August during the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). This is an issue in terms of access to bicycles in the long-term storage lockers and other facilities.  Lack of continuity can also be very disruptive to encouraging new routines.
  3. At present, the location is more of a destination (to the CNE or Liberty Village) than a transfer point.
  4. The Exhibition/Liberty HUB is fairly isolated, and not a good example of including many peripheral services at a vibrant transit hub. The remoteness and lack of activity at the site may raise safety concerns in spite of the 24-hour patrolling security guard.
  5. The BikeShare station and bicycle parking are on the south side of the GO train tracks, separated by stairs and a tunnel from the city to the north. Although bicycles can be taken through the tunnel, it is a psychological and physical barrier.
  6. BikeShare is currently dependent on the staff of partner businesses and institutions to sign the bikes in and out – a self-serve system would be more accessible and require less staff-time.


Figure 2: The large, open concrete entrance to the Exhibition Place Mobility HUB.
Figure 2: The large, open concrete entrance to the Exhibition Place Mobility HUB.

In the evaluation of this author, the Exhibition Place New Mobility HUB site continues to suffer from the low comfort-level and visual appeal of many public transit stops. It is a large, windy concrete pad underneath the Gardiner Expressway with several wood benches for seating (see Figure 2). On the westbound GO train platform and TTC waiting areas, there is no indoor waiting area except for the 3-sided glass shelters often found at transit stops. Cyclists riding to the station from anywhere to the north (almost everyone, since to the south is non-residential area) lock their bicycles to the walkway railing since there is no official bicycle parking on that side of the rail tracks. The yellow BikeShare bikes are one of the most visible features of the HUB; however, one still must go to the BikeShare office in person 2km away during their open hours to enrol in the program. These issues are not the fault of MTE or its partners, but rather indications of the broad improvements to the existing infrastructure still needed to achieve the New Mobility HUB goals of seamless, convenient sustainable transportation that achieves a fully integrated diverse transportation system, rather than piece-meal ad hoc adaptation.

The feasibility report (Jones, 2006) states that although Moving the Economy staff felt that the location of the test HUB might not have been the best representation of what an ideal HUB would be in the future, they felt strongly that its drawbacks helped spark imagination and feedback and even helped those involved get excited about what a mobility HUB could be with more favourable locations and aesthetics.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Phase I of the project, which ran from October 2004 until October 2006 had a total budget of $340,000, with contributions from Transport Canada, the City of Toronto, and working group partners. The funding for phase II of the project (October 2006 - Decebmer 2007) is expected to be approximately $200,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. (B. Illingworth, personal communication, September 29, 2006).

The greatest expenses from the first phase were the production of a promotional DVD and other communications material, installing equipment and infrastructure - wireless internet, new BikeShare bicycles, a lock-box to keep BikeShare keys, and a communications device to reach Exhibition Place security for assistance or to sign out bicycles - to develop the New Mobility HUB at Exhibition Place.

The greatest in-kind contributions have been from the City of Toronto in the form of staff time to administer surveys, and from Exhibition Place in the form of space for the pilot HUB cooperation from their 24-hour security guard to sign out BikeShare bicycles, and setting up the wireless hotspot. The Community Bicycle Network helped setting up the BikeShare hub, and other partners have provided the staff time to attend meetings.

Fulfilling the larger goals of the project will require significant increases in funding. Potential sources of future revenue and other support include corporate branding (like Chicago's Bike Station which received a $5 million endowment from McDonald's), partnering with local employers and institutions to promote HUB use, and continued involvement with all levels of government as the network of New Mobility HUBs grows.

Research Analysis

This case study is based on MTE's Feasibility Report for a Network of New Mobility HUBs in the Toronto Region (Jones, 2006), visits to the Exhibition Place New Mobility HUB, and an interview with Briana Illingworth, executive director of Moving the Economy.

Moving the Economy research methodology

The New Mobility HUB concept is being tested and adopted in Toronto in stages and with a great deal of research. In 2005, MTE began an 18-month project with funding from Transport Canada titled Scoping the Potential for a Network of New Mobility HUBs in the GTA. The research framework for this project includes (Jones, 2006):

  1. An operational test, a public survey, and key informant interviews. The operational test began in April 2005 at Exhibition Place.

  2. A public survey, conducted with 104 face to face interviews by City of Toronto staff with people randomly approached on the street in both central and suburban locations. The survey assessed general responses to the HUB concept, opinions about the usefulness of a range of potential HUB services, suggestions for potential HUB locations, and demographics.

  3. In-depth interviews with HUB project partners and key informants. This step collected and consolidated ideas about the HUB concept, what services should be made available at HUBs, potential HUB locations, criteria that should be considered when choosing HUB locations, responses to the demonstration site at Exhibition/Liberty, and next steps towards establishing a network of HUBs.

Transition Strategies

The strategy for growth of the HUB network at this point will depend on the eventual scale of the proposed network. The primary options for growth and marketing, which MTE has identified through interviews with key informants and case study research, are the following (Jones, 2006).

  1. Work with relevant stakeholders to pursue a broad-based policy approach that would help make all inter-modal connections work better, incrementally adding new options and easing transfers at existing sites, eventually resulting in a city-wide network of HUBs.

  2. “Go big at one location,” as in the case of Chicago’s Millennium Park Bike Station, soon to be renamed the McDonald's Cycle for McDonald's $5 million donation to that project. In Toronto's case, this would likely have to be tied to the waterfront redevelopment or the 2015 World Expo bid, if successful.

  3. Developing a small core group of HUBs with basic services, information about the HUB network, and basic services to develop branding, and expand the network and services as appropriate and as funding allows. This approach has been successful in Bremen (see case studies by Moving the Economy and Civitas) and Los Angeles.

Detailed Background Case Description

The concept and implementation of the pilot project New Mobility HUB for Toronto is based on case study research by Moving the Economy in California, Washington, Chicago, Germany, and other locations in the EU (Jones, 2006). It is modelled largely on the integrated transit system in Bremen, Germany, where 35 different operators of various modes of sustainable transportation cooperate under one umbrella organization, so that users need only a single ticket and information source to access regional and local rail, streetcars, and buses. These integrated transit stations offer real-time train or bus wait times, shared cars, which can be signed out using a telephone and membership card, and interactive electronic kiosks to help with route planning.

Project Timeline

The project has been organized in phases: phase I involved case study and local market research into feasibility and strategies for development of a HUB network and creation of a pilot project, and phase II will involve expansion of the HUB network.

Phase I

Time: October 2004 – April 2006
Budget: $340,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.

  1. April – June 2005: further partner development, purchase of communications equipment for contacting the site security guard for signing out BikeShare bicycles.

  2. Oct 2004 – Mar 2005: creation of new partnerships, purchase of additional BikeShare bicycles, purchase of remotely-opened lock-box for BikeShare keys, and formation of agreements with Exhibition Place, the owners of the location of the first HUB.

  3. July 2005 – end 2005: installation of bicycles, public opinion surveys, shooting for promotional video.

  4. April 2006: official launch of the first New Mobility HUB: a press conference with organizers and city councillors to generate media interest.

  5. 2006: promotional video completed, feasibility study initiated, bike lockers installed at hub, final pieces of hub put in place (bikes came in in March, signs went in in April, launch in April).

  6. June 2006 – Feasibility Study completed (Jones, 2006).

Intermediate phase

Time: May 2006 – September 2006
Budget: covered from phase I budget

  1. Promotion of the Exhibition Place pilot HUB and the HUB concept at bike week events, conferences, and other events.

  2. Finalizing contract with Transport Canada to secure funding for phase II.

Phase II

Time: Oct 2006 – Dec 2007
Budget: $200,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.
Planned action items:

  1. Choosing and developing 1-3 new hub sites.

  2. Developing and profiling the HUB brand.

  3. Hosting a half-day forum aimed at planners, and decision-makers interested in learning about New Mobility Continued development and refinement of partnerships.


Essential to such an integrated system is cooperation and partnership between different levels of government, transit authorities, and organizations involved in other services such as, in this case, BikeShare, AutoShare, and internet and taxi providers. Moving the Economy is a partnership of Transportation Options (websites for all organizations, these case studies are to be connectors in and of themselves) (an NGO), the City of Toronto, and the Federal Government of Canada, and during the formation of the pilot project, MTE has partnered with the following organizations (Jones, 2006):

City of Toronto
Community Bicycle Network
Exhibition Place
GO Transit
Toronto Transit Commision
Canadian Urban Institute
Canadian Urban Transit Association
Clean Air Foundation
Green Tourism Association
Parc Downsview Park
Smart Commute Association
Smart Commute North Toronto, Vaughan
York University

These partners were recruited by the MTE through a process of identifying and approaching organizations that might be able to help. A couple other groups have contacted them since the April 2006 launch of the first HUB, and may become involved when the phase II meetings resume. Two promising groups, which have contacted MTE, are the community group Smart Living St. Lawrence, which is interested in creating a HUB in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, and the planning firm “Urban Strategies”, which is developing a property near Union Station and is interested in incorporating a HUB into their development plans.


Research discussed in this case study has shown that personal transportation choices are often deeply entrenched, based on habit and on real or perceived benefits in convenience, cost, and comfort. The goal of the New Mobility HUB project is to improve the user experience of sustainable transportation through improvements in information accessibility, integration of multiple modes of transportation, and addition of conveniences at transfer points, while increasing the visibility of these improvements through the creation of a recognizable brand symbolizing these improvements. Some important lessons can already be gleaned from Moving the Economy's experience in developing its pilot New Mobility HUB.

  1. Close working partnerships including local and regional transit authorities and governments, service providers, and interested local groups are key to integrating different modes of sustainable transportation in a convenient manner.

  2. Formal agreements ensuring the maintenance of newly installed infrastructure are critical to the ongoing functionality of HUBs.

  3. Attaining smoothly functioning and widespread integrated sustainable transportation systems will occur very slowly and in an ad hoc manner with the present levels of funding for this project and for public transit, walking, and cycling infrastructure more broadly. Broader policy and funding improvements are critical to the degree of success this or any comparable project can achieve.

Strategic Questions

What are the most important factors determining people's choice of transportation? This case study discusses a survey by MTE in Toronto, but how generalizable are these results? Will it vary a lot by region?

Of the many improvements envisioned by the New Mobility HUB project, which are the most appealing to you? How important are aesthetic and comfort improvements in transit service in comparison to convenience and frequency of service? What would provide the best improvements when limited funding is available?

Should the Toronto and other transit authorities be making greater efforts to spearhead initiatives to promote multi-modal transit, integrated fare payments, easy access to information, and other sustainable transportation conveniences? This project in Toronto is being addressed by an NGO with minimal funding (on the order of $200,000 per year).

What is the best direction for this project to go from here: go big at one location in an attempt to secure large corporate funding, expand steadily with numerous small HUBs, or pursue a more broad-based policy approach to achieving better funding and integration of sustainable transit modes?

Resources and References

Jones, B. (2006). Feasibility Report for a Network of New Mobility HUBs in the Toronto Region. Toronto: Moving the Economy.

Kunstler, J. (1993) The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape. Simon & Schuster, New York.

Moving the Economy, (2006). Projects: The Toronto region new mobility HUB network. Retrieved September 18, 2006, from MTE Web site:

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. (1998) Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Urban Transportation.


Sustainable Transportation

Sustainable Transportation

Jim Hamilton
Published November 24, 2006

Case Summary 

The case study examines whether mass transit systems can be used as a tool to encourage the development of sustainable communities.  As a corollary, the case study also postulates that mass transit systems are a necessary adjunct to the effective creation of a sustainable community within a larger metropolitan conglomerate, especially with respect to providing a wider range of employment and cultural opportunities not normally available within smaller communities.  

The study centres on a 2002 infrastructure investment by the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) ( to extend the Montreal rail commuter service to Mont-Saint-Hilaire to support the development of a community incorporating many, if not most of the principles of sustainable development.  The Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire (, 40 kilometers from downtown Montreal, is the first town in Quebec to use concepts of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) to further sustainability. 

AMT recently announced a $300 million infrastructure investment to put in a new rail commuter line along the north side of the Island of Montreal extending to the east off the island to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.  AMT is actively consulting local groups, environmentalists and all levels of government in the development of this new rail link to downtown Montreal.  The new transit route will provide opportunities to other communities to follow the example of Mont-Saint-Hilaire to build new developments using TOD principles.  Nevertheless, individual communities will be responsible for creating their own development plans and zoning modifications as required to facilitate TOD along the rail corridor and at proposed stations.

Successful development of sustainable communities along mass transit systems would seem to require a concomitant introduction of sustainable development principles having some basis in law as evidenced in the municipal planning processes put in place in Mont-Saint-Hilaire.  Without such processes (or similar mechanisms) a danger exists that new transit-induced communities will most likely only mirror development typical of other segments within the region. 

Sustainable Development Characteristics 

Mass transit provides an opportunity to communities to consider the advantages of sustainability within the larger context of a metropolitan area.  The sustainable development characteristics of transit-induced communities begin when communities as a matter of policy introduce sustainability as an objective.  To the degree that this is done, most, if not all, sustainable development characteristics may be present.

Critical Success Factors

Critical success factors in the use of mass transit as a tool to encourage sustainable communities are:  

  1. the ready availability of large-scale funding typical of any mass transit extension;

  2. consistent community adherence to sustainable development principles (such as TOD);

  3. a clear identification of the symbiosis between a sustainable-based bedroom community and the larger metropolitan area (what does each get out of the arrangement); and,

  4. the degree to which the mass transit authority is willing to encourage sustainable development or TOD.


Community Contact Information

Bernard Morel
Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec

Emmanuel Le Colletter
Agence métropolitaine de transport
1-514-287-2464 (4499)

Financial Costs and Funding Sources


The Agence métropolitaine de transport defrays investment costs through commuter revenues and provincial transportation subsidies.  The initial estimates to construct the new north Montreal line are $300 million.

Research Analysis

Analysis leads to five key observations.

    1. The use of mass transit systems as a tool to encourage sustainable communities will always involve considerable upfront financing either to develop new transit lines to extend or upgrade older lines.

    2. Mass transit as an effective sustainability tool depends critically on the desire, or will, within the impacted community to implement sustainable development principles.

    3. Using existing mass transit systems to transform the urban environment of smaller communities within metropolitan areas appears viable; key to this sort of development will be how the greater metropolitan area interacts with the smaller communities.

    4. As experienced in Mont-Saint–Hilaire and the proposed development of the new line to the north and east of Montreal, detailed consultations with all interested groups are necessary before development can begin, especially given the need to incorporate sustainable development principles into official municipal plans.

    5. Ultimate control of TOD development lies with individual communities, and their desire to achieve sustainable development.

Detailed Background Case Description


North American cities have developed with an excessive reliance on the automobile leading to a host of problems not the least being problematic sustainability.  In response, cities have facilitated travel using mass transit.  This has evolved into principles of transit-oriented development or TOD to further sustainability (see below).  

Integral to this are the actions/investments of a mass transit system to provide the opportunities for communities to introduce sustainable development or TOD.  The Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) has two initiatives, one of which has directly led to a TOD development and the other of which will provide ample opportunity.

Actions/Investments of the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT)


In May 2000, AMT restored commuter rail service to communities along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River just east of Montreal.  Two years later, service was extended to Mont-Saint-Hilaire following the construction of a commuter-station.  In 2003, AMT extended the service further to Saint-Basile-le-Grand and Saint-Hubert.  The commuting time to Montreal’s Central Station is approximately 40 minutes. (Please see the following AMT route map.)

Mont-Saint-Hilaire map

Following AMT’s  Mont-Saint-Hilaire extension, the Town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire adopted a TOD approach in creating what became known as the Village de la Gare.  This development integrates high density residential, commercial and institutional within easy walking distance of the commuter station.  The village assumes many aspects of villages of yesteryear where all functions are grouped to reduce the use of automobiles, and to preserve the ambiance of the existing community, which hosts a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  Details of the Mont-Saint-Hilaire development can be found in the Integrated Transportation Strategies, Mont-Saint-Hilaire case study.  

Extension to North End of Island and North Shore

Partially to replicate the Mont-Saint-Hilaire experience, AMT recently announced a $300 million new rail commuter line along the north side of the Island of Montreal extending to the east off the island to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. 

The new route will extend to the Village of Mascouche situated on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, some 53.1 kilometers from Windsor station in downtown Montreal.  The initial expectation is that the new line will provide service to some 1,210,000 commuters, annually.  AMT is actively consulting local groups, environmentalists and all levels of government in the development of this new rail link to downtown Montreal.  The intention is to provide five trains per day along the route with construction to commence post 2006.   

Principles of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) 

The extension or use of existing mass transit systems offers the potential to introduce principles of sustainability within larger urban areas.  Successful introduction, however, requires concomitant and consistent implementation of sustainable development principles within affected communities.  If not, new transit-induced communities will most likely only mirror development typical of other segments within the region.  At Mont-Saint-Hilaire, the community implemented concepts of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) to further sustainability to the extent that these were introduced into municipal zoning and planning processes.  

According to H. Dittmar and G. Ohland in The New Transit Town, critical transit development principles leading to sustainability include: 

  1. location efficiency where homes are located in proximity to transit systems;
  2. a rich mix of choice, including community amenities and businesses, are within walking distance to remove the necessity of automobiles;
  3. the reality of meaningful value capture within the community, i.e. transit service must be rapid and of high quality, and community services must be meaningful;
  4. meaningful place-making in that the community must be attractive and mix with its natural environment; and,
  5. resolution of node/place tension in that the transit station has to blend into and be part of the community.

Mass Transit Alternatives

Mass transit within this context can include any combination of light rail (e.g. Calgary Light Rail Transit), heavy rail (e.g.Toronto Transit Commission), commuter trains (e.g.Go Transit in Toronto and AMT) and dedicated bus routes (e.g.Ottawa Transpo) and so forth. 

Strategic Questions

  1. Given that most mass transit extensions are heavily subsidized, should extensions be tied to a mandatory use of TOD principles? 

  2. Are mass transit extensions a prime example of the need for long-term planning to achieve sustainability? 

  3. Are linkages between satellite communities and greater metropolitan areas, exemplified with Mont-Saint-Hilaire and Montreal, key to defining livability within sustainable communities? 

Resources and References

Major references for this case study include:

Cerverro, R. (1998). The Transit Metropolis: a Global Inquiry. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Dittmar, H. and G. Ohland. (2004) The New Transit town: Best Practices in Transit-oriented Development. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Transport Canada: Urban Transportation showcase Program 

L'Agence métropolitaine de transport 

Town Of Mont-Saint-Hiaire


In order to attract commuters to utilize public transit services:
1) Delivery needs to be efficient - commuters will require scheduled, reliable public transport with commuter efficiency in mind before they begin to use public transit.
2) Delivery needs to be cost effective - the cost of using public transit has to meet or beat the costs of driving a personal vehicle - this includes access to workcenters, facilities (groceries, recreational areas etc...)
3) The use of public transit needs to be promoted and encouraged through government messaging.

There are many ways to achieve these principles. A few suggestions for consideration include:
1) creation of special lanes for buses, or efficient routes for rail service, that enables commuters to beat commute times that would be achieved by the use of personal vehicles.
2) Transit routes need to service residential areas efficiently to ensure users have close-access to bus routes.
3) Transit fares could be subsidized (perhaps through property taxes, gasoline taxes etc... to bring the user-cost down to a competitive rate
4) User friendly web sites that are current and provide 'easy-to-use' route, fare and scheduling information.

Any other thoughts???



Case studies in sustainable waste infrastructure.


Green Waste Programs

Green Waste Programs

Chris Ling
Published September 13, 2006

Case Summary

A number of Canadian municipalities have identified that the diversion of residential organic waste from the municipal waste stream will provide significant benefits for the sustainability of the community, extend the life of their landfill facilities and reduce the potential for leachate and the production of methane. Some municipalities have tackled the issue by collecting pre-sorted organic waste from residential properties as part of the municipal waste collection services. In this case study, we look at the use of bags, bins and carts for the collection of waste. We also look at the effect of having an integrated provincial-wide waste management strategy, which includes the banning of organic waste from landfills entirely (such as in Nova Scotia) and explore alternatives to central composting facilities. This case study focuses on two examples of organic waste collection – one province-wide in Nova Scotia and one city-wide in Whitehorse. These were chosen to provide two examples contrasting provincial with town scale systems, and where the collection stands alone or is integrated into a comprehensive waste management strategy.

Figure 1. Green Bins ready for collection in Toronto

Green bins along the roadside in Toronto


Sustainable Development Characteristics

In Canada, 50% of all solid waste is organic, and, therefore, potentially compostable1. Organic waste that enters the municipal solid waste stream often ends up in landfill. In addition to filing up landfills, as the waste biodegrades it produces leachate, which could infiltrate the ground waste and potentially contaminate drinking water supplies, and methane, which costs money to control and has the potential to create local pollution problems. Most municipalities have policies to reduce the amount of organic waste in the solid waste stream, most frequently these programmes encourage residents to set up composting in their backyards and in many cases municipalities, for example Kingston, ON, Vancouver, BC, Innisfail, AB, and many others, provide the resources for householders to compost their yard waste – either by taking it to compost sites, or by organising collections.

There are disadvantages to these methods: some compostable material can’t be composted in standard backyard composting equipment due to odour, health and rodent concerns (materials such as meat, fish and bone). Also, apartment dwellers and others who do not have the resources or storage facilities for composting are unable to backyard compost. In order to increase the amount of organic waste that is diverted from landfill a number of municipalities have instigated curbside collection of organic waste alongside collections of garbage and recyclable material. This reduces the amount of waste entering landfill. In 2002, across Ontario where organic waste is disposed of largely into landfills or by backyard/on-site composting, 0.14% of generated waste was composted2. By contrast, in Nova Scotia where the provincial move to remove organic waste from landfills has resulted in 80 to 90% of residents disposing of their organic waste in green bins in one of eighteen composting plants around the province –  up to 50% of household waste is made up of compostable material, which represents a significant waste diversion3. Reducing its organic component, makes a landfill cheaper to operate and less likely to pollute the surrounding land, air, and water. The production of compost allows the potential for cost recovery through the sale of the material, and reduces the dependence on commercial compost by gardeners and landscapers, which may not come from sustainable sources and/or inputs.

Lundie and Peters (2005)4 have found that, of the various disposal methods available for food waste management, the backyard system is the simplest, whereas the centralised system is the most complex. They also found that centralised composting is more energy intensive than most other options, such as garborators, and co-disposal, as a result of the transportation requirement of the collection system, although the example system they were studying operated a parallel two weekly collection process. In contrast, the typical approach in Canada is to replace a regular collection with an organics collection – thereby reducing the transport impacts. It also depends on the method of composting used centrally – anaerobic systems are much less energy intensive than aerobic systems5.

Critical Success Factors

Nova Scotia

  1. Initially, there was significant investment in research by the provincial government, in order for the policy and legislation to be workable, and to win the confidence of the municipalities and residents of Nova Scotia. This process was started as a result of citizen pressure, supported and undertaken by consultants who were influential in the process, and led by the Solid Waste Resource Management group in the provincial department of Environment and Labour.

  2. Operating at a provincial scale was vital for economies of scale, allowing for efficient collection of waste in a coordinated manner. The scale also meant that a critical mass of knowledge was achieved leading to knowledge diffusion, increasing the opportunities in the province for employment in waste management and waste consultancy.

  3. Including the organic waste strategy as part of a comprehensive waste strategy.

  4. Using both legislative sticks (e.g. potential for fines, and actual examples of whole loads from a municipality being rejected at the landfill) and resource carrots (e.g. money gained from recyclables such as bottle deposits is partly returned to the municipalities based on the amount of waste diverted from landfill) to encourage municipalities to improve their performance.


  1. The biggest barrier to the project from the moment of conception was the lack of council support. The slow progression through two small pilots was essential in achieving the support of both the council and community, and the success of the project.

  2. The availability of territorial and provincial funding allowed an initial solid waste management review, which led to the project.

  3. Using social marketing through volunteers in neighbourhoods to win community support.

General Points

  1. Green bin collection works best in areas with denser populations and economies of scale that enable significant volume diversion from landfills. In remoter and/or rural areas, investment in better equipment for backyard composting may be more appropriate, supported by education and information dissemination.

  2. Education and communication is always vital. Use of social marketing techniques in Whitehorse and the use of slow roll out/piloting in many places helps to ensure  people and neighbourhoods ‘see’ the value and ease of use of green bin collection.

Community Contact Information

Bob Kenney
Solid Waste-Resource Analyst Nova Scotia
Department of the Environment and Labour
PO Box 697
Halifax, NS
B3J 2T8
(902) 424-2388

Sabine Schweiger
Environmental Coordinator
City of Whitehorse
2121 Second Avenue
Whitehorse, Yukon
Y1A 1C2
(867) 668-8312

What Worked?

  1. Whitehorse achieved success using social marketing to recruit pilot volunteers.

  2. Green carts allow for easy and efficient collection, and provide a focus around which education and publicity can be developed.

  3. Residents like the collection system as it is easy to manage and is part of an established system, requiring little extra effort.

  4. Rejection of waste at collection or landfill, if organic content is too high, ensures monitoring takes place curbside and increases participation in waste separation.

  5. Participation rates are high especially if unsorted waste is rejected.

What Didn’t Work?

  1. Biodegradable bags are not as successful as green carts/bins in providing clean, easy and efficient waste management, or as good quality compost.

  2. In order for cost savings to be achieved, organic waste collection needs to be part of a comprehensive waste management strategy.

  3. The sustainable benefits of central composting are not as great in rural areas or where neighbourhood composting is possible.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Nova Scotia

A publicly available and comprehensive cost benefit analysis for Nova Scotia's solid waste management program, including environment and social costs and benefits, was undertaken by Genuine Progress Index Atlantic6 (GPI).

Funding for collecting compostable materials has been met largely by the various municipal budgets, although in general, the solid waste management funding is returned to the municipalities through the receipt of bottle deposits (50 % of deposits from bottles goes back to the consumer, 50 % goes to municipalities, research and education projects supporting the waste management program).

The program does, of course, cost municipalities more in collection costs, plus most municipalities provide their householders with green carts or bins for the storage of organic waste between collections (normally every other week). In most municipalities across the province this was added to the existing collection of garbage and recyclables either weekly or bi-weekly.

The closest thing to a standard economic comparison for the organic component of the solid waste management program is a study done by the Town of Bedford (part of the Regional Municipality of Halifax) and updated in the GPI accounts. While the figures were produced with the aim of supporting backyard composting over curbside collection as the regional municipality was initially resistant to the idea of curbside collection, they nevertheless give a breakdown of costs.

Table 1. Costs and avoided costs of backyard composting in Halifax, based on the Bedford backyard composting study ($C2000)7

   Year 1  Year 2
 Bin subsidization (37,235 bins @ $37)  $1,377,695  
 Public education and promotion  $112,042  $112,042
 Total  $1,489,737  $112,042
 Avoided costs    
 Curbside collection (5,344t @ $75)  $400,800  $400,800
 Disposal (5,344t @ $59/tonne net )  $315,296  $315,296
 Total  $716,096  $716,096
 Program costs less avoided costs  $773,641  ($604,054)

The figures were devised for a specific agenda, and also do not include the details, such as the cost of green carts, or an analysis of costs to the town if a load is rejected at the landfill as the content of organic waste is too high, but it doesgive an indication of the some of the costs. Also, the figures do not show the opportunity costs, or the long-term costs of not reducing solid waste accumulation.


Grants were available to the municipal government for the initial strategy and the construction of the compost facility from the territorial government. The territory also paid for the introduction of compost collection at schools within the municipality. The grants allowed the municipality to carry out an initial waste management strategy.

Residents pay for the bio-degradable bags in which the compost is collected. Residents are also charged $7.25 per month for waste collection and disposal (garbage and organics). This pays totally for the collection ($5.25 per month per household) and for 50% of the operating costs of the landfill. Remaining costs are covered through general tax revenues.

The municipality pays for tipping and collection costs through the residential charge and general taxation. These costs have increased since the program started. In 20058, the landfill operators General Waste Management charged a flat fee of $220,000, and in 20059, the compost facility (managed by a non-profit organisation Raven Recycling) charged per tonne, which cost a total of $50,000. As more waste is diverted from the landfill, the program costs more. Revenue earned by Raven Recycling from the sale of compost (at $7 per 55lb bag) offsets its costs of operation.

A cost benefit study has not been done, however, the landfill life has been extended – although its life expectancy was over 100 years anyway, and currently only 1,000 t out of 15,000 t entering the facility is compostable material. Some jobs have been created by Raven Recycling. Sustainable compost is also available for purchase by residents, and the municipal landscaping department gets 25% of the compost for free.

The municipal administration is lobbying for the introduction of carts as there are problems with the bags. The cost to supply householders with carts will be $1M, but collection costs will be reduced. Council is, however, unwilling to support this due to the initial capital outlay involved. The Canada Winter Games, held in Whitehorse in 2007, will purchase a supply ($40,000 worth) of green and other garbage carts for its aim of holding a zero waste games. These carts will then be given to the municipality to run a cart collection system city pilot with over 450 households. It is hoped this will increase participation and convince council to purchase the carts city-wide.

There have been no cost savings. In fact costs have increased. Although free compost is used by the landscaping department, they would probably do less landscaping if it was not available rather than spend more money on other sources of compost.

Research Analysis

Analysis leads to these key observations:

  1. There is some debate as to whether a centralised system of composting is more sustainable than neighbourhood or backyard composting. Figures for at which point density increases the effectiveness of a centralised system over a neighbourhood system are not available, but would be worth exploring. A centralised system makes composting easier for the householder, resulting in more composted material, providing greater environmental benefits. Also, economies of scale make waste management more financially viable. In addition, central large scale projects increase the viability of creating a market for the compost – generating income for the municipalities to help cover the costs. However, the centralised system has greatly increased waste transportation16 leading to increased traffic and air pollution. An intermediate solution might be a neighbourhood-wide system that could also provide a local area with their composting needs.

  2. The degree to which curbside collection is the most successful way of achieving sustainable benefits needs to be researched. Annapolis Royal – a rural area of Nova Scotia - has not implemented organics collection, but has provided free backyard composters and composting cones, which enable the composting of materials not normally suitable for backyard systems (e.g. meat, fish, and bones). Waste diversion in Annapolis Royal is more successful than other backyard only composting programs17. GPI recommends that centralized collection may be the best option in urban areas, but not necessarily in rural ones. What are probably needed are diverse, distributed systems in lower density areas and a centralised system in higher density areas. There is probably a continuum from individual to centralised systems as population density increases.

  3. There is anecdotal evidence in Nova Scotia and Whitehorse, which suggests that centralised organics collection is more likely to engage local people than a backyard/neighbourhood approach. Greater engagement with residents is likely to increase the amount of residents taking part in organics waste diversion. Even though the sustainable benefits per person may be less with a centralised system when compared with neighbourhood or backyard systems, the total waste diverted by the community may be sufficiently great as to outweigh the disadvantages. Across Canada, municipalities with organic waste collection generally divert more waste than those that don’t. However, waste collection is usually part of a wider comprehensive waste minimisation strategy involving more recycling and similar strategies. It is difficult to assess the specific contribution of organics collection.

  4. The lack of cost benefits in Whitehorse compared to Nova Scotia may be linked to a lack of critical mass. Size of operation perhaps prevents significant cost savings, and inhibits the development of significant knowledge capital and improvements to the local economy. Because of its remote location, Whitehorse is unable to develop more comprehensive sustainable waste strategies as recyclables are not collected by the municipality – the cost of trucking them to a processing facility means that centralised privately owned and operated depots are the only recycling facilities available in the municipality. As with the issues with collection in rural areas, the question remains whether there is a minimum population size and density for sustainable composting collection processes as opposed to improved backyard composting?

  5. The distribution of green bin programs across the country suggests that there are low barriers to implementation. Despite potential issues with extreme cold, there are examples in most climate zones, and examples is most community sizes – although, as previously stated, the gren bin programs programs may be more appropriate in larger communities with denser populations.

Detailed Background Case Description

Dealing with organic waste

Organic material entering the landfill produces management problems with the production of leachate and methane. Most municipalities within Canada have taken some measures to reduce the amount of organic waste that enters the landfill. These measures include:

The encouragement and subsidisation of backyard composting

Usually the least effort to the municipality, backyard composting relies on active participation of householders and, even with a high level of education and promotion, is likely to achieve lower waste diversion rates than other forms of composting programs, especially in high urban settings. In addition, most backyard equipment is unable to handle the most extreme forms of organic waste such as meat and feces. Also, large volumes of waste, for example from restaurants or multi-unit dwellings, cannot normally be accommodated by this method. Examples of municipalities which provide subsidised backyard composters are Chilliwack, BC, Vaughan, ON, and Hamilton, ON.

Provision of “bring your own” neighbourhood composting facilities

This also relies on the active participation of residents to bring compostable material to local composting facilities, but reduces the problems of more noxious and/or voluminous organic waste and generates more commercially viable compost. The technology available for large composting facilities allows the compost to be produced at higher temperatures, killing pathogens and speeding up the composting process from that achievable through backyard composting. Facilities such as this are being considered, or implemented in North Cowichan, BC, and Winnipeg, MB.

Sorting post-collection

Some municipalities (e.g. Edmonton, AB) sort their waste after collection and delivery to a processing plant. Halifax, NS, sorts garbage post-collection in addition to having a program of separation prior to collection. This increases the amount of waste diverted, but reduces the quality of the compost. All potentially compostable material (including paper, cardboard, biodegradable plastics, etc) is then shredded and composted centrally. Compost produced by this approach is not as good quality as that produced by pre-sorting waste, but is nevertheless useable as a supplement for other compost, and as subsurface layer in the creation of new lawns. The process also reduces the total waste entering landfill even further. In Halifax, the waste diversion rate is 56%10, compared with a provincial average of 46%11, and although what proportion of this is due exclusively to the organics component is unclear, the additional post-sorting does improve diversion.

Curbside collection

This is most likely to engage residents, but is the most costly option for municipalities as a result of the higher collection costs and provision of suitable carts or bins for  temporary household organics storage. It is also the simplest program to manage, fitting into established methods of garbage and recyclable material collection.

In Nova Scotia, municipalities have adopted different approaches to achieve similar goals, and most municipalities have adopted a curbside collection using green carts. More municipalities are implementing such a scheme as it has been shown to be a successful response to the banning of organic material from provincial landfills. Exceptions to this trend are largely in rural areas where the increased costs of collection outweigh the costs of increased promotion and education for backyard composting. As a result (except in the case of Annapolis Royal), those municipalities not operating curbside collections have not been as successful in the diversion of organics from the solid waste stream, due to the limitations of many backyard technologies in the management of such items as meat.

Whitehorse initially adopted the use of biodegradable bags, which has not been entirely successful as supply has been intermittent, leading to occasional shortages. The bags sometimes degrade in storage and create a problem with the management of organic waste for the householder. The preferred solution, in the opinion of the municipal officers, is the adoption of green carts as these are easier for both the householder and the garbage collection service. The advantage of bins or carts is that the collection process can be mechanized, making it quicker and more efficient.

Green bins are the most common receptacle in use. They are also referred to green carts, especially in larger models. This is the approach taken in towns and cities such as Toronto, Markham, Niagara, and Durham in Ontario, Olds in Alberta, Fundy in New Brunswick and Ladysmith in British Columbia.

Program histories

Nova Scotia

In the 1970s, waste management was highly unsustainable and hazardous, with practices such as open burning and illegal dumping in common practice. During the 1980s, because of media attention on waste issues and a landfill crisis (e.g. Halifax took 10 years to find a suitable location for landfill) public opinion began to take exception to this approach leading to a provinc- wide public waste management consultation. The solid waste strategy and subsequent legislation included the banning of organic material from the landfill stream, as well as a comprehensive effort on waste diversion and reduction involving banning materials that could be diverted such as organics and recyclable material, deposits on beverage containers and other management approaches such as new landfill standards (Dec 31, 2005). Many landfills were closed at this time – reducing the total number in the province to 7 (although there are still 25 privately run construction waste landfills in the province).

The solid waste strategy was significantly influenced by the Municipality of Lunenburg, which, in 1991, was the first municipality in North America to instigate a solid waste management review process, and implementing curbside collection in 1993-4. There are strong links between this community and Germany – and people involved in the review had knowledge of the German curbside collection of organic (and other) waste (see the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety for more details); the municipality decided to implement this process. The compost that is created is sold back to residents by the municipalities, which creates another income stream to support the operation of the system.

The scale and comprehensive nature of the Nova Scotia solid waste management policy resulted in a critical mass of knowledge and expertise in waste management, which resulted in significant new economic activity, creating up to 1,200 new jobs. It also resulted in increased interest in composting in the private sector. The pulp and paper industry in the province is now composting wood waste, and McCain's is composting all of its potato peelings in a large scale anaerobic composter12.

The ability to experiment with ideas and techniques designed to increase waste diversion and reduction has led to Nova Scotia becoming a significant centre of consulting and waste engineering companies. Examples of companies that have transferred knowledge from Nova Scotia to national and international markets include Dillon Consulting, the MacDonnell Group, and the Miller Composting Corporation.


In the early 1990s, territorial funding was available to carry out a solid waste management audit (1993-1994). During this period, municipal officials attended a waste management conference where an organic waste management program from PEI was presented involving curbside organic waste collection. The lesson was taken back to Whitehorse. Whitehorse officials decided that they could introduce curbside collection in Whitehorse. Recyclables collection is not cost effective for the municipality as it costs too much to transport material to processing depots.  Consequently, recycling in the community is carried out by the private and non-profit sector, and is based on voluntary deposits at collection depots by residents.

There was initial involvement in the development of the waste management strategy of the now disbanded non-profit called LOTS. Territorial funding supported the waste management strategy development. Federal funding was used to build the compost facility at the landfill. A non-profit organisation runs the composting facility at the landfill. Attempts have been made to create partnerships with private companies to increase the management of waste, but this has currently not been successful. Indeed, private companies have been reluctant to collect organic waste from commercial enterprises, a collection service which the municipality does not provide.

The key to winning council support was the instigation of pilot studies. First, in 2000, interested residents formed a process pilot study. These interested residents were removed from the regular collection stream (Monday to Wednesday) and moved to a Friday collection. Following the success of the pilot, in 2001, an entire neighbourhood was selected as a second pilot study, which included both a willing, and unwilling, resident pool. Despite initial resistance from some residents, the second pilot study was also successful. In 2002, the program then went city-wide. The initial group of residents was selected by using volunteers to undertake a community-based social marketing process. This process involved using residents that had been engaged with the municipality on environmental issues, and were interested in supporting the initiative. These people then spoke with their neighbours and friends in an effort to recruit them for the volunteer pilot study.

The basic operation of the organic waste management process works like this: every other week, alternating with regular garbage pick up, organic waste is collected and transported to a compost facility at the Whitehorse landfill. The waste is collected in bio-degradable bags, which are purchased by residents. There is also a limited program of compostable waste collection at schools in the municipality. A non-profit organisation managing the compost facility sells the compost that is created and uses this to offset the cost of managing the facility.

Roadblocks to attractng commercial enterprises have not been overcome. The municipality has started to collect organics from schools as private enterprises would not provide the service as they already do for regular garbage. There was an attempt to instigate an organics collection at the two MacDonald’s in the city, but although 90% of their waste is compostable and composting would save them a lot of money, the franchise holder did not take up the scheme because one of the restaurants formed part of a Wal Mart and Wal Mart handled the waste for them at that store, meaning cleaning protocols would be different in each of the two premises. This was considered unacceptable.

Other examples of green bin collections

Greater Toronto

In 2002, curbside collection in the Greater Toronto area started in Etobicoke, which acted as phase one of the roll-out of collection services across the metropolitan area. The program was instigated as a result of the closure of the Keele Valley Landfill site in 2002. This meant that Toronto’s waste was then exported to Michigan. At the time, this led to a 400% increase in the cost of garbage disposal13. With 41% of Toronto’s waste being potentially compostable, organics collection was identified as a key component of a waste reduction process14.

Over the next 3 years, the Green Bin Program was rolled out across the metropolitan area. Scarborough began in June 2003 and Toronto, East York and York joined in September 2004. On October 25, 2005, 124,000 single family homes in the North York community came on board, bringing the total to 510,000 single family households. The program does not currently cater for multi-family units such as apartment blocks, although pilots are underway to test the feasibility of collecting organics in such complexes.

Composted material is collected every week, with regular garbage being collected every other week. Compost is placed in green bins that are then left at the curb for collection.


Fundy in New Brunswick adopts a voluntary approach. Curbside residential collection commenced in 2001, using green bins for mechanisation. The key difference in Fundy is that participation in the scheme is voluntary – residents can opt into the program and receive a green bin at their discretion. The program is gaining increased support in the community, with percentage increases in composting and participation in the programme.


Like Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island has adopted a province-wide approach although the scale is perhaps somewhat smaller. Also, like Nova Scotia the approach is part of a comprehensive waste management strategy.


There are many other green bin examples around the country – mostly operating a model of central composting providing a sellable resource and a mechanised collection using green carts of various sizes. Other potentially sustainable uses for organic waste is to use organic waste to generate fuel for power generation. There is a wide range of processing technologies available on the market and the costs associated with the process are comparable with composting, as well as providing benefits in other areas, such as reducing the reliance on fossil fuels for energy production. This alternative, however, further increases the centralisation of organic waste processing and does not provide communities with a source of sustainable compost. The various strands of sustainable development represented by these various approaches would be difficult to compare and analyse.

Strategic Questions

  1. What is the critical threshold that moves the most efficient composting program from the backyard to centralised systems?

  2. Which is more sustainable – composting or using organic waste in biofuels/cogeneration projects?

  3. What is the most efficient collection schedule that combines curbside collections of organic waste, recyclables and garbage while keeping vehicle emission to a minimum?

Resources and References

  1. Composting Council of Canada:
  2. Ontario Ministry of the Environment. 2004. Ontario’s 60% Waste Diversion Goal – A Discussion Paper,
  3. Friesen, B. 2002. Which Methods Work Best? Biocycle, Vol 43 (6), p 29-37 
  4. Lundie, S. and Peters, G.M. 2005. Life cycl