Earth Hour City Challenge: Vancouver talks the talk, and absolutely walks the walk

By Vancouver City Councilor Andrea Reimer
Vancouver is proud to be named as one of the three Canadian finalists in the WWF Earth Hour City Challenge. Being the greenest city in the world by 2020 is more than just a slogan for the City of Vancouver, it’s a call to action that started in 2009 and has resulted in a remarkable transformation in the way we approach all aspects of operations and policy.

Andrea Reimer

Vancouver, relative to other cities, is starting from a position of strength. We have the lowest carbon footprint per capita in North America. Forward-looking decisions from past governments planned our city for transit and walk-ability, invested in renewable energy, and protected watersheds and our local farmland to ensure our food security.
With our Greenest City 2020 plan – which was developed over the course of two years with over 35,000 people engaged – the City of Vancouver has a comprehensive plan that guides our work to become a greener, resilient city. Our goal is to move beyond the status quo and demonstrate how to be a climate leader while fostering an economically successful, livable urban environment.
With 90% of the electricity used in Vancouver being clean hydropower, the City’s focus is on reducing the use of natural gas for space and hot water heating.  The City’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility uses waste heat captured from the sewer system – reducing the carbon pollution associated with heating the Olympic Village, surrounding developments, and existing buildings like Science World by over 70%.  Building on this success, a new city-wide energy policy has resulted in the planning or development of eight additional district energy systems.  We’re even using carbon pollution from the City’s landfill to create renewable energy and reduce emissions by 200,000 tonnes per year. This effort extends to our partnership with a local non-profit and utilities to launch a condo retrofit program to reduce energy use of existing buildings.
Vancouver’s commitment to building smart, walkable neighbourhoods has ensured that while the population and economy continue to grow, automobile usage is actually declining.  In addition to new transit investments such as a rapid transit line connecting the airport with downtown, the City has rapidly expanded and improved its cycling infrastructure with the introduction of separated bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge and for two major routes in the urban core.  These improvements are working – cycling in Vancouver increased 35% between 2008 and 2011 alone!
The City also approved its first-ever Pedestrian Safety strategy in 2012, which guides city investments in pedestrian upgrades across Vancouver. It’s no coincidence that Vancouver was recently named the most walkable city in Canada by WalkScore.
We’ve taken a comprehensive approach to transportation, and have worked aggressively to support the expansion of car sharing in Vancouver. There are now three car share providers serving Vancouver with a total of 800 vehicles.  Vancouver is also a leader in preparing for electric vehicles; we require all new residential development to be ready for electric vehicle charging (the first in North America to do so); we’re also rapidly expanding the network of charging locations, and we now operate the largest municipal fleet of electric vehicles in Canada.
Our goal to be the greenest city in the world by 2020 is bold, but it will help to improve our quality of life, make us even more globally competitive, and help us live in better balance with the earth’s natural systems. We hope more cities will join us!
Vote for your favorite sustainable city as part of the Earth Hour City Challenge People’s Choice Award. Online voting runs from now until March 15th.