Making Sustainability a Business

B.C.’s growing reputation feeds continued multi-industry growth

For several years we’ve been hearing about sustainability. While it’s easy to find loads of information on the definition of sustainability, it is much harder to find anything on the people and services that make sustainability a reality.

And the reality is we have some of the best and brightest in North America right here in B.C. The level of activity in the sector has risen to what one of my colleagues has called a “sustainability boom,” which is keeping all the practitioners very busy on work that is turning Vancouver into a North American hotspot for all that is green.

The claim of B.C. being a leader in sustainability services starts with an incredibly strong, home grown, institutional presence. In Vancouver you can find the head offices of Greenpeace, the defender of the environment for decades, the David Suzuki Foundation ( ww.davidsuzuki.org) which is spreading the gospel on climate change and the environment around the world, Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (ww.CBSR.com), a leader in bringing a corporate social responsibility to Canadian business, and the Fraser Basin Council ( ww.fraserbasin.bc.ca) which is focused on advancing sustainability throughout the entire Fraser River basin. This does not include the academics working on the topics at SFU, UBC, and BCIT.

There also strong partnerships involving these institutions, the GVRD (www.gvrd.bc.ca/smartsteps) and the City of Vancouver (www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/sustainability). Early on, these organizations understood the connection between economic and environmental performance. Their desire to maintain Vancouver as a great place to live has forced them to tackle the issues of sustainability head on. This has led to the creation of the sustainability precinct in False Creek, one of North America’s shining lights in urban planning. In real terms it has allowed Vancouver to keep growing its industries without losing the environmental qualities that brought the entrepreneurs here in the first place.

Then there is the army of independent consultants building on all the plans, writing the policies and creating the framework for sustainability to become an everyday word. Coro Strandberg (www.corostrandberg.com) has helped create CSR leaders such as Vancity and the Ethical Funds (www.ethicalfunds.com).  There is the Sheltair Group ( ww.sheltair.com), which led the Vancouver winning entry at the International Sustainable Urban Design Competition (www.citiesplus.ca/canadawins.html). And there is a green fleet accreditation program being led by Holland Barrs (www.hollandbarrs.com). This, of course, is only an incomplete snapshot of the firms leading the industry.

Green buildings are also part of this boom, and B.C. has built a strong reputation led by Busby Perkins + Will Architects (www.busby.ca), Coady Bunting Architects (www.buntingcoady.com) and reSource (www.rethinkingbuilding.com). In fact, B.C. has a strong concentration of LEED-accredited architects.

All in all, sustainability is not only making our lives healthier, it is also starting to draw people’s ideas and money to Vancouver. Vancouver can easily be the North American hub for the industry. We have it all: the people, the intuitions, the right mindset in the government and a natural environment that encourages people to do more.

No one knows how big this group will ultimately grow; however with oil at $60 barrel, and a trend toward cities wanting to stay livable, my bet is that this group will be feeling the boom for some time to come.

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