January 05, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Getting Greener 

The Centre for Sustainability is helping Whistler find its way to better, cheaper, greener living.

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Coming up to Whistler was an easy decision for Ho. Not only did the job offer the interesting challenge of working in a tourist-based community, but also the lifestyle beckoned. "Living in Whistler is pretty awesome," she says. Though most of her days consist of hitting the desk by 8:30a.m. to trawl through email, attend meetings, organize events and churn out workshop proposals untill 5 or 6 p.m., other days offer more interesting fare. Arthur DeJong, Whistler Blackcomb's Mountain Planning and Environmental Resource Manager, once gave Ho a guided tour of the steps Whistler Blackcomb is taking to minimize impact on the natural environment. "He took me skiing for a couple of hours to show me what he's done on the mountain," she laughs. "That wasn't a typical day."

Long-term vision

Overseeing Whistler 2020 isn't a trivial pursuit. The project currently involves some 15 task forces on topics from the "built environment", "energy", "water", "transportation" to "arts, culture and heritage." Each has one or two-dozen participants, from local company owners to council members; the Centre for Sustainability has been tasked with ensuring that the right mix of people is on board. The town keeps track of 96 "indicators" — things like carbon dioxide emissions or water use — so the community isn't working blindly but can track how their actions affect the real world; the Centre for Sustainability compiles that data into background reports. And the Centre updates the 2020 vision document as things change.

Up until this year, the task forces have met once a year, often in marathon six-hour sessions over a couple of days, co-coordinated by the Centre. "If it weren't for us, they'd never get together," says Ho. Task force members like Arthur DeJong and Greg McDonnell, who have both been on committees for years, say the transition from municipal hall oversight to the Centre has been pretty seamless, without making much of a difference to the actual running of the program. "If anything they've made it more streamlined," says DeJong.

Ho says this process is now due for a change. Rather than working with task forces that are in charge of specific areas of progress, she says, the Centre is thinking about instead focusing on a given industry (like food and beverage, for example) and seeing which businesses would like to tackle any-or-all aspects of sustainability previously covered by those 15 task forces. Those that do would be helped along by the Centre. So instead of task forces pushing specific agendas, there would be individual businesses working on progress across all agendas. "We're not entirely sure yet what the new process is going to be," says Ho.

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