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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How is Whistler doing on its Whistler 2020 vision so far? On some things great progress is being made. "Whistler is way ahead of other communities in terms of what we recycle — we process more types of plastic than the city of Vancouver," says Ho. And about 82 per cent of people working in Whistler live in Whistler, exceeding the target of 75 per cent, and beating out other similar resort communities. Carbon dioxide emissions are down from a peak of 152,000 tonnes in 2001 to 115,000 tonnes in 2010; they have dropped 12 per cent from 2007. That's thanks in part to things beyond Whistler's control, like a provincial standard for the inclusion of renewable fuel in diesel and gasoline, or people switching home heating to natural gas after a pipeline arrived in Whistler. Other factors include capturing and flaming methane emissions from the landfill starting in 2007. But there's a way to go: the official community plan goal is 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020.

In other areas, Whistler is slipping. Air quality has gone down (but to be fair that's largely thanks to the 2009 forest fires). Energy use is on the rise: in 2010 Whistler chewed through 3.22 million GJ, with a goal of 2.76 million GJ for 2020. And water use is rising: Whistler residents use twice as much water per person as the residents of Banff, and the community uses twice as many litres as the 2020 goal.

Does the Centre feel responsible for that? "We feel impatient that we can't help change to happen faster," says Ho. She points out that the Centre doesn't have the power to make anyone do anything they don't want to, or penalize anyone either. "We don't have regulatory powers. Our role is really limited to education."

Shifting behaviours

An example of the Centre's educational role can be seen in its flagship 2010/2011 program, trendily named "iShift." The idea was to get businesses to devote themselves to shifting their practices in a greener, more sustainable direction. That could mean anything from committing to recycling; sourcing re-used materials for shop furniture, or aiming to buy locally produced foods.

Thirty businesses went through the program, which was helped along by a one-time $94,000 government grant. For a nominal fee of $250-$500, each business, including Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, Prior Snowboards, and The Grocery Store, was given four workshops that outlined why sustainability is desirable, tools for developing their own action plans, and eight to 16 hours of one-on-one time helping them to develop those plans. The businesses were given, for example, PowerPoint presentations and videos to train up their own internal "green team." The key to success, says program co-coordinator Shannon Gordon with the Centre, was convincing companies that it was in their economic interest to be more sustainable. "We're always trying to link it back to the bottom line," says Gordon.

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