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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In November 2011, the Centre brought ultra-marathon runner Ray Zahab to town to inspire people with his "impossible 2 possible" message: Zahab smoked a pack a day and jokes about his lack of a good career, relationship, or, well, life, before at the age of 30 he decided to turn things around. He became addicted to running crazy adventure races, starting with the 100-mile snowy Yukon Arctic Ultra in 2004. Now he runs a charitable organization that inspires young people to perform similarly ridiculous feats, to help them realize that there are no limits to what they can achieve. His talk, he confessed, didn't actually have anything to do with sustainability — but the point, of realizing the impossible, had resonance for the sustainability gurus in the audience.

"We're working towards a "zero footprint" (on Whistler-Blackcomb)," said DeJong in his talk introducing Zahab. "When I say that, people roll their eyes and say 'who's this idealistic, hairless, environmental hippy? It's not possible.' Well, it is.

"It's a moral imperative and a business imperative. It's good for business, and good for the planet."

Planners for hire

The biggest chunk of the Centre's budget comes from outside clients. Its first big contract came from Williams Lake. In 2009, that community paid out $175,000 to a number of consultants including the Whistler Sustainability Centre to help them develop its own sustainability plan. Again, this doesn't mean prescribing to the community what they ought to be doing, says Ho — instead, they help the community to realize things for itself. Typically, Centre staff head to the paying community for a couple of days to lead a public engagement process, organizing meetings with council members and the public to ask questions like: what do you consider to be sustainable? Where would you like to be 20 years from now? Do you know where you are now on measures of sustainability? Once that's established, they help the community to work out what they need to monitor, and what they need to do, to get from where they are to where they want to be. "It was a two-year process, with a lot of public consultation and feedback," says Liliana Dragowska, planner for Williams Lake. Its resulting plan, which has so far, for example, produced a local bike park and turned the old fire hall into a community art centre, won Williams Lake a 2010 Sustainable Community Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Could they have done it without the Whistler Centre? "Absolutely not," says Dragowska. "They were definitely the most creative applicants for the job."

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