Natural Step delayed until ‘pieces are in place’ 

Launch date is pushed back until early adopters are ready to go public

The official launch of Whistler’s sustainability project may be delayed until the fall but it’s far from being on the backburner, said Councilor Ken Melamed who addressed the monthly AWARE meeting on Aug. 2.

"For it to work, we have to explain it very carefully to everyone in the municipality, residents and businesses. That takes time," said Melamed. "We’re very nervous about it, so we decided to invest quite strongly in social marketing. We have to convince people that this is the right thing to do."

The Resort Municipality of Whistler has enlisted the services of Envisioning and Storytelling, a West Vancouver-based production company to produce a storytelling video that explains The Natural Step framework for environmental sustainability and Whistler’s own sustainability initiative. They are also putting together kits for residents and small businesses that will be distributed prior to the official launch, which should take place sometime in the fall.

"Once all the pieces are in place, we’ll be able to pin down a date for the launch, but right now we are looking at the video as a key component of the launch, and we won’t be able to move ahead until it’s complete," says Melamed.

Last December, the RMOW adopted The Natural Step framework alongside other "early adopters," including Whistler-Blackcomb, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort, Tourism Whistler, AWARE, and Whistler Fotosource.

They originally planned to launch The Natural Step Framework and the sustainability initiative in the spring, and the date has been pushed back through the summer to Sept. 15. With video delays, that date is no longer feasible.

"It’s important for us that it’s done right, so we’ll hold off on setting a date until the pieces are in place," said AWARE president Mitch Rhodes. "I’d say sometime around mid-November would be the most outside date, but it will probably be earlier than that."

The goal of the launch is to get as many local businesses and individuals participating in the program as possible, thereby reducing Whistler’s ecological footprint and ensuring that practices are environmentally sustainable – in other words, that they don’t add anything negative to, or take anything positive away from the local environment.

Because Whistler is the first town in North America to adopt The Natural Step Framework (TNS), other communities are "watching us closely" said Melamed. At a recent meeting of the Cascadia Mayors Council in Whistler, which includes more than 60 city and town mayors from B.C. to Oregon, the sustainability initiative was one of the core presentations. Sustainability is also a key component of the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Olympic bid.

"Whistler is very much in the limelight now, and people will be watching to see how it goes," Melamed said. "We’re the first town in North America to adopt The Natural Step Framework, and we have very high hopes, both councillors and staff, that we can achieve it, and give others the incentive to do the same.

"We will explain to people what (The Natural Step) system conditions are and hopefully lead by example. The municipality is already doing things to become more sustainable, looking into ways to conserve water and energy and following through on them."

The RMOW is in the process of putting together booklets and information toolkits for residents and businesses. The actual TNS launch will be an event with music and presentations, and it will be followed up regularly with subsequent events to keep the "energy going," said Rhodes.

The Natural Step framework was developed by Swedish cancer researcher Karl-Henrik Robert, who tried to put an end to environmental debate by getting more than 50 prominent scientists to agree on a set of four fundamental system conditions that are necessary to stop environmental degradation of the planet.

Previously, scientists would argue about the environment one issue at a time, and very little was accomplished because there wasn’t enough data available to prove either side of the argument. He asked scientists what we do know for certain, that was beyond argument, and went from there.

The four system conditions assert that, in a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing:

1. Concentrations of substances from the Earth’s crust (such as the burning of fossil fuels and buildup in nature of scarce metals like Mercury).

2. Concentrations of substances produced by society (such as persistent organic pollutants, chemicals, compounds, and other materials that do not break down in an acceptable period of time).

3. Degradation of physical means to sustain ourselves (such as the loss of farmland to urban sprawl, nutrient loss through industrial scale farming, forestry and fishing).

The fourth condition is that the earth’s wealth is fairly distributed around the globe, meeting human needs in a sustainable way.

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