Whistler’s sustainability initiatives praised at FCM 

Suzuki, Robert preach sustainability, Natural Step framework to municipalities

Whistler has become the community poster child for sustainability.

"I would say Whistler was used as one of the leading communities in Canada that’s addressing sustainability," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly after returning from last week’s Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Ottawa.

"I mean, it was mentioned in virtually every session that I was in about our connection with the Natural Step system.

Sustainable Communities was the topic of the 2004 FCM National Conference and Trade Show. Six hundred people attended from 1,000 cities and municipalities across the country.

"Whistler was upheld as sort of the leading community for its adoption and moving forward (with the Natural Step)," said O’Reilly.

"It was very rewarding to hear that and for people to recognize our efforts."

Dr. Karl-Henrick Robert, who founded the Natural Step framework in Sweden 15 years ago, was a keynote speaker at the event.

The Natural Step is a science-based sustainable development framework to help organizations and communities move towards sustainability through four system conditions. Whistler adopted the framework in 2001 and has been making decisions based on the Natural Step framework ever since then.

Dr. David Suzuki was also a keynote speaker at the conference.

Suzuki released at new report there entitled Sustainability Within a Generation: A new vision for Canada.

The report said if governments work with industry and public policy groups to address major issues like water, reducing waste and pollution and increasing investment in urban transit, Canada can achieve economic and environmental sustainability within a generation.

"It’s a great program and he talks about the Natural Step within in," said O’Reilly.

He added that many Canadian communities are interested in the Natural Step now because it has been embraced by the FCM.

"They’re very interested in the (Natural Step) framework and promoting it within their memberships," he said.

Councillor Nick Davies, who was also at the conference, said the event made him realize more than ever that sustainability has become a mainstream way of thinking in society.

"Sustainability is no longer viewed as a fringe system of thought and people now understand that it’s important to plan not just for the next five years but the next 300 years," he said.

"That idea is becoming mainstream amongst the people that were at the conference and at the federal government level."

At the conference the mayor shared Whistler’s story of sustainability and why Whistler embraced the concepts.

"I think it’s intuitive in the nature of the people that live here," explained O’Reilly.

"You can build a wonderful village but if the air’s not clean, the water’s not pure, there’s no snow falling, there’s not much reason to be here.

"And so once the sustainability light goes on, you can’t really turn it off again. Ignorance is no longer an excuse."

He talked about how Whistler implemented the Natural Step and how the municipality has to constantly gauge itself against the framework, reviewing each decision against the four system conditions in the process.

"We’re really going to get the chance to really take it out for a test run when we actually go to the more detailed application during the CSP (Comprehensive Sustainability Plan)," said O’Reilly.

The CSP is the plan which will guide Whistler’s future over the next 20 years. A "blended future," the result of community consultation at the end of 2003, should be ready for community review by mid-March.

It will be judged against the Natural Step in a high level review at first but as more and more decisions are made about the future, they will each have to be weighed against the Natural Step.

"As we get down into more detail, there’s this continual question: does this move us towards the system conditions," said Mike Vance, general manager of community initiatives at the municipality, who also went to the FCM conference.

Vance said the conference reaffirmed the work the municipality is doing.

As Whistler works towards its future, Davies said there is an obligation to share the resort’s sustainability knowledge with other communities who are working towards the same thing.

"I think that we have an obligation to share with the rest of Canada the work we are doing in terms of sustainability planning and the way we are formulating our Comprehensive Sustainability Plan and the way we’ve embarked upon community consultation," said Davies.

"And yeah, it hasn’t been perfect but we’ve been breaking new ground here."

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