Despite the Canadian controversy over pipelines and rising global temperatures, Vancouver is continuing to establish itself as one of the world’s greenest cities.
Environmentalism has underpinned the city’s fabric since the early '60s. Back then, urban planners privileged walkability over car culture, and laid the groundwork for a design that allowed Vancouver to become one of the only North American centres without an innercity freeway. A few years later, Greenpeace was founded in Point Grey, and in the early 2000s, the idea of the ecological footprint and 100-mile diet was developed a few kilometres from its office.
True to its history, the region has remained committed to environmental policies. With its emphasis on building bike lanes, creating the most ecologically-friendly building code of any jurisdiction, and reducing its waste placed in landfill by 27 percent over the last 10 years, Vancouver has been awarded the title of third greenest city in the world.
That surge in environmentalism has increased the number of jobs in the green economy. Four years ago, one in 20 individuals worked in a green job: an occupation that focuses on activities that preserve environmental quality, reduce energy, materials, and water consumption, decarbonize the economy, and minimize waste and pollution. Now, that number is one in 15.
Proving that green policies help rather than hinder local industry, carbon emissions declined in the city by 11 percent over the past eight years, while the economy grew faster than any other city in Canada. Currently, 30 percent of businesses deliver products or services that help to restore or preserve the environment.
That’s due in a large part to Vancouver’s vibrant cleantech industry. A number of local companies are leading the space. Saltworks Technologies, for example, is working on a way to reduce wastewater to salt—a technique that’s led it to partner with NASA for future use on the International Space Station. As well as the city’s selection of businesses working on charging stations for electric vehicles, local organization ELIX Wireless has created a magnetic coupling technology that lets individuals charge their cars wirelessly. It produces no heat, works in the rain, and can even push aside any debris. Metro Vancouver business Carbon Engineering, too, is developing ways to reduce CO2 emissions by capturing the gas from the air, and transforming it into clean transportation fuels.
There are now more than 270 cleantech companies operating in the area, which have created over 2,500 jobs in the industry since 2011. Of those, seven B.C. businesses have been named to the Global Cleantech 100 in 2018: an award that honours the most innovative and promising ideas for a greener future.
Despite those successes, however, there’s still work to be done. More than a million people are expected to move to Vancouver over the next 20 years, requiring the city to implement responsive, smart, and distributed infrastructure. An increase in population will necessitate aggressive social and environmental policies, and wise investments must be made in projects, people, and places that celebrate diversity and sustainability.
Real estate, too, remains the city’s most profitable industry. Along with construction, the sector makes up nearly 15 percent of B.C.’s economic activity—more than the province of Alberta depends on fossil fuels. Increasing prices put pressure on residents, while startups and small businesses contend with rising rents. Curbing the price of real estate will help contribute to the resilience of the city’s economy, and facilitate sustainability in the long run.
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