Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The city of Vancouver is already one of the greenest cities in the world and it wants to be greener. In 2008, Vancouverites emitted 4.6 tons of CO2 per person, the lowest level in North America and the third lowest level in developed cities throughout the world (City of Vancouver,a). By 2020, Vancouver aims to be the “greenest city in the world” by implementing multiple sustainable initiatives (Talk green Vancouver). For the purpose of this case study, we looked at two components that make Vancouver a more sustainable city: 1) Current actions taken by the city to have the lowest impact possible on the environment, and 2) Vanguard initiatives it will take by 2020 to become a model for every other city in the world.

Current Actions: A case study of Southeast False Creek

One particular neighbourhood in Vancouver, Southeast False Creek, leads the city as a example of sustainability. In 1991 the Vancouver City Council accepted the challenge to transform an industrial neighbourhood into a sustainable community that is now Southeast False Creek (City of Vancouver,b). This neighbourhood made major changes in the past twenty years, mainly related to society and environment (Kear, 2007).

The plan was to offer social equity, liveability, ecological health, and economic prosperity by creating a neighbourhood with the highest density possible to enhance social interactions among citizens (City of Vancouver,c). Goods and services are located within walking distance of residential areas and housing is linked to local jobs by public transit (City of Vancouver,c). The public transit system of Southeast False Creek is connected to all adjacent neighbourhoods by open spaces, parks, streets and pathways designed for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit (City of Vancouver,c).

From the social sustainability perspective, the Southeast False Creek neighbourhood invested in the development of affordable housing units with one of the highest pro-rata in the world (City of Vancouver,d). All buildings constructed on city lands require at least a LEED Silver certification, but should aim to LEED Gold level. The Southeast False Creek project shows the role that municipalities can take in a sustainability action plan (City of Vancouver,e).

Vanguard Initiatives in Vancouver

The redevelopment of Southeast False Creek can be considered a vanguard pilot project on how to implement sustainable initiatives at the city level. It was in fact quite important to shape Vancouver as it is today because urban sustainability was off the radar in the early 1990s.

Vancouver recently adopted an ambitious and forward thinking action plan, Greenest City: 2020 Action Plan. This plan is divided into ten different categories or goals to achieve sustainability: green economy, climate leadership, green buildings, green transportation, zero waste, access to nature, lighter footprint, clean water, clean air, and local food. For the purpose of this case study, the focus will only be on five of these goals.

In order to have a greener economy, Vancouver aims to double the number of green jobs by 2020, (15,000 in 2010) and to double the number of companies actively engaged in green initiatives by 2020 (compared to 2011) (City of Vancouver,f). To do so, the city plans to develop programs to develop new green job opportunities which should provide half of the new green jobs (City of Vancouver,f). It also plans to establish a Green Enterprise Zone, an area with a high concentration of green industries, companies and organization where green infrastructures and mixed land-use planning is promoted (City of Vancouver,f). Half of these new jobs are expected to take place in the green buildings sector which is important for long-term sustainability (City of Vancouver,f).

Vancouver also aims to be a leader in green buildings. To do so, it will require all buildings from 2020 onward to be carbon neutral and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of already existing buildings by 20% (compared to 2007) (City of Vancouver,f). It is essential in a framework to sustainability, because the majority of greenhouse gas emitted in Vancouver is coming from buildings. Most of the efforts will be made towards energy efficiency and not on energy itself, which is already fairly clean in Vancouver (mostly hydroelectricity) (City of Vancouver,f).

The city of Vancouver wants to eliminate its dependence on fossil fuels and is aiming to become a world leader in climate policies. Vancouver has already been able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 6% under 1990 levels and is aiming to reduce them by 33% in 2020 under 2007 levels (City of Vancouver,f). This will mainly be achieved by aiming at the building and the transportation sectors which account for the majority on greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, provincial regulation alone should account for 40% of the effort in this reduction (City of Vancouver,f).

Vancouver wants to be proactive in the green transportation sector too. Its two principal targets are to reach 50% of trips by walking, cycling or public transit and to reduce the distance traveled by motor vehicles by 20% (compared to 2007) (City of Vancouver,f). To do so, it will improve the quality and the security of infrastructures for both pedestrians and cyclists (City of Vancouver,f). It will also support public transit and active transportation in urban planning to make sure these practices will be prioritized (City of Vancouver,f).

The city of Vancouver is implementing a zero waste policy with an ambitious goal of reducing solid wastes going to landfills by 50% by 2020 (compared to 2008) (City of Vancouver,f). To do so, it will expand its composting program for residents by collecting food scraps. It will also develop education programs aiming to the importance of reducing wastes and efficient ways to reduce them (City of Vancouver,f). Furthermore, it will legislate to make producers responsible for their packages and products life cycles (City of Vancouver,f). Finally, it will develop a building deconstruction program to recycle building materials instead of sending them to the landfill (City of Vancouver,f).

As we can see, Vancouver is already a leader for sustainable cities around the world with examples like Southeast False Creek redevelopment. Because they are aiming to the title of “Greenest city” for 2020, they are developing an ambitious long-term sustainability plan to reach their goal with multiple and diverse initiatives for every part of their city.


City of Vancouver,a. Greenhouse gas emissions per person
City of Vancouver,b. Southeast False Creek planning
City of Vancouver,c. Southeast False Creek: About the neighbourhood.
City of Vancouver,d. Olympic village
City of Vancouver,e. Green building strategy.
City of Vancouver,f. 2012. Greenest city: 2020 action plan.
Kear, M., 2007. Spaces of transition spaces of tomorrow: Making a sustainable future in Southeast False Creek, Vancouver. Cities 24, 324-334.
Talk green Vancouver. Imagine 2020. Vancouver will be the greenest city in the world.

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