Wedged between the ocean and the mountains, the city of Vancouver enjoys a unique geographic location. While the city’s residents are lucky enough to have easy access to nature, the municipality has ambitious goals to become even greener.

The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan is Vancouver’s 10-year plan to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. The plan contains ten goals that cover both environmental and social topics, all tying back to three overarching areas of focus: zero carbon, zero waste, and healthy ecosystems.

The city has been involving its council, residents, businesses and other organizations at all levels of government in order to implement this plan. Since 2011, Vancouver has been working hard to meet its goals. As of 2015, the city has met 80% of its original high-priority targets, and has since identified over 50 new actions to work on over the upcoming years.

The ambitious endeavor has led to a lot of exciting projects and innovations taking place throughout the city. In alignment with the 2020 Action Plan and the ten specific goals set by the city, we have chosen to highlight a few inspiring projects and initiatives which reflect on Vancouver’s continued leading role as a sustainable city.

Vancouver city
Wedged between mountains and the water: Vancouver.
Photo: City of Vancouver

Empower Me

Vancouver is a cultural melting-pot with residents originating from all corners of the world. The city has been working very hard to overcome obstacles to make sure that energy issues are transparent across all demographics. Empower Me is an award-winning energy conservation program that wants to engage all Vancouverites inclusively.

“Aimed at newcomers to Canada, the program is delivered to new immigrants by their peers, in their own languages, in their own homes,” says Sarah Smith, Director of Energy Efficiency and Conservation at energy provider FortisBC, project partner and the program’s main sponsor. Empower Me appoints community peers to ethnic communities in order to help explain the planned measures across language barriers.

This encourages peer learning and actions towards reducing energy consumption and saving costs. Furthermore, the community peers can reach new residents and help them understand concepts and technology that may be foreign to them.

Strong communities and peer-powered programs are key to the success of Vancouver's plan.
Strong communities and peer-powered programs are key to the success of Vancouver’s plan.
Photo: Getty / Hero Images

Arbutus Greenway

As of March 2016, the City of Vancouver reached an agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway to purchase the Arbutus Corridor for $55 million after a 20-year impasse. The old railway stretches through the city for a length of nine kilometers and will be used as a future transportation corridor for its residents.

The site will be a major point of connectivity between neighborhoods and will allow for great ease of access to the downtown core. The city plans to create both bike lanes and walking paths and, on a longer-term scale, wishes to install light-rail or streetcars.

“Our goal is to get people walking much more of it,” says Vancouver’s Director of Transportation Jerry Dobrovolny in an interview with the Vancouver Courier. “If you’ve walked two blocks, walk two kilometres. If you’ve walked two kilometres, walk eight kilometres.

Experience it, see it and use it. And use that experience when you come to our open houses and involve yourself in our consultation process to design what will be a spectacular facility for the City of Vancouver.”

Multiple pop-up community planning events have been held to discuss ideas about what the residents would like to see done in the area. As the city wishes to increase green transportation by 50% for its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, the future greenway will be a major site of focus. Hopes are for the greenway to be functional as early as next year, with light-rail or streetcars appearing by 2018.

Greenway in Vancouver
Vancouver is turning urban spaces into sustainable transportion corridors.
Photo: Flickr / Corey Burger (CC BY-SA 2.0)

2015 Organics Ban

As of January 2015, the Metro Vancouver regional district banned all food scraps from disposal as garbage. As food waste accounts for 40% of the city’s garbage, this creates a considerable amount of greenhouse gases.

Reducing food waste not only reduces the amount of garbage going into landfills, it also cuts down on pollution and creates compost soil for local gardens and farms.

Greg Moore, chair of Metro Vancouver, explains: “Everyone is affected by this ban, whether you are at home, or out in the community. We need to think differently. We need to think about how we separate our organics, our recycling, and our solid waste.”

Green matter is being collected from private households on a weekly basis, as are recyclables and regular garbage. The organics ban spans across all parties in the region including restaurants, schools, businesses and homes.

The City of Vancouver is very serious about reverting food waste: An additional charge of 50% for waste disposal services is applied in cases where food waste surpasses 25% of the garbage. The city has been working closely with residents, across many languages, to help Vancouverites understand what is and is not food waste.

The “Hey! Food isn’t Garbage” campaign has been launched around the city, featuring clever and accessible adverts regarding what can be recycled.

With a new campaign, the city is shining a light on food waste.
With a new campaign, the city is shining a light on food waste.
Photo: Getty / Dan Brownsword

Victory Gardens

As part of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, the city wishes to increase city-wide food assets by over 50% of the 2010 levels. By 2020, Vancouver hopes to reach over 5,000 food assets, measured by community gardens, farmers’ markets, urban farms, and orchards.

Victory Gardens, a local business, propels the goals of the city by transforming a wide array of urban spaces for food production. “We chose the name Victory Gardens because it illustrates what we stand for: community participation and solidarity toward self-sufficiency,” explains co-founder Lisa Giroday.

Victory Gardens works primarily with Vancouver residents and businesses to create personal growing spaces and provide educational services for people to learn how to manage their own gardens.

For busy people, the business also offers complete garden management solutions. They are very active in the Vancouver community and frequently hold events for farming education, in addition to having a series of very accessible YouTube videos that explain important aspects of home growing.

Sole Food Farms

Spanning over four acres of growing space across the city, Sole Food Farms is one of Vancouver’s most innovative sustainability projects. While the project is certainly successful and sustainable in terms of environmental practices, it also covers issues of social justice and sustainability.

The farm provides jobs and training for disadvantaged residents of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Sole Food Farms co-director and project manager, Seann Dory, explains that “by focusing on growing a few crops extremely well and very efficiently, we are laying a strong foundation for generating more employment and making more fresh food available to the inner city.”

The goals of the social enterprise overlap with many of the Greenest City goals, emphasizing linkages between food, health, and poverty. Sole Food works to provide a flexible work environment in an accessible neighborhood, working directly with its employees to provide opportunities. As the city is working to create over 3,000 green jobs to meet its 2020 goals, Sole Food has been contributing.

Sole food highbed
Urban farming is helping create 3,000 new jobs in Vancouver.
Photo: Sole Food

Lighter Footprint Project (CityStudio)

Aligning with Vancouver’s “lighter footprint” goal, the city’s leading indicator is the number of people empowered to take action on the plan through city-led or supported initiatives. Between 2011 and 2014, the city saw an increase of 12,800 supporters.

One of the more creative ways the city is trying to engage the community is through CityStudio. CityStudio is an experimentation and innovation hub that brings together students, citizens and the City of Vancouver itself to co-create projects that support the 2020 goals.

Since 2011, CityStudio has contributed to 205 projects and spent over 100,000 hours of skill training and innovation towards Vancouver’s Greenest City strategies. With involvement from over 3,500 students, these projects offer unconventional solutions for improving the City of Vancouver.

According to the project’s initiators, “we all have a role to play in reducing our ecological footprint: the amount of resources we use to meet our community’s needs.”

This is where the Lighter Footprint Project becomes relevant. The project is an ambassador program, providing motivated individuals with the tools to work with their neighbors to collectively lower their ecological footprint. By bridging the gap between citizens and the Greenest City Action Plan, the Lighter Footprint Project promotes tangible changes in Vancouver’s ecological footprint.

Urban farming is one of the ways citizens can contribute to reducing the city's ecological footprint.
Urban farming is one of the ways citizens can contribute to reducing the city’s ecological footprint.
Photo: Getty / Compassionate Eye Foundation / Steven Errico