Vancouver's Greenest City Planner tells all
LC: The people that started it, my co-creators, we all met through the campus sustainability work. The inspiration behind it was that we were tired of trying to get funding for projects that were difficult to fund. In the early days, it was hard to get it funded and people to understand what it is that you are trying to do and why it’s important, and on top of it we were really young. So we thought, we’re smart and we’re about to graduate and people can pay us for what we know how to do [laughs], and that led us to think let’s start a consulting firm! And while we’re at it let’s try and make it the most ethical business model we can imagine. That’s when we found the worker’s co-op structure, which is our legal entity, and structure and we’ve tried to model it after participatory economics.
Participatory economics is a world of theory that’s great if you haven’t already gotten into it, created by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, who are the big names behind it. We pulled some of the ideas from it to apply to our work – like flat structures, pay parity, and balanced job complexes.
It means that there isn’t a hierarchy and people share the workload and its not a case where only some people get to do all of the fun work and others do the mundane stuff. It’s a flat structure, there’s pay parity between all the members, meaning we all get paid the same amount based on the hours that we work. So we operate in the business world but also do it in a way that really models that a different motivation behind business was possible, one that wasn’t profit oriented but that was oriented towards doing good work in the world and based on finding meaningful work for people.
The importance of innovation
ND: That’s something I really have always admired about SSG – the work you all put into building an ethical practice.
ND: How important would you say innovation is to you in your work?
LC: Innovation or creativity or whatever you want to call it is essential. Probably more important or more critical is finding those points of integration and common ground, and I find that is a lot of the value that I’ve been able to add in the work that I’ve done. I look at challenges or situations or projects in new ways that are more integrated and from a fuller picture. I like finding creative solutions that pull you out of a traditional way of looking at a challenge or problem.
It started as a volunteer gig
ND: From SSG you became a member on Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team. How did you become involved with this initiative and what was that experience like?
LC: The Mayor of Vancouver [Gregor Robertson] and Vision Vancouver was elected on four platform commitments, one of which was for Vancouver to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. Because of my expertise and working on green buildings I was asked to sit on, I think it was a fifteen-person team, which the Mayor and Councilor [Andrea] Reimer pulled together to advise the city on how they could achieve those targets.
That was a volunteer gig and it was really interesting – we looked at best practices from cities around the world to establish a set of goals and targets and some potential actions that the city could take and came up with a list of quick start actions. Quick start actions were things that the city could do in the year leading up to the Olympics to kick-start the city and make sure that we were acting in addition to planning.
From there I became the staff person in the Sustainability Group at the City working on the development of the Greenest City Plan.
Thousands involved in developing Greenest City Action Plan
ND: It has been three years since this process began, and you’ve spent just over a year inside the City of Vancouver on the implementation side of the plan, so how does this feel now that it is about to go to Council for approval?
LC: It’s a great milestone. We’ve engaged 35,000 people from cities around the world in the development of this plan and over 10,000 people from Vancouver in the creation of this plan. 130 organizations really directly advising the process and at least 60 or 70 staff from most of the departments across the city have been involved in creating this plan. Plus there was a lot of leadership from Mayor and Council and our Senior Managers here at the city so it’s really touched most people in parts of the organization and has been a really cross-departmental effort.
The plan is great and it sets the course for our work. As I’m coming to the end of my work on this plan, I’ve been trying to find a bit of time to reflect on the work to figure out what the most important pieces have been. I think that the most exciting thing for me is that we’ve been able to build capacity and excitement in all these staff to really figure out how to integrate these goals and these targets into their daily work.