Vancouver wins Green Building Policy award

Canada Green Building Council gives Vancouver the top award. How does that translate into action?

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Gregor Robertson accepts the World Green Building Council's Government Leadership Award

Vancouver's Green Goals recognized on world stage

Vancouver has won the World Green Building Council's Government Leadership Award for Best Green Building Policy, United Nation’s Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) and Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI).

Vancouver was touted for its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, which has been informing policy decisions from transit to building codes. The elements of Greenest City 2020 that swayed the World Green Building Council were, unsurprisingly, the aspects focused on building construction. Namely, that all new buildings constructed from 2020 onward are to be carbon neutral, and that energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in existing buildings be reduced by 20% over 2007 levels by 2020.

The bike lanes you love or hate, as well as the Broadway Corridor referendum that's yet to be formed, are also part of that plan.

In accepting the award, Mayor Gregor Robertson said, “Cities are increasingly leading the way with bold solutions to confront the urgent challenge of climate change, and Vancouver is fast emerging as a global hub for innovation in green design. Thank you to the World Green Building Council for this award, and to the Canada Green Building Council for the nomination. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the green building sector and cities around the world to build greener, smarter buildings.”

Can Vancouver really deliver?

As it is not 2020 yet, Vancouver's award from the World Green Building Council is the recognition of a promise.

Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of Canada Green Building Council, said, “Over 60% of carbon emissions in Vancouver are associated with buildings and homes." When approving new constructions, a reflexive action in this city, green building targets can be baked into the permit process. Thus the city can take the driver's seat in guiding sustainable construction.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that owning property is moving further beyond the reach of workaday Vancouverites. This means that we're renting. As we learned during the Passive House North conference in October, Vancouver has no plan to force landlords to proactively upgrade their properties to a higher environmental standard. Such requirements can be linked to renovation permits, but that hinges on a landlord's willingness to renovate.

This makes the goal of reducing energy emissions from existing buildings less sure in its success.

However big you are, you're that small

Vancouver is leading in Canada, but not exactly innovating on the world stage. In his keynote speech at our recent Moving the Future conference, 8-80 Cities Executive Director Gil Peñalosa pointed to many examples of transit and infrastructure existing in less developed urban environments, which are beyond the scope of anything we're proposing.

Even such attention-grabbing headlines as "Vancouver bans doorknobs" point to instances where we're just doing what other places have done in generations past: the humble door lever has been a fixture, as it were, in British, South African, and Australian homes for ages.

We aren't Toronto-big, but we're Toronto-important, at least to Canada's trade partners; that's due to our position as the nation's gateway to the Pacific Rim. This importance is indicated by Robertson's visit to Beijing for business talks, and that's why other cities care what we do.

Other green leaders

The World Green Building Council awards were announced in Warsaw, Poland on November 20.

Abu Dhabi won the Regional Leadership Award for the Estidama Pearl Rating System, a comprehensive program that has implemented mandatory sustainability regulations; the first in its history.

Christchurch, New Zealand won the Urban Regeneration Award for its environmentally-sustainable rebuilding campaign following severe earthquake damage.

Seoul, Korea won the Climate Action Leadership Award for its One Less Nuclear Power Plant initiative (pdf),  a three-year initiative to reduce energy consumption in the city.

Honorable Mentions went to Brighton and Hove, United Kingdom, for its Food Growing and Development Planning Advice Note; Cape Town, South Africa, for its Municipal Energy Efficiency Buildings Program; and Shanghai, China, for its Green Building and Eco-City Campaign (Pay attention, Fort McMurray).

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