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Vancouver Tops World Green Building List

By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.

The City of Vancouver, British Columbia, is at the top of the 2013 Government Leadership Awards list issued by the World Green Building Council.

December 10, 2013—Created to recognize global excellence, the World Green Building Council's Government Leadership Awards has a short history: 2013 marks only the second time the biennial awards have been issued. With global conversations about the importance of sustainability and "green" design growing, however, the field promises to be one in which innovative designs and policy plans will continue to be produced as the future unfolds.
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The City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was named the overall winner of this year’s World Green Building Council awards, cited for its highly ambitious plan to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020. Vancouver’s initiative includes reducing its carbon footprint by constructing “net zero” buildings that generate all of their own power from such renewable sources as solar arrays. The plan is also aimed at creating green jobs and green transportation systems and improving air and water quality, among other goals. City of Vancouver

The City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was named the overall winner of this year's World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) awards—which carry the theme "Global Excellence in Local Green Building Policy." The city won for its "Greenest City 2020 Action Plan."

A highly ambitious plan, the initiative is targeted at making Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020. The plan includes 10 focus areas: green economy, climate leadership, green buildings, green transportation, zero waste, access to nature, lighter footprint, clean water, clean air, and local food. (Together, these focus areas address the three areas the city has identified as crucial: carbon emissions, waste, and ecosystems).

The effort that earned Vancouver its WorldGBC 2013 award calls for the city to become a global leader of green building design and construction. To accomplish this, the plan stipulates that all new buildings will be carbon-neutral by 2020, and that existing buildings will reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the same year.

"Economic, environmental, and social sustainability is an important part of the vision for Vancouver, and the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan lays out part of the roadmap to achieve that," said Sadhu Johnston, the deputy city manager of the City of Vancouver and the chair of the Greenest City Action Plan steering committee, who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online. "As with other cities around the world, Vancouver faces challenges, which include a growing population, climate uncertainty, rising fossil fuel prices, and shifting economic opportunities, [and these] will require us to work hard to remain one of the best places in the world in which to live, work, and play."

Over the past decade, Vancouver has regularly appeared on a list of the world's most "livable" cities published by The Economist Intelligence Unit, a global market analysis firm, Johnston noted. This is a label that the city is working hard to continue to earn as times—and values—change. "Maintaining the livability of Vancouver is essential," Johnston said. "It ensures that we can continue to attract and retain the best talent, maintain our status as a world‐class tourist destination, and grow a healthy and thriving population and green economy."

Seven years remain on the plan, which the city gave itself a decade to implement. "The plan is ambitious, it is meant to push and inspire," said Amanda Pitre‐Hayes, the director of sustainability for the City of Vancouver and the accountable owner of its action plan. Pitre-Hayes also responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering .

"With some areas of the plan, such as clean water and local food, we're tracking ahead of schedule to meet our 2020 targets," she said. "With most we're right on schedule, and with a few, such as reducing carbon pollution, especially from existing buildings, we have much more work to do." The participation of all community members, both in new areas of the city and more established neighborhoods, is needed to accomplish the latter, she says.

Grant funds are available through Vancouver's "Greenest City Fund" to help community organizations and local grassroots activists who are interested in implementing projects that support the action plan's goals.

Pitre-Hayes pointed out that Vancouver is well on its way to conserving its natural resources and meeting certain other goals: Community‐based greenhouse gas emissions are down 4 percent from their 2007 levels; improved city planning has meant that trips made by foot, bicycle, and public transit are up 10 percent from their 2008 levels; the amount of waste heading to landfills is down 11 percent from 2008 levels; and per capita water consumption is already down 16 percent from 2006 levels.

While Vancouver was the top winner of this year's WorldGBC awards, the City of Christchurch, New Zealand, was recognized with the council's Urban Regeneration Award. Christchurch has been extensively damaged by more than 10,000 earthquakes since 2010; the city received the award for the sustainable policies and initiatives that it has developed as part of its rebuilding process. 

As a result of earthquake damage, "Approximately 75 percent of the central business district (1,200 commercial buildings) and more than 10,000 homes will now be demolished and rebuilt and 70 percent of the city's 130,000 homes repaired," said Tony Moore, the principal advisor for the sustainability, strategy, and planning group of the Christchurch City Council, who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

The widespread rebuilding that is necessary in the city "presents unprecedented opportunity to rebuild Christchurch to better meet the needs of current and future generations," Moore said. Rebuilding the city as a "Green City" was an idea that the community itself supported through a coordinated community engagement process, he explained. The goals of the program in Christchurch include cutting the city's greenhouse gas emissions by one-fifth by 2020, measured against 2008 levels, and reducing them by 50 percent by 2050, he said. They also include reducing waste by 65 percent to no more than 320 kg per person per year by 2020. Improving the performance of new and existing buildings—as well as other widespread changes, including increasing walking, cycling, and public transportation—will be critical to achieving these targets, he noted.

While all aspects of the Christchurch green building program are voluntary, the program includes a multipronged approach that includes community and industry education, advisory services, incentives and grants, engagement campaigns, exemplar demonstration projects, and civic leadership, all organized to help "deliver…the future city desired by the community," he said.

Additional awards granted by the WorldGBC this year included a Regional Leadership Award, which was awarded to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, for its Estidama Pearl Rating System, which implements sustainability requirements in the emirate's built environment; and the Climate Action Leadership Award, which was granted to Seoul, Korea, for its campaign to reduce energy consumption.

The WorldGBC assessed the policies nominated for the award program according to five equally ranked criteria: effectiveness in transforming the industry; cost-effectiveness; scale of emissions reductions; demonstration of environmental leadership and innovation; and replicability and relevance of the initiative to other locations. The highest average score across all categories earns the Best Green Building Policy award.

The award program is held in partnership with the global town and city association ICLEI- Local Governments for Sustainability (founded in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives), and the United Nation's UN-HABITAT, also known as the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, which is mandated by the U.N. General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities.


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