Canadian Cities at Sustainability Tipping Point?

Are Canadian cities at a sustainability tipping point after 12 years of on-going innovative integrated community sustainability planning? And if so, what’s the secret?  That was the topic of TNS Canada’s Exchange Network of sustainability practitioners monthly Dialogue on September 24, 2012. The webinar was entitled,

The Emerging Vision for Canadian Municipalities – Reflections and Barriers to the Implementation of Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSP’s).

As an introduction to the webinar, the TNS Canada office posted the following description in the invitation e-mail. It describes the Canadian strategic approach to sustainability that has emerged over the past 12 years:  stakeholder dialogue, deepening understanding, increasing capacity, on-going innovation and implementation, transformation, and acceleration towards sustainability.

Over the past 10 years municipal governments and community groups have engaged thousands and thousands of Canadians to create Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSPs ) that describe bold new visions for our cities and towns.  Many of these plans are in the process of being implemented; changing the way that we plan and design the places we live work and play. Collectively these individual plans are adding up to a new vision for Canada. A new vision for Canadians. At the same time municipalities are experiencing challenges as they try to implement their plans.

Earlier this year, we interviewed municipal experts from across the country and gathered for an intimate dialogue to explore what’s needed to spark the sustainability transformation in our communities. Transformational change requires questioning and evolving our mental models, the short-hand filters we use to make sense out of the world.  It requires re-thinking, deep learning, and integration of new ways of being in the world.  It’s hard work.  It requires commitment, care, purpose, and support. It is deeply rewarding.  The visions that Canadian municipalities have created are bold enough so that reaching them will require this type of transformational change.  What does it take to create the conditions for transformation?  Are our communities ready to undertake this journey together?

During this webinar we will provide a summary of our research and dialogue to date, and ask your for feedback as we synthesize the findings from this research into a final report. 

We are also embarking on a new research project that will review the state of sustainability plan implementation in Canada. This research will help to identify some of the new tools, resources and next practices from leading communities. During the Dialogue we will provide you with more information on this new project. 

An email sent summarizing the webinar discussion and providing some resources to the Exchange Network member practitioners stated the following:

The majority of Dialogue participants were sustainability practitioners working in municipalities. Bringing their own personal experiences and perspectives from across Canada, the group engaged in a great conversation on the current challenges facing Canadian communities.

 John Purkis, Senior Advisor and Senior Manager, Sustainable Communities Program, TNS Canada, led the webinar. John believes that Canada is nearing the tipping point of revolutionizing how all Canadian communities are developed because municipalities across the nation have made real progress in developing and implementing ICSP’s. However, not everyone on the call was so optimistic. As with many organizations, municipalities face resource and political constraints that can often derail even the most well-intentioned sustainability efforts.

The group discussed tools that have helped them overcome barriers to implementing ICSP’s. The resources mentioned are listed below:

Strategic Question Assessment: Accessing Actions Using Whistler2020 Worksheet” This 2 page document is a “back-of-the-envelope worksheet that outlines four strategic questions to help you assess any type of action, project, initiative and proposal using Whistler2020 to inform your decision-making.” Although this tool is based on Whistler’s context, it may be useful for other sustainability practitioners looking to embed sustainability into their everyday decision making.

Passing Go: Moving Beyond the Plan”, Dr. Amelia Clarke Dr. Clarke’s presentation, published with The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, provides success factors for ICSP implementation. Canadian success stories are included.

Bob Willard’s customizable ‘The Sustainability Advantage Worksheets’ Drawing on his experience working for IBM, Bob Willard created worksheets for you to calculate the business case for a sustainability initiative. Plug in your numbers to either the worksheet for Large Enterprises or the SME Version of the document. For more information, please see Bob’s website.

Slide deck from the Dialogue John Purkis’ slide deck, which includes initial findings from research John is conducting for Infrastructure Canada which reviews the state of implementation of ICSP’s in Canada.

What has your and your city’s experience been with sustainability planning? What difficulties did you face and which tools and responses do you feel would be most effective?  Please comment below.