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Vancouver Economic Commission:
“If We’re an Island of Green, We’re F***ed”

Striving to be the world’s greenest city by 2020, Vancouver has adopted several ambitious action plans and goals. The Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) set to work in 2010 to define what a “green job” was at the city level in order to meet the City’s economic goals to double the number of green jobs and the number of businesses engaged in greening their operations within a decade. Since then, VEC has been building relationships with investors, helping local cleantech firms increase their exports, and using city infrastructure projects to lead by example.

We spoke with Juvarya Veltkamp, Manager of Green Economy Initiatives at VEC, to learn more about the city’s progress, upcoming State of Vancouver’s Green Economy report, and discussions this week at SB’18 Vancouver.

Could you tell us a bit about Vancouver’s journey so far as it strives to become the world’s greenest city by 2020?

Vancouver has pioneered policies that have made the city stand apart on issues of environment, social cohesion and economic inclusion. Its ambitious suite of action plans, long-term strategies and master-planning initiatives include the award-winning Greenest City Action Plan (GCAP), which has set 10 discrete actionable and measurable goals to achieve by 2020. So far, the City has achieved substantial progress in each of these goals, meeting three ahead of the 2020 deadline.

Learn more about
the tech, trends and policies
driving growth in
Vancouver’s green economy
in the
Good Cities Pavilion
this week at
SB'18 Vancouver!
Naturally, this ten-year journey is not taking place in a static world; even as we strive to become the world’s greenest city, many other urban centres have done a stellar job in their own communities and economies and have moved the bar even higher. We see this as a positive thing. In fact, the Vancouver Economic Commission’s green team has a cheeky, informal motto: “If we’re an island of green, we’re f***ed.” These actions are not meant to be vanity metrics; at their lightest, they are ways of gamifying a series of really necessary actions and changes.

The Economist recently named Vancouver the third-greenest city in the world. What is the city doing to try to move up to that top spot?

As far as we are aware, Vancouver is the only municipality in North American to monitor the health and activity of its green jobs and green economy. However, we are hardly resting on our laurels. Two of the GCAP’s ambitious goals are to double the number of green businesses while also doubling the number of green jobs. Our upcoming State of Vancouver’s Green Economy Report 2018, which we are launching during Sustainable Brands, goes into great detail on the nature, progress and leadership shown as we strive for these objectives.

With 2020 fast approaching, Vancouver has its sights on new goals going out to 2040 and 2050. Our latest citywide plans up the ante by putting Vancouver on a path to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy, produce zero waste, transition towards a circular economy, ban single-use items, ensure that all buildings raised from 2030 onwards produce zero emissions, and make the majority of trips by foot, bike or transit and be a place where everyone has a home.

We already have a green demolition bylaw that requires pre-1940 homes to be deconstructed so that materials can be reused or recycled. As one of one of the leading jurisdictions that has set a pathway to zero emissions buildings, the city has also opened a Zero Emissions Buildings Centre of Excellence to assist industry to keep up with upcoming regulatory changes. It’s estimated that from 2007–2014, improvements to our building code saved Vancouverites $44 million in energy savings.

This week, your colleague, Meg O’Shea, will be discussing how Vancouver-based entrepreneurs are innovating in the area of textile waste. What other industries do you see being especially active in Vancouver over the next two years as the City approaches its sustainability goals?

Our Green Economy Report actually identifies six major sectors that are especially active right now: cleantech, green buildings, green mobility, waste management, local food and sustainable business. Our activities around textile waste innovation fall within what we call the circular economy, which we are increasingly transitioning to and which encompasses most waste management. A combination of forward-thinking policies and regulatory reforms, shift in consumer mindset, and more and more businesses recognizing the benefits of a triple bottom line and the sustainability imperative has spurred increased innovation in each of these sectors.

In Vancouver we have several industries that differentiate themselves as world leaders based on their clean and green innovations, including fashion design, eco-tourism, urban agriculture and food processing, and the film and tv industry. The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) hosts a Sustainable Production Forum every year and Vancouver has a global reputation as North America’s third-largest film production centre — but with an additional focus on green initiatives both on and off screen that reduce waste and carbon emissions.

What types of sustainability jobs do you think will be in good supply (or in high demand) in Vancouver over the next few years?

This is a great question, and — shameless plug here! — you can get a pretty good picture of things by checking out our Green Economy Report when it launches. While we plan to do more targeted research to build on what you will find in there, gathering the data is challenging in part because the pace of growth is so high, and because what were conventionally separate industries, such as waste management and construction, are now blending together — for example, as more production and manufacturing includes used or recycled materials.

As a teaser, what we can tell you now is that the greatest job growth we’ve seen since we last released a green economy update has been in the building, cleantech and local foods sectors, in that order. Keep in mind that while 40 percent of this growth may be attributed to completely new jobs — jobs created as businesses in the green economy thrive and expand, adding more to their workforces — 60 percent of overall job growth in the green economy is because of transitional jobs: existing jobs that have changed enough in nature so as to now be able to be declared a green job.

An example of the former would be a green buildings demolition and materials recovery firm hiring an additional 10 new contractors to meet the demand for their services; an example of the latter would be a developer who has become Climate Smart-certified and taken on new contracts for zero-emissions buildings. Their shift in mandate and scope means that some or all of their employees now work in the green economy.

As Vancouver’s economy gradually becomes more circular, we anticipate significant job growth in materials management and the emergence of new roles such as material brokers and b2b relationship management. This anticipation has definitely played a role in the workshop and b2b program we are running through Sustainable Brands.

What can attendees expect from the Innovation Lab in the Good Cities Pavilion at SB’18 Vancouver?

Where to begin? At our particular booth, you’ll be able to read the newly launched report and learn about the new tech, trends and policies driving the growth in Vancouver’s green economy. Furthermore, we are hosting curated meetings between local impact-focused businesses and representatives from global brands throughout the conference.

This program will provide our impact entrepreneurs access to the conference’s network, unlock value and insight into the global business community, and allow corporate attendees a unique opportunity to connect with up-and-coming social and environmental sustainability solution providers, technology partners, and innovators that can help companies meet their social/environmental goals and targets. The VEC space will also showcase a number of talented Vancouver makers and designers that work with reclaimed materials.