What does Vancouver need to do to become the greenest city by 2020? From what I have seen around the globe, I have had my doubts that we will reach this deadline. Not being one to jump to conclusions, I asked an expert in the field of sustainability: Anonymous. Anonymous has generously taken the time out of their busy schedule to offer their opinion on the matter:


Although Vancouver City Council has come forward with The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, the proposed changes are underwhelming if they are serious about earning that title. As admirable and important as the plan is, it can only be considered a first draft or starting point.  In order to propel Vancouver to greenest city status, entire shifts in ideology need to occur, and that full-scale level of change cannot be achieved within 4 years.

Consider Nordic cities, such as Oslo and Helsinki. These cities have been designed to focus on cyclists and pedestrians, rather than being car-centric like the majority of North America. This kind of planning has launched most of Scandinavia ahead of Vancouver in terms of sustainability, in particular the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Further still, Copenhagen has promised to be fossil fuel free by 2050, an admirable milestone not yet reached by or even promised by any other metropolis.
Compared to other cities, like New York, or Beijing, Vancouver has made significant strides in many regards. Most notably, Vancouver has become the first city in North America to set green building standards, ensuring all future buildings meet strict environmental standards. City council has also significantly increased support for local food production, enacted water conservation measures, continued to use renewable energy sources (Hydroelectric), promoted zero waste initiatives, and supported sustainable transportation initiatives, but it is larger scale shifts that are required, as well as significant investment and monetary resources.
In order to fully earn the title Vancouver seeks, council needs to focus on:

  • Rethinking the way we think about and understand energy
  • Completely ‘decarbonizing’ every aspect, from industrial to the personal level
  • Divesting from fossil fuels
  • Reshaping the multinational corporation-based food system
  • Reinventing our transit systems


No city has attempted these feats, with the exception of Copenhagen’s fossil fuel divestment. Aiming to achieve all five of these goals by 2020 is too ambitious and would likely result in confusion and backlash. A plan for educating the broader population on the goals and importance of meeting the targets, as well as a logical path to getting there within a realistic timeframe must be developed prior to action to ensure success. Only then can we realistically consider striving to become the greenest city in the world.


Decarbonizing- idea and wording inspired by: Mouallem, Omar. “Deep Decarbonization.” Energy Exchange. A Pollution Probe Publication. Winter 2016: p20-25.


  1. To me it seems that the CoV is mostly good at greenwashing. Half of that plan can hardly be considered anything more than fluff.
    Of note:
    City services are still almost entirely provided by staff in gas and diesel powered vehicles.
    Garbage is still being trucked several hundreds of km to a landfill causing groundwater contamination. Diesel still powers this.
    Transit is ~2/3rds provided by diesel powered buses.
    The installation of public car chargers has slowed to a trickle and no solutions for residential on-street parking have been discussed.
    Green tech companies are hardly moving to Vancouver because high living costs make capital disappear much faster.
    Energy efficient street lighting is being installed very slowly.

  2. There are many things about being “green” that is really out of Vancouver’s control. In particular the land use decisions the other cities of Metro Vancouver will determine how many people drive vs take transit into the city. The fact that Canada is a large country with few inter-city trains means that many people will fly or drive to Vancouver (which definitely browns it).
    These are all things that Scandinavian cities have as innate advantages against Vancouver.
    I’m not trying to make excuses for Vancouver, I’m just simply saying that there’s only so much that the city itself can do without help from the larger region.

  3. I completely agree with Anonymous. To give yourself years that can only be counted on one hand to accomplish Greenest City you’ll only get a green-ish city. A long view is required.
    Moreover, without an elected Metro government and a greater effort from the province and nation, Gregor will only continue to have a pipsqueak influence while 7,000 square foot lots with supersized rickety houses are protected, excessive freeway and bridge capacity that will never be reached is built, and the Port continues to export over 9 million tonnes of US thermal coal while creating a whopping 20 or so jobs.
    It’s pathetic.

  4. This is laughable…
    Step 1 would be to actually stop dumping raw sewage or nearly raw sewage (solids removed) into the harbor and build a proper sewage processing plants to at least the secondary level. Of course this is not sexy and it costs ungodly amount of money.
    Step 2 would be to seriously focus transit and in particular on mass transit. Do not worry about electrification – that will come from the industry and its nothing Vancouver politicians have to worry about (local politicians like to solve problems that are not in their jurisdiction)
    Step 3 would be to work on community/district heating/cooling facilities and to encourage better building standards (glass towers look cool but at terrible for energy use)
    Those 3 are things we can do something about and would have significant impact. All the minor stuff like planting trees, building bike lanes and putting in green roofs is nice, but makes negligible real impact

  5. The idea of a city which sanctions the demolition of thousands of perfectly liveable homes every year trying to brand itself as “greenest” anything is laughable. Do they think all that material is turned into pixie dust?

    1. This is anecdote … most of the required upgrades are safety code issues, not green code issues, and are related more to the National Building Code of Canada than any additional code Vancouver has added … and as the National code gets upgraded, the distinction between it and Vancouver’s code gets slimmer.
      What green rule is so onerous that it makes it cheaper to replace than renovate? (please, I would like to know, I’ve read all the RS-1 codes and the energy codes, and I can’t find anything) … I accept that there are times when complying with all the new code makes it cheaper to renovate … but just like there weren’t earthquake provisions at one time, there are plenty of code required upgrades which have zero to do with anything green.
      The plural of green-tinted anecdote is not data.

  6. Greenest City? WHERE? Do you mean the surroundings? The green parks? What does green even mean? I just noticed in the very short time I live here that Vancouver seems to like his drivers more than anything else, Petrol guzzling cars everywhere. Pedestrian-only streets? Not in Vancouver. Affordable public transport? Not in Vancouver. Ban of unneccessary plastic bags in supermarkets (or make them at least cost a little bit so people think twice). Not in Vancouver. But what you get here is all these people telling me all the time HOW GREEEEEN Vancouver is…. Good Marketing i would say!

    1. Indeed. Without the ocean, the seawall and the North Shore Mountain vista there is nothing spectacular here that is overly “green”. Once the views are gone and you go in a block or 3 off the oceans it is downright ugly in many places.
      Coming from Europe where tankless water systems, solar panels, recycling, fuel efficient cars, paper bags or bikes were common place 20-30 years ago I too can only laugh at the feeble attempt to paint itself so green !

  7. The whole challenge with the Greenest City thing is that Vancouver is not a complete city like London (UK) which substantially covers the whole metropolitan area. Vancouver represents only what would be similar a borough in the London context.
    Many of the cities worldwide that Vancouver likes to rub shoulders with and compare itself to are more like London and are not only one administrative unit of a much larger area, as is the case with Vancouver.
    The reality that Vancouver is only a ‘city’ in an administrative sense rather than being a complete urban area, means that any sensible comparisons of Vancouver with other places are almost impossible. Vancouver might do better to try to compare itself with similar sub-units of real cities (for example perhaps with one or two of London’s constituent boroughs).
    Much of Vancouver data is also distorted by its role as the central part of the ‘real city’, which is Metro Vancouver. It is not difficult to have relatively good metrics on mode share, etc. when you are only dealing with part of the urban region, but that does not mean that this urban region is in good shape.
    Perhaps it is time to seriously consider a more sensible two-tier government structure where the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, etc. become boroughs in a much larger ‘Vancouver’ which has a directly-elected governance structure and makes the decisions regarding structural issues as for example, is the case on London.
    The link below gives some information on the structure in London UK and what the elected Mayor and Assembly do relative to the numerous local councils in the boroughs.

    1. Indeed. That would make a lot of sense. But would the 20+ mayors, CAOs, managers, city planners, secretaries and firechiefs give up their very lucrative posts ?
      Common sense is not so common.

    2. I’d be more worried about the power of the car-centric majority over-running the tentative and fragile progress we’ve made in Vancouver proper.
      Rob Ford anyone?

  8. “Green” and “going green” are nominalized terms, catch phrases of our time for meaningless trends, that lack any specificity of method or result. Their abstractions, conveniently, both hide and impede their achievements and failures, rendering any associated goal mere conjecture and contrived estimation. “Most green by 2020” is, thus, a nonsensical construct, as illogical and self-eliminating as “approved in principle” –purely feel-good semantic hogwash.

      1. Raise the price of stuff we want less of. If you want less cars, charge road tolls or charge for parking. If you want more fuel efficient cars, make gasoline more expensive. You want more recycling: charge more GST or PST and a packaging and dump fee that is in line with true costs as some of our imports are dumping the costs onto society, not the producer !
        The trick is not to overtax but to give back tax room elsewhere. So if we raise or introduce carbon taxes on CO2 emissions that is like a PST or GST increase as energy is in everything. As such GST, PST or income taxes have to be lowered.
        Generally speaking, we tax incomes far too high in Canada and consumption (incl. car use or real estate) far too low. The opposite (lower income taxes and more taxes on properties and consumption) is a great recipe for growth AND green policies : http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/william-watson-how-to-stick-it-to-the-1-if-you-absolutely-must

        1. Sounds neat. I heard about an idea many years ago about including the price of disposal into the price of an item. I don’t think much has happened with that except electronics and pop cans.

        2. Well a higher GST or PST would do that. Many items like tires or TVs have a (far too modest) recycling fee attached to it. It should be ten fold !
          CO2 taxes too.
          In lieu: reduce other taxes. That is the issue: they always go up. We need tax relief somewhere, for example income taxes which is grotesquely high.

      2. Adanac,
        Specific and achievable goals and terms, transparent government that consults with its citizens and embraces their input, and regular accountability to determine actual progress.

        1. Sounds good. I’m into it.
          I recognize that some of that is already happening. I’ve seen it myself where citizens are invited to give input and that input ended up in the final designs. Then later when there were oversights in the design changes were made.
          But of course even more is nice to have too.

  9. The city is a mental construct reflecting the desires of the cyborgs who inhabit it. They have no desire to give up anything that supports laziness. They will not go down to the river to draw water or wash clothes, they will not weave their own fabric, sew their own clothes, they will not gather blackberries, catch their own fish, and they won’t even build their own shelter. The cyborgs insist on inserting layer upon layer of conveniences between themselves and the natural world. They have lost the ability to speak, they have lost the use of their hands, preferring to communicate through the rhythmic tapping of thumbs on sheets of glass. They have lost the ability to walk and carry loads on their backs. They are destroying the greenness of the world like a plague of ravenous locust.

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