Vancouver, Greenest City by 2020

January, 2nd 2017

We took the bus #145, from SFU to the skytrain station and one stop later, we arrived at Lougheed Mall Centre. With empty bags and a list of items, we walked towards our main destination: Walmart.

We quickly experienced a cultural shock: high ceiling, hundred of aisles, and a large area that could contain more than 20 houses from the Kitsilano neighborood. It was so big that we were not able to see the whole store at a glance, which unsettled us. There were thousand and thousand of products of all kind everywhere, from housekeeping to groceries : t-shirts at the clothes aisle were available in 6 different sizes, up to XXL- we could choose among 24 different types of pencils.

We experienced the biggest shock at the food section. Everything is available in a massive quantity. It is impossible to find butter under a 500g format, and so it is for sour cream, margarine, cream cheese, tomato sauce, etc. It is the same for milk. 11 different varieties of milk are available, from whole milk to reduced fat milk, and there is nothing under 1,5 liter. Quantities were huge !

We noted this excess everywhere :

  • At every store you are going to, cashiers will give you plastic bags even if you brought yours.
  • The cars and the places are oversized.
  • Many rooms on the campus are not occupied because no one knows that they exist.
  • During snow period, facility services dropped tons of salt even where no one walks.
  • Our Canadian flatmates leave the lights on all night long because they say electricity is cheap and clean.
  • Most of our Canadian classmates come with their individual car because transportation takes a few minutes longer.

Before coming to Canada, we thought that British Columbia was a pioneer in sustainability. Indeed, Vancouver wants to be the greenest city by 2020, but now, sustainability in Vancouver seems to get along with over-consumptions patterns. On the individual level, Canadian sustainability definition is different from the European definition.

Canadian people love their country and its nature. Because Canada has a vast land mass and a relatively small population, they probably don’t realize their impact on the environment. (population density in BC: 5/km2). After all, when you look at the figures, Canadians are still the 2nd most individual polluters on earth, right after the US.

Even if renewable sources of electricity provide more than 65 % of the nation’s electricity (including exportation) which is the highest proportion amongst G7 nations, the proportion of renewable electricity is an illusion. Especially when we consider the energy system: fossil fuels in 2010 delivered 70 % of the primary energy used in Canada. Even with such a strong backbone of renewable electricity, carbon-based fuels stay the major sources of energy in Canada.

On the other hand, the government is trying to make some effort to run a good policy for the environment. All the public transportation run with electricity. Companies try to do so too. During our business week, we realised that companies consider sustainability as a major issue and integrate it in their business model.

The change initiated by the government must go together with a change in people’s behavior. To do so, the government has to implement some rules, as for example the deletion of free plastic bags. Social communication campaign should be run to change population habits and behaviors.
Our program actually perfectly fits with this context. As entrepreneurs in sustainability, most of our group projects deal with sustainability at the individual level. The facts that surprised us are actually opportunities to work on.

By Lili Papon, Francois Guibourt, Florian Treguilly

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