The District of North Vancouver’s Sustainability Journey

The Opportunity

By the early 2000s, the District of North Vancouver had initiated a number of projects in response to residents’ concerns about sustainability. However, with the creation of a bold vision in 2005 ‘to be among the most sustainable communities in the world by 2020’, the District began to realize that it needed to approach sustainability in a more holistic, systematic and robust way in its own operations.

The Response

By integrating sustainability into its very fabric, the District of North Vancouver demonstrated thought leadership to inspire residents and other stakeholders to help further their sustainability plans. In 2007, the District partnered with The Natural Step Canada to build its staff’s capacity around the use of the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development and to conduct a sustainability analysis of its own operations. 

The Process

In 2007, the District put together a 45 member cross-divisional sustainability team which participated in a 2-day training workshop with The Natural Step Canada to learn about the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development. At the same time, a group of 85 District employees were given access to The Natural Step’s eLearning course, Sustainability: Step by Natural Step, to further diffuse the Framework and unite the District around a common language for sustainability.

Guided by sustainability principles, 16 core members from the cross-divisional team conducted a baseline sustainability assessment of the District’s operations and practices. Consequently, they identified activities and practices that could help bridge the gap between their current reality and vision of the future. A larger number of employees were then engaged to create a compelling vision of sustainability for the District. Seven major priorities were selected to help shape the vision: carbon neutrality, zero waste, non-toxicity, health-promotion, fiscal responsibility and demonstrative leadership.

Subsequent workshops in 2008 allowed the District to develop a sustainability action plan for its current operations, which was then integrated into their award winning strategic plan and their Official Community Plan. Throughout this period, the District has taken several concrete measures toward reaching its sustainability vision such as adopting a green purchasing policy, a green building policy with LEED and related standards for new construction, a water conservation strategy and the digitization of paper-based processes. The District has also signed the B.C. Climate Action Charter committing to advancing carbon neutrality in its operations by 2012. A comprehensive retrofit of District buildings is now well advanced with measurable energy and GHG reductions and on the community side, a district energy proposal using waste industrial heat is being seriously considered for two emerging town centres. In addition, a set of sustainability targets and indicators have been adopted with the new Official Community Plan and a citizen committee will be helping to develop the first report to monitor progress on achieving these targets.

The Feedback 

The Natural Step provided us with a perspective for sustainability planning that is infused within our culture in much of what we do.”

- Richard Walton, Mayor, District of North Vancouver

The Natural Step Framework has created a common language for staff and Council to discuss sustainability matters and a systematic approach to address these in the District.”

- Susan Haid, Manager for Sustainable Community Development, District of North Vancouver

Learn more about The Natural Step Canada’s Service Path for Sustainable Communities and how we can help your community develop a bold sustainability vision, strategy, and action plan. Please contact us to discuss your unique needs.

Written by Catalina Sanchez