I’m at the Globe 2010 Conference in Vancouver, B.C. where I just attended the keynote session. For those of you that don’t know this conference, it is focused on the business of sustainability, and the idea that environmental problems provide an opportunity to create business and economic solutions.
Speakers during the keynote included Gregor Roertson, mayor of Vancouver; Frank Wouters, chief executive of Masdar Power, Abu Dhabi, UAE; and James Suciu, president of global sales and marketing for GE Energy in Atlanta, Ga.
The speakers discussed a number of things: Robertson talked about how the successful 2010 Olympics has
put Vancouver on the global map, Wouters spoke about the potential for collecting energy and the creation of his company’s green city in the desert; and Suciu spoke about GE’s commitment to the future green economy.
But all of them focused on cities in some way, and the power cities have to effect change. Robertson discussed how Vancouver, B.C. aims to be the greenest city in the world by 2020 and how it is moving towards that goal. But Vancouver is just one of many cities moving in this direction. He said it is the city’s job to push policy and business forward, as national governments have become “frustratingly stagnant.”
“The cities are destined to be the major partners with green business in creating the change and prosperity that we need.”
He said cities that aggressively target this sweet spot between supporting business and driving public policy will lead the future, while pulling more business to them, causing economic success.
I’m wondering where this balance exists. How much of the responsibility rests with cities, and how much rests with federal governments? Anyone have an answer?
Vancouver is doing this in a number of ways. The city council recently voted to have all new buildings going through the rezoning process in the city shoot for LEED gold as of July of this year, he said. It also has the highest number of entrepreurs in North America and a number of federal and municipal incentives, such as paying half the salary of R+D workers.
“A generation ago, our goals would have been seen as an obstacle to business but in 2010, they are a huge opportunity.”
Of course, when I hear about Vancouver and all the great goals they are targeting and achieving, I inevitably compare it to Seattle. It is striking to me that in Vancouver, all buildings going through the rezoning process (representing most buildings built in Vancouver) will have to be LEED gold while in Seattle, you can still get away with building a project in the city that doesn’t have to achieve any green certification at all. Seattle’s green building team is currently working on an update of its green code and is looking at enhancing it… but on these sweeping issues it seems like Vancouver is always one step ahead of us.
(Is Vancouver greener than Seattle overall? Answer our new poll at right!)
In this post, Brent Todarian, director of planning for the city of Vancouver, says the LEED gold move wasn’t made without difficulty, but still, it happened. Here’s how he described it: “Although Council conveyed sympathy and understanding for the industry’s challenges, and sought to provide flexibility and further consultation and partnership on the details, they ultimately chose to take another key step toward our greenest city goal.”
What would happen if Seattle took that lead, especially in this down market? Would we be able to achieve a similar goal and would we even want to? In this down market, is it the time to be making these type of changes or should we leave it for another day? Thoughts to chew on.
Anyway, I’ll be here until Friday and will post more updates as the conference goes on. I have a feeling cities and their power to create change is going to be a big theme….