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2002 Planning — Co-winner 2

Whistler, British Columbia

Whistler. It’s Our Nature

Population: 10,000

Whistler. It's Our Nature will inspire any municipal government that wishes to encourage sustainable practices throughout the community. Stemming from a community visioning exercise that began in 1997, and building on an international framework called The Natural Step, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has begun to engage its entire community-from residents and schools to businesses and municipal government-in working toward environmentally sustainable practices. This rapidly growing community has already created an award-winning pedestrian-oriented village, completed a bicycle master plan that focuses on commuter transportation, and established the Environmental Legacy Fund, which is financed through excess landfill tipping fees.

Background

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Whistler grew so rapidly that many residents questioned whether such growth was in the best interests of the community and the local environment. The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) was particularly vocal in its concerns to council.

A new council and mayor were elected in 1996. Early in 1997, they began to flesh out a vision for the community into the 21st century. This effort brought renewed focus to the interrelated social, economic and environmental issues in the community. Council sought feedback through public consultation, informal workshops, interviews among its own members, municipal staff and community partners, and a re-examination of community surveys carried out in the past. The result was Whistler 2002-Charting a Course for the Future, a plan that articulates the resort municipality's vision, values and priorities. Five priorities, each given equal importance, were identified:

  1. Building a stronger resort community;
  2. Enhancing the Whistler experience;
  3. Moving toward environmental sustainability;
  4. Achieving financial sustainability; and
  5. Contributing to the success of the region.

Results

The results of the Whistler. It's Our Nature program come in two main forms-widespread awareness of sustainability and tangible examples of more sustainable practices.

Awareness:

  • The RMOW made sustainability concepts easy to understand by starting with a common framework and tailoring its message to specific sectors.
  • The speakers' series has helped to create widespread awareness of the advantages of more sustainable business practices.
  • Forty people from the early adopters group were trained in the November 2000 training session. Twenty people were trained in the level-two session. These facilitators are now able to act as a network to help other early adopter staff become engaged.
  • The most important result of the RMOW's willingness to embrace sustainability concepts may be that these ideas have become commonplace at virtually all levels of municipal government and the community.
Sustainable practices:

  • Completed comprehensive community energy and transportation strategies, leading to an increase in public transit ridership from 325,000 riders in 1991 to over two million in 2000. A community and regional ridesharing program was also launched, and bicycle and ski racks have been installed on all transit buses.
  • Installed geothermal heat exchange systems for heating and cooling at the Spruce Grove Community Building and the Beaver Flats housing project.
  • Negotiated the implementation of green building concepts in several new buildings that were subject to rezoning applications.
  • Adopted two new watershed management plans.
  • Protected the 56-hectare Emerald Forest Lands within a larger protected areas network.
  • Implemented a chemical-free weed and pest control program in all municipal parks.
  • Community partners have also achieved significant energy and waste reduction. For example, Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain Resorts Ltd. reduced waste by 19 per cent, and Tourism Whistler reduced energy use by 19 per cent over one year. Slopeside Supplies, a major local supplier to area restaurants and lodges, started its own program of "greening" its supply chain to purchase more environment-friendly products.

Lessons Learned

  • The key lesson is that a business, a municipality, or an individual can act to make a community more sustainable, but it cannot be done overnight, and a strategic plan and shared framework are vital.
  • The real strength of Whistler. It's Our Nature is that it has grown out of a community partnership of early adopters, in which all partners help guide the program's development.
  • Working from both the top down and the bottom up is critical. Senior management must foster an environment that allows for grassroots initiatives from employees, and must provide staff time and funding for initiatives that follow The Natural Step framework.

Partners

External

  • The Natural Step (Canada)
  • Fairmont Chateau Whistler
  • Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain Resorts Ltd.
  • Whistler Fotosource
  • Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment
  • Tourism Whistler
Page Updated: 21/12/2015