"The ultimate purpose of business is not, or should not be, simply to make money. Nor is it merely a system of making and selling things. The promise of business is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy." - Paul Hawken
Edmonton is beginning to earn a name for itself within Canada as a sustainability-focused city. We’ve built the world’s best waste management systems, planned sustainable communities, and committed to expanding our public transit networks.
This work is starting to have an effect on Edmonton’s contributions to combatting climate change, but is it enough? To be known as a sustainability leader in a country that is struggling to meet targets for environmental change is good; to be seen as a leader that sets and exceeds our own targets would be better.
City Council was recently presented with Edmonton’s Community Energy Transition Strategy, a product of citizen consultation that asks what the City can do to make Edmonton’s environment healthier.
To put together the Transition Strategy, the City created a citizen panel in September 2012. 56 people participated in a series of workshops. Participants were diverse in age and attitudes, and they were asked to give their thoughts on the necessity, or lack thereof, for Edmonton to become a more sustainable city. Ultimately, the majority of the panel (92-94%) expressed support for moving forward with Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy.
What caught my interest in this story was that even those who didn’t necessarily agree with climate change arguments agreed that overall, making Edmonton truly sustainable would have benefits for all: improvements to air quality, better public transit, and better building codes. It seemed that this strategy had something for everyone.
But as we approached the discussion of the Transition Strategy, it became clear that some Edmontonians didn’t feel this strategy was for them. Members of Edmonton’s business community expressed reservations about the plan. Perhaps they are right to do so; there should be no bad guys in the climate change conversation, since most of us use the resources and services that these companies provide.
Businesses fear that plans to decrease Edmonton’s carbon footprint will place the heaviest burden on industry to make changes, in some cases ahead of competitors in other cities. This could mean injury to their bottom lines, and I don’t say that without empathy. I know many of Edmonton's entrepreneurs, and I know how important it is that we continue to attract new business and investment to our City. We live in a resource-based economy that relies on the success of business to provide our standard of living.
The weight of energy transition shouldn’t just be borne by business; the expectation of change should hold across the board, from citizens to local businesses and to multinational companies that operate here. We all enjoy the resources and stability that this place has provided for us, and we must all take on the challenge of creating a cleaner future for Edmonton.
Just as we must face the challenges as a whole community, we should also turn to see the opportunities that energy transition provides. Investment in renewable energy technologies, new types of infrastructure, and in research will change the economic landscape of our City. These newer industries will allow us to diversify and expand what we are capable of doing, and to evolve into a global leader in managing environmental impacts.
Edmonton is seeing a new economy emerge - one of start-ups and entrepreneurs, of risk-takers and innovators. This plan could be a driver for that new economy by providing new opportunities for growth and development for enterprising Edmontonians.
Businesses that choose to see energy transition as an opportunity rather than an obstacle could be leaders in a new frontier of technologies, creating not just a sustainable environment for Edmonton, but a sustainable economic climate as well. We need to embrace the challenges and opportunities that energy transition will bring to us, as individuals, as business owners, and as a City.
For my part, I’m excited to see the potential in the Energy Transition Strategy. Its outcomes, such as hiring a Chief Sustainability Officer for the City and developing a climate change adaptation plan to deal with the affects climate change is already having, will only serve to help stabilize Edmonton further has a great place to live and work.
You can read the Energy Transition Strategy here. I would welcome your feedback on the strategy and your views on Edmonton’s future as a more sustainable city. I look forward to continuing our discussions on the Energy Transition Strategy and its outcomes at the April 29th meeting of City Council.