TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE BUILT ENVIRONMENT FOR BRITISH COLUMBIA: SYNTHESIS OF FINDINGS
October 13, 2015
Cover Photos Credit: Peter Whitelaw
Is BC’s built environment sustainable? Are we making progress? How does change really occur? How can we accelerate positive change? These are some of the questions that this research report attempts to answer. Purpose The Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia’s (REFBC) mission is to transform land use attitudes and practices through innovation, stewardship, and learning – with one identified focus area being the built environment. Through grant funding and other programs, REFBC helps make changes that lead to a more sustainable built environment in BC. This report is the culmination of a research study with the following aims: • • •
understand the state of BC’s Built Environment movement through literature research, interviews and focus groups, articulate a theory of how change happens in the built environment, and use these insights to generate strategic recommendations for where and how REFBC and others can intervene most effectively in the Built Environment system to accelerate change.
The State of BC’s Built Environment The research tells a complex story that includes frustratingly slow progress in some areas, pockets of incredible innovation (some leading to wider progress), and some hopeful signs that overall understanding, attitudes and practices are changing for the better. The intent exists amongst all levels of policy makers and built environment professionals to make positive, lasting change towards sustainability. This is evidenced by progressive policies and plans on the books (e.g. BC Carbon Tax, Metro's Regional Growth Strategy, many community OCPs and ICSPs), the introduction of progressive green building codes/guidelines, asset management frameworks and affordable housing programs. It is clear that sustainability is deeply embedded into the work of built environment professionals across BC.
However, in many cases the implementation of policies and plans appears to be stalled, frustrated by a number of factors including inadequate funding (especially for transit and active transportation), low energy prices that undermine the business case for renewable energy, investments in major road infrastructure that conflict with gains made through sustainable land use development, and a growing distrust in government coupled with a NIMBY attitude towards neighbourhood infill and intensification. In some cases, legislation that governs planning and development is impeding innovation that some municipalities and developers want to move forward with. In other cases, there is a lack of consistent funding/focus of effort – for example, a number of green building retrofit programs have been tried but resulted in limited take up. Even where progressive plans have been fully implemented or are beginning (and there are many notable examples) real evidence of outcomes −in terms of transportation mode shifts, GHG emission reductions or improved health − is missing, again with notable exceptions. One example that surprised us is that despite the decades of discussion about, and investment in transit and active transportation in the Lower Mainland, the percentage of single occupant vehicle trips in the region remains unchanged since the 1990s. In many cases, we simply do not have the information to know what is going on, especially outside the major urban centres, either because the data is not collected or is not readily available. Despite this scarcity of tangible progress, what is most promising is the high level of knowledge (amongst both professionals and the public) about built environment sustainability and the immense wellspring of capacity and enthusiasm for making positive change. The fact that this hasn’t always resulted in tangible, on-the-ground progress speaks to the lack of alignment between d