Metro Vancouver Sustainability Congress 2011

On Saturday June 25, 2011, the Pacific Parklands Foundation’s intern, Sandra Perez, and I (Communications and Marketing Coordinator) had the pleasure of attending the Metro Vancouver Sustainability Congress 2011 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel.

The goal of the Congress was to develop “[a] shared roadmap for a sustainable region-a greater understanding of the actions required to realize the future we want for oruselves, our children, our communities and our globe” (Metro Vancouver, 2011). With that, the Congress focused on five key themes: food, climate change, energy, security and dematerialization.

The first 90min centred on a panel of experts who were asked to debate the impact of the five themes. The panel of experts included:

David Berge: Senior Vice President of Community Investment, Vancity
Tung Chan: Director, The Vancouver Foundation and former Chief Executive Officer, S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
Stephen Owen: VP. External, Legal and Community Relations, UBC
Robin Silvester: President & Chief Executive Officer, Port Metro Vancouver
Bing Thom: Principal & Creative Director, Bing Thom Architects

Vaughn Palmer (Commentator and Vancouver Sun Journalist) acted as the panel moderator.

Interestingly, the panel of experts did not hone in on each key theme as perhaps was expected. Instead, the panel of community leaders seemed to offer opinions and advice that could help communities combat these global uncertainties in general; what the panel offered up was really a valuable toolkit.

For instance, Bing Thom believes that what we really need is interconnectivity. He argues that Metro Vancouver must have a clear understanding of what makes us the same as other communities and what makes us different.

I find this argument compelling. Just as we need to know at the individual level who we are in order to make changes and decisions that best suit us personally, as a community it helps to understand who we are in the larger scheme of things. Adapting similar policies as other communities may be appropriate but at the same time we also have to recognize where our community differs and adopt better suited and unique policy as necessary.

In fact, David Berge really tied his comments to the individual by saying that “working on sustainability is that art of the impossible”. It can never be solely about the global level but must start small with its beginnings centred on the personal level.

Stephen Owen’s opening remark really struck me. He believes that Metro Vancouver has the capacity to be a demonstrative unit for the rest of the world. He argues that once we figure out the puzzle—it is possible here and it is also replicable. In other words, he provided a sense of optimism in that we have the ability to lead by example we just have to put the time and resources into solving these uncertainties.

As Robin Silvester argues, the way in which we deliver this sustainability is through dialogue and participation. Thus, by partaking in the Metro Vancouver Sustainability Congress 2011, we were essentially taking the first step. However, as Tung Chan argues, “knowledge means nothing unless you put it into action”. Therefore, despite taking the first step, it could all be meaningless unless individuals left the Congress with more than a mere intent to take action.

Perhaps what struck me the most is that by the end of the panel discussion the community leaders really seemed to be on the same page:

Sustainability is a complex challenge balancing environmental, social and economic issues. It is a process and not a product—the real product is the participation. Thus, we must start with collaboration and leadership, utilizing clear communication and ultimately seeking interconnectivity. We must measure by what we are able to give back rather than what we are able to keep.

The closing of the panel was followed by breakout discussions with other congress participants. Participants ranged from concerned local residents to academics and representatives of non-profits to business leaders looking to do their part. Such diversity allowed for stimulating discussions giving everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts and knowledge while still taking away something new.

The day finished with a vote in which individuals were asked to vote in one of four categories: business, government, academic and NGO, and other.

Watch here: for the results and track the tweets with #MVSC2011

Did you tune in live? Let us know what you thought!

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