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The City of Vancouver encourages employees to commute sustainably by providing employee discounts on bike shares.Provided

Building on its admirable record of advancing sustainability through its decade-long “Greenest City Action Plan,” the City of Vancouver amped up its commitment in 2020 when it created the “Climate Emergency Action Plan.”

Acknowledging that cities create more than 60 per cent of global emissions and are also sites for climate solutions and innovation, Vancouver has set bold targets to reduce its carbon pollution by 50 per cent by 2030.

Doing that means tackling emissions in buildings and transportation, which is where most of its carbon pollution originates. It means using land-use planning tools, future-proofing infrastructure, and protecting and enhancing natural systems, which benefits health and safety, creates connected communities and strengthens Vancouver’s economy.

Moving away from burning natural gas toward electrification in buildings is a big focus. So is encouraging active transportation in a Canadian city blessed with moderate weather, along with improved transit and adding infrastructure to support the switch to electric vehicles.

“It’s about walkable, complete communities,” says Rachel Telling, a senior sustainability specialist. “Wherever you live in Vancouver, it should be safe and convenient to walk, bike or roll to amenities and whatever you need.”

Every time a City-owned or operated building comes up for renewal, deep emissions reductions and innovative solutions are prioritized. In a recent community centre retrofit, for example, hot water from the new highly efficient electric heat pump system powers the Zamboni.

The City knows that to inspire residents to live more sustainably, it has to walk the talk – not just reducing emissions in its more than 400 buildings and vehicles but also with its thousands of employees.

“If we want people to reduce their carbon emissions at home or in how they commute or move around Vancouver, it’s important we all play our part and show what’s feasible,” Telling says. “When someone visits a library or community centre in Vancouver, we want them to see sustainable practices, and be inspired and encouraged by what we’re doing.”

In fact, the intent behind the City’s internal sustainability plan – its Green Operations Plan – is that the City, as an employer, will match or exceed any target set for the community. “We’ll use that to test new initiatives before we expect the community to do the same,” says Telling.

The City’s sustainable commuting program encourages employees to take transit, walk, cycle or roll to work. That includes rebates on transit passes; a reward-based system for biking and walking; employee discounts on bike shares; as well as showers, lockers and secure bike parking at all offices.

Transportation engineer Angie Weddell leads the City’s Bike to Work Week team, with events, prizes and internal competitions that take place to promote cycling. There are also daily challenges and organized group rides at lunchtime and after work. “We just try to get everybody together and excited about cycling,” she says.

Among many initiatives, Vancouver is electrifying its vehicle fleet and diverting over 90 per cent of waste from corporate sites. Its printer program cuts down on wasted paper, it only purchases from companies that follow certain sustainability criteria, it has banned single-use plastics, and it uses only Green Seal certified cleaning products.

Staff have access to sustainability courses, and an internal fund is set aside to help employees act on opportunities they see to reduce the burden on the climate. “Sustainability is really integrated through all departments,” says Telling.

“A lot of cities look to us for what we’re doing and we look to others for best practice and leadership,” she adds. “So if we don’t remain ambitious in our climate actions, there’s a risk that other cities won’t either.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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