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Going green: Sustainable tourism takes focus as Vancouver aims to become the world’s greenest city by 2020

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, just fifteen minutes from downtown Vancouver, offers a stunning experience of nature.

Courtesy of Tourism Vancouver

If you’ve ever wondered how Vancouver melds nature with urban buzz, all you have to do is look at its skyline – ultramodern glass towers against the majesty of the North Shore mountains.

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From the peaks of Cypress, Grouse and Mount Seymour to the centuries-old trees inside Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world, nature isn’t merely accessible from Vancouver; it’s one of the city’s main attractions.

“Natural beauty is top of mind for visitors and residents alike,” says Gwendal Castellan, a sustainable destination specialist at Tourism Vancouver. “Vancouver is a city where, from almost any vantage point, you can situate yourself in relation to nature. The views of the ocean, the mountains, and the big trees and parks … create an inescapable natural cradle for the city.”

With a bounty like this, protecting the environment is a value central to Vancouver. Indeed, the city aspires to become the greenest in the world by 2020, according to the city’s five-year action plan, with municipal and community-led projects that promote sustainability while also expanding the economy and improving neighbourhoods. The mission is affecting all aspects of tourism, from the LEED Platinum-certified visitor centre at the VanDusen Botanical Garden to a proliferation of walking and cycling-based tours that cater to all types of interests.

The Douglas is an Autograph Collection Hotel, part of Marriott International, and meets the rigorous sustainable design criteria required to achieve LEED Gold certification.

Courtesy of Marriott International

When it comes to choosing accommodations, visitors can also help to ensure that Vancouver reaches its goal in 2020 to be the world’s greenest city. Designed to marry the city’s natural beauty and its cosmopolitan vibe, the Douglas – an Autograph Collection Hotel that is part of Marriott International − was named in honour of the massive Douglas fir trees so identified with the West Coast and meets the rigorous sustainable design criteria required to achieve LEED Gold certification. Part of Marriott’s Parq Vancouver development, the Douglas also boasts modern natural spaces, including a rooftop park home comprising more than 200 native pines and local flora. It connects to the lobby with almost an entire wall that opens up to the outdoors. On the main floor, a lush, vertical wall full of plants greet guests upon arrival.

Details large and small underscore the property’s dedication to sustainability. Its front desk is a showstopper, featuring a 25-foot long replica of a Douglas fir encased in glass, lit with a golden glow. The rooms also focus on natural materials, incorporating warm woods into the décor and thoughtful additions like wooden pencils, leather notebooks and glass bottles of the purest alkaline charcoal water− a health-boosting beverage prepared in-house. For a more adult tipple, guests will find bespoke fir-infused gin from a local distillery.

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Vancouver’s commitment to environmental sustainability goes beyond design, too, and applies to restaurants and food services. As Castellan points out, they source ingredients locally and adopt green practices in their kitchens. “Not only do they create incredible foods that reflect the cultures and products available on the West Coast, restaurants also run their kitchens with an eye to reducing waste, separating food scraps for composting, and implementing measures to reduce their energy consumption.”

Beyond LEED-certified accommodations, cuisine and transportation, Vancouver offers countless ways to enjoy its outdoor splendour – and minimize your environmental footprint at the same time: Go below the surface of this seaside city with a scuba dive among the Pacific octopuses, wolf eels and other indigenous marine life in Horseshoe Bay on Howe Sound, considered one of the best diving destinations in North America.

Vancouver offers countless ways to enjoy its outdoor splendour, including kayaking on False Creek.

Courtesy of Tourism Vancouver

Or hop on a water bike – that’s right, a bike that glides over top of the water – for a pedal around one of the city’s iconic waterfronts, English Bay, False Creek or Kitsilano; or even soar above it all on a tandem paraglide adventure launching from Grouse Mountain, more than 1,000 metres above your landing site.

For those who prefer more traditional routes on land, Vancouver has invested in infrastructure like a 321-kilometre bicycle network, which has had a profound impact on how people move through the city, Castellan notes. “Once locals shift their behaviour, then inevitably visitors do as well… Since 2007, there has been a 36-per-cent decrease in distance driven per person and over 50 per cent of all trips are by foot, bicycle and public transit.”

While one of the goals of sustainable travel is that visitors leave no trace behind, he hopes they leave with a heightened appreciation for the natural environment. “Whether or not you see it as a way of living or a state of mind, we believe there is something about the connection between the nature of the place and the nature of the people that makes people fall in love with [the city],” Castellan says. “I believe visitors can catch a glimpse of that and bring a little of Vancouver back home with them.”

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This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio.
The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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