Toronto scores high when it comes to environmental, social and economic sustainability, coming out first among Canada's largest cities.
But Toronto lags Vancouver and Victoria, and the very programs extolled by a Corporate Knights magazine ranking are green initiatives in Mayor Rob Ford's waste-cutting crosshairs.
That means the city's environmental office has a clear goal: Convince councillors there's no eco-gravy train, and that environmental programs make economic sense.
The Corporate Knights report, which combines information from Statistics Canada, Environment Canada and city departments, found Toronto did well on density, governance and civic engagement, the latter thanks in large part to higher-than-normal voter turnout at last year's election. But it fell short when it came to water consumption, green space and waste diversion.
Toronto got kudos for its aggressive Climate Action Plan, which aims to significantly lower the city's greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
The report also singled out the city's green roof bylaw - "the first in North America," noted Corporate Knights publisher Toby Heaps - whose extension to any new industrial development the city just pushed back by a year while it explores alternatives that are less onerous for big buildings.
The city's aggressive retrofit programs scored high, but they've been regarded with skepticism since the election: The new administration has targeted downspout disconnection and low-flush toilet rebates, as well as the larger-scale tower renewal program, whose pilot the city was going to expand.
It's always nice to get recognition, said parks and environment committee chair Norm Kelly. But he noted the city has to balance its environmental aspirations with cold budgetary reality.
"We haven't canned anything or anyone yet. But there's always an affordability factor in any initiative undertaken by the city. So let's see what the 2012 budget brings," he said. "We will try and sustain our environmental initiatives to the degree that the new fiscal realities will allow."
For environment office director Lawson Oates, the challenge going forward will be painting green programs with a fiscally prudent brush.
"There's going to be a new emphasis where we position programs in terms of the green economy," he said. "I think many of [the city's programs]have that component. I think it's important that we emphasize that."
That shouldn't be hard to do, Mr. Heaps argued.
"Energy efficiencies and retrofits are huge job creators," he said. "They have a huge impact on many levels. Where you look at where cities are going around the world, you don't see them cutting back on retrofits."