Green matters – but how much?

Fredericton prides itself on being a sustainable community – the tagline “Smart. Sustainable.” is part of our city’s corporate identity. Though the federal and provincial governments are opting out of international environmental targets, the city’s “Green Matters” programme makes a bold commitment to take “Fredericton to Kyoto. Together.” “Together” is the key word: the website outlines a few things that the City is doing in its own operations, and also offers things residents and businesses could think about to be more “green”.

The City definitely has its challenges in leading our community towards sustainability. Although Fredericton’s population has grown just over 10% since 2006 to about 56 thousand residents, it has to plan around the needs and behaviours of over 90 thousand people spread out through the region, who come into the city to work, shop and play. Population density remains low, raising infrastructure costs and making it harder to efficiently deliver services. When thinking about managing everything from commuter traffic to solid waste management to water and energy conservation and so on, Fredericton’s got a lot on its plate.

Recent efforts show that the City is taking up the challenge. Since 2000, Fredericton is taking part in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Partners for Climate Protection programme, that guides cities to track and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. So far, the City has completed the programme’s five milestones: measuring our emissions, setting a target, developing and implementing an action plan, and reporting results – as a city press release proudly emphasises, the first city outside British Columbia to do so. Bottom line:

Calculations for the 2000 to 2009 timeframe indicate total community carbon dioxide emissions in 2000 were 647 578 tonnes; and in 2009 were 652 801 tonnes. This represents an increase of 5 223 tonnes of CO2 emissions over this period (or 0.8%).

Fredericton’s population between 2000 and 2009 grew by 14 percent. This means that per capita greenhouse gas emissions (tonnes/person) went down by 12 percent over this time period. Maintaining virtually flat total GHG emissions in the face of a growing population; and achieving a large reduction in per capita emissions over this time frame is viewed as a success.

Source: First to Kyoto Community Update, City of Fredericton, January 2011

A per capita reduction over time is one way to look at the numbers, but makes it hard to compare how we’re doing compared to other communities, and how efficiently and sustainably Frederictonians are actually living right now. Using absolute emission numbers for the city and dividing by the population gives a more accurate picture: pro-rating the population stats from the 2006 and 2011 censuses, per-capita GHG emissions in 2009 was 12.02 tonnes/person. (Emissions numbers aren’t available for the greater Fredericton region.)

How does this compare to other communities taking action on climate change?

City Tonnes GHG/capita
Copenhagen 2.1
Vancouver 4.6
New York 6.4
Montreal 7.2
Toronto 9.3
Fredericton 12.0

Source: Climate Leadership, City of Vancouver

A quick review of Fredericton’s programmes so far, and what is being done in other communities might suggest ways we can improve on our performance. City Hall has already taken some steps in making its own operations more sustainable: according to its July 2009 First to Kyoto Corporate Update, it has achieved a 17% reduction of GHG emissions through things like upgrades and replacement of municipal buildings, and idling and fuel reduction in its vehicle fleet. It’s also keeping a relatively “green house” of its own: after a retrofit of lighting fixtures and tightening heating and cooling control, among sixty city halls across the country rated by Toronto and Region Conservation, Fredericton’s placed fifth. But the government’s own operations is just a drop in the bucket compared to what we all contribute in our day-to-day.

Leading Frederictonians to live, work and play more sustainably is key. The City’s Green Shops and Green Matters Certified programmes appear to engage businesses and organisations to take action, but instead of setting hard targets on implementing sustainable practices or pollution reductions, it focuses on the number of activities that are being tried. For example, Green Shops audits for vague items and gives points when a group “improves building windows”, “adopts a scent-free policy”, “encourages litterless lunches” or “fixes leaky faucets”.

Similarly, Green Matters Certified tracks only “acts of green”, which can be just as non-specific: “promote reusable bottles”, “return beverage containers”, and so on. “Sustainability. By Design” is a powerful statement, but when each action item is so vague, and weighted identically towards an award – for example, a hard, important change like “replace fleet vehicles with high fuel efficiency vehicles” counts as much as a lukewarm “encourage environmentally-friendly forms of transport” – the programme depends very much on the participants’ own initiative.

As for residents, Green Matters offers similar advice pieces, from limiting air conditioner use, using electric kettles instead of the stove, recycling, and trying public transit, walking or biking instead of driving. There’s also an essay contest – but there’s nothing about minimum building efficiency standards, or making neighbourhoods and workplaces convenient to transit service. While these are all good ideas, and there may be some Frederictonians who were previously unaware of choices they can make to be more sustainable, they fall far short of the more fundamental changes that other cities are doing to achieve change: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development emphasises the need for policy responses to improve the way people live.

For example, Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan offers some clear policy decisions a city can take to reach sustainability targets – in Vancouver’s case, to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Broad goals are clearly linked to measurable targets, which are linked to specific actions the City is taking to get there:

Goal: Lead the world in green building design and construction
Target Action
Require all buildings constructed from 2020 onward to be carbon neutral in operations

Reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in existing buildings by 20% over 2007 levels

The City has adopted the greenest building code in North America

Update the Building Bylaw to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in both new and existing buildings

Use price signals in permit fees for new construction as well as renovations to existing buildings to reward energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions

All new building rezonings are required to meet the building industry’s LEED Gold standard for environmental performance

Goal: Create zero waste
Target Action
Reduce solid waste going to the landfill by 50% from 2008 levels Enforce disposal bans on recyclables

Make recycling more convenient for apartments

Collect and compost all food scraps from residences

Develop policies that direct away from traditional demolition towards deconstruction and salvage of materials

Goal: Become a global leader in urban food systems
Target Action
Increase city-wide and neighbourhood food assets by a minimum of 50% over 2010 levels Grow more food in the city

Make local food available in City-run facilities through a local food procurement plan

Goal: Make walking, cycling and public transit preferred public transportation options
Target Action
Make the majority (over 50%) of trips by foot, bicycle and public transit

Reduce average distance driven per resident by 20% from 2007 levels

Advance policies that encourage residents to reduce car ownership and use

Shift investment to walking, cycling and transit infrastructure instead of building new roads

Plan for complete communities to encourage increased walking and cycling and to support improved transit service

Source: Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, City of Vancouver

Of course, Fredericton has made some progress towards being a Green City – Frederictonians are steadily switching away from electrical and fuel oil heating (the sources of almost 60% of our GHG) towards natural gas; and backyard chickens were recently granted a trial, even before Halifax; and a net-zero energy townhouse project is underway – but there’s a lot of room for fundamental changes that can reduce our environmental impact, lower our infrastructure construction and maintenance costs, capitalise on jobs and investment into green industry, and help our city really become Smart and Sustainable. There’s more to it than a purely voluntary good ideas promotion.

There’s no shortage of ideas out there on how the City can start to fill in its shortfalls in green policy. Currently, Fredericton’s own Traffic Study doesn’t plan a role for public transit to reduce congestion; new subdivisions remain low-density and car-dependent; recycling is still not provided in apartments and condos; commercial development that could be centralised in a vibrant Downtown or walkable community are instead encouraged to disperse along the 18km Runway network; viable farmland within city limits is being lost to residential development (partly for that net-zero townhouse project, among other things). But action plans like Vancouver’s could help.

What do you think? Is Fredericton a Green city – Smart and Sustainable? What can the City do to help you make more sustainable choices in your day-to-day – from the house in which you live, to the way you get to work, to the way you eat? What about your workplace? How can Fredericton become a greener, better city?

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About Better Fredericton

Better discussion. Better ideas. Better city.

4 comments

  1. Taeyon

    Love what Vancouver is doing, and wish Fredericton’s effort to green itself had more of that kind of real change, not the greenwash that we have seen so far. There is so much more the city can and must do. One change would be to create a ring around the city beyond which development is prohibited. This would preserve both wild green space and farmland, and force us to be more creative and selective about what and how we develop.

  2. Caroline

    Fredericton definitely needs to make citizens aware of the high number (12.0!!) of Green House gases per capita. Especially comparing this level to other cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. People need to see numbers like that to be more motivated to change things. I do think that there need to be financial incentives (micro loans, tax incentives, the opportunity to sell electricity back at a good rate as happens in other countries) to help people do this.

  3. I use public tranist frequently. In my experience we have got a wonderful bunch of people operating the buses. I have found the administration very approachable as well. One fellow thoroughly explored with me, on the phone, a suggestion for a new bus stop placement, and acted on my suggestion after considering the merits.
    On that note, I should perhaps phone them again and engage in more dialogue. The main thing I notice that could be improved is the route system. Many journeys for us travellers are far from direct. Socializing and reading help the time fly on 20-50 minute trips, but that is still a lot of time to devote to commuting within such a small city.
    A few grid-like, frequent routes such as back and forth along Main-Union, a North-South connector route, and perhaps a big circle between uptown and downtown, would go a long way towards connecting the major destinations. Then less-frequent arterial routes could be added to out-lying areas.
    This is just off the top of my head, and a closer look is of course necessary. The main point I would like to make is that if the route system were approached afresh, as if there were nothing in place and we were wanting to create the best system possible within our means, perhaps we could make transit more appealing to a greater number of people.

  4. Planner_Hammish

    This is a great resource; well written and well argued. I especially liked the screenshots to emphasize your points.

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