Closing the Gap

October 20, 2002

By Michael Jessen

Nowhere is the gap between what we do and what we know more evident than in our use of energy. We burn coal, oil and natural gas like there was no tomorrow, knowing these finite resources have a limited future.

We also know our reliance on these fossil fuels contributes mightily to climate change. This world-wide problem seems daunting yet the solutions lie at our doorstep.

With more than 5,000 municipalities across Canada, local governments have a profound influence on our environment, economy, social fabric and quality of life. Municipalities can influence almost 60% of Canada's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Supplying basic municipal services often involves complex distribution, processing, and procurement systems. For example, supplying clean water to residents requires a source for obtaining potable water, a distribution system to deliver the clean water and remove the used water, and a treatment system to render the used water safe for reuse or disposal. All these functions have different climate change impacts, depending on how the services are performed.

Through a range of policy tools, municipalities also have the power to influence some of the GHG emissions that come from the community at large -- such as personal and freight transportation, residential, commercial and institutional buildings, and management of residential, industrial, and institutional waste. All of these emissions come from energy use.

If your municipality is gearing up for an election in the coming weeks, there is no better time to make sure all candidates for office are outlining what they will do once elected to encourage energy conservation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM - is a staunch supporter of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The organization administers the "Green Municipal Enabling Fund" ( and the "Green Municipal Investment Fund" to help communities finance projects which -- at minimum -- must improve performance by at least 35 percent over "business as usual."

The FCM has a model resolution for municipalities to use to express support for the Kyoto Protocol. While 36 BC communities have passed resolutions supporting the protocol (including the local cities of Rossland and Trail and the Village of Salmo), the protocol has not yet been supported in Nelson. The Village of Kaslo has gone on record in opposition to the FCM stand and the protocol.

While some people still believe that conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions will dampen the performance of the economy, Canadian industry itself has proven this to be a myth. Industry had a 6 per cent decrease in GHG emissions between 1990 and 1999, despite increases in production and related gross domestic product. The reduction in emissions is largely due to a decline in process emissions from adipic acid production, as well as increased energy efficiency and fuel substitution.

As defined in the Aalborg Charter, the European Sustainable Cities & Towns Campaign ( aims "to encourage and support cities and towns in working towards sustainability". This is achieved through a number of projects initiated by the Campaign partner Networks and other interested parties as well as through the organisation of events, from large scale conferences to smaller events and seminars. Santa Monica (, Portland (, Seattle (, San Francisco (, Chattanooga (, Whyalla, South Australia ( and Hamilton-Wentworth ( are all eco-cities with sustainability visions and programs.

While the Town Council of Okotoks, Alberta recognizes that preservation of small town atmosphere and the lifestyle qualities this represents are part of the sustainable model, sustainable development speaks to so much more. The town's efforts earned it a place in the "Municipal Governments and Sustainable Communities: A Best Practices Guide" published by the FCM and the consulting firm CH2M Hill.

"Sustainable Okotoks" ( has at its core principles which include living within the carrying capacity of the natural environment, leaving the next generation with equal or better opportunities than the present generation has enjoyed, creation of a harmonious balance between economic opportunity, social conscience, and environmental stewardship, looking beyond traditional municipal and urban/rural boundaries to form mutually beneficial partnerships for the management of regional ecosystems, and responding to grass roots support from the community for the sustainable concept.

Proving that sustainability efforts are not the purview only of large cities, the Town of Perth, Ontario ( -- population 6,000 -- has become a model community in its response to the issue of climate change. The Perth District Indoor Pool plans to install solar panels to provide over 85 per cent of their water heating requirements.

The Government of Canada's Climate Change Action Fund provided $200,000 over two years which allowed the hiring of part-time staff to design and implement programs.

Sylvan Lake, Alberta -- another small town with a population of 7,008 -- built a swimming pool facility that uses geothermal heating. Underground pipelines collect and store heat from the earth that is then used to heat the entire facility, eliminating the need for a natural gas line into the building. The town has estimated that as much as $60,000 to $70,000 a year will be saved in operating costs, with no damage to the environment.

“Energy efficiency” doesn’t just mean more efficient conversion of energy to use (for example, a new light bulb which gives the same amount of light for half the power input); it also means only using power where and when it’s really needed (for example, using automated sensors to turn on only the lights that are needed at the time).

These are just a few examples of what some communities have done to conserve energy and combat climate change:

 The City of Halifax, Nova Scotia, converted to high-efficiency street lamps and reduced its yearly operating costs by $550,000, preventing 2,000 tonnes per year in CO2 emissions.  The City of Ottawa switched to smaller engines in its medium and heavy-duty trucks, which saved $464,000 between 1990-1994, plus 2,000 tonnes of CO2.  In 1999, San Francisco passed a Resource Efficiency Building Ordinance mandating green design practices for all new and existing buildings owned or leased by the city. This includes toxics reduction, the use of recycled-content materials, improved air quality, energy and water efficiency, construction and demolition waste diversion.  Portland, Oregon was the first US city to adopt a CO2 reduction strategy, setting a goal of 20% below the 1990 level by 2010. Between 1990-1995, the city reduced its energy use by 15%, resulting in $1.2 million annual savings.  Regina, Saskatchewan set up an internal $250,000 fund from which the city's departments can borrow at the current interest rate to finance their energy management, building retrofit and fleet conversion initiatives, and repay the loan through their savings.  Osage, Iowa has raised efficiency standards in its building code, and refuses to supply utilities to buildings that don't meet the standard. Since, 1984 every building in town has complied.  Santa Barbara County rewards developers who exceed the minimum energy-saving requirements of the building code by allowing them to jump ahead in the queue for approvals.  In 1992, Redlands, California signed a 7-year lease with Honeywell to replace old equipment that cut the city's energy use by 50%, saving them over $600,000 in energy and maintenance costs in the first year alone.

This latter example is an approach called performance contracting in which an energy company provides a community with a service package. If comprehensive energy performance contracts were used to retrofit private and public buildings throughout Canada, these would be some results:  $50-70 billion in capital investment, paid for through energy savings,  1 million person-years of new employment,  A permanent reduction of $5 - $10 billion in annual energy costs and  A 50 million tonnes per year reduction in CO2 emissions.  For Canada and the USA, the reduction would be 550 million tonnes per year.

A Greenpeace report, "Unlocking the Power of Our Cities," ( shows that 66% of Britain's electricity production could be generated by solar photovoltaics if it were used on all new buildings, and substituted for existing building surfaces such as facades, glass roofing, parapets, glazed stairwells and roofs. Each square metre of photovoltaics on a building in the UK will, over its lifetime, displace a tonne of CO2.

Your community can emulate anything one of the cities or towns mentioned above has done. Or it can do something original and innovative. But first it must have elected politicians who are motivated to bring in the policies and regulations that will empower sustainable visions. The world desperately needs people who care about the planet to run for office and become elected.

That's where you come in. Help educate the candidates about the issues of energy conservation and climate change, then vote only for those who knowledgeable about the issues and want to do something. Remember, it's all about closing the gap between knowing and doing.

RESOURCES -- A wealth of information is contained in the book Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change, written by Guy Dauncey and Patrick Mazza and published by New Society Publishers. More than 200 links to web sites mentioned in the book that promote energy efficient and sustainable communities is available online at Other great web sites include: International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (, the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network (, and the Pembina Institute site (

Michael Jessen is a Nelson consultant who specializes in helping companies and communities become more sustainable. He can be reached by telephone at 250-229-5632 or by e-mail at His business -- Zero Waste Services -- has an award-winning web site at

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