Exciting changes are happening in Edmonton, including the launch of a new Community Energy Transition Strategy. The strategy, coupled with new sustainable development projects and innovative business collaborations, is helping to create a more liveable city and a thriving business community.
Bullfrog Power brought together a panel of experts to Edmonton’s Matrix Hotel, including Jim Andrais, Program Manager, Environmental Policy, City of Edmonton; Mark Porter, National Practice Leader, Building Services, Associated Engineering; and Hans von Bloedau, VP Hotels, Westcorp. Moderated by Erin Welk, Communities Consultant at Urban Systems, the conversation ranged from changes happening in Edmonton to the global context of climate change action.
Below is a summary of each of the panelists’ contributions as well as some of the questions they fielded over the course of an engaging hour-long discussion.
Jim Andrais, Program Manager, Environmental Policy, City of Edmonton
Last year at this time, the City of Edmonton released Edmonton’s Community Energy Transition Strategy. It’s a risk-management strategy to protect the quality of life of Edmontonians by
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions significantly;
- Making all sectors in Edmonton much more energy efficient;
- Making sure energy delivery systems are resilient to disturbances from climate change; and
- Tapping into the enormous economic opportunities as the world transitions from fossil fuels.
The Strategy has an action plan with 150 different initiatives, including energy labelling for residential buildings as well as energy reporting and disclosure for large industrial and commercial buildings.
Key learnings from developing this strategy include:
- Urgency is a key driver. There is a window of opportunity of about 10 years in which significant changes to address climate change can be made.
- The City of Edmonton is trying to make the market move faster than it wants to move. It is first focusing on education and outreach as a foundation. Once there is sufficient buy-in, there will need to be a transition to regulation and financial incentives.
- Alberta can benefit from catching up to other municipalities and can learn a lot from places around the world that were early adopters.
Mark Porter, National Practice Leader, Building Services, Associated Engineering
Associated Engineering is a national company headquartered in Edmonton. In 2008, Associated Engineering measured its carbon footprint across all offices and travel. In 2009, it bought enough carbon offsets to declare that it is carbon neutral. Since then, it has focused on setting an example as an engineering company. Recent initiatives that put the climate first include:
- A 2014 climate change awareness seminar for staff and clients to communicate the potential for climate awareness to impact the ways it approach its projects.
- A training program for its staff to give all employees a basic understanding of climate science to communicate climate risks and vulnerabilities to clients.
- Working with clients to focus on climate resiliency and increased efficiencies that drive down costs and yield more sustainable projects.
Today, Associated Engineering both approaches and is approached by its clients on sustainability issues. In B.C., the Ministry of Transportation mandates that all projects need to consider climate change, but the conditions are different across the country. Regardless of the location, Associated Engineering offers its clients ways to achieve a project’s goals in a climate-responsive way.
Hans von Bloedau, VP Hotels, Westcorp
Westcorp’s Metterra Hotel on Whyte is the largest hotel in Canada to be fully bullfrogpowered with renewable energy. Sustainability is part of Westcorp’s philosophy of being a good community member wherever it operates. Developing a sustainability plan is part of that philosophy and Bullfrog Power fit naturally with its approach. For Westcorp, sustainability falls into three categories:
- Choosing Bullfrog Power’s green energy at the Metterra Hotel on Whyte
- Reducing energy consumption through an LED lighting retrofit and optional reduced housekeeping
- Reducing waste by purchasing bulk amenities and using refillable containers
- In Edmonton, Westcorp contributed to the renovation of the Varscona Theatre and supported a mural on the Varscona Hotel—an art initiative to help improve the Old Strathcona area
- In Bonnyville, Westcorp contributes to the Moose Lake Trail System, a community-based initiative
- Westcorp also supports Ronald McDonald House and provides a hospital rates for the loved ones of people staying at the hospital for treatment
- Works with Earth Group, an organization that donates 100% of their profits to the United Nations World Food Program, by providing its Earth Water in guest rooms
What about the sustainability/climate change movement is making this issue urgent now?
- Jim – There is the opportunity for us to avoid exceeding the 2 degree threshold for climate change, but we need urgency to make that happen. Urgency is a real opportunity for us to reinvent our economy.
- Mark – To realize that 2 degree target, we can’t wait. At Associated Engineering, that urgency is also an opportunity as we are working to offer our clients net-zero facilities by 2020.
- Hans – Our urgency is the ability to hire and retain staff. We hire a lot of younger people. Their expectations are that a company will have sustainable practices now and so we have to meet those expectations.
What will get people to make changes to address climate change?
- Jim – Through surveys with the City of Calgary, we found that 60% of Edmontonians and Calgarians understand that climate change is an issue. From focus groups, we learned that they feel a lack of leadership on this issue, so we are positioning leaders from the community to step up and talk to Edmontonians about climate change.
- Hans – People are resistant to change, but the warm weather we are experiencing is highlighting the reality of climate change, which in turn may cause people to think seriously about making changes in their behaviour.
- Mark – When you start to have warmer winters, floods, fires, and intense rainstorms—those impact people directly by costing them money. Those costs can quickly drive change.
When oil is expensive, the case for renewables is about cost reduction. How is the case for sustainability being made today, when oil is less expensive?
- Mark – When big oil companies are talking about transitioning to more environmentally conscious ways of doing business—that’s a real shift. Today we have a greater recognition of the need to work together instead of vilifying each other’s positions.
- Hans – Although cost is a factor, there is a growing consensus that there is a shift in mentality toward sustainability. That will drive change, even if it is gradual.
- Jim – One challenge is that we’re not sure if we can painlessly transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a different way of doing things.
What is your ideal sustainable future for the City of Edmonton?
- Hans – We would like to see an Edmonton where we can have zero waste-to-landfill facilities.
- Jim – We have a broad strategy that addresses issues like zero waste conversation. Edmonton does an amazing with residential waste, but non-residential waste is a future area of focus.
- Mark – The ideal is a more livable, walkable city with more public transit. We need to focus on that which will make us a more resilient community to climate change impacts.