Walking the green walk
If there's a municipal job that marries a city's green talk and its green action, it's that of Chicago's Chief Environmental Officer.
As CEO of the third largest city in the United States, Sadhu Johnston is responsible for implementing Mayor Richard M. Daley's environmental initiatives across city government.
"My role is to bring the department of environment into each department," Johnston, who is also the mayor's deputy chief of staff, has said of his job.
Similarly, in Calgary, the role of spurring environmental action across city government belongs to Dave Day, the city's director of environmental and safety management.
Day leads a team of 60 people who oversee green programs and targets for municipal departments under the city's internationally-certified environmental management system.
"I'm the environmental champion for the city," Day says.
Unlike Chicago and Calgary, Montreal has no civil servant perched atop the municipal bureaucracy making sure the green tint runs to its core. So while Montreal has a new 20-year transportation plan aimed at boosting public transit and decreasing car use, it's moving ahead with a redesign of Notre Dame St. E. that's expected to increase the number of cars and trucks using it.
And while the city has raised its annual contribution to bus and métro service by 40 per cent, or $95 million, since 2002 to woo riders, it has hit riders with the other hand by hiking the price of a monthly transit pass by 40 per cent, or $20, in the same period.
To its credit, Montreal has developed green bylaws restricting pesticides and car idling, built a park over a former landfill in St. Michel and has become a leader in soil decontamination. But the city and its 19 boroughs also engage in contradictory actions, critics say, leading them to conclude that Montreal is rudderless on the eco wave.
What if someone in Montreal's community of 23,000 civil servants were a designated eco chief, forcing Montreal to improve its green record? Imagine the progress that could be made in transit, building, pollution and waste management. "We have lots of policies in Montreal, but it's not all coherent with what the city is doing," André Porlier, executive director of the Conseil régional de l'environnement de Montréal, said.
For Porlier, the city's most maddening contradiction is on green-space protection. On the one hand, Montreal has a four-year-old policy for preserving natural habitats, which targets protecting six per cent of the island's land mass and two per cent of waterways. On the other hand, Rivière des Prairies-Pointe aux Trembles borough voted last year to build a borough office and cultural centre in René Masson Park, an area comprised of marshland, a creek, mature trees and fields. Ironically, construction will incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines.
And Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce voted last year to raze several hundred square-metres of green space to replace an outdoor pool in Benny Park with a new LEED-standard indoor sports and community centre.
CRE-Montréal helped the city prepare its 2005 sustainable development plan, and devised 20 indicators to help a cell of five civil servants in the city's environment department track progress by the city and its 160 business and community "partners" on the plan's 36 goals. But nothing requires the city or boroughs to attain those goals, Porlier said with frustration in his voice. "You need a concerted effort, and we don't have that right now in Montreal."
Elsewhere, many cities have internalized the need to do, and not just tell others to do. Cities are combining environmental sustainability with economic development, compelling their employees to take environmental considerations into account when making decisions, whether it's about a local park or a bid to redevelop a neighbourhood, and weighing what they can do to reduce their use of fossil fuels and conserve energy.
This urgent change is economically advantageous as well as the right thing to do. Indeed, a look at several cities that are on the environmental forefront reveals they've done it by adopting an environmental management system, or EMS.
Under EMS, a city develops an environmental plan linked to organizational goals for each municipal department. A person or group in the civil service is put in charge of developing programs and targets, measuring progress and correcting shortcomings. Those eco chiefs report directly to the mayor or council.
Some, such as Calgary, have achieved ISO 14001 certification, the EMS standard of the International Organization for Standardization. Day, who became Calgary's first environmental director five years ago, has a network of environmental coordinators working within departments to apply programs and targets and to pass the units' results back to Day.
He, in turn, reports regularly to administrative directors on the city's environmental performance and reports directly to city council four times a year. City council sets policy, and Day and his team figure out how to make it happen.
Say the council decides to target improving air quality. "What are the methods we would use to carry that policy out?" Day said. "Are we going to reduce our use of hydrocarbons, (or) are we going to work with people to increase public transit?"
Each of 12 units working within the city's seven departments have to come up with ways to support the methods, and Day then develops a plan and measurement criteria. Department directors are accountable for their units' results. If targets aren't met, the units have to explain why and revise their plan accordingly, Day said.
As required by ISO 14001 standards, Calgary contracts external firms specialized in evaluating such systems to audit each unit's management system. Calgary also has an internal whistle-blower line for staff. And it has an internal investigation process for policy breaches.
"Most international systems for effective management for things like environmental risk and safety are not meant to be punitive," Day said. "They're meant more to keep you on the ball."
Sydney, Australia, also has an environmental management system compliant with ISO 14001, as does Scottsdale, AZ. And Aalborg, Denmark, where the Charter of European Cities and Towns Towards Sustainability was signed in 1994, is ISO 14001 compliant and also adheres to a voluntary environmental management standard set by the European Union.
In Seattle, WA, which launched EMS in 1999, the Office of Sustainability and Environment reports directly to the mayor's office. City departments in Seattle also sign an accountability agreement with the mayor's office, in which they undertake to achieve the goals of the city's 2006 Environmental Action Agenda on climate change, as well as goals in other programs related to redeveloping neighbourhoods and building new infrastructure.
San Jose, CA, certified ISO 14001 in 2006, has a sustainability office with a staff of about 12. It, too, has a direct pipeline into the mayor's office.
And when San Jose adopted a 15-year Green Vision in 2007 to turn the city into a world hub of "clean technology" innovation, it set up an implementation committee of civil servants to meet weekly. It also created a steering committee of city directors who meet monthly with the mayor to provide progress reports and ask for regulatory changes to help the city meet its targets.
In Chicago, Mayor Daley created the CEnO, one of the first such positions in a U.S. city, in August 2007. Johnston has created an accountability system for city departments that includes an environmental scorecard that tracks performance in the areas of energy, air, land, water and waste.
And Johnston, who previously held posts as Chicago's commissioner of environment and the mayor's assistant on green initiatives, is advised by a Green Steering Committee of civil servants who recommend short- and long-term green initiatives.
Montreal city councillor Alan DeSousa, who is responsible for sustainable development on the city executive committee, is the closest Mayor Gérald Tremblay has to a CEnO. However, DeSousa also juggles the economic development portfolio and major urban development projects on the executive committee, the city's highest decision-making body. He's also borough mayor of St. Laurent, and a member of city council.
And the environment file is divided with committee colleague Helen Fotopulos, who handles waterways and nature parks.
Interest in environmental management is building in Montreal, albeit with tentative steps. This week, the Montreal Metropolitan Community, representing 82 cities, voted to contribute $100,000 to a $300,000 fund being started by the province to spur a "clean-tech" sector in the region.
Risk capital invested in Quebec firms working on water purification, waste management and other clean-technology areas shot from $17 million in 2006 to $59 million in 2007, the MMC says. DeSousa adds that he has a steering committee brainstorming on the next phase of the sustainable development plan.
And he says the environment department now has an internal environmental management system "inspired by" ISO 14001. A progress report in May noted 60 actions taken at Crémazie Blvd. city offices, such as a green purchasing policy, battery recycling and car-sharing service for staff between the office and parking lots at transit stations. Still, he said he wasn't aware of the results until this week.
And DeSousa's environmental arm doesn't stretch into the 19 boroughs - they're autonomous. He defends Montreal's decentralized system, saying the "one size fits all" formula of other cities wouldn't suit Montreal. "You have to respect the local particularities," he said. Some boroughs, he added, experiment with environmental initiatives.
Still, Porlier finds the city's approach timid and incoherent. Montreal needs someone to set quantifiable targets for the boroughs and the city departments and to exact results, he said.
"What it takes," he said, "is political will."
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ECO-WIZARDS: What other cities are doing
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
Calgary: City's departments have already reduced their greenhouse gases by 44 per cent. Goal is 50 per cent by 2012. Community target to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.
Chicago: Unveiled plan in September to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent from its 1990 level - the baseline of the Kyoto protocol - by 2020.
Kansas City: Goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020.
Sydney, Australia: Goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent by 2050, based on 1990 levels; and by 70 per cent by 2030, based on 2006 level.
Calgary: 75 per cent of electricity in municipal buildings is produced by 85-MegaWatt wind farm built by the city-owned utility company. Target is 90 per cent by 2012. May shoot for 100 per cent.
Solar hot-water program for residents to start next year.
Chicago: Installed solar thermal panels on 26 city-owned or operated facilities, such as police and fire stations, to heat water. Park facilities and bus shelters to be outfitted next.
Dallas: 40 per cent of municipal power in 2008 purchased from renewable energy sources - primarily wind.
Sydney, Australia: Using green power - renewable energy from the sun, wind, water and waste - to light up New Year's Eve celebrations since 2004 and committed to municipal buildings using 100-per-cent green power in short term.
Calgary: Sells rain barrels to residents at discount.
Bylaw limits sale of anything but low-flow toilets.
Chicago: Since 2004, the city's rain barrel program has distributed over 5,200 barrels at a discount to residents - residents use rainwater collected in the barrels to water lawns.
Calgary: City builds retention ponds, or bioswales, by roadside by shaping land to hold water so it can infiltrate. Create engineered wetlands in some bioswales using plants that filter pollutants from the water.
Chicago: Using recycled construction debris in asphalt and concrete mixes for residential road building and up to 50 per cent in concrete for sidewalks.
Installed 374 recycled speed bumps in alleys in 2005 and 225 more in 2006.
Green Alley Program uses permeable pavement allowing water to be absorbed by the soil - helps keep water out of the city's combined sewer and stormwater system to prevent back-up and flooding.
Light-coloured reflective pavement is used to reflect sunlight instead of absorbing it to reduce urban heat island effect.
In 2009, the city will build sustainable street, with permeable pavement, bioswales (broad vegetated channel used to move water and absorb runoff), stormwater and rainwater irrigation, energy-efficient lighting and solar-powered pay-and-display parking meter boxes.
Calgary: Organic waste collection in municipal buildings.
LEED Gold standards for all new municipal buildings and trying for LEED Gold for older buildings when renovated.
Chicago: Has about 200 LEED certified and registered projects, including several libraries.
Over the past two years, city and partners distributed more than one million energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Green roof planted on Chicago city hall in 2000. It's over 2,000 square-metres with more than 150 plant types and beehives to harvest honey. City has given grants for 300 private green roofs.
A 10-hectare public park was built on a green roof above an underground parking garage.
Dallas: Expects to complete construction of 25 green facilities by 2010, including 10 libraries, seven police and fire stations, a cultural centre, three recreation centres.
San Jose: Requires municipal buildings over 10,000 square feet to be built according to LEED Silver certification as a minimum. Goal to attain LEED Gold or Platinum certification.
Calgary: All garbage and recycling trucks run on biodiesel and some fire trucks; 180 hybrid cars and light trucks, including cars for city building inspectors; plans to add electric vehicles.
Chicago: 113 hybrid vehicles; purchasing 50 bicycles for city employees to use.
Dallas: 41 per cent of municipal fleet of 2,000 cars and trucks run on alternative fuel.
Kansas City: All city diesel vehicles use biodiesel and about 225 vehicles run on compressed natural gas.
Scottsdale, Arizona: All diesel-fuel vehicles and nine trolleys operate on biodiesel; 123 Bi-Fuel vehicles run on compressed natural gas and gasoline.
Calgary: Internal "sustainable, ethical and environmental" purchasing policy for everything from buying pencils to trucks. Principles are zero environmental impact and not supporting sweat shops wherever in the world the products are made.
Municipal buildings use "green" cleaning products.
San Jose: Environmental procurement policy for city buildings - including items like compostable utensils, paper with minimum content of recyclable material.
Might ban hand soaps containing triclosan, an antibacterial agent, in city buildings.
Read about Montreal's sustainable development policy at ville.montreal.qc.ca/developpementdurable