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Building Sustainable Communities: Taking Action

The goal of this October 25th Forum was to connect the UBC community and changemakers with grassroots organizations, government, and businesses. For the purpose of making the ideas discussed in the forum a reality and creating long-lasting change in Vancouver. We discussed how, 1 – how co-operation in a community could lead to sustainable daily practices, 2 – how to work with government officials towards this goal 3 – what policies to pursue as a city. Each of our guest speakers brought their own level of analysis, from the macro level of our wide held attitudes and identities (Dagmar Timmer), to discussions of Vancouver’s growing business sector (Meg O’Shea), to the role of city planning and political leadership for Vancouver to become the Greenest city by 2020 (Andrea Reimer). We then held a Q&A session, followed by 40 minutes of tabled discussion, where we divided the audience member into five groups, and concluded with final comments from each of the student groups.
This Forum discussion was co-ordinated by IdeasXChange’s Phebe Ferrer and Maria Shive as well as our discussions facilitated by UBC graduate students Raphaël Roman, Alan Chen , and Melody Ma, as well as IdeaXChange’s Miguel Rozo and Steven Zhang. The recurring themes from our speakers were as follows, the role of events and promotion, identity and leadership, as well as networking, for Vancouver as a whole. Each speaker provided a multitude of benefits for each theme listed, as well as some guiding principles that each of our guest speakers had distilled. Here are some of these guiding principles.
Dagmar discussed her “5 strategies for Community Builders”, stressing that sustainability is not an issue that is static and narrow, and therefore requires solutions that are Diverse and Dynamic. She provides an example, we may view consumerism as it relates to sustainability, as a static issue that leads to landfills, waste, and emissions. We therefore only view consumerism as a problem to supress, rather than the avenue for solutions. Dagmar however points out that consumerism is also an expression of identity, through which we can express status or group identity and membership. Therefore, it is worthwhile to explore Habits and Social Practices for ingenious solutions that may save costs and reduce waste. This example leads to her first 3 points 1) shape the context 2) Be an active citizen, and 3) join forces with others. We are not isolated individuals but also members of a community, this shapes our identities and ways of thinking, by choosing our communities, we also choose who we become. Participating in neighbourhood clubs or internet groups where people share or reuse products can be an example of this. “Reuse Collectives”, such as repair cafés, means one can better create an identity that is embedded in a more sustainable way of thinking.
Being an active citizen and joining forces with others was also discussed at different levels by our guest speakers. Dagmar mainly discussed its role in shaping one’s identity, while for Dunbar it is for influencing key political players or members of the community. Andrea Dunbar discussed the role of city planning and social leadership in achieving the goal of a sustainable Vancouver. For Dunbar active citizenship and community building also means influencing key decision makers in politics and businesses to lead in accordance with environmental or sustainable values. She highlights 2 key factors, Planning and Leadership. She states “When we say we will do it eventually, it will never get done”, a clear timeline with benchmarks and objectives will always accomplish more. Leadership is also important, she refers to her own example of mayor Gregor Robertson of BC, when key decision makers have sustainability as a core value. That can help to spearhead movements and allow for concrete changes in policy and city planning. A concrete plan laid out clearly to key decision makers with power is the most effective way of getting things done. This has been the impetus for Vancouver’s “Greenest city action plan”, which lays out the ambitious and yet plausible goal (as we will later see from Meg O’Shea) of Vancouver becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020. Andrea Dunbar concludes “we overestimate how much we can accomplish in a year, but underestimate how much we can do in 5”.
While O’Shea discusses in detail the thriving green economy of Vancouver and its promising growth over the past years. For example, Job growth in the green sector has risen up to 46% since 2010, contributing to 26% growth of the overall GDP since 2007. Entrepreneurial initiative and participation in this market will therefore also have exponential ramification for change in the future. In Vancouver, green business is growing, roles are changing, jobs are changing, and entrepreneurs must learn to accommodate these changing values. This means that as a consumer, employee, or entrepreneur, now is the time to make our voices heard, to steer Vancouver to an even greener economy. “Any business can be a business for good!” she concludes, all it requires is personal initiative and to communicate and network with others on how you can make your field of work more sustainable. Employers are eager to find new ways to align with the values of their wider community, it is in their interest to do so. This has been an energizing and informative forum not only for the audience members but for us the organizers as well. To network more, thereby strengthening our identity, to coordinate better, to make our voices heard, whether in politics or business, will be the way to the future of a sustainable Vancouver.
Written by Aiman Ragab (Logistics Manager) and edited by Azi Kojouri (Editor-in-chief)

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