Thursday, June 5, 2008


sustainable |səˈstānəbəl|
able to be maintained at a certain rate or level : sustainable fusion reactions.
• Ecology (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture) conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
• able to be upheld or defended : sustainable definitions of good educational practice.
sustainability |səˌstānəˈbilitē| noun
sustainably |-blē| adverb

It seems that wherever you turn these days, something is being toted as sustainable: sustainable shopping bags, clothes, cars, lipstick, you name it. While the use of the word “sustainable” indicates that there is growing awareness and concern about how we live our lives, the true meaning of the word has been lost in all the eco-hype and marketing spin.

I’m fond of the BC Ministry of Forests and Range’s definition of the word sustainability: “A state or process that can be maintained indefinitely. The principles of sustainability integrate three closely interlined elements—the environment, the economy, and the social system—into a system that can be maintained in a healthy state indefinitely.”

So with that definition in mind, I had a great chuckle when I was reading the Township of Langley’s 2007 Annual Report. Under the heading of “Contribute to a Sustainable Region” was highway and road construction. While this post is not intended to debate the merits or perils of road construction, the harsh reality is that road construction is rarely sustainable. If it were, we would never have to expand them. On the same token, driving cars and taking diesel Translink buses are not sustainable either. Growth is never sustainable. At some point in the near or distant future, it will have to stop. So am I anti-growth? Of course not, but I do think we can do a better job of managing growth and ensuring that it will stop in the distant future, and not the near. Our municipalities have a long ways to go on the sustainability front.

The right words people should be using are “moving towards sustainability.” The City of Surrey recently created a Sustainability Charter, and the Township of Langley is in the process of creating one. Hopefully the Township of Langley can avoid the issue that the City of Surrey has with their charter: business as usual.

I was chatting with a planner at the Township and he told me that the Sustainability Charter, once approved, should have a ripple down effect on every procedure and policy in the community. This would be truly exciting. Imagine a road built for sustainability modes of transportation like walk, biking, and streetcars. Or a storm water collection system that filters water back into the earth on site. Or neighborhoods that can sustain a person from birth to death. These are all possible today. I truly hope that we are moving out of the lip service to sustainability stage, and into putting sustainable principles into practice.

Smart Growth BC has excellent resources on how to move towards sustainability

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