Thursday, December 9, 2010

Greater Sudbury and the Green Economy: Poised for Success

Greater Sudbury is strategically positioned to play a significant role in the emergent green economy. Due to geographic circumstances, demographic make-up, and past investments in business and infrastructure, Greater Sudbury has an opportunity to capitalize on economic opportunities which could arise from efforts to reduce our collective reliance on fossil fuels. To do so, however, careful and considered planning will be necessary. Investments which further the perpetuation of the status quo, fossil fuel driven brown economy must begin to be phased out in favour of spending our money smarter.

Our City consists of a highly educated and skilled workforce. We have two community colleges and a University within our municipal boundaries, and a number of technical schools. And although we have an aging community, there exists opportunities to turn that around if we are able to capture the imagination of the leaders of the green economy. We have one incredible advantage which we must capitalize on: our quality of life. It’s one of our best kept secrets that we can’t afford to keep a secret any longer!

What is the “green economy”? You’ve likely heard this term before, or others like it, such as “green collar jobs”. While there is no wholly-accepted definition of “green economy”, most agree that certain key sectors play a role in its composition. I’ll explore each sector below in the context of opportunities for Greater Sudbury.

1. Clean Transportation. It may not seem obvious at first glance that Greater Sudbury, a city which is very spread out within our own geographic boundaries, and somewhat isolated from neighbouring municipalities of any size, would have a lot to offer with regards to clean transportation. But we do. Greater Sudbury is situated at the junction of both CP and CN rail lines. Rail transport offers a cleaner alternative for bulk goods than does truck transport. With gasoline prices expected to increase, rail will play a more important transportation role in our future. Infrastructure already exists in this City which can be used to our advantage to increase our share of rail-generated wealth. Expansion and relocation of significant rail infrastructure may also be something for Greater Sudbury and the rail companies to imagine.

Investments have been made municipally in improving our public transportation system. Although there is still a ways to go, we can expect to see the increased use of transit, with improved connections running between the former City of Sudbury and the outlying centres. There already exist significant opportunities for intra-community public transit routes in places such as Hanmer and Valley East, and Chelmsford. With an aging population interested in downsizing, and with higher gasoline prices, we have opportunities here to build on our growing transit successes.

Our road network has a number of opportunities for upgrade to accommodate the anticipated growth in alternative means of transportation. Park and ride features to assist transit, as well as high occupancy vehicle lanes, could be easily implemented with little cost in many parts of the City, especially on those major streets which currently have middle turning lanes. Priority can easily be given to vehicles (buses, car-pools, bicycles) which use our transportation system in a more sustainable manner, which (along with rising gasoline prices) will lead to changes in personal choices regarding transportation.

2. Green Buildings. Greater Sudbury already has made a significant investment in building stock, and unlike other areas of the Province, we’re not likely to see more investment in new buildings. Retrofitting existing buildings will actually make more sense and save money in the long run, as many of our older buildings were constructed to stand up to the tests of time. Green retrofit programs will benefit businesses and homeowners, and will lead to energy and water conservation. Investing now in retrofits will save money down the road.

The adaptive re-use of existing, under-utilized or abandoned buildings is also something which Greater Sudbury can take advantage of. These buildings tend to be located in areas where servicing already exists. New businesses (especially green businesses) can be encouraged to re-use existing buildings and save money in the process. The recent purchase of the old Northern Breweries property on Lorne Street by Sookram Bus Lines of Chelmsford is an excellent example. Further, municipal programs can offer tax incentives for businesses choosing to use a brownfield site over a greenfield location (and that’s about the only time “brown” beats “green” in my opinion!).

During the municipal election campaign, through her “Green Vision” release, Mayor Marianne Matichuk, talked about the need to upgrade and use existing facilities to both save money and the environment. Strong leadership in this area will assist Greater Sudbury in becoming a green building champion.

3. Managing our Water. If there’s something Greater Sudburians know a lot about, it’s how to co-exist sustainably with our water resources. While our impacts on existing water sources have not always been light (think here of Kelly Lake and Junction Creek), the fact is that even where we have failed in the past, we can today speak about our growing successes. Today, we have an enhanced understanding of the important role that water plays in our lives and in our economic opportunities. Indeed, as Greater Sudbury is blessed to be the home of over 300 lakes, the quality of life we experience here in Greater Sudbury is second to none. That alone is a significant attraction for new businesses who will be looking for homes in the future, and one which we can all do our part to hype.

Maintaining and improving the quality of our water resources needs to be a priority. The City is currently on track to build a new biosolids plant by 2012, which will greatly assist in improving water quality.

Having more residential homes currently on septics and wells hooked into municipal systems, those systems become more financially sustainable. Since many of these homes exist on lakefront properties, the value of getting these homes off of septics will also be realized through better water quality. The City can also easily improve lake water quality by progressively banning the use of phosphates in residential lawn fertilizers, as several North American jurisdictions have already done.

Our water resources benefit our community in so many ways. We are very lucky to have them, and we can not take them for granted.

4. Renewable Energy. There exists significant opportunity within Greater Sudbury for the locating of small-scale renewable energy projects, enough to service our own needs. We often hear about the need for a mega-grid to connect far-flung areas of the province to one another, but instead what we need to start doing is thinking about local energy needs in a local setting. When we begin to look at energy production and distribution in this way, the opportunities present in Greater Sudbury quickly come to light.

Geothermal energy and biomass are two renewables sources of energy which Greater Sudburians can take significant advantage of in the coming years. Waste products from industries, both local and regional (remember those rail lines), can be used to generate heat and electricity.

Energy will also be increasingly produced in ones home or business for consumption. It’s not unreasonable to believe that backyard or roof-mounted solar and wind will make contributions to our local energy mix in the future.

5. Waste Management – Greater Sudbury continues to develop its recycling and organic waste management programs. We can capitalize on the growing success of these programs by extending them to our business community. We can no longer afford to view our garbage as waste; instead, we need to understand that even our cast offs have value.

There is the potential for growth here for the mining sector, through the recycling of important metal products. We have already made significant infrastructure investments here in Sudbury which could be upgraded to accommodate an aggressive metals recycling program, if there is the will to do so. That will might eventually be expressed in higher metal prices. Why not look beyond the existing ore bodies in the Sudbury basin and towards the opportunities which exist in recycling and re-use?

6. Managing Our Land. Greater Sudburians continue to have a bit of that pioneering spirit leftover when it comes to land. While manicured lawns might be the rage in suburban southern Ontario, we here in Greater Sudbury tend to have a greater appreciation for trees and rocks. Indeed, when it comes to managing our land, we in this community can hold our heads high as we have accomplished something unparalleled in the world: we’ve brought our natural environment back from the brink of death.

We can continue to build on our past successes. A thriving agricultural community in the Valley can be supported by prioritizing local food purchases, and creating opportunities for local food to enter the marketplace (already we have the Farmer’s Market at Market Square and Eat Local Sudbury. Can a farmer’s market in Hanmer be up and running in five years, possibly at the Place Bonaventure Mall – reusing an existing, underutilized structure?).

Our City has already made significant investments in sewer and water infrastructure to accommodate anticipated growth. We must now get serious about focusing growth within existing urban areas, and saying no to expensive ex-urban subdivisions. Our communities are poised to grow upwards if only we can resist growing outwards simply because it might be cheaper for a land owner. In the long run, every resident of the City pays more for unsustainable suburban and rural growth.

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