In early July of this year, the Vancouver City Council adopted, in principle, the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan (GCAP) including the target of doubling the number of companies actively engaged in greening their operations over 2011 levels by 2020.
The GCAP has a number of goals - clean water, clean air, parks within 5 minutes walking distance of everyone in the city, zero waste, leading the world in green building design. Implementation of the GCAP goals (i) involves capital, (ii) affects development decisions and (iii) impacts the City's operating budget.
Perhaps the most interesting goal is not only to make Vancouver a 'green livable' city, but to ambitiously become a 'Mecca of green enterprise'. Green jobs. Lots of them. Green jobs takes, well, 'green'. It means meeting the capital needs of companies involved in clean technology. It also means attracting and retaining the best talent to maximize the commercialization and export opportunities for companies actively engaged in the green economy. That is an ambitious and laudable goal.
To be fair, the GCAP casts a wide net with its definition of what constitutes a 'green economy'. It is not only comprised of companies involved in clean technology, but also green building design and construction (including those who renovate, retrofit and operate 'green buildings', and the architects and engineers who design them), waste management including e-waste specialists and compost collectors and, to expand the list a little bit further - local food. Not all of those endeavors will take the same amount of capital infusion. Some will take little or no additional capital, and will simply be a transformation of the processes undertaken in industries that do not now describe themselves as 'green'.
Using the broad definition of 'green jobs', the GCAP concludes that there are currently 11,000 green jobs in 8 sectors, representing approximately 3% of Vancouver's total jobs. Short term (meaning by 2014) action plans include the development and support of incubators, accelerators or research facilities for each green cluster. Green clusters 'include' clean tech (smart grid, power electronics and power conversion equipment), green buildings, materials management, sustainability services and education. Clusters based on the knowledge economy do not just form - they have to form around some common advantage. That could be research facilities. It could be around a major player in a key market (e.g. Waterloo and RIM). The City of Vancouver can play a lead role in supporting clean tech - it can buy clean tech products that have demonstrable value and thereby support local commercialization. The City can set aside industrial areas for companies to aggregate. The GCAP suggests that over a 3-9 year medium term, the City will 'develop green incentives and financing mechanisms aimed at private green enterprise investment that align with programs offered by other levels of government and industry partners.' None of this is revenue neutral. But to succeed, the City has to stay committed to its GCAP goals. Most importantly, if we are to really meet the objectives of being the 'Mecca for green jobs’ - the City will have to live by its summary conclusions on what it will take to succeed. Vancouver needs to reduce red tape, economically encourage the outcomes the City is striving for and provide financial and tax incentives. A clean technology hub economy in Vancouver is a tremendously positive goal and builds on what industry in Vancouver has already achieved. Fostering that community in less than a decade when access to capital has proven to be a challenge to date is going to take significant and determined effort.