Building back a sustainable future

Sustainable communities provide a healthy and safe environment where everyone can thrive. They protect and manage their natural resources so that future generations can enjoy a good quality of life. Sustainable communities are prepared for the impacts of present and future hazards (like climate change) and the demands of a growing population. They understand social, economic and environmental health depend on each other and prioritize them equally.

As we seek to build our economy back from recession, we can ask governments to invest in making our cities and towns more sustainable. What would that look like here in the Kootenays? We gathered your ideas from our recovery poll, heard from local champions, and added our own insights to highlight some of the opportunities moving forward and the successful experiences we can build upon.

Photo: thinkBright Homes

Energy efficient buildings

Homes, offices and public buildings can be more environmentally-friendly by improving energy and water efficiency, and using cleaner heating options and building materials. There are many available technologies to choose from. Retrofits can be expensive but the long-term savings can help offset costs. 

The City of Cranbrook’s heat recovery project for its aquatic centre is saving the atmosphere 231 tons of carbon and $40,000 to taxpayers annually. Across the basin, 28 community centres and public buildings received funding from Columbia Basin Trust this year to pay for solar panels, retrofits, high-efficiency furnaces, and heat pumps. Reducing their operating costs and carbon emissions are their main objectives. Many more public buildings around the Kootenays could benefit from these kinds of investments if more funding was available. 

Old homes also need to improve their energy efficiency. The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) recently launched its Regional Energy Efficiency Program to tackle this issue. It provides homeowners and renters subsidized energy evaluation, free energy-efficient products and installation for low-income residents, as well as free advice for those building their homes. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a similar program in the East Kootenays and the Kootenay Boundary? Such a program could put people back to work, make living spaces better and save money in the long term, all while reducing dangerous carbon pollution. 

Breaking ground on an affordable housing project in Kimberley. Photo: Kimberley Bulletin

Eco-friendly affordable housing

Affordable housing is a major issue in the Kootenays, particularly for young adults, young families and low-income seniors. With so many people facing economic stress, this problem could get worse. New homes can be built to be both affordable and eco-friendly, tackling a social and environmental problem at once. 

“In the end, a more efficient building will be good for our environment as well as good for tenants when it comes to paying the cost of utilities” – Jan Morton, Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society, Trail. (BC Local News)

Developments such as Veneto Place in Fernie, the Kimberley Seniors Project Society housing project, and a new affordable housing project in Trail, are built for high energy-efficiency. With government support, many more housing projects could be built following environmental standards such as the BC Energy Step Code or LEED to satisfy local demand.

Cleaner transportation 

The majority of our communities are small enough to walk or cycle around, yet transportation is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions in our area. Gas and diesel vehicles pollute the air we breathe and make our communities noisier. Parking lots occupy large areas of land in our cities, which could be used for parks or housing. We have a great opportunity for improvement here. 

One way governments can support active transport is by helping people afford e-bikes. The province has an e-bike rebate program for businesses doing deliveries and those willing to retire their old cars. To serve people that don’t fit this criteria, Nelson is now providing e-bike finance for local home-owners. Rossland has a similar program for city staff. Other Kootenay cities could implement programs like these.

Cities can also invest in creating the infrastructure and traffic measures needed to encourage residents to walk or cycle. Local trail and cycling groups are well-positioned to provide governments with insights on how to improve active transportation networks.

“Spark is the first fully 100% electric vehicle share program in rural Canada and serves as an integral step towards transitioning Columbia Valley communities to low-carbon transportation use.”  –  Wildsight Invermere Spark

Supporting the transition to electric vehicles is also important. EVs represent less than 1% of registered vehicles in BC (30,000 out of 3.32 million). Economic recovery could enhance provincial EV rebates and independent initiatives providing access to EVs, such Wildsight Invermere’s Spark and Kootenay Carshare Co-op.

Building more charging stations would be a good idea, considering the Province plans to sell nothing but zero emission vehicles by 2040. Past programs, such as Accelerate Kootenays, provide a precedent on what needs to be done in our region. 

Zero waste

The average Kootenay resident sends between 555 kg and 585 kg of waste to the landfill every year – the majority of which could be recycled or composted. We are above the provincial average and far behind cities like Nanaimo. Their current landfilled waste per person is 347 kg per year (40% less than ours) and they plan to reduce it to 109 by 2027 (a quarter of our goals for 2030 and 2037). We can definitely do more to reduce, reuse, recycle, and learn from those ahead of us on the road to zero waste.

Turning waste into a resource can free landfill space and fulfill social needs. Food recovery programs in places like Fernie, Kimberley, Cranbrook, Creston, and Golden are feeding low income families and farm animals, while diverting massive amounts of waste from our landfills.

Despite their success, many supermarkets and restaurants continue to send tons of perfectly edible food to the dumpster every year, where it decomposes into methane and mixes with contaminated soil.

Unrecoverable food and organic waste could be composted and used to grow food and fertilize public parks –if we had the facilities. Forestry waste could be converted to energy. The ?aq’am community, for example, is using it to fuel a biomass boiler to heat their public buildings.

Additional public funding could get our composting programs running sooner and more successfully, help food recovery increase to reach all food producers and distributors, and put forestry waste into better use.

Many other waste reduction initiatives in our region–such as educational campaigns, upcycle and recycle services, swapping networks, and school composting–could have a greater impact if we invested more in them.

Climate adaptation

A warming atmosphere is already having an impact on our region’s weather, bringing faster snowmelt, hotter days, heavier rainfalls, and drier summers. These changes are projected to alter our water supply and make our forests more prone to wildfires in the near future. Preparing for the impacts of climate change include restoring watersheds and forest ecosystems, conserving water and increasing wildfire preparedness, among other measures.

What are the climate change projections for the Kootenays?1

• More spring flooding due to more winter and spring snow/rainfall and warmer springs 
• More frequent and intense extreme weather events
• More wildfires due to less summer rainfall and higher temperatures
• 3ºC+ warmer average temperature by 2050

Most Kootenay communities and districts lack comprehensive, updated climate adaptation plans. An initiative led by the Columbia Basin Development Institute is currently helping some communities and regional districts advance in this area. However, without adequate funding, local governments will struggle to turn plans into solutions.

As governments spend money in recovering our economy, they must acknowledge our infrastructure, property and vital services are threatened by a changing climate and use that money in ways that prepare our communities for the future. When it comes to climate adaptation, an ounce of prevention is surely worth a pound of cure.


Food security and sustainability

Food is an essential part of our economy. We all need reliable access to sufficient and nutritious food to be healthy and provide for our families. Many families lack a steady, healthy food supply.

The current health crisis has taught us that relying heavily on food shipped from other places, especially large commercial farms and processing facilities, makes us vulnerable to shocks that disrupt them. Moreover, we know conventional agriculture and transporting food from far away is polluting our water and air, and depleting our soils. This is not sustainable.

Kootenay residents are concerned about these issues. Local organizations and farmers have been working for years to make our food sources more sustainable and secure. Farmers’ markets, food banks, community gardens, shared kitchens, local abattoirs, school nutrition programs, land matching programs, food recovery initiatives, and conventional farms switching to organic, are all strengthening access to local healthy food. Some of these initiatives are struggling economically and could benefit from more serious public support. 

The Windermere’s District Farmers Institute, Cranbrook Food Action Committee, Columbia Valley Food and Farm, Healthy Kimberley Society, Salvation Army, Groundswell Network Society, West Kootenay EcoSociety, as well as your local Wildsight branches, are among the many organizations spearheading food security efforts in partnership with cities and districts in our area. Local farmers, processing facilities, and markets distributing local food are, or course, essential in these efforts.

You can help make this happen!

The Kootenay region is a beautiful place to live. The pandemic has caused economic hardship, and governments are increasing spending to help the economy get back on its feet. We have an opportunity to use this stimulus to make our communities more sustainable.

There are successful projects and programs all across the Kootenays we can support, expand and learn from. Initiatives like these need to become the rule instead of the exception if we want to create a sustainable economy in our region and enjoy long-term prosperity and health. 

You can help make our communities better than ever: greener, healthier, cleaner and ready for the future! Sustainability is possible if we prioritize it in our decisions as individuals and as a society.

• Support local programs, businesses and organizations that invest in sustainability through volunteering, donations, or by purchasing the services and products they offer.

• Write a letter or speak to your mayor, city councillors, district officials, MLA and MP, asking for an economic recovery that makes our mountain towns more sustainable. 

• Share this article with your friends and start conversations about economic recovery in your community. 

Tell us about what sustainable recovery means to you and join our Building the Kootenays Back Better campaign.

• Participate in the Columbia Basin Trust’s Strategic Plan review. The Trust is seeking feedback until September 11th. 

Your voice and actions make a difference.

  1. BC Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative, 2019 with data from the University of Victoria’s PCIC climate model.