To become the greenest city in the world. It’s tough to create an environmental goal much bigger. Yet Vancouver declared that goal in 2011, and has not only been working towards it ever since, it committed in 2015 to getting its energy from 100 percent renewable sources.
After setting such huge goals, how does a city then make them happen?
Most governments start with what they can control - their own operations. They then reach out to residents to lessen their impacts in the home, and businesses that need obvious regulations. They usually sidestep, however, the many other businesses, given the unique challenges around engaging them.
“There are thousands of smaller businesses and their diversity makes them almost impossible to engage,” said Doug Smith, Vancouver’s Acting Sustainability Director. “People can be hesitant to put policies in place, however good, because of how tough it really is.”
The challenge was impossible to avoid in Vancouver though, where the city set big green business goals too. Its greenest city action plan aims to double the number of businesses greening their operations, and the number of green jobs. For that reason, city agencies had to find a way to inspire its many businesses to voluntarily take action.
That’s where the Business and Energy Emissions Profile (BEEP) came in. Working with the Vancouver Economic Commission, the City learned about the BEEP and saw an “obvious fit.” Using years of industry data, the BEEP went beyond calculating city-wide business emissions to provide a sector-by-sector analysis.
“We could see how big emissions were in the different areas, and prioritize funding for those that were material,” Doug said. "We could also find the commonalities within sectors."
That was because a BEEP breaks down sector emissions by geography and activity, so cities can identify sector-specific trends and build initiatives around them. For example, the city of Vancouver already had a zero emissions building plan, but the BEEP allowed them to identify the restaurant industry’s largest emissions source: heating. This led to the discovery that most restaurant heating goes into the spray hoses used to rinse dishes. That, in turn, led to an initiative to give restaurants free high-efficiency spray valves.
One of the greatest values of the data, though, was having numbers to show directly to businesses. Companies could see their industry’s data, brought to life with the BEEP digital dashboard, and understand why the city wanted to work with them. If those businesses then went through the Climate Smart Program, the companies could compare their own emissions to an industry benchmark, and get real data on the best actions to take and how it would affect their bottom line.
“To really get businesses on board, you have to show those results,” said Juvarya Veltkamp, manager of green economy initiatives at the Vancouver Economic Commission. “The BEEP uses a common metric, greenhouse gas emissions, and puts it in ways that businesses understand."
“It really uses the language of business,” Juvarya said. “Businesses don’t think in GHG’s. They think in employees, revenue, jobs and innovation.”
The BEEP’s business analysis of the data helped with another one of Vancouver’s big green business goals too - turning one of the city’s last industrial areas, the False Creek Flats, into the greenest place to work in the world. A separate BEEP, which focused on that much smaller area, included the top business motivations for the types of companies in the Flats to take action, in addition to prioritizing sectors and activities.
“The BEEP data on motivations continues to be really valuable for our green business engagement programs,” said Pietra Basilij, the VEC’s sustainable community development manager. “It gives us a better idea of how to approach specific industries and craft our programming to match the what’s driving sustainability interest in the community.”
Pietra has started to use the BEEP data to get support for other community sustainability projects within the Flats, a benefit that was not originally anticipated.
“We’ve also been able to use the BEEP for helping complete funding applications,” Pietra said. “That type of data is really valuable for validating the green economic development programs we are implementing.”