Municipalities meet to rethink green community policies

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin addresses the room full of Manitoulin municipal leaders at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre during the reThink Green workshop held last week. photo by Jan McQuay

by Warren Schlote and Jan McQuay

LITTLE CURRENT—Manitoulin municipal leaders received lessons in sustainability planning in early March through workshops run by reThink Green, a Sudbury-based non-profit organization that encourages and assists environmental planning initiatives in municipalities.

“reThink Green’s mission is to bring together ideas, partners and resources to build sustainable communities,” said Rebecca Danard, executive director of reThink Green. She said her organization’s pilot project to work with municipalities began in 2017 and its funding—provided by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Independent Electricity System Operator—runs until 2020.

“Sudbury was not moving as quick as we had wanted, so we saw the opportunity to go outside of our home municipality. We recognized the need many small communities have because they don’t have the capacity we do,” she said

At this workshop, held at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre on March 5, municipal officials and members of the public heard what can be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and got a sense of just how much work remains.

There were presentations from Peterborough’s sustainability manager Melanie Kawalec, Sustainable Severn Sound’s climate change action plan co-ordinator Victoria Ervick, Partners for Climate Protection climate advisor Paul Cobb and Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines senior policy advisor Alan Kirschbaum.

The municipal staff members shared their experiences in developing similar plans and offered advice on best practices. The latter two speakers discussed tools municipalities can use to establish baseline measurements and model potential impacts of certain adjustments. 

Island municipalities have been working with reThink Green for more than a year. They began with a pilot energy planning initiative with Gore Bay, Billings, Northeast Town and Central Manitoulin, where they assisted municipalities in compiling energy usage records in municipal operations such as buildings, vehicles, water, sewage and streetlights. That data formed a baseline of energy usage and could be used to set targets and make decisions on possible energy-saving measures. Central Manitoulin has since completed an inventory of its energy usage in operations and reThink Green is analyzing the results.

The reThink Green program was designed to have several stages. This first stage focused on educating municipal leaders on why their communities should have a conservation and demand management plan, and also understanding the importance of having such a plan. The next workshop in Espanola on April 10 will discuss asset management plans. More workshops are due in the fall to work on implementing the plans in these communities.

“We hope we’re providing something useful, understandable and down to earth. We want these plans to be living documents that can be referenced daily when they’re making decisions about energy in their communities. The last thing we want is having a document nobody cares about that sits on the shelf,” said Ms. Danard.

Having unreferenced plans is often what has happened in smaller communities to date. Ms. Danard said the plans are mandated by the province but smaller municipalities tend to have basic documents merely for compliance reasons, with many being based on a generic template with certain details added.

“The staff are doing the best they can with the resources they have. We’re trying to make the plans much more effective and usable so they have a plan that’s actually going to be effective and work for their community, where they explore specific challenges and opportunities they have rather than doing it out of an obligation.”

Manitoulin’s Barb Erskine joined reThink Green as the Island’s energy plan co-ordinator in January. She has previously worked with the organization informally through projects such as the Billings Go Green committee. Her role focuses on recruiting membership and assisting communities that are developing their own energy plans by connecting them with appropriate resources, people and programs.

“All municipalities across the province have to report on their energy and emissions usage to the provincial government; there is a regulation for that,” said Ms. Erskine, who added the deadline for municipalities to update their five-year conservation and demand management plans is July 1 of this year.

“Using some of our resources, going to workshops and having these discussions will help (Island municipalities) put their plans together,” she said, “and start looking at what their targets might be for reductions down the road. So, they can do their part in reducing climate change problems.” 

The ultimate goal behind these community consultations was to have each municipality and First Nation in the district have individual plans that will contribute to a larger regional plan. The hope for reThink Green is to have regional energy plans in place for both Manitoulin and the North Shore.

“The idea is, if we do all the elements simultaneously, everything will work together more effectively. We have opportunities for collaboration, opportunities to share resources and ideas so not everybody is doing the same work.”

There is an additional benefit in that all metrics will be measured from the same baseline so that results can be compared equally in all the different areas.

To put the initiatives of reThink Green, Partners for Climate Protection and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in context, last October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that for global warming to be limited to 1.5°C, global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030. This leaves little time for governments and other organizations to make changes before irreversible damage occurs.

Ms. Danard said reThink Green is still looking for additional communities to join in the energy planning workshops and that it is not too late to sign up. There will be community consultations happening later this year so members of the public can voice their concerns and priorities regarding energy plans in their communities.

Ms. Erskine welcomes all municipalities that may be seeking more information about the program to contact her at 705-929-0291 or reThink Green at communities@reThinkGreen.ca.