Vancouver tops in Canada, second overall in Green City Index

Vancouver ranks among the greenest of them all when it comes to environmental performance, placing first in Canada and second overall in an assessment of North American cities.

Vancouver ranks among the greenest of them all when it comes to environmental performance, placing first in Canada and second overall in an assessment of North American cities.

The coastal city placed behind San Francisco and ahead of New York City in the U.S. and Canada Green City Index released Thursday.

Sponsored by Siemens, the index measures and rates the environmental performance of 27 cities on both sides of the border in nine categories: CO2, energy, land use, buildings, transport, water, waste, air and environmental governance.

The cities chosen were selected with a view towards representing a number of the most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada.

Vancouver landed in the top 10 in each of the nine individual categories, ranking first among all cities with the lowest carbon dioxide emissions and best air quality.

The city emits 4.2 metric tons of CO2 per person, far below the index average of 14.5 metric tons. The report said the city’s low emissions were a result of policies aimed at green energy promotion and the dominance of hydropower in Vancouver’s energy grid.

Vancouver’s “impressive” performance in the air category was the result of low emission levels of all pollutants that were measured, including sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the report said.

Among the remaining Canadian cities on the green index, Toronto placed ninth overall, Ottawa was 12th, Calgary 14th and Montreal 19th.

The report notes Vancouver’s metropolitan area is home to some 2.1 million people, making it the third most populous city in Canada. Yet in their assessment, researchers only account for the 580,000 people living within the city limits.

That makes Vancouver the smallest Canadian city in the index compared to the city populations of Ottawa (810,000), Calgary (990,000) and Montreal (1.6 million). Toronto had the highest city population among the Canadian cities assessed, at 2.5 million.

Richard Stein with the Economist Intelligence Unit, which conducted the research, said that individual indicators were adjusted or “normalized” to take into account differences in geographic area and associated population.

“Thus, the indicators, the categories, their respective scores, and ultimately the overall scores were adjusted to be consistent and to allow comparisons,” he wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

The EIU, an in-house research unit of British magazine The Economist, was also behind a survey released last month which saw Vancouver knocked off its perch as the world’s most livable city, falling to third place behind Melbourne and Vienna.

For the green index, Calgary topped the list in the water category, with the city consuming 428 litres of water per person per day compared to the index average of 587.

The city was also cited for its low water distribution leakage rate, which the report said “reflects the city’s vigilance in continually monitoring the system.” Calgary was also noted for its high percentage of metered customers and strong wastewater management.

The findings were unveiled at the Green Cities Challenge event at the Toronto Board of Trade.

Speakers weighed in on the efforts needed by individuals, businesses and policymakers to build more environmentally sustainable communities. They called for more to be done to address climate change and expand transportation infrastructure, and for investments in energy-efficient retrofits and technologies to help reduce carbon emissions.

Here are some of the top performances among other Canadian cities in other categories:

Montreal: The city took the fourth overall spot in the transport category with its public transit system deemed one of the best in the index. While Montreal’s average commute time is “longer than normal” due to travel times from elsewhere in the metro area onto the island, “the city’s high population density ensures efficient transport once in the city of Montreal.” Montreal had the second highest share of non-automobile commuters. Some 29 per cent of workers commute by public transit, bicycle, or on foot — more than double the index average.

Ottawa: Canada’s capital ranked third in land use. Ottawa’s city limits encompass an area five times larger than the average city in the index “creating both opportunities and challenges for land use policies.” The report said that while the city’s low population density (300 people per square kilometre) leads to some urban sprawl, the city limits also encompass “vast amounts of green space” — the highest percentage in the index.

Toronto: The city earned a fourth-place ranking overall in the waste category, which the report said was driven by its 44 per cent recycling rate — “solidly above” the 26 per cent average. The report said the effort was supported by “well-regarded waste-reduction policies” such as composting, waste separation and volume-based trash payment, and a public awareness campaign.