Canada Scores a “C” on Sustainability

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As the United Nations prepares to endorse a new set of 17 goals for sustainable development, it prompts the question, how good a job is Canada doing at translating the vision of a sustainable future into action on the ground?

Canada used to be a world leader in promoting sustainability. How do we stand now?

The Future Canada Wants looks at the flow from the global goals for sustainability down to action on the ground. It includes 20 indicators, ten related to planning and ten that are green solutions. In general, it finds a baseline level of activity in all areas, which points to a deep-rooted commitment to environmental sustainability in Canadian culture. The weakest points however, are in our social vision and the high-level government plans, an indication of a steady erosion of core Canadian values over the past twenty years.


So what does this report card show us?

1.  Canadians are committed to a sustainable future. There is a wealth of activity on the ground as Canadians try to live and work according to their values. The depth of this activity is what is keeping our score relatively high.

2.  The political commitment to a sustainable future has waned over the past decade, replaced by a tighter focus on climate change and the pre-eminent environmental issue. The lack of leadership on sustainability, combined with the growing politics and culture of negativity, is a major factor in driving our score down.

3.  The flow from vision to action is crucial. Strong leadership will empower positive change and support a wealth of economic and social initiatives across Canada.

4.  There are some terrific opportunities to reignite our commitment to a great future.


Here are five things we could use in Canada – key signs of leadership based on implementing the United Nations goals for sustainable development:

1.  A public vision of the future we want – a coalition of senior organizations across Canada to translate the UN sustainability goals into a Canadian set of values and a vision for a healthy and sustainable future.

2.  Better government leadership – refocus government strategies to focus on sustainable development as an ongoing, government-wide objective. Broaden the mandates of environment ministries to “Environment and Sustainability”. Recognize the value of sustainable development as a means to addressing climate change and adaptation.

3.  Future Funds – develop major funds for investing in sustainability through dedicated carbon taxes and/or resource royalties.

4.  Empower change – invest in the infrastructure, provide incentives and support initiatives that will help Canadians live better with less.

5.  Engage Canadians – set up a national community action program to engage Canadians as part of the solution.

Leadership on these recommendations, and other initiatives, will need to come from all sectors. The overall vision of Canada as a great place to live and as a world leader in sustainable development is one that needs to be shared by social, business, and political leaders alike.