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Is sustainability BC’s true competitive economic advantage?

Vancouver (Photo: Viv Lynch)
14 July, 2017

In the global economy, each region looks for its competitive advantage. Why should businesses locate in BC, instead of (for example) Argentina? What industries will do well in BC, giving us jobs?

BC has long viewed its cheap and abundant resources as being its competitive advantage. But the incoming NDP/Green government has pledged to take a new look at the “emerging economy” through a new task force, as well as an “Innovation Commission.”

Those promises could result in a narrow look at technology and promoting start-ups, but given that it comes straight out of the BC Greens Platform, I prefer to take it a bit more broadly. 

Is it possible that BC could position itself globally as offering businesses an opportunity to wean themselves off of fossil fuels and to position themselves as world leaders on climate change?  Imagine if we could make it so that BC’s pristine environment and green values become the things that set the province apart from other places in the world, resulting in economic growth and job creation.

The City of Vancouver is already pursuing this approach with its Greenest City initiative.  A goal of that initiative is to: “Secure Vancouver's international reputation as a mecca of green enterprise.” There is no reason that the Province of BC couldn’t use its greater resources to pursue a similar goal throughout the province and in collaboration with Vancouver and other communities.

What we have to offer

If you’re looking to position your business as clean and green, then where should you think of locating?  How about somewhere with reliable infrastructure and an open society that:

  • gets 95% of electricity from renewable sources (with a goal to raise that to 100%);
  • has a reputation as a climate leader with North America’s first carbon tax, ambitious climate targets, and (if the new government delivers on its promises) a strong climate plan;
  • is blessed with gorgeous wilderness and recreational opportunities.

What might BC offer to build on that competitive advantage?  At a high level, how about:

  • Adopt a province-wide goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050 (including transportation). Vancouver and some other municipal governments are already working towards this goal – but the Province could really up the game, providing policies that offer options for zero- or low-emission transportation.
  • Certify 100% renewable energy for businesses operating in BC. Although BC’s current electricity is largely renewable, it’s not yet 100%. Businesses (or residents) willing to pay a premium to reflect the cost of increasing BC’s generation of renewable energy should be given certified 100% renewable power.* 
  • Access to sustainable resources at a reasonable rate.  BC’s forests and minerals are often exported raw overseas or in quantities that make it difficult for smaller businesses to access. Policies that make these resources available at smaller scales, and ensure that they are managed sustainably, can help innovative businesses take root here.
  • High-speed internet and mobile network coverage in communities around the province (perhaps modelled off of the Columbia Basin Trust’s Broadband Initiative in the Kootenays). If BC’s new emerging economies are going to benefit communities outside the Lower Mainland, then high-speed internet and wireless networks are essential. 
  • Training for jobs that are sought after in emerging industries.
  • Funding for – and policies that encourage – retrofits, passive house construction and other steps to reduce emissions from our business and residential building stock. 
  • Laws that build good relationships with BC’s Indigenous nations by implementing the NDP and Green commitments to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
  • Cheaper housing – Vancouver’s insane housing prices are a dis-incentive for businesses seeking to locate there. 
  • Laws that protect BC’s natural heritage and especially clean air and water.

Further ideas and an example of more detailed goals and strategies may be found in Vancouver’s Greenest City action plan and Phase 2 plan.

There are also things that BC should not be doing if we want to attract the new economy to our province – like building a tar sands pipeline, for example. 

Allowing our mining, forestry or other resource extraction industries to operate under weak environmental rules also tarnishes BC’s reputation as an environmental leader. (Conversely, demonstrating world-class environmental laws can help reinforce BC’s reputation). 

In essence, building a province that will lure green-minded businesses from around the world requires that we have and enforce strong environmental laws.

Next steps

According to the NDP/Green Agreement, the terms of reference of the Emerging Economy Task Force will be established jointly by MLAs from the two parties.  The Task Force is supposed to report back to the government within a year of the NDP taking office. 

According to the BC Greens platform:

The task force will include business and industry representatives, and will develop a plan for a supportive and progressive regulatory environment for businesses in the context of changes in political, social and economic conditions.

Expect quick action on this once the NDP government takes office. If we want the Emerging Economy Task Force to examine how to make BC a renewable energy/climate leader/green-communities international superstar, then we need to be pressing NDP and Green MLAs to make sure that the Task Force’s terms of reference include that mandate.  We also need to ensure that the representatives appointed to the task force include people who can grapple with these questions. 

So please take a moment to email Premier-Designate John Horgan and Green leader Andrew Weaver to tell them that you support their Emerging Economy Task Force, but that it must fully examine the ways in which BC’s sustainability and environmental leadership can be claimed and enhanced as a competitive economic advantage for the province.

Make your voice heard

We could have given you a form letter to send to Premier-to-be Horgan, but politicians don’t read form letters any more.  So, instead, please write your own email telling BC’s new government what you’d like the Emerging Economy Task Force to focus on. Here are some ideas:

  • Express your support for an Emerging Economy Task Force that looks at how to build a sustainable economy in BC;
  • The task force should examine how a sustainable economy with high levels of renewable energy, climate leadership and environmental values could be a selling point for businesses considering establishing themselves in BC;
  • Highlight the initiatives that you feel would help establish BC as a sustainable economy, from access to renewable power and sustainable resources to the expansion of high speed internet across the province and the respect of Indigenous Rights and Title.  

Please send your email today to help shape the future of our province. 

* - 100% certified renewable energy generally works in this way – with a company paying theprice of building new renewable power generation (see here, for example).  The guarantee is that that much additional renewable energy enters the grid, not that the power received by the certified company is the same power (which would be impossible). 

Top photo: Viv Lynch

Author: 
Andrew Gage, Staff Counsel