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Sustaining the sustainable

The word sustainable means many things to many people. Shell, the oil company, is a firm believer in sustainable development.

The word sustainable means many things to many people.

Shell, the oil company, is a firm believer in sustainable development.

According to their website “throughout the design, construction and operation of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project a best practice approach to sustainable development has been taken.”

Yes, it says and means nothing, but it does sound good.

One almost forgets that any oilsands project means a massive portion of the boreal forest in northern Alberta has been bulldozed, a large pit has been dug that is probably visible from space, fossil fuels are then extracted in an extremely energy intensive fashion, mega litres of water contaminated as part of this process and the end result is a rather messy hydrocarbon product known as oil.

This oil can only be combusted once and is usually used for something as banal as driving a large inefficient vehicle from an oversize house to a big box store to purchase unneeded consumer items.

To add insult to injury the end result of this combustion is the release of greenhouse gases that result in the entire planet heating up to quite possibly catastrophic, at least for humans, levels.

Nothing sustainable about it at all.

Thus it was with a bit of a jaded eye a certain resident of Whitehorse popped in to visit the city of Whitehorse Sustainability Fair.

Held in the Old Fire Hall it was actually quite a pleasant experience in how the city is grasping the concept of sustainability.

It all started in 2007 when an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan was developed.

Cynics will note that Whitehorse had to develop one in order to eligible for Federal Gas Tax project funding.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, what has emerged is a Strategic Sustainability Plan which is a guiding vision to ensure Whitehorse moves towards a sustainable future.

And it seems to be gaining traction in how the city plans and operates.

Paper copies of the The Whitehorse Strategic Sustainability Plan are available from City offices.

It is also available on the internet at the city website but finding it is virtually impossible, as is almost anything on that site, without using the local website search engine.

It is best to type Sustainability Plan into the search engine and the download will be available under the ‘Maps and Plans’ section.

The Sustainability Plan is actually a pleasant read.

For starters, the definition of sustainability is from David Suzuki.

In part it states “sustainability means doing things better - not doing without.”

This is not about citizens giving up a way of life, it is about improving it.

And the actual plan consists of simple and clear flow charts and diagrams.

This is easy to understand yet it conveys a lot of information without overwhelming the reader.

At the Old Fire Hall there were displays of what different departments were doing in an effort to comply with the plan.

What was nice was to see that a lot of departments, from bylaw to planning, have realized that quite a lot of what they do can be considered sustainable.

Now not everything laid out for the public to view could be considered totally sustainable.

To call new subdivisions such as Whistle Bend sustainable is a bit of a stretch.

Anytime a community plans for an extra 10,000 or so new residents means massive growth, which usually goes against the very concept of sustainability.

But the information about Whistle Bend was right next to the information about the new building bylaw that came into effect on September 1.

Any building going up in the new subdivision will have to meet much higher energy efficiency standards than were previously mandated.

Another display showed off the compost and waste wheelie bins that all households that receive this service are using.

While these might be familiar to everyone, there were also displayed photographs of the composting facility up at the city landfill.

New equipment is being used to process the increased amounts of compost that is being collected thanks to the wheelie bins.

Not only will there be more compost available in the spring, but the quality will be better because thanks to the bins no-one has to use biodegradable bags anymore.

Even though the bag manufacturers say they are biodegradable is seems a lot of them are having trouble degrading.

The bags, that is, not necessarily the companies that make them.

Part of the Sustainability Plan includes achieving zero waste.

This would mean nothing gets thrown out.

Everything falls into either being reduced, reused, recycled or composted.

Part of that would include household hazardous waste.

There is a collection day coming up tomorrow, Saturday September 19, from 10 in the morning until four in the afternoon.

It will be held at the city of Whitehorse Landfill, and this collection day is the last one of the year for Whitehorse.

It is only for household hazardous waste, not commercial waste, and 45-gallon drums will not be accepted.

For industrial and commercial hazardous waste, please contact Yukon Environment at 667-5885 to discuss participation in the commercial hazardous waste collection program.

There is more information on tomorrows event in the city pages of this paper.

Hazardous waste collection days, energy efficient buildings and composting organic waste are by themselves just single activities.

Combine them with everything else that follows the concepts of the Strategic Sustainability Plan and Whitehorse will not only be sustainable but also an extremely attractive place to live.

For more information on the Whitehorse Strategic Sustainability Plan contact the Sustainability Coordinator at 668-8600.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.