Government and Sustainability
I love politics. Anyone who knows me can testify to that fact. I am a gigantic nerd when it comes to government and public policy. Because of this, I spend a significant amount of my time working or studying in politically related fields. I am a Political Science and Economics double major at the University of Alberta and have had the good fortune of working for a City Councillor over the past two summers in addition to working on that same Councillor’s municipal campaign. I am also involved as the Chair of the Engagement and Outreach subcommittee for the City of Edmonton Youth Council and serve as the President of Greenfield Community League. I am a lucky man to live and breathe my passion, and that passion for politics colours my immense passion for the environment.
Because of my political background, I see how crucial our political leaders are when it comes to environmental progress. Government is certainly not the only institution that will be needed for solving the climate crisis, but it is the best-situated institution, and because of this we must constantly keep the pressure on our elected representatives to act on climate change.
The truth of the matter is, however, that governments are often seen as laggards when it comes to walking the talk on sustainability principles. Sure, they can set the right environmental policy mandating what businesses and individuals can do but how often have you heard someone remark at the efficiency and sustainability of the latest government project? This issue precisely what I will be looking into for my Emerald Award feature over the next week and a half.
Policy is the biggest part of what governments do, but governments are also huge organizations, employing many, many people and owning/operating plenty of physical assets. This often flies under the radar but it ought not to. Government’s aren’t ethereal, abstract bodies that set policy from 10,000 feet in the sky, but huge establishments in and of themselves.
Governments lead through a number of different ways but one of the most powerful is through symbols. Think of the official apologies that the Federal Government gives from time to time which are typically meant to address some historical injustice and move forward. These apologies carry weight because of the Government’s role as the head of Canadian society.
Environmentally speaking, think about how powerful it would be if Edmonton’s City Hall was suddenly covered in solar panels. It would send a loud message to the greater Edmonton community that renewable energy is here to stay and that the civic government is committed to seeing its development. Similarly, imagine if our Provincial Government in Alberta decided that they would commit to only building LEED Gold certified government buildings or better moving forward. That would quickly grab the public’s attention and send the message throughout the Province that building sustainably is a viable option from the top down.
The best part of all of this is the fact that Government’s already seem to be getting the message. Citizens want and demand environmentally responsible leadership and are prepared to vote with that in mind. Furthermore, sustainability is simply good sense any way you cut it, financially, symbolically, and environmentally. Make sure to come back on Friday as I dig into the shining example of Government leadership in sustainability that won an Emerald Award in 2009, you won’t want to miss it!