Case of the month - Vancouver

APRIL 2014

Vancouver Greenest City 2020 Action Plan
Vancouver City Council

January 2011 
Territorial scope
City of Vancouver

Target buildings  




Public buildings

 New buildings    

Private buildings
 Existing buildings
 Industrial, services, etc.

Main Targets 

  • Reduce emissions by 33% by 2020, equivalent to 290,000 tons of emissions saved each year;
  • Require all buildings constructed from 2020 to be carbon neutral in operations;
  • Reduce energy use and GHG emissions in existing buildings by 20% over 2007 levels;
  • Update Vancouver building city ordinance to improve energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions in new and existing buildings;
  • Develop and promote financing tools that enable energy efficiency retrofits;
  • Use price alerts in permit fees to reward energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions in new and existing buildings.

The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan is a wide-ranging strategy divided into 10 smaller plans for Vancouver staying on the leading edge of urban sustainability in a worldwide context. Vancouver Greenest City 2020 Action Plan and Vision gives clear targets to work towards the highest priority actions: green economy, climate change leadership, green buildings, green mobility, zero waste, access to nature, lighter footprint, clean water, clean air and local food. It details the strategy and the targets by 2020, under the city baseline numbers and current levels of performance.

Greenest City 2020 Action Plan context

From the past twenty years, Vancouver was already an exemplar city on designing powerful programs and accomplishments to achieve significant advances on climate change issues and sustainable urban developments.

The most relevant city sustainability programs and accomplishments emphasize the sustainable and green building developments, through:

  • Former Green Rezoning Policy in 2010 that required new rezoning for buildings to include LEED standards;
  • Revised the City's building bylaw in 2008 that included new green home requirements for one- and two-family homes;
  • Former Ecodensity in 2008, which promoted more sustainable planning processes;
  • Adopted CityPlan in 1995, which gives direction for developing sustainable communities.

The specifications considering climate change action plans, transports and mobility plans were also object of extensive operational plans to address substantial improvements.

Based on this extensive experience, the earliest start of the Greenest City 2020 initiative was in 2009, when the Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Greenest City Action Team (GCAT) started the development of a set of green recommendations to help Vancouver to become the greenest city in the world by 2020, compiled on the publication: Vancouver 2020, a Bright Green Future.´

Recognizing the importance of working toward the goals and targets right away, the team developed a more robust plan, resulting in the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, based on a consolidated vision, a robust set of partnerships, highest ten city priority actions, and an extensive sector leadership involving over than 60 city and more than 120 organizations and individual contributions.

Long and medium term Greenest City 2020 goals

The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan is divided into 10 smaller plans, each one with a long-term (2050) goal and medium-term (2020) targets. The actions work together to form one integrated plan, that addresses the top rating areas of focus: green economy, climate change leadership, green buildings, green mobility, zero waste, access to nature, lighter footprint, clean water, clean air and local food. Each small plan includes the current status of each target, the key strategies and the highest priority actions.

A relevant example of excellence in city policy was dedicated to sustainable green buildings, where Vancouver’s goal is nothing less than to lead the world in green building design and construction.

Key strategies and actions for Green Buildings

With a collection of municipal regulations, financing tools, incentives and educational programs focused on sustainable building, Vancouver’s comprehensive and effective initiatives are leading the way towards the green building design and construction city of the future.

The Greenest City Action Plan is projected to reduce the buildings sector emissions by 33% by 2020 with the green buildings and district energy initiatives meeting 42% of that goal, which corresponds to 290,000 tons of CO2 emissions saved each year.

To achieve the mentioned goals, the City Action Plan will implement the following key strategies:

  • Update the existing municipal regulations to improve energy efficiency in both new and existing buildings;
  • Develop financing tools and incentives to green existing buildings;
  • Generate capacity building to ensure a quickly growing green building sector;
  • Create educational programs to engage building occupants.

Vancouver building regulations update will introduce a new green building code for all developments, as well as policies for rezoning, large developments, higher buildings, and district energy use, including:

  • Projects applying for rezoning (about 50% of new development area annually) are required to meet the building industry’s LEED Gold standard and show a 20% to 50% improvement on the local energy code;
  • Large developments explore and use renewable or district energy systems when viable.

With the rezoning policy applied to over 50% of all new developments in the city, the effect on the multi-family residential sector and commercial buildings is also significant.

The development of financing tools and incentives to green existing buildings comprises the implementation of the Home Energy Loan Program and an incentive program. The Home Energy Loan Pilot Program was developed to help resident’s access to energy upgrades for their homes in an economical way, and the incentive program is also in place, with more building areas permissions in buildings designed to high standards that achieve a 50% reduction in energy use.

Capacity building will bring different groups of expertise and build partnerships that are required to increase the skilled workers and needs of a quickly growing green building sector.

The educational programs are intended to engage the building occupants in their electricity, water, waste, and operational technologies choices.

Greenest City Awards

Actually, Vancouver has won several distinctions in the field of sustainability, collecting the following awards:

  • 2013 world wildlife Fund earth Hour City Challenge: global earth Hour Capital
  • 2013 world wildlife Fund earth Hour City Challenge: People’s Choice
  • 2013 Mediacorp Canada inc’s: Canada’s Top 55 greenest employers
  • 2012 Guangzhou international Award: for urban Innovation
  • 2013 Corporate Knights North American sustainable Cities scorecard: Top 5