Vancouver: Greenest City

Vancouver, British Columbia

Photo Credit: Greenest City Action Plan


Initial Research by: Desiree Theriault

Continued Research by: Samantha Miller

Edited by: Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2017


Project:  Vancouver: Greenest City

Type of Urban StrategyGreen Cities, Sustainable Design 

Type of ProjectAction Plan

LocationVancouver, British Columbia

Date Designed/Planned: 2009

Construction Completed Goal: 2020 (long term goals: 2050)

DesignerThe Greenest City Action Plan


In 2009, the city of Vancouver decided to make a drastic change in the way the city was progressing and living. Since then, the city has worked to make Vancouver one of the most liveable cities in the world, creating dense neighbourhoods that have become a model for a lot of cities around the globe, with some of the cleanest air and water out of any urban city. The Greenest City Action Plan was put into place in an attempt to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020, with long term goals in terms of climate and renewables by 2050. More than 35,000 people from around the world have participated in the development of the GCAP, through their smart use of social media, online communication and face-to-face workshops. 

The goals put in place in the GCAP include strategies of climate and renewables, green buildings, green transportation, zero waste, access to nature, clean water, local food, clean air, green economy, and a lighter footprint. 

“Huge wealth can be created even as you make people healthier, reduce the sickness that comes from particulates in the air and the cancer that comes with it...more and more city leaders are coming to that conclusion... it’s why Vancouver set a goal of obtaining 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.”

-John Kerry, US Secretary of State

(City of Vancouver, 2015)



Cities are responsible for three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions. To avert the worst impacts of climate change, it is necessary that cities cut their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050.

An urban sustainability initiative was conceived, consisting of 10 primary goals that focus on three fundamental topics – carbon, waste, ecosystems. Within each of the ten goals, a plan establishes measurable targets, offers baseline data against which to compare those targets.


A $2 million Greenest City Fund was established in collaboration with the Vancouver Foundation to support community-led projects to green Vancouver. The total budget and funding for this project are undocumented.


-Vancouver is one of the few cities in North America that does not have a major highway cutting through its core

-In the 1960s, the Strathcona neighbourhood residents stopped construction of massive freeway into downtown that would have levelled their community and altered the shape of the city

-Vancouver is one of the world’s most livable cities with its natural surroundings, environmental values, diverse cultural mix, innovative economy, vibrant neighbourhoods

-Vancouver has the smallest per capita carbon footprint of any city in North America (collab. W energy utility providers, senior levels of gov., innovators in business/non-profit sectors, see new opportunity in responding to challenge)


The project began in 2009 and was established as the Greenest City Action Team; the committee was co-chaired, Mayor Greg Robertson. The project started by building off of Mayor Robertson plan for the greenest city. The Vancouver City Council approved the plan in 2011.

The GCAT consisted of a group of local experts who began researching best practices from leading green cities around the world. They established goals/targets that would make Vancouver the world's leading greenest city. They published a document called 'Vancouver 2020: A Bright Green Future', where the team recommends 75 quick start actions that the City of Vancouver staff could begin to implement. They then tasked city staff to come up with a more robust plan to outline what would be needed to achieve goals/targets. This process resulted in a document called 'Greenest City 2020 Action Plan'.


“The Green City Action Plan is a strategy for staying on the leading edge of city sustainability. The vision is to create opportunities today while building a strong local economy, vibrant and inclusive neighbourhoods, and an internationally recognized city that meets the needs of generations to come” (City of Vancouver, 2015). The primary goal is to ensure that Vancouver becomes the greenest city in the world by 2020 by:

Climate Leadership

-reduce community-based greenhouse gas emissions by 33% from 2007 levels by 2020

Green Buildings

-requiring all buildings constructed from 2020 onward to be carbon neutral in operation

-reduce energy use and GHG emissions in existing buildings by 20% over 2007 levels

Green Transportation

-make the majority of trips by foot, bicycle and public transit

-reduce average distance driven per resident by 20% from 2007 levels

Zero Waste

-reduce total solid waste going to the landfill or incinerator by 50% from 2008 levels

Access to Nature

-ensure that every person lives within a five-minute walk of a park, greenway or other green space

-plant 150,000 trees

-restore or enhance 25 hectares of natural areas between 2010 and 2020

-increase canopy cover to 22% by 2050

Clean Water

-meet or beat the most stringent British Columbian, Canadian and appropriate international drinking water quality standards and guidelines

-reduce per-capita water consumption by 33% from 2006 levels

Local Food

-increase citywide and neighbourhood food assets by a minimum of 50% over 2010 levels

Clean Air

-meet or beat the most stringent air quality guidelines from Metro Vancouver, BC, Canada, and the World Health Organization

Green Economy

-double the number of green jobs over 2010 levels

-double the number of companies that are actively engaged in greening their operations over 2011 levels

Lighter Footprint

-reduce Vancouver’s ecological footprint by 33% over 2006 levels

Green Operations

-target zero carbon: 50% reduction in greenhouse gasses from City operations from 2007 levels.

-target zero waste: 70% waste diversion in public-facing City facilities and 90% waste diversion in all other City-owned facilities

-target healthy ecosystem: reduce water use in City operations by 33% from 2006 levels

(City of Vancouver, 2015)


The GCAP is divided into ten smaller plans, each with long term (the year 2050) goal and medium term (the year 2020) targets. Combined, they have 10 plans to address three overarching ideas of focus (carbon, waste, ecosystems). The summaries on each plan provide the current status of the target, highest priority actions from each plan, key strategies to help achieve goals, and contextual information, to form one integrated plan.


For each goal area, external advisory groups formed with representatives from different organizations. Total, there are over 60 city staff and more than 120 organizations contributing to the creation of the GCAP, including designers.

Vancouver is relying heavily on architects and designers to help Vancouver lead the world in green building design and construction. Land use and urban design and planners are crucial in designing walkable communities that are well served by transit, new approaches to cycling and more.

(City of Vancouver, 2015)


The city of Vancouver has very bold action goals, and they have been making great progress. They are becoming a leader in urban sustainability, encouraging other cities to start making drastic changes to the way their city operates and develops.


The GCAP was developed as an urban sustainability initiative to be a green capital (a global leader in addressing climate change). Vancouver joined 16 other cities in the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance.


Vancouver, C. O. (2016, May 05). Greenest City Action Plan. Retrieved from


Many of the goals that the GCAP are trying to implement require community involvement in terms of maintenance and management. For example, increasing canopy cover involves tree retention, species selection, climate adaptation and long-term planning and maintenance. Green transportation initiative relies on the participation of road and public realm maintenance crews, car-share managers, operators and technicians. Water system loss needs water maintenance to reduce system leakage. For the fleet and trip optimization initiative, GPS and telematics technology help optimize service delivery, route and fleet maintenance planning and identifies opportunities to reduce fleet size. Management of these initiative happens at multiple levels in every single aspect of all of the goals.

(City of Vancouver, 2015)


Vancouver faces challenges of a growing population, climate uncertainty, rising fossil fuel prices, shifting economic opportunities. The city faces limited jurisdictional control, meaning that they must rely heavily on action taken by other levels of government, residents, business and community partners. This also means that the GCAP must focus heavily on clear communication, consultation and engagement in multiple languages and formats to gain support from stakeholders. Since Vancouver is a growing city with an increasing demand for resources, making it more a more ambitious and challenging project than one in a stable city or a city declining in size.

The GCAP must constantly be tracking progress as accurately as possible. This can be a challenge because a lot of the updates and progress reports are of data collected by external agencies, sometimes resulting in inconsistent or unavailable information. But they have been working to remove threats and putting trust in new agencies for tracking and updates.

(City of Vancouver, 2015)