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council sustain

By Alix Noble Not only is Whistler an established world-class ski resort, it is also fast becoming the intellectual centre of B.C. for sustainability issues. The Council for Sustainability, a new non-government think tank, found a home in Whistler last year under the umbrella of the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts. Since then, government budget cuts and the council's effectiveness have made it B.C.'s main authority on sustainability. Many think tanks serve primarily to produce policy recommendations, but the Council for Sustainability tries to go a step further. The council's mandate is to encourage action by helping corporations, communities and individuals implement government policies that reconcile social, economic and environmental values. The importance of the council's role has been compounded this year by the provincial government's termination of the Commission on Resources and the Environment. The Council for Sustainability already serves as a replacement for the B.C. Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and the B.C. Energy Council, both terminated by the provincial government in 1994. "There’s been a vacuum created by government cutbacks," says Anne Popma, president of Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts. Without CORE said Popma, "There is no provincial body for leadership for sustainability. People are now looking more to the council." In its first year, the council completed three portfolios — plans for activities around a complex theme. Each portfolio was made up of workshops, seminars and conferences, on the topics of energy, community and monitoring. Over 500 people from all sectors of the province, individuals, corporations, government agencies and First Nations participated in the Council's workshops and conferences this year. Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts raised close to $1 million for three years for the council. Council also served as a public advisory board for the government’s State of Environment Report. "The year’s been really quite remarkable," says Popma. "Council kept the agenda alive and has been a focal point for sustainability." The council's successful first year is due in part to its influential base of support. Honorary Chairman John Fraser is the Canadian Ambassador for the Environment, and member John Allen recently became the provincial Deputy Minister for the Environment. In the next year, the council will tackle two main issues — the troubled West Coast fisheries industry and problems of innovation in the public sector. "Now that government is cutting back, the challenge is to create projects that are of mutual benefits for the private and public sector," said Popma. Participants will look at different ways of replacing government support with community and corporate partnerships. This fall Whistler will host a seminar on environmental accounting. Popma is also hoping to organize a youth leadership conference on sustainability for next summer. Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts is setting up a sustainability discussion on the Internet to facilitate province-wide conversation. Another project is the creation of a sustainability awards system to recognize best practices. The awards will be a voluntary program; communities, corporations, and individuals will submit their practices for evaluation. Such a serious think-tank is not inconsistent with Whistler's resort image, says Popma. "The notion of a complete, sustainable community needs to have an intellectual and creative bone... The council is good for Whistler in a local context. It’s providing the serious underbelly to the more playful, recreational image Whistler has."