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How long can the centre hold?

Understanding the Whistler Centre for Sustainability and its role

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What is the Whistler Centre for Sustainability?

People affiliated with the fledgling centre are loath to define it in simple terms. It's a consulting firm; it's an organization that does conferences and event planning; it's a non-profit PR vehicle promoting Whistler's environmental consciousness worldwide.

Beyond all that it's an organization that defies the understanding of many in the Whistler community. It's independent from government, and yet much of it is not. It rests in a kind of accountability limbo that leaves some people scratching their heads wondering whether it can be considered a creature of the municipality... and whether the community's investment in the centre is worth the money.

Defining the Whistler Centre for Sustainability requires a trip into its history - a history that is inseparable from Whistler's love affair with the concept of sustainability, which broadly implies the ability to endure, whether socially, environmentally or economically.

The idea for a centre first arose at the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 2002, emerging out of "Whistler. It's Our Nature," a community outreach program that was used to promote and educate Whistlerites about sustainability. Officials at the RMOW looked into a business plan, as well as the requirements of registering a non-profit society under the British Columbia Society Act.

Plans for the centre were put on hold, however, as the RMOW focused its efforts and resources on a successful bid for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

The idea re-emerged in 2007, two years after the community had adopted Whistler2020, its long-term vision and strategy for attaining sustainability. A team of founders including Jim Godfrey, Bill Barratt, Diane Mombourquette, Ted Battiston and Mike Vance saw the centre as an avenue to implement the Whistler2020 vision and showcase the community's sustainability chops to the world.

"We didn't see (Whistler2020) as a government document, we saw it as a community document," Vance, the RMOW's general manager of policy and program development, said in an interview this week. "A centre would take over aspects of the Whistler2020 program, the task force management, the partner engagement and the monitoring and reporting, and it would move those functions into the community."

The founding members drew up a business plan and vision for the centre. They submitted it for a feasibility assessment to the auditing firm Deloitte and Touche LLP. The firm came back with a 30-page report in February 2007 that outlined the vision for the centre.

It was to be a non-profit organization, independent from government that would act as a "focal point" for Whistler2020 activities and programs, as well as a hub for "fostering innovation" in community sustainability and sustainable tourism.

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