Mayor Ken Melamed has no illusions about how important it is to move toward being a sustainable community.
Nor does he have any illusions about how difficult the long journey might be.
But a recent trip to Sweden to attend and make presentations at conferences based on The Natural Step (TNS) theme has reaffirmed that the push toward sustainability is a journey that is being undertaken on a global scale by individuals, communities and big business.
“When you think that in 2002 when we adopted TNS we were the
only community in North America,” said Melamed this week.
“…And now there are 10 to 15 in North America alone and they are
getting inspired in Italy and France and England and Ireland and hopefully in
many other countries too.”
Melamed spent most of the month of May at a series of
conferences. The first was the Sustainability Leadership Challenge 2008, the
second summit for cross-sector and
interdisciplinary co-operation for
sustainable development organized by TNS. It was attended by sustainability
leaders from around the globe under the patronage of His Majesty King Carl XVI
Gustaf of Sweden.
“Our prominence at the leadership summit with the king was
really quite humbling,” said Melamed who shared the stage with not only the
king, but also government leaders and leaders in industry from billion dollar
companies such as BioFuel and Hydro Polymers.
He also attended and presented at the first international
conference of eco-communities. He returned to Whistler via the Federation of
Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City and the Prince George Fraser
Basin Council conference.
“Right now you can’t go to a conference of elected officials or
leaders without sustainability and climate change being front and centre,” said
“It has been the theme of choice for the last two years. It is
on the tip of everybody’s tongue. It is the number one issue of the day.”
For Melamed the trip not only re-energized his commitment to
sustainability it also offered some lessons, which he will be sharing with
Whistler in the days to come. This week he spoke to a Rotary breakfast about
the trip and on June 25 between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the Flute Room of the
municipal hall he will offer insights to the public. An afternoon forum will
also be offered on June 26 with the time to be determined.
“My ambition in coming back from Sweden is to use this as a
catalyst, an excuse really to go back and re-engage the community,” said
“(Sustainability) continues to evolve and it often needs
“What I am hoping they get out of it is the sense of pride that
we should own for our leadership and inspiring the rest of the world, and to
own the concept that we are not sustainable.”
He will also be offering an update on the latest understanding
of global trends and trying to de-bunk some of the mental blocks that we all
use as excuses not to change.
A favourite is that becoming sustainable is not affordable.
“A lot of people in the corporate world say we can’t afford to
do sustainability and that is resonating with the senior politicians,” said
“But the reality is we can’t afford unsustainability because
the cost of continued failure to address the collapse of various ecological and
resource productive systems is only going to make business more expensive, more
Melamed said it is also important not to use scare tactics when
talking about sustainability.
“People’s creativity shuts down in the face of fear so to
message sustainability as a global crisis is dangerous,” he said.
“We need to message it as a global challenge and in facing that
challenge recognize that as humans we are the most creative and developed
species on the planet and surely there is no problem too great for us to
Melamed also hopes to do a presentation about the trip for the
Chamber of Commerce in July.
“I came away with a mix of optimism and concern,” said Melamed.
“On one level… it was energizing to be among like-minded
“On the other hand, if Whistler has one of the best sustainability plans in the world we have a long way to go. You have to recommit as this is going to be a long journey. But Whistler has an opportunity here and we are positioned in a place of incredible influence and while it might be daunting to some I think it is empowering. It adds value to everything we do here because people are watching and taking inspiration and it is working.