The State of the Fraser Basin

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British Columbians have long been viewed as environmentally conscious and tolerant of diverse communities. But reputation aside, just how is the province doing on the sustainability front?

Part of that answer lies in the work of the Fraser Basin Council (FBC), a not-for-profit committed to advancing sustainability in the Fraser Basin. The region is the province’s largest watershed and home to two-thirds of BC’s population.

The FBC is led by 36 directors representing four orders of government (including First Nations), the private sector and civic society. Their model has been adopted elsewhere in Canada and abroad. It's built around a more collaborative and integrated approach to addressing complex issues.

Every two years, the Council publishes a State of the Fraser Basin report—the Sustainability Snapshot—and holds an annual conference along side it. This year’s Snapshot, released on February 18th, reports across 18 topics, 50 indicators, and a host of inspiring stories.

According to the report, the good news is that the region is seeing better results in a number of sustainability indicators. The most positive of them include air quality, health, and business & sustainability. As well, the number of indicators rated as “poor or getting worse” dropped from 20 to 12.

But even with these promising signs, many areas are rated as “mixed results” (both fair and poor). Others are rated as “poor/getting worse”. The greatest areas for improvement are Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations, biodiversity, fish and fisheries, and housing.

For more detail, download a copy of the report.

Last week, the Snapshot’s companion bi-annual conference delved into a number of sustainability themes in more detail. Attracting more than 400 participants, the goal of the conference is to propel positive action on sustainability while exploring new approaches to longstanding issues.

With this in mind, the conference was stuffed with plenary and breakout sessions offering inspiring stories of committed citizens and organizations working for positive, long-term change at an individual, organizational and community level. A sample of them include:

  • Emily Jubenvill, a young woman recently named “Canada’s greenest person”. Emily shared her story of personal awakening and passion for treading as lightly as possible on the planet. Emily is well-known for the "exceptional" lengths she goes to, including recycling pretty much everything, making her own non-toxic cleaning products and eschewing gas-powered vehicles in favour of walking or cycling. She’s also an avid community gardener who farms her own small plot in the heart of Vancouver's West End.

  • Bison Transport, a freight transportation company that has transformed the corporate culture to one that values and supports conservation. Through the efforts of management and employees, they’ve avoided millions of kilograms of greenhouse gases and saved million of dollars. They've even motivated their customers to adopt more responsible practices.

  • Emanuel Machado, the Director of Corporate Planning in Dawson Creek, recounted his community’s story of transformation. A community of 12,000 in the northeast Peace region of BC, Dawson Creek has recently rallied around a vision for sustainability that integrates all aspects of the way residents live and work. Remarkably, despite being located right in the heart of the province’s oil and gas industry, the community is developing a local renewable energy industry that features wind, solar and geothermal sources. In fact, BC’s first wind farm is located on a ridge overlooking the city.

Part of what made the conference particularly unique was the presence of the 30 youth. They were part of a team of 90 young leaders from across BC who had been brought together the day prior to the conference. In an intense day of interactive sessions, they deepened their understanding of sustainability as it relates to their passions, careers and community.

Most striking of all, these youth are already leading a variety of sustainability projects in their schools and communities. They’re simply interested in scaling up their activities for bigger impact and they want to be represented at the sustainability table. That can only benefit everyone.

There's lots more work to do for the Fraser Basin Council to do to achieve its vision of “social well-being supported by a vibrant economy and sustained by a healthy environment”. The good thing is that the thousands of British Columbians they inspire are motivated to get there faster.

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