Kingston moves towards a sustainable future

Kingston may still have a long way to go before becoming a model for sustainability, but the City can add one good thing to its resume. This past September it was a finalist in the prestigious Communities in Bloom Sustainable Development Award.

The award recognizes an establishment of a successful sustainability plan, along with a clear and outlined look into the future. Kingston also received the award in 2007.

FOCUS, a Kingston steering committee, has the vision of making Kingston Canada’s most sustainable city, adopting the four pillars of cultural, economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

FOCUS member and former Queen’s Sustainability Coordinator Kelsey Jensen said the Kingston Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP), now called Sustainable Kingston, is a means of achieving this goal.

“The idea behind FOCUS Kingston is to spearhead the development of this ICSP,” Jensen said. “However, we want it to be community-owned. It’s going to be a living document and something that community members can access.” Jensen said programs like the Kingston Sustainability Centre, where she’s a volunteer, provide the practical means for citizens to become aware and get involved with sustainable development in the community. Sustainability Centre volunteer Dan Hendri said many members of the community have shown interest in the Centre.

“The centre has been around since July 10 and we’ve had about 160 people pass through simply on word of mouth,” Hendri said. “We’re here. The doors are open.”

Jensen said the centre is intended to be a community classroom, with an emphasis on attracting youth involvement in order to accumulate as many perspectives as possible.

“We’re here to stay and we’re really growing from the ground up,” he said.

Vicki Remenda, associate professor of geological sciences and engineering and a member of KEAF (Kingston Environmental Advisory Forum) said Kingston and Queen’s University have a good track record of working towards sustainability.

“Queen’s and the City of Kingston are way ahead when it comes to sustainability,” Remenda said.

An example of this forward thinking is the January 2008 passing of a by-law regulating the use of pesticides on lawns within the City of Kingston. The was passed more than a year later in April 2009.

“Kingston introduced the green bin program last April, and it has so far been extremely successful, you can see the results all throughout the city,” Remenda said.

The Kingston Area Recycling Centre (KARC) accepts yard waste and sells compost managed by Norterra. Norterra Organics reported over two million kilograms of compost diverted from landfills since April, with less than one per cent contamination.

KEAF has provided public libraries with energy meters that can be borrowed by residents who wish to become aware of their energy expenditure and impact on the environment. Queen’s has also adopted this program, with meters available for checkout at the circulation desk in Stauffer Library.

Kingston has adopted the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an environmental and sustainable rating system. The new Kingston Police station on Division St. is the first LEED certified station in Ontario. The new Calvin Park Library also just re-opened LEED certified.

“All these little programs and initiatives are more important and effective than one big organization trying to manage everything,” Remenda said. “Ultimately, it is how you change a culture, which is what we need do.” Peter Hodson, head of the Queen’s Department of Environmental Studies, said there’s still a lot of work to be done to reduce Kingston’s environmental impact.

“I think the problems Kingston is facing are probably generic to all communities, and that is the need to transition from a pattern of urban sprawl to what is called ‘smart growth,’” Hodson said. “That’s going to be a tough sell.” It’s fairly dense compared to other North American cities, but its density is low compared to other cities, Hodson said.

“It’s all relative,” he said. “Compared to a European city, we’re really spread out.” Rising energy costs will make urban sprawl that much more of a problem, Hodson said, adding that the City would do well to improve the awareness of this issue.

“The city has to promote to its citizens and its business community what the implications are of rising energy costs. The sooner we start thinking about the problems associated with them, the sooner we can come up with ways of dealing with them,” he said.

Hodson said there have been lost opportunities to make Kingston more environmentally-friendly. Last year, construction finished on the Wolfe Island wind farm said to power over 75,000 homes. The switch to renewable energy is a good initiative, Hodson said, but its cost is enormous.

Hodson said solar panelling is a better alternative to the wind farms because it would make use of all the rooftops we have in Kingston and wouldn’t affect the natural habitat.

There’s room for improvement around Queen’s too. Hodson said big changes are needed to make a difference.

“I think we try to solve problems of sustainability by nibbling around the edges with things like sealing up windows,” he said. “I’ve always thought Queen’s is a very beautiful place but a very wasteful place with things like open space.”

Some campuses have resolved this problem by building bigger buildings to accommodate many different departments. Others, like Carleton University, have underground tunnels to keep energy contained in their campus buildings. Hodson said these types of changes need to happen to have a substantial effect on our sustainability.

“There’s some long-term crystal ball-gazing that has to go on. Some people at some point have to take some leadership.”

—With files from Ashleigh Ryan

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