Sustainability Makes ‘Cents’

In a recession, everyone, including municipalities, wants to save money – or at least limit tax increases. But how do we go about it? In Toronto, Rob Ford was elected on a promise of more ‘respect’ for taxpayers. So far that has consisted of cutting councillor’s pay, expenses and perqs.

Corporations typically target wages and operating expenses for savings. As an extreme example, big box retailers offer minimal wages and offer part-time employment with few benefits.  In a recession, companies retrench, closing or selling divisions, cutting services or products and matching it with layoffs across the board.

Municipalities don’t have the option of cutting basic services but can freeze hiring, cancel expenditures on new projects and delay maintenance on existing infrastructure.  Let’s look at Toronto. Predictably, Ford is targeting wages by trying to get transit declared an essential service and by contracting out waste collection to private companies. He has also requested every city department to cut its budget by 10 5 percent. What the consequences are to Toronto residents is yet to be seen.

Innovative companies have recognized sustainability as another approach to become more efficient. Some corporations have realized that their carbon footprint is an expense that can be significantly reduced, sending savings directly to the bottom line. Large retailers like Wal-Mart and Ikea are turning rooftops into solar or wind energy sources, switching to solar hot water and installing new heat recovery, cooling and lighting systems. Municipalities have an opportunity to learn from their example to develop an aggressive ‘energy descent’ plan based on the adoption of sustainable technologies.

I believe the Town of Innisfil, and its residents, have a lot of ways to potentially reduce energy consumption and costs. Some of them may be technically simple, like installing skylights or solar light tubes. Solar collectors may provide hot water and heating but might also melt snow automatically from entrances, driveways or parking lots. Rain collection cisterns can cut water consumption. Green roofs reduce cooling costs. Locally grown and produced biofuel for municipal fleets could boost the local economy while reducing operating costs. And there are many more possibilities. I will be writing about some of them.

Locally, we have an opportunity to learn more about sustainable practices and available technologies at an event taking place later this month. The E3 Sustainability Summit (Energy / Environment / Economy) is being organized by a Barrie entrepreneur at Georgian Downs on Saturday, January 29. The one-day program will include displays, speakers and films. Watch for more information in the media or click on the link for updates. Admission is $10.00 for adults, $5.00 for students with ID and children under 10. [web link and admission prices updated January 19]