City of North Vancouver

Freya Kristensen
PhD Candidate, Simon Fraser University

Published November 8th, 2012

Case Summary

In 2002, North Vancouver began the process of developing a new Official Community Plan (OCP), to be based on overall sustainability, taking into account three aspects of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. This OCP contained specific language around energy efficiency and GHG reductions and integrates its ICSP. The City also developed its own Local Agenda 21 in association with the City’s environmental protection committee and at this time, the City was one of the first in Canada to put together a local action plan for managing GHG emissions. The OCP was adopted in 2005. Also back in the 1990s, the City had begun building a district energy system, which was completed in 2004. The City incentivizes developers to connect new buildings to the district energy system in exchange for density bonusing as well as to build energy efficient buildings in exchange for increased floor space. The City’s success in its climate change initiatives is due to having a strong mayor and an empowered staff who take ownership of the City’s sustainability goals. Notably, the City does not have a sustainability department, which has saved the City money. Success is also due to a number of partnerships forged with various non-profit organizations and the City of Vancouver.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

The Lonsdale Energy Corporation is a district energy system that was established in 2004 that uses a system of mini-plants (instead of one central plant) to power municipal buildings and condominium towers in the Lower Lonsdale area. Currently it is natural gas powered but if and when alternative energy sources become available, the system can be adapted. At the moment there is a small amount of geothermal and solar energy in the network. 2100 residential units are currently connected to the system.1 Because of provincial and federal restrictions on the kinds of regulations that municipalities can enact, North Vancouver was unable to pass a bylaw requiring that all new developments be connected to this district energy system. To overcome this obstacle, the City developed an incentive program whereby if a developer connected a new building to the district energy system, the developer in exchange would receive a density bonus. This incentive has resulted in 100% take-up by developers.2

The City has also recently rebuilt its city hall and city library, to LEED Silver standard. Before the redevelopment, much of the land adjacent to city hall was taken up with single-family homes and some 10-unit apartments, owned by the City. The City sold a parcel of this land for $40 million which paid for the redevelopment of the city hall and library. Today there are two 20-storey towers standing where there were once single-family homes and this has increased the tax base; the City is bringing in $300,000 more per year because of the increased density.3

The City prides itself on being a compact community that puts pedestrians above cars. It is also proud of having reduced its corporate emissions by 2005 by 10% per capita and 6% overall. Community emissions are down 11% from 2005 levels and 5% below 1995 levels.4

Critical Success Factors

The City seems to enjoy a culture of sustainability, at least within city hall. Those city staff members interviewed spoke of a collaborative environment, where everyone understood the common sustainability goals and their part in propelling the City forward in meeting those goals. Staff feel empowered to take on sustainability initiatives, and these are almost always supported by council. One interviewee put it this way: "There is a culture of innovation here and an entrepreneurial spirit. People, staff are very empowered to bring forward ideas. I think we have a reputation as a sustainable municipality and so we tend to attract people who want to work for that kind of a municipality. Before I joined the city I knew it had a great reputation and was keen to join. And there are lots of other folks - folks in finance and in other areas- who are really keen".5 Interviewees also spoke of the importance of having a strong leader in the mayor, who was key in driving sustainability forward. In the case of North Vancouver, it was the staff and the mayor leading the way, not council.

Notably, North Vancouver does not have a dedicated sustainability department. Staff reported that everyone is charged with integrating sustainability practices into their day-to-day decision-making. In terms of budgeting, there is no line in the budget for sustainability-related expenditures. Rather, the extra costs often associated with building ‘greener’ infrastructure are included in the overall cost and not necessarily accounted for separately. For instance, when repaving a road, it is more environmentally-friendly to use permeable pavement. While this costs more than traditional materials, these are costs that are built into the budget in order to meet sustainability goals. As one staff member explained:

“It's not about funding really. All municipalities collect millions of dollars in taxes and spend millions of dollars. It's about how you're spending those millions of dollars. How you're doing infrastructure, operations, providing services. Probably spending $12-15 million per year as a base. More for some years if there is a building project. There is a lot of spending going on. We don't have a sustainability department that requires special funding and special staff. Everyone is in the sustainability business. All budgets need to reflect that. Each budget builds in sustainability. Things like permeable pavement don't cost that much more; it's just different. If you build sustainability principles into work that's already going to be done, it is not significantly more expensive.”6

Another key success factor is that the City has been willing to engage with developers in order to meet mutual goals, i.e. in the aforementioned example of the City exchanging land for a new city hall and library. Another example, already mentioned, is the incentive structure in place to encourage developers to connect to the district energy system in exchange for increased density allowances. The City has also engaged developers in building below-market housing, in exchange for land.

The Lonsdale Energy Corporation was financially viable because the City already owned the land and because the City Manager at the time came up with the idea to build mini-plants instead of having a large, main plant (which would have no doubt resulted in NIMBYism and lowered property values adjacent to the plant).7

Another point that cannot be overlooked in the case of North Vancouver is that the City is running a budget surplus. Although only one interviewee8 mentioned this, certainly it is a notable success factor. With a budget surplus, the City can afford to be less concerned about the higher cost of building sustainably, although several interviewees did describe the fiscally conservative nature of North Vancouver in general. So while the budget surplus is a factor in the success of the City, the above mentioned factors are also key as well.

What Worked?

Already mentioned: density bonusing in exchange for energy efficiency (new developments for the City as well as connecting to the district energy system). Incentivizing developers has also helped the City increase energy efficiency standards in new developments. In exchange for increased floor space in new buildings, developers are asked to meet 80 on the EnerGuide Rating System (EnerGuide minimum is 77). So far new buildings are actually exceeding 80 at an average of 84.9

In order to get community buy-in for sustainability-related initiatives, the messaging has not been around climate change. Although climate change was initially used to frame the City’s sustainability practices, this was not a successful strategy. Instead messaging is around improving liveability and improving the City for the current generation of young people (instead of using the term ‘future generations’ which is less meaningful for people). For example, road widening projects often include room for new bike lanes. This improvement is sold to motorists as a way to reduce accidents and increase safety, because cyclists are more visible and predictable when they are riding in designated bike lanes.10

Increasing density in Lower Lonsdale has resulted in lower car ownership in the area – this was an unanticipated benefit of smart growth planning.11

Because the City of North Vancouver is relatively small, it didn’t have the resources to create a new office specifically for sustainability. In order to ensure that sustainability was still regarded as a core mission of the City, sustainability became a feature of everyone’s job. The finance department made a requirement that for every new capital budget item, a project sheet had to be submitted which made the linkage between the amount requested and the Official Community Plan. Each staff person is tasked with considering how new projects will help the City achieve its sustainability goals. In addition, the finance department requires that every project manager explore the GHG emissions and energy impact of any new project.12

What Didn’t work?

The mayor was hoping to get a ‘bike elevator’ installed along Lonsdale Avenue. This is a small bit of infrastructure, invented in Trondheim, Norway, that helps cyclists up steep hills. However, the price for this project would have been $2 million and council would not approve it. The mayor is currently exploring how to get developers to pay for it instead of the City.13

Already mentioned above: selling the idea of climate change mitigation to the community. This has not been successful and so the City has had to find other ways of framing its sustainability activities.

The City has also struggled with NIMBYism in areas where density is increasing. In particular, there has been push-back against condo towers for various reasons, including concerns over reduced parking spaces, increased neighbourhood traffic, and reduced views. Staff reported that there is no easy way around this kind of push-back and while they report trying to work with the community to reduce this opposition, in the end the City has to do what’s in the best interest of the community, which it feels is densification. Staff people interviewed discussed how the community is often behind city hall when it comes to some sustainability initiatives but trying to win the support of other community members (particularly older residents) has been a struggle.14

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

It was discussed above how the City works with developers for mutually beneficial gains and so much of the energy efficiency achievements in the City have not required much, if any, financial expenditure on the part of the City. The resulting density from working with developers has had the benefit of increasing the tax base for the City and generating more income. The decision to not fund a sustainability office has also resulted in cost savings (as discussed above).

Partnerships have been key in keeping costs down and the City has engaged with a variety of organizations in order to achieve sustainability goals. Climate Smart (which subsidized a carbon management training course for small and medium-sized businesses) and the BC Sustainable Energy Association (which ran a program in schools to get children to reduce their families’ emissions) have been key partners in helping with community emissions reductions. A partnership with the City of Vancouver was also beneficial in terms of lowering community emissions. This particular partnership actually resulted when council turned down a staff request for funding for a dedicated staff person to lead community engagement on emissions reductions. Instead, a small project budget was granted, which allowed the City to partner with the City of Vancouver in hiring a staff person to work on a shared home retrofit program. Cost-sharing between cities has been successful in reducing costs but also in sharing information.15

However sustainability initiatives have still required some funding – in particular the Lonsdale Energy Corporation (LEC). The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has given North Vancouver a $2 million loan as well as a $2 million grant. A gas tax grant of $900,000 has also been used to fund some of these initiatives. LEC has been financially viable because the City already owned the land on which the system was built. By zoning the area for high-density residential development and requiring that all buildings constructed on that land to be connected to LEC, the City was able to guarantee enough customers to make the system financially viable.16 The system of mini-plants (discussed earlier) instead of one large plant meant that there was no massive capital investment up front: investment could be made in the system once customers were ready to come online. This was characterized by one interviewee as “just-in-time investment”.17 The project overall has cost around $12 million.18

Research Analysis

Climate change initiatives in North Vancouver seem to be fairly commendable and the passion of staff people was evident in every interview. Clearly there are a lot of well-intentioned people working for the City and it shows in the kinds of policies and practices going forth.

While the work going on in North Vancouver is largely commendable, it is important to keep in mind that a number of factors have facilitated the City’s progress. For instance, it is a relatively small community that is highly constrained geographically by other cities, water, and mountains. It is adjacent to Vancouver, which is consistently rated one of the best places in the world to live19 and correspondingly has some of the highest real estate prices in North America.20 Indeed North Vancouver is also seen as a very desirable place to live and also has high real estate prices and therefore the City can to a large extent be more demanding of developers. The City is currently running a budget surplus, which is also an enabling factor to being more innovative.

However there is some question as to the energy efficient nature of the large glass towers ubiquitous in North Vancouver (as well as Vancouver). They are notoriously wasteful energy wise and there doesn’t seem to be any effort on the part of the City to move developers away from building this type of tower.21

Detailed Background Case Description

The City of North Vancouver (CNV) is a geographically small community of 11 square km, located in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. It is bordered on all sides by other communities (the District of North Vancouver and West Vancouver), ocean, and mountains, which ultimately means that the City is very constrained in terms of potential to grow. The city is very concerned with increasing its density, a central feature of its climate change mitigation strategy. The city’s geography poses some risk in terms of sea level rise and increased rainfall. When building near the ocean, the City is considering this risk by installing pipes in the road to handle stormwater drainage and a greater than average rainfall.22

Approximately 48,000 people live in CNV and in terms of demographics, the city has a dwindling number of residents under the age of 45. According to the City’s 2009 Community Profile, The City of North Vancouver remains home to fewer youth and more middle-aged adults than Metro Vancouver as a whole. Age groups over 45 all increased or remained stable since 2001.23 Other age groups, such as children under the age of 10 and adults aged 25 to 44, have declined in both relative and absolute terms.”24 This is at least in part due to the high cost of living, which tends to drive out younger people, coupled with the lack of appropriate family housing units in the city.25 CNV’s growth rate has remained comparable to the Metro Vancouver region as a whole, at around 1.9 per cent. 86% of CNV’s housing is comprised of multi-family buildings; just 4% are single-family homes and many of these latter single-family homes also include secondary suites or coach houses.26

In the late 1990s, North Vancouver city council decided to sustainably develop a parcel of land that it had acquired during the Great Depression when people were unable to pay their taxes. This was the Lower Lonsdale area, a very industrial and under-developed part of the city. While in the midst of deciding what to do with this land, some councillors went on a study trip to Europe, funded by FCM. There they were introduced to the idea of district energy systems, and these councillors decided that this was what they wanted to build in Lower Lonsdale. The City decided to give the land to the developer in exchange for space in the new buildings to put mini-plants (the City had by now decided against building a large, central plant in favour of smaller ones that could be positioned in the basements of buildings) as well as a guarantee that any new construction would be connected to the district energy system, once it was up and running.27 The Lonsdale Energy Corporation started producing heat in 2003.

In 2002 the City began the process of writing its Official Community Plan and by this point sustainability was a central tenet of the plan: fairly innovative for Canada at the time. There was an understanding that the City must use its financial and economic means to contribute to sustainability. The OCP contains definitions of sustainability, livability, and ‘complete community’, and is clear that the way to achieve these goals is through increased density. The OCP also contains specific language around energy efficiency and GHG reductions.28 In order to achieve the approximately 200 goals laid out in the OCP, community representatives developed a monitoring system known as the Targets, Indicators, and Monitoring System (TIMS). 23 indicators were developed by a task force composed of staff and advisory bodies, in order to track progress towards the many goals and targets laid out in the OCP.The indicators are diverse and include: length of the trail system, number of LEED certified buildings, car ownership rates, and number of visits to the library, to name just a few.29

This OCP was approved in 2005, the same year that Darrell Mussatto became mayor after having served four consecutive terms on council. When he was elected mayor he decided that action on sustainability would be a defining feature of his mayorship. Although he ran with like-minded candidates, Mussatto had a minority on council and was aware that driving climate change initiatives at the policy level would be difficult. His strategy around this was to inspire staff to make these changes and bring them forward to council themselves. So many of North Vancouver’s climate change initiatives have come forth in a bottom-up fashion: from staff rather than council.30

In 2002 North Vancouver began the process of developing its Official Community Plan (OCP), which was based on overall sustainability, taking into account all three aspects of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. Integrating the City’s ICSP into the document, the OCP specifies that sustainability is an “important integrating theme” (OCP, 2002, p. 7). The OCP contains definitions of sustainability, livability, and ‘complete community’, and is clear that the way to achieve these goals is through increased density. The OCP also contains specific language around energy efficiency and GHG reductions. The OCP was adopted in 2005. In order to achieve the approximately 200 goals laid out in the OCP, community representatives developed a monitoring system known as the Targets, Indicators, and Monitoring System (TIMS). 23 indicators were developed by a task force composed of staff and advisory bodies, in order to track progress towards the many goals and targets laid out in the OCP. The document “OCP-TIMS Master List and Indicators” published in 2010 contains a breakdown of all the City’s OCP-related targets, an explanation of the importance of each target, how it relates to each of the three identified aspects of sustainability (environmental, economic, and social), and what data is used to measure each indicator. The indicators are diverse and include: length of the trail system, number of LEED certified buildings, car ownership rates, and number of visits to the library, to name just a few.

The first Corporate Climate Action Plan was adopted in 2005 and was updated in 2011. The 2011 goals and targets include a 25% reduction in GHG emissions below 2007 levels by 2020: a 5% reduction by 2013 and 15% reduction by 2016. These goals are to be achieved largely through building retrofits to achieve energy efficiency; ensuring new buildings are constructed to higher efficiency standards; and reducing fuel and emissions in the City’s vehicle fleet.31 To date, the City has achieved a 10% per capita reduction in GHG emissions below 2005 levels and a 6% overall reduction.32 In April 2010, the City adopted its Community Energy and Emissions Plan was adopted incorporated into the OCP. The CEEP includes the target to reduce community GHG emissions by 15% below 2007 levels by 2020 and by 50% by 2050.33 To date community emissions have been reduced by 11% below 2005 levels and 5% below 1995 levels.34

Resources and References

City of North Vancouver 100-Year Sustainability Vision

District Heating in North Vancouver


1Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (a), return to text

2Personal communication, August 15, 2012 (b), return to text

3Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (a), return to text

4Personal communication, August 15, 2012 (a), return to text

5Personal communication, August 15, 2012 (a), return to text

6Personal communication, July 27, 2012, return to text

7Personal communication, July 27, 2012, return to text

8Personal communication, September 5, 2012, return to text

9Personal communication, August 15, 2012 (a), return to text

10Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (a), return to text

11Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (a), return to text

12Personal communication, August 15, 2012 (a), return to text

13Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (a), return to text

14Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (a), return to text

15Personal communication, August 15, 2012 (a), return to text

16Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (b), return to text

17Personal communication, July 27, 2012, return to text

18Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (b), return to text

19Mercer LLC. (2011, November). 2011 Quality of Living Worldwide City Rankings – Mercer Survey. Available:, return to text

20Mercer LLC. (2012 June). Worldwide Cost of Living Survey 2012 – City Ranking. Available:, return to text

21Personal communication, September 21, 2012, return to text

22Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (a), return to text

23City of North Vancouver. (2009, October). City of North Vancouver Community Profile Release 1 – Data Inventory. Available: to text

24ibid, p. 5, return to text

25Personal communication, September 5, 2012, return to text

26Personal communication, September 5, 2012, return to text

27Personal communication, August 15, 2012 (b), return to text

28City of North Vancouver. (2002). Official Community Plan. Available:, return to text

29Smith, Suzanne. (2010, July). Official Community Plan – Targets, Indicators and Monitoring System: Master List and Indicators. Available:, return to text

30Personal communication, July 26, 2012 (a), return to text

31City of North Vancouver. (2011, April). Corporate Climate Action Plan. Available: to text

32Personal communication, August 15, 2012, return to text

33HB Lanarc. (2010 April). Community Energy & Emissions Plan City of North Vancouver. Available: to text

34Personal communication, August 15, 2012 (a), return to text