Campbell River

Eric Brown
MC3 Research Assistant, Simon Fraser University

Published October 30th, 2012

Case Summary

Campbell River is a small community located on the north-east coast of Vancouver Island. Traditionally residents have gained their livelihoods from the extraction and processing of natural resources; fishing, logging and mining formed the backbone of the economy, providing jobs and a municipal tax base.

Campbell River has long suffered the boom and bust cycles typical of a resource dependent economy. The city’s history, growth and decline have been written by these cycles, while economic confidence and activity have been dictated by a few major employers, principally the mill to the north of town, which was most recently owned and operated by Catalyst Paper, but which changed hands a number of times over the past 25 years before finally shutting down in 2009. Between 2008 and 2011, Campbell River lost 1500 jobs in the forestry sector alone,1 representing approximately 10% of the total labour force.2 In July 2011 the unemployment rate was reported at 8.1%, three percentage points above the provincial average3 and the rate of EI claimants per capita was roughly double the provincial average.4 With the closure of the mill, the City of Campbell River lost $5 million in tax revenue, or roughly 10% of the City’s annual budget.5 This depressed economic climate has informed, and continues to influence, the City’s approach to sustainability and climate change action.

Spurred by Federal and Provincial regulation (notably, provincial climate change policy), and a growing acknowledgement of the importance of sustainability planning, Campbell River struck a path towards developing a more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable community. In 2009, Campbell River hired a Sustainability Manager and created a Sustainability Department tasked with incorporating a sustainability perspective throughout the local government organization, administering sustainability projects in the community and supporting or leading a number of integrated planning initiatives. Over the course of two years a suite of six plans was developed by staff and adopted by council.

Campbell River has developed and adopted:

  • The Sustainable Official Community Plan, adopted February 2012,
  • The Sustainable Campbell River Framework, adopted February 2012,
  • Community Energy and Emissions Plan, adopted October 2011,
  • Agriculture Now: Building a strong agriculture sector in Campbell River, adopted October 2011,
  • The Master Transportation Plan, adopted June 2012, and;
  • The Foreshore Assessment and Rehabilitation Plan, adopted October 2011

These plans articulate a vision of Campbell River that is more economically diverse, where the natural environment is protected and enhanced and where community connections are supported. There is a high degree of cross referencing and complementarity among all six of these plans, something that staff at the City of Campbell River explained would have been much harder to achieve had the processes not been concurrent.

The Sustainable Official Community Plan (SOCP) is Campbell River’s highest level plan and sets forth land-use guidelines for the municipality. The SOCP is distinguished from previous comprehensive planning initiatives in Campbell River in so far as it uses a 25-50 year time horizon and incorporates a sustainability model, recognizing that “the economy and human society are dependent on healthy, functioning ecosystems.”6 As mandated by the provincial government in the B.C. Green Communities Act (Bill 27), the SOCP includes greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets and outlines land uses that support these targets. It also includes policy to support community connections, social equity, economic development and diversification, and compact, complete communities.

The Sustainable Campbell River Framework is the municipality’s Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP). It provides the monitoring and evaluation framework for the SOCP.

The Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) “was developed as part of broader integrated sustainability planning process, notably in parallel with the Sustainable Official Community Plan and Master Transportation Plan. This plan… [supported] the City’s legislative requirement to establish greenhouse gas targets, policies and actions in its Official Community Plan, and furthers the City’s Climate Action Charter7 commitment to create a complete, compact, more energy efficient community.” 8 

Both the Agriculture Plan and the Master Transportation Plan expand on policy areas covered in the SOCP. They provide additional context in their respective subject areas and articulate further strategic direction and concrete actions to support development in line with the broader community vision of the SOCP.

Simultaneous to these planning exercises, Campbell River has undertaken a series of building retrofits and fleet alterations with the objective of reducing energy consumption (both electricity and fossil fuels), thus reducing costs and GHG emissions associated with corporate functions. Major building retrofits were completed on the three civic buildings (the Sportsplex, the Enterprise Centre and City Hall) and the City has acquired seven hybrid vehicles and one electric forklift since 2010. It is anticipated that an additional seven hybrids will be purchased in 2013.

As of October 2012, plans had only been adopted by council in the preceding year and it was thus difficult to evaluate the success of implementation. However, there are lessons to be learned from the process and approach that the City of Campbell River has undertaken to move towards sustainability, detailed below. Moreover, the City can report success on the energy consumption front, having reduced its corporate GHG emissions by 12.5% since 2008 and reducing energy consumption in individual municipal buildings by up to 25%.9 See below for further details.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Campbell River’s approach to sustainable development has been in part reactive to a depressed local economy and the need to both diversify the economic base and reduce municipal expenditures on energy. The SOCP, the Agriculture Plan, and the CEEP all cite economic efficiency and/or diversification as key rationale. The approach has also been informed by a provincial regulatory environment that has encouraged communities to take action to mitigate climate change. The Sustainable Official Community Plan and the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan take a holistic view of sustainability, considering economic, social, environmental and cultural dimensions while other plans and initiatives target more specific aspects of urban development such as agriculture and transportation.

Critical Success Factors

During the research for this case study, informants pointed to three critical success factors: the creation of a Sustainability Department, the creation of new external funding opportunities and provincial leadership.

The Sustainability department was created in 2009 and consists of a Sustainability Manager and an Environmental Coordinator. This team of two has usually been complemented by a co-op student assigned to a particular project. The Sustainability Department is widely recognized as playing a crucial role in the advancement of sustainability and climate action at the City of Campbell River. The Sustainability Manager reports directly to the City Manager of Operations, who reports to the City Manager. This relatively direct reporting structure assists with promoting sustainability among senior management and Council. Furthermore, this department is able to track funding opportunities and ensure that Campbell River is in a position to take advantage of the various monies that are available for climate action and sustainable development more generally.

Moreover, staff cited the aforementioned financial incentive programs and grants as critical factors in taking action to mitigate climate change. Indeed some interviewees expressed the opinion that without external funding, climate change mitigation projects would not proceed. BC Hydro,10 the Community Works Fund,11 and the Green Municipal Fund12 were identified as important funding sources for climate action in particular.

The third critical success factor often cited by interviewees was the leadership of the provincial government. Interestingly, the Climate Action Charter, a voluntary municipal commitment, was the most often cited example of a provincial regulatory environment that supported climate change action, whereas legislation such as BC’s Carbon Tax13 and Bill 27 Local Government (Green Communities) Statutes Amendment Act14 (the Green Communities Act), were noted as influential but not as politically galvanizing. This raises an interesting question around the effectiveness of voluntary approaches that rally political will, versus the power of legislation.

Community Contact Information

Amber Zirnhelt
Sustainability Manager

Jason Decksheimer
Asset Management Supervisor

What Worked?

  1. Completion of six major plans at roughly the same time has resulted in complementarity and cohesion that may not have been achieved otherwise.
  2. City staff used a variety of engagement approaches to include the perspective of a diversity of stakeholders in these planning initiatives (ie. Stakeholder Steering Committee, story-telling event, youth engagement, etc.). The SOCP was informed by the contributions of 1,500 stakeholders who together offered 2,000 individual inputs.15 
  3. A cost savings rationale for energy efficiency has been salient in the face of economically challenging times in the community
  4. Access to provincial and federal government and BC Hydro funding mechanisms

What Didn’t work?

Despite the value that informants placed on public engagement and participatory process, they still face challenges in terms of public perception and community buy-in. They have faced a high degree of cynicism in the community with regards to some of the climate change mitigation initiatives they have undertaken. For example a vocal minority has criticized the green roof installed on City Hall as ‘a waste of money,’ despite the fact that this project was fully funded by external sources. This indicates a lack of understanding among members of the public which could potentially be addressed through further engagement.16 Furthermore, staff operates under a political regime that is not consistent in its commitment to the SOCP. Politicians who adopted the plan in February 2012 have since spoken against what they perceive to be excessive regulation.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Below is a table that outlines the costs associated with developing the six plans and the major funders.

17 18

*Figures do not include staff time.

Note that there were 3 additional funders for the SOCP, CEEP and the ICSP and that the City of Campbell River paid less than 20% of the total budget. In all, Campbell River spent less than $100,000 to complete these six plans, or approximately 17% of the total planning budget.

In the area of facilities and operations, Campbell River has acquired 7 hybrid vehicles (10% of the municipal fleet) to replace aging traditional fleet stock. The replacement vehicles came at no cost to the municipality as they were completely funded by the Community Works Fund. This represents a capital savings of $286,000 (money that would have otherwise been spent on vehicles with gas or diesel only engines).

Additionally, Campbell River has completed a series of facility upgrades in the areas of heating and cooling, and lighting. The principle funding sources for this work are BC Hydro and the Community Works Fund. Below is a chart of completed projects:

Resources and References

This case study was completed using information obtained through interviews conducted with City of Campbell River Staff and a Municipal Councilor, September 4th-6th 2012. In addition, the following resources were consulted:

BC Stats, Community Facts – Campbell River, accessed electronically at

City of Campbell River, Carbon Neutral 2012 Status Update (2012)

City of Campbell River, Community Energy and Emissions Plan (2011)

City of Campbell River, Sustainable Official Community Plan (2011)

Province of British Columbia, Carbon Tax Review and Carbon Tax Overview, retrieved electronically on October 1, 2012,

Province of British Columbia, Bill 27 Local Governments (Green Communities) Statutes Amendment Act (the Green Communities Act), retrieved electronically on October 1, 2012 at

Vancouver Island Health Authority, Local Health Area Profile – Campbell River, accessed electronically September 28, 2012 at…


1City of Campbell River, Sustainable Official Community Plan (2011) 1-1; return to text

2BC Stats, Community Facts – Campbell River, accessed electronically at; return to text

3Vancouver Island Health Authority, Local Health Area Profile – Campbell River, accessed electronically September 28, 2012 at…; return to text

4BC Stats; return to text

5Interview, Councilor, Sept 6th 2012; return to text

6City of Campbell River, Sustainable Official Community Plan (2012) pg. 1-7; return to text

7Of BC’s 188 municipalities, 180 have signed on to The Climate Action Charter, a voluntary commitment to become carbon neutral by 2012 and encourage development of compact and complete communities. Signatories of the Charter also agree to measure and report on community emissions; return to text

8City of Campbell River, Community Energy and Emissions Plan (2011), pg. 3; return to text

9City of Campbell River, Carbon Neutral 2012 Status Update (2012) pp. 2; return to text

10; return to text

11…; return to text

12; return to text

13Province of British Columbia, Carbon Tax Review and Carbon Tax Overview, retrieved electronically on October 1, 2012,; return to text

14Province of British Columbia, Bill 27 Local Governments (Green Communities) Statutes Amendment Act (the Green Communities Act), retrieved electronically on October 1, 2012 at; return to text

15City of Campbell River,…, retrieved electronically October 1, 2012; return to text

16Since interviews were conducted the Campbell River Mirror has published an article (, which underscores the energy cost savings resulting from installation of the green roof. This kind of positive press may reverse the negative perception some members of the community have of this and similar projects.; return to text

17Established in 1996, the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC is an industry-led, not-for-profit organization working to foster growth and innovation across British Columbia's agriculture and agri-food industry (; return to text

18The Community Works Fund is comprised of federal gas tax money, administered by the Union of BC Municipalities; return to text