Town of Caledon “Ontario’s Greenest Town” still?

Canada is an amazingly beautiful country and a place which most Canadians feels extremely lucky to live. We have a relatively strong economy, a stable democracy, many natural resources, clean water, an abundance of energy, a national health care policy and education for everyone. Like every country it has its challenges; a few communities known for crime, indigenous communities which are lacking in essentials such as clean water, suitable housing and local schools. We have people who have somehow fallen out of the social welfare system and into the streets and others who use food-banks and hostiles just to survive. What’s not so evident is that we have a long way to go to become sustainable in our practices. We use far too much of the world’s non-renewable energy, we contribute far too much to climate change on a per capita basis through our carbon emissions and we contribute more to the worlds pollution than we should. Still, when compared to other places in the world, Canada is a wonderful place to live.

Each locality in Canada has its’ own charms and characteristics along with its’ benefits and challenges. I am extremely fortunate to live in Caledon, Ontario, a town of relatively small population on a large north west corner of Toronto. Caledon is a beautiful area. As I look out my office window, I look upon a forested green belt between my home and the sub-division up the hill from me. The air in Caledon is as clean as one can expect for any location in North America close to a major city except perhaps in our very small downtown core along the main highway which suffers from some traffic congestion during rush hour. It’s also quiet in my office except for the odd passing transport truck, aircraft or train. And there are farms, horse ranches, rivers and parks nearby, all within a few miles from my home. Living near a forested area is something I’ve become accustom to, but I always try not to take it for granted.

In 2003 Caledon was awarded for being the “Greenest Town in Ontario“. 

Relatively early in the era of conservation and “Greening” of communities, Caledon took a number of positive steps towards become a greener place to live. It began by taking actions that would see our community progressively move toward sustainability such as banning the use of insecticides and herbicides for the treatment of lawns. The Town also worked cooperatively with the provincial government and concerned itself with plans to save our green belt and it instituted its’ own corporate recycling and energy reduction programs. Through our regional government (Peel), we have had composting and re-cycling for many years. And I’m happy to say that Caledon has moved forward ever since with a serious focus on sustainability. In 2004, the Town hired an Environmental Progress Officer. Her name is Sara Peckford.

I recently spoke with Sara to learn more about the town’s initiatives. When Sara came to the Town 4 years ago, she realized that her job would be challenging because progressive individuals in the town had already been working on picking the “low hanging” environmental fruit. But she’s an extremely active individual and hasn’t slowed down since coming on-board.

Since 2004, Caledon has taken many steps towards becoming more sustainable. Besides establishing the Office for Environmental Progress, they’ve developed an Environmental Progress Action Plan which contains recommendations for building on the Town’s environmental commitment while leveraging existing corporate and community  capacity to assist Caledon in a journey towards a more sustainable future.  The Plan contains 7 priority areas: 2 of which are related to increasing environmental awareness and promoting and supporting a green economy. Specifically, the Town has leased 2 Prius hybrids for the town fleet to reduce carbon emissions, they have moved to Green electrical power (micro-hydro, solar and wind power), for four Town facilities in the Caledon East civic campus (Town Hall, Caledon Community Complex and Arena, Fire Hall and OPP Station),  they have begun using bio-fuel for lawn care and other equipment, they’ve worked on a smog reduction plan, they’ve introduced a salt management plan and they provide assistance to builders through development charge discounts for developing environmentally friendly buildings through the Green Development Program.  In addition, they are actively participating in many studies with other organizations on subjects such as woodlands and wildlife stewardship, and providing environmental education for Town employees and the public. They continue to deliver the ever-popular tree seedling program which has resulted in the planting of 95,000 native tree and shrub seedlings and shrubs as well as exploring solar and other renewable energy initiatives for the Town’s own facilities and they actively work in collaboration with other Environmental groups to develop programs for awareness and action.

What’s missing?

As I was thinking about how we could make our Town truly 100% sustainable, I realized that there was a tremendous amount of work to be done with local businesses and citizens. I asked Sara about the plan to work with the business community to encourage sustainability and she informed me about the Green Development Program and indicated that she had done some work with the Town’s Chamber of Commerce and Husky Injection Molding regarding the Impact Award but that for the most part her mandate was confined to the Corporation of the Town of Caledon. In asking her about the culture of the Town employees, she indicated that she is seeing a shift in environmental behavior.  More and more, people are coming to her regularly with new ideas and initiatives which make it a challenge to keep up with new internal ideas and external opportunities from various levels of government.  It’s interesting how a cultural shift naturally follows awareness building and leadership action. 

Sara encouraged me to continue my efforts to connect with local businesses because she indicated that although there are many initiatives at various levels of government they tend to be somewhat disconnected, without a central point of information, and that our businesses might benefit from have an established center for seeking assistance. Although there are government initiatives to streamline the greening process, Sara agreed to share her notes in order to assist my efforts and, in turn, I look forward to providing assistance to the Town as well as other local businesses. Along with providing a central point of information, my hope is to share learning between businesses interested in creating a more sustainable culture. As an expert in developing leadership skills, I look forward to working with business and community leaders to create better businesses and while doing so create a better world.

Will the Town’s plan get us to 100% sustainability?

Having an environmentally friendly Town goes a long way to setting an example for the rest of the community and our Town has taken a big step in this regard. With cooperation from other businesses and the entire population of the community, we have an opportunity to set a very high standard for other communities to follow.

I asked Sara if Caledon was still Ontario’s greenest town. She told me that it is now much harder to tell because, as it should be, there are many townships and cities all working together, sharing their plans, their information, their programs to collectively make Ontario and Canada a greener place to live.  

For towns and organizations interested in reviewing Caledon’s sustainability plan and accomplishments to date, they can find it in the Town’s Environmental Action Report 2007 and its new 2009 Environmental Action Report which will be publicly available during Earth Week (April 20-24). Additional Detail is available through the Town’s Web-site and information on programs for Sustainable Building Development can be found at the Town’s Green Development Program site.

After speaking with Sara, I felt very positive that the Town of Caledon is moving in the right direction. Let’s hope that she continues to be supported and that many other municipalities learn from her work and the work of others at the Town.

Garth Schmalenberg

1 Comment

  1. The power of local initaitives, Green T Said,

    May 12, 2009 @ 10:14 pm

    [...] The night’s speakers included our Town’s Environmental Officer, Sara Peckford, (See my other blog entry) who updated participants on the Town’s environmental initiatives, Noreen Knight, also from [...]