CRC case studies

Cases demonstrate explicit (and implicit) links among and between the 4 substantive “pillars” of the Canada Research Chair in sustainable community development:

  1. Place, scale, limits and diversity
  2. Sustainable community development
  3. Networks
  4. Community Vitality

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The case study links that you

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Sustainability and the 2013 MEM cohort: lessons from the NRTEE

Ecological footprint calculators, to retain any semblance of ease of use (therefore adoption) must be simple and simplified. This results in some nonsensical options for actions leading towards sustainability- one that grates on me is the idea of trying to hang one’s clothes (presumably to dry) outside more often. I fail to see how this helps reduce one’s footprint. One assumes the crafters of the calculator wanted to examine the likelihood of people moving away from using clothes dryers powered by gas or electricity. As it stands, hanging one’s clothes indoors on a rainy or winter day seems to me ecologically sound. Perhaps this is why some people are unwilling to adopt the outside clothes hanging action.
In some ways the members of this cohort, the participants in this forum, can be considered among the elite of the sustainable community: The mere fact of enrolling as a graduate student in a sustainability program is an indicator that we care deeply about sustainability and have at least been considering the implications of moving towards sustainability.
Assuming that we are, therefore, a collection of individuals that can be seen as more highly motivated to move towards sustainability than the average Canadian, I find it deeply worrying that we are not just unable to reduce our individual and collective ecological footprints to a sustainable level, but are unwilling to change our lives away from activities we acknowledge as unsustainable. If this is the case, then what hope is there that the population as a whole will do so?
Why do we seem so opposed to sustainability? Could it be that we do not really believe it is needed? It is it that we look about at the vast sea, land and sky and assume it cannot be affected seriously by our activities? This was after all the perspective that sent the passenger pigeon into extinction and the plains bison and northern cod into functional extinction. Even if we acknowledge our culpability in these actions, and that entire ecologies have been lost or altered beyond recognition as a result, we have adapted to the new reality and by conventional economic metrics we have grown richer.
The real question then becomes: “How can we move our society towards sustainability while assuring humanity that we as humans will be the beneficiaries as well as the planet?” This is a critical issue: If one concurs with the ecological footprint theory as formulated by William Rees in 1992, we are straining the resilience of the earth beyond its breaking point and, sometime, the capacity of the earth to support life and human society will plummet.
This accords with the mandate of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE); to “… bring the best minds in the country around a critical public policy issue—the implementation of sustainable development in Canada—to create strategies for its diffusion and implementation widely throughout Canadian society.” (Dale and Ling 2007)
Given that Canada has not moved substantially towards sustainability since the NRTEE was conceived in 1988 in the wake of the Brundtland report on sustainability, it can be argued that the NRTEE has failed. One of the tenets of sustainable development is accessing the consensus of our common minds (NRTEE 2013). The round table acknowledged that it failed in engaging the public in the move towards sustainability; it lost the public profile that was central to its origin. Perhaps in an effort to assert its independence from government and restore its public profile, it produced a series of reports that it knew were not going to be well received by the current federal government (in its last two reports, it recommended that Canada adopt a carbon pricing system and that life cycle costing of consumer goods be adopted) and the NRTEE was duly shut down in March 2013.
There are some ways the NRTEE can be considered to have succeeded; it became a model that has been adopted by co-management bodies across the north where governments and the public work together making decisions and recommendation. This idea that a diverse group of people can come to consensus is powerful and can produce a wider consensus on action, particularly for difficult decisions.
The NRTEE no longer exists, but it leaves as a legacy a method to integrate sustainability into the fabric of a nation, but in order to do so it requires commitment from the federal government which in turn reflects the priorities of the public. Ironically, as our collective and individual wealth diminishes in relation to the overshoot of our footprint, our willingness to make “sacrifices” to achieve sustainability is reduced.

Dale A., Ling C. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE): Expanded Decision-making for Sustainable Development 2007. Retrieved from http://crcresearch.org
“Join the conversation”. (2013) Retrieved from http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/webarchives2/20130322140948/http://nrtee-...

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NRTEE

I am always concerned when government makes environmental promises and then slowly reels them back ending finally with funding cuts and dissolving the commitment all together. Please don't let them do that here we need to stop that from happening.

Here are the my answers to the posted questions:

There is the traditional, hierarchical, federal-provincial relationship. The NRTEE does not have federal representation; instead the NRTEE has provincial appointees. The strategy was to recognize people who represented their districts on significant issues that should be on the NRTEE agenda, and who could then take the results back to their particular electoral districts. The planning committee strayed considerably from the precedent set by the National Task Force by not following the federal/provincial representation model. Instead the NRTEE was represented as a ‘sister’ round table, and did not follow the traditional precedent of the federal-provincial relationship.

According to this article the definition does not specify federal government, only “senior levels of decision making from government;” therefore, since the provincial government is involved and does take into consideration national interests, it can still be a considered a national round table.

1. The new model that NRTEE has adopted has received better approval from the political and public levels. This is quite different from the original idea for the Roundtable, because equilibrium is required between freedom from and commitment to a political motivation. If the Roundtable becomes too separated from current politics, it will then battle to gain recognition from government. If it becomes too restricted it’s meaning as a roundtable linking the government with the general public goes off course. Paradoxically, in spite of enjoying legislative success, the round table does not include any Federal Cabinet Ministers taking part in meetings, including the Minister of the Environment to whom it reports to. Also, its members do not display senior level decision-making, as they did originally. Therefore, its adjusted association with government suggests the configuration and approach of a traditional advisory committee.

This change has considerable implications for the results produced by the Roundtable. The original goal was to have a membership that could examine current concerns at a senior level. This membership was to include those chosen according to regional variations and these members’ eminence related to given issues, independent of the political agenda. This is no longer the case since the NRTEE now reports to the Minister for the Environment, as opposed to the Prime Minister, as originally. In addition, now some members are consultants and do not represent any particular electorate.

In order to have a successful roundtable process that can bring about solid endorsements for sustainable development, there is a need for diversity in the membership of the Roundtable, and dedication of these members to the process. The case study points out a number of roles this supports:

1. Bringing as much and as varied experience to the table as possible, more diverse options and integrative solutions to sustainable development challenges will be explored and considered.
2. The broad based membership acted as a democratic bellwether for revealing points of consensus and conflict in different sectors of society. If consensus could be achieved by the Roundtable around a recommendation then it is likely that a recommendation will have relevance and acceptability by society in general.
3. The bringing together of different sectors into one common forum allowed for unusual networks and working partnerships that would have otherwise not developed.

The case study points out a number of ways to develop qualitative indicators or benchmarks/goals for the multi-stakeholder, roundtable processes, as seen in the following list:
1. Having a diverse membership from different sectors drawn from the highest levels of senior decision-makers ensures a high level of mutual respect between members, as well as a broad range of expertise and knowledge.
2. Defensible and rigorously applied membership criteria and a policy for rotational membership ensured that evolving issues could be represented at the table as they emerged.
3. Bringing the best minds in the country together in an apolitical neutral forum ensured…?.
4. Working in strategic alliances and partnerships across the country strengthened existing networks and avoided duplicating the work of others.
5. There is a need for lateral working relationships with provincial counterparts.
6. Reporting directly to the Prime Minister integrated the goal of sustainable development into the highest level of Government, and allowed independence from any one departmental focus.