What is the port authority’s definition of sustainability?

As a Canadian port authority, we are federally mandated to facilitate Canada’s trade objectives in a sustainable way and with regard for local communities. But what does it really mean for a port to be “sustainable”.

Sustainability is a buzzword these days, widely referenced in campaign slogans and corporate vision statements. However, its meaning can be misunderstood, especially in the realm of social development. The World Summit on Sustainable Development defines the pillars of sustainability as economic development, social development and environmental protection. The three are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually reinforcing.

In 2014, with the input of many stakeholders, we led the development of a definition of sustainability for the Vancouver gateway, concluding that sustainability isn’t just about the environment, it’s also about ensuring the port is here for future generations and the long-term prosperity of the country is preserved.

Our definition of a sustainable port has three parts: economic prosperity through trade, a healthy environment, and thriving communities. This means we need to balance commercial, environmental, and public interests.

As you can imagine, it is a balancing act that is never easy. As Canada’s largest gateway, our federal port jurisdiction borders 16 municipalities and intersects the asserted and established traditional territories and treaty lands of several Coast Salish First Nations. Our federal mandate to serve Canada’s trade interests doesn’t always mesh with the way each community sees itself evolving, and at times we may have competing priorities. Nonetheless, it is our job to manage our relationships and grow the port sustainably.

Canada is negotiating new trade agreements, especially with Asia. Those same Asian economies are growing and eager to buy our natural resources and agricultural products, while at the same time producing goods that Canadian consumers increasingly demand. Our job, as a port authority, is to respond to that growing demand by investing in infrastructure to make sure the port is ready to handle more traffic and trade. But how do we balance the growth in trade with the need to protect our environment and respect the quality of life for our neighbours?

Canada Port Authorities are federal authorities with environmental decision-making responsibilities under the Impact Assessment Act. Before we can allow any project to proceed on port lands, we must be assured that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. In 2015, our environmental team – 15 experts in biology, fish and wildlife, air quality, atmospheric science, chemistry, soil science, geology, sustainability, energy management and environmental management systems – conducted 212 environmental reviews. We also have a number of environmental programs that collectively are reducing air emissions, building habitat for fish, addressing water quality and much more.

With respect to community initiatives, we participated in several hundred community engagements in 2015, including the work of three community liaison committees. In addition, our Indigenous relations team consulted with Indigenous groups, and we supported a variety of initiatives through a robust community investment program.

Guided by these three pillars of sustainability, we plan, forecast, and evaluate to ensure a secure future for the port and the gateway.