Photo: A new kind of outreach: Natural Capital Ambassadors

We asked a dozen Lower Mainland local government folks to become our first ever Natural Capital Ambassadors (Credit: Claudette Carracedo)

By Aryne Sheppard

Protecting nature in and around our cities is a tough job. No one knows that better than the folks that tirelessly work in local government. They are most often the ones tasked with the crucial job of planning the growth of our communities and ensuring our green spaces are protected and thrive. And the entire community benefits from the work of these unheralded advocates that help shape the policies and programs that make our cities healthy, green and livable.

It is our profound respect for these essential services that our local government decision makers provide that is at the core of a new, exciting program at the David Suzuki Foundation.

In June, we held a full day workshop for a dozen hand picked individuals from the local government scene in BC's lower mainland region. They came from a variety of communities throughout the region and had an interesting mix of backgrounds: directors of finance, parks and recreation, and sustainability; academic experts in land use planning; even a federal member of parliament that is active in community organizing.

We drew this dynamic crew together to begin a conversation about nature in the city and the benefits this 'natural capital' provides our communities. The study of natural capital has been an interest at the Foundation for several years now, resulting in a series of groundbreaking reports on the economic benefits that natural environments like forests, fields, farms, wetlands and streams provide our communities.

But we found that despite generating compelling data from these valuations in Ontario's Greenbelt and Lake Simcoe watershed, the Boreal Forest and BC's Lower Mainland, the message that we are underestimating the true value of nature is still not getting through. Community planning decisions continue to be made with little regard for the impact it will have on the environment, and what the true cost will be to the community as its natural wealth is drawn down.

Ideally we want to bring nature into the equation. All decisions made about how to grow our communities to contemplate the benefits from nature, and the potential cost if we lose those natural areas and the services they provide. If the true cost of replacing these services was on the balance sheet, our city planners, community leaders and developers would realize that nature is more valuable than you think — and in some cases it is priceless.

This disconnect spurred us to try and do things differently.

That is why we asked a dozen Lower Mainland local government folks to become our first ever Natural Capital Ambassadors. We invited them to come and hear more about natural capital and discuss opportunities and barriers to implementing these concepts in their community and their work. And we of course asked them to champion the concepts of natural capital through outreach ranging from formal presentations to informal elevator pitches and water cooler chats with their colleagues and peers.

The Ambassadors workshop was an exciting opportunity for us to begin a dialogue with and learn from professionals working in municipal government who share our desire to protect and restore nature in the region. And we hope this collaboration with will be a model of success; a program we hope to begin in other regions of the country.

July 12, 2011

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