Photo: Accounting for nature makes cents

With help from the David Suzuki Foundation, Gibsons, B.C., has adopted an eco-asset strategy.

The small community of Gibsons on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast has become a leader in North America for its approach to managing and conserving nature. With the Foundation's help, the town now includes natural assets such as creeks, watersheds and beaches alongside capital assets such as roads and sewer pipes in its financial management approach. It has adopted a strategy that recognizes environmental assets can provide clear benefits over engineered infrastructure. The town is valuing nature's services such as cleaning the water and air, while reducing budgets that would have been spent on grey infrastructure replacements such as water-filtration plants.

The Foundation is partnering with the Town of Gibsons to build the economic model, including accounting tools accepted by Canadian Accounting Standards for tracking ecological assets, and helping with the town's plans for monitoring and maintenance.

Gibsons is finding that when nature is accounted for and valued alongside other municipal assets the town can better prepare for the effects of climate change. The approach, which uses natural capital tools, also supports efforts to become carbon-neutral, ensuring an easier transition to a low-carbon future. Nature's ability to manage rainwater, control floods and purify water is expected to reduce the municipality's risk and operating and maintenance costs. Unlike bridges and roads, nature doesn't depreciate if properly managed. Along with cost savings, the town's residents reap additional spiritual, cultural and recreational rewards when nature is conserved.

Given massive and growing municipal infrastructure deficits across the country and the mounting costs for climate-related events such as recent floods in Calgary and Toronto and this summer's wildfires in B.C., this approach couldn't be timelier for Canada's cities. The hope is that Gibsons' success will be replicated by larger municipalities across North America.