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Green is the New Colour of Growth

The Toronto Star, Nov 27, 2008

Theresa McClenaghan
Derek Coronado
Gideon Forman

Can we revive our economy with better sewage treatment? Can we provide less costly electricity by getting more renewable energy pumping through our provincial electricity grid? Can we increase our competitiveness by putting a price on climate pollution? Can we create new economic opportunities by changing the lining in our tin cans?

The answer to all of these questions is an emphatic yes. A consensus is now developing that action on the environment can be good for our economy. In fact, with the United Nations predicting that worldwide investment in green solutions will at least double by 2020, the real question is will Ontario be pulling the green bandwagon or will it be running behind?

The beauty of this approach is that while boosting our economy we address real and pressing environmental concerns: protection of safe drinking water by stopping the dumping of millions of tonnes of raw sewage in the Great Lakes every year; eliminating the need for dirty coal and costly new nuclear plants by ramping up efficiency and tapping much more deeply into our green power potential; making real progress toward reaching critical climate targets by rewarding industries that clean up their act and spurring action by laggards; and eliminating toxics by developing safer substitutes for substances like bisphenol A, currently found in the lining of most food cans.

As the economists like to say, it is a virtuous circle. By ramping up efforts to support local agriculture through government procurement policies, for example, we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with intercontinental food shipments while boosting jobs and revenues in the local economy. Local food production has some of the highest economic multipliers of any manufacturing activity.

And even something as apparently non-economic as preventing the extinction of woodland caribou can actually have significant economic benefits in a world where we compete on much more than price. Building a reputation as a source of truly sustainable products will be worth its weight in gold as markets such as Europe increasingly demand certified green goods.

Meanwhile, there is the Obama factor. The president-elect of the United States has made it his mission to green the world's biggest economy. Among his top advisers is Dr. Robert Pollin, a leading advocate of the benefits of "green stimulus" spending dollars on green infrastructure and other initiatives to reboot the economy.

All of this is why a group of 24 of Ontario's leading environmental organizations has come together to outline what Ontario should do right now to address our environmental challenges and to restore our prosperity. We have jointly developed seven big ideas for getting Ontario back on track, environmentally and economically (you can read these at

Number one is to put a price on carbon through a well-designed cap-and-trade system. Let's not kid ourselves carbon pricing is coming (something even the federal government now recognizes). In fact, Ontario has already committed to developing a cap-and-trade system through its bilateral agreements with Quebec and membership in the Western Climate Initiative. The only remaining question is how quickly we are going to get there and how robust the system will be. Our answer is that we need to get there by 2010 with the broadest economic coverage possible. That's because carbon pricing is the green light our economy is waiting for to get serious about vastly improving efficiency and productivity, investing in new green technologies and services, and creating good green jobs.

Ontario is well-positioned to make the most of this growing green revolution. We have access to what is already a fast growing market for green products and services in the United States; we have a highly educated workforce and great manufacturing know-how; and we have already taken some modest steps with incentives for renewable energy, commitments to reduce toxics and protect the Great Lakes, a promise to put conservation first in our northern boreal region and efforts to implement a smart-growth approach to urban planning.

Ontario can be the jurisdiction the world looks to for sustainable economic ideas. We can be a centre of excellence for the development and deployment of green technologies. We know this is the future Ontarians want. Now we just need a government road map to take us there.

Theresa McClenaghan is executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association; Derek Coronado is executive director of the Citizens Environmental Alliance; Gideon Forman is executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.