UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Sustainability beyond city limits : Can “greener” beef lighten a city’s Ecological Footprint? Chapman, Mollie; LaValle, Alicia; Furey, George; Chan, Kai


For cities seeking sustainability, the Ecological Footprint seems to be an excellent metric, potentially catalyzing actions directed outwards, at environmental problems beyond city limits. But does this metric actually guide cities down sustainable pathways? Through a case study of the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan we ask what barriers and side effects accompany a city’s application of a specific metric to measure achievement towards sustainability goals. Our case study began by examining a particular approach to achieving EF reduction (proposed by the City: local beef). Through a triple loop learning approach we broadened our analysis to include additional policy options not originally on the table. For each of four policy options (1. local beef, 2. grass-fed beef, 3. payments for ecosystem services, and 4. using a proxy metric focused on individual and community leadership) we evaluate their ability to meet the Ecological Footprint metric, consider their potential to address the broader goal and discuss their feasibility as policy options for the city. Our analysis showed the ways the Ecological Footprint metric: a. focused attention on non-actionable policy areas, b. was nonresponsive to promising policy options and c. limited the types of policy options considered. In this case we demonstrate how the choice of the Ecological Footprint as a metric and goal had unintended consequences and instead shifted attention and policy inwards. By avoiding this ‘metric trap,’ cities might contribute importantly to regional and global sustainability.

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