Hamilton Harbour at sunrise. (Flickr Photo / John Piercy via CC 2.0)
Hamilton Harbour at sunrise. (Flickr Photo / John Piercy via CC 2.0)

Hamilton, once perceived as a heavily polluted “steel town”, now enjoys a cleaner reputation, and sustainability played a major role in this shift of perception and reality. Today, Hamiltonians are proud of and hopeful for the city’s vibrant future. This was eminently apparent at the 2013 Hamilton Environmental Summit. The community beamed with excitement about how far the city has come in reaching its sustainability goals, while maintaining a realistic outlook on the work still to be done.

So how was this notion of sustainability born in Hamilton? Arguably, the seeds were sown in 1992 with a community sustainability plan called, Vision2020. Community sustainability plans, commonly referred to in Canada as Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSPs) or internationally as Local Agenda 21s are municipal or regional visioning documents, which take a holistic perspective on a community’s sustainability challenges by integrating social, economic, environmental and sometimes cultural considerations. Hamilton’s Vision2020 led the way as the first sustainability plan in Canada. Today there are over 500 community sustainability plans in Canada and over 6400 worldwide. Interested in looking up Canadian community sustainability plans? Check out the Canadian Plan Inventory website which has cataloged every sustainability plan in Canada.

Through its work with Vision2020, Hamilton won national and international recognition. In 2000, Hamilton received the Dubai International Award for Best Practices and the Local Initiatives Award for Governance in Sustainable Development. More recently, Hamilton has seen a relatively new player in the sustainability arena: the business community. By leveraging volunteer organizations such as Sustainable Hamilton and the Sustainable Professionals Network the push for a sustainable future in business has taken centre stage. Sustainable Hamilton, a local not-for-profit, encourages companies to sign on as members, and to measure and report on their sustainability management. The organization monitors the genuine progress of participating firms and provides feedback on potential areas for improvement. Other Sustainable Hamilton initiatives include breakfast learning forums, bringing together sustainability experts, local businesses and academics to share knowledge and an annual evening of recognition to celebrate local excellence in sustainability.  Hot off the press is Sustainable Hamilton’s 2012-2013 Business Report: Moving Sustainability Forward, documenting the business community’s progress over the last year.  

Vision2020 played a big part in bringing citizens together to imagine and then create a better Hamilton. Sandi Stride president of Sustainable Hamilton commented in the Sustainable Hamilton 2012–2013 Business Report, “Hamilton is a vibrant community, you feel it in the James Street North Art Crawl, and see it in the new construction cranes.  You can hear it in the laughter of people walking along the waterfront pathways, or in the buzz surrounding the new Cootes to Escarpment Eco-Park.” So while the “Steel Town” image remains part of Hamilton’s past, the vibrancy of the people involved in its sustainability community are an indicator of its bright future.

A big thank you to Eryn Stewart for contributing content to this blog post. 

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.
  • Adriane MacDonald is a PhD student at the University of Waterloo in the Social and Ecological Sustainability program.