By and large, ecosystem valuation (giving a monetary value to the benefits that nature provides, such as purification of water by wetlands) is still an academic undertaking or one that is limited to raising awareness around the value of protecting or restoring nature. Until recently, attempts to translate ecosystem valuation into specific governance changes have been few and far between.
The Town of Gibsons, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, is changing this in very practical ways that may well have wide-ranging and profound implications.
The new report, Towards Eco-Asset Valuation in the Town of Gibsons, describes the Town’s pioneering efforts to understand the municipal services provided by natural assets, and then integrate these considerations into their asset management strategy alongside the management of engineered assets such as roads and sewers. For example, the Town has now listed its drinking water aquifer in its official asset inventory, thus triggering a systematic business process with the obligation for financial plans to operate and manage the asset. After researching the cost of substituting a built water treatment system if the aquifer became degraded, the Town committed to the much smaller investments needed to monitor and maintain aquifer health. It has also listed the creeks and woodlands that help to manage stormwater, and with the coastal foreshore that protects the Town from storm surges and sea level rise.
It is still early days, but the evidence to date is that the Town’s eco-asset strategy will both save money, given that natural assets have no capital costs and frequently low operating costs, and preserve asset integrity, by moving natural assets from the periphery to the center of municipal decision-making, alongside engineered assets.
The scope to expand these efforts to other municipalities is limitless. The City of North Vancouver, for example, has drafted a bylaw recognizing the importance of natural capital asset management for their new Official Community Plan. The Town of Gibsons is already looking at how it can work with partners to share their experiences. Importantly, however, there are national-level barriers that will need to be overcome, such as public body accounting standards that prevent the full accounting of, and reporting on, natural assets.
We will be watching closely to see how we can support and enhance this important body of work.
Does this interest you? Then tell us what you’d like to see happen in your region.
Author: Stephanie Cairns. Stephanie is the Director of Sustainable Prosperity’s communities program, which focuses on how to make economic choices work for environmental protection in Canada’s urban areas.