Sustainability, Sustainable Development, and Financial Health

Regular reader and commentator DAvid has taken the time to share his thoughts on sustainability and financial health.  I thought that this topic would be refreshing as MDJ doesn't touch on the topic of green living very often.  

The greening of our world has become a topic of importance to the Canadian public. The Kyoto protocol was likely the first realization of this issue for many as it gained prominence in the media. I have been musing for some time the relationship between sustainability and financial independence.  

Sustainability means living within the earth’s limits – improving our health and well-being by reducing and eliminating pollution and waste. It means tackling the root causes of health and environmental problems before they occur. -David Suzuki Foundation 

There are a number of major areas usually addressed when considering one’s ecological footprint: population density, energy consumption, resource (especially water) consumption, & food production.  While many large organizations and municipalities are discovering their role in the creation of sustainable communities, there is a part that each of us should consider. While the best form of leadership is to be seen to be undertaking appropriate activities, there is also a need to support actions in which you are not actively involved. One of the challenges we face is that if we do not address these issues ourselves, they may be forced on us by our economy and environment. 

Choices such as where you live can have a huge impact. If you live a village lifestyle, even in a large city, you should derive lifestyle and financial benefits. The ability to live, work and gather your needs within a walkable circle allows you to better manage your time, and insulates you from some of the lifestyle costs of those who are obligated to travel greater distances.  There are also health benefits; it is difficult to develop road rage while walking to your destination! 

For those in industries where the pay is based on the skill set, rather than the employment location, choosing a less expensive hometown can have very positive effects on your bottom line. Teachers, nurses, and many other workers who are paid on a provincial or national pay scale earn the same no matter where they live. Choosing a smaller town often means lower costs than the city, so your dollar goes a lot further. Even folks who are not tied to those pay scales, and may earn wages at far different rates, are moving to new locations. We are now seeing many professionals leaving high-priced Alberta, and bringing their skills, and their housing profits, home to Saskatchewan and Manitoba.    

Housing style affects density. Low density housing is very expensive, the infrastructure to service it (utilities, roads) the transportation routes to connect neighborhoods and services, and the land area needed to support this form of housing are quite consumptive. It is also very challenging to effect changes in a low density community, as there are few efficiencies of scale to adopt. The proposed Bamberton Community, on Vancouver Island is planned to house some 12,000 folk in a mixture of housing styles, and provide a multi-neighbourhood community which can host a wide variety of live-work arrangements, so residents have less need to exit the community on a regular basis. It is designed to be pedestrian friendly, and allow ready access to a wide variety of amenities, while retaining a large greenspace. While the neighbourhoods tend towards higher densities, the overall development is considered low density, due to the greenspace. 

Most neighbourhoods contain few housing styles, and tend to have a single density. Zoning tends to be exclusive, rather than inclusive. Hosting a variety of housing styles allows for a wide range of affordability in a community.  Towns such as Banff, Invermere and Whistler, have become so expensive, the employees of many of the businesses in town cannot afford to live in the community where they work. Pressuring your community leaders for a wider variety of housing types in a community helps resolve these issues. More variety of housing types also allows folks to find housing styles that meet their needs throughout their lives. As family size changes, you can move around the neighbourhood, rather than having to move across town.   

To take individual action, one could have an apartment space in their home, increasing income, while providing housing options and affordability for other individuals. Zoning allowing detached secondary suites, also known as garden suites allows an increase in density, although at higher cost. While many of us have concerns about truly high density living, possibly we all need to learn how to be better neighbors. 

Cities with higher densities become far more enjoyable places to live. Compare Vancouver's downtown to Calgary's: Robson St., Davie St., Granville St., and others have throngs of people all day and night long. Calgary's downtown is famous for the rate at which it is evacuated at 5:00! Living in an active neighbourhood such as Vancouver offers may be sufficiently attractive to cause one to downsize their housing expectations, because the lifestyle surrounds you, rather than having to be created at home. 

In conclusion, sustainability and financial prudence may well have much in common.

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FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.
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Gates VP
13 years ago

Seems the time taken to collect and then park the car could increase the commute time to exceed yours!

Just one amongst a myriad of problems.

I mean, even if you were really quick and saved 5 minutes every morning, skipping the 10-minute walk places a very low valuation on the benefits of fitness (especially for somebody who sits in front of a computer all day).

But, that’s the crux of the problem. If people living within a mile of the office can’t take the initiative to walk to work then how the heck are we going to push the government and the populace in general to create sustainable communities?

Even with the “rising cost” of ($.80 / L) gas, people are still driving gas-guzzling SUVs alone to work every day (for 45 minutes mind you!) One of my co-workers who moved here with me lives between me and the office (5 minute walk) and he actually went 3 weeks without taking out his car. But he couldn’t imagine living like I do without a car.

Reducing the requirement for personal vehicle traffic is a huge factor in sustainable development. But quick discussions around the office pretty much highlight the problem: we’re addicted to our personal vehicles.

The average person cannot conceive of life without their car. In fact, the average person has designed their life around the easy availability of car (anecdotally, just listen to how people react when their car bites the dust and they can’t find a rental) Until people start viewing car driving time as a serious liability, we’re not going to turn this around.

13 years ago

Just curious how long your co-worker’s commute takes. Seems the time taken to collect and then park the car could increase the commute time to exceed yours!


Gates VP
13 years ago

Hey David;

I just moved to Kansas City, MO from Winnipeg (via Edmonton) and I can tell you that people here are screwed, for basically the reasons that you mention.

Professional jobs mostly happen in the downtown region and the average person lives like 20-45 minutes drive away (on a 60 MPH highway none the less). Public transportation is almost non-existent (or effectively useless because of the Kansas / Missouri rift, KC is on the border) and b/c everyone just assumes that owning a car and driving long distances is par for the course.

Kansas City is actually known for having the most highway per population in the US. On a “snow day” in Kansas City half of the office doesn’t show up. And honestly more than that number don’t live close enough to the office to walk, bike or even use public transportation. KC is fundamentally built on the notion that gas is inexpensive and widely available.

But I just moved here from two of the least dense major cities in North America: Edmonton and Winnipeg! And there’s more going on here.

Outside of Vancouver and Toronto (and strips along the Gulf of St-Lawrence), Canada has ample amounts of space. So nobody builds up, they all build out. Navigating Edmonton or Winnipeg by public transit can be an exercise. And it has everything to do with community planning.

Both cities are like early stages of the cr*p I see here in KC. Winnipeg Transit honestly does an excellent job given the resources it has, but much of the city simply wasn’t built to be Transit-friendly. One rich area of the city (Whyteridge?) actually banned buses outside of rush hours. Which meant that University students in the region either had to carpool or time their connection with one of three morning or afternoon buses.

Of course, I just blamed community planning, but I’m not actually going to point fingers at the government here. The problem is us on so many levels. We build out instead of up, we want more space, even if it means an extra 10 minutes on the road each day. We don’t build with public transit in mind b/c everyone with money owns a car right? We build strip malls over square miles (South Kenaston in Winnipeg, South Edmonton Common in Edmonton, heck most of Gateway/Calgary trail), b/c we assume that no one would possibly want to walk these places.

My current morning commute in KC is about 10 minutes, on foot, from door to chair. One of my co-workers lives in the same apartment complex and drives to the office (and then back home). I can’t think of a more elegant summation of the problem.

13 years ago

Thanks for your kind words. There may be future articles, so keep in touch. Meantime, I’m off to Vancouver for the weekend!


13 years ago

This is very true–especially the Vancouver part. I make less money (slightly less, but still a noticeable amount) than in my previous city, but I feel like I have way, way more money–and that’s even with making 5x the minimum payments on my student loans and putting 20% of my income into savings/investments.

Why? Part of it is that I sold my car before moving here, so I’m not paying car payments and insurance. Part of it is that Vancouver has beautiful places to go that are open to the public (parks, beaches, trails) and reachable by bus, so I don’t need to spend as much money on entertainment. And part of it is that my whole outlook on shopping and purchasing is changing.

Beyond that, I’m healthier for walking everywhere and I’m outside more. (And, as you say, all of these things support each other; financial happiness definitely contributes to other happiness and vice versa.)

13 years ago

Great post for sure! I definitely agree with your last point about the density. Having lived in Vancouver (well, near it) and then in Ottawa, I can tell you first hand that Vancouver is a much more enjoyable place to live, not only for the people but also due to the focus on nature and the forest.

The house prices, however, are something that really limits a lot of people moving into the province!

13 years ago

Good post. Seaside, Florida was an experiment in building a town from scratch (20 yrs ago) where everything was within walking distance and cars were effectively banned. You might recognize it as the town used in The Truman Show. It still holds fairly true to its roots, however it’s now a very expensive enclave for tourists. Neat concept though.

I cannot stand the new areas in the suburbs. Every house is identical (well, maybe the vinyl siding is a different colour). The curvilinear and cul de sac roads are nightmares for navigation, traffic flow (both vehicular and foot), and expensive to service (tax-wise). While it may be boring, the grid layout commonly found in older core neighbourhoods is much more efficient and welcoming. Also much better at moving traffic.

Some might disagree, but humans need other human interaction during their daily lives. If you lock people in cars for commutes over 30 mins, you start to get irritability, road rage, etc, and the feeling of a neighbourhood gets lost.