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5. Best Practices from Other Municipalities

TEA looked at how other North American municipalities leading on environment issues organize themselves to get things done. Of special interest were the ways in which these cities increased coordination and accountability. We found some common themes and practices that Toronto can learn from.

 Top Level Bureaucrats

Cities like New York, Chicago, Vancouver, and Seattle have a top level bureaucrat/department whose job it is to manage and coordinate environmental initiatives. They report directly to either the Mayor or City Manager. In the case of Vancouver, the Sustainability Manager consults with a Steering Committee of General Managers and reports to the City Manager. Toronto, by contrast has a director and a department in a secondary reporting relationship to the City Manager - the TEO reports to a Deputy City Manager, who then reports to the City Manager.  


 Commissions and Review Bodies

Some cities use high level expert panels to recommend and evaluate action. Chicago established a Green Ribbon Committee in order to maintain the momentum created by their Climate Action Plan. Los Angeles’ Environmental Affairs Commission is made up of five experts who hold monthly public meetings and provide advice to the Mayor, City Council, and General Manager on environmental matters. San Francisco’s Commission on the Environment has the power to review and make recommendations on any policy proposed for adoption by any City agency. Right now Toronto has no arms length review body to aid in its implementation of environmental goals.


 Annual Reports on City's Environmental Achievements

Annual reports can provide an overview of the City’s achievements in environmental policy. Seattle and San Francisco provide excellent examples of how to provide detailed status reports that are written in plain language with clear information on existing programs and how they fulfill stated goals. Seattle’s SeaCAP Progress Report comes in two forms: one is a full-colour PDF available for download from their website *** and the other is a chart that de- tails exactly what actions were recommended in the original plan, how these actions achieve the plan's stated goals, and the current status of the action. San Francisco publishes a Sustainability Report Card that includes all of its previously published goals and objectives, and defines what actions have been taken and the project’s status.

Chicago’s Green Ribbon Committee, which is made up of business and community leaders, reviews performance and recommends revisions, adjustments, and improvements. In many ways, this acts as an internal audit on the City’s Department of Environment. The Green Ribbon Committee releases annual reports and holds an annual summit.

As mentioned previously, staff's recent status report on the Change is in the Air plan did not clearly link actions to achieving stated goals and the information was presented in a way that was generally inaccessible to the public.  


 Web Portal

The internet has become a key place for the public to engage with their municipalities around improving the environment. San Francisco (sfenvironment.org) and Chicago (ChicagoClimateAction.org) both have websites that provide viewers with clear, easy-to- understand information written in plain language. The interface is user-friendly and attractive.

City priorities and taking action are central themes on both sites, giving viewers a great sense of what is happening and what they can do to help. Both sites feature current news and press releases on the main page. A viewer can find out what the City is doing through its policies and programs, and what it plans to do in a few simple clicks.

The City of Toronto's environmental website, the Toronto Environmental Portal, (www.toronto.ca/environment/index.htm) is lacking in almost all respects in comparison to these sites. This is most evident on the main page, which has over 50 individual links and little sense of priority in the information provided.

The newer Live Green Toronto site (www.toronto.ca/livegreen/index.html) is a much better attempt at providing a more engaging and informative format for viewers but is narrowly focused on one particular program, and depends heavily on linking to the Environmental Portal for detailed information.  


Toronto can learn a lot from cities like Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco, from hiring top level bureaucrats to increasing public accountability and communication through websites and annual reports. We don't expect all of the best practices presented above to be adopted by Toronto; some in fact may not be realistic or advantageous when studied more closely. But the City must recognize that its current way of developing and implementing environmental programs is inadequate and surely some of these practices can help. Our recommendations suggest some ways to start now in adopting a better way of working on key programs, and set out a process for discussing more systemic changes.