The Current Reality of the Most Sustainable Balcony in Vancouver

Part 2 – The Baseline

[Editor’s Note: as previously written on this blog, I'm creating a plan for the most sustainable balcony in Vancouver. For my second blog post, I need to establish a baseline – or “the current reality” – of my balcony project. This will involve a comprehensive SWOT analysis of my plan based on the Four Sustainability Principles].

According to The Natural Step, here is how to judge whether or not your organization/community/business is a sustainable one:

“In a sustainable society, nature is not subjected to systematically increasing…

…concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust,

…concentrations of substances produced by society,

…degradation by physical means,

and, in that society…

…people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.”

Okay. Sounds pretty good. Let’s walk through each principle and test my Sustainable Balcony plan with some skill-testing questions.

Principle 1 – DIG

  • Is the balcony economically dependent on fossil fuels? No. It’s a balcony. I mean, we have a mortgage to pay off, but I work at UBC and Michelle works for the Provincial Health Services Authority. While we – and our balcony – are economically dependent on paid work, both these places will still exist without fossil fuels.
  • Are any of the mined materials that the balcony is economically dependent on scarce in nature and, if so, are they safeguarded in completely “tight” technical loops or are there substantial leakages anywhere? No. It’s a balcony. We will be semi-dependent on propane, but I’ve lit fires without propane before… Or, we could use one of these fine barbecuing products.

Principle 2 – DUMP

  • Is the balcony today economically dependent on substances that are persistent and foreign to nature? Not really, but there will be some plastic hoses on the barbecue – for the propane – that are unnatural (probably made in Houston).
  • Are resources containing chemicals saved throughout the life cycle or are materials used in a dissipative way? Well, I don’t really know what “dissipative” means, but Michelle and I are big on re-using things so as to extend their life cycle.

Principle 3 – DEGRADE

  • Is the balcony today economically dependent on activities that mismanage productive parts of the Biosphere? Absolutely not. I’m actually pretty offended by this question.

Principle 4 – DEMEAN

  • In what way is the balcony today economically dependent on using a large amount of resources in relation to added human value? The balcony will be all about adding human value and can do so by using a very small amount of resources – the ones we use will be local (some will be imported from exotic locales like Merville on Vancouver Island).
  • Are social costs paid for throughout the value-chain, also from suppliers from developing countries? Products like coffee – sipped on during morning conversations – will always be fair trade. In terms of the things we’ll put on the balcony, they will be locally made – where possible with wood harvested from the waste-stream – and the things we put inside and on top of things will be native species and/or delicious (ideally) heirloom vegetables. All farmers and suppliers will be fairly compensated and hugged for their efforts.
  • Would we like to be subjected to the conditions we are currently creating for others? I hope so. My parents live well and like helping people – my Dad and his green thumb will be supplying, or providing advice about, the plants we choose. Ideally, my carpenter-friend, General Andrew Frank, will make some of our furniture.

SWOT ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

  • Big, social space
  • Local, green, happy personal and professional network of eager helpers
  • Clean slate – brand new, renovated area
  • Powerful relationship-building skills and an ability to find common ground with stakeholders
  • Confined to the principles of the Strata Council (ie. “no chattel on the balcony”)
  • Defined budget – cheap crap produced under socially-compromising principles is cheaper
  • No say in the building materials used to re-model the balcony
  • Over-hang makes solar/rain-powered barbecue an unlikely possibility

OPPORTUNITIES

THREATS

  • Forge strong relationship with fellow semi-hippies on Strata Council
  • “Clean slate” (it will be re-modelled) reveals endless possibilities
  • No sense of urgency; several hours of research can be put to good use when sourcing materials and outlining the best use of the space
  • Possibly asbestos, but probably not
  • Crows (Michelle’s Nemeses)
  • Incongruent legislation (ie. chattel on balcony, no apartment-composting)
  • My penchant for cramming too many things into spaces vs. my wife’s fondness for sparse, open decorative style – these approaches might not jive

So there it is. This is our shared analysis of our balcony. Please provide some feedback and suggestions on how we can address these weaknesses and threats going forward.