Corporate Knights Sustainable Cities Rankings

With our global economy in crisis, increasing food shortages in the developing world and reports of unprecedented ecosystem decline around the planet, it’s easy to feel disillusioned with the state of world. However, when we look closer to home there are indications that change is afoot.

Corporate Knights, an independent Canadian-based media company, conducts annual sustainability assessments of small, medium and large cities across the country. They choose indicators to measure the socio-ecological and economic wellbeing of cities by using publically available data and sending surveys out to municipal staff.

This year, in an effort to improve their rankings, they invited The Natural Step Canada (TNS) to participate on an advisory committee. As lead advisor, TNS researched how Corporate Knights could apply systems thinking and backcasting to help define success and strategically inform their indicator selection.

The results from the 2009 Sustainable Cities Rankings call for both praise and concern. It may be a surprise to some - as it was for me - to find that no Canadian city scored above 7.4 out of ten overall in the five indicator categories: Ecological Integrity, Economic Security, Social Well-Being, Governance and Empowerment, and Infrastructure and Built Environment. For example, where the City of Calgary scored relatively highly in the area of Infrastructure and Built Environment, their Governance and Empowerment scores paled in comparison to the other large cities assessed  – Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

In my mind, this information tells us is that each city may have its relative strengths in different social, economic and environmental areas. However, sustainability requires concerted attention paid to each. This comes with an understanding that a thriving economy is a means to supporting a vibrant society, and can only be achieved with healthy ecosystems intact. (Click here to see the rankings yourself:

The good news is that municipalities are uniquely positioned to respond to the diverse
 challenges and opportunities inherent in sustainable development.
 In most cases municipalities are accountable for delivering a wide range of programs and services such as arts and culture, bylaw enforcement, public transit, economic development, parks and recreation, public health, social housing, and water and sewage among many others. Given the breadth of their responsibilities, with a compelling vision, strong leadership and strategic guidance, municipalities can develop local policies and programs to help ensure the social, ecological and economic health of the community.

The Corporate Knights Sustainable Cities Ranking gives the Canadian public, business leaders and government representatives a platform to discuss their communities' future, present challenges and opportunities to chart their course toward a sustainable tomorrow. It also helps identify leaders in the field where best practices can be shared.

There are many ways to join the conversation. One means of having your voice heard is to contact your municipal representatives directly – i.e. city councilors, the local mayor, or municipal staff. Let them know you’ve heard about the Sustainable Cities Rankings and raise your questions or concerns about your city’s sustainability standing. Share your thoughts on what you’d like to see happen in your community to improve the quality of life for all residents. What are some projects already taking place that the city could expand, improve or piggyback off? How could the city measure the success of such an initiative?

My experience in community economic development has led me to believe that a strong community depends as much on social relationships and civic participation as it does on financial wealth. Together, we are responsible for making our communities healthy, beautiful and vibrant places. The natural step is ours to take!

The full results of the Ranking, including the surveys completed by each city, are available on and are summarized in the Responsible Investing issue (Vol. 7.3) of Corporate Knights. They are also distributed in some issues of the Globe and Mail today.