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How organizing led Nanaimo to adopt the doughnut economics framework

They started during the worst of the pandemic—and won.

September 1, 2023

2-minute read

The Nanaimo Climate Action Hub (NCAH) was established on November 21, 2020, during the worst period of the pandemic—not the best time for starting a climate action group, you may think.

But within three weeks of its formation, NCAH had its first successful action, persuading Nanaimo city council to vote in favour of three climate initiatives after it received a deluge of emails from our members and supporters.

As a result, Nanaimo adopted the doughnut economics framework, one of the first cities in North America to do so. It approved funding for a manager of sustainability. It extended a bicycle lane from the Vancouver Island University campus to downtown.

Now with 82 active members, 371 supporters, and 10 community partner groups, NCAH has continued to educate about and advocate for the climate emergency to the municipal, regional district and school district boards in Nanaimo and area as well as the larger community.

Membership is straightforward: individuals and groups must agree with our statement of principles posted on our website,

There is no membership fee—we are funded by donations—and anyone who is a member can become a director on our board. Our directors have ranged in age from teens to octogenarians—from those just beginning climate activism to those with decades of experience.

Key to our success has been the inclusive leadership style of our chair, Heather Baitz, clear strategies, focused actions, community and partner engagement, a commitment to developing good relationships with the community, and, most importantly, never giving up!

A good example of how this works has been NCAH’s campaign in support of a low-carbon energy systems (LCES) bylaw.

In April of 2021, members of NCAH, the Council of Canadians Mid-Island Chapter, and the Environmental Justice Committee of the Nanaimo Unitarians made a presentation to Nanaimo’s mayor and council in favour of a low-carbon energy systems (LCES) bylaw.

More than 60 people sent emails urging council to regulate cleaner heating systems in new construction. Our presenters followed up with council members over the next few weeks to provide detailed information and have further discussions about the advantages of such a bylaw.

On May 9, 2021, the Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) passed a motion from councillor Ben Geselbracht to add this policy statement into the green buildings section of the new city plan: "support, prioritize and advocate for low carbon energy systems in all new construction." This policy meant that staff would be directed to work on a LCES bylaw once the plan was finalized.

The subject of LCES was scheduled to come before the GPC again in July and, in preparation, NCAH began a campaign in mid-June opposing the building of new houses with gas and asking that council adopt the Zero Carbon Step Code at the zero carbon level, as Victoria and Saanich had already done. More than 50 emails were sent from NCAH members and supporters to the mayor and council, and a presentation was drafted, with speakers lined up and ready to go.

This is just one of NCAH’s many activities, past and present, including: a speaker series on topics from walkable cities to better buildings, an open letter to the president of Vancouver Island University asking for action on the climate crisis, signed by 135 individuals and 15 organizations, meetings with MLAS and city councillors, workshops for municipal candidates on environmental issues, collation of candidate policy platforms on climate, support for the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School Board’s Environmental Stewardship Action Plan, a campaign to make heat pumps more affordable—and much more.

NCAH never stands still. Our goal is to advance solutions that reflect the urgency of the climate emergency, and we will continue to do that for as long as it takes.

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