Quick Starts in Small and Rural Communities

Houston is showing leadership in energy conservation through geothermal heating in recreational facilities & solar powered park lighting.While small and rural communities can face certain challenges in taking action on climate change, they also have some unique advantages. Across BC, there are many small and rural community success stories that provide inspiration and guidance to all communities, regardless of size.

Start Small

Many communities start a successful climate change program by 'starting small' and focusing on a couple of doable projects or policies. They often meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Straightforward;
  • High impact on GHGs;
  • Strong business case;
  • Highly educational for elected officials, staff and/or the community; and
  • Easily integrated into initiatives already underway.

Rural Challenge - Rural Advantage

Some of the challenges small and rural communities face include: minimal staff and frequent turnover, constrained financial resources, reduced influence over public infrastructure, minimal capacity for community engagement, resource industry declines, and sometimes rapid population growth.

At the same time, small and rural communities can have some unique advantages. Small organizations tend to find it easier to communicate and collaborate across departments. A couple of highly motivated organizations and businesses working with the local government can often build community support in a small community more rapidly than in metropolitan areas. 

This guidance highlights some quick start actions for small and rural communities in the following sectors:

Big Picture Measures | Land Use | Transportation | Local Government Fleets | Buildings – Community-Wide | Buildings – Government Operations | Infrastructure

Most communities will likely develop more comprehensive programs. They will be drawn not only by the impact of climate change on local infrastructure and industries, but out of a desire to address other community priorities that complement climate action, such as: managing risk against rising energy costs, community economic development, and promoting healthier lifestyles through community design.

Big Picture Measures

The following actions focus on priorities that are not confined to one sector, but are more crosscutting in nature.

Small and Rural Communities will likely develop more comprehensive programs that complement climate action. / Town of Ladysmith.Framing Climate Action

The most successful local government greenhouse gas reduction programs have not focused on climate change. They have focused on air pollution, economic development, traffic congestion, livability, land protection, fiscal performance or some other priority that really resonates with elected officials, staff and the community. 

Council-Community Leadership Team

Councils or Boards and staff will not be able to advance a community-wide climate change program on their own. Most successful climate change action plans are built and implemented with the support of a leadership group or task force with representatives from many constituencies in your community. A mayor, high profile councilor or Board member can help give these groups credibility. They can meet regularly to assist in drafting or refining a climate plan, and in developing partnerships (and even funding in some cases) for implementing early projects

Catalyst Projects

Catalyst Projects are a unique type of quick start. The intent of a Catalyst Project is to build capacity and support for climate action in the Board or Council, among staff, developers and the community. Catalyst Projects allow a community to take immediate action while supporting their longer-term plans. There are a number of Catalyst Projects profiled in the Tooldrawer in the right side-bar. 

Land Use

Development Permit Areas

Development Permit Area guidelines are one of the policy tools local governments can use to promote climate action. DPAs are usually created to regulate development in areas that are environmentally sensitive, hazardous, or undergoing revitalization. DPAs can also be used to establish objectives to promote energy conservation, water conservation, and reduce greenhouse gases. This could mean requiring that development applicants create an emissions reduction strategy as part of an approvals process. Successful green development initiatives always involve full consultation with the development industry. For more information, see Development Permit Areas.

Sustainability Block

A Sustainability Block is just what its name implies: a block-scale sustainable development project. The Sustainability Block provides an opportunity to pursue innovation and excellence in urban design, transportation, and infrastructure initiatives, at a small scale. Through collaboration among local government, the developer and other stakeholders, the process builds practical green development know-how. Ideally, a successful Sustainability Block could act as a catalyst for more green development in the community.


The City of Grand Forks is greening its community and reducing GHG emissions encouraging non-motorized transportation through inviting walkways and cycling paths.

Sustainable Transportation Plan

Transportation is BC’s largest source of GHG emissions. Investing in your organization’s understanding of transportation planning will pay long-run dividends. The first transportation plan does not have to be a big undertaking. Take an inventory of this year’s planning projects. Is there an OCP review, a neighbourhood plan, or a DCC review? Integrate a sustainable transportation planning component into the project to add value. Alternatively, start by concentrating on a transportation mode plan, like a pedestrian plan for downtown, or a community wide cycling network plan. See Transportation Plan for more information.

Idle Reduction Campaign

An idle reduction campaign can begin with education and awareness, and progress to regulatory bylaw and enforcement. Idle reduction (motorists turning their engines off while parked and waiting in their vehicle) is a climate change action that is focussed on behavioural change. Many other transportation activities play a critical role in emissions; however, the public participation and interest generated in idle reduction can leverage more meaningful and challenging changes in behaviour in the future. Additionally, reducing engine idling has the added benefit of lowering smog emissions and promoting the health of those individuals who are frequently exposed to emissions from idling engines. See Idling Reduction for more information.

Transportation Demand Management

TDM strategies strive to reduce traffic congestion, air contaminants, and greenhouse gas emissions while improving air quality and personal mobility. The Fraser Basin Council's Transportation Demand Management: A Small and Mid-Size Communities Toolkit. The toolkit (download) is divided into reader-friendly sections, beginning with an introduction to transportation demand management (TDM) and what it takes to implement a TDM strategy.

Buildings: Community

Promote Incentives

A local government can facilitate efficient building construction and retrofits through the promotion of third party incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy. These incentives would include Federal and provincial energy efficiency grant programs and BC Hydro incentive programs.

These promotional activities can also include educational information, for example on how to make homes and businesses more efficient, green building rating programs (Built Green, LEED, others); and other sources of information on green and energy efficient buildings. See Third-Party Incentives for more information.


A local government can develop a sustainability checklist for all development and building permit applicants to use. A checklist can be used primarily for information and encouragement purposes or can play a more important quasi-regulatory role in requiring certain levels of performance as a condition of development approval. Developing this sustainability checklist with other local governments in your region can reduce costs and ensure a level playing field for developers.

Buildings: Government Operations

Local Government Green Building Leadership

Local governments can make a commitment to make their own buildings more energy efficient through civic building retrofit and a new green buildings policy. Any local government that has committed to becoming carbon neutral will want to reduce emissions in order to minimize the cost of buying emission offsets. Investing in premium efficiency buildings, new and existing, can significantly improve a local government’s fiscal performance in the long run. Moreover, establishing premium efficiency building builds can build local capacity that is extended throughout the community.


Street and Traffic Light Retrofit

Many small or rural communities have few or no street lights and roads maintenance is often done by the Ministry of Transportation. Where streets are managed by the local government, energy consumption of traffic and street lighting can be reduced significantly, quickly, and very cost effectively by retrofitting with new technology light sources. For example, LED lamps, now well established for traffic lighting, can potentially reduce energy and maintenance costs to a fraction of that required for conventional light sources. See Street Lighting for more information.

Water Conservation Education

A local government can create a package of information for residents and businesses on how to conserve water, which reduces energy use and emissions, and deploy it through building approvals processes and staff, real estate agents and others. Information in the package can include information on high efficiency fixtures (toilets, faucets, showers, urinals) and appliances, and behaviour tips to reduce water consumption.

Local Government Water Conservation Leadership

A local government can implement a range of water demand management measures in government operations and facilities, as part of a retrofit of existing buildings or design of a planned new building. Measures can include fixtures that exceed required building code performance, such as dual-flush toilets, and water/energy efficient appliances. See water conservation and civic building retrofit for more information.

Composting Bins

Encourage diversion of organic waste from landfills through promoting composting, possibly including the provision of backyard composters at a reduced price to residents. Composting is a viable option for most residents in small and rural communities as most have outdoor space. Good composting practice education is essential to prevent attracting wildlife. See Organics Management.

Local Government Fleets

The Regional District of Central Kootenay and the City of Nelson recently partnered to go through the E3 Fleet process, eliminating redundancies and lowering costs while reducing GHGs. / RDCK

Idling Reduction

Idling reduction policies are straightforward, simple to implement, and require little effort or change in operations. They have multiple benefits that range from reduced engine wear to lower fuel consumption to healthier drivers and a healthier community, all while reducing GHG emissions. They are an ideal way to start because of their ease of implementation and ability to demonstrate the numerous benefits of taking action on fleet operations. The financial benefits realized from reduced fuel consumption also provide a foundation for implementing other fleet initiatives. See idling reduction.

Low Carbon Fuels

In BC, incentives are now available through provincial government’s Clean Energy Vehicle (CEV) program for purchasing eligible clean energy vehicles. Local governments often convert from traditional gasoline and diesel to less GHG intensive fuels for both emissions and cost savings. There are several alternatives to the traditional fuels including biodiesel, electricity, natural gas, propane, ethanol and hydrogen.

Electric Vehicles

The (re)introduction of plug-in electric vehicles means electricity can now act as a fuel source for vehicles. Electric vehicles have a range of benefits; they are efficient, cleaner, and quieter than traditional fuel vehicles. They also have a lower operating cost, saving on fuel and on maintenance.  Electric vehicles include hybrids, plug-ins—either hybrid or 100% electric, and fuel cell vehicles. When considering an electric vehicle, it is important to keep in mind availability of charging infrastructure and operating range. BC has the largest network of public charging stations in Canada. The Community Charging Infrastructure Fund [link to pluginbc.ca] has resulted in around 450 public and fleet stations across the province. BC is also implementing 13 DC Fast Chargers to link to the Green Highway from California.


Biodiesel is a non-toxic, biodegradable fuel which burns more completely and is therefore a cleaner fuel compared to diesel. Emission reductions will vary depending on the amount of biodiesel present in a blend ‘B’. For example, B20 biodiesel releases 16% less GHG emissions while B100 releases 78% less GHG than petroleum diesel. In Canada, it is a requirement that diesel fuel contain 2% renewable content overall. However, BC is one of the several provinces that has set higher standards and requires 5% average renewable content

Choosing a blend that contains a higher amount of biodiesel is an easy and inexpensive way to reduce GHG emissions. Biodiesel can be easily stored and provides an opportunity to use local fuel source but it is important to check that it is sourced from waste grease and not food crops. See fuel efficient vehicle purchasing strategies for related initiatives.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is a non-toxic, odourless, colourless gas which can help significantly reduce GHG emissions—up to 25% compared to diesel engine vehicles. However, it’s important to consider the source of natural gas, and the lifecycle emissions required to produce it. While natural gas derived from oil or gas fields is a fossil fuel, natural gas collected from biowaste is a renewable resource, and is likely to have a lower footprint. Vehicles running on natural gas can either use natural gas only or be fitted to run on either natural gas or gasoline. Having access to natural gas fueling infrastructure is important for this model to work. Today, a number of natural gas stations are available throughout BC. Converting vehicles to use natural gas requires a significant initial investment; however, natural gas is 20-40% cheaper than gasoline. In BC, incentive grants—up to $10,000—are available when purchasing a factor-built natural gas vehicle or when converting vehicles which are less than 5 years old. 

Other low carbon fuels

Propane, Ethanol and Hydrogen are also viable alternative fuel options. More info on alternative fuels is available on GreenFleets BC website.



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