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2001 Planning — Co-winner 2

City of Guelph, Ontario

Evolving as a sustainable community through a green plan

Population: 100,000

The City of Guelph's continuous improvement approach to environmental sustainability, established in the city's 1994 Green Plan, is demonstrating tangible results. The city has maintained an ongoing commitment to improve its sustainability in key areas: land use, waste, water, transportation and energy. Over six years, the city has achieved a 14 per cent increase in municipal waste diversion, a 10.6 per cent decrease in per capita wastewater generation and a 25 per cent rise in transit ridership.


The population of Guelph, now at 100,000, is expected to increase by 40 per cent by 2010. This growth will place increasing pressure on the city's limited natural resources — air, water and soil — and its infrastructure. The high proportion of Guelph residents with technical knowledge about how to approach sustainable development issues ensures a constant flow of ideas that can lead to solutions. Until recently, however, it was difficult for the city to establish clear objectives.


Many significant environmental initiatives have been implemented since the city adopted its Green Plan. This is a sample:

Land-Use Planning

The city's Official Plan is the guiding document for Guelph's land-use planning. It sets out goals, objectives and policies for future land use in Guelph. The Green Plan Steering Committee, by integrating its own goals and objectives with the latest update of the Official Plan, has made it possible for the community to have direct input into land-use planning projects.

"The committee emphasizes conservation in its approach to planning," said Etienne. "It recognizes that there are limitations on the resources we use and that we must use them as wisely as possible to maintain the integrity of our systems."

The following are some examples of projects that have drawn heavily from the committee's adherence to these principles:

  • The 1998 Wastewater Treatment Strategy recognizes that Guelph's Speed River has a finite capacity for flushing wastewater. Water conservation is an important aspect of the strategy.
  • The 1999 Torrance Creek Sub-watershed Study emphasizes that extensive asphalt paving leads to a decline in both the quality and quantity of Guelph's drinking water.
  • The 2000 Transportation Strategy Update, completed in 2000, advises the city not to widen roads to accommodate an increase in traffic. Instead, the strategy focuses on controlling traffic problems by discouraging people from driving their cars.

Landscape Enhancement

Over the past 10 years, Guelph has promoted several initiatives to improve the city's landscape:

  • Community and school groups have planted more than 17,000 trees, 3,000 perennials and 60,000 daffodils along major highways, parks and river valleys.
  • The recreation and parks department has instituted a pesticide management program to reduce the use of pesticides by residents and by the city in all areas of Guelph within five years. (Over the last 10 years, Guelph has reduced its pesticide use by 70 per cent.)
  • In 1991, the city launched a naturalization policy whereby it allowed one third of Guelph's 500 hectares of open space to return to its natural state. It has done this along many stretches of the river valley to help reduce erosion and to provide shade. The shade reduces water temperature, which enhances fish habitat.
  • Guelph recognizes the importance of gardening. By setting an example with its naturalization policy, the city encourages residents to plant perennials and other low-maintenance plants in their front yards. These plants require less watering, fewer chemicals and less fuel consumption (i.e. for grass cutting).

Waste Minimization

In the early 1990s, the city identified several ways in which its wet-dry recycling program could be improved. These issues formed the basis of the Green Plan Steering Committee's Waste Management Challenge, which pledged to "work towards an efficient waste management system that strives for the elimination of waste, based on a hierarchy of reduce, reuse and recycle." That initiative resulted in the following improvements:

  • Between 1994 and 1999, the city's waste diversion rate increased by 14 per cent, from 26 per cent to just under 40 per cent. The rates for 2000 are comparable. This figure represents an increase in household hazardous waste diversion from 5,380 to 11,420 drop-offs at the city's hazardous waste disposal site, yard waste diversion from 1,247 to 2,856 tonnes, and curbside household organics collection from zero to 6,700 tonnes.
  • In 2000, Guelph received and processed 7,200 tonnes of recyclables and compostables from the industrial, commercial, and institutional sectors.
  • Curbside collection of compost began in 1999 with the Dufferin Composts Project managed by Dufferin County. Compostable materials are processed at the Guelph owned and operated Wet-Dry Recycling Centre. This partnership is planned to continue as the program is expanded to the full county in 2001.
  • ·Guelph has formed a partnership with Eastern Power Ltd., which has patented a process to divert more than 90 per cent of municipal waste from landfill. The company has built a pilot demonstration anaerobic digester at Guelph's Wet-Dry Recycling Centre. The technology converts biodegradable waste (i.e. paper, kitchen wastes, etc.) to a compost-like product and a methane-rich gas. The long-term plan is to process a variety of wastes, use the compost product as a soil enhancer and the gas for fuel to reduce energy costs at the Wet-Dry Recycling Centre. Initial calculations by Eastern Power show that a full-scale digester would help Guelph achieve its six per cent reduction target for emissions at the community level.


Throughout the 1990s, the works department completed several studies and groundwater assessments and developed a water master plan. Meanwhile, the Green Plan identified ways for the community to enhance the quantity and quality of the city's water resources through wise and efficient use. As a result of this collaboration, Guelph has implemented:

  • water conservation programs — toilet replacements for apartment buildings and industrial audits have led to immediate reductions of more than 300 cubic metres per day and a 2.5 per cent per capita reduction in water consumption;
  • the Children's Groundwater Festival, which teaches children from grades four to six to appreciate the value of water;
  • groundwater protection initiatives and strategies for wellhead protection;
  • aquifer performance testing to measure groundwater supplies; and
  • the development of a groundwater model to track aquifer response to pumping demands.


Guelph operates a fully separated storm and sanitary sewer system with a wastewater treatment outlet to the Speed River. The river's flow limitations demand that the city perform primary, secondary and tertiary treatment prior to disinfecting and discharging the wastewater. The city uses state-of-the-art technology at its wastewater treatment facility and continually tries to improve processes to lessen the impact of the plant and its by-products.

In 1996, Guelph developed a new wastewater treatment strategy. Research found that the city's wastewater treatment facilities could be expanded to accommodate its projected population increase, provided that the city:

  • reduces per capita wastewater generation by 10 per cent by 2001, with an additional five per cent reduction by 2006, through water conservation and remediation of problems associated with increases in wastewater during wet years. (Per capita flows have decreased 10.6 per cent over the past four years.);
  • reduces phosphorus levels upstream of the plant by funding a rural water-quality grant program. This initiative was undertaken in partnership with Wellington County and the Grand River Conservation Authority. It encourages farmers to protect streams from the impact of their animals by building fences and called for retrofitting existing storm sewer outlets to the Speed and Eramosa Rivers; and
  • increases use of advanced wastewater treatment alternatives in future plant expansions, including ultraviolet disinfection, membrane filtration and storage of wastewater effluent in non-potable aquifers for reuse.

With the Green Plan Steering Committee's help, Guelph expects it will have no trouble meeting these objectives.


Guelph has been a pioneer in the area of stormwater management quantity and quality control and sub-watershed planning. The city maintains a network of more than 50 stormwater management ponds and more than 60 water quality manholes that capture oil and grit prior to discharge into the Speed and Eramosa rivers. Several subdivision developments in the south end of the city use groundwater infiltration — soaking runoff directly back into the ground-as the sole method for stormwater discharge. This method replenishes the groundwater aquifer that supplies the city's drinking water.

Other stormwater initiatives include:

  • stormwater management aesthetic guidelines, which direct landscaping of public and private stormwater management facilities;
  • planning studies that show how land and water resources will be affected by pending development and how these resources can be protected; and
  • annual Speed River cleanup, co-ordinated by the Ontario Public Information Research Group.

Guelph's close partnership with the Grand River Conservation Authority has been integral to these groundbreaking protection initiatives. The conservation authority is a leader in watershed management. In 2001, the authority won first prize at the third annual International River Management Symposium in Brisbane, Australia.


Convincing the community to alter its transportation habits has been the Green Plan's greatest challenge. Guelph completed the Transportation Strategy Update in 2000, which is aimed at increasing the number of people who regularly walk, cycle and take the bus over the next 10 years. An extensive network of bicycle lanes, routes and multi-use trails is being constructed throughout the city.

Guelph's goal is to increase overall transit ridership by 10 per cent by the year 2011 (up from five per cent in 1994). An agreement with the University of Guelph to ensure all students pay for a bus pass with their tuition helps keep Guelph at the top of federal and provincial ridership statistics. It also keeps a steady flow of cash coming to the transit division, which reduces the need for subsidies. As a result of major service additions, extended hours and the addition of Sunday service, transit ridership increased by 9.3 per cent in 2000 alone and has climbed more than 25 per cent over the past four years.

Guelph's 94 parks and open spaces cover 504 hectares of land and consist of a balanced mix of active and passive open space. Guelph has made it easy for pedestrians and cyclists to use 17 kilometres of city trails that connect to regional trails and the coast-to-coast Canada National Trail. This has lead to energy savings, improved air quality and improved health among Guelph residents.


In 1998, Guelph joined the Partners for Climate Protection program, a joint initiative of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, with the goal of reducing the community's greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent below 1994 levels by 2010. The city aims to reduce corporate emissions by 20 per cent over the same period. The Green Plan Steering Committee is helping the city develop a sustainable community approach in order to achieve an overall reduction in greenhouse gases. Guelph plans to achieve or exceed its targets by integrating existing policies with more community outreach programs and education. The pillars of the program include the following initiatives:

  • funding for 2,500 home energy audits through the federal Energuide Program;
  • completing a water conservation pilot program, with a projected reduction of at least 1,000 cubic metres per day;
  • approving and implementing a new Transportation Strategy Update, with a focus on increasing the proportion of commuters who don't drive cars;
  • implementing strategies to increase transit ridership, including major service additions, extended hours and the addition of Sunday service;
  • assisting an Ontario Public Information Research Group pilot program to increase ridesharing between Guelph and the Regional Municipality of Waterloo (The group, opposed to the widening of Highway Seven between Kitchener and Guelph, is conducting a study on how it can encourage commuters to rideshare.);
  • participating in 'Leave Your Car At Home Week';
  • assisting with the establishment of Guelph's first car co-op;
  • continuing to work with Eastern Power to promote its demonstration anaerobic digester at the city's wet-dry facility; and
  • participating in the Provincial Smog Alert Program, in which the province monitors smog levels by placing monitoring stations in dozens of Ontario cities.

Lessons Learned

  • Change starts with vision and proceeds to action through community involvement.
  • Don't be afraid to listen to the voice of the community.
  • Be prepared to take a different approach to solve the problem.(i.e. create sustainability through conservation of existing resources and infrastructure capacity versus constant expansion of capacity.)
  • Momentum may be slow at first, but the sum of many small victories can lead to larger success.
  • Look for assistance through partnerships. Synergy is preferable to doing everything by yourself.
Page Updated: 21/12/2015