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The Challenges and Successes of Implementing Sustainable Business Practices in the Downtown Eastside

Updated: May 25, 2023

The Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver is known for its vibrant culture and diverse community, but it is also a neighborhood that faces numerous challenges. In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards sustainable business practices, as more and more organizations are recognizing the importance of reducing their environmental footprint and promoting social responsibility. However, implementing sustainable business practices in the DTES community comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities.


One of the key challenges faced by organizations in the DTES community is the lack of resources and infrastructure needed to support sustainable practices. Many businesses in the area operate on a shoestring budget, which means that investments in green technologies or renewable energy sources can be difficult to justify. Additionally, access to reliable recycling services or composting facilities can be limited, making it challenging to dispose of waste in an eco-friendly manner.


Despite these challenges, there are numerous success stories of organizations that have implemented sustainable practices in the DTES community.


For example, The Binners' Project is a social enterprise that employs binners (people who collect and sort recyclables) to divert waste from the landfill and promote a circular economy. The Binners' Project has been successful in creating jobs for people who face barriers to employment and reducing waste in the community.


Another success story is the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association (HxBIA), which had implemented a Green Zone program to encourage businesses in the area to adopt sustainable practices. The program included initiatives such as composting and recycling services, as well as energy efficiency audits and green technology installations. As a result, numerous businesses in the DTES community have reduced their environmental impact and contributed to the overall sustainability of the neighborhood.


As climate change continues to affect communities around the world, the Downtown Eastside is not immune to its impacts. In the summer months, heatwaves can be particularly dangerous for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those experiencing homelessness. However, a new project is utilizing the traditional knowledge of Coast Salish communities to combat the effects of heatwaves. The project involves planting Coast Salish plants in the DTES, such as salal and Oregon grape, which have natural cooling properties and can help regulate the temperature in urban environments. Alexandra Thomas, Naxnagəm, a Forestry Resources Management undergraduate student minoring in Community and Aboriginal Forestry at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is Kwakwaka’wakw and Coast Salish, with maternal lineage from Tlowitsis First Nation and paternal lineage from shíshálh First Nation, envisions a future where the urban hub on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səlilwətaɬ territories return to how it once was — lush with Coast Salish plants that create cooling effects and healing while also purifying the air. By promoting the use of these plants and incorporating them into the urban landscape, the project is not only combating the effects of climate change but also promoting the revitalization of traditional knowledge and practices.


However, implementing sustainable practices in the DTES community is not just about reducing environmental impact; it is also about promoting social responsibility and creating positive social change. Many organizations in the area have recognized this and are actively working towards creating a more equitable and sustainable community. For example, The Downtown Eastside Women's Centre operated a community garden, providing fresh produce and job opportunities for women in the area, while also promoting sustainable agriculture practices.


While there are certainly challenges to implementing sustainable business practices in the Downtown Eastside community, there are also numerous success stories and opportunities to create positive change. By working together and recognizing the importance of sustainability and social responsibility, organizations in the DTES community can create a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

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