About 30 students in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies benefited from an intimate discussion with Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone on March 22. The deputy mayor came to the fourth-year undergraduate Ecological Economics course as a special guest speaker on urban sustainability.
Ecological economics studies the interactions between ecosystems and the economic systems they support. Students in the course learn about theories, methods, and policies that can link markets and economic policy with sustainability.
Left: Joe Pantalone
The session on urban sustainability focused on using fiscal tools such as taxing, spending, and borrowing in ways to transform the urban form and the behaviour of its institutions and people. The session also examined ways of understanding the ecological demand of urban economies and ways to value the benefits of urban natural capital and its preservation.
Pantalone described various ways the city uses these kinds of practices to encourage sustainability. For example, research on green roofs show that they lower infrastructure costs by decreasing the need for stormwater drainage, lasting longer than normal roofs, and saving electricity by reducing the temperature – and the need for air conditioning – in the city. Therefore, the city is undertaking a pilot project that gives rebates for green roofs, and can understand this initial expense as a long-term financial investment.
Other environmental projects the city is involved with are detailed in the new City of Toronto Green Guide, which the deputy mayor handed out to the class.
“The key is to get the market on side by ensuring that everyone follows good environmental practices,” he said. To illustrate his point he used the example of condominium buildings. When builders use sustainable practices, they initially spend more, but the buildings are less expensive in the long-term because they are more energy efficient. Since the builders recover their initial costs from the consumer, these condos are more expensive, which discourages people from buying them. But if all builders were required to use the same sustainable practices, the competitive disadvantages would be eliminated. However, this also raises an important issue in dealing with environmental problems – the city cannot enact such legislation, as it currently falls under the province’s jurisdiction.
FES course director Eric Miller is an experienced ecological economics consultant who has worked for Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. He invited the deputy mayor to address students to connect the material they learn in class to the political challenges and opportunities governing Toronto. Miller said, “Ecological economics is as much about understanding economics in an ecological context as it is about conveying this thinking to the broader public. The deputy mayor was an ideal speaker given his record of conveying the economic benefits of sustainable practices.”
“The Faculty of Environmental Studies is very glad to provide unique opportunities like this for our students,” said FES Dean Joni Seager. “The Deputy Mayor’s experience working with environmental issues is an invaluable resource, and we deeply appreciate his support and contributions.”