Canadian Environmental Grantmakers Promote Urban Sustainability

Commissioned by the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network (CEGN), this report outlines some of the key issues related to urban sustainability in Canada, profiles some of the promising approaches, and explores various roles that the philanthropic community could play in moving communities forward in this field.

Sustainable Cities: The role of philanthropy in promoting urban sustainability

Sustainable cities are viewed as those that meet our human need for healthy and diverse habitats while preserving non-renewable resources for future generations and staying within the limits of local, regional and global ecosystems.

Increasingly, our notions of sustainability are influenced by complementary approaches to economic and social issues. Sustainable cities also focus on wellbeing and livability as measures of success within a “generative economy” rather than simply using economic growth as a yardstick for progress. Finally, a city that is able to draw on a rich mosaic of cultures, perspectives, and skills should, like a biological organism, be more resourceful, more innovative and more resilient.

Sustainable cities are more resilient

“A city that is able to draw on a rich mosaic of cultures, perspectives, and skills should, like a biological organism, be more resourceful, more innovative and more resilient.”

At the outset, it is important to recognize that direct philanthropic support for charities makes up a tiny percentage of the financial resources available for this work; earned revenues and government grants make up the lion’s share of most community organization’s budgets. Government and private investments in the built environment dwarf all other financial sources that could be aligned with sustainability principles. However, foundations can tackle issues and support innovative approaches in a way that governments and the private sector cannot or will not.

This report is intended as a starting point for a broader discussion about strategic philanthropy in support of more sustainable cities. Some of the roles that foundations might consider are as follows:

  • Frame “sustainability” in a holistic way, emphasizing the link among environmental, economic, and social characteristics;
  • Design strategies, including granting parameters, that place a premium on collaboration within the environmental movement, with other sectors and across domains (health, education, recreation, economic, etc.)
  • Use their brokering skills to convene and nurture partnerships among municipal governments, community organizations, and the private sector;
  • Provide support for promising and innovative initiatives that, if successful, can then be scaled up and financed by the public or private sector;
  • Strengthen the individual and collective capacity of community organizations
    to innovate, to work constructively with difference and conflict, and
    to deliver results;
  • Collaborate with other foundations: co-creating initiatives, sharing lessons, and supporting the creation of a new narrative;
  • Establish impact investing policies for their endowments and create pools of capital for green technologies and sustainable real estate development with an emphasis on social impact.

Download the full report

Download the executive summary




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