Communities and Participatory Approaches

Case Study: Dockside Green

Dockside Green: A Healthy New Life for a Former Brownfield

Margaret Robertson

Dockside Green, a redevelopment of a formerly polluted industrial site near downtown Victoria, British Columbia, not only achieved LEED-NC Platinum certification for all the buildings constructed so far, it was the first project in the world to apply for the LEED Neighborhood Development certification when it came out, and now carries LEED-ND Platinum certification in this as well. The first phase of the project, a four-building development named Synergy, achieved 63 points, the highest number of points ever received by a project under LEED for New Construction (Buntin and Pirie 2013, 153). The second phase of the project received LEED-NC Platinum certification as well. The entire project when completed will consist of 26 buildings across three neighborhoods. Dockside Village is a mixed-use neighborhood of homes, offices, and shops; Dockside Commons is a mix of townhouses and light industry; and Dockside Wharf, which includes the Synergy project, is a mixed-use residential neighborhood.

This community was originally a 15-acre brownfield, an industrial site with shipyards, log mills, an oil refinery, a paint factory, and an asphalt plant (Buntin and Pirie 2013, 152). After years of use, the result was soil severely contaminated by heavy metals, petrochemical residues, and other toxins. The City of Victoria purchased the degraded site for $1 and a few years later, following public visioning and workshops, began restoring the site and planning a new community. After the polluted soil was remediated, healing continued with extensive planting of native species of trees and plants across the site.

The City of Victoria called for design proposals to be based on smart growth and New Urbanist principles and to focus on the triple bottom line, with economic opportunity and spaces that are healthy and affordable (Hart 2009). With some subsidy from the city, 11 percent of the residential units are designated as affordable housing (Farr 2008, 261). First Nation tribal members were trained to help build the project. Building materials with no or low levels of volatile organic compounds, operable windows, and walkable streets support healthy living. Lease agreements for all retail spaces require that occupants obtain LEED for Commercial Interiors certification. Balcony planters and roof gardens allow residents to grow food.

Built above an underground parking structure, the buildings feature green roofs on top, where residents grow food in vegetable gardens. The green roofs also filter and slow stormwater runoff and reduce the urban heat island effect. Large windows and open floor plans inside, and open spaces with ponds, wetlands, and vegetation weaving through the neighborhoods outside, support the biophilic human need for contact with nature. Fifty percent of the first phase, Synergy, is dedicated to open space (Buntin and Pirie 2013, 160).

All the rainwater that falls on the site is collected and used for landscape and green-roof irrigation and toilet flushing, or is infiltrated in ponds, bioswales, and a constructed stream which runs through the site. Every residential unit has a balcony with a planter box irrigated by rainwater. Most paving is permeable, allowing stormwater to infiltrate. In Synergy, the first building phase, 30 percent of the water used by buildings comes from reclaimed water (AIA/COTE 2009). All wastewater is treated on-site in a membrane bioreactor and is also used for irrigation, toilet flushing, and water features; the site’s facility also treats sewage from the City of Victoria for a fee.

The orientation and narrow footprints of the buildings maximize the use of daylighting, bring in warmth from the sun in winter and provide shading in the summer. More technical systems include an economizer cycle in the ventilation system and radiant cooling using cold water from the municipal water system. A living wall flanking two sides of a public plaza in the development known as Balance helps to cool the adjacent buildings, reducing the energy demand. People in each residential unit can monitor their greenhouse gas emissions, energy, and hot water use from electronic dashboard panels and have control over heating, ventilation, and movable shade canopies.

A combined heat and power (CHP) plant fired by wood waste from local industries provides heat and hot water to the entire neighborhood. In the CHP system, a gasifier converts the wood waste to carbon-neutral synthetic gas (Novotny, Ahern, and Brown 2010, 587), which is burned and used to heat water in a boiler; the hot water is used in the Dockside development and sold to neighboring businesses. Biosolid disks left after wastewater treatment are used to supplement the wood waste. The CHP plant, together with electricity from hydropower sources, microturbines and solar photovoltaic panels on buildings, and purchased renewable energy credits, result in the site being carbon neutral (AIA/COTE 2009).

During construction, only 4 percent of construction waste was sent to the landfill, and organic waste such as paper towels and lunch leftovers was composted. Today, compost from commercial and residential buildings is used to build healthy soil in landscapes across the site.

Building construction uses sustainably harvested and biodegradable bamboo cabinets and flooring, with options for cork flooring. Concrete in the mid-rise towers uses 40 percent fly ash in place of planet-heating cement (Hart 2009). Wood in the low-rise townhouses comes from trees reclaimed from flooded forests submerged by hydroelectric dams around the world. Corridors in residential buildings use modular carpet tiles from Interface; these tiles are carbon neutral when purchased and can be recycled and replaced with other carpet tiles when needed.

According to the developer, although the green-building strategies added a premium of about $10 per square foot, or $1.78 million, to the total cost of the project, that added cost was completely offset by other costs that were reduced, including the increased density allowed by the City because the project handles its own wastewater and energy, and by the increased real estate values and sales volumes due to demand for green features. A stream-and-pond system has significantly raised appraised values, while also improving biodiversity (Novotny, Ahern, and Brown 2010, 587).

People at Dockside Green can get around using car-sharing services. Two fuel-efficient cars are available for use by residents, and a locally owned car-sharing cooperative provides cars for commercial tenants. Several bus lines and a ferry network link the site with downtown Victoria.

The site is pedestrian friendly and walkable, with a broad promenade along mixed-use retail and light industrial areas. A walking and biking trail, the Galloping Goose, runs along the waterfront and connects to the 13,000-mile Trans-Canada Trail. Two neighborhood parks are nearby. A master plan calls for waterfront restoration and walkways, piers for small boats, a playground, a greenway, a creek, and other water features. A large plaza and outdoor amphitheater are planned, bordered by a sustainability center which will help residents and visitors learn about the thinking that shapes this place.


AIA/COTE (American Institute of Architects, Committee on the Environment). “AIA/COTE 2009 Top Ten Green Projects.”

Benfield, Kaid. “Is This the World’s Greenest Neighborhood?” The Atlantic, August 25, 2011.

Buntin, Simmons B. and Ken Pirie. Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places, 151–62. Los Angeles, CA: Planetizen, 2013.

Corps, C., S. Walter, W.P. Lucey, and J. O’Riordan. Resources from Waste: Integrated Resource Management Phase I Study Report. Victoria, BC: British Columbia Ministry of Community Services, 2008.

Dockside Green.

Farr, Douglas. Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature. New York: John Wiley, 2008.

Hart, Sara. “Case Study: Dockside Green.” GreenSource: The Magazine of Sustainable Design, January/February 2009.

Novotny, Vladimir, Jack Ahern, and Paul Brown. Water Centric Sustainable Communities: Planning, Retrofitting, and Building the Next Urban Environment, 585–88. New York: John Wiley, 2010.

O’Riordan, J., W.P. Lucey, C.L. Barraclough, and C.G. Corps. “Resources from Waste: An Integrated Approach to Managing Municipal Water and Waste Systems.” Industrial Biotechnology, vol. 4 no. 3 (September 2008): 238–45.

Partridge, Margaret. “Case Study: Environmental Planning of Dockside Green, Victoria, BC.” First Carbon Solutions, February 12, 2013.

Sparica, D. “Biomass Gasification Anchors Dockside Green.” Municipal World: Canada’s Municipal Magazine, January 2008: 13–14.

Case Study: Participatory Governance

Participatory Governance in the Forest Stewardship Council

Margaret Robertson

Tropical deforestation began to escalate in the 1980s and 1990s. The public took notice, and home-improvement retail chains faced mounting pressure over their sale of environmentally and socially unsustainable wood products. Governmental policies had not been able to stanch the destruction and the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio had failed to produce an agreement to stop deforestation. Growing out of seminal conversations begun in 1990 and continuing through 1992 at the Rio Summit, in 1993 the World Wildlife Fund and several nongovernmental organizations, retailers, activists, and timber producers came together in Toronto, Canada to look for a way to stop the deterioration of the world’s forests (FSC 2013). As they worked to draft principles and criteria, participants referred to recent examples of successful processes, including the 1987 Montreal Protocol agreement to phase out production of ozone-thinning CFCs and the 1990 Helsinki Agreement ending the Cold War (Tollefson, Gale, and Haley 2008, 31).

This consensus-based group became known as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). From the beginning the new group realized that in order to foster sustainable forestry, people involved with forests would need authentic triple-bottom-line support. Accordingly, FSC’s mission is “to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests” (Tollefson, Gale, and Haley 2008, 3). To reflect this mission, the people guiding the birth of the FSC established a governance structure with three chambers: environmental, social, and economic, each holding one-third of the total vote. Although the interests of each of these three chambers is balanced, there are special rules to ensure that the interests of indigenous peoples are represented (Tollefson, Gale, and Haley 2008, 4). Each of the three chambers includes two subchambers, one from the Northern Hemisphere and one from the Southern Hemisphere. The goal of this unique structure is to ensure that no one group or interest can dominate policy-making (Hansen, Fletcher, Cashore, and McDermott 2006, 3). The governing body is known as the General Assembly, and meets approximately every two years, with a supermajority of 66 percent required to pass any resolution (Tollefson, Gale, and Haley 2008, 28).

FSC is voluntary and open access. Any group or individual who agrees with FSC’s mission, principles, and criteria is welcome to become a member. While many members are interested in environmental or economic issues, it has been more challenging to recruit members for the social chamber, which includes representatives from such arenas as indigenous groups, unions, social welfare organizations, and sustainable development organizations (Tollefson, Gale, and Haley 2008, 28). FSC principles say that proposals can come from any stakeholder, and the Council actively seeks input from its members and other stakeholders for both new documents and revisions to existing documents. This stakeholder input, they say, “is fundamentally important for the consensus-building that we foster around even controversial issues” (FSC 2013).

FSC principles and criteria are general, and apply to any certified forest operation. But, as with other applications of sustainability, while principles may be global the details are often local and adapted to the particular place. In that spirit, FSC has established what it calls national working groups in many countries, on almost every continent. These groups develop recommendations for national standards in their own countries, which they then submit to the central FSC Board of Directors for approval. FSC says that “interested stakeholders are invited to actively participate” in working group forums (FSC 2013).

FSC accredits third-party auditors to verify certification of forests and wood products which come from them. The largest FSC-accredited certifier is the Rainforest Alliance, a nongovernmental organization focused on environmental conservation and one of FSC’s founders (Rainforest Alliance 2010).

Occasionally FSC has been criticized: for expensive or bureaucratic certification procedures (IISD 2013), for underrepresenting certain political groups or industry sectors (Tollefson, Gale, and Haley 2008, 21), and for underrepresenting the interests of people in the Southern Hemisphere, where most of the world’s tropical forests are found—only 49 percent of members are from that zone—although FSC does try to subsidize attendance by members from the South (Tollefson, Gale, and Haley 2008, 29). Still, FSC is noteworthy for its focus on inclusion and equity, bringing quite diverse stakeholders to sit and work together at the decision-making table.


FSC (Forest Stewardship Council, International Center). Accessed October 1, 2013.

Forest Stewardship Council, United States. Accessed October 1, 2013.

Hansen, E., R. Fletcher, B. Cashore, and C. McDermott. “Forest Certification in North America.” EC 1518-E (February 2006).

IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development). “Forest Stewardship Council.” Accessed September 28, 2013.

Rainforest Alliance. “Forest Products Certification.” Accessed December 31, 2010.

Tollefson, Chris, Fred Gale, and David Haley. Certification, Governance, and the Forest Stewardship Council. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008.

Case Study: Transition Town Totnes

Margaret Robertson

Transition Network is a worldwide initiative that promotes communities who are organizing to build local resilience in the face of changing climate and declining fossil fuel resources. It is not a template, since each place is different and sustainability is always rooted in place, but it does offer a vision of a hopeful future. A core idea is that a life with less fossil fuel and fewer greenhouse gas emissions could actually be better than our current life. One of the first and most successful Transition Towns sprouted and grew in Totnes.

Totnes is a small town of 8000 people in Devon, UK, where people tend to know each other and a high percentage of the businesses are still small and locally owned. Like an organism growing, networks of existing groups and interested people began to connect, and in 2006,

350 people came together for what they called the Official Unleashing of Transition Town Totnes (Hopkins 2008, 177). On that first day, people worked in clusters of twos and threes to brainstorm their visions for a resilient, diverse, and healthy Totnes in the post peak-oil future, then reconvened and together gradually began assembling the outlines of a community vision using sticky notes and hope.

A lot has happened since that first gathering. A number of emergent groups have self-organized, allowing each person to contribute energy and knowledge to areas that are most meaningful for them. Groups now include a Government Liaison group, consisting of town councilors and others; Sustainable Makers, a group of craftspeople; Arts; Building and Housing; multiple Transition Streets, each consisting of five to 10 households; Heart and Soul; the Project Support Group, similar to a steering committee; and the Trustees group, responsible for financial, legal, and personnel issues.

Transition Town Totnes (TTT) has hosted an array of 10-week courses and one-day workshops on topics including Skilling Up, Oil Vulnerability Auditing for Businesses, Life After Oil, Designing Productive meetings, and how to make short films. They have brought in films and well-known speakers on a wide range of topics including local food, peak oil, self-sufficiency in Cuba, local building materials, energy descent planning, climate change, globalization and localization, permaculture, zero-energy housing, economics and happiness indicators, food and farming, housing projects or estates (an event for landowners), and urban planning after peak oil.

Transition Town Totnes has also held a number of one-day Open Space events. Open Space is a self-organizing process for tackling complex issues, in which groups create their own agendas. Together the whole group creates a list of topics that need to be discussed and then participants choose to join sessions that are right for them. Usually several rounds of self-organized conversations take place throughout the day. Participants come together in a large group at the end of the process to develop shared understanding and to determine what their next steps should be. Separate Open Space Days in Totnes have included days devoted to food, energy, housing, economics, transportation, and one sponsored by the Heart and Soul group exploring the psychology of change. The Open Space day on energy led to the formation of the Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC), whose members have since invested personal capital in a wind farm and a portfolio of other renewable energy projects.

The town has launched a form of local currency called the Totnes Pound. This currency can be purchased and exchanged, like other currencies, on a one-to-one basis, but can only be spent in the local community. Currently 80 Totnes businesses accept the Totnes Pound. The town has found that tourists buy the Totnes Pound as well, but take them home as souvenirs, bringing an infusion of extra money into the town.

Transition Totnes initiatives have created a local food directory, held a seed exchange, and planted nut trees all over town. A Design Day related to nut-tree planting was held in which people learned about defining spaces, what trees need, and how to select appropriate sites. In the spirit of industrial ecology, local business owners spent one day, which they called the Business Swap Shop, identifying wastes from one business that could become inputs for another, using the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme as a model. For example, one business regularly discarded a lot of cardboard boxes and another removal business needed a lot of cardboard boxes, so they began working together. A garden-share program was begun which pairs people who have land with people who want to grow gardens, with both partners benefiting. Totnes groups have created what is perhaps the most substantial Energy Descent Action Plan to date (Hopkins 2011, 236).

Storytelling is used both to understand the town’s cultural history and to envision scenarios of the future. In one popular event, called Transition Tales, people covered a wall with a long timeline of the next 25 years. Some participants posted sticky notes describing events they envisioned, placing them in the year where they were seen as appropriate or likely to occur. Others wrote newspaper articles for a year of their choice along the timeline. Transition Town Totnes stresses the importance of celebration. Celebratory gatherings can mark important milestones, strengthen social fabric, and help people recognize how much they have accomplished. As Richard Heinberg, a popular guest speaker in Totnes, says, “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right” (Heinberg and Lerch 2010, 446).


Heinberg, Richard and Daniel Lerch, eds. The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises. Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2010.

Hodgson, Jacqi and Rob Hopkins. Transition in Action: Totnes and District 2030: An Energy Descent Action Plan. Cambridge, UK: Green Books, 2010.

Hopkins, Rob. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

______. The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times. White River, VT: Chelsea Green, 2011.

Transition Network.

Transition Town Totnes.

Recommended Routledge Books

Supplementary Reading




Free Journal Articles

Communities and Participatory Approaches

Hannah Strauss, ‘Procedures for large-scale energy projects: local communities and siting processes in the Arctic’
Kamrul Hossain. ‘How great can a “greater say” be? Exploring the aspirations of Arctic indigenous peoples for a stronger engagement in decision-making’,
Park, Jung Jin ‘Fostering community energy and equal opportunities between communities’
Dannevig, Halvor, Trude Rauken and Grete Hovelsrud, ‘Implementing adaptation to climate change at the local level’
Muthoni, Joyce Waririmu and Elizabeth Edna Wangui ‘Women and Climate Change: Strategies for Adaptive Capacity in Mwanga District, Tanzania’

Video Links

  1. Interview with Bruno Latour

    Duration: 7:05

    In this interview Latour discusses science, social science, politics, climate change and the future for Europe. We need new frameworks for thinking about personal action in the context of ecological crisis, he argues.

  2. Five Steps to Environmentally Sustainable Behaviour Change

    Duration: 0:58

    In this very short clip, Douglas Mackenzie Mohr provides a very concise account of the key ideas presented in the book that he co-authored titled Fostering Sustainable Behaviour.

  3. Coping with Cascading Crises of Our World, Interview with Professor Robert Jensen

    Duration: 5:21

    Professor Robert Jensen from the University of Texas, Austin, talks about building communities and new forms of personal action in the face of overlapping crises of sustainability.

  4. Not the Future We Ordered, John Michael Greer

    Duration: 1:38:16

    Recording of a rather lengthy lecture presented in Detroit in 2013, in which Greer outlines his ideas about personal action in a period of deindustrialisation.

  5. Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken

    Duration: 5:54

    An inspiring short speech that Paul Hawken gave in April 2007 at a Bioneers Conference to promote his book The Blessed Unrest. It includes reference to a mammoth list of community-based organisations working to bring about environmental sustainability across the planet.

  6. Carlo Petrini on Slow Food and Terra Madre

    Duration: 4:01

    The founder of the International Slow Food Movement speaks about the history and aims of the movement.

  7. What is a Community of Practice?

    Duration: 4:28

    Co-creator of the concept of ‘communities of practice’, Etienne Wenger, speaks about what the concept means.

Blogs and Websites