Seattle, WA – Sightline Institute’s annual “Cascadia Scorecard” report finds that British Columbia leads the Pacific Northwest on several trends of prosperity and environmental health, including health, energy efficiency, and curbing sprawl. But the province’s energy use is still stuck at a high level by global standards; and economic security has stalled for middle- and low-income British Columbians.

“While British Columbians can be proud of their record in Cascadia, the province has work to do before it’s a world leader in fostering sustainable, healthy communities,” said Clark Williams-Derry, Sightline’s research director and lead author of the Cascadia Scorecard.

To compile the Cascadia Scorecard, Sightline researchers collected data on seven key long-term trends shaping the future of the Northwest. They assessed the progress the region has made in each trend and how the Pacific Northwest—a region that includes British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, also called Cascadia—compares with world leaders for each trend.

The Scorecard, Williams-Derry said, is an alternative to misleading but influential indicators such as gross provincial product or the Dow Jones industrial average. “Until we pay as much attention to the trends that truly affect British Columbians’ lives, we can’t measure whether we’re better off,” he said.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan commented on the city’s efforts. “To preserve our health and quality of life, I have made environmental leadership one of the goals that guide my government’s service to Vancouver,” said Mayor Sullivan. “The EcoDensity plan we have introduced will help us meet this objective by reducing urban sprawl and minimizing Vancouver’s environmental footprint. It also recognizes land use planning as an environmental tool that cities control exclusively.”

The 2007 Cascadia Scorecard found that while the province led the Northwest in several important areas, it was slipping in others. Highlights include:

  • BC uses less energy than Northwest states, but the province’s energy use is still stuck in high gear. Counting both highway fuels and electricity in homes and businesses, British Columbians consume the energy-equivalent of about 41 liters of gasoline a week per person—one third less than residents of the Northwest states, but nearly double the rate of more energy-efficient nations such as Germany. Per capita diesel use in BC has risen by a third since 1990, and electricity use is on the rise.
  • Gasoline use down, but “efficiency gap” closing: British Columbians have cut back on gasoline use by about a tenth per person since 1998. But overall, BC’s per capita gasoline use hasn’t declined since 1990, while the Northwest states have become more fuel-efficient since that time. In good news, the province’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions promises to jumpstart energy efficiency and reduce BC’s contribution to climate change, a key threat to long-term health.
  • Economy security is still out of reach for many British Columbians. Median household income—a gauge of economic well-being for middle-class families—has improved recently in BC, but it still lags behind 1990’s level, and is well below the highs of the 1980s, after adjusting for inflation. Despite recent improvements, BC’s poverty rate has increased since 1990.
  • BC leads in health and healthy communities. British Columbians continue to outlive other northwesterners by 2 years, with a lifespan of 81.1 years. Vancouver and Victoria also lead the region in curbing sprawl, fueled by policies such as the Agricultural Land Reserve and Vancouver’s EcoDensity plan.
  • Key wildlife species are far below historic numbers: The populations of the five representative Cascadian wildlife species tracked by the Scorecard are all far below their historic abundance, including “southern resident” orcas and Selkirk caribou in BC.

Sightline’s Williams-Derry said that while British Columbia has performed better than the Northwest states on several trends, the province is facing critical decisions that could affect its leadership in the decades to come, such as a proposed expansion of the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1.

“BC has performed better than the Northwest states in part because its communities have invested in alternative transportation and walkable community design instead of freeways. Focusing on car-centered transportation could jeopardize the province’s leadership in climate and curbing sprawl,” said Williams-Derry.

Another key step for BC is to improve its measures of economic security. “For all the attention that we give to our pocketbooks in our personal lives, policymakers have little updated information about the financial security of working families,” said Williams-Derry. “Without an accurate gauge of how working families are doing, we’re flying blind.”

For more details on how British Columbia stacked up, please visit the Cascadia Scorecard.

June 12, 2007