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Who We Are

Our Mission

Sustainable Toronto will promote community sustainability and facilitate the transition to a sustainable society by challenging and working with all sectors including governments, researchers, educators, businesses, non-profits and other community members.

About Us    

Sustainable Toronto is a consortium between two academic units: the Environmental Studies Program of Innis College, University of Toronto; and the York Centre for Applied Sustainability, York University. We are also linked with the following key agencies: City of Toronto; the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP); and the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) - as well as several other non-profit groups - in a unique and innovative partnership to promote community sustainability.

Our primary goal is to foster the application of sustainability practices by joint efforts on the part of community and university partners.


Sustainable Toronto has adopted the vision from the City of Toronto's Environmental Plan, Clean, Green and Healthy: A Plan for an Environmentally Sustainable Toronto as its vision for the City. It begins:

"In the year 2025, Toronto is a world leader in sustainable urban living. It is a city that is renowned for the quality of life experienced by its residents. Civic leaders credit the city's thriving economy to measures taken to protect the environment. Decision-makers and residents understand that long term sustainability requires a healthy natural environment, a healthy economy, and healthy communities. Planning considers the needs of future generations, the need to build in a way that supports sustainable transportation, and the need to protect and enhance Toronto's green infrastructure."

Building on this vision for the future, the Sustainable Toronto recognizes that meaningful societal change can only come about if it is community-led and government-supported. Our community groups are the catalyst for this change - informed and supported by the participation of our university partners and researchers, and working in collaboration with the City - as they build their skills and improve their knowledge base, as they further connect with each other, and eventually as they then transform governance in our community. Through their actions and the ensuing waves that ripple through the community, a critical mass of people will acknowledge that it is within our power to make the necessary changes to society to ensure its survival, and will demand that these changes be made.

Sustainable Toronto builds the coalitions that connect this community action with diverse groups of businesses, non-profits, governments, researchers, educators and concerned individuals through participation in collaborative projects that promote community sustainability. Sustainable Toronto's vision for our project is:

"Working with our many partners across all sectors, Sustainable Toronto is actively influencing decisions and actions in Toronto. We at Sustainable Toronto are helping to promote sustainability across Canada and beyond through our networks across Canada and linkages with other sustainable communities, many of which have based their successful efforts on our model."

Defining Sustainability  

The term "sustainability" means different things to different people. Therefore, it is important to define sustainability (and its variations) in the context of its use by Sustainable Toronto.

The following definitions stress that sustainable development is a "process" rather than an "outcome". The process is an on-going critical analysis that stresses efficiency and limits to growth. It is an alternative decision-making tool that encourages experimental thinking over the status quo and which can and should be used by all sectors. We recognize that the notion of sustainability has limitations: it does not consider historical factors; it is anthropocentric rather than biocentric; and it does not incorporate non-Western perspectives. We expect that, as the process of sustainable development becomes more widely used, and as our knowledge and understanding of the concept improve, our definitions will evolve accordingly.

With these notions in mind, we propose the following definitions:

Sustainability is an approach to decision making that incorporates the interconnections and impacts of economic, social and environmental factors on the quality of life of today's and future generations. It is a dynamic and evolving notion, and as a process, it strives to be participatory, transparent, equitable, informed, and accountable.

Sustainable Development:
Sustainable development is development (economic or otherwise) that incorporates the notion of sustainability into the decision-making process.

Sustainable Community:
A sustainable community is a community, or group of connected individuals, that employ sustainability principles in the activities that create or contribute to the functioning of their community.

Community sustainability means a new way of thinking about our relations with other people in our own community and in others, about our jobs, about our natural environment and the human needs it serves, about the future of our children and their children, and about the governance of our communities on every scale. This new way of thinking stresses cooperation in the search for common goals that will replace competition in promoting individual interests. To help individuals and groups promote the transition to sustainable communities, there is a need to work across sectors and forge alliances with governments, researchers, educators, businesses, non-profits and other community members.

A New Paradigm  

In effect, sustainable development is a new paradigm of decision making for all sectors of society: it entails developing a new perspective on present-day issues and challenges and requires a better appreciation of the complex interconnections between the economic, social and environmental aspects of these issues. Sustainable development recognizes that in order to be effective, environmental policies need to be socially and economically feasible; social policies need to be environmentally and economically feasible; and economic policies need to be socially and environmentally feasible.

The relevance of sustainability can be established by its prevalence in policy discourses, private sector strategic planning, university curricula and the marked growth in recent years of environmental non-profits aiming to achieve sustainable communities. What has been missing from these initiatives, however, is cross-sectoral collaboration, despite the varied resources that each sector has to offer for promoting a transition to a more sustainable society. Sustainable Toronto therefore seeks to encourage and support collaborative efforts between these sectors with special emphasis on non-profit organizations, local government and universities. It proposes to achieve this objective through a series of complementary projects, each of which aims to link research and action.

Achieving Benefits  

Implementation of the collaborative projects and the ongoing discourse around sustainability issues is achieving the following benefits:

  • improved knowledge, problem-solving and decision-making capacity of community organizations and university partners to provide insights into how sustainability practices work and how they can successfully combine economic development, environmental protection and social equity;
  • opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to undertake unique research, training and work experiences that will inform and implement sustainability in a variety of settings;
  • a framework for increased networking amongst universities and community organizations which are investing in initiatives for the promotion of sustainability in order to ensure enhanced alliance-building, mutual learning through complementary research and action agendas, and shared dissemination efforts; and
  • enhanced social and economic community development characterized by action and research initiatives that promote and achieve tangible gains for sustainability, long-lasting community-university linkages and increased opportunities for hands-on experience for university students and researchers as well as for non-governmental organizations and other local leaders.

a Community University Research Alliance (CURA)
sponsored by: 

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)

other CURA projects:



About us
Defining sustainability
A new paradigm 
Achieving benefits