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Policy transfer of innovative sustainability principles and practices: The Whistler, British Columbia Model

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Author: Munro, Fiona
This study examines how innovative policies that seek to embed sustainability principles emerge and how these policies adapt during their transfer. The mountain resort of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada is the focal point of this study as the development of its innovative governance approach towards sustainability served as a potential model for other resort destinations. A case study approach was used with key informant interviews and a document analysis. Subsequently, the transferability of Whistler’s governance approach to five other British Columbia resort municipalities was examined through a document analysis. From these five, Harrison Hot Springs was selected for a more in-depth examination using key informant interviews to add greater insights into the policy transfer process. This study found that Whistler has developed an innovative model of governance based on sustainability principles and practices derived from The Natural Step (a non-profit, sustainability consulting organization). From this foundation, the resort community over several years developed a comprehensive, sustainability policy document known as Whistler2020, which is the guide for its innovative governance approach. This approach is frequently referred to as the “Whistler Model”. The Whistler Model is being transferred to other newly designated resort municipalities in British Columbia through the Whistler Centre for Sustainability in a facilitated and structured format called the “Quick Start” process. This process creates, through a partnership between the Centre and the recipient community, an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan. Based on evidence from the case studies, the Whistler Model was found to be highly flexible and adaptable to the context and conditions to which it was transferred. However, some challenges were identified - notably the “nature of politics”, that has short term interests, thus making long term planning difficult. Other crucial factors for success that were identified included: the need for high levels of continuous public engagement; on-going education concerning sustainability; and, the need for community buy-in. One of the most important factors in moving towards sustainable tourism is through the transfer of sustainability policies and practices to aid in the development of new governance approaches. Understanding the development of innovative governance towards sustainable futures and the process of policy transfer will contribute to more appropriate and successful diffusion of these ideas.
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