Yesterday I started a discussion about the sustainability of our pending relocation from Australia to Canada, and some of the decisions we have to make to get this done quickly and within a reasonable budget, (after all, if we had heaps of money, the decisions would be easier one would presume). So following our myriad of travel options, lets see what else in our move warrants a check for sustainability.

Today’s target is…

Location – Where to Live

The first and probably toughest decision we are facing is where to move to. On the flight back from my recent trip to Canada, (I know, I know, more air travel = more carbon = global warming!), I listed over thirty discrete items that needed to be considered in relation to where we would move to. Here’s a break down of some of the items on this list from the sustainability of life side.

Cost of Housing

Affordable housing is nearly impossible to get in many of the larger cities in North America. Affordability itself is difficult to balance with quality of life, length of commute and the hours required to work to pay off the house that you live in that may be an hours commute away at the end of a long day. As such the type and price of housing that we would be able to afford comes into play fairly early in the “equation”. It’s no good to us to have either of the extremes, affordable/not sustainable or expensive/sustainable, there has to be a balance.

Here are some more of the sub-factors that are key to our decision. Read more after the jump….

Local Transport


(Or commute time). Would you rather be stuck in traffic for ten hours a week, sit on a bus for ten hours a week, drive for ten hours a week in the country, or walk for ten hours a week? The safest and healthiest option in most areas is to walk, however living in urban and downtown areas can be prohibitively expensive, and this quality of life is only available to the wealthy. 

Public transport is a good option if the network service is reliable, affordable and close to either end of your journey with an acceptably straight route between the destinations. When any one of these points is missing, ridership decreases and passenger satisfaction is low. Currently I catch the bus to work and home up to 8 trips a week. This is an enjoyable time for me, its where I get most of my reading or listening to podcasts done. For the past four years living in Australia we have lived comfortably with one car in our household of two adults and two young children. This has been a conscious decision on our part to only live in places where public transport was available, and walking was an option.

Food Security

Increasingly, our food is coming from hundreds or thousands of miles away from where we live, grown in conditions we have little or no knowledge about and sometimes grown with the aid of pesticides or herbicides that are banned in our own country. Local food production is not a trivial matter, given a peak oil scenario, or a natural or other manmade disaster, it is important for cities and surrounding areas to consider their own food sustainability. One community considering this question is the West Kootenays in British Columbia, Canada…

In the event some cataclysmic event cut the West Kootenay off from the rest of the province, there is no reason the area couldn’t be nutritionally self-sufficient, say supporters of a local food security movement.

To explore this idea, the Kootenay Food Strategy Committee will host an afternoon of food security discussions on Nov. 4 at the Kinnaird Park Community Church. People got a wake-up call with the spinach and carrot issues recently, said Les Carter, former Rossland mayor and a member of the KFSC.

But the food security movement is about more than guarding against botulism and other food-borne illnesses. The real issue with food security comes down to affordability. The food security movement grew out of a recognition of social inequality in how food is distributed.

Source: BCNG Portals Page

Water Security

Western Canada had a pretty dry summer, not as dry as our one in a thousand year drought we’re in the middle of here in Australia, but dry enough to raise the climate change specter. So what does water security mean. To me it means multiple, viable, sustainable, clean sources of water.  You need to have multiple sources so as not to fall prey to algae attacks as water temperatures inevitably rise, such sources should be scaled from the bottom-up, rather than the traditional top-down water distribution networks, and include rood water collection, streams, dams, lakes and groundwater sources as appropriate. 


I’m a Civil Engineer, and I expect that I’ll be one for a while yet. I enjoy it, and find it fulfilling. However, sustainable work as a function of where to live has to look at other factors such as environmental, political, social and economic. All of these factors could alter the face of the local work situation, either for better or worse. A good question to ask is… Will there be opportunities to do or practice other things that you enjoy doing?

The other side of sustainable work is simply, is it sustainable that you do that job? Moving cities, (and countries) is the perfect time to assess these issues, and consideration should be given as to what is the best thing to be doing for your family and lifestyle. 

Community and the Environment


Having a community of like minded people around you is pretty comforting.  In this Internet age we can easily surround ourselves with friends from all over the world through VOIP, IRC, and blogs. But ultimately it comes back to the daily face to face social interactions on the street level. That is what makes a community sustainable.  How friendly are the people? What are the churches like? Are there people with similar environmental or professional goals? What recreation activities are available? Can you “reconnect” with nature easily? Is exercise valued? Do you have family close by? Are the schools and health system any good?

Additional Thoughts

Many of these items are fairly personal and specific to my family and our desires, but a sustainability spin can be put on almost any of them that does or should relate to anyone. I’ve covered them all briefly, if you have any comments, please write them below, I’m interested in your ideas on how to make a move as sustainable as possible. Tomorrow, I’m going to touch on what matters in a house and a home for us.

Thanks for reading.


Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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