Sudbury: From Environmental Embarrassment to Green Leader

Today’s guest blogger is Cathy Orlando, a climate champion from Sudbury, Ontario. Cathy is the Science Outreach Coordinator at Laurentian University and the Canadian coordinator of the Climate Summit. I had the privilege of nominating Cathy as one of Canada’s Champions of Change, as she is a volunteer who makes a huge difference in her community.This was first published on Green Nexus on November 20, 2008.

My Green Sudbury

Yes, I am talking about Sudbury, Ontario, Canada; a small town famous for its moonscape like topography. That moonscape is now mostly obscured by trees and vegetation. Since the 1980’s this city has transformed so much that Sudbury has been designated by the United Nations University as a Regional Centre of Expertise for Sustainable Development.  How our city transformed from an environmental embarrassment to an environmental leader is an example to the world on how things can change.

Sudbury is a Northern mining town nestled in the crater of a nickel-copper-rich meteorite that hit the Earth over a billion years ago. Companies that mine and smelt copper and nickel are one of the main employers in our city. The smelting of nickel and copper produces sulfur dioxide. In the past, the sulfur dioxide produced from smelting was released directly into the air. Sulfur dioxide reacts with water in the atmosphere to form acid rain. Locally, acid rain burnt the landscape and the air made people sick.

An initial solution to the sulfur dioxide pollution was dilution. In the 1970’s INCO (now called Vale-INCO) built The Superstack, the largest smoke stack in the world. This action helped Sudbury with its local sulfur dioxide problem. However, the Earth’s atmosphere is finite and the emissions from The Superstack caused acid rain across the northeastern portion of the United States and Canada. The acid rain acidified many lakes and was killing maple trees threatening the maple sugar industry. As a consequence of acting locally but not thinking globally, more work needed to be done to solve the problem of sulfur dioxide emissions.

Eventually unions, industry, post-secondary institutions, school boards, grassroots environmental groups, all three levels government and the U.S. government (Acid Rain Treaty) effectively dealt with the problem of sulfur dioxide emissions. The sulfur dioxide emissions from the Superstack now are over 90% less than they were in the 1980’s. In the end, industry made money removing the sulfur dioxide from their emissions.

Sudbury’s experience is a concrete example of how to remove a gas from the atmosphere, analogous to what we have to do now with carbon dioxide. What can the world learn from Sudbury’s experience? Many different organizations, unions, industries, educational institutions, environmental groups, economic minds and multiple levels of government will have to work together to effectively deal with the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, cross-cultural communication will play an integral role in dealing with climate change. People will have to be educated to accept the changes that are about to come. There is a lot of work ahead and lots of niches to be filled. Don’t forget that there is money to be made in adjusting to climate change.

I live in a kind and caring community. Sudbury is a tricultural community with people from all over the world living in harmony with a vibrant French Canadian community and a very visible and welcoming First Nations community.  I am proud to be from Sudbury, work as the Science Outreach Coordinator for Laurentian University, be a partner with the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program and be a presenter for The Climate Project Canada. I know we have rough road ahead with adjusting economically to climate change but I also have hope because I live in  a city that has “been there and done that”.

More links:

Canada’s Champions of Change


Green Sudbury

2 thoughts on “Sudbury: From Environmental Embarrassment to Green Leader”

  1. The re-greening was the high point of Sudbury’s environmental history. It is too bad that we are not willing to continue that tradition.

    Both our major mining companies are not going to meet new Provincial air quality standards. We already have a higher cancer rate than the average Canadian city and many of the products from the smelter stacks can lead to cancer.

    For the past 4 years we have had an increase in the number of blue green algae blooms in our local lakes. All these lakes have heavy residential development around them and no bylaws to regulate their behaviour. We have voluntary guidelines that few follow. Lakeside residents have lawns that run right to the water and use pesticides and fertilizer since a green lawn is more important to them than a healthy lake. The blooms will continue and get worse.

    We have a car oriented community with a public that wants to keep it that way. The post amalgamation City of Greater Sudbury is a huge area of low population density with an infrastructure that is becoming more and more expensive to maintain. In the face of this we have a token public transit system. We are one of the worst generators of CO2 per capita as a result. As far as sharing the road with cyclists – forget it.

    We routinely build on wet lands in spite of their value for maintaining water quality and to mitigate against flooding.

    Our most common recreational activities are machine based – ATV, Snowmobile, motor boats, jet skis and so on. These vehicles produce much more pollution per liter of gas than cars.

    Sudbury is not a green city. It had one green moment which was very significant but nothing but hot air since. Lots of talk but little real action.

    John Gaul

  2. I TOTALLY agree with you John… I’ts a real shame what is happening in Sudbury… My Sister and some good friends live there… I hate to visit… Not even an 8-year old birch tree can survive the fallout there… It’s discusting…


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