The Biosphere Eco-City Model

We achieve sustainability together

Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) is a model to make an urban centred region sustainable, based on participation and cooperation. It provides benefits for both people and nature.

BEC encourages independent action and sharing of experience to accelerate progress. Grass-roots activities are important in complementing government-led planning for sustainability.

BEC uses elements that are simple, comparable and affordable so that cooperation will support simultaneous advancement of sustainability locally, nationally, and internationally.

Five Objectives guide development of the BEC approach:

Seven Tools stimulate action in the Biosphere Eco-City:




Model of a Biosphere Eco-City

Model of a Biosphere Eco-City

Urban activities have a significant impact on surrounding rural areas. Although some of this is negative, urban and rural parts of a region have the potential to help each other achieve sustainability.The Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) model recognizes this by including both urban and the surrounding rural area. The diagram above is a stylized representation of the two zones of BEC.

Also, BEC uses urban-rural cooperation to achieve an urban-rural balance as described in Benefits of a Biosphere Eco-City.

When a Biosphere Eco-City is being set up, the limits of the rural zone can be based on a variety of factors such as: the source area for local food and water, commuter area, area for waste disposal, land speculation etc. When the Ottawa pilot study of the BEC model was initiated, as described in the Origin of the Biosphere Eco-City, choosing the area of study was easy. The City of Ottawa is 80% rural, so all of it was included.


Ottawa: Rideau River Nature Trail

Ottawa: Rideau River Nature Trail

Changes for sustainability affect the lives and actions of all people and organizations. This cannot be left to “experts” alone. Individuals must understand sustainability and decide how to make it happen. Participation helps them “learn by doing.” Grass roots activity makes sustainability part of everyday life. As participation increases in a Biosphere Eco-City, it will create an ethic of sustainability that will guide individual and public decisions.


Making an urban centred-region more sustainable will provide many benefits for people and nature. But groups must work together for positive change. It is important that different parts of society advance together. Mutual benefits may involve new relationships. This is not something that can be controlled, because relationships can evolve in unpredictable ways. It can however; be supported. Cooperation among stakeholders in a Biosphere Eco-City will ensure that they are aware to the needs of others as they change their own actions. It will also show them opportunities for mutual benefits.


The benefits of a Biosphere Eco-City are both human and environmental. Namely,

– Quality of Life

Market in Paris, France

Market in Paris, France

Enhance the quality of life for urban and rural residents through cooperation, and a healthy and
enjoyable environment.

– Urban-Rural Balance
Balance ecological, social, and economic benefits between urban and rural parts of the region.

– Local Conservation
Conserve nature and strengthen natural processes in rural and urban parts of the region.

– Global Sustainability
Reduce the environmental footprint of urban and rural settlements, in order to support
sustainable human use of the Biosphere.


Beyond participating in activities developed by others, people and organizations should explore their own interests in sustainability. They know their needs best and are motivated to resolve them. In addressing their own interests, an individual, business, or group can develop a unique approach to some issue of sustainability. As discussed below in Free Enterprise Sustainability, independent initiatives can lead to progress in both the range and quality of activities.


By sharing ideas and results, citizens, and organizations can build on each other’s experience with sustainability. This is easiest when there are useful categories to discuss shared interests and these are provided by the Themes of Sustainability. As well, other Biosphere Eco-City tools create forums for sharing. The tools operate locally, but could share information among urban-centred regions with the creation of National and International Networks. There are many reasons we may want to do this. For example: caring for others, gathering information we need, and conserving the Biosphere that sustains us all. You can read more about the Benefits of Sharing Information.

Kanata clean-up day

Kanata clean-up day


When Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) activities involve people and organizations, it puts them on a learning curve for sustainability. Because they are more active and aware, they better understand and are more receptive to government-led planning for sustainability. At the same time, their independent projects may target issues of sustainability that government does not have the ability to address. This is discussed more fully in Biosphere Eco-City and Planning.

When the Ottawa pilot study of the BEC model was initiated, as described in the Origin of the Biosphere Eco-City, the adjoining Cities of Ottawa and Gatineau were beginning a joint sustainability planning initiative. This was called “Choosing Our Future” and Ottawa BEC volunteers played useful roles on its planning teams.


Simplicity makes the Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) model easy to apply. This contrasts with many government-led approaches to urban sustainability that are complex. There, experts are needed to develop plans and explain to the public unfamiliar terms such as “structural transformation.” These government-led approaches also depend on specific planning systems and legislation. They are normally expensive and require long-term support. Meeting such requirements is a challenge for many average cities and may be impossible for impoverished cities. Yet they may use the simple elements of the Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) model:a model that is designed for any city.

Comparable elements of BEC allow information to be easily shared. This is important for the development of local initiatives. But it could also help transfer information from sustainability activities currently underway. For example, many projects exist in poor areas of the world’s large cities. Whether for safe streets in Bangalore, India, or housing improvement in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, these grass-roots efforts are inspiring. A BEC framework might be able to help them share their methods even more widely on an ongoing basis. BEC Tools provide comparable elements to transfer ideas and techniques within and among urban-centred regions.

Affordability is an important feature for any approach to sustainability. The best ideas may be put on hold when money is not available. To counter this, the Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) stimulates affordable actions for sustainability through independent activities, volunteerism and cooperative approaches. For example, the Ottawa BEC initiative has always been wholly volunteer-run, as described in the Origin of the Biosphere Eco-City. Yet it quickly implemented all the key elements of BEC. This is not to say that all Biosphere Eco-Cities should be wholly volunteer-based – in fact, some support for administration might help a lot – but it does suggest that BEC is quite affordable.


The Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) Model applies five Objectives to move towards sustainability. It also has a set of seven simple and adaptable Tools to address the objectives. Each Tool generally supports all Objectives, but is more closely linked to one of them. The following table lists Objectives with their primary Tools. Explanations of these Objectives and Tools follow:

Involve Everyone Themes of Sustainability
Link Stakeholders Council of Stakeholders
Share Information
  • Database of Sustainability Projects
  • International Network
Encourage Initiative
  • Sustainability Plans
  • Demonstration Projects
Enhance Performance Processes for Sustainability


– Involve Everyone
Greater involvement in sustainability leads to greater success. People “learn by doing.” As citizens participate in activities for sustainability, what they learn can help them do more. As well, they can get new ideas and see new possibilities by talking and working with others. When enough people in a city region get involved, they will create a common “ethic of sustainability” that will be a force for positive change.
– Share Information
By sharing ideas and experience, we can teach each other about sustainability. It is important though to have tools to support this sharing. The Biosphere Eco-City approach provides these tools. That allows us to build on each other’s experience. The process of sharing is part of the cooperation that enriches quality of life and improves our relationship with nature in the Biosphere Eco-City.
– Encourage Initiative
If we wait to be told how to achieve sustainability, progress will be slow. We need to address the problems of urban growth as quickly as possible. Top-down approaches have their benefits, but they take time. On the other hand, the Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) approach encourages everyone to take initiative. It doesn’t matter whether their projects are large or small; people are learning to make decisions in new areas. And this individual decision-making strengthens the system of sustainability. At the same time, independent activities can produce innovation. With BEC tools supporting cooperation and sharing, this innovation may spread through the urban-centred region and beyond. If you would like to read more about encouraging independent activities, see Free Enterprise Sustainability.
– Enhance Performance
The development of sustainability in an urban-centred region is a race against time. We need to resolve problems faster than urban growth can create them. Learning and building on the experiences of others is essential, and the first four Biosphere Eco-City objectives focus on this. A fifth objective complements them by concentrating on improving the performance of projects for sustainability. The objective to Enhance Performance seeks to create conditions that will lead to more successful projects. This includes building on the lessons of previous activities. Overall, a steady improvement of projects will advance sustainability.


– Themes of Sustainability
The Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) model divides sustainability into broad areas of interest. These Ten Themes provide a clear focus for discussion and action. Because they are concrete, they are also easy to understand. Discussion groups, based on Themes, can bring together people who share common interests. It furthers cooperation. The Themes are as follows:1. Transportation – the movement of goods and people
2. Energy – for buildings, transportation, manufacturing, and agriculture
3. Design – the built environment (especially buildings and roads)
4. Habitat – urban green spaces, water areas, and rural environment
5. Food – farms & urban markets, heritage crops/animals, urban gardens
6. Natural Capital – maintaining land, water, soil, natural materials
7. Waste – the processing of wastes, recycling, efficient design, and conversion to energy
8. Health – clean air and water, safety, tranquility, environmental needs of vulnerable groups
9. Recreation – urban, rural, and agricultural (e.g. farm visits)
10. Sense of Place – a feeling of belonging, sense of community, and stewardshipYou can read more in Ten Themes of Sustainability or Discussion Papers on Themes of Sustainability.
– Council of Stakeholders
Stakeholders meet as a Council to do four main things:
• Guide the development of Biosphere Eco-City activities;
• Encourage urban-rural cooperation;
• Stimulate development of demonstration projects;
• Share ideas to help each otherBlending of different stakeholder perspectives provides “value added” in discussions and activities. Stakeholders are motivated by a desire to support their region and gain benefits by working with others. You can read more on this in Roles and Benefits for Stakeholders. In Ottawa, the Council of Stakeholders is called the Biosphere Eco-City Council. If you would like information on upcoming meetings, click Contact Us.
– Database of Sustainability Projects
The Database summarizes basic information on any project related to sustainability in the Biosphere Eco-City. This is a key tool for the BEC Objective to Share Information. Projects in the Database are organized according to Themes of Sustainability, so people can search in their areas of interest. Readers may find useful ideas and can contact project developers to get more details. People and organizations who list their projects may find their listing leads to volunteers or support. You may submit a project or view the Ottawa BEC Database (link).
Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo, Brazil

– International Network
The Biosphere Eco-City was developed as a model for international use. The Ottawa initiative began as a pilot test of the model, as described in the Origin of the Biosphere Eco-City. An International Network would support international sharing of ideas and results, through a common framework. Because BEC elements are Simple, Comparable, and Affordable, the transfer of information would be relatively easy. For more discussion, see National and International Networks. If you would like to discuss the development of a Biosphere Eco-City pilot project in your city, click Contact Us.
– Sustainability Plans
This is a short document that provides individuals with ideas on what they can do to advance sustainability. For each of the Themes of Sustainability the plan contains a list of issues and suggested activities to address those issues. Readers can make individual commitments to action. The five-page Ottawa Sustainability Plan was developed as a prototype. Then, students at a local school carried out a trial run to create the All Saints Sustainability Plan. If you would like to develop a Sustainability Plan with your students, employees, or members of your organization, click Contact Us.
BioDiversity workshop

BioDiversity workshop

– Demonstration Projects
These are projects that opened up to the public to demonstrate useful approaches to sustainability in a Biosphere Eco-City (BEC). Any organization willing to share its methods and results may develop a Demonstration Project. The projects are meant to motivate others to take action on sustainability, by showing what can be done. As such, they complement the effects of Sustainability Plans and the Database of Sustainability Projects (link) which are the other major motivational tools of BEC. So far the Ottawa BEC Council has undertaken two Demonstration Projects: The first on Agricultural Biodiversity undertaken in 2011 and the second a Sustainability Tour begun in 2012.
– Processes for Sustainability
Four processes are particularly important because they can enhance performance of sustainability projects. They can do such things as improve accuracy, increase learning, enlarge public awareness, and add relevance to a project. These processes are:



  • Science – research on needs, methods, evaluation, application of results
  • Education – public understanding, training, curriculum development
  • Communication – public information, networking, information sharing
  • Culture – traditions, community inputs, urban & rural approaches

The processes can improve projects under all Themes of Sustainability and are therefore quite broad in scope. They can also make people more receptive to ideas of sustainability and improve the functioning of a Biosphere Eco-City (BEC) over time. The Council of Stakeholders, or another group, may coordinate the use of these processes for BEC activities. More detail is found in Four Processes for Sustainability.