Sustainability inSight

Why a Sustainability Strategy?

The Ministry of Transportation's vision is to be a world leader in moving people and goods safely, efficiently and sustainably to support a globally competitive economy and a high quality of life. To achieve this vision, our employees, working in all areas of the province, are focusing on delivering five key priorities:

  • increasing transit ridership
  • promoting a multimodal transportation network to support the efficient movement of people and goods
  • promoting road safety in order to remain among the safest jurisdictions in North America
  • improving Ontario's highway, bridge and border infrastructure
  • integrating sustainability into all our business areas

While sustainability is itself a priority, it is also essential to ensure that it is a consideration in all of our business areas. This strategy provides a blueprint for advancing ministry priorities in a more sustainable way.

What Is Sustainability?

Sustainability is "development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."1 There are three spheres of sustainability: the economy, society and the environment. They have a dynamic relationship, which means that any change to one affects the others. It is the reason why we cannot consider our economy or quality of life separately from the well-being of our natural environment.

The Three Spheres of Sustainability
Figure 1 - The Three Spheres of Sustainability

Figure 1 shows the economy and society nested within the environment. This illustrates that everything we do starts and ends with our natural environment. Everything we produce and consume takes from the natural world water, energy, plants or animals. Ultimately, all the goods, materials and by-products that we create are returned to the natural environment in our air, water and land. Sustainability is not just about recognizing the relationship between the three spheres of economy, society and the environment. It is also about taking a long-term view, knowing that today's decisions will influence tomorrow's choices. For this reason, we need to consider not only a decision's immediate impacts but also its potential longer-term consequences.

Challenges to Sustainable Transportation

Ontario's transportation network functions as the province's circulatory system it keeps people and goods flowing, links different parts of the province to each other and is a key driver of our economic health. This network can be disrupted by events that are outside our control. The sustainability strategy will position MTO to better take advantage of opportunities that arise from emerging challenges.

Key challenges facing Ontario's transportation system:

Climate change

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges to the future of our planet. Transportation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Ontario, the transportation sector is the source of about one-third of the province's total GHG emissions, with over 80 per cent originating from road-based transportation.2 Combating climate change will require less carbon-intensive forms of transportation and strategies that reduce the need to travel.

Demographic change

Demographics influences how, when and where Ontarians travel. Over the next 20 years, population growth is expected to continue in some areas of the province, buoyed increasingly by immigration.3 Urban centres like the Greater Golden Horseshoe will experience much of this growth, adding to the region's vibrant and diverse communities. Without proper management such growth can lead to issues such as increased congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, and the loss of natural resources. Due to a relatively older population and lower levels of in-migration, it is expected that the population in Northern Ontario will remain relatively stable over the next two decades. Additionally, the number of Ontarians over the age of 65 is expected to more than double by 2030, as baby-boomers age and life expectancy continues to increase.4 It is anticipated that by 2025, one in five Ontarians will have a disability.5 A growing percentage of the population will be unable to drive or uninterested in driving, increasing the demand for alternative forms of transportation.


A reliable transportation network is essential for trade and goods movement within Ontario and to destinations outside our borders. However, according to a 2009 estimate, congestion in the Toronto region costs Canada $3.3 billion in lost productivity each year.6 Relieving congestion is good for our economic competitiveness. It will also reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from idling vehicles. Pollutants associated with transportation can negatively affect human health, leading to increased heart and lung illness and premature death.

Increasing urbanization

In 2006, more than 85 per cent of Ontarians lived in urban areas.7 Migration to urban centres is expected to continue over the next 20 years. The existing transportation system must continually adapt to accommodate this trend. If urbanization takes the form of urban sprawl, it can threaten valuable natural resources and wildlife survival by consuming natural habitat and prime agricultural land. It was predicted in 2000 that if a sprawling pattern of growth continued unabated in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas, an agricultural and natural land area twice the size of Toronto would be urbanized by the year 2031.8 To provide guidance on a broad range of issues that includes transportation and land-use, the Places to Grow Act was passed. With the population increases expected in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) over the coming decades, there will be a continuing need for government policy responses to allow communities to flourish through well-managed growth.

Creating a green economy

Ontario's transportation network is a key driver of the province's economic success.9 The Ontario government believes that we do not have to choose between environmental protection and a healthy economy. Various provincial economic initiatives have emphasized that new opportunities can emerge from protecting Ontario's natural environment and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. With prudent long-term planning, we can make the transition to a "green economy" - creating enormous opportunities for growth and jobs in new sectors of the economy, while at the same time reducing our impact on Ontario's environment.

Taking the Next Steps

These challenges highlight the interconnections between our economy, society and the environment. We need long-term planning to manage these pressures on the transportation system. Many MTO employees are already actively addressing these challenges, by making sustainability part of how they do business. Their work provides a solid foundation for MTO to take the next step - a strategic and coordinated response. Focusing on solutions will encourage us to innovate and to find efficiencies within our ministry.

1 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (1987).

2 Pocket Guide to Transportation (Ontario Ministry of Transportation, 2008).

3 Ontario’s Long-Term Report on the Economy (Ontario Ministry of Finance, 2010).

4 Ontario’s Long-Term Report on the Economy (Ontario Ministry of Finance, 2010).

5 “Making Ontario accessible,” (Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, 2010).

6 OECD Territorial Reviews: Toronto, Canada (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010).

7 OECD Territorial Reviews: Toronto, Canada (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010).

8 Toronto-Related Region Futures Study, Interim Report: Implications of Business-As-Usual Development (Neptis Foundation, 2002).

9 The Productivity Performance of Canada’s Transportation Sector: Market Forces and Governance Matter (Conference Board of Canada, 2009).

A Closer Look at Climate Change

"Scientists, and most notably, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have shown that the earth’s climate is changing dramatically, and human industrial activity and the burning of fossil fuels are largely to blame.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the earth’s atmosphere was about 280 parts per million. We are now at about 380 parts per million. At 380 parts per million, coral reefs are dying, glaciers are melting, seas are rising and an estimated 35,000 people died in the 2003 European heat wave. According to the IPCC, without significant action to reduce emissions, CO2 concentrations may reach 750 parts per million this century ... [M]olecules of CO2 remain in the atmosphere for up to 200 years. Which means the CO2 molecules produced by the first cars, the Wright brothers’ plane and the first coal-fired electricity plants may still be airborne.”

Go Green: Ontario’s Action Plan on Climate Change (2007)