British Columbia and Ontario score highest in environmental stewardship, according to a national report card published by a Canadian business magazine.

Corporate Knights, a Toronto-based quarterly focused on "clean capitalism," released its Green Provinces 2012 survey today.

B.C. and Ontario both score an A- in the survey, with Prince Edward Island finishing close behind with a B+. Alberta and Saskatchewan sit at the bottom, each with a rating of C.

"It's a current snapshot of how we’re doing with the environment," says Tyler Hamilton, editor of Corporate Knights.

The aim of the report was to assess the environmental progress of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories by looking at key indicators in seven categories: air and climate, water, nature, transportation, waste, energy and innovation.

Corporate Knights based its findings on the most recent available data from Statistics Canada and Environment Canada, as well as a handful of reports from the provinces and industry associations. The magazine calculated each province’s final grade by averaging its marks in each of the seven categories.

Assessing the findings

"I think these guys have done their due diligence," says Mark Anielski, co-founder of Genuine Wealth, an Alberta-based company with a focus on environmental accounting, who saw a copy of the report prior to its release.

"[The report is] probably as rigorous as you can get, given the spottiness of data and sometimes inconsistent reporting by provinces."

B.C.’s high overall score in the report is largely a reflection of its investment in green technology start-ups and emphasis on renewable energy generation, which includes wind, geothermal sources and even the use of wood despoiled by the mountain pine beetle.

Ontario’s positive score is partly attributable to the phasing out of coal power plants and its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

In the individual categories, Yukon Territory led the way in air and climate as well as nature, which took into account factors like the percentage change in greenhouse gas emissions and the percentage of environmentally protected areas in the region. Nova Scotia took the top spot in waste disposal and management, Northwest Territory finished first in water and Nunavut topped the transportation category.

Corporate Knights' Hamilton says Alberta and Saskatchewan’s comparatively poor showings are largely a reflection of increased activity in mining and oil extraction, which has had a significant effect on greenhouse gas production.

He pointed out, however, that Alberta and Saskatchewan also scored low in the transportation category, due to a general preference in those areas of the country for less fuel-efficient vehicles. In both provinces, more people drive trucks and SUVs than cars.

'Seminal experience with the environment'

Faisal Moola, program director of terrestrial conservation and science at the David Suzuki Foundation, applauds the survey. One of the things that impressed him was the fact that it measured public use of national parks.

"That’s an interesting indicator, because for many Canadians, their seminal experience with the environment comes from spending time in a provincial or national park," he says.

But Moola believes the report is flawed in giving equal weight to all of its environmental indicators.

"There seems to be no clear effort to rank those indicators relative to each other, in terms of their contribution to sustainability," says Moola. "For example, I wouldn’t equate visitation to a park with the amount of land you’ve protected."

Anielski laments the fact that the report doesn’t really quantify the ecological footprint, which is a way of measuring how human consumption habits affect sustainable living.

Hamilton admits that part of the challenge of compiling a survey like this is that environmental data from different regions is often incomplete, mismatched or out of date.

"You can get data from individual provinces, but they’re not necessarily comparable to data from other provinces," says Hamilton.

"It would be nice to have more up-to-date data, to be able to see the progress better."

Even so, Moola thinks the timing of the Green Provinces report is fortuitous.

"It's coming at a time when the federal government is effectively abandoning its responsibility for protecting the environment, and asks the question, ‘Are the provinces stepping up and taking a leadership role in sustainability?'"