Posts tagged ‘sustainable living’

July 18, 2016

Five cool (environmentally conscious) things about Vancouver

I recently spent a few days in Vancouver, British Columbia. Each time I visit this wonderful city, I am further struck by its positive and inspiring efforts to make sustainable living and alternative energy options a reality. This time around, I stayed in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, where I encountered these five earth-friendly ideas-in-action:

  1. Dedicated streets for cycling. Yup, nestled throughout this busy city, you’ll find a robust network of functional cycling routes designed for bicycle commuters and sightseers alike. Pedal these well-planned routes and you’ll cruise along peaceful, tree-lined, low-traffic streets, complete with bicycle-specific crossing signals at major intersections. Your ears will fill with the gentle whizzing of other bikes coasting nearby as you pedal safely and happily from Point A to Point B — or even 25 kilometres out of town to the Quay Market in New Westminster!
  2. Public petitions to save trees from development projects. While cycling though the Kitsilano and West Point Grey neighbourhoods, I passed several big old trees hung with colourful flags and eye-catching signs. The trees, I learned, stood on properties earmarked for new housing construction. The signs publicized this fact and directed residents to online petitions that they could sign in support of keeping the trees standing. People actively fighting to save trees in their city: the very thought makes my heart happy!
  3. North America’s first waste-water heat recovery system. Walk to the southeast corner of the Cambie Street Bridge and you’ll find five svelte, LED-lit smokestacks rising unobtrusively from below. These mark the Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU), which is tucked neatly beneath the bridge. The NEU captures heat from neighbourhood sewage and waste water and transforms it into energy to provide space heating and hot water for almost 400,000 square metres of residential, commercial and institutional buildings. How cool (or hot) is that?
  4. Food isn’t garbage: 2015 organics ban. On January 1, 2015, the City of Vancouver banned food waste from its municipal garbage collection program. Residents now separate organic waste from regular garbage and other recyclables, and dispose of it via municipal green bin programs, private haulers or on-site solutions. My bed and breakfast had a strict green bin program in place for food scraps. And I found a few dedicated food-waste disposal bins on the street outside the Cambie Street Whole Foods Market. Way to go, Vancouver!
  5. Community housing in heritage homes. My guided architectural walking tour of Vancouver’s West End culminated at the Mole Hill Community Housing Society, a 170-unit housing initiative spread across 27 restored heritage homes on Thurlow, Pendrell, Bute and Comox Streets. The homes, several of them listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register, were originally built between 1888 and 1908 and together comprise one of the most intact surviving blocks of pre-World War I housing in the city. These beautifully restored houses have been given new life in this thriving housing project, set as they now are among gardens, green space and a very palpable sense of community pride.
May 7, 2013

The taste of joy

Quote of the day:

If you could bottle joy, it would taste like fresh birch sap.

This from freelance writer and songstress Laurie Sarkadi in her article “Tapping birch” (Canadian Geographic, April 2013).  As for what fresh birch sap tastes like, Sarkadi continues:  “think cold, pure spring water with notes of honeysuckle.”

Sarkadi is lucky enough to live in an off-grid, lake-front home in the boreal forests outside Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.  Surrounded by birch trees, she joined a birch syrup-making co-operative and found herself — a staunch environmentalist and conservationist — confronted with the questionable task of drilling a hole into the pristine trunk of a thriving paper birch tree on her property.

Despite her knowledge that proper tapping techniques wouldn’t harm the tree, Sarkadi still found it difficult to drill that first spigot hole, as if doing so were a violation of both the tree and the natural world she strove so hard to protect.

Her conservation ethic put to the test — and the hole eventually drilled — Sarkadi arrives at this conclusion:

It is the paradox of conservationism that in our desperation to save and protect our natural spaces, we lose some of our own wildness.  We put our trees into tree museums (as Joni Mitchell astutely noted) to look at them — like fine china that sits untouched — instead of building sustainability inside our forests in the spirit of cohabitation.

True balance with the natural world, Sarkadi suggests, sometimes means interacting with it at an intimate, reciprocal level, wounds and all.

October 12, 2012

Book recommendation – “Sleeping Naked is Green” by Vanessa Farquharson

I highly recommend the book Sleeping Naked is Green by Vanessa Farquharson.  Farquharson is a twenty-something arts journalist from Toronto who pledges to make one “green” change to her lifestyle each day for one year, and to keep every one of those changes going for the duration.  From switching to recycled paper towels and toting a reusable coffee mug to selling her car and unplugging her fridge, Farquharson shares her experiences — and their impact on her life — on her blog Green as a Thistle.  Her book is a humourous, candid look at what it takes (or doesn’t take) for the average person to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Check out a list of Farquharson’s 366 lifestyle changes here:   http://greenasathistle.com/green-listed/

Cover image of the book "Sleeping Naked is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged her Fridge, Sold her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days" by Vanessa Farquharson

“Sleeping Naked is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged her Fridge, Sold her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days” by Vanessa Farquharson

What I found particularly interesting was Farquharson’s final assessment of the effects her “green year” had on both herself and the people around her.  Some examples:

  • After lowering her thermostat to 64 degrees Farenheit (18 degrees Celsius) and keeping it there for months, Farquharson soon found herself “uncomfortably hot in most other indoor environments.”  Her body had adapted to the lower temperature, despite the extra blankets and sweaters she had required to weather the change at first.
  • After switching to natural, non-toxic cleaning and beauty products, Farquharson found her body reacting adversely to the run-of-the-mill products she had used before.  “When I was staying over at [a] friend’s place and had to use her concentrated, Clean Breeze-scented, neon green laundry soap as well as the purple lavender dish soap, both of which were crammed full of artificial fragrances, my eyes kept bursting into tears and my nose suffered perpetual seizures,” writes Farquharson.  “I’ve always prided myself on not being one of those flaky, ultra-sensitive types with weak immune systems.  But after making my body adapt to a more natural lifestyle, it’s apparently decided that, from now on, it will accept nothing less.”
  • Finally, Farquharson’s green challenge rubbed off on her family and friends in some unexpected ways.  Her formerly indifferent mother now stocked her fridge with only organic dairy and free-range meat; her SUV-loving father rented only subcompact hybrid cars while travelling; her friends carried coffee thermoses and bought bicycles to cut car use; and her co-workers shunned disposable water bottles and take-out lunches.  “Over the course of a year, I watched my friends and family make changes I never thought they would,” writes Farquharson. “At first, it would often be for my sake, just to accommodate my green restrictions, but now I truly believe they’re doing it for themselves and for the earth.”

Interesting book, and inspiring, too.  In the end, every little step we take towards attaining a more sustainable lifestyle helps!

August 16, 2012

Book Recommendation – “Wandering Home”

I just finished the book Wandering Home by Bill McKibben.  It’s a thoughtful account of McKibben’s three-week walk from Vermont’s Champlain Valley to New York’s Adirondacks, as well as a chronicle of the lifestyles and livelihoods of the people he visits along the way — people who are all living off the land in traditional or inventive ways.

McKibben is a known environmentalist (he wrote The End of Nature and Deep Economy), so the narrative is woven with his own reflections on the meaning and place of “wilderness” in a modern world.  An interesting read, and at 150 pages, not an onerous one, either.

Wandering Home book cover

“Wandering Home – A Long Walk Across America’s Most Hopeful Landscape: Vermont’s Champlain Valley and New York’s Adirondacks” by Bill McKibben