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It’s not that complicated, really - September 21, 2022

Amid information overload, the bottom line on solving climate change

Does learning about climate change and its solutions sometimes give you information overload?

Well, join the crowd.  It seems just about every day I read about yet another app, gadget or technology that promises to help solve climate change.  All are well-intentioned, of course, and probably make a positive difference.  But I often wonder if some do more harm than good, because:

  • In the big picture, they often make a pretty tiny difference and can’t be affordably or practically ramped up to the scale required
  • They may give us a false sense of relief, and distract us from the areas where the really big differences and progress can be made

For example, you may have heard about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), where carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels is captured and stored underground – a great idea, except that it’s prohibitively expensive to do; preventing emissions in the first place is much, much cheaper.  (An analogy:  would you throw confetti or glitter at a wedding if you knew you had to sweep up every bit of it?  Or would you just not use it in the first place, and find another way to celebrate?)

Just one of so many distractions.

So here’s the uncomplicated bottom line: to stop climate change, we need to reduce our emissions to zero, period.  There’s no magic, no silver bullet, no ‘get out of jail free’ card.

Hopefully this chart can help you focus on a few really simple things (in rough order of importance) that will yield the largest reductions in your personal emissions:

  1. Reduce your transportation emissions by driving less, taking public transit, carpooling, driving an efficient vehicle, practicing efficient driving techniques, avoiding drive-thrus, never idling your engine and using less AC in your vehicle. Try to think climate every time you reach for the keys.  (And lower Transportation emissions will automatically reduce demand for gasoline, lowering emissions from the Oil and Gas sector too.)
  2. Reduce your emissions at home by turning off lights and anything else when not in use, turning down the thermostat a few degrees, sealing leaks and drafts, insulating where possible, switching from oil to electric heat pumps (a new federal assistance program was announced last week), using efficient appliances, using a clothesline and using AC as little as possible.  Try to think climate every time you reach for a switch.
  3. Reduce your industry emissions by buying less stuff (and if it comes from far away, you’ll be reducing transportation emissions too)
  4. Reduce your food emissions by reducing food waste and adopting a more plant-based diet
  5. Reduce your waste emissions by favouring less packaging in your purchases, composting organics and recycling meticulously
  6. If you have the means, reduce your electricity emissions by installing your own source of renewable energy

Reducing our emissions to zero, period.  It may not be simple to do, but amid distractions and information overload, hopefully at least it’s easy to understand.

We take care of what matters to us… - September 7, 2022

…so why not the planet?

Plenty of people spend hours every week mowing their lawns.  Others spend hours every week washing and vacuuming their vehicle.  Still others spend hours every week on their appearance.  Why?  Because through their lens on the world, those things are important – and we humans are pretty good at taking care of things when they matter to us.

So why are we such poor caretakers of our planet?  Probably because, in a world where most of our time is spent indoors, food is perceived to come from a supermarket and water is perceived to come from a tap, most of us have lost our connection with the natural world and don’t care enough about it – even though we depend upon it for every breath, sip and bite.

So maybe we could benefit from a reset in our thinking.  For example:

  • What if we perceived a river as our well or swimming pool?  I’m guessing we would take great care to not dump sewage, plastic and other pollutants into it.
  • What if we saw the atmosphere as our enclosed garage or, even better, the air in our home?  I’m guessing we’d very soon be turning off our engines and adopting non-polluting ways to get around.
  • What if we saw a roadside as our front yard?  I’m guessing we wouldn’t litter.
  • What if we valued all trees as we value that one in our backyard that provides summer shade, bird habitat and an anchor for the hammock?  I’m guessing we’d take a stronger stance against deforestation.
  • What if we perceived the planet as an airplane?  I’m guessing we’d be much less afraid to talk about the issue of population growth.

So… how best to trigger that reset?  Why not:

  • Go for a walk in the park or, even better, the woods.  Ponder the beauty around you, and imagine how it would feel to lose it.
  • Grab a canoe or kayak, and paddle to a secluded place.  Breathe deeply.  See, hear, smell, feel.
  • Hop on a bike and explore a trail
  • Sit in your backyard with no electronic device, and just look, listen and reflect
  • Read a good book; just Google ‘books about connecting with nature’ for many wonderful suggestions.  If you’re up for a good challenge to conventional economic thinking, I’ll suggest The End of Growth.
  • Take the David Suzuki Foundation’s One Nature Challenge: spend 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days to kickstart a new, permanent habit

It’s clear we have the financial and technological means to solve our climate crisis and most of our other environmental challenges.  We just need a reset, so that we care enough to act (as we do for our lawns, vehicles and appearances).

How will you spend your time? - August 24, 2022

What really matters

Near the beginning of “An Inconvenient Truth”, former US Vice President Al Gore reflects on the two life events that motivated him to dedicate his time to fighting climate change: learning about climate science from a respected university professor; and the near-death of his young son in an accident.  Gore’s telling of the story is set to a haunting piece of instrumental music, “How could I spend my time?

This summer, I’ve been able to retreat to my kayak a bit more than in recent years.  It’s been rejuvenating to breathe the fresh air and savour the natural beauty.  Perhaps your retreat has been a cottage, camp or cabin.  Perhaps it’s been a road trip.  Perhaps it’s been socializing with a beverage in hand as we re-emerge (kind of) from the pandemic.  Whatever your retreat, hopefully it’s been rejuvenating and re-energizing.

But this summer, the planet has been sending us some pretty strong distress signals about the state of our climate, and how frighteningly fast change is happening.  Record-breaking heat in Europe and China; extreme wildfires in France and Newfoundland; severe drought in China and Germany; flash flooding in Austria and Afghanistan.  And that’s just a sample.

Soon, fall will beckon us back to our ‘normals’ and routines.  In view of the need for climate action, here’s a simple question to ask yourself: how will you spend your time?  Same old same old?  Or is it time for a real and big change, to something more meaningful and more important?

Making a big change is daunting, for sure.  But take inspiration from the people featured here who did just that.  Some of their new ventures:

If tech’s not your thing (and it sure isn’t mine), don’t despair.  Instead, why not do an inventory of your talents, values and interests, and, to paraphrase Richard Nelson Bolles, find the place where they intersect with the world’s greatest needs.  Maybe it’ll be installing solar panels; or teaching eco-and energy literacy; or doing energy efficiency upgrades; or communicating with our leaders about the importance of real climate action; or volunteering at your local environmental non-profit; or simply making positive changes in your own life.  Maybe you’ll want to check out The Work That Reconnects conference happening in Nova Scotia in October.

Whatever you do, please do something – because as the Lung Association slogan goes, “When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

I hope summer has rejuvenated and motivated you for a focussed, productive fall, and maybe even some new beginnings.  I know my kayak outings have helped replenish my soul, and reassured me that working on climate change awareness and solutions is still the best way for me to be spending my time.

When it comes to hydrogen, how well do you know your colours? - August 10, 2022

Hydrogen, a fuel with huge potential – if done right

Hydrogen, the first element of the Periodic Table, is getting a lot of attention these days as a potential energy source of the future.  Why?

  • It’s plentiful: hydrogen is the H in H2O, or water; it’s the most abundant element on Earth and in the universe
  • It’s versatile: hydrogen can be used to produce electricity or heat
  • It’s clean: the combustion of hydrogen produces only water; zero carbon dioxide is produced

Sounds like a perfect solution for shifting the world off of fossil fuels and solving climate change, right?  Except for one thing: pure hydrogen doesn’t occur naturally; it needs to be separated from other elements first – and that requires energy.  Where that energy comes from is critical in determining whether hydrogen really is or isn’t a clean fuel.

That’s why an international system has been developed to categorize hydrogen, using colours.  Here’s an overview:

  • Grey hydrogen is hydrogen derived from natural gas, or produced through other means that involve the burning of fossil fuels.  The hydrogen itself may be clean, but its production has a huge carbon footprint.  That’s why grey hydrogen is of minimal benefit in addressing our climate crisis.
  • Blue hydrogen is also derived from fossil fuels, but most of the carbon dioxide generated in creating it is captured and stored.  However, carbon capture and storage is very expensive and technically challenging.  So blue hydrogen is less harmful to the climate than grey, but still not great.
  • Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced when renewable electricity (IE from wind, solar or hydro) is used to extract pure hydrogen from water through a process called electrolysis.  Green hydrogen has a virtually zero carbon footprint in both its production and combustion, so it’s the only truly climate-neutral type of hydrogen.

Unfortunately, most of the world’s hydrogen today is the grey kind.  However, great strides are being made in developing better green hydrogen technology – such as this facility that converts wind energy into hydrogen.  

The potential is enormous, as hydrogen is seen to be the best solution for things that will be very hard to electrify, such as airplanes, large trucks, steel making and more.

But the true sustainability of hydrogen depends entirely on how it’s produced – and now you know: it’s got to be green!

Click here to learn more about the many colours of hydrogen.

Building a culture of Refuse – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle - July 27, 2022

Three years on, a progress report on our family’s 10 bag challenge

In January 2019, our family made a New Year’s sustainability resolution that we’d generate no more than 10 bags of trash per year.  At the time, I thought it was pretty audacious; I really had no idea whether we could do it.  (On the other hand, if Lauren Singer can put three year’s worth of her trash into a mason jar, surely we could manage 10 bags??...)

Fast forward to today, and I’m pleased to report that we did hit our 10-bag target in 2019 – plus every year since.  And I think we’re actually getting better at it: bag #3 for 2022 just went out earlier this month.

So what’s the secret?  (And no, we’re not using bigger garbage bags.)  There is none, really.  We just strive to:

  • Choose less packaging: limiting trash is top-of-mind when we shop, so we actively choose products with little to no packaging. It's meant the odd sacrifice, but we're okay with that; our purchase decisions are one of the best ways we can influence the market. Packaging made up the bulk of our trash, so this has probably been the biggest single factor in helping us reduce it. (Some people think the three Rs should be preceded by a fourth, most important one, Refuse.)
  • Buy used whenever possible: because used goods seldom come with packaging
  • Avoid single-use plastic bags altogether: it's meant a few walks back to the car, but we're now comfortably in the habit of using alternatives that include reusable produce bags or collapsible boxes (no endorsement intended).
  • Avoid disposable coffee cups altogether: that means I skip that coffee if I've forgotten my mug. The upside: I now remember my mug.
  • Avoid disposable cutlery and takeout containers by carrying a spork (no endorsement intended) and keeping a bag with camp-style reusable cutlery, dishes and containers in the trunk of the car
  • Compost everything possible: all the organics from our kitchen end up on our compost heap, which turns them into fertilizer for next year's garden. A bonus: our remaining trash is less smelly and less attractive to pests. (Unsure about composting? Here's a simple guide.)
  • Recycle rigorously: our recycling systems are far from ideal (carbon footprint of collection; mixed materials; offshore 'processing'), but recycling is still better than trashing.

If there is one secret to what we’re doing, it’s probably this: reducing trash has become part of our family’s culture.  It’s ingrained into our everyday thinking, and now it’s become second nature. (Sidebar thought: a culture of sustainability would probably help all of us take giant strides toward solving larger challenges too, like climate change.)

Are you up for a 10-bag challenge in your family?  I hope so – and I hope the above tips will help you achieve it!

Thanks to subscribers Don Ross and Wes Glocking for each sharing tips on how they’ve gotten their households’ trash down to 2-3 bags per year, and inspiring me to a loftier goal!  

All things factored in, are EVs truly ‘greener’ than gas vehicles?  Here’s the definitive way to measure - July 13, 2022

Life Cycle Assessment, the one sure measure of sustainability and environmental impact

It’s no secret that electric vehicles have huge batteries, which have a significant manufacturing and disposal footprint.  That leads some people to suggest that EVs are as bad for the environment as conventional gas vehicles.  But that’s a false argument, and here’s why.

The only truly fair way to measure the sustainability of any product – whether a bag of chips, an article of clothing, biofuels or a vehicle – is to do a full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  That means measuring the impact of everything from manufacturing to use to eventual end-of-life disposal or recycling.

It’s true that it takes more energy and resources to manufacture an EV than a conventional one, mainly because of that big battery.  And it takes more to dispose of (IE recycle) an EV at the end of its life, again mainly because of that big battery.

However, the largest environmental impact of any vehicle doesn’t come from its manufacture or disposal; it comes from that phase in between: its use, AKA driving.  And when it comes to driving, the far-superior efficiency of EVs more than offsets their extra manufacturing and disposal impacts.  (And as mentioned last time, the more renewable the energy used to charge an EV, the greater those benefits.)

Need more convincing?

  • Here’s a 2021 study showing that EVs have lower overall greenhouse gas emissions than gas vehicles – not only in the US and Europe, but also in China and India, where much power comes from coal; here’s a magazine article about the same study.
  • Here’s a 2022 analysis from the Fuels Institute (yes, lots of fossil fuels representation there) concluding the same thing: EVs are better
  • Here’s a 2018 analysis done for the City of Vancouver – a bit dated, but with findings that are consistent with the above research, and probably amplified by today’s improved EV technology.

It’s true that conducting a proper LCA can get pretty complicated, technical and expensive.  And admittedly, there’s room for interpretation, depending on methodology.  (For example, how do you factor in the non-GHG impacts of mines that supply the ingredients of any vehicle, whether electric or gas?)

But if you’re intent upon reducing greenhouse gas emissions and doing your part to help in the fight against climate change, know this: under scrutiny of a full Life Cycle Assessment, EVs are significantly better than gas vehicles.

Thanks to subscriber Denise Methe for suggesting this Green Idea.

How ‘green’ is an EV if the power to charge it comes from fossil fuels? - June 29, 2022

Where your power comes from matters, but…

When it comes to electric vehicles, SGOTI – ‘some guy on the internet’ – sure has a lot to say. One common suggestion is that EVs are no better than conventional vehicles in places where a lot of electricity comes from fossil fuels.

It’s definitely true that the source of the power used to charge an EV matters. If an EV runs entirely on renewable, non-emitting power, it has zero driving emissions.  However, if it runs on power generated from fossil fuels, you could say a share of those power plant emissions rightfully belong to the EV.

The real question then becomes: at what mix of power generation sources (IE emitting versus non-emitting) are EVs really better?  Or perhaps the more relevant question for each of us: what’s the situation in my province or state?

And here’s the answer: across North America, even in areas where most power is generated by fossil fuels, EVs generate fewer emissions than conventional vehicles.

If you’d like to take a deeper dive, here are a few sources to browse:

One further key point: power grids are changing quickly because of the rapid uptake of renewable power sources, wind and solar in particular.  So EVs are worth adopting even in areas that get a lot of their power from fossil fuels, because emission reductions will increase as those power grids get more and more of their energy from clean, non-emitting sources.

So the next time SGOTI – or anyone else – questions the emission reduction potential of EVs, please refer them to the above links!

Updated face off: the 2022 Chevy Bolt EV versus the 2022 Honda Civic Sedan - June 15, 2022

Comparing costs: a fuel-efficient gas vehicle versus an EV

A few months back, I shared a table comparing the cost of a 2022 Honda Civic Sedan (2.0 litre/4 cyl) and a 2022 Chevy Bolt EV.  But that was when gas was ‘only’ $1.80/litre; today, it’s $2.20 here in NB – so here’s an updated comparison. (Same caveat as last time: I’m not an accountant so there may be gaps in my methodology – but it should serve as a pretty good indication.)

Emissions information hasn’t changed; the Bolt still generates 78 per cent fewer emissions than the Civic.  (Imagine the emissions reduction if every vehicle in the province were electric.)

But what has changed: with fuel at $2.20/litre, the extra cost of purchasing the Bolt would be recovered in fuel savings in just two years (versus 2 ½ years a few months back) – and that’s over a Civic, which is already a pretty efficient gas vehicle!  The savings over an SUV or pickup truck would be mind-blowing. Plus:

  • That payback happens more quickly the more you drive and the higher gas prices go
  • EVs require far less maintenance than gas vehicles; if maintenance costs were included above, the payback would be even quicker.

True, you do need to invest a bit more up front when buying an EV – but that’s changing quickly: just last week, Chevrolet announced that the price of its 2023 Bolt in the US will be about US$6,000 less than the 2022!  (That discount appears not to be coming to the Canadian market this year, but surely it’s an indicator of where things are headed.)

And true, EVs are suffering from the same supply chain issues as everything else, so prospective buyers are having to book a vehicle and then wait for it to arrive.

But vehicles account for a large chunk of our carbon footprint.  So if a new one is on your horizon, hopefully this gives you resolve to make it electric – for your planet and your pocketbook.

Coming next: how ‘green’ is an EV if the power to charge it comes from fossil fuels?

Go easy on the AC - June 1, 2022

Save on fuel by using air conditioning only when it’s really needed

Note: This Green Ideas first ran a few years ago, but $2/litre gas prices made me think it was worth sharing again.

It’s summer, and for many of us that means the air conditioner in our vehicles is always on.  But consider this: air conditioning is second only to driving as the biggest load on an engine – it can increase your fuel consumption by up to 20%. Put another way, turning on the air conditioner is a lot like constantly hauling a trailer around.

So what to do?

  • Turn off your AC and use fresh air when possible; open windows wide as you like at low speeds, just a crack at higher speeds, and use your fan without air conditioning for added comfort.  Sunroofs are awesome because they are quieter than open windows
  • Reserve AC only for really hot days, and use it intermittently; aim for comfortable, not cold
  • Set your AC to ‘recirculation’; it uses less energy because you’re cooling the air already inside your vehicle and not bringing in warm outside air
  • Park in the shade whenever you can or use a reflective window shade so your vehicle doesn’t get as uncomfortably hot inside (meaning there’s less heat to get rid of via open windows or AC)
  • Get into the habit of turning off your AC when you park at the end of the day so it’s not automatically on in the morning when you least need it

Learn more strategies for saving on air conditioning from Natural Resources Canada, here (and note the savings chart is based on gas costing… sigh… $1/litre).

A zero-cost way to knock 10-20% off your fuel bill - May 18, 2022

Take an egg for a drive

Note: This Green Ideas first ran a few years ago, but $2/litre gas prices made me think it was worth sharing again.

If you’re an average driver, here’s a simple, zero-cost way to improve your gas mileage by 10-20%: the next time you go for a drive, take an egg and tape it under the toe of your right shoe.  Then try to get where you’re going without breaking the egg.

It’s a simple trick that will produce significant savings, guaranteed.

Here’s why.  Much fuel is consumed when we speed up aggressively, and we waste our hard-won momentum when we jump on the brakes aggressively.  It’s well documented that gentle starts and gentle stops can save the average driver 10-20%.  That’s like driving over a month for free every year.

So strap on an egg the next time you get behind the wheel of a car, truck, bus or anything else, and get ready to save.  And if you happen not to have one with you, good news: it works with imaginary eggs too!

The carbon paw print of pets - May 4, 2022

The environmental impacts of our furry friends

If pets were important to us before the pandemic, they’re even more indispensable now: they’re our non-judgmental, loyal, ever-present companions that love us unquestionably and listen without ever interrupting.

But pets, like their human servants, have a carbon foot – or paw - print:

  • The biggest part is pet food, which is often high in meat content.  Meat production, particularly red meat production, has an enormous carbon footprint.  If you feed your pet human-grade meat, that footprint is even larger.
  • If you live in an urban area, you likely stoop-and-scoop like a good neighbour – nice, except that it means pet poop (which is organic) is combined with plastic bags (which are recyclable) to create a noxious blend whose only option is the trash bin.
  • If you have an indoor pet, you likely have a litter box – which results in lots of spent litter and pet poop in your trash, which is then delivered by a fossil fuel-powered truck to a landfill where it will take up space and burp methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.
  • Finally, treats, outfits, toys… they all have an environmental impact.

So what’s a responsible, eco-friendly pet owner to do?

  • When possible, choose pet food that is higher in plant based ingredients and lower in animal- or seafood-based ingredients.  It’s the single biggest thing you can do to reduce the carbon paw print of your pet.  In particular, resist the notion that pets need human-grade meat (or that they even know the difference).
  • When possible, choose pet food that comes in paper bags rather than cans, and go for the biggest size that makes sense for your lifestyle, to minimize packaging.  Bonus points if you can find a local source of pet food in bulk.
  • Consider collecting your pet’s poop in paper bags (because many ‘compostable’ plastic bags really aren’t very compostable), and then composting it yourself; here’s a helpful how-to article from an authoritative source.
  • Try to use compostable litter for your indoor pet, and then divert it from your trash by composting it.
  • Minimize treats; just give them love instead, because it’s carbon free – and the world could use more of it!
  • Size matters: if you’re between pets or considering getting one, think small – because a pet’s carbon footprint tends to be proportional to its size.

For more on this, check out this informative article from the folks who bring you TED Talks.

Enjoy your pet – but please also help it do its part toward a more sustainable world!

Earth Day, Every Day - April 20, 2022

Together, we can solve this 'people problem'

At the end of a presentation several years ago, an attendee raised his hand and asked thoughtfully, “So – would you say climate change is a technology problem or a people problem?”

If I was certain of my answer back then, I’m even more certain with each day that passes: we have all the technology we need to fix climate change; we lack only the will, whether political, corporate or individual.

  • In many parts of the world, wind and solar, backed up by storage, are the cheapest sources of new electricity
  • Electric vehicles are becoming cheaper and more common – and they’re zero-emission when charged from renewables
  • Hydrogen, generated from renewable sources, is emerging as the zero-emission fuel for ships, airplanes and other applications where batteries aren’t feasible
  • We know how to build net-zero homes that generate as much energy as they use; net-zero is becoming possible for larger buildings too
  • We know how to design products to be 100% compostable or recyclable
  • We know that eating more plant-based food will reduce our dietary carbon footprint
  • And we’ve always known we shouldn’t be clearcutting rainforests or dumping plastic into the ocean

In other words, the barrier to climate change solutions is not technology; it’s mainly us, and our seeming inability to act.

According to the UN IPCC’s most recent report, global emissions need to drop 43 percent below current levels by 2030 if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C.  That’s about 1 percent by Canada Day, and again every 2.5 months after that.

Can we do it?  I’m sure we can; we humans are capable of amazing things when we simply make up our minds to act.  (Proof: an email just landed in my inbox describing the incredible effort underway in Poland to help the two million refugees who have shown up in the past two months; the writer summarizes, ‘the entire nation seems to have mobilised,’ offering everything from free food to free train tickets. Beautiful!)

So, on this Earth Day, why not resolve to act on climate change, and not be part of the 'people problem'?  And why not start by focussing on transportation (especially your personal vehicle use), power consumption and diet – areas where the biggest impacts can be made in the shortest time?

And then continue that journey to sustainability every day, because to fix climate change, we need to make every day Earth Day.

Another bleak report, another urgent call for action, and…? - April 6, 2022

Let’s get started

Starting is the great separator,” writes author John Maxwell.  “It separates the doers from the do-nots, the haves from the have nots, the winners from the whiners, and the successful from the unsuccessful.”

That quote came to mind when I read highlights of the UN IPCC’s latest climate change report, issued earlier this week.  From the report:

  • The costs of wind power, solar power and batteries – in other words, the key solutions to climate change – have dropped by 55-85% over the past decade
  • The target aspired to in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord – no more than 1.5 degrees of warming – is still (barely) within range

Unfortunately, the report also points out:

  • Global emissions remain at record high levels, in spite of much green talk by government and business leaders
  • North American emissions per capita are the highest on the planet
  • If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re on track for over 3 degrees of warming, which will bring unprecedented heatwaves, water shortages, storms and sea level rise

So it would seem we have all the solutions we need; we just haven’t gotten seriously started with implementing them yet.  That’s a real downer, given that the 1.5 degree target will slip out of reach by 2025 if we don’t start transitioning to zero-emissions, particularly in the transportation and power generation sectors, with wartime urgency.

But starting is the great separator.  So if you’d like to kickstart some serious progress:

  1. Commit to making your next vehicle electric.  Check out models available in Canada here; see which best meets your needs here; then go online or call a dealer to place your order (because EVs, like most other vehicles, are suffering from supply-chain issues).
  2. Take the first steps to generating your own emission-free electricity by visiting EnergyHub and learning about the fundamentals of solar power, the potential in your part of the country and assistance programs available.  Then, as soon as you’re ready, find local installers and get some quotes (and references).
  3. Laws and government policies really matter.  So contact your elected leader, even if you’ve never done that before, to tell them you think climate change requires urgent action and to find out what they’re doing about it.  Find your federal Member of Parliament here; and your provincial member here: BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, QC, NB, NS, PE, NL, YT, NT, NU.

Don’t be shy; starting is the great separator, and you can make a far bigger difference than you think.  And in this case, the well-being of us all depends on it.

An impressive personal (and family) commitment - March 23, 2022

A carbon footprint calculation and an action plan

A really impressive email arrived in my inbox two months ago.  It was from a friend, advising me that he and his family were taking an inventory of their carbon footprint, and then making a detailed plan for how to reduce it.  I asked him to tell me more, and he shared a spreadsheet and a document he’d prepared.  The spreadsheet:

  • Showed how many kilowatt-hours (KWH) of electricity the family had consumed over the previous year, and multiplied that by .28, the emission intensity factor for NB (IE each KWH generated by our utility produces .28 kg emissions; find the intensity for your province here) – resulting in the carbon footprint of the family’s power consumption.
  • Listed the family’s vehicles, recreational vehicles and other gas-powered equipment with an estimate of how many litres of fuel each used annually.  The number of litres was then multiplied by 2.3 to give each vehicle or piece of equipment’s carbon footprint (because one litre of gas generates 2.3 kg emissions when burned).

Not surprisingly, vehicles were the biggest part of the family’s carbon footprint.

The document was a plan the family had developed together, with SMART goals (IE specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, time-bounded), identifying who was responsible for each.  It might sound complicated, but it was actually really straightforward, with some ‘easy wins’ included to help keep motivation levels high.  (Interestingly, many of the actions centred around habit changes, like taking fewer and shorter showers; turning down thermostats; and combining errands into single trips – all of which add up to big footprint reductions.)

Bravo to my friend for his thoughtful, methodical approach to reducing his family’s carbon footprint.  If that approach resonates with you, perhaps you’ll want to develop your own spreadsheet and plan too.  If you’d rather cut right to the action:

  • Be conscious of the fact that every litre of fuel you burn is another 2.3 kg of emissions; and then do everything you can to drive as little as possible (especially if you have a truck or SUV)
  • Be conscious of the fact that every time you turn on a stove or dryer, or plug something into a wall outlet, or flip a switch, a little puff of smoke comes out of a power plant smokestack somewhere (the size of the puff depending on where you live); and then use this awareness to strive to use as little power as you can.

And a reminder: there are plenty of online quizzes that can help you learn your carbon footprint quickly and simply.  Two of my favourites are the Global Footprint Network’s calculator and Climate Hero.  Both take just minutes to complete, and both offer guidance on changes you can make that will have the biggest impact.

Facing off: the 2022 Chevy Bolt EV versus the 2022 Honda Civic Sedan - March 9, 2022

Comparing costs: a fuel-efficient gas vehicle versus an EV

“Aren’t electric vehicles expensive?”  It’s a question I hear a lot – so here’s a quick comparison between a 2022 Honda Civic Sedan (2.0 litre/4 cyl) and a 2022 Chevy Bolt EV.  (A caveat: I’m not an accountant so there may be gaps in my methodology – but it should serve as a pretty good indication.)

The key takeaway: at today’s fuel prices, the extra cost of purchasing the Bolt would be recovered in fuel savings in just two and a half years – and that’s over a Civic, which is already a pretty efficient gas vehicle!  Plus:

  • That payback happens more quickly the more you drive and the higher gas prices go
  • EVs require far less maintenance than gas vehicles; if maintenance costs were included above, the payback would be even quicker.

True, you do need to invest a bit more up front when buying an EV (for now – prices are coming down).  And true, EVs are suffering from the same supply chain issues as everything else.

But vehicles account for a large chunk of our carbon footprint.  So if a new one is on your horizon, hopefully this gives you renewed resolve to make it electric – for your planet and your pocketbook.

Here’s a nice summary of FAQs and all you need to know about EVs; and here’s a nice tool to help you identify the EV that best suits your needs.

PS: Don’t hesitate to reply if you have any questions I might be able to help answer. I’ve had an EV for over two years and can’t envision ever going back to a gas vehicle.

Navigating a steep downslope - February 23, 2022

How we can achieve an ambitious emissions reduction target

In October 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading climate authority, declared that global emissions need to drop by 45% by 2030 if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C.  (Quick primer here.)

The ‘What’s needed?’ graphic (which can be found here) became a pillar of every presentation I’ve made since: where we are headed (“Business as usual”), versus where we need to go (net zero by 2050).

But here we are in 2022, and, except for a COVID-caused blip, global emissions have barely budged from the “Business as usual” trajectory.  So now the graphic on the right is part of every presentation I make.

The difference?  Look closely in the yellow circle, and you’ll see that the line from now to 2030 has gotten noticeably steeper.  We have less time, and we need to do even more.

Discouraging?  You bet – especially to young people who understand it’ll be left to them to deal with the consequences.

But impossible to navigate?  Not at all; we have all the technology we need, and it’s getting less expensive every day.  The real missing ingredient is WILL – both political and individual.

So what can you do?

  • First, why not start by taking a quick quiz to learn more about your carbon footprint?  I’ve long been an fan of the Global Footprint Network’s calculator; and I’ve recently discovered another excellent one, Climate Hero. Both take just minutes to complete, and both offer guidance on changes you can make that will have the biggest impact.
  • Secondly, be open to change: if you end up discovering a longstanding element of your lifestyle (such as air travel or a pickup truck, for example) has a huge carbon footprint, be receptive to the possibility that some changes may be necessary.
  • Third: think of ways you can use your power as a citizen, voter and consumer to be a proponent of positive change.  If that borders on the uncomfortable for you, please don’t shirk; there’s never been an issue as important as climate change.

The downslope is steep, but with focus and commitment we can do it, together!

Coming next time: a cost and emission comparison between a Honda Civic and a Chevy Bolt EV.

Load shifting, a key to reducing emissions - February 9, 2022

Peak Power, and what you can to do help level it

On winter mornings here in New Brunswick and in most other places, people get up, turn up the heat, shower, dry their hair, make coffee and cook breakfast.  Everyone doing it at once puts an enormous peak load onto our power grid between 6 and 9 AM each day, and it’s worst on the coldest mornings.

We come home each afternoon and do it all over again: turn up the heat, cook supper and settle into our evening routines, thus giving our power utility a second peak load between 4 and 8 PM each day.

Those peak loads – especially the morning one – force our utility to fire up every source of power generation it has, including the very dirtiest fossil-fuel fired plants – actually called ‘peakers’.  In other words, peak power is usually the dirtiest power.

In contrast, loads on the power grid are far lighter during the day and overnight – meaning that power utilities tend to have surplus power available.  It’s usually from their cleanest ‘baseload’ plants, the ones that run around the clock anyway.

So a really simple way to reduce emissions is to just shift as many of the things you might normally do during the morning or suppertime peaks to off-peak times, reducing the need for that dirty peak power.  What kinds of loads?

  • Showering: if everyone chose to shower before bedtime instead of in the morning, a huge load would be shifted off of that morning peak.  Taking shorter and fewer showers would help too (and lower your power bill).
  • Laundry: use the delayed start feature of your clothes washer and especially your dryer (it uses 4000+ watts of power, compared to an LED light that uses 10 watts) to do your laundry off-peak.  Even better, use a clothesline when possible; it’s zero emissions and zero cost!
  • Dishwashing: use the delayed start feature to do your dishes outside of peak hours; save power by using eco-modes and letting your dishes air dry instead of using the heat-dry setting.
  • EV charging: if you have an electric vehicle, set it to charge as much as possible during off-peak hours, either overnight (best) or during the daytime.

And for loads you can’t easily shift:

  • Turn off your kettle as soon as the water’s boiling; turn off your coffeemaker as soon as the coffee’s ready
  • Consider toasting lighter, toasting less and making sure every slot in the toaster is full each time you use it
  • Use hair dryers and curling irons as little as possible, and use low heat settings when possible

An added note: peak power is not only dirty, it tends to be really expensive for utilities to generate.  That’s why many utilities have time-of-day pricing, where peak power is expensive and off-peak power is discounted; it gives each of us a financial incentive to shift our loads.

Time-of-day pricing hasn’t arrived in NB yet, but even so, you can do a good thing and reduce emissions by simply shifting as many loads as you can out of peak power times.  And then you’ll have your good habits formed when time-of-day pricing eventually arrives!  More on peak power here.

Do you have suggestions for other loads that could be shifted? Please feel free to share them!

Jugs, cartons or bags? - January 26, 2022

What’s the most eco-friendly way to buy milk?

Two quick realities to start: first, packaging makes up an enormous part of our trash these days; and second, the only truly fair way to compare different packaging options is to do a full life-cycle assessment of each: measuring every environmental impact from manufacture to disposal.

Milk, a staple of most households, can be purchased in jugs, cartons or bags.  But which is the most eco-friendly?

  • Jugs are made of #2 plastic or HDPE, which is recyclable and is accepted in most recycling programs.  However, what they are recycled into is another matter: they’re not turned into milk jugs, as food containers are usually required to be made of new plastic.
  • Cartons are made of paper sandwiched between thin layers of plastic, with a plastic screw cap.  They too can be recycled, but the efficiency of the process is somewhat diminished by the effort required to separate those components.
  • Bags are made of #4 plastic or LDPE, the same plastic as most grocery bags (the stretchy ones, not the crinkly ones).  They’re one of the few plastics that are perfectly recyclable – but only if they are squeaky clean, not mixed with other types of plastic and accepted in your local program.

So which is best?  Here’s an example of an easy-to-follow but really thorough life-cycle assessment.  Its conclusion: plastic bags are best by far – even if they are not recycled and end up in a landfill.  Next are cartons, and last are jugs.

A clear choice – but as the article’s author points out, bagged milk is sold only in four litre increments.  In smaller households, that could result in unconsumed or spoiled milk, which would nullify any environmental benefits.

So the next time you shop, why not choose the type of packaging that meets your needs with the least environmental impact?

Women and girls, please step into the spotlight - January 12, 2022

More feminine leadership needed

There’s a common thread that runs through audience comments I receive after I speak: the most touching and sincere are almost always from women and girls.

My social media accounts tell a similar tale: the most caring climate change insights often come from women, and the most passionate climate activists are typically girls.

This month marks personal two milestones.  First, it’s the month I’m finally getting to reading All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, an anthology of writings by 60 women and girls around the world.  In just the first few pages it’s already reaffirming my own observations: that traits we most associate with the feminine – love, kindness, collaboration, sharing, nurturing, empathy and more – are precisely what we need more of to get us through our climate crisis and into a world of sustainable prosperity; and some of the greatest accomplishments to date have been made thanks to the leadership of women.

(And don’t believe science isn’t a feminine trait: the foreword of All We Can Save reminds of the recent revelation that the first person to discover the greenhouse effect was in fact a woman, Eunice Newton Foote.)

The second milestone? This is the month my dear Mom – who years ago told me, “Maybe you can’t change the whole world, but you can change your little corner of it” – celebrates her 97th birthday.  I credit her feminine influence and example for inspiring me to the work I do today.

The action, attitudes and determination we need to solve our biggest problems seem to come as second nature to women and girls.  So the next time a female voice speaks on climate, please pause and listen.  You may hear just what we need for meaningful progress.

A final note: none of this means there’s no place for men in solving our climate crisis.  It just means that we of the masculine gender may need to work a bit at setting aside our intuitive traits like ego, competition and control, in favour of the softer skills that will help us navigate climate change successfully, together.

Resolutions for a more sustainable 2022 - December 29, 2021

Doing the things that will make the biggest difference

Phew – it seems 2021 was the year climate change impacts – particularly heat, wildfires and floods – got close and personal for many of us.  Couple that with a pandemic that’s showing us it’s not done yet, and it all makes for some sombre reflection.

But take heart: whether climate or COVID, the best antidote to discouragement is to take action – any action.  With COVID, it’s pretty straightforward: get vaccinated; do your best to follow the rules of hygiene, distancing and gathering; and do it all with as much love and kindness as you can muster.

For climate, it’s actually pretty straightforward too, because the sources of our emissions are well known.
If you were trying to cut costs at home, you probably wouldn’t focus on small things like stamps, pens or paper; you’d probably look to groceries, utilities and other big-cost items, where larger savings could be found.  The same thinking applies to emission reduction: the biggest reductions will be found in the biggest slices of the above chart.

So if you’d like to make a serious dent in your emissions, here are some resolutions to consider for 2022:

  1. Resolve to drive less.  In fact, become obsessed about it, because it’s the biggest single thing most of us can do to reduce emissions.  Instead, work from home when possible; walk, bike or take public transit; or carpool (respecting COVID rules) with a colleague or neighbour.  When driving is unavoidable, make it part of your personal culture to stack as many things into one trip as possible, to never idle or use a drive-through, and to drive with a gentle foot.  Two great spin-off benefits: you’ll save money on fuel; and using less fuel will simultaneously reduce emissions from the two largest slices of the above pie chart.
  2. If 2022 is your year for a new vehicle, resolve to make it electric.  Aside from the fact that you’re going to LOVE the ride and you can get at least $5000 off anywhere in Canada, you’ll also improve your fuel efficiency to the equivalent of about two litres/100 KM, which is 1/6 to 1/8 the fuel consumption of a typical pickup truck (and no that’s not a typo: you’ll go 6-8 times as far as a typical pickup truck on the same fuel energy).  More good news: EV prices are decreasing and selection is increasing; a complete list here.
  3. Resolve to use less electricity in your home.  Simplest: just turn things off or turn things (like thermostats) down. Next simplest: seal drafts quickly and cheaply with weatherstripping; take shorter and/or fewer showers; use a clothesline instead of a dryer. Harder but with huge potential dividends: get an energy audit done, and then follow the recommendations; most provinces have programs to help – NB’s is here.
  4. Resolve to become politically active by letting your elected representatives at all levels know you think urgent climate action is important.  You can get out there and bang a pot if you like – or you can simply make a call or send an email.  The main thing is to do something, because government actions and policies are what will impact the emissions that are beyond the influence of individuals.

Thanks for being a Green Ideas subscriber, and Happy, Sustainable 2022.  (And please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions about any of these resolutions, or if you’d like to share some of your own!)

Toward a values-based Christmas - December 15, 2021

Take a deep breath and…

Have you ever felt a little ripped off after Christmas is past?  Perhaps you were so busy preparing that you missed the joy of anticipation; you were so busy during Christmas that couldn’t savour the special moments; and just when you had a bit of time to relax, everyone had gone home and it was January.  Quite a paradox for what’s supposed to be the biggest holiday of the year.

But here’s some good news: the antidote to the mental stress many experience this time of year is also really good for the planet: a Christmas centered around love, joy and simplicity also means less unwanted stuff, less trash and fewer emissions (not to mention fewer bills).

So why not use this time of year to reflect on what’s really important in our lives, and let a joyful Christmas just unfold accordingly?  Here’s a blog posting, “Time to pause, ponder what we truly value,” that may help set the stage, part of a larger National Catholic Reporter Simple Advent series (and don’t worry, it’s not preachy).

Happy, peaceful, tranquil, safe, low-impact Christmas!

Toward a crap-free Christmas - December 1, 2021

The Christmas Sustainability Pyramid

’It’s the most wonderful time of the year’.  But it’s also become the biggest consumerism feeding frenzy of the year, with an enormous impact on the planet.  Modern Christmas seems characterized by cheap goods manufactured unsustainably far away; they arrive with a huge shipping and delivery carbon footprint; they generate a lot of packaging trash; and they often have an uncomfortably short life that ends in a landfill.  Couple all of that with the fact that much of what we buy is neither needed nor wanted, and one can’t help but think: there’s got to be a better way.

Fortunately, there is – but instead of me lecturing, why don’t I just refer you to the graphic at the link below?  I like it because:

  • It packs a lot of good advice into a small package (my faves: experiences, not things; and make something you KNOW someone will love)
  • It’s nicely organized in the form of a hierarchy, starting with the very best practices at the bottom, and then working up from there.  (Notice that names like Costco and Walmart do not appear.)

Christmas should never be Grinch-like; in these times in particular, we could all use a good celebration.  So let’s do just that, only not at the expense of the planet that sustains us.

Thanks to subscriber Don Ross for sharing this graphic from

A lesson from Big Bird and company - November 17, 2021

“Where does that stuff go?”

It must have been a powerful lesson, because it’s still with me nearly five decades after I first learned it – as a kid watching Sesame Street!

One of the Muppet characters had dirt on their hands and wanted to get rid of it.  “Just wash your hands,” the other Muppets suggested.  The first Muppet did, and the dirt was believed to be gone – until one of the other Muppets shrieked, “But the dirt is now on the SOAP!”  A discussion followed, and it was decided that the soap should be wiped with a cloth.  “But the dirt is now on the CLOTH!”  And so it went: the dirt didn’t go away, it just went elsewhere.

That message stuck with me because, in a world of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, the reality is that few things truly go away; most just go elsewhere.  The trash we put out at the curb.  The pollutants that come out of tailpipes or smokestacks.  The deodorants we apply to our skins.

Or this: perhaps you’ve seen recent TV ads where a cheerful young lady advises that you can keep your clothes smelling as fresh as washday for as long as 12 weeks if you simply dump a handful of scent booster beads into your washer.  So where do those beads go?  Well, there are only two ways out of a washer: with the drain water or with the washed clothes.  No problem if those beads were made of organic ingredients that biodegrade naturally and quickly – but when they include chemicals with names like 2-Hexene, 6,6-Dimethoxy-2,5,5-Trimethyl, I suppose we might be wise to wonder: “Where does that stuff go?”  The same could be asked about chemical air fresheners designed to be inhaled.

So what to do?  Why not try to keep the question, “Where does this stuff go?” top-of-mind when evaluating the products that come into our lives and the waste that we generate.  And if the answer makes you uneasy, why not strive to make a difference by changing your purchasing habits?

Because in our precious, fragile, finite world, few things truly go away; most just go elsewhere.

Consider leaving the leaves alone - November 3, 2021

Better options for fall leaves

In NB where I live, most leaves have fallen and people are well into their fall routines of raking, bagging and placing at the curb.

But maybe there’s a better way.  Consider:

  • Leaves are actually a pretty integral part of our natural environment, cycling nutrients from one plant to another, and creating food and habitat for many other life forms
  • Bagging takes time and effort, pulling you away from other things you’d probably rather be doing
  • There’s a considerable carbon footprint to disposing of leaves: notably the paper bags (and presumably the drive to go pick them up), and especially the energy used to haul them away.  

It’s ironic that leaves, which are actually captured carbon, would have such a carbon footprint for their collection and disposal.  It’s even more ironic that we cut down trees to manufacture those leaf bags.

So what can you do?

  • Very best: this is one of those very rare instances where doing nothing is probably the very best option: leave leaves where they are, to rot and recycle naturally.  Of course, that’s not feasible for many of us so…
  • Next best: rake your leaves under hedges, into perennial flower beds, into veggie gardens or into nearby woods, so they can decompose and recycle their nutrients there.
  • Next best: create a compost heap.  Leaves and lawn clippings are a dream team for creating ‘rocket fuel’ for next year’s garden.  More on composting here.
  • Next best: if you don’t have a good spot for leaves to decompose or compost, find a neighbour who does and would like to have your leaves.  Bonus: try to avoid using bags altogether, or using and reusing just a few.
  • Next best: use your mower (preferably electric or battery powered) to shred those leaves into mulch that stays on your lawn.  It’ll help improve moisture retention and reduce the need for fertilizer.
  • Worst: please avoid using leaf blowers; try a broom instead.  If you absolutely have to use a leaf blower, please make sure it’s electric or battery powered.
  • Very worst: please don’t bag leaves up as garbage; if buried into landfills, they’ll gradually decompose into methane, which is a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Find more ideas and information here and here, and happy non-raking!

Thanks to subscriber Don Ross for inspiring this Green Idea.

The Honourable Harvest - October 20, 2021

Beautiful guidelines for sustainable living

Have you ever heard of the Honourable Harvest?  I first learned of it Thanksgiving weekend – appropriate timing, given that it’s a value system that combines gratitude, humility and sustainability.

The Honourable Harvest is a set of food harvesting principles rooted in indigenous traditions of reverence for ancestors, concern for descendants (the next seven generations as a minimum) and respect for the fellow life forms that nourish and sustain us.  It’s largely oral and somewhat fluid, but its key principles include:

  • Never take the first. Never take the last.
  • Take only what you need. Leave some for others (including non-humans). Never waste what you have taken.
  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
  • Give thanks for what you have been given.
  • Use it respectfully. Share.
  • Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

More perspective and a few more principles can be read here; or you can watch this three-and-a-half minute video.

Climate change and other ecological challenges suggest that we humans need to awaken to a new relationship with the world around us.  Implementing the principles of the Honourable Harvest – not just at Thanksgiving, but all year long – would be a great beginning.

So… what’s ‘COP 26’? - October 6, 2021

When world leaders and climate scientists gather to plan our journey to net-zero emissions

There’s a major conference happening in Glasgow, Scotland October 31 to November 12.  Its name – ‘COP 26’ – may sound bland, but it’s an event of historical significance.

‘COP’ is the United Nations’ annual conference that brings together leaders, officials and climate scientists from around the world to examine the latest climate science and negotiate global emission reduction agreements. ‘26’ means this is the 26th such conference.  Remember the Kyoto Accord?  It arose from COP 3 in 1997.  The Paris Accord arose from COP 21 in 2015.

Why is COP 26 historical?  Recent science and this year’s crazy weather – from droughts to wildfires to floods – suggest that the timeline for preventing climate change from spinning out of control permanently is now very short, thanks to longstanding denial and inaction.  In aviation terms, we’re running out of runway:

·A 2018 report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded global emissions need to drop by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 – just nine years from now – if global warming is to be limited to 1.5 degrees C

·The 2015 Paris Accord was a major breakthrough, but:

  • Commitments made by countries fall well short of attaining that 1.5 degree C target
  • Many countries are having challenges meeting even those commitments

So the goals of COP 26 are pretty straightforward: get nations around the world to raise their ambition and set new, more aggressive emission reduction targets that are in line with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, and then develop realistic plans for achieving those targets.  Straightforward, but not simple: international negotiations are incredibly complicated and challenging.

So what can you do?  If ever there was a time to awaken your inner activist and find your voice, it’s now:

·Reach out to your elected leaders at all levels by mail, phone, email or petition to tell them you support aggressive action.  Contact information for federal leaders can be found here. It’s the nature of politicians to only act when they sense they have the support of their constituents, so they need to hear from us, in numbers and volume.  A simple online petition is here, with wording you can borrow for your own letter to a leader.

·Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or online media to share your concerns and help nudge climate change further into the mainstream of our thinking; a helpful template can be found here.

·Demonstrate that you’re ready to do your part by thinking of ways you can lower your personal carbon footprint, and then taking action.  A zillion tips (from a familiar source) here.

So let’s do what we can to make COP 26 a historical success.  Future generations are counting on it.

Solar Power 301: how are those solar panels working out? - September 22, 2021

Update on our solar array’s performance

Regular subscribers will remember that we had a solar array installed at our home last December.  (If that’s news to you, read more about the planning and installation here, and about how net metering works here.)

So how is it working out?  In short, pretty good:

·        Over the past seven months, the array has produced about 80 per cent of the power we’ve used in our home and to charge our electric vehicle

·        The best months for solar production were March, June and August; August was the first month the array actually generated more power than we used, with the surplus being sent into the grid as a credit we can use later.

·        The biggest single power load in our household is charging our electric vehicle – but that’s a tradeoff we don’t mind as we no longer need to buy gas.

Below is a chart most New Brunswickers would recognize: it’s the graphic that appears on our power bills each month – and this shows what’s happened to our consumption since the array came on line last December.

Solar power makes sense on so many levels: emission reduction, energy self-sufficiency, local jobs, fewer local dollars sent away to import fossil fuels, payback and more.  So why not make it part of your long-term plan to decarbonize your lifestyle?

Note: be sure to consult a qualified solar installer before you start; and remember that solar rebates are available in many jurisdictions. Here’s an excellent resource to learn more about solar potential in NB and across Canada.

The one thing missing in our fight against climate change - September 8, 2021

It’s time for greater climate ambition

Climate change is like an overdue credit card bill: it’s easy to avoid dealing with, but the longer we delay, the harder it gets.  Last month’s report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was blunt: thanks to past procrastination, we need more action than ever, faster than ever.

The good news: we have everything we need to eliminate emissions and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.  From solar panels to batteries, technology is improving and costs are dropping – and it’s creating momentum:

  • Last year, Finland upped its ambitions and now plans to be net-zero by 2035, just 14 years from now
  • Last spring, Heineken, PepsiCo and Visa became the latest companies to take the Climate Pledge, committing to reaching Paris Agreement net zero targets by 2040, 10 years ahead of schedule
  • Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to transition to 100% clean energy by 2035, 10 years ahead of its original goal

The bad news: here in Canada, we’re not transitioning fast enough: not enough solar panels; not enough wind turbines; not enough electric vehicles; not enough public transit.  In short, not enough ambition.

So what to do?  Well, it’s election time in Canada – a perfect time for meaningful change.  So why not:

  • Compare party platforms to see who’s got the most ambitious climate action plan (note that one major party is proposing to backtrack on Canada’s climate ambitions), and then vote for them
  • Tell any candidate who comes looking for your vote, regardless of party, that you expect greater climate ambition
  • Use social media to promote greater climate ambition; you can find a stream of daily sharable messages here

Let’s use this election to up our climate ambitions – the one thing missing in our fight against climate change.

The two most critical climate events of August - August 25, 2021

A report and an election

“Don’t idle, reduce-reuse-recycle, conserve water, buy less stuff: they’re all important small actions.  But two events this month highlight perhaps the two most critical environmental actions you can take this year.

The first event was the release August 9 of the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It details how human activities – mainly our consumption of coal, oil and natural gas – are raising temperatures, causing more extreme weather events and disrupting our oceans.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls it “a Code Red for humanity”.  Decades of dithering by our leaders have made the timeline for preventing the worst impacts dauntingly short.

So here’s the first critical action you can take: take a bit of time to be informed about the stark realities of climate change.  Here are:

·        A short and palatable summary of six key takeaways from the IPCC report

·        A two-minute IPCC video summarizing the report and its contents (and you can continue to more IPCC videos from that link)

·        For deep divers: the full IPCC report, including authors, methodology, FAQs and more

Hopefully these links will help you understand the gravity of climate change, and ignite your fire to act.  In the words of former Obama Science Advisor John Holdren, “We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be.”

The second event was the calling of a federal election – a chance for us to vote for the leaders we believe will act most decisively on the things that matter most to us.

There’s no shortage of pressing and valid issues these days: the pandemic, the economy, indigenous reconciliation, affordable housing and more.  But I’d argue – strenuously – that a stable climate is foundational to our hopes, dreams, aspirations – everything.  As astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, “Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water.”

So here’s the second critical action you can take: make climate change your number one issue when you vote.  Contact your candidates to let them know, and ask them what they plan to do.  And take a bit of time to compare party platforms; you can find a nice summary here and another here.

I hope you’ll take these two critical environmental actions – and why not share with your networks?  Because as the Lung Association slogan goes, ‘When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’.

How to wash your hands with just a single cup of water - August 11 , 2021

A signal that makes the impossible possible

“Who here thinks you could wash your hands with just one cup of water?” I asked my audience.  Not a single hand went up.  “Well, I have something in my pocket that I guarantee will enable anyone to wash their hands with a single cup of water.”  Now I really had their attention!

So what did I pull out?  A $20 bill.  “Who here thinks you could wash your hands with just one cup of water if I gave you this?” – and all the hands shot up.

That’s the power of a price signal: if people are given a worthwhile monetary incentive to do something, chances are pretty good they’ll do it, or at least try.  If I’d have carried through with my offer, I’m pretty sure I would have shelled out a lot of money that day – because everyone would have quickly figured out that it takes virtually no water to wet your hands sufficiently for soap to work, and a cup of water can rinse a lot of soap if you use it wisely.  If I’d have then kept the offer open for a week, I’m guessing human creativity would have kicked in: people would be routinely helping each other to make it easier to achieve what they wanted; there would have been discussion of ideas like soaps that don’t need water, or gadgets to dispense water super-efficiently; and I’d probably have accumulated a debt I’d still be paying off!

The point: we humans can do amazing things when motivated, and there are few motivators better than a price signal.  It works in reverse too: if water cost $20 a cup, everyone in my audience would have come to the same conclusion, except via an unhappier route.

Recent weather extremes around the world underline the need for big action on climate, quickly.  That will require big motivation – the kind we can get from big price signals.  Once the right thing to do becomes the cheapest thing to do, everyone, regardless of belief system, will do it, because we all buy cheap.

So please be a supporter of price signals – from incentives for home insulation, solar power or electric vehicles; to fees on plastic bags, or gas and diesel; to penalties for toxic polluters and coal-fired power.  They’re key to unleashing the motivation – plus the ingenuity, creativity and perseverance – we need to solve climate change.

I know we can do it – and hopefully it won’t take anything near a $20 signal on a cup of water to get us there.

A challenge that’s bound to make you uncomfortable - July 28, 2021

Honestly, we ought to drive less

A few months ago, a fellow member of a Facebook EV owners page posted a message that went something like this: “Wow – just added up my receipts and I spent $600 on gas over the past five weeks.  Can’t wait for my new Tesla to arrive!”

It speaks to an uncomfortable reality about Canadians: we drive an awful lot – globally, third only to Americans and Australians.  Combine that with the fact that we have the least efficient vehicle fleet in the world (thanks to pickup trucks and SUVs) and it becomes easy to understand why transportation produces more emissions than any sector in Canada except oil and gas.

There’s no doubt getting a more efficient vehicle (like a Tesla) is a good thing.  But it’s only half of the solution.  If we are to be honest about reducing transportation emissions, we also need to think about driving less (which is arguably more important, as even the most efficient EV uses more energy while driving than a gas guzzler that’s parked).

So what to do?  Here are a few suggestions for driving less:

·Very best: work from home whenever you can

·Best: choose public transit over your private vehicle (yes, even your EV) at every opportunity

·Best: walk or bike instead of driving whenever possible; consider an electric bike to help make it a breeze – a nice overview of e-bikes here

·Very good: find a neighbour or neighbours whose commute is similar to yours, and carpool to cut your fuel bill and emissions in half or better; some tips for smooth carpooling here

·Very good: carpool to league sports with teammates (or even opponents, if you’re on friendly terms); to clubs with clubmates; to church with fellow churchgoers; to any gathering with other attendees

·Good: plan your trips well so you can get everything done in one circuit; make an ordered list of your stops to help guide you

·Good: go to the closest source of what you need, even if the price is a few cents more; the fuel (and time) savings will more than make up for it

·Good: when delivering people to sports or other activities, wait for them instead of making two trips; take a book or go for a walk to make the most of the time

And, of course, avoid drive-throughs; park in the first spot you see (versus driving around looking for a spot closer to the entrance) and idle as little as possible.

Driving less can make a huge difference in our emissions – so let’s do it!

Staying grounded for a better environment - July 14, 2021

Make flying less a permanent habit

If you’re like me, you probably haven’t done much travelling in the past 16 months.  But if you’re like me, perhaps you’ve also started receiving a steady stream of emails enticing you back to ‘normal’ travel with reduced fares on flights across Canada and around the world.

Unfortunately, flying is about the least eco-friendly way to travel.  Globally, aviation accounts for about 2.5% of global emissions, or more than a country like Germany.  It caters to that minority of humans who can afford to fly.  And a large share of emissions from aviation happen high in the atmosphere, where they do more damage than emissions on the ground.

So what to do if you love to fly?

· Best: pledge to not fly anymore, as Greta Thunberg has done

· Best: use videoconferencing instead of traveling whenever possible

· Very good: when possible, travel by train or bus instead of airplane

· Very good: fly as little as possible, only when there is no reasonable alternative

· Good: if you must fly, stay at your destination longer to get maximum benefit per tonne of emissions

· Good: choose direct flights when possible; stopovers and connections come with a carbon cost

· Good: buy Gold Standard carbon offsets to counter the negative impacts of your flight, or use a company like Goodwings to offset the impacts of your entire trip

· Good: travel with as little luggage as you can (light suitcase, light clothing, even the smallest containers of personal care products) because when it comes to flying, every ounce counts

This summer, fall and winter, pledge to fly less, because staying grounded is a good thing for the environment.

Warming the planet to keep myself cool? - June 30, 2021

Use as little air conditioning as you can

There’s a tragic irony in the massive heatwave gripping western North America: the oppressive temperatures are leading people to use much more air conditioning, which is causing record power consumption, which is resulting in more emissions from power generation, which further drive climate change, which will cause more such heat waves.  Alberta, which has the dirtiest power in Canada because of its reliance on coal, set a new summer record for electricity demand two days ago.

So what to do?  Here are some simple ways to reduce your need for air conditioning even as you stay safe and comfortable:

·        Open windows at night to take advantage of free cooling, and close them in the morning to keep the day’s heat out.  If necessary, use a fan to draw in that fresh, cool night time air.

·        Ensure all windows and doors are tightly closed when your air conditioning is running, to minimize the amount of heat that sneaks in from outside.

·        Keep blinds and shades closed, especially on south and west facing windows when the sun is shining directly on them.  It’s a simple habit that results in huge savings.  (If you don’t have blinds or other window coverings, consider installing some; they’ll pay for themselves quickly.)

·        If you rely on a window air conditioner, place it in a north or east facing window; it’ll work more efficiently in shade than in direct sun.

·        Cool only spaces where you spend time; save by not cooling unused or unoccupied rooms.

·        Retreat to the basement if it’s an option, to take advantage of free, natural coolness there.

·        For big savings, set your thermostat to cool down to tolerable (such as 22-25°C) instead of downright chilly.  (Ever been in a building where some people are wearing sweaters in summer?  It’s an enormous waste of energy and money.)

·        Wear light clothes to match the temperature

·        Use cotton bedsheets for better, cooler sleeps

·        Minimize your use of kettles, toasters, ovens and other appliances that generate heat; they work against your air conditioner, so in effect you pay for that energy twice.  (It makes a case for making your coffee and toast out on the deck…)

·        Keep yourself well hydrated with cool drinks, because a cool you can feel pretty comfortable even in warm temperatures

·        When it’s time to buy a new air conditioner, make sure you choose an efficient ENERGY STAR certified model

·        In vehicles, air conditioning is the second biggest load on the engine, after driving; it can reduce your fuel efficiency by up to 20%.  So use fresh air as much as possible and AC as sparingly as possible; some good guidance here.

Stay cool and comfortable this summer – but please don’t warm the planet in the process!

Appreciating a precious resource - June 16, 2021

Make water conservation part of your culture

If you follow the news, you may have heard that Lake Mead, the reservoir above the gigantic Hoover Dam in Nevada, is at its lowest level ever, thanks to record drought and extreme heat.  In fact, a serious drought is gripping all of Western US and 85% of Canada’s farmland, already creating concerns about crops.  Even here in New Brunswick, record heat and modest rains have us on the cusp of drought, with almost all of the province under a no-open-fire restriction.

Water is one of our most vital resources, so conserving it just makes good sense anytime.  You can make water conservation part of your personal culture by asking yourself, every time you use some:

· Would I use this much water if I had to pay a dollar a litre for it?  (Cheap water rates are one of the reasons why Canadians are among the highest per capita users of water in the world.)

· Would I use this much if I had to walk a mile to get it?  (People – especially women – in less fortunate parts of the world do.)

· If my total water allocation for this week were 100 litres, is this one of the ways I would use it?

Worth pondering!  And in the meantime, here are some simple ways to conserve water:

· Avoid watering your lawn (it just makes it grow faster anyway so you have to mow it more often – which takes time and fuel)

· Wash your vehicle with a pail instead of a hose

· Take shorter and less frequent showers

· Find and fix water leaks in your home (toilets are notorious for quietly leaking huge amounts of water; you can check if yours is leaking by putting a little food coloring into the tank and seeing if it seeps into the bowl)

· If you haven’t already, install a low flow shower head; install a low-flow toilet; get a high-efficiency front loading clothes washer

· Use a rain barrel to collect rainwater for use in your garden

Hopefully we won’t be praying for rain in our part of the world anytime soon.  But, even so, let’s use what we have as wisely and efficiently as possible.

A simple gesture for Clean Air Day - June 2, 2021

Avoid drive-throughs, period

True story: two days ago, while waiting for my son to arrive at a local restaurant, I found myself with a bird’s eye view of a neighbouring restaurant’s drive-through.  “Aha – a chance for a little citizen science,” I thought.  So I opened the stopwatch on my phone and took note.

My observations?  Not up to the scrutiny of ‘real science’ of course, but still interesting:

·The longest lineup I saw in the drive-through was five vehicles, so the place wasn’t really busy

·Even so, any vehicle that found itself fifth in line would sit waiting – and idling – in the drive-through for about five minutes

Since every vehicle in a drive-through typically idles, five vehicles in line equals five engines idling all at once.  Under such circumstances, it would take just 12 minutes to accumulate ‘an hour of idling’.  It’s probably fair to assume that many drive-throughs – especially the coffee shop kind – often have more than five vehicles waiting in line.

So what are the consequences?  According to Natural Resources Canada:

·An hour of idling in the average vehicle wastes 1.5 litres of fuel and generates 3.5 KG of carbon dioxide.

·Mind-blowing: if the average Canadian driver reduced their idling by just three minutes per day, 630 million litres of fuel (worth over half a billion dollars) would be saved per year – equal to 40,000 tanks of fuel for a compact car every day of the year.  Emissions would be reduced by 1.4 million tonnes.

It’s an undeniable, if grudging, reality that drive-throughs have been a lifeline for many restaurants during the pandemic.  But the end (hopefully) of the COVID crisis marks a good time to refocus on that other, larger crisis and to think about new actions and habits.

June 2 is Clean Air Day.  There’s probably no easier way to keep our air clean and to reduce emissions than this one simple thing: resolve to steer clear of drive-throughs.  Period.

(Related question: is it okay for EV drivers to use drive-throughs?  Answer: not really, because even though your vehicle produces no emissions, your presence will cause all of those non-electric vehicles in line behind you to idle longer while they wait for you to get your order.)

Having that difficult conversation - May 19, 2021

How to deal with climate change deniers

Climate change is real, and it’s happening fast – yet some people still insist on denying its existence (and I heard of another case literally yesterday).  So how do you persuade someone who thinks climate change isn’t real?

First, a few human realities.  No one likes feeling threatened or challenged.  No one likes being ignored, or being told they’re wrong.  No one likes losing an argument; in fact, arguing usually just makes people cling more tightly to what they already believe.

In view of those realities, here’s a straightforward five-step process for having that difficult climate conversation, courtesy of the David Suzuki Foundation’s CliMate Conversation Coach (a great resource worth clicking!):

Step One:  after hearing a denial statement, ASK for more information.  Use non-threatening, open-ended questions to help people feel safe and respected, and to open the door to self-reflection.

Step Two:  LISTEN closely, and then ask follow-up questions.  This makes them feel heard, and adds valuable information.  It helps you better understand them and discover things you agree upon.

Step Three:  REFLECT back what you’ve heard.  Try to say in your own words what the other person said and, when possible, highlight emotions and feelings. It shows you’re listening, and making an effort to understand their point of view.

Step Four:  find something you AGREE upon because agreement breaks down barriers and builds bridges.  In particular, strive to connect with people’s goals, values and emotions: they tend to be strongly held, and can serve as anchors or foundations for further agreement.

Step Five:  SHARE your own perspective, including your own vulnerabilities.  Try using emotion and personal stories, because they’re easier for people to relate to and remember than facts and arguments.  Try to create a comfortable situation that encourages people to rethink and reconsider.

Sound a bit slow and tedious?  Alas, effective persuasion always requires an investment of time.  Two final points to consider:

·       Complete, instant turnarounds in thinking are rare.  Progress comes in small steps.  If you’ve opened someone’s mind a crack and you’ve both gone away happy, that’s a success.

·       If you happen to come across someone who wears their denial as a badge of honour and has resolved that they won’t be persuaded ever, the best approach is probably to smile, walk away and save your efforts for more open-minded people.

Happy persuading!

Turn that food desert into an oasis - May 5, 2021

Take part in No Mow May

“It was a food desert,” my son said after returning home from a sports tournament held in a big-city venue.  “There was nothing to eat nearby, so we always had to drive.”

Fortunately, my son had the option of driving to find food.  That’s not the case for bees, the workers we rely upon to pollinate so much of our food.  This time of year especially, they need early-season flowers to provide much-needed pollen and nectar.  One of the best is the dandelion – that brilliant, golden bloom that’s just about ready to pop.

But somehow dandelions in our yards have become vilified as weeds: we spray, mow and dig to get rid of them – in the process making our lawns food deserts for bees.

So this year, why not take part in No Mow May?  It’s really simple: don’t mow all or part of your lawn this month.  The benefits:

·        You’ll save time

·        You’ll save fuel and reduce your emissions

·        You’ll be doing a really good thing for bees and other helpful insects, which in turn do good things for us

Some municipalities, like Dieppe and Riverview, New Brunswick, are promoting No Mow May: leading by example by not mowing at City Hall, and even offering prizes for residents who take part.

If your municipality isn’t on board yet, why not go solo?  Download a poster here or make your own to explain why you’re not mowing.  Maybe you’ll inspire your neighbours – or even your municipality, if you call and invite them to take part!

Uncomfortable leaving the entire lawn unmown?  Start with one corner to see how it goes – and expand that next year if you can.  

If you want to really help our insect friends, let No Mow May stretch into the entire summer – and allow other beneficial species like clover and daisies to flower too.

Finally, perhaps this lighthearted dialogue between God and St. Francis will provoke some reassessment of that green space around our homes.

This year, make sure your lawn isn’t a food desert for our insect friends.  Happy No Mow May!

Let’s not fumble this - April 21, 2021

The most important game to win

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” UCLA football coach Red Sanders reportedly told his players over a half-century ago.  It’s a phrase that’s been used by coaches ever since to motivate their players to victory.

We live in conflicted times.  On the one hand, we Canadians live in one of the world’s most prosperous countries, and our comfortable, self-directed lifestyles are the envy of billions.  We’ve gotten used to pretty much doing what we want when we want.  We have technologies that do incredible things that would have been unimaginable to our grandparents.

Then along comes COVID-19, reminding us in a sudden, humbling way of the reality that we are after all still just one species among many competing in our planet’s teeming biology.

But worse, hovering over everything, and reminding us that we live on a planet that functions by simple laws of physics, is climate change.  We’re coming to see that emissions from oil, coal and natural gas, the very products that have brought humans to this level of prosperity, are upsetting our planet’s fragile balance, with the potential to throw virtually every aspect of our lives – food, water, shelter, health, safety and more – into uncertainty at best, chaos at worst.

Of course, the worst impacts of climate change can still be prevented.  But we are late in the game, and well behind on the numbers board thanks to past lacklustre performance.  It’s time for a strong, unified and focussed push from everyone on the team, with no misplays.

To paraphrase Coach Sanders’ line: fighting climate change isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.  A mantra for Earth Day and every day.

Grow more food, meet more neighbours - April 7, 2021

Share and swap your seeds

Home gardens offer many benefits: the unbeatable taste of fresh veggies; savings on your grocery bill; some degree of control over your diet and how your food is grown.

But if your garden is like mine, the average seed packet provides far more seed than you need.  Sure, you can usually keep some for a second year, but even then much is often left over and potentially goes to waste.  Plus you’re less inclined to try new crops and new varieties, because that just compounds the problem.

So why not swap seeds with fellow gardeners in your neighbourhood or your community?  There are a multitude of ways to do it:

·        Check in with your neighbour: if they garden, the simplest swap of all may be over the backyard fence!

·        If you have a community Facebook page or website, why not post which seeds you have available and which you’re looking for, and see what happens?

·        Check with your local gardening club or sustainability organization; many organize annual seed exchanges.

·        Some libraries (yes, the book kind, like this one) accept donations of leftover seed, and then let anyone help themselves to what they’d like.

·        If you’d like to go all-in and organize an in-person event, here’s a simple how-to list; here’s a how-to list for those with more elaborate ambitions.

Seed swapping is a great way to try gardening for the first time without expense; learn from experienced gardeners; meet your neighbours; and diversify what you grow.  So swap and enjoy!

Living within our means, Part 2: Food - March 24, 2021

Wasting less, eating better

Food – the nourishment we rely on for our very existence – was at the center of two shocking news stories this month.

The first: according to a new study, food production and associated activities are responsible for fully one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Those emissions arise not just from on-farm activities, but also from transportation, processing, packaging and retailing.  Animal-based foods in particular have a far larger footprint than plant-based foods.

The second: according to a new UN report, almost a billion tonnes of food are wasted each year – a fact that’s even more obscene when you consider how many millions of people go to bed hungry every night. Waste happens at every step of the supply chain from farm to fork, but especially at home and in the food service industry.  The report concludes food waste is responsible for 10 per cent of global emissions.  That’s worth restating: eliminating food waste could reduce global emissions by 10 per cent.

So why not reduce the environmental impact of your diet by:

·        Eating less animal-based and more plant-based foods.  Consider designating certain meals of the day or certain days of the week veggie only (IE Meatless Monday; recipes here).

·        Resolving to clean your plate, every time.

·        Buying bulk whenever you can to reduce the need for packaging

·        Growing a garden; it’s amazing how much can be grown in a small space well tended, and it’s empowering to have at least a measure of control over what you put into your body.  Even if you’ve never gardened, spring is the season of new beginnings.

·        At the grocery store, buying only what you need and can consume in a reasonable time.  Resist the urge to buy large ‘family packs’ if the inevitable result is that some will spoil before you get to eating it.

·        Using good judgement before discarding outdated food, because ‘best before’ does not mean ‘bad after’.  Use your nose, and try to imagine what your dear grandmother would do.

·        Designating one area of your fridge as an ‘eat me first’ section, and placing your oldest food there. You can download an ‘eat me first’ sign here.

·        Using leftovers and wilting veggies to make soup; some good guidance here.

Do you have ideas and suggestions for how to reduce food emissions and food waste?  Let me know and I’ll share them in the next Green Ideas!



Living within our means, Part 1: Water - March 10, 2021

Conserving the lifeblood of our existence

Ours is a watery planet, but consider this: 97.5 per cent of Earth’s water is salty; only 0.03 per cent is surface water, the portion most humans rely upon.  Put another way: if a typical trash dolly full of water represented all water on the planet, surface water would amount to just six tablespoons.

And as our population continues to grow, so does our water consumption.  Humans today use three times the water we used fifty years ago.  Worldwide, 2.2 billion people lack access to safe water – including many residents of Canadian First Nations.

Water is essential to our existence, so we’d be wise not to take it for granted.  Here’s how you can reduce your personal water footprint:

  • Very good: Install a low flow shower head.  Less water, same satisfying shower.  Then go one better: take fewer and shorter showers.
  • Very good: Install a low flow (six litre) or dual flush toilet for big water savings.  Then go one better: ‘when it’s yellow, leave it mellow’…
  • Consider a front-loading clothes washer for 50 per cent water savings; do only full loads
  • Fix dripping faucets because they can waste 80 litres a day
  • Detect toilet tank leaks by putting a little food coloring in the tank and checking if any color seeps into the bowl; most repairs are easy do-it-yourself jobs with inexpensive parts available at hardware stores
  • A no-brainer: turn off the tap while brushing teeth
  • Avoid watering lawns or washing driveways
  • Keep a bottle of drinking water in the fridge so you don’t have to run the tap to get cool water
  • Calculate your water footprint here (detailed but US-focussed) or here (international but to my eye less user-friendly).  Both include the water footprints of our food and consumer goods choices, which are far greater than most of us would guess.

March 22 is World Water Day – so raise a glass and appreciate it for the vital, underappreciated essential it is.

Solar Power 201: Net Metering explained - February 24, 2021

Net Metering: the independence of generating your own electricity, backed by the security of your local power grid

If you plan to install solar power, there are two ways you can go:

The first is to go off-grid, which means you’ll be totally independent with no connection to any outside power line – so no power bill to pay, ever.  But it also means that if you like power 24 hours a day, you’ll need a battery bank that can store enough power during the day for use during the night – and that battery bank will need to have enough extra capacity to carry you through long winter nights and prolonged cloudy weather (which sometimes happens at the same time).  In short, off-grid is appealing, but anyone considering it should be prepared to spend a bit more money, and to become actively engaged in day-to-day power usage and management.

The second option – more feasible for most people – is to remain connected (or grid-tied) to your local utility’s power line and use net metering.  Net metering is an arrangement whereby you use grid power whenever your panels aren’t generating (IE at night), but then send any surplus power you generate with your panels (IE during the day) back into the power grid.  Then you’re billed on the net amount of power you use: your consumption from the grid minus what you’ve sent into the grid.  Rules vary between jurisdictions.  Some allow you to offset your power consumption to zero on an annualized basis; others will actually pay you for any surplus you produce on an annualized basis.

Grid-tied net-metered systems are simpler and less costly than off-grid systems because batteries aren’t needed. Through net metering, you are essentially using your local power utility as your ‘battery’, because you can send it power in summer and then use back that same amount of power in winter.

Here are links to how net metering works in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador power and hydro, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC.  For subscribers in other areas, please just check with your local utility.

If you ‘follow your money’, where does it lead? - February 10, 2021

Choose to invest sustainably

Follow the money,” informant Deep Throat whispered in All the President’s Men, a movie about corruption in the Nixon era.  That now-famous line speaks to a basic truth in our world: money makes things happen (and lack of money prevents things from happening).

Energy is a good example.  Fossil fuel companies would never be able to extract oil, coal and natural gas without the backing of financial institutions – which in turn have made tons of money by bankrolling the sector.  And here’s a devastating reality: banks continue to finance new fossil fuel development, even as the climate change consequences of burning fossil fuels become clearer.  A global report card by the Rainforest Action Network found:

·       US$2.7 trillion have been invested in the fossil fuel industry since the signing of the Paris Climate Accord by 35 of the planet’s largest banks.

·       All of Canada’s Big Five banks are in the thick of it.  Royal Bank of Canada is the fifth largest fossil fuel investor in the report card, followed by TD (eighth); Scotiabank (10th); Bank of Montreal (16th); and CIBC (21st).

Imagine where we’d be if that $2.7 trillion had instead been invested in clean, renewable energy.

So what can you do?  Most of us have retirement portfolios or pensions, and it’s RRSP contribution time.  You can steer your money to where it does the most good and least harm by:

·       Asking your advisor to divest your portfolio of fossil fuel holdings and instead seek out viable sustainability-oriented investments (and there are more to choose from all the time).  Even the most traditional advisor may be more receptive in the wake of fossil fuel giant Exxon reporting its first-ever loss last week.

·       If you’re a client of one of Canada’s Big Five banks, letting your advisor know you’re not happy with their support of fossil fuels, and asking them what their bank’s plans are to divest.  Remind them you have options.

·       Moving your business to a more sustainability-minded financial institution if you’re not happy with your bank’s divestment plans; here’s a simple guide to help.

·       If you’re ready to take things a step further, joining a campaign like Fossil Banks: No Thanks to pressure banks or Shift to pressure pension funds (including the Canada Pension Plan fund, in which all Canadians have a stake) to divest of fossil fuels and shift to investments that fight climate change.

If you haven’t already, now’s a perfect time to start making wise, sustainable investment choices, so that when you ‘follow your money’, you’ll find it’s making good things happen!

A threat COVID and climate change have in common - January 27, 2021

Staying mentally strong through a crisis

A year after COVID-19 arrived in Canada, perhaps one of the less-talked-about consequences has been its toll on our mental health.  So much of what we took for granted as ‘normal’ was cast aside almost overnight: daily routines, family relationships, social connections, economic foundations and more.  The pandemic has been an unprecedented test of our strength, resilience and ability to carry on.

For anyone who cares about our natural world, the current state of our environment can be similarly stressful.  The daily avalanche of negative news – whether about heat waves, droughts, floods, hurricanes, disappearing biodiversity or something else – is enough to gnaw away at even the most optimistic disposition.

If you’re feeling stressed by COVID, climate change or both, here are a few strategies to help you not just cope, but prevail:

·        Take heart, and see hope.  In the case of COVID, a vaccine is on the horizon.  If we follow rules and good practices, we can minimize our chances of becoming infected and contribute to the larger battle of ending this crisis.  In the case of climate change, we’re seeing mind-boggling progress in renewable energy and electric vehicles, and the political winds have changed with the election of a new US administration.

·        Take care of yourself, both physically and spiritually.  Exercise, go outside, talk to friends, maintain a healthy work-life balance, connect with like-minded people, take up yoga or meditation and laugh as much as you can.

·        Look deep within, and see and believe that you are stronger than you know.  WE are stronger than we know, something we should never underestimate.

·        Since most of us are too busy most of the time, see any unexpected downtime due to COVID as a gift, a time to refocus your life priorities.  Honestly, what really matters?  Then resolve to make some changes to better align your beliefs and your lifestyle.  If you care about our environment, use this time to learn about how to live more sustainably or save energy or grow a garden or eat better or…

·        Finally, set a few doable goals and take some action, because even the smallest action is better than words or worry, and can give a feeling of accomplishment, progress and confidence to go further.  Remember, people like you and me are still the world’s biggest hope for solving climate change.  The David Suzuki Foundation offers a great list of ten ways, small and large, you can help.

For further reading: a column I wrote on the subject a few years back, and eight tips for overcoming eco-anxiety.

So please stay safe, and stay strong!

Convenient, but with a huge environmental footprint - January 13, 2021

The downside of home delivered meal kits

Perhaps you’ve noticed a recent trend in food marketing: home-delivered meal kits.

The concept is simple: you go to a website, browse a menu, pick a gourmet meal for your family, order and voila: a box shows up at your door days later with all the ingredients you need to prepare that meal: the main course, veggies, sauces, spices and more.  All you need to do is open the box and follow the preparation instructions.  What could be simpler for today’s busy consumer?  No wonder home-delivered meal kits are now offered by dozens of companies via the internet.

But before you sign up, consider:

·         Meal kits come with a lot of packaging, so they generate a lot of waste.  They’re usually shipped in insulated boxes (which may not be recyclable), often with ice packs to keep things cold in transit.  (True, you can reuse ice packs, but how many of them do you really need in your freezer?)  Ingredients inside the box are usually further packaged as well.

·         Many meal kits originate quite far away, so they have a significant transportation footprint (a big part of it being that delivery van that drops it off at your door)

·         If a meal kit you choose is coming from afar, you can be pretty certain there’s nothing local inside it, so there’s no benefit to your local economy

·         Meal kits aren’t cheap.  Do the math, and you’ll likely find you can get the very same ingredients locally for a fraction of the cost

So instead of succumbing to the allure and expense of a meal-in-a-box, why not just shop your local farmers market, co-op or food store – for lightly-packaged local food with a small transportation footprint?  Even better: in season, subscribe to a weekly box from a local farmer or community supported agriculture group!

Footnote: until a vaccine brings pandemic relief, people feeling vulnerable due to age, health or other circumstance warrant an exemption.  Let’s hope we can all get back to our usual shopping and eating routines soon!)

A time for courage, resolve and action - December 30, 2020

Set sustainability goals for 2021

Thanks to COVID-19, most of us can’t wait to say goodbye to 2020.  But as the end of one sobering crisis seems within our reach, symptoms of the next are rumbling ever louder.  Christmas and Boxing Days were the warmest ever here in New Brunswick, with 21 weather stations setting new record high temperatures.

New Year’s is typically a day for setting fresh goals and resolutions; paraphrasing Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”  So why not set some sustainability goals for yourself and your family for 2021?  Here are a few suggestions:

·         To put out no more than ___ bags of trash a month (year?)

·         To go meat-free at least once every _____

·         To get a home energy audit done, and implement at least ___ of its energy-saving recommendations by the end of 2021

·         To carpool or take public transit at least ___ times a month

·         To stop using drive-throughs (and you’ll be amazed at how much money you’ll save by making that daily coffee at home)

·         To get into the habit of gentle stops and starts when you drive (and you’ll be amazed at how much fuel you’ll save)

·         To be driving an electric vehicle (or at the very least a hybrid) by ___

These are just a start, but they touch upon the areas where most of us have our largest impact on the environment: waste, diet, home energy consumption and transportation.  For good measure, here are two more suggestions:

·         To call or write your elected leaders to demand meaningful action on climate change at least ___ times this year

·         To subscribe to TED’s Countdown, an inspiring global initiative dedicated to solving our climate crisis and creating a better future for all

Final thought: goalsetting really works.  I’ve always been terrible at it, but two years ago, for the first time ever, I set and shared a couple of audacious goals for our family: that we’d generate no more than 10 bags of trash per year, and that we’d be carbon neutral for our electricity and transportation by 2022.  I had no idea at the time whether we’d be able to do it.  But amazing things can happen when you commit to something.  We hit our 10-bag target in 2019, and will again this year.  And just this fall we installed a solar array that powers our home and charges our car – something that seemed almost impossible just two years ago.

So – as you welcome 2021, why not have a quick scrum with others in your household, and together commit to some solid sustainability goals?  (And if you need help, don’t hesitate to hit reply and ask away!)

Happy New Year 2021, and thanks for being a Green Ideas subscriber!

Cozy, warm and eco-friendly - December 16, 2020

Consider heating with wood

The picture below shows a cozy way to stay warm over the holidays.  It also shows one of the biggest ways we’ve been able to lower our family’s carbon footprint.

Heating represents about 60 per cent of a home’s energy consumption, and the sources of energy we typically use – oil, natural gas or electricity (in most places) – result in greenhouse gas emissions.

Wood stoves, on the other hand, can be much better for the environment.  First, they use a form of renewable energy, trees.  Second, they are carbon-neutral because the emissions they generate are reabsorbed from the air by the new trees replacing the ones being burned.  A third advantage: paper products that are not recyclable, such as tissues, napkins, wax paper or grease-stained pizza boxes and fast food packaging, can be used as fire starting materials, thus reducing what goes out in the trash.

But for wood heat to truly be better for the environment, three conditions must be met.  They’ll also help you stay on good terms with your nearby neighbours:

·       The stove should be EPA-rated, a certification which assures maximum efficiency and minimum particulate matter (IE smoke).

·       The wood should be completely dry, seasoned for at least a year; longer if possible.

·       The fire should be well managed for maximum efficiency and minimum smoke.  That means using enough paper and kindling to get it started, letting it build to full intensity quickly, and only reducing the air flow once the wood has reached the glowing charcoal stage.

For the truly hardcore: commit to using only dying trees, fallen trees or trees that need to be removed anyway for other reasons.

Want to learn more? This great guide has everything you need to know about heating with wood.

Happy holidays!  Hope you have a chance to spend some time near a cozy – and planet-friendly – wood stove in the coming weeks!

Solar panels 101 - December 2, 2020

Hello, energy independence (well, nearly)!

I remember hearing a caller to a radio show four years ago casually mentioning they had a solar system that powered their home and charged their electric vehicle.  Totally cool, I thought – but it seemed so far off and impossible.

Fast forward to today, and I’m SO excited to share that our new 16-panel solar array went live this week.  It generates power for our home and electric car, and has a battery pack that provides emergency backup power too (so no generator or gas to worry about, ever).

Here are some basics:

·         Size: our installer looked at our power bills from the past few years, and sized our system accordingly.  If all goes as planned, it should provide 80-90% of our needs on an annual basis

·         Components: a basic system just requires panels, a rack and an inverter.  Because we wanted emergency backup, our system also includes a charge controller and battery pack, plus we had to upgrade to a ‘hybrid’ inverter that can handle the different voltages of grid and battery power.

·         Grid-tied or off-grid: we opted to stay connected to our local power grid because the wire’s already running into our home, and the batteries required for going totally off grid are big and still a bit pricey (but they’re getting cheaper fast).

·         Placement: because our home is poorly oriented to the sun and our roof is too flat, our array is what’s called a ‘ground mount’.  That gave us the freedom to install it in the sunniest corner of our lot, facing perfectly south and angled to catch the least snow and the most sun.

·         Warranty: our panels are warranted for 25 years; other components are warranted for 10 years

·         Payback: solar systems pay for themselves in about 12 years; ours will take a bit longer because of the added cost of the battery backup option.  Some consider that a long payback; to me, it compares very favourably to the (non)payback of a monthly power bill for infinity.

Questions?  Interested in learning more?  Just hit reply and let me know; I’m planning another Green Ideas on solar panels for January.

The big takeaway: something that seemed so unattainable just four years ago is suddenly reality.  I guess that proves that energy near-independence is within anyone’s reach – and that’s truly exciting!

Something I can’t talk about - November 18, 2020

Broaching the issue of disposable feminine hygiene products

I’ve long wondered about how to raise awareness of a subject I’m not qualified to talk about. But I recently met someone who is – and thankfully she accepted my invitation to write this first-ever Green Ideas guest post.
–   –   –
* * *
I’m Avery, a young mom and entrepreneur.  When my daughter Lily was born, I found myself wondering what I could do to ensure she and her generation would have a green, healthy planet.  I found my answer in a subject rarely talked about: feminine hygiene products.

The average women will use 11,000 disposable tampons and pads over her lifetime. In North America alone, that’s 20 billion products discarded into landfills every year.

So I decided to come up with a design for some menstrual pads for myself – and, to my surprise, it’s turned into a home-based business.  My Lily Pads have an incredibly absorbent core called “Zorb”, a thin fabric with compressed fibers that can hold ten times its weight in liquid. A water-resistant backer gives peace of mind against leaks.

They’re washable, just like regular laundry.  My minky pads are stain resistant (maybe that’s why they’re our best sellers); and my bamboo or cotton pads can be cleaned by pre-rinsing and using a natural stain remover bar or peroxide before washing.

Another benefit of Lily Pads: they can offer relief for women who have allergies or sensitivities to disposable pads.

Reusable Lily Pads – comfortable, absorbent and sensitive skin friendly – are helping me make a difference for my Lily.  So maybe reusable pads can be a next step for you on your eco journey too.

* * *   –   –

Thanks, Avery, for the difference you’re making – for more than just Lily!

PS No endorsement intended, except that it’s nice to recognize people doing a good thing.
PS2 Coming soon, that promised feature on our new solar panels.

All You Need for a More Sustainable Workplace - November 4, 2020

Become a sustainability leader at work with WWF’s Living Planet at Work

To solve climate change, we need all hands on deck: individuals, governments, business, industry – and workplaces too.

If you’d like to be a sparkplug in making your workplace more sustainable, here’s a great, FREE resource: WWF’s Living Planet at Work platform.  It provides all the ideas and tools you need to lead sustainability initiatives in your workplace: from reducing waste, to lowering your office’s carbon footprint, to creating a sustainable purchasing policy, to engaging your colleagues.  (And remember – schools are workplaces too!)  Most of us want to do the right thing, but we often get hung up in wondering where to start; Living Planet at Work makes it easy.

Need some inspiration? Check out the Featured Stories section, profiling people just like you who stepped up, took action and made a difference – including the 2019 Living Planet at Work Award Winners.

 So – if you’d like to make a difference at work, check out WWF’s Living Planet at Work!

A tip for the modern, eco-friendly cat (owner) - October 21, 2020

Choose compostable litter – and then compost it!

One of the biggest environmental impacts of our feline friends is ‘the back-end business’ – specifically, the litter box.

Most conventional cat litters are made of clay.  Their environmental footprint is bigger than you might think:

·        Clay is a non-renewable resource.  It’s typically strip-mined in much the same way as coal, so it leaves similar permanent scars upon the land.

·        Clay is heavy, so clay-based litters have a significant transportation footprint by the time they’ve arrived at your local store.

·        Clay-based litters can’t be composted, so they end up in the trash.  Because of their weight, they need special packaging or extra plastic bags.

·        They again have a significant transportation footprint en route to the landfill, where they take up precious space.

So what to do?  Here are two simple steps.

First, choose a biodegradable or compostable litter.  You can use something as simple as sawdust (the norm before clay came along), or buy products made from materials such as old newspapers, corncobs, barley hulls or nut shells.  Or you can use wood pellets (yes, the pellet stove fuel) for an inexpensive, often local, solution.  For the truly hardcore, here are instructions on how to make your own litter from newspaper.

Second, keep that litter and waste out of the trash:

·        Use it as tree, shrub or flower bed mulch

·        If you have curbside compost collection, call to verify that your litter and waste are acceptable, and dispose of them that way

·        Compost it yourself – but keep it separate from your regular compost, let it age a bit longer and use that compost for non-food crops because pet waste may contain parasites and other pests.  Some good guidance here.

·        If you can’t compost it yourself, reach out to a local gardening organization.  Most plant lovers won’t pass up the chance for some good organic material!

Choosing compostable litter and then composting it: two big steps for today’s modern, eco-friendly cat (owner)!

Thanks to subscribers Kathryn Hanson, Yvonne Duivenvoorden and Trippy for the suggestion!

AHA: Anger, Hope, Action - October 7, 2020

It's okay to be angry - but it's even better to take action

If you’re like me, coming to grips with climate change is an emotional kaleidoscope.

It’s hard not to feel anger if you understand the causes and consequences of climate change, and follow the news.  It’s hard not to get angry at how unnecessary it all is; if only we used that big brain we as a species were gifted with!!

At the same time, it’s hard not to feel hope at the tremendous progress being made every day toward solutions – like the ones in the news stories below.

But it’s not enough to stop at anger and hope – because anger on its own is unhelpful, and hope without action doesn’t get us any closer to the solutions we need.

So if you’re angry and hopeful as I am, please also take that next critical step – ACTION – in whatever large or small way you can:

·        Tell your political leaders at all levels that you support (and demand) strong climate change action (and don’t be shy, because the folks who lobby for the fossil fuel industry sure aren’t).  You can find your MP’s full contact information here.  

·        Use your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networking sites to build climate change awareness and share solutions

·        Join organizations like,, or  Dismissed by some as feel-good “slacktivism”, on-line activism is still far better than doing nothing.  To participate in more direct action, consider joining organizations such as the Conservation Council of NB, the Sierra Club of Canada or Greenpeace.

·        Do whatever you can to lower your own impact on the planet: drive and fly less; eat more plant-based foods; generate less trash; conserve water; make your home more energy efficient.  Every little action counts!

Remember – AHA! (anger-hope-action!) is much better than just AH.

 (Spoiler alert: coming soon, details of the exciting new solar project that has transformed our home.  Stay tuned!)

Water bottles and other marine atrocities - September 23, 2020

Don’t litter, or better still, don’t use in the first place

I experienced a real eye-opener Saturday: I did a beach cleanup as my 2020 Terry Fox ‘Run’.

The Terry Fox Run is normally a 10 KM run/walk/bike community event – something not possible during COVID.  So for 2020 participants were encouraged to do something on their own – and I decided instead of running solo I’d do a long-overdue cleanup of a beach my family had come across earlier in the summer.

What I found starkly demonstrates our ocean pollution problem.  The top items:

·        Over 400 plastic beverage containers, mostly water bottles

·        Over 1000 pieces of Styrofoam, ranging from fingernail- to surfboard-sized

·        About 75 KG nylon rope

All are awful, because they persist for a long, long time; and because they fragment into tiny pieces that eventually make their way into marine food chains (and us).

So what to do?

·        Don’t litter, ever, not even once.  Duh.  (It’s good to remember that much of the plastic in our oceans arrived there by wind, or started out in a ditch, then washed into a river.)

·        Steadfastly recycle everything that can be recycled.  Not ideal, for sure, but better than landfilling.

·        Even better: reduce your use of single-use plastics (and this opinion piece should fuel your motivation).  In particular, resolve to not buy bottled water, ever.  Instead, use a refillable bottle and enjoy better tasting, better quality local tap water.

·        Become an advocate: explain to your friends why it’s not cool to litter, and support bans on single-use plastic at the municipal, provincial and national levels.

·        Take a bag along the next time you visit a beach, because every piece of plastic kept out of our oceans makes a difference.

As my Mom told me years ago, maybe you can’t change the whole world, but you can change your little corner of it.  Keeping plastic out of our oceans is a great way to do that!

Good looks, bad impacts - September 9, 2020

Minimize the environmental impact of your wardrobe

A few generations ago, what people wore was determined by practical considerations like warmth and durability.  Most clothes were made of natural fibres like wool, linen and cotton.

But we’ve come a long way, baby: clothing today is more about constantly moving targets like status, self-expression and eye-appeal.  Things seem designed to be thrown away after just a few wearings.  Polyester, a type of plastic, is now the world’s leading textile.

Such ‘fast fashion’ comes with enormous consequences: chemical waste; polluted water; mountains of trash; microplastics in our oceans; exploited workers and much more.  (Read a quick and astounding overview here.)

So what can you do to make your wardrobe more sustainable?  Here are six tips:

·        Resolve to stop buying new for a year – or if that seems too long, start with a month.  Used clothing stores and websites are popping up everywhere, with offerings to suit every taste.

·        Choose ethical brands and sustainable textiles; consult app Good on You for brand ratings.

·        Aim to get at least 30 wears out of every garment you own.

·        Organize your wardrobe so you can see everything you already have and easily find what you’re looking for.

·        Swap and share clothes with similar sized friends.

·        Unsubscribe from all shopping emails, and purge your social media feeds of ‘influencers’ who try to seduce you into buying stuff you (and the planet) don’t need.

You can read 14 more tips here.  Do good as you look good!

Do you drive ‘in the moment’? - August 26, 2020

Smooth and steady wins the race

If you drive, I’m guessing what happened to me earlier this week on a city street has happened to you.

A vehicle sped past me.  Not far ahead was a traffic light, and it was red.  The vehicle stopped.  Seconds later, I pulled up right behind it.

So that driver didn’t gain any time by passing me, but he sure did burn more fuel.  Aggressive starts and stops are one of the greatest causes of poor fuel economy (not to mention worn-out brakes).  Natural Resources Canada estimates that fuel-efficient driving techniques can improve a driver’s fuel economy by as much as 25%!  That’s like driving three months a year for free – what’s not to like?

But I’m guessing that wasn’t what that driver was thinking when he sped by me.  He wasn’t in the moment; his mind was probably elsewhere.  If that’s how he always drives, he’s missing out on one of the very easiest ways we can save money and reduce emissions.

So here’s my challenge to all drivers: strive to be in the moment (or ‘situationally aware’) when you drive.  Accelerate gently; maintain a steady speed; anticipate traffic; avoid high speeds; and coast to decelerate.  You’ll be amazed at how much you can save.

Streaming, browsing, emailing and emissions - August 12, 2020

The environmental impact of the internet

The internet is a vital part of our world – connecting us, entertaining us and offering a world of information at our fingertips.  I can’t imagine how we’d manage COVID-19 without it.

But this graphic caught my eye when I was reading a report on energy trends recently:
Technical jargon aside, the orange bars make the key message unmistakably clear: data traffic on the internet is exploding, and so is the demand for enormous energy-hungry data centres loaded with banks of computers operating continuously. (Not sure who or what represents data or relies on data centers?  Think YouTube, Spotify or anything that streams.  Think Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Think e-mail {alas, including this one}, Google searches and anything in ‘the cloud’.)

Data centres run on electricity, and even though companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple have made commendable progress, most data centre electricity comes from fossil fuels.  It’s estimated that the internet, our gadgets and the systems supporting them account for nearly four per cent of global emissions – about twice what Canada generates.

So what to do?  Once again, much of the answer revolves around that first of the three Rs: REDUCE.  Here are a few tips:

·        Try to send fewer emails; it’s estimated that if everyone in the UK sent one fewer ‘thank you’ email, it could save the equivalent of taking over 3,000 cars off the road

·        Keep your emails as short as possible, with fewer attachments.

·        Resist the urge to hit ‘reply to all’ unless it’s really necessary

·        Unsubscribe from emails you don’t read (but not this one please!!)

·        Make Ecosia (one tree planted for every 45 searches) your default search engine

·        Keep your computers, displays, phones and other devices longer to reduce the impacts of manufacturing them

·        Try to stream as little as possible (it’s a challenge, I know, but the inescapable reality is that streaming, especially video, is pretty energy intensive)

·        Avoid Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (it’s complicated, but they’re very energy intensive)

Want to drill a little deeper into this issue?  More info here.

Happy – sustainable – internetting!

A ‘disease’ with a simple cure - July 29, 2020

Just don’t idle your engine, ever.

On the ‘tree of solutions’ to climate change, there is low-hanging fruit (solutions that are easy to implement) and high-hanging fruit (solutions that are more challenging to implement).  In the long run, we’ll have to pick every fruit on the tree of solutions if we plan to reign in climate change, but it makes sense to start with the easy, low-hanging stuff.

Surely there can be no simpler way to reduce emissions than this one straightforward guideline: Don’t idle your engine. Ever.

It may sound like a small thing, but it adds up: Natural Resources Canada estimates that if all drivers idled just three minutes less per day, we would save over $630 million/year, and prevent 1.4 million tonnes of emissions.

“But it’s 2020; surely everyone knows this by now?!”

(*Extended buzzer sound.*)  Drive throughs.  Picking up or dropping off people (including kids at school or other activities).  Pausing to talk to people.  On jobsites.  While running errands.  While texting, reading email or taking a phone call.  Or the most egregious of all, idling with the windows up and the AC on – catch the irony?

My inner voice has come to call it ‘the idling disease’, because it seems pretty pervasive, even in this era of climate change awareness.

So please help cure ‘the idling disease’ by following (and sharing) this one simple guideline: Don’t idle your engine. Ever.

(Looking for more information, or resources to help spread the word or launch a workplace campaign?  Check out NRCan’s Idle-Free Zone; there are even printable graphics and an idling quiz.)

Progress report on our family’s 2020 trash goal - July 15, 2020

Top tips for limiting how much trash your household produces – and an inspiring example

In January, I shared that one of my 2020 sustainability goals was that our family would produce 10 or fewer bags of trash this year.  We did it last year, so why not try it again (and maybe even improve)?

Halfway through, I’m pleasantly surprised to share that, even though COVID has meant a fuller household than anticipated, we’re actually on track: we’re working on bag number five.

So what’s the trick?  Here are seven keys to our success so far:

1.     Choosing less packaging: limiting trash is top-of-mind when we shop, so we actively choose products with little to no packaging, and actively avoid heavily packaged products.  It’s meant the odd sacrifice, but we’re okay with that; our purchase decisions are one of the best ways we can influence the market.  (Some people think the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – should be preceded by a fourth, most important one: Refuse.)

2.     No single-use plastic bags, ever: it’s meant a few walks back to the car, but we’re now comfortably in the habit of using alternatives that include reusable produce bags or collapsible boxes (no endorsement intended).

3.     No disposable coffee cups, ever: that means I skip that coffee if I’ve forgotten my mug.  The upside: I now remember my mug.

4.     No disposable cutlery: alas, still working on this one as I sometimes still forget my spork (no endorsement intended).

5.     Composting: organics make up a big part of household waste, so diverting them to a compost heap greatly reduces trash. A bonus: you end up with fertilizer for next year’s garden.  Another bonus: your remaining trash is less smelly and less attractive to pests.  (Unsure about composting?  Here’s a simple guide.)

6.     Recycling rigorously: our recycling systems are far from ideal (carbon footprint of collection; mixed materials; offshore ‘processing’), but recycling is still better than trashing.

7.     Carrying plastic containers in the trunk of our car so we can avoid using Styrofoam for leftovers when eating out

So – nothing earth-shattering; it’s more been a matter of habit than anything else.

So why not set a trash reduction goal for your family?  Start modestly, and then ramp it up as waste reduction becomes habit.  And please hit reply to share how you’re doing!

If you need heavy inspiration, consider Heidi Bischof, who has slashed her family’s annual trash to 1.5 KG; or watch Lauren Singer’s TED Talk on living a zero waste life (the amount of trash that she has produced over the past three years can fit inside a 16 oz. mason jar).

Thankful for blessings, hopeful for a Green Recovery - July 1, 2020

Canada, COVID and a historic opportunity

I don’t aspire to win a lottery, because I think I’ve already won the most important lottery of all: I was born in Canada, this beautiful land of unmatched abundance and prosperity.  I’m grateful for that every day, and especially every July 1.

But abundance can lead to extravagance.  Unfortunately, Canadians are among the world’s highest consumers of resources, and we sure waste a lot.  It’s estimated that if everyone lived like us, we’d need four planets.

We can change this, of course, and make Canada a global leader in sustainability – but it will require education, desire, commitment and focus.  

Ironically, the COVID 19 crisis may help, in two ways.

First, it is demonstrating that, when necessary, governments, businesses and individuals can move very quickly to deal with an imminent threat.  Changes we might have previously thought were impossible have suddenly happened in mere weeks.

Second, it has presented us with a historic opportunity.  Governments around the world are preparing to spend trillions of dollars to rekindle their economies.  The International Energy Agency calls it a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to turn away from fossil fuels, invest in clean energy and create millions of new jobs.  A recent Corporate Knights column suggests a made-in-Canada Green Recovery could produce 6.7 million job-years, reduce our emissions by a third and save Canadians $39 billion a year in energy costs by 2030.  What’s not to love about that?

So maybe our leaders need a little poke from us: using COVID recovery investments to build a sustainable economy centred around clean energy is solving two crises at once.  Why not reach out to your Member of Parliament?  You can find their contact information here.  Even if you’ve never done it before, get in touch – because politicians respond to constituent concerns.  (The same goes for provincial and municipal politicians.)

Happy Canada Day!  Let’s pause, celebrate and be thankful.  Then, let’s resolve to get active and make a clean, sustainable, prosperous future a reality! 

Quid pro quo for the bees - June 17, 2020

Make your yard an oasis for pollinators

The first tomatoes in my garden are already a couple of centimeters in diameter.  That’s thanks partially to an early start but mostly to the work of anonymous, diligent pollinators – mostly bees – just doing their miraculous work.  They enjoy the pollen, I get tomatoes.

According to the UN, three out of four crops across the globe producing fruit or seeds for human consumption depend, at least in part, on pollinators.  They soldier on quietly, seven days a week, content with nothing more than a steady stream of flowers to pollinate.

For all the good they do for us, I suppose the least we can do is help them out a bit too.  Here are a few suggestions:

·        If you have a flower garden, choose plants pollinators love (for example, calendula, bee balm, echinacea, liatris (blazing star), snapdragons, sunflowers and sedum)  

·        If possible, choose a mix of plants that flower early, mid and late season, to give your pollinators a steady supply of food

·        Allergies notwithstanding, don’t forget about the value to pollinators of plants we commonly call weeds, like dandelions, sweet clover and goldenrod, and leave them to flower if possible.

·        Challenge the conventional notion of a manicured lawn.  Not only do they consume precious water, fertilizer, fuel and time, but lawns are food deserts for bees and other pollinators.  Swear off pesticides, and consider setting aside a portion of your property as an unmown, flowering meadow.

Now’s a great time of year to relax in your outdoor space.  The buzz of bees is a pretty sweet sound, so help make it happen!  More info here.

A comic about our global plastic addiction - June 3, 2020

Plastics are no laughing matter, but…

In this era of short attention spans, comics and graphic novels can be great ways to convey more serious messages – like about our global plastic addiction and its consequences.

So why not take three minutes to read this comic strip which lays bare some great truths about plastic – including some uncomfortable realities.

(Insert Jeopardy jingle here…)

Back?  Great – hopefully you caught these key takeaways:

·        Only a tiny portion of all plastic produced is actually recycled; most ends up in landfills or the environment

·        Plastic persists in the environment for a long, long time

·        Even recycling is not ideal: some types of plastic can be processed efficiently, but many other types end up in faraway countries where what happens is questionable.  And then there is the carbon footprint of collecting and transporting…

·        Our appetite for plastic continues to grow: half of all plastic ever produced was made in the last 13 years.

True, plastic is a tremendously versatile material – but this is a recipe for disaster.

So what to do?  It comes down to basics:

·        Recycle everything possible, as a last resort

·        Reuse everything possible, as a second last resort

·        But first and foremost, RETHINK, REDUCE and REFUSE plastic at every opportunity (and yes, that’s way beyond shopping bags).

Normalizing a new emissions normal - May 20, 2020

Emissions are down - how can we keep them down?

According to a new study published yesterday, daily global greenhouse gas emissions were 17% lower last month than April 2019 because of the pandemic.  From an environmental perspective, that’s great news.  But it has come at great economic and human cost, and most of us can’t wait for things to get back to ‘normal’.  Already, China’s emissions have bounced back up to nearly where they were pre-COVID.

At the same time, if we wish to limit global warming to 1.5°C, scientists tell us we need to reduce global emissions about 5% each year between now and 2030.

The key message here: if we just go back to our old ‘normal’, our emissions will simply rebound; we’ll be a year closer to 2030, but no closer to (and perhaps even further from) our 2030 emissions reduction target.

On the other hand, maybe this pandemic is an opportunity for us to challenge some of our long-held beliefs, and define a bold, new normal.  Some questions to consider might be:

·        Through all of this, what have we discovered we really need, and what have we discovered we really don’t need?

·        What are the good changes this pandemic has brought to our lives (IE no commuting, more cooking, renewing old friendships, going for more walks, more downtime, more family time, more reading, etc.)?  How could we make those changes permanent?  What would we be willing to compromise if necessary to keep them?

·        Many places are experiencing bluer skies and cleaner waters than they’ve had in years.  What are those things worth to us?  How badly do we want to keep them?

·        Are we working to live or living to work?  Does the economy work for us, or do we work for the economy?

·        What’s more important, planetary health, human health or economic growth?  (New Zealand’s leaders have made a bold and surprising choice.)  Can we reconcile all three?

·        Do we need to rethink the notion of ‘cheap’ as the main factor guiding many of our decisions?  What are the implications for local employment? Or food security?  Or the environment?

Bizarre as it may seem, this ‘pandemic pause’ is a historic opportunity for us to do a global rethink, and chart a bold new direction.  The trillions of dollars governments worldwide are investing to kickstart their economies could be just what we need to leapfrog to a clean, prosperous, sustainable future.  Numerous organizations and groups – such as Corporate Knights, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Canada Green Building Council, Clean Energy Canada, Efficiency Canada and an interesting new independent non-partisan Task Force on a Resilient Recovery – recognize the opportunity, and are advocating for a ‘green recovery’, to enable us to fix two crises at once.

It's all possible - but it will require rethinking and then letting go of some of our long-held beliefs.  The good news is… most of us have a bit more time on our hands to think!

Food security just outside your door - May 6, 2020

A home garden is great for your health, your wallet, your mind, your soul, and your planet!

Empty grocery store shelves during this COVID-19 crisis would seem to suggest that our food supply chain may be a bit less robust than we thought.  (If empty shelves are an indicator, it would appear most of us are more concerned about what comes out the bottom of our alimentary canals than what goes in the top.  But I digress.)

So why not grow some food of your own?  The advantages of a home garden include:

·        Freshness: it’s hard to beat the taste of something that’s gone from plant to plate in under an hour

·        Healthy: as producer of your own food, you can be certain of its safety; most home garden pests can be controlled by hand rather than with pesticides

·        Healthy, again: gardening is great exercise; it gets you bending, stretching and feeling energized

·        Good for your wallet: I’m constantly amazed at how much food our little garden yields each year; we bought virtually no veggies all last summer, and still haven’t worked through last year’s carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, beans (frozen and dried), tomatoes or squash!

·        Good for your mind: whether flowers or veggies, gardening is a great way to take a break from the overstimulation of work, news or social media

·        Good for your soul: nurturing a living organism from seed (or seedling) all the way to maturity helps one appreciate the miracles and glories of our natural world, believe in the possibilities of a bountiful future and get a taste of the contentment that comes with self-sufficiency

·        Good for the planet: the production, storage and transportation of our food make up a significant portion of our personal carbon footprint; but the carbon footprint of a home garden is virtually zero

·        Good for the kids: home gardens can be a great learning experience for kids, who often spend too much time in front of screens and know dangerously little about where their food comes from.  (Possible spillover benefits to parents newly working from home too.)

·        A better use for land: lawns may be green, but they’re not very eco-friendly when you consider the water, fertilizer, pesticide, lawn mower fuel and lawn owner time they consume.  They’re also biodiversity deserts.  Gardens, on the other hand, pay huge dividends in produce, and can help beneficial insects like bees.

·        Food security: there’s something extremely satisfying about being able to rely, at least in part, on food you’ve produced with your own hands.  Perhaps it’s serendipity that this meme appeared in my social media feed today!

So if you’ve never gardened before, why not make this your year to start?  Or if you’re already a gardener, why not make this your biggest garden year ever?  The internet is loaded with good advice, and, alas – you’ve probably got lots of time on your hands…

PS You’re probably not quite ready to go as far as Rob Greenfield – but his story sure is inspiring!

Earth Day - The most important selfies ever - Apr 22, 2020

The most important selfies ever

Earth Rise, The Blue Marble and the Pale Blue Dot might be the three most important ‘selfies’ of all time.  Here are their stories.

On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders happened to glance out the window of his spacecraft just in time to see Earth silently appearing over the distant moon horizon (an event beautifully recreated with actual audio in this NASA video).  He and his crewmates scrambled to capture the moment.  Their image, Earth Rise, was seen by millions, and almost overnight generated an outpouring of awe for our planet and concern for its care.  The first Earth Day was held 16 months later.

“After all the training and studying we'd done as pilots and engineers to get to the moon safely and get back… what we really discovered was the planet Earth.” – Bill Anders, Apollo 8 Astronaut

On December 7, 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts heading for the moon looked back for a moment and captured the Blue Marble:  Earth, with its full face illuminated so that Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Antarctica and even a tropical cyclone are recognizable.  Nearly fifty years later, its luminescent beauty still stirs emotions of our planet’s beauty, frailty and isolation.

“People often say, “I want to go to heaven when I die”. In reality, if you think about it, you go to heaven when you’re born.” – Captain James Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13 Astronaut

The Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched by NASA in 1977.  By 1990, it was six billion kilometres from Earth – well past Pluto.  Astrophysicist Carl Sagan suggested scientists guiding the mission turn the spacecraft’s cameras 180 degrees and take a photograph looking back.  They did, and the picture beamed home to us February 14, 1990 showed Planet Earth as a tiny speck suspended in a sunbeam against a backdrop of empty nothingness.  Like no image before or since, the Pale Blue Dot underscored just how tiny our home planet – the only place in the universe where we know for certain life exists – really is.  “That’s here.  That’s home.  That’s us,” begins Carl Sagan in this powerful three and a half minute video about the image.

“Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” – Carl Sagan

On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, let’s enjoy these images, the three most important ‘selfies’ of all time.  Then let’s ponder all the things we can do, during the current COVID crisis and more importantly after, to preserve and protect our only home.

(And if you’d like newer Earth selfies to inspire you: NASA’s DSCOVR satellite beams home new Blue Marble-like images nearly every day; and here’s a live feed from the cameras of the International Space Station.)

A blessing amid the curse - Apr 8, 2020

Make this time at home time well spent

If there’s a silver lining to this dark COVID-19 cloud, perhaps it’s this: most of us (except for all those heroes working in essential services) find ourselves suddenly with much more time on our hands.  In a bizarre sort of way, it’s an unexpected blessing.

Alas, even if temporarily eclipsed by a fast-moving health crisis, climate change – that other, larger, slow-moving emergency – has not gone away (as news stories below confirm).  So maybe the time provided by the present crisis is a perfect opportunity for us to learn more about what we can do to stem that other – to learn more about our personal carbon footprint and what we can do to shrink it.

And for that I know of no better resource than the Global Footprint Network – a beautifully simple website where you can take a five-minute quiz and instantly receive a report that:

·      shows how big your personal carbon footprint is; and

·      suggests lifestyle changes that will make the biggest reduction in that carbon footprint

Spoiler alert: you may be a bit shocked by your initial results; I know I was when I first took the quiz a decade ago and learned that if everyone on the planet lived like me, we’d need four planets – FOUR!!  But the information in my report has helped me to since cut that in half (yes, the journey continues) – and it can do the same for you.

So – if you’re finding yourself with some unexpected free time, why not make this your personal goal: to learn more about your personal carbon footprint; and then plan what steps you can take to lower it permanently once this current crisis is over?  (And I’d welcome hearing how it’s going.)

(Prefer reading over quizzing?  This New York Times article hits all the high points.)

Reflections on change - Mar 25, 2020

Emergencies and new thinking

Several years ago, I heard a radio program that examined the concept of an emergency.  I still remember its key messages: first, in an emergency, rules, reality and priorities change instantly and, second, if warranted by the situation, an incredible amount of resources can be reallocated to solve a problem.  (Here’s a column I wrote on the subject.)

And here we are, in a global emergency that most of us would have thought implausible mere weeks ago.  Overnight, our realities and priorities have changed, and we’re seeing how quickly resources can be reallocated.

In the short term, it’s scary – and I hope you’re doing well: following best practices for prevention and not forgetting about self-care and care for others too.  Hopefully drastic measures and public co-operation will blunt the spread of COVID-19.

But it’s also bringing out our best: who’d have thought that a distillery would pivot to making hand sanitizer; or that a hockey equipment manufacturer would start making visors for frontline healthcare workers; or that 700 students and retired health professionals would respond overnight to an appeal for backup help.  Amazing, inspiring, reassuring.

And in the longer term, by demonstrating just how much is possible when we work together and focus on a common goal, hopefully this crisis will have changed our thinking and provided a model we can use to tackle our climate crisis.  We’re already seeing the emergence of bold ideas like economic stimulus packages designed around sustainability, and a basic income guarantee that would alleviate some of our biggest fears about the economic consequences of major upheavals like COVID-19 and climate change.

 Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  So maybe this is the perfect time to reflect on what’s important, and change our way of thinking.

Stay strong, stay safe, and please do your part to stop COVID-19.

Less stuff, more fulfillment - Mar 11, 2020

Could buying less stuff make you happier?

It's well documented that spending on basic necessities and creature comforts gives us lots of fulfillment per dollar spent.

But after that, the amount of fulfillment we get per dollar spent starts to level off.  In fact, there’s actually a point where our fulfillment peaks - and spending beyond that point clutters our lives and actually makes us less happy.

What’s that fulfillment peak called?  ‘Enough’.

Most subscribers to this newsletter are, like me, blessed to be living in a land of plenty - and are probably, like me, beyond ‘enough’ when it comes to stuff.  Consumerism may be good for our economy, but it contributes to resource depletion, climate change and other environmental challenges.  Equally concerning, consumerism leads us to worship stuff, and even measure our self-worth by how much stuff we have.  The cost has been an erosion of our spirituality, our relationships and our sense of community.

So the next time you’re tempted to buy stuff, why not pause and consider: do I really need this?  Will it really improve my life, or just complicate and clutter it?  What’s the environmental impact of this stuff?  Hopefully your answers to those questions will lead you to a richer, happier, more fulfilling and more sustainable future.  You’ll find some nice guidance here.

“Follow the money”, Part 2 - Feb 26, 2020

Is your financial institution funding climate change?

I stumbled upon “Banking on Climate Change”, a report by the Rainforest Action Network, a few months ago.  When I clicked on it, I had no idea I was in for a big surprise.

Banking on Climate Change is an annual ranking of financial institutions from around the world according to how extensively they back the oil and gas sector.  Fossil fuel extraction can’t happen without financing, so the banks that finance it are also facilitators of the emissions that are driving climate change.  Tough as it is to accept, fossil fuel extraction and expansion are the very opposite of what we need if we are to rein in climate change.

The surprise for me?  There, near the top of the list, was my bank.  In fact, all of Canada’s Big Five banks were on the list – each of them tens of billions of dollars deep into oil, coal, natural gas and oilsands, and most of them graded ‘F’. (Here are explanations of how those grades were determined, with links to sources of information.)

So even though I’ve divested my own retirement funds of fossil fuels, now I discover that the very bank I’m dealing with is itself ‘banking on climate change’: facilitating lots of emissions, and no doubt making lots of money in the process.  Arg.

So what can you do if your financial institution is on the list?  Here are a few suggestions:

1.     Start a conversation: ask to meet with your branch manager, and explain your concerns about the institution’s support for fossil fuels.  Ask what their policy is on climate change, and if they have plans to divest.  Ask about their support for renewable energy and other green economy solutions.  Be as gentle or as firm as you feel comfortable being, and don’t shy away from pushing things up the line.  You can also go online to find a higher-up sustainability contact.

2.     If you’re not satisfied with what you’re hearing (and there is plenty of greenwashing and gobbledygook out there, including in corporate sustainability reports), start checking out your options.  Smaller and local institutions, such as credit unions, are less likely to be involved in fossil fuels.

3.     Spread the word: most people have no idea about the role of their financial institutions in financing fossil fuels – but now YOU know.  So use your networks to spread the word and help build pressure on banks to change.  (You could even share this email!)

More information and some useful resources and strategies here, here and (if you’re ready to rumble) here.

As I mentioned last time, financing renewables and de-financing fossil fuels are key to creating the energy transition we need to fix climate change, and each of us can help make that happen.  Maybe you can’t change the whole market, but you can change your little corner of it.

PS: remember, I’m not a financial advisor, so no endorsements intended.  Due diligence should be part of every financial decision you make.

“Follow the money” - Feb 12, 2020

Invest ethically this RRSP season

Follow the money,” the shadowy character in All the President’s Men whispered to the two young reporters who broke Watergate, the biggest political scandal in US history.  It was good advice, because, in our world, money makes things happen – and lack of money makes things not happen.

It's RRSP time, and many of us are thinking of contributing to a retirement nest egg.  But do you know what your money is – or is not – supporting?

Fossil fuel companies are prominent in stock markets around the world.  Three of the ten biggest companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange are oil and gas companies, and mutual funds are laden with fossil fuels.  True, over the years they’ve given some great financial returns.  But at what cost?  The extraction and use of fossil fuels is the very reason we’re facing climate change, the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced.  It’s estimated that the output of just 100 fossil fuel companies are behind 70% of all emissions since 1988.  And when we invest in them, we enable that to continue.

So what to do?  I’m no financial guru, but here are two suggestions:

1.     If you’re ready to divest your portfolio of fossil fuels, be sure to tell your investment advisor.  Ask them to seek out non-fossil fuel alternatives that pass your ethical test and meet your investment needs.  There are more and more every day, such as this one (for info only; no endorsement intended; always check with a qualified advisor).

2.     Learn more about ethical investing; here’s a good primer.

Financing renewables and de-financing fossil fuels are key to creating the energy transition we need to fix climate change, and each of us can help make that happen.  Maybe you can’t change the whole market, but you can change your little corner of it.

Up next: what to do if your financial institution is itself a major investor in fossil

The absolutely simplest way to reduce your carbon footprint - Jan 29, 2020

…without spending a cent!

“A way to meaningfully reduce my carbon footprint without investing a single penny?  Sounds impossible!”

But it’s not.  And it’s no more complicated than three simple words:

Just… slow… down!

Here’s the deal.

Transportation generates about a quarter of Canada’s emissions, and a lot of those emissions come out of the tailpipes of the cars, trucks and SUVs we drive.  (It’s not helped by the fact that Canadians drive the very least efficient vehicles in the world.)  So it’s a huge part of our footprint.

True, we need to be able to get around.  But our driving habits have an enormous impact on the amount of fuel we burn and the amount of emissions we produce (not to mention how much we spend on gas).

And the one single driving habit that can probably save us the most?  Just slowing down a little.  According to Natural Resources Canada, vehicles are most fuel efficient at 80 KM per hour or less; and slowing down from 120 KM per hour to 100 results in a 20% fuel saving.  20% savings, just by slowing down a little!!  (That’s why the Dutch government recently lowered highway speed limits.)

So why not try it the next time you’re behind the wheel?  Good for your wallet, good for the planet!  And check out additional tips for squeezing more kilometers out of your fuel dollar here.

Seven keys to reducing your trash - Jan 15, 2020

Why not go for ten or less bags of trash this year?

Two weeks ago I shared that our family had met our goal of generating less than 10 bags of trash in 2019.  (For the record: our accomplishment is humbled by that of longstanding subscribers Don & Heather Ross, who are routinely down to three bags a year – amazing!)

Some readers wondered how we did it, so I’m pleased to share what I think were the seven keys to our success:

1.     Choosing less packaging: limiting trash has become one of our guiding principles when we shop: we’ve gotten into the habit of purposely avoiding heavily packaged products and instead choosing products with little to no packaging and/or fully recyclable packaging.  It’s meant the odd sacrifice, but we’re okay with that; our purchase decisions are one of the best ways we can influence the market.  I believe our strategy of ‘reducing trash at source’ was probably the biggest single factor that helped us achieve our goal.

2.     No single-use plastic bags, ever: it’s meant a few walks back to the car, but we’re now comfortably in the habit of using alternatives that include reusable produce bags or collapsible boxes (no endorsement intended).

3.     No disposable coffee cups, ever: that means I skip that coffee if I’ve forgotten my mug.  The upside: I now remember my mug.

4.     No disposable cutlery: alas, still working on this one as I sometimes still forget my spork (no endorsement intended).

5.     Using reusable containers: for packed lunches, or even for restaurant leftovers

6.     Composting: organics make up a big part of household waste, so diverting them to a compost heap greatly reduces trash. A bonus: you end up with fertilizer for next year’s garden.  Another bonus: your remaining trash is less smelly and less attractive to pests.  (Unsure about composting?  Here’s a simple guide, and you can find nice compost pails (no endorsement intended) online or at your local hardware store.)

7.     Recycling rigorously: our recycling systems are far from ideal (the carbon footprint of collection; the challenges of dealing with a mish-mash of mixed materials; dubious offshore ‘processing’), but recycling is still better than trashing.

Upon rereading the above seven points, I’m struck by how they all seem to have one common ingredient: the word habit, which is about making changes so that the right thing to do becomes the new norm.

So – why not try a ten bag challenge in your family – or a three bag challenge if you’re hardcore?  And please let me know if you have any tips or secrets to add to the above list!

(Read a far longer list of tips here.  For a deeper dive on eliminating waste: Cradle to Cradle, one of the best books ever on the subject; summary of its principles here.)

The power of setting – and writing down – goals - Jan 2, 2020

What’s your 2020 sustainability goal?

If you’re a long-term subscriber, you may remember this pledge I made a year ago in a Green Ideas about making sustainability resolutions for 2019:

My 2019 resolution?  I’m aiming for three, all stretch goals:

1.     That my family will generate no more than 10 bags of trash this year

2.     That my family will be carbon neutral for our electricity and transportation by 2022

3.     To present 50 free climate change presentations to schools and non-profits this year

Setting and writing down goals has never been a strength for me, so making such a public commitment was a big stretch.  But it’s led to a surprising result:

1.     We produced 9.5 bags of trash last year

2.     We’re in negotiations with a solar panel installer, and hoping for installation in 2020.  In the interim, we’re buying green power and green biofuel from Bullfrog Power (no affiliation other than being a customer).

3.     My 50th presentation took place December 10

I guess there really is something to be said about setting – and then writing down – goals.  (In my case, I’m not sure if my motivation came from having a focus or from fear of public failure…)

So – let’s do it again.  First, what are your sustainability goals for 2020?  The more specific, the better – here are some suggestions:

·        To recycle everything you can, every time, without excuse

·        To start composting at home, work or school

·        To waste less of everything, especially food

·        To eat vegetarian at least __ times per week

·        To grow a vegetable garden this summer

·        To buy less stuff

·        To stop using drive-throughs and never idle more than 30 seconds, even in winter

·        To examine how you get around (without excuses), and to resolve to do better by driving less, carpooling, getting a more efficient vehicle and/or taking transit

·        To call or write your elected leaders (at all levels) at least __ times this year

·        To join Al Gore in Las Vegas March 8-10 for a life-changing Climate Leadership training program

·        Or something else, small or big

My 2020 resolutions?  Well, since my three stretch goals worked okay last year, I’ll renew all three (please just hit reply and let me know if you’re interested in one of those 50 free climate change presentations for schools and non-profits) – and add three more:

1.     To work to establish a Sustainability Committee in my neighbourhood, so we can work together toward solutions that will benefit us all

2.     To attend at least six Fridays for the Future climate strikes (totally out of my comfort zone, but I’ve come to believe that sometimes you’ve just got to show up)

3.     To contact my elected representatives at provincial and federal levels at least quarterly to suggest policies and advocate for climate action

I’d love to hear your 2020 sustainability resolutions – and I’ll keep you posted on my progress on mine.  Happy – and sustainable – 2020!

A simple strategy for happier, more sustainable living - Dec 18, 2019

Practice an attitude of gratitude

When I first heard of the immense power of practising gratitude, I was sceptical.  Just having a warm fuzzy feeling about the good things I have is going to make my life better??

The more I’ve read about it, the more I’ve learned it’s true: practicing gratitude helps us:

·        Be more aware of the blessings we have.  I’ve never forgotten this powerful message I once heard from a motivational speaker: “if ever you feel unsatisfied with your life, remember that there are millions of people in the world right now who would trade places with you in an instant.”

·        Be less worried about what we don’t have, so we feel liberated to step off of the treadmill of ‘more stuff’ that is draining our finances, parasitizing our spirituality and ruining our beautiful planet

·        Be healthier and more relaxed

·        Have greater self esteem

·        Care more for others, and have better relationships with loved ones, colleagues and friends

And that’s just the start; there’s much more here.

So this holiday season, why not take a few minutes to relax, ponder your blessings and be grateful?  It will make your day better – and your whole life too if you turn it into a daily habit.

Happy holidays!  (And I’m grateful that you’re a Green Ideas subscriber!)

More ‘stuff-less’ gift ideas - Dec 4, 2019

More ideas for going ‘stuff-free’ this holiday season

Wow – ‘buying less stuff, doing more good’ sure hit a chord two weeks ago!  Here are more ideas for going stuff-free this holiday season:

·        Use your special talent or skill, be it baking, knitting, canning, brewing, winemaking, woodworking, soapmaking or something else, to give a little part of yourself

·        Consider special experiences like ziplining, an escape room, haunted hikes, whale watching, wine tasting, a spa or a weekend getaway – all far more memorable than stuff!

·        Get tickets for special events like plays, sports, concerts or exhibits

·        Give a subscription for a magazine or, perhaps more in tune with the times, for Spotify, Netflix or another streaming service

·        Buy passes for a pool, gym, museum or art gallery

·        Enroll someone in a pottery, weaving, drama, music or other class; if you’re an expert, give the lessons yourself!

·        Offer homemade coupons for household chores, snow removal, handyman tasks or delivered meals, especially for the seniors on your list.  Or instead of spending money that took time to earn, why not shortcut the process and just spend time with them?

·        If you still feel the need to buy some token ‘stuff’, shop a secondhand shop for light impact and great value

Less stuff.  Less stress.  More time.  More money.  Better for the planet.  A good plan for this – and every – Christmas.

‘More good’ as an alternative to ‘more stuff’ - Nov 20, 2019

Why not make ‘doing more good’ your focus this holiday season?

Black Friday and Christmas, the two biggest shopping frenzies of the year, are just around the corner.

True, treating ourselves and giving to others can feel good.  But there are downsides:

·        Most of us don’t need more ‘stuff’.  As IKEA’s head of sustainability said a few years ago, “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff.”  So our genuine desire to give often results in our giving things the recipient neither needs nor wants.  And things we buy for ourselves often lose their lustre once we arrive home and need to find a place for them.

·        As the authors of the Better World Handbook point out, “Everything you own owns you. Everything you buy, you must maintain, store, repair, clean and perhaps insure. Our stuff quickly becomes a psychological burden.”

·        All ‘stuff’ has an environmental footprint that includes everything from manufacturing to transportation to usage to eventual disposal.  That footprint tends to be especially large for cheap, mass-produced, poorly designed, low quality, short-lived products shipped long distances.

So how to reconcile our desire to give with our desire to not contribute to the ‘stuff’ problem?

Why not choose to do good instead?  Many wonderful charities, from local to global, offer opportunities to for us to make donations toward meaningful causes in the name of people who we’d otherwise give stuff to.  For example:

·        Through World Vision, you can donate livestock, medicine, school supplies, solar lights and more to help lift families out of poverty

·        Through Chalice, you can donate mosquito nets, school lunches, clean water systems, new classrooms and more to change the lives of students in need

·        Through the Nature Conservancy of Canada, you can symbolically adopt a polar bear, snowy owl, lynx or other threatened or iconic species

·        Through CanadaHelps (a portal for hundreds of Canadian charities), you can buy a charity gift card that allows the recipient to choose which charity they’d like to support.

No matter what issue you’re most passionate about, there’s a good chance there’s a charity out there that you can make a commemorative donation to.

So this holiday season, why not set out to buy less stuff and do more good?  Good for your soul, the beneficiaries and our planet.

Perhaps we could use a little Flygskam - Nov 6, 2019

The social pressure to fly less

Confession time: I love flying, and I’ve had a fascination with airplanes for as long as I can remember.  But my joy of flying has become clouded by flygskam.

Flygskam, the Swedish word for ‘flight shame’, has gained traction in the past few months thanks to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s decision to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat rather than an airplane.

But… shame?  For something as everyday as flying??  Well, consider:

·        Aviation generates two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.  That may not sound like much, but if global aviation were a country, it would rank in the Top 10 emitters.

·        Emissions from aviation are growing fast: they are projected to be 70 per cent higher in 2020 than they were in 2005.  Plane manufacturer Airbus predicts that the number of planes in the sky will double over the next 20 years.

·        Most emissions from airplanes occur high in the atmosphere, and high-altitude emissions have a much greater environmental impact than similar emissions at ground level.

True, new airplanes today are much more fuel efficient than their predecessors – but aviation emissions continue to rise because there are just so many more of them.  And realistic sustainable alternatives like solar or battery powered planes seem far off.

So what to do?  Here are three simple guidelines:

·        First, fly less.  Choose alternatives like rail, motor coach or videoconferencing when possible.  Think creatively when planning flight-free vacations.  Set yourself an annual flight limit and live within it.

·        Second, fly light.  When flying is unavoidable, pack the smallest suitcase you can, because kilo for kilo, luggage in the air has the same carbon footprint as you do.

·        Third, buy credible carbon offsets, like Gold Standard.  (Choose carefully, as not all carbon offsets out there are equal – or legitimate.)

 (A thought: if flygskam can help reduce aviation emissions, maybe we could use a little pickuptruckskam and SUVskam next…)

Information you can count on - Oct 23, 2019

How to stay informed in an information-overload world

If you’re sincerely interested in knowing more about climate change and the solutions we need, getting information you can rely on (without being overwhelmed) can be tough.  Here are a few sources I hope may be of help.

(And: important note: don’t overdo it; one or at most two of these would meet most people’s needs!!)

·        Subscribe to The Guardian’s Green Light weekly email for a roundup of stories, debate and analysis from around the world every Friday.  The Guardian is probably the UK’s most committed, credible media outlet on climate.

·        Sign up to The Energy Mix for summaries of top stories about climate, renewable energy, electric vehicles and more.  Canadian!  (Or bookmark the page if three emails per week are too many; all stories are filed in an excellent searchable archive.)

·        Subscribe to What On Earth, sent by the CBC every Thursday.  The content?  Kind of reminds me of Green Ideas, actually: tips and news…

·        Set up a Google Alert, to get regular emails (at an interval you specify) with top links from around the world on a topic you specify.  My daily Google Alert set to ‘climate change’ has been keeping me informed for over a decade.  (Some questionable sources do creep in periodically, so be discerning.)

Pause, just for a moment - Oct 9, 2019

In Thanksgiving

One of the highlights of my year has been meeting Jim Merkel and reading his book, "Radical Simplicity: Small footprints on a finite Earth". It's a gentle, thought-provoking guide for living lightly on our fragile, limited planet.

Jim's take on Radical Simplicity goes far beyond just living with less stuff. It's also about learning to clear our over-stimulated minds of much of the clutter and anxiety of today's frantic lifestyles, and instead focussing our mental energy on our core values. It's about reconnecting with what truly sustains us: this planet and its beautiful, complex web of life. Jim describes once being on a team retreat where everyone, regardless of their personal faith tradition, paused for a moment of gratitude, silent or otherwise, before each meal.

On this Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, perhaps that's one of the best things we can do: pause before we eat for just a moment to ponder the people, plants, animals and planet that make our existence and nourishment possible. We live in a privileged part of the world, and it's good to be conscious of that. Happy Thanksgiving Day!

The insanity of “We’ll just adapt” - Sept 25, 2019

First prevent, then cure (or adapt)

“We’ll just adapt.”  It’s a commonly-heard response to climate change from individuals and politicians – and for me, a frustrating one.  True, the sad reality is that we’ve procrastinated so long on emission reduction that we now face some unavoidable consequences.

But “We’ll just adapt” frustrates me for two reasons.  First, because it’s typically a thinly disguised excuse for business as usual, and continued procrastination on climate action.

Secondly, and much more critically, because it implies the speaker actually understands what we’re adapting to, and actually believes there will be a new stability we can hang our hats onto.

It’s my experience that the larger consequences of climate change, such as water shortages, crop failures, food insecurity, political instability, climate refugees and sea level rise (this new report was released just this morning), are poorly understand by most people.  Climate change is not just a few degrees of temperature.

And climate change will accelerate, not stabilize, until we eliminate the emissions that are driving it.  So how can we even think about adapting to something that continues to change and deteriorate?

Perhaps the quote in this meme may be helpful in building understanding of why reducing emissions needs to be our priority.

First, we need to stop the source of climate change, emissions.  Then we can think about adapting to our new reality.

“You’ve got to stand for something, or...” - Sept 11, 2019

Join a Climate Strike Friday, September 20

One of my favourite music lyrics is from the song You’ve got to stand for something on John Mellencamp’s 1985 album Scarecrow: “You’ve got to stand for somethin’ / or you’re gonna fall for anything.”

If you’re like me, the thought of taking a stand on something – whether by calling a politician, writing a letter or joining a protest march – makes you uneasy.  But what makes me even more uneasy is the prospect of admitting to my sons (and all youth) that I did less than my best in fighting climate change, the defining issue of our time.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrez has challenged world leaders to come to New York September 23 and pledge more aggressive actions to fight climate change.  Climate Strikes are being held in communities around the world for a week starting September 20 to demand strong action from our political leaders.

Will you be there, even if it’s not comfortable?

For a map of planned strikes, click here or here (it’s worth checking both because some events are only listed on one).

For all you need to organize your own event, click here (and then register it at the above sites).

And for a zillion reasons why you need to be a climate activist, take a few minutes to check out this compelling TED talk by Luisa Neubauer.

Hope to see you out there!

(PS: Prophesy? The last line of You’ve got to stand for something goes, “We’ve got to start respectin’ this world / or it’s gonna turn around and bite our face off.”)

The first question to ask your candidates - Aug 28, 2019

Make climate change your Front Door Issue this election

I recall reading a piece some time ago in which a young campaign strategist was asking the candidate he was working for why he wasn’t taking a stronger stand on environmental issues.  “Because,” replied the candidate, “nobody’s talking about it when I’m out knocking on doors.”

It’s gratifying to read that the environment was the #1 concern of respondents in a recent poll (ahead of the economy even). But will that translate into strong climate action by whoever wins this fall’s federal election?

Here’s one simple thing you can do to help: tell every single candidate who knocks on your door that climate change is the #1 issue that will determine who you vote for, and ask them what they plan to do about it.  Don’t be afraid to challenge anything that sounds like jargon or gobbledygook.  Ask about emission reduction targets and how they are to be achieved; ask for specifics and examples.  Ask about renewable energy, electric vehicles, biodiversity, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and more.

Need a quick primer on key climate change facts? Here you go.

Need a few sample questions to ask?  Here you go.

One percent every three months - Aug 14, 2019

An emissions target made real

Last October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority, declared that global emissions need to drop by 45% by 2030 – just 11 years from now – if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C.  (Quick primer here.)

Sadly, global reaction was underwhelming – perhaps because any target given in years can sound like a long time.

Recently, I heard a speaker reframe those numbers in this different, more impactful way:

          “Emissions need to drop by 1% every three months.”

For me, it was simple math, and suddenly it was real.  Reductions need to start now, and the longer we stall, the more daunting the challenge.

So, something to ponder as you relax and sip this summer: where will your 1% between now and November 14 come from?

·        Will you drive less?  Will you bike, carpool or take public transit, even just a few times?  Will you stop idling or using drive-throughs?  Will you get a more efficient vehicle?  Will you take one less flight?  (Quick tip: transportation is ‘low-hanging fruit’, with significant savings readily available to anyone willing to make a few simple habit changes.)

·        Will you use less air conditioning now, or less heating in the fall?

·        Will you eat a little less meat and a few more veggies?  Will you choose more local produce this fall?

·        Will you take shorter or fewer showers?

·        Something else?  (Please hit reply and let me know, so I can share in a future Green Ideas.)

And once you’ve decided, why not start thinking about where your next 1% will come from, by Valentine’s Day?

(PS: 11 years isn’t that long – remember the global financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama in 2008?)

An eco-friendly habit you're sure to LOVE! - July 31, 2019

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint: work less, relax more!

Remember June 5th's Green Ideas tip, about the benefits of letting at least a part of your lawn grow into a meadow?  Here's a true summer story to help reaffirm that.

My wife and I have let our back lawn grow this summer, as an experiment.  Bees and fireflies are loving it, and we're enjoying skipping the mowing.  Yet we've also been a tad uneasy about being perceived as... well, a bit weird or crazy.  But last week we were sitting out on the deck enjoying a cool beverage when the peaceful silence was interrupted by someone firing up their lawn mower for the weekly drudge.  We looked at each other, clinked our glasses and agreed, "Crazy? Not us!!"

There's a larger message here too.  In today's world, it seems so many of us work too much, drive too much and consume too much.  That's hard on us, and hard on the environment.  A growing body of research suggests that working less can reduce our carbon footprint disproportionately (IE working 25% fewer hours can reduce our carbon footprint by more than 25%).  This Guardian columnist makes that point convincingly, going so far as to suggest that a four-day work week could be one of our best strategies for fighting climate change and improving our quality of life (provided our fifth day doesn't become a drive-and-shop day).

So why not explore ways you can work less and enjoy non-carbon relaxation more?  Something to raise a toast to on these hot summer days.

Vacationing light on the planet - July 17, 2019

How to limit the impacts of your summer (or winter) break

Vacations help us relax, clear our minds and rejuvenate – essential in today’s complex, dizzying world.

Unfortunately, vacations can be hard on the environment – but we can greatly reduce the environmental impacts of our vacation with a few simple choices:

·        Travel in the lightest way you can.  Flying has a huge carbon footprint (to the point where one progressive airline is even encouraging people to fly less); trucks and SUVs guzzle a lot of fuel (especially at higher speeds and AC blasting).  An electric vehicle can reduce your footprint by half.  Taking the train is even better.  Bicycling is best of all (and arguably best for clearing your mind too).

·        Seek out high-quality small scale, family-run hotels and traditional accommodation, if possible with renewable energy sources.  Camping is even better, and less expensive too.

·        Eat as much local food as you can, leaning as much as you can toward a plant-based diet – and don’t leave anything on your plate!

·        Enjoy low-impact activities like hiking, canoeing or kayaking – excellent ways to reconnect with the natural world we are part of, depend on and need to protect.

Happy vacationing, and see you on the trails!

Thanks to the Global Footprint Network for their ongoing excellent work and for much of the information above.

Progress report on our family’s 2019 garbage goal - July 3, 2019

Top tips for limiting how much trash your household produces

Six months ago, I shared my 2019 sustainability goals.  One of them was that our family would produce no more than 10 bags of trash this year.  (Hey, what’s the point of a goal if it’s easy?...)

Halfway through, I’m pleasantly surprised to share that we’re actually on track: we’re working on bag number five.

So what’s the trick?  Here are six keys to our success so far:

1.     Choosing less packaging: limiting trash is top-of-mind when we shop, so we actively choose products with little to no packaging, and actively avoid heavily packaged products.  It’s meant the odd sacrifice, but we’re okay with that; our purchase decisions are one of the best ways we can influence the market.  This has probably been the biggest single factor in reducing our trash this year.  (Some people think the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – should be preceded by a fourth, most important one: Refuse.  My experience would seem to validate that idea.)

2.     No single-use plastic bags, ever: it’s meant a few walks back to the car, but we’re now comfortably in the habit of using alternatives that include reusable produce bags or collapsible boxes (no endorsement intended).

3.     No disposable coffee cups, ever: that means I skip that coffee if I’ve forgotten my mug.  The upside: I now remember my mug.

4.     No disposable cutlery: alas, still working on this one as I sometimes still forget my spork (no endorsement intended).

5.     Composting: organics make up a big part of household waste, so diverting them to a compost heap greatly reduces trash. A bonus: you end up with fertilizer for next year’s garden.  Another bonus: your remaining trash is less smelly and less attractive to pests.  (Unsure about composting?  Here’s a simple guide.)

6.     Recycling rigorously: our recycling systems are far from ideal (carbon footprint of collection; mixed materials; offshore ‘processing’), but recycling is still better than trashing.

So – nothing magic here; it’s more been a matter of commitment and habit.

So why not try it yourself?  And please let me know if you have any tips or secrets to add to the above list!

Please, no more trucks! - June 19, 2019

Make efficiency the number one issue when you buy a vehicle

I’ll confess to periodically talking back to my television.  And in recent months, nothing has provoked me more than that ad with the line, “Introducing eight all-new 2019 Chevrolet Silverados”.

Why?  Because trucks are horrendous gas guzzlers.  They, along with SUVs, are THE reason why Canadian vehicles are the very least efficient in the world.

I get that trucks are powerful, comfortable, luxurious and work-ready – except that most rarely work; they’re used for commuting.   Over a 300,000 KM lifetime, a truck averaging 14 litres/100 KM will emit 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide.  That sure seems out of touch with reducing our emissions by 45% by 2030 if we plan to cap global warming at 1.5°C.  Perhaps trucks are our generation’s irresponsibility.

So hey Chevy – for power, comfort, luxury and mind-blowing efficiency, why not instead give us eight new models of your magnificent Bolt EV, with an incredible 2.0 litres equivalent/100 KM, or seven times as efficient as a truck?  (Like all EVs, the Bolt is eligible for a $5000 rebate anywhere in Canada.)

For those rare few who really do need a truck for work, check out Rivian, Workhorse or – soon – Tesla.

For the rest of us, why not get familiar with NRCan’s fuel efficiency guide, where you can compare the fuel efficiency of every vehicle available for sale in Canada?  Then make efficiency your top priority the next time you buy.

From biodiversity desert to eco-haven - June 5, 2019

Turn a corner of your lawn into a meadow

I saw a man mowing his {enormous} manicured lawn this past weekend.  He had a {nearly as enormous} ride-on mower, but it was surely still a multi-hour task.  It got me thinking: how many hours will he spend mowing over the course of the summer?  How much fertilizer, water and spray will be used to make it grow faster, so it will require even more mowing?  And how many litres of fuel will be burned?

Manicured lawns may look nice, but they are typically biodiversity deserts: favouring a few grass species, but hostile to pretty much everything else (not unlike the sprayed plantation forests that tend to be lightning rods for criticism).  Maybe the manicured lawn is a concept that needs a reality check; maybe there are better ways to spend our resources – and our precious time.

So here’s a thought: why not turn a part of your lawn into a meadow?  It’s easy: just leave it to grow; let other species creep in, or maybe plant a few wildflowers; and make it a haven for bees and other insects in our ecosystem’s ‘circle of life’.  (Not ready to go completely wild?  As an alternative, mow part of your lawn higher {10 cm} and less often.)

Start small, and who knows?  Maybe the benefits (including the music of insects and a poison-free space) will lead to more meadow and less lawn next year.

Happy non-mowing!

A critical skill, in the era of fake news - May 22, 2019

The importance of being able to discern truth from fiction

For ten years, I wrote a newspaper column about environmental issues.  My biggest fear was always that I might get something wrong: that a mistake on my part would divert attention away from the issue I was trying to cover.  So it led me to research meticulously from multiple, credible sources.  (Perhaps because of that, nothing I wrote was ever called into serious question – phew!!)

We live in an era of greater knowledge than ever - yet misinformation, ‘fake news’ and propaganda are perhaps more prevalent than ever, thanks to the internet, and social media platforms in particular.

It’s a huge problem: fake news sows confusion and uncertainty; reinforces previously-held beliefs that are simply wrong; angers and polarizes people; and – particularly in the case of climate change – delays urgent action.

Truth matters – so here’s what you can do to discern fact from fiction:

1. Stick to good sources.  Newspapers, especially large and longstanding ones, are among the best places for critical analysis and quality journalism.  (Very few are totally free of bias, so don’t entirely turn off your truth filter.)  Media Bias/Fact Check and the Pew Research Center of Journalism and Media offer (unbiased?) assessments of many major news organizations.

2. Have a healthy suspicion of stories originating from think tanks and other special interest groups.  They may not be wrong, but it’s unlikely they’ll share anything that hurts their case.

3. Look for credible references.  It’s wise to be wary of writers who cite only their own articles or research.

4. Beware of headlines that sensationalize or exaggerate; stories that contain adjectives like ‘amazing’ or ‘revolutionary’; or web pages splashed with click-bait stories.

5. Take the time to read balanced, well-researched and well-written pieces that challenge your own point of view.  There’s always room for added perspective and better understanding.

And - want to discern climate change fact from fiction?  Visit (and bookmark) Skeptical Science.

This great graphic from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) summarizes a sensible approach to discerning fact from fiction in all you read; you can download it yourself here.

Your new electric vehicle just got a lot cheaper! - May 8, 2019

Generous subsidies on new EVs are now available everywhere in Canada

If you’ve been thinking of buying an electric vehicle, stop dreaming and start driving!  Canada’s new Incentives for zero-emission vehicles (iZEV) program offers $2500-5000 toward the purchase of an eligible new vehicle.

Read program FAQs here, and see the list of eligible vehicles here (with more being added regularly).

(Want more background info? Here are quick primers on EVs and plug-in hybrids; how and where EVs can be charged; and comparing costs, emissions and environmental impacts of EVs and conventional vehicles.  As well, here’s my first-person account after one year of owning a plug-in EV.)

Electric vehicles are one of the very best ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, and they’re a lot cheaper today than they were just a week ago – so why not check out the options that suit your needs?  Then stop dreaming and start driving – sustainably!

Yet another graphic to print and save - April 24, 2019

How climate change causes extreme weather

Here’s a graphic to help explain one of the most immediate and direct impacts of climate change: extreme weather events.

Image: US Geological Survey


Earth’s water cycle is a critical component of our climate.  It operates continuously, and has three stages:

·         Evaporation: water goes up into our atmosphere, mainly through evaporation from the surface of oceans

·         Condensation: cooler temperatures high in our atmosphere cause evaporated water to condense into droplets of moisture

·         Precipitation: this moisture falls back to the Earth in the form of rain or snow

We humans are most conscious of the third, because it’s the one that affects us directly.

Most people understand that global warming has warmed our air - but over 90% of the extra heat so far from global warming has actually gone into our oceans and warmed the water – and here’s why that combination is a big concern:

·         It’s a basic principle of physics that warm water evaporates more readily.  So when oceans warm, much more water evaporates from their surfaces into the atmosphere.

·         It’s another basic principle of physics that warm air can hold and carry much more moisture (seven per cent more for every one-degree rise in temperature)

The result: warmer air carrying more moisture can drop enormous amounts of precipitation, whether as rain or snow, over an area.  In other words, extreme weather events.  (Just last week, I heard a television meteorologist attribute the stretch of wet weather we’ve been experiencing in eastern Canada to warmer water in the Gulf of Mexico.)

So – if ever you’ve wondered how climate change and extreme weather are related, now you know: intensification of our global water cycle, pictured above.  Perhaps that’s worth printing, or even sharing!  (Missed the graphics shared in the past three editions of Green Ideas?  You can find them here.)

A third graphic for your fridge - April 10, 2019

Where we are, where we need to go

I get that your fridge may becoming a bit crowded by now – but here’s a third graphic worth printing and contemplating: where global greenhouse gas emissions currently stand, and where they need to go.

A special report issued last October by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that, if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C, we need to:

·        Reduce emissions globally by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (just 11 years from now); and then

·        Achieve net zero emissions by 100% by 2050, just 20 years after that

The IPCC’s conclusion is represented by the dotted red line above.  (The solid red line represents continuing with ‘business as usual’.)

A few takeaways:

·        A 45% reduction in just 11 years is a daunting goal by any measure; it won’t be achieved if we fall into the trap of thinking we can wait 10 years and then just do it all in the 11th, so we need to act quickly

·        A 45% reduction is not just a minor tweak; it will require deep, fundamental changes to where we get our energy and how we use it

·        A 45% reduction for all translates into a 45% reduction for each of us, so here’s the big question: what can you (or I) do to reduce our carbon footprint by 45%?  (To help, why not revisit this graphic of the sources of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by sector, from March 27’s Green Ideas.)

True, you or I can’t do it alone.  But it’ll never get done without us.

Another graphic for your fridge - March 27, 2019

A snapshot of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s another graphic worth printing and placing onto your fridge: a summary of Canada’s 2016 greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector.

The above numbers add up to 704 million tonnes (or 22 tonnes a second), about 4% below the 732 million tonnes we emitted in 2005.  Under the 2015 Paris Accord, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, so we have a lot of work to do over the next 11 years.  (And, if truth be told, our targets need to be more ambitious if global warming is to be addressed seriously.)

A few key takeaways: between 2005 and 2016, Canadian emissions:

·        from Electricity decreased by 34% - a good thing!

·        from Buildings, Industry, Agriculture and Waste declined slightly

·        from Transportation and Oil & Gas, the two biggest slices of the above pie, increased by 7% and 16% respectively – pretty much summarizing where the greatest problem lies and where our greatest efforts are required.

Why not print this graphic and place it on your fridge, so you see where our emissions are coming from and contemplate all the ways we can reduce them.  (It’s a complement to the carbon cycle graphic from March 13’s Green ideas, which hopefully made it onto your fridge too!)

Learn more about our Canadian emissions (including, on page 13, which four provinces’ emissions have gone in the wrong direction) here.

A graphic for your fridge - March 13, 2019

Rebalancing our Carbon Cycle

This graphic is worth printing and placing onto your fridge, because it shows, very clearly and simply, the global carbon cycle that regulates our climate – a cycle humanity has knocked out of balance.

Graphic: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Carbon is a very mobile element, moving mainly in the form of carbon dioxide, or CO2.  It goes up into the air continuously when living things exhale, when anything organic decomposes or when anything is burned.  It is absorbed from the air continuously by plants (mainly trees) and ocean plankton (single-celled plants that are the basis of ocean food chains).

Through most of human existence on Earth, the carbon cycle was roughly in balance (IE the same amount going up as coming down) – but it’s not anymore.  Since the industrial revolution, we’ve been digging up carbon-laden oil, coal and natural gas that were safely stored underground for millions of years, and burning it.  The result: way more carbon going up.  On the other side of the cycle, the plants of the world, impaired by human activities such as deforestation, haven’t been able to keep up.

The result: the level of CO2 in our atmosphere has risen from 275 parts per million (PPM) at the start of the industrial revolution to 412 PPM today.  That excess CO2 is causing global warming and climate change.

So the solution to climate change comes down to one very simple goal: rebalancing the carbon cycle, so the same amount is absorbed as emitted.  Every action that reduces the amount going up (IE burning less fossil fuels) or increases the amount coming down (IE planting a tree) brings us closer to that goal.

That’s why this graphic is worth printing and placing on your fridge: so you see it every day, and contemplate all the ways you – we – can help rebalance the carbon cycle.  (Don’t like this graphic? Try this one.)

(And, for a deeper dive, check out Project Drawdown, which details 80 solutions for removing some of that excess CO2 already up there.)

The Last Mile problem, and more - February 27, 2019

The environmental costs of online shopping and next-day delivery

These days, virtually every major retailer offers online shopping and quick delivery.  It’s sure convenient – and well suited to today’s world of instant gratification.

But online shopping comes with a major transportation carbon footprint – much of which occurs in the ‘last mile’, the journey from your local depot to your doorstep that usually involves a van, a driver and a lot of driving.  And next-day delivery further increases that footprint, because it leads to all kinds of shipping inefficiencies in the name of speed.

On the other hand, making a special trip to a local store also involves a carbon footprint (unless you walk, bike or take transit).

So what's the most eco-friendly way to shop?

·        When shopping online, forego fast shipping options (even if they’re free) and choose regular post.  That way, your package is less likely to travel by air (the mode with the largest carbon footprint), and more likely to travel on a full truck or van.  A bit slower, but as my grade eight teacher used to say when we’d hound her about something, “Patience is a virtue.”

·        When shopping online, shop with an eye to minimizing returns, even if a seller offers free returns, because return shipping also has a carbon footprint. If you’re not sure about sizing, why not shop locally?  That way you don’t need to order several sizes and return all but one.

·        When shopping online, combine and consolidate orders when possible so everything comes in one package (it’s not foolproof; items in the same order may originate from different warehouses)

·        When shopping locally, avoid making special trips, and always combine as many errands as you can into one trip

·        Avoid creating a double-footprint: first visiting a store to check something out, then going home and ordering it online.  A double footprint, plus a real downer for your local retailer.

·        Consider carbon offsetting your shipment.  Some shippers offer carbon offsets, but you may need to do a little research to verify they are Gold Standard carbon offsets, the best kind.

(Or you could choose to simply shop less, which is the best option of all for the planet and your wallet...)

Happy sustainable shopping!  (More on the subject here.)



Recycle a specific product on its special day - February 13, 2019

Celebrate National Battery Day by recycling those batteries

According to, yesterday, February 12, was Extraterrestrial Culture Day.  Today is Tortellini Day.  And tomorrow is Cream-Filled Chocolates Day – nicely timed with Valentine’s Day!

But next Monday, February 18, is National Battery Day.  According to Statistics Canada, half of Canadian households recycle at least some of their batteries – that’s great news.  But the other half don’t, and that’s not-so-great news.

Batteries contain useful materials like metals and minerals that can be used again.  Some also contain heavy metals and toxic materials that need to be kept out of our environment.  So it makes sense to recycle.

And, these days, that’s really simple, thanks to Call2Recycle, a stewardship organization that collects batteries at over 60,000 drop-off locations across Canada and the US.  No matter where you live, chances are there’s one very near to you – and you can easily find it here.  See what types of batteries can be recycled here.  (No drop-off location near you?  Set one up here.)

Of course, Reduce is always better than Recycle – but when battery use is unavoidable, please be sure to recycle all your used batteries.

And happy National Battery Day!

You don’t need to be a guru to save on gas - January 30, 2019

The quickest, simplest way to save on gas

The ‘Gas Guru’ is a popular feature on CBC Radio here in New Brunswick.  A local reporter has figured out the formula our Energy and Utilities Board uses to set weekly gas prices every Thursday morning.  So every Wednesday morning, he comes on the radio with his prediction, and advises listeners whether they should fill up right away or wait a day – and it would seem many drivers follow his advice in an attempt to save money.

But here’s something to think about: over the past year, the average weekly gas price fluctuation has been just under two cents a litre.  That means that, on average, there’s potential to save precisely $1 on a 50 litre fillup.

Nice, but if you have to go out of your way at all to save that dollar - AND if you’re burning extra gas in the process - AND if your time is worth something… well, it doesn’t take a guru to see that you can quickly spend more than a dollar trying to save a dollar.

So here’s a thought: since gas costs more than $1/litre, you can save more by just burning one litre less between fill-ups than you can by chasing cheap gas prices. Burning a litre less can be as simple as combining errands into one trip; skipping drive-throughs; carpooling (even just once); not idling; accelerating and slowing down smoothly; or driving a touch slower.  A bonus: it’s way better for the environment too.

If you’re a fan of the Gas Guru, keep listening – he’s fun and entertaining.  But it’s good to remember that there are easier ways to save a buck than chasing marginally cheaper gas prices; and a litre saved is always better than a dollar saved.

Wanted: more amazing 15-year-olds like Greta - January 16, 2019

Awaken your inner Climate Hero in 2019

Six months ago, a relatively unknown young Swedish girl took a bold step – and almost overnight she became a global celebrity.

Grieved by our global climate crisis, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to go on strike from school, saying, “What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?”

Soon she was joined by other students – then more, then more.  Then similar strikes started happening on the first Friday of each month at other schools and in other countries.  Last month, more than 20,000 students held strikes in at least 270 cities in over a dozen countries (including Canada).

In November, Greta gave an impactful TEDx Talk in Stockholm (spoiler alert: expect a bit of shame and a lot of motivation); in December, she spoke at the UN’s climate summit in Poland.  The movement she began continues to grow monthly, and the media and politicians are starting to take note.

I’ve always believed each of us has the potential for greatness, and Greta proves that’s true.  She’s also shown you don’t need to write a book or invent a gadget; you just need commitment and focus.  You just need to show up.

So if you’re a student of any age, why not make this your jumping-off point to greatness?  You can find complete info on how to organize or take part in an event here.

And if you’re not into strikes or activism, why not at least call or write your elected leaders to demand action?  Find your federal Member of Parliament’s contact info here.

It’s climate crunch time, and we need more people like Greta (regardless of age).  Why not me, and why not you?

Renewed resolve - January 3, 2019

What’s your sustainability goal for 2019?

When it comes to climate change, 2018 was a pretty tough year.  Hurricanes Florence and Michael (neither caused by climate change, but both intensified by it).  The California wildfires.  A major report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we will blow past 1.5°C unless global emissions are reduced by half in just 12 years.  A dire US National Climate Assessment report that was quietly released during the US Thanksgiving weekend.

Clearly, we need strong collective action – but individual action too, because each of us can make a much bigger difference than we realize.

So, if New Year’s is a time for resolutions and new beginnings, what’s your sustainability resolution for 2019?  Here are a few ideas:

·        To recycle everything you can, every time, without excuse

·        To start composting at home, work or school

·        To waste less food

·        To install and use a clothesline

·        To stop using drive-throughs

·        To drive with a gentle foot (gentle stops and starts)

·        To organize a carpool to work, or take public transit

·        To call or write your elected leader to demand meaningful action

·        To be well informed about environmental and energy issues by subscribing to The Energy Mix

·        To take a free online course about solar energy

·        To take an online course about Green Rights (the human right to a healthy world)

·        To join Al Gore in Atlanta March 14-16 for a life-changing Climate Leadership training program

·        Or something else, small or big

My 2019 resolution?  That my family will be carbon neutral for our electricity and transportation by 2022.  

I’d love to hear your 2019 sustainability resolution (just hit reply) – and I’ll keep you posted on my progress on mine!

Happy – and sustainable – 2019!

Celebrate wildly, just not with helium balloons - December 19, 2018

Choose an alternative to helium balloons when you celebrate

Like everyone else, I’ve watched helium-filled balloons bob up into the sky to the cheers of people celebrating some event or other – or to the cries of a young person who inadvertently relaxed their grip.  There’s something exciting about seeing them defy gravity and go up, up and away.

But what goes up must come down.  And since balloons are not typically biodegradable, they become pollution: often ending up in our oceans, where they can be fatal for turtles and other sea life that mistake them as food.  More on that here.

So what to do instead?  For celebrations, why not consider ribbon dancers, pinwheels or garden spinners?

For commemorations, why not consider a native seed bomb, releasing floating (native) flowers down a calm stream, or blowing giant bubbles?

More creative plastic-free celebration ideas here.

Greetings of the season, and Happy 2019!  Thanks for being a Green Ideas subscriber.

A greener route to pearly whites - December 5, 2018

Alternatives to plastic toothbrushes

Most of us brush our teeth without thinking much about what our toothbrush is made of and where it ends up after we’re done with it.  But maybe we should.

Consider: most toothbrushes are made of virgin plastic; they’re unlabelled as to recyclability or they’re simply not recyclable; billions of plastic toothbrushes are used worldwide every year; and toothbrushes are one of the most common plastic items floating in our oceans or washing up on our beaches.

So what to do?  Alas, I haven’t been able to find a perfect eco-friendly alternative, but there are many things the average fan of dental hygiene can do:

·        BEST: a bamboo toothbrush with boar bristles: 100% compostable.  However, you’re not alone if you find yourself cringing at the prospect of putting those bristles in your mouth; and they may be stiffer and therefore rougher on teeth than the average dentist may like.  Easy to find online if not available where you shop; one option here.

·        BETTER: a bamboo toothbrush with nylon bristles.  The handle can be composted as long as you yank out the bristles first and trash them (they’re not recyclable).  A little work, but a pretty good result.  One option here; another here.

·        GOOD: a toothbrush with a replaceable head / reusable handle.  At least not all of it gets trashed!

·        Small step in the right direction: seek out a toothbrush that is made from recycled plastic and is recyclable.  (Call the manufacturer if recyclability is not indicated; enough customer concerns = change).

Happy brushing!

Thanks to subscriber Trudy Mitic for this (challenging) suggestion!

The absolute best way to save money this Black Friday - November 21, 2018

Choose not to be coerced by marketing and hype

From the Better World Handbook: “Everything you own owns you.  Everything you buy, you must maintain, store, repair, clean and perhaps insure.  Our stuff quickly becomes a psychological burden.”

Black Friday, the biggest shopping frenzy of the year, is upon us.  It’s billed as being great for the economy, but it’s a big source of clutter, waste and indebtedness.

So here are three questions to consider when you feel tempted by a ‘great deal’:

1.     Do I really need it?  The honest answer is often no.

2.     Will it really improve my life?  Or is that notion just clever marketing on the part of the seller?

3.     If I buy this, what will I need to get rid of to make space for it?

And here are two strategies to help you shop wisely:

1.     Take a shopping list, and stick to it; don’t fall prey to clever advertising, fancy displays or other bells and whistles.

2.     Avoid impulse purchases, because you’ll often regret them later.  If you feel the urge, promise yourself you’ll buy it next week – if you still feel the urge.

And finally, here’s one guaranteed way to happily get by with less stuff: borrow things you’ll only need rarely, like tools, movies or trucks.  Get to know your neighbours and your library.

Hear comedian George Carlin’s take on stuff in this classic routine (language warning) – and happy, Green Friday!

Help turn the tide on plastic waste - November 7, 2018

Six painless things you can do to reduce plastic waste

Arg – plastic: it’s the best material ever, for all the amazing uses it has.  And it’s the worst material ever, for it’s persistence in our environment.

Plastic never breaks down; it just breaks into tinier and tinier pieces, and much of it washes into our oceans – and now we’re seeing it show up in food chains.

As with most things environmental, prevention is better than cure – so here are six painless ways you can reduce plastic waste:

·        Give up plastic shopping bags and resolve to use only reusable bags or boxes

·        Skip straws, plastic plates, foam cups and other disposables

·        Avoid bottled water; use your own refillable water bottle (and start saving too!)

·        Choose products with the least plastic packaging when you shop

·        Recycle everything you can.  Globally, only 18 cent of plastic is recycled; why not do your part to help improve that?

·        Don’t litter

Check out this National Geographic article for more about plastics.

Choose efficiency when you rent - October 24, 2018

Make fuel efficiency a priority when you rent

Has this ever happened to you?  You show up at a car rental counter and learn that the model you booked isn’t available – so you’re offered a larger model instead.  They call it a ‘free upgrade’.

Alas, in the car rental business, such ‘free upgrades’ may mean bigger vehicles with more space, but they also mean worse fuel efficiency – and that’s an added cost to both the renter and our environment.

So the next time that happens, why not ask instead for a vehicle that’s more fuel-efficient instead of less – let’s call it an ‘eco-upgrade’?  (And if you happen to get an incredulous look, maybe it’s a great opportunity for a gentle educational moment on the importance of fuel efficiency in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.)

(True story: the above scenario happened on our family’s vacation last summer, and, after asking, we ended up with a Ford Fusion hybrid: luxurious, roomy and very fuel efficient!)

Convenient, but with a huge environmental footprint - October 10, 2018

The downside of home delivered meal kits

Perhaps you’ve noticed a recent trend in food marketing: home-delivered meal kits.

The concept is simple: you go to a website, browse a menu, pick a gourmet meal for your family, order and voila: a box shows up at your door days later with all the ingredients you need to prepare that meal: the main course, veggies, sauces, spices and more.  All you need to do is open the box and follow the preparation instructions.  What could be simpler for today’s busy consumer?  No wonder home-delivered meal kits are now offered by dozens of companies via the internet.

But before you sign up, consider:

·        Meal kits come with a lot of packaging.  They’re usually shipped in insulated boxes (which may not be recyclable), often with ice packs to keep things cold in transit.  Ingredients inside the box are usually further packaged as well.

·        Many meal kits originate quite far away, so they have a significant transportation footprint (including that delivery van to your door)

·        If a meal kit you choose is coming from afar, you can be pretty certain there’s nothing local inside it

So instead of succumbing to the allure (and expense!) of a meal-in-a-box, why not just shop your local farmers market, co-op or food store – for lightly-packaged local food with a small transportation footprint?

The single most important word to live by - September 26, 2018


If you’re like me, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the distressing environmental news we’re hearing lately, from heatwaves to hurricanes to plastic in the oceans.  All symptoms of a planet straining under the burden of more and more humans consuming ever more resources of every kind, seemingly oblivious to physical limits and boundaries.  And through it all, we’re counselled to keep consuming, because it’s good for the economy.

So what to do?

One of the learnings from a leadership course I took years ago was this: true leadership means not being afraid to periodically challenge or question well-established processes, paradigms and beliefs.

So maybe it’s time to question an economy founded on ever more consumption, and reorient toward an economy founded on sustainability and happiness.

And maybe a first action step would be to simply try to consume less of everything – from gas to plastic to clothing to imported food.  For sure, the planet will benefit – but in all probability so will your wallet (and your mental health).

And two more things:

·        Read a great definition of minimalism here (and, interestingly, the long list of benefits doesn’t even include ‘saving the planet’!)

·        Check out Radical Simplicity and Your Money or Your Life, two great books about living happily on less

Carbon neutrality, within reach for anyone - September 12, 2018

Consider buying carbon offsets

If you think being ‘carbon neutral’ means having to have an array of solar panels to run your home and charge your electric car, think again.  Carbon offsetting is a far simpler – and quicker – alternative.

Carbon offsetting involves compensating for the greenhouse gases you generate by voluntarily paying to reduce emissions elsewhere – for example, by helping fund the construction of renewable energy sources.  If you prevent the same amount of emissions elsewhere as you produce in your own life, you are technically ‘carbon neutral’ (because the planet only cares about total emissions, not where they come from).

For example, even though my own home draws electricity from the local power grid, I pay an additional small amount for every kilowatt-hour we consume, and that goes toward supplying more green energy into the grid.  So our home’s electricity is technically carbon neutral, even though we don’t have panels on the roof.  (My supplier is Bullfrog Power, a leading Canadian company – and it only took minutes to set up*.)

Sound complicated? It is, sort of – but this TVOntario article explains it well.

And – the principle of ‘buyer beware’ definitely applies to carbon offsets; there’s plenty of snake oil out there.  But this David Suzuki Foundation article offers great guidance on what to look for and what to avoid.

For the record: I do hope to eventually have my own solar panels.  But until that happens, a carbon offset is a pretty good alternative.

*I have no interests, financial or other, in the company.

A complicated issue made clear in one simple video - August 29, 2018

Doing The Math: our global carbon budget

Have you heard of our ‘global carbon budget’?  It’s the maximum amount of oil, coal and natural gas humanity can still burn if we wish to limit global warming to two degrees C.

(Two degrees C is considered the maximum safe limit for global warming.  Our past consumption of fossil fuels has already warmed the planet about one degree C – and with all the recent worldwide heatwaves and wildfires, one could be forgiven for believing that even that’s already too much warming.)

Our global carbon budget declines a little every day for every tonne of coal, every litre of oil and every cubic metre of natural gas that we consume.

So how much can we still burn?  How long will that take, at today’s levels of consumption?  Or maybe we’ll deplete our fossil fuel reserves before that happens?

It all sounds complicated – but it’s made crystal clear in this powerful and concise video by Bill McKibben, author, academic and founder of  It’s essential watching for anyone who wishes to understand one of the most daunting challenges we face in addressing climate change.  (I’ve started using the video in my presentations because it explains the issue far better than I can.)

If you don’t have time for the full six minutes, fast-forward to the 1:45 mark and start from there; you’ll still get the gist of the issue.  And once you do, why not share the video among your network?

Reducing the impact of clothing, Part Four - August 15, 2018

Dry cleaning’s dirty little secret

Dry cleaning is widely accepted as being the best – or even only – way to clean our most delicate fabrics.  But it’s surprising what you find when you dig a little deeper.

Traditional dry cleaning isn’t really ‘dry’: dirt and stains are removed by a liquid solvent called perchloroethylene, or perc for short.  And perc has some unsavoury characteristics:

·        It’s very volatile (meaning it evaporates easily), and is listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.  According to the US EPA, it causes a myriad of health effects ranging from respiratory tract irritation to dizziness to cancer.  That’s a potential hazard for dry cleaning employees, but it also means that any residual perc in clothes you’ve had dry cleaned will come out in your airspace.

·        When spilled, even small amounts of perc can contaminate huge amounts of groundwater for a long time.  

There are greener alternatives to perc, but they aren’t common practice yet: it’s estimated that over three quarters of dry cleaning is still done with perc.

So what to do?

·        When buying, look for clothes that don’t require dry cleaning (you’ll save on cleaning costs too)

·        When a garment label says ‘dry clean only’, do you really need to dry clean?  This Chatelaine article sheds some light.

·        For clothes that absolutely must be dry cleaned, stretch the interval as long as you dare

·        Ask your dry cleaner what process they use, and inquire about greener alternatives like wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide cleaning; a nice overview of both processes here.

Amazing what a difference you can make with wise clothing choices – and avoiding conventional dry cleaning is one of them!

A year’s production consumed in seven months - August 1, 2018

Today is Earth Overshoot Day 2018

Each year, our planet’s ecosystems produce and purify an abundance of resources: food, water, fibre, timber and more.  And each year, humanity consumes resources to sustain itself.

The good news: until 1970, the planet always produced more than we consumed each year.

The bad news: sometime around 1970, humanity’s ever-increasing appetite for resources exceeded the planet’s production capacity, so we started drawing down longstanding reserves like forests, fish stocks, topsoil and more.

Earth Overshoot Day is the day each year when we’ve consumed all that the planet will produce that year and we start dipping into those reserves.  For 2018, Earth Overshoot Day is today.  It’s the earliest ever.  Put another way, this year we will use the equivalent of 1.7 Earths – except we only have one.

So what to do?

·        Learn more about the causes of overshoot at the Global Footprint Network

·        Check out your Country Overshoot Day (IE the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would fall if all of humanity consumed like the people in your country)

·        Tune into a Livestream at at 1 PM Atlantic time/12 noon Eastern time today to learn how we can reverse our consumption trend and begin to move Overshoot Day later in the year

·        Examine your own lifestyle: calculate your own footprint at (it’s quick and easy), and receive a list of specific ways you can reduce it

·        Share your commitment by pledging actions here (and perhaps the most important actions of all are lobbying political leaders at all levels and voting wisely)

With commitment and focus, surely we can move Earth Overshoot Day back into the future!

Reducing the impact of clothing, Part Three - July 18, 2018

Are fabric softener dryer sheets a good idea?

True story from last week: after discovering a massive mouse nest in our car’s heating ductwork, our mechanic suggested we put a few fabric softener dryer sheets in the car to keep mice away in the future.  It made me wonder: if dryer sheets repel mice, is it wise for us to use them on the clothing?

Dryer sheets soften clothes, reduce static cling and make our clothes smell nice.  The heat of a dryer activates the chemicals on the sheet, which then coat your clothes through the tumbling action of the dryer.

However, a few things to think about:

·        What we feel as softness is simply the chemical coating of the dryer sheet rubbed onto our clothing during drying; it makes clothes feel slippery.  Nice to touch, but that also means our skin is exposed to that same chemical (‘quats’) as we wear those soft clothes.

·        Most dryer sheets contain fragrances, a broad category of synthetic chemicals that may be proprietary and hence not necessarily further identified.

·        By design, chemicals in dryer sheets are activated by heat and become airborne – making them easy to smell, but also easy to inhale.

·        Chemicals in dryer sheets are known to cause skin irritation in some people, and to cause or trigger asthma attacks.

Liquid fabric softeners have less environmental impacts, but only marginally: they increase the flammability of certain fabrics, and end up in wastewater.

 So what to do?

·        If you have one, use a clothesline instead of a dryer; you’ll get outdoor freshness without any cling, and you’ll save on your power bill

·        Don’t overdry your clothes; clothes only get static cling after they are totally dry, and a tiny bit of moisture prevents that

·        Add a quarter to half cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washer as a natural softener (and no, your clothes won’t come out smelling like vinegar)

·        Try wool dryer balls: they separate clothes in your dryer, reducing drying time.  You can buy them or make your own.  (But I’m reading mixed reviews on whether they reduce static cling as often claimed…)

As for me, I’m using the precautionary principle and siding with the mice: we don’t use fabric softener dryer sheets in our home.

Reducing the impact of clothing, Part Two - July 4, 2018

Wash less, wash gently, wash cold

The maintenance (IE cleaning) of our clothing has some significant environmental impacts:

·        Soap, which has a manufacturing and wastewater footprint

·        Hot water, which makes up 20% of a typical home’s energy consumption (that’s all uses, not just clothes washing)

·        Drying: conventional clothes dryers use more power when running than anything else in a typical home – about 4000 watts, equivalent to over 400 standard LED light bulbs

Plus clothes wear out faster when washed more.  Plus there are impacts of microfibers shed by synthetic fabrics during washing; plus fabric softener impacts (to be the subject of Part Three); plus dry cleaning impacts (to be the subject of Part Four).

So how can we minimize the environmental impacts of cleaning our clothes?

·        Start by washing clothes less; dare to wear them more than once if they’re not noticeably dirty (or ‘fragrant’!)

·        Wash full rather than partial loads

·        Wash clothes in cold water using as short and gentle a cycle as possible (and this study suggests doing so can quadruple the life of clothes)

·        Use as little detergent as you can get by with; ‘overdosing’ is a common problem, abetted by those generous measuring cups typically supplied with laundry soap

·        Choose concentrated detergent over regular (lower packaging and transportation impacts); or switch to Dizolve strips, which have the absolute lowest packaging and transportation impacts of all; made in New Brunswick and available online!

·        Use a clothesline instead of a dryer (big energy savings)

·        If your washer isn’t a high-efficiency front-loading model, make sure your next one is!

·        Avoid fabric softener and dry cleaning (more to come on both)

Your wise clothes washing decisions can make for a cleaner environment!

Reducing the impact of clothing, part one - June 20, 2018

Buy less, buy better, keep longer

According to a recent article in the Economist, global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, and we now keep clothing half as long as we did 15 years ago.  That double whammy may be great for the fashion industry, but it’s pretty bad for the planet: on average, the making of one kilogram of fabric generates 23 KG of greenhouse gas emissions. Plus there are other environmental impacts of clothing, such as pesticides used in cotton production and polyester microfibers that end up in our oceans.

So what to do?  Whenever possible:

·        Strive to get by with as small a wardrobe as you can (besides, too many clothes often lead to too much clutter)

·        Choose durable, high-quality clothing over short-lived fast-fashion, and pledge to keep your clothing longer

·        Choose products made of organic cotton, linen or hemp over synthetic materials like polyester and nylon

·        Inquire about brand sustainability when you shop; here’s a list of 35 brands trying to be more sustainable

·        Buy second hand clothing instead of new (you’ll save a bundle too)

·        Give clothing away for reuse or recycling when you’re done with it; many charities have easy to find collection bins

Your wise clothing decisions can make for a cleaner environment!

Salad from your lawn - June 6, 2018

Try these edible ‘weeds’, for taste and nutrition

It’s been many years since I took weed science at agricultural college but I can still recall the simple definition of a weed: a weed is simply an unwanted plant.

But ironically, some of the plants we call weeds are actually quite edible and nutritious.  Here are four:

·        Dandelion: perhaps the most cursed of lawn weeds, it’s actually edible from root to flower.  High in vitamins, iron, potassium and zinc.

·        Chickweed: a major pest in my garden, but its succulent leaves taste like spinach.  It’s high in beta carotene, calcium and magnesium.

·        Lamb’s quarter: an easy addition to any salad; seeds are edible too if you’re patient enough to pick them

·        Pigweed: same uses as lamb’s quarter

So – instead of fighting weeds in your lawn and yard, why not get the ultimate revenge and just eat them?  Visit here and here for more suggestions of edible weeds, plus photos.

Note: not everything out there is edible, so please be sure-sure of a plant’s identity before you eat it!

The annoying microplastic that’s invaded my home - May 23, 2018

Avoid using glitter

A couple of years ago, we hosted a murder mystery party at our home.  One of our friends’ character was pretty flambuoyant, so she showed up with plenty of glitter – and we’re still finding it years later, in furniture, clothing, cracks in the hardwood floor and just about everywhere else.  Which probably means it is in that person’s home too, plus their car, plus sprinkled along everywhere they walked.

It’s annoying, but that’s the least of it.  Most of today’s glitter is made of mylar, a type of plastic, and it’s cut into tiny pieces.  That means that, once dispersed, it’s really hard to clean up.  And, through wind and rain action, much of it eventually ends up in the ocean, where it persists in the environment for a really long time or gets eaten by fish and other marine life.

So what to do?

1.     Make a personal choice to just avoid glitter, because prevention is always easier than cure (as the glitter in our home proves)

2.     Invite organizations you’re associated with, in particular schools and daycares, to go glitter free, as this chain of UK preschools has done

3.     If you absolutely can’t live without the stuff, seek out non-plastic biodegradable glitter

It’s a simple way you can help reduce the impacts of plastics in our environment!

The season of rebirth shouldn’t be the season of smoke and soot - May 9, 2018

Two great reasons to not burn anything this spring

Spring, the season of rebirth, is finally here!  For many people, springtime yard cleanup involves the burning of grass, brush and other organic debris.  But here are two big reasons why that’s not a great idea:

1.     Burning any organic material generates carbon dioxide (CO2), the same greenhouse gas produced when oil, coal and natural gas are burned.  CO2 is what’s causing global warming, so when we burn grass, brush or other debris, we’re just adding to the problem.  (For more, here’s a quick primer on the carbon cycle.)

2.     Burning produces soot (or black carbon), and scientists are discovering that soot from fires and smokestacks all over the world is travelling long distances and settling onto global ice sheets, making them darker so they absorb more sunlight rather than reflect it.  That is making them melt, which is making sea levels rise.  (Here’s more on how that works.)

So what to do?

·        Best: Just choose not to burn grass (besides, thatch and stubble add nutrition back to your lawn as they rot)

·        Best: Instead of burning brush and branches, cut or break them up into smaller pieces and compost them with grass clippings in one neat heap; or, if you have a treed area, leave them to rot naturally on the ‘forest floor’ beneath the trees (same nutrient give-back as above)

·        Good: If you really need to get rid of organic yard waste, ensure it’s collected for composting, or give it to a neighbour who composts.

(And here’s a handy one-page myth buster about grass burning.)

Happy spring!

The surprising definition of ‘Keurig’ - Apr 25, 2018

Single-serving coffee pods are not very neat for our environment

I grew up hearing the word ‘keurig’, because it’s a Dutch word – it means ‘neat’.  So it’s a bit ironic that that same word has become associated with single-serving coffee pods (or K-cups), one of the most waste-generating inventions of our times.

The problem is not the coffee, it’s what’s left over: those used pods.  Strictly speaking, they’re recyclable – but there’s a huge catch.  You’ve got to separate the foil from the plastic cup, dump the coffee grounds into your compost bin and then rinse the cup clean before placing it in your recycling bin.  Placing dirty pods into your recycling bins will contaminate everything else, potentially making it all unrecyclable too.

Dissembling, cleaning and recycling pods is just too much hassle for most of us – so they end up in the trash.  Enough were sold in 2014 to circle the globe a dozen times, if placed end to end.  In fact, they create so much trash that the inventor now wishes he hadn’t invented them!

What to do?  If you’re hardcore, you now know: separate, wash, compost and recycle.  But the very best solution is to forego single serving pods altogether, and opt for coffee the way you enjoyed it before pods came along.  Now that would be truly keurig!

This kind of shedding is worse than pet hair - Apr 11, 2018

The scourge of plastic microfibers

Polyester, nylon and other synthetic fabrics have become mainstays of our wardrobes (including mine - I’m wearing a fleece as I write this).

But every time you wash clothing made from those materials, microscopic bits of fibre break off.  Thousands of these microfibers break off of a fleece like mine every single wash.  They’re too small to be captured by municipal waste treatment systems, so they end up in waterways and eventually oceans.  (Learn more from this recent story from CBC’s The Current.)

So what to do?  Here are 15 ways to help stop microfiber pollution:

1.     Wash synthetic clothing less often

2.     Use a colder wash setting

3.     Use liquid soap instead of powder

4.     Watch the Story of Stuff’s microfiber movie

5.     Most importantly: where possible, buy clothes made of natural fibres like cotton, linen and wool

And read the other 10 tips here.

Thanks to subscriber Laura Mitic for this Green Idea!

The paradox of pickups - Mar 28, 2018

Obstacles on the road to more efficient transportation

Confession time: the abundance of pickup trucks on our highways is one of my bigger frustrations as an environmental advocate.  Let’s see if I can explain why in five quick points:

1.     Virtually all world leaders and climate scientists accept that the ‘safe upper limit’ for climate change is 2⁰C (and we’ve already warmed about half that)

2.     If we want to stay under that 2⁰C limit, scientists calculate that we can emit no more than about 500 billion tonnes of carbon – our global ‘carbon budget’.  Sounds like a lot, but…

3.     At today’s global emission levels, we will use up that entire ‘carbon budget’ in just 15 years – IE before today’s newborns will complete high school*

4.     About a quarter of Canada’s emissions come from transportation, and they’ve been rising steadily since 1990, in large part due to trucks and SUVs

5.     In decarbonizing our world, simply choosing more efficient transportation is the ultimate ‘low hanging fruit’ – yet trucks and SUVs still dominate the vehicle ads I see, the roads I travel and the dealer lots I pass


So what to do?

·        If you’re in the market for a vehicle, try to resist pickup truck marketing pitches and choose the most efficient vehicle that meets your everyday needs.  (Besides, if the dealer is offering $10,000 in discounts and freebies, imagine what the price of the truck must be!)

·        If you drive a pickup, strive to drive it as little as possible and replace it with something more efficient as soon as you can.

·        No matter what you drive, you can save significantly on fuel by being easy on the gas and easy on the brake; some good tips from Natural Resources Canada here.

(PS: I’d give an exemption to working trucks – unfortunately, I don’t see many of them out there…)

*Here’s a four-minute video explaining our carbon budget with crystal clarity

Peas for dinner, crickets for dessert? - Mar 14, 2018

Transitioning, gently, away from meat

A few summers ago, my son took part in a wonderful enrichment and entrepreneurship program for high school students called SHAD.  Together with a team of colleagues, he had to develop a project around the theme of food security: how can we feed seven billion people in an increasingly resource constrained world?

His team’s idea?  ‘Grub Tub’, a system for farming insect larva for animal or human consumption.

‘Grub Tub’ didn’t win the class competition, but I’m thinking they were onto something.  Humans, and North Americans in particular, consume a lot of meat, and, alas, that comes with a big carbon footprint.  With growing awareness of that footprint comes growing interest in alternatives.  Here are two I’ve discovered recently:

·        The humble pea is getting much attention and investment as a highly nutritious plant-based food ingredient.  According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 170 new food products containing pea protein were launched in 2015 alone!  Among the investors: movie director James Cameron.

·        Loblaws, Canada's largest grocer, has started selling President's Choice cricket powder as an alternative protein ingredient.  Eating insects is definitely a paradigm shift for most of us (remember this classic scene from The Lion King?), but insects are an eco-friendly source of protein and are being eaten by more and more people around the world – so why not here too?  

As the issue of global food security looms larger, maybe we’d all to well to re-evaluate our meat consumption.  Maybe the above two options can be viable alternatives.  And maybe it’s time for my son and his team to bring back their ‘Grub Tub’ idea!

DIY, the bar soap edition - Feb 28, 2018

Making your own bar soap is easier than you think

You may remember that in a Green Ideas a month ago, I mentioned my own hesitation about homemade toothpaste, soap and detergent.  How could they be as good as the commercial stuff, and aren’t they a nuisance to make?  But my wife has started making soap and my sisters have started making toothpaste and laundry detergent – so who am I to argue??

So here’s the last of the trio: how to make your own bar soap.

First, two basic rules:

·        Making soap is a chemical process, so ingredients need to be measured accurately, by weight not volume.  Chocolate chip cookie recipes may have a bit of leeway, but soap recipes do not.

·        Lye is sodium hydroxide, which can burn your skin, so it must be handled with care.  Always add lye to liquid ingredients to prevent splashing, and do it in a well ventilated area.

Then get a recipe, like this simple one, assemble your ingredients and equipment, and follow the process indicated.  For a ‘second opinion’, here’s the same process from a different source.  And here are a bunch more recipes.

One last tip: don’t get overwhelmed by TMI, too much information; just start simple, and then diversify into new recipes whenever you’re ready.

Happy soap making!

Spreadin’ the love! - Feb 14, 2018

From flowers to chocolate, spread the love further with Fair Trade

It’s Valentine’s Day – I hope you’re getting flowers and chocolate!  Or maybe you’re the one buying them.  If so, why not look or ask for Fair Trade?

Fair Trade is an international certification program that ensures reasonable compensation for the farmers and workers who produce products like cocoa, flowers, coffee and more (nicely explained here).  Fair Trade products are independently monitored to ensure they meet standards of financial and environmental sustainability.

Fair Trade chocolate still only represents a small share of the total market, so you may have to look for it - but Ferrero, Mars, Nestle and Hershey’s have some Fair Trade products.  Fair Trade flowers are still quite rate, but why not ask your florist, to get the snowball rolling?

And why stop at chocolate and flowers?  Here’s a list of Fair Trade products and brands available in Canada.

So off you go, hopeless romantics everywhere – and happy Valentine’s Day!

Homemade laundry soap with a farmer’s guarantee - Jan 31, 2018

“Cheap – easy – works very well”

You may remember that in a Green Ideas a month ago, I mentioned my own hesitation about homemade toothpaste, soap and detergent.  How could they be as good as the commercial stuff, and aren’t they a nuisance to make and use?  But my wife has started making soap and my sisters have started making toothpaste and laundry detergent – so who am I to argue??

So here’s my sister’s simple recipe for laundry detergent.  Ingredients:

·        Four bars Ivory soap (or other natural, unscented soap)

·        1 cup borax

·        1 cup washing soda (not baking soda – difference explained here; not all stores carry it so you may need to ask for it; quite alkaline so handle with care)

Melt soap in a pot with some water (or grate it in a food processor).  Dump into a five gallon pail, then add borax and soda, and stir.  Top the pail up with water, and let stand overnight.  Then stir (with a big whisk or a paint mixer on a drill if you have one) and pour into jugs.  Shake before using, and use about a cup per load.  My sister’s comment: “Cheap – easy – works very well.”  And she’s a farmer, dealing with tougher stains than most of us do!

If you’re looking for smaller batch options, here are a few alternate but similar recipes from Grist and Mother Earth News.  And since some people aren’t fond of using borax, here’s a recipe that swaps it out for baking soda.  Happy laundering!

PS: Remember to always keep all soaps, detergents and their ingredients safely out of reach of children.

Thanks to sis Jane Duivenvoorden for today’s Green Idea!

A virtual currency with a massive environmental impact - Jan 17, 2018

Just avoid Bitcoin

Perhaps you've heard of Bitcoin - a 'virtual currency' not tied to any government, central bank or country, with no actual coins or paper notes. It exists only on the internet - Bitcoins are created and spent through a complicated system of computer calculations, passwords and cryptography.

I'm thinking I can't be the only one who finds this all very mind-blowing.

But here's a disturbing reality about Bitcoins: they are created (or 'mined') and transacted by computers processing an enormous number of calculations. That uses electricity, most of which comes from fossil fuel power plants. It's estimated that, globally, Bitcoin mining and usage now consume as much electricity as Bulgaria, and it's growing exponentially. (Really great facts here.)

So what to do?  

Just avoid the Bitcoin bandwagon; stick to conventional or electronic transactions in conventional currencies; and
Avoid buying from any merchant that accepts Bitcoin (here's a list), because a lack of market is the best way to derail what is clearly a huge, looming environmental problem

(Besides, doesn't Bitcoin sound a little too much like the great Dutch Tulip Mania of the 1600s?...)

Now, how do I make this space liveable again? - Jan 3, 2018

January is a great time to declutter

If you're like me, maybe you're finding the garage is a bit fuller than it used to be, the basement is filled with stuff that's rarely used and the desk is full of important papers that haven't been touched in months. All signs that it's time to declutter!

Where to begin? The David Suzuki Foundation's Queen of Green has an excellent step-by-manageable-step process for decluttering. It starts decluttering one corner of your bedroom, and builds from there to your home office, kitchen, garage and storage locker. Instead of me cutting and pasting, why not check out the original posting here? It's worth a read.

Then happy decluttering!

Gulp - only five more sleeps 'til Christmas! - Dec 20, 2017

Last-minute tips for a low-stress, greener Christmas

Still scrambling for gifts? Me too, in spite of my annual promise to self that it won't happen again.

Here are a few ideas to help you cross those last names off your list - and tread more lightly on the planet in the process!

For the foodie, a share in a local community supported agriculture operation that will provide a weekly box of fresh, local food
Coupons for hair care, gym membership, home cleaning, snow removal, massages, theatre or dinner at a local restaurant
Homemade items like knitted goods, baking, preserves, soap and crafts


Shop secondhand stores for nearly-new clothing, books, music, electronics, furniture and more at a fraction of their original prices
Make commemorative donations to organizations that share your values: a homeless shelter, food bank, nature trust or animal shelter
Purchase carbon offsets for your friends. Learn more at

Even more ideas here. So don't stress out, and Happy Green Holidays!

Homemade toothpaste? - Dec 6, 2017

Simple recipe, simple ingredients, simple process

I’ve always been a bit hesitant about homemade toothpaste, soap and detergent.  How could they be as good as the commercial stuff, and aren’t they a nuisance to make and use?  But I think I’m coming around: my wife has started making soap and my sisters have started making toothpaste and laundry detergent!

So here’s my sister’s recipe for homemade toothpaste – pretty simple, with ingredients available at the grocery store, pharmacy or health food store:

·        4 tablespoons coconut oil

·        2-4 tablespoons baking soda or a combination of baking soda and sea salt

·        Up to one tablespoon xylitol powder (optional)

·        20 drops cinnamon or clove essential oil (optional)

·        20 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)

And it just takes five minutes to make.  You can dip your toothbrush into it (like a finger in the peanut butter jar) or, if it’s for family use, use a popsicle stick.

Here’s an alternate but similar recipe, and here’s a bit more about the dos and don’ts of homemade toothpaste.  Happy brushing!

Thanks to sis and subscriber Yvonne Duivenvoorden for today’s Green Idea!

Saving on that other type of paper - Nov 22, 2017

Flush a little less?...

I was a bit shocked last week to read that the average American uses 57 squares of bathroom tissue a day, or fifty pounds a year.  I’m guessing we Canadians aren’t much different.

57 squares: that’s a lot of paper – by my math, nearly six metres or 20 feet!  Unfortunately, recycled fibres make up only a small percentage of that; the vast majority of bathroom tissue is virgin fibre.

Upstream of consumers, that’s a lot of trees, energy, water and other resources used.  Downstream of us, that’s a lot of flushed fibre for our sewage systems to handle and process.

TP is a consumer staple we don’t often talk about, but it clearly has a significant environmental impact.

So what to do?  Perhaps two simple things.

First, since Reduce is always the most important of the three Rs, strive to use just a bit less every trip to the WC.  Small actions by many equal huge differences.

Second, choose the most eco-friendly paper you can; look for high post-consumer recycled content and third-party certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council logo.

(And that’s a wipe… I mean, a wrap.)

Don’t use just half of that paper you paid for! - Nov 8, 2017

Save on paper by using both sides

True story: I can’t remember when I last bought a package of printer paper for my home office. Why?  Because I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping paper that’s just been used on one side, and then using that for ‘internal’ purposes like:

·        Printing anything that’s for my use only (like meeting agendas, speaking notes, outlines, drafts or working copies)

·        Printing anything destined for a file cabinet (like tax e-receipts or project documents)

·        All faxes

·        Scribble sheets for note-taking (in place of notepads)

And more!  In fact, I’ve discovered that very little of my printing actually requires clean, new paper.

Interested in saving on paper in your home or workplace?  It’s easy – just place a small bin beside your printer and/or fax machine for paper that’s been only used on one side (be sure there’s no sensitive info on the side that has been used).  Then encourage everyone to take from that bin when they need to print or scribble, and contribute to it with their own ‘half-used paper’.

(And please recycle paper after it’s been used on both sides!)

Clean doesn’t have a smell - Oct 25, 2017

Five ways to improve your indoor air quality

From a recent blog post I read: “Commercials and slick marketing techniques have led us to believe that ‘clean’ equates to a scent that you would not find in nature.  But what does a clean home really smell like?  Nothing at all!”

It’s true: we’ve become accustomed to air ‘fresheners’ and ‘fresh’ smells in our cleaning products.  But often the chemicals that produce those pleasant smells are very unnatural concoctions, negatively impacting the quality of the air where most of us spend most of our time: indoors.

So what to do?  Here are five quick tips for better indoor air quality:

·        Choose fragrance-free products, because most ‘fragrances’ are chemicals your lungs and skin would be better off without

·        Avoid aerosols, because they create fine particles that are more likely to be inhaled because they float in the air longer; use spray pumps instead

·        Look for logos of third party certification like EcoLogo (Canada) or Safer Choice (US EPA); don’t accept manufacturer claims of ‘green’, ‘natural’ or ‘new and improved’ at face value

·        Read labels, and beware of vague ingredients like ‘parfum’ or ‘preservative’

·        Diffuse natural oils like lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus or others to naturally freshen your air

More info here and here (the sources of this info)!

The eco-conundrum of palm oil - Oct 11, 2017

Be conscious of palm oil’s impacts, and strive to choose wisely

From a news article I read last month: “Few ingredients highlight the planet-friendly dilemma more than palm oil. Found in everything from margarine to ice-cream, this ubiquitous vegetable oil is natural and plant-based, yet it’s also linked with the destruction of vast tracts of rainforest.”

And that about sums it up:

·        Global demand for palm oil has skyrocketed; it’s used in just about everything, including biofuels

·        Global production of palm oil has skyrocketed, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia

·        A significant consequence has been the clearing of tropical rainforest, the lungs of the planet, to make way for palm oil plantations

So what’s a caring consumer to do?

·        Look for the logo of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) on the products you buy; it’s an indicator of sustainably-produced palm oil.  If you can’t find it, look for the Green Palm logo, indicating products in transition to sustainable palm oil.

·        Check out the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Palm Oil Scorecard to see how your favourite brands are doing

·        Learn the real story of palm oil through this interactive website from the Guardian

And then do your best to make wise choices!

One of the easiest ways to reduce your footprint - Sept 27, 2017

Let the kids walk, bike or take a ‘walking school bus’

A great cartoon makes us chuckle even as it points out an uncomfortable truth – as does this one, by Ian Lockwood, an expert in sustainable transportation by day and a cartoonist by night.

Transportation is a huge part of most people’s footprint.  When it comes to driving our kids to school, another uncomfortable truth is that the favour we’re trying to do for them pales in comparison to the environmental damage we’re inflicting upon their generation.  Plus distracted parents can be downright hazardous as they hurry in and out of the school parking lot.

So what to do?  

·        If there’s a school bus, let the kids take it

·        Do a rational assessment of risks, and let kids walk or bike whenever possible; outfit them with the clothes they need for inclement weather

·        Consider organizing a ‘walking school bus’ in your neighbourhood, where a group of students accompanied by one adult (or an older student living near the origin of the route) walk to school and are joined by more and more students as they near the school; it could be as simple as making one phone call

·        Consider public transportation where it is available; safe, with well-trained operators

·        If driving is unavoidable, carpool: every shared ride is one less car on the road or congesting the schoolyard

·        In all cases, help your kids develop solid safety habits – habits that will serve them well far beyond school years.

A quick and easy Footprint Calculator - Sept 13, 2017

Ever wonder how much land it takes to support your lifestyle?

I often share with audiences the story of when I first completed an online Global Footprint questionnaire a decade ago.  I was shocked when it told me that if everyone lived like me, we’d need four planets.  Four planets.  It was a ‘light bulb moment’ that launched me on a journey to consume less – a journey that continues to this day.

Ever wonder what your footprint on the planet is?  You can find out quickly and easily, thanks to this new and updated calculator developed by the Global Footprint Network.

The downside: you may find your results a bit disconcerting.  The upside: the calculator will show where your largest impacts are, so you can zero in on what actions will make the biggest difference.

My footprint today?  According to the calculator, 2.4 planets, with the largest opportunities for improvement being travel and diet.  The journey continues.

Grace in carpooling - Aug 30, 2017

Guidelines for a smooth carpooling experience

Recall August 16’s Green Ideas?  Going car-less is one of the best things we can do for the planet.  Alas, for many of us, it’s really difficult too.

But carpooling can make a huge difference in our transportation footprint.  Here are seven simple rules to make it simple, safe, economical and even fun for all:

1.     Select a convenient meeting/pick-up spot that's central, safe and easy to get to

2.     Show up on time

3.     Make group agreements or ground rules about eating, drinking, music, chatting, phone calls etc. during the commute

4.     Keep a schedule and track driver turns

5.     Agree on a cost per trip for those without vehicles

6.     Take your turn in the uncomfortable seat

7.     Keep your car interior tidy, and take your trash with you when riding in someone else’s car

It’s not quite car-free, but carpooling is a huge step forward – so why not try it with your neighbours and colleagues?

Thanks to Lindsay Coulter, David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, for this Green Idea; a more complete list can be found here.

The Big Four - Aug 16, 2017

The most important ways to reduce your carbon footprint

There is much fruit on the proverbial ‘tree of sustainability solutions’.  Some of it is large fruit, some of it is small.  Some of it is high in the tree and hard to reach, some of it is low-hanging and easily picked.

Make no mistake: EVERY act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the greatest difference, it’s the large fruit we want.

Unfortunately, it’s usually not low hanging.  A study published last month concluded that the four biggest ways we can reduce our carbon footprint are:

·        Eating a plant-based diet

·        Avoiding air travel

·        Living car free

·        Having smaller families

Uncomfortable?  Me too.  Those are tough.

But perhaps much solace can be taken from the fact that each of these can be chipped away at slowly.  (Even the fourth?  Yes, because large families committed to sustainability can have smaller carbon footprints than small families without such commitment; and perhaps the former can teach the latter.)

Again, to be clear: every act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the biggest difference, it’s good to know where that big difference can be made.

“An epiphanal experience, a total change of mindset” - Aug 2, 2017

Inspiring words from Ray Anderson

You’ve probably never heard of Ray Anderson – but the world would be a far different place if all corporate leaders thought, and then acted, as he did.

Ray Anderson was the CEO of Interface, the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer.  In the summer of 1994, he had an “an epiphanal experience, a total change of mindset” about sustainability.  That began a process that has made Interface the world’s most sustainable carpet company in the world, with a plan to be net-zero in everything by 2020.

But instead of me writing about it, why not hear it straight from Ray, in this powerful video? It’s well worth the four minutes.

Then read about Interface’s progress on its Mission Zero plan here.

Could you live with just three toiletries? - July 19, 2017

Toothpaste, soap and a moisturizer/fragrance

A few years ago, our family went on a four week backpacking vacation.  If you’ve ever backpacked, you know ounces count – so one of our weight-saving strategies was to limit our toiletries to one tube of toothpaste, a small bar of soap, a bit of moisturizing cream and some sunblock.  Light and simple, they suited our needs perfectly.

Akamai, a new personal care company, suggests that most of us could live on just three personal care products: toothpaste, soap (for skin and hair) and an oil spray for fragrance and moisture. So that’s all it offers.

Akamai’s motivation isn’t weight in your backpack; it’s sustainability and simplicity.  In the words of the co-founder, “Typical personal care product companies want you to consume more of their products, so they say wash your hair and body every day.  We have been led into this false sense of what is required to have healthy skin, teeth and hair.”

Plus – more products mean more chemicals, water, packaging and transportation.

So why not consider simplifying your toiletries cupboard?  Good for you, good for your wallet, good for the environment.  And, if you travel, good for your back!

A more eco-friendly way to wash your hands - July 5, 2017

Handwashing with cool water is just as good for killing bacteria

For years we’ve been taught that, when washing hands, we have to use hot water to effectively remove bacteria.  But a new study published in the Journal of Food Protection has found no difference in washing effectiveness when hands were washed in water that was 16, 26 or 38 degrees C.  (Note: for reference, 16⁰C is a bit warmer than the water coming out of your cold water tap, but it’s colder than you’d want to swim in.)

The implication: in the words of one of the study’s authors, “We are wasting energy to heat water to a level that is not necessary.”

So – something to think about the next time you wash your hands.  Cool water is much more comfortable in summer anyway!

PS: interestingly, the biggest factor in washing effectiveness was washing technique; antimicrobial soap had little effect.

Thanks to subscriber Wayne Mitic for sending me this study. 

Tips for eco-friendly travel - June 21, 2017

Be light on the planet this vacation

Want the best vacation with the least impact on the planet?  Here are five tips:

If flying:

·        Travel as lightly as you can; every ounce that doesn’t travel with you saves fuel (and notice how baggage charges are starting to reflect that reality?)

·        Consider offsetting your air travel with carbon offsets; not perfect, but the best in the here-and-now

And whether you’re flying or not:

·        Walk, bike, paddle or use public transit as much as possible at your destination

·        If possible, choose a hotel that has a sustainability certification like Green Key, Green Seal or Green Globe (there are others too)

·        Choose local food and bevies (often much better tasting too!)

Thanks to Bullfrog Power for these tips; read more here.

Imagine if we recycled or composted everything we could - June 7, 2017

Our incredible potential for keeping waste out of the landfill

This pie chart from the US EPA represents the waste profile of a typical municipality.

Do you notice what I notice?

·        Over a quarter of our waste is organic (food or yard trimmings), which is completely compostable

·        Another quarter is paper, which is almost entirely recyclable

·        12.8% is plastics, much of which is recyclable

·        9.1% is metal, which is recyclable

·        6.2% is wood, which can be composted or repurposed for fuel

Add up those numbers and you can see that if we recycled, composted or otherwise diverted everything possible, we could keep at least three-quarters of our waste out of the landfill (and that’s not including glass, which is recyclable in many places).

That would greatly reduce the need for fresh resources; and vastly extend the lives of our landfills.

So – what’s in your trash bin right now?  If you’re not diverting everything you can, why not make a commitment right now?

Take a minute to imagine the potential if we all recycled and composted everything we could – then do your part to make it happen!

Straws suck - May 24, 2017

Plastic straws?  Just say no.

A plastic straw seems pretty small and innocuous.

But consider this: 500 million of them are used in just the US every day.  Few are recycled; many end up in the ocean.  They're one of the top 10 pieces of trash collected in beach cleanups around the world, according to the Surfrider Association.  And they're hazardous for marine mammals, as is obvious in this video (warning: graphic) of a straw being pulled from the nostril of a sea turtle.  

The Town of Tofino, BC, has launched a campaign, "Straws Suck", and most of the town's restaurants have stopped serving plastic straws. aims to get restaurants to stop serving straws, and NoStrawPlease encourages people to pledge to go without straws, and help spread the word.

In your own small way, you can help too. For most of us, straw usage is more habit than necessity - so, the next time you order a drink, why not just say no when it comes to plastic drinking straws?

Plant trees and preserve forests while sitting on your bum! - May 10, 2017

Ecosia and The Rainforest Site

Trees are among our best allies against climate change: they absorb carbon dioxide and lock it up as wood fibre.  In the process, they produce the oxygen we inhale and purify the air we breathe.

Not everyone has the time or place to plant a tree – but you can support trees and forests every time you browse the internet:

·        Use as your default internet search engine, because every search helps fund the planting of trees – over 7.5 million so far!

·        Set The Rainforest Site as your web browser default home page.  With a simple click, you can preserve one square meter of rainforest each day – a small amount, but last year, enough people clicked to preserve 3600 hectares of rainforest!

And, if you do happen to have the time and space, May is the perfect time to plant or transplant a tree!

Thanks to subscriber Don Ross for introducing me to Ecosia.

The simplest way to reduce emissions and plastic - April 26, 2017

Bottled water? Just say no.

Oops… during a presentation to a high school audience last week, I let it slip that one of my greatest environmental frustrations is bottled water.

Why bottled water?  Because:

·        Most bottled water is not natural spring water, but merely filtered tap water.

·        Most bottled water is not local; it’s trucked long distances and has a huge transportation footprint.

·        The Maritimes have plenty of clean, clear water; surely it’s the last thing we should be sending our money out-of-province for!

·        Most empty water bottles are not recycled; instead, they end up in landfills, roadsides or waterways.  A recent study warned that the world’s oceans may contain more plastic than fish by 2050.  Yuck!

·        The water bottles that are recycled don’t come back as bottles; they’re ‘downcycled’ into products like carpet, which eventually end up in a landfill anyway.

You can make a difference, with one simple choice: seek out a tap or fountain, and, whenever possible, just say no to bottled water. On the tree of environmental solutions, it’s hard to find lower hanging fruit.

The disquieting spread of plastic microfibers - April 12, 2017

The unsavory side of polyester

Polyester, once the object of fashion ridicule, is probably the most common synthetic material in clothing today.  It’s strong, wrinkle resistant and moisture resistant.

But polyester is a type of plastic, and in recent years a very significant problem has come to light: it sheds tiny fibres, especially during washing.  These microfibers are often too small to be filtered out by sewage treatment plants and thus end up in our waterways and oceans.  A 2016 study estimated that synthetic fleece jackets released 1.7 grams of microfibers every wash.  And now they’re showing up in fish and seafood too.  (Watch The Story of Microfibers here.)

What to do?

·        Where possible, avoid polyester and choose clothing made of natural fibers like cotton or wool

·        If it has to be polyester, choose high quality as it sheds less

·        Wash polyester clothing as little as possible and on as gentle a wash cycle as possible

·        If you’re up for it, contact manufacturers to express your concern and ask them to research and develop better products.  Polyester shedding is a global issue, and all textile manufacturers will need to be part of the solution.

Our waterways and oceans are worth it.

A truly green thumb! - March 29, 2017

Use compostable or biodegradable pots for your spring plantings

If you’re like me, the longer days and warmer sun have you digging out seeds and potting soil.  When starting plants indoors, why not consider using compostable or biodegradable pots instead of plastic ones?  Here are a few options:

·        Peat pots: very common commercially

·        Cardboard: egg cartons work really well; so do empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls trimmed to size (picture here).

·        Newspaper: ever tried origami?  With a bit of folding, you can easily make your own pots; here’s a nice video showing how.  (It’s a good idea to avoid coated or heavily coloured paper.)

Another advantage over plastic: no need to remove them or risk damaging roots when transplanting, because they’re completely biodegradable!

More and more commercial nurseries are moving away from plastic pots; so why not you and me too?

Celebrate St. Paddy’s Day – locally! - March 15, 2017

If you’re going to have green beer, why not make it local green beer?

If your community is like mine, you’re seeing an abundance of new microbreweries producing a full spectrum of traditional and not-so-traditional types of beverages. It’s an exciting time for anyone who enjoys sampling new takes on old favourites.

Here are two more reasons to enjoy local beverages: they employ people in your own community; and they have a small transportation footprint because the distance between points of production and consumption is short.

St. Patrick’s Day – one of the best excuses for celebrating life, whether or not you’re Irish – is this Friday.  So, if you’re planning to raise your glass with friends, why not make sure what’s inside it is not only refreshing, but local too?

Bathroom tissue is bathroom tissue, right? - March 1, 2017

Choose the most eco-friendly bathroom tissue

Not all bathroom tissue is created equal – in fact, there are huge differences between the most and least eco-friendly types.  Considering how much of it we use, it makes good sense to choose the most eco-friendly.  Here are four tips:

1.     Look for 100% recycled paper with as high a content of post-consumer waste as possible.  Post-consumer waste is paper collected from recycling programs (newspapers, flyers, envelopes, etc.), so a high level really means that you are saving a tree.  Paper made from recycled pre-consumer waste (print overruns, trimmings, etc.) isn’t as good, but it’s still better than paper made from virgin fibre.

2.     Look for paper certified as ‘processed chlorine free’.  If you can’t find the logo, look for a statement about low or no chlorine use.

3.     Choose large or double rolls over small ones: they mean fewer cardboard tubes and less plastic packaging.

4.     Look for paper wrapped in recyclable #4 plastic, and recycle it with your other soft plastic (IE grocery bags, bread bags, milk bags).

And, don’t forget that the first of the three Rs, Reduce, is by far the most important one!

Blankets for your windows - February 15, 2017

Blinds and drapes really make a difference!

Sitting in my home office on a cold evening last week, I happened to look over at my window and the blind that was pulled down over it.  Out of curiousity, I reached over to check the temperature of the air behind the blind – and noticed right away how cold it was, even though my office was toasty warm.

It was proof of the difference curtains and even simple roll-up blinds can make in reducing the amount of heat that is lost through a window.

So – if you have drapes or blinds, be sure to pull them closed at night; they’re blankets for your windows, and they’ll help you save on your heating bill!

(You may want to keep blinds on the shady side of your home closed during the day too, especially if everyone’s away anyway.  On the southern, southeastern and southwestern sides of your home?  It’s probably best to leave blinds open on sunny days as you’ll likely gain a bit of heat from the sun.)

Together we are stronger - February 1, 2017

Together we are stronger

Virtually all of what I have learned about climate change over the past decade has led me to one key conclusion: if we humans are to meet the enormous challenge of climate change, we will need to overcome our differences and work together like never before.  That, plus this week’s news, makes this paragraph from The Better World Handbook, particularly timely:

“Misinformation, half-truths and stereotypes make us susceptible to religious intolerance.  Given the ongoing conflicts in the world, it seems especially essential that Christians and Muslims make a strong effort to learn about and from one another.  Both faiths share an emphasis on peace and tolerance that is not reflected in the wars and violence perpetrated by a few.  When we take the time to learn about other faiths in depth, we often find we have much in common, a basis for building understanding and cooperation towards our common goals.”

So, in the interests of working together for a better future, maybe learning about different faiths would be time well spent; here’s a pretty good place to begin.

Are your pensions and investments at risk? - January 18, 2017

Protect your assets from climate change threats

If you think climate change isn’t an issue for investors, think again.  Climate change will bring costly extreme weather events; new rules and regulations; disruptive technology; changed buying patterns and more.

A recent report by the world's largest institutional fund management company, BlackRock Investment Institute, states, “We believe climate factors have been underappreciated and underpriced.”  The report concludes, “We see climate-proofing portfolios as a key consideration for all asset owners.”

Are your investments and pensions protected?  Here are a few strategies to help ensure they are.

Simple tips for efficient cooking - January 4, 2017

Save money in the kitchen!

If you're in the market for a new kitchen stove, here are three simple guidelines to help you choose efficiency:

  • Stoves with self-cleaning ovens are better insulated so they use less energy.  They may cost a little more but will save you money in the long run.
  • Convection ovens cook more quickly (because a fan moves heat around inside) so they use less energy.
  • Opening the oven door to check on progress allows 20% of the heat to escape, so choose a model with an oven window.

Here are three simple tips for operating any oven more efficiently:

  • Preheating an oven uses extra energy and is usually not necessary for good results - so don't preheat unless a recipe specifically calls for it (like bread and pastries)
  • Turn off the elements a few minutes before cooking time is elapsed; cooking will continue thanks to the heat in the oven, the pot and the food itself.
  • Make sure oven door seals are tight; they should hold a slip of paper snugly.  Clean or replace as necessary.

Read more tips here (California) or here (Canada; scroll or click to page 21).  Happy - and efficient - cooking in 2017!

Fun & festive alternatives to wrapping paper - December 21, 2016

Better ways to wrap

Wrapping paper, long a part of our holiday traditions, has an unfortunate downside: it’s not recyclable.  That’s because it usually has a very high ink content, may be laminated with non-paper materials and may have plastic, ribbons and glitter mixed in.

The good news: there are MANY alternatives to wrapping paper that can be as fun and festive.  Here are a few:

·        Paper gift bags that can be used over and over; or even home-decorated lunchbags

·        Fabric bags with festive designs

·        Festive scarves, or a square of seasonal fabric from your local fabric shop

·        Newspaper, especially the comics page; or any page decorated with homemade art

·        Cans, jars, baskets or tins (my wife intercepted a beautiful, large cookie tin on its way to the trash at a recent office event!)

·        Old calendars or maps (which can be big enough to wrap just about anything!)

·        Leftover wallpaper scraps

Seasons greetings and best wishes for 2017!

Ideas for a less-stuff Christmas - December 7, 2016

Two thoughts, many possibilities

I recently read a piece where the author confessed that her most vivid memories of childhood Christmases were not of gifts, but of people and traditions.  The author of another piece wrote that her own transition to a minimalist Christmas was prompted by waking up on too many boxing days with the sinking feeling that somehow, in the flurry of consumerism, the very best of Christmas had been missed yet again.

Two good reasons to aspire to a ‘less stuff’ holiday, and here’s a third: all that stuff isn’t very good for the planet either.

So here are some ideas to help you edge toward a stuff-less holiday:

·        Green electricity certificates

·        A piece of the TransCanada trail

·        Support for nature preserves: the Nature Trust of NB or the Nature Conservancy of Canada

·        For people who’d love to see you, time

·        Games, classes, memberships, subscriptions, books

·        More ideas here.

Happy stuff-less holidays!

Host a movie night – with a purpose! - November 23, 2016

Popcorn, beverages – and something to talk about

Have you seen Leonardo DiCaprio’s new National Geographic documentary, “Before the Flood”?  Released last month, the 95 minute movie offers a great overview of the causes of climate change (and other environmental challenges we face); and then bridges over to the solutions we need.  It features interviews with Barack Obama, Pope Francis, Elon Musk and more.

From the Obama interview, this prophetic exchange:

Dicaprio: “Somebody that comes into office that does not believe in the science of climate change – do they have the capacity and the power to dismantle everything that you’ve already worked for?”

Obama: “Even if somebody came in campaigning on denying climate science, reality has a way of… hitting you in the nose if you’re not paying attention.  And I think that the public is starting to realize the science – in part because it’s indisputable.”

Before the Flood is informative and thought-provoking – a perfect reason for a party-with-purpose.  Watch the entire documentary on YouTube here, and then get talking!

Gentle encouragement to reduce wasteful idling - November 9, 2016

Post your own sign to help remind people not to idle

On the tree of emission reduction possibilities, perhaps there is no lower hanging fruit than reducing unnecessary idling.

Natural Resources Canada estimates that if every Canadian driver reduced their idling by just three minutes a day, we would reduce emissions by 1.4 million tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars off the road.  We would save 630 million litres of gas a year – over half a billion dollars worth.  Just by reducing idling, a simple habit change!

Here’s what you can do:

·        Idle less: limit idling to 30 seconds for the first start of the day and 10 seconds for subsequent starts, with a little commonsense leeway in cold weather

·        Skip drive-thrus: sadly, coffee shops and fast food joints have become idling ‘centres of inexcellence’

·        Post a sign: you can find simple, non-confrontational sign designs on the internet to post at your workplace, school or business!  We did at our home, and it works – visitors and customers for our free-range eggs {shameless plug} no longer idle!  Just email me if you’d like a copy of our sign.

No glowing review for glow sticks - October 26, 2016

Why not use alternatives to glow sticks?

In recent decades, glow sticks have become popular, especially at parties, dances, concerts – and Halloween, of course! It’s no wonder: they’re simple sources of short-term light, available in a range of fun colors.

But the post-glow reality is that they’re really not very eco-friendly:

·        They’re not recyclable: besides the color-producing chemicals, glow sticks contain chemicals to keep the plastic flexible, and those same chemicals make the plastic unsuitable for recycling.

·        We use an awful lot of them: 100 million a year, according to one website on the subject

·        Some end up in the ocean: where they may be eaten by marine life or float for a long, long time.

What to do?

·        Reduce, the first R: strive to go without when possible

·        Use alternatives: for safety, consider reflective strips; for visibility, use an LED flashlight or headlamp.  (For bonus points: power them with rechargeable batteries!)

Have fun and be safe for Halloween or your next social event – but strive to do it without glow sticks!

Five tips for greener hair! - October 12, 2016

Simple ideas for more eco-friendly hair care

Hair care is part of most people’s daily routine, but it has more environmental implications than one might realize (for example, water consumption, energy consumption, undesirable chemicals and waste generation).  Here are five ways you can reduce the environmental impacts of your coiffure:

·        Resist your shampoo maker’s tease to ‘rinse and repeat’, and shampoo just once (because if you need to shampoo twice, you’ve got to wonder about the quality of the product in the first place!).  Plus use as little shampoo as you can get away with.

·        Try washing your hair every second time you shower instead of every time

·        Use a leave-in conditioner to cut down on shower time

·        Let hair dry naturally if you can, or else use the coolest setting on your hair dryer

·        Bonus: make your own shampoo!  Learn how here.

Happy greener hair care!

Vote wisely with your wallet - September 28, 2016

It’s easy to be a Better World Shopper

Most of us spend thousands of dollars a year on goods and services – and every dollar we spend is an implicit endorsement of the business we’re patronizing.  But even as some businesses are working hard to improve the world, others are doing more harm than good.  How is a conscientious shopper to know the difference?

The Better World Shopper can help.  It’s a well-researched guide that ranks companies from A to F based on their performance in five key areas: environment, human rights, animal protection, community involvement and social justice.  The guide has dozens of categories, from clothing brands to coffee to energy drinks to soap.  It even has a list of the Top 10 Categories where you can make the most difference.

Check out the Better World Shopping Guide – and vote wisely the next time you shop!

More ideas about less stuff - September 14, 2016

Simple strategies for buying less stuff

From the Better World Handbook: “Everything you own owns you.  Everything you buy, you must maintain, store, repair, clean and perhaps insure.  Our stuff quickly becomes a psychological burden.”

Phew!  And a financial burden too, requiring more money – which means more work and less time for family, friends and fun.

Here are a few more tips to help you buy less stuff:

1.     Fix broken things instead of discarding them: a challenge, I know, in a world where more and more things are designed to be thrown away and replaced.  But at the very least, it will be a learning experience!

2.     Figure out ways to reuse stuff, even things designed to be used once.  For example, plastic containers and milk bags are great for freezing food.

3.     Borrow things you’ll only need rarely, like tools, movies or trucks.  Get to know your neighbours and your library.

4.     Ask yourself: do I really need it?  The honest answer is often no.

5.     Take a shopping list, and stick to it; don’t fall prey to clever advertising,  fancy displays or colourful packaging.

6.     Avoid impulse purchases because you’ll often regret them later.  If you feel the urge, promise yourself you’ll buy it next week – if you still feel the urge.

Less stuff is good for our well-being, our wallets and the planet!

Have you hit Peak Stuff? - August 31, 2016

Simple questions to ask before you buy anything

Earlier this year, an executive of IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer, made headlines when he said, “If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit Peak Stuff.”  I fear that may be true for me: the basement storage room is full and the garage is cluttered.

If you’ve hit Peak Stuff, here are 10 quick questions* you can ask yourself the next time you’re tempted to buy something:

1.     Can I find it used?

2.     Will it last a long time?

3.     Is it reusable or at least recyclable?

4.     What are the item and its packaging made from?

5.     How do I dispose of it?

6.     Is it toxic?

7.     What conditions do the workers who made it work under?

8.     How much will it cost to operate and maintain it?

9.     Will my buying it contribute to a better world?

10.   Will it really improve my life?

Consciously evaluating purchases can help us avoid Peak Stuff in our lives.  It’s good for our well-being, our wallets and the planet!

*From the Better World Handbook.

Not jugs or cartons, but… - August 17, 2016

Buy your milk in bags

Milk is a staple of virtually every household, but what type of milk packaging is the most eco-friendly? All three types of milk packaging - jugs, cartons and bags - are recyclable. But unfortunately not all are accepted by all recycling programs.

As well, recycling isn't a perfect solution: collecting and transporting recyclables costs time, money and fuel - especially when the end destination of those recyclables is half a world away.  Where I live, jugs and cartons are recycled, but in China.  Yep - sorted, baled, stuffed into a container and shipped thousands of kilometres.

So what's a consumer's greenest option for milk packaging?

1. Check with your local solid waste authority to see what's accepted for recycling, and then choose accordingly. In spite of its shortcomings, recycling is still better than trashing.

2. Choose the biggest size available; one big jug or carton uses less material than two or more small ones.

3. If all three types of packaging are recycled where you live, choose plastic bags:

·        they are lighter (less material and less weight to transport)

·        both the outer and inner bags are the same soft plastic as grocery bags so they can be mixed in with them (but inner bags must be well rinsed of residual milk)

·        they may be recycled locally (as they are here in NB) as opposed to being shipped to China; and

·        soft plastics (#4 LDPE) are one of those rare materials that can be perfectly recycled: that is, reprocessed back into the very same types of products over and over again.

Quick: open, grab, close! - August 3, 2016

Close your fridge door as quickly as possible

Particularly in this season of warmth, it's worth being reminded of a common sense tip: you can save money and energy by opening your refrigerator as infrequently as possible, opening the door only as widely as necessary and closing it as quickly as possible.

To help remember, imagine your fridge as being full of water.  It comes gushing out each time you open the door.  The more frequently, the wider and the longer you open the door, the more water that ends up on your floor.

Cold air in your fridge is like that water: it's heavier than warm air, so it comes tumbling out each time the fridge door opens.  And the more cold air that escapes, the more your fridge needs to work to replace it.  That costs energy and money.

So the next time you open your fridge, imagine that it's full of water and act accordingly.  Your fridge will thank you by using less energy!

Who, me – living in poverty?? - July 20, 2016

Taking back the only thing that is truly ours

If poverty is having less than you need, many of us live in a new kind of poverty brought on by the demands of our hurried, frenzied world: time poverty.  I came across that phrase recently in The Better World Handbook (New Society Publishers).

From the book: “The quest to “have it all” has programmed us to have overscheduled, frazzled, harried lives where we run from place to place without much sense of where we are going.  Stretching ourselves too thinly sucks out the meaning of daily experiences.”  It’s not very good for the planet either.

The authors suggest, “We must learn to think, feel, communicate and experience the world beyond the confines of material possessions.  We must commit to leading lives fuelled by compassion and love rather than by consumption and personal gain.”

In other words, if life is a treadmill where the cost of accumulating all our stuff is time poverty, perhaps it’s worth reassessing our priorities: slowing down and consuming less; relaxing, living and laughing more.  Aspiring to less stuff and more time.  Better for us, better for the planet.

Something to think about this vacation season!

Choose the safest sunscreen - July 6, 2016

How to choose the safest, most effective, most eco-friendly sunscreen

Sunscreen is as much a part of summer as ice cream is.  But have you ever paused to wonder just what's in that stuff you put on your skin?  (I'm definitely wondering, given what it does to my shirt collars and sleeves.)

Do a bit of research and you quickly realize that finding the very best sunscreen is a complicated affair.  Perhaps the simplest, clearest advice comes from David Suzuki's Queen of Green: choose a sunscreen that:

  • Is well rated by the Environmental Working Group
  • Offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays
  • Is free of toxic materials, particularly oxybenzone and retinyl palmate (a form of vitamin A)
  • Is a cream, not a spray or powder
  • Offers SPF 30 protection (lower is not enough, higher offers negligible extra protection)

(Of course, the best protection comes from covering up with a good hat and clothing, and avoiding the midday sun altogether.)

Enjoy this summer with safe, effective, eco-friendly sunscreen!

Keep cool with less AC - June 22, 2016

How to stay cool and reduce your air conditioning bill

Finally, summer – most people’s favourite season – is here.  But how quickly our weather transitions from pleasant to hot, and we find ourselves turning on the air conditioning!

In many places, more electricity is used on hot summer days than in the cold of winter.  Much of that peak power comes from fossil fuels, and much of it is used for air conditioning.  (Yes, there is a certain irony about that fact.)  So reducing our use of air conditioning is a great way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are four ways to do just that:

·        Install blinds, shades or curtains, and keep them closed when sunlight is most intense.  Retractable awnings work well too, and still allow light in.

·        Open windows in the evening to take advantage of overnight coolness; close them before you leave in the morning to keep things cool as long as possible.

·        When air conditioning becomes necessary, nudge the thermostat up a few degrees and invite everyone to dress lightly. (Already this summer, I’ve been chilly in over-conditioned buildings.)  Even then, use the AC as sparingly as possible.

·        Longer term: plant trees strategically to provide shade plus free natural cooling; some good advice here.  (‘Aha’ fact: exposed dark asphalt gets very hot and heats the surrounding air, so consider planting trees to shade paved areas too.)

Don’t overheat this summer – but by using less air conditioning, you’ll help prevent the planet from overheating.

A play structure that’s full of beans! - June 8, 2016

For fun and food, build a bean tepee

Everyone – kid and former kid – loves a secret place!  So why not build a bean tepee in your backyard?

It’s simple: all you need are a few poles and some string to build a frame – easy instructions here. (Igloos and other creative designs are possible too, depending on how elaborate a frame you’d like to build.)

Then plant some pole bean or pea seeds at the base of each pole and water.  Watch as your plants grow, wind their way up the poles and close in the walls.

Presto: a fun play place for anyone, with the bonus of delicious fresh veggies!

Thanks to subscriber Don Ross for this Green Idea!

A milestone anniversary - May 25, 2016

‘An Inconvenient Truth’ ten years on

I still get goosebumps when I think back to April 9, 2007.

I had just arrived at the Nashville Hilton to attend a training session led by former US Vice President Al Gore.  Knowing that Mr. Gore would kick things off with a live presentation of his newly-famous slideshow, I claimed myself a front-row-centre seat in the hotel ballroom.

The place was buzzing with anticipation as the MC went through her opening remarks.  Then, with a quick glance to the side of the room, she announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Honourable Al Gore” – and in walked the former VP.

For the next 90 minutes, I and 200 other trainees from around the world sat mesmerized as he presented his Oscar-winning slideshow about our climate crisis.  I introduced myself at a reception later that evening, and this photo was taken.  And two days later I came home and changed my life and my career.  For me, it was an epiphanal experience.

Yesterday, May 24, marked the tenth anniversary of the release of “An Inconvenient Truth”, the documentary that awakened the world to climate change.  Much has happened over the past decade – both convenient and inconvenient – but much remains to be done.

Even as we take heart in the progress made, may each of us face forward with renewed resolve to solve our climate crisis: to make changes in our own lives, and to demand action of our political leaders, regardless of political affiliation.

Something to make part of your spring cleaning routine - May 11, 2016

Clean the coils on your fridge and freezer


The warmer the weather gets, the harder our fridges and freezers need to work.  In the process, they disperse heat through their coils, which are located on the back or underneath.  But over time, dust can build up on those coils, making them disperse that heat less efficiently.

So this week’s Green Idea is a simple one: the next time you have your vacuum cleaner out, why not make a quick swipe over those coils to clear off that dust?  Your fridge and freezer will work more efficiently, consume less power, save you a bit of money and last longer – all good things!

Thanks to Bullfrog Power ( for this Green Idea!

A risky spring ritual we need to rethink - Apr 27, 2016

It’s safer and better to just avoid grass fires

When I was a kid, it was a rite of spring for people to burn lawns, fields and roadside grass.  I remember being curious about why they did it, and being told that apparently it made lawns green up more quickly.  Or the ash fertilized the emerging new grass.  Or burning got rid of weed seeds.

I’ve since learned that none of those reasons are valid.  Lawns only look greener because of the scorched, black backdrop.  Much of the nutritive value of the plant residue goes up in smoke.  Weed seeds are dispersed the previous year, so most escape burning.

Three more downsides of grass burning:

·        First, it’s a risky practice.  Springtime is by far the busiest time for my local volunteer fire department.

·        Second, grassfire smoke creates challenges for people with breathing problems.

·        Third, burning releases carbon dioxide into the air; allowing residues to rot naturally or compost instead preserves that carbon for the soil, where it does good.  (The same goes for brush and wood residue, which enrich the forest floor when allowed to rot naturally.)

So – please share this with anyone who still thinks burning grass is a good thing to do (and here’s a nice myth-busting one-pager).  It’s a spring ritual we need to rethink!

A simple way to cut down on food waste - Apr 13, 2016

Put an “Eat Me First” bin in your fridge

You’ve paid for that food – so of course it will get eaten, right?

Alas, maybe not.  According to the UN, one third of food produced for human consumption is wasted.  Fruits and veggies have the highest wastage rates of any food.

Much of that waste happens at home – including in our fridges, where things can quietly languish until they go bad.

But here’s a simple solution: create an “Eat Me First” bin or basket for your fridge (and it’s exactly what it sounds like!).  Then just get into the habit of putting whatever needs to be eaten soonest into it, and checking there first when searching for a snack or preparing a meal.

You’ll cut down on food waste and save money: two good things!  More info here.

Thanks to Lindsay Coulter, David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, for this Green Idea!

An easy way to start your spring seedlings! - Mar 30, 2016

Egg cartons, a great option for spring gardening

If you use eggs, you’ll be familiar with egg cartons.  Most are made of recycled paper and molded pulp, and can be recycled with conventional paper as long as they’re clean.  But here’s an alternate use: cardboard egg cartons are perfect for starting spring seeds or growing a window garden.

The process is simple: just rip the lid off (and recycle it); fill the 12 ‘cells’ with potting soil; drop in your seeds; cover them up; water and wait.  You may need to water a bit extra at the start until the soil and cardboard are well soaked, and you’ll want to put a tray underneath to catch water that seeps through.

Cardboard egg cartons biodegrade, so when the time comes to transplant your seedlings into a garden, you can just separate the cells of the carton and plant them directly into the soil.  In fact, they’ll likely be on the verge of falling apart anyway, and some roots may have already grown through – a bonus!

Spring has sprung – it’s time to use those cardboard egg cartons to get a head start on gardening!  (Here’s a simple three-minute how-to video.)

(Note: foam cartons can work as planters too, but they are not biodegradable so seedlings would have to be removed from them when transplanted.  Unfortunately, not many recycling programs accept foam, so it’s best to avoid it in the first place.)

An essential resource before you buy a vehicle - Mar 16, 2016

EnerGuide for Vehicles, the definitive guide to fuel economy

Few of us really know the fuel consumption of our vehicles.  We may have a rough idea of how far we can travel on a $50 fillup, but that’s a pretty poor measure since fuel tanks vary in size and gas prices are always changing.

The real measure of a vehicle’s fuel economy is how many litres it consumes to go 100 kilometres, or its imperial system equivalent, how many miles you go on a gallon.  And the very best place to get unbiased comparisons between vehicles is Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption ratings search tool.  It’s a database that lists the official fuel economy of every make and model of vehicle sold in Canada since 1995.  It allows you to find the best ones, or compare the models you’re considering.  An invaluable tool for any vehicle buyer!

And – here’s a great two-minute video about other ways you can improve your fuel economy.

Quick, easy & free: top-notch guidance on energy savings for industry & business - Mar 2, 2016

Join CIPEC, the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation

These days, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the multitude of information about energy saving technologies and practices.  But if you work in industry or business, Natural Resources Canada’s CIPEC is a concise, comprehensive, credible source of great information, including:

·        Energy consumption benchmarks so you can see how your business compares to other similar businesses

·        Best practices and technical information

·        Employee engagement programs, including free posters, fact sheets and slideshows

·        Assistance programs

·        And much more!

If you work in business or industry, you owe it to yourself to check out CIPEC – it’s an excellent one-stop resource for savings.  If you don’t work in business or industry, please share this with everyone you know who does.

After the Valentine’s Day roses fade - Feb 17, 2016

Clean and return those water picks for reuse

Valentine’s Day is one of the flower industry’s biggest sales days each year.  The runaway favourite?  The rose, symbol of love, beauty, admiration and respect.

But since roses are fragile, they often arrive with water picks attached to their stems: little rubber-capped plastic tubes that contain enough water to keep the rose fresh until it’s arranged into a vase.

But don’t throw away those water picks!  A while back, I was delighted to discover that a local florist happily accepted a bag of picks I’d accumulated, so they could be reused on new roses.

So if you’re the lucky recipient of Valentine’s Day flowers that came with water picks, why not save them and return them to your local florist the next time you’re passing by?  It’s good karma that just might have them come back to you with fresh flowers someday!

Cruisin’ for an ocean bruisin’ - Feb 3, 2016

The environmental impacts of cruise ships

It sometimes pains me greatly to shed a bit of light on an uncomfortable reality; I hate being a party-pooper or raining on parades.  This is definitely one of those times.

There’s no denying cruise ships are a wonderful way to vacation: great destinations, supreme comfort and limitless food.  Who could ask for more?

But cruise ships have an environmental grim side.  They burn massive amounts of fuel (large ones only get about 50 feet to the gallon), and many burn a type of fuel that produces high sulphur and soot emissions.  They typically discharge large amounts of bilge water, greywater, sewage (which may or may not be treated) and even solid waste.  It’s enough to make you not want to go back to the buffet for seconds.

So what to do?  Alas, Reduce, the first of the three Rs, is always the best option – there are many vacation options with far smaller environmental impacts than cruise ships.

But if you’ve got your heart set on a cruise, why not check out Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Report Card before you book?  It compares the environmental footprint of different cruise lines and ships – a small way you can reduce the ocean bruisin’ caused by cruisin’.

An eco-friendly way to clean drains - Jan 20, 2016

A green fix when prevention fails

Clogged drains are not just a nuisance; they’re often rather stinky and disgusting.  When they happen, most of us reach for chemical cleaners – which are typically pretty corrosive, and can burn skin, eyes and lungs.

So what to do?  As with most problems, prevention is much better than cure – so:

·        Ensure a screen is installed in your drain to keep stuff out

·        Don’t pour grease or greasy materials down the drain; they may be liquid when hot, but they cool down quickly once poured out, and then solidify as gunk in pipes.  (Small amounts of grease can be added to your compost; large amounts can be taken to recycling facilities.)

But when a cure is needed, first try using a plunger.  If that fails, consider trying a sewer snake; they’re available at many hardware stores for less than the cost of a plumber’s service call, and are easy to use (consult YouTube if you need help).

Or try this simple procedure using two simple household ingredients:

·        Pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain; work it in as much as possible

·        Then pour a cup of vinegar, and let it fizz for five to ten minutes to loosen up the clog

·        Then pour some boiling water to flush away the loosened clog

If needed, try this heavier-duty procedure using the same ingredients.

Better food = better you and better planet - Jan 6, 2016

‘Food rich, nutrition poor’

That’s the expression a friend used when the subject of typical Canadian diets came up in a conversation over the holidays: “We are food rich but nutrient poor.”

Sadly, it’s not untrue.  Many of us have fallen into lifestyles that are so busy that we’ve grown to rely on highly processed, heavily packaged foods – strong on convenience, but often weak on nutrition.  And they typically come with a string of ingredients that we can’tpronounce: preservatives, artificial flavours, sweeteners and more.  Bad for us.

Plus – all that processing and packaging means lots of embedded energy (think fryers, freezers and microwaves), and lots of trash.  Bad for the planet.

So if New Year’s is a time for resolutions, why not aim to make ourselves food rich AND nutrient rich this year?  More basic ingredients, more local food, more flavour, better health!

Need ideas?  Think soup (great for using up leftovers too!); check out these 11 foods that are good for you and the planet; and read more on the impacts of our food choices on the planet here.

Uncluttering gifts - Dec 9, 2015

‘When it comes to presents, give uncluttering gifts a try’

It’s well known that decluttering our lives helps us have more energy, less stress and more happiness – and it’s also well known that prevention is better than cure.  So why not opt for uncluttering gifts this year?  Here are some ideas:

Massages, manicures, pedicures, movies, bowling, whale watching, art gallery memberships, cooking or craft classes, gift cards, a favourite recipe with all the ingredients included, a nice bottle of (local) wine, a donation to a cause or charity near and dear to the recipient’s heart (money, or some time volunteered by you on behalf of the recipient), free babysitting… you get the picture!  Take a minute and you’ll surely come up with more ideas yourself.

Happy uncluttering Holidays!

Theme and suggestions courtesy of a column by Anne Marie Hartford with the above title in yesterday’s Fredericton newspaper.

The emissions of electricity - Nov 25, 2015

How much CO2 is produced per kilowatt-hour of power I use?

It’s easy to not think of greenhouse gas emissions when we turn on lights, televisions or heaters.  But power generation produces 25% of global emissions, more than any other sector.

So just how much CO2 is produced for each kilowatt-hour (KWH) we consume?

The answer is: it depends on where you live, because power is generated differently in each province.  In Canada, the ‘greenest’ power is in Quebec – just three grams CO2 per KWH – because that province is so rich in hydroelectric resources.  (Hence Quebec’s big push toward electric vehicles.)  Manitoba is close behind, with just four g/KWH.  Then come BC (17 g) and NL (21 g).

At the other end of the spectrum are Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, with 820, 770 and 740 g/KWH respectively.  All three are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, particularly coal, for their power.  Next highest are NWT & Nunavut (340 g) and NB (300 g).  You can view the full list here.  (Sorry, I haven’t found a simple table comparing US states, but you can find any state’s number by clicking on the state from this page and then opening Table 7.  The US average is 1175 lb CO2/megawatt hour.)

The bottom line: most of us don’t think of emissions when we use power.  But knowing the emissions that arise from our use of electricity can help raise our consciousness, and that’s a first step toward reducing our consumption.  As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing!

A simple gesture with a big meaning - Nov 12, 2015

Wear a green ribbon this November

This month’s UN climate conference in Paris is bursting with hope, possibility and expectation.  Most of us will be watching from afar, holding our breath and feeling like there’s not much we can do to make a difference.

But here’s something anyone can do to show support for climate action: just wear a green ribbon.  It’s a simple, meaningful gesture, and it’s far more important than you might think because, through our action, we’ll be showing our leaders they can count on our support to set and achieve strong emissions reduction targets.

So why not wear a ribbon, and even start a campaign in your school or workplace?  It’s simple and inexpensive, and everything you need – including inspirational videos – can be found here.

Sweet: an easy way to improve people’s lives - Oct 28, 2015

Look for Fair Trade chocolate this Hallowe’en

Just about everyone loves chocolate – but here’s a bit of reality that isn’t so sweet: most of the world’s cocoa (the key ingredient in chocolate) is grown in West Africa by small producers who barely eke out a living, and child labour is widespread.  The store that sells you a chocolate bar typically makes a lot more money on it than the farmer who produced the cocoa in the first place.

So why not look for the Fair Trade logo when you shop for treats?  Fair Trade is an international certification system whereby farmers receive a reliable and decent income that helps them live better lives, and can even elevate their families and communities out of poverty.  And it’s not an empty certification: Fair Trade products are independently monitored to ensure they meet standards of financial and environmental sustainability.

Fair Trade products still only represent a small share of the total chocolate market, so you’ll have to look for them.  But Cadbury, Ferrero, Mars, Nestle and Hershey’s have a few Fair Trade products and are working toward the goal of 100% sustainable, ethical cocoa by 2020.  As well, a list of lesser-known brands presently offering Fair Trade chocolate (and other products) can be found here.

So – why not choose Fair Trade chocolate at Hallowe’en and anytime?  You’ll be bringing a bit of sweetness to the lives of the people who grow it for you.

A simple way to reduce heat loss through windows - Oct 14, 2015

Dress up those ‘holes in your walls’ with drapes or blinds

Windows are essential features of homes, but when it comes to heat loss, they’re almost like holes in your walls.  Consider this: a well insulated wall has a rating of R-40 (where R means resistance to heat loss), but even quality double-paned windows have ratings of only R-3 to R-4.

That’s why drapes and blinds can be a good investment: pulled closed at night, they act as blankets over windows, reducing heat loss.  In particular, well installed drapes made of tightly woven fabric can reduce a room’s heat loss by 10% or more.  Blinds aren’t as effective as drapes, but they still make a positive difference.

So why not look into drapes or blinds for your home, or if you have them already, use them to reduce your heating costs.  Learn more here.

Time for squirreling away food - Sept 30, 2015

So many ways to preserve and store fall fruits & vegetables

Whether you’re a gardener or not, this is a wonderful time of year for foodies, or for anyone who eats, really!  So many fresh veggies, so much fresh fruit.  If you’re like me, perhaps you’re now reaping the results of overzealous planting; our little garden plot has yielded more tomatoes and beans than ever.

Whether you have a surplus from your garden or you just like taking advantage of the low prices of produce at this time of year, here are a few options for squirreling away some of that delicious food to enjoy over the winter:

·        Freezing: many fruits and vegetables can be frozen without any loss of nutrition, and freezing is not complicated; this page has some advice and two simple guides.

·        Pickling/canning: you can pickle a lot more than just cucumbers, and pickled food doesn’t even need to be refrigerated.  This page provides simple instructions.

·        Prepared food: you can even use up surplus produce by making and then freezing things like chilli or pasta sauce.  I’m afraid my chilli recipe is a family secret, but here’s a nice pasta sauce recipe my son and I made over the weekend with some surplus tomatoes.

Enjoy the bounties of fall, the contentment of a full pantry and great taste all winter!

There’s richness in those leaves! - Sept 16, 2015

Keep those fall leaves for your gardening

Just this week, I’ve started seeing traces of fall colours in the trees in our yard; can raking be far behind?  But wait – instead of bagging those leaves and placing them at the curb, why not save them for next year’s gardening (and avoid the emissions of trucking them away)?  Here are three options:

·        To make true compost, mix leaves with a ‘green’ material like grass clippings.  For faster composting, shred the leaves beforehand.

·        But if you prefer a ‘minimal effort’ option, you can just collect all your leaves into a pile and leave them – at least for the winter, and perhaps longer.  Eventually, they’ll turn into a material called leaf mold, which can be used as mulch around shrubs.

·        Finally, if you’d prefer the ‘least-effort option’, you can just get rid of your leaves by spreading them onto a nearby forest floor.  The nutrients they release over time will enrich the soil there.

Enjoy fall – and remember, those leaves are too valuable to place at the curb!  Read more about composting and leaf mold here.

The single, simple best thing you can do for birds - Sept 2, 2015

Keep the cat inside

If you ask the average person what the biggest threat to birds is, you’ll likely get an answer like wind turbines or hunting.  Good answers, but the biggest single threat to birds is much closer to home.  According to a 2013 study conducted by Environment Canada, the leading causes of bird mortality in Canada are:

·        Wind turbines: 16,700

·        Communication towers: 22,000

·        Commercial forestry: 900,000

·        Agriculture: 3.7 million

·        Hunting: 5 million

·        Vehicle collisions: 14 million

·        Collisions with homes or buildings: 25 million

·        Power line collisions and electrocutions: 25 million

·        Domestic and feral cats: 200 million, or more than all other categories combined

So what’s the best thing you can do?

·        Try to keep your cat inside, especially around dusk and dawn

·        Consider putting a bell on your cat’s collar to give birds a warning

·        Keep bird feeders well out of range of cats

Learn more here!

Good advice from our great-grandparents - Aug 19, 2015

“Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without”

That’s a slogan from the Great Depression, when necessity forced people to live on less.

Maybe it’s worth revisiting in today’s consumption-focussed world.  Consider:

·        Consumption is expensive: new clothes, new car, new phone, new TV; they all add up

·        Consumption is at the root of many of the environmental pressures we face, from climate change to water shortages to resource depletion

·        Consumption doesn’t make us happier: the world is full of people who have not found happiness in their fancy home, cars and clothes

I’m constantly meeting people who crave a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle: better for the wallet, the planet and the mental well being.  So maybe it’s worth revisiting that old slogan from 80 years ago.  Read a dozen tips here.

Thanks to subscriber (and sis) Yvonne Duivenvoorden for this Green Idea!

Inspiration for less wasteful living from an amazing young person - Aug 5, 2015

Lauren Singer shows how a zero-waste lifestyle IS possible

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian produces 720 KG of garbage annually.  That’s about twice what the average Japanese produces.

Yuck – all that trash means huge emissions from garbage trucks, premature filling of landfills, high disposal costs and more.

New Yorker Lauren Singer has proven that living a zero-waste lifestyle is possible; all the trash she’s produced in the past three years fits into a single mason jar.  How does she do it?  By recycling, composting and making wise purchasing choices.

Most of us probably can’t match her incredible commitment – but every one of us can benefit and learn from her simple, powerful trash-reduction strategies.  Read more here, or better still, watch Lauren’s 13 minute TED talk here.

For summer, a must-see movie - July 22, 2015

“Chasing Ice”, a visual treat to move and motivate

If summer is the time for movies, may I suggest Chasing Ice?  It was released in 2012, but I’m guessing you haven’t seen it.

Chasing Ice follows photographer James Balog – initially a climate change sceptic – as he captures time lapse images of glaciers in Greenland, Iceland and Alaska.  But the result is much more than just pretty pictures.  

If you enjoy being visually blown away, hauntingly challenged and deeply motivated, get in front of the biggest screen you can find and watch Chasing Ice.  It’s available on Netflix, on iTunes and probably at your local library.  Get a taste by watching the trailer.

Go easy on the AC - July 8, 2015

Save on fuel by using air conditioning only when it’s really needed

It’s summer, and for many of us that means the air conditioner in our vehicles is always on.  But consider this: air conditioning is second only to driving as the biggest load on an engine – it can increase your fuel consumption by up to 20%.  Put another way, turning on the air conditioner is a lot like constantly hauling a trailer around.

So what to do?

·        Use fresh air when possible; sunroofs are awesome because they are quieter than windows

·        Get into the habit of turning off your AC when you park at the end of the day so it’s not automatically on in the morning when you least need it

·        Reserve AC only for really hot days, and use it intermittently; aim for comfortable, not cold

·        Park in the shade when you can

Learn more strategies for saving on air conditioning from Natural Resources Canada, here.

What our planet should have been named - June 24, 2015

“Planet Earth” or “Planet Ocean”?

Oceans cover about 70% of this planet’s surface; if whales or dolphins had been in charge of naming the place, they’d probably have called it Planet Ocean instead of Planet Earth.

Oceans are critical to us: for food, recreation, temperature regulation, re-absorption of carbon dioxide and more.  So it’s important to keep them clean.  Of all types of litter, plastic is of particular concern because much of it makes its way to the ocean, where it persists for a very long time, as shown in this graphic.  (And plastic doesn’t ever really go away; it just breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics.)

Most plastic ends up in oceans through wind and water (rivers, storm drains and sewers).  So – please help keep plastic out of our oceans by not littering, and by picking up plastic whenever you can.

Don’t forget about scheduled maintenance - June 10, 2015

A well maintained vehicle saves fuel and money

True story: this week a friend of mine told me how his vehicle’s fuel economy declines each winter.  (Not surprising – engines are less efficient in cold temperatures.)  But he didn’t get the expected bounce back this spring, so he decided to take his car in for a check-up.

The diagnosis?  His spark plugs were well past their best before date and were replaced.

The result? An instant 25% improvement in fuel economy.

Maybe it’s a good reminder to all of us to check our vehicle maintenance records and ensure everything’s up to date.  Scheduled maintenance matters – for vehicle life, fuel savings and a reduced carbon footprint. 

Presents for the planet - May 13, 2015

Why not host a green birthday party?

This week’s Green Idea is inspired by this recent article from my hometown newspaper.

A six-year-old boy decided that, instead of presents, he’d like to receive donations to help endangered species.  So, through Earth Rangers’ Bring Back the Wild Birthday program, he chose to highlight his favourite animal, the wolf – and collected $85 to support Earth Rangers’ environmental programs.  Beautiful!

If you’re planning a birthday party, why not make it a green one?  You could do what Henri did, and here are some additional great suggestions from David Suzuki’s Queen of Green for having more fun and generating less trash.

Three keys - April 29, 2015

The three most important things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint

If you’re like me, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed with the complexities of climate change and our other environmental challenges.  And, amid a flood of information, you might be wondering, “Really, what are the most important things I can do to make a difference?”  In the spirit of last week’s Earth Day, here are my nominees:

1.  Drive less: every litre of gas we burn is one litre less we can burn if we wish to limit climate change.  So walk, bike, take transit, carpool – anything to drive less.

2.  Strive to think ‘Reduce’, the most important of the three Rs, every time you flip a switch, turn a tap, touch a thermostat or operate an appliance.

3.  Contact your elected representatives via phone, mail or email to demand action, because climate-friendly laws and policies are absolutely essential to global solutions.

Perfect time for a cleanup! - April 15, 2015

Why not organize a neighbourhood (or beach) cleanup?

It’s April, the glorious time when new life emerges from under the melting snow.    

It’s also the perfect time to clean up the winter’s litter – easy to spot against the melting snow, and not yet obscured by new growth of roadside plants.

So why not organize a roadside cleanup in your community?  (Or a shore cleanup if you happen to be lucky enough to live near water?)  It’s fairly straightforward: organize a team, set a date, get some basic supplies (gloves, bags, safety vests), determine how collected trash will be disposed of, and then DO IT!

Bonus: if you can, find local sponsors to help cover the cost of supplies, and get a bit of media coverage to recognize your team’s good efforts!  And be sure to think safety every step of the way.

For inspiration, visit or watch how Estonia was transformed in an incredible five-hour blitz!

Should fossil fuels come with warnings? - April 1, 2015

Should gas pump nozzles have labels on them?

One of the best ways to remind people to turn out lights is to have a sticker on the switch that says, “Please turn off the lights.”  It’s a key principle of social marketing: place a message where your target audience sees it at the precise time they can make the choice you’re requesting.  It’s the same reason blunt messages and graphic images are placed on cigarette packages.

Gasoline consumption generates emissions that are endangering our climate, so should there be warning messages on gas pump nozzles?  The municipality of West Vancouver thinks so, and has passed a resolution suggesting that labels like the ones shown here should be placed on every gas pump in Canada.

Maybe it’s not a bad idea.  Every litre of gas we consume adds 2.4 KG greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere.  If a reminder when we’re fuelling up reminds us to try to burn less fuel, that would be a good thing.

An interesting idea, and this week’s Green idea.  More information here.

Thanks to subscriber David Brown for the tip

A creative way to extend your gardening season - March 18, 2015

Check out straw bale gardens

Could straw bales be the next hot commodity?  They’ve been used for home construction for some time, and are finding favour with more and more gardeners:

·        They can be used to create temporary and portable cold frames, to extend production into shoulder seasons, as shown in this picture clipped from this Facebook page

·        They can be ‘conditioned’: composted in the middle to become growing media themselves, providing a weed-free elevated garden, as shown in this picture clipped from this website

·        After harvest, they can be broken up and worked into the soil as organic matter

If you have poor soil, limited space or a bad back, or just enjoy experimenting, consider straw bale gardening.  Learn how here.  You can find straw bales at your local garden centre or farm supply store.

The dark side of palm oil - March 4, 2015

Choose products with RSPO-certified palm oil

Palm oil is contained in everything from margarine to chocolate to lipstick to biofuels.  It’s now the world’s most popular vegetable oil.

But palm oil has a dark side: deforestation.  Particularly in tropical countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, massive areas of forest have been (and continue to be) cleared to make way for ever more palm oil plantations.

So what can an eco-conscious consumer do?

·        First, read the label and if possible choose products made without palm oil (a challenge, but Reduce is always the best option)

·        Otherwise, look for products carrying the RSPO certified logo.  It’s not a perfect certification, but it’s the best at present

Check out this site to see how some of the planet’s most popular consumer brands rate when it comes to the palm oil; check out this video to learn more about palm oil issues and impacts. 

Know your plastics - February 18, 2015

A simple guide to Plastic Recycling Symbols

The world of plastic is complicated: there are many types and they’re very different from each other.  Two things they all have in common: they’re made from fossil fuels, and they persist for very long times in our land and marine environments.  So it’s really important to recycle them.

An excellent overview of the classes of plastic, what they’re found in and what they’re recycled into can be found here.  From that article, a few key points:

·        Even though we call it ‘recycling’, most plastic is actually ‘downcycled’ into products of lesser quality or functionality – part of a journey that eventually, alas, usually still ends at a landfill.

·        Some materials may have a recycling symbol, but in actuality are rarely recycled (IE class 3, vinyl or PVC)

·        Class 7 is not really a class; it’s a catch-all for anything that doesn’t fit in the first six classes.  It’s often accepted by recycling programs, but only to avoid confusing consumers; it typically ends up in the landfill.

So please Reduce, Reuse and Recycle plastics, in that order.

Some guidance from Jane Goodal - February 4, 2015

The ten best things we can do for animals

It’s easy to believe that the world is a challenging place for people, and in many ways it is – but it’s an even greater challenge for our animal friends, who lead a fragile existence from one meal to the next.  Add to that other pressures like habitat destruction and… well, it’s just a good idea to help out our animal friends however we can.  From internationally known anthropologist Jane Goodall, here are some of the best things we can do for our animal friends:

1.                   Respect all life

2.                   Teach our children to respect and love nature

3.                   Be wise stewards of life on earth

4.                   Refrain from harming life in order to learn about it

5.                   Act knowing we are not alone and live with hope

The rest of the list can be found here.

Save on gas, save on car insurance - January 21, 2015

Ask your insurance company for a ‘black box’ for your car

Several weeks ago, my insurance company made an irresistible offer: if I agreed to install a tiny gadget in my car, they would reduce my car insurance premiums.

I agreed, and they sent me a little data monitoring ‘black box’.  It took under a minute to install, and it sends info about my driving habits to my insurance company (specifically hard braking, sudden accelerations and total distance driven).  In return, my premiums have dropped by 5%, and depending on how I drive, they may drop by as much as 25%.  I get a weekly report card by email, which serves as a regular incentive to do better.

But I’m saving on gas too, because the driving habits the insurance company likes best – gentle starts and stops – also give me the best mileage.  It’s well known that gentle driving can improve mileage by as much as 20%.

So – if you’d like to save on gas and insurance, contact your provider and ask for a ‘black box’ for your car.  (Read a column with more detail on this here.)

Forego high-energy hairstyling... - January 7, 2015

If possible, avoid using that hair dryer

Looking good is an important priority, and the morning routine of many people involves a hair dryer.

Alas, hair dryers use a lot of energy: many use over 1500 watts, which is enough electricity to light over 100 CFL or LED light bulbs (IE enough to power every light in three average houses, all at once).  In fact, the European Union is considering new regulations to outlaw high-wattage hair dryers as part of a larger effort to save energy and fight climate change.

So what to do if you’d like to save energy but would still like your hair to look nice?

·        Good: reduce the amount of time you use a hair dryer

·        Good: choose a lower wattage hair dryer the next time you need to replace yours

·        Better: use a low heat setting if your dryer has one

·        Better still: use a no-heat setting (that blows room-temperature air) if your dryer has one

·        Best of all: see if you can live without a hair dryer

'Tis the season of... - December 24, 2014


A few years ago, a friend sent me an image of a plastic spoon, with this caption:

"It's pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to 1) extract oil from the ground; 2) ship it to a refinery; 3) turn it into plastic; 4) shape it appropriately; 5) truck it to a store; 6) buy it; and 7) bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just... wash the spoon when you're done with it."

So have loads of fun this holiday season - but why not strive to use less disposable cutlery, plates, cups and napkins?

Common sense on a date - December 10, 2014

“Best Before” doesn’t mean “Unsafe After”

In Canada, “best before” dates are required on all food products with a shelf life of 90 days or less.  Most of us put great trust in them, with good reason – they give us an indication of a product’s quality and freshness.  However, “best before” dates may also cause us to waste more food (and grocery money) than necessary because many of us have come to unconsciously interpret them as “unsafe after” dates.

That’s not the case.  According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “You can buy and eat foods after the "best before" date has passed.  However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed.  Some of its nutritional value, such as vitamin C content, may also be lost.  Remember that "best before" dates are not indicators of food safety, neither before nor after the date.  They apply to unopened products only.”

There’s plenty of room for interpretation in that advice, and the CFIA also counsels, “when in doubt, throw it out.”  (Read more here and here.)

So what’s the bottom line?  Most of us probably err acutely on the side of caution and throw out much more food than we should.  “Best before” doesn’t automatically mean “unsafe after”.  As with many other areas of life, it’s wise to apply a bit of common sense before acting – especially with something as sacred as food in a world straining to produce enough of it.

Can that thing be fixed? - November 12, 2014

Host a repair café in your neighbourhood

Many things that end up in a landfill these days would have been fixed in an earlier era of greater resourcefulness.  Unfortunately, in today’s society, the default seems to be forget about repairing; just throw it out and get a new one.

But a new trend is pushing back: Repair Cafés, where volunteers who can fix stuff hold an open house and invite their neighbours to bring in broken household items.  They’ll then repair them for free, teaching repair skills in the process.  It’s win, win, win: a community building exercise that helps people save money and keeps stuff out of the landfill.

Repair Cafés originated in Holland in 2007, and there are now hundreds of them in 15 countries, including a dozen in Canada.  Why not start one in your neighbourhood?  You can get everything you need at, plus some additional tips here.

Thanks to David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, Lindsay Coulter, for sharing this tip.

Rein in that big energy hog in your home! - October 29, 2014

How to spend less on your clothes dryer

Nothing in a home uses more power than a clothes dryer when it’s running.  Most dryers use over 3000 watts when operating; some use over 5000 watts.  (For comparison, an energy-efficient CFL or LED light uses about 13 watts.)  A load a day will add $100 to your power bill over a year.  But there are plenty of ways to reduce that:

·        Clean the lint screen after every load (scrub it every now and then if you use dryer sheets; they leave a film on the screen) and use your vacuum cleaner to clean underneath the screen periodically, to keep air moving easily through the dryer
·        Periodically clean the vent pipe that leads from the back of your dryer to the outdoors, and inspect the outlet for lint or other obstructions
·        Don’t overdry clothes: if your dryer has an automatic moisture sensor, use it.  And use a cool down cycle to allow residual heat to finish drying clothes; some dryers do that automatically on certain cycles (IE permanent press)
·        Do loads consecutively to take advantage of remaining heat from an earlier load
·        Dry full – but not overfull – loads
·        Use dryer balls (or even tennis balls) to allow air to move more freely between clothes as they tumble, allowing them to dry faster
·        Dry lighter materials separately from heavier materials; they’ll be dry much sooner that way
·        Don’t add wet clothes to loads that are already partially dried
·        Remove clothes from the dryer while they are still slightly damp to save energy and reduce the need for ironing

And for 100% savings, use a drying rack or a clothesline!  (A bonus: clothes tend to last longer that way too!)

Time to install those ‘winter bulbs’ - October 15, 2014

Take advantage of cool weather to burn out those last incandescent light bulbs

If you still have some incandescent light bulbs hanging around and are unsure what to do with them, here’s a suggestion: use them only during the heating season.

In these days of efficient bulbs, that sounds counterintuitive, but here’s the story.  Of all the energy used by incandescent light bulbs, only about 10% actually produces light; the rest is lost as heat.  In warmer months of the year, that heat is unneeded and therefore wasted.  And in hot months, it’s even worse: that waste heat from light bulbs makes air conditioners work much harder.

But during cooler months, when heating systems are operating, the waste heat from incandescent light bulbs is actually useful: it allows heaters to run less.

So if you have some leftover old incandescent light bulbs, consider installing them just during the cool months, when their waste heat is not wasted.  

An important clarification: there’s no question that efficient light bulbs are the way to go – compact fluorescents or, even better, LEDs.  This is only a strategy to work through any remaining incandescent bulbs.  If you happen to be in New Brunswick, take advantage of this great promotion on efficient light bulbs.

(Quick insider note: my Mom has some old long-life incandescent light bulbs that, true to their name, refuse to burn out.  So installing her ‘winter bulbs’ has been part of our Thanksgiving routine for several years now, and removing them is part of the Easter routine…)

Swap and save at Halloween - October 1, 2014

Save by planning a costume swap

If you have young children, you know the excitement Halloween brings.  A few years ago, I overheard my sons enthusiastically planning their costumes – in late August!

This year, instead of buying a new costume for your little one(s), why not plan a costume swap with friends or neighbours, or at your school or church?  It makes sense for several reasons:

·        It will save you money

·        It reduces the need for manufacturing more ‘stuff’, and all the environmental consequences that come with that

·        It offers the chance to get more use out of something that might otherwise be worn only once

·        It offers an option for affordable costumes to those without the means to buy new ones for their kids each year

Know someone with a child the same age as yours?  Involved at your school or church?  Why not organize a costume swap, one-for-one or larger?  This article about an annual swap held in Toronto can help with the planning and logistics.

(PS Of course, the old fashioned way of dressing up – with makeup and old clothes you already have – is even more cost-effective and eco-friendly.)

Thanks to David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, Lindsay Coulter, for sharing this tip.

Sharing, an old idea with new relevance - September 17, 2014

Set up a neighbourhood sharing network

True story: I was working outside earlier this week when a neighbour stopped by.  “Do you have a chain saw?” she asked.  “I’ve got a new wood splitter and I’ll lend it to you if you can cut up a few trees for me.”  (Like many of us here, she’s still cleaning up from Hurricane Arthur two months ago.)

It was a timely exchange: not only is sharing is nice thing to do, but it’s also a sustainable thing to do.  Most of the stuff we own sits idle 95+ percent of the time; in fact, it’s said that the average drill gets used less than 20 minutes over its entire life.

Sharing makes sense for many reasons:

·        Less stuff needs to be manufactured; that equals a reduced carbon footprint

·        Less stuff needs to be purchased; that equals savings

·        Less stuff needs to be stored

·        Less stuff ends up in the trash

·        You get to know your neighbours better

So the next time you need a tool of some sort – whether a wood splitter, chain saw, ladder or just about anything else – why not head for the neighbours instead of the store?  Share!

Pour some sunshine into your cell phone - September 3, 2014

Get a solar charger for your phone!

Most of us rely heavily on our cell phones.  But what happens when a ready source of power isn’t available to charge them - IE when you’re out in the wilderness, or when the power goes out (as happened at our home for eight days thanks to Hurricane Arthur)?

Solar power to the rescue!  Small, lightweight chargers for phones and similar electronic devices are now widely available.  True, cell phones don’t consume a lot of energy – but every little action makes a difference.  And who knows when a solar charger may help you out in a fix?

You can buy online or at many electronics shops.  But before you do, here’s a quick lesson on what to consider when buying a solar charger, plus reviews of some of the best.

Simple laundry savings! - August 20, 2014

Tips for saving when washing your clothes

Here are four easy ways you can save on laundry day:

·        Big savings: choose a cold water detergent (like Dizolve and numerous others) and use cold water instead of hot

·        Wait until you have a full load; washing machines are most efficient when operated full

·        Don’t overdose with detergent; read instructions and measure carefully.  (Many detergents come with measuring cups that hold more soap than needed for a load... sneaky tactic, eh?)  

·        Big savings: use a clothesline instead of a dryer.  No way around it: dryers are huge energy hogs.

No need for extra heat in August! - August 6, 2014

Tips for saving when cooking

I’m no baker, but even I know stoves get really hot and use a lot of energy.  Here are seven tips to help you save while cooking and baking, and perhaps keep your kitchen a bit cooler this summer:

·        Cut foods and veggies into smaller pieces because they’ll cook faster

·        Keep lids on pots and pans to help speed up cooking

·        Use a microwave oven instead of a stove when possible

·        Resist the urge to open the oven door for a peek while something’s baking because the oven temperature can drop by 25 degrees F and you get an unwanted blast of heat in your kitchen; instead, use the oven light and window to check on progress

·        Save a lot by baking multiple foods in the oven at the same time

·        Use glass or ceramic dishes: they hold heat better, and you can lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees F

·        Don’t preheat the oven unless specifically called for in the recipe, and turn it off a few minutes before your food is done

Happy summer cooking and baking!

The dirt on dry cleaning - July 23, 2014

Avoid dry cleaning if possible

Dry cleaning isn’t really ‘dry’; it’s just that chemical solvents are used instead of water to remove stains.  The solvents work well, but they aren’t very environmentally friendly – particularly to groundwater if they are spilled.

So here are three ideas for using less dry cleaning:

·        If possible, buy clothes you can wash in regular laundry

·        If possible, seek out a company that uses a newer process called ‘wetcleaning’ which has less environmental impact

·        Consider wearing clothes more than once between cleanings

You’ll save money and do a good thing for the environment!  (For more information, read this excellent factsheet from the US EPA.)

Save on power when you're away - July 9, 2014

Turn Things Off When You Go On Vacation

Finally - summer's here, and for many of us that means vacation.  You can save money and energy while you're away by turning off or unplugging as many things as possible.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Hot water heater: why pay to keep water hot when you won't be using it?  Most hot water heaters can will heat a full tank in a few hours at most, so just turn it on when you get back and you'll likely not even notice a difference
  • Electronics: many electronics still use a bit of power when they are not on but are still plugged in, and collectively they add up.  So pull the plug on as many of them as you can before you go.  (IE entertainment electronics, cordless phones, even garage door openers)
  • Water main valves: not so much an energy saver as peace of mind, because a leak or burst can make quite a mess when no one is around

Enjoy your summer break, whatever it is - and turn things off before you go to get a break on your power bill too!

Bug off, nicely - June 25, 2014

A better insect repellent

For many of us, summer means mosquitoes, black flies and other annoying pests.  Most commercial repellents contain Deet as their active ingredient.  It’s approved by Health Canada, but with some cautionary words – like “prolonged use should be avoided in children under the age of 12.”  (More from Health Canada here.)

If you’d prefer an alternative you can make yourself with a few basic ingredients, here’s a recipe courtesy of Green Ideas subscriber Dab Napthine in Nova Scotia:

·        In a 16 oz bottle, combine 15 drops lavender oil, 3-4 tablespoons of vanilla extract and 1/4 cup lemon juice

·        Fill bottle with water

·        Shake!

Voila - ready to use as a topical spray!  Thanks for the tip Dab!

Help keep our food chain buzzing - June 11, 2014

Simple ways you can help bees

Bees are among the most important and hardest workers on the planet, pollinating an estimated one third of human food crops.  But their numbers have been declining in recent years.  Experts suspect diseases and parasites; exposure to pesticides; loss of habitat and food sources as land is converted from native vegetation to fields, lawns, subdivisions and cities; and a shifting climate are responsible.  

Here are ways you can help bees and other pollinators:

·        Avoid the use of pesticides, particularly insecticides.  When pesticide use is unavoidable, apply in the evening after bee activity has stopped; use products with lower toxicity to bees; and avoid spraying during flowering periods when bees are most active.

·        Help build bee populations by providing habitat and a continuous food supply.  Manicured lawns provide neither food nor habitat, so why not convert a corner of your property into a cluster of clover and other wildflowers (no mowing required!).  Consider planting a spectrum of perennials that flower all summer long; your garden center can advise you on bee preferences.

·        Create bee habitat by making a bee house or bee bath: perfect projects for kids and their parents!

Let’s not take our bee friends for granted – they’re workers we depend on!

Reduce packaging by buying in bulk… - May 28, 2014

…and save in the process!

If you’re a meticulous recycler, most of what ends up in your trash probably falls into one category: packaging.  Chip bags, candy wrappers, the bags inside cereal boxes, oatmeal packages and more: not recyclable.

One way to avoid some of that packaging is to buy bulk, either at a bulk food store or in the bulk section of your regular supermarket.  True, not all products are available in bulk, but many are.  And, true, you’ll need some sort of packaging, but usually that’s a soft plastic bag: a material that is perfectly recyclable (it’s in the same recycling category as plastic shopping bags).

So, the next time you have a choice, why not choose bulk?  You’ll use less packaging; what you use is recyclable; and you’ll likely save money since bulk food is usually cheaper than the packaged, brand name stuff!

Check your cupboards or visit your neighbours - May 14, 2014

Resist the urge to run to the convenience store for every little need

There’s no doubt that convenience stores are convenient.  But they come with three price tags:

·        Because they are always there and always open, they are a safety net we easily learn to depend upon; they remove the need for us to plan ahead.

·        Products are more expensive than they would be if purchased from a grocery store.

·        Convenience stores often involve stepping into a vehicle and going for a ride (and the cost of that trip often is greater than the cost of purchases).

The next time you run low on something and feel tempted to zip out to a convenience store, why not consider these two alternatives:

·        Check your cupboard, and improvise with what you have on hand

·        Visit a neighbour to see if you can borrow what you need.  (Comes with social fringe benefits too!)

Both of these alternatives (drawn from a great book I’m reading, Your Money or Your Life) fall within the definition of ‘resourcefulness’, a skill our grandparents knew well, and something we’d probably do well to rediscover.

Pick up that plastic - April 30, 2014

Keep plastic out of our waterways

Plastic is a blessing and a curse: it’s very durable for our everyday uses, but VERY persistent in the environment.  As well, because plastic is so light, it floats in water and is very prone to getting blown around by the wind.

As a consequence, littered plastic often ends up in our oceans – carried there by waterways and the wind – where it remains for a LONG time.  (Google “great Pacific garbage patch” to learn just how serious an issue this is.)  I first learned about this problem while canoeing in early spring several years ago – an otherwise pristine stream had more than its share of plastic floating around in it.

So at this time of year, when litter is emerging from under winter snow, the wind is blustery and waterways are running fuller than usual with meltwater, please help keep plastic out of our oceans by picking up whatever littered plastic you can.

That’s it; just pick up some plastic!

The difference a good tire makes - April 16, 2014

Save with Low Rolling Resistance Tires

If you’re in the market for new tires, look for Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) tires.  Here’s why.

When you drive, your tires flex a bit at the point where they make contact with the road, and then relax back into shape while they are not contacting the road.  The friction of this continuous flexing and relaxing is called Rolling Resistance.  It creates heat in the tire (touch a tire after a trip and you’ll feel the warmth), and makes your engine work harder to turn the tire and move your vehicle – thus affecting fuel economy.

Today, many manufacturers offer Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) tires, which can improve fuel efficiency by 4%.  That may not sound like much, but that can amount to $100 saved over the life of a tire – meaning the tires virtual pay for themselves!

Unfortunately, no standard or certification has yet emerged to identify LRR tires.  (Goodyear and Canadian Tire have their own logos; Bridgestone has a brand and Michelin has a neat one-minute video demonstrating Low Rolling Resistance.)  However, ask for them the next time you shop for tires – good for you, your wallet and the environment!

Can you spot the LED? - April 2, 2014

LED light bulbs, the next big thing in home lighting

When it comes to lighting, many of us are reluctant to let go of those old incandescent because we like the soft, warm light they give.  (Plus they come on instantly.)  Well, take a look at this picture and see if you can pick out which bulb is the incandescent and which is an LED.

They’re very similar, but there’s one big difference: the incandescent is using 60 watts of power (and is blistering hot) while the LED is using just 9.5 watts.  Plus LED light bulbs last as long as 25 incandescent bulbs, so they may well be the last bulbs you’ll ever have to buy – or change.  They’re more expensive to buy, but far cheaper overall because of their long life and efficient operation.  And if you happen to live in New Brunswick, now is the perfect time to switch to LEDs: there’s a discount of $6/bulb for the month of April; details here.

So choose LED light bulbs – like the one on the left.  (It’s a Cree soft white ENERGY STAR.)

A second life for your milk bags - March 19, 2014

Reuse milk bags for food storage and freezing

Of the three Rs, Reduce is the most important (by far, actually).  But Reusing is important too, and the bags that milk comes in are a great example.  They’re made of a sturdy #4 plastic so they are recyclable.  However, if sliced open at the top and washed out, they’re perfect candidates for Reuse, and that’s even better than Recycling.

For example, milk bags are great for storing food like half an onion or an open package of cheese in the fridge.  And, because they’re thick and tough, they’re excellent as freezer bags.  We use them that way in our home – for squash, beans, chilli and more – and we save because we never need to buy freezer bags.

So why not Reuse those milk bags?  You’ll save a bit of money, and do a good thing for the planet!

Is it really that urgent? - March 5, 2014

When possible, use regular mail instead of overnight courier services

I remember the bold lettering written across the last courier package I received: “EXTREMELY URGENT”.  But, honestly, the package really wasn’t very urgent.

When it comes to delivery services, it seems that many of us by default look to overnight courier services.  That’s too bad, because even though such services are very convenient, they have a huge carbon footprint.  For example, FedEx is one of the biggest airlines in the world – far bigger than Air Canada, British Airways, Lufthansa or Air France.  Instead of passengers, FedEx delivers hundreds of tonnes of packages every day.  FedEx also has nearly 100,000 delivery trucks.  So you get the picture – huge carbon footprint.  (And I don’t mean to pick on one company; FedEx’s competitors would have a similar profile.)  And much of what’s delivered truly isn’t that urgent.

So the next time you need to ship a document or package, or purchase something on line, why not reconsider whether it’s really urgent and ship via plain old regular mail?  It’s probably cheaper, and it’s definitely better for the planet.

From Powerless to Powerful - February 19, 2014

Small steps to solutions

Not long ago, I attended a climate change lecture given by a leading Canadian author and academic.  When he was asked what it would take to fix the challenges we face, he answered without hesitation: “Thousands in the streets.”

I’m guessing most Green Ideas subscribers are like me: concerned, not entirely sure about how we can make the biggest difference, uncomfortable with the prospect of being a so-called ‘activist’ – IE one of those thousands in the street – and unsure where to start.  If that sounds like you, here are a few online communities you might wish to check out:

1.     Avaaz, described as the world’s largest and most powerful online activist network.  Avaaz “empowers millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues, from corruption and poverty to conflict and climate change.”

2.     Leadnow, “an independent advocacy organization that brings generations of Canadians together to achieve progress”.  Started by a few youths in 2011, Leadnow has grown to include 300,000 Canadians.  Its focus is on climate change and strengthening Canada’s democracy.

3.     PowerShift, a grassroots-driven online community to help young people organize, collaborate and “advance our vision of a clean, just and sustainable future.”  Young people in Atlantic Canada might want to check out PowerShift Atlantic, coming to Halifax March 28-31.

All three are proving that, even when it comes to mouse-clicks, there is great strength in numbers; and that making a difference on important issues need not be complicated, difficult or risky.  Please check them out, and join whichever fits your style!

Planning a winter vacation?  Go Green! - February 5, 2014

Tips for a lower-impact winter vacation

At this time of year, many of us are planning breaks to warmer climates or mid-winter getaways.  If you’re traveling, here are a few ideas for lessening the impact of your holiday:

1.     Choose a Green hotel: look for certifications like Green Key or Green Leaf ratings (the more keys or leaves, the better); or other certifications like Green Globe, Audubon or National Geographic.  (Unfortunately, no global standard has yet emerged.)  And of course, participate in your hotel’s recycling / towel / linen / water reduction programs

2.     Travel light: air travel has a huge carbon footprint and more weight means more jet fuel burned and more emissions.  Consider buying sun block and toiletries at your destination, and why not use the hotel laundry so you can travel with fewer clothes?

3.     Where possible, use public transportation to get around – or rent the most fuel efficient vehicle available.

4.     Before you leave home, unplug electronics that use phantom power; lower your thermostat; and turn off your water heater.

More tips from the US EPA here.  Enjoy your Green holiday!

A greener way on a cold winter day - January 22, 2014

An efficiency Dream Team: block heaters and programmable timers

The depth of winter is upon us, and Baby it’s cold outside!  If your vehicle doesn’t have a block heater, perhaps it’s worth considering.  Block heaters:

1.     Improve fuel economy because your engine is semi-warm when you start it, and therefore runs more efficiently

2.     Reduce emissions because a semi-warm engine will burn fuel more cleanly and produce less toxic emissions like carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides

3.     Extend engine life because semi-warmed oil circulates better and lubricates an engine’s moving parts sooner than thick, cold oil

4.     Enable an engine to warm up quickly – meaning speedier defrosting and a warmer interior

Block heaters are standard equipment on some vehicles, or can usually be installed for a cost of $100-150.

Block heaters do use electricity – typically 400-450 watts, or as much as 30 compact fluorescent light bulbs.  If you plug in your car for 14 hours a night, that will cost $17-19 per month.  But since two hours are long enough for a block heater to warm most engines, one of the best investments you can make is an outdoor programmable timer that will turn your block heater on automatically while you're still sleeping.  Investment?  About $25.  Savings? Over 80%.  Payback?  About 2 months.

A trick to making recycling the easiest option - January 8, 2014

A simple recycling solution

So much of the trash we produce is recyclable, but sometimes recycling is a nuisance: different materials need to be put in different containers, which are often in different locations.  It's a nuisance, and often that nuisance factor is a key reason why recycling programs don't work as well as they should.

So here's a relatively easy solution: a multi compartment container that centralizes trash and recycling in your home or workplace: one container for trash, one for paper, one for other materials.  It's sized to fit neatly into typical under-the-counter cabinets, and it rolls out for easy access to all three bins.  This image comes from Home Depot's website (no endorsement intended) but many stores carry similar models or other models with fewer or more bins.

A simple solution to make recycling easier!

New lights with incredible efficiency! - December 11, 2013

The next lighting revolution: LED light fixtures and panels

In the midst of a home reno this fall, I discovered new, incredibly efficient LED light fixtures.  I took the three pictures below yesterday:

1. the model we're installing (no endorsement intended).  It's surface mounted (not recessed into the ceiling like a pot light) but only about 5 cm thick.    

2. what the light looks like: a warm glow, just like an incandescent light.  (If you're into the technical side of light colors, these are 3000K.)

3. the reading from my power meter when I measured how much electricity the fixture uses.  It produces almost as much light as a conventional 60 watt bulb, but uses just 11 watts – an incredible 82% saving.

There are no light bulbs; the LEDs are part of the fixture, and the fixture is permanently installed by an electrician.  With a rating of 50,000 hours, LED fixtures are designed to last as long as your house.  New lighting panels are available too, for commercial buildings; learn more in this 90 second video (again, no endorsement intended).

If you're building or renovating, forget about installing conventional lights – look to incredibly efficient LED light fixtures and panels.

Join the latest lighting revolution - November 27, 2013

Look beyond Compact Fluorescent Lights to LEDs

By now, most people are familiar with Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs), those curly energy saving bulbs.  They've become popular due to the energy savings they offer over old incandescent bulbs – but they're not perfect either: they take a few minutes to warm up, they're quite fragile and like all fluorescent bulbs they contain a tiny trace of mercury.

Light Emitting Diode bulbs, or LEDs, are a newer, far better type of light bulb:

·        They turn on instantly – no warm-up time

·        They have excellent colour quality

·        They work well outdoors and in cold temperatures

·        They're durable

·        They're as efficient as, or more efficient than, fluorescent lighting

·        They last for 25,000 hours (IE 20 years) so say goodbye to the nuisance of changing burnt out bulbs

So consider investing in LEDs when you look for new light bulbs.  They're a bit costlier up front, but when you pro-rate that cost over their lifetime, they provide convenience, efficiency and savings.  (And prices are coming down quickly.)

Read more about LEDs here, and always look for the ENERGY STAR logo when you buy.

Beware of that second price tag! - November 13, 2013

Efficiency, a small investment with a big return

If you were buying a new fridge, which would you choose?

·        Fridge A, which costs $1,000 to buy but consumes $40 a year in electricity; or

·        Fridge B, which costs $750 to buy but consumes $100 a year in electricity?

Here's the quick math on the above choice: after five years, Fridge A would cost a total of $1,200; Fridge B would cost $1,250.  After 17 years (the average life of a fridge), Fridge A would cost a total of $1,680; Fridge B would cost $2,450.  You can see what's happening: the efficient choice may cost more up front, but it's cheaper in the long term.  The fridge that appears cheaper is actually more expensive.

When making a purchase, we often look exclusively at the first price tag – the purchase price – and overlook the second price tag – the operating cost.  But efficiency, particularly in home appliances, is a small investment that pays.  If you're in the market for an appliance, efficiency is the wise choice.

Click to learn more about EnerGuide or ENERGY STAR efficiency ratings.  (Reminder: NBers can save and take advantage of special rebates on energy efficient appliances during the month of November.

Go veggie for a day! - October 30, 2013

Meatless Mondays: healthy, sustainable – and doable!


Meat has a dark side that's very difficult for any meat eater, me included, to acknowledge: it has a large environmental footprint.  That footprint includes:

·        On-farm impacts like emissions from trucks, tractors and both ends of animals, particularly cattle

·        ‘Upstream' impacts from the manufacture and transport of farm inputs like feed and fertilizer (plus, in some cases, deforestation to produce feed)

·        ‘Downstream' impacts from processing, packaging, freezing or chilling, transporting and retailing

It's estimated that it takes about 20 times as much fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of beef versus a calorie of plant protein.  Ouch!

If you're among the many who are not quite ready to commit to a 100% vegetarian or vegan diet, why not try going Meatless on Mondays?  It's a simple lifestyle change that can have a huge positive impact, and it's a lot easier than you think!  Here's a 2 minute video of recipes, and here's a website with info, recipes, networking opportunities and more.

See you in the veggie burger lineup next Monday, or any day!

How are you spending your Life Energy? - October 16, 2013

Are your consumption habits dictating your lifestyle?

In Your Money or Your Life, authors Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez invite readers to:

·        Track every penny they spend for a month, and then tally those figures into spending categories like food, entertainment, vehicle payment, vehicle expenses, mortgage, clothing, etc. (it's possible to estimate, but honest tracking is much more accurate and revealing)

·        Determine what their net (IE after taxes and deductions) hourly income is

·        Calculate how many hours of work it is taking to pay for each of those spending categories

Here's the key point: when we earn money, we are trading our time – our precious life energy, and the only commodity we have that is exclusively ours – for dollars.  A simple exercise like this can help us realize just how much of our (irreplaceable) time we are trading away for the things we consume – and whether, upon reflection, those things are worth that time they are taking from us.

Today, it seems so many of us are busy to the point of making ourselves unhappy and unwell.  Perhaps working through the above three steps can help us reflect, step back and reassign our precious life energy to things that are more important, more meaningful and more fulfilling.  That's my hope for Canadian Thanksgiving Day.

(For more about Life Energy, check out Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel.)

Efficiency in the kitchen - October 2, 2013

Simple cooking and baking practices to save money and energy

The stove is probably the biggest energy user in our kitchen; there's a reason for that massive power cord!!  But a few simple techniques can help most cooks save in the kitchen:

·        Use reflective foil drip pans under stovetop elements; in addition to catching spills, they reflect more heat up to where you want it

·        Use a microwave where possible; it uses less than a quarter of the energy of a conventional oven to do the same job

·        A small pot on a big element wastes nearly half of the element's heat, so match the pot size to the element size

·        Preheat ovens only when necessary; except for baking, most foods can be cooked without heating (and the oven is the biggest energy user in a stove)

·        Turn things off a few minutes before cooking is done, and ‘coast' to completed cooking; ovens can be turned off 15-20 minutes early

For many more similar kitchen tips, visit here.

Help eliminate trash at school - September 18, 2013

Reduce packaging waste with reusable containers

Food packaging is a big part of school waste streams:

·        Many materials used in food packaging are not very recyclable: foil wrappers; waxed liners, papers and cardboard; plastic/paper blends that are impossible to separate; and more

·        Even packaging materials that are recyclable (like plastic sandwich bags) are rarely actually recycled, due to lack of sorting facilities or recycling programs, or because of issues of cleanliness

·        Individually packaged single portions are especially trash-intensive

So what to do?  You can reduce lunch trash AND lunch costs by investing in:

·        A few reusable plastic containers (it's wise to forego the cheap ones and invest in top quality)

·        A spork, a reusable utensil that is a combination spoon-fork (widely available at sporting and department stores)

·        A reusable lunch box

The trash reduction is obvious; and you can save money when you buy larger portions and split them at home (for example, yogurt).

For many more tips for a better, greener back-to-school, visit the blog of Tovah Paglaro, the David Suzuki Foundation's Queen of Green.

Save money—and the environment—with the fuel-efficient five - September 4, 2013

Fuel-efficient driving techniques

Here are five driving techniques you can adopt to cut your fuel consumption (and emissions) by as much as 25%:

·        Accelerate gently (remember the ‘egg trick' from a Green Ideas earlier this summer?  If not, you can find it here.)

·        Maintain a steady speed

·        Anticipate traffic around you to avoid the need for sudden stops and starts

·        Coast to decelerate: take advantage of your momentum and extend the life of your brakes too

·        Avoid high speeds: optimum fuel consumption happens between 50 and 80 KMH

You don't have to spend a nickel to take advantage of these savings, just change a few driving habits.  For more details, visit the source of this information, Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency.  Read an article with more eco-driving tips here.



Making the magic of summer last all year - August 21, 2013

Five tips for simpler living every day

Ah, summer: long and lazy days, simpler living.  If only all seasons could be that way.

Perhaps they can be.  Here are five tips for simpler living every day, courtesy of Tovah Paglaro, the David Suzuki Foundation's Queen of Green:

1.     Acquire only what you need. And choose used before new.

2.     Buy the best your budget permits. Broken items are wasteful clutter.

3.     Clear out unessentials. Less stuff means reduced dust and improved environmental health. Fewer emails allows more time for baking bread.

4.     Share. The sharing economy connects communities, while cutting back on consumption and clutter.

5.     Donate.

Good for you, good for your community, good for the planet.  The original article elaborates a bit; you can read it here.

Shared wheels - August 14, 2013

Carsharing: an awesome way to save money, energy and the environment

If you're like me, your car accounts for a big share of your emissions and your budget. Globally, there are over a billion cars and light trucks on the road – arg for our pocketbooks, arg for the planet.

Carsharing is a system that enables people to timeshare a vehicle, and it's gaining popularity around the world, including in Canada.  Most carsharing models are pretty straightforward: users pay an up-front membership fee to join, and then another fee based on how much they use a shared vehicle.

The advantages?  No need to buy a car and get locked into monthly payments.  No need for parking, repairs or insurance – all are covered through the program.  And – people who carshare usually end up planning their trips better and driving less; that's good news all around.

Carsharing doesn't work for everyone, but it's perfect for people who can use public transit for everyday commutes, and as an alternative to a second car that is used infrequently.

Interested in learning more?  Here's a list of carsharing programs across North America; and another here.  (A new service is to be launched in Moncton, New Brunswick this fall.)

Manage that rain (or lack of it) - July 24, 2013

Rain barrels and rain gardens

If, like me, you're a gardener whose water comes from a well, no doubt you're reluctant to water your plants during summer dry spells for fear of running the well dry.

Rain barrels to the rescue – park one under your eavestrough, and you'll be amazed at how little rain it takes to fill it.  You can buy rain barrels at garden centers and other stores, or you can just get a used 40 gallon drum.  If you like, it's easy to install a tap with a drill and a few parts from the hardware store.  (Send me a note if you'd like a list of parts.)

This is a ‘home-built' from our home, under the downspout of our garage.  It and two others like it have provided about 99% of the water I've needed for my modest flower and veggie gardens over the past several years.

If your problem is too much rain, consider installing a rain garden to help reduce runoff and erosion.  Here's a great guide from Canada Mortgage and Housing.

With climate change bringing more weather extremes, rain barrels and rain gardens are both great solutions!

Wrap Rage, and what you can do about it - July 10, 2013

Get angry about excessive packaging

Have you ever had Wrap Rage?  Probably, if ever you've bought a product that came in packaging that was:

·        Way bigger than the product itself;

·        Attractive, but completely unrecyclable (or a blend of materials that were impossible to separate for recycling); or

·        Impossible to open without a pry bar, jackhammer or chain saw

Beyond causing grief, excessive packaging causes excessive waste.  Here are two things you can do to fight Wrap Rage:

1.     Make wise choices: when possible, choose products that are more reasonably packaged

2.     Nominate a product for CBC Marketplace's first annual Wrap Rage Awards.  Nominations are now open, and winners will be announced on television next season.  (There's nothing like a little embarrassment to coax a manufacturer to change.)  Learn more about the awards here (one minute video); or submit your nominee – and see David Suzuki's nominee (45 second video) – at CBC Marketplace.  Oh, and my nominee is here (100 second video)

Together, we can put an end to Wrap Rage!

The most unproductive crop we grow - June 26, 2013

Rethinking the lawn

Lawns have been part of our existence for years.  However, in spite of being green in color, they're not especially eco-friendly.  Consider:

·        Over 150 million litres of fuel are burned by Canadian lawn mowers annually

·        Mower engines lack the smog-reducing technology of cars so they produce far higher levels of smog-forming emissions; plus they tend to be pretty noisy

·        Cosmetic pesticides, which tend to affect a whole lot more than their intended targets, are still in use in many areas. (Surely applying poisons in the places your kids play is worth rethinking.)

·        Lawns are often fertilized with energy-intensive chemical fertilizers, and watered (lawn watering can increase summer domestic water use by 50%).  That makes them grow faster, so we can mow them even more!!

Here's a fun and catchy three minute video on the woes of lawns – and here are some practical alternatives:

·        Plant trees and shrubs, which provide many of the same cooling and carbon-absorbing benefits of grass

·        Convert part of the lawn to a veggie garden

·        Choose a drought-tolerant grass, and don't fertilize or water it

·        Convert some lawn into a wildlife garden to attract birds, bees, butterflies and more

·        Consider an electric mower, or if you're a tinkerer, a solar mower

·        Leave clippings on the lawn to recycle nutrients

Summer is way too short to spend it mowing the lawn!

A zero-cost way to knock 10-20% off your fuel bill - June 12, 2013

Take an egg for a drive

Here's a simple, zero cost way to improve your gas mileage by 10-20%: the next time you go for a drive, take an egg and tape it under the toe of your right foot.  Then try to get where you're going without breaking the egg.  It's a simple trick that will produce significant savings, guaranteed.

Here's why.  Much fuel is consumed when we speed up aggressively, and we waste our hard-won momentum when we jump on the brakes aggressively.  It's well documented that gentle starts and gentle stops can save the average driver 10-20%. That's like driving over a month for free every year.

So strap on an egg.  And if you happen not to have one with you the next time you get behind the wheel, good news: it works with imaginary eggs too!

Pleasant-smelling but nasty - May 29, 2013

Why it's wise to avoid commercial air fresheners

Some smells are not very pleasant: trash bins, dirty laundry, washrooms, pets and even kitchen projects gone wrong.  Air fresheners to the rescue, right?

Maybe not.  Commercial air fresheners are big business, but they're not an especially healthy choice.

·        Most contain nasty chemicals like formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.  (According to Health Canada, the biggest indoor sources of VOCs are paints, glues, cigarette smoke and air fresheners.)

·        They must be airborne to work.  In other words, they are designed to be inhaled.

·        They don't eliminate smells, they just mask them.  Some actually use a nerve-numbing chemical that interferes with our sense of smell; others coat our nasal passages with an oily film.  Yuck.

·        They can trigger asthma attacks in some people.  (There's a reason for those workplace signs advocating going scent-free.)

The worst culprits are plug-in and aerosol fresheners.

So what to do?

·        Opt for natural ventilation, especially in spring, summer and fall.  It's lilac season where I live, so it's wonderful to let that great natural fragrance waft in!

·        Use baking soda to absorb smells; if you'd like fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil (available in many stores).  Coffee grounds work well too.

Read more about indoor air quality here, from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Make a soup of it - May 15, 2013

Minimize waste and save on your grocery bill

Food is a very significant part of our carbon footprint:

- it takes energy to produce; that's especially so for meat and other animal products

- it travels long distances to get to our plate

- we often end up wasting A LOT of what we buy at the grocery store (up to one quarter of all the produce we buy, by one estimate)

In a world where we lose so many people to hunger every day, it seems obscene to waste food – so why not use leftovers to make soup?  Here's a blog with loads of ideas for soups and other yummy dishes made from leftovers.  And here's a link to Simply in Season, a favourite cookbook of the chief cook in our household; it's loaded with recipes for healthy living and a healthy planet.  So is the More With Less Cookbook.

And – here's a simple one-pager with suggestions on how to minimize food spoilage.  Happy nibbling!

Don't trash those electronics! - May 1, 2013

The special case of e-waste

Not long after the age of computers came the age of e-waste: unneeded, broken or obsolete electronics.  It's noxious stuff, typically containing toxic materials like lead, mercury, arsenic and chromium.  And we generate an awful lot of it: as much as 50 million tonnes every year, according to the UN.  (In particular, the global transition to flat-screen monitors and televisions has produced a big bump in the amount of e-waste generated.)

It's very important to keep e-waste out of our landfills where it can cause long-term contamination of the surrounding environment – so here are some options:

1.     Reduce, by buying less stuff and by using electronics until they wear out instead of upgrading frequently.

2.     Reuse, by donating your electronics for refurbishment or salvaging of useful parts; in Canada, check out Computers for Schools

3.     Recycle all electronics, to keep their toxins out of the environment.  Click here for programs in New Brunswick; here for programs elsewhere in Canada; and here for the US.

And – you can use Greenpeace's annual Guide to Greener Electronics to help you choose greener electronics brands.

Insulate those pipe - April 17, 2013

Save money by putting foam insulation over your hot water pipes


Often our hot water taps are a long way from our hot water tanks, so we need to run the water for a while until hot water arrives.  But all that cold water ahead of the hot was once hot; it was left stranded in the pipe when the hot water tap was last turned off.  Parked in uninsulated pipes, hot water becomes cold very quickly, representing a loss of energy and a waste of money.  (Hot water heating represents about 20% of the average home's energy bill.)

You can conserve energy and save money by installing foam pipe insulation over the pipes that carry hot water from your hot water tank to all the places it will be used.  It's very cheap - $1 or less a meter.  And it's very simple to install – here's a 2 minute instructional video.

So – insulate those hot water pipes and save!

The carbon footprint of a litre of gas - April 3, 2013

Just how much greenhouse gas does a litre of fuel generate?

We're often told that our vehicles generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, but how are we to know just what that means?

Here's a quick guideline: every litre of gasoline burned produces 2.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide.  That equals about 100 kilograms for a 40 litre fillup (typical for a compact car).

There's more.  The above figure doesn't include emissions from drilling, extracting, transporting and refining that fuel, and then trucking it to the service station where you buy it.  Factor those in, and it's more like 3 kilograms CO2/litre for gas.  If you consume 40 litres per week, that equals over six tonnes of emissions per year.  Many Canadians consume a lot more than 40 litres a week.

Every litre of diesel fuel burned produces 2.7 KG carbon dioxide; a similar 25% premium can be factored in for refining and other upstream emissions.

The bottom line: vehicle emissions ARE a huge part of our carbon footprint.  Why not reduce yours by walking, biking, driving less, driving an efficient vehicle, carpooling and taking transit.

1-800-fix-it-please - March 20, 2013

Call those toll free numbers

Recently, the packaging of my brand of oatmeal changed: it went from a soft plastic bag with a #4 recycling symbol to a bag made from a crinkly type of material labelled with the #7 recycling symbol.  Alas, #7 plastics are a catch-all class of materials that don't fit the other categories; they are for all practical purposes unsortable and unrecyclable.  Trash, hidden behind a recycling symbol.  (More on that here.)

Well, like most consumer products, my oatmeal bag had a toll-free consumer hotline – so I called it and to inquire why a company would change from recyclable to a non-recyclable packaging.  The person on the other end promised to forward my concern to the engineering department.

Alas, my oatmeal still comes in a #7 bag.  But if enough consumers called that toll-free line to question the packaging, I know the folks in the engineering department – and the boardroom – would take note.

Gandhi said, “We must be the change we seek in the world.”  Here's a simple way you can Be The Change: if you come across packaging that is labelled as a #7 plastic or that is an unrecyclable mix of materials (there's plenty of it out there), why not call that toll-free number and make your concerns known?  Enough calls = action and positive change!

Plastic in your soap, by design?? - March 6, 2013

Avoid exfoliating soaps with plastic beads

Imagine designing a product which, when used exactly as directed, releases tiny bits of plastic that can wind up in the ocean and persist for ages.  Crazy, right?

Crazy, but true.  For years, many exfoliating soaps have been laced with plastic microbeads.  They're an abrasive, to remove dead skin particles, but they end up going down the drain.  If they make their way into marine environments (and that's often what happens), they stay – for a long, long time.  Microbeads from exfoliating soap are contributing to the millions of tonnes of plastics swirling about in the world's oceans today.  But they're about the only plastic there by design.  What were they – or we – thinking?

Unilever, the maker of brands like Dove, Vaseline and Pond's, announced in January that it would be phasing out plastic microbeads – but only completely by 2015.  My quick search found no similar commitment by Procter and Gamble, maker of brands like Noxzema and Olay.  So what to do right now?  
•    Look at the ingredients of exfoliating soaps; avoid brands that contain polyethylene, polyacrylamide or “microbeads” or “microcrystals” of unspecified content; look for natural exfoliating ingredients like ground nuts, seeds, fruit, salt and even oatmeal and cornmeal
•    Choose brands that appear on this list compiled by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia
•    Make your own; the same EHANS site has recipes

Happy scrubbing!

A cultural shift - February 20, 2013

Safety is part of our culture; why not sustainability too?

This week's Green Idea truly is an idea: what if sustainability were to become part of our culture at work, home and school, just as safety is now?

Consider: we emphasize safety in just about everything we do.  Anti-slip warnings, fire drills, guardrails, de-icers, vehicle crash tests and much more.  Our emphasis on safety keeps it top-of-mind.

But sustainability is at least as important.  As the Lung Association slogan goes, “When you can't breathe, nothing else matters.”

So imagine the possibilities if we held sustainability to the same level of priority as we do safety, and it became everyone's responsibility?  “We should fix that dripping tap.”  “Let's put a zero-idling policy in place.”  “A programmable thermostat would sure save energy and money.”  “We should be recycling and composting.”  “Let's plan a lunch-and-learn to generate ideas.”

You get the idea: so much is possible, if only we make sustainability a part of our culture every day.  So – let's make it happen, in our workplaces, homes and schools!

A simple phrase to add to your restaurant routine - February 6, 2013

"A glass of tap water, no ice, no straw, please"

I try to make that line part of my routine when ordering at a restaurant, but I forgot once again last week.  So, in the depths of a January freeze, I was served a glass of water that was one-third ice, with a plastic straw that I didn't use.  That means most of the energy and resources that went into my drink were wasted, because they went into things I didn't want.

It seems the default in many restaurants is to serve water with lots of ice (no matter what time of year) and at least one straw.  That's tons of ice and hundreds of thousands of straws, every single day, just in this country.

Perhaps we can do better.  Imagine if all restaurant patrons made the same simple request: tap water, no ice (or one cube if you insist), no straw.  It's only a small thing, but what a difference small actions make when undertaken by many.

So the next time you eat out, why not try to remember, "A glass of tap water, no ice, no straw, please."

The simplest way ever to reduce the carbon footprint of your food - January 23, 2013

Just clean that plate

Back in 1956, the notorious US prison on Alcatraz Island had this simple rule for all inmates: "Take all you want, but eat all you take."

Most of us live in a world of plenty, so it is easy for us to take food for granted and to waste. A report last fall estimated that Canadians waste $27 billion worth of food a year, the majority of it at home. How do we waste? 1) we load our plates up with more than we can eat; 2) we're quick to discard things when they approach their best-before dates; and 3) food is cheap.

Food is a big part of our carbon footprint, and it would seem atrocious to waste it so when nearly a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry.

So perhaps the easiest way ever to reduce the carbon footprint of our food is to simply do what prisoners at Alcatraz were asked to do: don't serve up too much food, and clean your plate.

A resolution of resolve - January 9, 2013

Is climate change a problem of technology or politics?

Truthfully, it's probably both - but these days it may be more of the latter.

These days, we have many technologies available to help us solve the climate crisis - from wind, solar, tide and wave energy; to high-efficiency buildings that produce more energy than they use; to real-time ridesharing via smart-phones.

But solutions don't happen without political will, appropriate policies and strategic funding - all of which seem lamentably scarce these days.

That's where you and I come in. As astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, "Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet."

So - please make it your resolution not to sit this one out. I can't overemphasize how much your involvement, in ways large or small, is needed.  Here's more on the "why" plus some simple suggestions for "how".

Happy New Year 2013 - may it be a pivotal year for climate change action.

Rip ‘em apart and recycle - December 12, 2012

What do coffee canisters, cans for concentrated frozen juice and parmesan cheese containers have in common?

Answer: they all contain steel bottoms (and often tops too) that are recyclable.  But if you want to recycle them, you need to rip them out of the containers – a task usually only hard core recyclers might be inclined to do.

However, there's an easy way any of us can rip the bottom out of a frozen juice can: simply ‘unwind' the cardboard-like side all the way to the bottom of the can, and then tear it free of the steel.  It's hard to explain, but easy to demonstrate… so take a peek at this 2.5 minute video to see how it works.

Then happy separating and recycling!

(Gulp) Christmas is coming - November 28, 2012

Tips for a low-stress, greener Christmas

Christmas may be a boom for the economy, but it's a bust for the planet - from shopping road trips to disposable everything to low quality stuff shipped in from afar.

Here are a few ideas to help you go 'stuff-less' this year:

  •     For the foodie, a share in a local community supported agriculture operation that will provide a weekly box of fresh, local food
  •     Coupons for hair care, gym membership, home cleaning, snow removal, massages or dinner at a local restaurant
  •     For the driver, a printout of "10 Eco-Driving Tips For Everyone" ( that can help the average driver save at least 10% on their fuel bill every day
  •     Homemade items like knitted goods, baking, preserves and crafts


  •     Shop secondhand shops for nearly-new clothing, books, music, electronics, furniture and more at a fraction of their original prices
  •     Make commemorative donations to organizations that share your values: a homeless shelter, food bank, nature trust, animal shelter
  •     Purchase carbon offsets for your friends. Learn more at

More ideas here - and lots of reasons not to go shopping in this one minute video. Happy green holidays!

Thanks to subscriber Alicen Thorne for this Green Idea!

When extreme weather comes to call - November 14, 2012

24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report

2012 has been a year of crazy weather extremes: from the devastating drought that scorched much of North America last summer, to the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, to the 80 mm of rain that caused flooding in my community three weeks ago.

If you're wondering about the link between weird weather and climate change, tune in to 24 Hours of Reality November 14-15. It's a marathon 24-hour program to be livestreamed globally starting November 14 at 8 PM Eastern. It will feature clear, science-based explanations of the link between climate change and extreme weather; climate news from around the world; and solutions. The finale will be presented live from New York November 15 at 7 PM Eastern by Hon. Al Gore.

Watch an 80 second promo here; and watch the event itself here (scroll down for the hour-by-hour schedule). You can watch as much or as little as you like. And please forward the links to your friends and share on your networks!

Vote green with your green - October 31, 2012

Spend your dollars at planet-friendly businesses

One of the best ways to promote sustainability is to spend your dollars at businesses that are making sustainability a priority.  But how to know who's really green and who's not?
Newsweek Magazine has compiled its annual Green Rankings of the 500 largest publicly traded companies on the planet.  You'll recognize some names near the top – like IBM (#4), Marks & Spencer (#10) and Bell Canada (#13) – and some near the bottom, like Exxon (#440), Halliburton (#421) and Suncor (#320).  The list is easily searchable by country or by industry sector.  Check it out here; read about Newsweek's methodology here; and then strive to make sustainability part of your shopping decisions!

Potato bag post-script

Here's a note I received after October 17's Green Ideas: “Potato & sugar bags are acceptable in our green cart compost program in the Fundy Region.  In fact, we encourage people to save the bags and use them to wrap things like meat & bones, or kitty litter before placing them in their cart.  The bags are then composted and returned to gardens and lawns in the region.”  Thanks to subscriber Brenda McCallum for the info!

Some paper is unrecyclable, but that doesn't mean you have to trash it - October 17, 2012

A second life for potato bags, sugar bags and more!

I love potatoes, but unfortunately the paper bags they come in are not recyclable: they're made of a special kind of paper because regular paper is just not strong enough.  The same goes for the packaging of other products like sugar: paper, but not recyclable.  So how to keep them out of the trash stream?

If you have a wood stove, here's an option to consider: rip the mesh window out of your potato bag (because it's not made of paper and definitely shouldn't be burned) and use the bag as a fire starter.  The same can be done for sugar bags.  And if you're ‘hardcore' about reducing the amount of trash you generate, you can also separate out other types of paper that are not recyclable but are good for burning (for example, the waxy paper under pizzas or around sub sandwiches; most cash register tapes), stuff them into your potato bag and voila: an easy way to get your wood stove started.  If you don't have a wood stove, maybe you know someone who does.

Here are a few key points to remember:
•    Please use paper only for starting fires, not as a replacement for well-dried firewood
•    Keep stove emissions low by proper burning practices; Natural Resources Canada's Guide to Residential Wood Heating is a good resource
•    If you're in the market for a stove, choose a model that is EPA-certified for cleaner burning
•    If you're unsure about the recyclability of any type of paper, you can do a quick check on the internet or with local authorities.  (Or send me a note and I'll do my best to help.)

It's true that burning non-recyclable paper is not a perfect solution, but by most accounts it's better than burying it in a landfill.  And – it's a bit of free heat as the heating season nears.

Pause, just for a moment - October 3, 2012

In Thanksgiving

One of the highlights of my year has been meeting Jim Merkel and reading his book, “Radical Simplicity: Small footprints on a finite Earth”.  It's a gentle, thought-provoking guide for living lightly on our fragile, limited planet.  

Jim's take on Radical Simplicity goes far beyond just living with less stuff.  It's also about learning to clear our over-stimulated minds of much of the clutter and anxiety of today's frantic lifestyles, and instead focussing our mental energy on our core values.  It's about reconnecting with what truly sustains us: this planet and its beautiful, complex web of life.  Jim describes once being on a team retreat where everyone, regardless of their personal spirituality, paused for a moment of gratitude, silent or otherwise, before each meal.

On this Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, perhaps that's one of the best things we can do: pause before we eat for just a moment to ponder the people, plants, animals and planet that make our existence and nourishment possible.  We live in a privileged part of the world, and it's good to be conscious of that.  Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Something YOU can have in common with Walmart, TD Bank, Air Miles and many other leading companies - September 19, 2012

Green power within your reach, TODAY!

What do the above companies, plus Royal Bank, BMO, Shaw Communications, Kraft Foods, Nissan, Home Depot and Google have in common?  They run part or all of their operations on green power – sustainable electricity produced from renewable sources.

No, they don't have power plants in their back yards.  They simply buy certified green power from a green energy provider, and have it delivered through the existing power grid.  

And you can too, for your home or business.  Just Google “green energy provider” to find a company that offers service in your area, and then sign up.  There are no wires or switches, and no worries about reliability.  

There is a small premium price for green power, typically a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour.  But if you're keen on green power, hopefully you'll agree it's a small price to pay for being carbon-free.  And – by buying green power, you are creating an incentive for the development of more green power, and helping transform the market.  A really good thing!

Here's a quick overview of how green power works, and here's a link to a leading Canadian provider (in which I have no personal stake, financial or otherwise).

Reducing our most glaring environmental transgression - September 5, 2012

Choose a better way to get the kids to school

For most of us, driving is one of the biggest parts of our carbon footprint. And until we have electric vehicles charged by wind or solar power, it's pretty much impossible to make driving 'green' or sustainable. Every tank of gas equals another 100 KG or more of greenhouse gases emitted.

School's in this week, and that means many of us will be tempted to fall back into the routine of driving our kids to school.  The US National Highway Traffic Administration estimates that 20-30% of morning rush hour traffic is people doing just that. At my son's elementary school last year, the principal counted over 100 vehicles on an average morning - and the school has just 300 students.

Unfortunately, by driving our kids to school, we contribute to inactivity and obesity; we make the streets more dangerous by adding traffic; we waste a fortune in fuel; and we produce tonnes and tonnes of unnecessary greenhouse gases.

As a parent myself, I can appreciate that some parents may be uneasy about letting their little ones walk or bike. But there are many creative ways - such as a 'walking school bus' - to make the trip safe, healthy, fun and eco-friendly. Check out for lots of ideas and resources.

A way to measure your power consumption for free - August 22, 2012

Borrow a power meter from your library

Portable power meters are excellent tools for helping you save on energy, because they measure the power consumption of anything that plugs into a wall outlet.  Your power bill might tell you the total amount of energy consumed in your home, but it doesn't provide any indication of where it was consumed.  How much power does your toaster use? Or your PVR?  Or your hair dryer? 

A portable meter can tell you precisely.  As well, it can help you find phantom power users.  (Phantom power is the trickle of power used by many devices even when they are turned off; it can be eliminated with the use of a power bar.)

Here's some great news: many libraries now have power meters you can borrow like a book.  It's an excellent, zero-cost opportunity to do a little measuring so you can identify ways to lower your energy bills – and do the planet a favour.  It's great fodder for a school science fair project, or to stimulate a family discussion about ways to save energy.

(Of course, you can always buy a meter if you like – they're available in many hardware stores, including here, hereand here.)

Connoisseurs take note - August 8, 2012

Less waste from wine

It would be a HUGE stretch to call me a vintner, but I do enjoy going to a local commercial establishment where I can buy a kit and, with a bit of expert help, turn it into pretty nice wine.  However, I've always been uneasy about even the small amount of waste from wine making and consumption – labels, corks and foil seals.  (Not so much bottles, because they're reused or recycled.) 

If you make wine, here are some small steps you can take to reduce the eco-footprint of your beverage:
•    Forego labelling individual bottles and instead label cases 
•    Skip the foil seals
•    If you use synthetic corks, try not to pierce them all the way through with your corkscrew, and then save them for reuse again and again
•    If you use real corks, compost them and consider using (and reusing) synthetic corks

If you don't make wine but enjoy sipping it:
•    Compost real corks, and save synthetic ones to give to friends who make wine (you might get a gift bottle out of it)
•    Consider the distance wine has travelled and choose the most local one that satisfies your palate
•    If you're hard-core green: make a vineyard's green credentials part of your purchase decision

Some small ways you can say cheers to the planet!

Why it's so important to recycle soft plastic - July 25, 2012

Soft plastic: one of the few products that is truly, completely recyclable

Recycling is a good thing to do.  But it surprises most people to learn that most of what we put into our recycling bins is not actually recycled, it's downcycled: that means it's turned into products of lesser quality or reduced functionality.  (Example: water bottles are downcycled into carpet, not recycled into new water bottles.)

Not so for soft plastic – it can be truly, completely recycled.  As long as it's clean, it can be remanufactured into identical products over and over.

So what's ‘soft plastic'?
•    Grocery and shopping bags
•    Bread bags
•    Milk bags, including the inner bags (as long as they are clean)
•    Anything identified with the recycling logo and “LDPE” or the number 4
•    Most non-crinkly plastic, as long as it's clean

(Note: cling wrap used on food products is not recyclable; but stretch wrap used in warehouses for pallets is)

Plastic is made from petroleum, so every bit recycled means less oil consumed.  Please do your part, and recycle all your soft plastic.

A cooler kitchen and lower energy bills - July 11, 2012

Is preheating the oven before baking really necessary?

I'm no expert on baking, but this I do know: those huge elements in most kitchen ovens take a lot of power.  And they create a lot of heat, which can make a kitchen uncomfortably hot.  Plus, if you have air conditioning, that heat has a double impact on your energy bill because it makes your air conditioner work harder.

So what can you do?
•    Only preheat your oven when truly necessary for recipe success (cakes, pies and breads, according to my cookbook), and try baking other types of food without preheating.  (You'll likely need to experiment and adjust baking times a little, as ovens vary.) 
•    If preheating is necessary, do it “just in time”: turn the oven on just a few minutes before you need it.  If you turn it on when you start to prepare ingredients (as many recipes instruct), it will likely be hot long before you need it, and that's a waste. 
•    Finally, for further savings, turn off your oven 15 minutes or so early, and let it ‘coast' the rest of the way.  As long as you don't open the door, it should complete the cooking just fine.

Read more here.  Happy – and efficient – baking!

(Thanks to subscriber Margo Sheppard for this Green Idea!)

A quick guide to help you avoid pesticides in your food - June 27, 2012

The 'Dirty Dozen' and the 'Clean 15'

Pesticides are an unfortunate reality of conventional food production. They help farmers increase yields and keep food prices low. But that means most produce contains small residual amounts - and some fruits and veggies contain more than others.

How is a shopper to know the difference? The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental organization specializing in toxic chemical research and advocacy, has released its 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The guide ranks 45 types of produce based on results of pesticide residue testing done by the US Department of Agriculture. The Dirty Dozen are the 12 types of produce most commonly contaminated with pesticides; the Clean 15, at the same link, are least likely to be. All the others fall somewhere in between.

Organic food has no residues because it is produced without pesticides, but organic options aren't always available. So check out EWG's full rankings here, and you've got the information you need to make wise produce choices.

(You can read about EWG's methodology here.)

Having fun AND solving our global environmental challenges at the same time - June 13, 2012

19 climate change games that could change the future

Whether it's played on a board or on a screen, just about everyone enjoys a good game.  And great games can bring out a surprising degree of analysis, creativity, strategy and action –the very same traits that make humans uniquely able to overcome big challenges.  Like climate change.
ClimateProgress has compiled a list of 19 computer, role-playing and board games that put players into the heart of energy, economic and development issues that are at the core of climate change.  The list includes:
•    SimCity 5: a new version of the longstanding urban development computer game that incorporates sustainability and active transport
•    Climate Catan: a version of the popular “Settlers of Catan” featuring oil as a resource that fuels development but leads to environmental disaster (AKA reality)
•    “Stabilization Wedge” Game: based on Princeton University's ground-breaking research, offers participants real-world options, choices and tradeoffs for cutting global emissions
Check out the list of all 19 games at
Thanks to subscriber Paul Bulger for this great suggestion and link!

Be a nudgebreaker - May 30, 2012

A sensible, fuel-saving idea in stopped traffic

In stopped traffic, have you ever noticed that when one driver nudges ahead a meter or so, everyone behind usually does the same thing?  It seems we do that in any lineup, whether at the bank, grocery store or airport.

Does this ripple effect get anyone where they're going any sooner?  Well, no.  But everyone does end up burning an extra shot of fuel – and producing an extra puff of greenhouse gas – each time they press the gas pedal to nudge forward.

So why not be the ‘nudgebreaker' the next time you're in stopped traffic, and resist the urge to edge forward?  You'll save fuel for yourself and everyone in the line behind you – and you'll be doing your planet a little favour.

One of the very first Green Ideas from 2008 – worth repeating for a much larger audience!

Keeping Earth in Business - May 16, 2012

1% for the Planet

Have you ever heard of 1% for the Planet?  It's an association of over 1,300 businesses worldwide who put their money where their mouth is by donating at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes.  The reason?  Beyond demonstrating a solid commitment to the environment, it's their way of showing that the marketplace is a key part of the solution to our environmental challenges.  1% for the Planet has been called the ‘gold standard' of corporate philanthropy. 

So – if you're a business, why not join 1% for the Planet here

If you're a consumer, why not try to find what you're looking for from a 1% for the Planet member, here, or buy 1% for the Planet, The Music, on iTunes or Amazon, or encourage your favourite store to join?

Five ways to reduce food waste - May 2, 2012

Prevent ‘refrigerator rot', save money and do a good thing – all at the same time!

From the readers of Slate magazine, here are five ways you can save on your food bill and reduce waste at the same time:

1. Create and stick to a shopping list: so that you don't overbuy, especially perishable produce

2. Buy food with cash instead of on credit: to resist the urge to buy too much or to buy impulse items

3. Stick to a single cuisine: so that your leftovers don't look like the United Nations in a fridge

4. Limit your ‘experimental purchases' like exotic produce: they usually have a big carbon footprint, and can easily spoil before you figure out how to cook them

5. Schedule one night a week as leftover night: to use up all those leftovers

You can check out Slate's full list of food-saving tips here.

Another reason to love a sunny day - April 18, 2012

Is a solar hot water system in your future?

I love sunny days – and this picture shows another reason why:
That's the temperature gauge on our home's solar hot water tank yesterday (April 21).  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the solar system – which pre-heats water going into our electric hot water heater – was working so well it actually made the water hotter than my electric tank normally heats it!  In other words, free hot water from the sun.  The system works every month of the year, but works best in the spring, summer and fall.

My hot water is not entirely free, of course, because the solar system wasn't free.  But many energy efficiency programs offer incentives to help bring the investment down.  And because sunlight is free, solar hot water offers protection against rising power rates.

Here's a link to Thermo-Dynamics, the Atlantic Canadian company that manufactures systems like mine.

Rediscover a fast, efficient, money-saving way to cook better food - April 4, 2012

Rediscover pressure cookers

Years ago, pressure cookers were a popular way to prepare food - and maybe it's time for a comeback!  Here's why:

·         Fast: pressure cookers can cook food in 1/3 the time ovens, microwaves or other stovetop methods would take.  (That's because of a basic law of physics: the pressure raises the boiling point of water, and that hotter temperature makes for quicker cooking.)

·         Efficient: quicker cooking means you can reduce your cooking energy costs by 2/3.

·         Better nutrition: pressure cookers allow you to cook with less fat and oil, and they can help food retain more nutrients and flavours.  

·         Less waste: many pressure cooker recipes offer great ways to use leftovers rather than throwing them out.

Pressure cookers won't work for every dish, but they're excellent for staples like rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, soup, meat, veggies and more.  Many of them even come with recipe books to help you get started!  And here's a quick four-minute video of pressure cooker basics.

An especially offensive disposable - March 21, 2012

Stamp out Styrofoam

Cups, plates and other products made of polystyrene (IE Styrofoam) show up at parties everywhere.  But maybe it's time to tell them they're not welcome anymore.  Consider:

·         Polystyrene is made of petroleum.  ‘Nuff said.

·         Polystyrene is non-biodegradable; it persists for a long time in the environment.  It's especially troublesome in the ocean, where it doesn't break down but just breaks up into small pieces which then enter the marine food chain.

·         Polystyrene is bulky, so it fills up landfills – meaning new landfills are needed sooner.  That bulkiness also means more garbage bags and more trips for the garbage truck.

·         Polystyrene is recyclable – but don't be fooled.  Because it's so bulky, it's expensive to transport and very few jurisdictions actually do recycle it; most just dump it into the landfill.

The best solution?  The first of the three Rs – reduce – is once again the best strategy.  Try to avoid using disposables altogether, but when their use is unavoidable, choose paper products instead: at least they're compostable or recyclable.

Save money, energy – and WORK! - March 7, 2012

Dare to wear clothes more than once between washes

By habit, most of us are accustomed to throwing all our clothes into the laundry after we've worn them once.  But unless we work in situations where we sweat a lot or get physically dirty, most of us could easily get away with wearing clothes at least twice between washings.  The advantages are MANY:

1.    Clothes will last longer, because washing is a pretty punishing process
2.    Clothes washers and dryers will last longer because they'll be doing fewer loads
3.    Much less detergent will be used
4.    Much less water – particularly that energy-intensive hot water – will be used
5.    Less dryer use means lots of electricity will be saved, because a single dryer uses as much power as 350 CFL light bulbs
6.    IMPORTANTLY: wearing clothes more than once will greatly reduce your washday workload!

So – to save money, energy and work, dare to wear your clothes more than once between washes.  (Logical exceptions: socks and underwear)

A disease we need to eliminate - February 22, 2012

Cut out unnecessary idling to save money, energy and the environment

The disease: It's the Idling Disease, still commonly seen in driveways, parking lots and drive-throughs. 

The prognosis
: According to Natural Resources Canada, Canadians burn over 2 million litres of gas every day idling in winter and over a million litres every day in summer.

The potential
: If every Canadian idled just 3 minutes less per day, we would save 640 million litres of gas a year.

The cure
:  1) The best way to warm up your vehicle in winter is to drive it, not to let it idle;  2)  Even on the coldest day, 2-3 minutes of idling is enough time for an engine's oil to circulate; then you're good to go.  (Personal note: I still go by the old rule of 30 seconds and have never had a hint of car trouble.);  3.  When an engine is warm, idling for over 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more CO2 than restarting your engine.

A SURE cure
:  One business owner I know has developed an interesting way to demonstrate he's serious about his company's zero-idling policy: he just takes the keys out of any company vehicle found idling.  No words needed when the wrongdoer sheepishly visits his office to retrieve them...

Spread the cure
:  Start a campaign in your workplace, school or community, or even the local coffee shop.  NRCan's Idle Free Zone website offers awesome resources (including FAQs, videos, signage and more) for individuals, businesses and communities

A new holiday? - February 8, 2012

Take part in National Sweater Day tomorrow (February 9)

One of the biggest slices of Canada's carbon footprint comes from heating homes and workplaces – because most Canadian heating systems run on fossil fuels or fossil fuel-based electricity.  And one of the easiest ways to reduce that footprint is really simple: just turning a thermostat down 2°C can reduce heating bills by 5%.  Turning it down by 4°C saves 10%.  Savings just don't come easier than that!

What about comfort?  Perhaps it's time to fall in love again with that sweater your Grammy gave you.  In support of that notion, tomorrow is National Sweater Day – designed to encourage Canadians to wear a sweater and turn down the thermostat.  An initiative of the World Wildlife Fund, it has a fun side too – you can call ‘the Granny Call Centre' to learn more about why you should wear that sweater.  More info and a fun video at

So please spread the word among your colleagues: wear a sweater and turn down the heat on the planet!

(PS: When it comes to climate change policies, I find myself frequently disappointed by our current federal government – but I KNOW our Prime Minister has what it takes to participate in this campaign...)

Environmental inspiration from across Canada - January 25, 2012

"What will be your environmental story for 2012?"

Bullfrog Power, a green energy supplier, asked that question of its customers last month, and they answered in droves: from individuals to huge companies like Walmart; from non-profits to large municipalities; and more.

And what kinds of things are they pledging?

  •     "To reduce household trash to one bag per person per year"
  •     "To join a co-operative, to buy used goods and to 'free-cycle' what I don't need"
  •     "To buy carbon offsets for all our air travel" (from a musical group)
  •     "To eliminate single-use boxes on most orders and save 76,000 boxes" (from a mail order company)
  •     "To be 100% supplied by renewable energy, and a zero-waste company" (from Walmart!!)

That's just the start.  Read more - and be inspired, as I was - at Bullfrog's website.  Then plan your 2012 environmental story!

Try to use less pish-pish - January 11, 2012

… I mean windshield washer fluid

Tis the season of pish-pish.  (That's my wife's nickname for windshield washer fluid.)  On cool winter days when busy roads are wet with slush, we use the stuff almost constantly as we drive.

Most windshield washer fluids contain methyl alcohol.  The good news is that it biodegrades quickly in the soil or evaporates readily in the air.  The bad news about methyl alcohol is:
•    Most of it is produced synthetically from – you guessed it – fossil fuels
•    In its raw form, it is both poisonous and flammable (and windshield washer jugs have ‘Danger' logos as evidence of that)
•    Once evaporated, it contributes to the formation of smog
•    We release SO MUCH of it across North America – imagine the millions and millions of litres every winter

What to do?
•    Look for windshield washer that is made from plant-based ethanol (though it too has its issues)
•    If possible, increase the distance between yourself and the vehicle ahead of you to minimize spray; drive in the driest part of your lane to reduce the spray you generate for the vehicle behind you; and avoid rush hour traffic if that's an option.  As well, strive to use only the amount of fluid you need each time you wash the windshield.  But please use good judgement, and NEVER compromise road safety!!

One Guiding Thought for 2012 - December 28, 2011

Strive to lighten your load on our planet in whatever way you can

Several years ago, I completed an on-line quiz about my footprint on the planet. It asked questions about how I live - house, vehicle, driving, food, waste and more - and then calculated how much land it takes to sustain my lifestyle.  I was shocked when it told me that if everyone on the planet lived like me, we'd need four planets.  I've worked really hard since then to reduce my footprint - but more recently I discovered that that ratio applies to all Canadians, right now: if everyone on the planet lived like us, we'd need four planets.

Of course, there is only one: this fragile, beautiful, precious and irreplaceable planet.

So perhaps the best New Years resolution any of us can make is this: to strive to use less of everything, in whatever way we can.

Here's to a happy - and sustainable - 2012 for all!

Make memories, not garbage, this Christmas - December 14, 2011

A trash-free holiday

For most of us, Christmas is a wonderful time for family, friends and gifting. But unfortunately, there's also a downside to Christmas: junk that's often in the landfill by Easter, and the biggest pickup day of the year for the trash man. So this year, why not give the trash man - and your planet - a break?

The Clean Bin Project is a wonderful initiative by three young Canadians to try to produce zero trash for a year. Their website has many litterless gift ideas for the holidays, such as:

  •     Tickets to a theatre, music performance or movie
  •     Passes to a gym or museum
  •     Classes
  •     Outdoor experiences such as snowshoeing or horseback riding
  •     Massages or other health and wellness experiences
  •     House cleaning services
  •     Homemade consumables
  •     Secondhand items

Read more great ideas here, to help you create more memories and less garbage this Christmas.

And: a one minute video on how to avoid bad gift giving (hint: you could end up adopting a coral reef!).

Light up your night without running up your bill - November 30, 2011

Nightlights that use virtually no power

If you like having a little bit of light in your home at night, you can save by switching to electroluminescent nightlights.

Typical nightlight bulbs use 4 or 7 watts. That's not a lot - but they're often on for long periods of time, and many homes have more than one.

Electroluminescent nightlights, like the one shown, are incredibly efficient: plugged in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they use just two cents worth of power. Yep, two cents a year, or about 99.5% savings over a 7 watt bulb.

They do provide a bit less intensity and a different glow than standard nightlights - but the savings are worth it. Ask for them at your local hardware store. (Mine have a lifetime warranty, and were purchased here.)


Measure, then manage – and save! - November 16, 2011

A portable power meter can save you energy and money

“If you can't measure it, you can't manage it” goes the expression.  It applies to electricity too, where our only indication of consumption is the monthly bill we get.  But by then, it's too late to do anything about it.  As well, power bills tell us nothing about what's running up our bill – so we have no way to distinguish the power hogs in our homes and workplaces from the power misers.

Portable power meters to the rescue!  They're simple devices that provide a real-time readout of the power consumption of anything that plugs into an outlet.  Once you know how much power is consumed by the different things in your home or workplace, you can zero in on actions that will make the biggest difference in your power usage – and bill.

Portable meters like this one, this one or this one (a bit more expensive, but very good and easy to use) are available for loan at many public libraries, or at many hardware stores. 

This is not hot air - November 2, 2011

Take a pass on Helium-filled balloons

Helium balloons have become part of birthdays, weddings and carnivals because they're fun.  But maybe we need to rethink them.

Here's why: Helium is a very limited resource.  We get it from within the earth - but there's only so much on our planet, and once it's lost to the atmosphere, it's impossible to recover or recycle.  Helium is vital to many industrial and medicinal uses, like welding, fibre optics and the MRI machines used in hospitals everywhere.  At our current rate of Helium use, however, shortages can be expected in 25-30 years.  Yikes!

Given that reality, conservation seems a wise strategy.  Most people would agree that MRI machines are probably more important than party balloons.  So perhaps we should collectively reserve our limited supply of Helium for the most important uses, and take a pass on frivolous uses like party balloons.

(Click here for more information on the coming shortage of Helium.)

Don't egg the planet this October 31 - October 19, 2011

An eco-friendly Halloween

Halloween is a much-awaited highlight for kids everywhere: a chance to dress up, spook the neighbours and get tons of tasty loot!  But Halloween has a pretty big carbon footprint, and that's a bit like egging your mother's house: not nice.

Here are five tips to make your Halloween celebrations a little greener: 

•    The single most important thing you can do: leave the car home, and have trick-or-treaters walk (escorted if necessary) around the neighbourhood

•    Use stuff you already have, plus a bit of imagination, to create your costume.  It saves money and results in less trash.  Everybody should have a ‘tickle trunk' like Mr. Dressup had! 

•    Don't distribute junk food or cheap low-quality treats from questionable distant origins.  Strive to give away treats that are healthy and nutritious, as well as good tasting.  (A challenge, I know – I clearly remember not being impressed with apples in my treat bag when I was a kid!)

•    If you want to be a real eco-hero, look for fair trade chocolate.  Cadbury's Dairy Milk Minis qualify, and you can find other brands here.

•    Be sure to compost your pumpkin when it starts to melt away!

Not jugs or cartons, but...  - October 5, 2011

Buy your milk in bags

Milk is a staple of virtually every household, but what type of milk packaging is the most eco-friendly?  All three types of milk packaging – jugs, cartons and bags – are recyclable.  But unfortunately not all are accepted by all recycling programs. 

As well, recycling isn't a perfect solution: collecting and transporting recyclables costs time, money and fuel - especially when the end destination of those recyclables is half a world away.  Where I live, jugs and cartons are recycled, but in China.  Yep – sorted, baled, stuffed into a container and shipped thousands of kilometres.

So what's a consumer's greenest option for milk packaging?

1. Check with your local solid waste authority to see what's accepted for recycling, and then choose accordingly.  In spite of its shortcomings, recycling is still better than trashing.

2. Choose the biggest size available; one big jug or carton uses less material than two or more small ones.

3. If all three types of packaging are recycled where you live, choose plastic bags:

  • they are lighter (less material and less weight to transport)
  • both the outer and inner bags are the same soft plastic as grocery bags so they can be mixed in with them (but inner bags must be well rinsed of residual milk)
  • they may be recycled locally (as they are here in NB) as opposed to being shipped to China; and
  • soft plastics (#4 LDPE) are one of those rare materials that can be perfectly recycled: that is, reprocessed back into the very same types of products over and over again.

Save on printer ink  - September 21, 2011

Make "draft" quality your default

Ounce for ounce, few things are more expensive than ink for the inkjet printers many of us own and use.  I recall reading a few years ago that manufacturers make more money through ink sales than printer sales! 

There's an easy way to make your printer's ink cartridges last longer: simply change your printer's default setting to the DRAFT (or fastest printing) mode.  That setting uses the least ink but still yields a print quality adequate for most everyday uses.  Also, choose greyscale printing over color printing when possible. 

In both cases, you'll save money, save ink and produce fewer empty printer cartridges (yes, they can be recycled, but less is always best).

Stop at the first click  - September 7, 2011

Overfilling that gas tank costs you money!

When filling our gas tanks, most of us ‘top it up' a bit: after the gas nozzle clicks to signal the tank is full, we add a bit more, to round it up to the next full dollar.

But usually that's not a good thing: it results in fuel dollars being lost as vapour coming out of the tank; it can result in a spill of some of that fuel we've paid for (and sometimes we don't see those spills because our vehicle may have a hidden overflow pipe); and on hot days it can result in spills later since gas expands as it warms.  Bad for the wallet, bad for the environment.

The solution is easy: believe the gas nozzle when it clicks, and choose not to top up your tank.  It will save you money, conserve precious gas and reduce damage to the environment.

Better fresheners  - August 24, 2011

Breathe easier without air fresheners

Most people like the smell of air fresheners, be they lemon, pine or something more exotic.  But many common air fresheners are also sources of airborne chemicals with potentially harmful side effects – things like phthalates and VOCs.  People with chemical sensitivities are particularly susceptible to artificial scents.  Additionally, plug plug-in fresheners use a steady trickle of electricity, and sprays result in empty spray cans that must be disposed of (or hopefully recycled). 

There are better ways to freshen air:

·         Open windows to let fresh air in

·         Clean up the source of the odour with non-toxic cleaners

·         Eliminate the source of the odour (IE empty the trash more frequently)

·         Use baking soda or potpourri

·         Choose air fresheners that are specifically labelled as organic

When you step back and think about it, spraying chemicals into the air we breathe just to mask odours (which may be unpleasant but are usually natural and therefore harmless) just seems like a bad idea.

Fresh air can save you fuel and money  - August 10, 2011

Roll down the window, turn off the air conditioner...

Air conditioners make cars bearable in the heat of summer, but they are HUGE energy users, increasing a vehicle's fuel consumption by 20%.  That means a vehicle that normally goes 800 kilometres on a tank of fuel will only go about 675 kilometres with the air conditioner on – and many of us have it on by default all summer.

The best solution is to just turn your AC off.  When driving 60 KMH or less, roll down your window and enjoy a bit of fresh air.  (Wise dogs have known the pure joy of fresh air for years.)  At speeds above 60 KMH, keep a comfortable airflow moving by using the fan to bring in fresh air and keeping a window or sunroof open just a crack to let it out.

On really hot days when that's not enough, alternate the AC on and off to get just the amount of cooling you need.  Just remember: it costs you every time you turn it on.


Be kind to your fridge, and save - July 27, 2011

The best way to thaw frozen food

Ice absorbs an awful lot of heat as it melts.  That's why we use ice cubes to keep beverages cold.  (Google “Latent heat of fusion” if you'd like to know the physics of it.) 

Frozen food works the same way – it absorbs a lot of heat as it thaws.  You can make that principle work in your favour by placing frozen food inside your fridge to thaw.  That way, it absorbs heat inside the fridge, making it work less and saving you a little money.  (Older folks may remember that, in the days before electric refrigerators, kitchens had iceboxes that worked solely on that principle.)

It takes a bit of planning to develop the habit, but it's worth it: thaw frozen food in your fridge! 

(Thawing frozen food in the fridge has a double benefit in the winter: if you let frozen food thaw on the counter, it actually cools your home, making your heating system work harder.)

Cleaning without poisons is easier than you think - July 13, 2011

Non-toxic cleaners: easy to make; safe and effective to use 

If you use conventional cleaners in your home, you are likely harbouring some pretty potent poisons in your cupboard... poisons with health effects that range from short term irritation to long term trouble.  Plus many of them aren't very good for the planet either.  That makes conventional cleaning a puzzling paradox of good and bad.

Fortunately, there are safe, green alternatives you can make yourself.  They may not have fancy fragrances (which are usually chemicals anyway), but they can be just as effective as commercial cleaners.

Don't be intimidated – all you need are a few basic ingredients and a few basic recipes.  Here are some great links to help you get started:

• Some background information on toxins in cleaners
• A short (80 second) video showing how easy it is to make your own cleaners
• A list of five basic ingredients you can use and what they can do
• Recipes (more extensive or one page printable)

Turn it off for the summer - June 29, 2011

... the Air Exchanger, that is 

Most airtight homes these days have air exchangers, or ‘heat recovery ventilators'.  They are often referred to by their trade names – Venmar and Vanee, for example.  But of all the appliances in our homes, air exchangers are perhaps the least understood.  They bring in fresh air and blow out stale air during those cold months when our windows are closed.  However, their controls can be confusing to anyone who might have missed that science class explaining relative humidity.  

The result?  Air exchangers are often left on during summer months when windows are open, wasting power.  As well, by bringing in heavy summer air, they may actually bring humidity inside.

There's an easy fix: just turn your air exchanger off for the summer – either by turning the control way down, or by just unplugging the exchanger itself from the outlet.

An alternative to paper tissue - June 15, 2011

Bring back the hanky! 

Years ago, everyone carried a handkerchief.  Then facial tissues came along.  They were initially marketed to help ladies remove makeup – but people started using them to blow their noses, and today that's the norm.

But maybe it's worth reconsidering hankies.  True, they need to be washed – but going paperless means less trees cut, less energy used to turn them into paper and, importantly, less trash to dispose of.  Read an analysis comparing hankies and paper tissue here.

And what about hygiene?  Our noses release a lot of germs when we're sick, so disposable tissue might be a better option then.  But in healthy times, hankies are perfect for everyday wipes and blows.  Plus hankies are non-allergenic: no dust to inhale.

A few tips: make hankies out of scrap fabric; have a different hanky for each day of the week; wash them in cold water and dry on a clothesline; choose organic cotton or hemp.  Happy honking!

Thanks to subscriber Trudy Mitic for this suggestion!

Don't flush the trees - June 1, 2011

Choose the right tissue paper 

Home tissue products have long been made from virgin fibre (IE straight from the tree; zero percent recycled).  That means we have cut LOTS of trees to make napkins, paper towels, facial tissue and bathroom tissue, which are designed to be used once and then trashed or flushed.  Even today, several leading brands of tissue products are still 100% virgin fibre.  Arg – we are flushing trees down the toilet.

Fortunately, the market is changing: many paper companies have started offering tissue products that contain recycled paper.  You can help speed up that market change (and save a tree) by choosing recycled tissue products the next time you shop.  Look for the recycled logo, and aim for as high a percentage of post-consumer content as possible

Click here for more background on this issue (dated but good information).  Click here (for Canada) and here (for US) to see how some popular brands stack up.

Nature's carbon offsets - May 18, 2011

Why not plant a tree this week? 

Trees are nature's carbon dioxide sponges: as they grow, they inhale CO2 and lock it up semi-permanently into wood and roots.  It's said that a single tree can absorb up to a tonne of emissions over its lifetime.

If you aspire to live a carbon-neutral lifestyle, make trees a part of your solution.  A typical Canadian household has emissions of over 20 tonnes a year, which can be offset by planting 20 trees annually.

Sort of – because there are two catches.  First, notice that's 20 trees annually, to offset 20 tonnes of annual emissions.  Secondly, trees do lock up CO2 for a long time, but not permanently, because most of that CO2 is emitted back into the atmosphere when a tree dies and rots.

So the best strategy toward carbon neutrality starts with reducing our emissions by consuming less fossil fuel.  But when we've made our carbon footprint as small as possible, the next best thing is to offset the remainder - and that's where planting trees comes in.  May, the month of returning life, is the perfect time.  June 5-11 is Canadian Environmental Week, with the theme, “Preserving our forests – protecting our future”.

You can obtain plenty of free tree seedlings in roadside ditches everywhere.  You can find great resources and information at Tree Canada.

Forego the fertilizer... and pesticides - May 4, 2011

Why not unpamper your lawn? 

Lawns have a significant carbon footprint.  Sure, they absorb a small amount of CO2 from the air as they grow, but that's far less than the emissions produced by fertilizing, watering and mowing them.  Nitrogen fertilizer – the stuff used to speed up greening – is derived directly from natural gas, as are many pesticide products.  It takes energy to pump water.  Mowers take fuel.  If not left on the lawn, clippings take energy to transport.  If they end up in a landfill, they end up emitting methane as they rot.

So – why not consider unpampering your lawn this year?  No fertilizer (or maybe a sprinkling of fine compost instead, and leave the clippings); no pesticides; and as little water as possible.  It may grow a little slower, but that means less mowing – not so bad either!

Check that label - April 20, 2011

Coming soon: carbon labels 

Most people read product labels to learn about the nutrient content of products.  But some leading retailers are working hard to make carbon labelling a reality. 

A carbon label is simply a label that reflects a product's environmental impact.  It's an estimate of how much energy, water and other resources were used in producing the product, and how much pollution was produced.

Today, carbon labelling is still under development.  But Wal-Mart and UK food retailer Tesco, two corporations with enormous market clout, are investing heavily in developing systems of carbon labelling that will allow consumers to instantly identify ‘greener' products, and then make their purchasing decisions accordingly.  You can be sure that once Wal-Mart has carbon labels on most of what it sells (slated to be within the next five years), its competitors will have no choice but to follow.  Voila – a transformed market!

So keep an eye out for carbon labels – they're coming soon!  Read more about Wal-Mart's plans here and Tesco's here.

"Apply poison, rinse, reapply"... - April 6, 2011

The poisons in personal care products 

The simple instructions on shampoo bottles – apply, rinse, repeat – belie the toxicity of some of the ingredients inside those bottles.  Personal care products are weakly regulated, and their ingredients often include known carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, reproductive toxins and more.  Yet we trustingly apply them daily to our skin, where they can be directly absorbed.  Yuck, and worse, poisonous.  For a frank overview, just check out The Story of Cosmetics, an incisive eight-minute video.

The David Suzuki Foundation has singled out the Dirty Dozen of cosmetic ingredients, and has developed a wallet-sized Sustainable Shopper's Guide to help you choose personal care products that don't contain toxins.  And if you'd like to check out how the products you presently use rank, the cosmetic database rates the toxicity (or non-toxicity) of thousands of brand-name personal care products.

Only so many fish in the sea... - March 23, 2011 let's make sustainable seafood choices 

Overfishing has become commonplace in a world where more and more people need more and more food – and our oceans are showing signs of strain.  A 2006 Dalhousie University study concluded that salt water fish will be essentially gone by 2048 if present fishing patterns continue.

Each of us can help prevent this from happening by choosing only sustainable seafood.  So what's sustainable?

Seafood Watch, a leading authority on sustainable seafood, has a handy downloadable card listing the best and worst choices, and a smartphone app that keeps you constantly up-to-date.  And David Suzuki's top ten sustainable seafood picks can be seen here.

Healthy oceans are vital to a healthy planet – so please make sustainable seafood choices.

Green your workout - March 9, 2011

A better way to exercise 

Staying fit is a healthy choice - but the way we do it may not be very healthy for the planet.  Consider the modern fitness center and its electric lights, electric fitness machines, electric air conditioning, electric televisions and electric sound systems.  Plus heating; plus laundry; plus showers; plus bottled water; plus the emissions of clients getting to and from the gym.  It all adds up to a significant strain on the planet's health, just to maintain ours.

Perhaps there's a better way.  In some places, pioneering efforts are underway to reverse that equation by generating power from fitness machines - check out this link.  But since that's not mainstream yet, for now, maybe it's worth bypassing the treadmill and... just going for a walk or run outside. 

Vote green every time you spend - February 23, 2011

Make a difference by practicing Ethical Consumption 

Most of us strive to get the best deal when we shop, and usually price is the way we measure a deal.  But often, the cheapest isn't the best deal, because it comes with hidden costs like toxic ingredients, unfair labour practices or environmental degradation.

Every time we choose to buy (or not to buy) something, we're giving a thumbs up (or thumbs down) to a vendor and manufacturer.  You could say we vote every time we open our wallets.

You can make a difference by practicing Ethical Consumption.  That means, where possible, consciously looking beyond just a price tag and choosing products that are healthy, local, environmentally-friendly or fair trade.  You might think you don't have a huge influence, but you do: just as at election time, every vote counts and enough votes can generate huge changes.

Good news: StatsCan indicates Ethical Consumption is on the rise in Canada.

Spend pennies, save money - February 9, 2011

Install foam gaskets under your outlet and light switch plates 

While painting a room last week, I removed a wall outlet cover plate – and was shocked (not literally...) by the amount of cold air leaking in around the wires and the box.

Fortunately, there's an effective and really inexpensive way to stop those drafts: just install foam gaskets like these under outlet and light switch plates on exterior walls.  They cost pennies apiece and take mere minutes to install, but they can put an end to most drafts.  For added benefit, you can also install child safety plugs in unused outlets to prevent air from leaking through the socket holes.

Installing them is so simple anyone can do it; here's a one-minute video to prove it!

Save energy and money in your kitchen - January 26, 2011

Four tips to improve cooking efficiency 

Just about everyone cooks, and cooking takes energy.  Here are four tips to help you use less energy and save money:

1. A slow boil is just as hot as a fast boil, but uses less energy – so get in the habit of setting your food to boil gently.  Use lids on your pots to keep the heat in.
2. Use flat, smooth-bottomed pots, and match them to the size of the element.  A lot of energy is wasted when small pots are used on large elements.
3. Use your oven as a last resort because it consumes A LOT of power; stovetop cooking, microwaves, toaster ovens and pressure cookers use far less.
4. When oven use is unavoidable, skip the preheating.  Make sure the seals around the door are in good shape to keep the heat in.

For more related tips, visit here.

The carbon footprint of a shower - January 12, 2011

Four ways to lower the environmental impact of that morning shower 

Consider this: every 10-minute shower you take under a conventional showerhead adds about 65 cents* to your monthly power bill.  That's about $20 per month if you shower daily.

Each shower also results in emissions from generating that power: in New Brunswick, over three kilograms of carbon dioxide; in Nova Scotia (where most power comes from coal), over five kilograms.  Ouch!  (You can check out carbon dioxide emissions per KWH of electricity in your province here or in your state here {fourth page}).

Here are four quick ways you can reduce those costs and emissions:

1. install a low flow shower head, a simple installation that will pay for itself in about a month
2. consider taking shorter showers
3. consider lowering the temperature of your shower a little
4. consider showering every second day instead of daily

*6.6 KWH @ 10 cents/KWH

Three quick resolutions - December 29, 2010

At New Year's, three straightforward resolutions for a better planet 

At this time of new beginnings, here's a challenge: three resolutions to make your 2011 the greenest, most sustainable ever!

1. Reduce: there are more of us than ever, consuming evermore, on a planet that's not getting bigger.  The single best thing we can do is pause before we drive, buy or consume, and ask ourselves two simple questions.  Is this really necessary?  Is there a better way?

2. Collaborate: mutual aid and sharing of resources are just two of the many good reasons to know your neighbours.  But collaboration within our larger communities, real or on-line, can be a great way to address larger issues too.  Consider that Wikipedia, one of the world's most popular websites, is a collaboration of volunteers lending their individual expertise to a collective good.  Now imagine the possibilities if that sort of approach were used to tackle our planet's biggest challenges.

3. Get involved: pledge to make your views known to political leaders at all levels.  They can do more with the stroke of a pen than most of us can hope to do in a lifetime.

For more on these three resolutions – and some further imaginings of a better world – please check out my New Year's column in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

'Shocking' savings within your reach - December 15, 2010

Just how much can those LED holiday lights save? 

Most people know that LED holiday lights are more efficient - but just how much more efficient?  Consider this:

  • an old-style incandescent outdoor light bulb uses about 7.5 watts
  • a minilight bulb uses about .5 watts
  • an LED bulb uses about .03 watts

Put differently, one kilowatt-hour of power would light:

  • an old-style incandescent outdoor light bulb for 133 hours or 5.5 days
  • a minilight bulb for 2000 hours or 83 days
  • an LED bulb for 33,333 hours or nearly four years

LEDs can save you 95%+ on your holiday lighting costs. 

So what to do?

  • invest in LED holiday lights; they'll pay you back quickly
  • discard your old non-LED light sets; or use them indoors (safely away from anything flammable) so all that waste heat they produce can at least help heat your home; or replace the bulbs with LED bulbs, available at hardware stores

Games to the planet's rescue? - December 1, 2010

Combining fun and solutions 

Many people spend at least part of their days playing games - whether solo or with others, whether face to face or across cyberspace.  So why not combine the fun of a game with the challenge of solving the world's environmental problems?  

Cool It is a card game from the Union of Concerned Scientists that teaches kids about choices that have to be made in solving climate change.  It includes a teacher's guide, and is available here.

Fate of the World is a new video game that challenges players to "manage a balancing act of protecting the Earth's resources and climate versus the needs of an ever-growing world population, who are demanding ever more food, power, and living space".  It's available here.

Here's a thought-provoking TED talk on how gaming can make a better world.

People like having fun - so why not make that fun time productive?  These and other games like them can help!

It's good to know your symbols - November 17, 2010

One of the symbols below means 'recyclable'. The other means 'recycled' (IE containing recycled material).

Q: Do you know which is which?

Recyclable Recycled Symbols

A: The one on the left means 'recyclable': the material can be recycled. The one on the right, with the circle, means 'contains recycled material'. (There are colour variations and the recycled logo sometimes indicates the percentage of recycled content.)

Why does this matter?

  1. If you specifically want to buy products that contain recycled materials, the logo on the left is meaningless; the logo on the right is the one to look for.
  2. The 'recyclable' logo on a product doesn't automatically mean that it ends up getting recycled; that depends on your local program. For example, Styrofoam© (polystyrene) is recyclable but is not accepted by most recycling programs.

The bottom line: it's always best to REDUCE, but when that's not possible, look for products that contain a high percentage of recycled material and are themselves recyclable.

The greenest coffee break ever - November 3, 2010

Eco-friendly coffee breaks 

Unfortunately, coffee breaks at the meetings many of us attend typically generate lots of trash.  But hosts of a meeting I attended last week laid out the greenest coffee break I've ever seen.  It featured:
•    Fair trade coffee with a lighter eco-footprint
•    Real mugs instead of anything disposable
•    Unrefined sugar from a sugar bowl instead of individual packets of white sugar and chemical substitutes
•    Real spoons instead of stir sticks
•    Milk from a pitcher rather than from small plastic containers
•    Snacks made from local and organic ingredients, with no plastic wrap or disposable aluminum trays with plastic lids

The next time you plan a meeting, why not ask your caterer to 'green' your breaks?  With the above small steps, you can make a big difference!

Congratulations to the Sustainability Education Alliance of New Brunswick for the greenest coffee break ever!

Please - not plastic! - October 20, 2010

A greener way to pick up after your pet 

Pets are usually walked for more than just exercise, and stooping and scooping is a good thing to do.   However, if you use plastic bags, you're putting one of nature's fastest degrading substances into something that degrades extremely slowly.

So it's far better to use paper bags or biodegradable bags made from corn-based materials.  Then you can:

1. dispose of them in your trash - they'll break down quickly in a landfill; or

2. compost them - but if you do, be sure to set up a separate compost for pet waste because it can carry some pretty nasty pathogens, and don't use the compost on food crops.  Check out these composters designed specifically for pet waste and read some excellent guidance from Green Calgary; or

3. if you have the space, bury them several centimetres in the ground where they'll quickly break down into plant nutrients (again, not in a food garden).

The key message: please don't use plastic bags for pet waste!

The heat is on - October 6, 2010

A quick way to make your baseboards heat more efficiently

With the chill of fall in the air, it won't be long before heating systems kick into gear - and energy bills rise.

Here's an easy way to improve the efficiency of your baseboard heaters, be they electric or hydronic (water filled): just pop off the front cover and vacuum them.  The dust and dirt that accumulate in baseboards decrease the amount of heat they produce, and therefore increase the amount of energy required to heat a room.  Simply vacuuming off that dirt will improve air flow around those fins, and help your heaters work most efficiently.  (Just be careful not to ding those fins because damaged fins reduce a heater's efficiency.)    

Find more great tips on baseboards and how to improve their heating efficiency here.

Paper towels or air dryers? - September 22, 2010

What's the most eco-friendly way to dry your hands?

Arg - it's not entirely simple.

This much is certain: drying your hands by waving them in the air is the most eco-friendly way to go.  You can also choose to wipe them on your (dark) clothing when no one's looking- but not everyone likes either option.

Dryers that use just a high-speed blast of unheated air have no power-hungry heating element, so they are by far the next best choice.  The Dyson AirBlade dryer is an example; here's one in action (25 seconds).

The other two common options, conventional heated air dryers and paper towels, are both far less eco-friendly - but which is the greater villain is less clear.  Most sources rank dryers as more eco-friendly than paper.  (Dryers use a lot of power, but produce no trash.  Paper towels come from trees, and lots of water and energy are used to make them.  Disposal of used paper towels takes energy too - think garbage bags, garbage trucks, landfills.  As well, most people don't use just one towel.)  But if paper is the only option available, one towel is always better than two.

Cash from trash - September 8, 2010

Turn some of your trash into cash for your school, charity or non-profit

Imagine if you could turn some of your garbage into dollars…

You can - with TerraCycle!  TerraCycle pays cash for certain items that are commonly thrown in the trash, like empty drinking pouches, cookie wrappers and yogurt containers.  True, it's just a few cents for each, but those cents can add up - especially in schools, where the daily trash can include hundreds of such items.

Here's how it works: you go to TerraCycle's website at (and it has a link to affiliate sites in several other countries), choose which trash item(s) you'd like to collect, and sign up.  Then periodically send in what you've collected - TerraCycle and its sponsors pay the shipping, and will send you money for each item.   

Get started today - go to, watch the video, and sign up.  It's simple and there are absolutely no fees!

Cruise control or not? - August 25, 2010

Will cruise control improve fuel economy?

The answer: it depends.

On level highways with light traffic, it is YES: cruise control holds a vehicle to a steadier speed than most drivers can, and that's more efficient than continuous acceleration and deceleration. 

However, in hilly terrain, cruise control 'tramps on it' when it encounters a climb, trying to maintain a constant speed - and that consumes a lot of fuel.  So in hilly areas, a driver with a skilled foot can easily get better mileage than cruise control.  (A skilled foot means allowing the vehicle to slow down on the upgrades instead of tramping on the gas, and then using the other side of the hill to pick up speed.) 

One caveat: safety first!  Always ensure your driving style is compatible with road and traffic conditions.

Thanks to Stephanie McClellan in St. Anthony, NL for the question that led to this Green Idea!

Standard or automatic? - August 11, 2010

Does the type of transmission in your vehicle affect your mileage?

It does!  Generally speaking, vehicles with automatic transmissions use more fuel than similar vehicles with manual transmissions.  A comparison of the 2010 models listed below produced the following results:

On average, manual transmissions will result in fuel savings of about $60 per year.

In city driving, manual transmissions will go about 7% further on a litre of fuel, or about 32 KM further per tank.

In highway driving, manual transmissions will go about 1.3% further on a litre of fuel, or about 8 KM further per tank.

Note that savings vary for every model of car, so it's wise to check NRCan's Fuel Consumption Ratings here before buying.  Also, some models now have continuously variable transmissions, which are often even more efficient than manual.

2010 models compared: Chevrolet Aveo and Cobalt; Ford Fusion; Pontiac G3, G5 and Vibe; Honda Civic; Nissan Frontier and Versa; Toyota Corolla, Matrix and Yaris

Save a chunk of rainforest every day, free and effortlessly! - July 28, 2010

With a simple click, you can save a square meter of rainforest every day

Most of us don't think about which website opens when we start our internet browser every day; it's usually Facebook, MSN or something similar.  But we can use our first click of the day to help preserve the planet's rainforests.

Here's how: make the Rainforest Site,, the home page you start from every day.  Then just click the box "Click here to give - it's FREE".  And with that simple action, you've preserved just over a square meter of the world's rainforests, the lungs of the planet that can absorb back some of the CO2 'exhaled' by our burning of fossil fuels.

It's not much, but those square meters add up - over 100,000 people click the site every day, and nearly 30,000 hectares have been preserved so far. 

The land is paid for by sponsors who advertise on the Rainforest Site.  If you visit, you'll also see similar sites in support of breast cancer, hunger, literacy and more - all causes you can support with the simple click of a mouse.

You can make The Rainforest Site your home page by going to it, then clicking Tools - Internet Options - General - Use current.

Make plans for the October long weekend - July 14, 2010

October 10, 2010: a day for local actions and global solutions
If you're yearning for solutions to climate change and environmental degradation, mark October 10 - 10/10/10 - on your calendar.

That's the day is organizing work parties all over the world to tackle solutions through local actions.  From solar panels to community gardens to wind turbines to bike workshops: people will be working together to share information and implement the types of solutions our planet so desperately needs.  If you're ready to turn your good intentions into great actions, why not take part?  Your planet needs you! 

Register here to join or lead a local activity - in your community, school, workplace, faith community or home. 

Click here for great project ideas, big and small. 

And click here to see a slideshow about 10/10/10 and learn what the 350 stands for.

Help make 10/10/10 a turning point.  Think globally, act locally!

Tired of carrots and cabbage? - June 30, 2010

Fresh local produce will soon be hitting the farmers markets and grocery stores.  When you buy local, you're doing a good thing for many reasons:

1.  You're supporting neighbours and your local economy instead of anonymous, faraway suppliers.
2.  You're helping build local food production capacity because the more local food people buy, the more farmers will produce.
3.  You'll know where your food comes from, and can have confidence in higher standards of quality and food safety.
4.  You'll be doing the environment a favour, because long-distance food has a huge transportation carbon footprint.  One article I've read estimates that one third of trucks on the road today are carrying food.  The average item on a typical dinner plate has traveled more than most people travel on vacation!

So, if you're getting tired of the limited array of local veggies available, take heart: local produce is on the horizon, and it's a good choice all around!

Drive two months for free each year - June 16, 2010

Without investing a penny, most drivers can save 15% on their fuel bill - equivalent to almost two months of free driving a year.

It's all in how you drive, and here are the two critical habits for savings:

1. accelerate gently - resist that urge to 'tramp on it', because that's when your engine slurps HUGE amounts of fuel.  Then coast as much as possible, and brake gently.

2. limit your speed to 100 KMH or less.  Generally, the slower you go, the more you save.

Here's proof these two practices work: my Toyota Echo gave me 60 miles per gallon (21 KM/litre) last week, well above the car's official rating.

For more great fuel-saving tips, visit  And take a 2-minute ride (via YouTube) with the 'king of hypermiling': he gets twice his vehicle's rated fuel mileage!!

Just unplug it! - June 2, 2010

Many appliances in our homes and workplaces use electricity even when they are turned off.  Incredibly, they were designed that way - usually for convenience.  It's called 'phantom power', and dozens of items in a typical home use power 24/365.  The phantom power used in Canada is more than enough to power every home in New Brunswick

What to do?  Here are three suggestions:
1.  Learn to recognize things that use phantom power: anything with a clock, a remote control, a charger, one of those blocky-looking plugs, or a quick-on feature (IE most televisions).

2. Get into the habit of unplugging items when they are not in use, or use a power bar: when clicked off, it eliminates phantom power.

3.  When buying, choose appliances that use little or no phantom power; look for the ENERGY STAR logo, indicating best-of-class performance.

For more info, check out this great overview of phantom power from the Office of Energy Efficiency.

An audacious dare - May 19, 2010

Here's a challenge for you: skip a shower sometime this week.

When I issue that dare to audiences, I often hear a snicker and a murmur that sounds a lot like, "uh-uh".  Yet if truth be told, most of us shower every morning not because we're dirty; we shower because it feels good.  It's our wake-up therapy.

But our daily shower habit is one of the reasons we North Americans use more water per person than anyone on the planet.  And - even worse - much of that water is hot water, heated by fossil fuel-fired electricity.  Our morning feel-good isn't very good for the planet.

So here's the challenge again: skip a shower this week, and every week.  You can make a big difference for the planet!

Just how much can a clothesline save you? - May 5, 2010

What's good for the environment can be great for your wallet, and a clothesline is a perfect example.

Clothes dryers are among the biggest power hogs in your home, consuming about 4500 watts of power - equal to six microwave ovens or 350 compact fluorescent light bulbs.    If your power rate is 10 cents/KWH, a big load in the dryer adds 45 cents to your power bill.  One such load a day uses about $150 worth of power annually.

Then there are emissions.  If your power comes from coal or oil (as most of North America's does), one big load in the dryer equals 4 kilograms of emissions.  One such load a day for a year adds over a tonne of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Clotheslines make environmental and economic sense.  Springtime is a great time to get reacquainted with yours, or to install one if you don't have one.  Here's a great seven minute video that explains everything about planning and installing your clothesline (except they use a rope where most clotheslines are plastic coated wire).

The one best thing you can do this Earth Day - April 21, 2010

If you're ready to look beyond light bulbs and recycling, here is the one best thing you can do to help the planet: change the way you get to work tomorrow.
Transportation accounts for 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually in Canada and 1.8 billion tonnes annually in the US. Much of that is produced by cars and light trucks. Commuting to work is probably the single biggest environmental offence each of us commits: frustrated and tooting while idling and polluting.
Here are the most eco-friendly ways to get to work, in order:
1. Walking, biking or telecommuting (working from home);
2. Any form of public transit - take the paper or your laptop, and enjoy being chauffeured; and
3. Carpooling, a great money-saving option for people living beyond the reach of public transit.

For the health of our planet (and therefore us), perhaps the whole notion of commuting solo by car needs to be reconsidered.
If you are ready to make a big commitment to a better planet, change the way you go to work tomorrow. Call a friend, take the bus or hop on a bike. The timing couldn't be better: it's Earth Day.

A simple choice that can improve personal and planetary health - April 7, 2010

Taking the stairs is good for your health - but it's also good for the planet.

Many of us use elevators and escalators every day without thinking.  But both run on electricity, so they have an environmental footprint.  It's estimated that elevators consume 5% of the electricity used in a typical office building.  That might not sound like a lot - but there are over 700,000 elevators in Canada and the US, and all those rides add up to quite a footprint.

So if your daily routine includes an elevator or escalator ride, why not consider taking the stairs instead?  Good for you, good for the Earth!

The power of an idea - March 24, 2010

Earth Hour is a magnificent example of the power of an idea. It started in 2007, when people in Sydney, Australia were challenged to turn off all unnecessary lights and electrical appliances for just one hour.

Two years later, over 4,000 cities in 88 countries took part. The Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, UN Headquarters and the CN Tower were among the landmarks that turned out their lights. Across Toronto, power consumption dropped by 15%.

Earth Hour happens this Saturday, March 27 at 8:30-9:30 local time. Please take part: turn off lights, turn off appliances and unplug things that use 'phantom power' even when they are off. Find out more at

Let's show that, working together, we can make a HUGE difference. And when it's over, let's resolve to make every hour Earth Hour.

An easy way to use less hot water - March 10, 2010

The average person reaches for a faucet many times each day. Without thinking, we often grab the hot water tap - even when we need such a small amount of water that hot water never actually reaches the faucet.

But, regardless of its temperature, every drop that comes out of the hot water tap costs energy (and money). That's because every time the hot water tap is opened, hot water starts moving from the hot water tank toward the faucet. If it is 'stranded' somewhere along the way, it just cools and its energy is wasted.

So when you need just a little water, reach for the cold water tap - and save some precious hot water.

Small gadget, big savings - February 24, 2010

Toilets are huge water users.  If you can't change out the old toilet in your home, school or workplace (which probably uses 13-20 litres per flush) for a new one that uses just 6 litres per flush, here's a simple and inexpensive alternative.

It's called a a toilet tank fill cycle diverter - a tiny device that installs in a toilet tank in seconds, and limits the amount of water that flows into the bowl during filling.  It saves water every time you flush - potentially saving over 10,000 litres per toilet per year! 

Here's a three-minute video showing what a diverter is, how it works and how to install it.  You can find plenty of models and suppliers by Googling toilet tank fill cycle diverter

Two more strategies to save even more water:

- put a brick or bag of water in your toilet tank, so it uses less water every fill-up

- pour a few drops of food coloring into your toilet tank.  If any of the color seeps into the bowl before you next flush, your flapper probably needs to be replaced - a small cost for HUGE water savings.  Here's a one-minute video showing you how to do it.

Freecycling, a great way to clear clutter and keep stuff out of landfills - February 10, 2010

Every day, landfills across the country receive truckloads of things that are perfectly good but just not needed anymore.  It's an inglorious end for stuff that still has useful service to offer.
But there's a better way.  If you're looking to get rid of perfectly good stuff that's cluttering up your basement, garage or office, consider freecycling it.  Freecycling is making it available (via the internet) it at no cost to someone in your community who could use it.
Check out; there's a good chance you'll find a local on-line group you can join.  If there's no Freecycle group in your community, you can 'be the change' and start one!
You won't get rich freecycling, but you can unclutter your life and you'll do a good thing by keeping stuff out of the landfill before its time.  And maybe, you'll discover that someone's giving away something you want...
(If you prefer, there are plenty of charities across Canada that can use your used goods too.)

Sometimes one IS enough - January 27, 2010

In public washrooms, soap and paper towels are available for free - so it's easy to get into the habit of using lots of both.  Yet when it comes to clean hands, one pump of soap and one paper towel are usually enough to do the job.
I believe most people want to do the right thing - but often we need little reminders.  If every soap dispenser had a little sign next to it, "Please use just one pump" and if every paper towel dispenser had a little sign "Paper comes from trees - please use as little as possible", I bet a lot less soap would get used and many trees (and dollars) could be saved.
Agree?  If so, check out attractive, free signs here:  Download them, print them and post them in washrooms at your school, office, business or other public place.  I'm betting you'll see an instant difference!
(Please e-mail for information on mounted or laminated signs customized with your logo.)

Skip the button and pull the door - January 13, 2010

Automatic door openers are in buildings everywhere these days, helping provide access to people with mobility challenges.  But their popularity has led to an unintended side effect: many people with no mobility issues have gotten into the comfortable habit of pressing the button too.
Automatic openers use electricity, and they often hold exterior doors open long enough for a lot of heat to escape.
So to save a bit of electricity and heat, why not leave automatic door openers for those who really need them, and, if you can, open doors the old-fashioned way.

For the holidays, an easy reminder: keep that fridge door closed - December 30, 2009 

In this season of leftovers, it's worth being reminded of a common sense tip: you can save money and energy by opening your refrigerator as infrequently as possible and opening the door only as widely as necessary.

To help remember, imagine your fridge as being full of water.  It comes gushing out each time you open the door.  The more frequently and the wider you open the door, the more water that ends up on your floor. 
Cold air in your fridge is like that water: it's heavier than warm air, so it comes tumbling out each time the fridge door opens.  And the more cold air that escapes, the more your fridge needs to work to replace it.  That costs energy and money.

So the next time you open your fridge, imagine that it's full of water and act accordingly.  Your fridge will thank you by using less energy!

Snow and Ice can help me save energy and money?? - December 15, 2009

Several years ago, I worked with potato farmers - wise and pragmatic people.  In springtime, they would bring some snow into their potato storages.  Snow absorbs a lot of heat as it melts, so it kept the storage (and potatoes) cool, extending the life of the potatoes.

Just as snow keeps those potato storages cool, it can help you save a bit of energy and money at home:

If you take snow or ice from outside and put it into your fridge, it will absorb heat as it melts, meaning your fridge comes on less.  (That's how 'iceboxes' worked in the days before fridges.)
You can make ice cubes for free outside, giving your fridge's freezer compartment a break.  (When you pause to think about it, it's a bit odd that we use energy to make ice in winter…)

Take advantage of FREE snow and ice to save a bit of energy and money!

A Critical Two Weeks for a Troubled Planet - December 7, 2009

The long awaited Copenhagen Climate Change Conference kicked off yesterday. It's a critical moment, one that will test our global community's ability - and desire - to work together to solve a problem that will impact every single human on Earth.

This week, a few visuals worth watching:

From 1992, "The Girl Who Silenced the World", a twelve year old's powerful message to world leaders gathering for the Rio Earth Summit.

"The Story of Stuff", a frank look at where stuff comes from and where it ends up - worth thinking about during this 'season of stuff'.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to 500 young people about climate change. To me, their bright, young faces represent hope and promise for the future. For their sake and the sake of all youth everywhere, let's hope our leaders gathering in Copenhagen get it right.

Hung out to dry - in winter even! - November 17, 2009

The clothes dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in your home; clotheslines can save a heap of money and energy. But what about those cold winter days, when hanging clothes out isn't very pleasant?

Consider portable or retractable clotheslines: lines that can be set up indoors or in porches when needed, and neatly put away when not in use. There are many models available, from single strands that can be strung above your bath tub to room-length multiple parallel lines that can hold a full load of laundry. (If you have wood heat and a ceiling fan, you'll be amazed at how fast clothes dry indoors.)

You can see different models here or here (note: not an endorsement, just examples).

One important note: it's good to dry clothes indoors, but beware that you're not creating excess moisture in your home, because that can cause problems such as mold. In many homes, the natural air leakage is enough to remove moisture. In more air-tight homes, air exchangers usually prevent moisture problems. But be aware, because it's important.

Greener Parking - November 4, 2009

Even something as simple as the way you park your vehicle can have an impact on the environment.  Here are small ways you can make a difference:

1. most important: pick the first available spot you come to instead of driving around looking for a spot closer to the door.

2. choose a 'drive-through' parking spot if possible, so you can pull out without having to reverse

3. turn off your engine and coast those last few meters into your parking spot (easier with a standard than an automatic).  For safety's sake, be sure the area is clear first, keep your foot ready on the brake, and remember that the steering wheel can lock if you turn the key too far and then try to straighten out the wheel!!

Small actions, but small actions by many = big results.

Happy Green Halloween - October 21, 2009

If your household is like mine, Halloween is one of the most exciting times of the year.  (It also results in a pillowcase full of treats which tend to last into spring.)  But even Halloween has a impact on the planet - mainly through treats, decorations and travel.  If you'd like to reduce your family's 'Halloween carbon footprint', here are a few ideas:

1. the best single action you can take is to leave the car home and walk around the neighbourhood.  Bundle up, and for added safety consider flashlights, reflective tape, face paint instead of masks, and, if the kids allow it, adult accompaniment.

2. minimize the use of inflatable decorations (they use as much power as 4-6 CFLs) and lights; use timers to turn them off automatically and save money

3. consider 'greener' treat options, food or otherwise.  Check out for lots of information and suggestions.

Save on soap while avoiding the flu - October 13, 2009

During this flu season, signs advising proper hand washing technique are posted everywhere: wet hands, apply soap, wash, rinse, dry.  I'm no expert in the matter, but it seems to me that the process can be tweaked a bit to get the same benefit with a bit less soap. 

Here's why.  When I wet my hands first then get a pump of soap, I find that much of the soap slips off my hands and down the drain unused - and so I need to get another pump of soap. 

So instead, my hand washing technique has become: get a pump of soap first, rub it around a bit, then wet my hands lightly and carry on with washing as usual.  Lots of lather, clean hands and a bit of soap saved.  True, it's just one pump - but if a million people do it...

Greener napkin etiquette - September 23, 2009

The paper napkin is part of just about every restaurant meal.  At fast food restaurants, we can even help ourselves - and it's easy to grab a handful without thinking, most of which end up in the trash unused or barely used.  Our napkin habit consumes millions of trees a year.  Millions.

But here are five simple ways you can save a tree:

1. At home, try to get away without using napkins in the first place

2. At restaurants, use just one napkin

3. Give extra napkins and napkins that have been lightly used a second life: use them as tissues (they're usually a lot stronger than regular tissues), or tuck them into your car's glovebox for a myriad of end uses.

4. When buying, choose napkins with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content

5. Compost used napkins when possible, so that they can become ingredients for the next generation of trees

Save a napkin, save a tree: it's nature's air filter.

Discover your inner activist - September 12, 2009

There are less than 100 days until "Copenhagen", the critical international meeting that will determine the follow up to the Kyoto Accord.  Many of the world's biggest emitters hold positions that are miles apart - yet climate experts tell us a strong successor to Kyoto is critical to solving our climate crisis.

If you've never been politically active before, perhaps now's the time to discover your "inner activist".  After all, could there be any more compelling reason than the well-being of our children?

Here are a couple of ways you can make a difference:

Tell your elected representative(s) what you think.  Contact information is available here (Canada) and here (US): Congress: and Senate:

Use the power of technology to organize a 'flashmob', a spontaneous gathering to make a point to leaders at all levels.  You can use the template of, a global web community planning a network of events September 21.  

(Check out this tactic being used in Quebec to put social pressure on people commuting solo:   

It starts with an efficient vehicle… - September 4, 2009

When you buy a new vehicle, you're chaining your wallet to that vehicle's fuel appetite for as long as you'll own it - and the lifetime fuel cost of an inefficient vehicle can be higher than the cost of the vehicle itself. 

For example, Natural Resources Canada estimates the annual fuel cost for a Toyota Prius at $820.  For SUVs like the GMC Yukon, Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade, Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Durango, that cost is over four times as high.  That's at today's fuel prices - sure to rise in the coming years, making the difference even bigger.

Programs like Retire Your Ride or Cash for Clunkers are nice, but the biggest cash advantage you can get when buying a new car is to choose the most efficient vehicle that meets your needs.  By chaining your wallet to efficiency, you'll save every year!

Check out new vehicle ratings here (for Canada) and here (for the US).

Ever hear of "Dayburners"? - August 11, 2009

That's the technical term for streetlights that stay on all day.  They're not supposed to, of course, but occasionally they do.  Usually the problem lies with the electronic 'eye' that switches them on and off: either it's defective, or it's covered by leaves or other debris that fool it into believing it's dark.

But here's a downer: a single streetlight burning 24/7 for two months in the summer can result in up to 80 kg of unnecessary greenhouse gas.*

The good news about dayburners is that when you spot one, you can do everyone a favour by reporting it to your utility so it can be fixed.  A simple action with a planet-preserving result!

*Assumptions: a 100 watt bulb (the minimum streetlight bulb size) burning 15 extra hours daily for 60 days; and all power generated by coal.

It might be the dehumidifier… - July 29, 2009

…I said to some friends who commented over dinner that their July power bill was much higher than their June bill.  And a quick test with a portable power meter showed that that was indeed the case.

Summer is the time of humidity.  And while it's very important to keep humidity at bay to prevent the growth of mould, dehumidifiers - especially older ones - can consume a lot of energy.  My own dehumidifier (an oldie) uses nearly 500 watts, or as much power as three dozen CFL bulbs. Ouch!

So what can you do? 

1. manage your dehumidifier use: instead of turning it on in June and turning it off in September (as many of us do), set it to operate at a level that keeps humidity levels reasonable.  Trying to get humidity levels to zero is like swimming against a river: it takes a lot of energy, and the river always wins eventually.

2. when buying a new dehumidifier, look for the ENERGY STAR symbol, a sign of top efficiency. 

Are your electric baseboard heaters turned off for the summer?  Are you SURE? - July 14, 2009

It's summer, but your electric baseboard heaters may still be consuming energy and running up your power bill.

Here's why.  First, in spite of our best intentions, thermostats are sometimes not turned down.  We forget, especially in rooms we don't often use, or they get turned up on a cool day and aren't set back down later.

Secondly, thermostats often lose their accuracy - so even when you turn them down, they may still click the heat on during cooler periods.  For example, a thermostat that's off by 5 degrees may kick in when it's 15 degrees, even if you have it set down to 10 degrees.  That's heat you don't need and money you can save.

There's a simple way to be sure your heat is not coming on behind your back this summer: go to your power panel and turn off the breaker for your heaters.  Then just reset it in the fall when you want the heat.  Simple savings!

Air conditioning: a cooler me, but a warmer planet - July 3, 2009

Air conditioning feels great on a hot day - but it comes with a big environmental price.  In vehicles, next to driving, air conditioning is the biggest load on the engine.  In homes and buildings, air conditioning can be a big part of the summer power bill.  In Ontario and most US states, power consumption is actually higher in the summer than it is in the winter because of air conditioning.  Considering most power still comes from fossil fuels, well… you get the picture.

But we can stay comfortable, save money and reduce the impact of air conditioning with a few simple actions:

In vehicles, use open windows at speeds below 60 KM/h (about 35 MPH); use the fan with a window open a crack at faster speeds.

In buildings, set thermostats a few degrees higher (this simple action has a HUGE impact), and only cool places where there are people, when they are there.  Encourage people to dress for warm weather.  (Duh!!)

Reduce, Reuse or Downcycle - June 18, 2009

Most of us feel good about recycling, and for good reason: recycling helps us stretch more life out of resources and it can greatly extend the life of landfills. 

But recycling isn't truly recycling - it's actually 'downcycling', because products sent for recycling are never remanufactured into the same product - they are turned into something of lesser quality, lower down the chain of products.  Eventually, virtually everything ends up as trash.

So while recycling is much better than throwing something out, the best thing you can do for the environment by far is the first R: reduce.

You can read more about downcycling here:, and an excellent book on the subject is "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things".

It's a matter of faith - June 3, 2009

According to Statistics Canada, eight of ten Canadians count themselves among a faith community.  Faith communities - be they Christian, Jew, Muslim or other - can be tremendous forces for change and social progress.  Since environmental stewardship is consistent with the teachings of virtually every faith, faith communities can play a huge role in 'spreading the word' and 'being the change'.

If you are a member of a faith community, there are plenty of resources out there to help: is an interfaith organization based in Toronto to provide guidance toward improved sustainability is a California-based interfaith group with similar objectives and an information-filled website

More ideas for ways faith groups can combat global warming are available here: and a full column on the subject is here:

Measure your mileage... then manage it - May 21, 2009

Most of us aren't exactly sure what our fuel mileage is - and that makes it hard to tell if changes to our driving habits are yielding results.  Here's an easy way to save 10-20% on your monthly gas bill:

1. the next time you fill up, make note of your odometer reading.  A glovebox notebook is best, but a slip of paper works too.  For your next fill-up after that, note the odometer reading and the amount of fuel you bought.  Then divide the distance you drove since the last fill-up by the amount of fuel it took to fill your tank, and you have your 'benchmark mileage', be it kilometers per liter or miles per gallon.

2. practice this one easy habit: drive as if you have an egg taped under the toe of your right foot, and your aim is to get where you're going without breaking the egg.  Gentle on the gas, gentle on the brake, maximum coasting.

3. repeat step one to get your new mileage.  If you're a typical driver, you'll see a 10-20% savings - just like that!

You can see your vehicle's official rating here (Canada) or here (US).

The difference between recycled paper and... recycled paper - May 7, 2009

Not all recycled paper is created equal: different words, different percentages and different certifications make buying paper a lot more complicated than it used to be.  But here's a bit of clarity.

Paper made from Post-Consumer Waste is made from honest-to-goodness recycled paper: material that has gone through one consumer cycle, been collected via recycling centers or blue boxes, and re-processed into new paper.  The percentage of Post Consumer Waste in paper varies, but if you find a product that's 100% Post-Consumer Waste, you've got the best - because it's made of material diverted (rescued?) from the landfill.

Paper made from Pre-Consumer Waste is made from scrap paper that never made it to the consumer:  trimmings from print shops and newspapers, surplus copies printed, etc.  Paper made from Pre-Consumer Waste is better than paper made from virgin pulp, but not as good as paper made from Post-Consumer Waste.

And since most paper available is not 100% recycled, look for an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council - or Green Seal ( logo that certifies that the non-recycled portion of the paper comes from sustainably managed forests.

In praise of Ecotarians - April 23, 2009

Are you an "Ecotarian"?  (You don't have to change your citizenship to be one...) 

An Ecotarian is someone who considers the environmental implications of their food choices, and selects a diet that has a minimal impact on the planet.  Since our food makes up big part of our personal carbon footprint, selecting wisely can make a huge difference.  High on the ecotarian menu: local food (especially from your own garden); minimally processed food; food with little packaging; organic food; food high in veggies and low in meat.  At the bottom of the ecotarian menu: food, especially produce, from faraway places; meat; highly processed and/or frozen food; food with heavy packaging; food originating from endangered or threatened species.

Be an Ecotarian: you'll do the Earth a big favour by making wise choices at home and wherever else you eat.

Burnt coffee and wasted power - April 15, 2009

I'm guessing anyone who's worked in an office setting knows about burnt coffee: the tar-like stuff that tasted great when it was brewed hours ago. 

Not only does burnt coffee taste terrible - it's a symptom of wasted power too.  Coffee makers use a lot of electricity - household ones use about 600-700 watts, but some commercial types use over 1000 watts, or as much as about 75 compact fluorescent light bulbs.  And they keep using power as long as the switch is left on.

The solution?  One: why not plan to make just the amount of coffee needed, and encourage everyone to enjoy it while it's fresh; and Two, just turn the pot off as soon as it's done brewing.  Plus - consider swapping that energy-hungry commercial coffee maker (especially the instant-brew ones) for a more efficient one. 

For great coffee and great power saving, it's as simple as that!

Precycling, a new word to know - March 25, 2009

Have you ever heard of 'precycling'?  It's way better for the environment than recycling.

Precycling is the practice of avoiding waste in the first place by making choices such as buying in bulk, choosing products with minimal packaging, using and reusing your own containers and avoiding throwaway items (such as paper cups, foam plates and plastic cutlery).  How much precycling you can do is limited only by your imagination and how far you're willing to go to protect our environment. 

Recycling is better than trashing, but it is still an energy-intensive activity, because recycled materials need to be transported and reprocessed.  Precycling is simply about thinking a few steps upstream, and making more eco-friendly choices.  You could argue it's a fancy name for Reducing, the most important of the three Rs!

Getting the most out of paper - March 11, 2009

Paper is part of everyday life at home and work, but it has a dollar and environmental cost.  Here are a few ideas to save on both:

1. Use your photocopier's double sided option.  If it doesn't have one, learn how to feed paper in so that you can manually copy one side, flip the paper and copy on the other.  Big paper saving potential.

2. Use your printer's double sided option.  If you don't know how it works, check with your IT support person or click Print - Properties and look for the options.  Or learn how to feed paper so you can print one side, flip the paper and then print the other.

3. Minimize the font on your e-mail autosignature so that e-mails you send that need to be printed out don't spill over onto another page.

4. Instead of discarding paper that's been used on one side (including incoming paper), put it in a bin, file or slot near your printer or copier, so the other side can be used too.

5. Print only what really needs to be printed; e-file when possible.

6. Choose post-consumer (important words) recycled paper to save a tree.

Second thoughts on flying - February 25, 2009

I used to love to fly, but it's not as much fun as it used to be.  Why?  Because I've learned that from an environmental perspective, flying is one of the worst ways to travel.  A round trip from my local airport to Toronto (1:45 each way in a small jet) produces about 450 kg of CO2 emissions - nearly half a tonne! (Note: this is the average of 4 sources)

What to do?  The BEST solution is to avoid flying altogether by using videoconferencing, teleconferencing and webinars when possible; and vacationing near home.

And when flying is unavoidable, fly light: critically assess every ounce you take with you, because every ounce has a carbon footprint in the air.  Plus buy a carbon offset to counterbalance the impact of your flight - a small premium for the health of the planet.When the trash man saves, we all save - February 10, 2009

 When the trash man saves, we all save - February 11, 2009

You probably already know how terrible stop-and-go-driving is for gas mileage; it's the main reason why fuel economy ratings are much worse for city driving than for highway.  A lot of energy goes into speeding up, and then it's lost and wasted when we hit the brakes.

The same thing applies to the trucks that pass by your home to collect garbage and recycling.  A stop at every driveway means an awful lot of fuel spent on stop-and-go driving.

So what if... What if we all got together with our neighbours, and did one small thing: agreed to put out our trash and recycling at the same spot each week?  We could cut the number of stops for the truck by half, or even more.  Way less fuel burned, way less emissions, better air for all, a happier trash collector.  No financial payback for us, but a warm fuzzy feeling for doing a good thing.

Why not talk to a neighbour, and try it this week - and every week?

Computer power - January 29, 2009

Does your computer run around the clock, 24/7?  If so, you're missing out on an opportunity to knock a few dollars off of your monthly power bill.

Just this morning I measured my computer's power use, and here's the result.  It uses 45 watts when it's just on - let's call that idling - and 105 watts when it's thinking really hard.  My monitor uses 55 watts.  Add speakers, printer (off but still using a trickle of "phantom power") and router, and the total power use of my system is 115 watts "at idle", 175 watts when it's thinking really hard.

That means that, if left on constantly "at idle", a system like mine would consume nearly $100 in power per year.  If that power came from coal, it would generate almost one tonne of greenhouse gases.

The solution?  You can use sleep and hibernate settings, so your system drops into a power-saving mode when not used for a few minutes.  (Click Control panel - Power options).  And for even more savings, shut down your computer when it is not in use, and plug everything into a power bar that you can click off to completely eliminate those trickles of phantom power.

Carbon-free greetings - January 14, 2009

According to the American Greeting Card Association, 7 billion cards are purchased in the US annually.  That's a lot of paper and a lot of trees!

But there's an environmentally friendly alternative: One Tree Per Card's attractive cards with striking natural scenes that are completely carbon neutral - or even 'carbon positive', producing a net environmental benefit.

How is this possible?  Simple - photographer/designer Phil Riebel has made a commitment to using only eco-friendly paper and inks.  But here's the big reason: one tree is planted for EVERY card purchased.  In the battle against climate change, trees are among our greatest allies.

If you enjoy sending greeting cards to family and friends, show your commitment to our planet by going carbon neutral!  Check out One Tree Per Card's designs here /  (And they cost no more than brand name cards.)

Not about me, but about us - December 29, 2008

When it comes to climate change, there are no exemptions: we're all in it together. If global warming could be compared to a Class 5 rapid on a river, every one of us would be a passenger in a raft headed toward the rapid. Getting through it means paddling together - a job made much easier when we think less about "me" and more about "we".

Christmastime shows us the potential for human hearts to help, share and work together. So may that same Christmas spirit that brings out our best stay with us every day, to help us meet the challenges we will be facing together.

Thank you for being a Green Ideas subscriber, and best wishes for a happy, healthy and GREEN 2009.

How to save on a cold start - December 08

For many of us, plugging in our car is a convenient way to ensure that it starts on cold mornings. But your vehicle's block heater is an energy hog: most use 400-450 watts, as much as 30 compact fluorescent light bulbs. If you plug in your car for 14 hours a night, that's costing you $17-19 per month.

Since it takes just 2 hours for a block heater to warm most engines, anything more is a waste of power. But you don't need to get up extra early each morning - you can just get a timer (available at most hardware stores), and program it to turn your block heater on automatically while you're still sleeping. You can save over 80%, and still be sure that your car will start in the morning.

Based on the above numbers, a $25 timer can pay for itself in about 2 months - an amazing investment! (Plus: a car that's plugged in will warm up more quickly, and produce fewer emissions while warming up.)

Guilt-free Christmas lights - December 08

Bah humbug - these days, it seems even Christmas lights can't escape scrutiny. How green are your outdoor lights?

If they're the old-style lights with the big 7 cm long bulbs, yikes: a string of 25 takes 175 watts of power - equal to 13 compact fluorescent light bulbs.

But if they are the new outdoor LED lights, phew: a string of 75 lights uses 3 watts or less. That's right - three times as many bulbs, a fraction of the power.

In dollars, that means using 75 LED lights 5 hours a night for 30 nights costs just 4.5 cents, compared to $7.95 for 75 old-style big bulbs. And many of us put up a lot more than 75 lights.

Make LEDs a part of your green Christmas. They use 99% less energy than old-style outdoor lights, so you can light up the neighborhood guilt-free for pennies!

A better way to flush - November 08

It sits there quietly, always ready when you need it. But it accounts for 30% of the water used inside most homes. "It", of course, is the toilet.

But not all toilets are equal. Years ago, toilets used 20 ltres/flush. But today's efficient models use just 6 L. Some even have dual flush controls, so you can flush with 3 or 6 L, depending on the needs of the moment.

The good news: you can now get a federal EcoEnergy grant when you upgrade to an eligible low flow toilet (and, in NB, assistance from Efficiency NB too). A list of eligible models can be downloaded from here (beware: there are MANY more toilets out there than you might have thought!). But remember, to get a grant, you need to get an EcoEnergy home evaluation done first.

Replacing an inefficient old toilet is the water equivalent of trading a Hummer for a hybrid - a great way to save!

With one easy click every day, you can help save the planet

Most of us don't think about which website opens when we start our internet browser every morning; it's usually MSN, your internet provider or something similar.  But there's a way you can use your first click of the day to help preserve the planet's rainforests.

Make the Rainforest Site,, the home page you start from every day.  Then just click where it says "Click here to give - it's FREE".  And with that simple action, you've preserved just over a square meter of the world's rainforests, the lungs of the planet that can absorb back much of the CO2 'exhaled' by our burning of fossil fuels. 

It's not much, but those square meters add up - over 35,000 people click the site every day, and over 40,000 acres have been preserved so far.  If everyone receiving this Green Idea clicked daily, we alone could preserve an area the size of a soccer field every week. 

The land is paid for by sponsors who advertise on the Rainforest Site.  If you visit, you'll also see similar sites in support of breast cancer, hunger, literacy and more - all causes you can support with the simple click of a mouse.

You can make The Rainforest Site your home page by going to it, then clicking Tools - Internet Options - General - Use current.

Idling less is 'low hanging fruit'

You've probably heard the expression 'low hanging fruit', referring to something that is easy to do - as opposed to tougher tasks, which are the 'high hanging fruit'.  In the big environmental picture, there are some pretty big challenges facing us - the 'high hanging fruit' - that need to be addressed at the very highest levels of authority and power.

But there is also plenty of 'low hanging fruit': there are things each of us can do to make a difference.  Among the lowest of the 'low hanging fruit': reducing the amount of time we idle our engines, whether waiting for someone or sitting in a drive-through.  It's estimated that Canadians waste more than $2 million worth of fuel a day by idling.

The easy solution?  The 10 second rule: it's better to turn off an engine than to let it idle for longer than 10 seconds.  A small step to a large solution!

Get Hyper!

High fuel prices are a bitter pill for every driver.  But imagine being able to drive the equivalent of 2 months for free every year.

It's possible, without doing a single thing to your vehicle or its fuel - no gadgets to install, no additives to pour into your tank.  All you need to do is get into the habit of hypermiling: driving in a way so that you stretch more kilometers out of every liter of fuel. Most  drivers can improve their mileage by 10-20% just by changing two key driving habits: 1) drive with a gentle foot on the gas and brake - no sudden starts and stops - and 2) drive a bit slower on the highway.  Just these two changes will give most drivers 10-20% improved mileage - the equivalent of 2 free months of driving every year.

You can learn many more tips and tricks here: 

Get hyper today, and start saving money, energy and the environment.

A pledge for Earth Day 

On Tuesday, April 22, the 39th Earth Day will be celebrated.  It's a bit like New Year's: a chance to look back at what was since the last Earth Day, and to look forward to what can be in the coming 12 months.

If you'd like to reduce your carbon footprint, here are the three best things you can do - for the planet, and for your pocketbook:

1. Get an EnerGuide evaluation done on your home, and implement the recommended upgrades.  Home renos are a pretty major undertaking, but they can produce VERY substantial savings on your heating bill... 20, 30, 40% or more, depending on the age and condition of your home.

2. Start planning for your next vehicle, and make it the most fuel-efficient that meets your needs.  Say no to 4 wheel drives or trucks if you only need their features or capacity a couple of times a year.  (Consider just renting a truck for those periodic times you need one - cheaper for you and better for the Earth.)  The Office of Energy Efficiency provides fuel economy ratings for all vehicles sold in Canada here:

3. Drive less whenever possible.  Carpool, take the bus, walk, bike, hitchhike.  The best (and cheapest) litre of fuel is the one that you DIDN'T use.

Recycling is great, changing your light bulbs is excellent - but since our biggest impact on the planet by far comes from heating our homes and getting around, consider the above 3 steps if you want to make a really big dent in your personal carbon footprint.

"My chimney needs a PILLOW???"

Have you ever heard of a 'chimney pillow' or a 'chimney balloon'? You might want to look into one if you have a chimney in your home. You see, if you have a chimney (especially one with a fireplace), there's a good chance it's running up your heating bill.

Fireplaces can be cozy and romantic, but they are not very efficient at heating a home - most of the heat they produce goes straight up the chimney. But what's worse is this: long after the fire is out, a good bit of your precious home heat keeps going up the chimney. That's because the dampers in chimneys are not very airtight, and they allow much warm air to escape up and out. They often create a noticeable draft indoors too.

To stop this heat loss, you can stuff a 'chimney pillow' or 'chimney balloon' up into the flue when there's no fire on. Well installed, a pillow or balloon will stop drafts and save you significant heating dollars. You can buy one, or make your own with supplies from your hardware store. The internet has plenty of helpful information.

It's easy to stop the draft from your flue or chimney - but remember to take it out before you start a fire!

Where's the cheapest gas?

As consumers, we tend to really pinch pennies when it comes to buying gas. Often, we'll even go out of our way to save a fraction of a cent per litre.

But does this really make sense? Just for a second, consider the math. Saving one tenth of a cent per litre on a fill-up of 50 litres adds up to a nickel. Most of us would see a saving of 2 cents a litre as a big thing, but even that adds up to only one dollar saved on a tankful - about the cost of a cookie and some crumbs at the local coffee shop.

If we have to go out of our way to get "cheaper gas", the savings are usually more than offset by the amount of extra time we spend going for it, and the amount of extra fuel we burn in the process.

So where is the cheapest gas? All things considered, it's usually at the first station you drive past in the course of your usual travels. Even if it costs a few nickels more per tank, it likely will benefit you more than that in saved fuel and time. And saved fuel is always better for the planet!!

Be a 'nudgebreaker'

In stopped traffic, have you ever noticed that when one driver nudges ahead, everyone behind usually does the same thing? It seems we do that in any lineup, whether at the bank, grocery store or airport.

Does this ripple effect get anyone where they're going any sooner? Well, no. But everyone does end up burning an extra shot of fuel each time they nudge forward.

So the next time you're stopped traffic, be the 'nudgebreaker' and resist the urge to edge forward. You'll save fuel for yourself and everyone in the line behind you.