Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Water Films

Vancity Theatre in Vancouver is currently showing the movies "Blue Gold" and "Flow: For Love of Water" from December 12 to 18.

Both films explore the pressing issue of water as an environmental, social and economic problem that is developing globally.

I saw Flow a couple months ago and Blue Gold last night. I found Blue Gold to be more focused and informative than Flow.

"Blue Gold" is based on a book by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke.

Monday, December 15, 2008

London on Tap

London on Tap was created to promote the drinking of tap water in London. Part of this campaign included a design contest and Neil Barron won with his innovative carafe (pictured above).

This campaign in London follows a number of global campaigns to promote urban tap water as a safe and healthy choice. Metro Vancouver has also created a tap water campaign which invites the region’s residents to make a “tap water pledge” to drink tap water in refillable bottles instead of buying single-use plastic water bottles. The goal is to increase the use of tap water for drinking purposes by reducing sales of bottled water by 20% by 2010.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Sustainable Region TV Program

Metro Vancouver has released a number of short video stories online which discuss various issues in sustainability at both the global and local levels.

Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

“Culture and Community”

This morning's Sustainability Community Breakfast explored the roles of culture and community in creating sustainability.

The first speaker was Sheila McKinnon, Manager of Arts at Surrey Parks. The City of Surrey was designated as the cultural capital of Canada for 2008 and Sheila discussed the theme of this year's selection (Fusion-a catalyst for cultural sharing) and the various projects that Surrey participated in throughout the year which contributed to their selection. One source that she cited as her inspiration was the Creative City Network's special edition on Exploring the Cultural Dimensions of Sustainability. Sheila also discussed the main points behind cultural sustainability including raising awareness, ensuring accessibility, planning a beautiful city, cultural events for tolerance and community pride among other aspects. She also stressed the power of the arts to motivate and move people to participate and create change.

Amir Ali Alibhai, the Cultural Development Officer for North Vancouver's Office of Cultural Affairs discussed his experience as an art director at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre in Yaletown. He also stressed how art has the power to allow people and communities to shift perspectives and create change and that small individual efforts can make huge changes in the world. He also took time to define sustainability in the cultural process, citing it as a continuing process rather than a final end point that can adapt to change. His strategies to attain cultural sustainability included having all classes work together, participation with all levels of the community (children, elderly, etc.), partnerships with individuals as well as organizations and the creation of special events.

Sheila Hall is an Artist and Instructor at Emily Carr University and primarily discussed her work on her project To Connect. To Connect is a public art project with Metro Vancouver which attempts to engage different cultures with the community while recognizing Vancouver's unique and diverse history. Sheila Hall also participates in a number of art projects that work with the global community towards sustainability. One of the projects she shared with the breakfast involved working with women in the Philippines to create dresses and fashion from fibers from leaves of pineapples.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Every Human Has Rights

December 10th is Human Rights Day - this year is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Make a personal pledge to uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and sign the Every Human has Rights pledge at Amnesty International.

You can read the UDHR on the United Nations website.

UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland

Watch what is happening at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland, and interact in real time with conference participants online: Will be broadcasting live shows from Poznan every evening at 17:30 GMT / 12:30 EST from 6th December.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Artist as Environmental Urban Innovator

On Thursday, December 4 Cascadia BC hosted a talk by artist Noel Harding entitled "Artist as Environmental Urban Innovator".

One of Noel Harding's more well know pieces of work was the "Elevated Wetlands" in Toronto (pictured above). This project was commissioned by the plastics industry to create a piece of public artwork for the city of Toronto. Noel discussed how he came up with the idea of the elevated wetlands and the process of the production.

Currently, Noel is working on a project in Windsor, ON, just across the USA border. This project is called the Green Corridor and sits on one of the only Mexico - Canada highway routes. The project is on a highly industrial area and Noel took it upon himself to find opportunities for the 'crappy buildings' in the area. This project is in collaboration with the University of Windsor and the broader Windsor community as well as stakeholder that use the land (ie, the large number of truck drivers that pass through every day.) The area that is being used for the project is a 2 km area of land just across the border in Canada. Projects include a green overpass walkway with wind turbines, floating rehabilitating gardens in the river, green residential homes and an educational wetland and urban park area. The project is a good example of a collaborative urban planning project that utilizes various disciplines to create a functional and aesthetic urban environment.

While Noel mostly gave examples of his projects his underlying message was that all his projects are small symbols of what can be possible on the broad scale. While the 2 km area of land is being transformed into a more ecologically and socially friendly area of town it is primarily a symbol of what can be possible on a larger scale.

I found many of his ideas to be very interesting and quite simple. For example, the idea of putting wind turbines on highway overpasses to generate power from cars passing underground is genius in it's simplicity.

The technology and designs exist to create a more sustainable world, it is merely a matter of implementing what already exists.

A short animated film on the Green Corridor:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

OneWorld's People of 2008

The finalists for OneWorld's People of 2008 have been announced. Read all their inspiring stories, and vote for your favorite today:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

“The Opportunities for Urban Density”

This morning was the Metro Vancouver Sustainability Community Breakfast with discussions around "The Opportunities for Urban Density".

The first speaker was Ronda Howard, Assistant Director of Planning at the City of Vancouver. Her talk focused on solutions for low density areas outside of downtown Vancouver by speaking on three types of densities - 1.)Gentle 2.)Hidden and 3.) Invisible. She stressed that it was important to focus on these areas as land area that Vancouver can spread into is becoming less available and it is important to meet the new housing needs that will arise (i.e. an aging population with home care, new families, etc.)

For the first type of density, gently density, she gave the example of neighborhood centres. Currently in Vancouver these are primarily in the conceptual stage; however, the Kingsway and Knight Neighbourhood Centre Program is one example where the city is working to create a denser and more functional neighborhood centre.

The second type of density, hidden density, referred to the laneway housing that is being developed in Vancouver. The idea behind this housing is to expand on the areas currently put aside for garages and parking and turning them into single family or rental units. Some of the ideas behind this are that caregivers could live behind houses or adult children would have places to stay in the city. This type of 'ecodensity' housing would keep neighborhoods diverse and functional. While I believe that space needs to be utilized as much as possible, I think the laneway housing project is difficult to grasp as very small, shack like houses would be dwarfed by their larger neighbors and could be abused by people using them only as an extension of their large homes, by perhaps using them as guest houses or studios. However, Ronda did stress that many concerns and aspects of this type of housing were still to be discussed and defined.

The final type of density, invisible density, dealt primarily with secondary suites. For example, renting out basement suites. This is already done widely in Vancouver, but can be expanded. Ronda finished her talk by discussing the importance of public involvement in all the planning processes.

The second speaker was Norm Shearing, Vice-President of ParkLane Homes speaking from a developer's perspective. He spoke on locating areas to be developed for urban density, determining the feasibility and appropriateness of the development. He spoke of three projects that his company had been involved with: East Fraserlands, Bedford Landing and Sapperton. All of these projects were done on previous industrial areas. He spoke on finding non-industrial opportunities for these sites and the importance of community involvement in the planning and building process. This involves finding the appropriate densities and uses for the land, providing mixed use, mixed housing and increasing density that would have been marginally developed otherwise. He cited that all his examples were pedestrian friendly and displayed smart growth opportunities.

The final speaker, Jean Lamontagne, General Manager of Planning and Development at the City of Surrey spoke of the opportunities for urban density in the City of Surrey. Surrey has seen large amounts of new growth due to trends in affordability of the area, this growth has been mostly in the form of multi-family buildings and apartments. 41% of the residents work in Surrey; however, public transportation within the city is poor and needs to be developed. The City of Surrey is currently trying to steer away from single family housing to more pedestrian oriented development in high density neighborhoods while supporting LEED certified building and community involvement.

Overall I found the talks to be interesting. Vancouver is currently the highest density residential area in North America followed New York and the planning and organization behind that development is interesting. It was interesting to hear how the city is currently increasing urban density in neighborhoods that are not as dense as the downtown area.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The X Prize

The X-Prize is a competition to find the answer to the question, "What's your crazy green idea?" The public can view two-minute YouTube videos and choose the idea that they think deserves the prize money. The prize has been narrowed down to three videos to be voted on by November 30.

I personally like the video "Energy X-Prize: Reduce Home Energy Usage" (seen below) because it addresses individual's personal consumption rather than a specific technology that can 'fix' energy use. However, I also though The Energy Independence X PRIZE was also quite good with the use of micro-energy to run homes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Environmental Impact of Cocaine

Columbia's cocaine trade not only has an enormous impact on individual's health, well-being and security, but also has an enormous ecological impact as well.

Watch a slideshow put together by The Guardian which demonstrates how the cocaine trade in Columbia is ruining the ecology of the region.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kill the Cardboard Cup

A new campaign created to end the widespread use and abuse of cardboard cups for hot beverages.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Pine Beetle Epidemic in the West

Pine Beetle Video

A brief look at how the pine beetle is affecting forests and trees in the western US and Canada.

Africa Canada Accountability Coalition

The Africa Canada Accountability Coalition (ACAC) was created in response to the November 2008 crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The coalition's message calls on the Canadian leadership to act immediately to stop human suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The coalition acts by contacting Members of Parliament and holding education events, through the support of member and individual organizations committed to the message that ACAC embodies.

Our message has the support of Oxfam, UBC Africa Awareness Initiative, Caribbean African Association UBC, Canadian Students for Darfur, WUSC UBC, UNICEF UBC, Hillel House UBC, STAND UBC and the Alma Mater Society of UBC.

Download the following PDF file and fill it out then send it to your local Member of Parlament (you do not need to pay for postage when mailing an MP).

Monday, November 17, 2008

The New Competition for Global Resources

Companies in the U.S. and Western Europe once had unfettered access to the world’s resources, such as raw materials, capital and talent. However, with increasing demand from India, China, Brazil, Russia and other rapidly developing economies, access is no longer assured.

This report from Wharton and The Boston Consulting Group discusses the ways in which the 'race' for resources is reshaping global business and how key political and financial trends in emerging economies are likely to affect companies doing business anywhere in the world.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Team Earth

Conservation International has released their new Team Earth Digital Magazine. This digital magazine offers an interactive way to see what projects Conservation International have been working on.

This issue highlights:

Bird’s Head Seascape in Papua New Guinea — a teeming coral reef where they found 50 new species of fish, coral and crustaceans, including two new species of “walking” sharks and where they are training a new cadre of conservation leaders.
Guyana’s forests — the source of 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, where they have leased 200,000 acres from the government for conservation, both addressing climate change and providing living resources to the people who live there.
A Climate for Life — an evocative photo essay that celebrates the wildlife, places and people that are affected by climate change.
An on-the-ground update from post-disaster China — where CI and numerous partners are working to protect both the people and the pandas who have been affected by last summer’s earthquake.

It is a pretty interesting way to explore conservation efforts around the world.

Friday, November 14, 2008


A single seat electric car that was released in Japan this past week. The bodywork is made entirely from bamboo.

Read more here and here

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A cute electric car

Echoing Green

The Echoing Green Fellowship

If you have an innovate solution to social and environmental change, consider applying for the above fellowship.

Each year, Echoing Green awards 20 two-year fellowships to social entrepreneurs. Fellows receive up to $90,000 in seed funding and technical support to turn their innovative ideas into sustainable social change organizations.

Application deadline is December 1.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Aspen Design Challenge

Cumulus has created the Aspen Design Challenge - Designing Water's Future competition for students and recent graduates.

''In March 2008, Cumulus adopted the Kyoto Design Declaration, committing itself and its members to sharing the global responsibility for building sustainable, human-centered and creative societies. As one of the first opportunities to demonstrate the strength and reach of design education and students in addressing global problems, Cumulus faculty and students have been invited to participate in the first of what will become one of the most prestigious annual global design events, the Aspen Design Challenge-Designing Water's Future."

Manly Drinking Station

Manly Drinking Station
Originally uploaded by knicole7
A clever public water tap at Manly Beach in Australia.

Encouraging the use of public water and reusable water bottles.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scientific American Earth 3.0

Scientific America is offering a free copy of a special issue focusing on the state of the planet. Download your digital copy of Scientific American Earth 3.0.

This special issue of the magazine takes an in-depth look at environment, energy economics and policy from a scientific perspective.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wood Arch

Originally uploaded by streuwerk
An interesting and beautiful example of EcoArt.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Innovative water storage

Innovative water storage
Originally uploaded by ajfis2
An example of an interesting looking yet functional water fountain/public tap.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

“Nature’s Health Drink – Always on Tap”

This morning Metro Vancouver hosted one of their 'Sustainability Breakfasts' discussing their 2009 priorities and financial plan and featuring three speakers discussing the new Metro Vancouver Tap Water Campaign. They also took the opportunity to promote the Metro Vancouver Sustainability Framework which was recently released.

The objectives of the campaign are to increase the public awareness of the high quality of regional Vancouver's tap water, promote the new Seymour-Capilano filtration plant. and reduce the number of bottles that end up in waste by 20% over the next 2 years. On their website you can sign the pledge to choose tap water over single-use plastic bottled water whenever possible.

The first speaker, Dr. Patricia Daly - Chief Medical Health Officer and Vice-President of Public Health, Vancouver Coastal Health - spoke on the health benefits of tap water. As obesity and diabetes continue to rise in North America, many people are blaming sugar sweetened drinks as a primary contributor to this increase. The Canada Food Guide states that drinking water regularly is necessary for good health. Tap water is a particularly good choice because it comes from a clean, tested source, is inexpensive and reduces environmental waste. The greater Vancouver water comes from a pristine source. There is no agricultural, industrial or recreational use at the source, unlike most cities. More than 25,000 water samples are taken each year to ensure safety - not the case with bottled water. The cost of bottled water is outrageously expensive, while people are complaining of $1.50/ litre of petrol, they are more than willing to pay more than 3 times that amount for bottled water - something they can get for free if they simply turn on the tap.

Dr Daly went on to speculate on why people choose bottled water over tap citing marketing (bottled water companies have millions of dollars they can pour into advertising), convenience (availability of drinking fountains and taps is limited) and a loss of confidence in tap water. Her solution for spreading tap water use was to make sure you are drinking tap water at home and work, buy water bottles for your family, ask for tap water when you go out to eat and advocate for more drinking fountains.

Dr. Hans Schreier, Professor at the UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, was the second speaker of the morning and discussed the quality and content of bottled water. Currently Vancouver residents on average use 350 litres of water per person per a day - over twice the amount of European residents. Of this enormous amount, only 4% is used for drinking. Europeans also pay over 3 times as much for the water they use, so people living in Metro Vancouver pay the least for water, but use the most.

Dr. Schreier pointed out that municipal water - water from the tap - is regulated by health guidelines, while bottled water is regulated by food, that is why on bottle water labels there is fat and calorie amounts whereas what is actually important in water is the amount of nitrate. Nitrate is generally measured on a scale from 1-10 ppm. 1-3 is okay to drink 3-10 has been affected by land use and above 10 is unhealthy. The European Economic Community requires nitrate values on bottled waters in Europe and when that regulation was issued, at least 3 companies in Europe could not meet them. Dr. Schreier's main point is that bottled water is rarely clear about the actual source it is from and its labeling does not point out what is important. In fact most bottled water companies actually take from municipal sources, thus selling back to consumers water that they could get if they simply turned on their own taps.

The final speaker, Cheryl Ashlie - Chair of the Board of School Trustees School District No. 42, discussed switching away from bottled water in the school system. Currently, a large number of school funds come from vending machines. These machines were brought in originally for sport clubs at the school and used to primarily dispense soft drinks. This has now changed to juices and bottled water; however, more school funds are now dependent on the revenue from vending machines making it nearly impossible to remove them from the schools. The challenge of the school board is that since they were promoting bottled water for the past couple years, is changing that mentality. Cheryl spoke about a new skate park they put in a school last year and since students are so used to carrying bottled water, they are only just now trying to fundraise for a water fountain at the park.

The primary issues that schools will have to deal with when changing towards promoting tap water is if the schools can manage without the revenue from the vending machines, will the students actually change and start drinking tap water having grown up with bottled water and what role should industry have as part of this. However, Cheryl also stated that switching from bottled water is the only situation, the 'right thing to do'. Overall it will reduce the carbon footprint of the schools and renew the faith in the municipal water system.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Say goodbye to paper cups!

The rise in popularity of carrying around purchased bottled water throughout the 1990s and into the new century has led to an environmental travesty as millions of plastic bottles were disposed of around the world. This has currently begun to change as people have become more aware of the environmental and social problems surrounding bottled water and in response have begun to carry around their own reusable water bottles.

However, this environmental tragedy is now seen in the millions of paper coffee cups purchased, carried around and disposed of every bleary eyed morning and throughout the day. A common misconception that surround the paper coffee cups is that they are recyclable, when actually it is only the cardboard sleeve (also completely unnecessary) that is the only recyclable bit. Since the coffee cups are lined in wax, you can not throw them in with regular paper recycling.

Fortunately, people are discussing taxing these cups, much like plastic bags: Say goodbye to paper cups?

What annoys me is when I do order a coffee and ask for it in a ceramic mug, it is often still given to me in a paper cup. An alternative is to carry your own reusable coffee mug (or just keep one at your desk or wherever you usually drink coffee), much like the reusable water bottle you should be carrying around now...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sisters on the Planet

Join Oxfam Canada on October 16 - World Food Day - for a public screening of the new documentary Sisters on the Planet followed by special guest speakers discussing climate change, the food crisis and the role of women.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Frogfile Green Business Expo

Yesterday was the Frogfile Green Business Expo held at the Vancity theatre in Vancouver. The event hosted booths from green office friendly vendors, discussions led by sustainability business experts and a variety of short films on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

One of the most interesting discussions that I attended was on Green Marketing facilitated by Peter ter Weeme from Junxion Strategy. The discussion was held around the question that since CSR has become so popular, can business professionals still use CSR as a marketing differentiator and if so, how? A number of companies approaches - both successful and unsuccessful - were discussed.

The dangers and prevalence of 'greenwashing' were discussed. One statistic that I found astonishing was that after researching 1018 products claiming to be green, only 1% of them were making legitimate claims. This article Spin Cycle was published in BIV.

In order to combat greenwashing and create a business with a legitimate sustainable mission, Peter discussed a couple of Do's and Don'ts for green marketing:

- understand what your consumer is looking for;
- frame your product as a solution instead of a problem;
- align your green message with core attributes of company (a good example of who is NOT doing this are companies like Exxon and BP);
- state your facts with humility ;
- focus on your achievements not just your goals;
- bring in third party verification;
- engage your employees as part of the process.

- wake up one day and decide to change every aspect of your company to 'green', take gradual steps;
- market buying green as a sacrifice;
- use vague messages or images (his examples were a picture of a leaf or hands holding a world);
- overlook value of leveraging web and word of mouth.

A couple of questions that Peter suggested companies should ask when developing a green marketing plan include: How can your company make passion and vision relevant? How can you ensure your approach is authentic? How can you inspire your customers to become advocates? Have you made your stakeholders aware of your goals? What are you making, how are you making it and with whom?

Of the three talks I attended at the expo, Peter's was the most interesting and relevant for expanding and thinking about how to create a positive sustainability model for one's business.

Videos at the event gave a number of positive case studies of success stories of sustainable business models around British Columbia.

One of the videos that I particularly liked, but was not specific to a case study in BC is the 'Story of Stuff':

Monday, September 8, 2008

sustainablecityliving Granville

sustainablecityliving Granville is a free magazine published quarterly in Vancouver and offers businesses, events and ideas surrounding sustainability.

While it is plagued with a large number of advertisements - since it is a free magazine - it does offer some interesting tips and events around Vancouver that deal with sustainability in one form or another. One thing to be wary of is that since it is a magazine funded in total by its advertisers, the articles and product suggestions are skewed to support their advertisers. A bonus point to the magazine is that subscription is free; however, if you would like to stay paperless, the website offers as much information (if not more) as the print edition.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

AmEx Members Project

AmEx Members Project was set up by American Express as a way to learn about and donate to community projects.

The site currently allows you to browse a number of different projects in different categories (community development, arts, environment, health, education) and nominate your favorite project for funding.

Not only is it interesting to browse all of the projects that people are involved in, but it is also an interesting example of corporate social responsibility and how a business is interacting with the local community and getting people involved in development projects.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

saving energy

As the cost of energy continues to rise, so do ways of reducing energy use and thus costs.

Last week, NPR had a piece on cutting your energy use at home. As new laws are implemented around the globe, reducing your energy use is becoming a necessity.

In Vancouver, the Sustainable Building Centre offers a series of speakers and events on how to reduce your energy and become more sustainable.

Monday, July 28, 2008

flying squirrels

August 9, 10:15 - 12:00, FLYING SQUIRRELS: DENIZENS OF THE DARK at the West End Community Centre:

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Although a little late...

The One Laptop Per Child Grassroots Web Conference (link) was started to increase communication between grassroots projects, as well as increase the general visibility of OLPC projects around the world. This ranges from computer development to pilot programs and public awareness campaigns.

While this conference took place on Saturday, you can catch highlights of the presenters, discussions and questions at

The One Laptop per Child project is an interesting look at how technology can be implemented into development and education, and the web conference allows for discussion on how these programs have been implemented around the world.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Slum Issues

The Economist recently released an interesting article on India's pollution.

It goes into a good amount of detail describing pollution in India and it's implications for sanitation and health, particularly around the Ganges. They provide a quote from Sunita Narain, a prominent environmentalist, which mocks the tourist ministry’s slogan: “Incredible India, drowning in its excreta”.

In the developing nations, environmental problems are as significant if not more so as in the developed world. In the book Planet of Slums by Mike David, he discusses the primary issues facing the growing urban slums today. In the chapter, "Slum Ecology" he discusses the environmental issues facing third world slums. One of these that he mentions is that slums are literally "living in shit" without the proper infrastructure and resources available to handle their own excrement. While this effects everyone living in the slums, it is particularly a feminist issue in many ways. Other than obvious health issues that arise with no private toilets to use, women are also often forced to relieve themselves only at night thus creating issues of safety, exposing them to harassment and even sexual assault.

In determine a way to deal with these issues, one has to consider which is the best option for these areas. Obviously, an immediate option is ideal, but as discussed in the Economist article, many infrastructure projects do not end up working to their full capacity and are often dwarfed by better technologies that arise. This is one of many issues that growing urban centers must confront.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Greater Van - Adapting to Climate Change

Yesterday was the Future of the Region Sustainability Dialogue on "Adapting to Climate Change" put together by Metro Vancouver.

These dialogues have been put together in an attempt to bring professionals, government and the general public together to ask questions and discuss matters relating to sustainability.

Yesterday's symposium hosted four speakers talking on climate change and the implications for the greater Vancouver area and sought to determine how the region can change to deal with the changes, challenges and opportunities.

Matt Horne is the Acting Director of BC Energy Solutions with the Pembina Institute. His short presentation discussed how to adapt to the changing economy that will inevitably come with climate change. He stressed a need for strong mitigation on carbon. He also discussed how the challenges of climate change stretched across culture, income and geography. Each group within the community will have to deal with challenges that arise. He cited low income families who already have 20% of their income going towards energy costs, the transport industry and the island communities which rely on easy transport for their livelihoods. All groups must be considered to have access to a solution.

Jim Vanderwal is the Program Manager for the Climate Change Program with the Fraser Basin Council. He began his talk with 2 assumptions:
1 - Adaptation isn't possible without serious cuts in emissions.
2 - Adaptation needs to happen regardless.
He discussed how there does exist a concern surrounding climate change in the community, but just because people understand what is happening, doesn't mean they necessarily act and it is role of the community to empower people to act. One example he cited was the trucking industry which has difficulty adapting because a) they do not know where they currently stand in terms of emissions, and once that is determined b) they are confronted with many 'solutions', not all of which will work, but are unaware of which ones will.

Jim discussed recommendations, the first three which can be immediately dealt with:
1 - Leading by example, measure carbon footprints for all new developments and infrastructure;
2 - Focus on water consumption and demand as equally as we do energy consumption;
3 - Local governments have new incentive towards sustainable development, so they should use it; and
4 - Determine a plan for 2050, look at the future and focus on how we will get to these goals.

John Robinson is a Professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC. John discussed how finally the jurisdiction in Canada exists to change towards more sustainable living, but the scale needed to change has yet to be understood. He stressed using adaptation and mitigation together to create change, but doing so intelligently. Simply adding adaptation and mitigation to undeveloped packages is a recipe for failure. It is important to think about broad term sustainability rather than just climate policy. Large collective decisions will determine the framework, while culture and lifestyle choices will determine the behavior of those in the community.

Dale Littlejohn is the Strategy and Outreach Manager at the Community Energy Association. John discussed how the adaptation response depends on what we're adapting to. If we don't get a handle of mitigation, it will be much more difficult to adapt. He talked about the need to expand ideas around district energy and distributed energy, for example solar power, and create a partnership with local companies and the community. Climate change needs to move beyond actions by the individual and look at what the entire community can do to adapt to the situation.

The speakers were followed by about an hour worth of questions and discussion surrounding climate change. One of the interesting points I thought came from John Robinson when discussing green buildings and technology. He pointed out that the barriers to change are not economic or technological, but institutional. Therefore, creating change requires changing the way the institution thinks about how things are done.

Overall I found they symposium to be quite interesting and am looking forward to how it all comes together. There are four of these forums around greater Vancouver leading up to the Sustainability Summit on October 7. One can see highlights from the forum and a written summary on the Metro Vancouver Website.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

local urban food

The concept of 'eating local' has been growing in recent years. This can be partly attributed to rising transportation costs, a new concern on the amount of greenhouse gasses which are released due to transport, and a desire to support local farmers and growers.

Urban planners and designers, environmentalists and agricultural scientists have been researching how this can be applied in the context of the city and some interesting designs have come forward.

The Vertical Farm Project takes an interesting look at how to best cultivate food in an urban environment. As the world's population continues to predominately reside in urban areas, this is an area that will continue to be researched and discussed.

The Vertical Farm Project discusses the problem and their proposed solution and is an interesting take.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

driving, driving

In the 1990's Saturn had created and was leasing to the public the very first modern electric car in California. However, it was shortly shut down and all the cars were destroyed, not because of safety standards, but it was instead speculated to be pressure from big oil companies and the government. This has all been documented in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car".

Since the release of that movie, petrol prices have now soared to close to $150/barrel and this in turn has stimulated discussion on the future of our automobiles. The New York Times today released an article "Designing Cars for Low-Carbon Chic". An idea I liked from this article stresses how "instead of selling cars based on the size of the engine, the car’s relationship with its surroundings and how it interacts with people should be increasingly important".

While I think it's sad that we had and destroyed the technology over 10 years ago that could deal with cleaner emissions and the rising cost of fuel, I believe that we now have it in us to continue to pursue these technologies and create a new transport economy that is not dependent on fuel. Returning back to the quote, "the stone age did not end, because we ran out of stone.". Whether one agrees that there is an oil crises or not, creating more efficient technologies can only be beneficial all around in the long run.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Be a Change Maker

I attended the Building the Movement: Change Makers Conference, part of We Can BC, this past Saturday at the SFU Harbor Center in Vancouver.

The 'We Can' Campaign is an international campaign aimed to deal with the violence that women endure daily, both within their homes and in the larger community. In order to mobilize large sectors of the community, it has created the Change Maker campaign. Individuals sign on as Change Makers - men, women, boys and girls who pledge not to tolerate or commit violence against women, to re-examine their own beliefs and values, and to encourage at least five other people to do the same. The conference featured a panel of speakers and a workshop on becoming a change maker.

Indira Prahst was one of the speakers and a faculty member in the Department of Sociology at Langara College. One of the questions she asked was why is there a negative attitude towards women? She speculated on the devaluing of roles, women seen as an economic burden and socially constructed issues that can be changed. She also emphasized the need to deconstruct attitudes of culture and reconstruct new images of woman and the need to think of ways men can feel comfortable and not blamed.

Maggie Ip is involved with the S.U.C.C.E.S.S Foundation and spoke from a social services point of view. She noted that there is no ethnic boundary for domestic violence. There is a need to work with the victims as a social service organization, but noted that victims kept coming back, so we need to find the root of the problem and proposed support groups for men. Society must change their attitudes on how to protect the public and discussed three levels of change:
1 - Public education from early childhood to adult level;
2 - A zero tolerance policy and a change in the institution/system to recognize this; and
3 - Intervention.

Bill Saunders is President of the Vancouver & District Labour Council and raised the question of why nine out of ten domestic cases is men against women? He discussed how the root lies in the question of gender relationship and gender roles in society. Noting that women have been successful in evolving the definition of their role, he discussed that men now have to work to develop and evolve their role. One of the points he made, which I quite like was "Acquiescence does not mean understanding", when we understand then we cam facilitate in change. He stressed that we need to facilitate as a society the ability to open the discussion on gender relations and work with key groups of men to facilitate these changes.

Sgt. Richard Rabinovitch was a speaker from the Vancouver Police Department and addressed the question as to how the police can respond and improve responses to domestic violence in the community. An important step was to make the community realize that domestic violence is not a private issue and noted that domestic violence can not be pinpointed to one group, it spans all socio-economic boundaries.

A workshop on how to become a Change Maker followed the panel discussions. Information on how to become a Change Maker, and materials that can be of use can be found on the We Can website.

New ideas in architecture


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The NY Times recently published an interesting editorial on sustainability and business.

Terms such as "Green", "Sustainability" and "Eco-friendly" are thrown around a lot by corporations, the government and the general public. While this is encouraging because people are becoming more aware of what is happening in the world, it is also dangerous because there is a greater risk of mis-information and 'greenwashing'.

Greenwashing, while itself very much a 'pop phrase', refers to businesses, government or people misleading others of the environmental benefits of services or products. As being 'environmental' becomes more popular 'greenwashing' is more likely to occur. If people become more educated and aware, this can be avoided.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Yesterday, Vancouver celebrated car-free day around the city. The following picture shows a gas station without much use.

Read about it here.

It was a nice sunny day. We were able to stroll down the middle of Denman street with vendors on either side and without the hum of passing cars.

Should be done more often.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Building the Movement: Change Makers Conference

Stanley Park and Art

Originally uploaded by knicole7
I have recently enrolled in an EcoArt course taught by Beth Carruthers at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.

In this course we explore ideas around ecology, art and the environment. One of the projects we are looking at is the Stanley Park Environmental Art Project. This past Saturday we conducted a walking tour of the park and met with artists Peter von Tiesenhausen and John Hemsworth.

Peter and John chose to work with an 800 year old tree that had fallen during the wind storms last year to create their ephemeral work. The tree had been cut to allow for the path and had a section that had been cut out of it further in the park that had been sent to Beijing. Rather than working with the tree, which felt egotistical, they wanted to work with the gap that was off the path.

One of the points they made that I found interesting, was that when people see something that is 800 years old that is man made, it is revered, but yet we walk among trees and natural objects that are as old or older every day and barely pay attention.

I think EcoArt helps us to pay attention to what is in the world an acknowledge that our actions have an effect on the world around us.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Urban Sprawl

View 2
Originally uploaded by knicole7
The New York Times just released and interesting article on 'New Cities'.

Now that over half the world's population live in urban areas, coming up with innovative and creative designs and uses for the urban areas is going to be an important focus for urban planners, architects and the community. There already exist a number of designs and case studies that have emerged, but determining ways in which to implement these into existing communities that are inclusive to everyone in those communities without making them unaffordable is going to be difficult.


In order to create change, we must work together. Scientists, policy makers, businesses and artists have all been interested in creating change for the better. By working together they can combine thier strengths and creater a stronger, interlinked movement.

A number of initiatiives have been created to encourage such cooperation.

seen & unseen is an initiative of Helix Arts which was created in order to provide models for developing collaborative practice to finding solutions as well as raising awareness about pollution. Artists, scientists and members of the community work together to educate and find solutions to sustainability issues.

In the Climate Change Explorer Project, artists acted as a catalyst in devising a cross curricula education project, involving teachers and students in creative ways of exploring ideas around climate change by using the internet to stimulate new perspectives on the issue.

Many projects around the world have been developed in which scientist, artists, the public and organizations work together to find solutions. These networks are integral towards finding solutions to issues of sustainability and development.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Education and Sustainability

This morning Metro Vancouver hosted their monthly sustainability breakfast discussion. This month's theme was Sustainability Education including talks from Chris Kelly - Superintendent of Schools for the Vancouver School Board, Kevin Nelson - Executive Director of Check Your Head, and a group of grade 9 students from the Green Bricks program at King George Secondary in Vancouver.

Chris Kelly primarily discussed what is sustainability education and why it's important. He pointed out that the fundamental purpose of education is sustainability. In his talk he stressed the importance of direct and authentic engagement of the learner/student to determine what is important and to create a sustainability process.

In order to discuss sustainability options in education, Chris Kelly as well as other leaders within education in Vancouver, took part in a Sustainability Summit on April 28th of this year. This summit hosted a "World Cafe" session in which short and long-term actions in order to respond to sustainability issues - both social and environmental - were discussed. What came out of this session included:
1. An embedded emphasis on social responsibility;
2. Multiple initiatives;
3. Learner/student generates and leads;
4. Self-determination.

Kevin Nelson discussed Check Your Head's work with schools and students to determine how schools can interact with the local communities to find sustainable initiatives and learn of ways in which this is placed in the broader global context. He emphasized that they were not trying to 'recreate the wheel' but instead were trying to 'sew a tapestry' of organizations in the community - that is bring together all the different factors of the community that are working together for positive change so that they can all work together.

An example of this was the installation of solar panels on the King George Secondary school. The community came together to install the solar panels and students were educated about the process and it's benefits in their classes. Kevin stressed that sustainability education is an opportunity for the next generation to explore new possibilities, innovations and creations that can change the current path in which we are headed.

The King George grade 9 students discussed how they worked together to reduce energy, waste and water consumption within their schools. This has expanded beyond the typical science class discussions and has been adopted throughout their curriculum. For instance, in their English class they created advertisements that encouraged a reduction in consumption and greater awareness.

Education has a definite place in expanding sustainability. If people are unaware of the problems and the potential solutions, our situation can not be changed.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Oxjam June 8!

Oxjam Poster
Originally uploaded by knicole7

Join us on Sunday June 8 @ the Media Club 695 Cambie Street, Vancouver, 7pm.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Which plan?

What is the link between sustainability and development? To some, this may be an obvious question, while others fail to see how actions in their own lives have an effect on the global scale.

A BBC article discusses the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) review which recently released a report outlining how the current depletion of resources is also depleting the living standards of a majority of the world.

Although it began slowly at first, the effects of the changing climate are becoming more obvious. From large scale disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the recent cyclone in Myanmar, to the recent rises in the cost of food, it is becoming more obvious that the ways in which each person in the world lives is not sustainable. We can not continue to consume resources at this rate.

I recently finished the book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. Lester Brown leads the Earth Policy Institute which is dedicated to building a sustainable future. This book gives a decent outline of the sustainability issues we are faced with today. I felt it brushed over a few areas in too little detail and didn't provide a lot of concrete solutions, but overall the book was a pretty good overview of our current situation.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The dollar question

One of the difficulties around development is finding the poorest of the poor - who is most marginalized in society and is in need of the most amount of aid and help.

A primary measure that is cited by most - including myself in this website - is the those who live under a 'dollar a day'.

The Economist recently released an article "On the poverty line" which discusses this measure more in depth and how it is changing (the method discussed moves the actual amount up to $1.25/day). A pretty interesting article.

Although, I personally like the idea of not measuring what people don't have, but instead providing an asset based approach - measuring what they do have.

The Peak

I was supposed to start this blog discussing part of the reasons I became interested in sustainability, development and design with an article discussing China and some of it's current environmental crisis; however, I was slow at getting to that, so instead I'll write about a recent sustainability talk I attended.

Metro Vancouver hosts a series of Sustainability Breakfasts which are forums for discussion surrounding sustainability initiatives around Vancouver. I attended the one yesterday morning entitled "Climate Change and Peak Oil: Transport Revolutions and Municipal Responses" featuring Bryn Davidson, Executive Director, Dynamic Cities Project; Anthony Perl, SFU Professor; Stuart Ramsey, Transportation Engineer and Planner, City of Burnaby.

Bryn spoke of the relation between Peak Oil and Climate Change and provided the following equation:
Energy Transition = peak oil + climate change

In his talk he discussed how peak oil and climate change are interrelated and if you deal with one and not the other, it is possible to have negative impacts. For example, coming up with biofuel or alternative coal products for fuel, does not necessarily address climate change, and selling carbon offsets does not necessarily address peak oil. The need is in reducing emissions and oil dependence through resilient investments. His example included the transport industry, in particular trucking - if the industry did not include peak oil and climate change in their modeling, it would not be taking into account what the future might hold.

Anthony Perl, the Professor at SFU expanded on Peak Oil. Describing the oil situation like drinking through a straw - the first half was easy to get and the second half is like squeezing a rock sponge - much, much more difficult. He then went on to point out "the stone age didn't come to an end because people ran out of stones", indicating that there are plausible, technological solutions to the 'energy crisis'. Globally 50% of oil extracted is going to transport, the amount of transport has increased faster since 1990, however as oil becomes more difficult to get, this growth becomes unsustainable. He noted that there would more change in transport in the next 10 years than in the past 30. One example he used was the "Ride the Wind" program in Calgary, which uses wind power for some of their public transport. Innovations such as the Calgary project will become essential in the future. His book "Transport Revolutions" discusses this in further detail.

The final speaker of the morning was Stuart Ramsay with the City of Burnaby. As an urban planner, his talk focused on how four cities have reacted to Peak Oil. In Portland, OR they created the citizen based Peak Oil Task Force to provide expert opinions and deliver recommendations around Peak Oil. Hamilton, ON hired consultants on Peak Oil to create the Hamilton Peak Oil Report. The last two cities discussed had plans focused more on Climate Change than Peak Oil. Abu Dhabi is building a carbon free commons called Masdar and London, UK has created the Climate Change Action Plan.

While I do not think any of the solutions presented by the speakers are fail safe, they are steps in a positive direction. Climate Change and Peak Oil (as well as peak everything) are pressing matters that need to be addresses sooner rather than later.

I hope to address more of these issues as this blog progresses as well as provide further articles and discussions surrounding aspects of Development, Sustainability and Design.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

welcome is coming soon...