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.