How to Stay on Your Sustainability Diet During the Holidays

artbanidto’s photostream / Flickr Creative Commons

Many of us use the holidays or vacations as an excuse to disregard what we would normally do in everyday life. We eat and drink too much, indulge in the excesses of the season and then spend our New Year’s resolutions trying to make up for it. We give ourselves permission to let go of the rules that we live by most of the year.

But does the same apply to our values? Do the things we believe in and fight for all year get put to the side during the holidays, using the holiday excuse to dismiss any guilt we might feel?

Cheating on your Eco-Diet

For many, environmental consciousness is like a diet, something that we work hard at most of the year – avoiding plastics, reducing fossil fuel consumption, trimming our environmental waistline. But this culture of indulging at the holidays can have a long-term impact on the environment, increasing our waste and carbon footprint in ways that can’t be negated by a New Year’s eco-diet. The locavore’s diet might give way to the temptations of imported mandarin oranges and wines, the vegetarian to the factory-farmed turkey and stuffing, the minimalist to the gift-giving expectations, and the eco-warrior knuckles under the pressure not to “talk about that stuff during the holidays.” In the same way of the dieter, we try to ignore our own guilt, saying it’s the holidays, and we’ll get back to our normal routine in the new year.

But our values shape the way that we see the world, and the guilt is sometimes much more difficult to shake off.

macwagen’s photostream / Flickr Creative Commons

Leading Change

Solutions may take many years to implement, because it is often not just about changing yourself, but also changing those around you, and as any eco-warrior will tell you, hounding your family members during the holidays about their bad eco-habits will get you nowhere. Holidays often have a family focus, and without any change from others, it can be difficult to maintain change for yourself. But there are some simple things that you can do to start towards a more eco-friendly, and less guilty, holiday season:

  • Request no wrapping paper. Simple, and usually relatively easy for everyone to get on board. Instead, wrap items in recycled materials like newspaper or home-decorated recycled paper, or in usable items like tea towels and shopping bags. Consider having a set of gift bags that are used each year.
  • Suggest that family gifts be consumable or experience-based, because most people will appreciate good wine, cheese, homemade goods, or tickets to a local concert, game or event.
  • Buy the kind of food you want to eat, don’t rely on what others provide. If you want a free-range, organic turkey on the table (even if you’re not going to eat it!), buy it yourself. Offer to make locally sourced desserts like apple or pumpkin (from an actual pumpkin) pie. Bring fair trade, organic chocolates and coffee. Support local businesses with local wines and beers.
  • Plan Boxing Day activities, to encourage alternatives to excessive consumerism. A day full of food and fun will often be more tempting that battling the crowds at the mall.
  • Offer to wash dishes so the host does not need to use paper plates and plastic forks, and as the host, don’t feel pressured to clean up too quickly – a disappeared glass just means someone will use another one, which then needs to be washed.
  • Give back. Many charities depend on donations received during the holidays, so consider donating to a favourite charity on someone’s behalf (choose their favourite charity, not yours). This works  as a stocking stuffer, host/ess gift, office secret santa, or any other kind of gift.

Taking a much needed break during the holidays doesn’t mean you need to take a break from your values. Find ways to infuse them into your traditions, and by making changes manageable over time, you may find others changing too.

Three Reasons Why Panda Bears Are Horrible Role Models

Aka Hige – Flickr Creative Commons

Panda bears are the poster-animals for numerous conservation causes and luck-based Chinese philosophies. Yet these malnourished creatures are not adaptable to their changing surroundings. So, here is an argument to stop celebrating these overrated beasts.

Every day we hear stories and see images that our global economy/marketplace/village is changing at hyper speed. University students will wind up working in a job that didn’t exist when they started school. Fast Company is writing interesting articles about GenFlux leading teams within the chaos of our modern world. Popular media and memes change faster than Survivor “stars” and Lady Gaga’s hair colour. Organizations merge, expand and downsize. Units are eliminated or integrate with others. Change is the only certainty. Shift happens.

Adaptability is crucial for success (career, community, family). People who are flexible with how the world is changing will lead its future as opposed to forever playing catch-up because they live in the past (are you listening, Republicans?). When it comes to building community, embracing change and nimbly adapting to life’s shifts are incredibly important – even necessary.

Which is why panda bears are horrible role models for everyone everywhere. Including you.

Here’s why:

1. They hate sex. “Male pandas suffer from a chronic lack of sex drive – more than 60 per cent show no sexual desire at all in captivity, and only a tenth of them will mate naturally,” says The Independent’s Clifford Coonan. “Zookeepers have even resorted to using videos of mating pairs in the hope that “panda porn” will help the bears get frisky, although scientists say the films don’t have much effect.” Unreal. This becomes even more infuriating when you examine the animals’ eating habits and state of their youngsters.

2. They are totally useless for the first six months of their lives. Polar bear cubs leave their ice caves when they are three months old, walk for dozens/hundreds of kilometres to find food, don’t find any because of climate change and adapt by fighting walruses or armed folk from Churchill, Manitoba. Panda bear cubs are blind for the first10-20 days of their lives. They can’t walk, hunt or function before they’re three months old. Sure, they’re cute, but so are kittens, which, as it turns out, are more ferocious and adaptable than panda bears.

3. They refuse to adapt. While the Internet insists on proving me wrong (thanks for nothing, The BBC, National Geographic and, I’m pretty confident that Planet Earth’s David Attenborough told me that panda bears mostly eat bamboo (it is allegedly 99 per cent of their diet), even though their bellies are designed to digest meat, just like the stomach of any good carnivore. Their refusal to consume non-bamboo-based-foods is mostly to blame for their low sex drive and weakling children and, with the erosion of this food supply in China and beyond, it seems startling that pandas don’t incorporate other food (meat, berries, garbage, etc.) into their diet, like tigers, penguins and grizzly bears. Penguins, on the other hand, are outstanding adapters – they can live on the beaches of South Africa or the freezing ice fields of Antarctica. It’s penguins that should bee on the World Wildlife Fund’s posters and calendars, not panda bears.

So, if you’re taking professional cues from panda bears, stop. It’s both weird (seriously, they’re bears) and counterproductive (you need to be adaptable and should also enjoy the physical act of love) for building positive and thriving communities at home and at work.

Get adaptable. Get flexible. And get comfortable with change. Because so much more is coming.

Vancouver Makes Life Easier for Binners

Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Sun.

The city of Vancouver is trying out a new recycling pilot project by introducing a series of transparent bins near by garbage containers across the city, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The aim of the program is to make it easier for binners to scavenge up cans and bottles. Apparently there will by 60 new bins spread across the city including at Kitsilano, Sunset, English Bay and Second beaches and along Commercial Drive between Venables and 13th Avenue.

The new bins will be specially designed not only to be see through, but also easy to open and access. That means binners no longer need to blindly reach into a dark garbage bin negotiating broken class and other poky objects. It will also mean lots more spots for folks to recycle their drink containers.

While some observers connected to the binning industry say we’re likely to continue to see people rooting through trash cans, I have to applaud this initiative. Not only will it make life easier for an often marginalized population, but it also makes sense for all of us who detest the idea of tossing a bottle or can in the trash or propping it awkwardly next to the garbage can.

Good on the city for coming up with a solution that’s both cheap and effective.

Header courtesy of chrissatchwell

Livable Laneways Paths to Plazas Event

A few weeks ago, Australia Bureau Chief Jilly Charlwood contributed a fantastic article about Laneway Learning – below is some information about what Vancouver is doing to showcase some unique, behind-the-scenes communities – and potential – of its re-imagined and hyper-creative laneways. Enjoy!

- John Horn

For the second year, Vancouver City laneways are being re-imagined, and public events are taking place in the bustling lane at Broadway and Main bringing musicians, local business operators, artists, urban farmers and producers, residents, and visitors to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Livable Laneways Night Markets is a VIVA Vancouver initiative supported by the City of Vancouver. Coordinated by Livable Laneways, a non-profit organization, Paths to Plazas is an example of how they are dedicated to transforming the overlooked laneways and alleys of Vancouver into pedestrianfriendly zones. It is a collaboration that includes Blim, The Beaumont Studios the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Area, as well as special guests, Mount Pleasant Victory Market, StudioCAMP and Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN).

The events take place on July 21st, 28th and August 4th from 5-10pm.

For more information on the vendors and participants, please see the list below
for website details:

Masthead photo from ecstaticist’s photostream on Flickr

Karly Pinch – The Cynical Optimist

Who are you?

I’m Karly, and I’m an environmentalist, a feminist, an outspoken introvert. I’m a traveller, a homebody, a mediator, a cynical optimist. I’m a partner, a volunteer, a friend, a colleague and a neighbour.

What do you do for fun?

I try to get outside. I go camping and hiking, I play softball, make trips to the farmer’s market, or sit on my rooftop balcony overlooking the ocean. I’m not really the type of person to go out to restaurants or clubs or look for places with lots of people, but I love to have people over to play games like Settlers of Catan and Cranium. And I like to curl up on the couch on a rainy Sunday with a cup of tea and watch movies.

What is your favourite community? Why?

I find that some of the best communities form around food, with people who are taking the time to connect with their food, rather than grab it on the go or buy pre-packaged meals. I go out to join other vegetarians to try out veggie restaurants around the city through a group, Meatless Meetup. I love the energy of farmer’s markets, and I went to a cheese making workshop recently. I’m starting to learn about all of the amazing and innovative things going on around Vancouver surrounding food security, urban farming and gardening. It’s a new community for me, but maybe that’s why it still holds so much mystery and excitement.

What is your superpower?

I think my superpower is my sense of adventure and exploration. I can never sit still, and I love discovering new places. I’ve spent years living overseas in Japan and Cameroon, and taken the time for long adventures travelling through Asia and Eastern/Southern Africa, and I’m working on my local exploration, last year around BC and Washington, and an upcoming road trip to the North West Territories.

How do you use it to build community?

I hope that I use it by being the type of person who wouldn’t say no. I’m always up for learning something new, especially about someone or something I know nothing about, and everybody has interesting stories to tell and a new perspective to bring to a project. I want to experience things first hand, get my hands dirty, and learn from life. I try to implement that through side projects and volunteering, and this summer my goal is to learn a lot more about gardening, farming and food security. Literally, getting my hands dirty!

My Three Favourite Things About Karly Are…

1. Passionately Environmental. Certainly, this is one of the many touchpoints and the over-arching worldview that Karly and I share, which is great, because we also share the seemingly incongruent capacity for cynical optimism. While significant changes and, well, sacrifices will be what it takes to save humanity from the Revenge of Gaia, I appreciate how Karly finds and inspires little victories such reduced printing/copying, cycling to work, composting things, and educating her colleagues and friends about some of the small things that we can all do to keep the planet greener. Follow her on The Twitter – @KarlyGreenP – for such updates.

Karly’s sense of adventure not only explores people, places and cultures, but also takes her to the intersection of some pretty interesting and important environmental stories, which I love hearing her tell. You will, too.

2. Expressively Introverted. Oh wow. When it comes to our communication styles, I’m not sure if I’ve worked with someone so dyametrically opposed to how I prefer to give, receive and create information. Karly is an unapologetic introvert from whom I learned a lot during our 13 months as colleagues; and I especially appreciated how she not only tolerated my loudness, but was also loud herself when the situation called for – or demanded – it. For example, Karly has a whiteboard-based, professionally-cartoonish graphic-story describing experiential learning (and its value) that is one of the best demonstrations of the concept that I’ve even seen in over 12 years of teaching this stuff. Not only does she pick her extroverted moments, but she delivers work of the highest quality during said moments – after all, she probably thinks a lot about what to say during hours and hours of thoughtful introspection…

3. A Foodie Through and Through. I love that she loves the energy and ideas – not to mention the products and services – of Farmers’ Markets. Karly is an important person to have on the front lines of urban farming in Vancouver and I look forward seeing and tasting the results of her energy, ideas and actions in this field…or a field…or balcony. Also, Karly’s marinated tofu recipe (she often showed me, but never shared, delicious sandwiches with marinated tofu in the middle of ‘em) has taken on many forms in my recent culinary endeavours, so thanks again for your ideas, Ms. Pinch!

Special Bonus Reason!

She Took a Cheese-Making Class. Truly, this is one of the greatest things ever. I need not say another thing, for this is an amazing reflection of how Karly is explorative, adventurous and turns ideas into actions! Delicious, delicious actions that go with any meal any time.

The Tiffin Project

One of my favourite food-related tools is my tiffin, which I purchased a few years ago with some tasty Indian food at Granville Island. The tiffin reflects both my and Michelle’s passion for using – ahem – reusable containers when we get takeout from restaurants. Speaking of which, styrofoam is one of my least favourite things.

Michelle and I love taking containers to Ryu Sushi on Main Street, as the cook always gives us a wry smile as he loads up our Tupperware. In fact, I believe Michelle wrote about it before.

For this – and many other – reasons, I love Vancouver’s The Tiffin Project. Here’s an infographic that explains the non-profit organization’s very cool mission:

So, connect with The Tiffin Project via Twitter or on Facebook. And, most importantly, grab your coolest containers and start using them when takeout dining.

The Next Generation of Sustainability

Koerner Library (NOT CIRS) at UBC / Spicks & Specks on Flickr

Sustainability: the Next Generation. That’s what will be on the agenda at UBC’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) on Saturday, May 26. If you are passionate about building and maintaining sustainable communities then I highly recommend you check out this opportunity for provocative dialogue within North America’s greenest building.

Here’s the pitch:

What if there was a new way of approaching sustainability? What if the old environmental agenda of doing things “less bad”—using less energy, taking shorter showers, sacrificing our Western lifestyle—wasn’t the best way forward? What if instead we built buildings and neighbourhoods that actually contributed to the wellbeing of the planet and those that live on it?

Explore these provocative ideas with a leading UBC researcher, staff and strategic partner at the May 26th panel discussion “Next Generation Sustainability,” to be held at CIRS at 10:45 a.m.  This free event is an opportunity for the public to learn about how UBC is integrating operations, research and learning to accelerate sustainability, and what this means for our communities.

The panel discussion features Professor John Robinson, Executive Director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative, Kera McArthur, Director of Public Engagement for Campus and Community Planning and Robbie Zhang, Managing Director of Modern Green Development (Canada).

The panel discussion takes place in the Modern Green Development Auditorium within CIRS, a world-class showcase of green construction that celebrates its location and setting, has minimal impact on the environment and maximizes every inch of interior space to create functional and inspiring spaces for teaching, learning, research and community building. “CIRS is a place for big ideas that have global impacts,” says Prof. Robinson. “It serves as a living laboratory to test, learn, teach, apply and share the outcomes of sustainability focused inquiries.”

Sustainability defines UBC as a global university. In 1997, UBC was the first university in Canada to adopt a sustainability development policy opening a campus sustainability office the next year. In 2010, UBC established the UBC Sustainability Initiative integrating UBC’s academic and operational efforts on sustainability.  Campus and Community Planning ensures choices about UBC lands, buildings, infrastructure and transportation meet the goals of UBC’s strategic plan, Place and Promise, including sustainability. Modern Green Development Co. Ltd., one of China’s largest property developers, together with UBC has entered into its first North American strategic partnership to advance green building research and development.

The panel discussion will be held on May 26th from 10:45-11:45 in the Modern Green Development Auditorium at the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (2260 West Mall, UBC Vancouver Campus).

Net Impact Combines Community, Environment and Business

On Friday, April 20th, UBC Net Impact will host the 10th Annual Net Impact Conference and Sustainability Expo, “Sustainability: Beyond Rhetoric”.Join over 200 business and student leaders to discuss the challenges and best practices in the sustainable business arena; propelling the conversation beyond the rhetoric that can too often dominate this space.

robholland / flickr

Moderated panels for the day will highlight impassioned discussions on:

- Clean Tech & Energy
- Impact & Ethical Investing
- Leadership in Corporate Responsibility
- Measurement & Benchmarking
- Natural Resources & Mining

Come enjoy a keynote address from CEO of global clean tech venture capital leader Chrysalix, Wal van Lierop. Spend the day engaging key leaders from companies across industries at panel discussions and at the Sustainability Expo, and again over drinks at the evening’s Networking with Purpose event at the Granville Room.

Participating sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers include representatives from Baja Mining, SAP, Teck Resources, Westport Innovations, VanCity, Ecotrust Canada, Offsetters, Green Angel Energy, First Power, BC Hydro, NEI Investments, Board of Change and many more!

Be a part of this exciting event! Register here today:

(Registration closes Monday, April 16.)
Find out more:

Bringing Compost Inside

a big worm courtesy of pfly / flickr

In my apartment there are two Rubbermaid bins. Often they are tucked away under a table or bathroom counter. Every once and a while a visitor will notice them and ask why they have holes drilled into their sides. After I respond, the reactions vary from disgust and sometimes edging away from the bin to excitement and asking to have a look inside. In my 5 years of vermicomposting I’ve gotten used to the range of reactions that those bins can generate.

Not everyone is comfortable with worms or composting, and in our overly sanitized and convenient world it isn’t surprising. Why not send your kitchen waste to the curb and then drive to a big box store to buy pre-made compost? Well, first of all it costs money. Tax dollars to pick up, ship and process all that food waste and then your money to buy the compost. Second, food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, including the shipping and processing if you live in a place that has curbside composting and methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times as potent as carbon dioxide, when food waste forced to undergo anaerobic composting (without air since it is sealed up in a trash bag and often buried).

Living in an apartment or condo without a backyard limits composting options. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t join the composting community. If you are flush with money and have a space for a new appliance, there is the Red Dragon electric indoor composter.  The main issue with this product is energy use, which is 60 kwhr per month or 720 kwhr per year.  If you live in a place where the energy mix Is mostly renewables (like BC) and are willing to take the financial hit, this might be a great option.  It is really fast and takes a very wide range of organic waste.

The other main option for indoor composting is vermicomposting or composting with worms, which is cheaper and more space efficient. Once set up the worms are pretty low maintenance, they need to be fed once a week and a couple of times a year the compost (or worm poo) needs to be harvested. They don’t smell, they don’t try to escape and they don’t attract pests, unless you do something really wrong. Once I got the hang of knowing how much, often and what to feed them they’ve not smelled like anything other than great compost (not rotting food). The only time they tried to escape the bin was during a heat wave one summer when the temperature felt like +40 with humidex, which had made me escape the city already. And by rinsing or freezing all food before giving it to the worm, fruit flies and other pests haven’t been an issue. If you are interested in getting into vermicomposting, there are a lot of great resources and if you know someone already doing it, odds are you can pick up some free worms from them.

O.U.R. Eco Village

Ben, my husband, is spending the summer working at an intentional community on Vancouver Island, called O.U.R. Ecovillage. We visited O.U.R. for the first time in September, during one of their regular open houses.  We joined the residents for a public event about food security and by the time we left that day, we were hooked.  The way those kind and interesting people are defining community is where it’s at.

I grew up in the country and am ever grateful to my parents for deciding to move our family to Vancouver when I was 13.  I remember listening to the adults talk at the time about our big move to Lotus Land.  I had no idea what that meant but was scared and sad.  I was nervous about starting high school in a big city and scared about doing it with no friends.  I was totally intimidated by the huge school, the rich kids, and the diversity.  I had no idea what the hell was happening on the first day of school and I felt supremely uncool, but man, was I happy to be there.

All this to say that I never ever thought I would move back to the country.  Since visiting O.U.R., and then reflecting upon my experience of “the country”, I’ve realized that my memories are a long way from the kind of rural community I long for now.  Last summer, as I was pulling a carton of eggs from the fridge at Costco, I told my young daughter: this is where eggs come from.  As I listened to my own words, I had to stop for a minute.  An industrial fridge in a sterile warehouse is where eggs come from? Ouch.  When we visited O.U.R. shortly after my Costco moment, I pointed out a Jersey cow to Sydney and realized that it was the first time she was seeing a cow that wasn’t in a book.  And that Jersey cow was so beautiful, I wondered about the last time I’d seen a real live happy cow. Too long.

I’ve been thinking about the absurdity of the way we live for about five years.  Rushing to and from work, living in nuclear families in big expensive spaces, seeing friends and family when schedules permit and eating alone most of the time.  Since I’ve become a mother, the stakes of our decisions are higher.  I want my daughter to grow up amongst our loved ones.  I want her to understand where her food comes from and for her to care about her role in our environment.  And I want her to know our friends and extended family as well as she will know her immediate family.  In the same way, I want to know my friends and their children more than occasional visits permit.  I want all of our children to feel that they are surrounded by love, care and security.

That’s not our experience at present.  We have lived in our current home for six years and sure, we know our neighbours but we don’t hang out.  I would for sure knock on their doors if I needed to borrow something or if I was in danger, but that’s pretty much the depth of our relationships.  So over the last year, Ben and I have moved our philosophical chats about our reality and into practical conversations about our future. We know that we want to live differently than we are now.  Now we need to figure out how to make that happen.

Ben is in construction and is doing such cool work around green building, off-grid housing, and alternative energy that his path naturally leads to O.U.R. Ecovillage.  He’s managing a team of interns this summer and they’re all in for four months of building, learning and sharing.  We’re excited and incredibly grateful to the folks at O.U.R. for creating a space for this kind of community-building.  It’s a magical place, so be sure to check it out if you’re headed for the Cowichan Valley (

Speaking of Lotus Land, I’ve just seen the Wanderlust trailer and it looks like my kind of film.  If you’ve seen it, please leave a comment and let me know what I’m in for.  Thanks!