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.

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.

A Hunch about Lunch

One of the most important communities in daily life is the work community. What do I look for in a workplace community? Well, there are a few key factors, but the latest to be added to my wish list is ‘a place where people eat lunch”.

Sharing a meal is one of the most powerful ways to build community and being “a place where people eat lunch” can benefit a workplace both culturally and in terms of productivity. Unfortunately, I have been noticing a major absence of shared meals in my working life and have heard this same thing echoed among many of my peers. I’m starting to think I’m going to have to move to Europe to locate this appreciation for the mid-day meal.

North American Culture prides itself on hard work and ambition. Michael Pollan, in his book, In Defense of Food; An Eater’s Manifesto, suggests that as an effect of this ideology, North American’s view food as merely utilitarian fuel rather than something to be enjoyed for it’s own sake. He brings up several examples of the stark difference between North American attitudes to food as compared to European attitudes the most striking example given is a comparison where American and French people are shown a picture of a piece of chocolate cake and asked what word it brings to mind. The most common American reaction is “guilt” while the most common French reaction is “celebration”!

Perhaps it can be chalked up to the fact that I was raised with a European attitude towards food, but I do not believe that eating a protein bar at my desk can be classified as lunch. Nor do I believe that it can have any long-term benefits to my employer or my career. I can see some very real and lasting benefits however, in taking a ½ hour to share a meal with my co-workers.

Sharing a meal is the fastest way to establish shared experiences, which are the building blocks of community. With strong community comes creativity because two heads really are better than one (and all heads are significantly more powerful when they receive more than just caffeine as a stimulus).  Creativity can invigorate a workplace and make its entire workforce more productive and motivated in all of their working hours.

Each of these outcomes produces more powerful benefits than that extra ½ hour in front of the computer and these are just a few of the benefits to be had when you turn your work place into a place where people eat lunch. If you aren’t lucky enough to work in one of these places already, why don’t you try something new for lunch today?

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:

Exhibition Unites Energy with Art and Motion

[Editor's note: sometimes Kurt and I get pretty darn busy with work, life, and Kurt's lifelong plan to ensure that Johnism becomes the ideology of the next 100 years. For these reasons, we will occasionally copy and paste press releases from cool organizations and call them "blog posts" - right now is one of those times].

VANCOUVER: eatART presents an exhibition illuminating the connection between art and energy through photography, paintings, performances and art-in-motion at the Great Northern Way Campus on December 15th.

Exhibits include interactive touch sensitive sculptures, a wearable walking machine, the first walking electric vehicle, and a 50 ft electromagnetic snake.“We define energy as the exertion of vigour or power, and the vitality and intensity of expression,” said said Emily Hamilton, Curator and Co-executive Director of eatART. “Energy manifests through art through mood, emotion, movement, materials, narrative, connection with the viewer, and sources of power and light.

eatART is a volunteer-run charity organization that provides space and support artists, performers, engineers, and robotic sensationalists to gather, network and collaborate. “We give artists the opportunity to demonstrate their explorations of energy and sustainability, promote their message and to gain exposure,” added Ms. Hamilton.

The Hangar is the event space sponsored by the Great Northern Way Campus. Located in the Centre for Digital Media Arts, it echoes the narrative of this exhibition: an industrial past with an educational present.


DATE: December 15th

TIME: 7 to 11pm, 6 to 11pm for Media

LOCATION: Great Northern Way Campus, The Hangar, map

ENTRY BY DONATION: All proceeds go to the eatART Foundation to support the artists.


  • Michael JP Hall – Realization
  • Vincent VanHaaff – Resonance
  • Leigh Christie – A New Industrial Utopia
  • Frederick Brummer – Dimension X
  • G?Bikes – Powering the Party
  • Raul Casillas – Entanglement
  • Jonathan Tippett – Prosthesis: The Anti Robot
  • mondo spider - The world’s first walking electric vehicle
  • Mark Illing – Clones are People Too
  • The Cooper Bros – Panoramic Photography
  • Titanoboa project – 50ft electromagnetic snake
  • Peter Holmes – Water Portraits

Website: |

©2009 eatART Foundation


Community Decision Making

Last night I had a beer and a chat with a man who is is wise beyond his years. He shared with me some great ideas about decision making in organizational environments, such as charities, social enterprises, businesses, the government, the non-government, and neighbourhoods. My friend argued that there are four kinds of decisions that we make:

  1. The ones that the leader/boss makes with no input. “Alright, sailors, I burned our ships so that you will feel a great sense of commitment to this land and, most importantly, to me, Hernan Cortes, and not that jerk Governor of Cuba!”
  2. The ones that the leader/boss makes with consultative input to/from a team. “Hey, Vancouver, we’ve developed a plan to put bike lanes everywhere. Just a heads-up. Drive carefully!”
  3. The ones that the team/people make with consultative input to/from the leader. “Hey, boss. Because I’m a Millennial and I like to customize things, I created my own performance review based on my specific skills and interests – it just feels more me, you know? Would you have some time to review it before we use it to measure my awesomeness?”
  4. The ones that the team/people make with no input. “Dear CEO of our company, I just averted a potentially horrendous brand-epic-failure on Twitter by engaging the customer immediately and solving their problem right away; this involved giving them a free service/product that we make/provide.”

The idea here is that the most effective decisions for a thriving community come from the fourth point – when in possession of a strong vision, a clear set of principles, and a wicked-awesome plan, everybody in a community knows what to do and work/business/advocacy/change/governance happens as efficiently as it does strategically as it does quickly.

And then there’s the terrible state of our poor little planet and the important decisions that need to be made in order to sustain not lose half of the Earth’s population in a tsunami-nuclear-firestorm-hurricane-drought-war.

After chatting with my friend I came home and watched the video below, which was shared by my awesome sister.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of our global team making most of the decisions seems like the best solution for the many complex problems that lie before us. And, yes, I realize the incredibly/ridiculously complicated nature of doing this. And I also recognize that it’s time to try something new and ridiculous. Because the boring old stuff ain’t working.

Steve Nash’s Energy Efficient Community

During the month of October, youth in BC have an opportunity to Save Like Steve.

Once again, my main man Steve Nash shows what it takes to build community.

As discussed many, many, many times by the contributors to this blog, Steve Nash is the greatest. His resume already boasts job titles such as NBA superstar, entrepreneur,  philanthropist, film director, professional sports team owner, and now he’s adding to the list the role of badass Energy Waste Detective.

Steve’s collaboration surrounding BC Hydro’s Pocket Waste Buster App sees him playing the role of a mustachioed, 1970s-style detective who solves crimes against energy efficiency. Here are a couple of teaser trailers from the project:

Once again, Steve Nash reveals himself to be a spokesperson for noble environmental causes. In addition to wearing the world’s first basketball shoe made out of recycled materials, he’s championing one of our community’s most important causes in a downright edutaining way. Oh, and people can win fabulous prizes by participating in the contest.

Thanks, Steve, for helping us save energy and have fun at the same time.

Masthead photo courtesy of Steve Punter.

Community on a European Vacation

As it turns out, the recipe for Community is very simple; Singing in public, beer, and a little dash of wild animal. Surprisingly, I am not talking about drunken nights of karaoke (exclusively). I recently spent 6 weeks studying in Copenhagen, Denmark and followed that up with a two week northern European Vacation. Below is a selection of the top five community building places and activities I encountered in my travels. These are the things that made me think, “Man oh man, I wish I could do this at home!”


1. Mauerpark Market and Bearpit Karaoke (Berlin)

Late on a Sunday morning we headed over to Mauerpark for the Berlin’s local favourite flea market. After several hours of exploring the winding stalls of the outdoor market, with several stops to rest in mini-manufactured-beach beer gardens, we had had our fill of bargain hunting and novel snacks. So, made our way over to Bearpit Karaoke just outside the market gates. We were lucky enough to arrive just in time to hear a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way performed by a bearded, German, older gentleman. I was not entirely surprised to find out that this was not his first time in the Bearpit. The only performer who gave him a run for his money was this little girl who made the crowd fall silent before we all joined in to clap along with her song. It was a gorgeous day and the hill over the stage was stacked with people of all ages and walks cheering on the performers. The organizers turned an umbrella, a wagon, a laptop, and some speakers into one of the best boundary breaking, community-building events I have been to.


2. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Denmark)

This was my favorite museum and is a great example of how to make art an accessible and fun experience for a wide range of people. Before I made the trip myself I had heard from many people who couldn’t speak highly enough of the museum and one who said he took his kids there as often as possible. After spending several hours exploring the facility, all that I felt was missing was that feeling of backache that usually accompanies long walks on hard museum grounds. These grounds were not the usual museum grounds though and moved the visitor almost seamlessly between in and outdoor exhibits. There was even one point when we got to use a slide for transportation! (A transportation method that should be adopted on a much wider scale.)  Exploring the outdoors was a refreshing way to discover Louisiana’s impressive collection of sculptural works against a backdrop of the beautiful Øresund beach front and manicured hills that are perfect for a picnic on one side of the property and a beautiful lake nestled into a wooded area on the opposite side.


3. Midsummer’s Eve Celebrations (June 23, Copenhagen)

People go out en masse, not just to one spot but basically to any park, beach, or barge in town. They eat hogs, drink beer, and laugh and chat until someone lights a huge bonfire with a scarecrow/witch on top. That’s when they start singing in unison. Amazing.


4. A la Mort Subite (Brussels)

Founded in 1928, this was a stunningly beautiful Belgian bar whose name translates to  “At the Sudden Death”. Well if sudden death were to strike, there are plenty worse places you could be. Picture soaring ceilings, golden yellow walls and pillars, and locals enjoying a selection of Belgian beers so flavorful that it is probably impossible for anyone to claim they don’t like the taste of beer after trying these variations. This place had an incredible community atmosphere. We sat down at one of the long communal tables next to an older couple from Brussels who were only too happy to share with us the secret of the Brussels classic brew called Gueuze (it has to do with a reaction between the yeast and a bacteria that is only found in the air in Brussels) and their life long dream to travel to Canada. A perfect Belgian experience.


5. Elephants in the Park (Frederiksberg, Denmark)

Anyone who remembers when the Vancouver Zoo had a place in Stanley Park is not likely to have forgotten how awesome it was to go and watch the polar bears from the zoo’s outer confines. The Copenhagen Zoo has elephants that you can get within about 40 meters of from the surrounding park without paying the zoo’s hefty entrance fee. They play and throw dirt and swim and splash and break sticks and lift logs and sit on each other. Watching gigantic, beautiful, social creatures makes for easy conversation with the other observers and was a perfect place to chat with the very friendly Danes who always seem to out for a leisurely afternoon. The elephants were a mere five-minute walk from my apartment so I made a practice of visiting regularly.

If we can’t travel to Europe or have elephants in our backyards at least we can get together to drink some great craft brews and sing about it. Anyone got a karaoke machine?





Sustainable Shipping: the Wave of the Future

Solar/Wind powered marine system

“Sustainability”, “low emissions”, “saving fuel” – these are the buzz words in global shipping circles these days. With jacked up oil prices and pressure on ports to “Green” their operations, ship owners are frantically casting about for new technologies to lower the footprint of their vessels. Basically, the key players are getting innovative  both for the good of the planet and their pocket books too. This was the dominant message coming out of the Baltic and International Maritime Council’s General Meeting held last week in Vancouver.

It was no coincidence that this old boy’s maritime club held its first North American pow wow in green champion Vancouver, whose world class port is gamely singing from the same sustainable song book. For two days,  I sat in on enthused discussion between shippers, demographers, climate change academics and ex-heads of state on how shipping is doing and and where it still needs to go to lower its footprint.   The main consensus was that the economic benefits of going green are irrefutable; the technology is almost there to make it happen; keeping pace with demand, however, is questionable.

Interestingly, shipping is the most efficient form of  transportation on the planet, accounting for over 90 per cent of global goods movement, but just 3% of transportation’s fossil fuel emissions. Local presenters from Teekay, Seaspan, Robert Allan Naval Architects, and BC Ferries championed their efforts to lower these emissions even more through innovation in hull and motor design. The importance of better trained crew to operate more sophisticated vessels and new fuel management challenges were also emphasized.

Expect more of these ships on the horizon, cutting up to 35% in fuel use.

Tall Ships in English Bay, June 7, 2011

Basically, the technology is out there to create a greener world fleet and reduce its carbon emissions by up to 20% in the next decade. But is all this will and know-how a case of too little too late? World population continues to explode creating immense pressure to churn out more ships cheaply and quickly keeping the eye of many shippers on short term necessities rather than long term environmental goals.

Almost in pseudo recognition of the dilemma in which shippers currently find themselves – forced to navigate the contradictory imperatives of growth vs. green – these two beauties sailed unannounced into English Bay last week in stark, sustainable contrast to  the diesel monsters behind them.