How are you celebrating Earth Day®?

How does one celebrate Earth Day®? It’s not a national holiday but this year April 22 coincides with Good Friday and the Easter weekend.  In Canada, it’s protected from becoming a commercialized event heralded with advertisements, cards, and special gifts,because its name and leaf symbol can only be used with the permission of Earth Day Canada.  This makes sense, particularly because consumerism is one of the activities that contribute to waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and consumption of natural resources.

So how does one celebrate Earth Day®?  The possibilities are abundant.  For me, talking, blogging, tweeting and being aware of it is a start.  If the weather is nice, I’ll get outside and enjoy nature in the yard or perhaps by the lake. On the weekend I’ll be taking a vegetarian dish to a family Easter gathering.

For some folks, this time of year, with Earth Hour in March and Earth Week in April, is a time to think of new initiatives.  For example, I’ll be opting into the Hydro One Peaksaver® program (it will be offered by Kingston Hydro in the second half of 2011), checking for opportunities to seal and caulk for energy efficiency, and using any extra
water, such as bath water, in the garden. I also recently joined the David Suzuki Foundation online book club—as soon as I can get my hands on the current book I’ll be off to the races with that project.

For inspiration, here are some ideas I’ve gathered in honour of Earth Day 2011:

*SIGN UP FOR AN ECO E-NEWSLETTER — read environmental news and tips as they are conveniently delivered to your email inbox.  Perhaps try a newsletter from one of these organizations:

*JOIN A LOCAL ORGANIZATION WITH EARTH-POSITIVE GOALS–ideas for Kingston Ontario residents include:

*GIVE UP SOMETHING–Respond to the 2011 Earth Day® slogan “Give it up for Earth Day” and give something up:  for example, refuse plastic bags, eat less meat, give up chlorine bleach, give up garden products with chemicals, have shorter showers, avoid idling in drive-throughs, walk or ride a bike more often, buy secondhand more often, and so on.

*PLAN AN EVENT–It may be too late  to plan an Earth Day® event for this year, but it could be time to get talking about a  2012 special event  with a community group you’re involved with.  Official Earth Day® events are registered with Earth Day Canada and listed on the website, earthday.ca. This year the one registered Kingston event (at time of writing) is a used clothing and household goods drive by the Clothesline project of the Canadian Diabetes Association (Thursday April 21, 8am to 12pm, 541 Days Rd, Unit 10).  Near Kingston there is a community clean-up and tree plant in Napanee (April 30) and community clean-up in Yarker (April 23).

* SIGN UP FOR THE GREENEST CANADIAN CITY CHALLENGE, it’s a registered  Earth Day® event, listed under “Several Cities in Ontario”.  Go to
greengrouch.com to find out more. Participants agree to fill out a weekly questionnaire, which tracks eco habits, such as using reusable beverage containers,
cloth shopping bags, and cold water for washing. Points are tabulated by city.  Currently,  Grande Prairie Alberta is winning with 13088 points and Kingston participants have tallied 151 points—if we have more participants, we’ll do much better!  About 50 cities across Canada are involved—in Ontario, residents from about 19 cities are signed up.  The competition started on March 2 and goes to April 22, 2012.

*READ THE YELLOW PAGES—I bet many people are not aware that Earth Day Canada in partnership with Green Communities Canada have published an ecoGuide in Yellow Pages phone books across Canada.  If you don’t have the Yellow Pages it’s possible to access your local guide at: http://eco.yellowpages.ca/.  The Eco Guide includes a directory for responsibly discarding hundreds of different items, a guide to eco-certification labels,  and Earth Day Canada’s 15 step challenge that offers 15 recommended eco actions backed up with references and quantification of benefits.

I hope this information is useful and not overwhelming. Each of us has different lives and priorities.  The idea is to celebrate and cherish our planet.  On special occasions such as Earth Day® we are prompted to review our contributions and inspired to find new ways to take part in this century’s green revolution.

Join the Canadian Environmental Inter-City Challenge

I was browsing the Earth Day® Canada events listing today, when I came across a competition for individuals in their daily lives.  It looks like it could be fun, especially as more people become involved. Points are tabulated weekly and your “team” is your home town. On April 22 next year, one city will be declared the winner.  So far, about 50 cities across Canada have participants, and in Ontario, 19 communities, including Kingston, have representatives.

In the lead is Grande Prairie Alberta, with 13,152 points and Red Deer Alberta, with 10,827.  Everywhere else has a lot of catching up to do.  Ottawa is at 1523, Toronto has earned 1416, Vancouver has 1217, and Kingston is at 151 points.

So how do you earn points?  Every week an email prompts you to complete a short survey of eco-positive activities over the past week.  Points are earned for each of these actions and added to your city score:

  • Using own coffee mug (on the road)
  • Checking tire pressures and inflating, if necessary
  • Turning off a light that is not in use
  • Walking or cycling (when driving is an option)
  • Washing clothes in cold water
  • Using a cloth grocery bag
  • Having a vegetarian dinner
  • Using  a reusable drink container
  • Doing any of the above actions more than once.

In Grande Prairie a citizen went to her city council, asking them to support the challenge—they not only endorsed it, but put out a challenge to the Mayors of Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, and Lethbridge.   Red Deer responded, and probably due to leadership and competitive enthusiasm,  became second only to Grande Prairie.    Grande Prairie has a population of over 50,000 and Red Deer  has over 90,000 people–so their high scores are quite admirable.

The competition is hosted from a website called thegreengrouch.com–when you sign up, you can listen to a video of the Green Grouch, who describes himself as an Eco comedian  aiming to encourage people to do simple things to help the environment without being a “nag”.

Why not pull out your travel mug, cloth shopping bag, and stainless steel water bottle and get involved?  And if you decide to sign up, feel free to use my greengrouch referral code: 3457, to give Kingston extra points (smile).

Environment Report of Canadian Index of Wellbeing–Reminder that we need national energy and environment strategies

 

On April 7, 2011 the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) released its first Report on the Environment, bringing together statistics on the wellbeing of Canada’s air, water, and natural resources.  They concluded that, as Canadians, we need to do more to protect our natural home–we need a national energy plan and an environmental conservation strategy.

If you’re anything like me, you’re concerned about climate change and the general health of our natural environment; you have an understanding of causes and effects—that everything is interconnected, and that human activities affect water, soil, air, forests and climatic conditions.  Some impacts are fairly obvious and others are more subtle.  Thousands of scientists and citizen researchers keep us informed by studying trends, such as:

  • Receding glaciers,
  • Rising temperatures,
  • Disappearing animal species, and
  • High smog indexes.

However, in national leadership debates we hear very little real discussion about the future of our resources, air, water, and land—there may be passing references, but no substantive talk about how we are doing. Many citizens are concerned and making changes at home and at work, but what about the bigger picture?   The Canadian Index of Wellbeing Environment Report attempts to provide a snapshot using available environmental data.

WHO AND WHAT IS THE CANADIAN INDEX OF WELLBEING (CIW)?

Publicly launched in 2009, the CIW network recently made its home at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.  It is an independent, non-partisan think-tank aiming to produce a numeric indicator of national wellbeing by the fall of 2011.  Participants include researchers, organizations, and individuals.   The Chair of the advisory board is Roy Romanow, former Premier of Saskatchewan, and the Director is Bryan Smale, professor of recreation and leisure studies at the University of Waterloo.

While a traditional economic progress indicator, such as GDP, measures production, an index of wellbeing measures social and environmental factors.  The wellbeing approach challenges the assumption that  economic indicators, such as GDP or TSX, can truly reveal a nation’s quality of life, progress, and future potential.

The Wellbeing Index uses 64 indicators under the following 8 categories:

  1. Environment—measures resource use,   resource stocks, damage control efforts, and sustainability practices–the preliminary report is summarized below.
  2. Community Vitality—measures inclusiveness and participation of residents in private and public sectors.
  3. Democratic Engagement—measures involvement of citizens in government and Canadian global participation.
  4. Education—measures literacy and skill levels.
  5. Population Health—measures life expectancy; physical, mental, spiritual and social indicators of health; health care quality and access.
  6. Leisure and Culture—measures recreational and cultural activity.
  7. Living Standards—measures levels and distribution of  income and wealth; poverty rates; and sustainability.
  8. Time Use—measures how people experience and manage time during different life stages.

WELL BEING INDEX IS ABOUT COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY

Sustainability and quality of life are not new ideas, but part of current policy in many quarters.  For example, Kingston, Ontario, has an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan—based on holistic notions of progress and endorsed by local government.   Plan partners agree to promote four pillars of Kingston’s sustainability:   cultural vitality, economic health, environmental responsibility, and social equity.  We need a similar type of plan at the national level.

SUMMARY OF CIW ENVIRONMENT REPORT

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing environment report findings are mixed. One reason is that across Canada there are distinct differences in large cities and  other regions—these differences are concealed in national statistics.  Nevertheless, we  need to evaluate and dialogue at a national level, especially at federal election time.

Air quality has shown some improvements, but, in some areas, air quality is still negatively affecting respiratory health. Ground-level ozone exposure is increasing.  There has been some success in reducing industrial emissions of toxic air contaminants.

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) grew 24% since 1990 even though our Kyoto commitment was to reach 6% below 1990 levels by 2012—this is not news, but still a frightening statistic.  Per capita GHG emissions are increasing—only the United States emits more per capita. The breakdown of emissions shows that the highest contributors are fossil fuel industries, transportation, and electricity production.

The Canadian Arctic is warmer, according to the report, more than 1.7 degrees.  This is expected to continue.

Consumption of non-renewable energy sources–Consumption of non-renewable energy resources, such as crude oil, natural gas and nuclear energy, continues to be high.  We have a strong conflict of interest, as the energy sector accounts for 4% of GDP, with 90% attributable to fossil fuels.   Canadians are major producers, consumers, and exporters of fossil fuels.  Dollars that could be used to promote clean energy alternatives are being used to subsidize resources that will not last forever and that increase GHG emissions.

Water supplies are diminishing in some parts of the country—in southern Canada, by about 3.5 cubic km per year (equivalent to our annual residential water use).  Climate change is predicted to cause water supply fluctuations– from scarcity caused by drought to disastrous abundance in times of flooding.  Residential water use has declined somewhat, but we continue to be among the highest water users in the world.

Consumption of goods and waste production are high—there are some signs of reduced consumption and increased recycling, but these efforts need to increase as landfill sites continue to grow.

Reptiles, birds and fish–Native frog, toad, salamander, freshwater fish, grassland bird, shorebird, and seabird populations are endangered or declining. Predatory large fish, such as swordfish, are also at risk.

Depletion of forest ecosystems is exceeding growth–caused by harvesting and industrial development, as well as natural causes.

More environmental monitoring is needed to assess the status of our natural environment and resources.  Most of the data used in the report is 2 to 4 years old.  This may be one of the most profound conclusions of the study.   While economic indicators are available quarterly, indicators of health, quality of life, and natural environment are not available on a regular basis.  Trillions of GDP dollars may be a sign of wellbeing, but does not reveal activities that reduce quality of life, such as pollution, frantic lifestyles, and underfunded healthcare facilities.

When I started this blog, I thought it was about an environment report, but on reflection it may be more about the need for us to think more deeply and farther ahead.  In difficult times it is tempting to think purely in “economic” terms– in reality we are at a juncture in history when we should be asking a broader question: “What do we need to do to protect our quality of life and our environment?”.  National monitoring and strategic planning is the way to begin.

Related Resources:

Finding Fair Trade Chocolate Easter Eggs

I discovered on Twitter last night that it’s possible to buy Fair Trade chocolate Easter eggs online from Amazon.com.  I did a search: first checking the Canadian site, Amazon.ca, but I found nothing.  I moved on to Amazon.com, where fair  trade certified Easter chocolate is indeed for sale.  Not impressed with the shipping cost, and preferring to buy locally, I continued my search.

I googled “Fair Trade Kingston” to find specialty stores in my neighbourhood.  Although it’s easy to buy fair trade chocolate bars in major grocery stores and at some specialty shops, it’s been difficult to find fair trade chocolate Easter eggs.

To make a long story short, my search was successful.  When I walked into Ten Thousand Villages, 235 Princess Street, right in front of me was a display of golden wrapped fair trade chocolate Easter  eggs, made by Divine Chocolate Ltd. of the UK.   As well, at the back of the store I found a wide assortment of Divine and Ten Thousand Villages fair trade chocolate bars. 

Another local shop that sells Divine Chocolate and other fair trade items is Mola Mola, located at 163 ½ Alfred St.  Tara Natural Foods, at 81 Princess St., also sells fair trade chocolate bars.  There may be other small shops selling fair trade chocolate in Kingston—perhaps add a comment if you know of one.

Cocoa for Divine Chocolate Easter Eggs is from Ghana

Divine Chocolate is made from cocoa farmed in Ghana by the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa growers’ cooperative.  This cooperative represents 45,000 small farmers and is a co-owner of the Divine Chocolate company.  Kuapa Kokoo farmers earn fair trade prices and premiums for their crops; they also participate in the profits from Divine product sales, through shareholder dividends.

Why the interest in Fair Trade Easter Eggs?

Cocoa is not grown in Canada—so it makes sense to buy cocoa harvested by small farmers who are receiving a fair price for their produce through the fair trade certification system.  International fair trade standards have expectations for all participants—from growers to sellers of finished products.  Growers join fair trade cooperatives that are paid the global market price or a minimum price, if higher.  Crops are grown according to standards that include sustainable practices and pesticide limitations.  There are also standards for worker safety and fairness. 

Fair trade chocolate bears a certification mark on the packaging and the fine print tells you which ingredients are certified.  More than 50% by dry weight must come from fair trade certified producers. There are a few certification marks that may be seen on fair trade chocolate products in Canada—the most current symbol, indicating certification by Fairtrade Canada or Fairtrade International, is  shown on the left.

More Fair Trade Shopping

Supporting local shops is ideal.  My internet search turned up the following fair trade specialists in Kingston, ON.  There may be more of course, but this list is at least a start:

CoffeeCo—An organic, fair trade coffee roaster, wholesaler, retailer, and espresso bar provider, an offshoot of Multatuli Coffee merchants.  This summer they are opening a new cafe that will serve organic and fair trade coffees and teas near Gardiner Rd. and Taylor Kidd (675 Arlington Place).

Earth to Spirit—Fair Trade Arts and Crafts Gallery, 340 King St. East.

Mola Mola—sells fair trade gift baskets at 163 ½ Alfred St.

Ten Thousand Villages—sells a wide range of items, such as household decorations, toys, clothing, coffee and chocolate. Ten Thousand Villages is a Fair Trade Organization with 29 stores across Canada. The Kingston location is 235 Princess Street.

When specialty shops are not located conveniently nearby, internet shopping for fair trade is another option.  Worldofgood.com  is an eBay marketplace specializing in fair trade and other positive products that are people, animal, and eco-friendly.  I searched for fair trade chocolate Easter eggs on this website and discovered that they sell Divine fair trade Easter eggs.

 

Was Earth Hour 2011 a Success?

Earth Hour came and went last Saturday night.  Was it a success?  I am an enthusiastic supporter of the event, so when I heard a comment on the radio that it’s losing  momentum my spirits dropped.  Then when I browsed online comments from readers of a major newspaper indicating misunderstandings of the purpose of Earth Hour, my spirits dropped even further.

Earth Hour, an annual event from 8:30 to 9:30 on the last Saturday of March, is an educational and inspirational event intended to get people thinking about their use of electricity and other sources of energy. It’s an hour of symbolic action (turning off the lights) and for some, time to make personal pledges for energy conservation over the coming year.

Today I  read  positive press releases indicating that participation in Earth Hour is increasing globally, in Canada, and in my neighbourhood, Kingston, Ontario.  Yeah!

Globally, the number of countries and territories officially participating increased from 126 in 2010 to 134 in 2011.

Across Canada, the number of towns, cities, and municipalities participating increased by 38% to over 420 in 2011.

Kingston Ontario, one of Canada’s many official participants, was proud to report an estimated 3.1% reduction in electricity use during Earth Hour this year.  Despite a very chilly evening– at -8 degrees Celsius–which usually boosts electricity use, Kingston’s reduction was above the provincial average, which was 2.1%.  To add some further perspective, BC Hydro estimated a 1.8% reduction in electricty use during British Columbia’s  Earth Hour. 

The reductions may seem small, but the event is not really about saving energy for an hour–it’s about inspiring people to reduce their energy consumption every hour of every day.  Gerald Butts, World Wildlife Fund Canada CEO, puts it like this:   “Earth Hour is about raising our collective voice, but it’s also a bit like an environmental New Year, providing a chance to relflect on how our planet is faring and what we can do to help.  That moment of reflection is the heart of Earth Hour.”

The celebration in Market Square, downtown Kingston, was very well attended, despite the below zero temperature.   The crowd of adults and children was very happy with  awesome performances by the Twisted Fire Circus and The Gertrudes, illuminated only by the flames of beeswax candles after City Hall lights went out.  The entertainment was opened by the Drummer’s Guild, captured in the above video posted on YouTube.

In Search of Fair Trade Chocolate—For Easter Bunnies and Chocoholics

Fair Trade Certified Chocolate found at local grocery--Logo shown on top right corner of bottom package (by ontheland)One of my special interests as a green consumer is buying fair trade certified products, such as chocolate, coffee, and bananas.  I am constantly on the lookout in local stores for the fair trade logo. 

A few days ago I was browsing a free promotional magazine when with surprise I noticed a small blurb noting that Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars sold in Canada are now fair trade certified.  This may not be news to regular chocolate eaters or more dedicated fair trade shoppers, as this change happened last year.  In fact, as far back as 2009, Cadbury announced its intention to bring fair trade chocolate to Canada and other markets, after having introduced it in the UK and Ireland.

An Idea for Easter Chocolate Shopping

Easter is still over a month away, but Kingston stores are filling up with the pastel pinks, greens, and yellows of Easter—trinkets, stuffed toys, chocolate eggs, rabbits, and more.  When you’re shopping for chocolate, choosing packages with the fair trade certification mark may be the way to go (see upper right corner of bottom package in picture) —a way to support:

  • sustainable agriculture, including pesticide restrictions,
  •  decent working conditions, including a child labour ban, and
  •  fair compensation for small farming communities in developing countries. 

The only catch is that I haven’t seen any fair trade Easter eggs or bunnies—I gather these can be found in the UK,where fair trade is very firmly entrenched.  They even celebrate a FairTrade fortnight! 

Fair trade chocolate bars are available in major grocery stores and department storesyou just have to look.  Today I looked for fair trade chocolate bars in a large grocery store in Kingston, ON.  There was good news and bad news.  First the bad news–I found fewer brands than I expected.  The good news was that I did find two brands:  Cadbury Dairy Milk and President’s Choice Fair Trade Chocolate.  Both Cadbury and President’s Choice sell many chocolate bars that are not Fairtrade certified—but they each have a few items that are—you just have to look for them in the sea of other types of chocolate.

How Much of a Chocolate Bar Comes from Fair Trade Sources?

When you buy a fair trade certified banana or package of certified coffee you know that 100% of the banana or coffee was grown by a certified farming cooperative, which in return for following fair trade standards–such as sustainable farming guidelines and safe working conditions– is guaranteed a minimum price, access to financing, and a premium to be reinvested into the local community.

Chocolate, on the other hand, is a “composite” product as it includes several ingredients–cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, etc.  For both of the brands noted above, three ingredients are certified: sugar, cocoa butter, and unsweetened chocolate.

Composite Product Guidelines

My confidence in fair trade certification soared when I learned that FairTrade International has established guidelines for composite products such as chocolate.  When a composite product is fair trade certified:

  • All ingredients with existing fair trade standards must come from fair trade certified producers,
  • 20% by dry weight must be the significant ingredient (cocoa for chocolate, orange for orange juice),
  • More than 50% by dry weight, must come from fair trade certified producers.

Fair Trade Products are Quietly Gaining a Momentum in Canada

FairTrade Canada (formerly named TransFair Canada) is Canada’s certification body for companies seeking to use the fair trade logo in Canada and a member of FairTrade International, which certifies farmers, producers, and traders worldwide.

Cities and towns can be recognized as Fair Trade Towns if the local government agrees to a fair trade purchasing policy and a significant per cent of stores, workplaces, restaurants, schools, and faith groups make a commitment.  In Canada we have 15 fair trade towns, with Vancouver being the largest.  In Ontario, Barrie and Port Colborne are also Fair Trade Towns–and Hamilton, Windsor, New Hamburg, Woodstock, and Ottawa are in the process of building momentum.  Perhaps one day Kingston will be on that list!

What are you doing for Earth Hour?—Saturday March 26 8:30 PM

Earth Hour is how many days away?  As of this morning, there are eight days to go.  

What are you doing for Earth Hour?  Are you planning activities at home with lights and TV switched off, or will you be out at a community event?  If you haven’t thought of what you’ll do to participate in this global demonstration of support for sustainable energy use, look over the ideas and information below.

Community Events

Many communities have special events–to find out what is going on, check your local Earth Hour website (in Canada, EarthHourCanad.org),  look in a community newspaper, or at an online classified ad site, such as Craigslist or Kijiji.

I hope to go to the Kingston Unplugged event at Springer Market Square in downtown Kingston, ON.  This event, in its 4th year, starts at 6:30 PM and goes to 9:30.  There will be sustainability displays and vendor booths to browse, speakers, and free entertainment.  At 8PM, the Drummer’s Guild and  Fire Circus Show open the entertainment.  At 8:30 (the official launch of Earth Hour) there will be an off-the-grid concert of THE GERTRUDES—powered by wind and solar energized batteries. (Check out a sample of their talent below.)

Another event in Eastern Ontario will be held at the Redtail Vineyard, a solar-powered organic winery in Prince Edward County. The vineyard has invited people to visit and sip wine under solar-powered lighting during Earth Hour  (reservations are required).

Businesses and Organizations

If you are involved in running a business or organization, it may not be too late to organize a show of support—by turning off non-essential lights and letting people, such as members, customers, and employees, know that your organization is behind Earth Hour 2011.  For ideas, take a look at the How to Guides provided under the Take Action tab on the Global Earth Hour website.  There are guides for businesses, schools, community groups, sports associations, religious organizations, hotels, bars, and landlords.

Celebrating at Home with Family and Friends

Here are some ideas for private celebrations:

  • Go for a walk around your neighbourhood or downtown; see how many lights are out—enjoy the spring air!
  • Plan a hot bath with candles and relax for an hour.
  • Have a candlelight dinner.
  • Have nibbles and share about how you plan to promote sustainable energy use over the next year.
  • Meditate for the welfare of the planet.
  • Play board games, card games, or party games, such as charades, by candlelight.
  • Have a party with snacks and singing, acoustic music making, and dancing.
  • Relax, chat, and walk under the stars.
  • Get children involved in an active game, such as tag with glow sticks.
  • Tell stories or read stories out loud.
  • Do some star gazing.

 Earth Hour is a global inspirational and educational event with millions of people taking part–don’t miss it!

The YouTube video below gives a sample of THE GERTRUDES, who will be performing in Kingston Market Square during Earth Hour.