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Ontario moves towards zero-waste using a circular economy

Landfills are one of the most glaringly obvious examples of human waste, holding over 2.6 trillion pounds of trash worldwide per year. Over half of this garbage is organic waste, which can be composted. Many other sources of ‘garbage’ can be recycled or reused. Something needs to be done to reduce waste and Ontario is taking steps towards a zero-waste future.


Ontario’s Strategy for a Waste Free Ontario
is an initiative that will introduce a circular economy to begin the process to become zero-waste in the province. The strategy is a creation of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and is a welcome addition to Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan. The circular economy is a model that would divert waste from landfills by changing from a make-use-dispose landfill system to a re-using products until they are truly not useful any longer. This will lower levels of waste substantially and will promote the use of the three R’s, reduce-reuse-recycle.

In 2014, Ontario generated 11.5 million tonnes of waste, nearly a tonne of waste per person every year. Approximately 75 per cent of this waste goes to the landfill.  It is definitely time for a massive change when it comes to managing waste. If Ontario increases organic waste diversion from landfills by 10 per cent, from 38 per cent to 48 per cent, it will prevent 275,000 tonnes of green gas emissions. According to the Ministry of the Environment, this is the equivalent of removing nearly 64,000 cars from Ontario roads per year.

In order to implement steps towards building a circular economy, Ontario will use the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016, which establishes full producer responsibility and makes them environmentally accountable for recovering resources and reducing waste. Producers are described as importers, wholesalers, retailers and e-tailers. The ministry will also create a Resource Productivity and Recovery Registry to oversee producer performance and will monitor progress of the producers’ waste reduction strategies.

The province plans to lower waste 30 per cent by 2020, 50 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050. The zero-waste plan has a relative timeline to meet these goals and in 2017, the province plans on developing the Food and Organic Waste Action Plan, and establishing the Resource Productivity and Recovery Registry. The ministry also plans on making amendments to 3R regulations, implementing the Organic Waste Action Plan and transitioning the Used Tires Program. All of these changes should make it possible to lower waste 30 per cent by 2020.

Zero-waste in Ontario sets the stage for the province to be a leader in creating a green economy that focuses on the financial gains of recycling and reusing items. It will save producers’ money to enact the 3R’s when disposing of used products and will reduce waste in the province. It is time for the green economy to become the mainstream way of making money in the western world, and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is taking important steps to making that a reality.

Woman of the Week: Ingrid Thompson

Ingrid Thompson combines the practical love of science with passion for the environment. As the newly anointed Chief Executive Officer at Pollution Probe, one of the oldest environmental charities in Canada, she brings over 20 years of real-world experience into the boardroom.

“One of my quirks is I have a certain amount of appreciation for the geekiness of science and the complexity of information,” Thompson says. “Energy is very important for building the type of societies we want, but if you sacrifice the environmental part, we aren’t getting very far ahead.”

Thompson began her career as press secretary to the Minister of the Environment, Norm Sterling, in 1996. She briefly left to take on a role as a Senior Consultant for National Public Relations and returned in 2000 as Chief of Staff for the new Minister of the Environment, Dan Newman. During her tenure with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, she had to deal with the Walkerton E-Coli outbreak, one of the biggest environmental crises in Ontario’s history.

“It was one of the bigger crisis experiences.  On the May long weekend, a bunch of people showed up at doctor’s offices complaining of intestinal issues,” Thompson says. “They were noticing that there was a cluster of sick people and that it could be an E.coli infection. Eventually it became clear that the water was the source of the infection. Six people died and thousands got seriously sick.”

Thompson was very involved with the Walkerton Crisis, calling water supply companies to bring clean water to residents and attending town hall meetings in Walkerton, among other things. She also helped the environmental minister reconfigure the water administration. Thompson said the experience was a test for the minister and his staff, who were elected into cabinet barely two months before the Walkerton catastrophe struck.

After 2001, Thompson became the Director of Communications and Marketing for a government relations group invested in energy, the environment and infrastructure law practice, and was a subsidiary of the law firm, CMS Cameron McKenna. From there, Thompson played a leading role in a cellphone company called Vodafone in Prague, and moved back to Canada briefly to do environmental consulting.

“I met a Dutch marine on the beach and that screwed up everything. I met my fiancé and decided to hit a reset button on my career.” Thompson took a job across the ocean as an Independent Consultant at Thompson Marcom in the Netherlands for the next six years. In October 2016, she returned to Canada and accepted the role as the Chief Executive Officer for Pollution Probe.

Thompson emphasizes that Pollution Probe takes a unique approach to environmentalism and works with oil companies and not against them. “We are a pragmatic, science-based company. We don’t take the view of putting all oil and gas companies in an automatic black hat and we choose not to do that,” Thompson says. “If you work directly for an environmental solution, we would rather work with companies than fight them. We work with a lot of companies, including Shell. They are pushing for the decarbonisation of the economy.”

After 20 years in the environmental and energy sectors and amassing an extensive amount of job experience, what does Thompson believe is the single most pressing environmental problem affecting the world today?

She didn’t skip a beat before responding, “Climate change.” Thompson explains it is imperative greenhouse gases be managed by finding credible and reasonable solutions through networking.

Supporting women in the environmental and energy sectors is also an issue close to Thompson’s heart. “Twenty years ago when I was a young consultant at a PR firm, I used to bring an older vice president along with meetings with me because my clients were unfortunately middle-aged white guys,” she says. “In order for me to be comfortable, I felt I needed to bring a ‘beard’ to my meetings. It is important to make a point of supporting strong smart women and connecting with them.”

Recently, the Pollution Probe Annual Gala  ‘Generation Now’, focused on youth engagement and innovation in the environmental sector. The event also included awards that were given to two young women named , Eden Full Goh for creating a solar panel from a gravity powered clock, and Nivatha Balendra, for discovering a bacteria that can digest oil spills. “I was so thrilled to be able to support our awards program because it happened to result in two young women being the ones selected for incredibly impressive accomplishments,” Thompson says. “They were both incredibly intelligent and as women tend to do, they also had a sense of humility.”

In her spare time, Thompson enjoys knitting and scuba diving — things she finds to be meditative and peaceful. Pollution Probe has a bright future with the energy and environmental veteran who is leading the way towards the hopeful decarbonisation of the Canadian economy.

Preparing for climate change: how to make a resilient city

Nature is resilient, evolving and changing over time to survive surroundings. It is time for people to take a lesson from nature’s finest and learn how to be resilient.

Climate change is imminent and preparation is the key to saving cities that are otherwise under threat from rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and water shortages. AECOM, a company that designs, builds, finances and operates infrastructures assets for governments, businesses, and organizations in over 150 countries, is helping countries create a strategy to prepare for the future and survive the inevitable effects of climate change.

In a recent report report called “What’s Next in Making Cities Resilient?”, AECOM outlines a set of criteria that could change the way infrastructure is built in large urban centres, focusing on sustainable planning choices. By starting at the end, planners can predict the outcomes of potential natural disasters that could occur in the future and make decisions through strategy instead of just designing only for immediate city needs. The company also emphasizes the importance of maintaining and updating transit infrastructure to make sure that people and business can move around the city quickly. This also reduces the environmental impact of other types of transportation. Finally, city planning must begin using sustainable and resilient planning tools right now instead of in the future. Climate change has been determined to be true, and every city must be responsible and made aware of that fact.

Climate change will impact vulnerable areas around the world, and the coast is at the top of the list. Coastal areas are popular for human habitation, with 40 per cent of the population living in these regions. This creates key challenges for urban planners because of rising sea levels and the risk of flood. AECOM is working with these cities to provide insights on how to prepare for flooding and adapt infrastructure goals to this natural threat.In Australia, 85 per cent of the population lives along the island’s coastline. AECOM released reports that presented the future impacts and hazards of climate change to the federal government. In response, Australia has adopted a new set of standards called “Considering Climate Risks when Managing, Owning and Funding Coastal Assets”, which forces developers to properly assess how to build infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of flooding and extreme coastal weather.

To respond to a variety of planning challenges across the world, AECOM has come up with a Sustainable Systems Integration (SSIM) tool that measures the costs and benefits of any plan by making urban planning more environmentally focused. SSIM measures environmental, social and economic sustainability by analyzing energy and water usage, transportation options, green building, ecology and carbon footprints. For example, the city of Tianjin in China used the SSIM land-planning tool to decide on the most environmentally effective way to build the most sustainable city possible for Samsung, just south of Tianjin. The smart city includes electric car charging outlets and is built entirely on an LED light grid to save energy.

An approved criteria of SSIM includes using natural systems as a way to protect cities. Natural systems include flood plains, bioremediation tools, and using plants that absorb pollution. By creating green space near open water for example, this green infrastructure filters pollutants and helps prevent flooding by creating a natural floodplain between the city and the open water.  A city that is using natural systems is Jeddah, acity in Saudi Arabia, which has implemented green infrastructure in the form of green space at the waterfront to prevent from extreme flooding. This is an issue that plagues the city as climate change progresses.

AECOM is leading the way with resilient infrastructure around the world. Every city should begin to look at their urban planning agenda with the future of climate change in mind. Extreme weather conditions, whether it be fire or water, which will become more common and if we don’t prepare, our cities will be ruined. In the age of internet and mass communication, we have one final shot at saving ourselves from a planet that has been devastated by human consumption. What will you do to save our home, the great planet earth.

Premier Wynne shows what female leadership can do for climate

This week has been a whirlwind for the provincial government. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s is in Mexico City to discuss environmental and international relations, all the while promoting women within these industries.

The premier made the trek down south to discuss the importance of climate change and the economy with Mexican leaders, exporters, and potential investors and to host the first-ever Women in Leadership Climate Change Panel Discussion. The participants of this panel discussed the role that women can play in the economic transition to a low-carbon economy and explored the unique experiences of the Indigenous people in the fight against climate change.

Several other prominent women leaders were present as well, including the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate, Her Excellency, Patricia Espinosa. Espinosa was elected executive secretary in May 2016 at the Paris Climate Change Conference. She is originally from Mexico and has worked in foreign affairs between the Americas for several years. Espinosa was joined on the panel by Tanya Muller Garcia, the Minister of the Environment of Mexico City. Garcia actively promoted cycling programs throughout Mexico City and played a large part in integrating the region’s transit system.

Wynne has had a large impact on the climate change agenda in Ontario, most recently with her adoption of cap and trade in Ontario. Part of her agenda in Mexico is to promote an open trade relationship with Mexico City, who has recently adopted a pilot project cap and trade program themselves. An interworking relationship of cap and trade with Mexico would have a significant economic impact on Ontario’s new climate change incentive, and would integrate will with the programs in California and Quebec. Recently, cap and trade has come under fire because Quebec and California have failed to sell all of their emissions, leaving both governments in debt. Many worry Ontario will suffer the same fate.

The climate change conference is a good opportunity for Wynne to show that Ontario is not concerned with the xenophobic agenda that Trump followers and the US is currently leading towards, and is instead open to creating trade partnerships involving climate change. It is inspiring to see a representative of the Canadian political fabric represent women interests, tackling environmental concerns, and promoting healthy international trade relations in the midst of struggling global unity.

It is easy to see this week as a win for Wynne.

 

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The top 5 most sustainable cities in the world

What does it mean to live in the most sustainable city in the world?

Imagine living in a place that has an urban planning agenda that focuses on the environment while maintaining prosperous development and has a booming economy. This type of city places health as a top priority, and offers recreation activities and high-level education.

To be sustainable means to only use as much as can be naturally replaced in order to sustain and maintain this place all people call home. Existing within our means in large cities can have an incredible impact on the planet, and every city needs to make sustainability a priority. Frankfurt is leading the way as the most sustainable city in the world, according to the Sustainable Cities Index. This internationally-recognized index analyzes three key factors when looking at each city: people, planet, and profit. The first measurement tool, people, includes the quality of life for citizens of that particular region, which includes factors like education, green spaces, and health. Focusing on environmental initiatives, planet measures energy emissions, pollution, renewable energy, air pollution and solid waste management. The profit of a city is measured by how well the business economy is doing as well as its economic performance, which is calculated by using GDP and the cost of doing business.

Here are the top five most sustainable cities in the world:

Frankfurt, Germany.
Frankfurt, Germany.
  1. Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt was listed as the most sustainable city in the world because of its dedication to sustainability and helping the environment. “Green City Frankfurt”, as it is popularly dubbed, has its own energy agency and is the founding member of the Climate Alliance of European Cities created in 1990. The city has committed to lowering CO2 emissions by 10 per cent every five years with a 50 per cent cut by 2050. Currently, the city has lowered CO2 emissions by 15 per cent since 1990, while still growing its economic power 50 per cent. Frankfurt is also home to Germany’s largest city forest and is surrounded by a Greenbelt.

London, England. By Jim Trodel.
London, England. By Jim Trodel.
  1. London, England

London falls into second place with high scores on the people and profit measures because of a strong healthcare system and highly-ranked education facilities. The British city is also an international economic center and is the best connected global city alongside New York. The current mayor of London has launched a 2020 vision to make London “the Greatest City on Earth” to become the best city for work, living, investing and doing business. The mayor also set a target to lower carbon emissions by 65 per cent by 2025 from 1990 levels. London isn’t a leader in environmental initiatives, but is still a sustainable city when it comes to its strong economy and high quality of life.

Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen, Denmark.
  1. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen city council has created a climate change plan, similar to Frankfurt and is going a step further by preparing for the future effects of climate change now. The city is developing a plan to catch all of the rainwater in the city because of the lowering precipitation that is expected from climate change. Copenhagen also has green roofs, living walls, and pavements that allow water to percolate through. The quality of living is reportedly high in Copenhagen and the city is booming.

Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands

In Amsterdam, the city takes a leading global role in creating green business. Many enterprises in Amsterdam are creating green products that are being sold worldwide and is also invested in creating highly sustainable buildings in their downtown core. Amsterdam boasts an electric transportation system and is dedicated to using sustainable electricity. It has a goal that by 2020, 92,000 households will be using renewable energy. Amsterdam scored high in all three categories, making it the most balanced city in the world.

Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Rotterdam, Netherlands.
  1. Rotterdam, Netherlands

Rotterdam has the highest quality of life for its people out of any city in the world because of its high literacy rate and good work-life balance. The city has also launched green programs, but scores lower in these categories than other cities. The Rotterdam Sustainability Programme is a plan that wants to make a clean and green city, and reduce carbon emissions in half. Rotterdam also claims the world’s largest carbon capture program known as the Rotterdam Capture and Storage Demonstration Project (ROAD) that will be stored in an empty gas reservoir in the North Sea. The government committed to spending $31 million towards the green program.

Sustainability is the way of the future if we want to save our planet. Many cities are taking initiative and Europe is definitely leading the way. In October, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will bring together cities across the world to discuss how to reach a sustainable standard similar to Frankfurt or London. Toronto is ranked at number 12, and if the city attends Habitat III and adopts new strategies of more sustainable cities, the “six” could climb into the top ten.

In the midst of global distrust due to isolated acts of terrorism in Europe and other parts of the world, Habitat III will be an opportunity for cities to unite and work together towards creating a sustainable and healthy world. I look forward to seeing which concepts and ideas are adopted in Canadian cities and to see positive impacts of global communication for a change.

 

New climate change legislation puts emphasis on electric cars

The Ontario government has finally released the long-awaited Climate Change Action Plan — and it is jam packed with lots of incentives for electric vehicles and green home retrofits.

The strategy works in tandem with the cap and trade program finalized by the Liberals a few months ago. This strategy is expected to create around $1.9 billion in revenue through the auctioning of emission credits, which will then be invested into a new Greenhouse Gas Reduction account. These funds will be “responsibly and transparently invested into actions that directly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, create jobs, and help people and businesses shift to a low-carbon economy.”

One of the biggest concerns people had with the government’s climate strategy was that the plan would include a ban on natural gas and would negatively affect businesses and drivers that use a lot of carbon. The 86-page document addresses this concern by saying “it will not take away personal choice: no one will have to stop using gas in their home or give up their gas-powered car by a certain date. Rather, the plan creates the conditions that provide choice. It gives consumers and businesses more reasons to reduce their carbon footprint, and creates competitive conditions for the adoption of low-carbon technology.”

Here are some of the highlights:

  • A Green Bank will be established to help homeowners and businesses access and finance energy-efficient technologies to reduce greenhouse gasses. This includes a number of rebates for retrofits in social housing. Homes being sold after 2019 will be provided with a free energy audit.
  • More than one third of Ontario’s greenhouse gasses are created by transportation. Cars and trucks make up 70 per cent of this carbon. The Ontario government is offering rebates of up to $14,000 per eligible electric vehicles, including a $1,000 rebate for charging stations. The goal is to have every new home buying built after 2018 to include a charging plug in the garage.
  • The government will establish a four-year free overnight electric vehicle charging program for residents starting in 2017.
  • A “cash for clunkers” program will work with the rebates for electric vehicles to get older, less efficient vehicles off the road. Companies and drivers who buy green vehicles will receive a special license plate that will allow free access to provincial HOV and tolled lanes.
  • Focus on researching and developing new green technologies and transitional allowances for high-polluting businesses.
  • Emphasis on implementing more cycling and walking networks throughout the province to rid gridlock and therefore reduce the amount of carbon emitted by vehicles on the roads.

The purpose of all of these programs is to cut Ontario’s greenhouse gas pollution to 15 per cent bellow 1990 levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030, and 80 per cent by 2050.

The government is spending between $5.9 billion to $8.3 billion over the next five years on new programs, incentives, rebates, and green technologies. The $1.9 billion earned by selling emission credits through the cap and trade program will make up some of these funds.

The plan will add about $5 a month to home heating bills and 4.3 cents a litre to gas prices.

The Climate Change Action Plan outlines the provincial (and sometimes municipal) responsibilities for the next five years and will be reviewed and updated every five years after the fact. An implementation update will be provided annually for transparency.