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B.C Green and NDP come to an environment-focused agreement

The B.C. Greens and NDP parties have reached an agreement that will allow them to create a minority government and remove Premier Christy Clark from her seat as head of the province. Both parties have made it clear the new agreement is not a coalition — the Green Party will still be able to support their own platforms, but will guarantee any support of an NDP budget or confidence motion.

Both parties signed a confidence agreement that set out specific requirements for both parties to work together in B.C. It is a dream come true for Green supporters across the country as the environment and climate change goals are put at the forefront for the first time in Canadian history. An entire section of the agreement focuses on reducing greenhouse emissions and calls for an increase in the carbon tax and a revitalization of the environmental assessment process in the province. The Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon will most likely cast a vote of no confidence to remove Christy Clark as Premier, though she has confirmed she will remain leader of the opposition.

The agreement takes a hard stance against the pipeline expansion of the Kinder Morgan project and promises to “immediately employ every tool available” to stop the project. The Site C hydro dam, another controversial environmental project, will also be sent to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review of its economic viability. Kinder Morgan’s shares fell on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange due to the uncertainty of the Kinder Morgan project and the recent coalition government.

The electoral results and vote recount has cast doubt onto the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system and is bringing up the issue of reform. The first-past-the-post system allows people to elect representatives for their ward, and the political party with the most representative becomes the leader of the province. The agreement between the NDP and the Green includes the discussion of changing to proportional representation, which would cast a popular vote for the premier or prime minister in addition to a vote for the candidate in each riding. The plan is to have a referendum in 2018. The Federal Liberal government pushed for electoral reform in their campaign and once Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, they dropped the issue. The new government in B.C desires to bring that issue to the forefront.

The NDP-Green agreement marks a new relationship between two parties that have traditionally both been in disagreement. If the no confidence vote dethrones Clark and NDP leader John Horgan becomes Premier, it will be interesting to witness the environment become an issue of focus on a level never-before-seen in the province and across Canada.

Laneway suites as sustainable housing solution in Toronto

Laneway housing has been all the buzz in Toronto as a way to create more housing in high-density areas. With an eminent housing crisis and very low availability for housing in the city, stakeholders are desperate to find a solution, and find new places to put homes could be the answer. So what exactly is laneway housing?

Think of it as a basement suite, but on top of your existing property. A laneway house is an additional suite on the same property as an already existing house. It is typically built on top of a garage or at the back of the house near a lane or alley. It would function similarly to a basement suite in the sense that it relies on services on the main house, but would be above ground instead. According to Cofounder & Architect of Lanescape, Craig Race, “There are a lot of cities with framework for laneway housing, with Vancouver as a leader for this. The laneway suite gets all of its servicing and mail delivery from the main house, they are always on the same property and must work in tandem with the main property. Through a pretty intense public consultation process, we are trying to build something suitable for Toronto as well.”

Previous city councillor Adam Giambrone killed laneway housing in 2006 when a report condemned the practice because homes would to be provided with external services such as water and hydro from the laneways rather than the main house on the property, and this was seen as untenable by the city. As a result, the city over-regulated laneway housing and made it extremely difficult to build at all. The process to build a laneway suite is covered in red tape and can take months to approve. “It is a difficult process and very expensive. It is necessary to go through the Committee of Adjustment or the Ontario Municipal Board, which is a long process and takes a lot of expertise,” Race says. “It is very prohibitive for homeowners today.”

Since then, laneway suites (as opposed to independent houses) have grown in popularity in urban centres across North America, and would rely on the main house for water and electricity. “When the city looked at this before, it was assumed that the laneway would need to provide services, but the services could be provided at the front of the home. It is just a matter of taking it underground.” Race explains. “You would take it from your basement and dig a rear trench to the laneway house.” Once the trench is constructed, the laneway suite would use the same water and electricity as the main home.

In conjunction with Evergreen, Lanescape has been involved in public consultations across the city educating people on the importance of laneway housing. The involved parties have been actively engaging with city councillors, meeting with technical staff who will be affected by the changes and hosting presentations for the public to be involved. The public consultation process ramped up after Ontario Minister of Housing Chris Ballard announced last fall that every municipality should begin developing legislation for laneway housing across the province.

Allowing laneway suites would ultimately be a positive development for Toronto because it responds to the need for housing in high-density neighbourhoods and is also a sustainable approach to housing. “Laneway suites and sustainable living go hand in hand. They allow for visible density because people can co-habitat on existing structures and makes better use of what we have,” Race says. “These structures are designed to be environmentally conscious. There is also a point to be made about the health component of living above ground, and not in a basement.”

In order to develop a cohesive report to present to council in the spring, Lanescape is accepting responses to a public survey as a part of their consultation process. From there, the report will be delivered to city council and they will begin debating to see if laneway suites can become a part of the housing development landscape in the city.

If you are interested in supporting laneway housing, take the survey and help push forward the agenda for more affordable housing initiatives in Toronto.

Concrete has potential to be the greenest building materials

When I walk downtown, I am always slightly in awe of the construction of these magnificent concrete buildings looming over me. How can people build to such heights? Then my environmental brain kicks in, and I wonder if these concrete edifices are the result of years of planetary destruction. As it turns out, concrete has more potential to be green than I originally thought. If all concrete companies made sustainable production their priority, I dare say it could become the most environmentally-promising building material currently available.

Concrete is versatile, low maintenance, strong, diverse, and affordable. It is also one of the oldest building materials in the world, dating back to both the Roman and Egyptian times. It is a reliable thermal insulator and retains heat inside of the home, but it also cools buildings in the hot summer months. Concrete is also recyclable and can be broken down and used as aggregate when a building is torn down. A 2015 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that concrete saves 20 per cent of the energy consumed by buildings made of wood.

That being said, concrete is still responsible for five per cent of carbon emissions. In order to become the greenest building material on the market, companies have to modify the way they produce their building blocks. Holcim, who recently joined forces with Lafarge, is one of the top ranking concrete company to use sustainable building practices on a global basis.

It takes a large amount of thermal energy to create concrete and that strongly contributes to its large carbon footprint. Holcim and Lafarge are sourcing their fuel from renewable energy resources such as waste and biomass. This production change will help Holcium meet global goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels, or 40 per cent by 2030. To date, they are on track with a 26 per cent reduction. Using carbon capture mechanisms to prevent high levels of carbon from being released also creates a more sustainable product.

It appears that concrete has potential to be one of the most sustainable building materials, but how do other building materials compare?

Tree sequestration is a popular construction material, and a lot of people think it’s sustainable because forests absorb carbon dioxide while they are growing. However, it is only sustainable if there is a larger plan to replace the wood cut for construction. Even if a company replants the trees and leaves portions of the forest untouched, it is still impossible to replace the natural biological diversity that existed before harvesting. It also takes time to regrow the trees that are used, which reduces the sustainability of this building material.

Another popular building material is glass, but there are arguments to be made that concrete is still the better choice. Glass is a sustainable building material because it is 100 per cent recyclable. Though glass is environmentally-friendly, it is not very durable and requires high maintenance and care. It is also not an efficient thermal insulator in comparison to concrete.

The highest polluting building materials are aluminum and steel, because these products need several materials. It takes six pounds of bauxite ore to yield one pound of aluminum, and the bauxite is strip-mined from tropical rainforests. Aluminum also requires 270 GJ/t of production energy as compared to concrete that only uses 1.4 GJ/t. Obviously, aluminum and steel are not sustainable building options and builders should avoid using them at all cost.

Compared to other options, concrete is clearly one of the best environmentally-friendly building materials available. The next step now lies in the companies themselves. If every concrete company embraced carbon capture and used biofuels, it would help reduce the global carbon footprint and the world would still have a truly reliable type of construction.

Toronto goes green at Green Living Show

The Metro Convention Centre was an environmentalist’s paradise this past weekend, packed with green vendors, discussions about important issues and electric cars ready to be test-driven.

The Green Living Show was held from April 15 to 17 and was packed full of green enthusiasts. The decor was clean and crisp, with several green plants dotting the venue. It was a large indoor show to navigate and it kept my daughter and I busy all day. There was a lot to see at the show and among my favourites were the presentation of the Canadian Green Car Award, Every Tree Counts, and the Ecoparent Village. There were also several delicious samples offered by different food vendors to keep us energized throughout the day.

As an environmental buff and a deep hater of the car, the Canadian Green Car Award was the highlight for me. The winner of the 2016 Canadian Green Car Award, an award given to the best plug-in hybrid available on the market, the Chevrolet Volt. Other winners on display were the Nissan Leaf for the best battery-electric car, and the Hyundai Sonata for the best hybrid.

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My daughter “driving” the Nissan Leaf.

We got to explore the Nissan Leaf further, which was on display in the plug n’ drive area. Guest attendees could practice plugging the vehicle in to the charging station. It was a nice ride, and had a slick black interior. The vehicle was indiscernible from a regular vehicle aside from the front where the electric charger is plugged in. It was fun to take pictures in the car and see its features up close and personal.

The NudyPatooty Booth
The NudyPatooty Booth

There were several great products for women in the show. One of the most interesting companies was Damiva, who provided a lubricant for vaginal dryness of menopausal women. The product has no hormones and is an organic alternative. Another one of my favourites was NudyPatooty, a shirt made with organic bamboo that can be worn under silk shirts to avoid sweat stains, which is a very innovative idea. It would be the perfect solution for those nervous presenters who are concerned about ruining that silk blouse at a business meeting.

If you are attending a high-fashion event that requires a gown, but you don’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars, check our Rentfrockrepeat. Rentfrockrepeat is a company that rents out designer dresses to help women save costs and recycle expensive clothing.

After a bit of shopping, my daughter and I stopped at the EcoParent village. It was a nice reprise from walking and conversing with vendors, which can become monotonous for children. This area provided Montessori-sponsored toys for kids to play with and it was a hit with my little one. The wooden puzzles and games are a refreshing type of play, and brought me back to the good-old days pre-iphone and gameboy. There was also colouring and crafts. The area was quite small, but it was nice to see organic toys available for the kids.

"Every Tree Counts" exhibit of trees around the city.
“Every Tree Counts” exhibit of trees around the city.

The Green Living Show emphasized on the importance of trees in Ontario. Several booths were dedicated to protecting trees and the importance of planting. There was a large area called “Every Tree Counts”, which taught adults and kids about the importance of parks and trees. Tree planting is often forgotten amidst larger issues such as cap and trade or snazzy new organic products, so this was a smart addition to the show.

The only disappointment was the food area, dubbed the Pollinators’ Plate Food & Drink Pavilion. There was only one vegan option. The Grow-up was provided, which is a delicious vegan eatery but the rest of the food was laden with dairy and meat products. At an environmental festival, I expected more than one vegan alternative. To be limited to one choice definitely didn’t suit the theme of the afternoon. There was also a display of live bees in a slim glass case at the front of the food area for people to look at. Bees are easily stressed in lighted areas when creating honey in the hive and this was not the most animal-friendly decision on the part of the organizers.

The Green Living Show was definitely worth a visit to find cool sustainable products, listen to environmental discussions, and look at the newest electric car market. The show itself demonstrates how mainstream the discussion about the environment is becoming. Gone are the days of backyard granola talk. Instead, big stakeholders are looking into the future of financial and moral gain and, as it so happens, it’s green.