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Minister Murray resigns as Minister of Environment

On July 31, the Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, has announced his resignation. Chris Ballard, former Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, will replace him in the cabinet.

Peter Milczyn, MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, will be given the position of Minister of Housing.

Murray has dedicated most of his life to public service. His extensive political career began in Winnipeg, where he acted as city councillor before becoming Mayor in 1998. After moving to Toronto in 2010, he was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Since then, he has held the position of Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure, and finally Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Unlike some politicians, Murray is genuinely passionate about the environment, working tirelessly to ensure the policies enacted by the provincial government followed sustainable practices. He is most known for his instrumental role in the creation and adoption of the cap-and-trade regulations that passed through the legislature in mid-May as well as Ontario’s Climate Chance Action Plan.

Murray announced his resignation Monday morning, saying that he will step down from cabinet immediately, but will remain an MPP until Sept 1.

“As part of the Ontario Liberal Government, I have had the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I have always tried to bring a fresh and creative approach to public policy and government, making decisions that keep those that matter the most in mind.”

“I ultimately have made the difficult decision, with the support of my partner Rick, to transition from this chapter on to the next chapter of tirelessly working to mobilize to fight climate change at the national level.”

On Sept. 5, Murray will join the Pembina Institute as Executive Director. The Pembina Institute is a 30-year-old Canadian think tank that advocates for clean energy solutions and the overall reduction of fossil fuels.

“Glen is a renowned thought leader on social and environmental issues, with an impressive track record of policy leadership throughout his tenure in elected office,” said David Runnalls, president of the Pembina Institute. “On behalf of the board of directors, I am thrilled that Glen is joining our talented team and know he will propel the Pembina Institute to new heights as we work to solve today’s greatest energy challenges.”

It is unclear at this moment if this change will result in new priorities for the Liberal government, and if Ontario’s climate change plan will still be considered among them.

What’s with the animal-themed parks in Toronto?

Toronto’s parks are transforming to appeal to animal lovers — and it turns out there are a ton in this city. First, the Berczy Park Revitalization features man’s best friend and now, the same architect said he may create a cat-themed park near Front St. West.

Berczy Park/Plaza is centered around a giant tiered fountain surrounded by 27 dog sculptures. These puppies shoot jets of water out of their mouths into the fountain towards the giant golden bone sitting at the top of the structure. There is plenty of seating space and enough greenery for families, and their canine friends, to roam.

The trees were planted using Silva Cell technology, a suspended pavement system that supports large trees while providing storm water management at the same time. This allows Toronto to support the growth of plant life in an urban setting.

The fountain within Berczy Park has received a lot of attention in the media. While some people love the quirky concept, others feel it isn’t sophisticated enough for this city. Either way, people have crowded around the fountain day and night (it lights up when the sun goes down) to enjoy the public space. It creates a fun and whimsy atmosphere that can’t be found anywhere else in Toronto.

That is until architect Claude Cormier gets his hands on the mega development at Front and Spadina.

It is rumoured that Cormier has a plan for a cat-themed promenade. There are few details available. The only information publicly available is that Cormier will work with the other developers and architects to create a new green space as part of the mixed-use project…and that feline sculptures may be involved.

Not everyone will be thrilled with this concept, but honestly, anything that creates a space for people to enjoy each others company in the outdoors is a win for Toronto.

 

What do you think? Would a cat-themed park be welcome on Front and Spadina?

Are you starting to bike to work this summer?

For most people, the approaching summer weather is meant for patio drinks and walks by the waterfront — but for me, what I love most is being able to dig out my bike and start cycling to work again.

After months of hibernating, eating like a bear, watching Netflix and hoping for better weather, the first ride of a new season always makes me a bit sore. Make sure to take your bike somewhere for a proper tune-up. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a bike mechanic at Velotique and I got a great deal. It pays to have a friend who understands how to fix bikes, but if none of your friends are bike people, it may be worthwhile to learn yourself. At some places in Toronto, like Bike Pirates, they give you the tools at hand and you can do the work yourself for a cheaper price.

Unfortunately, before I could get my bike tuned for the season I ran into my first hurdle. I made the irresponsible mistake of leaving my bike outside all winter and it sustained some pretty serious salt damage from the road. This caused my U-lock to rust to the point where I couldn’t open it. Always keep your bike indoors during the off-season.

When I was finally able to get on the road, I felt like a bird that was stretching its wings after a long sleep. I travel from the east-end and I soared down Dundas East on a bike path and waved at the cars stuck in traffic. It felt like a dream come true until I heard my panier bag disengage from my bike behind me and spill all over the road. I was forced to stop and clean up all of my belongings while swearing to the gods over my poor luck. I discovered after re-jigging the panier lock that it had been malfunctioning all winter and latched it to my bike with bungee cords for the remainder of the ride (note: always travel with bungee cords if you are a cycling commuter).

I arrived downtown with little time to spare due to my unexpected panier emergency, and found Dundas East blocked off at Parliament St. for construction! I decided to deviate south to Sumach St. which is the equivalent of riding on the surface of a volcanic crater (my bottom was very sore). Lesson learned; always give yourself plenty of room when getting back on the bike at the beginning of the season because navigational mistakes are sure to happen here and there. It is also frustrating when you do find an alternative cycling route (in this case on Gerrard St.) and delivery trucks park in the middle of the cycling route. This should be considered illegal and puts many cyclists in danger.

Delivery truck blocking the cycling path on Gerrard St.

The other challenging thing about cycling earlier in the season in Toronto is trying to account for the bi-polar weather in Southwestern Ontario. On one of my commutes last week, I put on a sweater, a jacket, took off both, changed pants, and arrived at home sweaty, cold, hot, and exhausted. Understanding Toronto weather is confusing to say the least.

All in all though, after a couple of days of adjustment, I am happy to be back on my bike, and collecting my bikos. I got back on my bike just in time for “Bike to Work Day”, a Toronto event where Mayor John Tory hopped on a bike at Bloor St. to ride with commuters in celebration of cycling in the city. The event is a precursor to ‘Bike Month’, an annual event in Ontario that celebrates all aspects of cycling. To ring in bike month, the City of Toronto will be giving away tote bags with cycling goodies at locations all over the city for the month of June and taking pictures of cyclists who love to ride.

Cycling is one of the positive benefits of being urban dweller. But it’s much more than that. There is absolutely nothing more enjoyable than feeling of the wind blowing through your hair as you cycle by vehicles stuck in traffic.

Zooming past morning downtown traffic in Toronto.

Will you be biking to work this month? Let us know if there are any problems with your commute, in the comments below!

Toronto pushes climate change to back burner

Toronto is taking an aggressive approach to tackling climate change with a new plan to transform the city into a green metropolis — or are they?

TransformTO, the new climate change policy being proposed to city council, was supposed to be discussed on May 24, but it was deferred until the July 5.  This came as a disappointment to Toronto climate supporters, who would love to see the city embrace a plan that will actively decrease greenhouse gases in one of the Canada’s largest city.

The ambitious climate change plan would see Toronto reduce greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050. The city has already lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 24 per cent, which has exceeded the six per cent 2012 climate change goal. In order to meet this more strenuous climate change goal by 2050 though, serious action is needed. The plan will take aggressive action to lower emissions, including diverting 95 per cent of waste from landfills to recycling programs and 100 per cent of public use vehicles will use zero-carbon energy. There would be more focus on creating bike lanes, infrastructure related to low-carbon vehicles, and cycling parking.

The climate change plan also wants Toronto to focus on building green houses, condos, and apartment buildings in the future. The plan would mandate city structures to have near-zero greenhouse gases by 2030 and retrofit most other buildings by 2040. Retrofitting buildings will save 40 per cent of energy costs and the city also wants to use renewable energy that would lower the amount of heat that homes use to 20 per cent of the rate used in 2015. This goal would be achieved by collecting waste heat and converting it into power.

TransformTO is an ambitious move that will ultimately help support creating a greener and healthier city — if it gets off the ground, that is. The City of Toronto would benefit by taking the climate change plan seriously and pushing it through as a key item in the July 5 council meeting to ensure no more delays.

Green Living Show even greener this year

Where do you go if you want Tibetean vegan momos, pants made out of tree fibres, and lectures about how cannabis can help you heal?

The Green Living Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is one of the largest environmental events of the year, featuring organic and delicious food, exercise, and how to build sustainably among many other things.  It is a festival that takes all things green and turns it into a massive trade show in support of an environmentally friendly world. The festival provides an opportunity to network, share, and learn about how many industries are involved in the ‘green’ trend that is growing in popularity every year.

So, how was the Green Living Show compared to last year?

It was definitely better for one main reason; the food! This year, the food pavilion had a centralized theme of ‘around the world’ fare. It had a range of options and also specified foods that were vegan and vegetarian, which was a fresh change of pace. The previous year, I struggled to find vegan options and this was frustrating at a green festival. The beer options were impressive as well, with a wide variety of craft brews, wines and ciders available.

The emphasis on medical cannabis was a new development, probably due to impending legislative changes around marijuana in Canada. The Green Living Show hosted the Weedmaps speaker series about Cannabis. The topics discussed by the panel included understanding which strains can help certain ailments, how to understand current marijuana laws, and how to cook medicinals. The Green Living Show is the perfect venue to educate and discuss the future of cannabis in Canada and its medial relevance, which is a very hot ‘green’ topic at the moment.

Another educational panel attended by Women’s Post was the urban farming speaker series that brought out Aquaponics start-up Ripple Farms, Holly Ray Farms, Orchard People, and Toronto Urban Growers, moderated by David McConnachie of Alternatives Journal. The panel explained various ways that urban farming can be implemented in the city. There were several vendors selling products related to indoor or urban farming, including sprouting containers and even indoor mini-hydroponic systems.

There were some return favourites as well, including the classic Canadian green car awards (Cheverlot Bolt won) and the beautiful set-up celebrating tree stewardship in Ontario.

The Green Living Show is an annual favourite of Women’s Post. The sheer size and popularity of the event really shows how much the green lifestyle is growing. It would still be nice to see more specifically vegan food options and vendors, but kudos to the ones that were there (including Live Wild Love Free). It will be exciting to see what happens next year.

What was your favourite part of the Green Living Show? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

 

Investment in greenhouses is an environmental win for Ontario

Eating local produce is not only much more delicious, but a healthier alternative for the environment as well.

Earlier this week, Ontario launched the Greenhouse Competitiveness and Innovation Initiative to fund $19 million into greenhouses to promote local and high quality produce in the province. The initiative will allow for the use of new and sustainable technologies and will encourage investments in greenhouse agriculture.

Ontario is the leader of greenhouses, currently contributing to over half of Canada’s greenhouse produce. The province is growing by 150 acres per year and continued investment in this form of agriculture has positive financial benefits for the future. Greenhouses are especially beneficial for sensitive crops that are susceptible to erratic weather patterns and a harsh climate — like the weather Ontario was subjected to this year. Continued investment in greenhouses allows Ontario to expand its local produce capacity and provide people with fresh, homegrown food.

Greenhouses are a sustainable and ‘green’ initiative because they allow carbon to be captured in a concentrated area with high density of green growth being grown inside of a structure. Greenhouses also open the doors for other innovative technologies such as solar-powered electricity and using recyclable materials to build (with the poly-tunnel as an example). Transporting produce locally also lowers carbon emissions because it doesn’t have to travel as far.

Overall, Ontario’s investment in greenhouses will benefit the green economy, provide more green jobs and the province will continue to be a national leader in promoting an environmentally-friendly agenda. By focusing heavily on innovation in the green sector, perhaps Canada stands a chance at actually meeting carbon targets in the future.

Green Lentil Soup for St. Patrick’s Day

The day of green! How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (or weekend)? With the cold weather of late, a green soup recipe is the perfect choice for a warm cozy meal. Green lentil soup is hearty and filling, a must-have before embarking on a night of frolicking and drinking. It is easy to make — simply chop various vegetables and along with lentils, let it simmer in the pot until it is ready to eat. It is green, lean, and simply delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt, divided
  • 2 tablespoons plus 4 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup French green (Le Puy) or brown lentils
  • 8 large green chard leaves
  • 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed
  • 12 cups gently packed spinach (about 10 ounces), any tough stems trimmed
  • 4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground (see Tip)
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • ½ jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in pan and add onions until brown. Add two tablespoons of water, reduce heat and cover until onions are caramelized for about 25 to 35 minutes.
  2. Rinse and cook the lentils.
  3. When the lentils have cooked for 20 minutes, add in chard, potato, scallions, and broth. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in broccoli, cumin and coriander. When the onions are caramelized, add them to the soup. Return to a simmer, cover and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in the reserved spinach, cilantro, mint, jalapeno and pepper; return to a simmer, cover and cook until the spinach is tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes more. Stir in one tablespoon lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice and/or pepper, if desired.

Lentils are incredibly healthy and yummy. It is easy to make a homemade soup and any leftovers can be frozen for future use or gobbled up as a St. Patrick’s hangover go-to. Either way, in the chilly March weather, a delectable green soup full of protein and veggies will not be regretted.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of us at Women’s Post!

The magic six ingredients for homemade cruelty-free cleaning

Have you ever wondered what ingredients make up your cleaning supplies?

When looking into the ingredients that make up most of our all-purpose cleaners and laundry detergent,  it is difficult to find a cleaner that hasn’t been tested on animals. Alternatively, organic and cruelty-free options are often expensive and difficult to find. As an avid animal lover who is also on a tight budget, I decided to make my own cleaning supplies instead.

The first step is to go to the store and buy six simple ingredients that you can use to make a variety of environmentally-friendly cleaning products. Head to the baking aisle and grab Bob’s Red Mill Baking Soda, Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar, Dr. Bronne’s Castille Soap, organic sea salt, essential oils of your choice, and organic olive oil. If you opt for alternatives, then you can use any vegan app to ensure the product you are using is cruelty-free. Though purchasing natural supplies in bulk can be costly initially, you will save money with the amount of cleaning products you can make from these six items.

Once you have the cleaning products, purchase glass jam containers or spray bottles that use recycled plastic for the cleaning solutions. Mix vinegar and salt to make an all-purpose cleaner. Place it in a spray bottle and add an essential oil to use on bathroom and kitchen surfaces. Peppermint or citrus oil is a good option to downplay the vinegar smell. For a toilet bowl cleaner, mix baking soda and vinegar. Do not mix with regular toilet cleaners or it will create toxic fumes.

For a glass cleaner, combine vinegar with water and wipe with paper towel for a streak-free mirror. If you want to use a stainless steel cleaner, try using olive oil and vinegar to make your pots shine. This mixture can also be used to polish furniture. Add a lemon essential oil for a fresh scent. Switching gears to the kitchen, if you want to make a dish soap, use baking soda and castile soap. Pour hot water over the mixture until it is melted. Pour into a container and use on your dishes.

Finally, you can also use these magic eco-friendly ingredients to make a laundry soap. Melt one cup of baking soda, castile soap,  and 1/3 cup sea salt in seven litres of hot water. This can be used as a liquid soap. If you want the laundry soap to have a natural quality, add a lavender or lemon essential oil to the mixture. Homemade laundry soap is much cheaper and better for your skin as well.

Finding and making eco-friendly and cruelty-free cleaning supplies is a daunting task, but once you have all the ingredients in place you will have a clean and conscious house. Getting rid of my cleaning supplies that tested on animals was one of the most ethical and clear-hearted things I’ve done, and I’ve become an informed consumer when purchasing and making my own cleaning supplies.

What other cleaning recipes can you make with the magic six? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

How to make an eco-friendly home without breaking the bank

Trying to live an eco-friendly life when you are strapped to a strict budget can be difficult. Many green incentives require you to spend more money up front on expensive health food stores and energy saving products. Trying to save the world and not go bankrupt at the same time takes careful planning — but is possible.

Look for the Gaps

Heat escapes the home through various gaps, especially in aged homes. Blocking unnecessary gaps will help keep heat in the home in the winter and cold air in your living space during the summer. You can use caulking glue to seal open gaps that you find in open areas in the house and if you have an attic, pay extra attention to gaps on the top floor. Also seal gaps in the basement by looking carefully between the foundation and the wall closest to the floor. Also install weather-stripping around the doors and windows, which will keep drafts from coming into the house. You can find weather-stripping for under $10 and it will last more than 10 years, well worth the cost-savings you can get to keep heat or cool in the home.

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Be a smart shopper when it comes to fruit & vegetables

Buying completely organic is a tall order when you have a limited budget. Instead, try to prioritize the most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic, also known as the ‘dirty dozen’. The dirtiest vegetables and fruits have the highest levels of pesticides on them and buying organic will help you stay healthy. Examples of vegetables and fruits on the ‘dirty dozen’ are apples, grape, cucumbers, bell peppers, strawberries, and cherry tomatoes. On the other hand, the ‘clean fifteen’ list are the fruits and vegetables that are the safest to buy without going organic. Some of the cleanest produce includes onions, avocados, mangoes, and cabbage.

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Keep the heat down

Simply keeping the heat down and wearing sweaters and slippers around the house will help save money, especially with Ontario increasing recent hydroelectricity costs. Installing a manual thermostat allows you to set the temperature instead of letting it run automatically throughout the day and wasting unnecessary heat. When you are at work during the day, remember to lower the thermostat prior to leaving the house if no one will be home for the day. Using a heater in particular rooms that you often use instead of warming the entire house will also waste less energy.

Re-usable containers and mugs for lunches

Taking the plunge and buying a good quality coffee mug and reusable water bottle will save you money in the long-run and will also keep you feeling eco-friendly. Many coffee places will charge you less when you present your fun travel mug, and buying bottled water is a huge waste of money. Packing a lunch in re-usable containers instead of purchasing plastic baggies every month saves money and helps you to avoid contributing to ‘Plastic Island’.

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Choose Second-Hand

Instead of buying a spanking new sweater or buying the tool you need to fix the kitchen table from a big conglomerate, go to a second hand store or the tool library. Buying used items is one of the best ways to re-use and recycle, and also saves money. I have a list of thrift stores I visit regularly and love community trade groups like Bunz. Trading items online, Bunz is a great way to trade one un-needed item for something you do need without spending more money. More and more opportunities to borrow, trade or buy second hand are popping up because buying new is getting old. Embrace the trend, and get shopping! You will be shocked on the items you find.

What is your favourite eco-friendly habit on a budget? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

 

Sarah Hall: making art out of renewable energy

In an age where technology seems to be getting smaller and sleeker, renewable energy is lagging behind. Even though people are constantly encouraged to live green, no one wants to see giant windmills in their parks or have metal panels on top of their roofs.

Limited resources and cost restraints in North America have created challenges for architects, engineers, and even artists in the design of sustainable buildings.

“Solar in North America often looks ugly, and then people reject renewable energy,” Toronto artist Sarah Hall says. “We have to start using as many renewables as possible, and I thought ‘well, if it’s beautiful, we can change people’s minds and help transform the industry as well’.”

Hall is one of the few innovators  incorporating renewable energy into artwork. One of her most notable pieces is “Waterglass”, a stained glass piece that can be found wrapped around the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront in Toronto. While seemingly unnoticeable during the day, the piece comes alive at night. LED lights powered by the sun reveal 360 archived photographs of Lake Ontario, all stunningly preserved on di-chroic glass, the most expensive glass in the world at $1,000 per square foot.

The piece will create 1,750 kilowatt hours worth of electricity annually, enough to power the plug outlets within the building, according to Livio Nichilo, an engineering manager at Interenat Energy Solutions Canada. Nichilo consulted on “Waterglass” and analyzed the environmental impact of the project. He said that one of the biggest challenges was not to compromise artistic vision or technical efficiencies.

“The glass we designed for this project is the first of its kind in the world and we had to incorporate many technologies at once,” Nichilo says. “From my knowledge it hasn’t been done yet.”

“Waterglass” is one of six pieces Hall has created in North America using photovoltaic cells, which convert the sun’s rays into electric voltage. Each piece is connected into the power distribution of the building. For example, her piece “Leaves of Light” can be found outside the Life Sciences Building at York University illuminating the entranceway. Solar panels allow energy to be collected from the sun, which powers the LED lights that were placed between two beautifully painted pieces of glass.

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“Leaves of Light”, by Sarah Hall, lights up the entranceway of the Life Sciences Building at York.

Hall is also experimenting with bird-friendly glass that, in addition to collecting solar energy, will alter the reflections on large buildings in an effort to decrease the number of bird deaths in Canada.

About 10 million birds die in Toronto because they fly into glass buildings, particularly high-rise condominiums that are reflective and transparent. “I was astounded by that information and thought I may be able to do something in that direction and began thinking of al the technologies I’ve worked in and I knew these organic solar things were being done in the labs and I’ve never thought of using them”

The challenge is to make the glass transparent enough for people to see out of, but still opaque enough that birds won’t be tricked into flying towards it. Hall will be using organic photovoltaic cells used for this project — a relatively new technology developed by Oxford Photovoltaics in London. Once the prototype is complete, it will be tested at the American Bird Conservancy in New York before Hall can start to create proposals; although she has already provided a few sample designs.

A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.
A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.

Hall fell in love with glasswork at the age of nine. She studied in Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom and Jerusalem, and ended up opening a studio in Germany. It was there that an engineer named Christof Erban approached her with a way to integrate photovoltaic cells into glasswork. While other artists in the studio believed this would hinder their artistic abilities, Hall saw it as a challenge.

“All those guys said no. They said it would be an imposition to have a grid on their work, but I liked the idea of trying to work with that grid of technology in art and trying to change people’s mind about solar,” Hall says.

The challenge with using photovoltaic cells in art is that the designs have to be geometrical. Solar cells are square and require the use of wiring, which can hinder creative freedom.

“My artwork for many years was always geometry and organic, naturalistic work. To combine this geometry wasn’t as hard as another artist.”

Before she begins a design, Hall has to consult engineers and ensure that the electrical wires are properly introduced into the building’s systems and that they adhere to city codes. The traveling can also be tedious, as most of the work has to be done overseas. Hall’s main studio is in Germany. She had to move from Toronto because her studio on Dupont St. just wasn’t big enough for the scale of glasswork she wanted to complete.

“Germany and Austria was where the work had to be done,” Nichilo explains. “The biggest challenge was that what we were asking to do in terms of design couldn’t be completed here locally. We didn’t have the skill or equipment needed to do it.”

Unfortunately, it’s been up to artists like Sarah Hall to ensure that the architectural field is aware of its options and doesn’t shy away from using renewable energy for fear it will interfere with the functionality of a building. But at the same time, Hall is simply an artist, and above else she just wants to be creative and

“At first, there was quite a bit of scepticism taking something traditional like stained glass and moving it into an environmental positioning,” Hall says. “I also hope that other companies will get interested and figure this stuff out for themselves. As an artist … the commercial aspect isn’t the reason why I do it, but I hope that others will do it commercially — and I think they will.”