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Benefits when building with natural materials

 

Farm to Building

Several years ago, I worked in some of Toronto’s most innovative kitchens. Certainly, in my youth I was captivated by the culinary arts and have since wondered how it informed my interest and subsequent career in architecture. The past year has revealed to me an obvious thread: the transformation of materials.

In both cuisine and architecture ingredients are transformed. In both professions there is an understanding about materials used   where they come from, how they can be transformed, and how they must be appreciated. There are parallels between sustainable architecture and sustainable food.

Where materials come from: local or organic?

Farm-to-table is a social movement with which many are all familiar, characterized as serving local food through direct acquisition from the producer, incorporating food traceability. There’s a strong environmental case for food traceability.

Few materials are created equal, and when it comes to food, “food miles” actually make up just a small portion of an ingredient’s carbon footprint – just 11% according to the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). How the food grows comprises roughly 83% of its carbon footprint. To summarize the DSF’s research, the ideal choice seems to be food that is organically (responsibly) grown, and the benefit of local ingredients is simply a bonus.

The same may be true for building materials; let’s look at wood as an example. Wood is a fantastic material. It is renewable, can be sourced sustainably, and actually sequesters carbon. But not all wood is as environmentally-friendly as you may think. If sustainability is important to you look for wood products with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. FSC is an indication that the wood has met stringent harvesting and environmental standards. It prohibits illegal logging, forest degradation, and deforestation in protected areas, and is the only framework supported by NGO’s such as Greenpeace and WWF.

How materials can be transformed: embodied energy

When it comes to buildings, significant amounts of energy are required to process raw materials. Embodied energy is the energy consumed by all of the material processing required for the production of a building, including mining, processing, manufacturing, and transportation. Every building is made of a complex list of processed ingredients, all of which contribute to its total embodied energy.

A great practical example is to strip back the layers of a typical house and look only at its structure: steel studs versus wood studs. The University of Bath has concluded that the embodied energy and embodied carbon of steel are more than three times that of sawn softwood. Therefore, responsibly-harvested wood studs can be much less demanding in embodied energy levels. When you add up all the structure, insulation, finishes, and itty-bitty components of a house, choosing the right materials goes a long way in reducing your carbon footprint- those materials also need to perform well, be durable, and non-toxic.

How materials must be appreciated: high-performance, healthy, and beautiful

Nutrition is 99% invisible. We don’t need a nutritional breakdown of a Big Mac to know the value of its contents. The same is true in buildings: the products you can’t see usually provide the most value.

Building to high performance standards with natural materials will always satisfy your appetite. In a cold climate (like Toronto) this means using above-Building Code levels of insulation, airtight, high-performance windows, and efficient mechanical systems. Making it look appetizing is simply the dressing on the salad.

This article was contributed by Mike Mazurkiewicz for Sustainable TO

 

 

Metrolinx 2041 Rapid Transit Plan Approved: future looking bright for connectivity across GTA and beyond

By Jessica Ashley Merkley

Metrolinx, an agency created to improve modes of transportation in the GTA as well as the Hamilton Area, has now revealed their ambitious and detailed plan that will be ongoing, with a set date of completion for 2041.

The Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) was revealed this past week and is one of great ambition seeing as it is slated to involve 100 projects that will, in the end, result in better connectivity across the Greater Toronto Area and surrounding regions. The agency, which falls under the Government of Ontario’s Metrolinx Act of 2006, was created as a means to ease congestion on roadways and to offer alternative options to commuters.

Phil Verster, CEO of Metrolinx, spoke to the board about the importance of this plan’s approval, on March 8, 2018.

“This is a very important day,” Verster said. “It shows what good looks like.”

The RTP for 2041 was developed as a continuation of the initial plan and its success, termed “The Big Move.” Released in 2008, this first plan was the catapult to a $30 billion investment in rapid transit and resulted in a total of nine project completions of transit initiatives and projects. These include, Davis Drive BRT, the Mississauga Transit-way, running from Winston Churchill Boulevard and Renforth Drive, the Highway 7 bus rapid transit, running between Yonge Street and Unionville GO Station, in addition to the UP Express between Union Station and Pearson Airport.

The outline of the RTP’s focus first deals with the completion of current rapid transit projects, such as those scheduled for completion based on “The Big Move.”  The plan considers such projects “in development,” and developers are keen to first finalize these.

Additionally, the RTP is set on connecting a larger portion of the region with rapid transit. The GO RER, and subway lines are slated to be the backbone to those in the works and the intended network will bring connectivity to regional destinations, such as popular urban areas and high-density places of employment. This will be achieved by way of a light rail transit system, in addition to bus rapid transit lines (BRT), as well as express bus services offered more frequently and giving priority to those who need the services most.

Metrolinx’s RTP plan is also meant as a means to get the most optimal use out of the current transportation system by interconnecting the various options of transit by also offering the same cost and integrating the fares to passengers. Improving the ease with which commuters find their final destination from terminal and stations, by making stations more accessible for cycling, walking,  pick-up and drop-off, in addition to carpooling, also makes its way into this section of the RTP.

The plan intends to gain the backing of municipalities to work on a unified front and optimize land-use, as well as transportation. In addition, the RTP allows for alterations to the set outlook, for what is termed an “uncertain future.”

Transportation and connectivity for commuters is to be improved vastly due to  these set plans, over the upcoming decades.

http://www.metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/rtp/

Save money green your home

Written by: Bilal Khan

As a sub-urban resident of greater Toronto area, I enjoyed the house that my partner and I bought a couple years ago. Moving from our small downtown apartment to a spacious detached house gave us the opportunity to break away from the “newly graduate and freshly employed” lifestyle. We had ample space to host and entertain people, and space where I could slip into a study area to concentrate on a private project. All this freedom was about to come to a staggering halt the moment we found out that we were expecting our first child. The study room that I had fallen in love with so much now began to feel distant as the thought of it being converted into a nursery haunted my nights. We were forced to ask our selves the question, where do we see our family in 5 – 10 years? Do we relocate to a larger house, or renovate our existing place?

Should we go or should we stay?

Relocating would give us room to expand our lives to accommodate our growing family. But it would also mean adding more transit time to work, relocating to a new and uncharted neighbourhood, moving away from friends and family. As I saw our priorities change from entertaining and hosting friends to more family time, relocating would completely isolate us from our friends, our support system that we had grown to rely on so much. Renovating became the logical choice.

Of course, anyone who has had the experience of renovating their house would tell you that it can be a costly venture, especially when you are aiming to live in that house for a very long time. We knew that in thinking of longevity, it meant buying quality materials that are durable, sustainable, and maintainable as the house is passed on from one generation to the next.

Greening your home? Don’t do it alone!

Luckily, the government of Ontario has recently introduced rebates and grants for homeowners opting for sustainable material choices for their renovation projects. These incentives can be used to upgrade your home to be more durable and energy efficient, to save money on your utility bills and household maintenance long-term; in other words, to make your home more sustainable. The program includes rebates for heating and air conditioning systems, windows, insulation, and electrical applications to name a few.   

So say if you live in a old house and often wonder why its cold in the living spaces even though the heating is really cranked up, that’s because it is mostly likely that the exterior walls and windows are leaky and/or uninsulated, allowing, allowing heat in the house to rapidly escape. This is not sustainable!   

Since this was going to be our forever home, at least for the foreseeable future, I realized that these government rebates and grants would take away some financial burden upfront, but in the long run also affect the colossal energy bills that we as a household were paying annually.

Find your incentive

Rebates can be assessed through the Green Ontario Fund, which is a not-for-profit provincial agency tasked with reducing greenhouse gas pollution in buildings and industry to help meet Ontario’s emission reduction targets. So by making a conscious decision of insulating my home and replacing the old windows with high performance one’s, I was not only having a positive impact on my energy bill but also helping to meet Ontario’s emission reduction targets and helping us work toward a low-carbon future – something we all need to participate in.

I don’t have a little private study anymore. In fact, my privacy has totally been breached by a 2 month old, yet I feel fulfilled. I guess they are right when they say that a child brings a positive change in your life. I can certainly see that change on my energy bills.

 

Bilal Khan: Architectural Designer

Bilal is currently working at SUSTAINABLE.TO through an internship as part of the degree requirements for his Master of Architecture at Dalhousie University. His experience in the biomass industry and clean transportation has shaped his career towards thinking about sustainability as a system. Bilal is passionate about Urban Systems Design through architectural exploration and believes that the true value of design lies in improving individual and community lives through sustainable urban interventions.

 

GO Transit gets a sustainable and digital revamp

Thursday, the provincial government announced they are taking the next steps in exploring hydrogen-powered trains, or “hydrail” as a more sustainable alternative to electric trains.

A study was released saying it was feasible to build and operated electrified rail service on both GO Transit and the UP Express with hydrogen-powered trains. This change will be a comparable cost to conventional electrification, which uses overhead wiring.

“The potential benefit of hydrogen fuel cells compared to overhead wires makes exploring hydrogen rail technology worthwhile,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation, Kathryn McGarry. “Our government is taking the next step in assessing how this important technology could work for our own transit system.”

Concept designs are being produced by manufacturers Alstom and Siemens.

What is a hydrogen-powered train? Energy is created when hydrogen, which is stored at the top of the train, is combined with oxygen. That energy is then converted using fuel cells, which charges batteries stored below the train. This creates electricity to run the train. Additionally, extra unused energy is stored in lithium batteries and allows the train to be more efficient because it doesn’t have any waste energy.

The hydrail is considered carbon neutral. because it takes hydrogen already in the environment and re-uses it. Though electrification doesn’t have any carbon output, hydrogen fuel cells are able to provide more flexibility in hard-to-reach places because they don’t require a lot of infrastructure to build, a common issue on train routes.

The first hydrogen-powered passenger train was revealed in December 2017 in Germany.

GO Transit will also be testing wireless Internet on two of their GO trains and four GO busses. While most GO stations and terminals have free Wi-Fi, none of the trains do. That is something Metrolinx, the transit agency responsible for GO Transit, wants to change.

“We are committed to making the entire GO experience even better for people. These enhancements are an example of how we are modernizing GO Transit and enhancing services for people across Ontario,” McGarry said in a statement.

Information will be gathered from commuters about the wireless internet and quality will be examined before it is installed in all trains.

Both of these revitalizations are part of a $21.3 billion investment in GO Transit made by the Ontario government.

-with files from Kaeleigh Phillips

Eurostar launches direct rail from London to Amsterdam

Over four million people travel by plane between London and Amsterdam every year, making it one of the most  — now, they have another option.

Eurostar announced they will be launching a new high-speed direct rail service in between these two major systems, to be operational by April 4. The company will take advantage of one of the busiest traffic routes in Europe, creating a direct transit corridor that stops at Rotterdam and Brussels.

“The launch of our service to the Netherlands represents an exciting advance in cross-Channel travel and heralds a new era in international high speed rail. With direct services from the UK to The Netherlands, France and Belgium, we are transforming the links between the UK and three of Europe’s top trading nations,” said Eurostar Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic.

“Our new route marks the culmination of the extensive investment in high speed rail on both sides of the Channel. With £1 billion investment in our new state-of the art trains and enhanced connectivity on the European network passengers can now enjoy fast, seamless rail connections between the UK and mainland Europe and a transformed travel experience.”

The cross-Channel rail operator is marketing itself as the more economic and sustainable transportation option, saying a trip from London to Amsterdam will emit 80 per cent of the carbon emissions as a flight between the two tourism hubs. Other benefits include express service, free wifi and onboard entertainment, fast check in, as well as free baggage allowances for two bags/suitcases and one piece of hand luggage. All baggage is taken on board so there is no ned to line up to reclaim your property.

Tickets will go on sale starting Feb. 20, at 35 Euros each way. There will be two trains running per day at a speed of 300 kph and the trip will take approximately three hours.

Who doesn’t love the train?

What do you need to know about Toronto’s budget?

The 2018 city budget is set to go to city council on Monday. It is being described by Toronto Mayor John Tory as “balanced” and “affordable”, focusing on low taxes and transit.

The $11 billion operating budget sets the tone for services and capital projects for the next year. The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

The budget will include $9 million for traffic initiatives, including $1.6 million for traffic wardens, $477,000 to fix temporary lane blockages on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway, and $2.7 million for smart traffic signals. “Over the last three years, people across the city have made it clear that traffic is one of the most important issues they expect City Hall to tackle,” said Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure Jaye Robinson, in a statement. “The 2018 budget builds upon work we have done each and every year on the City’s congestion plan to get Toronto moving.”

There will be a significant investment in transit this year, with over $50 million in new investments to the Toronto Transit Commission, including $4.8 million for the TTC Fair Pass, which will provide discounts for low-income riders, and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Tory. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Other highlights include $279 million in new funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation, $486 million for the George Street revitalization, the creation of 825 new child care and 20,000 new recreational spaces.

Canada “ill prepared” for automated vehicles

Canada is not ready for driverless cars.

This new technology is supposed to help reduce the number of traffic-related accidents in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and yet, Canada is moving with caution when it comes to self-driving vehicles. A new report from the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications discusses the benefits and the challenges of self-driving vehicles, resulting in the overwhelming conclusion that this country is simply “ill prepared” for this technology.

“We are approaching the end of an era for the traditional, individually-owned, human-driven automobile. In the not-too-distant future, people will be able to summon a driverless taxi from their smartphone and may therefore decide to forego vehicle ownership in favour of these shared automated vehicles,” the report reads. “These technologies also raise a number of concerns in terms of job losses, privacy, cybersecurity, urban sprawl and infrastructure.”

Experts say self-driving vehicles could become commonplace in 10 to 15 years. The report differentiates between autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles, or rather technology that allows for communication between devices like a Smartphone or even vehicle-to-vehicle.

The benefits of automated vehicles are widespread — fewer traffic deaths caused by human error, ridesharing potential, and freedom for the elderly or those with mobility issues. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the economic benefits of self-driving cars could equal approximately $65 billion annually in collision avoidance, heightened productivity, fuel cost savings, and congestion avoidance. They also predict that automated vehicles will prevent 80 per cent of road deaths.

At the same time, there is still a lot unknown about how this technology is going to effect Canadians, especially when it comes to the economy. Experts say this change could affect the jobs of 1.1 million Canadians. For example, the trucking industry expects to employ 25,000 to 30,000 less drivers by 2024. New infrastructure may need to be created to accommodate this technology. Privacy is another big issue, as most technology is vulnerable to cyberattacks and the data collected from an autonomous vehicle would be rather sensitive.

The committee listed 16 recommendations on how to proceed with the integration of self-driving technology. Included in these recommendations is the creation of a joint policy unit to aide in the creation of a national strategy dealing with autonomous vehicles, the writing of legislation to deal with issues related to privacy and cybersecurity, and the formation of a road safety plan. The committee also wants Transport Canada to develop vehicle safety guidelines for the development, testing, and deploying of these new self-driving cars. At the end of the report, the committee calls for a national strategy on how to deal with this new technology.

What do you think about the potential for automated vehicles or connected vehicles? Let us know in the comments below!

Why your next vacation should include a cycling tour

Can you imagine yourself biking along a field of wildflowers, herds of cows, or even up brisk mountains or along the coast of the ocean? The wind is rushing through your hair and the smell of the salty breeze hitting your cheek. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

When most people decide to travel as part of a tour, the first thing they search for is the form of transportation — will I be riding on a bus with 40 other people, will I use a cruise ship to get from one destination to another, or will the group be transported by train to each city? What most travellers overlook is the sustainable option of cycling.

I know exactly what you are thinking: that seems like a lot of work for a vacation. I considered a cycling tour a few years ago when I was looking to travel through Europe. I had just started to bike over the summer and thought it would be a great way to see the countryside of Italy — however, the more I read about it, the more the thought of riding 70 to  80 kilometres a day terrified me. I didn’t want to be that person who had to call a cab in the middle of nowhere and spend a mini-fortune getting back to the hotel.

But, there are a variety of cycling tours available for people of different fitness capabilities. After doing more research, I found quite a few tours that range between 30 and 60 kilometres per day, and that as long as you understand the hill gradients involved in the routes, it’s not as physically exhausting as it may seem.

The advantage of going on a cycling tour is the ability to move at your own pace. Most are self-guided, so while you travel with a group of people, what you do and see is entirely up to you. Feel free to stop at a small village for a glass of wine, wonder a few shops, hike through some ruins, or sit by a stream and relax those muscles. It’s a much more natural way of seeing a country. Instead of spending your time lining up for tourist attractions that are more than often overrated, you will actually get the opportunity to experience the culture of a place. A cycling tour is the perfect option for an explorer, someone who has an intense passion to learn and see more than what is often printed in a list of “top must-see places”.

And then there is the fitness aspect. Eat cake, drink wine, and enjoy delicacies from around the world, because you will most likely burn off all those calories when you hop back on that bike! Your bags are typically sent along to each hotel in a support vehicle, which means you don’t have to worry about travelling with all your luggage.

The final benefit is that cycling tours are often well-priced, as the costs only include accommodations (which are usually quite luxurious), and a few meals. The transportation is all up to you!

Here are a four tours to explore:

Cycle through Tuscany: This guided tour is incredibly intimate, which means you are bound to meet some great friends while enjoying the sights of Italy. The daily bike ride is relatively short, with the longest route being 55 kilometres; however, Tuscany is naturally hilly. This tour offers a few meals and complimentary wine after your bike ride. Travellers will be staying at a mix of hotels and apartments.

Cycle through Spain: For those looking to bike a daily 30 to 60 kilometres a day, this tour through Spain is for you. Travellers will spend two days in each city exploring the various cycling routes and getting to know each village. Discover seaside resorts, dormant volcanoes, and fishing villages. All breakfasts and one dinner are included.

Cycle through Peru: This tour is recommended for active travellers who enjoy hiking, cycling, and kayaking. Instead of biking to each destination, this tour is comprised of shorter local bike tours, which means beginners may be more drawn to it. A number of cultural destinations are included, along with guides to explain the history. The accommodations are a mix of hotels and campgrounds, so this tour is for those who truly love the outdoors and aren’t afraid to rough it.

Cycle through Croatia: Vineyards, forests, and the Adriatic Sea — what else would you need for a cycling tour? Explore the coast while cycling through local villages and tasting homemade wines and fresh fruits. Similarly to the tour through Tuscany, the longest ride is about 50 kilometres, but there are a few steep climbs. Most of the villages have deep historical significance, so history buffs rejoice!

When choosing a cycling tour, make sure to note which ones include rented bikes and helmets. Some tours may require you to bring your own bicycles while others will provide them for you.

Happy trailin’!

CEO Sidewalk Labs answers Toronto’s questions

Back in October it was announced that Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, in collaboration with Waterfront Toronto and the Canadian federal government, was chosen as a partner to create an innovative city hub in Toronto, coined Quayside. 

Sidewalk Labs will be helping develop “a new kind of mixed-use, complete community” on 12-acres of unused Waterfront property. The aim is to use new technology and sustainable practices to address urban problems. They claim this new “smart” will help improve economic growth and bring international attention to Toronto.

Dan Doctoroff, Chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, answered questions from the public about the project on Reddit. A lot is still unknown, but here were some of the big, and quirky, questions**:

Question: What is the timeline for this project, when do you hope to break ground, and are there plans to have mix use housing? 

Answer:  Great questions. The only timeline right now is the year-long community planning process that we launched with the Town Hall on November 1. We’ll be releasing the formal engagement plan in early 2018. At the end of this process, Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto, and the local community will determine whether we should proceed.

As for mixed-income housing — I answered that above but it’s worth repeating. We are strongly committed to making Sidewalk Toronto affordable and accessible to people with a range of incomes, ages, and abilities. We also believe strongly (this is in our RFP response) that mixed-income housing should exist within buildings.

What can you and your company do to ensure that there will be housing available for all kinds of families from various income brackets?

Right from the very beginning of this project, we and Alphabet have committed to making Sidewalk Toronto representative of the socioeconomic characteristics of the greater Toronto area. As a result, we think one of the great opportunities is to figure out ways to make housing more affordable to far more people than is typically done in new developments.

We’re looking at new types of buildings that can reduce construction costs; new approaches to making buildings more adaptable, which can lower cost; and innovative financing programs to make housing more affordable. I was very proud in New York to have led the development of a housing plan that created or preserved 165,000 units of subsidized housing over an 11-year period of time and would hope we can adapt some of those approaches to Sidewalk Toronto.

I was wondering if you can comment on what it is about Toronto that is unique or unprecedented when it comes to urban planning?

We have studied the idea of building a neighbourhood of the future since I formed Sidewalk Labs, in partnership with Larry Page, in 2015. Since then we’ve looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring that vision to life — and we found it in Toronto. Toronto is unique in its incredible diversity and openness, its rich legacy of urbanism, and its rising tech sector. It’s also suffering the problems facing many growing cities around the world, such as affordability and sustainability, which makes it the perfect place to explore new ideas to improve urban life. We did a tremendous amount of research on Toronto while preparing our vision response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP — and we look forward to getting to know the city even better this year.

With the challenges that Toronto faces to transit and moving people across its sprawling “downtown” – coupled with Quayside’s somewhat remote location – how do you see Quayside attracting people from outside of the bubble to come visit/work/play?

A second core assumption that we made right from the beginning is that this would never be a bubble! It should be fully integrated into the fabric of the metropolitan area. We’ve done a lot of work thinking about the ways that this site — which sits on the water, separated by the Gardiner from the rest of downtown — can be stitched together into Toronto’s existing neighbourhoods. That includes potential expansions of mass transit, new forms of shuttles (over time potentially using self-driving technology), heated bike and pedestrian paths, and other ideas. We also believe some of the approaches we pilot here, including using technology to manage flows of pedestrians, cyclists, transit vehicles, as well as cars, can be applied more broadly in other Toronto areas.

I would love to see some of this area opened up to a low-tech thing – fishing. Are there any plans to include a fishing node or assess areas for fishing the new harbourfront areas? 

Having spent a day last week fishing and having caught nothing, that’s a sore subject right now! I think Fishing as a Service would be a great thing to include in Quayside. (Promise I’m joking.)

Your point is really about waterfront access for the local community, which is a great one. Many Torontonians feel disconnected from the water by the Gardiner Expressway. One of our goals is to support the city’s plans to stitch together the waterfront with downtown neighborhoods, and we’ll be exploring many potential ways to improve access via transit or other means (I mentioned some of them in another answer). We’re also big fans of the recently launched Bentway project (Waterfront Toronto is a project partner) to create a lively public realm beneath the Gardiner and help draw people down toward the waterfront — to fish or otherwise.

What is the first structure you plan on building?

A statue of Jane Jacobs? The real answer is we don’t know yet. What would YOU like to see us build first?

How can I have a job with you?

That is the question I get most often! The truth is, we can’t achieve our goals with Sidewalk Toronto unless we create an organization that combines skills that no single company has ever had. We are looking for people with experience in government, product and engineering, real estate development, business development and investment, communications — and others. The Sidewalk Labs website will give you a sense of what types of jobs are available right now (several are potentially based in Toronto). We also have a way for people to submit their resumes to our “talent network” so that if a job opens up we can see if there are any qualified applicants already in the system. Here is that link — you should apply! https://boards.greenhouse.io/sidewalklabs/jobs/594339#.WlYuYbQ-dE4

Some members of the civic policy community are concerned that giving a private agency greater control over municipal space will result in reduced public ownership and oversight of regions of the city. How will Sidewalk Labs ensure that its activities are transparent, accountable, and that its outcomes serve the people of Toronto – as opposed to financial interests of Alphabet/Google? 

Answer: The short answer is we don’t see this as a private entity controlling this. We see this as a robust partnership with the public sector. Many of the staff members of Sidewalk Labs (including myself!) have spent much of their careers working in local government, and we believe strongly in its power to improve the lives of people in cities.

We also believe strongly in transparency, which is why we’ve been releasing documents at the Sidewalk Toronto site as often as possible, as does our partner, Waterfront Toronto, which will be taking the lead on making records of open meetings publicly accessible. (Waterfront Toronto also has an Open Meetings Processes that applies to board meetings and board committee meetings.)

**Questions shortened for space. Full Reddit Q&A can be found here

What is the deal with eco-tourism?

It’s a term being thrown around a lot within the tourism industry — eco-tourism. But, what exactly does that mean?

In the simplest terms, eco-tourism is the idea that your travel will not impact the environment. Instead, it will actually contributes to the local community.

When people travel, they tend to bring a lot of their baggage with them. And no, I’m not talking about emotional baggage or your carry-on.

Tourists tend to focus on only one thing. Sightseeing. They want to hit the most popular destinations, take perfectly filtered images for their Instagram account at the nicest restaurants, or visit franchise stores to do some shopping. These tourists take taxis, trains, and planes, and sometimes even use products with dangerous chemicals that could contaminate oceans. Don’t even get me started on the number of plastic straws used in beverages.

Most tourists create a carbon footprint that has the potential to damage a community, especially in remote locations or islands that depend on their natural beauty to attract revenue. While there isn’t much that can be done about completely eliminating this footprint, there is a way to reduce it. The answer is, obviously, eco-tourism.

According to the International Ecotourism Society, for an activity to be a part of “eco-tourism”, it has to have an educational aspect. It should promote conservation and community, while trying to adopt sustainable practices. Guides and participants must recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People There should also be some financial benefit towards these practices. 

The activities must also operate within low-impact facilities.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) describes eco-tourism as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

The definitions are still open to interpretation. Some agencies choose to describe any nature-related activity or tour as eco-tourism. For example, whale watching in Hawaii is described as an eco-tourist activity. However, the cruise boat itself could be impacting the ecosystem below the surface of the water. A more ecologically-friendly activity would be to kayak or canoe the waters with a guide who talks about the wildlife or the conservation techniques in place to protect the natural beauty of an area.

Tourists can take tours of plantations or farms; but they can also participate for a day, learning hands on how food grows and gets to their plate. Visit an indigenous settlement and listen to stories from the community. If you go on a nature walk, stick to trails — don’t wander into a natural environment without a guide. Remember, the purpose of eco-tourism is to learn and give back to the community.

Here are three eco-tourism activities you can do in Ontario:

  • Redwing Institute Culture and Nature Discovery Walk: Take this 3-hour journey and learn about the Indigenous people of Humber Valley. Participants will explore the river valley, participate in a traditional ceremony, sample food and music, and explore history through oral storytelling. Part of the fees go towards a skill-development program for women from the Indigenous community living in Toronto.
  • Visit a Biosphere Reserve: Wilderness Eco-Adventures offers half and full day guided excursions of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Reserve. Climb cliffs, explore caves, and see rare wildlife. They also offer more intensive workshops where you can learn a new skill like geology or bushcraft. Looking for a challenge? Spend three nights under the stars this winter. Proceeds support the Biosphere Association’s environmental projects.
  • EcoCab through Toronto: Instead of taking a bus or renting a car, see downtown Toronto up close with a pedal-powered bicycle. Don’t worry about the physical activity as each tour guide will also be your navigator and official pedal-er). There are four routes to choose from.

Have you participated in eco-tourism? Let us know what your experience was like in the comments below!