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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!

Woman of the Week: Kelsey Saunders

Kelsey Saunders is a building scientist with SUSTAINABLE.TO, a collaborative architecture firm that specializes in sustainability. Her role is to help model designs to make sure they perform well in areas of health and energy efficiency, including energy modelling, hygrothermal analysis, and sustainable design consulting. She also provides technical support and helps in research and development into new and existing technologies for residential construction.

Saunders has a Bachelor of Architectural Science from Ryerson University and is concurrently working towards her Master’s of Applied Science in Building Science. In the interview below, Women’s Post learns more about building science, what it means to truly build sustainably, and what needs to change in the industry.

Q: What drew you to architecture as a career?

A: I was always fascinated by architecture and the ability of space to evoke emotion and change perception, even before understanding how or why these spaces could be so moving. I wasn’t one of those people who always knew what they wanted to do and so I didn’t necessarily think that I would become an architect, but I had this special connection with architecture. My initial understanding was that architecture was mostly about aesthetics, because this is often how its portrayed, but when I came to understand that it is mostly about function I was hooked with the concept of shaping how people flow through and use the built environment and the impact it has on everyday life.

Why specialize in building science?

I’ve always done well in math and science, and in fact started out my academic career at the University of Guelph majoring in chemistry and taking calculus and physics courses. I enjoyed the work, but I didn’t see a career path, so I changed lanes and decided to pursue my passion for architecture. I did my undergrad at Ryerson University in the Bachelor of Architectural Science program. In fourth year, students specialize in either Architecture (design), Project Management, or Building Science. In the first three years I did really well in building science courses and found them to be the most meaningful and practical. At this time I still thought I would pursue a career in architecture, but wanted to get a deeper understanding of building science principles to improve my ability to design good buildings.

What exactly is a building scientist?

Building Science is a relatively new discipline that is filling a much needed gap between architecture and engineering (although many building scientists traditionally were engineers, until more recently). Building science is the analysis and control of the physical elements that affect buildings, such as climate, air movement, heat transfer, water, and moisture. Basically, it’s the science behind how we keep buildings dry and warm. The role of building science is to optimize the performance of buildings for improved energy efficiency, durability, indoor air quality, and comfort. There are many roles a building scientist can play. At SUSTAINABLE.TO Architecture + Building we do things differently. “Sustainability” is ingrained in the service we offer. It is not an additional service. Building science is integrated directly into the architectural design process to create durable, healthy, energy-efficient buildings for our clients. I’ve been with SUSTAINABLE.TO for nearly four years now. For me, it’s the dream job because my love of architecture and my science-based brain get to play together on a daily basis. We provide energy-modelling during concept design to guide our design decisions, air-tightness testing during construction as quality-assurance. It’s important to us that our buildings perform as well in practice as we intend them to.

Your focus at the moment is on sustainable building – what new developments are out there that our readers should be aware of?

Something that we are trying to focus on more at our office these days is embodied energy, which is the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a product, from the time it is mined to when it is installed on the job site. Previously, much of the focus has been placed on how much energy we can save by building an efficient building. So, for example, foam insulation products with high embodied energy have been used extensively to insulate new and existing building to reduce their energy consumption. What we are not realizing is that often, the energy saved over the life of the building doesn’t even cover the energy embodied in that foam insulation. So, if thats the case, what was the point? This is something that needs to be considered when designing truly sustainable buildings. There are some incredible natural building materials (even new innovative ones) with very low embodied energy – straw, clay plaster, cellulose, etc. – that we would love to see become mainstream. They are also safer and healthier choices.

Sometimes people can be overwhelmed when it comes to introducing sustainable options into their home – is there one thing you would suggest everyone doing in order to make a real difference?

The most important “sustainable strategy” is a good building envelope – which is the outside shell of your home, including all exterior walls, roof(s), and basement walls/floor. Investing in a good building envelope will reduce operating costs by improving energy efficiency, comfort, and the overall durability of your home. The best way to achieve this is to insulate, air-seal, and address water in the form of vapour and liquid. If you’re looking to renovate in the near future, insulation and air-tightness can be successfully address in a few different ways depending on how your home is built and the scope of your renovation. As a start, having a blower-door test performed on your home to detect potential air leaks and sealing them up with caulking and/or tape would help. You’d be shocked at the difference this will make to your energy bills. In terms of addressing water, make sure all of your downspouts and roof eaves are clean and directing water away from your home.

How well are Toronto builders doing in terms of sustainability? What more needs to be done?

Honestly, there are a handful of builders in Toronto that are leading the charge in terms of sustainable building. Sadly, it has been the same group of builders for the last 10 years and not much has changed. We attribute this to two things. First, the common “I’ve been building this way for years” mentality. Habits are hard to change, people are strong willed, and they don’t want to hear that they’ve been doing it wrong. Second, building codes are slow to change. As an example, we have been specifying continuous exterior insulation for years, and each year we push how much exterior insulation we use even further and as a result we push our contractors to develop methods of building better buildings. By contrast, the Ontario Building Code only now requires minimal exterior insulation as of 2017, and even then there are options to comply to the energy code without it – by installing more efficient mechanical equipment! It just seems crazy, but its a direct result of push-back from the building industry who thinks that exterior insulation is impossible.

What are you currently working on within Sustainable TO?

As the resident Building Scientist at an architecture firm, I typically get involved in every project in some way. The simplest way I find to describe my role is that I provide technical support to our design team. On some projects, this might be as simple as an intra-office consultation about the best way to insulate and air-seal a building, which windows to select, review mechanical drawings from an HVAC designer, etc. On other projects, I will take on a larger role including energy modelling for building performance optimization, specification of building materials, building envelope detailing (drawings details of how the building should be constructed for optimum efficiency/durability), field reviews during construction, and blower door testing. We also offer these services to projects from clients who have an architect but need a sustainability consultant to optimize energy performance, health, and durability. This can also include consulting and certification for programs like LEED and Passive House.

You are finishing (or are you finished) your Master’s of Applied Science at Ryerson – what are your goals for afterward?

I am completing my Master of Building Science at Ryerson, to graduate in Spring 2018. I’ve been doing it part-time while working at SUSTAINABLE.TO over the past 4 years. Honestly, I don’t see much changing for me one I receive it. I already have the job I want with a company and a team that I am proud to be a part of. As SUSTAINABLE.TO grows, I would like to simultaneously grow the building science department (currently just myself) and broaden the scope of our services.

What do you do when you aren’t working and what are you reading right now?

When I’m not working, I’m typically spending time with my black lab/boxer Odin. I’m very active and love to be outdoors. I’ve recently gained a love and respect for high-intensity training at the gym and supplementing with yoga. I’m a big foodie and have embraced vegetarianism by experimenting with new and interesting foods. I love to travel, but who doesn’t!

I’m currently reading a book called “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” written by Meik Wiking, a researcher at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. Its about living a balanced life full of Hygge (translated loosely into “coziness” in a Canadian context). It’s an easy ready, but between work and school it’s a perfect read right now.

 

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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.

Council unanimously approves TransformTO to reduce emissions

Toronto city council has unanimously approved a plan that would see the city reduce green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. If adopted, this would affectively transform Toronto into a low-carbon city.

The motion itself was for city staff to go forward and create a business-case analysis of the various recommendations presented that day. The idea is to determine a carbon reduction per dollar ratio, decide which projects would be funded municipality or cost-shared with other levels of government, and to examine whether the recommendations would align with federal plans to reduce greenhouse has emissions.

“TransformTO provides a path forward that will allow our city to make decisions that lead to a low-carbon city that is healthy, prosperous, strong, and equitable,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement. “Together, we are going to build more transit including the Relief Line, make sure our social housing is viable for the long-term and that our buildings are energy efficient.”

This ambitious plan, entitled TranformTO: 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto, includes 23 different strategies and acceleration campaigns that will help reduce carbon emissions drastically over the next 30 years.

Some of TransformTO’s highlights include:

  • Having all new buildings produce near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
  • Having 100 per cent existing buildings retrofitted to achieve on average 40 per cent energy use
  • Having 100 per cent of all transportation using low-carbon energy sources
  • Having people walk or cycle for 75 per cent of trips less than five kilometres

The report also stresses the importance of engaging communities and neighbourhoods. Education campaigns and local support will be critical to the success of TransformTO.

This biggest point of discussion was the price tag of this plan, $6.7 million for 2018. City staff estimated an annual cost of $8 million following 2018. While this doesn’t seem like much considering the other projects council has approved, the number is bound to increase as projects are added. However, as certain councillors said during the debate, there are times where going cheap will hurt the city. This is one of them.

TransformTO is led by a collaborative team made of the city’s Environment and Energy Division and the Atmospheric Fund, an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

“We applaud today’s decision by Mayor Tory and City Council to unanimously approve TransformTO and renew Toronto’s climate leadership role,” said Mary Pickering, TAF’s VP for Programs and Partnerships and project co-chair for TransformTO. “Implementing TransformTO will not only cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 but also boost public health, local jobs, and social equity in our city.”

It is rare that city council votes on anything involving a high price tag unanimously, but hopefully this is a trend that will continue — especially when it comes to the King St. Pilot Study, a transit plan that will ultimately help spearhead a low-carbon corridor.

The King St. Pilot Study will be discussed Thursday morning at city council.

Simons backing Save the Arctic tee-shirt campaign

Melting arctic ice is an alarming indicator of global warming affecting our planet.

Canada is considered a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the world’s efforts don’t seem to be enough to combat global warming. The world has become increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change, so once again a Canadian company, Simons, is at the forefront in bringing awareness, while demonstrating innovative ideas that could help our unhealthy planet moving forward.

Simons held a special event at their Park Royal South Store in West Vancouver to celebrate Earth Day. In collaboration with Greenpeace and Eco Fashion week, they officially launched Save the Arctic t-shirt created by fashion designer and activist Vienne Westwood. Westwood is passionate about environmental issues and is bringing awareness to the cause with her Save the Arctic tee-shirt campaign.

The tee-shirt design was created in 2015 as part of Westwood’s photography exhibit, with such Hollywood luminaries as George Clooney being one of several movie stars seen wearing them. The April Simons launch was attended by select media and VIP’s to support the cause. Pamela Anderson, a former Baywatch star, environmentalist and Greenpeace supporter, was one of the speakers, along with Myriam Laroche, founder of Eco Fashion Week, and Vice President of Marketing, Phillipe Normand of Simons, the leading fashion retailer supporting sustainability.

In a phone interview with Normand at his Quebec City office, he talked about Save the Arctic, which is now a national campaign, and other sustainability projects his company is involved with this year. Simons first opened its doors as a dry foods store in 1840, and since 1952, became Quebec’s fashion retailer, known today as La Maison Simons. The head office is in Quebec City, with 12 stores across Canada.

“The Save the Arctic tee-shirt campaign is still running and it spread like wildfire,” Normand said. The garment is made from organic cotton, with all proceeds from sales going to Greenpeace.

With the fashion industry generally known as one of the worst polluters, Simons is making a difference by creating brands that meet sustainability and environmental standards. “We do a sustainability review of (all) our fabric suppliers, not only in Canada,” said Normand. Simons’ other sustainability projects include an August launch of power stations for electric cars to be installed in the parking lot at their Edmonton store. They will also introduce LED lighting in the store, which will greatly reduce their electricity needs. “We encourage people to submit project ideas. We want to be involved as a hands-on community organization,” says Normand.

Westwood created the tee-shirt design exclusively for Simons in North America. As a fashion giant in the industry, Simons is making its mark in sustainability projects, from Save the Arctic tee-shirt campaign, to solar panel projects and much more. How will you step up?

 

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Woman of the Week: Karen Farbridge

Karen Farbridge is a straight-forward, confident, and extremely successful woman in Ontario’s sustainability community.  As a previous leader in municipal government, she is charismatic and focused on making the world a better place.

When the former Mayor of Guelph is asked about her proudest accomplishments from her 11 years on council, she is quick to bring it back to the importance of community engagement. “Advancing our practice around engagement and rethinking how local government is involved with sustainability is what I feel the most proud of,” Farbridge says. “People are looking for connections to place and community and they find them in different ways in their lives, and I found it in this way in my own life.”

Farbridge has been involved in the environmental and government non-profit and public sectors for over 20 years. Most recently, she established her consulting agency, Karen Farbridge and Associates after her final term as mayor in 2014.  “The key focus is to implement projects that accelerate growth to create low-carbon and resilient communities,” Farbridge says. “That can entail work with the public sector, [for example] with Natural Resources Canada and Municipal Affairs Ontario, and also in the private sector. It also includes work with Research institutions, such as University of Guelph and York University and the Columbia Institute out of B.C.”

Farbridge has several projects on the go and uses her extensive experience in the political realm to help various organizations with sustainability initiatives. She helped the Columbia Institute in B.C. write a report, Top Asks for Climate Change: Ramping up Low-Carbon Communities, that included a report card assessing climate change initiatives, labelling the successes and which areas needed improvements. The report was released on June 1 and focuses on how the federal government is progressing towards goals pertaining to the Paris Agreement.

Farbridge is also contributing to a collaborative project with the Ontario Climate Consortium and the University of Guelph via the Community Energy Knowledge Action Partnership. This project studies net zero and low-carbon developments across five different Ontario municipalities, taking into account testimonies from a number of urban planners, economic development officers, and community management officers.

Long before becoming mayor, Farbridge was involved in municipal politics. She became a city councillor in 1994 while also working for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Guelph at the same time. She obtained a PhD in biology and spent 10 years in academics at University of Guelph. Farbridge encouraged council to develop a group plan on climate change that focused on the Kyoto protocol. As her career progressed, she served her first term as mayor of Guelph in 2000-2003 and her second and third terms from 2006-2014.

In between her terms as mayor, Farbridge worked with the University of Guelph to develop a community energy plan that was later implemented. “I ran again for Mayor in 2006. That community energy plan was brought forward to the new council and it was adopted,” Farbridge says. “Since that time, I put a lot of time into promoting the community energy plan.”

Farbridge has received several awards including the City Builder Award from the Canadian Urban Institute in 2014 for her leadership in sustainability and community energy. She also received the Clean 50/Clean16 Award from Delta Management Group in 2014, which is awarded annually to 50 individual leaders who are advancing clean and sustainable development in Canada. In 2012, Farbridge was the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General of Canada for her contributions and achievements to Canada. Farbridge was elected Guelph’s first female mayor in 1999.

Farbridge is passionate about mentoring women and plays an integral role in environmental charity Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative, which promotes women leaders involved in nature. The organization is currently creating a mentorship program where Farbridge and other notable women in the environmental sector help younger women forward their careers. She is also a part of a mentoring project to help women who have a start-up businesses in Guelph, and has a relationship with a woman in the city to help her build up her start-up.

When Farbridge is taking a break from combatting climate change, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and is looking forward to a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park this summer. She is clearly a nature lover and has made a considerable impact within the sustainable community in Ontario.

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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!

How to make homemade Kombucha

Kombucha is a delicious fizzy drink that naturally ferments tea and has several satisfying health benefits. It is known to lower the risk of cancer and help with joint pain, and is a great alternative to drinking pop. It can also be made at home through a slightly strange, but fascinating fermenting process.

Ingredients:

  • One Kombucha SCOBY
  • Tea
  • Sugar
  • Starter tea from prior batch of Kombucha
  • Filtered water

Instructions:

  1. Prepare 8-10 bags of tea in 10 gallons of water with one cup of sugar per gallon.
  2. Let the tea cool down and make sure it is room temperature before adding the scoby.
  3. Once the tea is cooled down, add the scoby with the starter liquid.
  4. Cover the jar with paper towel and an elastic band and place in a dark spot that is at room temperature.
  5. The tea will ferment in 7-10 days. Add frozen strawberries or flavoured juice if desired.

The Kombucha will be plentiful and it is fun to watch it ferment while it brews. For those with a bit of a weak stomach, it may look really strange while the tea ferments. In fact, it can look downright gross. But, I promise that if you give it a try, you’ll fall in love with homemade Kombucha!