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Going green in Toronto with these community apps

Toronto is growing to be an environmental city with greener buildings, more emphasis on city cycling, and vegan restaurants popping up everywhere.

Alongside the new green trends sweeping across the urban landscape, apps that focus on sustainability and green initiatives are gaining in popularity as well. From biking apps to basic trading, there are many different ways to engage with your digital environmentalist side. Women’s Post has compiled a short list of interesting and revolutionary apps below:

BIKO

BIKO is a new cycling rewards app that recently launched in Toronto after having success in Bogota Columbia, Mexico City, Vancouver. For every kilometre cycled, the app will give one ‘biko’ point. Potential prizes you can receive with these ‘biko’ points include free coffees, beer, helmets, cycling parts, and discounts at partnering restaurants. The rewards are relatively easy to obtain, especially if you are a commuter cyclist, as exemplified by a free Jimmy’s coffee that costs 10 Biko points. The app also offers cycling maps across the city and you can record your cycling routes to share with other friends who use the app.

My City Bikes Toronto

This cycling app is useful for beginner cyclists and offers several links to cycling maps in Toronto, biking rules, and bike stores where equipment is offered. It also offers cycling paths specific for families, road and commuter paths, and safe paths for women to travel on at night.

Bunz

Bunz is a community sharing app where you can trade an item in exchange for another. The app is extensive and offers trades for items, a chat link to let people know about events in the city, job offers, and helping people with volunteer opportunities. It is a great way to connect into Toronto’s urban community and to find anything you need without an expensive price tag attached.

Live Green Toronto App

Live Green Toronto is an app that uses an interactive map to help people living in the city find green businesses easily, while updating to find the best ‘green deals’ available. Live Green also pledges to plant a tree every time 20 deals are claimed, which is a positive initiative towards living green in the city. It also provides green business owners with a way to reach more customers through the app.

Ontario Nature Forest Foraging Guide

The Ontario Nature Forest Foraging Guide is a fantastic fit for nature lovers who want to teach themselves and their families about the various types of plants and trees in Ontario. It provides information on how various plants and trees grow in each season, and whether they are edible or not. A few of the plants including burdoch, willow, yarrow, and birch. It offers pictures of the plant and where to spot it as well. Definitely a cool app for people who love looking for plants and trees in the forest.

There are many sustainable apps and these are a few options that are specifically being used in the Toronto area. Whether it be cycling, re-using items, or hiking in the forest, trying to engage in as many environmental activities when living in a large city is essential to keeping the world clean!

Which are your favourite green apps in Toronto? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

Rail deck park is still on the table, but how to fund it?

Rail Deck Park is still on the table for Toronto, as the city debates whether the one billion dollar price tag on the 21-acre park is plausible.

Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat moderated an urban planning symposium, held by the Urban Land Institute Toronto (ULI) Tuesday, that discussed the implementation strategy for the controversial park project. In the fall of 2016, the city announced they would prepare a strategy to build a park between Bathurst St. to Blue Jays Way. The Rail Deck would use airspace above the railyard in downtown Toronto and close up a gap that divides the downtown area and makes it less walkable.

The park is controversial because it is incredibly expensive to build, estimated at one billion dollars as a starting point. That price tag doesn’t include the cost of purchasing the air rights over the rail deck, which is a necessity. A developer has already signed an agreement for air rights over the space and isn’t willing to go down without a fight. The city will have to work hard to obtain the space to create a park in downtown Toronto. It is a worthwhile venture though. It would be one of the city’s last chances to create a large green space downtown as open space becomes increasingly rare.

According to a November Forum Research Poll of Toronto residents, 51 per cent of respondents supported the proposed park and 38 per cent opposed it. Not surprisingly, 46 per cent of respondents felt that the space should not be paid for with public dollars. Though there are several issues remaining on how to budget the rail deck park, Keesmaat has confirmed there is already $350 million invested from developers that is earmarked for public space.

The Rail Deck Park is an ambitious, but worthwhile project. Green space in the downtown area promotes healthy tourism and is relatively simple to upkeep. It also provides Torontonians with more outdoor space, and a carbon sink in the middle of an area full of pollution. Hopefully, the rail deck park can become Mayor Tory’s legacy, and it will be enjoyed for generations to come. Until then, it will be interesting see if the funding can be found.

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.

 

Laneway suites as sustainable housing solution in Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman of the Week: Dr. Vicky Sharpe

Dr. Vicky Sharpe can claim something many professional women cannot: “I basically follow my passion.”

Sharpe sits on the following boards: QUEST (Quality Urban Energy Systems for Tomorrow), the Alberta Energy Corporation, Carbon Management Canada Inc., and the Temporal Power Ltd. She is also a director on the board of The Capital Markets Regulatory Authority. Sharpe’s goal is to use her background in microbiology and energy to help inspire sustainable practices and encourage funding and investment in clean technologies.

“Board work, in my view, is really rewarding — if you get on the board that is right for you. I wanted to try and create more change.”

Sharpe always had a passion for the outdoors, in particular for the microorganisms that connect it all. These “tiny little simple genetic organisms” could affect so much change. They could digest oils, or remove hydrogen from the air. It was this interest that led her down an impressive and fulfilling career path in sustainability and finance.

She began her career studying science in Bath, U.K. and took her PhD in microbiology, or more specifically surface chemistry as applied to water pollution, at Trent University in Nottingham. She originally moved to Canada because there were more opportunities for women in her field.

“It’s a male-dominated system. In the U.K., I took a higher degree, a PhD, because I knew if I wanted to compete with the men, I had to be more qualified. People forget how hard women worked at that time to be treated equally,” she says. “There were more opportunities for women [in Canada]. It’s more receptive.”

Sharpe began her illustrious career as VP of Ontario Hydro International Inc. She was responsible for a community-based conservation program that helped retrofit homes, commercial buildings, shopping centres, and hotels in a small town with energy efficient technologies. The idea was for Hydro to become as utility energy efficient as possible. “There was a 90 per cent uptake in people taking at least one product that would be beneficial,” she says. “That was the highest level of adoption by society of energy efficiency.”

While at Ontario Hydro, Sharpe was involved with Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). She would travel to schools and talk with kids between the ages of five and eight about careers in science and technology. She also informally mentors women and helps connect them to other decision-makers. “I actually have taken some heavy hits working to support employment equity,” she says. “At the time there was a lot of negativity about that [but] I integrate it into my life. I give them advice.  We all need help. I had great people who help me.”

One of Sharpe’s other big accomplishments is the founding of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), an organization she helped run as CEO for 13 years. She describes the SDTC as an “unusual organization” that was created through an act of parliament as a response to the Canadian Climate Change Commitment in the late 1990s. Through this organization, she helped find and negotiate agreements with clean technology companies and start-ups. In total, she mobilized over $5 billion for clean tech companies in Canada.

“It’s so exciting to see these great Canadian companies growing and building, but now – I asked for this in 2006 — we need to get more capital to scale up these companies if we want to be world leading. We are still struggling with that. Investors tend to go with what they are used to.”

Throughout her experience and studies, Sharpe never had any formal training in terms of finances — yet now, she is one of the leading negotiators in the field. “I found I spend a large chunk of my life chasing money for these companies,” she says. “I just learnt it. If you are trying to persuade businesses to be more sustainable, they are designed to optimize financial returns. So if you are presenting opportunities, you have to take that into account.”

Sharpe has a variety of experience, but there is one commonality that drives her.  “I have to do something that does an impact,” she says.  She won the Purvis Memorial Award in 2016, which is given to those who have made a major contribution to development and strategies in Canadian industry or academia in the field of chemistry.

In the little free time she has, Sharpe does a lot of travelling. Sometimes it is to visit family in the U.K., and other times it’s to better understand a global issue or to use her skills as an amateur wildlife photographer. Travelling and reading helps her reconnect with her love of nature and the environment, and revitalizes her passion for the topic.

“Climate change is in the background and it’s a critical thing to deal with. It’s a threat. I … promote a better understanding of what this is and what it means to people’s lives, both business and personal, and try to influence it for the better because as a society. I don’t think we’ve embraced the positive angles of sustainability,” she says.

“But, when you want people to do stuff, you have to be able to help them do it. There are great Canadian technologies for those who want to build sustainability. They are carrying the torch.”

Over 300 people ask ‘do we live in a green city?’

On Jan. 25, over 300 people entered the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library to discuss and debate this question: How do we design, plan, and build a green city?

The Transit Alliance, a non-political organization that works with those in the transit and infrastructure industry, hosted its first Green Cities breakfast Wednesday to discuss the need for greater transit, greener building, and an overall more liveable city design. Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat was the keynote speaker. “As humans, we have the ability to shape our habitat,” she said. “The model is not sustainable.”

During her speech, Keesmaat announced the King Street Pilot Project, which hopes to help unlock gridlock in a particularly messy and busy corridor. This is the first time Keesmaat has, in an official capacity, mentioned the project. Further details will be released on Feb. 13.

While guests enjoyed their coffee and muffins, Bruce McGuaig, CEO of Metrolinx; Dr. Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environment Commissioner; David Paterson, VP Corporate and Environmental Affairs for GM Canada; and, Mary Margaret McMahon, Toronto City Councillor walked on stage to take part in a panel discussion on transit. While a variety of topics were introduced, the common denominator seemed to be this: the Golden Horseshoe needs more. The city needs more transit, more funding, and more emphasis on liveability in design.

The second panel of the morning focused on green building, both commercial and residential. The panel consisted of Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Ontario Green Party; Amy Erixon, Principal and Managing Director Investments at Avison Young; Christopher Wein, President of Great Gulf; and, Andrew Bowerbank, Global Director, Sustainable Building Services at EllisDon. Education was a big topic of interest. Building green is only slightly more expensive, but the benefits and the return to the homebuyer is much greater. Everyone agreed that educating the public as to the real costs of building green is critical to a low-carbon community. The question of the panel: Why would we ever NOT build a LEED-certified or Net-Zero home anymore?

Here are a few select photos from Green Cities:

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”5″ gal_title=”Green Cities Highlights”]

Woman of the Week: Jen Aitchison

One of the best ways to effect change is to make it happen from the inside out — instead of waiting for the world to change, why not do it yourself? Jen Aitchison, Vice President of Sustainable Energy Insurance at Jones Brown Inc., embraces this concept, offering risk management solutions for companies invested in renewable energy, giving green technology a competitive edge in the business world.

Upon meeting Aitchison, she exudes a strong, confident demeanour. Hanging around her neck is a pendant that says, ‘Fearless’. The necklace was given to her by a family member, and is one of Aitchison’s life mantras. “When I first started down this route, I was terrified of walking into a room full of people and shaking their hands. The best thing I can tell women is eat the fear,” Aitchison says. “Shaking one person’s hand at that event is a success because you can build on it and you realize it isn’t scary.”

Aitchison is one of the first insurance brokers in Toronto to start a sustainable energy insurance practice, and over the last eight years she has helped several companies in solar and wind energy navigate their way through the complexities of risk management solutions in an emerging industry where no standard existed before. Aitchison initially brought the idea of sustainable energy insurance to Jones Brown as a side project. “I asked myself how can I use my eight years of experience in the insurance industry and couple that with my environment and sustainability passions? Maybe there is a way to work from the inside out, this being a bit of a capitalistic environment and a bit of an old boys club here,” Aitchison says. “When I first pitched the guys, they were like that is so cute. They said that I could pursue that pet project on the side, but also asked that I don’t let my normal day job slip.”

Aitchison began researching sustainable energy insurance and visiting various renewables companies. She quickly discovered there was a large gap in the renewables industries when it came to insurance and over the course of six years, worked hard to create a sustainable energy insurance practice. Within the practice, she focuses largely on product development of integral financial instruments such as performance guarantees, educating industry members on risk management specifics for renewables and an annual sales budget exceeding $150,000. After being promoted to partner at Jones Brown six years ago, Aitchison is one of the leaders of insurance for renewables and a leader for women and the environment in the insurance sector.

“That’s how I made insurance not suck, for a lack of a better term. I ended up working both sides, teaching insurance companies what some of the emerging technologies were, what challenges were being faced and what some of the solutions we needed,” Aitchison says. “At the same time, I was teaching the renewable energy sector about insurance and some of the things they should consider when setting up their projects.”

Though Aitchison has achieved great success at Jones Brown, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Being a woman with an environmental agenda in the insurance industry had its struggles and Aitchison had to fight for pay equity as recently as 2015. “I didn’t get pay equity until November of last year and it was a 30 per cent difference. I threatened to leave,” Aitchison recalls. “It was shocking. It is important to talk about that still happening.”

Alongside becoming one of leading environmentalists sporting an insurance portfolio and fighting for her rights as a woman in a leading role, Aitchison also won the 2015 Canadian Solar Industry Association President’s award because of her work as the Fire Safety Committee Chair for the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA). Aitchison helped create a PV Fire Safety handbook to keep firefighters safe in case they encounter electrified solar panels during a fire.

Aitchison is also a founding committee member of Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), a group that brings women together across various renewables industries. Aitchison is in charge of field trips to various renewables companies, support on networking and awards, and overall direction of the group with the other committee members. WiRE began in 2013 when the initial founding members met at Women of Wind Energy (WoWE), a group supporting women invested in wind energy. “We were talking about being from different backgrounds and that there wasn’t a group that encompassed all types of renewable energy,” she says. “We were frustrated that wind and solar were all fighting for the same piece of the pie. We didn’t want that and wanted to break those barriers down. That’s the type of women we are at WiRE. We see barriers, and we rip them down.”

She also emphasizes it was important to the committee that WiRE was not a ‘hen’s club’ or ‘a clique’ and is a very opening group of women professionals. There is also a mentorship aspect to the group that brings young women and professionals  together to collaborate and network. “In the WiRE environment, we connect women with women,” She says. “We also run a speed mentoring event. It is so great to see them succeed and get out of their shell.”

Aitchison is a single mom of two kids, ages 11 and 17, and manages to balance her work life while being an inspiring parent as well. She is currently reading “Bet on Me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life” by Annette Verschuren. In her rare spare time, she likes to play guitar, cycle, draw, snowboard, hike and kayak with her kids. She also builds shelves and other odds and ends on the side, confessing “I’m a bit of a junkie for making things out of nothing.”

Aitchison is a born mentor; she is fierce, empowered, kind-hearted and patient. Her own passions and experience have given her a credibility in the renewables sector that cannot be ignored and yet she is modest and sincere about her successes. If more women like Aitchison join the fight to change the world to a more environmental one from the outside in, sustainability and women leadership will certainly stand a chance to rise out on top.

 

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Woman of the Week: Julia Langer, CEO of TAF

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) is celebrating its 25th anniversary — and with that milestone comes an opportunity to expand its mandate to include the greater Hamilton area. TAF is an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and while it focuses most of its efforts on Toronto, Julia Langer, CEO of TAF, knows that it’s time to expand.

“It’s about recognizing that opportunities for solving climate change are not limited to the 416.”

A self-described “perennial optimist”, Langer thinks Ontario and Toronto have won a lot of battles on the environmental front, but in the end they may be losing the war.

“It can be solved,” she said in an interview. “[Climate change can] get waylaid with a bunch of things along the way, whether its political will, lack of capital right now, short term versus long term priorities…It’s all about where we work and where we play — making sure that we can live and work in a way that is a low-carbon lifestyle.”

Langer always had an awareness of the environment, as well as a passion for life. When she was 10, her parents would discuss social and environmental issues, often bringing their daughter along with them to clean up Don River and dredge through the garbage. This mentality was passed on to Langer, who developed a keen interest in marine biology.

“I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau the Second,” she said.  However, Langer learned early on that she would most likely end up in a lab, and she was more interested in integrating science and policy. So, she transferred to the University of Toronto and continued her studies in toxicology there.

“Academic and scientific work is super important in highlighting and understanding problems, but it was a bit frustrating that academics don’t do policy reforms,” she said. Her attention was focused on taking information provided by these scientists and experts, and enacting positive change — something she has been able to do rather successfully throughout her illustrious career.

After university, Langer landed a number of summer jobs, including a position in James Bradly’s office, the minister of environment at the time. Her work involved providing policy analysis and advice on files involving toxins, pesticides, and sewage treatments, among other things. She went on to work for Friends of the Earth in Ottawa and was hired by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) working with the toxicology program, where she was eventually promoted to Director of the Cuba EcoRegional Program. She also spearheaded the WWF Climate Change program.

At TAF, Langer has a wide portfolio. She is responsible for managing campaigns, defining strategy, working on policy, and communicating with the public about pollution and greenhouse gas reduction. Recently, she has spoken at a number of town halls about the impact of climate change.

While others may see this portfolio as daunting, Langer speaks about it with great fervour.  It’s all about focusing on three main things Toronto (and the surrounding GTHA) needs to do to reduce its greenhouse emissions, she said: improve the energy efficiency of our economy, decarbonize our energy system, and make smart land use decisions.

Langer also co-founded Eco-Babes in Toronto, an organization that facilitates networking among women who work in the sustainability industry.  Once a month, women interested in the environment or in energy can meet up, ask for advice, exchange business cards, and usually enjoy a good glass of wine or pint of beer.

At the same time, Langer says the demographics in the environmental industry are pretty evenly matched. “A challenge in the environmental community isn’t gender, but diversity,” she said. “It hasn’t yet permeated into the staffing within the environmental community. I think it is changing, but it’s not there yet.”

When she isn’t working, Langer is an avid vegetable gardener and recent canning aficionado. “There is something satisfying about growing and making food, and packing it away like a squirrel,” she said with a laugh.  Beyond that, she is quite active. During the summer, she goes canoeing and hiking with her husband and daughter, passing on the tradition of environmental awareness, as it were.

Langer is reading Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Adult Onset.

Preparing for climate change: how to make a resilient city

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary Portable greenhouses may be future for local food

What if you could grow food year-round instead of being limited to spring and summer planting seasons?

Boks Farms Ltd., based out of Calgary, may have a solution to the limited growing seasons in Canada. By turning train shipping containers into portable greenhouses, the company is revolutionizing the way people think about food. The company is taking urban farming to a new level by making indoor greenhouses that can be run year-round.

Portable greenhouse in the shipping container. Photo provided by Boks Farms.
Portable greenhouse in the shipping container. Photo provided by Boks Farms.

Owner Mark Van Engelen began Boks Farms after studying what other companies were doing worldwide in regards to indoor urban farming. He came up with a building strategy to fit the cold Canadian climate. “A few years ago, I decided I needed to do something to make the world a better place. One of my interests is food and another one is energy and biodiversity. This is my contribution to the food system, to do something local,” Van Engelen says. “Urban farming has a two or three month growing season and the rest is canned. We want to help Calgary and Canada grow as well and eventually free food for people in need.”

So how exactly does a greenhouse made out of a shipping container work?

According to Head of Operations, Ben Pearson, it is a step-by-step process. “After taking a shipping container, we retrofit it with materials and insulate it so that it doesn’t have any moisture to effectively create a four-season container,” Pearson says. “For ventilation, we have one intake at the front and one outtake at the back so that air is constantly in circulation and moving.” The units are also outfitted with an air conditioner and heater to control the temperature. The containers use LED lights, but will move to solar panelling in the fall, explained Pearson. This will make the container 100 per cent portable and off-the-grid.

Boks Farms is providing food grown in the greenhouse containers to local restaurants, including Calgary favourites Mercato, Wildrose Brewery, and the Coup. The company is also launching in Edmonton next summer. Van Engelen offers homemade greens, mushrooms and herbs to these restaurants and hopes to expand the business to more remote northern communities as well. “What I envision in the future is to replicate this model up north. With all the materials, we would be helping people have access to fresh food year-round,” Van Engelen says. “We would provide a form of consulting and help build the local systems.”

Van Engelen hopes the company will become a local systems food provider as well as a greenhouse educator. Originally in the environmental consulting business, the entrepreneur also founded an educational company called Earth Educators that helps organizations measure their environmental impact and develop strategies to be more sustainable. He hopes to fuse the teaching aspect of this non-profit to Boks Farms, and help remote communities learn how to sustain local indoor farms in the portable greenhouses year-round.

 

Herbs grown by Boks Farms. Photo provided by Boks Farms.
Herbs grown by Boks Farms. Photo provided by Boks Farms.

The shipping containers used to make the greenhouses are also sustainable and promote the recycled use of environmental materials. By re-using old shipping containers and refurbishing them, it uses a product that would otherwise sit unused in a train shipping yard for decades.Van Engelen hopes to have the shipping containers completely off the grid soon, and only needs to get solar energy installed in the containers for that to happen. “From an energy perspective, getting off the grid is important,” Van Engelen says. “We are using LEDs where it makes sense. My key thing now is to use solar. It doesn’t use that much, and soon we should be able to be 100 per cent renewable.”

It is commendable to see such an environmentally-progressive initiative being launched in Calgary, a city often known for embracing fossil fuels instead of crunchy granola. By providing an opportunity for local indoor urban farming, it gives Calgarians an opportunity to enjoy local produce year-round and support the sustainable farming of food that could help thousands. It will be enjoyable to see where the company goes next, and I look forward to trying fresh herbs grown year-round.