Shift Eco-Boutique sources local, ethical and eco fashion that won’t break the bank

March 27th, 2017 by Cathy Rust No comments »

Last summer, we spent our holiday on Cape Cod. The weather was spectacular and we spent a few days exploring the many beaches, bike trails and restaurants. One of the stores I found in Hyannis was a small, little boutique, called Shift Eco Boutique, which, naturally, I had to go into. The owner, Amanda Converse, happened to be working that day so we got to chatting about sustainability, running a small business and living on the Cape in the off-season (a lot less traffic, that’s for sure!). I asked if she’d mind doing an interview about her store and she graciously agreed. If you have a chance to go into the store if you’re around the Cape, I highly recommend it. Everything Amanda stocks has an ethical, eco label, which means you can buy with good conscience. I interviewed her about her work, her store, and her mission to support local businesses.

  1. Why did you decided to start an eco-friendly clothing and gift shop?

My educational background is in the environmental field, and when I was studying for my Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy I learned about how bad the fashion industry is for the environment – pesticide use in growing crops for fibers, petroleum use, water use, waste production. It wasn’t long after that I walked into my first Eco Boutique in British Columbia, and I thought I could do that – provide consumers with environmentally friendly alternatives for clothing, accessories, home goods and gifts. Five years later I opened my shop on Cape Cod.  


  1. How do you define “eco-friendly” when you choose your clothing lines?

The first requirement for anything we bring into the store is that it is made from eco-friendly materials: organic cotton, hemp, modal, tencel, bamboo, recycled cotton. We then look into the company and ask a lot of questions: Are they committed to other environmental values beyond the materials they use?  Where is the clothing made? Does the factory try to conserve resources? Are the people paid fairly? We take all of these into consideration when we decide to work with a clothing designer.


The industry has evolved since I first entered it and people are getting a lot more innovative in their materials. We’ve had dresses made from recycled plastic bottles and pineapple fibers and we’re excited to see fabric being developed from things like mushrooms. We can’t just rely on organic cotton – it is much more resource intensive and can’t sustain the demand for clothing. We need other fibers to become more competitive. In the U.S. we can’t grow hemp, which is a huge obstacle for using the fiber for fabric.

  1. I noticed that you sell gently used clothing bought from your store. Why do you do this?

It started when I accumulated a few items I had ordered for myself that I wasn’t wearing that much. It only made sense to sell them second hand at the shop – to recycle them. Then I started letting customers do the same for a little bit of store credit.


Our clothing tends to be a higher price point because we are paying the “true cost” of the items (material, high environmental standards, labor) than what some people are used to. So, it’s been great for allowing people with all kinds of budgets to be able to own eco-friendly clothing.


  1. What criteria do you use to select your home decor items?

We use a similar system for choosing our home goods as we do for choosing our clothing designers. The materials in the product must be eco-friendly. So, we have beautiful dishware made from recycled aluminum, the furniture is made from reclaimed wood, our candles are beeswax or soy wax and in recycled glass containers, we’ve had rugs made from upcycled fire hoses, and we currently have a bench made from upcycled saris from India.


  1. Do you also have other environmental goals, such as zero waste, zero energy and zero net water goals?

Of course we do as much as we can; it’s virtually engrained in us. Our operation is not that big and fortunately we don’t have a lot of moving parts. But: We have worked with our local energy company to make sure we are as efficient as we can be (given we don’t own the building we occupy).We recycle everything we can, and we reuse shipping materials for whatever we can. But one of our main goals is to educate as many people as we can. Eco boutiques are sometimes the first touch point for a lot of people entering into the world of green consumption, and so we answer a lot of questions and give a lot of resources. We also have a lending library full of books on various environmental topics for people to borrow.    


In addition to the store, Amanda publishes a local fashion and shopping guide for the Cape. She works with local shop owners to help support their stores. The shopping guide is available at various locations around the Cape and is free.


  1. Why is it important to produce a local shopping guide (featuring only local shops as opposed to chains)?

Local businesses are the heartbeat of every community. Local business owners are your neighbors and friends, they are the ones that sponsor local charities, and donate to local fundraisers. If local businesses are doing well the whole community is doing well. Many studies have shown that a dollar spent at a small, local store generates twice as much wealth for the local community than that spent at a national chain. What’s more, national chains encourage conspicuous consumption, which, in the end, costs consumers and the environment much more.


I started The Current Quarterly in order to show people in our community that they can get unique, quality goods from someone who is as invested in Cape Cod as they are.  It has been one of the greatest joys of my life – to advocate on behalf of my fellow business owners…and have a lot of fun with fashion while I’m doing it!


The magazine is available on the website


Thanks for speaking with me, Amanda!


Community Forestry International: Actively Managing Forests Promoting Larger Forests Faster for More Carbon Storage

November 21st, 2016 by Cathy Rust No comments »

Community Forests International’s 705 acre woodlot near Sussex has stored carbon to the tune of $300,000. (photo credit: Zach Melanson)

When Jeff Schnurr returned to Canada after travelling the world, he wondered if it was possible to  encourage people to grow more forests than they cut down. He’d spent a considerable amount of time on the island of Pemba off the coast of Tanzania, helping its population reforest its land. In 2008 the locals had realized that if they didn’t take action soon, their island would be completely deforested. Soils would become unworkable, freshwater would be scarce, and employment for the islanders would be difficult to come by. His experience helping reforest Pemba made him realize the value of keeping trees in the ground.


Dale Prest cutting wood from Community Forests International’s 705 acre carbon forest property near Sussex NB (photo credit: Zach Melanson)

He started looking around his home province of New Brunswick for ideas and met Clark Phillips and Susan Tyler, who’d been actively managing their forest of 100 acres since the 1970s.  They were now looking to retire, but they were resistant to sell to their neighbours, as they were clear-cut loggers. The amazing thing about their forest was that they had managed it so well that it was the age of a 60-year-old forest — twice as old as it actually was — holding significantly more carbon in its trees than a younger forest and therefore, more highly valued.

I was curious to know how a forest could age so rapidly, so Jeff explained, “Fast growing trees like field spruce and white pine, grow up in the first few years creating a shade canopy under which the slower growing trees such as oak, maple, and hemlock start to grow. In a forest left naturally, it takes a while for these slower growing trees to get out from under the faster-growing ones, but once they do, they take off. In a managed forest, we clear the canopy earlier so the slower growing trees have access to light and can grow faster.” These slow growing trees store far more carbon in them than their scraggly, fast growing counterparts. The cleared trees are sold to either a local sawmill or a pulp and paper mill, depending on where the market is.

What makes this model special is the fact that the trees are valued for the carbon they store, rather than for the wood they produce. As carbon markets develop, Jeff hopes this business model will encourage woodlot owners to keep their trees in the ground instead of clear-cutting them. To value that carbon, Jeff and the team at Community Forests International

set out to come up with a way to quantify and value that carbon, where like-minded companies could buy carbon credits.

Valuing Stored Carbon

Buying carbon offsets has always been a contentious issue for companies and government bodies looking to achieve carbon neutral status in their operations. Critics say that it’s too tempting to use carbon offsets instead of addressing your in-house carbon emissions and therefore you’re not tackling the real issue. Then there’s the flipside where some carbon offset companies are said to be offering  “questionable” offsets (see this David Suzuki article for more details). As a carbon offset purchaser, it can be difficult to know where to purchase them from. Jeff wanted to make sure that CFI was as transparent as possible so that purchasers could be confident that the carbon offsets they purchased were actual offsets and not just carbon storage that would be there anyway. They are enrolled in the Chain of Custody program through Forest Stewardship Council, and their program is audited by the New Brunswick Community Land Trust.

CFI looks at what a typical forest’s carbon storage of the same age and same geographical location and uses that as a baseline carbon number to start valuing its carbon storage. With baseline carbon storage established they do site visits and aerial visits of their own forest. Through density evaluations, they can accurately assess the amount of additional carbon their forest stores. It’s this excess carbon that companies are purchasing. As the forest grows, more carbon is stored in the trees, the forest becomes more valuable.

Jeff’s goal is to demonstrate that storing and selling carbon makes keeping trees in the ground and selective cutting more financially viable. I asked him why most forestry companies don’t do what he does. Jeff admitted that it’s an expensive way to manage a forest. “It wouldn’t be possible to operate a typical forest this way.” Traditional forests are clear cut and left to regenerate over a 60 year period. They are pretty much left to their own devices.” Jeff said that by contrast, their forests have evaluators in them every year. “We take a look at what’s going on, how much more carbon is being stored, which trees can come down.” CFI also values its stand on a 100-year life cycle versus the typical 60-year cycle.

What does the future look like?

CFI aims to demonstrate the value in keeping trees in the ground and actively managing a forest. In places where there are regulated carbon markets, the chances for this type of system to flourish is greater. With the Canadian government announcing its new carbon pricing policy to be implemented by 2018, all provinces will be looking at different carbon storage solutions providing incentives for foresters to preserve trees instead of cutting them. When carbon is monetized, growing trees will become a valuable practice, and learning how to store carbon faster will be appealing to farmers.  “There are over 40,000 private woodlot owners in New Brunswick. We’re hoping that the smaller producers will see value in actively managing their forests to store carbon rather than clear cutting full sections at a time.”

Jeff’s hope is that even the larger forestry companies will see value in actively managing their stock and leaving as much in the ground as possible to provide carbon offsets for those who need it.

CFI provides a new business model for valuing stored carbon. As Canada seeks to meet its carbon reduction commitments it agreed to at COP 21, CFI’s model becomes timely, relevant and financially viable in a carbon constrained environment.

For more information on Community Forests International, please visit the website and read their latest press release on what valuing  carbon could mean for New Brunswick.

Jeff Schnurr presented “Strengthening Symbiotic Flows: Valuing Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital” at the Green Building Festival in Toronto in September, 2016.

Trump, climate and us: A letter to those who won’t give up

November 16th, 2016 by Contributor No comments »

I am a volunteer with the Climate Reality Project – an organization dedicated to educating the world about climate change and the science behind it. Its goal is to dispel the myth that it doesn’t exist, or, according to Donald Trump, a hoax invented by China. Like many who work in some way or another trying to get greenhouse gasses under control, I have been thinking a lot about the consequences of the recent US election and what it will mean for the progress we’ve made, especially over the last year.

On November 9th, Karel Mayrand, the President of the Board of Directors of the Canadian chapter of Climate Reality Project, wrote some encouraging news. Below, with permission from the Climate Reality team, I am sharing his blog post. Thank you, Karel, for sharing your thoughts.

Trump, climate and us: A letter to those who won’t give up

Like me, you likely woke up before sunrise this morning, opening your eyes in the dark to confirmation that the nightmare is real.

Like you, last night I felt sick to my stomach. I felt a strong sense of anxiety for my sleeping children, who also went to bed anxious. What future will we be leaving them?

I’m writing to you today because I need you to know that this new obstacle will not stop us. I need you to hear the truth — that we are millions, that we will not abandon our values of justice and inclusion, or ever stop working to protect all life on Earth. » Read more: Trump, climate and us: A letter to those who won’t give up

How Integrated Project Delivery reduces costs, waste and time for construction jobs

November 8th, 2016 by Cathy Rust No comments »
The Mosaic Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Net Zero building

The Mosaic Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Net Zero building , (via Flickr


At the Green Building Festival, Jen Hancock gave a presentation on how her company, Chandos, delivered a net zero building commercial project to the client, four months early, under budget. To deliver a building under budget is rarely heard of, but throw in net zero while delivering a completed project four months early, and now you’re into territory that is pretty much uncharted in the construction industry. I contacted Jen after the presentation because I wanted to find out more about how they accomplished this feat. Chandos isn’t like other construction companies and this is immediately evident when you see that Jen’s title is the Director of Innovative Construction. How many firms have that title on their roster?

I asked her if she’d been busy presenting this project to other conferences and she said, “I’ve been really busy presenting this concept — the way we built the Mosaic Centre has overshadowed, to some degree, the fact that it’s a net-zero building.” It should be noted that Chandos and The Mosaic Centre are located in Edmonton, AB, where temperatures can dip into the -30Cs in the winter months, so building a net-zero building is a huge accomplishment. In fact, it is the most northern commercial net-zero building in North America. » Read more: How Integrated Project Delivery reduces costs, waste and time for construction jobs

5 Essential Factors for Creating a Framework for Municipal Resiliency

November 1st, 2016 by Cathy Rust 1 comment »

san-diego-city-buildings-and-bridge_mkipkwy_Resiliency is a concept that should be top of mind for city planners, city councils, residents and businesses alike. There are so many factors affecting how cities function that methods of development, emergency preparedness, and maintaining status quo are no longer acceptable options for keeping cities functioning. At the Green Building Festival in Toronto in September, Antonio Gomez-Palacio spoke about developing a framework for city resiliency.  I spoke with him after the conference to find out more.

Contrary to what most people imagine as a resilient community, resiliency isn’t only about our ability to adapt to the weather effects of climate change. In fact, what constitutes “failure” needs to be redefined. While we might think of an overflowing river that washes over a downtown area of a city as a failure of the barricades to do their job, Antonio points out, however,  that it is our recovery to the event that is more important than the event happening itself. A resilient community accepts that events to which it is vulnerable will happen; but how quickly the community recovers is the sign of success. For example, a household can survive downtime for one to three days, but a hospital can survive for less than two minutes.

A resilient city is one that can adapt to the multiple factors affecting it. However, these factors range from being sudden such as in being hit with a hurricane resulting flood and wind damage to slower, less noticeable changes, such as changing demographics – ageing populations, youth leaving, etc. » Read more: 5 Essential Factors for Creating a Framework for Municipal Resiliency

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