Archive for the ‘Green Websites’ category

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

March 27th, 2017

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!


Do Wind Turbines or Buildings Kill More Birds?

August 9th, 2016


Bird killed by collision with window

Bird killed by collision with window

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a panel at an integrated design charette in Ottawa, given by Enbridge Gas Distribution through their Savings By Design program. Sustainable Buildings Canada organizes the sessions and provides the expertise. We work as a team to help developers understand how to make their buildings at least 25% more energy efficient than the Ontario Building Code. In addition to that, we provide information on how to make buildings more sustainable in general. I am invited to talk about indoor air quality and construction and demolition waste management, while others are there to discuss other sustainability subjects. Last week was the first time I was introduced to  Safe Wings Ottawa, an organization whose mission is to educate the public and prevent bird-building collisions. It was an eye-opening presentation for me, and I am now a convert. In fact, since then, I have been evaluating buildings on whether or not they are bird friendly.  Anouk Hoedeman from Safe Wings gave a straightforward and enlightening presentation on birds and buildings.

So, what kills more birds – buildings or wind turbines? Wind turbines cause about 600,000 bird deaths per year in North America while buildings cause approximately one billion bird deaths (Note that Anouk also commented that cats are estimated to cause 1.4 billion bird deaths, however, the caveat is that many of those birds counted may have already hit a building and were already dead or at least vulnerable). » Read more: Do Wind Turbines or Buildings Kill More Birds?

Mission 2030 Sets An Ambitious Goal: Striving for Zero Waste from Construction and Demolition by 2030

January 16th, 2014

Photo By Ashley Felton (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In December while attending the ConstructCanada show, I went to a few seminars that I really enjoyed. At one in particular, I was so enthusiastic, I got a bit carried away and, er, interrupted the panel with my own stories, questions and conumdrums. The panel was about waste produced by the construction industry, and, if you’ve followed this blog at all, you know waste is one of my biggest pet peeves. In fact, it’s not really a pet peeve, it’s a down right BIG peeve, a major peeve, one I find so frustrating, I just want to fix it all, right now!

Anyway…one of the panelists was Renee Gratton. She is the President and co-founder of the Construction Resources Initiative Council, a group of non-partisan volunteers from the construction industry who have come together to address the growing waste problem in construction and demolition. Here’s something you may be surprised to hear: In Canada, while consumers have been doing an increasingly good job at reducing the amount of material they send to landfill, industrial, commercial and institutional operations have not fared so well. In fact, they have been progressively increasing the amount of material going to landfill. Since industry accounts for two-thirds of all waste, this is a pretty important area to address. On top of that, Canadians may generate the most garbage per capita in the world. Wow, there’s a statistic we should  want to reverse!

According to the CRI Council website, Stats Can noted that in 2008, of all the waste sent to landfill, 75% of it still had value — as in it could have been reused, recycled, repurposed or repaired. When you read a number like that, the goal of zero waste by 2030 doesn’t seem quite as unrealistic as you might have originally thought.

Achieving zero waste in the construction industry isn’t going to be an easy task. However, as Renee recounted at the seminar, a lot of waste reduction has to do with changing our mindset and perspectives. It’s about designing buildings better, increasing resource efficiency and using materials that can be reused or recycled at end of life.  The council’s short-term goal is to get three things going:

  1. Defining the goal — aiming for zero construction renovation and demolition waste to landfill by 2030,
  2. Overcoming inertia — engaging, educating and enabling people and their businesses as to why change is important, and
  3. Taking the first few steps. In this case, the council is calling to action all stakeholders to take the Mission 2030 Pledge and play their part in how building waste is viewed and dealt with, through a fundamental and strategic change management framework.

As the organization is newly established and completely volunteer-run, the website is continually being updated. It provides information on why reducing waste is critical to our planet’s future, along with support on how and where to begin. As the council becomes more established it will also begin to offer its members workshops and educational material on how to implement change. The latest support tool is an app called Waste Saver for your mobile phone (iphone or android), to help you locate companies in your neighbourhood who will   recover it, who is supporting this initiative as well as provide references and address frequently asked questions. While the app still being populated, the more people use it, the more valuable a tool it becomes for everyone.

If you are a contractor, building owner or manager, I encourage you to take a look at the website and start thinking about how you can reduce the amount of waste you send to landfill. It might be as simple as stopping by the ReStore on your way to the dump and dropping off usable construction materials, or using Craigslist or Kijiji to find someone who wants what you don’t. There are plenty of ways to prevent materials from ending up in landfill, but until you’re used to it, it takes some planning, effort and a little research. If you don’t have a resolution yet for 2014, why not make it waste reduction?

Do You Buy 1% For the Planet Products?

November 21st, 2011

Okay, I have a confession to make: I’d never heard of 1% for the Planet before this week. Then, through Facebook, I saw that they were in Montreal holding a presentation, so I signed up to go and hear what they have to say.

While this particular presentation was strictly about water (and so I thought the entire organization was about water), it turns out that 1% for the Planet is all about encouraging companies large and small to dedicated 1% of their sales to environmental causes around the world. Now, 1% of sales may sound like a small number but when you consider that a) it is sales and not profit, the number suddenly gets bigger, and b) some of the companies involved are Naya water and Patagonia, the amount of money being committed to environmental groups are in the $100,000s to millions of dollars.

I spoke with Grace from 1% for the Planet about their mission. The organization was founded by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Craig Matthews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies. They are both passionate environmentalists who knew that in order for business to be successful in the long-run, protecting the environment is essential.

Member companies now donate 1% of their sales to one or many of any of the listed environmental organizations that are approved by 1% for the Planet. If you’re worried that that just means big global environmental organizations, fear not, there are as many small, local groups as there are larger ones. For example, we heard presentations about conservation projects protecting Quebec’s freshwater ecosystem from both The David Suzuki Foundation Quebec Chapter and Fondation de la faune du Quebec. Perusing through the organization’s list of member environmental organizations you will see small local groups as well as large, global groups.

How it works: A company commits 1% of its annual sales to give to environmental causes. It becomes a member of 1% for the Planet. The organization audits the company’s books to make sure the company is donating its committed percentage and the company receives the 1% logo to use on all its printed and other media material. 1% for the planet survives off of membership fees and fundraising, as it too is an environmental not for profit organization.

As a consumer you can support these companies and their efforts by buying their products. If your company already contributes to environmental causes, consider joining this group and wearing your badge proudly. Even if you’re an independent or small business you can join this group. Jack Johnson is a member and we were treated to a performance by Chris Velan, also a member, before and after the presentation.



Zerofootprint: Energy Efficiency through Software, Architectural Design and Human Behaviour

November 14th, 2011

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Ron Dembo, CEO of Zerofootprint. We talked about the three different areas his company is working on right now and all are about achieving the same goal: reducing energy consumption, whether it’s through plug load, adding insulation or by altering human behaviour. Furthermore, Ron and Zerofootprint believe in benchmarking as a starting point. If this sounds at all familiar, then, hooray! you’ve been reading my blog, because I too in a firm believer of knowing where you’re starting from in order to develop a reduction strategy. There was so much to discuss, and Zerofootprint is involved in so many different projects that I separated the information into three different articles.


Finally, Zerofootprint works with organizations such as Earth Hour and provides one minute carbon and water personal calculators to help you find out how you stack up to the average Canadian. The calculators give you a very rough idea of how much CO2 emissions you are responsible for due to your transportation, diet, travel and home. I input my data and am sorry to learn that I am responsible for the emission of 10 tons/year of CO2 — half of which are due to the number of kilometers I put on our minivan. In fact when I switched my answer from my minivan to hybrid, my emissions dropped to 5.3 tons/year. Fortunately I fared much better in water consumption and came in at 85,000 litres per year, about 25% less than the Canadian average, but still not something I’d brag about. If you’re serious about benchmarking your carbon footprint, Zerofootprint offers a more in-depth carbon calculator, but you need access to your utility bills and should block out at least half an hour to fill out the forms. It’s worth it if you really want to know where you stand.


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