Archive for the ‘Green Websites’ category

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.


The TalkingPlug by Zerofootprint

November 14th, 2011


Zerofootprint provides the software for this genius device called  the TalkingPlug. Currently still in development, this plug could be groundbreaking in terms of what it could do for helping consumers and commercial activities reduce energy consumption. Any electricity consuming appliance plugged into the TalkingPlug can be monitored and controlled via a computer. From a consumer perspective it means that window air conditioners can be managed from afar via computer so they don’t need to be cooling your home while you’re away but you can turn it on an hour before you get home from your smart phone. You also can see exactly how much electricity that unit is using. This plug can be especially useful in identifying old and inefficient appliances. By plugging in refrigerators, stoves, etc., you’ll get an idea of how much energy each unit consumes. You will also have the ability to compare it to what an average similar appliance uses and whether yours is out of date, or not performing to where it should be, via the Zerofootprint website. This kind of information allows you to decide the most cost-effective you can make to lower your electricity bills.

Now imagine this system applied to fast food chains or other commercial applications. Because the TalkingPlug is connected to the internet, a company could see how its appliances are performing. For example a vending machine supplier could have all its vending machines across a city/country/continent  monitored and discover which ones are performing well, which ones are broken and which ones are using too much electricity. By being able to quickly identify which machines aren’t working properly, they can be fixed or replaced much faster than if machines are just left to monthly or quarterly visits from the technician.

The TalkingPlug isn’t on the market yet, but keep a look out for it sometime within the next year or so.

EcoInhabit Brings You the Healthy Home

May 18th, 2011

If you were in the lucky position of being able to build from the ground up, it would be an great time to sit down and have a chat with Tim and Jan Singbeil, the new owners of EcoInhabit, a green building store located in Meaford, Ontario.

Jan and Tim have lived in Meaford for about 20 years, and during that time have been farmers and owned a cabinetry shop. They’re big believers in restoring the land and using benign materials for building. “Benign” in this case refers as much to the off-gassing potential of the product as it does its environmental impact.

When EcoInhabit’s former owners put the business up for sale, Jan and Tim decided it was a good opportunity to expand their cabinetry shop into a full-service green building shop. The store itself offers a variety of green building products, such as American Clay, zero VOC paints and stains and reclaimed flooring. They still maintain their cabinetry operation so they sell solid wood furniture made in their own shop, including kitchen cabinetry and solid wood bed frames. They also sell biodegradable cleaners, reusable produce bags and a line of eco products for babies. It’s a fun place to browse through.

But what you’re really getting when you go into EcoInhabit, is a lesson on building and maintaining a healthy, durable, low-impact home. The Singbeils’ philosophy is that using local, durable materials and building with people from within the community are two of the keys to building durable, healthy buildings. They are also lucky to be able to work with some like-minded customers in the area who are willing participants. Jan and Tim continuously seek out better building techniques so that once built, these structures consume as little energy as possible and don’t off-gas any harsh chemicals.

Tim said that once they were working with a client and their objective was to build a home that would last, at a minimum, of 100 years. Then they decided, “if we’re building a home to last 100 years, why not 300?” The consequence of that target meant that as few mechanical systems were installed as possible; low-tech and no-tech are better than mechanical systems that are definitely not going to last 300 years, or 100 years for that matter. Homes are super-insulated, oriented to take advantage of passive solar energy in the winter and shaded in summer. Heating systems are as small as possible and mechanical cooling systems are avoided as much as possible.

A healthy home is mould and mildew free, sturdy and severe-weather proof, with no off-gassing of toxic chemicals from construction. The Singbeils construct homes with Durisol blocks, and encourage clients to choose American Clay for some wall applications since it works so well with the thermal mass of the Durisol blocks and regulates relative humidity.

They put a lot of thought into home construction and source as locally as possible working with expert trades who are familiar with their green materials. Any particleboard products are NAUF (no added urea-formaldehyde), and now they’re entering a new green area which is EMR, or, electromagnetic radiation, another form of pollution in the form of electricity. I confess that I’m not that familiar with EMR and, so, need to learn a little bit more about it.

To learn more about EcoInhabit and the Singbeils’ building philosophy, visit their website, or better yet, if you happen to be in the Georgian Triangle, make sure you stop by the store.



121 Old Highway #26
Meaford, Ontario
N4L 1W7

Tel: 1.519.538.0777
Toll-free: 1.888.538.0777
Fax: 1.519.538.0778


Unplug your cellphone after it’s charged — Action #6 on Practically Green

April 6th, 2011

Practically Green is a wonderful website that helps consumers go a little greener one action at a time. There are plenty of great things about this website, from helping you determine where you currently sit on “the green front” to helping you set goals to lighten your environmental load. It’s not a preachy site; they don’t tell you what you’re doing wrong, they just give you little steps you can take to make yourself and your family a bit greener — or a lot greener depending on what you want to accomplish. It has lots of suggestions of things to do, and suggestions of products to help you accomplish your goals.

Practically Green has branded April as “Earth Month.”  They have taken their top thirty most popular actions on their site and devoted a blog post each day to help all of us tackle these actions.

Today I wrote about “Unplugging your cellphone charger,” the sixth most popular action people have taken on the site. It sounds like it’s an easy thing to do, but you’d be surprised. Take a look around your home and see how many chargers are plugged into the wall without the cell phone in it.

Read my full post here, and to find out just how green you are (and how to help you become greener), visit Practically Green’s website.

EcoFitt: Water-Saving Fixtures and LED Lighting Options

January 25th, 2011

EcoFitt is a Mississauga, Ontario-based company that has been in the background of water and energy conservation for several years. The company works primarily with utility companies such as Enbridge, Union Gas, BC Hydro  and Manitoba Hydro and provides them with energy and water saving kits that the companies in turn give to some of their customers.

In the past six years I’ve lived in two different homes, and in both of them I have had visits from Enbridge representatives giving me a free energy and water-saving kit in addition to the offer of installing the items. The kit contained a water-saving shower head, two faucet aerators, a compact fluorescent light bulb — maybe two, I can’t remember anymore –and a few other things to help our household conserve water and electricity. Both of these kits, it turns out, were provided to Enbridge by EcoFitt.

Now, however, in addition to working with utility companies, EcoFitt is reaching out directly to consumers and property managers to help them save money and conserve resources. While they don’t have a retail store, all of their products are conveniently available through their website.

I spoke with Melinda DeNicola, Director of Marketing for EcoFitt, about a few of the products they carry.

There are a few different kinds available depending on what your needs are. Each of the kits is geared towards a specific goal. For instance, the “gas energy efficiency kit”  ($57.70) includes weatherstripping and ShrinkFit plastic sheeting that helps insulate old, drafty windows. It also includes a water-efficient shower-head and some aerators.

The “electric” energy kit ($32.80) aims at helping you lower your electric bill by providing you with a thermometer for your fridge (most people set their fridges and freezers too cold but don’t know it), an air filter whistle (it whistles when your air filter is dirty and needs changing — simple idea to increase energy efficiency!), two CFLs and 12 draft stoppers for your plug outlets. (Note: I noticed from the photos that the light switch and electrical outlet plates they’re showing are the older style. If you have a newer home with more modern square light switches, make sure you ask whether or not they carry those kinds of plates).

One of EcoFitt’s most popular items is their water-saving Niagara toilet line. They carry three different models including the Niagara Power 1.0 GPF pressure-assist toilet, which, as the name suggests, uses 1 gallon (3.8L) of water to flush ($395.60).

LED Lighting by Fawoo. A Korean company that makes high-quality LED lights at a reasonable price. They have unique 3W and 4W bulbs, the “04 LumiDas-H Spot” that were developed to replace the halogen 50W spot light. While not yet up on the Eco-Fitt website, these 3 and 4W bulbs are available in “warm” and “daylight” lighting temperatures. For LEDs they are reasonably priced at $28/bulb. According to the Fawoo brochure, the lights are

[m]ade of flame-resistant plastic instead of aluminum, the lamp saves dramatically its manufacturing cost and made it affordable at the price of 40% below than the existing equivalent LED lamps.

The quality of an LED light rests as much on design as it does on the quality of the chip that it uses. In this case the chip manufacturer is Nichia, a reputable chip manufacturer, according to Dmitri Shaffer, LED Lighting specialist. (Note, for a thorough explanation of how to choose LED lights, read “LED Lighting Illuminated.”)

Programmable Thermostat. The programmable thermostat is a great item for helping any household improve its energy efficiency. The problem with many programmable thermostats is that they don’t get used properly because people don’t know how to program them. Eco-Fitt now offers a Thermostat installation service (additional charge for thermostat installation), and the HVAC professional who installs it will also be able show you how to operate it.

Rebates: EcoFitt’s products qualify for local government rebates depending on where you live, however, you do have to do the paperwork yourself.

If you’re interested in increasing the energy and water efficiency of your home, but don’t feel like braving the cold temperatures and snow we’ve had lately, browse through EcoFitt’s website and order products from the comfort of your home.

For more information visit their website:

Practically Green offers Practical Tips toward Greener Living

August 25th, 2010

A few months ago I contacted Susan Hunt Stevens when I stumbled across her blog, Practically Green, while looking for a better way to dispose of my broken down clock radio rather than add it to landfill for posterity’s sake. We’ve been in contact since then and, as it turns out, Susan and her team of moms, online experts and passionate “greenies” were at the beginning of turning a simple blog into a helpful and informative new website of the same name. I’ve been using Practically Green ever since to help me establish where I stand in the green realm and what steps to take to do better.

Benchmarking. When you first use Practically Green you can take a quiz to find out just how green you really are. It’s a way to see what you’re already doing and what steps you can take to lighten your CO2 load. Unlike other online “green lifestyle” quizzes I’ve taken, this one is quick but accurate. For the most part, when I’ve taken other quizzes, the quick ones are incredibly inaccurate while the detailed ones have you pulling out a year’s worth of utility bills for measurement. Practically Green has done a lot of thorough research behind their quiz, so if it seems simple, it is, but the results are sophisticated. The quiz focuses on your current lifestyle behaviour. Once you’ve completed the quiz you’re given a rating from “Barely Green” all the way up to “Superbly Green.” I hate to brag, but I’m, ahem, “Impressively Green,” second highest level. The quiz gives you points in four categories: Water Use, Energy, Health and Stuff. These are great categories because they basically cover everything from the kind of materials you shop for and put in your home, to what you eat, what kind of transportation to use. Your initial score serves as your benchmark. My worst marks were in water efficiency, something I’ll have to investigate further because I thought I was actually doing well in that area — I see aerators in my future!

Achieving the next level of “greeness.” Once you’ve figured out your starting point, the site offers endless way for you to advance to the next level of “greeness.” It also gives you the opportunity to commit to different actions and you’re awarded a different number of points depending on the action taken (ie. “carpooling” gets way more points than “using cold water for laundry” which also acknowledges the increased effort level and benefits).

Each time you log in and go to your account you see how you’re doing. You can also share your efforts with your friends and invite them to join in. Doing something in a group can further help you achieve your goals. Practically Green also shows you how you’re doing in comparison to other Practically Green participants. If you’re competitive, this is a great way to push you to do better.

The detailed explanations as to why you should take a particular action are also helpful and all of the information on the site is backed up with authoritative data and more resources if you’re interested in learning more about a subject.

Finally, once you’ve committed to taking a particular green action, the site offers suggestions for the materials you can use and, if possible, where they’re available. Practically Green is still in its early stages so give it a try! They’re always looking for feedback to continually improve the site.

A Massachusetts Garage made from easily accessible materials: Tires and Dirt

July 12th, 2010

Elizabeth Rose

A few months ago I wrote a piece about an organization, Long Way Home, that is building a school in Guatemala made out of tires, plastic bottles and dirt. This is a great project that involves the local community, local building materials an enthusiastic group of volunteers. Elizabeth Rose is the president of the Board of Directors of Long Way Home and she has decided to use the same techniques to build her garage. Her mission is to build the first tire and dirt building in Massachusetts.

The theory behind using tires and dirt is based on architect Michael Reynolds’ philosophy of using local, indigenous materials that are plentiful, easy to use and involve more labour than energy consumption. Elizabeth covers more of his reasoning and her goals of sticking to his philosophy in her own structure on her blog.

Tires and dirt, if used properly, can provide a thermal mass that can measure up to R50. It would depend on the diameter of the tire, as well as the type of dirt used and how compacted the fill was, but here in Ontario an insulation value of  R50 is over twice as much as standard building code requires! Pretty amazing.  The corollary of that is that you have to have the space to build a structure like this because these walls are thick! As thick as the diameter of the tires plus the interior and exterior finished coat.

Packing Dirt into Tires

Elizabeth has started a blog that keeps track of the progress of building this garage.  It’s always a challenge being a pioneer in any field, and using worn out tires and dirt is no exception. So far there have been a few errors in tire measurement and dirt selection, but what’s interesting is to read is how Elizabeth resolves mistakes, tracks down suppliers and how her architect, builder and soil engineer decide what kind of dirt will work for filling the tires. Elizabeth has discovered a few things on her journey to build a unique, “green” garage, such as:

  • there is only one tire recycler in Massachusetts, JP Routhier and Sons in Littleton, MA.
  • a supposedly “environmentally friendly” aggregrate (dirt and stone quarry) company, Aggregate Industries, with more than just a little dirt under its proverbial carpet (including a $2.75 million fine from the EPA for improper storm water management) and,
  • how physically exhausting, but rewarding, it can be to build your own rammed earth building.

You can follow Elizabeth’s progress on her garage at her blog:

For more information on Michael Reynolds’ company, see

Building Green taking into account “Embodied Energy”

April 22nd, 2010

There are many definitions of “green building.” For some it’s all about indoor air quality and making sure your home is not emitting fumes that are potentially hazardous to your family’s health. For others it’s about reusing what you have, renovating and making your new-old home tighter and more energy efficient. Finally there are those of us (myself included) who fall into the “embodied energy” category.

Today I watched a fantastic six minute video by Catherine Mohr who was invited to speak at TED 2010. If you can spare six minutes I encourage you to watch this funny and enlightening video on the trade-offs she and her husband consider while trying to build a green house. They have focused on trying to build using materials with the least amount of “embodied energy.”  This is the link to her talk:

If you’re not familiar with the term, “embodied energy” refers to the amount of energy it takes to make something and therefore, that energy is considered “stored” in the finished product. For instance, according to Catherine, it takes approximately 300 Megawatt hours of embodied energy to produce the average single family home. She set out to build her own home using significantly less energy, while building a home that will in the future also use significantly less energy than the average single family home.

If we can bring each product or activity we buy or do down to the amount of energy it consumes we can make more informed decisions about which product is best. So, that being said, Catherine’s decisions led her to choose wood-framed windows over aluminum, cotton and strawbale insulations over sprayfoam. Her house will still be as energy efficient as if she’d chosen the alternatives, but she used materials that take less energy to produce and ship to her house.

Catherine has been documenting her journey on the path to building green at It’s an excellent blog, full of all of her decisions and the thought process she went through to choose each material. She also lists her trades, services, and materials suppliers (she lives in Silicon Valley).

I have to admit that after watching her TED talk, I wondered how she had done her embodied energy calculations, there are, after all, a lot of variables involved when calculating the embodied energy of a product and much depends on what type of energy is used where the product is produced (coal vs. natural gas vs. hydro vs. nuclear). Fortunately, after reading through her posts I came across the one that explains how she did her EE calculations, as well as attaching her Excel spreadsheet with the calculations. She also did another spreadsheet showing how her much energy her lifestyle consumes.

If you have a chance, look through her blog. It’s an interesting read, as well as a great resource for trades and services in the Silicon Valley area, and green products that are for the large part available across North America.

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