Archive for the ‘Events’ category

Eco-City Challenge Winners Announced And What You Can Do

December 11th, 2013

Souce: Wikimedia

So, apparently I was living under a rock this summer, because somehow I missed the Eco-City Challenge that was sponsored by a consortium of groups: Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance (CEEA), Green Living Enterprises, Scotiabank and the Pembina Institute. It was launched at the Green Living Show in April in Toronto, and continued countrywide throughout the summer until November 1, 2013. The goal of the contest was to empower Canadians through education to reduce their energy use. More than 41,000 people in 1,300+ municipalities from across Canada participated in the challenge. The province of Quebec had the largest conservation efforts, more than 18.6 kilowatt-hours/year and more than $2.2 million saved. Toronto was the city with the largest number of people taking conservation steps saving 3.4 million kwh/year and $400,000 annually. Montreal and Ottawa came in second and third respectively.  In total the CEEA projects savings of up to $5.6 million and 47 million kwh of electricity annually. The municipality with the most savings per capita was French River, Ontario, with total conservation efforts of 254 kwh/yr/capita (population: 137).

The challenge itself was issued in the form of a questionnaire that asked what energy conservation steps you had taken in the last year and what you were planning on doing in the future. Every action already taken was worth one point, and every action you committed to in the future was worth one quarter of a point — to account for the possibility of actions not taken within the next year.

While the people who entered the challenge were eligible to win a suite of new energy efficient Whirlpool appliances — and that may have been an incentive in and of itself — the point the challenge makes is that the least expensive kilowatt-hour is the one not used. As winter descends upon us, now is the time to take those conservation steps such as draftproofing/weatherizing any leaks or cracks in your home’s building envelope, and checking to see that your programmable thermostat is on the right settings (for instance, I just noticed that ours was still set to daylight savings time).

What you can do: Just because the challenge is over doesn’t mean we should stop conserving. It’s good for your wallet and the environment, and as taxpayers, the more we conserve, the less need there is for new power plants. In fact in Ontario, the last three coal-generated power plants are being closed down – two this year and the final one in 2014. The last one will be converted to an “advanced biomass generation” plant.

I’ve written a lot on ways to make your home a little more energy efficient, including using my favourite – the KiloWatt to find out which appliances are your main energy hogs. But I recently discovered three more websites that have great tips on how to save energy at home:

The Canadian Energy Efficiency Association has a consumer page with easy tips to follow to lighten your household load.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy is packed full of really interesting (okay, for energy nerds like me) information complete from energy policies at the national, state and municipal level, as well as tools and resources to help improve energy efficiency for consumers, businesses and municipalities. For policy makers there is a beta version of a City-Energy self-rating scorecard. You can fill in the details and compare your municipality with other (albeit American) cities. It’s a great starting off point for smaller municipalities with limited resources.

The Top Ten USA – this is a fantastic website that highlights the brands and models of the most energy efficient appliances and some electronics available in the US (I have to think their equivalents are available in Canada), it includes boilers, clothes washers, computers and LED light bulbs and more. If you live in the US, there are also links to available rebates.






March 22nd is World Water Day

March 22nd, 2013

Since 1993, March 22nd has been World Water Day as designated by the United Nations. The day is marked to help raise awareness about the basic human right we all share to access safe drinking water. Here in Canada it is also Canada Water Week, (March 14-22, 2013) developed to incorporate World Water Day.  The point of these days is to highlight the right to every person’s access to safe drinking water. 

This year’s focus is water cooperation. Around the world, there are 276 transboundary river basins. Actions taken by any country regarding water use can affect downstream water flow and quality. Cooperation is essential among nations to ensure peace and the best water management. The UN has a page of facts concerning water consumption and the effect of increasing populations and climate change. It’s pretty scary, but can be managed if approached in a coordinated, rational manner (Source).

World Water Day’s objective is to highlight water concerns around the world. While we Canadians count ourselves lucky to have an abundant supply of fresh water, we should probably stop short of patting ourselves on the back. Crumbling urban infrastructure means that many cities are having difficulty dealing with sewage and water treatment. Further, a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has estimated that it will cost about $80 billion to replace waste water treatment plants and pipes, drinking water delivery pipes and storm water pipes that are in “fair” to “very poor” condition across Canada (Source).

Canadians are the second biggest water users per capita of all OECD countries (Source). To make matters worse, many OECD countries have been decreasing their water consumption per capita (including the US), while, since 1980, Canadians have increased water consumption by 25%.  Part of the reason that Canadians are water hogs is because a realistic price hasn’t been attached to the water we use. In many municipalities a flat rate is charged, which, of course, doesn’t lead to conservation behaviour. If you view something as a low-value resource, then you will treat it as such. Leaks will go unfixed, faucets will be left on to brush teeth and do dishes, there is no incentive to buy water efficient appliances. Moreover, if there isn’t an effort by city hall to raise awareness of the importance of water conservation through public policy, people won’t see it as an issue of concern.

As Canadian cities’ populations increase, the need for potable water will also increase. Demands on cities’ water infrastructure will be tested to their maximum, which is why implementing water conservation measures is more urgent than most people realize. Water conservation at business, institutional and residential levels will give municipalities some time to upgrade their water infrastructure and pricing water fairly is the easiest way to motivate people to think about conservation.

I’ve written many articles on products that will help you conserve water. I’ve written about low-flow fixtures, rain barrels,  and gray water systems. Look in the Water Efficiency section of the Resource Guide for products and information on water efficiency. But there are other ways to cut water use that you might not even consider, and, in fact, you can make an even bigger dent in water conservation by altering a few of your weekly purchases. The infographic comes thanks to Loch Ness Water Gardens in South Carolina. Some of the stats are surprising. You might have already been aware that beef production uses the most water of any meat production (1850 gallons (US) to produce 1 pound of beef), but did you know that your morning coffee needs 2500 gallons of water? It only takes 8 gallons of water to produce a pound of tea. The infographic also gives you suggestions on how modifying your behaviour will help you save water, such as switching out your high flow shower head to a low flow fixture, or switching from drinking milk to beer (?) — great excuse for the legal-aged drinkers in the crowd, but maybe not so helpful for the kids (I can hear my teenagers now: “But Mom, it’s better for the environment”).

Courtesy of: Loch Ness Water Gardens


Scotiabank’s Ecoliving Awards Now Open!

November 23rd, 2012

The Scotiabank Ecoliving award rewards Canadian businesses, innovators and students in the field of home energy efficiency products and services. The purpose is to showcase the great work that is happening in energy efficiency around Canada. There are three categories:

1. $50,000 Business Leadership Award: This award is for the business that provides eco-friendly products or services to the residential sector.

2. $15,000 Innovator’s Award: This is for a company or individual who has developed a prototype or is in the early stages of development of a residential energy efficiency product or service.

3. $10,000 Student Leadership Award: This is for a full-time enrolled post secondary student involved in developing a prototype or innovative concept in the realm of home energy efficiency.

The first Scotiabank Ecoliving Awards were given away in 2011 to three very worthy businesses and individuals. In fact reading about them made my eyes water-up, but I’m a sucker for brilliant ideas and the brilliant people behind them.

To give you an idea of what creative Canadians are up to, Scotiabank followed up with the three recipients of the 2011 awards to see how they were using their awards. They’ve all put them to good use.

BUILD, based in Winnipeg, MB was the Business Leadership Award winner. Shaun Loney, the  executive director of this not-for-profit organization, is like the Mother Theresa of contractors.  His organization is killing three birds with one stone:

  • BUILD trains people to retro homes to make them more energy and water efficient, giving them employment. The group also retrofitted an old building into a Social Enterprise Centre where they share the space with a co-op hardware store and a bedbug remediation centre — in total, the 3 groups employ 150 people who would otherwise not have jobs.
  • BUILD used their award to successfully lobby the Manitoba government to pass Bill 24, The Energy Savings Act. Winnipeg will be the first jurisdiction in North America where utility companies will pay for energy and water efficiency infrastructure improvements in low-income areas. The idea is that Hydro Manitoba will install them, and the charges will go on the resident’s now reduced Hydro bill so residents will benefit from the better efficiency and not see a change in their monthly bill.
  • BUILD retrofits low-income homes so it is increasing residential energy efficiency in Manitoba while training and employing people from low-income neighbourhoods who might not have other opportunities. It’s a win-win-win.

Alex Lerche of EcoPlus Home won the Innovator’s Award. Based in Bathurst, NB, EcoHomes Plus makes low-footprint, energy-efficient homes. The company’s homes have since been added to houses available to build in six sustainable communities across North America. EcoPlus homes have been used in Serenbe, GA, an award winning green community. In fact, Alex had the idea of opening up a 2200 sq. foot “life lab” in Serenbe to demonstrate to Georgians the energy efficient technologies available today (such as induction cooktops), that don’t affect quality of life. In an area where air conditioning costs eat up a huge portion of residents’ electricity bill, (as well as putting pressure on the grid), convincing people to invest in more energy efficient technologies is critical.

Eden Full, the Student Leadership Award Winner, has used her money to further tweak her invention of the SunSaluter. It rotates with the sun to collect up to 40% more sun, meaning 40% fewer solar panels are needed to maximize energy output. Eden’s further goals are to help electrify areas in developing countries from a monastery and orphanage in India to a school in Uganda.

Entries are being accepted until February 15, 2013.


Energy Descent Action Theatre

September 13th, 2012
Energy Descent Action Theatre is an arts-based community consultation happening on Sunday October 21st at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre, 427 Bloor St West, Toronto.  In an atmosphere of fun and creative games, the “audience” will be guided through the creation of an Energy Descent Action Plan for Toronto.
While we all see gas and energy prices rising and know we need to limit our greenhouse gas emissions, there is no plan for how our communities will move into the post-carbon age.  To fail to plan is to plan to fail, but there is nothing to answer questions like “How much more insulation will it take to make my gas bill affordable in 2030?”, “How will my children get to school without diesel buses in 2025?”, or “Where will my fruits and vegetables be grown in 2020?”  Transition Toronto, and the larger Transition Towns movement, understands that a post-carbon world is a localized world.  Without abundant cheap fuel, the transportation fueling global trade will be scarce.  It therefore makes sense to make these plans on and for the local level.  These plans have been called Energy Descent Action Plans, and each community needs one as a plan B, an alternative to governments’ plans which ignore climate and assume that in future, energy will be as available as it has been in the past.  Energy Descent can be a daunting topic, but with the fun atmosphere of a day at the theatre, Transition Toronto will keep the audience in a positive, creative mindset.  Only with this attitude can we be sure that the best ideas for decreasing our communities’ fossil-fuel dependence while improving their residents’ quality of life can come to the fore.  With plans for things like designing buildings for natural lighting, provision of healthful local food, and development of the local economy, we can have a brighter future not only in spite of using energy responsibly, but because we’ve designed our communities to use energy responsibly.
Transition Toronto invites you to join us in making history with the world’s first mega-city scale Energy Descent Action Plan.  We also invite you to join us for cake, which will be served at the end of the show to celebrate our historic first step away from oil dependency and towards local resilience.  RSVP at the Transition Toronto site here, on facebook here, on pre-purchase your ticket at Eventbrite here.  Tickets are $12 at the door or $9.70 if purchased in advance through Eventbrite.
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Celebrate Earth Day

April 20th, 2012

Today’s post is a guest post from Debra Duneier, LEED AP. 

 If you have not celebrated earth day in the past, this April 22nd would be a great time to start. You may feel a little awkward at first because you just may not know what to do. Do you invite people over for a party? Does one put candles on a cake? What kind of toast would be appropriate? Can you send a card? Is buying flowers or chocolates the right touch?

The first Earth Day was in 1970 and since then it has grown to a worldwide environmental event. On this day, we celebrate our planet and its gifts of biodiversity.  It is the time of year to reinstate our commitment to protect plants, animals, soil, seas and fresh drinking water. It is also the birthday of the US Environmental Protection Agency which was created to protect our air, water and land from pollution. Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day to bring environmental concerns to the attention of the national agenda. If you ever question what one person can accomplish remember that one by one, 20 million protestors around the country came out in support of Earth Day and a cleaner and safer environment…they were heard.

Pitch in and make a big difference by making small changes in your daily life. Here are some EcoChi Green Tips to get you started:

  1.  Reduce your “product carbon footprint” by purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible.
  2. Bring reusable shopping bags with you to the supermarket, rather than having your groceries packed in plastic bags (plastics take 500 years to decompose).
  3. Keep landfills at reasonable levels by recycling your garbage as much as possible. Paper, plastics, metals and even electronic equipment can be conveniently recycled in most towns.
  4. Set your thermostat 2 degrees higher in the summer and 2 degrees lower in the winter to cut back on energy use.
  5. Do not run the water while you brush your teeth. Turn the faucet on only when needed. Help save our most precious resource, fresh drinking water.


If you decide to throw a party on April 22nd:

  • Send electronic invites
  • Use bees wax candles on the cake instead of candles made with petro fuels
  • Recycle your wine bottles
  • Send an E-card or one made of recycled paper
  • Do decorate with fresh flowers and serve chocolate which always tastes great!








Still unsure what to do on April 22nd? Get over any awkwardness that accompanies a new experience and instead create traditions for the future. After all, cleaning up our planet means we may be able to leave our Earth a better place for future generations and that’s worth celebrating!

  Debra Duneier is the Founder and President of EcoChi, LLC, a Feng Shui Master Practitioner, an accredited LEED®Green Associate and Certified Eco-Designer. Debra is the creator of the EcoChi®system of design and the author of EcoChi: Designing the Human Experience, released September, 17th 2011. Her training, background and perspective have made her a resource on topics including: Feng Shui, Green Design and Sustainability and Wellness, for media outlets including Martha Stewart Radio, Brokers Weekly, Social Life Magazine,, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC, Sierra Club, The Huffington Post and the Associated Press. In addition to her EcoChi consulting business, Debra is a keynote speaker and also runs workshops and seminars for a variety of corporations and trade organizations. Author of EcoChi: Designing the Human Experience.

She finds grounding in nature, friends and family in her North Fork, Long Island home in New York.

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