Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Making envrionmental choices at work

Have you ever noticed that you never see something until you have it yourself? For example, I never noticed how many blue Honda Civics were on the road until we bought ours.  Or how many women are pregnant at the same time until I was pregnant myself?

Lately, I've been noticing this phenomenon at work.  I hadn't realized the environmental impacts of my work place, really.  I mean, I noticed, but I didn't give it much thought.  Until recently. 

I've become the office supplies orderer for one of my library branches.  All of a sudden, I can make a choice about what type of paper, pens, and tape we buy.  I can decide how many transit slips we need, how much toner, how many envelopes.   It's been a real eye-opener.

I must state right away, that the library does environmental pretty well.  As a part of the larger City, we must comply with the city's take on environmental stewardship.  Here are some examples of how this happens:

1) printers are set to print double-sided AUTOMATICALLY.  You actually have to change the settings if you want to print single side
2) all internal communications are sent through re-usable envelopes.  You can get a lot of use out of these until they a) wear out or b) run out of room
3) all toner is taken back by our supplier for recycling and refurbishing/refilling
4) in the larger branches, green bins are kept in the staff room for compostables
5) our newest building was constructed according to LEED standards

It's the smaller stuff that I can affect.  I've purchased recycled printer paper.  I've made sure that our transit slips (which send items between branches) are reused at least 3-4 times.  I've tried to make sure that our used book sale racks are kept full with donations, instead of being sent to the recycle bin.

It's been great to be able to be green at work.  I'm looking forward to trying to further improve our processes/procedures.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thoughts on Commuting

I've been working at my job for close to 5 months.  I really love it, and still can't believe I'm paid to do what I do.  Not many people can say that, so I am really lucky.  But my luck comes with a down side - a very long commute.  And, unfortunately, one that must be made by car.

I work in the south east end of the city, in the rural farming communities just on the outskirts of "civilization".  There isn't any light rail or public transit system out here. 
I don't forsee myself taking on a new job in the near future, so I've been trying to think of ways to make the trek as environmentally-friendly as possible.  I drive highways and country roads, so my cruise control is my new best friend.  I drive close to the speed limit, to try to limit my gas consumption.  I only use the air conditioner on the really hot days.

The biggest problem is the vehicle I drive.  Due to the area of the city we live in, we own two vehicles, as there is no easy access to public transit near our house to get us where we need to be.  One is a fuel-efficient car, the other is a not-so-fuel-efficient mini-van.  DH drives the car for his 35 km commute (one way), while I drive the van for my 60 km commute (one way).  We've talked about switching vehicles, but here is our conundrum:  the van will need to be replaced in the next two to three years (it is currently about 9 years old, and starting to show signs of slowing down).    I have the longer commute - do I drive the more newer, more fuel-efficient car, or put all the driving miles on the van and run it into the ground, with the hopes that in 3 yrs when we replace the van we will 1) be able to get a more fuel-efficient vehicle and 2) one of us will have a job closer to home and therefore will not be putting as much mileage on the car, thereby making it last longer? 

For now, I am sticking with the van, but I am interested in my readers' thoughts on the matter, so feel free to chime in.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Use recycled facial tissue (Change 138)

The idea of hankies went by the wayside a long time ago.  I caught a really bad cold a few months ago, and ended up using copious amounts of Kleenex.  I never got back in the habit of using hankies.  So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that Scotties is now producing a 100% recycled fibre facial tissue.  It is EcoLogo certified (, and actually manufactured in Canada.  Like most things environmentally-friendly, it is a higher cost that the regular brands.  But is makes me feel good, and makes my nose feel good too.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Shop more often at Farmer's Market (Change 137)

Well, Spring is here, and with it, all the assorted goodies of the season.  Fresh asparagus, rhubarb, spinach and lettuce are a few of the items in season.  With going back to work this spring, I missed out on sowing my spinach and lettuce for April, although I'm hopeful that the small lettuce plants I bought will thrive through the hot summer weather.  Our rhubarb is HUGE this year - I may have to start pawning the bounty off on my unsuspecting neighbours.  :)

Truthfully, our veggie garden is going to be smaller this year for a few reasons.  One, I just don't have the time right now to tend a large garden.  Two, we are in the process of landscaping our backyard, so some of my former veggie beds are under huge piles of dirt.  And three, I've decided to start using our local farmer's market.

Last year, I had investigated getting a CSA share.  With five of us to feed, I thought it might be economically worthwhile. However, the more I researched it, the more I realized that my picky eaters would not be happy with the variety offered by the CSA, and I'd probably end up composting quite a bit of the produce.

The farmer's market allows me to benefit from local, organic produce at reasonable prices, supporting local farmers' and agriculture, while providing me with the ability to pick and choose what I want to buy.  I think it will be a win-win situation - I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just trundling along....

I can't believe it's been over two months since I last posted.  My apologies!!!  Life has been busy, as always, which is no excuse, I know.  :)    However, in my defense, since I last posted, I have gone back to work full-time, so I've been a little pre-occupied with finding childcare and figuring out how to get everything done in the few short hours between 6:00 p.m. when I get home, and 10:30 p.m., when I go to bed.

Life on the eco-front has continued to keep pace.  We're still doing about 85% of the changes I made, for which I am quite proud. 

We've have a couple of new eco-changes appear, and I'll post about those soon.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Start using a web-based calendar (Change 136)

In an effort to reduce my paper consumption, I've started to use a web-based calendar for our household scheduling.   It's great for several reasons.  1) It reduces my paper consumption (no more paper calendars).  2)  I can access it from anywhere, using either my smart phone, a computer or a tablet.  3) No more phone calls from DH wondering  what's going on at night, and confirming what time he needs to be home.  He can check for himself from work.  4) I can colour-code events, so I can quickly see who has what when.

I'm still using my paper calendar for 2012, but am gradually transitioning it out.  I find that as I add things to the web calendar, I keep forgetting to add to the paper one.  I'm no longer 100% certain the paper one is accurate, and am always cross-referencing with the web-based one.  As I more forward into 2013 and beyond, and become more comfortable with using the web calendar, I think I'll be able to wave goodbye to paper scheduling.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eco-Friendly Disney - Part 3

I've talked a lot about the negative things, environmentally-speaking, about our trip to Disney.  The lack of recycling.  The lack of availability of recycled products for purchase.  The need to purchase consumable items (napkins, condiments, cereal) that end up in the waste stream when half-used.

But there were a lot of things that were really great, environmentally, about our trip.  You can read the details in Disney's 2010 Corporate Citizenship Report (  It provides a fascinating look at a large corporation and its efforts to reduce its negative impact on the environment and increase its positive impact on the community.

One of the things that struck me most was the use of real cutlery, glasses and plates in almost all of the eating areas we visited.  I'm used to seeing my food served disposable plates and cutlery - I was pleasantly surprised to have my food served on plates with stainless steel forks and knives. 

Another interesting point was the number of recycling and garbage bins.  The park was spotless.  Staff were constantly picking up garbage left behind, and placing it in the appropriate receptacle.  Garbage cans and recycling bins were constantly emptied, so visitors to the park never had the excuse of "the bin was too full".

Greenhouses on Disney property are using innovate techniques to grow food - vertical agriculture, aquaponics, and xeriscaping are a few examples.  Disney also grows a lot of the food served at resort hotels.

Public transportation is the only choice for getting around the resort.  You can take the monorail, the steam train or the ferry, to and from various locations in the park.  Of course, you can also walk.

But what impressed me the most is Disney's commitment to nature conservation and consumer education.  I'll expand on this in another post.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Change lightbulbs to CFLs (Change 135)

According to the ENERGY STAR (a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy)  "If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a light bulb that's earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars."

I admit, that is a lot of energy to be saved.  The savings comes from replacing one incandescent bulb with one CFL bulb (compact fluorescent light bulb). It works about to be about 75% less energy than a regular incandescent bulb.

I had questions, though, about the other environmental implications of CFLs.  My main concern was the mercury content in the bulbs.  As long as you don't break a light bulb, you should be OK.  Break it though, and you'd better hope to have a window available to open ASAP.  You do NOT want to breathe that stuff in!  It also means that CFLs are considered hazardous waste, and cannot be disposed of in your regular garbage, but taken to a special waste depot for disposal.  How many people actually clean up broken bulbs properly and dispose of used bulbs properly?  The potential long-term health concerns worry me a little.

Great debate rages, and no one has a real answer.  Your opinion on CFLs mainly depends on which side of the fence you sit on - more concern for the environment or more concern for the perceived impacts on your health and/or wallet.  Natural Resources Canada has a great FAQ on CFLs, for those needing help deciding where to sit (

I've done my research, and I sit on the side of the environment.  To me, the potential benefits far outweigh the small risk incurred.  The Government of Canada feels the same (  By 2014, most lights will use CFL bulbs.

We've decided to start earlier.  Every time we need to replace a bulb, we will be replacing it with a CFL, rather than an incandescent one.  This will be easier on our pocketbook, and won't result in the premature tossing of perfectly good light bulbs into the garbage.

It will also make our environment a little brighter, and the air a little easier to breathe.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm short-listed!

Wow!  Thanks to Eco-Yogini (who is also short listed!), who brought to my attention that I have been short-listed for the 2011 CWA's Best Weblog About Ecology & Social Justice.  You can take a look at the link here:

To whomever nominated me - thank you! 

To my fellow nominees, I congratulate you all, and I am honoured to share this with you.  Good luck to everyone!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Eco-Friendly Disney - Part 2

Renting a home while we were in Orlando was the most logical thing to do, from a convenience, monetary and personal standpoint.  To try and get hotel rooms for 9 people, plus meals, plus transportation (even if those were included in a package) was far more expensive than the house option.  As well, with DD1's food allergy and my current food challenges, it also made eating more enjoyable for everyone.

The drawback of renting a house is that it doesn't come with a lot of the of built-in environmentally-friendly things we're used to at home in Canada.  For instance - recycling.  Yes, Orlando does recycle.  You can find garbage/recycling bins at all major malls, fast food restaurants, etc.

However, we were renting in a gated community.  The gated community does not provide recycling services to its residents.  If we wanted to recycle, we had to package up our goods, and search the city for someone who already had their bins out for pick-up.   We were on vacation, so traipsing around the city to look for someone's garbage day was not going to happen.  We did not recycle for the ENTIRE week.

It was so weird.  I felt horribly guilty about throwing out perfectly good and recyclable glass bottles, plastic bottles, paper, cardboard and cans.  At the end of the week, we had two large garbage bins FULL to the brim with garbage, of which, at least half was recyclables.

Then there was the type of garbage we threw out.  I'll detail that in my next post.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Eco-Friendly Disney Style - Part 1

Well, the trip is long over, but the memories are still good ones.  We spent a week at Disney World in Florida, with my parents, my brother and his fiancee.  It was certainly a lesson in togetherness, understanding, and patience.  It was also a lesson in how well-entrenched my family really is in the whole "eco-thing".

The realization starts almost as soon as we start planning our trip.  There was paper.  Lots and lots of paper.  Brochures, calendars, emails, tickets.  It is unbelievable in this age of technology, how much paper a trip actually uses in its planning stages.

Sure, we communicated back and forth by email.  Yes, we had electronic tickets.  But, DD1 and DD2 both needed their passports renewed before our trip.  Check off TWO three page print outs that were mailed, plus photocopies of relevant documents (in case they got lost in the mail), and you have quite a bit of paper.  Not to mention an envelope, courier bag and paper receipt.

Then there were the trip planners my mom created for the kids.  Their very own calendars to write down what they wanted to do.  Of course, they couldn't share the computer.  So, I printed three copies of everything for them to look at.

Print off our ticket reservations, address of our rental house, and copies of a map to get to it, and you have more paper.   Not very eco-friendly.  Lots of dead trees, and not much to show for it.  Even the kids were commenting on the amount of printer paper we were going through.  Sure we had a Garmin and our Blackberry devices.  But being uncertain about how all this technology would translate south of the border, I erred on the side of caution and obtain hard copies.

At least, I thought, I'll be able to recycle all of  the paper in Florida.   How wrong I was......