Friday, October 31, 2008

Have a great green Halloween!!

Happy Halloween! Here are a few tips for greening your Halloween this year. Here are a the highlights:

  1. Cloth or canvas shopping bags
  2. Make Do-It-Yourself Costumes
  3. Give Eco-Friendly Treats
  4. Walk Instead of Driving
  5. Make Your Halloween Party Eco-Friendly
  6. Reuse and Recycle
  7. Keep Halloween Clean
  8. Keep it Going (after Halloween)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Canadian wins the Prix Pictet photo competition

Check out this slideshow.

A major new global prize celebrating the work of both professional and amateur photographers has been awarded in Paris.

The Prix Pictet is the first competition of its type to focus on the global issue of 'sustainability' - and, this year in particular, on water.

The winner of 100,000 Swiss francs (£53,000) is the Canadian photographer Benoit Aquin.
Montreal-based Aquin's series of photos is called "The Chinese 'Dust Bowl'" which is about human-induced desertification due to over-grazing and other unsustainable practices.

Tip of the hat to Manzur Malik for the slideshow.

Monday, October 27, 2008

OPSEU saving trees - one sheet at a time

Thanks to Region 5 Staff Rep Kathleen Demareski for this suggestion and to Francis Rustia and other OPSEU staff for the implementation.

Every three months, OPSEU produces local-by-local membership listings - one for each local and one for that local's regional office. The lists are used by local executive committees and staff for a variety of purposes including mobilizing for bargaining, convention delegate entitlement, organizing general meetings and signing up new members.

These reports use about 60,000 sheets of paper per year. By posting the lists electronically for use by the regional office staff, OPSEU can now reduce this paper usage by up to 50%. While it is expected that lists will be printed at the regional offices on an as-needed basis, significant savings are expected in terms of paper, money (up to $250), ink, storage and of course greenhouse gas emissions. Says Francis,

I believe this new Greening OPSEU initiative of reducing quarterly local listings by up to 30,000 sheets per year will save some trees. 30,000 is a lot and we can improve even more in the near future with new technologies available.

Phase II of this plan, expected to begin after the 2009 Convention, will have the Locals getting two hard copies per year instead of four. The other two lists will be provided electronically to the local with hard copies available upon request.

According to Conservatree, one tree equals about 8,333 sheets of paper. Therefore, this change will result in savings of up to 4 trees per year.

As for other initiatives that can have an immediate impact, Francis adds,
At OPSEU offices, the new RICOH Aficio printers can easily be set for double-sided printing and copying to significantly reduce paper use. For copying, press the double-sided button and for printing, set your printer default to "duplex".
1) Click "Start", "Programs", "Printers and Faxes"
2) Select the RICOH printer
3) Right click, select "properties"
4) Check the "duplex" checkbox
5) Save.

Clearcut forest

"Planet in Focus" film festival

I had the opportunity to watch a couple of films on the weekend at the "Planet in Focus" film festival. Planet in Focus was one of the groups that had a table at OPSEU's convention earlier this year. OPSEU was one of two union sponsors of this year's festival.

The first film I saw was "Farms without Farmers".

In Paraguay farming has undergone a fundamental shift and much of it is due to the introduction of industrial soybean crops. In a series of four vignettes, a people, a landscape and a way of life are radically transformed by the establishment of a monoculture agricultural crop that leads to razed farms, a diseased population, dislocation and the ironic growth of the private security business busy in the act of uprooting the populace. Agricultural development show’s its most ruthless face.
The second film was "The Hunger Season".
The Hunger Season refers to a time when all the grain was eaten and the autumn harvest had not begun. Over the course of two years, filmmaker Beadi Finzi follows two ends of a spectrum dealing with a humanitarian crisis caused by climate change, neglect, commodity markets as well as local and international shortsightedness. Justice, a teacher, and loyal subject to his king in Swaziland, finds himself and his pupils caught in a lingering drought and the reality of diminishing food aid. At the other end of the spectrum are the policy makers, members of the World Food Program (WFP) the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN making decisions about food distribution at a time when aid handouts are at their lowest point since the Cold War. The film looks at the irony of the failure of the Millennium Goals, while also revealing how a country such as Swaziland became dependent on foreign aid rather than producing its own crops in areas that could easily have been developed for food production. This is an important and timely film.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

UN Appoints Maude Barlow - Water advisor

Well this story in Saturday's Globe and Mail is certainly good news.

Maude Barlow: the Al Gore of H2O - by Erin Anderssen

This week, Ms. Barlow was named senior adviser to the United Nations on water issues - a new position created by General Assembly president Miguel d'Escoto, who raised the subject of water as a human right in his first UN speech in September. Ms. Barlow, who has been meeting with Mr. d'Escoto unofficially since August, agreed to take the position without pay...

She says issues around water cover all the areas she feels most passionately about: gender, poverty, the environment, social justice. She describes returning from a trip in which she visited Nairobi's huge Kibera slum, where people use "flying toilets" (you defecate into a plastic bag and throw it in the street), and counting up her faucets and water lines in her Ottawa home. "I could turn them all on and run them for days, and nobody would say a word. We just take it for granted...."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday wrap-up

Here are a few interesting stories:

Progress on the green jobs front.
LG Switches Plasma Panel Plant to Photovoltaic Production

vel'oh! Luxembourg City Gets a Bike Sharing System

Greenpeace launches second edition of The Greenpeace Living Guide

Environmental Defence Report: Canada’s Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth

Confusion about next steps in climate change hampers action - New study

A new report produced for TD bank Pembina Institute was released today.

New Report Takes Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Policies

TORONTO -- Action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in Canada is being hampered by a lack of analysis on the most efficient policies from an economic and environmental perspective, according to Don Drummond, Chief Economist at TD Bank Financial Group.

This has led to a reign of confusion with various factions arguing the relative merits of key policy options such as regulation, cap-and-trade and carbon taxation. Mr. Drummond said: "The uncertainty around this vital issue poses a serious cost as businesses have little idea how to factor future environmental policies into their planning."
You can read the report here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Energy-efficient demonstration homes

An interesting story in Monday's Globe and Mail about the future of energy-efficient homes which are able to function off the electrical grid in Canada's climate.
Just don't call him an envirofreak

David Braden has built a completely energy-efficient home - it generates its own power and won't even need a furnace come winter. But his techniques aren't outlandish...

Come this winter, Mr. Braden predicts he'll be warm and toasty in a house that doesn't have a furnace. He plans to keep it warm at practically no cost, relying mainly on sunlight streaming through his bank of south-facing windows to heat the place, and perhaps a little help from the waste heat from appliances such as hair dryers.

"Do I think this house absolutely needs no furnace and could easily heat with either a hair dryer or 10 light bulbs?" he asks. "Absolutely I do."

Mr. Braden, a former municipal politician and retired home builder, is part an emerging trend, the next frontier in residential construction beyond R-2000 homes, the current gold standard for energy-sipping housing in Canada.
About 4 years ago, I had the opportunity to stay in one of these "totally off the grid" kinds of homes - The Osprey Nest Bed and Breakfast on Manitoulin Island. Some of the features include solar panels, wood stove, no furnace, some kind of geo-thermal energy, propane fridge and super-thick insulation. Owner Bernie told me that he could leave for weeks at a time in the winter and return and wear only a t-shirt the moment he entered the house. He passed on the savings to his customers which did not emanour him with this fellow B&B operators. You can hardly go wrong for $45 a night for two people including homemade breakfast. He also cooks a mean salmon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bottled water phase-out update

OPSEU's plan to phase out water coolers and small, disposable water bottles is moving ahead as planned. The target date for implementation has been adjusted from November 1 to December 1, 2008 for OPSEU offices, membership centres and other facilities. Once complete, I will report fully but in the meantime, here's a few highlights:

Head office

  • water quality was tested for lead and results came back negative (no problems)
  • filtered water is available on each of its four levels (water fountains or kitchens)
  • managers have been instructed by 1st VP / Treasurer Patty Rout to use up existing supplies of water cooler bottles, refrain from ordering refills and to return the water coolers to the vendor(s)
  • staff have been provided with reusable, stainless steel water "bottles"
  • meeting rooms are being equipped with water jugs and corn plastic cups
Regional offices / membership centres
  • staff contacts have been identified to assist with water testing and the transition
  • water tests are currently under way to ensure that there is no problem with lead in the pipes
  • kits are being prepared (by me) to be sent to each office after the test results are returned
  • kits include a water filter for each kitchen tap, signage, water jugs and corn plastic cups for meeting rooms
  • reusable, stainless steel water "bottles" for everyone working in an OPSEU office
  • flyers were sent to each office to be posted in the membership areas so that they are aware of the upcoming changes
For more information about why OPSEU is phasing out private water and supporting water as a public services, check out our Bottled Water Fact Sheet.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

OPSEU's new green cleaning products

On October 16th, OPSEU began to use new green cleaning products at its Lesmill, Wellesley & Coopers offices. These OPSEU-owned offices are cleaned by OPSEU staff and as such are the appropriate place to begin the transition to eco- and people-friendlier cleaning products.

OPSEU has contracted with Allcare Maintenance for their green cleaning system and products. These products include washroom cleaner, chemical neutral disinfectant, glass cleaner, all purpose cleaner and heavy duty cleaner. Products are colour coded. Using a special mixer and dispenser, concentrated, colour-coded cleaning products are diluted with just the right amount of water. In addition to the cleaning products, there are colour-coded micro-fiber cloths so that different cleaners are not mixed together on the same cloth.

Here's what Allcare has to say about themselves (note - not all their bullets apply to OPSEU).

So what exactly is green cleaning?

It’s an earth friendly approach to maintenance that protects the health of your employees without harming the environment. Surprising, it’s no more expensive than a regular approach to cleaning. In many ways, it can actually save you money.
  • We use “EcoLogo Certified” and “Green Seal certified” cleaning products.
  • We promote recycling and having a proper Waste Management program.
  • Micro fibre cloths and HEPA vacuums are used. They remove 99.97% of dust and allergens from your workspace.
  • Water and electricity conservation are a priority for us.
  • We make an effort to reduce the amount of chemicals that are used in the cleaning process and only use eco-friendly chemicals with low VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compound).
  • We sell only Oxo-Degradable garbage bags which reduce the carbon footprint to landfill sites.
  • We try to control areas of moisture and cross-contamination by using a colour coded cleaning system as well as provide Moisture Control Logs for all sites.
  • We also try to implement guidelines and practices which follow the CaGBC LEED rating system where possible.
Our certification was granted by Franken LeDrew Consulting. For more information, visit their website.
Time will tell whether these new products perform as well as the cleaning chemicals that were used before. Initial assessment from Leo Arellano in OPSEU's Building Services is that the five core products are performing as promised. There are still some areas, such as floor waxing, where further investigation is needed before switching over to effective, greener products.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Recycling gets a boost at Lesmill

OPSEU is in the process of rolling out a new recycling at head office. Through OPSEU's Building Services, we have contracted with Wasteco to pick up all recyclables except fine paper (which OPSEU already sells to another company). All cans, bottles, cardboard and other paper will be collected in one large bin that will be picked up by Wasteco when it is full. Wasteco then takes the recyclables to their plant where they are separated and sold.

Given that most, if not all municipalities have not established office, commercial and industrial recycling programs, the onus is on each organization to develop their own plans. This is both ineffective and inefficient. Clearly more needs to be done establishing provincial benchmarks (and support) for expanded recycling programs.

The remaining challenge at Lesmill will be food waste, aka green bin material. This will continue to end up in the garbage until a solution is found.

While recycling solutions need to be found for each of OPSEU's offices and membership centres around the province, one thing that we can do now is to reduce waste and reuse items such as plates and cups.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Solar electric rickshaws (Soleckshaws)

India's humble rickshaw goes solar

A state-of-the-art, solar powered version of the humble cycle-rickshaw promises to offer a solution to urban India's traffic woes, chronic pollution and fossil fuel dependence, as well as an escape from backbreaking human toil.

The "soleckshaw", unveiled this month in New Delhi, is a motorised cycle rickshaw that can be pedalled normally or run on a 36-volt solar battery.

Developed by the state-run Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), prototypes are receiving a baptism of fire by being road-tested in Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk area.
Having spent a few months in India back in 1980, I can tell you that these rickshaws will be highly popular.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Support the Sunshine Walk - protest Harper' inaction on climate change

This October 4, a group of like-minded people began a walk with friends from Toronto to Ottawa to deliver our message, and yours on climate change solutions. Please join us along the way - share your vision of the best solutions or what you or people in your community are already doing to make the shift away from dirty energy.
For those of you in the Ottawa area, the Sunshine Walk will be arriving in Ottawa on Monday, October 20th. Join the Sunshine Walkers for a demo at the PM's office:

Monday October 20th
Prime Minister's Office
Elgin at Wellington

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What next?


With the federal election now over, it doesn't look like too much will change on the green front for the next couple of years. As noted a couple of weeks back on this blog, climate change was sidelined in the campaign by financial woes. "Canadians have spoken" or some might lead us to believe - and that Harper's re-election is both a vindication of his approach to climate change and an indictment of any other plan to do something else.

The planet must be looking at us now and rolling their eyes after some of the shameful , stalling maneuvers Harper & Baird have pulled on the world stage. "How could Canadians have put this guy back in the driver's seat?", they may be asking. Well, the details can be left up to the pundits but at the centre of all this lies the need for electoral reform - for proportional representation - for more democracy. If polls are right and the majority of Canadians want concrete efforts made on the environment, why do we keep ending up with ineffective or even hostile governments?

The election has changed nothing in terms of the challenges that we face. The more we learn, the worse the story gets. And at the same time, there are good news stories from far and wide - some small - some massive. Some say we're in a race for time but that there is room for hope. So let's share those success stories.

So in terms of "what next", I'm having another look at "Tomorrow Today: How Canada can make a world of difference." This report was produced by 16 of Canada's largest environmental groups including The David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, Environmental Defence, WWF, Pollution Probe and the Sierra Club. I recommend that everyone have a look at it as a reminder and helpful tool for prioritizing the hard work ahead.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don't forget to vote today

Just a friendly reminder!

Monday, October 13, 2008

How to get rid of Stephen Harper


1. Open a new file in your computer.
2. Name it 'Stephen Harper'.
3. Empty the Recycle Bin.
4. Send ‘Stephen Harper’ to the Recycle Bin.
5. Empty the Recycle Bin.
6. Your PC will ask you: Are you sure you want to delete 'Stephen Harper?'
7. Click 'Yes.'
8. Feel better?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Orphan Voters

"Please sir, I want some democracy."

Are you an Orphan Voter? A democratically neglected and abused citizen who yearns to be represented in Parliament, only to be spurned because your vote elects no one?
An interesting initiative from Fair Vote Canada.

Orphan Voters

And you can win money - up to $1,000 if you can
predict the number of Orphan Voters (people casting votes that elect no one) across the country, in your own province and in your local riding.

Monday, October 6, 2008

World Habitat Day

World Habitat Day Message: Harmonious, Greener Urbanization

By the end of this year, more than half of the world's population will live in urban areas for the first time in human history, and it is no coincidence that climate change is now at the forefront of international debate, the top United Nations habitat official said to mark World Habitat Day...

The theme of this year's World Habitat Day is "harmonious cities," and the global observance this year is being led from the Angolan capital, Luanda...

Of the world's 6.7 billion people, there are now more than one billion urban slum dwellers Tibaijuka said, emphasizing the need to ensure that rapid urbanization is accompanied by decent living conditions and efforts to preserve the environment.
In a related story, the world's mammals are in BIG trouble with up to a quarter of species facing extinction.

World mammals on the brink, study finds
The most exhaustive study every undertaken on the future of mammals, the broad family of animals to which humans belong, has found that more than a third of all marine species and a quarter of those living on land are at risk of extinction.

The researchers - who are publishing their results in the current issue of Science - found that the larger the size of mammal, the more likely it was to be facing a perilous future...

Habitat loss and hunting are by far the main threats for land mammals, the study says, although marine species are also being affected by chemical pollutants, climate change and mortality through ship collisions and entanglement in fishing nets.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vote for environment

A number of people have brought this anti-conservative "strategic voting" website to my attention so I thought I would share the link. Please note that OPSEU has not endorsed this initiative. If you are considering voting in a way that will help to either boot out a conservative incumbent or prevent the ascension of a new conservative, this site provides up to date polling information and recommendations.

Vote for Environment

What we're all about was designed by Canadians who believe what the vast majority of the world’s scientists have told us. That we are out of time and we must start to reduce our fossil fuel pollution now to save the planet from dangerous climate change.

We believe that the Harper Government’s collusion with the Bush White House to obstruct progress on climate change at recent international summits does not reflect how Canadians want their leaders to behave on the world stage. The Harper and the Conservative Party are simply not in step with what scientists say is needed, with Canadians' concerns, and with economic benefits of dealing with climate change.

Please note that strategic voting does not mean voting Liberal anywhere and everywhere - especially, but not limited to ridings where there are NDP incumbents.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Retrofitting apartments

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a workshop organized by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and the Greater Toronto Apartment Association (GTAA) on the topic of retrofitting apartment buildings. While OPSEU doesn't operate apartment buildings, we do have many members who work in building maintenance and trades for different employers.

So what did I learn?

The session was kicked off by Brad Butt from thhe GTAA who came at it from the perspective of landlords who hoped to improve their bottom line. He argued that energy efficient buildings have a higher resale value than energy hogs. He talked a bit about the challenge of retrofitting while residents are still living in the building. Utilities now comprise about 1/3 of an apartment buildings cost - a big change from the days of cheap oil, natural gas & water. He had positive comments about Toronto Mayor David Miller's plan to support the retrofit 1,000 buildings in Toronto.

Tim Stoate from the TAF was up next. His main point was that the business case for retrofitting was very strong because these capital INVESTMENTS (not costs) were paid back in fairly short order. So not only is the money recouped but the property value increases and further income is generated after the payback period. And of course, energy usage & greenhouse gases are reduced. He suggested that these investments can be made without raising rents.

The panel of speakers from both private and public highrise apartment housing suppliers were next. First up was Adam Krehme from the O'Shanter Development Company. Krehme has been involved with energy efficiency since 1980. He talked about changing technologies and the challenge of choosing the right ones. Another benefit from retrofitting and putting in measurement and monitoring systems was the credits that will be available in the future should a "cap and trade" carbon system be implemented in Ontario and Canada. Krehme stongly highlighted the necessity of:
1) Monitoring current use with reports that show hourly and even minute by minute usage of different types of energy and water. Monitoring - and setting a baseline - is the only way to be able to verify energy (and dollar) savings.
2) Upgrade building automation systems. Once the baseline is set, changes can then begin to be implemented.
3) Continued monitoring and review can determine if the systems are performing as promised by vendors. One of the weaknesses of organizations which implement improvements is that they do not regularly review the results.

Next up was Andrew Pride from the Minto Green Team. Minto was the first (and perhaps only) company to have an apartment building designed and built to The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. His first advice to building managers who wanted to improve their "energy planning" was to "understand your building" and to go into the basement and other places one might not visit. In his slide presentation, he showed "before and after" examples of new hot water boilers. Many of the inefficiencies of the old system were evident from the photos. Pride also talked about the relationship between retrofitting old buildings and designing new buildings and how the expertise is shared within his company. He identified the importance of communicating with and involving the operators in looking for more efficiencies and to allay their fears that new technology might imperil their jobs. His main message was "measure, measure, measure". He also advised of the importance of holding vendors feet to the fire so that the payoffs are the same as the promises made. He talked about "greenwashing" and that there are some vendors who make promises that they don't deliver on. He recommends building guarantees into the contracts.

Last up in this panel was Philip Jeung from the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC). OPSEU represents a number of workers at the TCHC in Local 529. Jeung noted that TCHC manages thousands of rental units which use about $100,000,000 a year in energy. Jeung outlined the steps for developing a business case including a feasibility study, risk assessment and environmental mandate. He reiterated the importance of setting an example because the TCHC is in the public sector. In addition to a variety of energy saving steps taken including compact fluourescent lighting, low flush toilets and high efficiency boilers, Jeung touched on some pilots TCHC is involved in for the production of clean energy.

All in all, it was a very useful workshop. Whether one is retrofitting an entire apartment building, house or office building, the same principles apply - Monitor, review regularly, develop information systems to measure & tweak and communicate.

Toshiba Expands Free Recycling Program

An interesting story. Not sure yet whether it applies in Canada.

Toshiba Expands Free Recycling Program

Toshiba’s Digital Products Division (TDPD), a division of Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., announced today that its free recycling program now accepts electronics that are not Toshiba products. TDPD, along with Toshiba America, has set a goal to recycle 12 million pounds of electronics by 2010 through the new program.
For more on the concept of "e-waste", check out Earth911.

Highway 10 repairs use "green technology"

Green Technology Used to Repair Highway 10

Five kilometres of Highway 10 between the Town of Flesherton and the Township of Markdale have been repaired using innovative green technology.

The process pulls up existing asphalt, treats and reapplies it. This
conserves both aggregate resources and energy.

The $1.5-million contract was completed by Cox Construction Ltd. of Guelph.
This is the same Cox Construction that was fined $200,000 in August 2008 in the death of one of their workers in an construction accident near Cambridge. While efforts to improve the environment are laudable, this underscores the importance of good corporate behaviour in all areas of operations - not just the environment. Hope that Cox will solve the "signal" problem that led to this tragedy.

Corporate bailouts

Note what a high priority rescuing Wall Street has become for both Republicans and Democrats. If only the same political will could be focused on the environment, things could have begun getting cleaned up a long time ago. How far do you think a trillion dollars will go toward fixing the environment? Instead, we'll be hearing very shortly about how nothing can be afforded except military spending and further bailouts. So much for the environment they will say. So much for social programs. The bankers must always come first.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ten 10 under-reported stories in US

Project Censored: The Top 10 Stories the US News Media Missed in the Past Year

I always enjoy seeing this list to see which of these stories I never heard about. Those will be asterisked. So here they are:

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