In my opinion, the privilege of driving allows us to consume excessively. Not only do we cover an obscene amount of green space with pavement and spew an alarming amount of toxic emissions guzzling gas but we also consume an amazing level of consumer goods because of how much we can fit and transport in a motor vehicle. A number of years ago, while discussing my desire to see more bicycle paths with a friend, he mentioned that he would prefer to see everyone return to just walking. Even the humble bicycle affords us more privilege than simply walking.
This statement really stuck with me. Whenever I make a purchase now, I consider how much privilege I am experiencing by taking that item home. Is it something that I could easily carry? How far must I travel with it? What mode of transport am I using? Would I buy this item if I couldn’t carry it or even cycle with it. Am I over-consuming? Is this purchase making a positive or negative impact on other people or the environment? Could I purchase something more sustainable? How will my purchase affect long term sustainability? The seemingly simple privilege of driving is interconnected to so many consumer choices and ultimately allows us to blindly consume more.
We buy bigger houses with bigger yards and fill them with more furniture and decor than we need. We fill our cars with large amounts of groceries of which over 50% will be wasted. In Canada, The average Canadian household spends $1700 on food that just gets thrown out. We travel to more places farther distances carrying with us large quantities of stuff including more gas consuming sporting goods such as ATV’s and boats that further pollute our forests and waterways. We pay big bucks to store our vehicles in heated spaces, meanwhile, whole segments of our society are struggling to find shelter and we demand free parking in front of our homes without a thought about how much of our tax dollars go towards maintaining those spots. We enjoy a huge amount of privilege and we owe a lot of it to the private automobile. Our city has been built to give driving priority.
In this month’s blog I want to write about transportation but not about the need for more options or more sustainable modes. I want to write about how the transportation we use also drives consumption. Reducing consumption is the one thing that humanity must do to mitigate climate change effectively. It doesn’t really matter if we convert everything to renewables and start driving electric cars exclusively if we don’t also reduce our consumption. I’m certain that some of you will disagree with my opinion, but that’s OK. At the very least, I hope my ideas will give you something to think about and will encourage you to investigate further and decide for yourself how you can best reduce your consumption and live a more sustainable life.
Let’s take a closer look at the privilege of driving and how it affects our consumption patterns. In Calgary, the private automobile is our preferred mode and as a result we enjoy low density with over 800 square kilometres of urban space. But all this space dedicated to cars comes at a cost financially, socially and environmentally. A large portion of our tax dollars go towards maintaining roads. In 2018, investment in highways and road structures and networks accounted for over one-fifth (22.5%) of total infrastructure investment in Canada. And that doesn’t include emergency services, healthcare, insurance and pollution costs which are also associated with maintaining such a car dependent system. Most new buildings and neighbourhoods have been built at a bigger scale to accommodate our private motorized system. They consume more water and power too. Streets are wider and designed with no grid system making it feel like you’re in the country. Sadly, it’s not very convenient for walking or biking. There is no place to put main streets in this type of layout so developers built adjacent shopping centres and strip malls to accommodate each neighbourhood. These shopping areas aren’t very pretty yet are conveniently designed for drivers only. Many suburban neighbourhoods have no sidewalks at all. Even if you wanted to walk, it might not be possible to do so safely. This encourages more driving and more shopping to limit the number of times you have to visit these busy, congested centres. We often buy more food than we can eat and much of it is spoiled before we get a chance to consume it. With the death of neighbourhood corner stores came an increase in food waste. It may seem more economical to stuff our vehicles with weeks worth of food but the unfortunate fact is that it has really increased consumption and waste.
We consume more processed food because it is so easy to drive right up to a window and order. We get less exercise and if we do make an effort to exercise many of us drive to a gym consuming even more fuel. We buy more health products to make up for unhealthy lifestyles and we consume more pre-packaged meals to save time now that we spend much more of it commuting. We justify buying larger houses far from work because the road system has allowed us to do that. The auto industry and housing developers haven’t given us many other options anyway. Many jobs in Calgary actually require a reliable car. We become debt slaves. Our children get thrown in the mix too. Parents mostly complain about unsafe roads as the main reason for driving them everywhere but then they too become part of the problem. Meanwhile, our kids are becoming unhealthy too due to lack of exercise and air pollution.
Calgary does offer a public transit system which may or may not be a convenient option depending upon where you live. Many of the newer neighbourhoods are such a long distance that the service doesn’t run often enough or locate stops at enough easily accessible locations. The C-trains offer fast direct service but, again, this is only convenient if you live close to a station. That said, there are many that get there by car, park at the station and ride direct downtown to save on parking costs. The system is pricey too.
My husband and I determined that it would cost more to buy monthly transit passes for each of us than to maintain insurance and fuel our car. I finished paying off my car loan years ago. If you have a car payment, it will likely be cheaper to take transit.
Regardless, I believe that public transit should be affordable enough to make it cheaper than driving in any scenario. There is no incentive to use the service if it costs too much. On top of the cost, transit infrastructure is mostly built in addition to and not in lieu of roads which means drivers still have access to the best routes even though it costs all of us extra in tax dollars to pay for all that additional transit infrastructure. A really good example of this is the BRT running from Inglewood to International Avenue. In my opinion, if we’re really serious about reducing emissions and getting people out of their cars we would put roads on a diet and build the BRT on existing infrastructure. Instead, we built a whole new bridge and widened 17 Avenue even more. This cost us close to $300 million. Vehicle traffic hasn’t been impeded at all by this new infrastructure. If anything, it’s more convenient than ever to drive this route. I have walked, rode my bike, travelled by bus and driven this route and I can tell you that drivers still get the priority.
I am not opposed to public transit at all, in fact, I believe that we should be making a much bigger effort to build more but if we are going to make an impact and reduce consumption we must give other modes like BRTs priority over vehicle traffic. It must be more affordable and convenient. It only makes sense to build it on existing roads both for the cost savings but also because it’s convenient – roads run where people want to go.
I am a critic of the SE route planned for the Green Line. Much of the route runs through empty land and when it does get close to communities, the proposed stations are not located within a convenient walking distance. Sure, communities might pop-up along this route in the future, but it won’t provide convenient service for those living there now. The north leg down Centre Street makes sense to me. So many people are ready and waiting to use this service. If we built it down Centre Street first, we’d have a guaranteed ridership to help cover the costs as well.
When we give priority to people in our neighbourhoods we automatically make our communities more walkable and safe for bike riders eliminating the need to drive as often. A walk to the bakery or produce market will be enjoyable. Since we’re walking, biking or taking transit, we’ll be picking up just enough groceries for the day. Without a car we won’t be buying more than we can carry which means we’ll be consuming less and wasting less. We’ll also be purchasing more from local shops. Local shops are more sustainable because they have a smaller footprint and they make more effort to stock local made items and employ people from your neighbourhood. We’ll be buying less but better quality and often local made. We’ll all be meeting more neighbours building stronger community ties. Young parents and our elders alike will be less isolated and experience more social interaction with regular walking or biking trips on their neighbourhood streets. If we’re driving less, we won’t need as much space to store cars. In fact, some of us might decide to not have a car at all, reducing the size of our homes we are currently demanding and allowing more density. This means we’ll have more tax dollars available to spend on parks, education, housing, healthcare or the arts.
In my own life, I have decided that a bicycle is my preferred mode of transportation despite the fact that walking is still more sustainable. It’s often faster than a bus and it’s far cheaper than my car. Plus, biking is emissions free. I only use my car when it’s absolutely necessary, for example I need to give someone with mobility challenges a ride, the distance is simply too far or I make a purchase too large to transport without a car. I have made it a habit to use my bicycle for all other travel. I grab groceries by bike, take my daughter to school by bike, visit friends by bike and go to meetings by bike. I have also made it a rule that I will not attend an event unless I can get there by walking or biking. I refuse to drive.
I don’t need a gym membership because I get on average 7 hours of exercise a week just riding my bike. I also enjoy it. It’s good for my mental health. I get to see beautiful parks, animals and watch the seasons change. I see people I know along my route and this helps me feel connected to my community. It’s also convenient to stop along the way and check out new shops, treat myself to an ice cream or try beer at a local taproom.
It’s true that I make more purchases overall but my consumption stays within a sustainable footprint of one planet. The average in Calgary is 4.8. That means that we would need 4.8 planets worth of resources to give everyone on earth the same standard of living as the average Calgarian. I purchase more local items and am less of a burden on our transportation system and our healthcare system. I pollute and waste a lot less too. Because I choose not to drive, I have limited my consumption on purpose. Sometimes it’s hard. I don’t enjoy riding in the wind or rain. But I wouldn’t enjoy driving in a car either. The bicycle is my happy compromise. I’m not driving but I’m not constrained by the limits of walking either.
It really makes no difference if you drive an electric car or put solar panels on your roof if you don’t also reduce your consumption. I have great hope that renewable technology will be an excellent tool to help us become sustainable but, we cannot allow the technology to fool us into thinking that we can keep up our current rate of consumption. I believe that by making an effort to drive less, we will consume less. I don’t expect Calgary to change overnight and I know that changing transportation priorities right now will be impossible for many of us. But, I do believe it is helpful to be fully aware of the consumer choices we make because driving is given the priority. Next time you choose to drive, please consider how necessary it is. Be sure to ask your community leaders and planners to invest in infrastructure to make a more sustainable alternative an easy choice for all of us. Let’s make people and our environment the priority and reduce consumption.
Calgary is food insecure. By insecure, I mean that many people in our communities are unable to secure adequate food supplies due to financial poverty. We don’t have a food shortage problem but rather a food affordability problem. Approximately 1 in 8 Canadian households is food insecure and that number is only increasing.1 in 6 Canadian children under the age of 18 is affected by household food insecurity. Often, the most affordable foods are the most processed and packaged leading to more disease like diabetes and environmental pollution. Considering that food is necessary for human life and maintaining health, it should be considered a basic human right just like clean drinking water and shelter. If it’s a human right, what can we do to make sure everyone has access to healthy, sustainable food? One way to ensure access is by growing our own and supporting more local farmers. Growing your own food is like growing your own money! Income plays a major role in food accessibility and that is true more now than ever. A majority of us are currently experiencing economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Growing our own food and helping others in our communities to do the same will help offset food costs.
At home, I grow a vegetable garden every summer. It’s easy to start planting seeds indoors in the spring and move them outdoors to beds or pots when it warms up. Since Calgary is colder, I tend to grow crops that I know are more resilient to cooler weather such as peas, carrots, lettuce, kale, chard, potatoes, beets, onions and squash. Throughout the year I also like to keep fresh herbs growing indoors and those include basil, rosemary, sage and parsley. I’ve also replanted the leftover hothouse lettuce roots with some success, sometimes regrowing an edible head of lettuce two or three times. I often harvest so many vegetables from my garden in late summer to early fall, I literally do not need to purchase any for a couple of months.
It’s also not very much work to grow a garden considering that you can grow hundreds of dollars worth of food in one little space. If you don’t have an outdoor space you’d be surprised how much you can grow in pots and window boxes on balconies. Don’t have any outdoor space at all? Try joining one of the more than 200 community gardens in Calgary. The city has also recently relaxed bylaws about growing gardens on city lands such as on boulevards and along green spaces beside sidewalks. Check out their helpful residential PDF guidelines.
Another way to increase food security is to consider eating a more plant based diet. Eating meat just costs more. Meat production drives the price up of all types of foods and leads to environmental damage including soil destruction and water pollution. Eating too much meat, especially processed meat, is not healthy for us and animals are often treated very poorly. Meat production requires huge quantities of feed diverting valuable land and water away from more sustainable and affordable plant crops for human consumption. We can get all the protein and fat we need from plant crops such as nuts, seeds and legumes. Did you know Canada is the world’s largest producer of pulses like dried peas and lentils in the world?
Eating within the seasons is also very helpful. When I was a child, mandarin oranges were a Christmas treat only. That’s because that was the only time when they were in season and available. Now they are grown all over the world year round. So many crops have become staples year round like strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce, but often they just aren’t as tasty as when they are in season. Forcing these crops year round means these foods are not as nutritious, they are often coated in chemical preservatives and their production and distribution causes environmental damage. Foods grown and eaten in season are also more affordable too.
As I have been adjusting my diet to be within season, I have found that I enjoy cooking and eating more. I look forward to fresh greens in the spring, cherries in the summer, squash in the fall and root vegetables in the winter. Having limitations has helped me be more creative and adventurous and maintain a varied and healthy diet. For example, I will roast a variety of root vegetables in the winter and make a spicy indian sauce to put on top. In the summer I might make a berry salad with fresh chopped mint from my garden. Often fresh fruit such as apples taste great in savory dishes as well. I have an Iranian friend that makes a wonderful savoury stew with rhubarb, often the first thing to pop up out of the grown in the spring.
Sourcing local food in season in Canada is pretty easy in the summer and early fall if you visit local farmers markets. In the winter and early spring it can be more challenging but there are many new options becoming widely available such as weekly food box subscriptions or local farm shares. Grocery stores have also begun doing a better job of sourcing and labelling local food in their stores. For example, Calgary Co-op displays a ‘local’ sign on all products that are local made so they are easy to find. I personally purchase food boxes from YYC Growers and Distributors. The food boxes are available for pickup at various locations around the city one a week. YYC Growers food boxes include a diverse medley of vegetables and other crops like mushrooms, honey and eggs from over 15 local farms. As a cooperative they are owned by the farmers that grow your food. Every week is different so you never get bored and can enjoy a healthy, varied diet. And of course, your purchases support your local farmers and help build food sustainability in Calgary and area. Recently, YYC Growers and myself have teamed up to offer a convenient pickup location at my shop in Victoria Park and Beltline. My shop is open every Wednesday from 1 pm to 7 pm for pickups. Be sure to place your order by the Friday before to Wednesday pickup.
Farm shares or CSAs are another great option. A limited number of members purchase a share of a farmer’s crop before it is grown each season. Each week during the season, the farmer delivers a share of great tasting, healthful food to predetermined locations where members pick it up. Farm share programs provide a direct link between local farmers and consumers. It also helps spread the risk around and often the farmers also partner with other farms in order to offer more variety like fruit. I purchased a farm share a few years in row and at the end of the season members were invited to visit the farm and pick all the remaining vegetables in the field. Some local farms to check out include Noble Gardens, Fresh and Local Farm Outlet, Lil Green Urban Farm.
One more very affordable option is Fresh Routes. Fresh Routes is an arm of Leftovers Rescue Food. Leftovers works with local restaurants, bakeries, grocers, and distributors in Calgary and Edmonton to ensure edible food is kept out of the landfill by redirecting it to service agencies and into the hands of those who need it most. Edible food is redirected with an army of volunteers from vendor organizations, service agencies, and community members. They are making sure good food gets eaten and stays out of our landfills! You may purchase a food basket through Fresh Routes for just $15. Each basket includes a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread and a selection of fruits and vegetables. Before the pandemic, Fresh Routes set up convenient pop-up grocery stores around Calgary, but now you need to request a delivery to maintain social distancing.
Finally, not only is local food more nutritious and affordable, but it is more environmentally friendly. Small farmers adopt sustainable, environmentally friendly practises more readily. They encourage more crop diversity, take better care of the soil, use less pesticide and produce tastier and more nutrient rich foods. Local food production keeps more local money in the community, often costs less than conventionally produced food, and helps build a sustainable farm community over the long term. Less mono-culture food production reduces food safety risks, and reduces the need for long-distance transportation potentially adding even more food contamination risk. Local farming also reduces air pollution. There are so many good reasons to support local.
Finding sustainable housing in Canada is a serious challenge. Not only is housing expensive but it’s also a pretty significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Most buildings, even today, still create far more pollution than they should. Sadly, there just aren’t that many sustainable options. But, there are a number of other things you can choose to do to minimize your footprint while still maintaining a comfortable home.
Location is probably one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a home. If you have children, living within walking distance to a school would be desirable. If you have a demanding job, you may want to live really close to work to minimize commute times. Others might want to live really close to a park for the outdoor recreational opportunities. If you suffer from any respiratory problems, you wouldn’t want to live too close to a major road. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us would like to live in a safe, walkable neighbourhood. For obvious reasons, inner city property is generally more valuable making housing costs more expensive. Sometimes, giving up the second car will make inner city living more affordable. Maybe you’ll decide you don’t need a car at all. These options all factor in to how sustainable your home will be.
As a child, I grew up on a rural acreage that required long car rides to get groceries and even longer bus rides to get to school. When I came to Calgary to go to college, I moved into an apartment is Sunnyside a block from the C-Train station and a Safeway. I loved it. Everything was at my finger tips. I didn’t even need a car and I was never hampered by the weather. Growing up on a farm made me feel isolated and trapped. Living in Sunnyside made me feel connected yet independent and free. I was never going to live in a suburb.
That said, suburbs aren’t inherently bad. It’s just that many of them are built unsustainably. Every neighbourhood should have a main street within walking distance. Those streets should include all the amenities you need. New homes built in these suburbs should be mandated to incorporate more eco friendly practises such as passive solar, solar electricity, solar hot water, wind power, better insulation, more multi-family dwellings, better use of land, better design, more compact layouts, rain-water collection, less lawn, more edible plants, less cement and more trees. They should also be built utilizing less toxic materials and with a lot less waste. Home builders are a big contributor of waste to Calgary landfills every year. Governments are finally recognizing the need to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and that means changing the way we construct, but many of these policies won’t be effective until 2030.
Homebuilders will only choose to use more sustainable practises when the market demands it or public policy enforces it. Your choices can have a direct effect on how our city gets built. For example, Jayman Homes now includes solar panels on all of its new homes. It remains to be seen how much grid demand will be offset by these installations but it’s a step in the right direction. Those solar panels help Jaymen Homes sell houses and it helps them stand out from all the other builders. If you choose to buy one of their homes versus another builder, you’re casting a vote for more solar power. Another policy change could include increasing the cost for waste. The more waste costs the more likely home builders will try and reduce their waste and adopt more sustainable building practises. Of course, that would apply to residential waste management too. By providing compost pick-up the City managed to reduce the amount of organic waste going to civic landfills by 46% in one year!
Figuring out how much space you really need is important too. Do you really need a living room AND a family room? How many kids do you have? Could you buy a bunk bed and better utilize the floor space in a smaller room? Will you really use a double car garage to park your cars or collect junk? Do you even want to own a car? Is a lawn necessary? Do you enjoy gardening? Maybe a townhouse might be a better option for you? Would you be happier in a condo near a park? Do you really need a yard? If you work at the airport do you really want to commute from MacKenzie Town? How long do you plan to live in one place? Is this a long term investment or do you see yourself moving in a few years? When it comes to sustainability, the smaller your home, the lower the footprint of your housing will be. Multi-family housing usually offers the lowest footprint of all.
I have lived in apartments ranging from 250 square feet all the way up to an 1100 square foot bungalow. And by today’s standards, that’s still a small house. I’ve figured out that I really don’t need that much space as long as I feel connected to the outdoors. I’ve lived in some pretty small homes but they have always included a small outdoor space where I could practise gardening. In some cases, it was a just a west facing balcony, but that was enough to make me happy. Smaller homes are also cheaper to maintain and heat. Smaller homes are more human scaled and feel cozier. Of course, some of this comes down to personal taste but even small spaces can be designed to look bright and open. A good interior designer can work wonders! If that’s unaffordable, I suggest visiting the library and finding inspiration in books and magazines based on successful projects that others have already completed. There are many publications that focus on small spaces.
Do you rent or buy? Across Canada, and especially in Calgary, buying versus renting seems to be the preferred option but I’m not convinced it should be the only option. It makes no sense to move far from work just to afford a house if you end up drowning in debt because you failed to factor in how much the extra car payment would cost you. Kristin Wong’s advice to look at buying a home as a ‘purchase’ rather than an ‘investment’ really resonated with me. Often, homes don’t make the best financial returns and if you rented instead you might save more money by putting your money in safer investments. It’s also important to do what’s right for you and not what others think you should do. In Calgary, there is a lot of single family housing and developers have done a really great job of selling the suburban dream to us. I often hear others say that if you don’t own a home you’re wasting your money or you’re just not very successful. When you rent you still get a place to live. Don’t try to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. Your neighbour might have a bigger, more beautiful house but that doesn’t mean they are more comfortable than you. The point is that neither option is good or bad. It’s just what makes economical and sustainable sense for you. Living sustainable isn’t about the pursuit of possessions but rather finding comfort in more simple living. In other countries renting is the norm. In fact, some families will rent the same apartment for generations. It’s important to understand that home ownership has been promoted by banks for decades as the best way to invest long term, especially for families. Banks would love to give you a mortgage but it may not be the best investment for you. I would explore all other options before deciding to buy a home
I was a homeowner at one time. In fact, I bought a duplex. So, I was a homeowner and a landlord. The duplex earned me a small return in the five years that I owned it, but I had no savings. Between unexpected expenses and the need for constant management I decided to sell it and go back to renting. I still live in a wonderful home, I have more disposable income to spend on other things like travel or entertainment and if something breaks my landlord has to fix it. I can’t afford to buy in the neighbourhood I want to live in but I CAN afford to rent in it. I have had many envious people ask me how I can afford to live where I do. They assume I bought my home. They are usually surprised when I tell them I rent.
Once you have found the right home for you, it’s unlikely to be perfect. You will probably need to make some simple upgrades to reduce your emissions further. Low flow shower and faucet heads are a great way to reduce water use. I would also suggest adding a rain water barrel in your yard if you need water for a garden. I hang dry most of my laundry. Your clothing will last longer too. I use a smaller folding laundry hanger to dry my stuff. When not in use, it fits in my closet nicely. We’ve switched all the light bulbs to LEDs. Softer, more natural lights are available now. Plus, the bulbs last for years of use rather than months. Use natural light from windows whenever possible and task lighting when not possible. The dishwasher and the washing machine in my home had to be replaced but we encouraged our landlord to buy refurbished appliances. Buying used is always better than new. Less resources are needed to refurbish old stuff compared the to the manufacturing of new items. This goes for home renovations too. It is always more sustainable to retrofit an old house to be energy efficient than it is to build a brand new one. Turn the heat down when you’re not home and at night when you’re sleeping. I also make an effort to unplug any appliances that I’m not using. Reduce your phantom electricity use and you could reduce your energy bill by as much as 10%. Use non-toxic vinegar and reusable towels to clean your home. Try not to buy anything that comes in packaging that can’t be recycled or composted. Compost all your food scraps, soiled tissue and pet waste.
When decorating, use low VOC paint or chalk paint. If you have old, single pane windows but can’t afford new ones, insulated curtains are an effective alternative. We built wooden valances over the windows to reduce heat loss even further. Curtains also help keep your place cool in the summer. Curtains make a great design element. Find furniture that fits your space. I’ve sold pieces that were too large for my living room and then used the earnings to buy smaller pieces that fit better, second hand of course. I’ve even bought vintage frames to display some of my favourite photos in. We spend a lot of time in our homes so I think it’s important to furnish and decorate it in way that let’s you enjoy the space. You can live in comfort and be sustainable at the same time.
You can’t buy love but you can buy local and that’s pretty awesome. In other words, every dollar spent at local businesses creates wealth and jobs in your community, sometimes even three to five times as much money as multi-national businesses. As for job creation, almost 70% of employees across Canada were employed by small businesses in last decade. To top that off, local businesses also purchase from other local businesses helping them to grow. This in turn, increases the local tax base which means lower taxes for everyone in the long run. With every local purchase you make, you are personally injecting an economic stimulus into the Calgary economy. We all benefit and that’s just the beginning.
There is a positive environmental impact as well. Small businesses usually set up shop along main streets, near neighbourhood squares or downtown, providing centralized variety which increases the community’s walk score much more than shopping malls do. This means less sprawl, traffic congestion, pollution and habitat loss.
Small businesses offer more unique products. The more unique offerings, the more character your community will have. Your community is defined in large part by the businesses that operate there. This plays a big role in your overall satisfaction with where you live and directly affects the value of your home and property. Character also draws more tourists. Tourism brings even more money into our local economy.
Competition is good for business and you too. Diversity leads to more consumer choice. With thousands of small businesses a community can ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term. Car manufacturers and furniture stores already know this. Have you ever noticed how they all set up shop close to each other?
Local business owners are people who live in your neighbourhood and are therefore more invested in your community’s welfare and future. They contribute more to local charities. They also require comparatively little infrastructure and more efficiently utilize public services relative to chain stores. Supporting smaller businesses will help lower your municipal taxes more than shopping at big box retailers.
Finally, you will receive better service from a small business. Small business owners hire people with more specific expertise and pay them more. You’re going to see these people around your neighbourhood and thus they will more likely to be helpful since they will see you day after day. Because these same employees live close, they will commute less which means even greater pollution reduction and less congestion. This is all community building stuff.
And it’s easy to do with your regular support. In my own life, I always try to make my purchases as close to home as possible. From the time I wake until I go to bed I’m supporting local small businesses. Sure, it’s a little more expensive up front but I know in the long run it will save me money. I buy local roasted coffee and tea from independent shops instead of chains, I look for bulk Canadian grown produce and usually cook from scratch. If I do buy prepackaged meals, I find them at local producers. Community Natural Foods carries a number of different options many of which are made in-house. Co-op does a great job of identifying local made products too. Local bakeries make the best bread and it’s always a special treat to a grab a loaf hot out of the oven. Sidewalk Citizen Bakery is one my favourites but there are many more excellent local bake shops.
I must admit that food makes up the bulk of my spending after shelter. I have learned how to spend those dollars carefully so as not to waste them. I used to make big shopping trips and buy too much. I ended of throwing out a lot of stuff out because it went bad before I had a chance to eat it. Now I only buy large quantities of stuff I use a lot of like olive oil or rolled oats. I buy from zerowaste refilleries such as nude market or The Apothecary (there are many more throughout the city). Not only does this reduce waste but you will enjoy a better price than pre-packed items. For everything else, especially fresh produce, I purchase from local grocers on my way home that day. In the summer, I have started buying a half farm share or food box. (Try YYC Growers or contact small local farms to find out what they offer.) I receive just enough fruits and vegetables for the week. Also, since I get to meet the farmers, I make an effort to use everything even it means I have to learn how to cook a new item. I don’t want to waste anything knowing how hard those farmers worked to put food in those boxes for me. This costs about $35 per week and is just enough to feed my daughter, husband and myself. This food is fresh, healthier, safe and creates less pollution than imports. Plus, it’s an investment in local food security not to mention the local economy. Buying food right in your neighbourhood also eliminates the need to drive. I pick everything up on foot or by bicycle. If we want the convenience of neighbourhood corner stores and grocers, we need to support them by buying stuff from them.
I could grab gifts from my own shop but I love the variety I find in others so I make an effort to support them on a regular basis. I want them to stick around too. Some of my most treasured shops include Outside The Shape, Steeling Home, Crafted Goods, Moonstone Creation and the Galleria. These shops all feature a variety of local made arts and crafts.
Same goes for sporting goods, the smaller the shop the better quality, selection and service. I have purchased several bicycles from Bike Bike over the years as well as parts and repairs from The Bike Shop, and ski accessories from Lifesport. There are many more independent shops to choose from all with unique specialties.
Books can be a bit trickier as many of the independent sellers have closed but Shelf Life Books is close by and I can usually find what I’m looking for at Fairs Fair Books. You can even trade in old books for credit towards purchases of new ones.
Support local artist and musicians by attending craft markets and buying tickets to shows at public venues. Calgary Folk Music Festival hall features many great performers and the popular New Craft Coalition art event. cSPACE is another great option. You can take a workshop or attend their popular Saturday market. Independent coffee shops like Gravity Café also feature live, local musicians every week and they hang interesting art by visual artists on their walls.
Luckily for my pocket book, I’m not a big shopper but from time to time I do have to buy new clothes or furniture. When I do, I prefer to frequent small consignment shops like Salvedge Boutique or Antiquaire Vintage Boutique and the ReStore for furniture. If I can’t find something there, I will search out stores that I know sell items made in Canada. Espy has a number of Canadian clothing brands at affordable prices. Revolve Furnishings is 100% Canadian owned with an assortment of Canadian made items.
Another way to generate local economic and environmental benefits is to try using a local currency. Consider joining Calgary Dollars. Calgary Dollars is a local currency that you can only spend with local members ensuring your dollars are staying in Calgary’s economy. Buy or sell digital or paper Calgary dollars for goods and services with friends, neighbours or businesses like mine. I currently take 100% Calgary dollars for all coffee bar drink purchases and 10% for giftware purchases. The more members and money circulating the higher percentage I’ll be able to accept. I can use my dollars to pay for part of my City of Calgary business license or to buy goods and services from other members for myself or my business.
If you’re an online shopper, consider checking out what local shops have to offer first. Many already have online shops. Plus, you can save the shipping cost by taking advantage of free pickup. Visit their brick and mortar locations to grab your purchase when it’s convenient for you.
With every purchase you make at a small business you are exerting your influence or “voting with your dollar” for a stronger more resilient community. Small businesses are much more effective at responding to your values and desires than big box stores will ever be. In my opinion, buying local is one of the single, most effective actions we can take to building and maintaining a vibrant, thriving, sustainable community. Keep in mind that most of the suggestions I have made here are in the neighbourhood that I live in. If you live an another neighbourhood, I encourage you to go for a walk or ride your bike and discover all the local places that operate close to your home. Support them. Love local.
It’s 2020 and the start of a new decade. We are seemingly paralyzed by the thought of climate change and unable to take any real action towards solving the inevitable. Because the climate crisis is finally becoming top of mind and we are all realizing that action must be taken soon, I’ve decided to start a database with articles and links to help us as consumers and game changers to start living sustainably without having to make a huge investment, just a desire to make a positive impact on Earth.
Even if we as a population completely switched over to renewable energy and recycled everything, the truth is, it’s still not enough to have a real effect on slowing climate change. We need to reduce our overall consumption of everything. However, it is a misconception that consuming less means giving up the comforts of running water or heated homes to live in a cave. It’s also not unreasonable to feel helpless trying to cut emissions while still driving to work so you can keep a roof over your head. But it is possible to live sustainably in comfort and focusing on reducing waste is a really great place to start. Over the last 8 years, I’ve tried to build a lifestyle and business with this as my main goal. Starting now, I will write an article each month with the tips and tricks I have acquired over the years of sustaining a comfortable lifestyle that does not exceed the maximum human footprint allowable to maintain a healthy planet. I hope that I can help you do the same.
I’ve built a career around waste reduction. My business specializes in recycled, upcycled and repurposed items diverting thousands of pounds of material from landfills. Landfills do not decompose and eventually toxic pollution from them seeps into surrounding soil and groundwater. Landfills also produce dangerous methane gas. Sadly, there are over 10,000 landfill sites across Canada and we produce more garbage per capita than any other country on earth. Waste reduction must include all forms and not be limited to just solids but liquid and gases too. We must reduce all of it.
At home, I try to repair stuff first before buying new. If I can’t repair an item I look for used items in good condition. For example, Kijiji, WINS and other second hand shops can be great places to find used furniture or clothing. So many items are available in brand new condition yet at affordable prices. It may not be new but it will be new to you and that’s pretty much the same thing. Just recently, I replaced a broken zipper on my down jacket. This was a much cheaper option that buying a new one. With a broken zipper, that jacket could not be donated and would most likely have ended up in the garbage. I just extended its usefulness by years.
Same as my shop, I also reuse as much as possible. Instead of buying new tupperware, I reuse glass jars and plastic food containers. I bring cloth bags to the grocery store for buying bulk produce. I make an effort to choose items with the least amount of packaging and when I see items over-packaged I always let management know that I won’t buy those items. Many restaurants will offer discounts if you provide your own take-out containers. Incentives like this will likely increase once the nation wide single-use plastic ban comes into effect. I maintain compost and recycling bins in my bathroom and kitchen and hang dry most of my laundry. If you must use a dryer, put dryer balls in the load to shorten drying time. There are now also a lot more places to purchase bulk, refillable zero-waste products ranging from home cleaning to body care. Depending upon which neighbourhood you live in check out Canary in Kensington, The Apothecary in Inglewood, Without Co in Mission or Nude Market in Victoria Park which just moved into my shop!
This past year, I have been experimenting with a plant based diet sourcing as much local produced food as possible. Not only is local safer and fresher but a plant based diet can produce a lot less waste than animal intensive farming. Plus, local produced goods don’t travel as far so transportation pollution is greatly diminished. I cook large meals at home so I can take the leftovers with me to work for lunch the next day. Sometimes, I can stretch the meal over several days so I don’t have to cook at all. If you can’t find fresh, locally produced fruits or vegetables in season, frozen are a great option. It’s also very easy to preserve fruits in the summer for use during the winter. Canned fruits are a tasty treat when you can’t find any in season. Some fruits and vegetables last for months in the fridge. I’m still eating carrots from my garden that I harvested last November.
In the garden, I use hand tools instead of power tools wherever possible. A grotesque amount of oil and gas is leaked in non-point spills in backyards filling up mowers or snow blowers. The EPA (Environmental protection Agency) estimates at least 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled annually just filling lawn mowers in the USA. That is a staggering amount of pollution that could easily be eliminated simply by switching to hand tools. You could even go one step further and eliminate grass lawns all together. Plant native species or food varieties instead. Take advantage of tool lending libraries like the one in Bridgeland. In the future, I hope to see tool lending libraries and repair cafes hosted in every community centre in Calgary. It should be standard.
Although, I do have a car, I rarely drive it. I walk or ride my bicycle to most destinations. Not only are these modes the most economical but they keep me fit and healthy and do not pollute the air. For longer distances I take public transit. I use my car only as a last resort or to travel long distances such as travel to other cities. A few years ago, I invested in a cargo bicycle and this bike has proven to be invaluable. I use it for both work and pleasure. Last year, my summer vacation was a bicycle camping trip on my cargo bike!
I live close to work. You can really shorten the amount you commute by simply living closer to work. It’s also helpful to choose a community with lots of amenities within walking distance. This means you might have to live in a smaller home in order to afford a place in a more convenient location. But living in a smaller home also decreases your footprint and it is much more economical to maintain over the long term. I grew up on a rural hobby farm but, since moving to Calgary, I have always lived in the inner city. I have found that a smaller home is worth the convenience of having everything located close by. I never have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or paying for parking.
To further reduce my impact on the environment, I am careful when choosing what type of recreation I participate in and where. I try to live within the seasons. For example, I enjoy swimming in the river in the summer and take advantage of outdoor skating rinks in the winter. When my daughter was younger, we chose activities close to home or carpooled with other families.
Which charities you choose to support also make a difference. I donate to local charities that make a direct impact on individuals in my community and I also give preference to those that are very clear about what the money I am donating is spent on. One of my favourite charities is Two Wheel View. This organization, located in Sunalta, teaches disadvantaged children how to repair bicycles. The children receive their own bicycle when they complete the program. This charity relies on cash and bicycle donations to operate, but in return, it helps disadvantaged children learn valuable skills while recycling and making use of active transportation. All things that I support.
Check back next month when I go into even more detail about how to live sustainably in comfort. Every month this year I’ll go in depth and explore topics such as local economics, food, transportation, housing, recreation, gardening, vacationing, clothing, community, gift giving and charities.
At Reworks, we take customer opinions seriously. We have heard from some of you that you believe our markups are too high and that prices on recycled products are out of reach for many people. Some also find it odd that recycled goods made from free materials can seem to cost more when the whole concept is to get more people to buy reused and recycled goods.
You’re right! Recycled products can cost more but I can guarantee that my mark-ups are way less than on standard imported goods. Even though many of the materials used are free, the cost to process those material can be expensive and it can take quite some time to build these beautiful items.
For example, the seatbelt bags that I carry, are made by an independent Canadian maker named Trevor Kehler of U.S.E.D. He doesn’t just receive the seat belts all clean and ready to sew at his doorstep. Trevor has to go find them. He has to spend a lot of time working at auto wreckers hand cutting the belts out himself. He then must transport them to his studio (over 5000 pounds of them last year alone) and then wash them before he can even begin sewing his bags. In addition, he is still charged a fee by the auto wreckers despite the fact that those belts would likely end up in the landfill anyway. Trevor hand makes all his own bags and has made a major investment in skills training, equipment and studio space to do this. This is not a large scale assembly line operation. He can’t compete with offshore labour either.
So, when you decide to buy a seat belt bag from my shop, you are paying for what it actually costs to make the bag and to support the independent maker and my shop. There is not a lot of room for profit but it does help independent Canadian business owners, like Trevor and I, make a sustainable living. You also have a great story to tell when someone compliments you on your item!
When you buy local, you’re keeping the dollars you choose to spend in your community. Yes, the products may be a little more expensive but there are no hidden costs like there are with imported products. Further, your dollars also keep your community clean and sustainable – keeping more stuff out of the over 10,000 Canadian landfills, avoiding air pollution associated with transporting goods from overseas and reducing the tax dollars that go to supporting waste infrastructure. When you think of all these benefits, locally made products are quite a steal!
Natalie Gerber is a contemporary textile designer making handcrafted goods in Canada. She embraces an ethic of environmental responsibility, with a passion for community initiatives in support of sustainable futures.
Her initial work encompassed a variety of fashion accessories ranging from clutches and shoulder bags to belts and totes. Natalie has since changed her focus with the development of her own textile design studio where she has created a successful line of soft furnishing and décor. Her change in focus has left her with a limited selection of inventory that does not fit with her new work. Reworks Upcycle Shop has happily acquired this inventory! Her unique accessories upcycled from vintage fabric, leather and suits are now available through our online store. These pieces are one-of-a-kind and are the very last upcycled fashion accessories made by Natalie Gerber. Check them out before they all gone.
Natalie Gerber studied at The Natal Technikon, in the Fashion Design program, Durban in South Africa. After immigrating to Canada her interests in textiles and design developed while studying classical tailoring and couture design under Calgary designer Mithè de Fontenay. Enrolling at the Alberta College of Art & Design, Natalie earned a BFA Degree in Fibre/Textiles in 2003, and later in 2007, a post-graduate Certificate in Creative Pattern Cutting for the Fashion Industry, from the London College of Fashion in London, England.
Natalie’s Inspiration in her own words:
“As an artist, designer and maker I am inspired to create functional design for everyday living. While craftsmanship is important to my creative process, so too is function. I combine my love for illustration, surface design, clean lines and hand-printed fabrics with conscious material choices and in-studio practices.
While my studio focus is on boutique textile printing I am further motivated by interdisciplinary and cross-cultural collaborations. Creative alliances provide opportunities for knowledge sharing that I believe contribute to rounding out my experience as an artist and designer.
This ethos has extended into my studio practice through special projects with a social responsibility – most recently collaborating with a group of artists to develop imagery for print in the township of KwaDabeka. Located outside of my hometown of Durban, KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. This fair trade opportunity has inspired me to further explore community initiatives that support sustainable futures.”
The fashion accessories now available at Reworks reflect Natalie’s earlier work but still encompass her desire for functional design and her focus on sustainability.
Cardboard Safari makes its home at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville, Virginia. Inspired by the landscape that surrounds them, they celebrate the union of art and technology, joining imagination and fabrication to make beautiful sculptural forms for your home. Their goal is to make neat stuff, fun products that foster an appreciation for the natural world.
Creativity, conservation, and collaboration are paramount to their mission. Meticulously developing products on the computer and cutting precision parts on the laser, their designers strive to meld simplicity and sophistication in their sculptural works of art. The consumer has an opportunity to participate in the creative process by slotting together and embellishing the final forms.
Some people find the idea of a cardboard animal head shocking. It is important to note that they adamantly oppose poaching and support wildlife conservation efforts. They also support responsible food hunting. A lively addition to your home or office, the animals in our collection have unique personalities. The intention behind our animals is to celebrate life on earth, to raise awareness and respect of all living things.
There is a little something for everyone – the hunter, the hipster, the aesthete, the child, the executive, the artist. These delightful topographies help people get in touch with their inner crafter, their sense of humor, and their sense of place. At Reworks, the top seller is Bucky the Deer followed closely by Billy the Bison. You can also find a unicorn and an warthog! Cardboard Safari products make great gifts as well as a fun addition to a cabin. Check out our Decor section for more ideas.
These trophy heads are vegan. Designed by a team of thoughtful artists, each product is developed from a sense of awe and admiration. The cardboard used in their products is recycled and locally sourced. All of their products are locally manufactured by a small staff in our Charlottesville shop. They keep their footprint in mind every step of the way.
They are also proud to say that all of their products are Made in the U.S.A.
They are a small business, employing less than twenty people, and all of their products are manufactured on site in our Charlottesville shop. Their recycled cardboard is locally sourced. They know how important it is to support the local economy and to provide jobs in our community.
Because they are not sending assembly work overseas, they know exactly what goes on in their shop. One thing is for certain, there is no child labor (though they do have a child like enthusiasm for their products)! Their employees are paid a living wage.
The Cardboard Safari crew is treated with fairness and dignity. This fosters care for the work they do. Employees are not trying to meet quota and so Quality over Quantity prevails.
From Cardboard Safari hands to yours, they create clever products with a personal touch!
Could our fascination with the look, feel and resiliency of leather ever get surpassed by something even better? It’s starting to seem that way, with companies like Green Guru’s shiny, supple bags made out of bike inner tubes! They function magnificently, and divert an ideal material.
Interestingly, fashionista inspirations were not the only way this company found it’s footing, even though they look so good. It was the rugged sports of mountain biking and racing that founders Davidson Lewis and Justin Dougherty were regularly hitting the trails and popping tires on that they felt like there should be another way to put that rubber to good reuse. Lewis, with an industrial design background, started creating bags out of inner tubes and truck liners. Available tires are more than abundant, so they can select the ones that are in particularly good shape, and avoid any that have been patched with lime or have too much chalky residue.
Based out of Boulder, Colorado, there is a huge emphasis on keeping their company local. They contract an industrial sewing company that is only a few miles away. New designs are always being tested for ergonomics and for fastening to different parts of a bike, or wearing on the body while easily being able to remain active. One of the benefits of working so closely with their manufacturer, is an ability to maintain a high level of quality in their new products. Jezryl Castelo explains, “we can change something if it needs to be fixed. It’s not like if it’s being made in China, where you get a big batch, but you can’t just go over there and be like, ‘hey we need to switch this up’ it [would be] a 3-4 month turnover.”
The company keeps up with a lot of events and stays at the forefront of the bike and sustainability community in their city (and many others!). After 8 years of mastery, they’ve started to expand out into some interesting new lines. Certainly, people like bags for a lot of different areas of life, so while the bags for cyclists are very technical, they have now launched a sister company called Green Goddess, which features designs that are more like clutch purses and things for use in more specific situations.
Additionally, some of Green Guru’s latest bike bag designs have instead been utilizing vinyl banners from events, which feature cropped glimpses of patterns and imagery that makes each piece unique and imbued with a story all it’s own. They even come in an insulated cooler bag style that can fasten to a bike frame. All of the designs are also fairly water-resistant!
Whether you’re into mountaintop picnics, a night out on the town, commuting by bike, or extreme sports, they’ve got you covered and looking great, with a bag or accessory that can outlast them all, looking sleek in the most rugged conditions.
We just love to enjoy a cool beer with warm company, but the masterful glassblowers at Artech Glass studio have taken it to the next level, by turning those empties into beautiful new glasses! Last year they diverted over 15,000 beer bottles from the landfill by transforming them into fun tableware.
So many people have been good about recycling their glass over the years, that there is actually a huge stockpile building up in storage. We usually think of it being melted and turned into new glass products, but it’s not really the case. If bottles from different companies were to be melted and mixed, the glass would shatter as it cooled – they have to be identical. Some glass is crushed and used in asphalt, or empties can even be taken back to a beer store, who will send them to the brewery for refilling, but only a few times, and the brewery has to be in the same province. Glass is an ideal material for other types of re-use instead, and Artech is famous for just that!
Commonly, the original brand of beer is still evidenced in the new cup, which is great for picking out our trusty favourites! Many companies, like Steamwhistle and Corona bottles, have fired-on labels that remain intact at high temperatures, while others like Sleeman and Heineken have raised text. Artech has also just unveiled a new line called ReBeer, which features their own signature surface decoration, as well as coasters and straws. Sometimes they do custom work, like awards and unique commissions. We spoke to co-owner Jennifer Wanless-Craig, and she shared a fond memory of a person who asked for a vase to be made in the shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head!
The setting that all of their work is made in is also pretty amazing! As though a normal glass-blowing studio wasn’t thrilling already, theirs is in a ghost town! Residing in Tory Hill, Ontario, they live and work out of what used to be a church, which they bought and renovated from it’s previous use as a store. About 15 minutes from Haliburton, it was a bustling community in around the 1920s-1940s with a dairy, many cheese factories and a mill. There was a general store with a gas station but it burnt down in the ‘90s. It’s a beautiful place, with a playground, a lake, and Artech working their fiery wonders by the main intersection where passers-by head to cottage country. This helps them to be more eco-friendly in some other ways, like shipping their products wrapped in old newspapers and egg cartons from a local diner, in old banana boxes. “We use what’s local!”
Last year some of their creations appeared in the Mortal Instruments movie, and recently they were even approached by a company who wants to build a glassblowing studio in Rwanda! Come in and check out their glasses and other inventions at ReWorks, and then pass the story on over a cool one with friends.
Adrian Martinus Custom Woodworking is the Calgary, Alberta based studio/workshop of brothers Adrian and Martinus Pool. Working primarily with rescued and reclaimed wood, the duo creates unique furniture and creative objects such as their very popular rolling pins. Their claim to fame is their colourful use of reclaimed skateboards.
Growing up on the Canadian Prairies – on an acreage outside Red Deer, Alberta – woodworking has always been a Pool family affair, as their grandfather was a seasoned wood turner. In spending time by his side as children (while Grampa worked on projects), they gained early exposure to the creative potential of wood and the intoxicating smell of wood being cut. After a neighbour’s son built a skateboarding ramp, their skateboard and carpentry obsessions merged and grew. They couldn’t bear to see the beautiful laminated wood of damaged skateboards simply discarded; and as carpenters they were troubled by witnessing so much quality wood being discarded as construction waste. By 2014, they had formed their own company to focus on designing with rescued and reclaimed wood. Martinus attended film school before pursuing carpentry, bringing his keen eye for aesthetics and a creative perspective to each piece. Coupled with brother Adrian’s insatiable appetite for precision and endless gumption, their furniture designs reflect both a refined sense of artistry and a commitment to quality craftsmanship.
Adrian and Martinus believe that rescued and reclaimed wood furniture can be sustainable, modern, well-designed, and of the highest quality. Whether they are working with aged barn boards, recycled gymnasium flooring or broken skateboards, they embrace the limitations of the material and develop innovative techniques to find the unique potential in their materials.For example, skateboards are made of seven dyed maple veneers and every skateboard manufacturer has slightly different shapes, contours and colours for their finished boards. The inconsistencies, variation in condition, and very limited supply of this material encouraged the brothers to develop (beginning their R&D in 2011) a unique design and build process in which every part of the skateboard is used – from the surface griptape to the sawdust remains. For the brothers, every piece has a depth and personal connection. They’ve collected the wood materials from a variety of sources, built up the smaller cuts and pieces into workable forms, and considered every contrasting grain and pronounced element. Manipulating line, colour, structure and form results in their unique and multilayered design style. The emerging graphical forms in their furniture designs suggest influences from modernism and cubism. Community-building is also an important influence on their approach to design, with the brothers regularly connecting with other designers and craftspeople through local design collectives, a well as ongoing networking with skateboard retailers, builders, farmers and renovators to maintain their supply of unique and storied material. While Adrian Martinus Custom Woodworking is a relatively young firm in the furniture design industry, the evolution of their work has demonstrated a constant progression and demand for their designs is steadily growing.
You can find Adrian Martinus’ products right here on this online store and at Reworks Upcycle Shop’s location in the Calgary Farmer’s Market.
Alora Boutique jewelry is handmade in Calgary, Canada using recycled materials. Alora typically works with recycled brass that is created using a technique called loss-wax casting. Each piece of jewelry has been created with a symbolic and positive meaning attached to it – love, forgiveness, family, and believing – so that you can be reminded of your values and your intentions each time you wear it.
Currently, Alora only works with recycled brass using loss-wax casting but plan to launch a new recycled silver line this fall. In order to work with silver, Alora needs to learn new techniques and invest in different tools.
To help fund the launch of the new silver line Alora has started a BoostR campaign to fund the expansion. Alora be using a portion of the money to create this new line as well as give back to disadvantaged women in Calgary. The new silver line will help Alora meet customer demand and provide an additional stream of revenue. This additional revenue will help expand their current social programs and help Alora achieve long-term plans of employing disadvantaged women.
Find out more about Alora Boutique at www.arola.ca