Resolve to Be Green

Environmental action plan

Resolve to Be Green

Like most Canadians, you've probably started a list of changes you'd like to make for the new year. Why not try these green New Year's resolutions?

Like most Canadians, you’ve probably started a list–maybe just a mental list–of changes you’d like to make in 2009. Instead of, or in addition to, resolving to lose weight or stop smoking, why not resolve to be green?

Environmental consciousness is an international issue. Let’s make it a personal one, too, and help reduce Canada’s emissions of greenhouse gases, which rose 25 percent between 1990 and 2005, according to a 2008 Statistics Canada report.

January’s Diet Diary

It’s already a month for dietary changes, so why not add one more: eat less meat. A 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the animal agricultural sector–raising beef, pork, and chicken for consumption–emits nearly one-fifth of all human-induced emissions, beating out transportation as the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases. If going vegetarian all at once seems daunting, aim to introduce meat alternatives one or two nights a week.

Valentine Vacations

With winter hovering, February is a prime time to escape the blues, even if it’s only for a few days. But vacations also come with an environmental price tag. Try becoming a tourist in your town and make a weekend of getting to know local museums, new restaurants, galleries, and exhibitions. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what’s in your own backyard.

Or pick a regional destination and go by coach bus, the lowest-emitting form of travel. The highest transportation polluter: airplanes, followed by cars, trains, and then buses. Choose a hotel that makes an effort to be eco-conscious. Environmentally Friendly Hotels (environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com)and the Green Hotel Association (greenhotels.com) are good startingpoints for your search.

Greener Cleaners

Typical household cleaning products can contain ingredients that are toxic to you–and the environment. (See sidebar for a list of ingredients to avoid.) Ask at your local health food store about nontoxic cleaning products. Or make your own by downloading Environmental Defence Canada’s (environmentaldefence.ca) “Guide to Spring Cleaning” for recipes using Grandma’s favourite ingredients, such as baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice.

Planning Your Garden

Prepare your summer garden plan this month. Growing your own food gives you an excuse to enjoy fresh air, burn a few calories, and even save money. For every $1 invested, gardeners get a $6 return in vegetables.

Even a small plot, or some containers if you live in an apartment, can make a positive environmental impact by reducing food transport costs. Plus, studies show that gardeners tend to eat more vegetables and develop healthier eating habits, so kill two New Year’s resolutions with one stone, er, seed.

May Markets

While nurturing your own fledgling garden to life, head off to a nearby farmers’ market for the first of the year’s seasonal foods. Eating locally and seasonally stimulates the local economy, promotes regional crop diversity, and cuts back on “food miles,” the distance food travels from field to plate, which–for the ingredients of the average Canadian meal–is about 2,400 km.

Become Energy Efficient

Pre-summer is the perfect time to review our energy efficiency; energy production and consumption is by far the biggest source of Canadian greenhouse gases–accounting for 80 percent of emissions.

As a clothes dryer is typically the greatest energy-using appliance, hang a clothesline or buy a clothes rack, and rediscover the joy of sun-dried sheets. Inside, reduce air conditioning costs by installing a ceiling fan that cools due to a wind chill effect on the skin. For a full home or apartment analysis and energy-saving advice, visit bchydro.com.

A Water-wise Summer

Head into the heat of July with improved water smarts. Canadians use 340 L of water daily–twice as much as Europeans. In the summer our water consumption increases 50 percent due to outdoor uses.

Deep soak your lawn early in the morning to encourage a stronger root system. Put an empty tuna can into the line of spray; when it’s full, you’ve watered enough. And in your now flourishing vegetable or herb garden, you’ve installed soaker hoses, right?

August Eco-volunteerism

You’ve heard of a working holiday. Why not make it a green working holiday? The Land Conservancy of BC (conservancy.bc.ca) is just one association that organizes short holidays where participants can learn about sustainable farming, remove invasive plants, or participate in the annual TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup–so far, responsible for more than 1,200 volunteer litter cleanups across Canada.

Safer Supply Stock

With September’s sense of renewal, it’s time to tackle more toxic stuff. Buy acid- and chlorine-free paper; hemp notebooks and lunch bags; wooden rulers; organic cotton or hemp pencil cases and backpacks; certified nontoxic ink pens and markers; unpainted and Forest Stewardship Council-certified pencils; and stainless steel thermoses.

Read your newspapers and magazines online using e-subscriptions. Since we’re saving paper and resources, sign up for e-bills from Canada Post, and switch to online banking.

October Car Ogling

You may be wondering if your old clunker will drive you through another winter. When in doubt, scrap it using Canada’s national car-scrapping program, expected to be operationalthis month.

Roughly 5 million personal cars and trucks still on the road are pre-1996 and produce about 19 times more air pollutants than newer cars or trucks, according to Environment Canada. Incentives for turning in your old car include a public transit pass, a bicycle, membership in a car sharing program, and cash.

No to Junk Mail

No sooner is Halloween over than our mailboxes begin overflowing with pre-Christmas flyers and financial pleas. Save the trees and energy wasted by refusing that antiquated advertising by taping a “No Junk Mail” sign on or in your mailbox or mail slot, which Canada Post has said it will honour.

December Decluttering

Uh, oh. Here it is–perhaps the hardest tip of all: don’t shop this month. Statistics Canada reports that retailers sold $412.2 billion worth of goods and services in 2007, up 5.8 percent from 2006. The question needs to be asked: how muchof this stuff do we really need? Not as much as we probably think. Make money count by agreeing with friends and family to donate to a worthwhile environmental charity.

So there you have it–a year’s worth of tips. We can’t guarantee that you’ll lose weight, but after following these eco-resolutions, Canada’s environmental footprint (the third highest in the world) will hopefully be reduced, while you’ll definitely have a proactive attitude and leaner energy bills.

Toxic Cleaners

According to the Environmental Defence Canada website (environmentaldefence.ca), the following cleaning product ingredients are associated with a variety of health concerns, including cancer, hormone disruption, and immune and organ damage.

  • Benzene
  • Toluene
  • Ethylebenzene
  • Xylene
  • Methanol
  • Bleach/sodium hypochlorite
  • Fragrances
  • Formaldehyde
  • Naphthalene
  • Phosphoric acid

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