Walking the Enviromental Talk

One step a day

Walking the Enviromental Talk

Vanessa Farquharson, a Canadian journalist, has been thrust into the environmental spotlight by her blog, Green as a Thistle, and her vow to go green for a year.

It’s one thing to talk the talk; it’s quite another to walk it. What would you be willing to give up to save the environment? Paper napkins? Takeout food? Cable TV? Refrigeration? Driving? Vanessa Farquharson has given up all of these things for a year, at least.

Farquharson, a journalist at the National Post in Toronto, has been thrust into the environmental spotlight by her blog, Green as a Thistle (greenasathistle.com). Though becoming an enviro-blogger was not her goal, Farquharson’s Green as a Thistle is listed on the Best Green Blogs website and is profi led on TreeHugger, the self-professed “leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream.”

The premise behind her “interweb thing,” the geek-free term Farquharson prefers over “blog,” is her vow to make one environmental change every day for a year. If coming up with 365 green ideas isn’t challenging enough, the choices she makes are cumulative; whatever change she makes each day she must honour for the entire year.

For example, Farquharson’s first pledge was to switch to recycled paper towels. Not only did she honour that commitment but on day 109 she gave them up entirely. Farquharson hopes to prove that “being an environmentalist doesn’t necessarily require massive change, compromise, or Greenpeace levels of dedication–it can be simple and inspiring.”

Embarking on a Green Year

Farquharson created this challenge as a way to incorporate her increasing environmental awareness into her life. An organic farm wasn’t a feasible option for a young, urban, career woman, so she asked herself, “What can I do with the scope that I have?”

She came up with the idea of Green as a Thistle, a witty take-off on “clean as a whistle.” She also writes a weekly column in the National Post entitled “My Green Year,” which records her environmentally supportive lifestyle alterations.

The changes Farquharson chronicles daily in her blog include large-impact changes as well as many smaller ones. She acknowledges that “a lot of times I don’t feel it’s making a big difference, but then I remember all the people reading my blog.”

When she began her blog in February 2007, she thought that no one would read it; now she estimates it attracts 1,500 readers. What endears her to readers is her wit, humour, and the inspiration she provides to others to make green changes in their own lives.

Farquharson writes: “We should all be taking baby steps toward greener living, but sometimes it’s the biggest things that are the easiest to give up. We ’re brought up to place great value in things such as cars, fridges, and dishwashers, yet these really aren’t as necessary as they seem.”

Tough–and Not-So-Tough–Trade-Offs

When Farquharson reached day 30 of her green year, she decided to leave her car parked in the garage on weekends and take public transit or ride her bike instead. On Day 117, she took the major step of selling her beloved Volkswagen Beetle. Farquharson says she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders

Despite a ninety-minute transit trip or a two-hour bike ride to work, driving was not the most diffi cult thing she gave up.

What proved extremely diffi cult to give up was something that seemed so easy: Kleenex. On Day 20, Farquharson switched to old-fashioned cloth handkerchiefs–a change that made her “regrets” list several months later when she came down with a severe head cold. She dripped her way through hanky, cloths, towels, sleeves, and even cut-up bedsheets. In the end, she gave in and used a few squares of recycled toilet paper. “I’d rather buy Kleenex than another car,” she says.

On Day 50, Farquharson turned off her freezer. This was followed by unplugging her refrigerator. Helpful readers of her blog advised her to place fresh spinach in water to prevent it from wilting and that hemp milk keeps for three or four days at room temperature.

Not using her fridge doesn’t bother Farquharson as much as not using her oven. No more roasted veggies or warm, freshly baked cookies. Though she is serious about implementing her cumulative changes for the year, she may eventually be tempted back to her refrigerator or oven.

On the other hand, many of Farquharson’s changes will be easy to maintain, such as using reusable tote bags for shopping rather than plastic bags, buying organic cosmetic products and green cleaning products, and growing cherry tomatoes on her balcony.

Looking for Love in All the Green Places

One area where Farquharson has experienced diffi culty is in finding a signifi cant other with whom to share her new green lifestyle. On Day 180, she signed up at GreenSingles.com, a dating site for the “environmental, vegetarian, and animal rights community.” While she hasn’t met anyone yet, she has discovered some promising eco activities, such as Green Drinks International (greendrinks.org), a site where those who work in the environmental field can organize meetings for a beer, presumably organic.

The major benefi t of her experiment is the happiness that comes from simplifying her life. Farquharson states that “reducing your consumption makes you a happier person. It forces you to live more simply, to stop taking everything for granted.”

On a recent shopping trip, Farquharson could only watch as her sister made purchases, since she herself couldn’t buy items that weren’t organic or produced within North America (day 135’s pledge). The end result, though, was that she saved money by not buying things she didn’t need.

Implementing green changes takes thought, planning, discipline, and a sense of humour–they’re all part of walking the environmental talk.

My Green Memoirs

Farquharson is writing a memoir titled My Green Year, to be published in spring 2009 by Wiley Canada and by Houghton Miffl in in the United States.