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  • 02 Sep 2020 3:44 PM | Sharlene Singh (Administrator)

    By Nicole Greig 

    This fall, I am starting my 3rd term at University of British Columbia (UBC) in the Behavioural Neuroscience program. The key thing I’ve learned in university is how essential taking care of your mental health is!

    Between the last minute scramble to answer questions on my exam to sprinting to a lab that started 30 minutes ago, I seldom find time to do anything to release my stress. 

    As a School Gardens Assistant with SPEC this past summer,  I had a job where I was able to find that much needed stress relief through gardening as well as  connect with the local community, inspire young minds through garden education and use my critical thinking skills! 


    Through gardening, I am able to take refuge in nature as my stress relief and use it as a space that increases my mindfulness by being present in the moment  through various tasks. For example, when deadheading calendula flowers, a seemingly repetitive activity,  I take in the sounds of birds chirping and feel the crisp air. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the phrase “stop and smell the flowers” uses the garden as a form of imagery to illustrate that sometimes you just need to take a minute to calm down, and take in what is around you. 

    I found myself doing this often at Riley Park Community Garden where we would teach day camps. I was in constant awe of my outdoor workspace. Not to mention, I would literally stop and smell all the beautiful flowers along the pollinator border of the garden. This feeling of stress release is not just a feeling, but it’s also backed up by science. One study shows that an increase in interactions with nature also increases the perception of your life being worthwhile, in terms of your behaviour and the activities you engage in (White et al., 2017). Another study that took place in the urban slums of Lima, Peru found similar findings. Not only did researchers find that after implementing urban gardens there was an increase in quality of life, but they also found that there was a reduction in threatening experiences, and increased social capital (Korn et al., 2018). 


    The study also showcased that having a garden especially in the neighbourhood, opens the door to conversations between neighbours and community members; cultivating a feeling of trust and reducing levels of stress and violence among citizens. 

    North of the equator, these findings hold up too. I find that working in the school gardens often sparks conversations with people passing by about what is growing in the garden, and the role SPEC plays in our community with urban sustainability. I’ve spoken to several people throughout my internship including, a mother and her two children walking by wanting to explore what is growing in the garden beds. This gave me an opportunity to share my knowledge on a certain vegetable, or let them smell the mint and take some home with them. Other times, I'll receive a question as to why the school has these garden beds, which will allow me to speak on the topic of garden education. It is through these seemingly simple personal interactions that I am not only able to build trust within the community, but also ignite curiosity, and compel further exploration in the world of gardening and food security.


    Working with children 6 - 10 years of age in a camp setting and in an outdoor classroom with a range of  personalities, I was keen to put my knowledge of Developmental Psychology to the test! 

    I assisted with delivering small activities and helping facilitate some of the lessons at Riley Park Community Garden which in a sense, involved problem solving too.

    Working with children has definitely been my favourite part of this job because I love to see the development of their personalities, and be able to foster a curiosity about gardening and nature that they may not have otherwise kindled. I watched children initially fearful of worms slowly warm up to the idea of holding one, and eventually not wanting to put them back into the soil.  I witnessed other children  return the following week  and tell me that they taught their parents what they learned about compost the week prior. Although it may appear  like you can’t get everyone's attention, or spark anyone's interest in the beginning, it is moments like these where I find it all worth it.


    Critical thinking involves the use of identifying, evaluating, reasoning, reflecting, and analyzing (Monash University , n.d.). These are all skills that can be applied to multiple areas in life. Just like any other skill, it takes practice to cultivate and improve. 

    Throughout my post-secondary education in the sciences, there has been one common trend that has been emphasized throughout all of my classes: The Manipulation of Variables 

    For instance, if you are trying to identify which part of the brain is used in memory, scientists can temporarily inhibit different parts of a rat's brain in order to see which manipulation will cause the rat to forget a route it previously learned. The part of the brain that is inhibited when the rat forgets its route can suggest that that is the area responsible for memory.

    This has many parallels to gardening. For instance, trying to find out why your plant is not growing in a certain spot in the garden, you simply manipulate the variables one at a time. This could include moving the plant from a sunny to a shady spot, increasing the amount of water it receives, or manipulating the nutrient content within the soil.

    This critical thinking and problem solving aspect is not one I would usually associate with gardening, but it is ever  present. 

    Similar to a lot of university students who are not in class for the summer, my brain tends to dive into a deep slumber, and only once in a blue moon do two neurons shake hands and allow me to experience critical thinking. But this position allowed me to both enjoy the great outdoors, and use my brain. 

    One of the great parts about gardening is the accessibility of it all. There are ample opportunities to get started right away both in your own home, or your local community. If you want to get involved with gardening or other environmental efforts in your community, you can find volunteer opportunities with SPEC

    For the home gardener, I recommend visiting the West Coast Seeds to access several resources that can aid your gardening journey in almost any way you can imagine.

    Happy gardening!


    1. Critical thinking. (2020, February 23). Retrieved from https://www.monash.edu/rlo/research-writing-assignments/critical-thinking#module_1.5_1456252
    2. Korn, A., Bolton, S. M., Spencer, B., Alarcon, J. A., Andrews, L., & Voss, J. G. (2018). Physical and Mental Health Impacts of Household Gardens in an Urban Slum in Lima, Peru. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,15(8), 1751. doi:10.3390/ijerph15081751
    3. White, M. P., Pahl, S., Wheeler, B. W., Depledge, M. H., & Fleming, L. E. (2017). Natural environments and subjective wellbeing: Different types of exposure are associated with different aspects of wellbeing. Health & Place,45, 77-84. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2017.03.008

  • 20 Feb 2020 4:12 PM | Sharlene Singh (Administrator)

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed in our guest content is theirs, and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of our organization

    Have you ever thought about reducing your carbon footprint? Magali Vander Vorst, a SPEC volunteer sits down with Holden Bonwit, an Engineer and Business Consultant on his experience trying to decipher his family's footprint and what he learned along the way. 

     Why did you decide to calculate your carbon footprint?

    I’ve been hearing about the carbon footprint concept… but I felt like it wasn´t my problem to solve; there wasn’t this magical one-button solution that would rectify your actions, so I put it off. The truth is that the perfect solution doesn’t exist.

    What I’ve done is not the solution to live in a carbon neutral way, but it’s a start. Our goal as a family and in sharing this story is that: it doesn’t need to be perfect to start…

    How did you start, and what were the hardest things to measure?

    I started categorizing the biggest offenders in our lives…one of which is air travel. I used a few of the online calculators for comparison…Once I got comfortable with the numbers I saw, I accepted how bad the actions had been [laughs].  I started getting into the smaller categories such as the impact of purchasing a new cell phone or a laptop.

    It is hard to get a quantified carbon footprint for those even if we know that the mining of the materials for those goods is destructive, that the transport of the materials uses fossil fuels and that handling of them is resource intensive (melting plastic, etc.). All that adds up, but I couldn’t find good studies for my summation, which was disappointing.

    Another example of hard-to-measure categories is around experiences. The screening of the film has a low impact, but the making of the film, in some cases, has a huge impact. Then, you get to this dilemma: How far do I want to take it. Is the carbon footprint of the film my responsibility because I am paying money to see it?

    I decided I couldn’t measure everything, so to avoid losing steam, I decided to double the big offenders and hope that would cover it. I’d be stunned if my flight times two didn’t cover that.

    We went back five years in our study, just because you need to pick a place to start. That was to understand our past behaviour.

    Once you knew your carbon footprint, what was the next step to offset it?

    First, we purchased carbon offsets such as programs to preserve old-growth forests and projects to plant new trees in an environmentally responsible way. 

    The second action, we decided to invest in environmental education actions such as SPEC’s, hoping this investment will help shift other people’s behavior in our own community. Similarly, we shared this report with our network, as an example for others on how to start taking responsibility for some of our actions.

    After learning about what actions generate a larger carbon footprint, what are the actions you take in your everyday life?

    While we do try to reduce our consumption (plastic straws come to mind) and reuse and recycle when possible, these actions get lost in the noise unless the one thing we do is reduce our flights. That’s the one thing we can do that has a much larger impact on climate change. 

    We also reduce single-use plastics, but that has an environmental footprint which affects global humans a bit less either in a local waste dump or as microplastics in the ocean. 

    As a family, although we are not reducing our flights to zero, we are making a conscious choice to reduce them overall… Now that we know …we can commit to offset them. And our goal is to improve every year.

    People must decide where they feel good taking action. For us, that starts by knowing where we stand and how we can improve on it.

    Would you recommend to using a calculator to find out the estimated carbon footprint, even if they are not ready to take action?

    Definitely! Just doing the exercise is helpful because you recognize where your impact is. 

    Often, one of the biggest categories of impact is housing. Heating and cooking energy often comes from fossil fuel sources (including here in BC).  However, some homes (and high rise apartments) have cooking and heating via electricity, originally powered by our electric grid which is quite clean from a carbon standpoint if you ignore damming the reservoir. For my household, heat and cooking ended up being well less than 1%. This is a big difference when you compare to other places that heat and cook with natural gas or coal that are fossil-fuel driven energies. In our case, housing is relatively small, and we wouldn’t have known that if we hadn’t done the calculation.

    What misconceptions have you found around carbon footprint?

    I’ve been very surprised, since coming to Canada on how people think of electric cars compared to gas cars. There was a study...that said that buying a Humvee (a huge fossil-fueled SUV) was better for the environment than an electric car because the manufacturing of the electric battery was very resource intensive… but had to share that this study has been fully debunked. There are many other studies that show it only takes an electric car a few months, maybe two years max, to compensate for the additional resources needed for the battery. We can also recycle the battery, something that wasn’t taken into account in the original study.

    It’s even better to power your electric car with coal-based energy than to use a gasoline car!

    If someone is interested, I’d suggest people look at a “Wells to Wheels” comparison, that’s the name of the study for the impact of a car across the full life cycle.

    Having a young child and with the new set of goods that requires, do you think it can be even harder to make environmentally-conscious decisions? 

    It bears mentioning that having a child is perhaps one of the most carbon-intensive decisions we made; we didn’t take the decision lightly.

    ... In terms of stuff, hard plastic items, we bought relatively little. We use a resource on Facebook called the Buy Nothing group which is a community-based group where people ask things like “Hey, we just had a baby, can we borrow someone’s bassinet for 6 months?” and someone will reply and tell you if you can keep it, or if they’d like it back. We got 90% of what we needed from that service or as hand-me-downs. In a year, we probably purchased two or three outfits… we consumed much less thanks to the strong community support.

    The second area is the everyday consumables like diapers. Vancouver doesn’t have a diaper composting service yet, and diapers are not environmentally friendly… We introduced our infant to the toilet at an extremely young age, and that does save us from some diaper usage. We compared reusable and disposable diapers… we realized that the impact can be higher or lower depending on the environment around you. For example, the huge tax of reusable diapers is around water consumption. But we live in the Pacific Northwest and are blessed with lots of rain. I am not saying we should waste it, but it is not as precious here as if we lived in Los Angeles. On the other side of the argument are disposable diapers with a long compost life: they will break down in a landfill, but in some hundred years, which is astounding to me. If I compare that to using a bucket of water, I’ll use that bucket of water. That made us move towards reusable. Overall, customizing the activities to your family needs or location can show you the best environmental choice. There isn’t one best choice for every family, and we actually use a mix of solutions – some toilet, mostly reusables and some disposables.

    What do you suggest people should consider around housing and food to reduce their impact?

    There is not that much to do in housing here because we have low resource heat. You can put the thermostat lower and wear another sweater but it won’t make a big difference towards the overall outcome. There are other things in your consumption that reduce your impact. Consuming local, for example, helps to avoid using the transportation system we have built that is based on fossil fuels. 

    Also, there is a tremendous amount of research that cutting out meat and fish from your diet and, and as a next step, cutting down animal products such as eggs, cheese, and milk can really reduce your impact. A high animal diet is over twice as intensive as a plant-based diet.

    As a consultant for fast-growing companies, how do you bring this vision to their business?

    I work with businesses building their future growth plans. I introduce aspects that minimize air travel for the company and add a line item to all their financial budgets around carbon offsets for the company’s flights. It’s not perfect but it is a start. 

    The main benefit is that it starts a discussion to do something rather than nothing, and then, with that discussion we can improve in the future. 

    Carbon offsets are not perfect, but they are a start, and building them into the financial models is important. I haven’t gotten push back from any client; people understand it makes sense.

    Looking at the other side of the company, the employees, is there something we can do in our companies to encourage the reduction of our work’s carbon footprint?

    I would encourage everyone to ask their employer something as simple as “How do I submit my carbon offsets for my work flight?” 

    We have to look at it as “I am starting my actions as an employee to buy the carbon offset for this flight.” It may be $10; it maybe $100. It is in the hands of the employee to raise this up and it has to be presented to the company as part of the cost of doing business. It is important to make this connection because the work actions we carry out as employees have an impact on the environment. Decisions made by “corporations” are really made by humans inside those organizations.

    Why did you choose SPEC for your donation towards environmental educational programs? 

    I like what SPEC is doing, not only the breadth of activities but also the local nature of them. You have activities in the neighborhood where children can come and learn, as well as programs out at schools. With my actions, I want to help promote these action-oriented initiatives. This is different from protecting an old-growth forest and planting new trees, but it’s equally important. 

    I just saw a two-min video with Greta Thunberg and another activist where they said we need to start doing three things: protect the environment, grow new environment, and educate on the environment. When I saw that I was like, “Hey, that’s what we do!” [laughs]. That reassured us that it was a good starting point. 

    Your dad said to leave the campsite cleaner than how you found it. Is this your way of continuing that legacy?

    That mentality was true in our life. We would pick up trash and organize the campsite and leave it cleaner than it was, but when we went back to our default world, we didn’t leave it cleaner; we drove polluting cars and contributed to unsustainable landfills. Basically, we outsourced our actions, without looking at how positive or negative they were.

    As a child, I never pieced together that disconnect, but as an adult, I realize that we understand the right thing to do, but we are not doing it for some reason. 

    We pushed aside the environment as being that thing out in the mountains or the desert, but really, we are in the environment when we are in the city. We are just not taking the same set of actions in our everyday lives as we take when we are on an outdoors trip.

    Growing up, there was certainly respect for the beauty of Earth, and now I would like to extend that respect to appreciate it actively instead of passively.

     Access Holden's full report 

  • 03 Dec 2019 8:33 AM | Sharlene Singh (Administrator)

    by Robin Hadac 

    Robin is an incoming board member and former Communications Coordinator at SPEC. She is passionate about environmental causes and loves inspiring others through storytelling.

    After Cyber Monday is Giving Tuesday, also known as National Giving Day.

    Giving Tuesday is a global movement for giving and volunteering, during a time of year when charities, companies and individuals join together and rally for their favourite causes.

    With plenty of stories online about charities receiving large donations from generous benefactors, it appears as though Canadians are more charitable than ever. Earlier this year

    the Vancouver Art Gallery received a $40-million donation from the Chan Family, a wonderful example of the Canadian charitable spirit. Similarly, crowdfunding, the act of raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people (typically via the Internet) is on the rise. Facebook recently incorporated a crowdfunding feature into their platform making it easier than ever for people to give (and share) on social media. 

    With all this information circling about donations, would you be surprised to learn that charitable giving is actually decreasing in Canada?

    A report released last year by CanadaHelps outlined all the ways donor bases have decreased in the past 10 years, despite the growing Canadian population. 

    The charitable sector is incredibly valuable and provides immeasurable benefits to the Canadian public. If donations continue to decline, there will be an unfortunate lack in many services non-profits provide for our society. 

    If that’s not enough to spark your giving spirit, here are six reasons why you should donate to a charity on Giving Tuesday. 

    1. Give the gift of charity instead of more stuff

    With Black Friday and Cyber Monday madness, it’s easy to buy into the consumer craze and purchase unnecessary stuff. Charitable giving allows you to get into the holiday spirit without contributing to the growing plastic pollution problem pervasive in North America. 

    2. The charitable sector makes up 10% of the Canadian workforce 

    As one of the largest employers in Canada, the charitable sector relies heavily on donations (among other sources) to pay the fabulous people working there. Charities attract a wealth of talented and driven people that are necessary to run their programs, however it can be a financial juggling act to keep that talent. Donating supports a cause and the Canadian workforce as well.

    3. Environmental and indigenous causes receive the fewest donations

    Data from a CanadaHelps report and an Imagine Canada report show that there is a large disparity in where Canadians donate. Some of the categories that receive the most donations are social services, health and religion organizations. Among the bottom are indigenous causes, environmental issues and arts and culture. Giving to causes that are generally under-supported is a great way to give your donation extra impact this Giving Tuesday. 

    The Giving Guide, CanadaHelps, 2018

    4. The largest 1% of charities receive 85% of Canadian Government funding 

    With a huge proportion of government funding going to large organizations, small and medium sized charities rely significantly and disproportionately on charitable giving. Since small and mid-size charities often don’t have the means to raise funds this can put them in a tricky spot. That’s why Giving Season, or the last three weeks of the year are so important for fundraising.

    5. Everyone can be a philanthropist 

    Frequent coverage of billionaire philanthropists donating thousands of dollars makes donating seem like it’s just for the uber wealthy. But philanthropy is a value not an action, meaning everyone can be involved! Every donation is appreciated, no matter how big or small. So give back this Giving Tuesday and know you are making a difference in the world.

    6. Get into the giving habit 

    Small, monthly donations are just as important as large end-of-year sums. Most charitable giving is done during Giving Season. However,  imagine running programs year round when the majority of funds come in December. This can be challenging. That’s why monthly donations are so crucial to sustaining recurring programs; it gives the organization yearly financial security. Practice giving this Tuesday by finding a cause you support, getting familiar with a charity or two and sustaining a lasting impact.

    Are you ready to give?

    There are many different ways you can donate.  Donations can be made directly to a charity via their website, or online using sources like CanadaHelps or Charitable Impact.

    In case you’d like to support sustainability here in Vancouver, you can help support the wonderful work SPEC does for our environment by donating here.

    Your donation this season will help us provide climate change education to students in Vancouver, give services to farmers that practice sustainable methods, teach individuals how to go zero waste, and promote resilient neighbourhoods.

    As a small non-profit with a dedicated staff, your charitable dollars go a long way towards achieving our vision of a healthy and sustainable urban landscape. 

  • 01 May 2019 2:46 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Ella Kim-Marriott

    Ella is a second year UBC student from Vancouver, BC studying sociology and geography with hopes of furthering research on the topic of consumerism. She currently works at the package-free grocery store Nada, and volunteers for various environmental organizations such as Greenpeace.

    Recently in the media, there has been a lot of talk about ways to make our individual consumption more sustainable. While it is great to see so many people switching to reusable straws and taking up plant-based diets, we need to further the conversation. In particular, we need to pushback at industries that produce the products that are polluting our planet. One of the world’s most polluting industries is the fast fashion industry, but it is also one of the easiest industries to stop supporting.

    This is my story. In May of 2019, it will be four years since I made a vow to myself to not buy any new clothing, and I could not be happier with my decision. It’s not that I do not buy clothing. In fact, some of my friends and family would even describe me as a shopaholic. So, how did I go four years without buying any new clothing? One word: thrifting.

    Growing up with thrifting

    I am sure that most of us are familiar with the term “thrifting”. It has been popularized all over Youtube, through apps like DEPOP, and some of you, like me, grew up thrifting. Of course the reasons why we thrift differ. For example, I grew up thrifting because my family was lower income. I always loved fashion, so from an early age we were taught that thrifting was the best way to save money.

    When I entered high school, thrifting became a sort of hobby that I would do with my friends. It was fun to help each other look through mountains of clothing and develop our styles together, all the while laughing and imagining the previous owners of the pieces we found. At this time, however, I probably thrifted and shopped at fast fashion stores about the same amount. What I did not know at the time was that my mother had another reason for why she preferred thrifting to shopping at a mall. She was conscious of the environmental and the ethical costs attached to buying into fast fashion.

    Discovering the dark side of fast fashion

    I did not become fully conscious of these costs until Grade 10. I already identified myself as an environmentalist at this point, but I was more aware of the obvious topics; climate change, the ozone layer, recycling and composting. But something changed in Grade 10. I was in the TREK Outdoor Education Program, and we talked about the environment and how we could help it almost everyday. One of the ways that we learned was through watching great documentaries, like The Clean Bin Project. In TREK I developed an adoration for learning through watching documentaries and started to binge environmental documentaries covering a variety of topics.

    One documentary in particular really stuck with me and changed my entire outlook on the fashion industry. That documentary is called The True Cost, and I love this film because of its seamless (no pun intended) execution. The filmmakers interviewed a wide range of experts in different areas, and the cinematography is powerful, particularly when they have shots of the factory workers in developing countries. They do an excellent job of covering the fashion industry’s many faces, talking about the cotton farmers, the corporations, and everything in between. This film broke my heart but also opened my eyes to the industry I had been thoughtlessly supporting. As someone who advocated for protecting the environment, I was ashamed. But I was also empowered. And so, on May 1st, 2015, I decided to make a promise to myself that I would not buy any new clothing, and in the spirit of living a minimalist lifestyle, would only thrift shop for necessities.

    Making the switch

    I have a few takeaways from that first year of swearing off fast fashion. First of all, it is so much easier than we realize. Second, changing habits is a learning process, and we don’t need to be so hard on ourselves. At first I kept a list of all the items that I bought that “broke” my vow, which was really just composed of socks that my parents bought me for my birthday, and a jersey I had to buy for a sports team I was on. Looking back, I could have cut myself more slack or at least have not felt guilty for those couple of items.

    The final takeaway from my year of not buying any new clothing is that once you do not do something for a year, you feel like you can do it for the rest of your life. Honestly it astounded me how much my attitude and behaviour around fashion changed. I started to hate malls and overconsumption in general, and now I am studying overconsumption at UBC. Not only that, but my style improved! My favourite thing about thrift shopping is that everything is somewhat one of a kind. It is so much more rewarding to find pieces you love at the thrift store, in my opinion, and the end result is a completely individualistic wardrobe.

    I did not think that I was being radical by making this vow to myself. Many people (like my mom) basically or truly do only thrift shop, and live way more minimalist lifestyles than I do. The reason why I made this a sort of “challenge” for myself was because I wanted to be able to tell people exactly what I was doing so that I could be held accountable, and so that it seemed attainable and realistic enough that other people who maybe weren’t as familiar with thrift shopping could take on the same challenge.

    Now, it’s been almost four years since I officially stopped supporting the fast fashion industry. I am so thankful for all of the support I have had, and that I get to continue my learning and growth in the field of environmental conservation as it pertains to reducing overconsumption.

    Ideally, while I hope to someday go completely zero waste, I do have a long way to go. But at least I am confident in my choices regarding fashion.

    If you are inspired by me to take the thrifting challenge yourself, below I have composed a list of 10 tips and tricks for beginner and/or experienced thrift shoppers, or anyone who is trying to reduce their consumer product waste.

    1. Basics of Thrift Shopping

    Wear comfortable clothes that are easy to change in and out of; bring water and reusable bags; set a budget for yourself; make a list of what you are looking for before you go and try to stick to it; and bring hand sanitizer if you feel the need. And make sure you try everything on before you buy it! Sure, it takes more time, but thrifted clothes can fit nothing like you expect them to, or sizes can be mislabelled.

    2. Look for versatile staple and layering pieces

    Always look for staple and layering pieces when you shop. When you buy something, try to picture how often you’ll wear it. If it can be worn often, in multiple ways and with different outfits, it’s worth buying. But if it’s a single wear purchase, you may want to reconsider. PLUS versatile pieces can be found at a thrift store for the exact same price if not cheaper than fast fashion stores.

    3. Know your limits

    Some people draw a limit to what they feel they absolutely can’t buy second hand; for some, it’s socks and underwear, for others it’s shoes or swimwear. Know your limits, and do not feel guilty about buying new for the few items that you do not feel comfortable thrifting. That being said, it should be easy to find second-hand alternatives for everything else.

    4. One in, one out

    This is the golden rule when you are someone who is into fashion but want to uphold the principles of a circular economy. When you buy something new, consider donating a piece of your wardrobe that you think someone could get better use out of. This is the best way to keep clothing circulating, while also keeping your own wardrobe fresh without hoarding clothes or contributing to textile waste.

    5. Cheap does not mean necessity

    This is a really important thing to keep in mind, especially for newcomer thrift shoppers. The first time you go thrifting and see almost all of the clothing priced at under $10, it’s tempting to go a bit crazy. Just because something is well priced DOES NOT mean that you need it. If you want to be a smart and sustainable shopper you need to focus on the necessities. My tip is to make a shopping list over time of all the specific items you are looking for, and when you go shopping to only look for them.

    6. Shop with like-minded friends

    Go thrifting with people who do NOT pressure you to spend money on things you do not need. I learned this the hard way.

    7. Do your research

    There are a ton of thrift stores, vintage stores and organizations that do clothing pickups, but are they all sustainable or ethical? It’s good to do your research before donating or shopping somewhere, because you may find that you prefer a certain company’s mission. To be a conscious consumer, you want to know where the money you are spending goes and make sure the clothing you donate is not just being shipped off to pollute a developing country

    If you live in Vancouver, BC, some of my favourite thrift stores by category are as follows:

    • Money goes to great causes: Community Thrift & Vintage (PHS Community Services Society),

    • Aunt Leah’s Urban Thrift (Aunt Leah’s Place), Still Fabulous (BC Children’s Hospital), Wildlife

    • Thrift store (The Gathering Place, Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter and more), SPCA

    • Thrift Store, VGH Thrift Store

    • Allows for trading: The Young and the Restless Clothing Exchange (plus 50% off for students!)

    • Best prices: The Rag Machine, The Society of Saint Vincent De Paul Thrift Store, Value

    • Village, Salvation Army, MCC Thrift Shop

    • Vintage and consignment: F as in Frank, Mintage, Front & Company (Sells consignment and new items), Turnabout

    8. Find other options

    Going to a thrift store is definitely not the only way to get second hand clothing! You can borrow clothing from friends or family, or ask them “I need one of those! When you get rid of it, can I have it?”

    You can even organize clothing swaps amongst your friends or your community! There may be a free store in your neighbourhood (@ubcfreestore is a great option for UBC students, especially looking for appliances!), and online platforms like Craigslist, second hand Facebook pages and apps like Depop provide alternatives to making a trip to your local thrift.

    9. Fix it first

    Before buying a replacement for something you already own, try to fix it! And if you aren’t great at fixing clothing, don’t buy thrift items that you have to mend. This could mean a huge stain you’d have to bleach out, or a tear in the seam you’d have to sew. If you regularly take the time to mend your clothing, then ignore this tip. But if you’re like me and rarely have the time (or being honest, the knowledge of how to), then don’t buy items you will have to fix. *Note: Or check out local “fix-it” events in your area! They bring all the tools you need and provide guidance and a helping hand in mending everything from ripped socks to clogged vacuums.

    10. When you get home from the thrift store

    Look for rips, stains, missing buttons, etc. in case you need to return something, since sometimes it is hard to do this at the store, especially if you’re in a rush. Wash all of the clothing you purchased, go through your checklist and refine it for your next thrift trip, and make note of what you got so that you don’t end up with too many of the same things in your wardrobe.

    I hope that these 10 tips help to set you on your sustainable fashion journey! If you feel inspired, SPEC and I want to challenge you to start your thrifting journey, or to share your thrifting experiences with us, using the hashtag #SPECthriftingchallenge on social media. Best of luck and remember, slow and steady (fashion) wins the race!

    Follow my social media: Ella__km

    Another great account to follow for thrifted fashion inspiration: thriftedthis

  • 04 Apr 2019 3:33 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    This article was originally posed on Reel Causes, the host of this event.

    On April 17th, Reel Causes is screening Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, a cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet, and following it with a panel discussion addressing waste reduction with community cause Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC), the oldest environmental non-profit in Canada.

    Daniel Rotman, Director at SPEC, answered a couple questions in advance of the event to give you a hint of what’s to come during the panel discussion.

    Anthropocene: The Human Epoch highlights permanent planetary change. What would you say to an audience that might be discouraged by the notion that it’s too late to change?

    To me, it’s too convenient to throw our hands up and claim, “it’s too late, or I just can’t, or I’m not good enough” — convenience is cheap. Historically, we’ve never given up, and I don’t see it happening now either. We are making huge leaps forward; it’s just not always easy to see online through memes.

    The film reveals the shear power of humanity. What’s new, maybe, is how that power is being used all over the globe, all at once, and equally indifferent. The idea that we move mountains is not a metaphor anymore. It’s impressive and scary.

    Our brains are wired to see the negative more easily than the positive. At the same time, we know that hope, positivity, and the drive to survive and thrive have triumphed time and again. The best part is that we already have all the technology we need. Now it’s a matter of directing that power and our energy to the positive, and building our shared future, together.

    How can we take that power and energy and direct it to the local level and engage our community? 

    We all have a part to play and everyone’s trash is everyone’s responsibility. Trash doesn’t care about identity or politics when it pollutes.

    We need reminders, nudges and help because we know it’s not convenient, or easy. That’s what makes overcoming challenge so rewarding, knowing you put in the work with your community, and that it’s worth it. This planet, our shared home, is definitely worth it.

    As a Director of SPEC, how does the organization help promote zero waste throughout Vancouver? 

    SPEC operates as an umbrella for a number of different committees that each tackle their own area of urban sustainability. Among them are the committees for food and environmentenergy and transportation, and waste. The waste committee operates using the same umbrella style, empowering volunteers that bring in and run projects, both short and long term. The projects enjoy support through grant partnership and community building, as well as a new effort to have projects that cross committees, as often food, energy and transportation all generate waste, for example. Currently, the committee hosts projects: Master Recycler VancouverBoomerang BagsGreen 2GoThe Zero Waste Club, as well as Talkin’ Trash Radio.

    The committee also hosts monthly meetings with discussions, screenings, presentations and networking.

    SPEC is currently also exploring dialogue as a fundamental skill and approach to engaging with the local community and beyond.

    Lastly, the waste committee has started a new project developing a tool kit for the most common waste problems, such as single use plastics, textiles and electronics. The tools will be centered around practical skills that people can learn to prevent and reduce waste, such as developing new habits to remember your reusable mug or take out kit, or learning to cook and store food, and fixing things.

    Following the film, we’ll be discussing waste reduction with panelists from the community. Can you provide some insight on what specific topics might be addressed?

    Post-film, we will try to address some of the major topics in the world of waste:

    • How to increase awareness of waste in our lives
    • How to avoid, prevent and reduce single use plastics
    • What is being done locally and what you can do tomorrow
    • Why recycling isn’t what we might think it is, or why it isn’t the solution
    • The situation with China
    • How we can bring waste back into sight and back into mind, so we can design it out of our lives

    How will the format of a panel with expert conservationists help get the zero waste message across to our audience?

    Currently, the world of waste mostly exists in the shadows (out of sight and out of mind), and experts and those who have engaged with waste in a serious way can really help shine light on it.

    There are many ideas and narratives about waste, and we all have a deep connection to it, so having a variety of people who can talk about their reality, and not just what we hear from the other side of the world, can help ground the conversation to here and now. The goal is to show that everyone is part of the solution, we all find a way to reduce and prevent waste on our own terms, and it has to be that way because of how personal it is.

    Hearing new voices and voices that understand the local context are critical in my mind for helping people find their own voice, and to get involved locally where they feel most comfortable.

    There are so many cool initiatives and projects in Vancouver (and only Vancouver) and hearing their stories, and meeting them is inspiring.

    Purchase tickets for the April 17 screening of Anthropocene here.

  • 05 Feb 2019 9:03 AM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Alice Robertson

    Decluttering is a growing trend, but are Canadians truly committing to a minimalist lifestyle or is decluttering just an excuse to clear up space for more stuff?

    Image via Unsplash

    There are real benefits to a clutter-free home. Not only does your home look better when it’s neatly-organized, but a clutter-free home also promotes focus and self-efficacy while reducing stress and anxiety. However, when you throw your purged items in the trash or declutter only to go out and buy more stuff, you contribute to a growing environmental problem.

    When you throw unwanted stuff away, it doesn’t really go “away.” Every year Canadians produce 720 kilos of waste per person. That’s twice as much waste per capita as Japan and seven percent higher than the United States’ per capita waste output, Canadian Geographic reports. While some waste gets recycled, most of it ends up in the landfill — and even when you think you’re recycling, your waste may still end up in a landfill, either domestically or abroad.

    There’s a better way to achieve an orderly home without increasing the burden on the environment. These tips will help you declutter your home in a more eco-friendly fashion.

    1. Sell or donate before you trash.

    Selling unwanted items or donating them takes more effort than tossing them out, but it keeps things out of the landfill longer and allows shoppers to purchase used items rather than new ones that take resources to create. Reuse is especially important for large items like appliances and furniture, as well as electronics. These items quickly fill landfills and contain toxic materials that pollute the environment. If you prefer to earn some money from your old stuff, sell online. You’ll net more and spend less time than holding a yard sale. Click here to learn more about the second hand economy.

    Even items that seem worthless could have a second life. Old linens that aren’t good for home use can be used in animal shelters, broken lawn equipment can be repaired by someone handy, and partially-used products can go to a family that struggles to afford new. Even if you’re not sure someone would want your old stuff, give it a try! You’ll be surprised at how creative people can be.

    2. Shop secondhand before buying new.

    Don’t just add to the second hand economy, shop from it too. Buying used items saves money and the planet, and oftentimes older items are built to a higher-quality than new consumer goods.

    3. Go paperless.

    Paper is a major source of clutter in homes. From junk mail to filing cabinets, paper takes up a lot of space. And while paper is one of the more easily recycled materials, it’s still best to reduce usage wherever possible. Once you’ve digitized all your important documents, enroll in e-delivery with the companies you do business with and follow Canada Post’s instructions to stop unwanted mail.

    4. Choose nontoxic and plastic-free household products.

    Shoppers love conventional household cleaners for their potency, but that strength comes from toxic chemicals that pollute the environment when they’re sprayed in the air or washed down a drain. They’re also bad for human health. The Environmental Working Group lists cleaning products that are safer for the environment and for you. Unfortunately, many of these products generally still come in disposable plastic packaging. The better option is to make or purchase package-free household products and use refillable containers to reduce plastic waste.

    5. Skip the plastic garbage bags.

    When you do need to toss things out, skip the plastic garbage bag. Spending money on single-use plastics with the sole purpose of throwing them away contributes to the global plastic problem. Instead, put waste in the garbage bin without a bag and wash the bin regularly to keep it clean. If you’re composting and recycling as much as you can, your trash should be quite dry and clean. If you prefer a bag or your waste management company requires it, reuse bags from other household purchases instead of buying new plastic.

    Consumers are becoming more conscious about their daily household waste through recycling and composting. However, without a change in buying habits, our waste problem will only continue to grow. The next time you’re planning to declutter, turn to the second hand economy instead of the trash bin and think about how you can adopt more eco-friendly habits for the future.

    About the author:

    Alice began her career in the home organization industry as a professional house cleaner, which involved lots of decluttering. Over the years, she has helped her clients get rid of everything from old mattresses to outdated electronics to entire closets worth of clothes in aneco-friendly way.

    More about Alice: TidyHome.info

  • 20 Nov 2018 12:21 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    Members' Corner is a monthly blog series where SPEC members share their favourite sustainability-related resources.

    You should watch: Can Sustainable Plastics Save Us?  featuring Dr. Love-Ese Chile – Webcast 

    Daniel Rotman, Co-Chair - Waste Committee & SPEC Board Member

    There is a lot of mis- and incorrect information on bioplastics and plastics in general, and this webcast helps clarify the issue. In this talk Dr. Love-Ese Chile explores the major types of sustainable plastics available and highlights what we can do as consumers and tax-payers to help create a circular economy for these new materials. You should watch this webcast if you are interested in learning about sustainable plastics and circular economies from a PhD in bio-plastics. I also know her personally and she is dedicated to this problem.

    You should listen to: Mothers of Invention – Podcast

    Alison Krahn, SPEC Board Member, Energy Committee 

    Hosted by Mary Robinson (former president of Ireland) and Maeve Higgins (Irish comedian), the Mothers of Invention podcast celebrates women who do remarkable things in pursuit of climate justice. Each episode explores a diverse array of women from around the world who are at the forefront of the fight against climate change and injustice - there is a seriously impressive range of guests, from local politicians to presidents and cabinet ministers, local activists to global campaigners, entrepreneurs to world-renowned scientists. Climate change is a huge, complex issue which can be overwhelming, but the Mothers of Invention podcast strikes a good balance between education and entertainment to raise awareness about climate justice. This show is engaging, funny, educational, and the many stories of the "mothers" are truly inspiring.

    You should check out: Food Tank – Web Resource and Global Organization

    Tara Moreau, SPEC Board Member and Food Committee

    Food Tank is a global organization that is working to advance food systems. Their website is a great resource for info on sustainable agriculture and how it relates to other issues such as climate change and poverty. They also release top 10 lists of food-related books. 

  • 17 Nov 2018 10:21 AM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Dr. Carole Christopher, SPEC President

    We’re told that sharing our intentions with friends may influence their decision about whether to vote and how to vote in the referendum on Proportional Representation.  With that in mind, and knowing that good hearted people can disagree, I’d like to ask you to vote for Proportional Representation.  

    The easy question is Question #1 – choosing between Proportional Representation (PR) or First Past the Post (FPTP.)  PR distributes seats in the legislature according to the proportion of the popular vote and FPTP is the familiar “winner takes all” system of voting.  My friend Bob Bossin says the choice is proportional representation or disproportional Representation.  That sums up my perspective as well.

    Question #2 is the harder question that asks you to rank the three options for how to implement PR.  It’s important to understand that you can skip the second question.  Some people are not participating because they find the options hard to differentiate and make a choice. Don’t skip the opportunity to vote for Proportional Representation.  

    Perhaps there is no single good answer to the question of which option is best.  The easy answer is, “they’re all ice cream, just different flavours,” meaning they’re all 'better' (more fair) than FPTP and they all have the same basic intention and some similarities.  But there are differences, and, because they’re unfamiliar, they're not that easy to explain.  

    We need a system that allows voters to bring their values and not just their strategic concerns into the voting booth.  We need a system that forces parties to bring their best ideas into coalitions that balance views and focus on good governance. 

    Another friend, Patricia Lane, devised a metaphor that helped me reflect on the options.  Here is my tweaked version:

    Imagine you’re going to buy a car.  What kind of car do you want?  If you want an older, used model that's familiar but a gas hog, First Past the Post is your choice.  If you want a more modern, sustainable, and neighbourhood friendly model, Proportional Representation is your choice.  Obviously my bias is showing but you knew that already.

    Assuming you choose Proportional Representation as the voting system, do you want: 

    a) A model that’s theoretically very good but not as widely used and is still being tested?  That’s Duel Member Proportional (DMP - Option #1)

    b) A model that’s widely used and accepted and has proven qualities?  That’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP – Option #2)

    c) A model that’s adaptable to the terrain of rural areas but also economical and flexible for city driving?  That’s Rural Urban Proportional (URP – Option #3)

    You can get a lot more detail about each of these through the voters’ guide you got in the mail and online at Elections BC, but the details may be less important than a general sense that they are all aiming at the same outcome – proportional distribution of seats according to the proportion of votes. 

    There’s an on-line survey that matches your values with the different systems, including the choice between PR and FPTP. I took it an at the end it matched my voting choices exactly so I recommend it. Here’s the link for that survey.

    Arguments Against

    The major arguments launched against Proportional Representation are:

    1. Party bosses will choose the candidates. Well, actually, isn’t that pretty much want happens now under FPTP where candidates are vetted by parties?  That’s not a bad thing and parties will continue to vet candidates under proportional systems. Independents are still independent.

    2. The door will be open to a government take-over by extreme parties.  CCPA research shows that, “Historically speaking, whenever we have seen the emergence of far right and neo-Nazi parties, it is clear they are a product not of the electoral system but of neoliberal policies and austerity.”  Consider the Trump administration in the US, the Ford Administration in Ontario, the Duarte administration in The Philippines, or the previous Thatcher administration in the UK, or the Harper administration in Canada.  All have/had an extreme neoliberal agenda and all are FPTP systems. 

    3. It’s too confusing.  Essentially this is an argument to play it safe and avoid uncertainty.  Yet, the most compelling fact I heard in the very unedifying debate between the leaders was that, in all the Provincial elections we’ve had, only one has produced a majority government with a majority of votes. Wow!! The rest are false majorities giving 100% of the power to parties that typically have 35-40% of the vote.  That's the clear unfairness of FPTP.

    Remember, the proposal for PR allows us to road-test it for two election cycles before there's another referendum to re-decide.  That's meant to reassure hesitant voters that there is an "escape clause."  No system is completely fail-safe but PR addresses the worst grievance of FPTP, the 'false majorities' that entrench political parties that; a) depend on splitting the opposition as their means of maintaining power, and b) use their non-majority power to promote only their own view of how the world should operate.  We need a system that allows voters to bring their values and not just their strategic concerns into the voting booth.  We need a system that forces parties to bring their best ideas into coalitions that balance views and focus on good governance.  

    Thank you for reading this.  I hope it's been useful.

  • 08 Nov 2018 1:50 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Ali Dawson

    Living in the city, it’s not every day that you get a chance to connect with nature. Spending too much time living in the concrete jungle can have an adverse effect on your health. It’s important to spend some time around nature every once in a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to pack up and go camping in the mountains once a month. You can encourage wildlife to flourish right in your backyard. Not only will this give you your own little slice of paradise, but also help to sustain crucial animal populations that are having trouble adapting to urban landscapes. Here’s how you can encourage the birds and the bees to frequent your garden and give them everything that they need to thrive.

    Insects and Pollinators

    Pollinators such as bees and butterflies are crucial to our fragile ecosystem. Many plant species rely on the movement of these pollinators to fertilize flowers, including plants that we farm. Without pollinators, the world is likely to face a global food crisis, but unfortunately, their numbers seem to be falling. You can help pollinator populations to resurge by providing them with flowers that are free of toxic herbicides and pesticides. Even if you don’t have garden space, hanging a flower box outside your window will attract pollinators and spruce up your living space. In order to conserve water, it’s a good idea to irrigate flowers using a drip system.

    Our Flying Friends

    Birds are also an important part of the ecosystem. Not only do they help pollinators to fertilize flowers, but they also play a critical role in insect population control. Birds eat many of the pests that invade our homes, eat our food, and decimate our crops. You can encourage bird populations to frequent the city by leaving out a source of food, such as nuts or seeds, and water. Just remember not to go overboard with the water, as much of it will be lost to evaporation. Either limit the amount of water you leave out each day or conserve it by installing a drip system for the birds instead.

    Encouraging wildlife to thrive in your backyard is not only good for your psyche but also your environment. Going green in a literal sense can help to maintain and even restore dwindling animal populations in urban areas. Insects and birds, in particular, are vital to the wellbeing of our environment and our ecosystem.

  • 02 Nov 2018 2:14 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By: Steve Fetterly, P.Eng., SPEC Energy and Transportation Committee

    On a Saturday in mid-September, BC Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA) hosted an annual event with this year’s theme focused on BC’s transition to clean transportation (learn more here). A number of representatives from the public, private and non-profit sectors excitedly came together to share past lessons learned and glimpses into the future with up-and-coming industry technology to support the all-important “greening” of the transportation sector. As a result, the day was full of meaningful conversation, sprouting ideas in pursuit of solutions while leaving an uplifting, optimistic and motivating outlook on how industry is shifting.

    This seminar/conference/networking event gathered like-minded speakers, listeners and general participants all eager to learn and discuss ways to support the transition to clean transportation. Bowinn Ma (MLA North Vancouver-Lonsdale & Parliamentary Secretary for TransLink) opened the day by emphasizing how access to major transit corridors from urban developments and affordable housing will continue to provide all residents with smart and sustainable transportation options. From there, the event was broken out into four panels: (i) transportation and land use planning; (ii) barriers to wide-spread electric vehicle adoption; (iii) the future of freight; and (iv) taking pilot projects to becoming industry drivers.

    1. Transportation and Land Use Planning

    This panel was meant to illustrate how municipal planners & policy makers are working with mass transit to reduce emissions. Derrick Cheung (TransLink) highlighted the need to accommodate ridership growth on public transit as 82% of new homes built in Greater Vancouver are in walking distance of transit. Tim Barton (Senior Citywide & Transit Planning Engineer, City of Vancouver) illustrated how integrated city planning can address the challenges resulting from an increasing population while maintaining alignment with city rejections of major roadway upgrades for motor vehicles. As of 2016, 50% of transportation load share was attributed to green options such as cycling, walking and transit. David Oliver (Greenlines Technology) discussed the problems resulting from impediments to implementing innovative transit solutions such as the lack of data sharing in North America due to safeguarding of propriety information across the industry, unlike Finland where open data sharing is now a requirement. David inferred that most people are not aware of all their transportation options since commonly used trip planning Apps default to private car mode without the ability to easily combine different transportation modes.

    2. Beyond Barriers to Charging

    The second panel dealt with electric load management to allow for 100% electric vehicle (EV) ready neighbourhoods and seamless mobility. Anaissa Franca (Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium) explained the issues surrounding the scalability of electric mass transit as limited by infrastructure while pointing out that utilization of hydrogen fuel cells may help alleviate this problem. Neil MacEachern (Environmental Coordinator, City of Port Coquitlam) outlined how cities are requiring that new residential construction easily allow for future EV charger installation for each dwelling unit. Neil also discussed 2 major barriers to EVs and potential solutions: (i) the BC Strata Property Act makes it difficult to install EV chargers in stratified residential buildings. Therefore a “right-to-charge” provision was proposed to be included in the Strata Property Act, however the proposal was denied but an amendment was agreed upon that stratas must accommodate reasonable requests from residents for the purpose of EV charging; and (ii) the BC Utilities Commission Act only allows registered ‘public utility’ companies to sell energy. Although stratas are specifically excluded in this definition, a proposal has been submitted to exempt the reselling of electricity for specific purposes from this definition (see resolutions and responses at https://www.ubcm.ca/EN/main/resolutions/resolutions/resolutions-responses.html).

    3. The Future of Freight

    In this panel, we explored multi-modal technologies to help reduce carbon emissions resulting from the transportation of container goods via road, rail and waterways. Allan Grant (Corvus Energy) presented on exciting marine battery technology for all-electric and hybrid freight vessels. Ports across the world are starting to enact laws requiring that incoming vessels incorporate electric and/or hybrid technology in order to use the port. Allan indicated that the Port of Vancouver is responsible for 80% of the City of Vancouver’s GHG emissions from transportation. Mike Bains (FortisBC) explained FortisBC’s targets to provide 5% of natural gas supply as renewable natural gas (RNG), typically from biomass. Costs of RNG are still quite high compared to conventional natural gas but new technologies are working to close the gap.

    4. From Pilots to Industry Drivers

    The final panel highlighted current pilots involving smart vehicles and electric buses for low carbon transportation. Kelly Carmichael (BCIT) gave an overview of their pilot project in New Westminster to use street light electrical supplies to power curb-side EV chargers. By changing street lights from conventional high intensity discharge bulbs to LEDs, enough capacity can be re-purposed from the existing infrastructure to supply EV chargers. Eve Hou (Translink) illustrated the concept of “Mobility as a Service” and how companies in Europe are providing trip bundling services to demonstrate all mobility options and their combinations. Kristina Mlakar (Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium) showed a snapshot of CUTRIC’s innovative approach regarding the future of autonomous and electric mass transit, as well as existing projects to implement all-electric off-grid transit buses.

    The passion for serious change was in abundance throughout the day as interactive presentations and enthusiastic conversation linked people from government, industry and non-profits. I know I felt as if my head would explode from all the interesting information but was left feeling invigorated with so many positive stories leading the way to minimize the harmful impacts of conventional transportation on the environment. I have no doubt that the event truly made critical connections to spark new collaboration in unmeasurable ways and continue the relentless pursuit of a transition to clean transportation.

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