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  • 03 Oct 2017 10:16 AM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Anna Suarez, a public health advocate focused on raising awareness about how the built environment and the presence of toxins can influence human health.

    Sustainability, or the ability to use resources without degrading them for future generations, has strong ties to public health. Despite being able to supercede certain aspects of the natural world, humans are still subject to the necessities of clean air and clean water. The field of environmental health helps bridge the gap between people and the natural environment, and makes a case for simultaneously protecting both health and resources.

    But environmental health is also a concern in the built environment, such as buildings and cities. It’s estimated that people today spend about 90% of their time indoors, making those spaces all the more impactful on health. Some of the materials used to create man-made structures can actually have a negative impact on air quality and subsequently on public health. Today, although some materials are known hazards, they can still be present in our built environment and therefore still a risk to people. A great example of one such material is asbestos, once thought of as a miracle product that was widely used in construction and automotive industries. Understanding the health risks present in our everyday environments is one step toward ensuring a more sustainable future.

    Asbestos can be found naturally in some parts of North America and was mined for use in a variety of materials and building products. Mining operations continued until as late as 2011 in Canada, and one town even going so far as to name itself Asbestos. The mineral’s natural properties made it an ideal choice for use in a wide variety of products. Asbestos fibers are exceptionally durable, and even resistant to heat and fire. This resistance to degradation helped ensure the longevity of the products in which it was incorporated.

    However, just like asbestos cannot be degraded by the physical environment, it similarly cannot be broken down by the human body. This makes any asbestos fibers that are accidentally inhaled or ingested very dangerous as they can cause scarring of the body’s tissues. Over time, this can lead to illnesses such as a cancer known as mesothelioma, which has an average life expectancy of about one year after diagnosis.

    The health risks associated with this toxin are incredibly harsh and heartbreaking for patients and their families. When it comes to asbestos, avoiding exposure is the key to preventing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. The Canadian government notes that asbestos can still be found in the following materials:

    • cement and plaster
    • industrial furnaces and heating systems
    • building insulation
    • floor and ceiling tiles
    • house siding
    • car and truck brake pads
    • vehicle transmission components, such as clutches

    In the fall of 2016, the Canadian government announced that it would ban asbestos. Canada has previously been one of the largest exporters of the mineral, but asbestos was also considered the largest occupational killer in Canada, claiming as many as 2,000 lives annually. Over fifty countries around the world have already banned asbestos, not to mention the World Health Organization’s maintains a strict stance against asbestos. However, Canada is by no means the last country on the anti-asbestos bandwagon. The United States has yet to ban the material, but is currently evaluating it along with nine other toxic materials.

    It’s important to note that although the Canadian asbestos ban was announced, it won’t take effect until 2018. Which means in the interim, and even after implementation, there is still a risk of interacting with asbestos. The greatest risk of developing an asbestos-related illness is through occupational exposure, which in developed nations primarily occurs during renovation, maintenance, or demolition of older buildings since those are more likely to contain asbestos.

    September 26th marked Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD), which is our yearly reminder that asbestos and the cancers it can cause are still a part of our reality. Remaining educated about the risks of this material and where it can be found can help protect human health. And by examining sustainability holistically to include environmental health, we can see that it’s time to end the use toxic materials like asbestos. Only then can we collectively take steps toward a sustainable future.

    Only certified abatement professionals should attempt to remove asbestos to ensure that the material is handled safely. Proper precautions protect everyone involved, including the workers, building occupants, and the public at large. Once the asbestos-containing material has been removed, the material is often disposed of in designated landfills. However, as available landfill space continues to decrease, recycling asbestos can be a good alternative. Asbestos can be added to into cement or heated at extremely high temperatures to form a glass or ceramic material. Again, these processes should only be completed by trained professionals, but you can certainly check with local household hazardous waste collection companies to see if they’re able to recycle the asbestos.

  • 02 Oct 2017 11:28 AM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    SPEC Fundraiser and Celebration Speech, 

    by Janey Lee

    Thursday, September 14, 2017

    Good evening everyone. My name is Janey Lee and for the past 19 years I have been proudly teaching at Thunderbird Elementary. Thunderbird is a Tier 1 inner city, east side school in Vancouver. Thunderbird is located across the street from the largest social housing project in the province which is where many of our students live. In our school, we have a lot of students from working poor families, single parent households, and immigrant and refugee families. Each year, I usually have 8 to 12 different languages represented in my classroom and it is beautifully diverse. We have many vulnerable students who in spite of the challenges that their families face, are resilient and amazing.

    In February of 2012, our school formed a wonderful community partnership with SPEC after Russ Evan, the tech teacher from Tupper, worked with all the students at our school to help build 4 beautiful planters and a compost bin so that we can start a community garden at Thunderbird.

    School gardens are so important as it engages learners on how to grow food and provide food systems that are sustainable. Today, I would like to share with you what I have seen as some the benefits of having SPEC deliver “school garden education” at Thunderbird over the past 5 years.

    There are few, if any, opportunities for many of our students to be exposed to gardens and gardening as many of them do not have a yard. This is where SPEC comes in. The biggest benefit I see is that the SPEC “garden education program” compensates for this missed opportunity by connecting our students to food, to nature and to their environment by introducing the power of gardening. The Thunderbird school garden is an empowering way to engage our students in real life experiences, where they learn about food security and how to grow their own organic fruits and veggies.

    The children are always highly engaged in all the fun and hands-on lessons and activities, which SPEC provides. It just ignites their curiosity and passion. It warms my heart to see the sheer joy and excitement exuding from our students as they learn about soil, worm composting, how seeds travel, flowers and pollinators and especially insects in the garden. Each year, Nikoo, the amazing SPEC coordinator, who runs the lessons, even spends the day at our school dressed up in a bee costume when she is teaching the children about flowers and pollinators. They just adore her and she has a great rapport with our students.

    In addition to the fabulous SPEC lessons that Nikoo provides throughout the school year, we also use the Thunderbird school garden as an “outdoor classroom”. Throughout the year, our students will bring out magnifying glasses, string and meter sticks to observe, measure, compare and discuss about the different types of plants that are growing. You will often see our Thunderbird students outdoors with clip boards and pens making observational drawings of leaves, plants, flowers and even insects they see in the garden. It is easy to see the students’ overriding sense of pride and ownership of the school garden they so fondly care for.

    One of the highlights brought about by the SPEC “garden education program” is the “year end harvest and celebration” in June. It is difficult to get parent volunteers into our school as many are working multiple minimum wage jobs or they may be intimidated to come in because of language barriers. However, when it comes to harvest time, we have many parents who are eager to help harvest the wide range of vegetables and plants from the planters with their children. The school garden has helped to transcend some of these language barriers and has helped to bring our community closer together.

    Another fabulous partnership that came out of the gardening program was that Murray, the youth worker at Van Tech, who helps to transition at-risk grade 7s to highschool collaborated with Nikoo from SPEC. They worked together to support Thunderbird’s grade 7 leadership group. In the Spring, these students helped to maintain our school garden with jobs such as building trellises for the peas and also composting. The “Leadership and Resiliency Program” that Murray runs has a large outdoor propane oven. The Thunderbird leadership students came up with the brilliant idea of using some of the vegetables that were harvested to make pizzas in this outdoor oven for the year end harvest celebration. These students had the opportunity to proudly prepare, cook and serve the garden pizzas to over 200 students at our school during our afternoon harvest celebration. The garden pizzas were a huge hit and the kids were keen for 2nd and 3rd helpings. What an empowering learning opportunity these grade 7 students had to be able to display their leadership skills in such a positive way. They also gained valuable life experiences in helping to give back to their own school and community.

    To conclude, the benefits and impact of the SPEC “garden education program” can not be underestimated. We would love for you to come join us at our school for a lesson and to watch the children in action to truly experience the joy and excitement the school garden program brings to our students. On behalf of the Thunderbird community, I would like to thank the generous donors and other community partners for your continued support of SPEC. Please know that you are making a lasting and positive difference by providing our appreciative students the opportunity to participate in the SPEC “garden education program” and for that we are most grateful. Thank you.

    Janey Lee

    Teacher at Thunderbird Elementary

  • 11 Sep 2017 11:15 AM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    By Dr. Art Bomke, SPEC Director

    The article (See link) in the September 8th Vancouver Sun refers to recent census data that is reflecting a loss of farms and fewer farmers in Metro Vancouver.


    It may seem odd that an urban based environmental organization like SPEC would be engaged in supporting local farmers, however, our ongoing Climate Change Adaptation Project for Small Scale Farmers is clearly aimed at two of the concerns mentioned in the piece, “willingness of the existing farm base to be there" and “transference of knowledge for the next generation.” The problem is current, not something to be faced in the future although climate change adaptation will likely change the future farming environment. As such, we have been striving to forge collaborations with several other NGO, government, university and private sector organizations to provide more on-farm advice in managing soils, crops and protecting crops against insect pests and diseases.

    We at SPEC believe that the vast majority of urban Metro Vancouver residents are interested in and supportive of local farmers and our goal is to direct that support to practical solutions to the problems facing new farmers currently and those arising with changing climate.

    Art Bomke, Director

    SPEC Food and Environment Committee 

  • 31 Aug 2017 12:00 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Daniel Rotman

    Daniel is a co-facilitator of Master Recycler Vancouver.

    I'm a strong believer in the idea that sustainability requires us (all of us) to reach beyond our circles and networks and biases to empower change. It won't be easy and it won't look like we think it will.

    Take ZooShare for example. This new project takes local animal and food waste to feed an anaerobic digester that then produces energy and fertilizer for the local community, closing the loop on those resources. The bio-gas cooperative is working closely with Miller Waste, the Toronto Zoo, the local community, the local government and its 600 members/funders to make this happen.

    Check out Lodge Farm in north Wales, another great example of how animal and food waste are being used locally from a corporate player.

    Collaboration also helps us make others do and feel good! Those of us with the passion and energy can't do it all, so we can simply help others achieve what we all want, a sustainable future. It's not about being a hero, it's about cultivating heroes all around us. 

    DHL definitely puts the above into practice. How can a shipping company go net zero? They are empowering their employees by training them to help their customers ship more efficiently and through using zero emission, or carbon neutral delivery options. Have you seen their delivery bicycles? DHL is also developing their own in-house electric vehicle technology, and has been a sponsor of the Formula E racing series since it started in 2014. 

    Those of us who are doing everything in our power to move towards a greener, cleaner future, you are definitely not alone, and that's a message we all need to share.


    DHL: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/worlds-biggest-logistics-company-races-towards-net-zero-emissions

    Collaboration: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-collaboration-inspires-sustainability-heroes

  • 28 Aug 2017 11:42 AM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Amrita Pooni

    Amrita is a student entering her final year of university. She is majoring in a B.A. of International Relations at the University of British Columbia. She is currently interning with the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) ​as the facilitator of the annual Westside Community Food Market (a partnership with Kitsilano Neighbourhood House)​. 

    As a student, working on the Westside Community Food Market has given me a new perspective on sustainability. While I have read different papers and listened to lectures of how to create a more environmentally sustainable world, it was hard to ever imagine these methods being used in practice. I have always believed that change can be most effective when it starts from the bottom up. As such, I was excited to contribute to and work with an organization that has been advocating for environmental change for nearly 50​ years. Working on the Westside Community Food Market, I learned how markets could help people connect with ethically sourced produce, baked goods, and accessories. Additionally, the coupon program provided low income families with market money to spend at the market.  Not only did this program provide access to healthy ​food for low-income families but also in the process helps to​ support sustainable businesses. By doing so we helped local sustainable businesses grow and reach even more people. 

    Personally, to know the exact person who has harvested the veggies I put into my meals or the snacks that I ate during lunch has provided me with a new perspective on what I am eating. It was amazing hearing people’s stories of how they got started with the market. When I listened to the conviction behind people’s personal stories, it showed me the passion people have for the work they do and that was reflected in the products they made. Renee from True Nosh,​ coming from a family with a history of diabetes,​ dec​ided to make a company that helps balance your blood sugars and prevent ups and downs. Roger from Farmhouse Bard discussing the power of food in helping people grow and bringing people together.  Sheila from Zero Waste Christmas who as a child of Depression-era parents always saved and reused wrapping paper from gifts, but decided to take it further last year by sewing gift bags for all the little gifts. It was thought provoking and I found myself questioning every purchase that I made and where I chose to spend my money in my everyday life. It lead me to make certain lifestyle changes such as supporting my local coffee shop instead of a chain coffee shop. Learning theoretical concepts in class is one thing, but having the opportunity to actually take action and see ideas come to fruition, has been life changing.  

  • 03 Aug 2017 6:22 PM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    ​Did you know that the BC Motor Vehicle Act here is 60 years old?  The way the roads are being used has changed, and so should the rules that govern them. Please take action today. Check out what our friends at the HUB are proposing, lets make our voices heard, and ask our government to take action. Let's be part of the solution and not the problem. 

    If you are interested in this topic and want to volunteer and meet like-minded people join us at our next SPEC Energy & Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday August 16 at 6:00PM, at 2305 West 7th Ave. Or email us at volunteer@spec.bc.ca to learn more about volunteering with SPEC.

    The SPEC Energy & Transportation Committee

  • 24 Feb 2017 11:04 AM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    The City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health combine to host discussion on catalyzing social connections

    In 2012, the Vancouver Foundation presented the results of a survey of metro Vancouver revealing that people in the region identified their greatest concern as a growing sense of isolation. You can read the entire study at: https://www.vancouverfoundation.ca//sites/default/files/documents/VanFdn-SurveyResults-Report.pdf

    Since that study, social isolation and ways to remedy it has been the subject of frequent discussions. In   December, 2016, the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Coastal Health and Metro Vancouver presented CONNECT: Catalyzing a Social Movement, a day-long event that offered a range of activities to engage and teach participants about making connections.  The conference was facilitated by The Leverage Lab, a project incubated by SPEC, and Richard Drake, Coordinator of the SPEC Elders Circle, co-hosted the workshop on inclusiveness.

    The conference brought together people from diverse backgrounds to share music, food, and workshop experiences.  Workshops were presented by academic, non-profit and government practitioners who  study, advocate and deliver services to vulnerable populations or who are responsible for  preparing for  events that threaten our normal systems of communication, transportation, medical support, food security, etc.  Participants explored our collective impact on energizing a movement around social connectedness in the Metro Vancouver region.

    Workshop topics included:

    • measuring social connection,

    • boosting social interactions through housing design,
    • enhancing community resilience through neighbourhood networks,
    • accelerating inclusion of hard-to-reach populations through specific outreach strategies,  
    • creating more engaged and connected communities through the arts and culture. 

    Besides the workshops, there were a number of ‘connecting experiences’ that quickly crossed the barriers of separateness and put participants in touch with each other.  I met several new people, some peripherally but with four new people I exchanged cards and put them immediately on a list to follow up with to build on our common interests.   

    This is a good news story at a time when we seem to be pulling apart and straining the seams of our social bonds.  Kudos to the local political and health authorities for addressing the barriers of isolation and separation.  These barriers make us vulnerable to messages of fear that lead to suspicion of differences and indifference to vulnerabilities.  We can bring civility, preparedness and resiliency into our relationships through housing and other programs that rebuild our sense of ‘The Commons.’  And we can revitalize bonds of trust, mutuality, and safety that are the heart of community and allow us to respond effectively and compassionately to crises.

    The City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health are seeking ongoing feedback and connection with citizens about this issue and these concerns.  SPEC, an urban environmental organization recognizes the profound link between social and environmental sustainability and supports all elements of this outreach to citizens.  If you’re someone who feels drawn to start a neighbourhood conversation or learn information and/or skills that support these connections, download the city’s VanConnect APP at http://vancouver.ca/vanconnect.aspx  Or you can call or email SPEC.  We are partnered with Kitsilano Neighbourhood House in an ongoing outreach to our urban community to make and sustain the connections of social harmony, resiliency and environmental integrity. 

    — Carole, SPEC President

    Society Promoting Environmental Conservation – now in our 48th year.

    www.spec.bc.ca or info@spec.bc.ca  



  • 07 Oct 2016 3:55 PM | Karla Olson

    Article from Vancouver-Point Grey Community Office Fall 2016 Newsletter, David Eby, MLA

    We had a quick chat with Oliver Lane, Exec Director of SPEC on the role of this great organization in the community.

    Q. What’s the best thing about working with SPEC?
    A. The people. It is a pleasure to work with staff and volunteers that bring such a diversity of knowledge, interests and culture and that share values and a passion for sustainability. SPEC is like a container for great people and great ideas to flourish. And we do our best to support that.   

    Q. SPEC has been housed in many places in Vancouver. Can you tell us about your new location in Kitsilano?
    A. In November 2014 we moved into our new office in the Kits Neighbourhood House building on 7th and Vine, in the heart of Kitsilano. It is such a wonderful location and Kits House is such a great partner. The Westside Community Food Market is an example of the type of partnership we have. We've also jointly hosted on-site workshops through the Urban Farmer Field School, and our new SPEC Elders Circle is being kindly supported by Kits House.

    Q. What’s it like collaborating with UBC students?
    A. SPEC gets involved with UBC students in a variety of ways. I want to say that we also connect with SFU students but I guess because of our location on the westside and our connections we end up having a more frequent link to UBC. Collaborating with UBC students allows us to strengthen the Academia-Community link. It also brings new ideas and fresh energy to SPEC. And although students are always quite busy, we really welcome the time and passion they share. And as a UBC graduate myself, I love the opportunity to get students connected with grassroots projects happening outside campus.

    Q. How have the markets been going and what should we watch for next?
    A. The market this year has been great! It was a wetter summer than last year but we are having roughly the same number of sales and visitors. The market is a great pace to support urban agriculture, local farmers, and very importantly, provide a community space for people to meet and access local and healthy food. We also have a coupon program that makes the market food more accessible to lower income community members. This seasons' last summer market is on September 15. But the good news is that we will host a smaller scale Fall Market, followed by Kits House's Autumn Fair on October 22, that will include a food market, and lastly the NEW Kits House - SPEC Winter Market on December 3, also featuring some of our summer market vendors.

    Q. What’s your favourite vegetable?
    A. It changes. Right now I have the following top three: Arugula, Sweet potato and Leek (my partner makes such a delicious leek quiche!). 

    If you have questions about SPEC or want to learn about volunteer opportunities, please visit their website http://www.spec.bc.ca/

  • 01 Sep 2016 6:26 PM | Karla Olson

    Why did you become a farmer?

    “I left my office job to look for more fulfilling work in the environmental sector and through volunteering discovered that organic farming satisfied the environmentalist in me as well as giving me a sense of satisfaction that comes with hard, physical work, and seeing concrete results of your efforts.”

    What are the main challenges you face as a farmer?

    “Balancing work-life in the summer – there are endless tasks (and weeds) but not making time for myself only results in burn out. Another challenge is financial stability.”

    Aside from fresh local food, what other values do you provide to your community through farming that people might not know about, for example, a place for pollinators, supporting biodiversity?

    “My farm is one of two small mixed organic farms in my area of Richmond surrounded by blueberries and cranberries creating an ideal environment for pollinators and birds improving biodiversity.

    Through my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, I introduce people to eating in season, new vegetables and varieties of familiar veggies, and an appreciation for good food.”

    How can people in the community support urban agriculture, food security and healthy ecosystems? What is your call to action?

    “Talk to your farmer! Ask about practices, connect with them, Certifications are not everything, and you can learn a lot about what grows well, when. Plus a lot of us love to talk about what we do, this is a labour of love.”

  • 01 Sep 2016 6:20 PM | Karla Olson

    Why did you become a farmer?

    “I used to work in a government office doing IT and found myself looking out the window all the time longing to be in the fresh air and sunshine. I started volunteering with the permaculture Vancouver meet-up group and loved the experience of gardening and growing food in the community so I decided to get into it commercially.”

    What are the main challenges you face as a farmer?

    “Having stable and affordable access to land is a challenge. We are on a short term lease so reluctant to invest in infrastructure and permanent/long term plantings of perennials (fruit trees, nuts, berries…)”

    Aside from fresh local food, what other values do you provide to your community through farming that people might not know about, for example, a place for pollinators, supporting biodiversity?

    “We keep beehives and chickens at our farm and have flower gardens and hedge rows. We try to make habitat for bats, dragon flies, butterflies and other critters, birds and pollinators.”

    How can people in the community support urban agriculture, food security and healthy ecosystems? What is your call to action?

    Try growing something! Herbs and tomatoes are what I started out with on my apartment balcony. Community gardens are great places to meet other gardeners and see what grows here. Come visit our farm – we have volunteer days and are happy to connect with people.”

Copyright © 2017

Society Promoting Environmental Conservation

Canadian charitable registration number:

118836311 RR0001

Society Promoting Environmental Conservation

2305 West 7th Ave 

Vancouver, BC  V6K 1Y4

T: 604.736.7732

E:  admin(at)spec(dot)bc(dot)ca

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