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Posts from the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Billboard that creates potable water from the air

It all started with the impending start of the University of Engineering and Technology’s (UTEC) application period and its need to capture the attention of potential students. Based in Lima, Peru, where potable water is limited and the air humidity is 98%, the University launched a very different kind of campaign: a billboard advertising their school that also contained the technology necessary to capture the air humidity with an air filter and turning it into drinkable water through a condenser and water filter. Each billboard contained a water tank that could carry up to 20L of water.

UTEC not only showcases the very benefit of what their institution offers, but also developed a great way of building awareness and relationships with the very communities they want to draw students from at the grassroots level.

Everybody wins. And, it’s brilliant.

For the marketers and brands out there: how can you better integrate your product or service as a benefit to the communities you’re a part of? Is there a way of also integrating your messaging intrinsically into what you’re doing in a way that demonstrates what you offer – rather than just saying what you offer? Of course, not every product lends itself as beautifully to an idea and execution like UTEC, but perhaps there are other ways of bringing product offering and service to a community together that’s beyond donated dollars and the social responsibility programs often isolated from the rest of the company.

Something to think about.




Along with the buy ban, I’ve been focused on the concept of simplicity lately. The serene, nature-filled days of Tulum brought on a lot of thought and inspiration since returning home around how much more simply I could be living… and how much more space I could be creating in my life for new ideas, new inspiration, new activities… new priorities.

It was hard not to notice the sharp contrast between worlds. Of course things will always be very different on a vacation when compared with every day living. However, there was something about getting power from the sun, water from the rain, getting up with the sun, and getting in tuned with the moon and tidal patterns that are invigorating and pure. Life in the city means a whole other world of thought, decision-making, and priorities. The constant barrage of noise, cues of what’s important, things to buy, and conflicting things competing for your attention and time.

Coming back, I wanted to simplify and maintain some semblance of the connection I felt while I was away to nature, the natural cycles and rhythms of nature, and more space for more inspired thought.

All very conceptual and abstract, so naturally, the first place I started was… my closet.

Why the closet. I see it as a material symbol of how much clutter I have in my life. It’s also something I have to see and make decisions about daily. As a physical, tangible thing, I felt it would be worth attacking as a step towards the larger effort to simplify. Not a shelf, rail, or drawer was left untouched. On average, I purged a third to half of what I had, and the result has been incredibly liberating and eye-opening. I simply haven’t needed all these things – but better yet, someone else may have use for it. So the bag of clothes and other accessories are going to a Mennonite-run clothing drop-off location, whereas I have more space already.

A different approach: sustainable infrastructure

sunriseI’ve been thinking about sustainability a lot lately: this concept of existing in a way that enables people and nature to thrive for a long time in their natural course. Or in an even better scenario, leaving a positive impact on others around, whether it be environment, community, or people.

This concept that was once touted by many as being “hippy” or “airy” is now an ever-growing necessity demanding attention from government, agency, corporate, and people. We simply cannot sustain our current path and methods of consumption and development. Companies are starting to take notice and to pay attention. Consulting practices like the Deloittes, KPMGs, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers of the world that were once focused myopically on financial and stakeholder stewardship are establishing social responsibility disciplines and departments.

More recently, McKinsey posted an article capturing thoughts by philanthropist, Judy Rodin, who speaks to a different way of approaching infrastructure and planning. What Rodin describes and asserts for is a more holistic approach and consideration to development. It’s not saying development won’t or can’t happen, it’s that when it does, there are other means to accomplishing the same thing, if not better. When there is a win-win, why not explore it? It’s a great article worth reading if you haven’t done so yet.

As an aside, my sister and I were in Tulum, Mexico recently. It’s paradise. Not only because of it’s white sand beaches and beautiful year-round weather, but because many of the people living there really care. Many of the boutique hotels available along Tulum beach are sustainability-minded. Solar for power, rain for water, and architecture designed to eliminate the need for air conditioning. Of course, the picture is not perfect – there are those who fly in the face of this, and unfortunately, there are more to come with enormous big box developments happening behind the scenes of this beautiful coastal town. Locals estimate that in another five years, Tulum will look and feel like its neighbour, Playa-del-Carmen up the beach: crowded, over-developed, and a shoreline eroded and ruined by ill-planned piers, infrastructure, and cruise ships. The beaches currently in Playa are man-made to repair the damages done to them, and if you take a walk down the beach in Playa, you can see where the erosion is still happening and will likely need repair in a few years down the road.

Imagine development that does not repeat recent and long-time historical errors that are not only costly to try to amend, but often irreparable. Maybe Judy Rodin is on to something.

Earth Day

Earth Day was on April 22 – as it is every year. I didn’t know it before, but Earth Day has actually been around for a long time. Started initially in 1970, the first Earth Day aimed to raise environmental awareness among Americans. Over the years, it’s grown a great deal, with this year seeing 192 countries participate in Earth Day, involving over a billion people. Canada was one of those proud countries.

Of particular interest to me every year are the promotions that pop up in time for Earth Day. For a day that is dedicated entirely to generating awareness and action towards global sustainability and environmental stewardship, it’s always ironic to see the mass flyers, posters, and ads encouraging consumers to buy more stuff, albeit stuff claimed to be “green”, at a special price on that day. A little (or a lot) counter-intuitive to the mission of the day.

This year, as I walked down the neighbourhood streets of our fair city, one particular one struck me. It struck me so much I actually stopped and took a picture of it. Although well intentioned, it took the Earth Day promotions of the years past to an entirely new level.

The company? Kiehl’s.

The promotion: a limited edition rare earth deep pore cleansing masque.

The concept is… an earthen mask for your face just in time for Earth Day. Perfect! What could be better for Earth Day than actual earth for your face? I may be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think Earth Day had anything to do with soil from the earth, outside of protecting it. That said, what does soften the blow is that all proceeds from the masque go to a not-for-profit organization focused on promoting recycling. The limited edition masques are also sold in limited edition containers produced with their own Limited Edition Art Label series.

That’s better. A little art, a little donation, and a pore cleansing earthen masque for your face.

Fruit label turns into organic soap

Image credit: Amron Exptl.

We’ve all been there. Standing wearily at the sink, washing our beloved apples, painstakingly removing the ever-persistent fruit labels from them. First, we gently pick at and peel back the label. If we’re lucky, the process ends here. If not, we find ourselves running the apples under increasingly warm water, rubbing off the paper. Then eventually, scraping at the fruit with our fingernails in the effort to remove the sticky glue from the fruit skin, before turning, with a sigh of submission, to the knife or vegetable peeler lying on the kitchen counter.

Now, it seems, Scott Amron, an electrical engineer in training now turned designer and “engineering atelier”, has a solution that not only removes the harmful pesticides and other residues from our apples, but also the pesky fruit labels as well. The solution: Fruitwash labels. These fruit label stickers effectively dissolve into an organic fruit soap when placed under water. With this solution, gone are the chemicals and the tiresome fruit labels.

“I’ve always been discontent with fruit labels and felt they could do more than just display product info and be difficult to peel off,” Amron told Gizmag. “We buy, wash and eat fruit. So, the wash step was the next thing the label should help with.”

Unfortunately, the product is not out yet, although Amron is selling a 10% stake in the fruit label patent as an investment opportunity.

Stop the Mega Quarry

On March 11, 2011, the Highland Companies — backed by a US hedge fund, the Baupost Group — applied for a license to excavate a quarry in southwestern Ontario, just north of Orangeville. The quarry would be the largest Canada has ever seen and span 2,316 acres. For those living in the area, this would be the equivalent of the area in Toronto from the Don Valley Parkway to Dufferin Street, and St. Clair Avenue down to Lake Ontario. Of particular importance is the destruction of precious Class 1 farmland, which would result from the excavation, as well as the impact to the water in the area. The proposed quarry would plunge 200 feet below the water table, which feed in the headwaters of five rivers. The result would be that 600-million-litres of water would need to be pumped from the mega quarry every day, in perpetuity.

What is especially disturbing is that this prime farmland was originally purchased with the stated intent of farming it. However, immediately upon consolidating ownership of the land, Highland Companies has turned around and promptly filed application for a mega limestone quarry; a quarry that will destroy the high-quality soil of Ontario’s farming heartland, disrupt the waters of 5 major rivers for generations to come, require water pumping generators to pump the water in perpetuity due to the permanent disruption of the underlying water table, and create immeasurable impact to the vast acres of neighbouring farmland, not to mention very real potential of pollution of the pristine water that currently serves over one million Ontario residents.

More information about this issue can be found at Canadian Chefs Congress.

In particular, on October 16th from 11am to 5pm, an event will be held where Chef Michael Stadlander and 70 other of Canada’s best Chefs will be cooking in solidarity with the movement to Stop the Mega Quarry. Be there to share the land and make a stand. Tickets are pay what you can and can also be bought either through the site, or at the event the day of. All proceeds will go towards assisting with the legal costs of fighting the Mega Quarry.

Thank you very much for reading this post, and do pass the word along. This land and water is ours. We have an opportunity to take a stand, so let’s take it.

Bringing light into some of the poorest parts of the Philippines

They call him “Solar Demi”. The man known in their community as the god-send who is illuminating their homes. Demi is a volunteer who is a part of the Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Litre of Light) project.

The latest brainchild of Illac Diaz of the MyShelter Foundation, Isang Litrong Liwanag is a project that aims to bring sustainable lighting to some of the poorest communities in the Philippines. The concept, designed and developed by students at MIT, is surprisingly simple. Filtered water and a few tablespoons of bleach are placed into a 1L plastic bottle and a metal sheet is affixed around the bottle with a sealant to seal the seams. A hole the circumference of the bottle is then punched into the metal sheet roof of the home, and the bottle is placed through the hole and attached to the roof. The result: a previously dark home that relied heavily on electrical connections, that can be faulty and present fire hazards, can now be illuminated with free, and clean solar light during the day.

Each eco-friendly Solar Bottle Bulb transmits the equivalent of approximately 55-60 watts of light from the sun, and can last up to 5 years. The bleach in the filtered water prevent algae from building up in the bottle, extending the life of the simple bulb.

As of this year, over 10,000 bottle lights have been installed in underprivileged homes across Manila and the nearby province of Laguna. Isang Litrong Liwanag and MyShelter Foundation aim to install bulbs to light up a million homes by 2012.

To make a donation, or to volunteer for this amazing cause, go to Isang Litron Liwanag.

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