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Upcoming event – Metro Vancouver Sustainability Breakfast – The Opportunities for Urban Density November 25, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, sustainability, urbanization, Vancouver.
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WHEN – Thursday November 27th, 7:30am to 9:00am
WHAT – Metro Vancouver Sustainability Breakfast “The Opportunities for Urban Density”
WHERE – BCIT Downtown Campus.
WHY – Because urban density is a key issue in the future of the Metro Vancouver regional development.

I would have linked to the Metro Vancouver website but guess what? It’s DOWN! Argh. See you there (despite the fact that it’s going to be the second time I have to be at an event at-7.30-in-the-morning). I am SO not a morning person.


HappyFrog.ca merges with 3rdWhale! November 22, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, EPIC 08, link love, local business, social change, social media, sustainability.
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I recently learned about the recent merger of HappyFrog.ca with 3rdWhale from my good friend DaveO, but I hadn’t had a chance to write about it, as I’d been really overwhelmed with work. HappyFrog.ca was founded by Ron Williams as an all-encompassing directory-social networking resource for green businesses in British Columbia. The platform in and of itself is fun, and handy.

I have been a proud member of the FrogSquadders (I covered EPIC 2008 for them along with a great line up of local bloggers). I frequently guest-post in HappyFrog’s FrogBlog and they have given me great exposure in their newsletter as well. Funny how everything is connected in this world, I do know of the work of Boyd Cohen, the force behind 3rdWhale (although, surprisingly, I’ve never met him in person despite the fact that we both live within the Metro Vancouver area!)

I look forward to learning more about what 3rdWhale and HappyFrog.ca merged can do combined! One improvement that 3rdWhale’s page desperately needs is an “About Us” page. I am pretty sure that everyone wants to know more about how they came about and what they’re up to!

3rdWhale recently organized a PodMob (which I also promoted on Twitter), although truth be told, at some points I was overwhelmed with so much writing and talking about the podmob. The success of the podmob at Sushi Bento on Robson Street is in no small part due to the enthusiasm and positive energy of the people behind 3rdWhale, and I believe primarily it was Emily Jubenvill, who is “The Greenest Person in Canada”.

It’s great to learn about these new developments! Congratulations to HappyFrog.ca and 3rdWhale!

Statistics Canada provides us a full RSS feed of statistical goodness! November 20, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, food for thought, public policy issues, random thoughts, sustainability, wastewater, water, water policy.
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Hat tips to Greg Andrews (TechVibes) and Darren Barefoot (Capulet) for pointing me out to Statistics Canada’s RSS data feeds. You’ll see – even though I’m a chemical engineer, during my Masters and PhD degrees, and in my post-graduate work I have done quite a lot of qualitative research.

My personality traits work to my advantage when using qualitative research methods. I am pretty good at interviewing people, analyzing textual data, coding using Strauss and Corbin’s axial coding methods, undertaking ethnography, etc. I am considered a specialist in institutional analysis because, well, I know how to study rules and routines. And the majority of these studies are undertaken by observing and interviewing.

The thing is, during the course of my PhD, I became REALLY quantitative. Since my advisor’s training was quantitative, he impressed it upon me. I’m quite grateful to him for doing that because thanks to his sage advice and training, I have examined wastewater governance and policy using quantitative methods (something that is rather atypical in this body of literature). And of course, there’s my love of game theory and econometric methods. WOWSA.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I drooled (just as Greg tweeted earlier this morning) when I saw StatsCan’s RSS feeds. Given the kind of research I do, economic, government, population and environmental indicators are the RSS feeds I grabbed. You can grab any others as you may see fit.

Unfortunately, and this is quite sad, I can’t get any quantitative data on water through those RSS feeds (or at least I haven’t been able to get any so far). I do know where to find some water-related statistics in Canada, but the state of the art in regards to accurate water stats in Canada is (as mentioned in Karen Bakker’s edited book) rather appalling.

If I manage to get my hands on some good data, you’ll see some pretty graphs here sometime soon.

Jack O’Lantern’s post-Halloween disposal – Greening your celebrations November 1, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, food for thought, Halloween, random thoughts, sustainability, Vancouver.
Eric M. Martin

Credit: Eric M. Martin

Ok, so Halloween has come and gone, and you went out and had a blast. The little critters (and adults) had an opportunity to dress up and be The Joker, or Batman, or a mummy, or whatever.  Now comes the part that most people forget about (or would prefer to): CLEANING UP.

Since Halloween is such a big celebration in Canada, the United States and many other anglo-saxon countries, numerous Jack O’Lanterns are carved (many as cute as the geeky WordPress one that is shown here – hat tips to Lorraine Murphy aka Raincoaster for linking to this one).

But people tend to forget that they have to dispose of the pumpkin once the Halloween celebrations are over. So, when you think about disposing of your pumpkin, remember that you can

– Compost it – Cut it in very small pieces and throw it in the composting bin.

– Dispose it in the organic section of your trash bin – Don’t forget to separate organics from inorganics!

Given how many households and businesses carve pumpkins, I would appreciate if you thought about the negative environmental consequences of inadequate disposal. Thank you.

Waste Reduction Week Canada – Oct 19-25th, 2008 October 21, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, Vancouver, Waste Reduction Week Canada.

This week marks the Waste Reduction Week in Canada (from October 19th to the 25th). You may not recall last year’s civic strike (one of many policy and political mistakes) but in case you do, I am hoping this little visual reminder will help remind you of how awful the city looked.


Credit: Rebelcan

As I mentioned a while ago, we live in a rather affluent (and wasteful) society. We buy coffee to go, and then proceed to dump the paper cup in the trash can. We buy disposable diapers and then proceed to wrap them in double plastic bags, because “eeewww it’s poop”. We drive three blocks to buy groceries. And the list goes on.

Waste Reduction Week Canada helps remind us of the many ways in which we can reduce our ecological footprint by minimizing waste. If you need a refresher, I wrote a short post on solid waste management that will give you some useful reading material.

The website of Waste Reduction Week Canada offers some really neat factoids (some of which you may or may not know). As a scholar of environmental studies who happens to have worked for many years in solid/liquid/hazardous waste management, I actually do know that landfill sites account for about 38% of Canada’s total methane emissions (according to Environment Canada).

If you need some suggestions on how to reduce the amount of waste you generate, feel free to drop me a comment, send me an email or send me a tweet.

Greening caffeine consumption? October 6, 2008

Posted by Raul in coffee, environment, sustainability.
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Photo credit: Ianiv and Arieanna on Flickr

Recently, Arieanna wrote a post about implementing more ecologically-friendly measures in coffee shops. I actually was very happy that she touched on this topic, as I used to consume a lot of coffee (not anymore).

Although I had thought about some measures (e.g. using my refillable coffee mug, not accepting paper cups, not using those little bags of sugar), I hadn’t really paid all that much attention. But Arieanna’s post reminded me that it’s important to reflect on these issues. And one of the commenters on her blog pointed her out to Agro Cafe on Granville Island.

I haven’t had a chance to visit, but I might just drop by sometime soon, if for no other reason, because the commenter (Jeff) mentioned that Agro Cafe had already implemented lots of sustainability measures. I’m curious to see them, and I’ll write about them soon.

Biodynamic wines and sustainability – The Farmstead Wines September 30, 2008

Posted by Raul in drinks, sustainability.
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Last week I had the pleasure of having lunch at Salt Tasting Room and enjoy for the very first time some of the Farmstead wines . Despite the fact that I missed VinoCamp (due to overcommitments) I heard rave reviews, so I was looking forward to a taste.

On my Flickr set, Sean Orr (of Beyond Robson’s Morning Brew fame) was kind enough to describe each one of the platters we were offered while at Salt (thanks Sean, very much appreciated). One additional bit of information he kindly added was the fact that Farmstead’s wines are all biodynamic .

Lunch at Salt Tasting Room (Gastown) - NDMD '08

In previous posts I’ve talked about eco-vodka, but I had never tried biodynamic wines (well, up until I met Anthony Nicalo). What is the relevance of a wine being biodynamic , you may ask? Well, according to the Wikipedia entry, biodynamic agriculture entails:

Regarded by some proponents as the first modern ecological farming system, biodynamic farming includes organic agriculture’s emphasis on manures and composts and exclusion of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants.[Wikipedia entry on Biodynamic Agriculture ]

Farmstead Wines are certified. I had a chance to have a few glasses of different wines not only at Salt but also at the BarCamp Vancouver 2008 party at WorkSpace . Great flavor, and I definitely feel more environmentally conscious as a result. Admittedly, I’m more of a sweet wine kind of guy, but that’s not to say that I can’t have a glass or two of a more dry wine, particularly if it’s environmentally responsible and socially conscious!

Upcoming environmental events in Vancouver – September 2008 September 9, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, Brew 2.0, climate change, drinks, environment, friends, Gastown, Green Drinks, Launch Party Vancouver, link love, local events, random thoughts, social networking, sustainability, upcoming events, Vancouver, wastewater, water, water policy, Web 2.0.
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Two upcoming events are rather relevant to me and both fall on the same day.

About the Community Sustainability Breakfast [Metro Vancouver’s website]:

Sustainability Community Breakfasts – Nature’s Health Drink – Always on Tap
Wednesday, 17 September, 2008
from 7:30 AM to 9:00 AM
British Columbia Institute of Technology
555 Seymour Street, Vancouver

About Green Drinks Vancouver Sep 2008 [Green Drinks Website]

WHEN the next regular Green Drinks is: Every 3rd Wednesday of the month (except in Dec and July) Our next event is on Sept 17th, 2008
WHERE: Steamworks pub at 375 Water Street on the edge of Gastown near Waterfront Station.
Please be aware that due to changing space availability we cannot guarantee we’ll be in the same room each month – if you can’t find us just ask Steamworks staff which room we are in.

It’s lucky that both of these events fall on the same day, and that I’ll be back in Vancouver by then! And again, I’ve got a full week booked (Brew 2.0, Green Drinks, Launch Party AND a special day!). Can someone please clone me? Thanks.

Adaptation and vulnerability to floods and climatic events in Mexico September 1, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, climate change, environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, Vancouver, vulnerability and adaptation, wastewater, water, water policy.
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This post is worthy of much more in-depth content, but I just wanted to show that the municipality where my parents live is really unprepared for extreme rain. The photos and video shown below show the local river almost entirely flooded (and rather polluted, as you can see).

River overflow 2

River overflow 3

As you can see, cars are at serious risk of being taken by the river. The local authorities are rather unprepared for these extreme rain events. But the funny thing is, I wonder how prepared are the Metro Vancouver municipalities. I will be doing some research on this topic upon my return to Vancouver.

Car washing and sustainability August 19, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, sustainability, wastewater, water.
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While covering EPIC 2008 as a FrogSquadder for HappyFrog (you can read all my content on HappyFrog here), I came across an eco-friendly carwash in North Vancouver, Easywash . Rebecca helped me set up an interview with Geoff Baker, the CEO of Easywash, around mid-July but unfortunately, I couldn’t interview him as I’ve been in Mexico (and under a lot of stress).

This weekend, I went to wash Mom’s car, and I used the same carwash she’s been using for years. I was reading some books on water while I was waiting for the car to be washed but I didn’t see a lot of environmentally-friendly features.

However, the funny thing is that I saw a sign that said “At this carwash, we don’t waste water, we recycle it”. But I couldn’t see where they recycled it, nor any type of water treatment. I didn’t ask, but I’ll be back to investigate.

In the meantime, I just thought I’d include a couple of photos and some video of the process (sorry if the music is too loud, but I was bored inside the car).

I also plan to interview Geoff Baker upon my return, once I get all my other interviews out of the way (I still haven’t interviewed Al Pasternak about Bokashi composting, and we’ve been trying to talk about this for months!).

Closing the cycle through recycling July 26, 2008

Posted by Raul in Blogathon 2008, environment, sustainability.
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This post is sponsored by Fresh Start Recycling Ltd. – Thank you for your generous donation to the BC Cancer Agency!

Deep Cove

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much it irks me when people forget about pressing environmental problems such as solid waste. In case you didn’t know, the Vancouver Landfill is filling up (geez, I wonder why?).

People are SO intent on working on issues of climate change, that they forget that solid waste is a priority issue. It’s funny, though. If people implemented the 3 R concept (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), I am pretty sure it would be much easier to deal with the problem of solid waste.

However, the cycle is not closed completely by applying the 3R. That’s also why I enjoy the idea that Fresh Start offers – give the recycled stuff to charity. By giving back to the local community, Fresh Start atempts to close the gap between actual closed cycles and open cycles. I really enjoy this business model, and I am sure that they will be able to implement new fresh ideas (hence Fresh Start!) in the near future.

[EDITOR’S NOTE – And here is a link to Fresh Start’s blog!] Mosey over and check them out!

Fresh Start Recycling and Disposal Ltd. July 26, 2008

Posted by Raul in entrepreneurship, environment, Focus on Vancouver, local business, Main Street, Mount Pleasant, sustainability, Vancouver.
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A few weeks back, Rebecca directed Kara Alcorn (Customer Relations, Fresh Start Recycling and Disposal Ltd.) towards my site and suggested that I talk to her. I have to say that I am very positively impressed with Fresh Start (as we bloggers have begun to call this young company).

Obviously, you’re going to ask me – so what IS Fresh Start?While I am sure you’ll check their site, basically let me tell you that Fresh Start takes the business of recycling one step further, and brings the recycled stuff to charities. Moreover, one element that really impressed me was that they look for local charities within the communities where their clients are located.

Founded in 2004 by Vancouver native Thomas Goodall, Fresh Start Recycling & Disposal Ltd. is committed to reducing clutter in your life while minimizing our impact on the environment by reducing the amount of material that goes straight to the landfill.[Fresh Start Recycling website]

Let me give you an example. Currently, my friends Ianiv and Arieanna Schweber are in the North Shore area, and are currently renovating their house. Their floor has to be fully torn apart and they need to install new flooring. They’ll probably also need to remove and recycle stuff. The obvious choice of company to do this? Fresh Start, of course!

By demonstrating that recycling can be still a successful business model AND that you can incorporate elements of corporate social responsibility (CSR), therefore enhancing how and where the product is delivered and the ethical/social aspects of recycling within local communities, I think Fresh Start is indeed off to a very fresh start, and a successful one!

Even smarter, Fresh Start maintains a relationship with customers, vendors, potential clients. How? By using one of the most innovative forms of communication – Web 2.0! Yes, sir! Fresh Start has a BLOG. I can’t help but feel really excited about this, because I am always a firm believer that you can meld social media with sustainability, and as you can see, Fresh Start is doing it!

In addition, of course, I should highlight the fact that their office is in Mount Pleasant, very close to my house, as a matter of fact!

Kudos to Fresh Start as well, because they were the first corporate sponsors of my Blogathon 2008. While I am raving about them in this post (and very legitimately, as I do believe in their positive intentions), they did NOT sponsor this post, so this is in NO way paid advertisement. They DID, however, sponsor a forthcoming post that will describe in more detail the whole concept of Recycle, Reuse, Reduce (3Rs), and for their contribution to the BC Cancer Agency and my Blogathon, I am very, very grateful!

Governing water, governing ourselves July 22, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, public policy issues, sustainability, urbanization, water, water policy.
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Continuing on my research-related posts, I have previously talked about my research on wastewater governance, on environmental NGO mobilization, and now I’ll briefly talk about what I have studied on water supply governance.

False Creek (the Yaletown side)

I was going to leave this post all the way until Blogathon, but Arieanna’s recent post on “Canada, the water” reminded me of the relevance of understanding how water supplies and water management works (great post Arieanna by the way). Arieanna’s post calls attention to the fact that the bottled water being sold at Whole Foods was pretty much targeted towards tourist buyers.

Ianiv and Arieanna on Flickr

Photo credit: Ianiv and Arieanna on Flickr

What worries me a bit more is not so much the privatization and commodification of water, but the misconceptions of water availability on this planet. According to the 2nd. United Nations Word Water Report, between 25 and 40% of the world’s drinking water comes from ground sources (groundwater).

This fact should be scary to people, but I’m not sure that people who live in Canada and particularly British Columbia (since we are so well served by our watersheds and local reservoirs) realize the degree of water scarcity that pervades the world, even if there is a generalized perception that . Therefore, it’s not hard to think that many people have a reason to be rightfully annoyed by the increasing privatization of water supplies.

North Vancouver Lower Lonsdale

Given the investment and capital costs that need to be covered in order to provide groundwater for drinking purposes, I would imagine that people would be cognizant of water scarcity and avoid increasing demand on water reserves, both by conserving water and by recycling grey water. In one of my research projects, I have looked at the use of common pool resource (CPR) theory to try and understand the conflicts amongst two communities who share and access the same aquifer (in Mexico).

The nature of public accessibility of aquifers makes them an excellent laboratory to study the behavior of communities who have to share a common resource that can be depleted if inappropriately managed. The purpose of my post was (as subtly suggested in the header) to indicate that in order to appropriately manage or govern water, we need to first learn to govern ourselves and control our natural consumptive instinct, in order to avoid depletion of our water reserves. Will we be able to do that? And how can we increase the visibility of the challenges of governing water when we can clearly see that other issues (such as climate change) are so high up in the environmental agenda in Canada?

More resources and materials for reading:

– The World Water Assessment Project page – Provides lots of information and good statistics. The UNESCO International Hydrological Programme is currently putting together the 3rd World Water Report.

CBC Series on Water – While I am VERY weary of pointing people out to media sources instead of academic sources, I kind of liked this series.

– The National Water Research Institute of Environment Canada – Basically focuses on freshwater, but a good resource nonetheless.

– The International Water Resources Association (IWRA).

Restaurant review – Goldfish Pacific Kitchen July 21, 2008

Posted by Raul in dining out, Downtown, seafood, sustainability, sustainable restaurants, Vancouver, Yaletown.
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I had always been curious about Goldfish Pacific Kitchen, more and more recently since I have been spending more time in Yaletown (and I have noticed the increase in eye candy!). Also, I rarely consume seafood as I am more of a meat eater (and somewhat vegetarian, I’d say I’m like 40% meat eater and 60% vegetarian). I was recently invited as a guest to GoldFish Pacific Kitchen and couldn’t resist the temptation. An invitation to such a good restaurant is not something you can pass on, so I decided to take one of my closest friends with me.

JT is usually one of my most frequent dining companions and therefore, it was just appropriate that he shared this experience with me. I didn’t read any restaurant reviews nor listen to any commentary about Goldfish so that I could go and have a unique experience on my own. We both decided to go for the Prixe Fixe (what Goldfish calls ‘Le Sharp Deal’), a three-course meal that is served from 5:00pm to 5:55pm (and yes, you can order at 5:54pm for sure!). For $ 25.00, this is one great value for your meal, since the mains are usually about that price. My photos don’t really do justice to the meal, so you’ll have to forgive the quality. But the food is simply great.



We both ordered the mustard greens for starters, then I chose a salmon dish and JT ordered the ling cod. We complemented our meal with some bacon rice. The salmon was most definitely to die for, delicate and flavorful. The bacon fried rice blew me away, as it seems like such a simple dish yet I found it delicious. Finally, for dessert JT ordered the creme brule (of which I had to have the caramel crust) and I ordered the gelato.The dessert was extraordinary. I have to say that Goldfish’s creme brule is definitely my favorite, so far.

I had a chance to go back a second time as Steve Jagger invited Rebecca Bollwitt and myself to come join him for lunch. Same great experience, prompt service, great food (and awesome company, of course). This time, I ordered the maple soy chicken (really, really good) and also a side of fried bacon rice. Really good (although I think I ate a tad too much, hehe).

Without a doubt, these two have to be some of the best experiences I’ve had with customer service. Our server (in both cases, lunch and dinner) was simply outstanding, very knowledgeable, prompt, friendly and not pushy at all. Albert was also paying attention to every detail. Given my recent string of bad luck with restaurants’ customer service, I was quite happy to find Goldfish’s high level of service.

Another element that I really liked was finding out that Goldfish Pacific Kitchen is so interested in issues of sustainability. Goldfish is an associate of the OceanWise program AND the Green Table network. As I have mentioned before on my blog, I’m always interested in issues of greening restaurants.

Would I go back to Goldfish? Absolutely. While they are very different concepts, I would be willing to substitute my beloved Water Street Cafe for Goldfish for a celebration. This has to speak volumes to how much I liked Goldfish, because the Water Street Cafe is the location where I have celebrated Valentine’s Day and my birthday for the past few years (with JT, no less!). I am sure we’ll be celebrating either his birthday or mine at Goldfish in the near future. And to Goldfish, keep up the good work, you guys!

Goldfish Pacific Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Environmental groups mobilization and protests: More than meets the eye July 18, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, climate change, environment, environmental NGOs, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, water.
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Ever wonder what drives environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) to undertake campaigns to protect the oceans, protest forests’ clear-cutting and fight to have bis-phenol A banned from all plastic bottles? This is one of the questions that has driven another side research project I have conducted throughout the past decade.

I’ve always been puzzled as to why would numerous individuals of different backgrounds decide to come together and volunteer their time to engage in environmental activism. Putting pressure on government is an activity that has taken place for a long time, and with the recent increase in media exposure to problems such as climate change and pollution, we have witnessed a spiraling growth of ENGO mobilizations.

Pembleton on Flickr)

Global warming protest outside Washington Park (Photo: Pembleton/Flickr)

You may or may not know that one of the most famous environmental groups (Greenpeace International) was initially founded in 1971 here in Vancouver.

In 1971, motivated by their vision of a green and peaceful world, a small team of activists set sail from Vancouver, Canada, in an old fishing boat. These activists, the founders of Greenpeace, believed a few individuals could make a difference.

Their mission was to “bear witness” to US underground nuclear testing at Amchitka, a tiny island off the West Coast of Alaska, which is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions.[Greenpeace website]

My research on ENGOs has focused less on understanding the motivations behind environmental groups’ (a topic that, while interesting, provides in my opinion less insight on potential public policy options) and more on the strategies that ENGOs use to put pressure both on industrial polluters and on governments at different scales (local, regional, transnational).

Moreover, I have been interested in gathering empirical evidence of the formation of transnational coalitions of ENGOs and how these coalitions use their collective knowledge to engage in strategic behavior and put pressure on national governments. Interestingly enough, there are many cases where ENGOs have been successful in pressuring polluters and shaming governments.

However, one of the most interesting insights that I have found in my research is that, for an issue to really galvanize public opinion, it has to be notorious and affect the population in a deep way (that is, it must be scary enough to make people put words into action). As I mentioned in my previous post on the governance of wastewater, it irks me to know that other pressing problems, such as dwindling supplies of water and increasing wasteful behavior on the part of urban populations are being overlooked in favor of climate change.

While it appears as though environment (and climate change) are two of the issues that Canadians indicate as public policy priorities, I am still surprised that there are not more environmental group protests on issues of pollution, and still place so much emphasis on climatic change issues.

Deer Lake Park

My hope is that, in the coming years, people will continue to mobilize and try to change how environmental policy is shaped and implemented, but hopefully by then, we’ll have a much more holistic view and not only one shaped by excessive press coverage of environmental issues that, while pressing, are not the only ones we need to look at.

The governance of wastewater and the culture of flushing July 16, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, urbanization, wastewater, water.
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One of the things that has struck me a lot throughout the past five years that I have studied water policy is the absolute disconnect that exists between our understanding of the different elements of the hydrological cycle and their interconnectedness. The social sciences literature has examined in great detail issues of water scarcity, but water quality and wastewater treatment are, for the most part, absent from the discussion.

The Joy of the Mundane

Photo credit: The Joy of the Mundane

I know that I have always chosen difficult and non-explored questions for my own research, and in this regard, I have created some sort of a niche because very few people study the governance of wastewater. Amongst those very few Canadian scholars who have done work in wastewater and that I know of are Dr. Arn Keeling (whose PhD dissertation was an environmental history of wastewater in Vancouver) and Dr. Jaimie Benidickson (whose book, “The Culture of Flushing“, is a great environmental and social history of flushing in Canada, the United States and Great Britain).

My own work hasn’t dealt with Canadian wastewater, but I do have a fairly solid understanding of the way things work here. I am sure you’ll find it appalling that the city of Victoria, the capital of the province of British Columbia, does NOT have a wastewater treatment plant. The effluent comes straight into the ocean (with some preliminary screening).

Burnaby Lake Park

A recent post by Matt Collinge about water quality in False Creek reminded me of how little do people in Vancouver AND in Canada think about wastewater. This is something that is prevalent at the larger scale. Professor Dickinson indicates that this is part of “the culture of flushing”, or what I often call, the OOSOOM phenomenon (out of sight, out of mind).

One of my personal pet peeves is that both scholars and non-academics in Canada are SO focused on climate change issues that sometimes they forget other environmental problems that have NOT been solved, including solid waste management (Vancouver’s landfill is about to be entirely full) and wastewater management (we are nowhere near some of the developing countries’ technologies for wastewater treatment, hard to believe as that may be).

My research focus in the area of water policy (I’ve done research in other areas) has examined primarily the role of institutions and the types of rules found in wastewater governance, and the role of watershed councils in strengthening sanitation policy. I found, after that presentation, and having had discussions with other scholars, that I will have to pursue two separate agendas in the future: one on wastewater governance itself and one on watershed councils, and I am very excited about this.

I am curious to know if my readers do think about water scarcity more than they think about what happens once they flush the toilet. Or does even water come into their minds, with so much focus on climate change issues? What do you think?

Greenwashing, greenhushing and the IKEA Way June 30, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability.
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Often times, I get so carried away with the whole social media and tech discussions (try Googling iPhone Rogers and you’ll know what I am talking about) that I tend to forget to talk about the field where my expertise lies: environment. I did not go to graduate school in this field just to let it slip through the cracks. So I was quite pleased to see a few opportunities opening for me this week to have enviro-geek discussions on my blog, and meld my two worlds: tech-geeky and enviro-geeky.

Darren Barefoot is helping IKEA Canada spread the word about IKEA’s most recent initiative: The IKEA Way. What is this? In a nutshell,

The IKEA Way is our promise. We promise that we’re working towards having an overall positive impact on people and the environment. In other words, we’re going to be nice to people and nice to the planet. Sounds ambitious for a global company? It shouldn’t. We believe it’s just part of smart business, but more than that — it’s the right thing to do. [The IKEA Way – What We Do]

In the academic literature I have frequently come across the concept of “GreenWashing”. In non-enviro-geek terms, greenwashing refers to the deployment of a series of strategies and tactics that will make your company “look” green but it does not mean that you will indeed be undertaking measures to reduce your company’s environmental impact.

While doing a little research for this post, I came across a really neat article on TreeHugger titled “Greenhushing doesn’t help anyone“. So what is greenhushing? Pretty much the opposite of greenwashing: when a company doesn’t want to promote its environmentally-conscious efforts for fear that they will be taken as greenwashing.

As Stiffelman points out, greenhushing may just be as bad as greenwashing. Why not promote your efforts if you are actually a company that is trying to better its environment? That’s one of my own personal pet peeves. If you have it, flaunt it! The whole concept of eco-labelling is predicated on this idea – my products are more environmentally-friendly, thus merit eco-labels (be it SeaChoice, Forest Stewardship Council, Environmental Choice or any of the other ecolabels floating around).

The IKEA Way seems to me like a good initiative (I have been perusing the website and offered some feedback on how the website and the overall initiative can be strengthened). Of course, there is work to be done, but at least, these are some steps towards better environmental performance. And besides, who doesn’t like IKEA furniture? I do… 😀

Moreover, this looks like a perfect mesh of Web 2.0 and environment. This is the direction where my own work is going to go, I can see that. I like to harness the power of Web 2.0 to effect social change and sustainability. Hat tips to Darren for pointing me out to the IKEA Way.

WordCamp Fraser Valley and coffee/snack sponsorship June 27, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, environment, geekifying myself, link love, sustainability, upcoming events, WordCamp, WordCamp Fraser Valley.
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On July 16th, 2008, a number of local, Metro Vancouver bloggers who use WordPress as their main platform will be descending on Langley’s The Cascade Casino (no, we are NOT gambling, just in case you were wondering) to present at WordCamp Fraser Valley, and according to the most recent update from BlueFur, they’re already at 33% capacity (and it’s not even July) so be sure to register, PRONTO!

At any rate, I found out that Gary Jones is looking for coffee and snacks sponsorships. Given that I work in the environmental field, ideally I’d like to see a reduced environmental footprint. One idea would be to contact local, environmentally-conscious producers to see if we can get some type of sponsorship (e.g. organic vegetable platters, or organic, ethically-traded coffee). I’ll see what we can do – I am sure amongst my readers there must be people who work in environmental issues and the food industry, so if you do (or know of someone), drop me a comment or send me an email.

Supporting the UBC Farm struggles through Web 2.0 June 10, 2008

Posted by Raul in food for thought, random thoughts, sustainability, urbanization, Vancouver, Web 2.0.
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At the recent Trout Lake Farmers’ Market, I was chatting with Andrew (who volunteers with the UBC Farm), and he reminded of their continuous struggle to keep the UBC Farm on location (given UBC’s recent increase in real estate development). For obvious reasons, I’ll stay out of the legal discussions but I can totally see the benefit of maintaining the UBC Farm where it is.

So what is the struggle, you ask? I asked Andrew to provide me with materials that explained this in more detail. From their brochure, I have extracted a couple of paragraphs that are relevant:

“- The Vancouver Campus Plan (VCP) is currently undergoing a review process. Campus plans have designated the Farm as ‘future housing reserve’ and downplay the value of the farm by basing their understanding of South Campus on data that predates current Farm operations.

– The UBC Farm is a unique institution necessitating a consultation process that explicitly addresses its potential contributions to regional sustainability and campus life in the future. This has not been possible within consultations designed to plan the entire campus.

– Physical layout options for South Campus will be presented in fall 2008. A final decision will be made by the UBC Board of Governors and then approved by the Metro Vancouver Land Use and Transportation Committee.”

Of course, the best way to make decisions is to be informed, so check these websites and related materials! For more information, you can go to their blog, the UBC Farm website, and the Friends of UBC Farm website.

Upcoming event – Living Car Free – Climate Cafe May 15, 2008

Posted by Raul in climate cafe, climate change, East Vancouver, environment, Main Street, Mount Pleasant, sustainability, urbanization, Vancouver.
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I always knew that some day, someone would finally clue in and decide to host more environmentally-oriented events in my neighbourhood. Of course, I am pretty sure that almost 90% of you don’t know that throughout the month, Rhizome Cafe plays host to a LOT of events, many of which are focused on social justice and sustainability. But it’s only one venue. There should be MANY events in other venues. Main Street/Mount Pleasant has LOTS to offer in terms of great spaces for socially responsible happenings.

Well, it turns out that someone realized that the concept of the Philosopher Cafe could be applied now as a Climate Cafe, so via Stephen Rees, I found out about the Climate Cafe that will take place on May 20th at Bean Around the World on Main and almost Broadway. Living Car Free is the theme of this month’s Climate Cafe.

I kind of feel guilty that with all the stuff that has been happening around me, I haven’t been paying much attention to upcoming events and thus might have kept you my dear readers a bit out of the loop. I promise to be more “on the ball” next time 🙂 Hat tips to Stephen Rees for always reminding me of stuff that I probably should know about but have been insanely busy to remember. His blog is awesome!