By Sherry Hinman
Suzanne Elston's concern for the environment grew out of her fears as a new parent when her first child was small. "When you have kids, you childproof your home," she says. "I covered all the electrical outlets and made sure everything was safe. Then I looked outside. I took a look at my backyard and then at the community. We're right between two large nuclear power plants. That's how I got into this," she says.
Today, Elston is an award-winning newspaper columnist who has been writing on the environment for over 16 years. She's also chair of the Durham Region Environmental Advisory Committee (DEAC). There are 36 environmental advisory committees set up across Ontario. These advisory bodies, made up of local citizens, advise municipalities about ecological decisions.
Elston says "the idea of sustainability is about asking yourself, What do I need for a level of comfort that I can maintain? It's about economic prosperity without robbing future generations."
"The "environment' is where we all live, and 'development' is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode." These words are from the 1987 landmark Brundtland Report entitled Our Common Future. This excerpt exemplifies the foundation the report laid for future work on an international scale; initiatives such as the United Nations Earth Summits and the global Agenda 21 programs outlined the action plans from those summits. The report was the spark that mobilized action across the globe over the past 18 years.
The expression "think globally, act locally" reminds us that while it can be overwhelming to consider the enormity of the world's environmental woes, organizations and individuals have the power to create change on a small scale.
How this plays out depends upon the aspect of our lives to which we apply the philosophy of sustainable living. There are examples everywhere of individuals and companies doing exemplary work to help preserve the environment. People are opting for green heating systems. Builders are creating walkable communities.
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) hosts a competition, along with the Design Exchange, called the Archetype for the Living City: Sustainable House Competition. Competitors must come up with a plan for a single detached home that utilizes sustainable technologies and processes. The winning design will be built as an archetype at the new Living City Campus north of Toronto. "The Living City" refers to Greater Toronto's environmental vision, a program based on respect for civil and human needs that includes planning for our coexistence with nature and its resources. Canada's national housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, recently hosted a Toronto media bus tour to highlight some of the city's innovative housing solutions, including the Toronto Healthy House, as well as other examples of creative uses of space and building materials.
In Durham Region, DEAC offers six Environmental Achievement Awards, created in memory of individuals who contributed significantly to the environment. For example, the Eric Krause Innovative Plans/Policies/Initiatives Award, named for the dedicated environmentalist who developed the Ecological Footprints Analysis, was recently awarded to Hawk Ridge Farms "for naturalizing their property, securing its future with a conservation easement, and being a flagship project for private land stewardship in Durham Region."
The Ecological Footprint Analysis is an innovative online quiz you can take. By entering information about your lifestyle choices concerning where you live, what you eat, and how you get around, you can find out how much of the world's resources you use. According to the analysis, "this planet has 12 billion hectares of bio-productive land, only two hectares per person. The average Canadian requires 7.7 hectares. If everyone were to consume at the rate of the average Canadian, we would require 3.85 earth's to support us all."
It's a sobering reminder about how real our impact is, how easy it is to make small changes, and how delicately we fit in the balance.
Your Earth by Suzanne Elston
Ecological Footprint Analysis
Sustainable Living Network
Environmental Education Ontario
Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre
The archetype for The Living City: Sustainable House Competition
The Centre for Sustainable Living, Toronto
Environmental Advisory Committees
The Brundtland Report