Greening With Gratitude

Sharing Sustainability

A Bit About Me.

 I had been looking at job postings on the ECO Canada website and for three years I found nothing that really seemed applicable to me.  While skimming the postings from this site I came across an article that was written in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster that pointed to a reliable alternative for Japan's energy needs: geothermal power.  

 This was the first time I could see that it was no longer an issue of developing technology, but rather implementing what we already have to introduce the low-carbon economy that we need.  I did not need further convincing regarding climate change after a trip that I had made to the Philippines earlier in my life.  Being unable to swim at the beach for the plastic that was washed ashore was but one example of how numerous small acts of pollution can create large scale effects in a closed system.  

 I began to search for the lowest hanging fruit in the world of decarbonization, from large scale electrical generation to car sharing.  This led me to discover enhanced geothermal systems, whereby the deeper resources of earth heat can be extracted through circulating water through deep wells. This also led me to discover how transfering heat to and from the ground can be used to heat and cool buildings through GeoExchange or geothermal heat pumps.

 The most exciting learning opportunity was to watch a presentation of world scientists about solutions to the upcoming energy crisis in Waterloo, Ontario.  It was titled the Equinox Summit and covered new advances in solar power, energy storage in flow batteries (imagine fueling your car with charged battery fluid and sending the used fluid to be charged at a wind farm), and enhanced geothermal power demonstration projects.

 All of this prompted me to begin finding practical applications of low-carbon living in my daily life.  At the time I was driving an SUV and had just moved into an apartment with the utilities included.  I figured a good place to start would be my driving habits, and I wanted to see if a new car would help with that.

 I was also finding that a number of green technologies sell themselves on their low operating costs. Many people talk about payback periods, or the amount of time for the savings from lower operating costs to make up for the higher installation costs of say, solar modules or geothermal heating.

 I didn't have a lot of money to spare but I did have a knack for penny-pinching.  I figured I would take the same principle of saving money by cutting down on fuel use through conservation and efficiency to save up in advance for renewables. I started with an audit on what I spent on gas, laundry, electricity and car expenses to get a sense of what I normally spend.  By the time I had a figure on an average monthly expense for each category, I had already started to find ways of reducing each area through conservation and efficiency.  

 I knew that some things would cost more money, like purchasing green power from bullfrogpower, or carbon offsets from carbonzero, so I began to bank any savings I had made in comparison to my average monthly energy bills.  

 Feeling empowered by the ability to make changes in my own life, I dove into finding neat things to do.  I sold my car and tried car sharing with Vrtucar and even went to Toronto to take two courses on how to install and design solar systems as well as geothermal heat pumps!  I have joined the Ottawa Renewable Energy Coop which is a local community owned solar investment that allows me to own solar even though I don't own a house.

 I have also met a number of neat people who are leaders in all things green.  I got to speak with Craig Dunn, the founder of Borealis GeoPower, a canadian company that is going to develop Canada'a first geothermal power plant.  I also got to see Planet Traveler in Toronto, the greenest hostel in North America, complete with geothermal heating/cooling in downtown Toronto as well as solar water heating and solar electricity. One of the owners of the hostel, Tom Rand, is a venture capitalist, philosopher and electrical engineer who wrote a book on various green technologies available today that can meet our energy needs.

 As I saved and bought various things, I wanted to share some of my savings as well.  I knew that there are many who cannot afford big green projects so I started to look for people who would want some help to green themselves too. I started by buying lightbulbs and showerheads and giving them away, but I soon felt manipulative as I ran out of people who wanted anything.  I knew I had to return my efforts to changing myself and to help those who wanted help.  That led me to the Ottawa Sustainability Fund, basically a place where donors can meet with project organizers to grease the wheels of the transition towards an environmentally sustainable Ottawa.

 I feel I should mention how gratitude came to be involved in this process.  I had already learned the value of having gratitude in my life and to practice developing it in my perspective.  At the birth of this program was the discovery that by moving closer to work I had already cut my spending on gas for travel in half.  It was like having a bonus $60 in my pocket every month.  As much as I could have put this money to other uses, I wanted to see what I could do with it to further my savings and even to begin to pay it forward to others.

 I can tell if I am true to my original motivations if I have lost sight of this gratitude.  By returning the focus to my own behavior and allowing time to pass I can return to a place where I find a 'bonus' amount of funds which I can invest or share.   

 Today I have put my training in solar and geothermal to use by working for Ottawa Solar Power as well as Design Experts to build experience in the field as well as help with the Ottawa Sustainability Fund.  I'm always open to suggestions and am looking for others who would be willing to take on the challenge of greening with gratitude themselves.

 To date I have found a few others who are doing similar projects.  Scott McKenzie of Ottawa had set out to reduce his carbon emissions by 80% (similar to Tom Rand) and now gives the Get Energy Smart presentations.  I've even found a fellow in Australia who has done something similar and has a blog of his own.

 Thanks for listening,