Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Category Archives: Sustainability

Gearing up for an Eco-Friendly(ish) vacation

Planning a honeymoon to the Caribbean is becoming a fairly standard practice for most newly weds.  The tourism industry is well equipped to help you book a standard vacation, but what happens when you want something eco-friendly?  You will find that this isn’t a common request that travel agents get and they aren’t prepared to answer it.  This is because flying south isn’t typically viewed as as something that can be done in an eco-friendly way.  Times are changing and now you have options.  There are choices you can make from the resort, to the airline, to the food, and the products you use.  Here is the process we followed:

1) Choose an eco-friendly resort.  This doesn’t mean you have to stay in a grass hut without air conditioning but you should seek out a resort that puts a focus on sustainability.  Market demand for eco-friendly hotels is a great thing, and will encourage more hotels to follow suit.  After a lot of research we settled on the El Dorado Royale in the Riveria Maya, Mexico.  This resort was recommended by friends for its food and amenities, but when we did more digging we found out it took sustainability serious as well.  The eco friendly features include:

  • Solar panels to heat 100% of the water for the pools.
  • A greenhouse that grows fresh organic vegetables and herbs for use in the restaurants.
  • Laundry at the resort is cleaned without chemicals, and 92% of the water is reclaimed and filtered/cleaned for other uses.  Heat recovery recovers 98% of the heat used for drying to heat hot water for washing.
  • Energy efficient air conditioners eliminate on/off cycling and reduce energy consumption by 50% over standard models.
  • The resort is Green Globe certified (3rd party verified green rating system similar to LEED).

2) Mitigate the effects of travel.  Travel is the part that is difficult when you head south.  Nobody wants to spend their entire vacation in a car or train.  Its pretty much airplane or nothing.  When faced with no options for eco-friendly travel you need to take steps to mitigate the effects of your travel.  Air Canada offers a great carbon offsetting program in cooperation with a firm called Zerofootprint.  Not only can you offset your flights emissions, but you get to choose how they are offset.  We chose to offset our emissions using a combination of planting trees and recycling tires. Planting trees removed carbon from the atmosphere and recycling tires cuts down on carbon as well as hazardous gases associated with burning tires (which is standard practice for tires not recycled).

3) Choose Eco-friendy sunscreen.  Many of the chemicals found in sunscreen are toxic and their effects on marine life are especially harmful.  If you plan on swimming in the ocean in and around the coral reefs you should do your part to reduce serious damage to the local eco-system.  Eco-friendly suncreen does not include any of the following chemicals:

  • Benzophenone
  • Ethylhexyl
  • Homosalate
  • Octyl metoxycinnamate
  • Octyl salicylate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinxate
  • Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane

Terra20 in Ottawa sells sunscreen that is free of these chemicals.

These are the eco-friendly decisions we made when planning our honeymoon.  Our trip is scheduled for the end of October and I will try to grab some good photos of the eco friendly features at the resort while I am there.

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Sustainable Transportation: Bus vs Car

Since I arrived in Ottawa I have been thinking of ways to make my day-to-day life more sustainable. An obvious choice was to use transit year round. It also makes financial sense because the wear and tear on my car driving around the city in addition to the gas I burn would be far more expensive than a bus pass (OC Transpo sells an adult pass for $94 per month). I was interested in finding out what the difference in the carbon footprint was.

I own a 2003 Hyundai Elantra and it certainly doesn’t get the fuel efficiency that it did when it rolled out of the factory. I’ve done some searching online and I’m satisfied that I can do my calculations using a fuel efficiency of 9.4 Liters per 100 km (25 miles per gallon or 0.09 kilometers per liter). My commute would be 6 km, the traffic moves steadily with very little idling.

Calculating the fuel efficiency of the bus is where things become a little more complex. I ride the bus during rush hour. The bus has anywhere from 25-30 people on it, and my ride takes about 30 minutes. It takes a less direct route to my office, which is 7.1 km. The problem is that outside of rush hour the OCTranspo buses drive around with very few people on them, and also need to drive to and from the start of their routes at shift change with nobody but the driver on board. For this reason I am going to calculate the energy footprint of two bus scenarios. Scenario 1 will only consider the bus ride I take to and from work and ignore everything else. Scenario 2 will consider the total fuel OCTranspo burns in a year, and how many total passenger kilometers it delivers to customers. According to the most recent OCTranspo Facts and Figures report, they provided 973 million passenger kilometers and burned 41.8 million liters of diesel fuel.

Carbon Footprint Calculations – For each one way trip

The end result is that no matter how you measure it, the bus has less of an impact than my car. Interestingly enough though if I were to carpool I could reduce my impact into the same range as the bus, but have a much more convenient trip. The problem with carpooling is that it is hard to organize and not always an option.

Its transit for me!

Moving and Sustainability

There is not much sustainable about moving half way across the country, and this is something that has plagued me over the last few weeks as we prepared for our move. I’ve been trying to come up with ways to reduce the environmental footprint of our move, and to give some consideration to the social impact as well. The triple bottom line involving environmental, social, and economic impacts is something I place a lot of value in.

The first thing that we have done is to purge as much of our stuff as possible to cut down on the weight we will be moving. Fundamental thermodynamics says that the force required to move something is equal to the mass times the acceleration. Since we can’t control the acceleration the movers use, we have to adjust the mass to reduce the energy required. We also chose to hire movers so that our belongings are moved in a large truck with many other peoples belongings. This means it will be much more efficient than moving it in a half empty U-Haul by ourselves.

Other problems presents themselves because we will need to replace the things we purge when we get there, and producing new products requires energy too. We also need to divert what we purge from the landfill. The embodied energy associated with what we are throwing out and what we are replacing is difficult to calculate. The solution we have come up with for this is to leave everything we no longer want on the sidewalk for people in our neighbourhood to take. The vast majority of what we placed outside has found new homes, and the less fortunate and student populations in our neighbourhood benefited from this. Some people even stopped us on the street to thank us for putting so much stuff outside to give away. Reusing is the second of the 3 Rs for a reason, and the best way to divert things from a landfill. The remainder of the things will be recycled if possible and we will send to the landfill only what we cannot divert. Once we arrive in Ottawa we will try to stock our apartment with items from yard sales. This will allow us to reuse other peoples items they no longer want, and reduce the embodied energy. It will also help us financially as we try to establish ourselves in a new city.

The last step involves getting ourselves there. I have been pretty hard on my car and was planning to sell it before we made the move. We have decided to keep it and sell it in Ottawa, and drive instead of fly. Driving is more fuel efficient than flying. We will also fill by car with light boxes to use all the space, and free up space in the movers truck. We’ve got CAA roadside assistance in case we don’t make it, but our fingers are crossed!

While its near impossible to do a zero carbon move (I like to think that nothing is impossible), it is still important to consider the environmental and social impacts of your decisions. Often people are only concerned with the financial impacts. In our move we made decisions that both reduced the carbon impact and helped out the less fortunate in our neighbourhood. We are far from a zero-impact move but every little bit helps.

Our move from Halifax to Ottawa will be roughly 1,434 km

City of Halifax

City of Ottawa

Sustainable Purchasing Policy

I drafted a Sustainable Purchasing Policy for my Campus’ Student Association and it was successfully approved by council this week. The policy sets guidelines that can be followed to ensure that items purchased have as little effect on the environment as possible. The goal is to reduce the waste we generate, support manufacturers who use recycled content, and support local businesses.

The policy clearly states that it is a guideline and that it does not need to be followed. This is to ensure that the Student’s Association is able to function in its role. The policy is in place to get people thinking about how the purchasing choices  they make can effect the environment. In my role as the VP of Finance I track and report all purchases, and with this new policy in place I will also be tracking which purchases meet the criteria set forth. We will measure our performance based on the percentage of purchases that are sustainable. There is currently no minimum threshold that we need to achieve, but over time we may adopt an acceptable standard.

The purchasing policy was drafted using the LEED Operations and Maintenance guide as a template and it meets the requirements of Materials and Resources Prerequisite #1. Under LEED O&M a sustainable purchasing policy is mandatory, and you get extra points if you follow it. I feel that just by having one in place people are likely to follow it, and by not making in mandatory you are far more likely to have it adopted by building managers.

I have uploaded a copy of the purchasing policy here.

Sustainable Transportation at my Campus

This week at my campus is Sustainable Transportation Awareness Week. I am on the executive of the student association and I am organizing this event. This week we are giving out prizes to encourage people to use sustainable transportation. I am also using the event as a learning exercise for LEED for Existing Buildings. The event kicked off on Friday with a transportation survey. The survey meets the requirements of LEED EB:O&M Sustainable Sites Credit #4. Normally there would be a mandatory minimum number of responses to the survey but we don’t have the authority to make it mandatory. We are also only sending it out on one day, instead of for an entire week like LEED requires. The survey should give us an idea of the times of commutes that students and staff take. We will be giving out a cash prize to one randomly selected person who responds to the survey.

Every day this week you can be entered into a second draw if you use sustainable transportation to get to school. We will accept walking, cycling, or any other non-motorized transportation. Also accepted are hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles, and carpools of 3 or more people in a traditional vehicle.

On Friday of next week we will be doing “Crazy but Safe Sustainable Transportation Day.” We will be giving a prize out to one random person who uses an unconventional method of transportation to get to school. Some examples might be roller skates, skip-it, or stilts. This day is designed to bring awareness to the need for sustainable transportation, and to be fun.

The student association executive at our campus this year is made up entirely of students in the Energy Sustainability Engineering Technology program. I expect that we will have several new green events over the course of the year.

The results of our transportation survey.

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