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We have to be much more rumpled… and muddy

This summer, I found a great blog at This Magazine.  The webpage (supported by folk such as Margaret Atwood and David Suzuki) tells me that it's the leading alternative Canadian magazine of politics, pop culture, and the arts.  The Earth Archives has some very well written posts - including this one, that I have tried to insert below - about how doing lots of small sustainability-motivated acts won't really help us that much.  The author, Graham F. Scott,  is probably right. But,  the question is whether these acts end up enabling much larger actions - such as, changing our views on ironed clothes on a large-scale.  Why's this large?  Well, I am very fed up with being in meetings full of people dressed in well-pressed clothes.  I do not iron on the principle that it's a waste of energy (all round).  We also need to stop washing stuff so often.  I insist that when we rent very small cars for field work, that my local Hertz gives us dirty cars - they're never going to be as full of mud as they end up with us.  If this all sends a message to industry (as in, we could boycott companies where staff are forced to dress inappropriately in ironed shirts and blouses, and in wool suits in hot summers), then small acts COULD lead to big changes.

Dawn R. Bazely - dressed below right, in an outfit that I would happily wear to a boardroom meeting, to make a point, bug shirt and all.from the field to the boardroom

"January 08, 2009

Rinky-dink ink tinkering isn't the answer

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 11:57 AM ET | Comments (0)

EcoFont alphabet

A Dutch design firm has released a new computer font, Ecofont, that they say uses less ink, and can therefore reduce the e-waste that results from depleted toner cartridges. It's a regular-looking font except that it's riddled with holes, and the firm, Spranq, claims this reduces toner use by up to 20 per cent.

Their hearts are in the right place, but this is clearly public-relations bunk. (And I realize I'm playing into it by linking to them.) There are plenty of environmental problems in the world, and technology waste is some of the most difficult to deal with. But the real effect of this font is statistically insignificant, and no one should be fooled into thinking it's a real solution to any of our pressing environmental problems.

This kind of "environmental" measure is increasingly common — easy to implement, emotionally gratifying, socially acceptable, and totally ineffectual. You would be better off turning on the ink-saving features now available in every modern printer; even better would be choosing not to print that two-line email in the first place.

This morning on Twitter I linked to a new advertisement from the World Wildlife Fund that makes a crucial point: consumers and end-users are being constantly scolded to change their behaviours and reduce their environmental footprint while government and industry continue to allow damaging beahviour to go unchecked. Individual efforts like installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs and downloading an "Ecofont" are fine, but they won't get us where we need to go unless the biggest and baddest polluters are brought to heel."

“Whatever happened to the paperless office, anyway?”

I was browsing through topics on sustainability on The Global and Mail website and I came across an article describing something with which we have a love/hate relationship: paper.

It passes through our hands at least a dozen times each day, often simultaneously giving us headaches (not to mention paper cuts!). It has the power to give us pain or pleasure (or both). It bridges the gap between hands and minds. We have designed elaborate systems and products for organizing, storing and presenting it. These facts ring particularly true in the office, where paper has virtually become a defining component.

This really makes you wonder: is it a tool in our service, or are we the ones being enslaved?

This article discusses growing initiatives in companies to reduce paper usage (and ultimately, disposal) for environmental, as well as financial reasons. Ironically, despite the rise of technology and the sparkling visions of digital texts, Statistics Canada has found in 2006 "that Canadians' paper consumption 'more than doubled between 1983 and 2003' and that 'the production and use of paper products is at an all-time high'" (Silverman 2009). These statistics, however, need not overshadow the reality of tactics and technologies that are being developed and applied to ease our obsession. In addition to the option of electronic pay statements, companies can now provide Web-based time-sheets (offered by Nexonia, a Toronto company), snail mail by email (Earth Class Mail, in the United States), and a digital archive of a company's paper receipts (Shoeboxed). Here, we must insert another "however"; our generation still clings tightly to these artifacts of our culture. Only 35 per cent of employees at Indigo have subscribed to electronic pay statements. The University of Calgary is still towered by the 20,000-feet stack of paper it produces per year. As much as I cringe at the sight of new pages spilling forth to correct a single word, I cannot yet imagine a world without our fine printed friend. I don't believe there is a need to. Like other issues in sustainability, the first step should be awareness, followed by reduction and moderation. In this vein, the article closes with a more realistic perspective on the situation, proposing the more reasonable goal of shifting to the 'less paper' - rather than 'no paper' - office.

By the way, I found it very interesting, almost touching, to see the dedication of a Xerox executive (François Ragnet) to the future and sustainability of his company's product. His blog, titled The Future of Documents, can be found here.

Pistachio’s Heather Reisman – “Buy less. Buy better. Buy forever”

This past Christmas, I was delighted to find a great range of cards from Pistachio (the latest project of Heather Reisman of Chapters-Indigo). They were "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" cards, which thereby extended the Christmas card-sending season to March.  Plus, they were FSC-branded, 100% post-consumer waste fibre, Soya Ink, powered by Green Energy - Mohawk, Made in Canada.  Yeh!! Every kind of serious sustainability logo, right there. My decade-long lack of enthusiasm for cards has largely been driven by concerns about ecological footprints, as well as time crunches associated with grading 100s of final exams and essays at Christmas and attending untold numbers of "festivals of lights" school celebrations. But, I acknowledge that cards are an important means of staying connected and serve an important social purpose.  These Pistachio cards allowed me to do that, and simultaneously underscore my sustainability message to friends and relatives.

Pistachio was back in my thoughts today, thanks to Jennifer Well's article in the Globe and Mail Business magazine: "It's not easy being Pistachio - Heather Reisman is moving eco-products upscale. But will her aim exceed consumers' reach?" Reisman is quoted as saying: "Buy less. Buy better. Buy forever." Wow!!

Reisman has found that people are willing to pay a 5-15% premium for sustainable, ethically-sourced items.  This compares surprisingly closely with the student responses to question 9 of IRIS' Carbon Offsetting survey, in which just under 50% of those surveyed saying that they would pay 5-10% more for environmentally friendly products.  Only 20% said that they would be willing to pay over a 10% premium.

I wish Pistachio all the best, and recently stocked up on their thank you cards. But what I'd really like to see, and would buy, is a set of cards with the "Buy less. Buy better. Buy forever." slogan emblazoned across the front.

Dawn Bazely

Step by step, York reduces its carbon footprint

York's carbon offset crew. From the left, front row, Alexis Morgan, Professor Dawn Bazely and Annette Dubreuil. Back row, from left, Steve Glassman, MES student Tony Morris and IRIS coordinator Melissa Leithwood (MES '07).

York's carbon offset crew. From the left, front row, Alexis Morgan, Professor Dawn Bazely and Annette Dubreuil. Back row, from left, Steve Glassman, MES student Tony Morris and IRIS coordinator Melissa Leithwood (MES '07).

The following appeared in the Wednesday, April 02, 2008 edition of Y-File:

York University is the first Canadian postsecondary institution to make its course kits part of a carbon offset program. Now each one of the thousands of course kits created annually by the York University Bookstore is "carbon neutral".

This means that kits are produced using environmentally responsible printing practices that include incorporating locally produced papers manufactured using sound forestry practices and increased recycled fibre content. York is also contributing approximately 10 cents per kit to the not-for-profit organization Zerofootprint, to purchase local renewable energy and support other projects such as tree planting. When factored together, the changes effectively bring the net carbon footprint of each course kit to zero, making the course kit program carbon neutral.

"While the best footprint is no footprint," says Steve Glassman, director of the York University Bookstore, Mailing & Printing Services, "making the course kit production at York carbon neutral is a very important step forward for the University.

"The University is leading the way in Canada in this area. Making the course kits carbon neutral is just the beginning of a University-wide effort to reduce its carbon footprint," says Glassman. "Furthermore, students will not pay a cent more for carbon neutral course kits as the University will contribute the funds to offset the carbon produced by the production of the course kits to Zerofootprint."

Working with Glassman on the project is York biology Professor Dawn Bazely. Annette Dubreuil (MBA '07), a graduate of the Schulich School of Business, and MBA student Alexis Morgan, created the business case for a carbon offset program at the University.

York, says Dubreuil, is the only Canadian postsecondary institution beginning to institutionalize a carbon offset program. "Creating this program is the first step in evolving a mechanism that will allow other business processes within the University to be carbon offset," explains Dubreuil. "Other universities have created links on Web sites to show you where you can go to offset your carbon footprint, but it is a complicated and challenging process to incorporate the idea of being carbon neutral into their financial, administrative, legal and purchasing processes."

The term "carbon neutral" was the New Oxford American Dictionary's Word of the Year in 2006, highlighting its importance in global warming. It is brought about by balancing the amount of carbon released with the amount of carbon offset. By purchasing carbon offsets, York University is able to mitigate some of the carbon produced that can not be avoided, says Glassman. While carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates do not actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, they prevent further carbon emissions from a particluar activity or process by supporting renewable energy, research and other activities that reduce carbon production.

Course kits, that provide access to course material, are used by students and are an essential part of the University's teaching environment. Developed by the University's professors, the content of each kit is customized to a particular course and may include the course syllabus, original material, course and lab notes, review questions, journal articles, chapters from books, or even an out-of-print book. The kits are produced through quick copying and are spiral bound, usually with a durable cover.

The idea to create carbon neutral course kits started with Bazely, who is also the director of the York Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), a University-wide interdisciplinary centre dedicated towards the pursuit of multifaceted approaches to the contemporary challenges of sustainability. "It was Professor Bazely's idea," says Glassman. "She contacted me a little over two years ago and after some fundamental points were sorted out, we set out to establish what the impact on global warming of printing York's course kits was and to review the production processes we use at the York University Bookstore.

"We then looked into different organizations who could help us offset the impact on the environment of what we do to produce these course kits and settled on the Canadian organization Zerofootprint," says Glassman. "Zerofootprint follows international standards and ensures that every dollar they receive to offset so many tonnes of carbon emitted into the atmosphere is spent on local green initiatives."

The carbon footprint of course kits was calculated by Zerofootprint according to how the paper is made, the percentage of recycled content in the paper, the processes used by the paper mill and the transportation of the paper to York University. Glassman and Bazely then examined the impact of the actual printing process. "We came up with pennies per course kit that would offset the environmental damage imposed by the production of the kits."

York students Tony Morris (standing), IRIS graduate assistant, and Melissa Leithwood (right), IRIS coordinator, conduct a carbon offset survey in Central Square

York students Tony Morris (standing), IRIS graduate assistant, and Melissa Leithwood (right), IRIS coordinator, conduct a carbon offset survey in Central Square

"The course kit program is an example for the University," says Glassman. "We do about 2,000 titles per year for various courses. Some courses may have only 20 or 30 students enrolled in them; others have upwards of 500 students. There is quite a substantial volume. The cost runs anywhere from $60 to more than $100 per kit, most of which is related to copyright fees for the material reprinted in each kit. For example, the carbon offset contribution is 10 cents for every $110 course kit."

The next step is a University-wide carbon offset survey. Dubreuil and her colleagues at IRIS are currently conducting an online survey to gauge student attitudes to carbon offset programs. "The survey asks students if they know what a carbon footprint is and what carbon offsetting involves. We are asking them if they want an expanded carbon offset program at the University. The survey also measures the attitudes of students," says Dubreuil. "Are they willing to pay more for various goods and how much more? Some of the people we have spoken to have expressed a concern. They don't necessarily have the vocabulary. Many students want more information and have an interest."

To facilitate students' knowledge, the back of each course kit contains an information page to tell students about carbon offsetting. The program falls under the umbrella of the Yorkwise program, a University-wide initiative to reduce York's ecological footprint and improve life on the University's Keele and Glendon campuses.

Visit the IRIS Web site for more information on the carbon offset survey and sustainability research currently underway at York. To learn more about York's efforts to reduce its ecological footprint, visit the Yorkwise Web site.

The York community can keep informed on sustainability through the new IRIS blog. Input is welcome.

Story by Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor.