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Green Jobs | A little Speech

While juggling a few different things in business right now, I have an exciting update on a recent event we were very pleased to participate in. Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) had invited us, well… Katherine, to speak to students and those interested in a career that revolved around the environment. The speakers promoted passion but also sustainable business structures to help inspire those interested in this field.

With approximately 50+ students and those interested in changing career paths, it was actually a larger turn out than we expected. The few other speakers were engineers and large corporate businesses focusing on sustainable environmental factors from a much larger scale.

With a quick speech from most speakers, Katherine insisted on telling us where she got started in the business. When we spoke to the many people eager to chat with us, they seemed inspired and enlightened to find a natural business… on a smaller scale. This made us very happy!

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Of course our evening went much longer than we anticipated… with hearing hopes and dreams from many others, we attempted to guide them in the best direction possible to help achieve their goals. It made us both so excited to see so many eager faces ready to jump into the work of environmental design (and living!).

Suffice to say, Katherine enjoyed telling her story so much she (and I) can’t wait to go and do something like this again! Despite her recovering from illness, she did very well in her speech… come take a look for yourself!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uH1UEEvhv8&w=420&h=315]

Silk Road To Happiness… never too cool for silk

 

The incredible heat and humidity lately has me thanking my lucky stars for the silk wrap skirt that was given to me many years ago.  I’m reminded of my mother in law when in her mid 50’s claimed that she needed to wear silk clothes to feel comfortable. The wonderful natural qualities of silk out-do cotton every time.  Humidity is not a friend of cotton… Wet T-shirt contest anyone!?silkworm+on+leaves

I was intrigued by the way silk feels and acts.  I read somewhere that when used as a pillow case, the amino acids in the silk can have a anti-aging effect on your face.  Uh, can I just swaddle myself in the stuff!!??

Even with all the potential of body temperature regulating and skin smoothing, there’s a sad fact about silk. The common production method of silk fibers is a cruel one.  Simplified: when the silk worms are still alive in their cocoon, they are dropped in boiling water to release the fibers of the cocoon.  The threads are then carefully pulled and wound onto spools for the next step in production.  The worms, now dead never get the chance to become the beautiful butterfly they were meant to be.

silk-ballsThere is an alternative to the killing fields of commercial silk production but you will really have to look for it. Ahimsa Peace Silk, produced in Fair Trade communities in India, this silk is ethical.  The mulberry larva are allowed to finish their growth into flying beauties and continue the reproduction cycle.  Their abandoned cocoon are collected, inspected for vacancy then painstakingly unraveled by caring, patient hands.

Sadly, wild eri silkworms are becoming endangered, possibly due to the same fate as honeybees.  The commercial use of silk worms too is unsustainable.  A couple only produce 50 eggs, so management is precarious if greed kicks in.IMG_20150724_164321

Research about silk also turned up that toxic chemicals and heavy metals like lead are used in the colouring of silks.  So, not only is ethical silk more desirable for fair treatment of living beings but also healthier if natural dye processes are used on the fabric.  But that’s a whole other post.

Excuse me while I attend to my bowl of ice in front of the fan.  I think there’s a hint of fresh air coming through the window.  In the meantime, feet up, silk wrap on, fan on full blast.  I’m dreaming of Ahimsa Peace Silk sheets and a cool night sleep.  Stay frosty my friends.

 

Living It Large with Less

Before photo of the Exterior front

Before photo of the Exterior front

Final Exterior full view (some landscaping still to be done)

Final Exterior full view (some landscaping still to be done)

Small space living … starting out or emptying the nesting … or somewhere in between?

The average American home in the 1950’s was 900 sq.ft, with 3.2 occupants.  The average American home today is 2300 sq.ft, with 2.3 occupants.  That means today’s average American lives in more square footage than a whole family in the 1950’s!!  “The average new single-detached home in Canada is about 1,900 sq.ft. and new home builders expect them to get smaller in 2012.” says the Canadian Home Builder Association.  Most large residences have more circulation areas like stairways, hallways and corridors which is unused space just for circulation from room to room…. that can equal up to 40% of unlivable space in many of the typical track house design … and you have to provide lighting, heating and cooling to all of that space!!

Do we really need all that space to live comfortably??

Living in a smaller place doesn’t just mean ultra modern and expensive high rise condominiums.  Although high-rise condos are a fabulous option if you have the budget and want that lifestyle.  Consider that renovated factories are being turned into up-scale loft apartments … not just for artists and musicians anymore.  Neighbourhood revitalization is taking place in large and smaller cities all over, changing once dark and dangerous streets into family and pedestrian friendly, tree-lined street scapes with cafes, shops and parks.  For a home with easier access to the street, single family homes, whether an in-fill, a renovated older home or a new up-scale town-home are available in posh downtown revitalized neighbourhoods that you may not have ever considered living in before.  A well designed smaller spaces can be organized to satisfy functional requirements as well as aesthetic sensibilities.

Lockhart

Living in a smaller space can also allow you to afford a more luxuriously appointed, with all the bells and whistles type home… possibly in a neighbourhood closer to your work or your hobbies.  Think of your smaller living space like a decked-out sport coupe instead of a basic large 4-door sedan.

A condominium that offers extra features such as roof top gardening beds, barbecue areas, swimming pools, exercise rooms, spas, game rooms and theaters can extend your living space.  Even if you have a mere 600 square feet in your condo, these additional spaces would allow you the luxury of amenities that would otherwise be quite pricey.  Many condominiums also have spaces such as recreation rooms with large kitchens and furnished apartments to accommodate family events and overnight guests.  Just watch out for the condo fees… nothing is free!!

The downtown re-development of many cities has seen an increase in high and medium-rise condominium buildings which allows more people to live in the footprint of the previous building site.  Also, redevelopment of industrial and office buildings into condominiums has re-purposed long empty spaces.  The movement of people back into cities’ downtown cores and extended neighbourhoods will slow urban sprawl, keeping precious farmland and delicate natural spaces from the developers… for now.  Urban planners have increased easier access to natural green spaces for urban dwellers as the positive physiological and psychological effects of natural habitat are well know.  People just feel better and are happier living with access to nature and fresh air.

Moving closer to work and having a short commute is worth more than a big house.  Many who make this move say they have an increase in quality of life as so much of their day that was once taken up with commuting is now available to them.  Also, the cut in your daily commute makes your environmental footprint slightly smaller.

Even if a downtown condo isn’t your idea of easy living and prefer the fresh air of the country, a smaller residence could still be beneficial.  Country living could allow one to build an efficient off-the-grid abode… perhaps with modern and not-so-modern building materials and techniques.  A smaller residence requires less lighting, heating and air conditioning… easier to clean and maintain so more time can be spent in the garden… or tending your pygmy goats and heritage chickens.

Environmentally speaking, with a smaller dwelling, less resources are used in the building and maintenance of your living space.  We are well on our way into the second decade of the 21st century and still large track home builders are pumping out monster-size dwellings with “just to code” level of energy efficiency, despite governments’ commitment improvement of standards. Large swaths of what was once pristine farm land or forests are being leveled for more sub-divisions of clone housing.  From the Canada Mortgage and Housing (CMHC) web-site:  “Sustainability and innovation become the watchwords for this decade as governments focus on cleaner energy, the environment, and sustainable, yet affordable communities.”  It will take a larger commitment from more citizens to push for greater changes in standards to reach sustainability goals.  Perhaps the cable TV shows that have been promoting these monster homes as the desired norm have a social responsibility to show everyone how small spaces can be fabulously chic and livable … and definitely more sustainable environments!!Living room detail shot

Whether you prefer downtown, deep in the country or somewhere in between, one can live a small-space, sustainable life-style in comfortable, stylish fashion.  It just takes planning, creativity and professional execution. Doing things twice or even three times is a huge waste of resources… and details that are not finished with precision are noticeable and take away from all the good things you’ve done in your home. If you’re not a pro, hire a pro to add value to your home and your life.  The small investment of hiring a designer is always money well spent too, as you get access to designer products, services and possibly product discounts, but more important you will achieve a small living space that will work just for you!  Love your small space living!!

Note:  Average American house size:

http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2005/07/12/small-beautiful-us-house-size-resource-use-and-environment

Locavore your Living Spaces… Sourcing Design Products & Services Locally

The name “Locavore” is a popular name tag of Foodies who support food production as close as possible to thier community.  Where you live and what major centres that are near by may influence your decision of how far you are willing to have your home building and decorating products shipped.  I live near a city center that has New York, Toronto and Montreal within a 500 kilometers distance.  I am fortunate in that way but you may live in a prairie or mountain state or province where city centers, having a greater abundance of design sources, are at a much further distance.  We must remember that we are doing the best that we can to achieve our personal standards. There are many products such as textiles, door hardware and plumbing fixtures that are scarcely produced in North America anymore.  Unless you have an unlimited budget, you may have to forgive yourself for having to purchase items produced overseas.  I’m always on the lookout for artisans to fill the void of locally produced products. How does your local purchasing affect your community?  Most importanly, your money stays in your community.  As well, you are supporting the development of artisans skills and building a resource for quality of products.  Your support of local artisans may possibly increase the notoriety of specialized products in your region… think “Shetland” wool and “Waterford” crystal.

Where do you go to find what you are looking for?

  • Search on-line first!!  The easiest research and shopping you can do from the comfort of your sofa!!
  • Furniture – new, hand-made … the Amish community for example is prized for thier furniture production – includes the ability to custom order to fit your design criteria.
  • Thrift shops – especially if you’re handy and ready for a DIY project.
  • Up-cyclers – they’ll do the DIY and dumpster-diving for you!!
  • Recyclers of building products and architectural elements.
  • Crafters – whether on-line or at your local Farmers’ Market – beautiful products such as naturally dyed cotton t-shirts recycled into braided rag rugs, not just for country decor anymore… again, Amish quilts are highly coveted!!  Knitted blankets using local wools would be an investiment your grand-children could inherit!!
  • Artisans of textiles such as weavers, quilters… wood and glass works for vessels, dishes, pottery, plates and windows… metal works for items made from iron, steel, tin and aluminum especially for hardware and decorative items.
  • Antique dealers, estate sales and auctions – Antiques (and thier modern mass-produced look-a-likes) can be edited to fit into desired design styles… paint, change hardware or leave original finishes and hardware to maintain the future historical value.
  • Curb-side pick-ups (aka dumpster diving!!) – free treasures to be found, but you should take care thof yourself and be very discriminating about what you touch… avoid upholstered items (bugs, molds, disintegrating toxic materials).
  • Local College or Art Schools – up and coming artists, craftsmen and women are always looking for a way to make a living from the craft they studied… furniture, textiles, decorative household items, art… You benefit by obtaining less expensive products, unique ideas and untainted creativity.  Schools that specialize in historic artisan crafts such as stonework and millwork (cabinets, trim, etc) for example are a great source for new professionals to add unique details to your home.

What to look for…

  • always go for quality … it lasts longer
  • recyled … organic …. natural materials
  • non-toxic finishing ethical production (no harm to animals or people)
  • ask yourself if you really “need” it… and how do I feel about it!!??

Can’t find what you are looking for in your neighbourhood… think about supporting craftsmen and women working with sustainable development projects, home-base businesses, fair trade and community collective businesses… the money from your purchase goes directly into the community where the artisans are located.  Not only would you have a well crafted and unique product but you will also have a warm feeling that you are part of building productive and healthy communities world-wide.  Look for these traditional types of products (especially locally traditional products) as well as the term “social responsibility”… bonus for organic products too!!  Although the product list is endless… third party certification from NGO bodies such as:  “Fairtrade” ( http://www.fairtrade.net) … “The Fair World Project” (http://fairworldproject.org/) and “Fair for Life” (http://www.imo.ch ).

  • textiles, weaving, knitting, sewing
  • pottery & ceramics
  • metal work
  • woodwork, carving
  • glass work
  • woven grasses (baskets, rugs, wall coverings)

Your wallet is a powerful tool and “Big Business” is very concerned about how you use it.  How we spend our money sends a huge message to the marketplace… one that says “make me happy and I may spend more money with you… and so may my friends!!”  That message to industry is strong and can be relentless.  The Locavore mentality can help you to: reduce your personal carbon footprint by purchasing less travelled and packaged products; be conscious to avoid so many of the toxic chemicals used in the mass production of furniture and textiles; reduce the amount of plastics and synthetic materials used in household items and thier packaging; when your items have long out-lived their use and can no longer be repaired or renewed, the disposal of your item will return to the earth with less of the usual toxic residue; and benefit personally by obtaining unique and quality products that last longer than the mass-produced and become heirlooms to many generations. make a difference to your or someone’s community by building local economies. Embrace the emerging “Locavore” tradition and feel good about your consumerism… but please be kind to your friends and family if they don’t understand yet… they will someday, just by your example.  Happy Locavore Shopping!!

Avoiding Toxic Interiors… What’s Making Me Sick?

6 ways to include healthier environments in your wellness journey

In my persuit of healthier living, which began with a personal realization that I “did not feel well” far too often, I found that every element of my life was saturated with toxic chemicals.  I started with a detox diet, then edited my daily diet and started practicing yoga again.  I found I felt better after taking these steps but I knew there could be more I could do to feel even better.  I took a look around my home and realized that the source of alot of my stress was the clutter around me and the possible toxins all this stuff was shedding.

It is a challenge to avoid the toxins being dumped on us in every respect of our lives.  There is a substantial list of sources of toxins in our environment.  Unhealthy chemicals are present in our air, water, food, building materials, medicines, clothing and more.  Even people and stressful situations can be bad for our bodies. Practically every element of our lives is touched by over 80,000 “legal” chemicals.

Even our pets and creatures of the wilderness are affected by our use of chemicals.  Honey bees for example, which our flowering crops depend on for production, are mysteriously dying off.  The reason, discovered by bee keepers, the spraying of herbicides (glysophates) such as Monsanto’s popular product Round-Up… but that’s a whole other topic for future articles.

We don’t live in a bubble and can not possibly hide ourselves from all the toxic substances floating around our environment, but riding our lives of the troubling “low hanging fruit” can be acheived gradually if you have time… or go for the total Detox with “Chemical Cold-turkey”.  Here are six areas in which we can make changes that will make a difference to the health of our bodies and to the environment.

1.  Choose natural, organic and ethical fabrics.  Why?  Textiles such as nylon are produced using fosil fuels which impact greatly on the Earth’s environment.  These chemical based fabrics also contain endocrine disrupting toxins such as BPA and thalates.  Choosing organic cotton over standard cotton is important because the production of cotton is one the largest users of toxic herbicides and pesticides and thus polluters of our water system.  Most of the cotton crops from Indian are a GMO (genetically modified organism) crop called BT Cotton.  BT Cotton in India has recently been exposed as the reason for the mass suicides of poor cotton farmers.  Another productive fibre, hemp (Cannabis Sativa L) is considered a “carbon negative” material.  Naturally organic, it grows quickly without the usual chemicals, less water than crops such as cotton and higher yields per acre.  Canada has a controlled production of hemp crops and several states in the USA have recently made hemp production legal again.  I could write a long essay on this topic alone.  Silk, wool, linen (flax) and ramie (nettle) are other classic natural fabrics, used for centuries all over the world.  Look for the label of the organic textiles organization OEKO-TEX® on your purchases to ensure you are getting a certified sustainable textile product.

2.  Re-upholster or slip-cover your gently used quality sofas and arm chairs.  Why?  Upholstered furniture sold at department stores is almost always treated with toxic fire retardants.  Studies have shown that Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR) and more specifically Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are “chemicals (that) may disrupt human thyroid hormone functioning and cause other health effects, prompting many nations to ban or suspend their use in new consumer goods”(1).  These bio-accumulative toxins store in our fatty tissue (such as breast tissue and waist line) and contribute to our suseptibility to cancers.  PBDE are found in household things such as sofas, rugs and electronics and leaches out in the form of household dust (5). Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) trade names like Stainmaster and Teflon are use as stain guards added to textiles are considered toxic and possible causes of birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruptor and “likely carcinogen” (6)  Wool is the most naturally fire resistant natural textile.  When you purchase soft furnishings from your favourite retailer, if you can choose the fabric, ask if it is treated with a fire retardant and stain repellant.  If available and guaranteed for long-wear, choose organic and sustainable fabrics that can be washed since dry-cleaning is another toxic source called Perchlorethylene (PERC) an is a known carcinogen.  Don’t take the retailers verbal assurance that there are no toxins… ask for the specifications and organic textile association to be certain you are getting what you are paying for.

3.  Choose no VOC paints, varishes, solvents, furniture, wall coverings & flooring.  Why?  Anything in your home that has glue, paint, varnish or made of plastic emits VOC (volitile organic chemicals).  VOCs can cause allergic reactions and respirtory illness.  Prolonged exposure has been linked with liver and kidney diseases, cancer, as well as autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinsons Disease (PD) (7).  Formaldehyde is a cancer causing chemical found in mass produced furniture with particle board and melamine.  A healthier solution is to re-purpose antiques or purchase quality solid wood furniture (that have a no VOC guarantee) and if you need to re-finish use no VOC paint, varnish and cleaning solvents.  Always refinish in well ventilated space, outdoors is prefered and dispose of the remaining products at proper recycling and hazardous waste facilities.  Don’t dump anything down the drain… it is still a toxic chemical!!    Replace old wall-to-wall carpet and pealing vinyl flooring with factory finished, water-based varnish on solid hardwood flooring and ceramic tiles.  Not only will this type of flooring not have the dangerous toxic dust production but you will be able to better clean these solid surface floors.  Little ones who live closest to the ground will benefit from the cleaner air.  Add natural fiber area rugs to make a softer zone for your crawler, in materials such as wool or cotton.  Wet or areas of your home with more traffic would benefit from durable jute.  Think about the cleaning product you use too!!  Products with perfumes are another source of harmful VOCs.  Read the labels on everything since infants are especially at risk from toxic compounds as thier immune and respitory systems are newly developing and ill and elderly family members may have weak immune systems.

4.  What’s lurking behind those walls?  Why?  Older homes and those that are less-than-loved may be hiding toxins such as mold and mildew, asbestos and led paint for example.  Be aware that any renovation project on buildings with a mysterious history should be conducted with care and that specially trained professionals may be needed to handle your mold or asbestos issues, so as not to release dangerous toxins into your environment.  Disrupting aged materials can cause respitory illnesses or worse, birth defects if an expectant mother is exposed.  Leave your home while work is being done and allow it to be aired out for several days after the work is complete.  Renovation projects are an ideal time to add sustainable and energy efficient building techniques, materials and products to your home.  Be vigilant and protect your family, pets and your property by hiring a qualified building professional.

5.  Open the windows!!  Why?  Especially in our extreme seasons, the quality of the air in our interiors declines.  Modern air tight buildings offer little fresh air flow and often the re-circulated mechanical air is pushed through dirty filters and vents… commercial buildings are the worst but your home may be making you suffer too.  Plan to have your vents cleaned at least once a year and change your furnace filter as well, especially after any renovations.  This will help keep mold, mildew, toxic off-gassing of new furniture and finishes as well as keeping those nasty VOCs (volitile organic compounds found in paints, varishes and more) at bay.  Opt for fresh air not phthalate ladden air-fresheners.   A breath of fresh air is very cleansing to your body… just opening your windows may not be enough… get outside and into nature… take a deep breath… relax, smile and take care of yourself.

6.  Too much stuff!!  Why?  Visual clutter is mental clutter.  You don’t have to live a minimalist’s lifestyle to rid yourself of the mental anguish of too much stuff, but making your home more organized and editing the things you have is a good start.  My mom, for example has piles and drawers full of video tapes but doesn’t have a VCR anymore… this creates the stress of dusting off things she will never use again (although, she claims she “needs” them!!).  Stress has a negative physiological effect on your body…. and stress manifests itself differently in everyone.  Having too much stuff in one space can seem out of control, cluttered, confusing.  Organizing spaces such as closets and kitchens can make the process of getting dressed and cooking a meal alot more efficient and enjoyable!!  Visitors to your home will also appreciate a calm and uncluttered space.  The task of editing your home, if you’ve never done it before, can be absolutely daunting. Start with a small space and don’t get frustrated.  Make piles of things to go to storage, give-away, re-cycle and trash.  If you can’t do it because sometimes it is just too emotionally difficult or physically challenging, recruit someone you trust who will listen to your desires.  They will also help you make the hard decisions of getting rid of things you don’t need but are attached to.  De-cluttering is like therapy really, you have to be ready for it… otherwise it won’t be successful.  Editing or decluttering your possesions can be a mentally freeing, although many have a difficult time letting go of sentimental items, the act of editing is definitely an emotional one… but the result is freedom!!

We spend so much time and money removing toxins from our bodies with organic food, vitamins and de-tox baths where we should also be mindful of the toxins in our envionment that we have control of.  Being aware of and taking care of our environment is a benefit to us and future generations too.  Take care of what you can and remind yourself not to not stress over what you can’t control in the environment.  The world is stressful enough… we don’t need to add to it.

1.  http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=EnHYPERLINK “http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=05DF7A37-1″&HYPERLINK “http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=05DF7A37-1″n=05DF7A37-1

2.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367656/

3. https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/manufacturers/philosophy/phylosophy_start.html

4. http://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/general-description.html

5.  Smith, Rick “Slow Death By Rubber Duck – How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health”, Toronto:  Alfred A.Knopf Canada, 2009 (page 96-130)

6.  Smith, Rick “Slow Death By Rubber Duck – How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health”, Toronto:  Alfred A.Knopf Canada, 2009   (page 69-95)   (http://slowdeathbyrubberduck.com/CAN/)

7.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078137/