Greenhouse-sitting (Day 157)…

August 4, 2007

trinity

When I decided to take a vacation, I knew I’d need a housesitter. But I didn’t want someone coming in, cranking the air-conditioning and running the dishwasher half empty — whoever took care of my place would also have to take care of the earth.

In the end, one of my green-hearted friends came to the rescue. I let him turn on the fridge, but he kept the thermostat off, made sure my worms had something to munch on and kept my balcony herbs watered — he even wrote to tell me that one of my organic cherry tomatoes had turned red! Everything was recycled properly and he made sure to use my natural cleaning products; I couldn’t have asked for a better sitter.

Now that I’m on the second half of my vacation, I’ve got a different guy looking after things, but he’s just as willing to step into my hippie shoes and keep things eco-friendly.

It might take a bit more searching and some extra-convincing rhetoric, but from now on I’m making sure all my housesitters pass the green test.

Photo of my building courtesy of this website


Thinking with my headphones (Day 147)…

July 25, 2007

I’ll be flying back from Madrid in a couple days and, shortly thereafter, heading out to Portland for my hippie bike trip. That’s a lot of time in the air, and there are two ways to make it go faster: music and the in-flight movie. Both of these requires headphones, which they always give out on the plane, but I’m going to bring my own set from now on. Air Canada says they recycle them, but they still come in all that plastic packaging with foam coverings, plus it’s always better to reduce than recycle.

Photo courtesy of this guy on Flickr


That mint on my pillow had better be fair-trade certified! (Day 134)…

July 12, 2007

alt hotel

There’s a bit of Eloise in me — I love hotels. Well, actually, I love really swanky hotels. At the risk of sounding like the most over-privileged snob this side of Paris Hilton (OK, too late), the truth is that when I’m stuck in a drab, cookie-cutter hotel room with fluorescent lights, a colour scheme involving a lot of muted coral and puce and a token piece of crappy art on the otherwise sparse walls, I start to panic. In fact, I’d rather be in a grungy one-star hostel on the wrong side of the tracks because then at least it’s not trying to be anything but a grungy one-star hostel on the wrong side of the tracks. There’s something about the middle-of-the-road aesthetic that just freaks me out.

On the other hand, I’d be more than ready to spend the rest of my days at a boutique hotel like Le Germain or, better yet, any of the Aman resorts.

But not all the posh digs are so green. A lot of them change towels and bedsheets daily whether or not you’re the only one staying in the room, they keep lights on everywhere at all hours, and, well, you just have to read about Lori’s hellish experience to know what I’m talking about.

So from now on, I’m going to make sure that I only stay at eco-friendly hotels. One in Montreal that I’m super-excited about is ALT, which is currently undergoing the final stages of construction. It’s owned by the wonderful people behind the Germain name and was written about on TreeHugger here.

I spoke to one of the owners a little while ago for a potential story, and he explained that it was less about capitalizing on the green trend than it was about good business sense — in the end, by cutting back on water and energy bills, using sustainable, long-lasting materials and maintaining a no-frills attitude, they can not only save money themselves but keep the room rates low, too.

And if any of you Thistle readers come visit me in Toronto, I highly recommend the Fairmont Royal York, a posh hotel that’s been green since the ’80s. A few months ago, I went to a wine-tasting at their restaurant, and the publicist offered to take me into the kitchen so I could see the slop bucket “in action” — basically, all the food waste gets tossed onto this conveyor belt and winds up in a huge pail, which then goes to Turtle Island Recycling. They also have a green roof with an herb garden (you can get a complimentary tour), offer their employees subsidized transit passes and have just installed a new and improved bike rack for guests.


A soapbox worth preaching on (Day 95)…

June 3, 2007

soapboxThis Radius soap holder is 100% recyclable, made “on high efficiency electric injection molding machines” (I have no idea what that means, but they apparently use 75% less energy) and holds a bar of Kiss My Face pure olive oil soap perfectly.

See, I’d finally made it through my craptastic Alba body “wash”, and was looking for a different brand. Then I remembered one Thistle reader (I think it was GreenYogini) saying she loved this bar soap and used it not only for her body, but her face and hair and teeth (OK, maybe not teeth).

But I was hesitant: ever since I was a teenager I’ve been a body wash devotee because I love how it foams up and doesn’t leave a sticky residue. However, now that I no longer have a petroleum pouf and am using natural products, there’s not much lather to be had anyway.

In the end, despite my dislike towards that “squeaky clean” feeling, I decided to give bar soaps another try — after all, they do get a bit foamy, and come in less packaging (sometimes none, in fact). Plus, even if I purchased a bottle of body wash and refilled it, I’d still be refilling it from another, bigger plastic jug that would eventually have to be replaced. And finally, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it requires more energy to manufacture the wash as opposed to the bar.

So as you can guess from all this sudsy rhetoric, I’ve now switched to bar soap, and am adjusting rather well. The only thing I didn’t consider was that I’d need something to carry it in when I go travelling, hence the Radius holder above (except mine’s pink), found at a local health food store for under $5, which, even with the cost of soap, still amounts to less than most body washes. I think this officially qualifies as a win-win-win — and possibly another win — situation.


No steaks on a plane (Day 80)…

May 19, 2007

Recently, I confessed to booking a somewhat elaborate summer vacation that requires a fair amount of air travel (which I’ve at least offset with TerraPass). On the plus side, I made sure to take one big chunk of time off work, so for the most part the flights will be short-haul; on the down side, due to scheduling conflicts, it also means taking a lot of connecting flights (and by “a lot” I mean … um… *cough* nine).

As I’ve already committed to eating meat sparingly — and, when I do, it has to be free-range, organic and/or grass-fed — this means I’d have to pick apart all my in-flight meals, being careful not to get genetically modified pork residue on the peas.

But the reality is, whether or not I eat the meat on my plate (or rather plastic tray), it doesn’t make a difference by that point; the demand for it is created as soon as I book my ticket.

Fortunately, this greenie plans ahead. I requested that all my in-flight meals be vegetarian or nothing at all. Most airlines these days are very accommodating — besides having veg options, they usually offer kosher, low-cholesterol, gluten-free and even bland/ulcer meals.

Unfortunately, I can’t request that they leave out the plastic cutlery set or make sure that both the coffee and any chocolate in the dessert is fair-trade. But if the cutlery comes separately, I’ll pass it back (then again, if I can’t get my portable chopsticks past security, this could be a problem).


Jet-setting off-setter (Day 76)…

May 15, 2007

pass

I just planned a whirlwind summer vacation (in airport code: YYZLHRTLVMADPDXYYZ), which unfortunately means a series of flights that add up to 17,270 miles, 349 gallons of fuel and 6,828 pounds of carbon dioxide. So to balance out my three tonnes of guilt, I registered at TerraPass and offset all my air travel. Surprisingly, it only cost $36.95, and they even gave me a nerdy eco-traveller luggage tag to boot.

Now, offsets are a little controversial: Critics liken them to the medieval church selling indulgences to absolve sinners; but in the end, most environmentalists agree that they’re worth investing in after you’ve made every other effort to reduce your air and car travel, as well as energy consumption at home, in your dorm room or at your wedding(s).

While it’s true that I could have chosen to stay at home this summer, the reality is that it’s just not the same trying to celebrate your aunt’s 50th birthday party over the phone, hug one of your dearest friends by email, or go on a permaculture cycling trip down the coast of … Lake Ontario.

My green change as of today, then, is to only fly when necessary, to plan all my flights strategically, to spread the word with my nerdy luggage tag and, of course, to offset all my air travel.

Graphics nicked from TerraPass