Monday, January 31, 2011

Sustainable Engineers Association 2011 Conference

On January 29th, 2011 I attended the 1st Annual Sustainable Engineers Association (SEA) Conference.

I was really impressed with this student organization at the University of Toronto, which was only formed last May. Students are driving the change; they are are asking better questions about sustainability, are bridging disciplinary boundaries, and are playing a larger role in creating a world that will subsist for generations to come.

Jean-Francois Bergoum from IBM said that innovation and environment are related: you can’t deal with either without running into the other. IBM has set a priority to use its technology to make the world greener. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make. Many of the world’s problems are information problems. Check out the Smarter Cities Challenge.

Graeme Stewart talked about urban building renewal. Toronto is a city of towers, and the biggest challenge of sustainability in North America is how to make the suburbs work. Sustainability is about how we consume. Eco-refurbishment of the city’s 2000 concrete towers built between 1945-1980 can reduce their collective environmental footprint by 60%. You also have to look at neighbourhoods as a whole. Zoning is a human-made problem. The simplest thing you can do for sustainability and livability in a neighbourhood is to add a fruit stand.

Jane Huang from Zenn motor company gave an overview of the future of electric cars. Electric cars provide high efficiency, no emissions, low operating costs, and low noise pollution -- the future looks bright. Tesla Roadster, 2011 Chevy Volt, 2011 Nissan Leaf, 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and BYD e6 are already generating a lot of buzz.

Trish Yee from Steamwhistle Brewery showed that going green makes a great business case. The Good Beer Folks have incredible corporate culture and vision. Their green intiatives include:

  • all natural ingredients
  • green bottles, green planet: 33% more glass means minimum 45 refills per bottle vs 12-15 refills for industry brown bottle
  • painted label eliminates contaminants from paper, dye, glue, saves water and energy
  • bio-cups made of corn resin, fully biogradeable and compostable
  • 100% on green electricity (Bullfrog power), premium $25,000/year
  • cleaner fuel for cleaner air, smart car/minis/hybrids, truck fleet use biofuel made from soya and recycled restaurant oil
  • keeping cool: water drawn from below lake to cool plant
  • energy efficient equipment
  • energy efficient lighting
  • waste diversion
  • clean air commute
I also had the honour of presenting and talked about how "sustainability superheroes" at the Ministry of Transportation are building momentum for a greener organization. I'll share some of the ideas from the audience in a future posting.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Engineers Without Borders 2011 National Conference

The EWB National Conference, from Jan 14-15, 2011 in Toronto, challenged me to think of my role as a global engineer and as a change agent in my organization and community. There is great power in my individual choices and actions. Status quo right now is completely unacceptable; the injustices we see are suffocating for so many people with so much potential. I learned about putting emotions and stories to numbers, and to never stop having fierce conversations about the “wicked” problems like poverty. I learned that technology is doing amazing things, but more importantly, it is about the people like John Githongo and their spirit that will unite Africa and the world. I witnessed hundreds of bright and socially-minded Canadian students building a better world. Their positive energy was infectious.

Every decision you make every day makes some sort of change; what kind of change are you working towards? How are you using your abilities and position for change? The maximum impact you can have is where you work because that’s where you spend most of your time.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Owl Sighting: What a Hoot

While walking home from the GO Train on Wed, a large bird swooped across my path. It was an eastern screech owl (the most common type of owl found in York Region). I pulled out my bloggie and caught some footage (it was dark, so not the greatest quality). Check it out:

This was my first sighting of an owl not in captivity. It looked at me for a while, and I at it looked back, both of us contemplating the other creature. I love pleasant surprises like this in nature when I least expect it. Sometimes, when you really open your eyes to the world around you, the world around you changes.

According to the local field naturalist group, 313 bird species have been recorded in York Region (29 considered rare and 70 considered very rare). Among the many types of birds I've seen in my backyard are a ruby-throated hummingbird, a red-tailed hawk landing on my deck, and even some escapees (zebra finch in my backyard last year, plus a parakeet outside the community centre a couple of years ago)! Birding is a fun and rewarding past-time and something I'd like to get better at.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The war on the car is over?

"Ladies and gentlemen, the war on the car stops today . . . Transit City is over. We will not build any more rail tracks down the middle of our streets."
-Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto

"The war on the car is over? If only it had actually BEGUN!"
-Christopher Hume

Map shows that Light Rail Plan delivers more winners than Subway Expansion Plan

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Seeds of Change

We are confronted with some of the greatest environmental challenges humankind has ever faced: climate change and the end of carbon-based energy. It has been said that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The green movement’s time has come, and it’s gaining momentum. The seeds of change have been planted in a new generation of ecologically conscious individuals, and together they will change the world. The things they value most, such as ecosystems, biodiversity, and clean air, soil, and water, are rooted in nature. They understand that we need to protect our natural resources so that future generations can enjoy their wonders. I am hopeful that a tipping point will be reached before it is too late. The Ministry of Transportation is embracing this change. On June 17, 2010 it launched a new strategy, Sustainability inSight, the first ministry-wide sustainability strategy in the Ontario Public Service, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

(Materials: acrylic paint on canvas, glue, leaves, seeds)