Mining and society are intricately connected. We are so dependent upon mining that it is far more realistic to question how, when, and where we will mine than to question if we will mine.
But this brings forth some serious challenges. The resources we depend upon are finite, and we are consuming an ever-increasing amount of them. At the current rate of growth in consumption, it will not be long before we will need more resources than our planet can provide. What will we do then?
More significantly, what can and will we do to prevent this scenario from unfolding?
‘Rethink’ is an exploration into how society can become sustainable and what roles all of us play in achieving this goal. It is a call to action to begin the change now, with the recognition of the factors that can drive or inhibit such change. Most importantly, it is a dialogue on how we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’.
For those that have been following Rethink, you may recall that back in April I posted Setting the Baseline.
Since then,we have taken a few small steps both at work and at home to help reduce our environmental impact.
Here is what has happened:
1. The Ecological Challenge Board
We installed an ecological challenge board for staff to share stories, either their own or of others, of actions to reduce ecological impact. Our staff shared the following changes they have made in their own lives.
2. Upgrading Lighting
We have converted a second exhibit space from halogen to LED, thanks in part to rebates from BC Hydro. By checking our hydro bills we also discovered just how significant this has been to our monthly usage.
3. Reducing Waste & Recycling from Suppliers
Before the Green Team & Rethink, before anyone was really even talking about reducing the Museum’s waste, there was one glaring point of excess as far as the Retail department was concerned – the amount of packaging materials used in shipping retail stock to the Museum. A vast portion of this is cardboard, of which 100% is collected for recycling.
The challenge however was packing peanuts. While the peanuts in question are water soluble, the sheer amount of them made disposing of them in this fashion impractical. The solution was to get the supplier to stop using peanuts. Several attempts had been made in the past to eliminate them, but the supplier wasn’t interested in making a change. That is until recently, when the Museum insisted we would no longer accept the peanuts. The result has been an upstream change. While this may seem a small change, it is a significant event for us as we have now demonstrated we can affect upstream change, which we have identified as important aspect of our goal to be a sustainable organization within a sustainable society.
4. Pursuing Composting
Thanks to Squamish CAN and Microcosm Composting, we have found a viable composter from Jora Canada which would allow us to begin composting for staff and school groups. The compost material will be used onsite for our current and future landscaping/gardens or distribution to others. Once we have mastered compositing for staff and schools, our goal will be to implement composting for all of our guests. We have applied to TD Friends of the Environment Fund for a grant for the composter and hope to hear on the outcome by October of this year.
5. Improving Recycling in Public Spaces
We have made the first step to reducing the amount of recyclables that enter the landfill from our public spaces by introducing improved recycling containers in our snack bar. These first containers are temporary, intended to provide us with some knowledge on what will work best for us. So far, they have been a welcome success with guests, but an unwelcome attractant to wasps. In the few weeks we have had the new containers in place; we have already treated a few wasp stings. Emptying the containers more than once a day is a short term solution, but our long-term solution will have to provide a method to keep the wasps out.
One of our other guest recycling challenges was providing recycling containers which better indicated what was permitted in them. We have found suitable upgrades for our current outside containers and were successful in a grant for the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Environment Fund. This funding will also allow us to customize the bins to install plexi windows that we can use to insert real recyclable material in them. As we work with Regional Recycling to collect the likes of refundable juice boxes and pop cans (the proceeds of which go the Squamish Food Bank), we feel that using real objects will help visitors better identify what we do and do not collect.
6. Pursuing Replacing Hand Towels with Hand Dryers
This one falls under the category of ‘which is truly more ecologically friendly?’ Is it better for people to use towels to dry their hands in the washrooms or to use electric dryers? In other words, what has a lower ecological footprint – producing and delivering paper towels (and recycling them), or producing, installing, and powering hand dryers?
According to a 2011 article by MIT on the Lifecycle Assessment of Hand Drying Systems, using Dyson Airblades is by far the more ecologically friendly approach to take, but comes with a large (for us) upfront cost. This is one of those challenges every individual and organization faces – the more ecological option, the one you would most like to do, is perhaps not affordable. To overcome this challenge, we have applied for a grant from Squamish Savings to fund the switch from paper to air.
6. Achieving 100% internal recycling of recyclable food containers
In the spring we improved our staff lunchroom recycling program making it easier for everyone to know what could be recycled and what container it should go in. Enhancing our sorting is proving to be more time consuming, but manageable with the job of moving the bins to our site collection area shared amongst all staff. The other good news is that unlike our wasp problem mentioned above, our initial concern that the recycling could be an attractant for insects has not become a reality, thanks to everyone washing their containers prior to disposal.
7. Conducted an Eco-audit
All of the above is great news, but one of the big to-do items we identified when we began this journey was to establish a baseline from which we could measure our success and assist in identifying the actions that would get the most bang for our limited buck - both financially and environmentally. I am pleased to say we have done this, thanks to a grant from the Squamish Lillooet Regional District and our Regional Director Tony Rainbow.
The audit, conducted by Greenstep, looked at our water and energy usage as well as our waste generation to give us a both a baseline estimate of our carbon footprint and recommendations for future action. We were very pleased to hear the VP & Ecoadvisor of Greestep tell us that despite only being on this journey for a few months, that we are "more organized than most".
Overall, they found we are doing quite well with an estimated 40.8 tonnes of CO2 emissions for 2014. For an organization with 23 full time employees, that equates to 1.8 tonnes of CO2 per employee.
You can read more about the audit in Rethink: Mine Your Own Business
Photo: Oliver Dixon / Wikicommons