Greening the Season 2: Trees and People

Written by Denise Deby.

Tiny tree by Sandra Regina on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
Tiny tree by Sandra Regina on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Here are more ideas for making this time of year merrier and brighter.


Still thinking about whether or not to get a Christmas tree? Here’s a great idea: you can buy a Norfolk Island Pine tree from Beau’s Brewery and they’ll deliver it through their Buy Your Beau’s Online program. The delivery fee goes to Operation Come Home, and Beau’s will also arrange for a tree to be planted for each one it sells. The tree comes in a recycled, reusable ceramic bottle, too.

If you buy a tree from The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, the funds all go to support patient and family services. (The trees are balsam firs from Nova Scotia.)

OttawaStart has a helpful list of Ottawa-area Christmas tree farms.

If you’re not sure whether to go real or artificial with your tree, check out the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green post about the options. (Spoiler: real wins out.)

Wrap it up

Go usable, re-usable or recyclable with gift wrap. Cloth gift bags are a great choice (I used to buy them from Arbour Environmental Shoppe, but you can make your own). Other options are old newspapers, comic books or kids’ art, scarves or tea towels, cloth grocery bags, or last year’s paper remnants. You can even make your own plantable wrapping paper using seeds and old paper.

Give and take time

There are many organizations and causes around that could use your support. Check out Volunteer Ottawa for a variety of different ways that you can get involved. Charity Village has a directory of non-profit organizations.

Remember that this is a tough time of year for people who’ve lost loved ones, are dealing with a difficult situation, or don’t have access to adequate resources. Give them–or yourself–support and breathing space.

Don’t forget to slow down and take time to reflect, re-energize and spend time with family and friends if you can. Try heading outdoors!

More inspiration

Have a look back at Alette’s December 2007 posts on simplifying the season and “thingless giving.” has Christmas greening suggestions, from do-it-yourself gifts to clearing clutter, and The Centre for a New American Dream has plenty of ideas on its Pinterest page.

Finally, see Christopher Zumski Finke’s thoughts on “Less Stuff, More Heart” in YES! Magazine.

Happy holidays!

Swapsity Spreads the Benefits of Swapping

Written by Denise Deby.

Photo courtesy of Swapsity (via Facebook)
Photo courtesy of Swapsity (via Facebook)

It’s not easy to be a green consumer. Even though environmentally-friendly products are becoming more widely available, many of the things we use in our daily lives are produced in unsustainable ways, and too often, when we’re done with them, they end up as garbage, or as clutter that causes us stress.

There’s another way to buy less stuff, produce less waste and save money while still getting things we need: swapping. Swapping is an ages-old tradition that’s gaining new ground as people realize they can exchange what they no longer want for things they can use.

There’s now an online community that’s making it easier for people to swap: Swapsity.

Swapsity allows you to exchange things like clothes or toys your kids have outgrown for bikes or a tool set, for example, or turn that fancy juicer you never use into a weekend cottage get-away. Past swappers have traded wine glasses for a bookcraft supplies for a DVD set, planter and notebook, and even kitchen renovations for a car.

As well as stuff, you can swap skills and services on Swapsity. If you’re a savvy gardener or know another language, you can share your knowledge with someone else, and in return get those guitar lessons or that e-bike you’ve been dreaming of. If you run a small business, you can trade goods or services, such as your excess organic produce for web consulting, or personal training for marketing advice.

Marta Nowinska created Swapsity about five years ago, leaving her Bay Street investment banking job to launch an online swapping service for Canadians. When I spoke to her by phone, she summarized the benefits of swapping:

  • Financial: “Swapping essentially saves you money. Instead of using your hard-earned cash, you’re trading your skills, your time, your clutter. …Considering that an average Canadian is $27,000 in debt,…it’s just financially smart to integrate barter into your budget.”
  • Environmental: “It’s green. You’re trading your pre-loved items, you’re extending the lifecycle of products, you’re keeping useful items in circulation and out of landfills.”
  • Social: “You’re sharing with people, you’re building new connections. A number of people report making new friends through swapping.”

You can browse or view available items on Swapsity’s website. To participate, you sign up on the site (it’s free), list the things you own that you’d like to trade, and add the things you’d like to find, and Swapsity will generate swap matches based on your location. You can send messages to others through the site, and after you’ve reached agreement, you exchange items (usually in person or by mail).

Swapsity has a feature you can use to keep track of what friends and other trusted swappers are swapping, and the site provides information and safety tips. You can find out more and get started at

Swapsity also organizes swap events. So far, these successful events have been focused in Toronto, but Marta tells me they are open to organizing more events in other cities, including Ottawa, if there’s enough interest and some volunteers to help out.

Giving away your used stuff is one way to recycle it, but what I like about swapping is that it places value on what you’re offering up, and what you have goes to someone who really wants it—you’re not just passing on your trash. Swapping is also a way for individuals to make small changes that can add up.

As Marta explains, Swapsity is building a swapping economy that will coexist with and complement the existing cash economy. “Our recommendation is swap for at least five per cent of your budget, to save money, to be eco-friendly, to build communities and more connected relationships. This is something where once we reach critical mass you will be able to tap into this amazing resource where you can get pretty much anything on barter.”

You can check Swapsity out at their websiteon Facebook and on TwitterSwapsity welcomes volunteers, so if you’d like to see more swapping happening in Ottawa online or through events, you can contact them at

Check it out and let us know what you think!

3i Summit on Sustainability May 4 and 5 2012: Collaborating for Action in Ottawa

by guest blogger  Laura Leet, 3i Summit Project Coordinator

For the first time in Ottawa, leaders and change agents from many different sectors are coming together to collaborate and take action toward realizing Ottawa’s potential to be an environmentally sustainable city.
The “3i Summit on Sustainability: Collaborating for Action” will be held on May 4 & 5 at Dow’s Lake Pavilion. Local leaders and change agents who want to advance sustainability in Ottawa are encouraged to take part.
A goal of the Summit is to expand and tap into the pool of leaders and mentors from different sectors that can support new community greening projects and eco-business ventures. Catalyst leaders such as Moe Garahan, Executive Director of Ottawa’s Just Food, Stephen Guilbeault, Founder of Québec’s Equiterre and Tom Heintzman, Co-founder of  Bullfrog Power will provide inspiration. A cultural celebration of the community’s accomplishments will take place during the Friday evening Sustainability Soirée.
Register on-line now at  Two-day registration is only $75 and includes two lunches and the Sustainability Soirée.   Passes for the Soirée only may be purchased for $25. For more information visit or contact Laura Leet, 613-656-7800.

Eco-Events in Ottawa Area, end of July 2011

Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.

Some upcoming events worth checking out:

Support the South March Highlands at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument (in front of City Hall on Elgin St.) on Thursday July 28 at noon. Speakers include Sierra Club of Canada President John Bennett and Kurtis Benedetti, a 23-year-old Ottawa resident who is arriving home after cycling from Cape Breton to Ottawa – 2100 km – to raise awareness about the South March Highlands. Organisers will also read messages from Order of Canada recipient Grandfather William Commanda, Greenpeace and other supporters. After the rally, people are welcome to ride with Kurtis for the last leg of his journey, to the South March Highlands (about 20 km).

From the event press release: “Ottawa is believed to be the only major urban city in the world to have such a biodiverse, old-growth forest harbouring large mammals and endangered species within its urban boundaries. (Vancouver, with Stanley Park, is a distant second.) The forest contains provincially significant wetlands and has two provincial nominations as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), putting it on a par with Algonquin Park. Archaeological artifacts have been found nearby showing evidence of pre-contact occupation, and the area is believed to have high potential as a

World Heritage Site. Algonquin Nations have been vocal in calling for a new comprehensive archaeological assessment of the area. Despite being officially declared as Environmental Area in 1970 and officially “protected” for more than two decades, only a third of the original South March Highlands remains….In 2011, the International Year of the Forest, with the blessing of the Ontario Municipal Board and Ottawa’s newly elected City Council, developers clear-cut a large portion of the area known at the Beaver Pond Forest. Despite the loss, some 15,000 Canadian citizens, First Nations and organizations vow to continue the fight to save the remaining South March Highlands.” For more information:, and

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The Rideau Canal Festival takes place July 28-August 1 at several spots along the canal including Confederation Park, the Ottawa Locks (at Bytown Museum), and Dows Lake Pavilion. The Festival is a celebration of the Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and features a range of activities. New this year are an art show and world heritage concerts (which include environmental storytelling for children), and a Bicycle Chic fashion show. Admission applies to some events.

As part of the Festival, the Energy Ottawa Ecosphere Environmental Fair takes place starting July 30. This “environmental and green building fair” is organised by Group Ecosphere, a non-profit organization, and includes exhibits from companies and organisations about green building, new technologies, organic farming, alternative medicines and other services. For more information: and

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Pinhey’s Point Historic Site has a Campfire and Storytelling event on July 29 at 7:00 p.m. Gather around the campfire, roast marshmallows and listen to First Nations stories and legends. Reservations required; cost is $6 per child, $10 for two or $16 per family. For more information on this and other great local museum programming:

Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues, when she’s not out in the real world (ok, sometimes even then).

What inspires people to do something about the environment? Often, it’s knowing what we can do to make a difference, and that we’re not alone in our efforts.

This past Saturday I attended Social Capital Ottawa, a conference bringing together people using social media in Ottawa. It was a great opportunity to meet other Ottawa bloggers and Twitterers “in real life,” and to learn more about using social media effectively. (Sessions covered everything from writing to selecting social media tools, using social media for social change, making sense of social media metrics and more.)

One of the main observations I came away with is that with Ottawa’s social media users, the whole really is more than the sum of the parts. That is, bloggers, Tweeters and Facebook users – although using social media for different purposes – aren’t just putting stuff out there for others to read; they’re creating conversations, connecting people – and building community.

Glen Gower of Ottawa Start, who gave the conference’s keynote address, said a couple of things that stuck with me. One is that blogging and Tweeting enable people to channel “collective community energy,” which Ottawans have been doing for a long time, just in other ways. Another is that people in Ottawa, through their use of social media, are building our city.

This got me thinking about the people who are helping connect those of us who are concerned about Ottawa’s environment – using blogs and Tweets to share ideas and challenges, and to encourage us to inspire each other:

(These examples are the tip of the iceberg, so to speak – please share others you know of.)

Building Ottawa as a community of people living sustainably takes more than a few social media tools. But people using these tools help us learn and share what’s possible.