Parents have so much to worry about that it's hard to make the environment a priority, but there are small things you can do to make a difference.

Environmental issues are very ‘in’ right now. Oscar-nominated documentaries and famous hybrid-driving actors aside, most of us realize that climate change is real and we're ready to make a change.

If we go green, so will our kids. So it's important to do little things at home together.

 

What is your ecological footprint?

Everything you do impacts the environment in positive and negative ways. Your lifestyle is reflected in your ecological footprint. In Canada, the average person has an ecological footprint of 8.8 global hectares. Worldwide there are only 1.8 global hectares available per person. That means we are using more than our planet can provide. As Canadians live now, it would require about four planets to sustain us. Calculate your personal ecological footprint.

Here are some reasons why going green now is important.

  • Approximately 86,000 tonnes of household hazardous waste (flammable material, batteries, paints, oils, household cleaners) are disposed of in Ontario each year (ending up in landfills and contaminating our soil).
  • It will take glass, plastic and aluminum containers more than 1000 years to break down (which makes recycling very important).
  • The average family throws out a tonne of packaging a year.
  • Each Canadian produces their own weight in garbage a month. That garbage is taken to one of 10,000 landfill sites in the country. Those landfill sites contaminate our soil and emit harmful gasses into our environment.
  • A city bus eliminates the emissions of forty cars (so take the bus instead of driving to work).
  • If we all stopped idling our cars for five minutes a day we would save 1.8 million litres of fuel a day (that’s $1.7 million in fuel at today’s prices)
  • If you turn down your thermostat just one degree you can save 5 per cent on your energy bill (who doesn't like that?).
  • The amount of wood and paper North Americans throw away each year is enough to heat five million homes for 200 years.
  • Livestock production is responsible for more climate change gasses than all the motor vehicles in the world.
  • A meat-based diet requires seven times more land than a plant-based diet.
  • The global temperature has been driven up by 0.7°C since the industrial revolution. This is due to pollutants trapping heat in the atmosphere.
  • Global warming is melting the ice caps, disrupting ocean currents, causing droughts, raising sea levels and causing floods, hurricanes and food shortages.

Source: Earth Day Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Waste Management Association, Pollution Probe Foundation, Recycling Council of Ontario, WWF-Canada

 

What are schools doing?

Most of us parents assume the schools are on top of environmental issues and are making environmental awareness a priority. Well, don't assume.

Schools do try to promote the three Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) and lots of schools do a really good job at it. Some school boards are taking that extra step to go green. For instance, the Toronto District School Board has developed a school greening program called EcoSchools. However, this program and others are voluntary, which means each school can sign up to be a part of it but it is not mandatory.

Teachers can incorporate environmental awareness into the existing curriculum but environmental studies are not actually part of the curriculum itself. This means it is up to the teacher to be aware of the issues and be creative enough to teach these issues within the constraints of the curriculum. Unfortunately, not all teachers will have the time or the awareness to make the environment a priority.

What can you do to make a change at school?

  • Go talk to the teacher about the issue. Make them aware that the environment is important for you.
  • Join the school council and set up family nights or daytime activities with a greening theme.
  • Ask the principal to make environmental awareness part of the school community.
  • Pack litterless lunches.
  • Go green at home and the kids will bring those lessons to school. Sometimes teachers learn from their students.

What can we do at home?

  • Walk, bike, take public transit or carpool to school and work. It helps the environment and helps keep you fit!
  • Ask mom and dad to get green school supplies when you go back to school
  • Make sure to turn off lights, computer and the TV when they are not in use. Unplug household appliances to avoid invisible energy sucking.
  • Turn off the water when brushing your teeth.  Water gushing while your brushing, wastes tons of water.
  • Turn the dishwasher on only when it's full. You'll save on water and only have to unload once a day!
  • Set up a compost in your backyard or use your green bin to reduce household waste. It’ll give your garden a boost and it’s easy.
  • Set your thermostat above room temperature in the summer and below room temperature in the winter. It’s cold but that’s what sweaters are for.
  • Ease up on the video games!  Playing videos games eats up loads of energy that's why your computer feels hot after you've played rounds of games.  Play non-electronic games, get outside or better yet.. do your homework to save on energy!

If you already do everything above, here are some ways to do even better:

  • Try eating meat-free at least one day a week.
  • Choose foods produced organically, locally and in season.
  • If your streets are not conducive to biking or walking do something about it. Lobby your government to increase spending on bike paths and transit alternatives.
  • If you’re in the market for furniture and appliances, buy used. It saves perfectly goods items from ending up in a landfill. And reconsider buying a new computer. Your old one probably works fine and we can’t keep up with the electronic waste we already have. It leaches mercury and other toxic chemicals into the soil here or in other countries where we ship it to be disassembled. If you need a new cell phone, IPOD or computer, dispose of the old one responsibly.
  • Make homemade gifts or make a donation in someone else’s name for a gift.
  • Simple ingredients such as baking soda, soap, and vinegar can be used as cheap, safe, non-toxic cleaning products.
  • Boil or filter your own water instead of buying expensive bottles that create too much container waste.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water and hang them to dry.
  • Grow your own vegetables or become part of a neighbourhood garden program. Trees are our friends giving us more air and beauty!  Plant more or join a community organization that does.

Conclusion:

We all want our children to lead long, productive lives. We want them to be healthy and happy. Our parents wanted to same things for us but they were just not aware of the impact they had on the environment and the overall health of their families. We don’t have that excuse. Now that we know, we can’t pretend. Go green and our families can enjoy the planet for generations to come.