Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Element Settlement

The Periodic Table of Elements go to the Disco

Hands down, my favourite high-school science class video. Since when do elements go to the Disco, and Florine is a Cinderella? I’ve cut out the ‘learning’ part in the video clips below because it’s quite dry – the fun part is in the Element Settlement! The first time I saw this, in grade 8, I thought it was funny because it’s so ridiculous – at the time I didn’t understand half the ‘science’ jokes. Now I think it’s hilarious because I actually understand what they’re trying to teach. If you’ve got a good sense of humor and know the basics of the periodic table, electron shells, and bonding then you should get a kick out of these. Here is the link to the full video. I’m still giggling…


Part I

Part II

Part II


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Save BC Coast – One Loonie At a Time

Photo credit: Richard Vignola on Flickr

In typical Emily fashion – I’ve found a(nother) passion! I’ve always been a fan of BC’s beautiful coast line – kayaking in the Broken Island Group and studying the tide-pools around Bamfield. Coastal northern BC, especially Haida Gwaii, is on the top of my to-go list.

In the fall I went to a presentation about the impact of the Alberta Tar Sands on BC. Very insightful presentation – I was totally clueless to the plans of major pipelines being built to connect the Tar Sands to our coastal ports. I also was not aware that Prime Minister Harper has decided to ignore a  37 year old moratorium on oil tanker traffic in BC coastal waters – the only thing stopping MAJOR oil tanker traffic from Asia slurping up Tar Sands oil. Hmmmm….

5 Reasons to Stop Tar Sands Tankers on Our Coast:

1. The certainty of oil spills

Oil spills are a matter of when and how large, not IF. At a rate of two to three tankers a week, industry averages suggest a ‘major’ spill of over 10,000 barrels every 16 years.

2. The impossible clean up

In ideal conditions the oil industry considers a 15% clean-up of spills a success, a target they have never actually achieved.

3. The local ecology

The tanker routes pass approximately 605 salmon spawning rivers, orca feeding grounds and the habitat of over 20 threatened and endangered species.

4. Jobs and communities

An oil spill would devastate the coastal communities and First Nations that rely on tourism and fishing for their livelihoods

5. Global warming

Oil tankers in BC are to facilitate the massive projected expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands, the single largest contributor to the growth of Canada’s global warming causing emissions.

Learn more…

    These decals ARE LEGAL because they stick by friction not 'sticky' stuff.

These decals ARE LEGAL because they stick by friction not 'sticky' stuff.

So what to do? Superman-esk cape flapping in the coastal breeze, the Dogwood Initiative is here! With a WICKED campaign lined up to launch in early February – I’ve got the inside scoop*. They’re distributing No Tanker decals that turn the loon and water on our one dollar coins black with ‘oil’.

The goal: 1,000,000 NoTanker loonies in circulation to get people talking about the threat of the Tar Sands oil in BC, and supporting the moratorium that Harper is ignoring.

Where can I find the NoTanker decals?

Once you’ve got the decals, stick them on every loonie you’ve got! Register your No Tanker loonie sightings, spend them, give them to friends, and then order more decals! OH! Don’t forget to sign the petition.

I’m hosting a Loonie party soon, and I can hook you up with the supplies to do the same – pretty easy, all you need are decals and friends! Who doesn’t love sticker parties?

If you’re a business, and you’re interested in sponsoring the No Tanker Loonies, let me know. It a pretty sweet deal – you’ll be featured on the No Tankers website, put on the interactive map, and caught up in all the media buzz this campaign will create. Did I mention the decals are totally cheap?

* I’m the volunteer coordinator for Vancouver. Contact me if you’d like to host a Loonie Party, or you own a business that would like to sponsor the No Tanker Loonies – emily at urbanwren dot com


Filed under Climate Change, Politics, Water

Best Cycling Route Planner in Vancouver

This is a hidden gem! UBC and Translink have developed this cycling route map that provides shortest route, lowest slope route, most vegetated route, and lowest traffic pollution routes. They also include handy facts like distance, time (based on your speed), how much GHG emissions you’ve prevented, calories burned, and average NO2 levels along the route.

SO COOL! I’ll be using this one for any new trips outside my usual routes! If you start using it too, post feedback here.

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Filed under Transportation

My Water Footprint

I just went to to measure my water footrprint. At first I did the “quickie” calculator – my results were 2095 cubic meter per year – but I wasn’t satisfied because the only questions it asked were: what country to you live in? Are you male or female? What is your annual income? How much meat do you eat? I was expecting a bit more detail then that, but I am familiar with just how complicated these sorts of calculations can be.

On to the “extended” calculator.  I can’t figure it out – off the top of my head, I don’t know how many kilograms of cereal and dairy products I eat per week. SO, I’m going to do a little bit of research into the “average” values for Canadians, and compare that to what I can estimate I consume in a week. The rest of the questions in this version of the calculator are more straight forward.

Coming back to my response to the film Blue Gold: World Water Wars…. I’ve done a little bit of researching, and a term that keeps coming up is water footprint and water neutral. Sounds familiar, right? Carbon footprint and carbon neutral. Well, the premise is very similar. According to the Institute for Water Education, the water footprint “is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use. The water footprint of a product (good or service) is the volume of fresh water used to produce the product, summed over the various steps of the production chain.

The ‘water footprint’ includes three components: consumptive use of rainwater (green water), consumptive use of water withdrawn from groundwater or surface water (blue water) and pollution of water (grey water).

A water footprint is more than a figure for the total water volume used; it refers specifically to the type of water use and where and when the water was used. “

Water neutral “means that one reduces the water footprint of an activity as much as reasonably possible and offsets the negative externalities of the remaining water footprint.”

Realistically, how much can we reduce our water footprint? How much should water offsets cost, and what would count as an offset? It doesn’t seem like there is clear international consensus on standards, guidelines, and definitions. I’ll keep digging…. maybe this is the Masters topic I’ve been looking for! 🙂

Follow’s advice to reduce your water footprint:

  1. Adopt production techniques that use less water in industry as well as agriculture.
  2. Consume products with a lower water footprint, for instance, eat less meat.
  3. Produce products in areas with high water efficiency.

Check out their product gallery to see how much water your favorite foods consume

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Water Wars

Just got back from the Vancouver International Film Fest – intense.

My reaction….

Trailer for Blue Gold: World Water Wars

Trailer for For the Love of Water (F.L.O.W.)


The documentary and good links – Blue Gold: World Water Wars. Find your watershed here … more on this soon.



Filed under Water

Vancouver Urban Gardens Sprouting

Community gardens are uber popular in Vancouver, and the number of developer-started gardens is on the rise. Land developers, like Onni, are taking their idle land and turning it into temporary community garden space. The gardeners have to move on as soon as the development company is ready to start building, but until then AT LEAST they have a plot.  I think that Vancouver is at the front of the pack on this one – I haven’t been able to find examples from other cities. Granville magazine recently wrote:

Private developers have caught on to the trend. The development company ONNI turned a vacant site at Seymour and Pacific streets in the heart of Yaletown into a community garden. Seventy-nine plots were made available on a first-come first-served basis to community groups and residents to grow food on a temporary basis, until the site is developed within one to three years. Mike Clark, ONNI development manager, was surprised at how much interest the garden generated and how quickly the plots were taken. “We had overwhelming response. The lineup of people is unbelievable – hundreds of people pounding down the doors trying to get some dirt on their hands,” Clark says. “We have learned there is a major need for gardening facilities in downtown. Everyone is going condo-living, but people are just dying to get their hands dirty and they don’t have the opportunity; they don’t have a backyard.”

Onni Community Gardens Viewed from the Bridge from Michael Levenston on Vimeo.

The Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) was involved in the initial start-up of the Onni Garden, and now we’re taking on the new garden at the corner of Burard and Davie Street – Davie Street Community Garden. So that means that I’ll be heading up getting this garden off the ground and into the hands of the community.

The incentive for developers to start gardens? BC Tax Assessment will asses property taxes at a lower rate if the pre-developed land is being used for a community or public purpose (i.e. a garden).


Filed under Urban Agriculture, Vancouver Public Space Network

PodMob for Sustainable Sushi all Rolled-Up

We can change business as usual.

We buy things everyday.  Businesses will do anything for money. Businesses will do anything for our money… so why don’t we use that power?  To use our purchasing power requires organization, and until the Carrotmob came around, groups hadn’t seen ‘our money’ organized on a grassroots level successfully. We took the concept to Vancouver, and we’ve called it the PodMob*.

Chalk drawings on Robson Street

Chalk drawings on Robson Street

*Pod – group of Vancouverites. Mob – the act of organizing our purchasing at one place and time.

The concept: A big group gets together and agrees to buy things at one place and time.  Now, we have pooled our money into a large sum we can use to negotiate with. Negotiate what?

How about sustainable sushi?

Vancouver is full of sushi – the West End alone has over 20 sushi spots. I can’t convince a sushi restaurant to drop farmed salmon from their menu or start composting scraps by threatening not to purchase a $10 sushi combo.  But a group of 100, 200, or 300 people that stop in for sushi on a particular day does have enough combined money to persuade a sushi restaurant to step up to our challenge to green their restaurant.


The challenge:

  1. Green your operations (i.e. energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management, and purchasing/supply chain).
  2. Label your menu so we know what items are sustainable (based on the Seafood Watch Sustainable Sushi Guide).
  3. Offer at least one “Best Choice” item from the Seafood Watch Sustainable Sushi Guide.

What does ‘greening your operations’ really mean? The Green Table Network heard about the PodMob and stepped in to offer a one-year membership to the business we PodMobbed. They are experts in greening the hospitality industry, and their membership provides tools, guides, and a great network.

The Seafood Watch Sustainable Sushi Guide bases it’s ranking of ‘sustainable fish’ on the state of natural stocks, fish farming practices, harvesting methods, and health concerns (i.e. PCBs and mercury).

The Flores Brothers from Sushi Bento Express

The Flores Brothers from Sushi Bento Express

The bidding:
It all started on a rainy November day. I walked into almost every sushi restaurant in the West End, and told them I would bring them a mob of paying customers if they committed the highest percentage of one day’s revenue to ‘greening’ their restaurant.  Considering the state of the fish stocks across the globe, we also asked the restaurant if they would spruce up their menu with some sustainable sushi options.

Shad DJs ROCK!

Shad DJ's ROCK!hi options.

A handful of restaurants stepped up to the challenge and wanted to dig their teeth in and learn more.

The top bid came from Sushi Bento Express at 31% of revenue from November 20th.

The PodMob

I met a girl while I was canvasing the sushi restaurants that thought her boyfriend, Simon, would totally be into lending a hand. So I met up with Simon, who works at Change, about a week before the PodMob. He also introduced me to Lorien, from Limelight Events. Between the two of them we handled a whole bunch of last minute things that I hadn’t had time to think about and designed some awesome posters! We pulled together a great night that harnessed West Enders’ purchasing power to create change in a local business.The PodMob was a success!

Lisa Johnson from CBC covered the story on the 6 o’clock news, and the CBC wrote an article on sustainable sushi. I also got

the chance to speak with Mike McDermid from the Ocean Wise program on BC Almanac with Mark Forsythe. Jackie Wong wrote an article in the  WestEnder that featured our story on November 20th. Sushi Bento Express put together a sustainable sushi combo menu just for the day. Shah DJs pumped out awesome tunes. Boyd, our sponsor from, asked trivia questions and gave out bamboo t-shirts.  Tiny Bites popped in to review the sustainable sushi scene. An intrepid trio from Bowen Island even made the trip across the drink to munch on guilt-free sushi. Of course, there was also a mob of West Enders that kept the Flores brothers busy all night. We’ve got pictures to prove it!

What impact did we have?? Drum roll please…..

85% increase in revenue!

Over 100 Podmobbers on the scene.

Sushi Bento Express upped their contribution to ‘going green’ to 33% – they rock!

The Flores brothers were amazed by how many people showed up for the PodMob, and they’ve decided to keep the sustainable sushi combos on the menu full time. They’ve also committed to labeling their menu with green, yellow, and red dots so you can make informed choices, and exploring Ocean Wise Certification.

Where did the PodMobbers come from? Some saw our youtube videos, got an email, saw a poster, facebook, or heard about it from a friend.

Eat sushi. Save the ocean.

Line up out the door

Line up out the door

With an introductory meeting with the Green Table Network under their belt, the next step is an audit. A Green Table representative will spend half a day at the restaurant observing how things run, and then they will be able to compile a list of suggestions. This is where energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste management will improve.

Eat sushi. Save the climate.

We’re going to keep tabs on the changes that happen at Sushi Bento Express, and report back what the impact. How many kilowatt-hours, liters of water, and kilograms of waste are diverted? Stay tuned!

Eat sushi. Save the planet.

Congratulations to everyone that came out and participated in the PodMob! You rock!

3rdwhale Bamboo T-shirt Winner

A 3rdwhale Bamboo T-shirt Winner

Originally posted at


Filed under Climate Change, People Power