Local Beer options at the University of Ottawa

The very beginning of a university semester can either be ridiculously laid-back or incredibly jarring; either way you're going to want a drink. In addition, my father recently took a "beer appreciation" course, and so over the Christmas holidays I got my ear chewed off about the difference between lagers and stouts, brewing history and proper glassware. This all got me thinking about the impact of the beer industry and if brewing and beer consumption could be done in a sustainable manner. So I did some research (and some sampling) and here is what I would love to share with you about how to make greener choices about beer, or sustainabrews, if you will.

As with most things, buying locally-made/sourced products can be better for the environment and also for the local community. Primarily, there is less energy used in transporting the products when they are domestic. Furthermore, you support small businesses in the community. So when choosing between something locally-brewed or a larger corporate mass market brand, it's usually better to buy local. If that's not available, buying domestically is better than internationally.

Now, if you are buying a bigger name brand, in their 2016 Sustainability Report Molsoncoors pledged to go landfill free, reduce energy consumption by 25% and reduce water consumption by 15% by 2020. Interestingly, Labatts most recent environmental report only features numbers from 2011 and despite claiming that "environmental stewardship is a key focus of [their] everyday operation", their current environmental initiatives are not so transparent.

 Thankfully some of my favourite Ontario craft breweries have made strides forward in their sustainable practices. Millstreet Organic is an award-winning, Toronto-based craft brewery who, among numerous environmental initiatives, use only domestic, local or seasonal organic ingredients and have an extensive recycling and waste management policy. On a smaller scale, a really cute and emergent brewery in Blyth, ON called Cowbell has pledged to become the first carbon-neutral brewery in North-America and have integrated environmental stewardship into every aspect of their business.  

In switching back to locally-brewed brews, the Ottawa community has recently become known for its growing craft beer market. Dominion City Brewing Co., a small-batch brewery which began as a Kickstarter campaign, emphasizes giving back to the local community by recycling and reusing as much as possible and responsibly disposing of brewing by-products. 

Finally, Beau's All Natural is Canada's first ever Benefit Corporation brewery, who not only use all natural and certified organic ingredients and use only eco-friendly packaging, but have given back over $1 million to local charities and community initiatives! Even more exciting? The CEO and co-founder of Beau's All Natural Steve Beauchesne will be the keynote speaker at the Telfer School of Management's Entrepreneurs’ Club ‘Toast to Success’ Business Dinner on February 1st at the Canadian Museum of History!

Some other things you can do to make your beer consumption a little more sustainable include choosing what's on tap when at the bar and properly recycling and even returning your cans and bottles afterwards. So good news! If you're looking for these sustainabrews, you don't have to look far! Father and Sons, Café Nostalgica and the Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill all have Beau's All Natural on tap and Dominion City can be found also at the Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill. Furthermore, all the near-by bars have extensive domestic options available.   

As in all things, it is so important to look into the environmental practices  behind the products we consume and to support the ones which are good for us and good for the earth. Choosing sustainable beer, or Sustainabrews as I like to call it, is a great way to feel a little better about drinking a little more.

Meatless Mondays

New year, new earth? Unfortunately that's not really quite how it works. In the immortal words of Eminem, "you only get one shot". We’ve reached a point where we can no longer remain complacent in regards to the environmental crisis, especially when considering the current political atmosphere. Simply thinking about climate change, waste pollution, food sustainability and conservation is not enough. We need tangible actions, both big and small.

So here are five tangibles actions to reduce your environmental impact in the new year and new academic semester. Perhaps you can even pull Marshall Mathers and lose yourself... in sustainability! That might be a weak joke, but the earth certainly isn't getting any cooler and the new year is a great time to make small changes so you can keep living your best life for you, but also for the planet. Here’s how:

Carry your reusable mug everywhere you go

Make your travel mug your new best friend
Travel mugs are should be as essential as coffee is to university students. My parents bought this fantastic set of camping mugs when I was first born and now this Europe Bound bad boy never leaves my side. It clips onto my bags with a carabineer so as I move throughout my day, my coffee and tea consumption feels a little more campy and a lot more sustainable.

Shameless plug time: The Office of Campus Sustainability runs Muggy Mondays which offers FREE fair trade coffee, tea, and hot chocolate to anyone who brings a reusable mug, promotes waste reduction and environmental sustainability!
Ecosia is B Corp (that is, Benefit Corporation: see below) which allows you to help plant trees while searching the web. This eco-conscious add-on web browser plants trees with its ad revenue. It's simple to add it to your existing browser like Google Chrome and you can see the impact your internet research has as it shows you the number of trees you’ve helped to plant. 

shop ethically, Patagonia, clothes, sustainable

Shop ethically on campus and beyond
Many firms and companies are moving towards making sustainability matter more than the bottom lines as part of a growing movement of Benefit Corporations, non-profit organizations and sustainability-geared companies. The power is in the choice! Companies you may already love like Patagonia, Ethical Bean Coffee and Reformation  have made sustainable commitments to ethical practices as well as to social and environmental contributions. When on campus, student-run businesses like Cafe-Alt, have made tangible commitments to composting, recycling, and minimizing their environmental impact. Looking for an uOttawa-based, student run non-profit for ethical fashion? Check out the incredible Balance Project.

vegetarian, yummy, meatless

Eat less meat!
I strive to never become a preachy or strict vegan. People should eat what makes them feel good and what they feel good about eating. However, I urge folks to educate themselves upon the impact of certain diets and food groups. It is undeniable that the animal agriculture industry as a whole is unsustainable and has a massive impact upon climate change. Educate yourself about the impact your dietary lifestyle may have so you can make informed decisions about what you want to put into your body. 

Perhaps check out the piece written about meat consumption on our campus here. Eating less meat and animal-based products directly supports the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Try cutting meat and animal products out of meals you typically make and replacing them with chickpeas (curry), beans (chili) or  tofu (stir-fry). You'll feel good about saving money and saving the environment. 

Recycle properly
Recycling can be a struggle. Coordinating which week is what and playing chicken with your roommates about who gets to take it to the curb in freezing conditions is 100% a struggle. However, recycling is the cornerstone of a sustainable lifestyle and distinguishing between what materials belong where is so important in reducing the amount of waste we dump each week. Check out the city's recycling schedule here, then familiarize yourself with the university's current recycling system and don't forget to compost!

Better yet, reuse some of the recyclables and waste. Washed out jam jars are trendy drink wear, old hummus containers are perfect for on-campus snacks, and clear plastic produce bags can go right back into your reusable grocery bags (which you should already be using, I mean, come on, it is 2017). Get creative and see how close to zero waste you can get!

Whether or not you are the type of person that likes to make New Year resolutions, making a commitment to leading a more sustainable lifestyle is a resolution we should all start to make, step by step, one intentional choice after another.


Veggie burger, happy face, uOttawa, La Maison

I was at home today making some dinner, as I do, listening to the CBC, as I do, and thinking a little bit about meat. I don't really eat it you see. Not because I am an animal rights activist, not because of any religious inclination, not because it is expensive..., maybe for environmental reasons (resource consumption and what not).

I actually don't give it too much thought as to why I don't eat meat, I just don't do it. Some of my friends have tried to pin me down on a reason and some people have asked me why I don't advocate vegetarianism more... I guess I am just not that kind of vegetarian.

So there I am, making my dinner, listening to my CBC, and wouldn't you know it, it just so happens that there is show on the radio about meat: The Matter of Meat. I am not listening too keenly until the subject turns to famous vegans - turns out Frankenstein's Monster was a vegan. I started listening a bit more closely.

The radio show continues with some interesting thoughts about why one should or should not eat meat. But in the end, I get stuck on my own personal reason - resource consumption.
What am I getting at?
You know how sometimes you hear about a music band randomly from a friend, and then again about that band at a party, and then you hear them in a random music mix... you know, that feeling where things seem to come in waves? Well that's called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, and I was experiencing it big time because I have been hearing about meat a lot recently.

  • Christmas with my family - "we bought you some Tofurky"
  • Christmas dinner at a friend's house - "thanks for getting me a meatless loaf"
  • Campus Sustainability Framework study - "looks like we buy a lot of animal products"
  • Ordering pizza with a friend - "can my half be vegetarian?"
  • CBC radio show - "huh, another thing about meat"

Catch that second last bullet? It seems that we buy a lot of meat on campus and it is nagging me a bit and I think maybe it is time to do something about it. But the first step to doing anything about an issue is to actually make sure that there is an issue.

Here's the context, I am working on a gigantic assessment of uOttawa's sustainability performance and one of the questions asked is how much local food do you buy? Chartwell's, the campus food service provider, very graciously gave me the breakdown of the food purchases they make for the Dining Hall. "Looks like we buy a lot of animal products".

Chartwells buys a good amount of local food, and they buy a good amount of Faritrade products, and they buy a good amount of MSC certified food... so that's good. They also buy a lot of meat and animal products, just north of 70% to be precise.
uOttawa, food procurement, diagram
So what does this mean? Well first, dairy products and meat are expensive (because these numbers are based on cost). Two, regardless of price, that's a lot of animal products. If this was your grocery bill and 70% of all the things you bought were dairy and meat, you might rethink your purchases. According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian household spends 35% of their food budget on dairy and meat

And now, why does this bother me? Well, as I have already mentioned, I think that meat and animal products use a disproportionate amount of resources and produce a lot of greenhouse gases. Don't take my word for it, the Smithsonian published an article highlighting research from prominent institutions indicating that beef alone uses 10 times more resources than other meats.

In a nut shell, plant based products require less water and energy inputs, produce less pollutants and toxins, and less labour input. Livestock themselves require grasses and grains to grow and they take up a good amount of space. Not to mention all the ethical implications of factory farming. So..... what if we could cut back on animal products?

I am going to stop right here and mention that I am not the kind of person that makes blanket statements about meat consumption. I don't think that forcing a vegetarian lifestyle on people is the best option. There are plenty of processed vegetarian or vegan meals that are not healthy or nutritious and can still be resource intensive.

And the solution...? Well I wish there was a simple solution. In my opinion, initiatives like Meatless Mondays tend to turn people off rather than bring people in. I like a less direct approach actually. Instead of an all out ban on meat, we could try slightly modifying the menu to bring down the quantities of animal products.

For example, instead of meat lasagna, half the time do spinach lasagna.
Instead of traditional ice cream all the time, try a little soy ice cream once and a while.
Instead of meat sauce for pasta, why not incorporate some season local items like squash.

uOttawa, food procurement, diagram, breakdown

When we breakdown the numbers a bit further at the University, we can see that there is a disproportionate amount of of money spent on anything but produce. Just from a financial point of view, shifting to more produce could greatly reduce the cost of the meal plan in general.

I know this is a little weird... I am giving suggestions to you the reader rather than just implementing them on campus. Well don't worry, I am going to try to work with our Food Services people to reduce animal product consumption where permissible. But what about you? One of the reasons why we have such high animal product numbers is because of demand. What can you do to help reduce demand? What would you like to see us do?

If you have suggestions for me or for Food Services, send them along. The more you engage, the more we can respond to your needs.

~ jon - campus sustainability manager
uOttawa, University of Ottawa, new office space

Sometimes when people ask me what I do for a living I tell them my job is to Save the Planet. Yeah, it's a bit cheeky as far as a response goes, but whatever... and besides, shouldn't everybody's job be to save the planet. I mean after all, don't we all kind of need the planet to survive? I suppose my job is to find different ways to do things that ultimately help save the planet.

Consequently, part of my everyday job is to try to walk the talk of sustainability. You would be surprised how little things mean a lot to many people. How the smallest thing can cascade into something huge, or how the simplest message can help inspire others to dream big.

Earlier this month, my boss asked me to switch offices. The downside is I had to move, but the upshot was that I would have my very own office. My boss challenged me to try to make my new space as "paperless" as possible. He wanted me to try to model what a greener work space might look like.

This was of course great timing actually because a little while ago my office started to make a real concerted effort to reduce our printing. Of course there are numerous reasons why this makes sense in the office environment...
  • Less paper, less trees cut down (kind of speaks for itself)
  • Less printing, less cost (again, kind of speaks for itself)
  • Less printing, less labour - Every time a piece of paper gets printed and discarded it means someone on campus has to collect that paper, bring it to a bin, move that bin to the University's recycling centre, send it from the recycling centre to the City's recycling centre, and finally go about the business of recycling that paper. That's a lot of work.
  • Less printing, more security - This might not seem intuitive if you don't work in an office but the more things you print, the more unsecured information there is floating around out there. Think of all those confidential papers with private information just siting on desks or in unlocked filing cabinets.
  • Less paper, more organization - I can't tell you how many times I have had to leaf back and forth through mountains of paper looking for information. It is one of the reasons I love PDFs so much... they have a search function!!!
  • And of course my favourite... Less printing, more space - Paper takes up a lot of space in an office. I looked up the University office space standards and found that one third (yeah that's right 33%) of office space is dedicated to the holding, displaying, or storage of paper. The picture below demonstrates how everything serves paper in the typical uOttawa office.
Much of our office space is dedicated to paper

Now this isn't a story about paper, it is a story about space and so it's on this last point that I am going to focus because the possibilities of more space are very attractive for a campus that lacks it.

Back to my new office space. I took a look at the design of what was in place before and decided if I got rid of most of the paper I deal with, I could dramatically increase the functionality of the space.

The biggest change to make was to get rid of the oversized desk. I don't like big desks personally. They make me feel like I am trying to overcompensate for something. I know a desk can sometimes act as a status symbol (i.e. the bigger the desk, the more important the person), but when you get down to it, all that extra surface area is just more opportunity to hoard paper. 

I decided to keep the shelves to store gardening equipment, magazines (yes I know they are made of paper), materials for the Free Store and Muggy Mondays, etc... but I did say no to filing cabinets. If most of our activities are transitioning to paperless, why would I need them.

Of course this made the office a little too big, so I added some work stations so that people could come in and work on projects. *Small stations since no paper is really required.

I also added a meeting table and I am currently on the hunt for a black board from the Furniture Reuse Program.

And to top it all off, lots and lots of plants. I figured they could purify the air and I like the irony of replacing paper with plants. 

The real success of the whole thing is the increase in functionality. Where once there was one person, now there is the possibility for five. Since the whole thing is more like a hotelling space, people can come in and out, work on projects, store some things, and share some ideas.

As an aside, a lot of people have been asking me where I got the little green lamps on my desk.... yep you guessed it, the Free Store!

small meeting table

new office space, office of campus sustainability
student work space

new office space, office of campus sustainability
plants instead of paper

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more plants and more army men defending them

new office space, office of campus sustainability
desk extension for coffee, tea, and hat

new office space, office of campus sustainability
my desk, with an image inside an image

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more student workspace

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more plants and pictures

I am the first to admit that the configuration I have is a bit too dense for most people's liking, but if we could change the work place to be able to fit just 10% more people comfortably, the impacts would be huge. At the University of Ottawa, that would mean about 30,000 m2 of space (equivalent to about 50 family houses, or 330 tennis courts).

And that's only the space. Think about how much energy we would be saving if we didn't have to build extra space for more people. Or think about how much happier we could make our students and employees by replacing large desks with sofas, shelves with foosball tables, or filing cabinets with sleep pods.

The possibilities are endless, and the whole thing starts with doing something as small as getting rid of some paper.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager

Wow, it really really feels like you don't like disposable coffee cups!
In the past couple of weeks I have been getting an avalanche of questions about the infamous Nescafé booth which was on campus during the month of September.

I guess the whole story goes something like this.
  • Nescafé is invited by Community Life on campus for an event last year... Things go so well they are invited back for Welcome Week this year.
  • Nescafé hands out heaping cups of coffee to anyone who stops by their booth.
  • Things are going well again until... an infographic comes out announcing how many cups of coffee were handed out over the month.
  • There is a flood of comments on a Facebook post about the coffee being handed out.
  • The post is taken down and Coffegedgon begins...
I say the whole thing goes "something like this" because our office was not involved with the event. We just got a couple of sneers and complaints sent our way but we didn't pay much attention to everything happening until some articles about the whole thing got sent my way.

Since the articles came out, Community Life has apologized and said that they are deeply regretful about the incident and that the event was meant as a means of welcoming the community back for the Fall Semester.

I am personally not angry at Community Life or Nescafé for the whole thing... why would I be? This is just the logical extension of what society has been doing for decades... increasing convinience to the detriment of the environment. One could argue that Nescafé, who weren't even the only big company handing out free coffee this semester,  is no more at fault than every person that did not bring their own reusable mug.

Getting into the nitty gritty details about consumer versus producer versus vendor responsibility for disposable cups is not really the goal of this post. What I want to talk about are the concrete options for what can be done on campus to make sure that everyone can use or does use a reusable mug.
So here is the lowdown... a semi complete listing of all our options when it comes to the disposable cups we find on campus.

Offer better incentives
Did you know that anywhere you go on campus, you already get a discount on your coffee if you bring your own mug. Yeah, everywhere! And not just a bit of a discount... it actually adds up to a lot if you do it all the time - somewhere between $30 and $50 a year if you drink one coffee a day.

Muggy Mondays is one of those incentive based programs... bring a mug and good things happen. I like incentives as a model for change. Not just because negativity turns a lot of people off, but because I think that we could all use things that encourage us rather than discourage us.

But maybe these incentives are good enough... I mean there are still hundreds of people using disposable coffee cups every day on campus. Would more of a savings make a difference? Maybe just maybe more promotion would do the trick?

Create a cup tax
Study after study talks about how people hate taxes more than they hate almost anything else. So instead of more incentives, what about doing something that motivates people more vicerally?

Now I don't like using negative sentiment to drive action but I am not above getting results either. So imagine this, instead of giving you a discount for bringing a reusable mug, how about you just pay less for coffee all the time, but the catch is that disposable cups cost 20 or 25 cents?

The whole idea is that you get so angered by the idea of a tax that you change your behaviour. The tricky part is to not create apathy about your ability to make personal change without having to have a tax or some kind of intervention to make all the decisions for you.

Ban disposable cups
And then there is the idea of just banning disposable cups all together. This is the option I like the least because it takes away almost any idea of self determination. I mean, if you never get to make the choice to reuse a mug on your own, then what's to say that you will actually make that decision when you are in a place that does have disposable coffee cups.

On the other hand, maybe having a campus that doesn't have any disposable coffee cups could be a way of showing everyone that another way is possible. Maybe just the idea of knowing that alternatives do exist and they aren't overly cumbersome is what people need to see.

So what do you think? Is a disposable coffee cup free campus a real possibility? Send me your ideas and let's see what we can make happen.

In the mean time, don't forget to lug your mug!

~jON - campus sustainability manager