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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Last week I attended the 7th annual Canadian Water Summit, a day-long event bringing together water leaders from government, industry, non-profit organizations and academia. Held June 23, 2016, in Toronto under the theme “The Business of Water—Innovation Across the Entire Life Cycle,” this year’s edition focused on best practices in water innovation and the latest trends in managing water-related risks.

In a keynote address, Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, talked about how, in Canada, we tend to take water for granted. “No one here was surprised when they turned on the tap this morning and clean water came out,” he said. Yet the sad reality is that nearly all of Canada’s once pristine lakes and rivers are now polluted.

On this topic, Ontario recently passed the Great Lakes Protection Act, which aims to strengthen the province’s ability to keep the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River clean, as well as to protect and restore the waterways that flow into them.

Murray referred to climate change and environmental problems as “a cultural problem.” The Indigenous people have treaties with nature, he explained: they consider all of nature’s creatures of equal importance, and they consider water sacred. “Can you imagine if we started treating water as sacred?” he asked. Instead, decisions are made according to four-year election or business cycles. We need to evolve not just in terms of technology: “We need to advance our culture to be sophisticated enough to live on this planet.”

Water tech challenges

Among other things, Summit panelists and participants discussed the challenges of introducing new technologies in the water sector: for example, no municipality wants to take the risk of being the first to implement a new wastewater or drinking water treatment technology. As well, procurement policies often require going with the lowest bidder but may not take into account full life-cycle costs or environmental impacts; moreover, when preparing specifications for calls for tender, engineers tend to go with the technologies they know.

The Summit also looked at how water issues affect businesses, and offered a glimpse into the fascinating ways in which some companies are reducing their water use, using rainwater or grey water, or recycling their wastewater—often generating substantial dollar savings in the process.

In a session titled “The Big Picture: Engaging water users in a conversation about sustainable water use,” Matt Howard, Director of the Alliance for Water Stewardship–North America, explained that no one is immune from water risks. The issue is not always scarcity; it may be regulatory, or quality—he pointed to recent examples of toxic algae in Lake Erie (causing Toledo, Ohio, to declare a state of emergency in 2014) and the fiasco in Flint, Michigan, both within the Great Lakes basin.

“We need to move beyond the fact that we have abundant supply of inexpensive water,” he stated. He noted that in a survey on global risks, businesses ranked water as third most important in terms of impact, and second in terms of likelihood.

Jonathan Radtke is the Water Sustainability Program Director for Coca-Cola North America. The company is present in nearly every country in the world. Their number one ingredient: water.

The company has a multi-component water strategy, which includes making sure its plant is efficient and discharges clean wastewater, working on these same issues with suppliers, and collaborating on projects with municipalities and communities worldwide.

What I found most interesting, however, was its “replenish” strategy. “Our goal is return to nature and communities the same amount of water that we use in our products and production process,” explained Radtke, “that is, to be water neutral by 2020.”

This is being done through a number of projects and partnerships, from donating its syrup barrels for use as rain barrels to supporting wetland restoration projects. Recent Canadian projects include funding to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to support four conservation projects in Alberta’s Bow River Watershed, and funding to support the Tommy Thompson Wetland Park in Toronto. Here in Quebec, in 2012, the company pledged $250,000 to restore the damaged St-Eugène marsh and help improve the natural flow in the St. Lawrence River.

Circular systems

Canada has much to learn from other countries, too. Alex van der Helm is with Waternet, the public water utility of Amsterdam. With its dense population and nearly half of the country below sea level, the Netherlands has become renowned for its water technology expertise.

Van der Helm described a number of sustainable initiatives they’ve adopted, adding that Amsterdam’s ambition is to become climate neutral, “the circular city of Europe,” by 2020. He touched on concepts such as circular water and energy systems, aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES), and capturing heat from showers. “Forty percent of total energy losses come from warm wastewater leaving houses,” he noted.

In a panel on “The Value of Water: Overcoming Challenges to Innovation in the Water Industry,” Bruce Taylor, President of Enviro-Stewards, gave numerous examples of how his consulting firm has helped large companies reduce their water and energy consumption.

In one case, a food manufacturer was using tremendous quantities of water to dilute the fat waste going down the drain. By recovering and transforming this fat into lard that could be sold, the company reduced the fat going down the drain (good for the municipal wastewater system, where Fats, Oils and Greases, a.k.a. FOGs, are a huge problem), reduced its water requirement (water fees are rapidly increasing), and now generates some additional revenue by selling the lard.

A few years ago, Enviro-Stewards designed a project for the City of Guelph to harvest rainwater to wash its buses. Not only does this save water, but it reduces the amount of chemicals used for removing calcium spots, for example.

These were just a few of the many projects mentioned, offering an inspiring glimpse into the world of water technology and innovation.

About the Canadian Water Summit

 

 “Treat our freshwater as a precious resource that deserves protection and careful stewardship, including by working with other orders of government to protect Canada’s freshwater using education, geo-mapping, watershed protection, and investments in the best wastewater treatment technologies.” Excerpt from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Mandate Letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

 

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What do giant puppet jellyfish, green roofs, old computers, and a tax company have in common?

All were part of projects honoured at a Montreal environment and sustainable development awards gala held last week. Organized by CRE-Montréal in collaboration with the City of Montreal, the annual event aims to highlight innovative and inspiring projects being carried out by partners of Montreal’s Sustainable Development Plan.

While I didn’t attend the gala, the projects are all worth mentioning. In fact, one of the award winners and one of the nominees have already been featured on this blog.

 2012 winners

  • Business and industry category: KPMG, a company that provides audit, tax, and advisory services, won for its initiatives encouraging employees to become active in their community. The company makes social and environmental involvement part of its employees’ annual performance evaluation. It also organizes an annual volunteer day: in 2011, 91% of its employees participated in activities such as planting trees, cleaning up shorelines, and controlling invasive species in Angrignon park.
  • Public bodies and institutions: The Borough of Rosement–La Petite-Patrie won for bylaw changes aiming to reduce urban heat islands. Property developers are now obligated to devote at least 20% of the area to green space. In cases where this is difficult, a green roof (roof covered by vegetation) can be installed. In its first year, the bylaw saw the installation of 300 new green and white roofs (roof covered by reflective materials), and the greening of more than 21,000 km2 — the equivalent of four football fields.
  • Non-profit organizations, associations and groups: In 2011 Insertech Angus started its DÉDUIRre service for businesses, collecting and refurbishing old IT equipment, and then putting it to (re)use in the community. The organization also plays a social role by training and employing young people in difficulty, helping them integrate into the job market. (See enviromontreal post: A social and environmental solution for IT equipment)
  • Finally, the “Coup de cœur” award given out by Culture Montréal went to the Coopérative Les ViVaces for its show “La Conférence,” presented during Earth Day weekend at the Biodome. Using puppets made from recycled materials, it told the story of an explorer who discovers the 7th continent, a mass of garbage in the ocean which may be as large as Europe (a true phenomenon, also known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”).

You can view short videos about each of these projects on the gala’s website (in French). Even if your French is poor, watch the video on Coopérative Les ViVaces to see the giant jellyfish they made using an old umbrella frame and transparent plastic.

Also nominated

The following organizations were also nominated for their work.

  • Business and industry: Communauto, for its new fleet of electric cars; Brasserie Labatt, for its recovery of cooling water used in the pasteurization process.
  • Public bodies and institutions: Borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, for the recycling of excavation materials; City of Montreal’s Direction des immeubles, for its sustainable ice-skating rinks.
  • Non-profit organizations, associations and groups: Accès Fleuve / ZIP Ville-Marie, for its Route bleue du Grand Montréal, a way to discover the Montreal area by canoe or kayak; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for its “Ruelle du réemploi”.

 

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People are always asking me where to bring their stuff — old TVs, computer equipment, etc. — instead of throwing it in the garbage. So I’ve decided to start a little series on reuse and recycling. Today, we begin with computers.

The short answer would be to bring old computer equipment to your local ecocentre, because they will dispose of items containing toxic or hazardous materials in an environmentally safe way.

However, if you think there might be some salvageable components, consider bringing your old computer equipment to Insertech Angus.

Insertech is a non-profit organization with a social and environmental mission: it specializes in the collection and refurbishing of IT equipment, while employing and training young adults at risk. Each year, some fifty adults ages 18 to 35 work at salaried positions and receive technical training, as well as social support, to help them integrate into the job market.

In addition to desktop computers, the company accepts LCD screens, laptops, notebooks, and even tablets. They also accept peripherals and computer parts. Technicians verify the equipment, erase the disks, and then repair, clean and upgrade the equipment to create optimized machines that can be used by schools, community organizations, students, the elderly, or other groups or individuals.

“Insertech is an IT solution that is socially and environmentally profitable,” sums up general director Agnes Beaulieu, who helped found the company thirteen years ago. “We use the term ‘solution’ because we cover a range of computer needs.” For example, Insertech also offers repair services, gives courses on how to repair or optimize your equipment yourself, and sells affordable refurbished equipment — “all with a goal to helping people avoid consuming products needlessly.”

Services for companies

The bulk of IT materials collected come from companies. Through its ISO-certified DÉDUIRre program, Insertech offers free pick-up for 15 computers or more in the greater Montreal area, permanent and secure deletion of data from the hard drives, and guarantees maximum reuse of the hardware. If they cannot refurbish the equipment, they will dispose of it in an environmentally sound manner. Insertech can buy the equipment if it’s fully working and possesses the latest technology or, as a recognized charity, they can issue a receipt for tax purposes for the donation of working computers. Companies can also resell the refurbished equipment to their employees.

What percentage of machines can really be refurbished? “It depends on where they come from,” says Beaulieu. From individuals, about 20%. From companies, up to 70%. “Companies use their equipment for 3 or 4 years maximum before switching to higher performance machines,” she explains. Individuals, however, tend to hang on to their equipment longer, often passing it on to a friend or family member. “So by the time we get it, it’s usually pretty old.”

Last year, out of 11,515 units collected (164 metric tonnes), Insertech was able to refurbish 7142 units, or 62%.

One item they cannot do anything with, however, is old, bulky cathode-ray tube (CRT) screens. Beaulieu says individuals are better off bringing those to an ecocentre, which will dispose of them (ecologically) for free. Insertech has to charge people $15 to cover the recycling cost.

Repair, refurbish, reuse

Refurbished equipment is an environmentally friendly choice that is suitable for anyone, she stresses.  “You can get very good equipment that meets your needs, and in terms of the environment, it’s a very big gesture.”

Beaulieu cites a study conducted by Recyc-Québec which shows that reusing computers is 9 times better for the environment than recycling. In the case of LCD screens, it’s 24 times better. “It’s the manufacturing phase that causes the most damage to the environment,” she explains. “Recycling reduces the use of raw materials, but it still involves manufacturing.”

Insertech also helps extend the life of people’s existing computer equipment. “Often, people don’t realize their equipment can be repaired. Manufacturers are not interested; people are just told to buy new equipment.” For example, she says, many people think that LCD screens cannot be repaired. “It’s completely false. Our success rate for repairing LCD screens is over 70 percent.”

Ultimately, says Beaulieu, her organization wants to convince people of two things: “Yes, it’s important to get rid of your equipment in an ecological way, and not just put it in the garbage, because it contains hazardous waste,” says Beaulieu. “But, while recycling is good, reusing is much better.”

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Curious about driving an electric car? Maybe you should consider joining Communauto. The car-sharing service now has 18 electric cars available in Montreal and 7 in Quebec City; over the next few months, 25 more will be added to the network.

While a small number of members had access to the cars for a trial period, these fully electric Nissan LEAF cars can now be used by any of Communauto’s 25,000 subscribers.

My husband, Jonathan Levine, got to try one at the official launch in Montreal on January 16. The first thing that struck him, aside from the futuristic look and all the panels and buttons, was, well, the car’s silence.

“When you start the car, there’s no ‘vroom’ — you just get this kind of computer boot-up sound. But there’s no reaction from the car. The first time, you think it’s not even working.”

(For an inside glimpse of the car, watch the Communauto training video.)

Once you get used to the electronic interface, however, Levine says it handles like a regular car. “The main difference is that it accelerates instantly,” he said. “And there’s no sound. When you’re stopped at a red light, for example, there’s no engine turning.” The car does allow you to “turn on” sound, a feature that will activate when you’re driving less than 30 km/hr so that pedestrians can hear you.

A car for computer geeks?

Electric cars are considered ideal for a fleet such as Communauto’s, where the cars are used mostly for short trips within the city. When the Nissan LEAF is fully charged, it can travel over 100 km. However, because air conditioning and heating, as well as driving habits, can greatly reduce this range, drivers are cautioned to monitor the dashboard, which continually displays the battery charge and estimated number of kilometres left.

It takes 8 hours to completely recharge the car’s battery at its charging dock. At the moment, the charging docks (supplied by the Quebec firm AddÉnergie Technologies) are available only at the lots where the cars are kept.

Communauto’s electric fleet has been made possible through partnerships with the Quebec government and Hydro-Québec.

Attendees of Communauto’s January 16 launch also got to see the film Revenge of the Electric Car, a sequel to the award-winning Who Killed the Electric Car? by American filmmaker Chris Paine. The film will be playing at Cinema du Parc starting January 20.

Now on a street near you: Communauto has added 25 all-electric Nissan LEAFs to its fleet, with 25 more to come.

 

RELATED: Founding partners of The Electric Circuit — St-Hubert Restaurants, RONA, Metro, the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) and Hydro-Québec — have announced the locations of 90 public charging stations to be set up this spring (2012). The five groups have teamed up to roll out a network of public charging stations in the Montreal and Quebec City areas.

The Quebec government offers rebates up to $8,000 on the purchase of an electric or hybrid vehicle.

 

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