Adopting a greener lifestyle can be an intimidating process if you don’t know where to start. But with a little help from your neighbours—and a few eco-driven experts—the process can be a lot easier than you think.
That’s the reasoning behind Vancouver’s Green Bloc, an environmentally minded initiative developed by Riley Park residents in 2013 that aims to minimize the ecological footprints—the measure of earth needed to sustain a group of people—of entire communities.
With the help of national nonprofit Evergreen, the East Van neighbourhood succeeded in slashing its eco-footprint from an average of 2.79 planets to an average of 2.46 planets over two-and-a-half years. (As part of its Greenest City Action Plan, the City of Vancouver aims to achieve a “one-planet” footprint by 2020. Green Bloc estimates that the typical Vancouverite currently requires three planets to maintain his or her current lifestyle.)
“Originally, the residents of Riley Park noticed that there were a lot of great things in the Greenest City Action Plan, but they didn’t know how they, as citizens, could do their part,” explains Robyn Chan, Green Bloc project lead, by phone. “This is an opportunity for people to really take action and make an impact at the neighbourhood level in helping to achieve those goals.”
Following the success of that first pilot program, Green Bloc is now seeking four neighbourhoods in Vancouver that are interested in taking the environmental pledge. Over the course of one year, inhabitants of the selected communities will band together to green up their lifestyles, participating in workshops and adopting more sustainable practices that, hopefully, will help reduce each ’hood’s ecological footprint by 15 percent.
The project begins with an assessment of each resident’s eco-footprint, which involves recording data like eating habits, preferred transportation methods, and electricity and natural gas consumption. The community then works with Green Bloc to set up how-to classes and information sessions related to areas in need of improvement.
“If people are really excited about lowering their food footprint, for example, we’ll bring in a vegan chef and do vegan cooking classes. We might build a community garden to help them grow their vegetables locally,” offers Chan. Other workshops may cover how to establish a sharing economy, low-cost ways to reduce energy consumption, and more.
Neighbourhoods that would like to participate in Green Bloc should include at least 20 to 25 residents. Those living in condos, apartment buildings, townhomes, or co-op housing are welcome to apply. “We’re really interested in helping renters or people who don’t own their homes take action and make a difference,” Chan notes.
Applications will be accepted online until February 5. The 2017 program begins on February 16 and runs until February 2018. Once it ends, an online network of each neighbourhood’s environmental leaders or “champions” will be set up so that they may exchange resources, experiences, and support to maintain their green progress.
If your neighbourhood isn’t selected for Green Bloc—or if you’re looking to engage your community on a smaller scale—Chan says you can make use of the project’s online toolkit to conduct a similar initiative.
Strategies that proved the most successful during the Riley Park pilot, she shares, include encouraging participants to walk, cycle, or take public transit whenever possible; reducing paper waste by refusing junk mail, hard-copy receipts, and other print materials; and minimizing the intake of red meat.
The sense of accountability and development of neighbourly relationships are great byproducts of Green Bloc, too. “Whether you’re bonding over gardening or maybe you find someone you want to cook with, there are a lot of different opportunities to make connections with a really wide variety of people,” adds Chan.