Celebrating the environment

EcoFest, an event held to raise awareness about environmental initiatives, took place on June 5 and 6 at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and showcased over 20 local environmental groups. Displays, workshops, live music and shows entertained and educated the community on eco-friendly lifestyles.

“EcoFest is about a cultural shift,” explained Doug Quibell, manager of environmental health for the Region of Waterloo.

Climate change and other environmental issues have been increasingly discussed in the public sphere. With growing awareness more individual action is expected to occur.

“The knowledge is pretty much out there … the difference is years of community based social marketing where you normalize the proper behaviours,” he said.

The first day of the festival included presentations by 250 children representing their 36 schools and their eco-friendly initiatives. They were competing for eco-school status, which was awarded by the province of Ontario.

“Of the 36 schools, 21 got gold [certification], meaning they’re elite, exceptional and environmental,” said Quibell.

The second day of the weekend-long festival focused on community-based organizations and their work.

One group was Reduce the Juice (RTJ), a youth lead climate change organization, that promoted emission reduction.

They had three solar panels on site to represent one twenty-fifth of the energy an average family home uses in one day. This displayed that reduction is the first and most effective way to combat climate change.

They also held an anti-idling campaign in spring 2008 involving local elementary schools and Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) high school to inform the community about the harmful effects of idling vehicles. “[The school community] managed to reduce their idling by over 50 per cent,” said Michelle Attard, a volunteer for RTJ.

In addition to awareness, students involved developed life-long skills as well. “It’s produced tons of leadership throughout those schools,” said Attard.

Recently, RTJ presented WCI with the alternative fuel vehicle challenge in which the school has to design a practical car that produces low emissions.

The students participating in the challenge, the majority of which are in grade 9, went on to design a solar powered Ford Model T. They hope to have the car completed for use in the Oktoberfest parade later this year.

The University of Waterloo Alternative Fuel Team (UWAFT) that provided support to WCI also produced their own fuel efficient car, which they exhibited at Ecofest. They had engineered it for General Motor’s Challenge X competition.

The hydrogen fuel cell car produced for the competition was described by UWAFT member Faraz Syed as extremely safe and efficient.

Having come in fourth place among the 17 North American schools who participated, the team is looking forward to their next competition, EcoCAR, that will be held in 2011.

The other groups that participated in the festival promoted initiatives such as bicycle maintenance, eating locally and home energy saving practices that can easily be adapted by any community member to make a positive impact on the environment.

EcoFest will have to find a new location next year, as CIGI begins construction at the current venue for the new Basillie Centre of Excellence; co-ordinators do not think that this will hinder the annual event.

“Next year: bigger, better and more,” said Quibell.