Category Archives: Energy & Transportation

Getting Ready for the Solar Workshop

We are excited about the upcoming workshop “Everything you Wanted to Know About Solar Power (but were afraid to ask!)” Info and registration here.

For those of you that have registered, please review the longer course description below and make note of the things that you will need to bring with you mentioned in the last paragraph!

Everything you Wanted to Know About Solar Power

In this introduction to solar power we move from the basic starting points of how practical solar power works, to energy consumption estimates, and finally solar site assessments.

We will learn how the basic parts of a photovoltaic system fit together into a cohesive system. From panels to charge controllers, batteries and grid-tie microinverters we will understand the anatomy of free-standing off-grid systems. We will also explore the investment possibilities of going grid-tied and selling electricity to BC Hydro. In doing so we will get a sense of the practical strengths and weaknesses of off-grid and grid-tied solar. We will learn how to read and interpret the electrical labels on appliances and calculate how much solar power we need to run them. We might even find some surprises when we compare a toaster to a refrigerator.

Along the way we can take some scenic detours into historical traps of energy efficiency, neighbourhood trends, economic trends, and some lightweight science.

The second half of the workshop is a solar site assessment. We will head outside with our compasses and simple clinometers to gather data about a specific location. We will use this to make a sky chart and model the annual solar potential of our site.

Please bring a notebook, compass, and a clinometer. You can make one with a straw glued onto a protractor and a string with a weight on the end.

2017 Surrey Earth Walk Gratitude

A huge thank you to everyone that contributed to today’s 2017 Surrey Earth Walk, especially the folks that joined us for the first time!

We invite you to follow some of the links below and get to know some of the individuals and groups that are making Surrey a more sustainable community.

A special thank you to Ellen from the Surrey Blue Dot Group for all the work planning and organizing, and to Suzanne and her crew from Amazing Tutors Foundation for the support along the way and for providing gifts of appreciation to the venue hosts along the way.

Thank you to Teresa,  Cora, Elder Amy and the whole crew at the PLOT Sharing Garden for the beautiful blessing and opening ceremony. Oh, and for having the tent up when the hail started to come down!

Thank you to Councilor Vera Lefranc and the Surrey Urban Farmers Market for your help and contributions to the opening ceremony.

Thank you to Ev and Gemma at Zaklan Heritage Farm for being our first rest stop, and for the tour and the fresh hazelnuts.

Thanks you to Henry and Linda from Roots Ecovillage Cooperative for hosting and providing the lunch stop at Henry’s Permaculture garden.

Thank you to Chris from the Green Timbers Heritage Society for providing a guided tour through Green Timbers Urban Forest.

Thank you to Chris from the Surrey Nature Centre for providing a tour of the grounds.

Thank you to Kate and Ron from the Gro Cart Project for introducing us to the amazing Gro Carts.

Thank you to the City of Surrey’s Environmental Extravaganza program for the support.

And thanks to Steve W for being awesome.

If you like what these groups and people are doing in our community, we encourage you to connect with them, support them and tell them how much you appreciate them!

If you participated in the Surrey Earth Walk and have feedback on how to improve it for next year, please let us know.

4th Sundays (@4) in Delta

Shouldnʼt a neighbourhood be a fun place for children and adults to live, work, learn, and celebrate?

4th Sundays (@4) is a tool for creating communities both resilient and productive, that is fun. 4th Sundays (@4) suggests a time and focus for local gatherings, leaving the location and content adaptable to many situations, much like the ʻTransition Town Movement.ʼ As a response to dominant car-culture, it proposes limits on local roadways (ie. significantly lower road speeds) as both a means, that is a transition to a different way of life, and an end, ie. limits on all “tools” of society as a condition of justice, happiness, and durability. Conveniently, the process of localizing economies can gain broad support from many sectors of the community, including youth, commuters, and seniors. As well, organizations promoting arts and crafts, service, and social services may see the benefit to be gained.

Meetings have three primary features: to provide learning opportunities and ritual to enable individual change; to connect individuals with their neighbours; and to build support for slower road speed in order to facilitate community adaptation to large scale change. Things we need to learn and discuss come in two categories: “the local economy;” and “our situation.” Building a local economy includes the opportunities to share skills, re-imagine ourselves as producers rather than consumers, and see our neighbourhood with new eyes. As well, methods for building trust, resilience, and personal connections locally are important.

There are many models for organizing more localized production and commerce, including LETS (local exchange trading system), local currencies, co-operatives, community supported agriculture, microfinance, and the like. Early work on these kinds of initiatives, though slow, is important as our situation unfolds.

Key factors in our situation include peak oil, climate change, globalization, brittle systems, food security, and roadway speeds. Road speeds are the hinge between our lives and the oil dependent globalized economy we serve and need. Fast transportation, while often convenient, has several down-sides, the most ironic of which is congestion and frustration; and our roadways are the most common cause of death and injury among people under age 45 in Canada (first in the category “unintended injury”), an injustice against our youth and an enormous expense to “the economy.” High road speeds enable sprawl and facilitate centralization making it difficult or impossible for people not to commute. As Wendell Berry put it,“Because we can (travel at high speed), we have to.” Research suggests that on average road speeds would need to be 40% slower, 30km/h and 50-60km/h on roads and highways respectively, to prevent death and serious injury. Slower speeds would help people make choices they would prefer. No one wants to commute.

Public ritual can both facilitate healing for those who have directly experienced loss, and raise public awareness, enabling change. Our meetings, our neighbourhoods, then, become a bridge between individuals, and government policy through which communities lead change rather than passively letting it happen. If your answer to the above question is, “yes!” then let’s begin!

For more information on the 4th Sundays (@4) in Delta project or help to start your own, contact Rob Copeman-Haynes at 604 592 0094 or

Unedited and Uncensored

cemetery-1688304_1920.jpgWhat do you say to a mother whose son has committed suicide?

There are no words, just regrets, angst, pain, fear and even anger for a society who pushes so much disconnection that kids have no clue where they stand, no anchor to count on, no future to dream about.

Yesterday, the son of an acquaintance took his life. He was the same age of my son, who is also in despair about the world.

What do you say to an entire species who is committing suicide? Worse: what do you say to them if in their suicidal path they are happily taking other species’ lives?

Thousands of books, articles, papers and blog-posts have been written; documentaries been made, marches and petitions been called.

Yet, today Mr President approved the XL and Dakota pipelines; just yesterday, he passed a policy where it makes impossible for NGO’s to get funding for anything related to planned parenthood (I’m not pro-abortion, but without proper planning and education, instead of reducing, this actually increases the number of girls recurring to abortion that would be dangerous and unsupervised)

They say it is not environmentally a big deal, because we certainly have thousands of pipelines around the world. “It is just another pipeline”, right?

Imagine if for each child abused or killed we say “it is just another child”, imagine if for each species going extinct we say “it is just another species, we have many still left” , imagine if for every suicide we say “is just another kid gone, we are overpopulated anyway”…

In the meantime, what I see is divisiveness: are we being black enough, native-American enough, LGTBQ enough, Asian enough, or Muslin enough? What if the last march was whiter than it should, what if Madonna shouldn’t have spoken about revolution because of her wealth, what if the hats were imported, what if permaculture follows Bill, David or Geoff?

I posted in my Facebook wall:

“Please, stop the hurt. Let it stop with you. Stop blaming, shaming, gossiping, judging, hating, name calling, destroying, polluting, trolling, oppressing, abusing, neglecting, not caring, ignoring, hurting yourself and others…can’t you see that all that just perpetuates the hurt? STOP!!!”

No amount of yoga, meditation, prayers, veganism or whatever is our chosen way of escapism will bring that kid back, my sister away from her mental illness abyss or the ecosystems already destroyed or threatened by those pipelines.

At the end of the day, if you were black, yellow or pink won’t affect the outcome.

The only thing that will at least redeem those who have already fallen victims of this madness we call civilization/society is our proactive, intentional CHANGE and ACTION, one individual at a time, one species, ecosystem, struggle at a time.

Starting by how we think, feel and our attitudes, following by what we do every day, what we eat, wear and use for moving from place to place, to the places we inhabit and how we approach others, to the level of our engagement in things that will feel increasingly uncomfortable and even dangerous. And a deep, honest and caring engaging with the Earth and its elements and beings. Not a fake one, not one that choses some and not others, not a “nice and clean” approach but a truly courageous engagement with all…

Otherwise, these are my words, posted today in my wall:

“Then just go home and watch the next TV show, bury yourself in your cellphone forever, drink as many beers as you want or buy the next thing that will bring you temporary “joy”. Do nothing. Take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. Carry on. Because, after all, we already have filled the oceans with plastic, the landscape with garbage, the communities with homeless and addicts, the streets with crime, the peoples of the world with hunger, our workplaces with anxiety and boredom, our homes with dysfunction, our pockets with debt…we have already killed so many species, and sent people to suicide, wars, psychosis and panic attacks…”

I wonder how many may “un-friend” me or just take me as a nut case. I wonder how many would understand that I can be both very compassionate and outraged at the same time.

I wonder, I’m praying (and I’m not religious), WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?! Both in my individual life, my work, my family, my community and the world at large…

What is the next uncensored, unedited next step for each one of us?

Examples of Social Capital Building Projects in Surrey

The following informal inventory of projects that build social capital in Surrey is organized according to the matrices found in the “Social Capital Building Toolkit


See here to find out more about the related micro-analysis project, and see here to participate in the online survey.

This is not an exhaustive list, and we know that there are many other projects and experiences that could be added! Please let us know about any projects or experiences that you think should be included.

  1. Individual (Food/Celebration)

Take a friend out for lunch

2. Individual (Joint activity around common hobby)

Walking with a friend

3. Individual (Do a favour)

Borrowing a tool from a neighbor

4. Individual (Discussion of a community issue)

Conversation on the street

5. Individual (Undertaking joint goal)


6. Individual (Relationship building 1:1)

MVA Approach to capacity building

7. Small Group (Food/Celebration)

Going out with group of friends.

8. Small Group (Joint activity around common hobby)

Community-led interest groups, book clubs
Cedar Bark Poets Group
Room to Draw

9. Small Group (Do a favour)

Revolving credit association
Barter or informal skill sharing
Little Free Libraries

10. Small Group (Discussion of a community issue)

Neighbourhood Associations
Friends of the Grove

11. Small Group (Undertaking joint goal)

Study Circles
Community Sweat Lodges
Surrey/White Rock Climate Action Group

12. Small Group (Relationship building 1:1)

Individual in a group pair up and share their extended stories
Surrey Interfaith Contemplative Gatherings
Interfaith Dinners

13. Large Group (Food/Celebration)

Block Party (Hyland Park Block Party)
Neighbourhood festivals

14. Large Group (Joint activity around common hobby)

Voluntary Association
Surrey Earth Walk
Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage

15. Large Group (Do a favour)

Surrey Skill Share Fair

16. Large Group (Discussion of a community issue)

Town forum
“Community Shift” Gatherings
Dr. Ambedkar Awards Night

17. Large Group (Undertaking joint goal)

Environmental clean-up project
Community Gardens
Community Art Projects
Food Action Coalition
Seeds of Change

18. Large Group (Relationship building 1:1)

Deeper Introductions as part of a larger meeting
World Café events
Community Leaders Igniting Change

The “Walking Monk” in Surrey

This article by Tom Zillich of the Now Newspaper was originally posted on August 13, 2016. The original post can be viewed here. Scroll down for pictures of the visit to Ram Mandir and Zaklan Heritage Farm.

‘The Walking Monk’ in Surrey with tales from cross-Canada trails

SURREY — The last place you’d expect to find a guy nicknamed “The Walking Monk” is in a car heading toward Chicago.

So apparently Bhaktimarga Swami does not walk everywhere, despite the moniker he’s earned for hoofing it across Canada an impressive four times.

The Ontario-born Swami, who finished his last such trek in 2014, is currently halfway through a similar walk across the U.S., in another effort to promote a “more car-free, carefree lifestyle.”

This week, he’ll be in Surrey to attend a pair of events, and the Now caught up with Swami – known as John Peter Vis before he adopted a monastic way of life back in 1973 – via cellphone as he motored down an interstate in Illinois earlier this week.

“Yesterday was a momentous day where I stopped at the midway point in America, in Nebraska, and now I’m making a return journey back to Toronto, ultimately, my home place,” Swami explained in an interview on Monday (Aug. 8).

“It’s a pleasant day and we’ve had a great trip so far doing half of the U.S. The whole idea is to reconvene next spring and do the second half, the western part, heading west.”

Two decades ago, in 1996, Swami set out on his first cross-Canada walk as something of a 100th-birthday tribute to a mentor of his. Putting his “feet and heart together” that year, he started in Victoria and made it all the way to Cape Spear, Newfoundland, with many stories to tell.

“I’d always wanted to see Canada closeup,” he recalled, “because before I was a monk I hitchhiked or flew and took buses, things like that, but I wanted to see it the way it was done by the ancients, you know, the way you should do it, especially because it’s a kind of birthright for a monastic person to do this kind of thing.”

He enjoyed the “CanWalk” experience enough to complete three more cross-country journeys in years since.

“I went through a lot of pain, physical,” Swami admitted. “The biggest challenge of all is walking on an angle – it’s like walking on a beach. But nevertheless, everything else compensated for that (pain), including meeting fantastic people, meeting characters, being confronted by black bears, grizzlies, whatnot, and finally I became an addict, I like it, gotta do it again.”

His first coast-to-coast walk was documented in “The Longest Road,” a 2003 National Film Board of Canada movie about the Trans-Canada Highway.

While in the U.S. recently, a spell of hot weather prompted Swami, 64, to experiment with nighttime walking, starting at 9 p.m. and ending at 3:30 a.m.

“It was quite nice (in Omaha and other parts of Nebraska), you know, as long as you had a safe area to walk through, on trails, basically,” he said. “You’re not allowed to walk on the freeways, so the choices in America are a secondary highway or a back road.”

In Surrey this week, Swami will make an appearance at Ram Mandir (8473 124th St.) on Friday evening, Aug. 19, and is also scheduled to visit the market at Newton’s Zaklan Heritage Farm on Saturday, Aug. 20, from noon to 2 p.m.

Across Canada these days, he shares his “Tales from the Trails” at community centres, yoga studios, libraries, schools and other places.

CLICK HERE to read “The Walking Monk” blog.

“It’s always an adventure and you don’t know what you’re going to deal with on the day ahead,” Swami related.

“What happens when you’re walking is you start to appreciate the little things around you and everything becomes significant,” he added. “Those of us who are obsessed with the fast pace of life, we just don’t even know what’s in our midst. By walking, you pick up on fantastic details out there.”

In one photo of Swami, the Now noticed he wore a pair of Croc sandals, and asked about a possible endorsement deal from the footwear company.

“There was something happening there with Crocs, yes, on my third walk across Canada,” Swami elaborated. “They sent me a pair, and that was the best I could do,” he added with a laugh. “I found other footwear, though, that was superior, but I do resort to my Crocs once in a while just because they’re pretty lightweight.”

Pictures of the “Walking Monk” at the Ram Mandir and Zaklan Heritage Farm in Surrey:

From “You Should” to “We Can!”

The upcoming Sustainability Charter Implementation Fund is a great opportunity to switch our thinking from “you should” to “we can!”

It is easy to point at an issue and declare a “you should” solution. “You should” do this; “you should” do that. “You should” solutions usually involve someone, somewhere doing something. “You should” solutions are easy to come up with, but they don’t usually work for very long.

“We can” solutions can be more difficult. They require us to make individual and collective commitments and to be accountable for them. They require us to take risks, make mistakes, and experience failure. There require us to work together and make compromises.

But when “we can” solutions start to catch on, that is when communities begin to transform.

Last night we co-hosted a community dialogue on the upcoming “Implementation Fund” that is being put in place to support the City of Surrey’s “Sustainability Charter.”

The Implementation Fund will offer all of us concrete options and support for coming up with “we can” solutions.

Put yourself in a “we can” frame of mind and read over the following eight themes of the Sustainability Charter.

Inclusion: A caring community that encourages a sense of belonging and access to opportunity for all Surrey residents to realize their full potential.

Built environment and neighbourhoods: A beautiful, accessible and well-connected city of distinct and complete neighbourhoods that are walkable, engaging and resilient.

Public Safety: A city in which all people live, work and play in a safe and engaging environment.

Economic Prosperity and Livelihoods: Continued prosperity and thriving livelihoods and a strong, equitable and diverse economy.

Ecosystems: Healthy, protected and well-maintained ecosystems and biodiversity.

Education and Culture: Access to diverse, high quality learning opportunities, and vibrant arts, heritage and cultural experiences for all Surrey residents.

Health and Wellness: A community in which all residents are healthy, active and connected.

Infrastructure: Effective infrastructure and services that meet the current and future needs of the city, while protecting the natural environment and supporting urban growth.

What themes excite you? Where do you think your gifts of time, energy and creativity would make the most difference? What project or event ideas come to mind that could begin to make some of these theme a reality in your neighbourhood?

A huge thank you to the “Implementation Fund Team” for designing and facilitating this event: Kim Heron, Paul Steele, Dean Scovill and Forouzan Rezazadeh. Thank you also to City of Surrey Sustainability Manager Anna Mathewson and City of Surrey Sustainability Planner Maggie Baynham.

A Solar Water Distiller You Can Build Yourself

Over the years I’ve heard about a lot of ways you can purify your water, but there is only one method I know of produces purified water with these qualities:

  • ultra-pure water (the cleanest water on the planet)
  • no electricity (no fuel except the sun’s free energy)
  • passive solar (no pumps, fans, or moving parts)
  • no filters (no need for repeat costs)
  • can built it yourself (even with recycled materials)
  • can be portable or permanent

The water purification method I’m talking about is solar water distillation. For a few hundred dollars you can buy or even build a solar still that will never need a filter, never raise your electricity bill, plus it can be taken camping or be used off-grid, be placed on a sun-facing wall (south), in the yard, or even mounted on the roof.

The water that comes out of the solar distiller is not just pure—it is ultra-pure! That means there is nothing in it but pure H2O. Solar distilled water is free of all salts, sand, sediments, rust, microorganisms (giardia, cryptosporidium), bacteria (coliform, E. coli), heavy metals (lead, mercury), bad taste and odor, minerals, arsenic, and other particulates or toxins, to name a few.

Solar stills can be made using recycled materials, or new materials, or bought manufactured from a company. When I was the project manager for the El Paso Solar Energy Association in the early 2000’s we had three grants to install solar stills in poor neighborhoods where clean water was hard to come by, and city water was unavailable. I personally installed over 100 stills in the field, and have taught many others how to build them or install them.

Stills are not just great for rural use, but also in cities where people are concerned about the medicines and other chemicals that make their way into the water systems through groundwater runoff, fluoride that is added to city water, as well as chlorine. None of these things can survive the distillation process, and are left behind in the basin, while the distillate drains away into your collection vessel (usually a glass jug) via the trough.

Distilling water is easy. You simply fill the still basin with a bucket and tube, or a water hose, and then allow the sun to shine through the glass that sits on top of the basin, which heats the water. The hot water evaporates and condenses on the underside of the glass above, and runs down into the collection trough and out into the jug. Once this pure water cools off you can drink it or cook with it. It’s that simple!

If you would like to learn how to build a solar water distiller I’ll be teaching a 3-hour workshop in Mission, BC on June 4th (2016) from 1-4PM. The cost is $20 for those interested and you can pre-register (highly recommended to reserve your seat) free here:

For more information about solar water distillers and other solar energy topics you can also see my website at:

Surrey Earth Walk

A huge thank you to everyone that participated in the 2016 Surrey Earth Walk! Today we walked 14km across Surrey celebrating the people and projects that make our community more sustainable.

A special thanks to our host venues that offered ceremony and sustenance: Newton Safeway, Newton PLOT, Zaklan Heritage Farm, The Roots Ecovillage Co-op, Gro Carts and the Surrey City Centre Library!

Thanks to all of the “points of interest” along the way for supporting the walk and for all that work that you do. Thank you to the City of Surrey for including this event in the Environmental Extravaganza!

A huge thanks to the Johnston Heights Secondary School Environmental Club for putting up the “blue dot” trail markers!

A final thanks to the Surrey Blue Dot group that continues to inspire positive and productive actions towards clean air, water and land.

You can scroll through pictures below, and after that you will find descriptions of all of the stops along the way.

Thank You

Newton Safeway (7165-138 Street)
Safeway believes in reducing their carbon footprint to help address climate change while improving their business operations and making an impact in the community. Switching to LED lights, improving fuel efficiency in trucks and building new stores to LEED® Silver certification are a few of the ways Safeway enhances the long-term economic and social sustainability of the neighbourhoods they serve.

Newton Free Food Garden (Between Safeway and Newton Salvation Army)
Based on the “Food is Free” model, members of the community plant and tend the gardens, but anyone is welcome to harvest the food. Started in the spring of 2015 by the Friends of The Grove and Village Surrey Transition Initiative, assistance was provided by the City of Surrey and Newton Recreation Centre. The Garden is a model for how to grow fresh, healthy, organic food in public spaces.

PLOT Garden (Behind Newton Arena)
People’s Food Security Bureau project “THE PLOT” blends food sustainability with creativity, bringing greater awareness around the land and the elements that sustain us, creative art endeavours that inspire us and food that nourishes us. Together, these elements foster a community kinship that nurtures and supports us all. Volunteers have constructed garden beds and a Medicine Wheel.

Centre of Newton “LEED Platinum” Building (7327—137 Street)
This Centre of Newton Phase 2 development is a four storey, 45,000 square foot mixed-use office/retail building which has achieved LEED® Platinum certification and BC Hydro’s Power Smart certification. The use of ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling of the building has reduced these costs by 30 to 60 percent. Water efficiency goals have been met by using low flow fixtures and waterless urinals.

Organic Grocer (508-7380 King George Blvd)
Serving Surrey since 1993, owner Garth Owen and his staff are passionate about organics. The Organic Grocer strives to work together with suppliers, community officials and staff to ensure the sustained availability of health and heath care products for our growing community. They strive for ecological consciousness: seeking organic products made by companies that act with a social conscience.

Newton Vancity (7555 King George Blvd)
Founded in 1946 as a co-operative, Vancity provides financial services to people from all walks of life. It shares 30 percent of its net profits with its members and their communities, for a total of $292 million since 1994. Vancity is interested in investing in businesses and not-for-profits that contribute to a healthier environment. It’s the first Canadian financial institution to become carbon neutral.

Newtron Lighting (107- 13569 76 Avenue)
Newtron Distribution is a distributor for electrical wholesalers and distributors in the Canadian marketplace. They are committed to providing a wide range of high quality, innovative, environmentally friendly LED product solutions, including lamps, office lighting, architectural lighting, commercial lighting, industrial lighting, retail lighting and offer cutting-edge home automation systems.

Zaklan Heritage Farm (13278—84 Avenue)
Started in 1928 by Dragan and Marta Zaklan, this 8 acre family farm was revitalized by son Doug in 2011. Now run by Doug Zaklan and Gemma O’Neill, Zaklan Heritage Farm has 95 laying hens and grows more than 40 types of vegetables. Using an intensive production system, with small machinery and hand tools, they minimize their fossil fuel consumption and manage their soils in an ecologically sound way.

Bear Creek Native Plant Garden
Surrounded by a second-growth forest of cottonwoods, alders and western red cedars, Bear Creek’s garden site was originally cleared and seeded in 1973. The following year, three bridges and footpaths were constructed. In 1989, a Native Walk was created that features plants of the Pacific Northwest, a watercourse and pond.

Henry’s Place (9135—146 street)
A year ago, our hosts Henry and Linda began transforming Henry’s backyard, using permaculture principles, to create a whole system design. And thus Roots Ecosystem Cooperative was born. Look for vermiculture (worms) in bathtubs, an outdoor composting toilet, mason bees, water harvesting barrels, biodynamic plants, a bathtub pond, and fruit trees and vines for vertical growing.

Green Timbers Urban Forest
Stewarded by the Green Timbers Heritage Society, Green Timbers Urban Forest covers 452 acres of forest, wetlands, grassland meadows and nature trails. Green Timbers Lake is stocked with rainbow trout, and visitors can fish year-round. Green Timbers is the birthplace of reforestation in BC. In 1931, the first square mile of ancient forest was replanted by the old Yale Wagon Road (Fraser Highway).

Lehmann Grove
This grove at the Surrey Nature Centre in Green Timbers Urban Forest was named for Surrey conservationists, Wady and Betty Lehmann. In the late 1980s, the Lehmanns were instrumental in the campaign to preserve Green Timbers. They continued to work as stewards of the Urban Forest for the next 30 years. The trees of Green Timbers reduce air and noise pollution and provide wildlife habitat.

Surrey Nature Centre (14225 Green Timbers Way)
Opened in 2008, the Surrey Nature Centre offers educational and fun nature programs for school children and the public. The arboretum is a living collection of more than 75 species of trees, both native and exotic, including a rare dawn redwood, once thought to be extinct. Visit the heritage exhibit to learn about our forestry history. Children enjoy building in the Pole Forest Adventure Area.

Gro Cart Project (At entry to Holland Park)
More than 10 acres in size, Holland Park is one of Surrey’s newest parks located in the emerging City Centre. A gathering space for many events, the park is home to the annual Fusion Festival. On display for the Earth Walk are Gro-Carts mobile vegetable gardens. Gro-Carts help people grow their own food—on wheels! This project hopes to encourage alternative ways of providing food security in Surrey.

City Centre Mall (10153 King George Boulevard)
Central City is a multi-purpose complex that combines 140 retail stores and restaurants with Surrey’s Simon Fraser University campus and an office tower. Central City Office Tower achieved the BOMA BESt certification which is the Canadian industry standard for commercial building sustainability certification. Ongoing environmental initiatives include areas like waste management, water, energy and emissions.

City Centre Library (10350 University Drive)
Designed by Bing Thom Architects, the City Centre Library was completed in 2011. This LEED® Gold certified building has won numerous design awards. Constructed of concrete with plenty of windows, it has a bright airy interior. LED and CFL lighting automatically shuts off in offices or rooms that aren’t in use. Two-thirds of the roof is planted in sedum to reduce CO2 and allow for rainwater collection.

Old Yale Road Community Beautification Project
(Not on official tour) This delightful garden was initiated in 2011 by local resident Ann Van Rhyn and some of her neighbours. The group received start-up funding through the City’s “Community Enhancement Partnership” grant and transformed the abandoned corner into a beautiful garden filled with flowers and other pollinator plants. The garden continues to be maintained by the community group.

West Village District Energy Plant (10357 133 Street)
(Not on official tour) Still under construction, this project combines West Village Park (working name) with a District Energy Centre. This 0.75 acre area will be home to a contemporary urban space that will feature a mini neighbourhood park that may contain a plaza, green space and children’s play area. The energy plant will complement the park with its architectural design and a public art installation.

Thank you to all our friends and sponsors!


Produce No Waste

wormPrinciple number six in permaculture relates to ‘waste not, want not’. Some have expressed this principle as ‘produce, not waste’ which is more realistic as the elimination of waste from  human- made systems is almost impossible. That’s why it is so impressive to study natural systems and how little waste occurs.

As I wrote this article, the theme of energy usage became the most important issue. When we hear the word ‘waste’ we tend to think about garbage or recycling. But the biggest way we can reduce waste is to use less energy. My next article will discuss the principle of catch and store energy, but for now keep in mind the idea of energy descent.

The icon of the worm for the principle ‘produce no waste’ represents one of the most effective recyclers of organic materials, consuming plant and animal ‘waste’ into valuable plant food. Indeed, Charles Darwin thought the worm was the most important creature on earth and his last book, published in 1881, was titled Earthworms.


There are several definitions for waste, including “to using or expending carelessly, extravagantly” and “becoming progressively weaker”. This second definition can be related to the second law of thermodynamics which is the ratio of the minimum energy needed to do a task to the amount of energy actually used. Take a hot cup of coffee as an example. You have to spend energy to heat the water and if you then leave that cup of coffee on the counter, half an hour later it is barely lukewarm. Energy, in the form of heat, has left the cup. If your goal was to have hot coffee for the rest of the day, then that heat energy transfer was waste.

In his book Permaculture City, Toby Hemenway uses another, less benign, example:

An example is burning gasoline to power a car. The car takes you where you want to go – you get useful work from the fuel’s energy – but in the process those watt-packed, complex molecules of gasoline are burnt up and degraded to water, carbon dioxide, smoky pollutants, and heat, all of which are less capable of doing work than the gasoline from which they came. You can’t run a car by pumping engine exhaust back into the tank.

Waste can also be related to pollutants; in the Permaculture Designer’s Manual, Bill Mollison defines a pollutant as “an output of any system component that is not being used productively by any other component of the system”.

Device efficiency

Depending on your point of view, something may or may not be a ‘problem’. But generally, if something is going to waste, then it’s a problem as disposing of it will require energy. So when considering waste, one useful permaculture’s saying is “in the problem lies your solution”. As Bill Mollison famously said to a gardener; “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency issue.” Look at a problem from another angle and the solution just might present itself.

Using whole system analysis, versus reductionist thinking, means you consider closed loops systems. Instead of heating a house over and over, all winter long, using warm air heated by a furnace, setting up a geothermal heat pump is much more efficient. It uses the earth as a heat source (in the winter) or a heat sink (in the summer). Surrey City Energy is a city-owned district energy utility that supplies high-density residential, commercial and institutional buildings in City Centre with heat and hot water. These sorts of large-scale systems are more expensive to design and implement but use less energy – and therefore cost less – over the long run. Even individual home owners can choose geothermal over a furnace, if they have the money (another source of energy).

Furnace flow

Waste means something is inefficiently designed. After all, nature does not create garbage heaps. Every element is important in an ecosystem and when something is no longer of use to one element, it is taken up by another. As David Holmgren stated, “the outputs of one are need to be the inputs for another.”[i]

Permaculture aims to connect inputs and outputs so that different elements meet each other’s needs. For example, if I save my kitchen waste and put it into a compost bin, I can make compost that can then be used to grow crops which I can then eat. I have saved waste (kitchen scraps that …need transport), reduced external inputs (I don’t need to buy compost or have it hauled away) and increased yields (better soil, more crops, more worms).

Careful maintenance and investing in good quality long lasting products can also help reduce waste and overall consumption levels. As they say, “refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle”. We could add “re-design” in there too, which is where permaculture makes its biggest contribution.

With the example above, ‘best use’ would be to first feed scraps to chickens (most efficient) followed by creating compost, and in third place would be removing green waste from the property in your green organic bin, collected weekly. That bin involves energy usage to haul waste away, build a facility to process it, covert the waste into bio-gas, and use that fuel to power vehicles that pick up the green bin from your property in the first place. Each step of the process loses some energy and therefore produces waste of its own, despite being a ‘closed loop’ system. However, Surrey has a double output plan, creating both compost and bio-gas which is quite clever.

surrey closed loop

So why do we have so much waste in modern civilizations? The simple answer: because we can. For example, we have chosen large-scale systems such as a sewage system which allows us to flush human waste away, using potable water, and think no more about it. Very efficient at removing harmful pathogens and potential disease, for sure. But when this large-scale system was not possible, there was an entire industry devoted to taking away human waste, or “night soil” and turning it into fertilizer to sell (if heated to the proper temperature when composting, ‘humanure’ is perfectly safe to use). It’s important to always return to the fact that large-scale systems are only possible with cheap energy. On a positive note, because we have large-scale waste in Western countries, there is a huge potential to conserve and therefore reduce our energy needs substantially.

Oil is a very energy intense source (with a high EROI or Energy Returned on Energy Invested of ) and no other source come close to the same level of efficiency – looking to renewables as an energy solution as a replacement for fossil fuels is simply not mathematically possible in terms of efficiency. This brings us back to the necessity of working towards energy descent plans and using conservation/less waste as a way to combat the lower amounts of energy available to us as a civilization.

EROI graph

We focus on flow-through, or ‘source to sink’ systems, versus closed loop systems. Back to industrial agriculture for a moment and the cheap, fossil fuel based fertilizers used on the dirt (notice I did not use the word ‘soil’ as that requires much more organic matter and life, versus dirt which can be pumped up with fertilizers for a short-term burst of energy for plants). Most of the fertilizer gets flushes from the land back to the ocean, creating giant algae blooms in some areas. If we built up the organic matter in soil, it naturally holds onto nutrients and water. We would then require less fertilizers and water (another resource we pump onto fields and waste). It is challenging, to say the least, to create a large-scale farm that would increase fertility and yields over time, as a forest does. But even thinking about these issues makes you more aware, engaged, and hopeful about the possibilities. That’s a great starting point for questioning how things are currently done, and where we can change.

I’ve mentioned Toby Hemenway’s new book Permaculture City as it has some great tips and simple ideas for urban dwellers to consider implementing, from energy and water conservation to community gardening. There are plenty of resources and ideas out there; it just takes some curiosity and the willingness to make our lives slightly less convenient, one step at a time.

Let’s look at the six “r’s” in more detail:  

  • Re-design – this involves the most work but provides the greatest leverage and long-term impacts. For example, there are those of us that use composting toilets to turn human outputs into a useful product, not seen as ‘waste’. Treating human waste on a city scale is important to avoid diseases that used to plague cities with open sewers. But re-design on the household scale could mean creating a ‘tinkle toilet’ which captures only urine, an almost sterile substance with an ideal nutrient combination for plants. Saves flushing away potable water, uses the nutrient-rich urine on site (if you have room for a composting bin, or have plants you can put a diluted mix onto), and provides the moisture needed in a compost heap. Look past what you are used to doing and new options and possibilities open up!
  • Refuse – changing our consumption patterns is important. So we can make a simple, everyday choice such as keeping a thermos mug in your car, backpack, etc. and using that if you go to a restaurant or coffee shop, using it at work, etc. It’s amazing that in North American we still throw away more than 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups every year. I prefer my coffee thermos; it keeps my drink hot for longer, looks nicer, and takes a few seconds to wash at home. Another easy way to refuse is to not get every upgrade/ new version for a cell phone – the average lifespan of a cell phone is 18 months.
  • Reduce – there are lots of simple ways to do this, particularly in terms of energy use. Turn down your thermostat a bit more (‘heat the person, not the space’). Buy a little less meat and plan a meal around veggies and starches instead. Turn off lights every time you leave a room (amazing how few kids do that nowadays!) Walk more. Cook more and eat out less. Find ways to reduce that feel good, not like you are depriving yourself or it ends up being like a diet.In this video (26 minutes, 50 seconds into it), Ruth Goodman makes a hay box for continuing to cook food once it reaches temperature. An interesting idea to try! At the very least, it’s easy enough to cook something and turn off the stove a little early while the cooking processes finishes (I do this with rice, for example).
  • Reuse – the Surrey Reuses website is a great place to go and list items you no longer need, or find what you do need. At home, I reuse plastic bags by washing them and hanging them up with my laundry on the drying rack. Most of us have containers for leftovers, lunches, etc. to avoid throwing away plastic.
  • Repair – these sorts of skills are sorely lacking today. I confess that I turn to my husband to do most repairs! But most of us know someone who is handy with a screwdriver and can try and fix something. My favourite example is a broken TV that we were given to try and fix. The cost of a replacement capacitor was less than a dollar and the original purchase of the TV cost was thousands of dollars. Not bad! Most items sold today are based on the idea of planned obsolescence so we have to fight back against the trend of buying new, upgrading our phone every year, thinking that newer is better.
  • Recycle – rather than just using the blue bin, think of more creative ways to recycle, such as through a network of friends and family who might need something that you no longer do. This is similar to ‘reuse’ but promotes the idea of closed loop thinking. Much of what we put into the blue recycling bin is not actually recycled, and recycling is an energy-intensive process. Better to make this a last resort option.

Whether it’s water, energy, consumer goods, or time, there are many ways to make ‘small and slow’ changes in our lives to reduce waste and enjoy the process!


[i] Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, page 111