Sustainable MRU

Mount Royal is Now Steps Closer to Waste Diversion from Landfill

Great news! 4-way disposal bins have been implemented on campus.

These will feature 4 separate compartments or 4 bin groups:

  1. Mixed Recycle (like your Single Stream Blue Bin from home)
  2. Refundable (Bottles & Cans, etc. where MRU receives the revenue)
  3. Paper/Cardboard (if the bin set is near a student study area)  OR  Organic (if the bin set is near a food service area)
  4. Landfill

These bins will help all members of the MRU community divert unnecessary waste from landfill. On November 1, 2016, it becomes law that no paper remains in the Landfill waste stream. If you cannot see a Paper/Cardboard bin near by, please place paper or cardboard items into the Mixed Recycle bin, NOT the Landfill bin, as paper is accepted in Mixed Recycle.

All Tim Horton’s cups and lids as well as all Starbucks cups and lids are accepted in the Mixed Recycle and cannot be recycled as Paper/Cardboard.

See below for the list of items accepted in each waste stream:

recycle-bin-images-labels_page_3

  • all food waste
  • Good Earth coffee cups & food/drink containers
  • Green Cup (organic coffee/drink cups)
  • Bella Lobby drink glasses
  • all paper towels or napkins
  • wooden chopsticks or wooden stir sticks

cardboard food take out clam shells (eg. Edo take out containers)

recycle-bin-images-labels_page_4

  •    paper (magazines, newspaper, office paper and other paper products)
  • cardboard and flattened paperboard (cereal boxes or Tim Horton’s flattened doughnut/muffin boxes)
  • Tim Horton’s and Starbucks coffee cups and food containers,
  • empty PET #1
  • #2 HDPE
  • #3 through #7 injection plastics
  • shrink wrap, stretch wrap or bubble wrap
  • tin, metal, and/or steel cans (preferably rinsed) & metal clothes hangers
  • glass bottles and jars (rinsed) as well as the removed lids
  • dairy and juice containers are allowed (these containers belong in the Refundable stream whenever possible)
  • plastic utensils  – ONLY if they have the stamped recycle symbol (triangle)
  • plastic bottles and containers (yogurt containers – rinsed)
  • aluminium cans

*coffee cups can NOT be placed into Paper & Cardboard Recycle nor Organic Recycle

recycle-bin-images-labels_page_2

  • pop cans
  • plastic water/pop bottles
  • milk cartons & tetra paks

 

Refundables return revenue to Mount Royal if placed into Refundable Recycle
recycle-bin-images-labels_page_1
  • non-recyclable plastics e.g. straws, plastic stir sticks, or hard clear plastic packaging without the stamped recycle symbol (triangle)
  • styrofoam
  • plastic utensils WITHOUT the stamped recycle symbol (triangle)
  • cellophane (candy/chocolate bar wrappers)

Recycling on campus is about to get so much better…

WrestleForTheEarthcaptainplanetposter

 

Great news! 4-way disposal bins have been in the works for a while, and we couldn’t be happier to hear that they have almost arrived on campus.

These bins will help all members of the MRU community divert unnecessary waste from landfills (think used paper products!!!).

In order to make the system work, we need to make sure the stuff we’re putting in the different bins actually belongs there. Green Team, a group of MRU Public Relations students, are working with Physical Resources to get the word out about these bins and fill everyone in – so come to Main Street at 12pm to grab some free food and learn about how we can all use the bins and contribute to a more sustainable campus!

ALSO – don’t forget that Green Cup has installed THREE bins on campus specifically for disposal of compostable paper coffee cups from Good Earth.
Coffee/Tea Cup Disposal Bin locations:
Good Earth in Wyckam House
1st Floor EB
Jugo Juice in EA

EARTH HOUR 2016: One Hour No Power!

EH2016 Digital Banner- 468x80

As part of the annual Earth Hour event organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to unite the world in the global fight against climate change, MRU is joining the One Hour No Power: Campus Challenge 2016. In this challenge, post-secondary institutions volunteer to participate and invite their members to pledge to go without electricity for one hour on Saturday, March 19th at 8:30pm.*

Last year, over 3,500 students, staff and faculty members from thirteen post-secondary institutions across Alberta participated, turning off lights and non-essential electric appliances for 60 minutes. Canadian University College won the contest, with the highest participation rates per capita (see results here). Will you help MRU be #1 this year?

Timeline for the One Hour, No Power: Campus Challenge:

MAKE THE PLEDGE! The pledge link on myEARTHHOUR app is LIVE, and the cross campus challenge has begun — so register NOW! All you need is your name and a valid mtroyal.ca email address (other gmail accounts won’t work). Students, staff, faculty, and alumni are invited to participate, and can pledge right up until Earth Hour.

March 19, 2016: Challenge closes when Earth Hour begins at 8:30 pm local time. Then we power down!

March 22, 2016: Winners Announced!

In the meantime we invite you to start thinking about what you would do with your own “One Hour, No Power.” Earth Hour has some great suggestions for how to Celebrate the Hour, whether by hosting a candlelit dinner or board game night, or by venturing outside to camp and stargaze. We also think putting together some tasty snacks in advance is never a bad idea 🙂

Feel free to leave a comment with your ideas.

*If you are unavailable to participate at this time, just go without power for one hour on any date leading up to Earth Hour! Your pledge will still count.

world-wildlife-fund1

IES Seminar Series — November 19, 2015: Innovation and Collaboration in the Oil Sands Industry


2015: A Year of Collaboration

The winter of 2015 was an exciting time for Alberta, Canada, and the world. In November, Albertans witnessed what they couldn’t have imagined six months earlier. The Alberta government launched the Climate Leadership Plan with the endorsement of many Oil Sands companies.  Company representatives, including Cenovus Energy, Shell, and Suncor Energy, stood side by side with Environmental NGOs as Alberta Premier Rachel Notley introduced her plan.

parisCOP21A few weeks later, Canadian delegates at the Paris Climate Summit, alongside representatives from another 195 countries, convened to address climate change. Together, they reached a global Climate Agreement which aims to restrict the global temperature rise to less than two degrees by curbing their own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Also in November, the IES hosted Juan Benitez as part of our Seminar Series. Juan, who is an environmental engineer, former entrepreneur, and current Strategic Management Specialist at Cenovus Energy, introduced 30 MRU students, faculty and community members to the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). COSIA is comprised of 13 large Oil Sands companies who account for 90 percent of oil production in Canada. COSIA members believe in the value of innovation in reducing land and water pollution in the Oil Sands and mitigating the effects of GHGs and tailing ponds.

Juan Benitez, Strategic Management Specialist, Cenovus Energy
Juan Benitez, Strategic Management Specialist,  Cenovus Energy

COSIA, along with the American energy company NRG, is funding a US$20 million Carbon XPRIZE for entrepreneurial minds to develop new technologies for reducing global GHG emissions in order to combat climate change. Teams will have their innovations tested at a coal power plant or a natural gas power plant in North America, with the winners of each taking home a US$10 million award. By offering such a large incentive, the goal of this XPRIZE is to accelerate the development of technology to limit climate change by recycling CO2 emissions into everyday items. Competition makes everyone work harder, but the most successful teams recognize the importance of working together.

The Challenge of Collaboration

Collaboration becomes more and more challenging as the size of the team increases. Four years ago, the Copenhagen Climate Summit failed to produce any agreement between countries for the reduction of GHGs. The outcome was chaotic — developing countries claimed they could not afford the proposed emission reductions as it would dampen their economic growth and, in response, developed countries wouldn’t buy into their own proposed emission reductions.

Juan’s talk also touched on the challenges faced by COSIA members. While they compete with one another in the industry, they will also sit together at the same table and share their organizational knowledge in order to carry COSIA projects to success. In pursuit of the Alliance’s common goals, the members will need to share their best practices, ingenuity and effective planning methods. Collaboration is not limited only to COSIA’s members, however.

cosialogo2

The Alliance also reaches out and partners with other oil and gas companies, academics, research institutes, and clean-tech companies for help in finding solutions to the issues in question. The Canadian company Saltworks Technologies Inc. is one such partner. With investment from Cenovus Energy (a member of COSIA), they were able to invent a new form of water treatment that utilizes light. Saltworks went on to create a water treatment prototype for NASA that’s being tested on the International Space Station. Looking beyond the Oil Sands industry, Cenovus has also invested in alternative, clean energy.

General Fusion, another Canadian company, is developing a sustainable form of fusion energy. Compressing super-heated hydrogen atoms fuses them together, forming helium, while also giving off clean energy.  Currently, fusion power requires more energy to generate than it produces, but continued research by organizations like General Fusion will likely yield more effective methods. With continued investment and collaborative efforts, we’re much closer to a possible solution than if everyone were to be working independently.

Alliances such as COSIA demonstrate that key figures in the Oil Sands Industry want to be part of the low-carbon economy. COSIA members have established self-imposed goals to reduce their impacts on air, land, and water. They are supporting and facilitating the implementation of innovative methods to reduce GHG emissions, to use freshwater effectively, and to reduce their environmental impact. The COSIA CEO states that Oil Sands projects that use state of the art technology have reduced GHG emissions to levels similar or better than oil projects in other parts of the world, including the U.S.

 

Extra Reading

The Alberta Climate Leadership Plan:
http://alberta.ca/climate.cfm

The Paris Climate Summit:
http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/learn/

COSIA:
https://www.cosia.ca/

NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE:
http://www.cosia.ca/carbon-xprize/about

Saltworks Technologies Inc.:
http://www.saltworkstech.com/

General Fusion:
http://www.generalfusion.com/

By Paris Afshordy with contributions by Michael Walsh

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Happy Holidays from the faculty, staff, students, and volunteers from IES!
We hope you have a relaxing and “green” holiday season.

Here are a few ideas to help you reduce waste over the winter break…

Shop Smart
Bring reusable bags (say NO to plastic) and don’t buy things that you or your loved ones don’t need or will eventually throw away. This will save you money, too!

Get Creative
Use recyclable versions of wrapping paper, tissue, and greeting cards, or find other materials to make your own versions. (For wrapping paper, l personally like the Comics section of the newspaper). Save used bows and ribbons for future years (they can last a long time!).

Conserve Energy
Turn off Christmas lights and turn down the heat when you leave the house and when you go to bed. Not only is this safer, but it will mean you’ll see a less expensive utilities bill at the end of the month! Also, when you let your car warm up in the morning, don’t let it idle for too long. Or better yet, try and carpool!

There are plenty more ideas online for ways to go “green” and prevent waste this holiday season.
Here are just a couple of sites:

From Stanford University: http://bgm.stanford.edu/pssi_faq_holiday_waste

From Big Green Purse: http://www.biggreenpurse.com/best-ways-to-reduce-holiday-waste/

SEE YOU IN 2016!

Green Cup, Social Enterprise Pioneered by 2 MRU Students, Seeks to Reduce Coffee Cup Waste

Green_Cup_logo

Green Cup – Inspire. Innovate. Initiate.

In Canada alone, 1.6 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown in the trash each year. These cups, constructed from paper and coated on the inside with a thin layer of plastic, will never decompose completely. The paper will break down, but the plastic on the inside, a form of polystyrene, which you may know as Styrofoam, will sit in a landfill forever.

Fed up with the growing problem of coffee cup waste, Mount Royal student Austin Lang began developing a solution. Initially, he tried repurposing existing waste in the hopes of curtailing the amount of coffee cups that end up in landfills. In his garage, he tried shredding, boiling, and gluing cups to make insulation. After several failed attempts, he turned to scientists and engineers for help. The solution they came to was a single-use container, which managed only to increase the lifespan of the coffee cups by one cycle. Austin was understandably dissatisfied. Realizing that the problem could not be solved this way, his focus changed. Instead of reacting to the problem, he was going to prevent it in the first place. With this realization, Green Cup was born.

Teaming up with fellow MRU student Emily Bartlett, the two set to work. Since then, Green Cup has focused on three different ideas. The first piece of the project involves providing compostable coffee cups to coffee shops for free. Funded by ad-space on the cups, this idea provides a way to easily eliminate non-recyclable coffee cup waste. The second piece of the project is collecting and composting the coffee cups. Collaborating with Waste Management at Mount Royal, they plan to provide designated containers for compostable coffee cups (not just from Green Cup, but ones from Good Earth as well) and student members of Enactus at MRU will collect and dispose of the cups accordingly. The final piece of the project is creating awareness. Growing public knowledge of coffee cup waste will be the biggest part of solving the problem.

Green Cup is a significant step towards global sustainability, and Austin and Emily are working hard to make it a success. However, they’re looking for help. If you’re interested in participating in Green Cup, through sponsorship, volunteering or if you have some ideas, you can contact them at:

Austin Langalang362@mtroyal.ca

Emily Bartlettebart357@mtroyal.ca 

Additionally, the two have started an online petition in hopes of getting Tim Hortons to start using compostable coffee cups. You can lend your support at: www.change.org/p/marc-caira-help-us-create-a-better-world-use-compostable-cups-tim-hortons

 

Extra resources

The official Green Cup website:
www.greencups.ca

Mount Royal student-paper interview with Austin:
www.thereflector.ca/2015/12/04/your-used-coffee-cup-can-help-the-environment/

Video investigating Starbucks and Tim Hortons recycling practices:
www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2014-2015/coffee-cups

Short article about disposable coffee cups in Calgary:
www.metronews.ca/news/calgary/2015/09/02/calgary-coffee-cup-recycling-a-growing-concern.html

Information about environmental effects of polystyrene:
www.earthresource.org/campaigns/capp/capp-styrofoam.html

Comparison of the rate at which various materials biodegrade:
sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/Enviro-imprints/Looking-Closer/Measuring-biodegradability

By Michael Walsh, first-year MRU student

MRU partners with Re-Matt to recycle used mattresses from student residence buildings

There’s a new sustainability initiative happening at MRU!

Re-Matt Logo

David Sakauye and MRU Residence Services have partnered with Re-Matt to recycle used mattresses from the student dorms on campus.

This diverts waste from the landfills and supports Alberta businesses by providing local manufacturers with the raw materials found in mattresses, such as metal, wood, and foam.

Shawn Cable, the Founder and Director of Re-Matt, is an alumni of MRU’s
Supply Chain Management program.

Learn more about Shawn, Re-Matt, and this exciting partnership on the official Re-Matt website and blog.

IES Seminar Series – November 4, 2015: Seeking Sustainability: A Tourism Partnership in Lijiang, China

Tourism is growing in the Chinese province of Yunnan, home to ancient cities like Lijiang, an old market city famous for its cultural diversity and heritage. But what does this mean for the local community of Lijiang and for Chinese tourism more broadly?

At the end of the summer, Dr. Barb McNicol traveled to the Yunnan province of China for ten days, where she met with some of her colleagues from International Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST) to sign a sustainable tourism partnership with the China Tourism Academy. The partnership aims to promote an open exchange of relevant and applicable information between researchers from culturally diverse communities in a collaborative effort to ensure the growth of tourism in the historic area can move forward in a sustainable way.

Barb
Dr. McNicol talks to us about sustainable tourism in China at the November 4th Seminar

Dr. McNicol, an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at MRU, shared some of AIEST’s findings as well as some details about Chinese tourism and her own experience in Yunnan during the fourth IES Seminar of the fall season.

China and Tourism

As Dr. McNicol tells us, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) reports that China will be the largest travel destination country by 2020, with 137.1 million people travelling to the country – or 8.6% of the world’s share! China will also contribute to 6.2% of the outbound visitors travelling the rest of the world. These figures help emphasize the importance of making Chinese tourism (both inbound and outbound) sustainable.

Did you know? Coastal cities in China such as Shanghai and Hong Kong, and even Beijing – just off the coast – have the highest tourism rates in the country, but China actually accounts for stopovers in the country’s statistics for incoming tourism rates, and thus, in Dr. McNicol’s words, those numbers are “always inflated.” Because there are generally no stopovers in the ancient cities, which are inland, these numbers cannot be considered proportionate.

There has been some decline in numbers of international visitors to China in the last five years. McNicol explains that this recent decline can be attributed to several factors, including low marketing for tourism by China, and environmental issues (such as pollution) that can scare off tourists. But overall, mainly due to rising population rates, tourism numbers are still going up.

LijiangbusystreetAt the same time, domestic tourism is really important for China right now. Chinese residents may want to “explore their own backyards,” so to speak, and Lijiang is one of the places that makes the list of most popular sites for domestic tourism in China. Furthermore, Lijiang is a destination for Chinese students who travel during their spring break, similar to Florida travel by American students.

The Old Town of Lijiang

Lijiang is an old market city, and one of three ancient cities of China along the Old Silk Road, along with Shaxi and Dali. A UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its charming bridges and waterways, Lijiang is considered the most well-preserved of the three cities, and is a very popular destination among tourists travelling in the area. Adding to the city’s popularity is the fact that Lijiang is also a site for mountain tourism, with a downtown altitude of 2,418 metres, and is home to twelve different resident minorities. Imagine the vibrant diversity to be encountered while exploring the cultures, foods, landscape, and languages! For these reasons, McNicol remarks that Lijiang offers an “exotic experience that is very, very different from what you can experience anywhere else.”

Because of this climb in popularity, Lijiang is also seeing an increase in commercialization as the city directs its attentions to attracting and accommodating Western tourists. Dr. McNicol uses the example of KFC – yes, there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the old, ancient city of Lijiang. For experienced world travellers, this may be no surprise (there are, after all McDonalds locations in every continent apart from Antarctica) but for many residents and tourists alike, the presence of contemporary fast food joint from the West in any heritage site can be a sad reality.

While it may be a shame, McNicol points out that those invested in the area are better off being realistic – and striking a balance, if possible, between commercialization and historic preservation – than to fight it completely and scare away tourism in the area altogether.

The city of Shaxi experienced a backlash when a road was built to increase access for incoming tourists. The city realized that there were not enough guesthouses to accommodate this new influx of visitors, and as a result visitors were upset, and the situation left a negative mark on Shaxi’s tourism industry.

OldShaxiTheatre
The beautiful Shaxi Old Theatre Inn, a converted schoolhouse, features only five guest rooms.

At the same time, going “full steam ahead” on both access and accommodation for tourists could lead to poor maintenance or deterioration of old heritage buildings. Lijiang would most likely have to compensate by allowing for the development of many new shops and modern buildings, which could risk overshadowing the heritage of Lijiang altogether.

 

What can sustainable tourism initiatives do for the region?
Unlike other parts of the world, it’s “not too late” to plan for sustainable tourism, Dr. McNicol says.

Dr. McNicol explains that there is an opportunity right now for places like Yunnan to start planning their development in ways that western countries, already flooded with tourists, wish they had. Those involved in the sustainable partnership between AIEST and the China Tourism Academy as well as local communities that host tourists can use research to help plan for tourism growth in a more sustainable way. Dr. McNicol describes the tourism in Yunnan as a type of cultural tourism, distinct from, for example, wildlife tourism found in certain parks and wildlife areas of Canada, where Dr. McNicol gained years of experience working in ecotourism. In Yunnan, those working in the tourism world have identified three priority areas for sustainable cultural tourism: heritage, preservation, and community.

The Linden Centre

Now a boutique hotel, the Linden Centre was originally a courtyard residential complex built before the Communist Revolution of 1949 that also survived the subsequent Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s, during which time many traditional buildings were destroyed. The hotel is located in Xizhou, a 25-minute taxi ride from Dali, and a few hours away from Lijiang.

The Lindens, the couple who lease the property (interestingly, private land ownership does not exist in China), worked to preserve the building while renovating certain parts to accommodate hotel guests (installing toilets, for example). They also renovated and furnished it with antiques and artifacts from Yunnan and hired local workers, achieving a sustainable tourism initiative that aligned with three priority areas for sustainable tourism. These efforts earned them Voyeur Magazine’s China Sustainable Tourism award for 2010-2011 and Travel and Leisure’s Global Vision Award in 2010, among several other national and international recognitions.

But if tourism rates in Yunnan continue to rise, it’s unlikely that all visitors to the Lijiang area will be able to stay in heritage hotels, which have limited rooms and take significant time and financial investment to develop.

impressionlijiang
A scene from Impression Lijiang, an outdoor show with Jade Snow Mountain as a backdrop

To help Chinese tourism remain sustainable amidst these climbing rates, it is important that other nations accommodate outbound tourism from China, and that visitors to China respect local residents and customs. Through the experiences of Dr. McNicol and other tourism researchers who travelled to Yunnan, much was learned that can help foster the satisfaction of outbound Chinese tourists who travel to western countries like Canada. For example, mealtimes are an important social event in China – a fact which should be respected and catered to when Chinese tourists are spending money in Canada. Folklore is also very important to China, something tourist attractions can consider this when planning events and designing souvenirs in order to appeal to more visitors.

caterpillars
Caterpillars, a local dish in Lijiang

On the flip side of things, Dr. McNicol and her colleagues discovered that, in China, it is extremely rude to refuse food that is offered to you. Some of the local dishes found in Lijiang serve dragonflies and caterpillars, so be prepared! (And remember the old idiom, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”)

 

Going forward

AIESTparternship
AIEST met with Dr. Bina Dai of the China Tourism Academy to sign the partnership

 

While members of AIEST forecast that the tourism growth in Lijiang will be accompanied by some commercialization that will affect the local peoples, customs, and accommodations, they concluded that that the positive and innovative collaborations between residents, researchers, the Culture Bureau, and government officials give all parties reason to believe that striking a balance between “the modern” and “the ancient” through a sustainable tourism model is totally possible.

 

We look forward to following the ongoing and future sustainable tourism initiatives in Lijiang and through other AIEST projects!

By Lauren Cross, MRU Alumni and Research Assistant at the IES,
with files from Dr. Barb McNicol.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Barb McNicol
& Christoff Mueller of Hidden China Tours.

HOLIDAY SEASON FREE-CYCLE

 

HOLIDAY SEASON FREE-CYCLE 
Hosted by LEAP and Sustainable MRU Committee

freecycleposterscreenshotWHEN: November 24, 25, 26
10:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.

(Or until we run out of items!)

WHERE: In front of The Table
(previously the Herb ‘n’ Market)

WHO: All students, staff, and faculty are welcome to participate!

What’s a Free-Cycle?

Free-Cycles are a growing trend in North America and abroad and are taking shape as small grassroots initiatives and larger-scale sustainability projects. A Free-Cycle allows you to donate items that need a new home, and potentially find other items to take home with you for free – kind of like a community garage sale to which everyone contributes materials and where they can also shop for themselves!

With a Holiday Season Free-Cycle, we are particularly interested in free-cycling holiday-related items such as decorations and things that can be re-gifted, thereby diverting waste and helping people save money in the notoriously-expensive holiday shopping process!

In addition, we are donating any items that don’t find a new home within the MRU community to the Women In Need Society (WINS), a thrift charity that operates several thrift stores in Calgary and helps provide basic needs to women in poverty and their families.

A Free-Cycle is a win-win because you can get rid of unwanted items without creating waste or creating the need for new goods to be manufactured, and others in need of those items can take them home for free!

Some ideas of what you can bring or find at the free-cycle:

  • Indoor and outdoor decorations
  • Gift Wrap
  • Cards
  • Holiday Apparel
  • Accessories
  • Board Games
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Candy Dishes
  • Party Supplies
  • Craft Supplies
  • Picture Frames
  • CD’s
  • Movies

Start collecting your holiday-related items now to bring in and place on the
Free-Cycle tables anytime after 10:00 A.M. on November 24th.

During the Free-Cycle days, take some time to browse around the items brought in by others and feel free to take away anything you can re-gift or reuse.

Visit The Gallery often to view donations as they trickle in over the course of the three days!

Be sure to pass the word around as this is a project that everyone can
benefit from!

 

IES Seminar Series – October 22, 2015: Baby’s Breath Removal Project

Time to pinch your nose and grab the alcohol-free Listerine, everyone – Alberta’s got a bad case of Baby’s Breath.

Don’t let yourself be fooled by the enchanting name. Baby’s Breath is an invasive species introduced to Canada from as far back as the 1800s. The origin of Baby’s Breath outbreaks can be traced to a surprising source – graveyards. Often placed at the graves of loved ones, Baby’s Breath had no difficulty working its way into the natural surroundings. Like a real baby, Baby’s Breath is hungry and it doesn’t believe in sharing. The noxious weed grows thick, fibrous roots that can extend as deep as four metres into the Earth. These roots allow the plant to survive in drier climates while it chokes off the water supply to other plants in its vicinity. As if that wasn’t bad enough, at the end of the year, Baby’s Breath becomes a tumbleweed, dispersing as many as 10,000 seeds as it rattles across the landscape. Tiny Cryptantha, an endangered species that only grows in four spots along the South Saskatchewan River, is being threatened by the encroaching Baby’s Breath. That was, however, until one man stepped up to the plate.

 

Sean Allen introduces us to Baby's Breath
Sean Allen introduces us to Baby’s Breath. Photo Credit: Michael Walsh

Let me introduce the hero of this narrative: Sean Allen. As much as I’d like to tell you how he threw on a black suit of armour and equipped his utility belt, his origins are much more humble. Sean is a graduate of Medicine Hat College’s Environmental Reclamation Program. Having spent over a decade in the oil and gas industry, Sean decided he needed a change. During his studies at MHC, Sean learned about the impact Baby’s Breath was having on Tiny Cryptantha and he decided to put a stop to it. Collaborating with his former employer, Calfrac Well Services, the Grassland Naturalists, and reaching out to the community of Medicine Hat, Sean and his team set forth on their mission to end the tyranny of Baby’s Breath and save Gotham protect the local vegetation.

Their primary goal of protecting the Tiny Cryptantha challenged Sean and his team to find a solution that didn’t involve eliminating all the vegetation with herbicides or lawnmowers. After many different attempts at extraction, they settled on their weapon of choice – hand shovels. Over the next two years, Sean and his army removed over 50,000 Baby’s Breath plants. This truly remarkable project was a finalist for the Alberta Emerald Awards in 2014 and earned him the Medicine Hat Environmental Civic Award in 2015. However, Sean attributes the real success of the project to be the public awareness it raised.

Baby’s Breath, despite being a weed, happens to be used by many florists as filler in bouquets. You may have even seen it yourself; it’s the one with long, green stems and an abundance of small, white flowers. After the recognition garnered from Sean’s project, many florists in the Medicine Hat area stopped carrying Baby’s Breath. A local herbicide applicator even mentioned a growing concern for the control of the invasive plant. Following the success of his Baby’s Breath project, Sean has begun an awareness campaign and even started a company dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of humanity by partnering with industry. You can check them out at: https://www.facebook.com/SomethingGoodfornature

Sean’s dedication to the environment and his proven ability to both lead and inspire can only mean good things for the future. If there’s anything to be learned from his example, it’s that we can all make change if we try. Heroes don’t always need spandex and awesome gadgets; sometimes all they need is an orange hoodie and a shovel.

By Michael Walsh, first-year MRU student