David Suzuki – The sacred balance

Who doesn’t know David Suzuki?

I moved to Canada in 2015, and it was not long before I heard about the man, his actions, his convictions and the Foundation.

In a desire to “Canadianize” myself quickly, I borrowed the first book from him that I found at the library (randomness has its charm). I watched interviews where he tells how his childhood memories are full of souvenirs of fishing with his dad in a still-preserved Canada. I immediately liked his smiling eyes and sense of humor.

My point here is of course not to try to synthetize The sacred balance, but to say why I liked it and what I will remember from it.

I would recommend reading the book first because it awakened my interest in science. And guess what? I was bewitched. By the magic of the chlorophyll, the fact that I may have breathed air molecules breathed by Gandhi, the nature of fire and the steadiness of H2O molecules. If you want to learn or re-learn about science, this is a good, accessible-to-everyone book. The chapters are dedicated to each of the elements (air, water, earth, fire) and the last one deals with positive actions that we can implement on our daily lives to reduce our environmental footprint.

The necessity of harmony between us, other creatures and the elements is a very present idea. There is a deep spiritual meaning to this harmony he makes a call for.

For me, the most important take-away from the book is the following quote, that entailed major changes in my day-to-day life:

 “Make ‘disposable’ an obscene word and favour the reusable over the recyclable.”

(See article My journey from disposable to reusable – 1st mile)

Finally, I would like to end with a list of concrete and relatively easy steps that Suzuki says are the most impactful we can have:

  • Reduce home energy by 10%
  • Eat meat-free meals one day a week (See http://meatlessmondays.ca/)
  • Buy a fuel-efficient, low-polluting car
  • Choose an energy-efficient home and appliances
  • Stop using pesticides
  • Walk, bike or take transit to regular destination
  • Prepare your meals with locally grown food
  • Choose a home close to regular destinations
  • Support alternatives to the car
  • Get involved, stay informed

If you are looking for an inspiring and useful read for the summer, look no further!

Paul Hawken – The ecology of commerce

This book landed in my hands thanks to my condo neighbour and I am really grateful for the loan because it was such a great read! I would totally recommend this essay, which is accessible and solutions-oriented. No wonder it was a best-seller since it 1st publication in 1993. I would like to mention some of Paul Hawken’s ideas that I particularly liked.

One of the most important is that our markets are imperfect in that they fail to reflect the real costs of products and services. Why? Because real costs include all the externalities linked to them. These externalities can affect biodiversity, the quality of water, the preservation of ancient cultures, people’s health, air pollution etc… All the actions undertaken to “repair” those negative consequences have costs.

Because the costs of these “negative externalities” are difficult to take into account and because industrials don’t pay for them, our markets are fundamentally flawed.

As good “homo-economicus”, looking for the cheapest option is the basis of our purchasing behaviour. Unfortunately, today, the cheaper options are also the ones that bring about a cheap environment, cheap human rights, and a cheap world. This is true for all the goods we consume, from the 10-dollar H&M T-shirt made in Rana Plaza, to the cheap chicken wings hardly made of “chicken”.

Back to topic: how do we concretely include the price of negative externalities into our products?

As far as the environment is concerned, Hawken advocates for a solution that appears simple (at least conceptually): green taxes.

If polluting industries were taxed according to the environmental damages that they cause, the prices of their products would automatically be higher to include the costs of the taxes. Meanwhile, companies selling the same product that does not harm the environment would be more attractive to final customers. Their prices would have a competitive advantage (their lower cost).

“We must design a marketplace that obviates acts of environmental destruction by making them expensive and rewards restorative acts by bringing them within our means”.

The concept of green taxes is at the core of the “restorative economy” that Hawken is defending. Interestingly, he distinguishes two types of costs that would have to be taken into account: the “actual damage” caused by a company to the environment or to people; and the damages to future generations, which are more difficult to take into consideration but equally important.

In my opinion, that solution would bear a lot of potential. In a world where politics cared.

Regardless of political decisions, we as consumers will always have the power to make choices through our consumption habits. Hawken says:

“… the cash register is the daily voting booth in democratic capitalism”

I am skeptical about governments’ will to change things.
I am skeptical about traditional big companies’ will to do good. But I am definitely optimistic about people’s ability to make sensible purchasing decisions, provided they are informed.

Hawken even talks to the activists in us and suggests writing to companies, to question them, to tell them what we think about their behaviours (good or bad).

I leave you with a quote and a warm recommendation to borrow the book from the library.

 “We need to imagine a life where having less is more satisfying, more interesting and more secure”

 

 

A Soap-making workshop with Kathrin

Have you ever thought of making soap by yourself? Learning alone can be difficult, but learning with Kathrin from For the Love of Body is a completely different story!

Why to make soap by your own?

First, you may wonder why to make one’s own soap instead of buying regular ones from the supermarket. Good question!

-Commercial soaps and shower creams (and cosmetics in general) contain many chemicals whose effects on human bodies and the environment are either dubious or clearly harmful. Since 2006 in Canada, cosmetic manufacturers have to disclose the list of their ingredients on the product. But there are still many grey zones. One of them is the “fragrance” or “perfume” issue: because they are considered as manufacturing “secrets”, brands don’t have to reveal their composition. But it’s a cocktail of chemicals that raise many interrogations.

-Another reason is simply quality. Commercial soaps usually get rid of the glycerin that is a perfect moisturizer since it comes from fat, and they sell it to other industrial purposes. As a result, they don’t leave the skin moisturized and we have to buy separate moisturizers. (it’s a commercial logic, not a logical logic). With your own soap, you can choose which oils to add depending on your skin’s needs and tailor a perfect soap for you.

-Soaps are wonderful gifts for family and friends. They are not only beautiful and smelling delicious, they are useful.

-It’s fun and entertaining to make soaps. The last time I made my own was with a bunch of friends at my place and we spent a super nice moment together.

-It’s zero waste! No plastic needed in the process.

For the Love of Body

I discovered For the Love of Body in Kensington market and immediately knew I had found a gold nugget in Toronto. Kathrin, its founder, is a holistic nutritionist, yoga teacher, and natural products-maker. She teaches soap-making, foraging, kombucha brewing, detox, natural home-care products. In a nutshell, the kind of things that keep me awake at night.

Here, I am going to tell about the first – and not last – workshop that I took with her in April.

Let’s get started

On this sunny Sunday, we were around 13 at Kathrin and Andrew’s workshop. I came with my friend Marie who is a also a zero-waste advocate and maker. We met at the Centre for Social Innovation in Spadina, a charming sort of coworking place for entrepreneurs and change-makers (update 09/10/16: I can’t help adding that I have joined CSI since then and that I am blessed to be part of it). The room was sunny, wooden-floored and with a big nice carpet.

Melt and pour soaps

We learnt how to make two different kind of soaps: melt-and pour soaps and traditional ones. The former are faster to make and don’t require the use of lye (caustic soda). You basically melt a base and then customize it with essential oils, natural fragrances, scrubbing elements and whatever you like.

While the base was melting in the double-boiler, Kathrin explained to us the benefits of essential oils and the difference between them. A topic so vast it could justify another workshop of its own, I thought. We then made two groups and each poured the basis in its mold and chose a fragrance and colour. Our group added Egyptian Geranium essential oil, white clay and dried rose petals… we religiously stirred the mixture, taking tours and chatting happily over our soap-to be.

For melt and pour soaps, there is no curing (drying) period, so after pouring the base in the molds and tracing, we were given our own little cube of pink soap!

Traditional cold process soap-making

After a short break, Kathrin and Andrew started the demo for traditional soaps, that involves lye. This process gives better-quality soaps that can be stored longer. Also, it allows to choose what kind of oils to use, and can be adapted depending on the skin’s needs. The process consists of first mixing water (1) and lye (2), the mixture reaching quickly a very high temperature. Andrew, all googles on, took care of it while I was discretely moving my chair back.  While it was cooling down, we started melting hard oils together in another pot. I think we melted coconut oil and avocado butter. Olive oil, that makes the soap bar hard, was finally added by one of us. It. We then poured the lye into the oils and used an immersion blender to mix everything!

Finally, the mixture was transferred into a wooden mold, to form several long bars of soaps that will be cut into small bars two days after.

The last ingredient of the recipe is patience, as a curing period of around 4 weeks is necessary before being able to use your soaps!

Next steps

I was super happy about the experience and I have already started collecting the ingredients to make mine. I warmly endorse Kathrin for her vast knowledge and enthusiasm! Check out her website for future workshops to come.

 

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Cube soaps on the left: melt and pour . Yellow soaps: traditional cold process soaps