Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green Habits

What makes us conserve water and energy, divert waste from landfills, and choose alternatives over the car? How does Canada stack up to other countries? The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) took a stab at answering these questions with a survey in 2008. 10,000 people were polled in Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. The results are in, and The Globe and Mail designed some colourful graphics to help explain it all. I thought it might be neat to get your comments on some of the interesting points in the report.


  • Canadians and Mexicans use about twice as much water per person as residents of France and the Czech Republic.
I'm assuming this has something to do with our water-intensive industries like agriculture, coal and nuclear power plants, manufacturing, and my favourite: the tar sands. These industries grow disproportionately quickly as compared to our population size because we export so much food, energy, and oil.

  • The most common household water-saving device in Canada is the low-flow shower head, compared with water-efficient washing machines, showers, and toilets in Australia and Korea.
Shower heads are cheaper and easier to install. I wonder if that's the reason for this discrepancy? Or does this have more to do with the fact that Canadians are delusional about how much water we have? Just because the Great Lakes are, well, great, doesn't justify wasting water.

  • When people have to pay for household water use, consumption drops by 20%.
I know that those who are charged for water tend to conserve it, but I didn't realize the margin was so great. With that in mind, why aren't we charging for it if everyone already has to pay for power? This is probably why people are more likely to save energy than water - I bet there are more compact fluorescent bulbs than low-flow shower heads in Canada!


  • In Canada, only half as many people use thermal insulation compared to efficient light bulbs, and even fewer have installed efficient furnaces.
This is a sad statistic, since the biggest proportion of household electricity use in Canada goes towards heating. I wish more people knew that you don't have to commit to a complex renovation project to better insulate your home - just buy a winter weatherizing kit for your windows!

  • Hydro bill = conservation of electricity.
I look forward to the day when tenants in multi-unit buildings pay for the power they use. I can't stand hearing people boast that they waste electricity because they don't have to pay for it.

  • Most homeowners aren't willing to pay much more for renewable energy.
And they shouldn't have to! I've said this many times before: if the things we consume were priced according to their full life cycle cost, from resource depletion, to energy and water use during manufacturing, to the disposal of toxic substances, then conventional energy sources such as coal would be expensive, while wind power would be affordable.


  • Canada, Australia, and Sweden recycle twice as many products as the Czech Republic and Mexico.
As a Toronto resident, I'm very thankful for the City's hard work in this area. The number of things I can recycle is astounding, and while this doesn't make up for consuming too much, it's a good start.

  • Young people produce 10% more garbage than their parents.
Why? They don't have to pay for the trash they produce? They look cool with a branded, single-use paper coffee cup in their hand? The media bombards them with messages that associate consumption with sexiness/happiness?

  • Canadians are better at properly disposing of used batteries than expired medication.
 I hope events like the City of Toronto's Community Environment Days will help balance out those numbers. Improperly discarded prescription medication finds its way into our drinking water!


  • When commuting, the proportion of Koreans using public transportation is almost as large as the proportion of Canadians driving cars (around 50%).
I think we can all agree that most transit systems in this country need some work. I don't get why provincial and federal levels of government aren't helping out more.

  • People state they would use public transportation if it were faster and cheaper, and they want transit stops no farther than 15 minutes from their homes.
Sounds reasonable. We need better infrastructure in suburban areas, or better yet, we need to stop developing the sprawl!

  • On average, a 20% spike in gas prices would prompt motorists to cut back on their driving by 8%.
This is funny, because driving 120 km/h on the highway instead of 100 km/h represents a 20% increase in fuel consumption. Just saying...

You might be interested in reading the full article or the OECD report. The graphics are quite useful. Make sure to come back to this post afterwards - please help me make sense of some of these stats!

Photo credits: water droplet; wind turbine; landfill; traffic.


  1. Wow. That's a lot of sad statistics for us Canadians... and I won't fall on the standard safety-net of "Well, at least we're better than the US", because it's probably not true.

    For me, the Public Transit issue is a critical one. Toronto, the largest city in the country, has a pitiful transit system. It's downright BAD. It's also inexcusible. Montreal, I'm told, is better, and I've heard good things about Vancouver and Calgary... but I still think we need a huge shift in national focus from cars to public transit. This is as much mindset as anything else... I know it my small hometown, owning a car was synonymous with freedom and prestige.

  2. It's funny how people associate cars with freedom. I associate my car with expenses and unsustainability!!

    Some people complain that their public transit system needs to be overhauled before they will consider using it, but then they either vote for candidates who don't care for it, or they don't vote at all, and they never try to communicate with their elected representatives at any level of government. There seems to be a disconnect there. Just like when dealing with people, your needs won't be met unless you communicate them!

  3. Interesting about paying for water - we pay for ours here but it is pretty cheap, maybe $15 a month? I started tracking my water, electricity and natural gas usage, and will be setting some personal goals to get them all down!

    My city is really trying to improve transit right now, and has big plans for extending the LRT. This will hopefully get more cars off the roads and more people living near the core. Urban sprawl here is BAD, real bad. I read a report by Greenpeace that Edmonton has a bigger geographical footprint than Toronto. It sounds crazy, I know.

  4. Wow, I didn't expect that! It's amazing how much of an impact urban sprawl has on a city's footprint. The sad thing about sprawl in the GTA is that the suburbs are encroaching on Canada's most fertile agricultural land (the kind of soil that can grow anything). I've seen pictures of new subdivisions with roads that lead right up to fields because the developers expect to take over the adjacent farmland in the coming years. It's depressing.