Don grew up in North Western Ontario where the outdoors was his playground; As a pilot, he witnessed the sky being used as a garbage dump; Last year, he and his wife Heather only threw out 3 bags of garbage.
When did you become passionate about the environment?
There isn’t a particular moment that I can say I became passionate about the environment, it’s been a part of my life since I was young. I grew up in North Western Ontario, the outdoors were my playground: Fly-fishing in the rivers, camping in the woods, playing in the snow…It gave me respect for the power of nature…And if anybody has ever gone winter camping in Canada…it certainly teaches you to respect the power of nature!
In high school one of the class projects was doing a documentary about what was important to you. Mine was an exposé about the pulp and paper mills that I grew up around in Fort William. I put it to music and tried to show how we were using the sky as a garbage dump, pumping all this pollution up into the sky. Not too long after I finished high school, I got my aviation licence: Flying around Thunder Bay, I saw a many factories and mills that reinforced my view that we were treating our air and atmosphere like a garbage dump. It made a very strong impact on me.
If I had to pick a particular moment when I became more involved as an adult, it would be around the turn of the century: Prince Edward County was going to be first County in Ontario to have wind-farms, and having lived there since 1980, we certainly knew we had a tremendous wind resource here! The people that were opposed to the wind farms were getting a lot more attention than those in favour, so I founded Citizens Advocating for Renewable Energy (CARE), which gave a voice to the silent majority who supported wind power.
In 2005 my wife Heather and I were some of the first in Ontario to receive the Renewable Energy Standard Offer [the predecessor to the Micro-fit program] in which people were given the opportunity to sell power to the grid. With Bullfrog Power we paid a small premium in order to source our energy from wind and small run-of-river (hydro) projects. We put solar panels on our roof and added more panels after the Micro-fit Program came in. Together, with the solar hot-water we added, it made us more conscious of the power we were consuming and how it was being produced.
Around that same time, An Inconvenient Truth came out, and that’s also when our 1st grandchild was born…That was my driving force from that point on…When you have grandchildren, that changes everything. I always visualize my grandchildren being my age, 60, what kind of world will we have for them? We have to do things that will make it a better world for them and for their parents.
Why did you decide to invest in ZooShare?
ZooShare fits with what we think is right. We feel like we have to set an example, and leading by example is the best way. I think it was Ghandi who said “be the change you want to see in the world”. If you want something to happen, it’s you who has to make it happen. Rather than just wishing things were different, make them different.
For us, ZooShare was a perfect way to get involved, we really love the idea of making use of waste products. Our society needs to manage our waste better, what better way than making clean electricity from it?
7% is a wonderful, very attractive return on our investment, so for people that are more focused on the financial benefits, you can make some green for yourself while producing green energy. For us it wasn’t as much about the return as much as it was about being a part of an innovative, creative and positive environmental project with high-visibility: We like that [the ZooShare biogas plant] will be in a public place (at the Zoo) where millions of people will see how energy is produced. It will trigger thoughts about how energy is made and consumed. Now, I don’t think energy production is something that most people think about, we all take it for granted.
We were also very attracted by the teaching element of ZooShare. I know we’ll be taking our grandkids to the Zoo again, and we’ll be able to point to the plant and say, “we helped to make that happen” and “we can make the world a better place”.
Finally, we were very impressed with the professionalism of the team and how our questions were answered. We had the good fortune of knowing Petra [who sits on the ZooShare board] and Daniel [ZooShare’s Executive Director] was wonderful in answering the questions we had. We would recommend to anybody that they get involved in ZooShare and buy bonds.
What are some conservation projects you think other ZooShare supporters would be interested in?
Water conservation is very important to us. I helped start County Sustainability Group. Every year we raise awareness about water conservation through the sale of rain barrels, which coincides with World Water Day. Rain barrels create an opportunity for people to think about where water comes from, and what an important, scarce, and rare resource water is and that we really need to treat it with respect. We use the proceeds from the sale of rain barrels towards a bursary for students in Prince Edward County who show an interest in studying environmental sustainability.
Heather and I have always been thrifty, not wasteful…One day, on garbage pick up day, we suddenly realized how many bags of garbage people were putting out…We couldn’t remember the last time we did that, so we decided to keep track…It was quite amazing: we only put out 6 bags for the whole year! So I wrote a column about that for the County Weekly News and challenged people to reduce their garbage by 50%. That year we reduced our own waste from 6 bags to 3. We do that by practicing ‘Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink’. ‘Refuse’ and ‘Rethink’ are the ‘silent Rs’: ‘Refuse’ is to be a smarter consumer: consuming less is the very first step. You have to decide between wants and needs. ‘Rethink’ is to think about everything you’re doing and try to find a better way to do it. It’s never being satisfied that you’re doing the best you can, because there’s always a way to do it better.
Another area that I think a lot of people could think about doing to take better care of the planet–and themselves– is gardening. When you think about our parents during the war, everybody had gardens, it was essential, there’s no reason why anybody who owns property could not have a garden of some size, shape or form. Since I’ve retired I’ve ben carving up my lawn and using more and more garden space and growing our own food. It’s better for you, and it’s an amazing way to keep yourself in good condition, you know where your food is coming from, and you reduce your carbon footprint (instead of buying food that is being transporting from everywhere around the world, you’re going out to your backyard). There’s instant gratification in having your own garden because you can pick it and cook it fresh right away. It also increases your own food security, knowing you can grow it and store it and have it there when you need it. You can also support your local organic growers and farmers, CSAs and community gardens, and advocate for bees and pollinators that are being devastated by neonics.
Gardening is also a great tool for the next generation. it’s a skill that kind of got lost after our grandparents, but when kids see it, they are amazingly interested in how things grow. There’s nothing better than taking my grandkids to the garden. In our generation, people have a consciousness of what we are leaving behind…it makes your decisions easier, it makes you think, “it’s not about me it’s the people who follow us”.
The ZooShare biogas plant will recycle manure from the Toronto Zoo and food waste from Canada’s largest grocery chain into renewable power for the Ontario grid. This process will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of removing 2,100 cars from the road each year, and will return valuable nutrients to the soil in the form of a high-quality fertilizer. To build this project, we are selling bonds that earn a return of 7% each year for 7 years.
If you are a ZooShare member interested in being profiled for our Member Spotlight, please email Frances for details.