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24 Nov

Elephants eat a lot, and thus, poo a lot. Besides the lovely dung beetles and other pooper-scoopers, here’s how to close the loop for elephant poo:

  • ”Elephants and their dung can play a facilitative role for other organisms.” Three different species of frogs have been discovered living in the dung of the Asian elephant in southeastern Sri Lanka. For more information:
  • Elephant manure is highly prized by gardeners! Furthermore, according to Blake et al. (2009). Forest elephants: Tree planters of the Congo. Biotropica, 41(4):
    “Analysis of 855 elephant dung piles suggested that forest elephants disperse more intact seeds than any other species or genus of large vertebrate in African forests, while GPS telemetry data showed that forest elephants regularly disperse seeds over unprecedented distances compared to other dispersers. Our results suggest that the loss of forest elephants (and other large-bodied dispersers) may lead to a wave of recruitment failure among animal-dispersed tree species, and favour regeneration of the species-poor abiotically dispersed guild of trees.”

Protect elephants, and their poo.

Silent Auction Fundraiser a Success!

21 Nov

Last night, the UWSP COP15 delegation held a silent auction at the STEP green fashion show ( in Toronto. While emerging fashion designers showed off their eco-fashions, UWSP members worked away at raising funds for COP15. All proceeds of the silent auction went directly to supporting the delegation. I’d like to thank Alice, Tyler and J of the UWSP delegation for all their effort and everyone else who helped support us last night. This fundraiser would not have been possible without your help!

A special thank you goes out to the following companies who provided us with donations for the silent auction. We greatly appreciate your support for our delegation and the environment.

Golden Hearth Baking Co.

 Exhibit Cafe

 Ten Thousand Villages

Mandarin Restaurant

 Kynk Naturals

 UW Retail Services

 Inti Crafts at 444 Bloor ST W, Toronto


Earthships have nothing to do with aliens…

11 Nov

An Earthship is a house that is partially or completely autonomous (off-grid) and is built from recycled materials. Load bearing walls are made of earth filled tires, while non-load bearing walls may be made of lighter materials such as recycled cans joined by concrete. The house employs passive solar design: using sunlight for air and water heating and natural ventilation.  As a passive solar home, the Earthship maximizes sunlight collection by having the south facing part of the building constructed of glass. The Earthship is often buried on three sides and may even have an earth covered roof for added insulation. 

A bit about how it works….


The glass covered south facing side of the house allows light in. As the sun warms the floor, the absorbed heat is radiated up into the house interior. The ground surrounding the house is at a constant temperature, meaning that in the winter the house will not drop below 14oC. With such thick walls and roof, the Earthship has a large thermal mass resulting in a natural regulation of the indoor temperature. The structure will store heat well in the winter while keeping the interior of the building cool during the summer. Glass construction at the front of the house is designed for winter warming and summer cooling of the home. The Earthship is also often built with passive ventilation. That is, sunlight induced variations of temperature inside the Earthship are sufficient to cause natural convection (a circulation of air through the house).

A House Made of Straw

11 Nov

Straw bale home

Building a home requires many choices. This especially applies when struggling with the tradeoff between economic and environmental. One of these choices is to use straw bales for walling.

Straw is a natural and local material in Waterloo. The use of natural and local materials decreases the green house gases normally associated with home production. Additionally, straw is considered waste by farmers so by putting it to use in home construction the straw is being up cycled. Straw bale homes can also reduce energy consumption by approximately 50-75%.

There are two methods that can be used: post and beam; and load barring. Post and beam is where a frame is built and straw is used as infill to insulate the house. In the load barring method, there is little, if any, framing. Rather, the straw is compressed to hold the house’s load. Commonly, straw of barley, wheat, rice, flax, rye and/or oats is baled and used for exterior walls. As with traditional foundations, concrete is used for the foundation to stop pests and moisture from getting into the straw. Curbs, railings made of two 2×3 boards, are nailed to the floor and used to sandwich and hold the straw bales in place. Framing is also used to hold the doors and windows in place until the straw bale walls are set and plastered. The walls are plastered using earthen, lime, and/or lime/cement mixture.

Straw is very inexpensive, however, the cost to construct a straw bale home varies based on location, techniques, size of home, and type of labourers (contractors, volunteers, or a combination). It is common to get whole communities involved in building a straw bale home resulting in a huge decrease in costs.

 There are two common myths about straw bale homes that I’d like to clear up.

1.Straw is susceptible to fire.

When straw is used for walling, the bales are tightly packed so that if a fire does start, straw bale homes are more resistant to fire due to the lack of oxygen in the walling.

2.Straw bale homes are susceptible to pests.

It is extremely hard for pests to get through the plaster layers surrounding the straw. The likelihood of pests with straw bale houses is just as high as any conventionally built home.

To learn more check out: A World Leader in Straw Bale Education. <>. 2009.

Green Planet Homes. Introduction to Straw Bale Construction. <>. 2007.

350 Rally in Waterloo

6 Nov

350 CAGOn October 24th, the International Day of Climate Action, about 100 concerned students and other Waterloo locals gathered outside the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo to voice their requests for Waterloo’s MP, Peter Braid, to support action on bringing the world’s carbon dioxide levels down to 350 parts per million. Just one of many similar rallies across the world, the greater goal was to urge politicians to act for the environment at the upcoming COP 15 United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen (to which a number of UWSP’s executive board will be headed). 

After meeting at the Clay and Glass Gallery, the 100 strong crowd marched straight to Peter Braid’s office with a letter outlining their concerns. Byron Williston, a philosophy professor from Wilfred Laurier University, and Jean-Michel Toriel of ForestEthics were on hand to speak about the issues at hand. Williston laid out plainly, one of the major issues:

“We just don’t naturally think about people who are going to be alive 100 years from now. That’s the trick. That’s the ethical challenge.”

Ain’t it just so? Now…why is that there were no experts from the University of Waterloo on hand to speak? 

More at:

– Tyler

Shoot for the STARS

2 Nov

As we all know, the University of Waterloo has a long to way to go to achieve a sustainable campus. However, everything UWSP and its working groups do is a step closer. How can we best keep track of our efforts and assess their success? Afterall, we don’t want all our efforts to go to waste. I propose taking advantage of a new tool  developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (ASSHE).

ASSHE is an association of universities and colleges working towards a more sustainable future. Unfortunately UW is not currently a member but that would be a first step. The next step would be to sign up for the new tool they’ve developed called  the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS). STARS is a framework for which universities can assess their progress towards a sustainable campus. Sustainability is measured in terms of many categories including buildings, dining services, energy, transportation, planning, administration and many more.

STARS sets out a scoring system based on the information imputed for each category. For example, it looks at how many buildings on campus are LEED certified or equivalent versus the number that are not. The points from all catergories are added up to give an overall measure of campus sustainability. The overall score can be usd to assess progress by camparing one year’s score to the next of it can be used to assess how one university is doing compared to others who have signed up for the STARS program.

UW could greatly betnefit from the use of such a tool. We would be able to measure our progress and success. We could use these numbers to pressure administration to make big changes on our campus. I ask you to join me in encouraging the University of Waterloo in working towards a more sustainable campus through the use of STARS.

For more information check out