Easy Being Green: Living Sustainably in the Winter Months

If you’re like me, winter can often make you think even more about climate change, particularly with the abnormal and unpredictable weather over the past number of years. But sometimes it can feel even tougher to be an eco-warrior over the winter. A healthy variety of local food can be hard to find, the cold weather makes you want to hunker down or flee and we can get in the habit of relying on driving, even short distances. So how can you be part of the climate solution, even through the cold winter months?

Food is one thing that I know many of us link to environmental cost. Regardless of the season, a good first step for cutting production-related emissions from our food is to eat plant-based proteins, since animal-based proteins require far higher emissions to get to your plate. By choosing organic, much of the energy needed to create and spread fertilizers and pesticides during production can also be avoided. Avoiding water-intensive crops can lower the energy needed to process and deliver water. Finally, choosing local is a good way to cut our food-related footprint simply by cutting the distance food travels and even the method of transportation to our door. Try walking or cycling to a local food vendor, instead.

While it may be surprising to some, finding food-buying opportunities that take energy-saving into account isn’t hard. We are lucky to have a number of great farms and suppliers locally that aim to bring nutrient-rich and environmentally friendly food to our tables. Some places that I rely on over the winter include: Bailey’s Local Foods, The Sustainable Market, Legacy Greens or Pfennings Organic and More. Be prepared to eat root veggies, squash, apples and greens, and get adventurous by using the web to find recipes. You may even find some new enjoyable tastes such as kholrabi which is great fresh in salads or roasted like fries. But of course you can also find a plethora of grains, beans, legumes and other items to fill your pantry and freezer.

Aside from food, with colder weather can often come the desire to go on a warm getaway. However, choosing a stay-cation can not only be lots of fun, but can also help keep your personal emissions (and spending) to a minimum. Flying is so energy intensive, so any time you can choose any other mode of transportation, you have made a difference.

So, rather than run from winter, why not embrace it? Head a bit further north and spend some time enjoying the outdoors. There are so many places to stay that offer a plethora of winter-based activities that will help to keep you warm. Nearby, we have many amazing destinations that can even become more affordable over winter. Why not enjoy the culinary delights in Stratford, the lovely shops and art in Elora, or the wine tastings in Niagara-on-the-lake? If you want to travel farther, Ottawa has an amazing array of museums, and Toronto, well, it has almost everything.

Winter can feel long, and with that, we often like to hunker down. But since heating our homes and using our cars are the biggest emitters locally, think about turning down that thermostat by a degree or two and snuggling up with a blanket and a sweater. Overnight, you can turn it down a lot; you won’t even notice. Before you get in your car, think — can I take the bus or walk? Most things are a lot closer than you think. There are great online maps that will tell you exactly how long it will take.

So don’t let the winter detract from your efforts to cut your energy footprint. Grab your toque and toboggan and before you know it, you may even celebrate when Wiarton Willie predicts six more weeks of winter.

Stacey Danckert is the co-director of Waterloo Region Environment Network (WREN).