Making the Holiday Season Sustainable!

 Written by Kristin Mullin

Written by Kristin Mullin

Why is it so important we make a change?

The holiday season is renowned for being a wasteful, consumer-driven and stressful time of year.  To help combat this, our team has decided to create our own Sustainable Gift Giving Guide with ideas on how to make your holiday season simple and sustainable.

Shockingly in Canada we collectively throw away 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper each year, that’s the equivalent of 100,000 elephants (if you can even imagine that many elephants in your head). Combine this with 2.6 billion holiday cards and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of packaging that is added to landfills during the holidays (25% more than the rest of the year) and we have created a humungous amount of waste.

But on a positive note, if each of us starts making some small changes, we can spoil ourselves and our loved ones without spoiling the planet.

How to Give Sustainably!

Think about other options before you buy – There are many gifts out there which have less impact on our planet and some that even make a positive difference!

Instead of buying a gift for a loved one, you can make a donation on their behalf. Therefore instead of giving for the sake of giving, you have an opportunity to make a real difference for those who really need it.

Another idea is to give new life to a used item by gifting it to someone who could really use it. Or, make a new gift using items you already own (Pinterest has lots of ideas).

Give experiences not gifts – There is a large misconception that during the holidays, the amount you spend on an individual reflects how much you care about that person.  The team at SK feels that time is always so much more valuable than things. Time that you spend with loved ones can never be replaced, so why not choose to share your time with a day at a local conservation area to engage with nature, go to a local show, or learn a new skill together.  

Shop for Sustainable Materials – If you do decide to purchase gifts, choose items made with sustainable materials such as organic cotton, hemp, wood or silk which are natural and renewable.  These items add character, texture and uniqueness to your gift and they also support sustainable farmers!

Buy Local – The holidays are about supporting our friends, families and communities. One great way to support our neighbours is by shopping in locally owned stores. As an added bonus, your gifts are more likely to be unique and memorable for those receiving them.

Cards - Store-bought holiday cards are rich, elegant and expensive. They also consume a huge amount of natural resources for a single-use item. Homemade cards, created with materials you already own can be much more personal and just as appreciated. Making the cards is also a fun activity for the family during the weeks leading up to the holidays.

Wrapping Paper – If you’ve got old scarves, shirts, sheets or any other textile material lying around at home, there is no need to go to the store to purchase wrapping paper.   Just last week SK hosted a workshop with Boho & Hobo all about sustainable gift wrapping and learned how to wrap gifts with a variety of different materials (and they turned out great!). If you are really stuck on wrapping paper there are more sustainable options out there, opt for more environmentally friendly choices made using fibres such as hemp, or recycled content.

Large Group Gift Giving – If you have a large group or family that you wish to buy gifts for you’ll know the familiar feeling of stress and worry about waste. Our team has thought of some options to reduce the stress and the waste.

  1. Stick to a ‘one gift’ or “Secret Santa” rule. This allows each person to get one especially thoughtful and unique gift from someone who had the time to dedicate their effort.

  2. Try a “White Elephant” gift exchange – everyone only gives gifts they find around their home with no money spent.

  3. Handmade Gift Exchange- only handmade gifts (from hand-knit scarves to cookies) may be given.

At Sustainable Kingston, we believe that small actions can lead to BIG change. Sustainable holiday giving is just one example of this.   It starts with just one person taking action and making positive impact by influencing their circle of connections, and then when that larger group shares what they have learned they can spark change throughout the community.    

From the Team at Sustainable Kingston, We wish you all a very happy, healthy and sustainable holiday season. 

7 Steps to Becoming a Conscious Consumer Starting Today

 Written by Simone Santos

Written by Simone Santos


I still remember the time when we needed to get an empty glass bottle to buy soda and other drinks. In this way, the bottle was returned to the manufacturer to be refilled and reused.

Then, the era of recyclables arose. Now, instead of reusing, we throw it all away. Things that cost dearly to be extracted, manufactured, distributed, and transported get into our hands and are thrown away within minutes after use.

Canada produced over 24,000,000[1] tonnes of waste in 2016, and only about 24%[2] of it all is being recycled. The demand is simply too much and there are not enough recyclers. That is Right! When you toss something in the recycle bin, it does not mean it will be recycled for sure.

Also, 32% of plastic packaging leaks into ecosystems and, if nothing changes, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.[3] Can you imagine that?      


This consumerism is affecting us all. Climate change is drastically changing our surroundings and quality of life. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are rising and it is over 50% higher than it was in 1990.[4] That can cause if we do not take action now, irreversible consequences to our system. Which we have been experiencing lastly, such as increased incidence of disasters, extreme temperature conditions, rising of diseases and negative consequences on our health, extinction of a number of animal species, among other consequences.

What if I tell you that it is in our hands to change it? All of us, as consumers, can choose to change this reality. Everyday by changing little habits and becoming a conscious consumer, we can contribute to a huge change. Join this movement! Below are some ideas that you can start doing it today.

1.   Fashion

Research the origin of the products before buying. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter of fresh water, it is responsible for 10% of global GHG emissions, and it has a high incidence of child labour and human slavery. [5] Find out more about ethical brands and retailers, shop for organic fabrics (without harmful chemicals and with a lower impact on the environment), certified fair-trade products, local manufactures, and second-hand products. 


2.   Buy local products

You will not only promote the local economy and support small businesses. You will reduce GHG emissions associated with the transportation of goods and packaging, and will enhance the sense of community. Shop for local farmers and small business in your region, also organic products are toxin-free and better for our health.


3.   Cosmetics & Household products

Purchasing sustainable and toxic-free products is good for the environment and also for our health. These products regularly contain harmful ingredients that can cause allergies, health diseases and even cancer, as well as contributing to water bodies pollution, once it leaves our homes.5

Look for certified cruelty-free products (not tested on animals), which are confined in cages and terrible conditions and suffer to death by intense testing.[6]


4.   Once a week, go vegan or vegetarian

Food production to feed animals, livestock and byproducts, and land use (deforestation for livestock) is responsible for about 24% of GHG emissions (more than transportation).[7]

It also takes a large amount of water to grow crops and animals, it can take over 2,500 liters of water to produce 3 liters of milk and 9,000 liters of water to produce less than 1Kg of meat.[8] Not to mention the emissions caused by land use, water quality, and irresponsible fish harvesting.

Reducing meat consumption, especially red meat, will reduce your carbon footprint and will contribute to reducing animal cruelty. Shop for certified vegan products and look for vegetables containing high-protein content, like beans, chickpeas, soy, tofu, quinoa, oats.


5.   Reduce your waste

As mentioned before, it is a major challenge in recycling the enormous amount of waste we produce. So, the best way is trying not to produce it, by reducing as much as possible. Take your reusable mug with you instead of using plastic or paper cups for coffee and water, most cafeteria accepts to use yours if you bring your own mug. Prefer tap water than bottled water, Canada has one of the cleanest tap water in the world, studies have shown that most of the bottled water contains particles of plastic. [9] Bring reusable shopping bags with you always, you can save over 170 plastic bags from trash for one year, and you can also buy compostable bags for your home waste. And finally, use reusable cutlery and lunch box whenever you can.


6.   Buy for quality

Start by rethinking if you really need each product or if you just want it. Impulsive buying makes us having lots of stuff that we barely use. So, if you really need that item, then opt for buying quality products that will last longer, will not break easily, and will reduce your waste production.[10]


7.   Choose businesses that are committed to sustainability

Question your service providers and businesses you work with about their sustainability strategies and choose the ones that are taking action. Businesses can take action on climate change, reduce its environmental impact on its operations, offer sustainable products and services to their customers, engage and develop the local community.



So, before buying that case of water or pop, think about all the waste you will be generating and how you can substitute for something eco-friendly. When buying make-up, perfume, deodorant, cleaning products, look for certified toxic-free and cruelty-free alternatives. For clothes and fashion articles, consider fair-trade options. Reviewing our habits can make a huge change to our planet and a big step towards a low carbon economy. Keep on checking on Sustainable Kingston’s website and social media to learn more about becoming a conscious consumer.



[1] Statistics Canada










I need a new water heater! Gas or electric? With a tank or tankless? Propane? Solar? Heat pump? Which is better?!

 Written by Karen Summerskill

Written by Karen Summerskill

At some point, every home owner must replace their hot water heating system.  Since water heating accounts for about 20% of a home’s energy use, it’s worthwhile doing a little research. It quickly becomes apparent that deciding which system is better is not all that simple.

The answer depends on what you mean by “better.”   Purchase price is not the only thing you need to consider.

Doesn’t a tankless water heater use less energy than a traditional water heater with a storage tank?

It takes the same amount of energy to heat water, no matter what system you use.  A traditional system heats water and stores it, so hot water is ready when you want it, but then the tank loses heat (and energy) from the storage tank.   A tankless system uses an intense amount in a short time, but doesn’t have heat loses from stored hot water.

Isn’t natural gas cleaner than electricity?

In Ontario, our electricity is generated mainly by nuclear, water, wind and solar energy.  So, an electric water heater generates less greenhouse gas than a natural gas water heater.  Hold on to that thought while you consider the economics of using natural gas to heat water.

Is it cheaper to buy an electric water heater tank than a natural gas water heater tank?

Yes, electric water heater tanks are generally less expensive to buy than tanks heated by natural gas.

Is it cheaper to heat water with natural gas or with electricity?

Yes, given current prices, it is generally less expensive to operate a tank heated by natural gas than one heated by electricity.

Isn’t electricity 100% efficient?

Water heater storage tank systems are never 100% efficient since the tanks lose heat. Insulating a hot water tank is always a good investment. That said, electric water heaters have an efficiency rating of 90% since almost all the energy entering the heating elements goes directly to heating water.  Conventional natural gas water heaters have efficiency ratings around 60%, while condensing natural gas water heater tanks can achieve efficiencies over 85%.  

Over its lifecycle, which will cost more?  A natural gas or an electric water heater tank?

The lifecycle cost of either system will change as prices change and a household’s use changes, but, in general, an electric system will cost about 30% more over the 13-year lifecycle of the tank.  That could be a difference of up to $300 dollars each year.

What about tankless systems?

Tankless heating provides a limitless supply of hot water, with no standby heating expenses and no heat loss from storage.  No storage tank means extra space.  However, tankless heaters are much more expensive than traditional storage water heaters.  Electric tankless heaters may require upgraded wiring and they will use electricity on demand, which may mean higher costs if high use is during peak billing hours.  Natural gas models are available but tankless water heaters are generally not an option for rural homes due to lack of access to natural gas and problems with mineral build-up in the heat exchanger.  

I don’t have natural gas where I live.  How does propane compare to electric water heaters?

If you are replacing your oil furnace with a propane furnace, you may also be considering a propane water heater.  Propane creates 38% less greenhouse gas than heating oil (source:, but hydro electricity generation creates far less GHG than either propane or natural gas.   Propane is not regulated like electricity, which means that the prices will fluctuate, making it harder to budget and sometimes much more expensive than electricity.  

What about solar thermal?

Solar thermal is an excellent choice for seasonal swimming pools.  For year-round systems in Canada, solar thermal panels collect heat in antifreeze, which is then circulated through a heat exchanger to transfer the heat to water.  The system will require roof space, a backup traditional system, and electricity for pumps. A solar thermal system can meet about 60% of a family’s hot water needs and will reduce your energy bill accordingly.  

What about heat pumps?

You will be hearing more about heat pumps in the future.  Heat pumps move heat from one place to another, working like a refrigerator in reverse.  A typical heat pump water heater will cost over $1,100 compared to $350 for a traditional electric water heater tank.  However, according to Natural Resources Canada, heat pumps water heaters use up to 50% less electricity than traditional water heaters.  An average household of four will see a $330 drop in their annual electricity bill.  Look carefully at the efficiency ratings on the website. It’s not a typo: there are heat pump water heater systems with efficiency ratings of over 250%.  In other words, the higher the demand for hot water, the more sense it makes to invest in a heat pump system. 

Heat pump water heaters require a suitable location, where air can circulate freely.

Any other options?

Your great-grandparents probably managed with a wood stove and a large cast iron pot to heat water.  It’s not an option that most people would consider, but it’s still an option!

For more information, and to compare products, go to

Select the option “Canada” at the bottom of the Energy Star menu to see products available in Canada.