Going green to the extreme

Journalist Vanessa Farquharson proves an individual can make a difference, one day at a time

Vanessa Farquharson’s blog, greenasathistle.com, inspired many individuals to make the effort to shop at farmer’s markets and to reuse watter bottles.
Vanessa Farquharson’s blog, greenasathistle.com, inspired many individuals to make the effort to shop at farmer’s markets and to reuse watter bottles.
Supplied Photo by Catherine Farquharson

With the fragile state of the world right now, it’s hard to believe a single individual can make a difference in saving the planet. Vanessa Farquharson, ArtSci ’02, decided to take on that challenge by making one green change to her life every day for a year to see the difference she could make.

Farquharson did her undergraduate degree at Queen’s in English literature and then completed a two year graduate program in journalism at Ryerson. She got an internship placement in the Arts and Life section at the National Post and she now has her own weekly environment column called “Sense and Sustainability.”

Although Farquharson is well known for her green thumb, she said she didn’t develop a passion for environmental issues until recently.

“My family certainly wasn’t green,” Farquharson said in an email to the Journal. “Growing up, I learned about environmental issues in school like most other kids … but I’d always resisted the green movement because it brought forth images of self-righteous hippies in braids and Birkenstocks and that was a mould into which I just didn’t fit.”

Farquharson said it took extensive research and watching documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed the Electric Car? before she started doing something about it.

That something took the form of her blog Greenasathistle.com, where she began her personal challenge on March 1, 2007: everyday for one year, she would make a green lifestyle change which she would continue until the end of the year. Because it was a leap year, Farquharson ended up making 366 green changes to her lifestyle.

“The intention was to make a lot of small changes,” she said. “Like switching to recycled paper towels and riding my bike more often. But in the end I eventually was forced to make lots of big ones too.”

Farquharson said these big changes included unplugging her fridge and constructing her own compost bin and filling it with worms.

She also sold her car and took Navy showers—where you get in the shower, turn on the water and wet your body, turn off the water and scrub yourself down with soap, then turn on the water to rinse—in the dark and stopped using toilet paper.

“Then it just got ridiculous because I was running out of ideas,” she said.

Farquharson ended up learning shorthand to use less paper and ink. She would even sleep naked to cut back on pajamas and laundry.

“Seriously, juggling hundreds of green balls at once is not easy,” she said. “Now that the challenge is over and I’m writing about environmental issues every week … the blog posts have tapered off a bit.”

But Farquharson said she still has readers e-mailing her, telling her about how she has inspired them to shop at farmer’s markets and to reuse water bottles.

“That’s amazing,” she said. “That cliché about the ripple effect is actually very real and it’s pretty outstanding to watch.”

On top of Farquharson’s full time job, she has also spent this past year writing a book about her experiences called Sleeping Naked is Green which comes out this spring.

“It’s a horribly embarrassing title,” she said, “But I swear it’s actually good and funny and not just chick-lit garbage.”

Farquharson is also a member of the Toronto Environmental Volunteers and helps out during local Environment Days by managing the compost pile, helping people recycle styrofoam, plastic bags and other materials that can’t go into blue bins.

“It’s not exactly frontline activism or anything,” she said. “But hey, it’s a start.”

Although it’s not necessary to go to these extremes to be environmentally friendly, the role of being a university student is still inherently green, Farquharson said.

“When you’re on a tight budget, you can’t afford to be spending money on useless crap and throwing it out later,” she said. “Just by turning down the consumerism like this, students are already alleviating stress on landfills.”

Farquharson said although paper waste can be hefty, some professors are now allowing students to e-mail in their essays instead of printing them out.

“I think the biggest area of concern with this demographic, though, is food—cheap, processed, microwaveable food from Costco is completely unsustainable for so many reasons,” Farquharson said.

“There is so much toxic crap in everything from Pizza Pockets to Teriyaki sauce to Wonder Bread—it’s unreal,” she said. “But even if you’re not concerned about your own health, the toll that a single hamburger from McDonald’s takes on the environment is enormous.”

Farquharson said students should aim to eat as many whole foods as possible from ethically responsible farms and businesses.

“People will say it’s more expensive to eat organic, but it’s not,” she said. “As long as you stick to vegetables, don’t waste food and shop strategically.”

Students should realize that, as the future do-gooders of this world, they need to learn how to live responsibly, Farquharson said.

“Once you go green, you never go back,” she said. “Our generation was raised with recycling and now most of us feel guilty whenever we toss a bottle into a garbage can.”

Farquharson said if this mentality were to expand further—to the point where we think throwing food into anything but the compost is wrong, or that driving down the block to rent a video is a heinous crime—we’ll start to see big advancements.

“None of us are born with a desire to harm our environment,” she said. “It’s something that happens over time as we become disconnected from it. The more we … start living according to our inherent value system, the healthier and happier we’ll be.”

Check out Vanessa’s blog at greenasathistle.com to see all 366 of her green lifestyle changes.

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