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'We have an influence': How some Canadians are inspiring others to focus on the environment

In their busy day-to-day lives, many people do not think about what they can do to reduce their environmental impacts.

Climate change can also bring up feelings of stress or anxiety that could cause people to ignore the issue altogether.

But for some Canadians, reducing harm to the planet is not only a good habit but a challenge they take pride in, prompting them to step up and provide a needed voice of optimism and a drive to create sustainable habits.

Megan Andrus and Joe Hood are two Canadians trying to inspire others to make a difference. For them, protecting the environment has been a passion that grew organically into bringing their community together.

"We had some ideas and we kind of wanted to put them out there and have other people be able to understand what it's like, for example, to go solar," Hood told CTVNews.ca in an interview.

In 2018, the married couple moved from their smaller home near Bedford, N.S., to the outskirts, where they bought a two-acre lot.

There they built a home with the goal of being as sustainable as possible -- something that at the time was both pricey and less common than it is now, Hood said.

"We found the lot that had the perfect south-facing slope, the perfect trees, the perfect spot to put our house," he said. "Before we cut down a tree we had planned everything out. So that was the start of the brand Sound Living."

'IT JUST KIND OF HAPPENED'

The house is equipped with solar panels that power everything including their electric car. It has rain barrels for water, a meadow with native plants as a front lawn and a fully functioning garden with fruits and vegetables of all kinds.

From seeds to fresh veggies and fruit, Joe Hood and Megan Andrus are giving back to the environment and the community with their garden. (Photos from Megan Andrus)

Although categorized as an "environmental conservation organization" on Facebook, Hood says Sound Living is meant to bring people together and to share ideas.

"We came up with the name first and then I had worked with a graphic designer for my business, and I convinced her to do up the logo for us," Hood says. "We actually don't monetize it, it's not registered or anything like that."

Over the years the page has grown, with 3,268 people following what Hood and Andrus are posting, which mostly focuses on gardening and preserving nature. It has allowed for a flow of ideas to circulate as members of the online community comment on ideas and share their own.

With the growth of the online community, Hood is pleased with how many people they've inspired to start a garden or install solar panels.

"Our hope is that more people will start doing the small things," Hood said. "Like changing your lawn from a lawn to a meadow."

Andrus recently started a separate community group outside of the Sound Living brand that meets regularly in person on the weekend.

"We have people coming to our yard, and we'll split off oregano, chive and mint for new gardeners," Hood said. "We'll give them tomato seedlings and pepper seedlings and things like that to help them get their gardens going."

Giving back to their neighbours is an important aspect for Andrus and Hood, and they offer these plants in return for donations to the food bank.

"It is organic. It just kind of happened," Hood said. "There's a local food bank that we'd like to support so we figured that that would be a neat way to kind of tie them in … food for food."

One of the biggest draws for their neighbours is the year-round greenhouse the pair invested in, which allows for fresh vegetables even in Nova Scotia winters.

Some of the plants being grown include elderberries, seabuckthorn, horseradish, sunchoke, lemongrass, tomatoes and a variety of spices, as well as broccoli, kale, spinach, carrots and oranges.

In addition to sharing with their human neighbours, Andrus and Hood know they have to share with the local wildlife, including a groundhog they’ve named "Gary."

Gary the groundhog loves stealing broccoli. (Megan Andrus)

"We have a groundhog living in our yard (so) we lose probably 20 per cent of our produce every year to wildlife," he said. "We kind of accepted that (but) last night year he got into my broccoli, which kind of upset me."

INSPIRING ALL GENERATIONS

While Hood and Andrus focus on mobilizing their communities, both online and in person, environmental activist Albert Lalonde is focusing their attention on increasing participation in action.

The young advocate spends their time studying at the University of Quebec, in Montreal, and working with the David Suzuki Foundation, all while attempting to mobilize Canadians from across the country.

Lalonde helps organize protests, including one that grew to include more than 150,000 people in March 2019.

It was one of several Fridays for Future climate protests held in Canada that year, inspired by young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

"I think those protests really come from being fed up with doing the everyday little gestures that take a lot of time and energy, and that really, people have really put their heart into doing for many years," Lalonde told CTVNews.ca in an interview, referring to calls for action from government and major corporations, in addition to efforts at the individual level.

For Lalonde, their first memory of climate change came at just four years old when they saw a commercial about melting ice caps and how it affected the polar bears in the north. A young Lalonde interpreted this as the North Pole being destroyed.

"My reasoning was that if Santa Claus's house and factory were sinking into the ocean, people will be talking about it, but no one was," they said.

Students hold a demonstration to protest against climate change, Friday, March 15, 2019 in Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

As they grew up, the message of that ad stayed with them, prompting them to put energy into bringing green policies to their schools, and to organize students to advocate for the planet. As they got older, the outreach grew until it came to a head during the 2019 protests.

"There were two things for me that got us to mobilize," Lalonde said. "The feeling of betrayal, and being so, so, so tired of governments’ inconsistencies and policies that put everyone in danger… And second, I think that we were in the street because we felt empowered because there was this movement, and we felt like we were finally building power."

Using that momentum, Lalonde co-founded the Student Coalition for an Environmental and Social Shift (translated from French) in Quebec, but its efforts were halted by the pandemic.

Now they are looking to make a comeback, hoping the momentum is still there so they can inspire more Canadians to take action.

"Mobilization is built with a lot of conversation…Like going from cafeteria table to cafeteria table, and really having the deep and also very emotional conversations about the state of the world and where we fit in it," they said. "And how we can take action in a collective way and hold our governments accountable because, at the end of the day, we have an influence."

Younger Canadians are environmentally aware, Lalonde says, but they follow the footsteps of previous generations.

"We also have to acknowledge all the work that's been done by previous generations on so many issues," they said. "I always want to like sort of temper that vision of like Gen Zs as being like, 'super activist.' I think all previous generations actually were activists." 

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