Photo: Greening the Smiths

Hiking up to the Cavell meadows in Jasper, Alberta (Credit: Melanie Smith)

Earlier this month, I went back to my home town of Edmonton, Alberta to "green" the Smiths. (That required flying. And yes, the David Suzuki Foundation calculates travel emissions and purchases only the highest quality carbon offsets.)

Who are the Smiths?

In October's Canadian Living magazine, readers made their pitches to win a lifestyle makeover by David Suzuki's Queen of Green (i.e. me). The selected entry was from Melanie Smith, a wife and mother of four kids under the age of seven. Her plea went something like this: "Since we're a big family, we live large: big house, big vehicles, big trips to the grocery store. We generally just use a lot of stuff. Our footprint is huge, and we need to change it."

Melanie said she was caught off guard when her five-year-old daughter, Lauren, saw a huge, billowing industrial smokestack and said "Mommy, is that a cloud machine?"

"I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had to explain that this was not a cloud machine, but tons of I didn't know what...chemicals, toxins, something more sinister?" said Melanie. "How do you explain that to a five-year-old?"

They had me at "cloud machine".

The Smiths live in St. Albert, a bedroom community of Edmonton. Day One of the eco makeover and I was on a mission: on a hunt for liquid castile soap.

I wanted to start the Smiths off with something simple — an easy, affordable and effective all-purpose cleaner they could make themselves (check out my favorite green cleaning recipes). Before I snooped through their home, I wanted to show up on their doorstep with all the supplies they'd need to start off on the right foot.

It's been over five years since I lived in the Edmonton area. Back then I had no clue about liquid castile soap. Today I can't imagine living without it. No time to look up the local health food store, I hit Save on Foods. I ran down the laundry aisle and grabbed a box of borax, but no liquid castile soap in sight. How was I going to make going green look easy if I couldn't even find this all-important ingredient?

I did what anyone passionate about green living would do. I gave Melanie my own, half-empty bottle of Dr. Bronner's orange liquid castile soap that I'd brought for the trip.

But before I left the store, I went straight to customer service where they gave me the 1-800 number to call to make product requests.

The Smiths are lovely. And they're already doing so much — like washing about 15 loads of laundry a week in cold water and choosing a home in a walkable neighbourhood.

Stay tuned to find out more about how the "greening" of the Smiths unfolds.

If you could give one piece of advice to the Smiths, what would it be?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

November 15, 2010

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Feb 12, 2012
5:47 PM

Well I live in the countryside, need a big 4x4 to get into my un-plowed, and un-maintained road in the winter, however since I only go to town for supplies once a month, and garden in the summer I am doing my part, to be conservative. I hate my lifestyle, it is due to the lack of money not the carbon imprint I'm leaving. However I also only had one child so that can also be considered a smaller footprint on the earth. ha ha, anyway the sustainability thing would be more do-able if there weren't regulations on every part of our existence, that's all about big business, and good luck changing that. They are even trying to monopolize the seeds, and control having a few chickens, the option of raw milk is only do able if you have your own milk producing animals, and that is all but regulated out for the average person with the farm plan regulations and nutrient management rules. All designed not to allow someone with a small land base to be able to have a sustainable way of life. OH and ha go for a walk in the back acres at your own risk , coyotes howling each evening starting before dusk, yeah great exercise plan, think I prefer the fat ass thanks just the same.

Nov 19, 2010
12:12 PM

Grow your own vegetables. If you don’t have enough land, partner with others in your community. If that won’t work, support a local CSA: ask farmers to grow for your community. I live in an urban setting, and I grow for 3 other families as well as us. It can be done. Right now I’m getting my community together and looking for a farmer to grow for us. Found one in the valley for chickens and turkeys. This is what you need to do, not just for greening, but for survival. Your food system is no longer up to you: fight it with rebellious gardens and joyful plants and seeds that are your own!

Nov 17, 2010
7:43 PM

Get the kids to choose their own green initiatives—they’ll probably surprise you with their imagination and zeal, not to mention the bonus of putting those sticky little hands to work in a meaningful way.

Nov 17, 2010
11:45 AM

Hi Lindsay

Just a reminder, Mountain Sky also makes a liquid citrus castile soap. Mountain Sky Soaps are made in BC in a family-owned business. Buying a local Canadian Soap is better than buying one from california where Dr. Bronner’s soap comes from.

Purchasing canadian products improves your local economy and reduces your carbon footprint.

Mountain Sky is sold in many health food stores across Canada.

Nov 17, 2010
8:44 AM

Eat less meat…most impactful thing you can do.

Nov 17, 2010
6:18 AM

Reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels and chemicals to care for your property. We’ve been 2 years now without any added fertilizer, gasoline, electricity, pesticides, or water. The key ingredient has been dutch white clover mixed into the lawn…this fixes nitrogen in the soil which fertilizes the standard turf grass (and the deeper roots don’t require extra water). Add a manual mower for added exercise, with the benefit of being able to cut the grass while the kids play near by (or while they sleep :-). When it’s in place, reward yourself with some butterfly perrenial plants in the front garden beds to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

We feel fortunate to have shared some video of our journey…it’s kid’s stuff!

Nov 17, 2010
5:32 AM

install a wood burning heater in ur house,or,purchase a pellet stove,or a corn stove!like us,we have solar panels,eight large batteries,wind generator,two wood burning heaters,propane cook stove,propane water heater,wringer washer,generator.we still use some electricity,for a light or two,fans,tv,computer.

Nov 16, 2010
10:18 PM

Footprint your everyday living space. Use pieces of vintage furniture, upholstry, wall fixtures. Basically every space could be used from reusing a sturdy outdoor planter for an umbrella holder to re-surface and or/upholstering existing furniture. My house is a footprint of all recycled items from hand me downs, garage sales, thrift stores and roadside pickup, with the exception of the TV and mattresses. People seem to be surprised at what you can achieve. It looks great, you maintain “the footprint” and at half the cost. ~ A nice large veggie/herb garden and barrels for rain water is also good!

Nov 16, 2010
7:45 PM

I loved the comment bellow by ‘sherri soukoroff’! Not only stuff we “need” is sold to us via TV but all artificial idea on how to live.

It’s amazing that in last 20 years bedroom communities are popping up with teens of thousands of people without neighborhood store, local dentist, bakery around the corner. To buy a loaf of bread one need to drive 5-10min to local shopping mall.

Same goes for big city centers — new condo project pops up with centrally located hallways, without natural light coming in but with ~20 150W halogen lights, with huge ventilation unit on the ruff top blowing in fresh air 24/7 and in the winter heating it up.

Government approves this and it is “natural” that businesses are trying to make as much money they can.

We can all list problems around us but not many have quick and effective solutions. With that said, long live dr. David Suzuki :-)

Nov 16, 2010
7:10 PM

Shut off the lights when you’re not using them.

Nov 16, 2010
6:57 PM

No need to hunt down any type of soap for cleaning, just use Norwex cloths and clean with pure water! See for more information. It’s a fantastic product which is reuseable and does not require any containers and does not contribute to pollution in our water system.

Nov 16, 2010
5:51 PM

I’m sorry but I personally feel it’s irresponsible to have a big family nowadays.

Nov 16, 2010
5:13 PM

dont waste any food. if people are leaving food on their plates, serve smaller sizes, clean out every contanier, ketchup, rince the empty bottle and put it in soup, speg sauce, casseroles, ect., same with mustard and all other canned or bottled food, a can of tomatos or sauce can be rinced with a little water and that water put in, again soup or a small narrow rubber scraper for bottles of jam ect.get every bit out. when baking do the same with mixing bowles ect.always think dont waste a crum or drop. after all you paid for every crum and drop of that food.

Nov 16, 2010
1:12 PM

It’s beautiful feeling to know that there are people out there that would like to leave a loving imprint on our mother earth. I pray for you and yours to suceed in finding solutions for our mother. Bless You!

Nov 16, 2010
12:48 PM

Reusable pads and the reusable silicone menstrual cup. This seems weird to a lot of people. But, many people use reusable diapers now, and I think that is very comparable. There are patterns on the net to make your own (pads), or they can be ordered over the net. I have been doing this for some time, and love never running out of supplies!

Nov 16, 2010
12:32 PM

Re: the local food.

And, I meant Superstore for Dr. Bronner’s in my previous comment.

Nov 16, 2010
12:12 PM

I highly recommend purchasing based on the packaging and the distance the products travel to get to the store. Farmer’s markets are good, buying items you can re-use the packaging, or bring your own packaging. This reduces the waste.

Nov 16, 2010
12:09 PM

I suggest that instead of putting everything in the dryer, get some inexpensive wire racks ( about $15 ) @ Canadian Tire) and start by drying some of your clothes by hanging it to dry

Nov 16, 2010
12:09 PM

Buy locally and ethically raised organic food and ask the farmer about their agricultural practices. By “organic” I mean raised without any chemicals, not nescessarily certified. I’ve seen certified “organic” farmers exhibit ideologies that disgusted me. Yes certification can work. However, those whose only ethic is their bottom line always push the envelope as far as possible and then say their practices are the “norm” and push the edges further. I read a quote from an “organic” “farmer” that he needed more insecticdes and fungicides because of his farming practices. Changing those practices so he would not need chemicals never once entered his head.

Nov 16, 2010
12:03 PM

Superstore — if the one in St. Albert doesn’t have it, the one on 137th Ave will. They have a whole natural products section.

Nov 16, 2010
11:56 AM


Nov 16, 2010
11:51 AM

Turn off your TV. First step in ending consumersim.

Nov 16, 2010
11:43 AM

I was amased at how much electricity is used by keeping things pluged in when not in use. I now unplug all that I can, and have saved 1/4 of my electric costs.

Nov 16, 2010
11:41 AM

Compost. Its easy and would significantly reduce their garbage. The city of Edmonton has a great composter/ recycler education program to help get them started

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