3ThoughtThursday – Green trees, net-zero water, Brockton economic development

Updated: Nov 19

This time of year has me wondering about the environmental impact of a particular holiday tradition, so I’ve gathered a few things for us to consider.

1) Let’s talk about Christmas trees. The great debate continues: coloured lights or white lights? Nostalgic handmade ornaments (some with popsicle sticks and yarn) or matching balls and crisp ribbon? A real tree from a farm or a lot, or a pre-lit artificial tree that may last many years?


I’m not about to settle the debate on coloured vs. white lights (but we all know that coloured lights are the real deal); however, I do want to talk about trees.


A contact of mine, Kevin Vallier, is the Executive Director of Farm Fresh Ontario. This organization has a simple mandate: to promote Ontario farm products. With this in mind, I wasn’t surprised when I saw a post about considering your local Christmas tree farm.


In the case of my family, we add the tradition of the tedious process of stringing lights around a spikey tree and hopefully achieving some sort of reasonable attractive result. Our tradition is a lot like “Are the lights straight? Does this look okay? Can someone turn down the Mariah Carey Christmas album so I can hear myself think?”. I digress.

(Credit: farmfreshontario.com)

Back to Farm Fresh Ontario. On their website you’ll find an interactive mapping tool of their members, to find a farm in your region. And, you guessed it, you can search Christmas tree farms.


Having said this, there is quite the gap when it comes to the Clean Energy Frontier region of Bruce, Grey, Huron. Although we don’t see the local vendors on this tool yet, there are a few local vendors listed online with the right google search.


Back to the question—is cutting down a tree each year the right way to go? Or, is the investment in a plastic pre-lit tree that will last many years more environmentally friendly?


A CBC article from 2018 highlights studies on this topic, saying: “Both studies found that a real tree generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions per Christmas than an artificial one, but that changes if you keep your artificial tree for longer, since the emissions are divided over many years. To minimize the carbon impact, the studies say you should keep the same artificial tree for at least eight years, and preferably more than 20.”


A few more considerations from the CBC piece:

  • If you get a real tree, buy one that is locally grown and don't drive far to get it. Both studies suggested those transportation emissions make a big difference.

  • If you get an artificial tree, make it last. Buy used, if possible, and keep it for as long as you can.

  • When you're done with your tree, dispose of it responsibly. Donate your artificial tree to a new home. Get your real tree turned into mulch. (Many cities do this.)

And, some nurseries offer a rental program for a potted tree. Now we’re talking! Potted trees are also greener solution and if you’ve got the space, you can start to plan your outdoor Christmas trees for years to come, with coloured lights of course.


For more information on Ontario Christmas trees, visit their website.


2) If you’re familiar with Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), you may assume this organization only operates our water/wastewater facilities. That was my assumption until I met a gentleman named Indra Maharjan, who works to foster innovative solutions in the water space, and drive efficiency, optimization and resiliency with OCWA.

Indra connected with me through Twitter (it’s astonishing how many brilliant people I’ve met though this social media platform), connecting to posts relating to municipal innovation.


As former Chair of the Municipal Innovation Council in Bruce County, I am extremely passionate about collaborating to be better—pooling knowledge, expertise and resources to find efficiencies and provide better service. Turns out, Indra has a similar passion.


We talked about water/wastewater systems and how clean energy can be produced by new resource recovery technologies deployed in municipal infrastructure. He shared with me the story of Toronto Western Hospital and their new found ability to heat/cool their facility with power produced by their wastewater system (yep—you read that right). Read about this project on GlobeNewswire.


Indra was generous with his time, telling Becky Smith, Director for the Centre for Municipal Innovation and myself about applications and demonstration projects at various sites across the province.


We talked about organics to energy, our neighbouring communities and their biodigester project, municipal sanitary systems and the bizarre realization that we flush our toilets with potable water (we pay to treat the water that sits in the back of our toilets). We talked about water education, blue roofs, rainwater harvesting and other avenues to work toward net zero.

When we speak about net zero, we often assume net-zero carbon, net zero energy, but what about net-zero water? The conversation has unlocked a new perspective for me.

You can find OCWA on Twitter @OCWAnews and Indra @indramaharjan.


3) I had the pleasure of sharing an overview of the Clean Energy Frontier program with the Brockton Economic Development Committee earlier in the week.


We discussed the partnership which brings this program to life, the evolution and mandate of the program and shared a snapshot of what I’m working on and how it can help Brockton. It’s truly an exciting time for the tri-county region of Bruce, Grey, Huron and I may just have the best job, ever.

Reader, if you’re serving on an economic development committee with a local municipality, or maybe a member of a business association and want to learn more about the Clean Energy Frontier program, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

I’d love to bring an overview presentation to your group and learn from local leaders. Email me at Jessica.Linthorne@nii.ca.

Jessica Linthorne is the Director of the Clean Energy Frontier.