Keeping Calgary sustainable means keeping our small businesses alive

SteepsArticle by: Marta

Calgary is a forever growing city where some small businesses struggle to stay afloat with rising overhead costs.

Steeps, a teahouse, was a local business that attempted to become a local mainstay, but struggled with the rising costs of doing business in Calgary. Steeps served baked goods, homemade meals, and a great deal of tea to the folks downtown on the Mount Royal strip just off of 17th ave and 8th street. Unfortunately Steeps closed its doors early last year.

I sat down with the manager of Oolong, Chelsey McRedmond, to talk about what caused the closure and gain her insights on what could have been done differently to save her local business, offering lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs in our city.

Steeps1Oolong purchased Steeps in the summer of 2009 and kept the name and décor the same as before purchase. When asked about the ambiance within Steeps, McRedmond responds, “There were a lot of contributing factors to the Steeps vibe including the tea itself ( Camillia sinensus) which tends to create a very relaxed atmosphere and ambiance, food, décor, music, and last but absolutely not least the people”.

When asked why Steeps shut down, I didn’t get a quick answer from McRedmond but the jist of it was “We [the owners and staff] could no longer sustain ourselves.”.

Oolong opened another location in McKenzie towne on top of purchasing Steeps. When things slowed down economically and other tea franchises and corporations began popping up around the city, business slowed down immensely.

“The choice had to be made: lose all three tea shops, or close two and keep one, the original Oolong Tea House in Kensington location. We were faced with this difficult decision in 2013 and that summer Steeps and Oolong McKenzie towne closed their doors for good,” McRedmond says.

Businesses cannot thrive without customers. If the community wants places like Steeps to stay open, we need to support them as integral parts of our local economy. Many of us say that we want out precious tea shops and coffee shops and record stores to stay open but many of us buy our records online and buy our groceries at Safeway. Local markets can be pricey but they try to provide us with healthy alternatives. It doesn’t hurt to pay a little extra so that we don’t see another one of our local hubs get destroyed. The bottom line is that businesses need to make money to stay open so make sure that you are supporting the businesses you love so much so that they can stay open.



New Mexico Earthship Internship

By Marta


A look at custom tile work within the Solaria Earthship

This November, I had the opportunity to travel to New Mexico and study with the Earthships crew.

The internship was a month long opportunity to learn more about the potential for a sustainable lifestyle while living within the thermal mass walls of an Earthship. I was alongside about thirty other interns learning about concepts like thermal mass and passive solar heating with everything from the Water Organizing Module which allows water to travel to planters within the house called “botanical cells” to the cisterns that catch rainfall.

Michael Reynolds and his team of garbage warriors are challenging conventional systems to provide a lifestyle alternative that serves the people living on this planet. Reynolds’ philosophy is based on respecting the earth and its natural systems with his idea of Radically Sustainable Buildings.

In the first week of the internship, I quickly learned that the foundational theory to the earthship is that central utility systems such as power plants or water facilities are unreliable and lock us in to a rigid dependency on an outside provider (such as a municipal government). Decentralized utilities or homes that produce their own utilities save individual homeowners money and reduce the costs on the communities they live in.

Earthships are “self-sufficient living units that are their own systems.” These homes are built from old rubber tires, currently abundant in landfills, and other recycled materials, such as bottles and cans.


Inside the Phoenix Earthship you get a glimpse of a greenhouse and pond within a home

Working with the Earthships crew as an intern you can expect to get dirty as the leaders of the building sites give you access to all aspects of building, from plastering and glass cutting to tire pounding and framing. Their guided tours explain all of the inner workings and functions of the Earthship, which proves time and again to be a workable substitute to the orthodox home. And they show you just how beautiful these homes become with all of the basic amenities of your basic home plus custom building throughout including custom bottle walls, tile work, cob walls and more.

The Earthship home integrates a great deal of creativity and imagination, and can include such features as lush greenhouses within the home and even ponds. Taking part in an earthships internship can be a transformative experience on the journey toward meaningful work – and it gives you a chance to meet the guru behind the project himself, Michael Reynolds!

 Learn more

  1. If you’re fascinated by the ideology behind the project, as I was, watch the Garbage Warriors documentary posted on youtube.
  2. Check out some of Reynolds’ Earthship books that take you through the process of building your own earthship
  3. Apply for an internship at
  4. Michael Reynolds will be hosting a workshop in Calgary on July 19, 2014. Find out more here:

Matt Dorma: Improving communities through green events

Article by: Marta

Passionate about his community, Matt Dorma is making sure our city is headed towards sustainable growth

Passionate about his community, Matt Dorma is making sure our city is headed towards sustainable growth

Everybody likes a party, but it takes a great deal of planning and foresight, and throwing that party can quickly turn into a daunting task. Worrying about the environmental impact of that party could be even more daunting. So how do we host events that not only lessen environmental and social impacts but also improve the communities we live in?

Co-founder and director of DIG (Do it Green), Matt Dorma is eager to share his expertise. By “greening” events, DIG sets up proper waste stations that include recycling and composting. They help organizers make their events bottle free, set up water stations, reduce energy use, offset carbon, equip sites with compostable toilets and even offer bicycle valet services.

Above and beyond the waste reduction and ecological benefits we receive from DIG, is the education we get from the experts behind the project. Waste stations have helpful attendants that coach people on proper disposal of garbage and the principles of zero-waste. This is key to boosting morale and getting people to understand the importance of waste management.

Dorma, facilitating waste reduction with compost and recycle bins, and educating in the meantime

Dorma, facilitating waste reduction with compost and recycle bins, and educating in the meantime

If you’ve ever returned a plastic plate at the Calgary Music Folk Festival, you’ve made the most of a service provided by the Eco-Initiatives program. Dorma says the inspiration for DIG started with Eco-Initiatives and evolved into a business with the help of co-founders Leor Rotchild and Chris Dunlap. All three were active in establishing the Calgary Folk Festival’s Eco-Initiatives program as a leading example for festivals in Calgary and beyond.

Dorma says he’d like to see consideration of energy and water use, and waste reduction become the norm when planning events in Calgary and says “environmental education should be fun, and you have the most success with it when you’re positive.”

We happened to meet on Municipal Election day in Calgary and Dorma believes voting the right candidates into office is a “good starting point” for guiding Calgary’s sustainable growth. He hopes sustainability becomes the heart of the decision making process in Calgary and a way of life for Calgarians, embedding a culture of zero-waste and environmental stewardship. He says that with the support of organizations like Green Calgary, Imagine Calgary and the City of Calgary, which has targets to have 80% of Calgary’s waste diverted by 2020, we are steadily heading towards becoming a more sustainable city.

When he’s not focused on DIG, Dorma still coordinates with Eco-Initiatives at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, engages community with Open Streets Calgary and works with the City of Calgary to develop water conservation programs and other environmental initiatives. He prides his partners at DIG and his life partner, Erin as his mentors and key motivators of his career.

Whether it’s teaching people how to evolve towards progressive waste management and water conservation or providing alternatives for your paper plates, Matt’s got you covered. His advice to anyone pursuing an environmental or entrepreneurial career is to “let the journey unfold and embrace a non-linear path towards success”. It’s plain to see that Matt Dorma’s non-linear path in strategic environmental planning will most likely result in some much-needed sustainable headway for the growth of our city.

Mohamed Hage


Growing abundance on Montreal rooftops

Article by: Marta 

Passionate about growing food and hydroponics, Mohamed Hage is revolutionizing the agriculture industry with his rooftop greenhouses.

Passionate about growing food and hydroponics, Mohamed Hage is revolutionizing the agriculture industry with his rooftop greenhouses.

Scattered throughout the city of Montreal are pick-up points, where Montrealers have access to rare varieties of vegetables that you won’t find at your local grocery store. They are fresh, have never seen a refrigerator, and were grown right in the heart of Montreal. These veggies have been grown through the mechanisms of hydroponic technology on rooftop greenhouses, thanks to a new company called Lufa Farms.

Eyes beaming, founder and president Mohamed Hage explains the inner workings of the farm and how it can bring people closer to their food and promote a sustainable lifestyle for those living in cities. It uses no new land, and harnesses heat energy usually lost through the rooftops of existing buildings as well as heat energy from the sun. It harvests rainwater and circulates nutrient-rich water within the greenhouse. There’s no waste, close to no fossil fuel inputs, a lot less packaging than conventional methods, and no synthetic pesticides are used in the process.

It’s no surprise that in 2011, after the grand opening of the world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse, universities and people from a diversity of communities wanted to check out the agricultural transformation happening within Montreal. Lufa Farms now offers open house tours to those interested in the farm, giving consumers a direct link to their food.

Mohamed is revolutionizing the agricultural industry, reworking the system, and giving his clientele a chance to be involved in the process. Originally from Lebanon, he says his inspiration stems from the already self-sustaining village he grew up in, where growing sustainably and responsibly is “nothing new.” But, he sees farmers slowly getting roped into the same pesticide-promoting monoculture farming practices we’ve seen happen to our farms here in Canada and what’s more he says, “they’re not able to make a decent living.”

Rainbow Chard grown with hydroponics in Lufa's rooftop greenhouse

Rainbow Chard grown with hydroponics in Lufa’s rooftop greenhouse

Hearing Canadian and Lebanese farmers’ difficulties with today’s agricultural practices catapulted Hage into what seems to be his innate talent for coming up with sound and efficient ways of addressing our global agricultural hurdles. “There are solutions, and people want change,” says Hage. He sees Canada being a global leader in shaping “Earth 2.0,” where we tackle environmental and social issues in a responsible way and set an example for the rest of the world.

A self-proclaimed “lover of technology,” Mohamed has the credentials and knowledge to back up his passions. Having studied electrical engineering at Carleton University in Ottawa, he says he’s always been interested in hydroponics and a plethora of environmental technologies. In his spare time, Hage can be found building solar panels or learning how to generate electricity from water.

Clearly a workaholic, Mohamed laughs saying “he feels bad when he goes on vacation” and, always humble, gives credit to his entire team, stating that he “surrounds himself with the best people,” describing his co-founders Lauren and Kirk as his mentors.

A leader in the green movement and the epitome of meaningful work, Mohamed Hage is facilitating change and paving the way for sustainable and responsible agriculture everywhere, starting right here in Canada.