Elora Environment Centre turns 30
A history of grass roots impact and innovation
The Elora Centre for Environmental Excellence began in 1993 to identify, field test and deliver innovative environmental programs to the community. It has promoted sustainability through public education and other activities that effect change. Founded by a group of like-minded environmentalists, the Centre was the community’s first environmental organization.
Now known as the Elora Environment Centre, this registered charity is a leader in community-based environmental projects in urban and rural areas. It has a 30-year history of delivering high impact, innovative environmental programs, always fueled by a grass roots, community-based approach.
We are the little engine that could…push for change, grateful for everyone who has walked through our doors with unique ideas. Here are some of our highlights over the years.
Neighbourwoods on the Grand
In response to citizen concerns about the state of our trees in Centre Wellington, this lively urban forestry program was created in 2005. It included:
Tree Kits (2005): Produced and distributed for local elementary schools, with curriculum-based materials about trees and the environment.
Schoolyard Shade Workshop (2007): In collaboration with the public health department, we convinced the public school board to support schoolyard greening at three pilot schools.
Celebration Trees (2009-2020): In collaboration with the Centre Wellington Parks Department, we leveraged community donations to plant shade trees, with plaques personalized with a name supplied by the donor, in our community parks.
Tree Inventory (2009 to 2024): In partnership with the University of Toronto, the Township of Centre Wellington and dozens of volunteers, we measured and evaluated trees on public property to determine our urban forest’s health and diversity. As of 2022, we had over 10,000 trees in the inventory. The project also created over 30 summer jobs for local students.
Citizen Pruners (2016-2024): In partnership with local, certified arborists and the Township of Centre Wellington, we trained citizens to prune young trees.
Tree Trust (2019-2024): After noticing how many mature trees are in need of care, we launched Tree Trust in Centre Wellington to keep our biggest and best trees healthy. We solicit donations to hire local, certified arborists to care for these trees. Since 2020, seven new Tree Trust chapters in southern Ontario communities have adopted our model to take care of their own trees.
- Tree Plants (annual): Most years, Tree Trust plants and mulches young trees in our community. Unlike big scale tree plants, our modest plants ensure that we can revisit every tree to mulch and care for it.
- Nature Restoration Project: In the fall of 2023, Tree Trust started removing invasive buckthorn shrubs (some of which are small trees!) along the Elora Cataract Trailway. We will start replacing them with a variety of native trees and shrubs in the spring of 2024. We hope to cover the entire trail eventually.
- Advocate with Council: Tree Trust appears before city council periodically to advocate for trees and their protection. This year, council passed a public tree protection bylaw in Centre Wellington. We are also making gradual progress on the challenging task of protecting privately owned trees.
- Public Education: Tree Trust works hard to educate the community on the importance of a healthy urban forest. Tree Walks are held two to four times a year, featuring knowledgeable guides who cover a range of tree-related topics. Summer students attach price tags on select trees in town, highlighting their ecological and monetary value. In partnership with the Elora Arts Centre, we ran an art exhibit highlighting the connection between trees and mental health. Thanks to good media support, the work of Tree Trust is often highlighted in the local paper and featured on the radio. We publish periodic newsletters and updates on our social media channels. We also staff a booth at the farmers market from time to time.
- Tree of the Year: In 2023, Tree Trust challenged residents to nominate the community’s outstanding tree. We received over 30 nominations, culminating in the celebration of a remarkable 150-year-old Black Walnut.
Green Home Visit and Energy Audits
In partnership with the Government of Canada, Green Home Visits helped homeowners cut their energy consumption. Over 12 years, teams of two skilled advisors visited over 40,000 homes in Southern Ontario. At the height of Green Home Visits, we employed 8 office and 15 field staff. Our service area covered Tobermory to Windsor and Niagara to Mississauga. Advisors were local community professionals trained by senior advisor Don Eaton.
Seven local groups were funded to deliver Green Home Visit. Teams of two conducted energy audits for over 40,000 homes in Southern Ontario. The goal was to reduce energy use with the ultimate goal of net-zero We also encouraged others in the community to set the same target. An unexpected benefit of the Environment Centre was creating jobs and launching the careers of many successful environmental professionals.
EnerGuide for Houses & ecoENERGY Retrofit Homes (2007-2010)
Long before government grants were available, our “house doctors” performed residential energy evaluations. When the federal government began promoting home energy efficiency, we were part of that too. In 1998, we piloted the EnerGuide for Houses program, which had various iterations and different names. We also piloted the first Canadian home energy labelling program, which indicates the energy efficiency of a home — a useful measure for buyers who are comparison shopping. We performed energy evaluations on over 30,000 homes, eliminating more than 10,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. From 2007 to 2010, our clients received over $10 million in grants to increase the energy efficiency of their homes. We retired this business when it became clear that the private sector was ready to handle it.
Green Retail (2009-2010): We conducted 225 walk-through audits for small businesses across southwestern Ontario between May 2009 and January 2010. This included practical advice on how business owners can lower energy consumption and increase savings. We achieved over $50,441 in cumulative energy savings and saved over 200 tonnes of C02. This figure had the potential to reach 1,250 tonnes once business owners followed through on recommendations.
Youth Energy Project (2009): High school students conducted a solar power demo in the main public area of the school so all could see the energy generated. A presentation to the entire student body explained energy conservation and alternative electrical energy sources. The project also put theory into practice, with some students receiving an intense session on home electrical monitoring and conservation. These students also took home a kit to identify energy savings opportunities.
ecoDriver (2009): Centred in Halton Region, this program educated drivers about proper vehicle maintenance, correct tire pressure and other habits that reduce gas usage and emissions. The project reached 200 drivers, one-on-one, at a clinic held at a Burlington Canadian Tire. As well, ten businesses participated in a lunch and learn session.
Well Aware (2002): We provided citizens with a guided self-assessment and educated them on private water wells. The project promoted behaviour changes so that residents could safeguard their wellhead and those of their downstream neighbours who share the aquifer. As well as reaching 800 rural families, Well Aware led public forums in several communities, with expert guest speakers. We also organized workshops to share information and ensure common messaging around well safety.
UpStream (2003): This integrated learning experience helped K-8 students understand the Grand River. Classroom visits by volunteer environmentalists, artists and historians gave students a clearer picture of the river ecosystem and how to preserve it.
Well Wise (2007): Based on the children’s book Aqua’s Water Well Adventures, by Dr. Mary Jane Conboy of the Well Wise Resource Centre, this interactive program educated children in grades 1-4 on water stewardship. Well Wise included a groundwater model demonstration with exercises on water in different forms (liquid, solid, vapour). Interactive arts and crafts segments encouraged children to depict their favourite part of the water cycle.
Rain Barrels (2003): We sold 295 rain barrels to residents of Wellington County, exceeding our initial goal of 200. During the summer months, 50 per cent of the water used went to watering lawns and gardens. Five dollars for each barrel sold was donated to support the Association for Community Living in Fergus.
OTHER PROJECTS WE’RE PROUD OF
Green Garden Visits (2002): Our organic gardening expert visited 25 homeowners in Fergus and Elora to advise on reducing pesticide use, conserving water, planting wildlife-friendly gardens and more. We distributed Green Garden Information Kits to homeowners. Environment Canada estimates that up to 50 percent of the chemicals we use in our yards can wash into local waterways. This is unhealthy for our lakes, rivers and groundwater, and it’s a lot of money down the drain!
Nature Explorer’s Day Camp (2002-2003): This camp was created with the understanding that a green future lies in environmentally aware and inspired children. Operating in Fergus and Elora for children ages 6-10, the camp hosted 60 children in 2002 and 55 in 2003.
Burn It Smart (January-February 2003): We hosted 24 free Burn It Smart workshops for the public and industry professionals in Fergus, Guelph, Kitchener, Paris, London, Hanover, Wingham, Kincardine, Port Elgin, Cambridge, Clinton and Tillsonburg. Over 1,000 people learned how to burn wood in a more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly way. Smart wood-burning means less carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and all kinds of volatile organic compounds in the air we breathe.
Active & Safe Routes to School (2003): In Guelph and Waterloo Region, 48 schools hosted Walking Wednesdays, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 6 tonnes. Over 9,000 students reduced emissions by over half a tonne when they joined millions of their peers from around the world on International Walk to School Day. Over 200 anti-idling education packages were distributed, with over 100 parents making anti-idling pledges. Idling vehicles produce twice the pollution of moving cars!
When the rubber first met the road
In the true spirit of low-carbon footprint, the bicycle figured in many services offered by the Elora Environment Centre, including:
- food delivery (long before Uber Eats!)
- energy advisor home visits
- a bike repair service
- bike rentals