Monday, January 21, 2008

Canadian Innovation

It's clear that the status quo isn't working. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the climate continues to react (rather violently and unpredictably) and our politicians continue to squabble over what should be done. But then as Albert Einstein so clearly advised us all those years ago, it's impossible to solve a problem from inside the paradigm that created it.

We need to think differently. Here are two very innovative and distinctly different Canadian ideas that are doing just that. Both of them raise the bar considerably, meet old Uncle Al's requirement for out-of-the-paradigm thinking and qualify for my own "Gee, I wish I’d Thought of That" Award.

The first idea comes from two recent grad students who by their own definition are, "working hard to influence as many individuals as possible into living more efficient lifestyles." Their organization, Green Students, combines environmental education with school fundraising to deliver a program that is unique, practical and fun.

Forget about those unhealthy chocolate bars! Green Students provides Canadian schools with an opportunity to raise money through the sale of products that help fight climate change by promoting energy conservation. According to Green Students, all of the items are "useful, healthy, green and help to inspire greater change from everyday Canadians." These include a selection of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), Nellie's Dryerballs (which reduce drying time by 25 percent and eliminate the need for chemical fabric softeners) and Change the World for Ten Bucks (the book that I raved about in this column a couple of weeks ago). Green Students also sells Klean Kanteens (ultra lightweight stainless steel water bottles), a safe alternative to Nalgeen containers.

Unlike many other fundraising programs, which overprice items to cover the percentage paid to schools, Green Students' products are sold below suggested retail, which makes them both affordable and attractive. Schools place their orders in advance, so there are no carrying costs up front, or cartons of chocolate bars left over at the end. Commission cheques are delivered to the schools at the same time that the items are delivered. For example, schools receive a minimum of $1 for each light bulb sold and $4 for each Klean Kanteen or dryer ball order. Green Students also provides marketing material, lessons plans and activities designed to reinforce the concepts of the program. Schools and other organizations have the option of selling the products at public events such as eco-fairs. The program is currently available to any interested group in Canada.

The Green Students' website boasts that this unique program has already prevented 1,262,750 kilograms of CO2 from entering the atmosphere (and counting...).

The next great idea comes from the ZENN Car Company. The ZENN, which stands for "Zero Emissions, No Noise", is a remarkably all-electric car that is produced in St. Jerome, Quebec and marketed through the company's head office in Toronto, Ontario. Classified as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) the ZENN has a range of up to 50 kilometers and is limited to a top speed of 40 km/hr.

The front-wheel drive ZENN is built on an aluminum alloy frame and comes as a fully enclosed 3-door hatchback with 13 cubic feet of storage space. The car is available in three colors and includes such available features as wipers, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, a heater, panoramic sunroof and more.

What makes the ZENN so universal is that it can be recharged anywhere by simply plugging it into a standard electrical outlet. Recharge time is as little as four hours (for up to 80 percent capacity) with a complete recharge taking eight hours. Given its all-electric motor, the ZENN eliminates such added operational costs such as oil and filter changes; exhaust system repairs and tune-ups that are unavoidable with internal combustion engines. According to the manufacturer, brake wear is also greatly reduced thanks to ZENN's lower driving speed and regenerative breaking system.

The tiny perfect little car retails for approximately $12,000 in the US, where it has been widely available for sale. Transport Canada only approved the ZENN for sale in Canada late last year and it is now up to each province to determine where the low-speed urban car can be licensed for road use.


To find out more about Green Students, visit

The ZENN website is loaded with great information, and videos (check out the one from the Rick Mercer’s report) and other information about this leading edge vehicle. For more information, go to


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