January 05, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Getting Greener 

The Centre for Sustainability is helping Whistler find its way to better, cheaper, greener living.

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The poster child for a sustainable restaurant in Whistler is the year-old Alta Bistro, started by Ed Dangerfield and Eric Griffith. "In our homes we were recycling and choosing ethical food sources, and then we'd go to work and see ourselves surrounded by waste: no composting no recycling, basically people eating foods that we wouldn't be happy to eat ourselves. So we decided to bridge this gap," says Dangerfield in an online video describing their effort. The bistro has pine-beetle-killed wooden table tops, uses rechargeable battery-powered candles for romantic lighting, sources local and organic foods, filters Whistler water on site (the Rim Rock is following suit), and cans its own veggies in the autumn — not just for the food points, but because it lets them keep staff on salary during the slow period before winter. Much of this, says Dangerfield, is actually cheaper for him than the non-sustainable alternatives.

Alta Bistro participated in the iShift program more as a teacher than as student, laughs Gordon. "I thought the program was great — it really brought a lot of restaurants together to learn from each other," says Dangerfield. Other participants had more to think about. The Edgewater Lodge, for example, got connected with a small business in Squamish that turns old cooking oil into car fuel, and spent some time weighing up the pros and cons of down versus synthetic comforters (they went with synthetic, in the end, as they use less energy to wash and dry). And Whistler Dental wondered how it could reduce its chemical waste (like the amalgams used in fillings). Of course the Centre doesn't have expertise in everything. But its job isn't to come up with answers for these businesses: it's to hold their hands while they come up with the answers for themselves. "They always had good suggestions," says Kylie Adams, manager of Edgewater Lodge. "The Centre has been handy as a resource."

Part of the Centre's tool bag for inspiring such work is to bring inspirational speakers into town, to fire people up and get them willing to change. In February 2010, the Centre held two TEDx events — local, self-run offshoots of the now-famous TED talks, an online collection of inspiring speakers on practically every topic. The Whistler events included speakers like Burnaby-based conservationist Mark Angelo, who founded World River Day; Valerie Langer, who was one of the founding members of the Clayoquot Rainforest Coalition; Bruce Poon Tip, who founded the sustainable adventure tourism company G Adventures; and the internationally-famous Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis, who has studied and written about tribal peoples everywhere from Togo to Nunavut.

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