Alberta Grassroots: YEG Lessons in Sustainability
Created by long-time Edmonton film-maker Theresa Wynnyk and the Company of Women on the Screen (COWS), “Sustainable Me” is a YEG-centred video series that explores the paths Edmontonians are making and taking towards the long-term health of the community. The host, Paula Humby, guides us through the series, investigating sustainable activities in and around the city.
When approaching advocacy and awareness work, especially in ‘green’ fields, it is important to remember that our primary tool is education. The big difficulty we often encounter in educating others is how visible and complex the issues we are attempting to address are. Certain issues, like litter or oil spills, are easier to deal with because they are more visible. To deny them is to deny one's eyes. But issues like climate change and sustainability are not so easy to point to.
Sustainable Me handles this challenge with ease. The tone of the series is accessibility. It is able to do this without sacrificing depth because of the way it is structured – each episode focuses on a basic need such as food or shelter and shows local efforts in that area. Sustainable Me is also able to achieve this by dividing its focus into three categories:
Focus on Benefits
Sustainable Me has a deep sensitivity for what motivates people to live more sustainably and what doesn’t. The words 'crisis' and 'catastrophe' don't appear in the series, nor are the well-known potential consequences of unsustainable lifestyles mentioned. Talking constantly about the catastrophic outcomes that can occur if one doesn't change often can just come off as a threat, intentionally or not. Instead, Humby shows us how sustainable choices can add balance, community, and even excitement to our lives through interviews with residential beekeepers, student gardeners, and local producer shoppers. As the many YEG residents interested in sustainability demonstrate, there are all kinds of advantages to aligning with natural patterns.
Focus on Options
Take the idea of ‘sustainability.’ Most people have a basic understanding of what it is. However, while many may know the definition of sustainability, most don’t know what it actually looks like in practice. The issue with the concept of sustainability is not so much the 'what' but the 'how'. So what are some actual examples of sustainability? Humby shows us many. She takes us to farms that are recycling food for chicken feed and to the acreage of Kurt Ewanchuck, which has been landscaped so that the actual shape of the land has synergy with the water cycle. This serves to prevent erosion and benefits the vegetation, which can in turn be harvested. Humby also takes us to places where the sustainable activity is more mechanized. She shows us the Edmonton's E.L. Smith water treatment plant and the 'tiny homes' of YEG residents, who have engineered their houses for energy and space efficiency. Perhaps the greatest virtue of the series is that it proves there are many paths to the same destination.
Focus on Community
With each episode, we get the chance to meet Edmontonians from different parts of the city who are connected more so by their actions than their geography. These otherwise isolated communities connect through group action. Sustainable Me never settles with merely giving the viewer tools but shows time and time again the possibilities that these environmental activities have to create and sustain bonds between neighbours, peers, and businesses. We are exposed to so many voices, ones that cover such a breadth of the Edmonton area. YEG starts to appear more as a web than a collection of buildings and streets. Community is ultimately the strongest tool towards a long and strong life-span for any area. Sustainable Me presents 'sustainability' through the community efforts that are best exhibiting it. The series shows that sustainability is how you connect to the web you exist in and, so long as you are within it, how positive action is possible.