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Environmentalism in the Forest City

Snowy landscape of Sifton Bog
Image Credit: Angela Mcinnes

They don’t call it the “Forest City” for nothing.

London is teeming with natural beauty, from the Thames River to the Coves Trails, and there are various environmental organizations that are striving to make London a leader in environmental initiatives.

Let’s take a walk through London’s environmental community and find out how you can get involved in some of the programs trying to make a difference.

Local environmental organizations

The London Environmental Network (LEN) is one of the city’s biggest collections of climate change activists and organizations. It officially launched in 2015, as a program supported by Thames Talbot Land Trust and Reforest London. The network supports local environmental organizations with resources, outreach and collaboration opportunities. It became incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2018.

LEN puts reconciliation with London’s Indigenous communities at the top of their priority list. They understand that prior to colonization, the area we call “London” was once Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, and Eelünaapéewii Lahkéewiit land. Using this framework, LEN puts a heavy focus on protecting London’s Thames River (also known as Antler River), and building a community that works in tandem with the land.

That brings us to another one of London’s amazing environmental organizations, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA). UTRCA was the sixth conservation authority created in Ontario after the passing of the Conservation Authorities Act in 1946. Their mission statement is simple: “Inspiring a healthy environment.”

According to the UTRCA, the Thames River is home to over 90 species, some of which are listed as Species At Risk. Because of this, the UTRCA handles water management, soil conservation, and protecting drinking water sources, among many other services. Apart from employing over 150 workers, the UTRCA involves community members with volunteer and donation opportunities. You can donate money to help rehabilitate a local stream, or sponsor a school trip to the river to help teach the next generation about water protection.

One of the biggest challenges facing climate activists right now is how to get businesses involved in the environmental movement. Sometimes the most sustainable choice isn’t the cheapest choice, and most businesses are more likely to protect their bottom line than protect the environment. But one organization in London is helping incentivise businesses to take real action against climate change.

Green Economy London, along with many local partners, helps to educate and inform businesses on how reducing emissions can actually improve the bottom line. A network of consultants helps provide guidance to businesses looking to more sustainable options, and an annual evening of recognition awards those that have made real progress in sustainability.

Organizations like Green Economy London show that environmentalism isn’t all about planting trees and cleaning streams, but also a welcome practice for London’s many businesses.

Sustainable businesses in London

Everywhere you look, there are businesses taking real action to do better in the Forest City. Some make resources readily available; like the library, which now has an Environmentalist in Residence who is always available to answer questions and educate Londoners. Some are taking things to a whole new level and are committed to eliminating waste entirely.

Reimagine Co started as a three-month pop-up shop in downtown London, offering a small selection of zero waste products like reusable straws and food containers. Founders Kara Rijnen and Heenal Rajani believed that everyone should be able to live without single use plastic. On top of their many products, Reimagine Co also offers a variety of workshops to help educate the community on living waste-free.

A true success story, Reimagine Co has now looked to expand their offerings. They began crowd funding in 2020 for a fully plant-based and zero waste grocery store. They began with a goal of $50,000, and ended up making over $85,000 from 856 donors. Reimagine Groceries opened in November, 2020.

London is also home to a wide variety of thrift stores, which make a great option for reusing clothing and avoiding waste. Shops like Filthy Rebena, Young Hudson Vintage, and Luster & Oak are committed to ending fast fashion and helping clothes find new homes instead of ending up in a landfill.

Many local restaurants have also taken steps to reduce waste and promote sustainability. Plant Matter Kitchen is one of London’s most popular choices for vegan eats. A vegan diet is one of the easiest ways to cut back your carbon footprint, as meat and dairy industries are major contributors to the world’s greenhouse gases and water consumption.

Meanwhile, the Root Cellar in London’s east end is committed to sourcing their ingredients from local farmers and vendors. Shopping local is another important factor in sustainability, since it requires less transportation and supports smaller-scale, ecological farming practices.

There is still lots of work to be done before London becomes a leader in climate action (London is still the only major municipality in Ontario without a green bin program), but the steps that local environmentalists have taken have had a major impact on protecting the Forest City. There is a diverse network of climate activists in London who are working with local businesses to propel this city into the forefront of the environmental conversation. In the meantime, reach out to your local environmental networks, shop local, and reduce waste so we can all continue to benefit from the natural ecosystem that London provides.