Courtesy M. Faucher
So you’ve changed your light bulbs, lowered your thermostat and signed a few petitions—all great steps toward protecting the planet. But if you’re itching for a more meaningful and direct way to make change, consider volunteering for a green cause. Here are some of our favourite opportunities to pitch in—whether you’re looking to give your time and talents once a day or once a year.
Lead a tour
Got a great green building, renewable-energy project or natural space in your town? Learn more about it, then share your expertise with others by volunteering as a tour guide. “In the fall of 2008, as part of Green Skyline, I led one-hour tours of the Olympic Village, which includes a low-carbon energy system, rainwater reuse, sustainable storm-water management and green roofs,” says urban designer Dave Ramslie of Vancouver. “It was great to be able to interact with other people interested in sustainable development and see it through their eyes.”
Time commitment: Minimum 3 hours.
Get more info: Visit cascadiagbc.org and click on “Cascadia Programs” then “Green Skyline” (B.C.). Similar opportunities exist in most cities.
Keep an eye on your own backyard
Help scientists study climate change and biodiversity by collecting data—right in your own community, on your own time—through the NatureWatch program. Using scientific protocols designed to be easy for non-scientists, you can help to: identify freeze/thaw cycles of water bodies (IceWatch); listen for frog and toad calls (FrogWatch); record bloom dates for wildflowers (PlantWatch); and even look for worms (WormWatch).
Use your computer
You can lend a hand in a small way every time you hit your computer’s ON button. For example, use a search engine with a conscience like Google’s Blackle, which saves energy with its predominant use of the colour black. Or play a free green game that automatically buys carbon offsets. You can also take part in “distributed computing,” where the spare processing power of your computer is used to help make calculations for a large project on, say, climate change.
Time commitment: A couple minutes.
Get more info: Visit helpfromhome.org.
Work with kids
Inspire kids to protect the earth—and have a blast besides—by volunteering with environmental education programs. Green Kids is a non-profit theatre group that travels to grade schools in Western and Central Canada, performing interactive shows with green themes. Volunteer roles include writing, acting, promotion, set design and directing. Fiona Sanipelli, a Winnipeg interior designer, created the graphics that decorate the Green Kids’ Bio-Bus (a camper van that runs on solar power and vegetable oil), and outfitted it with bamboo flooring and recycled fabrics. She also chose the images that are projected on the backdrop during one of the recent plays. “I love knowing that I’m doing something to help an environmental cause,” she says. “Plus, it’s so fun to see the kids squealing and jumping up and down and enjoying the show!”
Time commitment: From 1 to 10 hours a week.
Get more info: Visit greenkids.com. Other children’s programs include earthangels.ca (Ontario), coastalaction.org (Nova Scotia) and girlguides.ca (national).
Put the 3 Rs into action
Habitat for Humanity has 60 ReStores across the country that sell used or slightly imperfect new building materials—from cabinets and fixtures to hardware and paint—which would otherwise be destined for landfills. The revenue goes toward building Habitat homes for low-income families. Volunteer activities include sales, stocking, picking up donations, loading and unloading merchandise, salvage, maintenance, marketing, communications and accounting.
Time commitment: Varies from store to store, but 10 to 24 hours a month is average.
Get more info: Visit habitat.ca.
Rock the vote
If you like the environmental policies of your municipal, provincial or federal politico, help him or her get elected and put those policies to work. Door-to-door canvassing is a time-honoured election task, but other skills are needed year-round. For example, the Green Party has volunteer positions for translators, videographers, web programmers, graphic designers, systems trainers and event organizers.
Time commitment: About 2 to 6 hours a week.
Get more info: Visit greenparty.ca, or contact the office of your local representative (for any party) directly.
Take the trip of a lifetime
Environmental volunteer vacations are a win-win opportunity: You get to travel to a unique part of the world and take part in a valuable scientific expedition to evaluate climate change, monitor habitat or help restore ecosystems. “It was mind-blowing, inspiring and enlightening. It was so much fun and I met incredible people,” says writer Rebecca Caldwell of Toronto, who travelled to the Canadian subarctic last February to conduct climate change research with University of Alberta scientists. “The fieldwork was so interesting: We dug snow pits and then classified the snow crystals, and took density measurements and temperatures. I felt like I was a small part of a big project that was doing some good.”
Help out closer to home
If your schedule and budget can’t accommodate a blowout exotic trip, there are still plenty of shorter, wallet-friendly volunteer vacations out there. For instance, you could spend a weekend helping to clean up the shoreline of a beautiful island off the coast of British Columbia, or a week restoring native vegetation and removing invasive species at the majestic Grand Canyon. As with the longer-term trips, you’ll be able to relax and explore the area during your downtime.
Work for free
Between jobs, retired or underemployed? A full-time or part-time environmental internship is a great way to beef up your resume and make a meaningful contribution to a green cause. For example, SeaChoice, a national organization dedicated to educating the public about sustainable seafood choices, offers three-month, part-time internships in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Interns are responsible for outreach programs at sustainable seafood events in their city.
Time commitment: Varies from a half day a week to full-time for a set period of a few months.
Get more info: Visit seachoice.org. Other projects include wwoof.org (organic farming in North America and around the world) and ecoteer.com (multi-month work abroad programs).