Jordan Ekers, a Dal business student, hopes to educate others with his and co-organizer Casey Binkley’s first-annual Eco-Expo this weekend.

Eco-Expo entrepreneurs set example

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Jordan Ekers takes two-minute showers. He keeps the heat down. He turns the lights off in his apartment when he leaves. For the 22-year-old Dalhousie business student, sustainability is about setting an example. One way he's decided to do that is by co-organizing an Eco-Expo this weekend at Exhibition Park.

The event brings over 90 small and large businesses and non-profit organizations under the same roof, amongst park benches and a forest of greenery donated by a local nursery, to create a melting pot of sustainable ideas.

"(Global climate change) is a massive problem that people have heard about, but they don't know anything about it. It's something that's very serious, that's significantly going to affect our lives and the generations after us," he said.

Ekers defines "sustainability" -- an often used, rarely defined term -- as "involvement."

"I feel like getting involved is what's going to make a difference," he said. "It's as simple as turning off the water after brushing your teeth, taking short showers, keeping the lights off. It's little things that really add up. In order to actually make our community more sustainable, it's all about individuals trying to work together. Sure, you can have big organizations leading the way, but when it comes down to it, it's all in the power of the consumer."

In February, Ekers and 23-year-old Casey Binkley, his co-organizer and a fellow business student, surveyed the general public, including students, to find out if people were interested in buying eco-friendly products and services, if they valued them highly and if they knew where to obtain them. The survey showed people are interested in buying "green" products, but they don't know what constituted environmentally friendly products, or where to buy them.

"That's where this whole idea sprung from," Ekers said. The duo saw a demand for eco-education.

"We've tried to develop an environment where it's fun, so people get there and they really get engaged and they really want to learn about sustainability. Because sustainability's really been on the back-burner for some people. They hear about it, they hear about the green movement, but to have all of these different companies in one room is really going to open people's eyes to ideas of how they can actually get involved and make a difference."

However, one problem he anticipates will be convincing young people, especially students on a budget, to buy eco-friendly products for a higher price.

"You have to make people see the value in it," he said. "If you are going to spend another dollar on a drink that is provided by some local smoothie (company) rather than going to Booster Juice, you just have to know consciously that that extra dollar is going further than it would be possibly in a student's pocket."

Corporate Knights Magazine, a publication about responsible business, rated Halifax the number one sustainable medium-sized city in the country. Because of this, Ekers expects a lot of local support for the first-time expo.

But Ekers has learned that working toward an eco-friendly future involves compromise.

"When we first started, we talked to (experts) about how we could consider involving Irving or larger organizations in this event, because they're the companies that have really screwed things up for us ... You can't really just hide them off in the corner and forget that they were the ones that caused the problem; you have to engage them and get them involved."

The entrepreneurs also had to compromise when it came time to advertise their event.

The Dalhousie Student Union offered Ekers free advertising space at the Student Union Building. The catch is, the space is on a new electronic screen that recently replaced a sign that didn't use any energy at all.

However, Ekers said they are printing all promotional materials through an eco-friendly company in Truro, meaning the paper is recycled and printed with vegetable dye.

All the volunteer and promotion shirts are made with organic cotton and bamboo.

The team also partnered with Bull Frog Power, a two-week old Atlantic Canadian company that buys electricity from solar panels and wind turbines.

Because the Metro Centre and the Cunard Centre weren't big enough to contain the event, Ekers said they had to look outside metro Halifax, which created a transportation issue.

People asked him, "How do we get there? How do we bike? How do we walk?"

"Obviously, you can't, so that was an obstacle we hit. We've organized a bus route with Metro Transit that goes out just short of the park. Then we have a partnership with CarShare Halifax -- they're the co-op car program -- and they're going to be running drop-off shuttles to the event. So there's a more ethical way to get to the event rather than just driving."

He added it would probably take about 20 minutes to bike to Exhibition Park.

Ekers and Binkley have put in full-time hours for 11 months to make sure the event is as eco-friendly as possible. They sat down with non-profit climate action organizations and activists to better inform themselves about the issue.

"You don't want people showing up to the event and getting in your face about things you could have done better."

Non-profit organizations in attendance include OxFam, Feed Nova Scotia and the Ecology Action Centre. Dalhousie's new Sustainability College, the first of its kind in the country, will have a booth, too.

Weekend events include an eco-friendly fashion show Saturday afternoon, and an exhibit that teaches children about marine conservation by taking them on a tour through an inflatable whale.

If the event is successful, as similar events have been in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary, Ekers said they plan to organize the expo annually. The Eco-Expo is a for-profit event, but he said they don't expect to make a profit this year. But they do receive class credit for the project.

Anyone who brings a used cell-phone to the all-ages expo will get in for free. Ready Set Recycle will process the old phones. Regular admission is $5, or $2.50 in advance.

"(Those who attend) will be able to find out how to incorporate green aspects across their life," Ekers said. "It aims to diminish their carbon footprint."

 

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