The Loewen-Nair family was environmentally conscious even before winning the $50,000 Canadian Geographic's Live Net Zero Challenge earlier this year.
To reduce their carbon footprint when commuting, the four-member family sold their second car to buy a yellow e-bike and bid farewell to suburbia in September last year to live in downtown London, Ont., so they could walk to work and leisure activities.
Even so, when they went up against four other families from September to December 2022 in a competition involving six themed challenges to reduce their carbon footprints, they found they still had a lot to learn.
Andrea Loewen-Nair, who competed in the challenge with her husband, Vineet, and two teenage sons, says one mind-blowing moment was realizing how much electricity they were using.
These key lessons really paid off in the end.
“We were the biggest losers,” said Loewen-Nair with a laugh, noting her family was able to reduce their emissions and energy waste the most among all the competitors.
New round of competitors
With the success of last year’s competition, Canadian Geographic has selected eight families from across the country for this year’s Live Net Zero Challenge, supported by Scotiabank, which began on Sept. 5. The competition has also been extended, from September to February, to offer the contestants more time to tackle the tougher challenges, such as reducing the amount of energy that is escaping their homes.
“Participating families reduced their emissions by an amazing 40%, meeting Canada’s national objective for 2035,” says Meigan Terry, SVP and Chief Sustainability, Social Impact and Communications Officer for Scotiabank.
“There are great tips we can learn from the competition. We are helping building energy literacy for Canadians, from small acts that collectively make a difference, to how more ambitious retrofits can be achieved,” added Terry.
In 2021, Canada legislated its Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which set the goal for net-zero emissions by 2050. Canada committed in 2022 to reduce carbon emissions 40% by 2030 from 2005 levels.
According to Statistics Canada, about 40.9% of Canadian emissions in 2018 resulted from household consumption and use of goods and services. Some culprits included natural gas, heating, electricity usage, purchased air transportation, and restaurants and accommodation services.
Canadians may be able to learn a lot about cutting their own domestic carbon footprint from the participants in the Live Net Zero Challenge.
Loewen-Nair has some advice for the new contestants in the second round.
"People need to approach the net-zero lifestyle with a mindset that they aren't giving up anything," she said.
"It's a mindset with many benefits."
Increasing public engagement
John Hovland, EVP of Canadian Geographic, says he hopes this challenge will encourage more Canadians to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. The winner of the 2023 Live Net Zero Challenge will be chosen based on how they much they reduce their domestic carbon footprint, how creatively or cost-effectively they do so and how they engage the public.
"The purpose is not just to compete for a single prize but to draw public interest in reducing carbon footprints,” he said. “We're emphasizing sharing stories and lessons learned to help inform and inspire other Canadians and give them the confidence that they too can transition to a more sustainable lifestyle.”
Hovland said the Loewen-Nair family “truly stood out” in last year’s competition.
"They went above and beyond, examining every aspect of their lives – appliances, insulation, heating, cooling, travel, food, family occasions," he said. "Their thorough review aimed at reducing their carbon footprint was remarkably impressive."
People need to approach the net-zero lifestyle with a mindset that they aren't giving up anything.”
Cutting emissions by using e-bikes, transit
At the outset of the competition, each household was offered $10,000 to help reduce their carbon footprint. The Loewen-Nair family used those funds to buy a second e-bike to cut down emissions during family outings as part of the commuting challenge.
Reducing their car usage was an adjustment and required a lot of discussion with their two sons, said Loewen-Nair.
"That was tough when we first started. We asked the boys to take the bus and bike a lot more, so they had to get on board," she said.
Improving energy efficiency at home
When they moved into their London, Ont., home, the family opted for a “no demo reno" for a more non-invasive enhancement of their new house to produce less waste.
Further improvements were still needed to minimize energy loss in their 130-year-old home – steps they began to take as part of the Live Net Zero Challenge.
They have now installed a heat pump, an efficient device that uses a small amount of electricity to transfer heat from a cool to a warm space, making the cool area cooler and the warm warmer. They were able to pay for this system using the prize money. This translated into a reduction of $50 on their energy bill each month.
Since the competition, the family sold their freezer and their extra fridge, and opted for more frequent, local and fresh grocery purchases, she added.
The retrofitting and enhancement of their home also allowed the family to qualify for $10,000 in rebates and $40,000 in zero-interest loans from the federal government's Greener Homes Initiative, which helps pay for environmentally friendly renovations.
The funds will allow the family to use the money to offset the costs of the purchased appliances.
Proulx Family - Pointe Claire, Québec
This family of five lives in an older home built in 1927. They want to upgrade their home to reduce their carbon footprint, they love adventures and want to drive an electric car as a family and get their children involved in a lifestyle that will reduce their carbon emissions.
Shannon Family - Airdrie, Alberta
This family of five live in a single detached home built in 1980. They want to upgrade their home to become net zero, and are passionate about being part of a sustainable community.
MacInnis Family - Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
This family of four, with another on the way lives in an older home built in 1936. They have a good understanding of home energy assessment and are ready to install a heat pump as part of the challenge. They are a two car family, but will be getting on their bikes and using transit to change their daily habits. They want to protect the environment and their community.
Foreman Family - Hanwell, New Brunswick
This family of 5 will be doing home improvements as part of the challenge, including installing new doors and windows, and learning together about how to make their home energy efficient. They view the competition as a way to learn together about how they can become more committed to a sustainable lifestyle.
Waddell Family - Windsor, Ontario
This family of four, plus a cat, are involved with carbon reduction initiatives. The family recently moved to Windsor and is looking to upgrade and make improvements to their home and building habits that make an impact on their environment, including not buying anything new and not getting a car.
DePape Family - Winnipeg, Manitoba
This family of three lives in an older home built in 1928. They recently purchased an electric vehicle, and they want to build a better future for their child, and know that climate change is here and want to transition to net zero. They are researching heat pumps, and other ways to make their older home energy efficient.
Amarally Family - Etobicoke, Ontario
This family of five is vegan, likes nature and outdoor activities, and likes to compost. They garden, drive a Tesla, and have a home equipped with a high efficiency furnace and tankless water heater, and they are trying to build a green home to be even more energy efficient.
Reid Family - Dundas, Ontario
This family of six lives in a single detached home built in 1964. Their mother Jen has started a climate justice committee and is a teacher who wants to engage her students about climate change. They would like to go net zero by making improvements to their home.