A Bird’s Eye View of Vancouver & Victoria: Flying Harbour Air for the First Time

Aerial view of Downtown Vancouver

As a semi-frequent commuter between Vancouver and Victoria, I’d somewhat resigned myself to living with long lineups and commutes to and from the Lower Mainland on BC Ferries. However, a Groupon that my partner and I spotted late last year changed all that.

For $100, we were able to purchase $200 worth of credit from Harbour Air Seaplanes to be used for tickets, merchandise or whatever we chose.  As luck would have it, we were due back in Vancouver for a trip to see family as catch the Behind the Myths Tour, which I’ll be talking about in the next post.

So we decided that we would take the ferry there, but fly back. I’d never flown Harbour Air before, but I’d heard from others about how fast seaplanes were, but that you also had to be willing to pay the extra price for quick travel. The Groupon gave us the best deal I’d ever encountered with travel, we only ended up paying $45 out of pocket for the one-way trip for both of us.

And what a trip it was! Although the smaller plane made much more noise than I’m used to with planes and you can feel more of the turbulence when the wind hit, the view was incredible.

Seeing Canada Place, the Convention Centre and the downtown core from a bird’s eye view as we were taking off was definitely something to behold, even though it was cloudy as we left Vancouver. It was a view I would never forget. The view was completely white at times as the plane flew through the clouds. When the plane broke through the clouds though, the result was an absolutely gorgeous view of the sunny blue sky and the sun glistening off the water.

As we got closer to Victoria’s Inner Harbour, the view of the golf courses, Dallas Road and Ogden Point was even more breathtaking. It was sunny in Victoria which somehow made the view even more spectacular. As we landed in the heart of the Inner Harbour, the landing was also nothing like what I’d expected. I’d expected a bumpy landing like a plane landing on the tarmac, instead the landing was so smooth I barely felt it and it was all over in just over half an hour!

For anyone looking for a faster way to travel as well as great scenery, I’d definitely recommend Harbour Air Seaplanes. Take advantage of their web saver rates as well as other discounts and next time, you can travel from the Inner Habour to Coal Harbour in less than 45 minutes!


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Exploring the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail: Discovering China and Botanical Beach

Although I’ve lived in Victoria off and on for the last three years, I’ve never had many chances to explore the rest of the island. Sure, there was a drive up to Jordan River once, a romantic getaway to Nanaimo, but by and large, I hadn’t seen much of Vancouver Island. I haven’t even seen Tofino in 17 years.

So when the suggestion came from good friends of ours to do an excursion to check out the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and China Beach, my partner and I jumped at the chance. Living in Victoria means a definite lack of sandy and warm beaches and I’d heard great things about China Beach, so it was a great idea.  We made the trek out to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park early one weekend and walked down a short trail to get to Botanical Beach.

Although Botanical Beach wasn’t our first choice, it was beautiful, like stepping into another world. Growing up in a big city, I have a tendency to categorize beaches into two different types: rocky and hard or sandy and warm. Botanical Beach turned out to be neither of those, but it was still gorgeous and it also supports many smaller ecosystems.

We could walk on the rocks during low tide and although they were covered with various types of seaweed, you could still see that the rocks had been polished, made smooth by the tides crashing in. The waves had even carved cliffs out of the rock overhangs on the beach, with trees majestically overlooking the beach.

Walking just a few feet away from the entrance to the trail led us to a completely different world. Although the rocks were also smooth as though they were carved and sculpted by the waves, the rocks had a porous quality to them. Instead of the dark rocks we saw when we first left the trail, the rock in this section of the beach was sandstone; layers upon layers of rock grains that were compressed to form slabs.

The sandstone rocks also contained several depressions, some of them quite deep, filled with water that the ongoing tide couldn’t displace. These tidal pools are home to some of the most unique ecosystems I’ve ever seen up close and personal. Filled with mussels and other shells, hermit crabs and plant life, it was one of the most unique things I’ve ever had the opportunity to take a photo of.

China Beach, our second stop, was different from Botanical Beach, almost like night and day. Though the water was cold, China Beach was home to the soft sandy beaches and white driftwood that everyone associates with the perfect beach. It was the kind of beach I’d like to set up a clambake and evening bonfire on with a few good friends.

It was a great trip to see some of Vancouver Island’s best beaches and next time, I’d like to go back to China Beach and if possible, have a nice picnic meal with friends and watch the waves crash against the shoreline.

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A Slice of Strawberry Shortcake and a Walk around the Lagoon: Spending the Day With Strawberry Tea and Hatley Castle

A few weeks ago, I was perusing the Tourism Victoria events calendar looking for events to attend with new friends of mine; when I stumbled upon the Strawberry Tea event being held at the Christ of Our Lord Church.

I’d seen the Christ of Our Lord several times in passing and the original Gothic-style architecture drew me to it even before we walked inside. Originally built in 1876, Christ of Our Lord is the oldest church in Victoria, but you’d never known it with the way it has been beautifully restored. The Cridge Memorial Hall has even been restored to the original design of renowned architect Samuel Maclure.

The four of us walked into the church and were seated at a table with beautiful, intricate china cups, plates and saucers and given enormous slices of one of the most delicious strawberry shortcakes I’d ever eaten. Paired with a great tea that contained a hint of strawberries, it was a great way to spend the early afternoon.

We left the church and decided to pay a visit to Royal Road University and Hatley Castle. It’d been three years since I’d last been to RRU, last time I visited was as an employee, but I was happy to see that it was still as peaceful and tranquil as I remembered.

We spent some time taking photos of the Lagoon and enjoying the castle grounds. Unfortunately, there was a wedding at the castle that day and my partner and I were unable to show our friends the full beauty of Hatley Castle’s gardens. But we plan to return there soon to show them exactly why out of all of the places I’ve ever worked in, RRU will always be my favorite environment. 

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Sailing the Waters of Pedder Bay and Beyond

My partner and I love fishing, but we’ve struggled for awhile to find a good spot to fish as we can’t afford our own boat or the fees for a fishing charter. But, recently, we got lucky because Groupon came to the rescue and we decided to take advantage of a great deal to rent one of the boats from Pedder Bay Resort & Marina in Metchosin.

The boat in question for the Groupon was a beautiful 16” fiberglass Hourston Runabout power boat that could fit up to 4 people with ½ of a canvas top to keep the sun away. With a fishing rod, net, a tub to put the fish in and even a map of the key fishing areas close to the marina, we were off.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, with the sun out, causing the light to glisten off the water. As we pulled out of the marina, we could see other fishing charter boats as well as privately owned boats with some funny names like ‘Tuggy’ and ‘Aussie Rules’. We even saw a raccoon running up and down the beach, presumably digging for clams for his dinner.

It was an eye opener for me because I’d never been out on a power boat before and it was a completely different way for me to experience the island. I took as many photos as I could, soaking in the environment and the beautiful scenery for as long as we were out there. Snow capped mountains could be seen over the points of the Rocky Point Ammo Depot on the right and William Head Correctional Facility on the left.

It was the best way to experience everything Vancouver Island has to offer on the water. As we got farther out along Christopher Point and to the Race Rocks, we saw three seals relaxing on the rocky beach on an island just a little ways from the lighthouse at the Race Rocks. They started calling pretty loudly and we managed to get some video footage of them talking to each other while we were in the area.

The waves were larger in certain spots as we got further out from shore, partly because there were other rental boats and private fishing vessels moving past us in the area. Being that the Hourston was a much smaller boat that I was used to, it also meant I was feeling the effects of seasickness more than I usually would be.

As we sailed around the area, we also made a point to stop in several key areas, such as the Race Rocks, William Head, Whirl Bay and Christopher Point and drop our line over the side of the boat. Although we ultimately didn’t end up catching any salmon, it was relaxing to eat our picnic lunch on the boat and just bask in the sunshine.

On our way back, we managed to capture a few photos of four loons swimming along the waves. It was one of the best experiences I’d ever had being on the water. We arrived back on land, exhausted but relaxed and raring to try it again, next time with more fishing rods, better bait for salmon and maybe even a bigger boat with some friends.

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Searching for the Whales: Whale-Watching for the First Time with Eagle Wing Tours

Although I’ve lived on the West Coast my entire life, I’d never been whale watching before last week. It was one of those activities that I always wanted to try and yet, I never did because I felt strange going by myself and it had never been on the list of things to do for friends or relatives who visited my family.

This all changed with a wonderful trip with Eagle Wing Tours here in Victoria. Not only was the day that I chose to go gorgeous, warm and sunny without a cloud in the sky; Eagle Wing also went a long way to changing my perception of whale watching tours.

Although I’d always wanted to try whale watching, I always felt a certain amount of apprehension about them. Everything I’d seen on TV or magazines made it seem like every whale watching company used the Zodiac boats that made for a very bumpy and wet ride and you had to have good balance in order to stand or sit in them. I was worried that I’d either get sick from the bumpiness or fall overboard due to my lack of balance.

But Eagle Wing changed all that, starting with their boats. The trip I took was on the MV Gold Wing, a 60-foot long passenger boat designed to hold approximately 26 people. It had comfortable bench seating and even an on-board washroom facility. Eagle Wing goes the extra mile for its guests, not only providing heavy warm jackets that double as life jackets and pants to protect against the cold spray of the water, but blankets, binoculars, sunscreen, hats, gloves and even sunglasses-anything and everything you’d need for any whale watching trip.

Eagle Wing’s captain Jeff and crew mate Lana made everyone feel welcome and turned what was a good trip into a great trip with jokes and conversation that put me at ease, personally. And the way that Gold Wing skimmed over the surface of the water, occasionally bouncing on top of the waves was exhilarating; it was the best ride of my life.

We made it to Trial Island, south of Oak Bay where I managed to get some great shots of harbor seals on the rocks and a pigeon guillemot.

Next were the Chain Islands, home of harbor seals, ducks and cormorants; where I snapped some of the best photos I’ve ever taken.

We caught the trail of a pod of transient orcas somewhere in between Oak Bay and Sidney and managed to see them hunting harbor seals around Dock Island.

We followed them into the Sidney Channel and the Sidney Spit before being surprised by them as they popped up just in front of the bow of the boat.

Before leaving, we managed to see them surface one last time and as we turned back for the return trip to Fisherman’s Wharf, we bounced higher on the waves as Gold Wing skimmed the surface.

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Overall, it was an amazing experience that I can’t wait to have again. Thanks to Jeff, Lana and Chris for giving me this opportunity to experience everything whale watching has to offer!

The Sante Spa Victoria Experience: Atop the Hill at Westin Bear Mountain

Check out my online review of Sante Spa in my Online Writing section for more info and photos!

Outdoor Terrace looking over the golf course and mountains

Walking through the spa with Spa Director Jen Spencer, gave me a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘the spa experience’. Taking in the gorgeous view of the snow capped mountains and the golf course surrounded by lush greenery and the arbutus trees from the Forest Lounge and the outdoor mineral pool was the best scenery I’d ever seen at a spa.

It was a sunny day and a little chilly but thankfully, the water in the mineral pool was warm

Outdoor mineral pool

enough for me to sit and enjoy the view. Warming up in front of the fireplace in the Forest Lounge with a cup of peppermint tea afterwards was like coming home to the luxury of a fireplace on a winter’s night. Of course, that was only the beginning of my time at Sante Spa.

Experiencing a Body Wrap

uSkincare Bamboo Polish

My massage therapist, Lindsey, greeted me in the lounge and to my surprise; my treatment was in the Birch Room, one of the treatment rooms usually reserved for couples. She had me lie on a heated bed and I definitely appreciated it (beats having cold feet, after all).

Lindsey started my Rejuvenating Arbutus Wrap , one of Sante Spa’s signature treatments, with a full body exfoliation using Bamboo Polish (How cool is that? They have body scrub made out of ground-up bamboo!) on my back, shoulders, arms, legs and stomach. I discovered that the Arbutus Wrap was named not because it used any of the arbutus trees (which are endangered) but because it was inspired by the arbutus tree shedding its bark every season, renewing its skin similar to the effects of the treatment.

After the Bamboo Polish, Lindsey covered my body with mud and cocooned me in the spa’s ritual wrap. I’d never felt so

Arbutus Tree

warm and relaxed in my life. The many layers of the wrap start off with a few towels and layers of what looked like plastic wrap, heavy blankets and even what looked like a heat-resistant fire blanket.

While I was cocooned, Lindsey gave me a relaxing scalp and facial massage using aromatherapy oils. I’d never had a scalp massage before which helped relieve a slight headache I’d been feeling earlier in the day. After the massage, I stepped into the shower to wash away the remnants of the Bamboo Polish and mud. For the last stage of the wrap, Lindsey worked all the tension out of my muscles using moisturizing Cocoa Butter Cream.

What Makes Sante Spa Different

The Forest Lounge

One of the interesting aspects of Sante Spa is its membership in the Green Spa Network.  Sante Spa makes a conscientious effort to ensure that all of the spa products they carry are sustainable brands and that they source sustainable and natural ingredients. They’ve adopted low flush toilets, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, eco-friendly detergents and comprehensive recycling, including donating their used and old towels to charities.   Even the bulk of their furniture is made from reclaimed wood from lumber mills.

A local artist from North Vancouver, Brent Comber, created one of my favorite pieces in the spa –

Brent Comber's coffee table in the Forest Lounge

the coffee table in the Forest Lounge. He created many other pieces at the spa, including the beautiful reception desk in the spa’s front entrance and the tables in the waiting area.

Sante Spa is only spa I’ve ever experienced that has a vertical garden or Living Wall, as it’s called. It’s a wall full of different types of plants that are self-sustaining. It has its own reservoir of water and fertilizer that waters and feeds the plants through pipes and the excess is then recycled back into the reservoir. It brings some of living nature indoors, improves air quality, is energy efficient and surprisingly, reduces noise.

Living Wall in the Forest Lounge

What sets Sante Spa apart for me is the whole experience – the combination of the breathtaking view, the spa’s tranquil surroundings, the exclusive treatments as well as the attentive staff, make for one of the best spa experiences I have ever had. I intend to go back and experience more of their treatments in the future.

Check out my online review of Sante Spa here for more info and photos!

CHBA-Victoria’s Home & Garden Show-My Take

CHBA-Victoria’s Home & Garden Show-My Take

Although I’ve attended several home and garden shows over the years, including the show last year at the Bear Mountain Arena that featured a seminar from one of my absolute favorite color consultants, Jane Lockhart; the CHBA-Victoria show was among one of the largest home and garden shows I have ever seen.

Unfortunately, I arrived in between presentations and wasn’t able to take in seminars by either Inez Hanl of The Sky is The Limit Design and Jenny Martin of Jenny Martin Design; but there were booths and exhibits that I thought were creative, fun, well-thought out and ones I will look out for at future shows.

Here are some of the highlights:


What struck me about this company was the way they displayed their information on their products to help home and business owners reduce water use and achieve water conservation. Until I stumbled upon their exhibit, I had never heard of an Ipod app that could be used for water conservation at home and at the office. I thought the product was ingenious and I am looking forward to seeing more from this company.

Michelle Matte Interiors

Michelle Matte was one of the few interior designers at the show that had a creative and elegant display. She had a beautiful black chaise lounger along with a white carpet and a lamp, next to a TV that showed a slideshow of some of her recent projects. It was comfortable and yet luxurious and among the best of the displays I’d seen.  I found her display and her work to be elegant, warm and certainly would consider working with her on my home, when I become a homeowner.

Western Living Magazine’s Showroom

The showroom put together by Western Living Magazine stuck out in my mind because of some of the more eclectic and eccentric décor elements. A table carved in the shape of a black boar with a glass tabletop, chairs with cow hide backrests, eclectic lights and pink walls certainly stood out in my mind as risqué and different in terms of interior design. I did however, appreciate the deep soaker tubs and modern vanities that they also had on display. But I have to say that in spite of the unique display, I have no intentions of painting my bathroom walls pink, however ‘in’ that might be for this year.

Twelve₃- Sustainable Micro Housing

Twelve₃ is a company with a concept similar to that of Lanefab Homes in Vancouver ; they produce custom made pre-fabricated extensions for current homes to use as rental or storage spaces, secondary suites and even as affordable housing. I was fascinated to learn that their homes are available in 12 x 12 and 12 x 16 sizes and they use the latest in energy saving and efficiency and solar power technology. They even have the capabilities of having your new home or extension to be off the grid. I’ll definitely be following this company via Twitter to see what new projects come their way.

Home Design & Renovation Tour 2011

This display was on behalf of the annual fundraiser for Young Life, a Christian ministry dedicated to helping teens. Having never seen a home renovation tour being utilized as a fundraiser, I’m interested to see what the 13 homes on the tour have to offer and what expertise the designers on site will be able to share. This event is one I am definitely interested in attending.

Environmental Communication & Sustainability: Ineffective?

Although the concept of sustainability and environmentalism has existed for decades, I became more involved with learning about sustainability through interacting with activists, consultants and businesses alike in the sustainable sector two years ago. Enrolling in a special topics course on Environmental Communications & Climate Change opened my eyes to the issues facing climate change and environment and more specifically, the challenges of communicating with the general public about the environment.

Environmental communication interests me because of two central issues: does terminology play a part in the effectiveness of environmental communication and what medium is most effective at influencing people on issues on the environment? A former classmate of mine mentioned during a recent conversation that he wanted to de-emphasize the fact that his janitorial company used ‘green’ cleaning products because he believed that the word ‘green’ is overused and therefore passé.

Is being sustainable really passé or is it just the language? How could educating the public about the environment and creating awareness around an alternative lifestyle-a sustainable one-be outdated? I believe that when it comes to sustainability and the environment, it comes down to the language and the terminology we use to talk about the subject.  If ‘green’ is considered passé and ‘eco’ is considered to be overused and perhaps outdated, perhaps what we need to do is to start referring to ‘green’ products, issues and concepts as ‘environmentally sustainable’. Certainly, it’s not as catchy, but it has the benefit of being true and it describes the heart of environmental communication in two words that you could never do with ‘eco’ or ‘green’.

Terminology and language aside, the other issue with environmental communication that fascinates me is the question of how you discover which medium is more effective at raising awareness on environmental and sustainability issues and how to influence audiences’ behaviors accordingly. Activist Tzeporah Berman once told me in a phone interview from her home on Cortes Island that it doesn’t matter if twenty, thirty years from now, everyone on earth is driving an electric car,  because it would do very little to reduce our carbon footprint. Why is that? Mainly because while a new behavior is introduced, we have yet to let go of all the other habits that lead to environmental harm.

On a local level, I sat down with Andy Orr, who is responsible for corporate communications for the CRD for the Greater Victoria region late last year. We both agreed that much of the behavior of the general public had yet to change in relation to sustainability because suitable and-permanent-alternatives were not available. Take the example of using reusable cloth bags. Certainly, I can use cloth bags for any of my shopping and storage needs, but what about garbage? As I pointed out to Mr. Orr, no one is about to spend money on cloth bags only to throw them out with the garbage. If the general public does not use plastic bags for their garbage, what suitable, biodegradable environmental alternative is available, that is also strong enough to handle heavy and really soiled items? We both agreed that while introducing reusable bags to the general public was a good idea, however, it only introduced a new behavior; it didn’t eliminate other behaviors, because permanent alternatives had yet to be introduced. On the issue of environmental communication, he expressed concern that transitioning over to social media to spread the message of composting would not only alienate the CRD’s existing audience but reduce creditability of the organization.

And would it? Certainly, there seem to be two camps within the sustainable sector that are involved with social media: the activists and the eco-consumerists. I’ve personally seen Twitter and Facebook accounts from activists such as Tzeporah on her initiatives such as Power UP Canada, active blogs such as the DeSmog Blog from Kevin Grandia, among others as well as larger environmental activist organizations like Greenpeace. And on the other end of the spectrum, you have businesses who have built their companies on selling eco-friendly, sustainable products from household items to gifts for pets such as local business The Good Planet Company.  For businesses and individuals such as these, utilizing social media to raise awareness and attract customers and activists does work. Why? Because their audiences utilize social media on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis.

But where does a government organization fit in with the medium of social media? Individual political campaigns nonwithstanding, how does a government organization devote time and resources to utilize social media to raise awareness of their initiatives with a NEW target audience and not neglect nor alienate their current audience? In our conversation, I didn’t have a ready answer for Mr. Orr. But after giving it some thought, I believe that it comes down to two things: individual target markets and the skills of the people who belong to that organization. If the organization contains individuals who are comfortable and knowledge about social media, give them the opportunity to reach out to new target markets on the issue of composting and devote the rest of your resources to the existing audiences.

And the New Color of the 21st Century Is………..Green

Anyone who has heard the news in passing over the last four to five years will have heard the word ‘green’ pass the lips of every news anchor and broadcaster in the world. ‘Sustainability’, ‘climate change’, ‘organic’ and ‘fair trade’ are words directly linked to the green phenomenon of the 21st century.

Certainly there have been questions that have been raised as to why the popularity of an issue such as global warming has taken an international focus, but more and more of it is directly related to media coverage. Images of receding glaciers and polar bears becoming endangered have aroused the worries of environmentalists and celebrities alike. Documentaries produced by former Vice President Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, entitled An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour, respectively, helped to bring the seriousness of climate change to the forefront.

Changes to the economy have helped Western society realize the need for conservation, with soaring oil and grain prices, and the increasing lack of natural resources such as fresh water. Measures taken by the Canadian government include, but are by no means limited to,  a carbon tax and participation in the Kyoto Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Other alternatives receiving more publicity are the creation of bio-diesel fuel, using corn, vegetable and peanut oil, as well as “carbon scrubbing”, the action of capturing carbon emissions from factories and using them as fertilizer for farming after cleaning.

However, there are problems with the ‘green’ initiatives still to be addressed. Bio-diesel, while environmentally friendly, is not feasible for any vehicle other than trucks at least ten to fifteen years old. Carbon “scrubbing” although gaining popularity, has yet to be accepted by the Canadian or American governments. The creation of the electric Smart Car saved money on fuel consumption, yet still faces controversy on how often the battery must be recharged. However, the implementation of hybrid vehicles seems to have quieted the controversy, at least on the subject of vehicle emissions and climate change.

Even the fashion and food industries are capitalizing on the ‘green’ craze. Clothes are being sewn using organic fibers such as cotton, and marketed as being homemade. In the food industry, organic and fair trade items are making their way from specialty food stores such as Capers or Choices onto Safeway and other supermarket shelves, though for a higher price. Health concerns linked with eating genetically modified foods has the general public turning more and more to organic ingredients, believing them to be beneficial health-wise and free of pesticides. Organic food has also been embraced and promoted by vegetarians and vegans alike, although with alternative grains such as kashi and spelt flour to promote healthier living.

Organic and fair trade food is targeting people of younger demographics, starting with vending machines in elementary schools stocking healthier alternatives such as dried fruit chips. The restaurant scene has also expanded both on the main campus of my school as well as in the general public. Restaurants such as Nature’s Garden on campus serve fair trade coffee and organic, fresh food, with prices for coffee much lower than your average Starbucks, while The Naam on the West side serves up vegetarian and vegan meals to lineups on a daily and nightly basis.

Controversy has also hit the subject of organic and fair trade food, due to the advertising. Stricter rules have been implemented by the Food Inspection Agency to impose limits on the amount of organic ingredients or elements a food must have. Along with the questions raised about organic food, there is also the question of the re-useable cloth bags, now being implemented by specialty supermarkets such as Capers, and other supermarkets such as Superstore. Although implemented to reduce the use of plastic bags, which take hundreds of years to properly disintegrate in landfills, the question of how food would be frozen and protected from freezer burn should plastic bags be eradicated has yet to be answered.

More than restaurants and supermarkets, there has also been events and companies created specifically for the promotion of a sustainable lifestyle. Just a few weeks ago, the Epic Sustainability Expo was held in my city, promoting clothing, transportation, food and everyday household items used in an eco-friendly lifestyle. Leading this current worldwide promotion is the use of household cleaners with eco-friendly ingredients to preserve the environment. Fresh Squeeze, an organization with both Chicago and Seattle chapters uses its website and blog to promote the news of green initiatives in both cities before reaching mainstream media.

Although the phenomenon began over fear of losing natural resources and our sources for transportation, industry and the economy, it has evolved into being much more. Companies such as Nike, previously branded for unethical practices in sweatshops have been given the opportunity to redeem themselves through sustainability. Mountain Equipment Co-op, previously known for all matters of outdoor and camping gear has grown in popularity thanks to Western society’s ‘green’ lifestyle. In truth, if ever there was a need to group decades together by color, the color of the new millennium would be green.