The Drive-In: A Perfect COVID-19 Activity

Originally published in Volume 6 of the Idea Exchange Quaranzine at: https://www.flipsnack.com/IdeaExchange/alonetogether-issue-6-retrodiscoveries/full-view.html

When our lovely Idea Exchange Volunteer Coordinator, Shannon, reached out to me to write an article about my first experience at a drive-in theatre, I jumped at the chance. I grew up in Vancouver, where the closest drive-in was in a suburb an hour away. I don’t think I even knew what a drive-in was until I came to Ontario! After a quick Google search, I decided to take myself out for a Thursday night date at the Mustang Drive-in to see the 80’s classic films Dirty Dancing (which I had only recently seen for the first time on Netflix) and Footloose (which I knew nothing about).

I wasn’t quite sure when people tend to arrive at a drive-in, or what the quality of the food at the concession stand would be, so I drove to Guelph early to grab a quick dinner. I stopped by Royal City Park to eat my sandwich and say a socially-distanced hello to a few friends from the Flying Dance Community; I used to be a regular at their Friday night social dances, back when those existed. The familiar Latin music piping from their speakers as they set up for a lesson in the gazebo put me in the perfect mood to head to the drive-in for some Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey!

I arrived at the Mustang five minutes after “doors” opened to find about 30 pick-up trucks and SUV’s already parked on the simple gravel lot. Most people had backed into their appropriately distanced spots and were setting up with blankets in their open trunks. I found a place with a good view of the large screen and ventured out of the car to check out the single building at the back of the lot. The cash-only concession stand had a small selection of candies and cold drinks, with just a few pre-wrapped burgers under some heat lamps, the sight of which made me glad that I had eaten before attending. The washrooms were well-maintained and clean (for some reason I had been expecting Port-a-Potties), but I wished I had brought a flashlight as I navigated puddles on my way back to my spot.

I leaned my seat back and settled in for several hours alone in my car. I found myself wishing for a hot drink and a blanket as I waited for the movies to begin, especially as the evening grew colder and rain began to pour down in sheets – it almost completely obscured my view of the first fifteen minutes of Dirty Dancing. Thankfully, the rain did not return for the rest of the evening as I enjoyed the feature films. I was originally hesitant about the sound quality in my very old little Toyota Matrix, but the audio came through loud and clear through the radio.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience at a drive-in, despite being alone and cold. I look forward to returning with friends and blankets some day!

Waterloo Region’s Evolving Workplace Sector | Part 2: Looking Towards The Future

Written by Valerie Chong and Miranda Burton. Originally posted on the ClimateActionWR blog on August 4, 2020.

80% Reduction by 2050

In 2018, a region-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was set and endorsed across the Waterloo Region. This long-term plan supports the transition towards a low-carbon, sustainable future, reducing emissions 80% below 2010 levels by 2050 (otherwise referred to as 80 by 50). In 2019, ClimateActionWR was granted funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). The grant is part of Transition 2050, an initiative offered through FCM’s Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP). Through this program, ClimateActionWR is working with all 8 Waterloo region municipalities to develop a long-term strategy  to contribute to a low carbon transition by 2050 in alignment with the region-wide target, and the target date as set out by the Paris Agreementand  the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change

Part two of the Community Climate Action Blog Series highlights how Waterloo Region will achieve the 80 by 50 goal. Let’s see what the future looks like for the Workplace Sector.  

A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR ALL 

A sustainable workplace is more than just building. It’s a space where employees can thrive in a healthier, lower impact and more productive environment. The article ‘The Built Environment, Climate Change, and Health’ cited that: “Buildings contribute to climate change, influence transportation, and affect health through the materials utilized, decisions about sites, electricity and water usage, and landscape surroundings.” 

Sustainable workplaces also go beyond just an office building; it can mean creating opportunities to add new jobs in the green technology and energy sectors, securing more stable energy sources for local industry, and attracting more firms from the fast-growing low-carbon economy. ClimateActionWR previously highlighted the potential for a Zero-Impact Sustainability Incubator, which Waterloo Region is starting to form. 

Working towards an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is an ambitious goal but worth pursuing for a greater tomorrow. As highlighted in Waterloo Region’s Evolving Workplace Sector Part 1: The Story So Far, evolv1 is helping create a template for future workplaces in our region and beyond. Although the environmental benefits will help us reach the 80 by 50 goal, the social and economic benefits of evolv1 will make that journey more prosperous. 

“A building isn’t truly sustainable unless it’s also a healthy, enjoyable place to visit and work.”

Stantec

evolv1 is creating a workplace that is healthy for its tenants, the economy and our planet. The building fosters a better quality of life to the tenants that move within, whether it’s the access to outdoor spaces, abundance of natural light, a living wall, space to interact with others, or access to public transportation. These benefits will provide sustainable space that other workplaces should aspire to emulate for Waterloo Region’s workplace sector as we work towards our 80 by 50 emissions reduction goal.

WORKPLACES OF THE FUTURE

The future of workplaces is here in Waterloo Region, with evolv1 fully operational and plans underway for evolv2. The trend towards greener workplaces is swiftly gaining momentum contributing to approximately $48 billion towards Canada’s GDP in 2018.  Additionally, 460,000 Canadians are working in these green buildings according to the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC). The business case for these workplaces is increasingly clear and the costs of not investing are both environmental and financial. 

“There is no time to waste or reason to wait. Zero carbon buildings represent the best opportunity for cost-effective emissions reductions today.”

– Thomas Mueller, CEO and President, CaGBC 

In light of the current pandemic and the need for a green recovery, green buildings can play a pivotal role in protecting both Canada’s economy and social and natural environments. CaGBC is advocating for a green recovery via green buildings. Recommending investment in the sustainable workforce, prioritize retrofitting existing buildings and funding zero carbon new construction. 

RETROFITTING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE 

ClimateActionWR engaged with experts and technical stakeholders from the sustainability industry between November 2018 and  February 2019. This technical engagement resulted in themes, challenges and actions that will help shape Waterloo Region’s long-term Climate Action Strategy. Waterloo Region has the technology to make big strides in our workplaces, but lack of urgency and financial incentives is a recurring challenge the experts identified. 

Retrofitting current buildings in Waterloo Region was cited as an important action by stakeholders. This is appropriate given the potential carbon reduction (51%) retrofits can provide as laid out in CaGBC’s A Roadmap to Retrofits in Canada. Building retrofits most noted by experts included building envelope (walls, glazing and roofs) and building tightness. The challenge in approaching these action items is mainly financial with a need for incentives and budget to funnel into upgrades. Investing in greener buildings is financially viable but the high capital costs and long pay back periods create roadblocks for innovation. 

Beyond funding,  stakeholder buy-in, conflicting messages  and slow moving policies were all identified as barriers as well. Feedback also addressed the opportunity of community-based designs influencing how living, working and social spaces interact together, and mitigating energy use through the optimization of building controls. To help decarbonize the workplace sector experts highlighted a variety of mitigation strategies and opportunities. These included: 

  • identify key stakeholder and recognize best practices initiatives
  • find opportunities for renewable resources
  • highlight existing success stories and plans that met GHG reduction goals for motivation
  • partner with companies to develop specific goals and policies to meet GHG reduction goals
  • update Building Code Policies
  • aim for transparency for sustainable building information; and
  • guidelines for upgrading mechanical equipment.

If you’d like to hear more, Patrick Darby from WalterFedy shares the findings from the extensive technical engagement initiatives in this presentation. The third phase of the 80 by 50 goal is underway to develop the long-term (30-year) Climate Action Strategy.

July Roundup

Read time: 2 minutes

What a busy month! I’ve been fortunate to start some projects for a couple of new clients, as well as do a whole bunch of writing on the side. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to…

Writing

I love writing articles and blogs, so when the chance comes to guest-write for other people, I jump at the chance! Somehow, I was lucky that every contributed article I wrote in July was about my great passion, sustainability. From writing about a ground-breaking net-positive workspace to turtle protection, I had a great time highlighting the important work our community is doing to ensure the safety of our natural world. I also provided some tips about reducing food waste in the kitchen for the University of Guelph Sustainability Office student blog. I don’t always get the chance to write about topics I love so much, so this month was an absolute pleasure.

Reading

As usual, I’ve been reading up a storm. (If you’re interested, you can find me on Goodreads.) This month, as an added bonus, I submitted my reading history to the new Idea Exchange Summer Reading Program for the chance to win a prize to some local businesses.

My reading choices this month included:

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, by Nadia Murad: The true story of a young woman who was swept into the ISIS slave trade in 2014 following a massacre by Islamic State militants in her home of Kocho, a small village in Iraq. She is held captive, abused, and raped before she manages to escape.

Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice: A novel about a small Anishinaabe community following a long blackout. Without power or food supplies, tension begins to rise among community members – and then, people from the south begin to arrive, disrupting their lives even more.

I’m Afraid of Men, by Vivek Shraya: In this beautiful memoir, trans artist and professor Vivek Shraya describes her experience with misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.

The Matched Series, by Ally Condie: This series, which is faintly reminiscent of The Giver, tells the story of the Society, in which officials decide everything for the community members including their jobs, spouses, and even death dates. Suddenly, something goes wrong with the perfect system, and young Cassia and her friends are thrown into uncertainty.

Community Help for Endangered Baby Turtles

A version of this article was included in Issue 005 (July 31, 2020) of the Idea Exchange Quaranzine. Header photo from @raresites.

Have you ever seen a turtle crossing the road?

All eight species of turtle in Ontario are considered at-risk, mostly due to habitat destruction and fragmentation caused by roads or construction. Since 2017, rare Charitable Research Reserve has been working hard to mitigate these human factors with its Protect the Turtles egg incubation project. rare gathers turtle eggs that are in danger due to the location of their nest, brings them back for artificial incubation, and releases them back into the wild after they hatch. The project also collects valuable data such as nesting locations and turtle mortality rates.

This year, rare’s permit from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to excavate turtle nests was extremely delayed, while reports of nests in dangerous locations across Waterloo Region began to pile up. Without the permit, the organization was not allowed to collect any eggs. All rare could do was put out a call to the public to help build nest protectors to cover the eggs where they were, and hope that would be enough.

Dave Devisser, a long-time resident of Cambridge, was one of the people who heard rare’s call. Dave has always loved living close to nature, and enjoys hiking and checking out the local wildlife, like butterflies and ospreys. He had supported rare before, through the annual Walk & Run for rare, and jumped at the opportunity to do even more.

Dave dug out his tools and got to work. He drilled four long, narrow boards to create a square frame, and covered the top with hardwire mesh nailed tightly to the wood. He included two notches, just 2×1” big, for the baby turtles to exit the protector once they hatched. In the end, Dave completed four identical turtle protectors which he dropped off at rare.

Images by Dave Devisser

 “The protectors are to stop people from stepping on the nests or from predators getting in and harming the eggs,” Dave said. “I was looking for ways to be more involved with nature, and this was a great way to physically protect it. It’s nice to support local biodiversity.”

This year, rare was able to collect 1900 eggs from 66 nests (once the permit came through), and protect an additional 42 nests thanks to protectors provided by community members. While uplifted by the community support, Logan Mercier, a conservation technician assistant at rare, cautions that this is not a permanent solution to turtle endangerment. “Really, we need to focus on road mitigation, and we need to stop building in their habitat; we need to stop fragmenting their habitat,” Mercier said in a recent article in The Record.

The turtle hatchlings are expected to be released in mid-August. This year’s Walk & Run for rare will be held virtually for the month of September. For more information, please visit https://raresites.org/.

If you find an injured turtle, please call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre Hotline at 705-741-5000.

Waterloo Region’s Evolving Workplace Sector | Part 1: The Story So Far

Written by Valerie Chong and Miranda Burton. Originally posted on the ClimateActionWR blog on July 29th, 2020. Header image from evolv1.

Progress on Community Climate Action Blog Series 

In 2013, ClimateActionWR, led by Reep Green Solutions and Sustainable Waterloo Region, collaborated with the Region of Waterloo, and the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo to create the first Climate Action Plan for Waterloo Region. This Climate Action Plan aimed to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. Next year, a community greenhouse gas inventory will be conducted to determine if we have met that ambitious goal, which would be an important first step towards our overall 80% reduction goal by 2050. 

The following post is part of a new series of blogs highlighting the hard work our action owners have been doing to move us towards our community targets. This one will focus on the workplaces sector.

THE WORKPLACE SECTOR

In 2015, ClimateActionWR determined that workplace buildings (including industrial, commercial, and institutional buildings) are responsible for 27% of Waterloo Region’s total carbon footprint (full report in Our Progress, Our Path). We knew that the overall output would only increase as Waterloo Region’s population continues to be the fastest growing census metropolitan area in the country. We have a responsibility to make adjustments to the carbon efficiency of our workplaces. 

To tackle this issue, Energy+, Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro and Waterloo North Hydro, Enbridge (Union Gas), Kitchener Utilities, Sustainable Waterloo Region, Area Municipalities (City of Waterloo, City of Kitchener, City of Cambridge, and the Region of Waterloo), and the Cora Group committed to taking action. As action owners, they have been working hard over the past five years to bring people and organizations together to move both buildings and behaviour towards a more sustainable future in which employees, employers, and landlords can play an active part. One example of this work is the creation of evolv1, thanks to collaborative efforts between organizations and stakeholders.

“The power is in our work together.” 

Tova Davidson, Executive Director of Sustainable Waterloo Region 

EVOLV1 – CHANGING THE WORKPLACE LANDSCAPE OF WATERLOO REGION 

Developed, owned and managed by the Cora Group, evolv1, Canada’s first multi-tenant Zero Carbon Building​, was collaboratively imagined by Sustainable Waterloo Region, EY, The David Johnston Research and Technology Park, and the Cora Group in an effort to model the workplace of the future.  The project considered all aspects of the modern workplace, combining sustainability and functionality to create a unique design-certified net positive building. 

Designed for today’s tech-savvy workforce, evolv1 has 104,000 square feet of space for multiple tenants, collaborative work and event areas, and amenities. Thanks to built-in features such as a beautiful 40-ft living wall, a geothermal well system, and solar wall technology, the building is designed to be net-positive, by producing 108% of its energy needs on-site.

evolv1 was carefully designed to encourage sustainable and low-impact behaviour. The main staircase is a design feature of the foyer and is wide enough for many people to use at once, discouraging the habitual use of the elevators tucked away to the side. A central waste sorting location rather than individual waste bins encourages tenants to consider their daily garbage output. evolv1’s location beside the ION LRT station in the University of Waterloo David Johnston Research + Technology Park, secure bike parking, and EV charging stations allow employees to choose sustainable transportation options with ease.

“From the geothermal, to the solar walls, two-inch thick triple-paned windows, this place is packed with cool sustainable features. But we’ve also created a better building. A beautiful, healthy space where people in this Region can work and gather.”

 Adrian Conrad, COO of the Cora Group

MORE THAN JUST A BUILDING

evolv1 was developed not only to create a uniquely regenerative building, but to lead a change in the behaviour of organizations and employees in their workplaces. The building is just the beginning of a global reimagining of the workplace. A key component of evolv1 is its tenants, many of which are leading technology or sustainability-focused organizations. They are active participants in the success of evolv1 through their policies and actions; monitoring their energy and water use, carbon emissions, and waste production. 

In 2018, evolv1 launched its “Culture of Sustainability” program, a partnership between Sustainable Waterloo Region and an academic research team from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Manuel Reimer, leading a team of behavioural psychology researchers from Laurier, is creating an evidence-based engagement strategy to cultivate a culture of sustainability within evolv1 and its tenants, which can be applied to other commercial building projects.

“The building will act as a ‘living laboratory’ to understand how best to engage the inhabitants of sustainable buildings in sustainable practices. There are ways to nudge people towards more sustainable habits, such as the physical design of the building, but there is also a social aspect we’re looking at to encourage engagement in all aspects of sustainability.”

Manuel Reimer, Director, VERiS, Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University 

Through educational workshops, interactive events, and collaborative conversations, tenants from across all organizations within the building are encouraged to collaboratively develop and achieve a comprehensive suite of environmental, social, and economic goals. Over the long term, shared values, practices, and symbols will emerge and take root, reflecting a collective understanding of what it means to make positive contributions to environmental, social and economic or organizational systems within and beyond the building.

The first floor of evolv1 also houses evolvGREEN, a leading collaborative workspace of entrepreneurs, researchers, and clean economy supporters who are driving the march toward a clean economy. Entrepreneurs looking to build companies that support a clean economy have access to startup accelerator programming and mentorship through the Accelerator Centre’s specialized cleantech programming.

YEAR ONE AT EVOLV1

In 2020, evolv1 became triple-certified – earning LEED Platinum CS (Core & Shell) and becoming dual certified as a Zero Carbon Building (ZCB)  – in both Design and Performance. The Cora Group applied for the zero-carbon performance certification after a year of energy data was collected from the building. After a full year of operation evolv1 has proved that it is sustainable in design and performance. 

Current tenants include The Accelerator Centre, Borealis AI, EY, Sustainable Waterloo Region, TextNow, University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Tenants pay market rates for their workspaces, proving the financial feasibility of the premium commercial building and that sustainability is good for business.

How to Reduce Your Food Waste

This article was originally posted on July 17, 2020 on The Sustainable Student, the student-run blog from the Sustainable Ambassadors at the University of Guelph Sustainability Office.

When it comes to reducing organic waste in my kitchen, I use a combination of creative meal planning and smart food storage. Over the last several years, I’ve discovered a number of tips and tricks to help everything run smoothly – and even save some money. Food habits are highly personal, so there is no best way to run your kitchen.

I encourage you to play around until you find what works for your household!

Organization

The most common cause of my personal food waste is that I forget about items until they expire. Out of sight, out of mind, right? I combat this with my two most essential kitchen tools: a sharpie and a roll of masking tape. If you tend to put leftovers into re-used yogurt or sour cream tubs like I do, you’ll want to mark them clearly with name and date on the top or sidewhere it is clearly visible as soon as you open the door of the fridge or freezer. If you can use clear bins, that’s even better.

Two kitchen tools I can’t live without.

Pull everything that’s going to expire soon to the front of your fridge, freezer, and cupboards. Some of my friends actually have a dedicated “eat me first” shelf. This way there is no excuse that you didn’t see that little bin of old hummus behind all the juice cartons!

Shop smart

The best way to reduce the food waste that comes out of your kitchen is to control what comes into it. I try never to go to the store without a grocery list, because it’s very difficult to plan a week worth of meals on the spot.

I start my grocery list with the basic essentials (eggs, milk, bread, etc.). My next step is to check the fridge, freezer, and cupboards to see what I already have. Thanks to my labelling system, it’s easy to see what’s about to expire and incorporate those items into the next week’s meals.

When you’re in the store, be aware of how long produce lasts and where you need to store them. It’ll affect what you buy, and in what quantities. For example, I have learned not to buy green onions when the fridge is already going to be extremely full, because they need to be stored in an upright jar with water in order to stay fresh. The same goes for things that aren’t best frozen (like tomatoes – I buy a mixture of fresh and canned) or things that go bad within a quick window (I’m looking at you, avocados – I never buy more than two at a time).

Use that freezer!

I don’t like eating leftovers for more than two meals in a row. Some people can make a huge batch of meals every Sunday and be set for the week, but that’s just not my style. Instead, I buy versatile ingredients than can be used in a variety of recipes, and store them in the freezer ready to use. For vegetables, that means washing, blanching, chopping/mincing, and packing things like carrots, peppers, and celery into freezer safe reusable bins or bags. The stalks or tops go into a special bin reserved for making soup stock.

For other ideas, check out The Sustainable Student’s previous article on how to regrow your kitchen scraps into brand new vegetables.

Prepping meat means portioning ground meat into patty sizes, separating packages of chicken breasts or pre-slicing pork tenderloin. Again, everything gets labelled and stored with the oldest food at the top or front. This process means that I am never scrambling for ingredients and rarely have to resort to eating pre-frozen meals or takeout. I also rarely have to eat (or throw out) super old leftovers. As an added financial bonus, I can buy bigger amounts of items that are on sale and save them for when I’ll need them.

What to do with older (but still edible) food

So, you messed up, and found a bunch of wilted spinach lurking behind the rest of your veggies in the crisper drawer. What do you do?

I love to throw old leafy greens into my fruit smoothies. Honestly, I don’t even taste them. You can also turn older food into soup (broccoli, leeks), dips (sour cream), salad dressings (berries), croutons or breadcrumbs (stale bread), baked goods (bruised apples) and more. This is an extension of the “imperfect produce” idea, which is that just because ingredients are no longer in their prime doesn’t mean they aren’t useful or able to be turned into something delicious.

June Roundup

Read time: 3 minutes

In June 2017, I made my annual trip to Toronto to attend the Pride Parade with my friend. We jockeyed for a good spot to watch the floats. After a while, the parade completely stopped. We learned on Twitter that a group called Black Lives Matter Toronto was staging a sit-in. As we sat in the hot sun, I said to my friend, “I’m tired of waiting for this parade.” And she said, “If you’re tired after half an hour, think about how Black people feel.”

Of course, I had no idea how Black people felt. My friend’s comment made me realize that I wasn’t making space in my life to hear the stories, perspectives, and history of the Black community. I had and continue to experience racism and fetishism as a visible minority, but I am a light-skinned cis/het woman who has privileges that others do not, and I have no idea what it is to walk the world as a Black person.

I began to follow some Black influencers and activists on social media and consciously sought out media and content that wasn’t from straight white men. But I freely admit that I could and should have done more to educate myself.

You may have seen on my social media accounts that my partner and I made some recent donations to support organizations like the Nia Centre, the Black Business and Professional Network, and Across Boundaries. But that is not enough. I also commit to amplifying the voices of others through my work as a storyteller, especially underrepresented voices. I will create content that does not promote harmful stereotypes or systemic racism, even if I have to challenge a client’s wishes. In my personal life, I will support more local Black-owned businesses and encourage the people around me to become more informed.

For the June Roundup, here are some of the things I have been reading and listening to:

Brother by David Chariandy

This novel tells the story of two young brothers growing up in Scarborough, Ontario in the 90’s, facing prejudice and injustice every day. Their hopes and dreams are cut short when a particular gun shooting changes their lives forever.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

I am about a third of the way through this book, which compares the modern American justice system to the Jim Crow laws which designated Black people as second class citizens.

What a Day Podcast (Crooked Media)

This daily American podcast, hosted by comedian Akilah Hughes and reporter Gideon Resnick, takes a look at each weekday’s news in a way that is both entertaining, informative, and motivating. They often approach news stories from a diversity-focused lens.

Colour Code Podcast (Globe and Mail)

I have just downloaded all eleven episodes of this podcast which examines race in Canada. I am looking forward to listening to it.

I am always open to recommendations to diversify my views. Please reach out to me if you have suggestions at hello@valeriechong.ca.

May Roundup

Read time: 2 minutes

Here’s what I’ve been up to this month. Enjoy!

Learning

Back in the Saddle

The return of beautiful weather and the continuing quarantine have pushed me to pull out my old bicycle. I learned how to ride as a child, but am unfamiliar with bicycle road procedures and shaky on busier roads. This month, I’ve been learning about arm signals and rules of the road as a cyclist. I’ve also started exploring Cambridge’s vast array of trails and bike lanes. I feel lucky to have so much nature just in front of my handlebars!

Reading

The Libby App

Long after audio books became widely popular, I refused to swap my weekly visit to the public library for an app on my phone. I loved everything about visiting my local branch of the Idea Exchange (Cambridge’s public library): the opportunity for a walk downtown, the chance to say hello to the familiar staff, and a comfy seat by the large glass windows. And besides, I had my earphones in during every waking hour – my eyes and ears needed a break!

Of course, COVID-19 put a stop to that lovely habit. Once I ran out of books to read at home, I finally cast around for an audiobook option. I briefly considered and discarded Audible and looked with interest at Libro.fm (similar to Audible, but supports local bookstores), but ultimately settled on the free option provided through the Idea Exchange: the Libby App. It’s easy to use and has a great selection of audiobooks and e-books.

I am currently listening to If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. It is a beautiful novel about Amanda, a transgender teenage girl who moves to live with her father in Tennessee for a fresh start following a physical assault in a women’s bathroom in Georgia. Her struggle to navigate life and love has touched my heart.

Eating

Local restaurants I’m loving:

Andy’s Pizza (Galt/Cambridge): this family-run local joint has delicious pizza and friendly service. Be sure to try their honey garlic wings!

Hungry Ninja (Galt/Cambridge): it’s hard to find good sushi in Cambridge (unless I make it myself), but at least I know I can always grab a decent salmon sashimi and shrimp tempura bowl at Hungry Ninja.

Barnacle Bill’s (Galt/Cambridge): these guys know how to fry a fish! Be sure to call ahead as their line can get a bit long. I love the cod & chips (pictured).

A Look at Social Media during the COVID-19 Quarantine

A version of this article was included in Issue 001 (May 15, 2020) of the Idea Exchange Quaranzine.

It’s been almost two months since Premier Ford declared Ontario to be in a state of emergency. Our lives have been turned upside down, and many people are turning to social media to connect (and commiserate). Each of our experiences is unique, and taking a look at what people are posting and sharing on social media is a great way to peek into their perspective.

Initially, our feeds were filled with odd phenomena such as toilet paper panic buying and the stockpiling of canned foods. We saw photo after photo of empty shelves, endless line-ups, and carts filled with dried pasta and frozen vegetables. After a time, such reactions lessened, although it’s still impossible to get a bag of flour or packet of yeast at your local grocery store.

Some more fortunate individuals are not too downcast about the prospect of a forced home vacation. Their posts may include home exercise goals, reading lists, and resolutions to catch up on sleep. Parents who are enjoying more time with young children are posting charming family vignettes with puzzles, crafts, and board games.

There is a prevailing pressure to be productive during this time at home. “Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was in quarantine!” they say. And we do see posts from people who appear to be making the most of this time by writing, composing, learning a new skill, or baking fresh-baked sourdough bread. Beautiful art is everywhere, thanks to a burst of creativity and inspiration that many are experiencing during this quiet time at home.

Thanks, Jeremy.

Of course, the disruption to daily routines has had a negative effect on many people. Social media posts highlight the financial struggles many are experiencing due to layoffs across the country. Over half of respondents in a recent poll said their mental health has worsened during quarantine. Hashtags such as #StayStrong and #StayPositive are circulating as we try to support each other from a distance. We have lost all sense of time, resulting in a number of memes including the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey who wonders what a weekend is.

Maggie Smith as the Dowager in Downton Abbey

One encouraging social media trend to come out of this quarantine is the increased support for local businesses. The hashtags #buylocal and #supportlocalbusinesses have become more popular as we avoid conventional grocery stores, instead opting for grocery delivery or curbside pickup. This author hopes this increased support for local businesses will continue post-quarantine.

Despite the negative impacts of COVID-19, social media continues to be a place of humour and joy for many. Some fun memes have included The Last Supper reimagined as a Zoom call; Ina Garten enjoying an oversized cocktail that involved an entire bottle of vodka; and scenes from The Office, Groundhog Day, and Animal Crossing. Tik Tok has exploded with comedy skits and dance video trends. Hashtags such as #Covember (post-quarantine facial hair – think “Movember”) have become extremely popular. We’ve even developed entirely new words such as “quarantini” (a quarantine martini) and “drivecation” (a vacation in your driveway).

The Last Supper reimagined as a Zoom call.
Ina Garten enjoys an oversized “quarantini”.

In the years to come, we may look back on some of these social media trends with astonishment or a shake of the head. It’ll certainly be an interesting snapshot for historians and analysts. But no matter how long this quarantine lasts, social media will always be a place for us to connect, complain, and comfort each other.

Social Listening: The Most Important Thing You Should be Doing Right Now

Reading time: 5 minutes

If you’re not an essential service, chances are that you’ve had to close or decrease your business for the last two months. To ensure you’ll hit the ground running once quarantine is lifted, you should be social listening.

“Social listening is the monitoring of your brand’s social media channels for any customer feedback and direct mentions of your brand or discussions regarding specific keywords, topics, competitors, or industries, followed by an analysis to gain insights and act on those opportunities.”

Hubspot

I would expand Hubspot’s definition of social listening to include scanning the wider social media landscape outside of your own channels.

Your Customers are Changing.

According to a 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes an average of 66 days for a group of people to form a new habit in their life. As of this blog, it has been 57 days since the Ontario state of emergency was declared on March 17, and it will be in effect until at least June 2.

This means you need to completely re-examine your understanding of your customers’ product preferences, spending patterns, and moods.

People make purchases based on their values, priorities, and sense of identity. A big change in society like a pandemic is certainly going to change how we feel about our own sense of security. For example, I believe there will be a shift toward more long-lasting, higher-end products, now that we’ve had to do without repair or replacement services. I also believe there may be a desire for beauty over cost-saving, thanks to days and weeks spent staring at our interior decorating choices.

“The CDC and World Health Organizations are stressing the importance of proper handwashing and doing it often. This is bound to influence people to live healthier lives, which is a win for retailers selling healthier foods and sustainable products. It will move consumers to evaluate things from a different perspective.”

Michael Barbera, Chief Behaviour Officer at Clicksuation Labs via Forbes

Following social media will help inform your future product offerings. Image-based platforms like Instagram and Pinterest will show you what consumers are looking to buy once the pandemic is over. Tracking relevant hashtags will let you peek into consumer conversations – are they experiencing frustrations with certain types of products or services? What are they turning to right now?

Following online conversations will keep your content relevant. Customers are being bombarded with COVID-19 announcements from every business they’ve ever subscribed to. Don’t be yet another generic email in their inbox. Take those frustrations that you’re seeing on Twitter or Reddit and provide solutions.

My optometrist recently emailed me with methods to reduce eye strain from increased screen exposure. They have examined their audience's new daily routines and recognized an issue that needed to be solved. This is exactly the kind of content I want to see - topical, useful, and relevant to their core service. 

Listening to your customers can provide opportunities. By following your followers, you may come across a non-profit that is supporting people in your industry, or influencers who might be open to a collaboration. It’s a great time to build partnerships and genuine relationships.

Your Competitors are Adapting.

While you’re doing your daily social listening, don’t forget to check out what your competition is saying and selling. If they have caught wind of a new trend or are planning a new product line, you’ll probably see hints of it in their social media.

The most obvious change that many businesses are taking advantage of is an increase in online spending. According to a survey of over 1,500 people on March 20, 24% of Canadians planned to increase their online spending during the coronavirus. After this is all over, many of those people will likely continue their newly formed habit of online spending, thanks to simple convenience. They’ll be expecting easy-to-navigate e-commerce sites, free shipping, and smart tools such as recommendation algorithms. Now might be the perfect time to start building your online shop.

I’ve seen many local businesses partner with each other and local charities during COVID-19. For example, Pressed For Time Panini has used Instagram to participate in collaborative giveaways and the Guelph Box subscription service. You never know where ideas will come from.

Some great tools for social listening are Hubspot, Hootsuite, or Tweetdeck.