Living lightly

Made-in-Ottawa film offers ideas to reduce your eco footprint

Charles Enman
The Ottawa Citizen

A lot of people want to live their lives in a way that’s kind to the Earth and to the people on it, but they have no clue how.

Enter Ottawa environmentalist David Chernushenko, armed with his first environmental documentary, Be The Change, which will get its premiere screening tomorrow night at the Bell Theatre in Carleton University’s Minto Centre.

“We think this is an upbeat and inspiring documentary,” says Chernushenko, a Green Party candidate in several recent federal and provincial elections. “And inspiration is what people need. They have lots of facts, or ways of getting them, but they don’t have a demonstration that living lightly on the Earth is not that difficult and that lots of people do it and find real pleasure in it.”


“Living lightly” is a mantra for Chernushenko. The new documentary is part of his Living Lightly Project, which seeks to show people how to establish lifestyles that have positive impacts on the environment.

The documentary is full of inspiring stories: an Alta Vista gardener who’s producing lots of food in the city without disturbing her flower-planting neighbours; a couple who have gone a year without fully filling a garbage bag; a contractor who finds that his clients want environmentally friendly buildings; an engineer whose house runs completely off the energy grid.

Chernushenko describes these people as “local heroes,” ordinary people who are quietly making the kinds of personal changes that, if generally adopted, would greatly shrink humanity’s collective environmental footprint.

“Can we make the needed difference? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that doing nothing will guarantee a crash,” he says.

All of these stories were found within 60 kilometres of Chernushenko’s home in Old Ottawa South. That showed two important things, he says: First, that there are lots of stories everywhere, proving that all kinds of people are managing to live lightly; and second, that his team avoided the energy expenditure of travelling long distances.

One could say the film itself has a minimal environmental footprint. The crew used rechargeable batteries in their equipment, ate at locally owned cafés, and printed scripts on recycled paper. To offset the greenhouse gas emissions they couldn’t avoid, they made a donation to the Guatemala Stove Project, which puts fuel-efficient masonry stoves in many rural homes in Guatemala.

Chernushenko thinks many people are ready to hear the stories in the documentary. Two years ago, he points out, a survey on sustainable living showed that 15 per cent of Canadians were already making changes in their lives and a further 67 per cent would if they understood more about it.

“If you say the 15 per cent are the choir, then the 67 per cent are my target, the congregation,” he says. “And I want the congregation to come out of the screening saying, ‘Yeah, I want to live sustainably, and now I feel empowered to do a few things to make that happen.’

“And my belief is that, if we get the congregation acting, we’ll reach a tipping point and everyone else will come along. That’s how society changes.”

More than half of the subjects of the documentary will be present at tomorrow’s screening, which begins at 7 p.m. There is no admission, though donations will be accepted.

DVDs of the 50-minute documentary will be on sale.

Be the Change will air tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Bell Theatre in the Minto Centre at Carleton University. Admission is free.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008