A “hack” is a trick, method or new approach for doing something better. A good hack can make your life easier; a good green hack can make your life easier on the planet.

Parks Canada is always looking for ways to reduce waste and use our resources sustainably. We’ve committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2029–2030 from 2005–06 levels. Through the Government of Canada’s Build in Canada Innovation Program, we’re testing new clean technologies in our National Parks and Historic Sites. And we’re getting creative about recycling.

We hope that Canadians will be inspired by these green hacks… and maybe come up with a few of their own.

1. Recycle and repurpose your uniforms.

Students repairing jackets at Réseau CFER, a Quebec-based non-profit organization.

Parks Canada collects its obsolete and worn-out uniform items (shirts, pants, ball caps, etc.), and either re-purposes them locally or donates non-branded items to local not-for-profits or charities.

Branded items are sent for shredding, where they go through a fibre-reclamation process. The recovered fibres are then used to stuff such products as automobile seats, furniture, boxing gloves, and punching bags.

Parks Canada also partners with Réseau CFER, a Quebec-based non-profit organization that works with youth at risk, to re-purpose its winter jackets.

The young participants in this program remove all identifiers (such as the Parks Canada beaver logo) from the jackets. The items are then washed, sorted, repaired and sold. Sales of the jackets support the CFER program, which is recognized by Quebec's Ministry of Education, and the youth involved gain valuable work experience.

2. Track your vehicles to green your fleet.

A man and woman standing in front of a Parks Canada truck
Parks Canada staff with their vehicle at Prince Edward Island National Park.

Parks Canada’s fleet of cars and trucks contributes up to 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce those emissions, we are moving to greener, more fuel-efficient vehicles. But to make that move successfully, we need hard data on our current fleet.

Enter Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). As part of the Greening Government Operations – Fleet Program, NRCan provides free data-logging devices to all government departments and agencies. These small data-loggers can be put into our vehicles to provide information on vehicle use, fuel consumption and emissions.

Using this information, NRCan provides a report analyzing the savings involved in replacing our vehicles with Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) and hybrid vehicles (those that use both electricity and fuel). They’ll also tell us what equipment we’ll need for these green vehicles—for example, the number of charging stations.

These data loggers have recently been installed on Parks Canada vehicles at the Rideau Canal National Historic Site, Elk Island National Park, and at the parks and sites of the Georgian Bay and Ontario East Field Unit. And the list is growing!

3. Find all those niches for solar energy.

A solar array with huts in the background
Solar panel at Quttinirpaaq National Park, Nunavut

Parks Canada is catching a few rays wherever it can—and passing on the benefits to our visitors.

At Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site in Manitoba, the Visitor Reception Centre uses a solar wall to preheat outside air before it enters the building, reducing the need for natural gas heating in winter.

Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in Nova Scotia uses a solar-heated hot water system in their Visitor Centre/Administration Building.

And on the remote Île aux Oiseaux in Quebec’s Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, solar panels provide power for the island’s base camp, which is used by researchers and Parks staff.

4. Adapt lighting to the environment.

A small hut with minimal lighting in front of a starry sky
The Milky Way in Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park.

We live in a sea of excess light—from stores and office towers, carparks and warehouses, streetlights and porch lights. Imagine if we could control even the largest lighting system so that it worked intelligently… and frugally.

Parks Canada is planning to test a palm-sized device called ALEC (All-in-one Lighting Energy Controller). ALEC dims or turns off lighting when it’s not needed—when there’s enough daylight, for example, or when there’s nobody in the building. The brainchild of the company Triangle Research International, ALEC has been selected for the Government of Canada’s Build in Canada Innovation Program.

ALEC is slated to be tested in the administration building at Pukaskwa National Park (Ontario).

5. Use resources smartly by following the Passive House standard.

“The only truly unlimited energy source is energy efficiency,” says Sonia Zouari, Contemporary Architect at Parks Canada.

Passive Houses are extreme low-energy and low-tech buildings. Instead of relying on active systems to heat or cool indoor environments, passive houses provide optimum comfort, well-being and energy savings thanks to high levels of insulation, airtight construction, efficient windows and doors, and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. Passive Houses also use the free energy from the sun while minimizing heat loss.

Passive Houses will drastically reduce energy consumption and maintenance requirements while freeing up operating funds for better visitor experience.

Parks Canada’s Northern Ontario Field Unit is leading the way with a planned Passive House Discovery Centre in Nipigon, Ontario.

The roof of a passive house wooden building with skylights and solar panels
Passive houses are both low-energy and low-tech.