After three months of striving to reduce household energy and water consumption, learning new ways to reduce garbage and inspiring people to do the same, Nanaimo's Belbin family learned late last week it finished second in a national competition hosted by Canadian Geographic and Shell Canada.
The Belbins – Grant, Alison, Drew, 9, Kai, 8, and Mara, 4 – were one of six households selected earlier this year to participate in The Energy Diet Challenge, a contest created to encourage Canadians to use energy more efficiently in their homes and make smarter mobility choices.
"At Canadian Geographic, we are dedicated to helping Canadians learn more about the country and its resources," said John Geiger, president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, in a press release. "Energy resources are a vital part of our country's natural heritage and the Energy Diet Challenge will help all Canadians increase their energy literacy and make a hands-on difference every day."
Though disappointed they didn't win, Alison said working together as a team to find ways to save energy and money has benefitted them far beyond any prize.
And the Belbins will continue to practise many of the energy-reduction habits started over the course of the contest.
"The most important thing we came away with was reducing our energy did not in any way reduce our quality of life, or did we feel like we were missing out on anything," said Alison. "It was actually the complete opposite and that was a big surprise. We thought that we would be energy starved over the last three months, but we realized that we really didn't need any of the things that we weren't using or didn't use."
The Kitchen-Kulak household from the Yukon were the overall champions of the contest and winners of a 2012 Toyota Prius v hybrid car.
Over three months, the Belbins found ways to reduce water consumption by 50 per cent and energy use in their house by 47 per cent, and gasoline usage and costs were also reduced by 50 per cent.
Alison said she is especially proud of her children's ability to embrace the challenge and take their ideas to school and teach their peers how to consume less.
Drew, 9, earned high accolades from contest organizers for his idea of a daily 'No Power Hour', when all energy-drawing devices were turned off, an idea Alison said will continue even though the contest is over.
"The kids came up with a lot of the ideas around the house to conserve," said Alison. "As a parent, it was kind of cool to sit back and watch them take the lead. The kids went to speak with mayor and in front of school and had a lot of supporters behind them who they didn't even know before."
Points for the contest were earned for creativity in reducing waste, participation such as regular blogs, overall energy reduction which included water and hydro use, community outreach and accumulation of audience votes throughout the contest.
Though the Belbins led in many of the categories, audience voting tilted in favour of the Kitchen-Kulaks.
The legacy of the Belbin's efforts will continue throughout Nanaimo.
Grant's aunt and uncle, inspired by the family, said they will donate $1,000 to the Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank, an amount that will be matched by Shell Canada. The family also plans to continue participating in the Young Professionals of Nanaimo community gardens to benefit the food bank.
"It's impossible to unlearn what we've learned," said Alison. "Even though we're no longer being watched were still doing the things we have been doing. Everything is the same. The length of the competition was a good one because it gave us enough time to build habits. But it has been a fantastic experience. Are we disappointed? Sure, this has been like a full-time job for the past three months and a lot has gone into it, but I have a feeling this is just the beginning."
For more on the Energy Diet Challenge, visit www.energydiet.canadiangeographic.ca.