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Driving through a stark industrial park with three of her four kids strapped in the backseat of the family minivan, Melanie Smith had no idea she was about to have a great green epiphany. She passed a huge cement plant – and thought nothing of it. But little five-year-old Lauren was spellbound. A giant smokestack was puffing out big, fluffy swirls of white, pushing them up into the perfectly blue Alberta sky.
"Mommy," Lauren said, "is that a cloud machine?"
For Melanie, the words were a lightning bolt. She had a sinking feeling in her stomach. "I had to explain that this was not a cloud machine, but tons of chemicals, toxins or something more sinister taking the form of a pretty little cloud," she says. "How do you explain that to a five-year-old?"
Time for a green change
The moment stayed with Melanie and on that spring day last year, she realized it was time to make a change. She vowed that her family, with their big house, big cars and big trips to the grocery store, would start showing Mother Nature more respect. "Our [eco] footprint is huge," she said. "And we need to change it."
A few months later, Melanie picked up an issue of Canadian Living and read about the Green Up Your Family contest. One Canadian family was going to win an eco-makeover, complete with a home visit from Lindsay Coulter, the David Suzuki Foundation's Queen of Green.
"A lightbulb went on in my head," says Melanie, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mother with a degree in environmental studies. "I thought: This is what we need."
Melanie wrote to Canadian Living, describing the smokestack episode and her growing gusto for green.
"We try to do the best we can at home with recycling and conserving water," she said in her letter. "But I'm lost as to what else my husband, Steve, and I can do.... With four children, a busy house and a hectic life, I don't know where to start. We need to do this for our family."
Meeting the Queen of Green
The Canadian Living editors loved Melanie's heartfelt contest entry – and so did the Queen of Green.
"They had me at cloud machine," says Coulter, an impassioned eco-ambassador who has been working for the David Suzuki Foundation for five years. "It was amazing. It made my day to read that letter. It just seemed so real."
A few weeks later, Coulter headed to St. Albert, Alta., just outside of Edmonton, to visit the Smiths at their pristine 33-year-old two-storey home on a street lined with tall evergreens. At first, the family didn't know what to expect from the Queen of Green's eco-inventory. But after reading labels, pulling back shower curtains, examining thermostats, mulling over meatless meals and talking trash, Melanie and her family were on their way to a happier, greener lifestyle.
Page 1 of 4 – What does greening up actually entail? Find out on page 2.