EcoSpark empowers people to take an active role in protecting and sustaining nature. We do this by giving people the tools to monitor their environment, educate their community and influence positive change. We are a leader in empowering individuals and communities to actively protect and maintain a healthy, sustainable environment for future generations.
EcoSpark was formed as Citizens’ Environment Watch in 1996 by prominent scientists, including Dr. Ursula Franklin, in response to provincial budget cuts in environmental monitoring. Since 1996, we have connected people with their environment through fun, entry level, easy-to-access activities. They are then empowered with the knowledge and skills to become environmental stewards.
In 2017, EcoSpark released its 5-year Strategic Plan. This renewed strategic plan builds upon our organizational strengths and achievements including our face-to-face environmental engagement and our science-based systems approach. We will continue to operate in a trusted, credible and reliable manner with educators, scientists, planners and other like-minded individuals.
EcoSpark celebrated its 20th Anniversary! For our 20th birthday, we treated ourselves to a new office at the Artscape Wychwood Barns and a brand new website.
In 2016, EcoSpark was named the 2016 recipient of the Robin Dennis Award from the Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario (COEO). We received this award for our Changing Currents program and its outstanding contribution to the promotion and development of outdoor education in the province. Thanks COEO!
EcoSpark’s longest running and most successful program, Changing Currents, turned 15! Since its inception in 2000, we have worked with 17,665 students and teachers across 12 school boards to monitor over 400 streams across southern Ontario! In 2015, we launched an updated version of online database that shows the location, data and assessment of all of our sites.
2015 also marked the launch of EcoSpark's new Nature Academy program – a professional development program for teachers in outdoor environmental education. This program best exhibits EcoSpark’s expertise in training in the environment, for the environment and about the environment.
In 2015, EcoSpark was and continues to be a key stakeholder in the 2015 Coordinated Land Use Planning Review: we are part of a “bluebelt” campaign to grow the Greenbelt by 1.5 million acres; we launched the first Greenbelt Youth Charter to provide a voice for youth in protecting the Greenbelt. This work was the culmination of our years of working on the Oak Ridges Moraine in the Greenbelt through the Monitoring the Moraine program and the Marvellous Moraine partnership.
EcoSpark made the strategic decision to discontinue our energy conservation program, Wattwize, in order to concentration our efforts on outdoor, nature-based experiential education, i.e., where we saw the greatest transformational and long-term impact on our participants. Wattwize was a successful program where we taught elementary and high school students how to conduct an energy audit at their school and provided support in developing and implementing an energy conservation plan. We reached nearly 13,500 students and teachers across the Greater Toronto Area between 2005 and 2013.
In 2012, EcoSpark successfully completed the Live Green Toronto Community Animation Program for the City of Toronto. In 2008, EcoSpark was awarded a $3.6 million contract from the City of Toronto for the program. From 2009 to 2012, EcoSpark’s community animators empowered Torontonians with the knowledge, tools and resources to take environmental action for a greener Toronto. We promoted the Live Green Toronto message to over 26,500 people, worked directly with an estimated 450 groups to initiate green projects, inspired 19,000 volunteer hours towards community projects, and supported the identification and development of over 80 funding proposals, securing over $1,000,000 for green projects in Toronto.
EcoSpark launched its new tagline: Discover. Act. Change. This tagline reflects the transformative process which participants undergo when taking part in all of our programs. A focus upon experiential, hands-on learning and monitoring allows participants to discover environmental issues for themselves, inspiring them to take action to protect their environment. Ultimately, change is created both within the environment and within the participants as they become aware of the potential they have to effect positive change.
The organization rebranded to become EcoSpark! Formerly loved as Citizens’ Environment Watch or CEW, the new and more inclusive brand resonated more with our audiences. They responded very positively and immediately understood the organization’s objectives and the ‘spark’ reflected an emphasis upon action.
Because of our excellence in environmental education, EcoSpark was approached by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to deliver Our Green Schools (OGS), a program to engage students in key environmental issues in their schools. At the elementary level, EcoSpark worked with grade 5 and 6 teachers to produce a curriculum toolkit comprising integrated units to enable students to explore solar energy issues. This toolkit was made available to teachers across the TDSB as well as the province. At the secondary level, OGS included a documentary program where we coached high school students from five TDSB schools to create exciting top quality environmental films based on the issues they were most concerned about. These documentaries were publically screened with much success to a packed audience at the Revue Cinema on June 1st, 2011.
From 2007 to 2008, we implemented the Muskoka Lakes Water Quality Initiative. This program trained volunteers to monitor near and off shore lake water quality using physical and chemical parameters. EcoSpark was awarded a contract to run the program for two years and extended the program to other lakes in Ontario (Ontario Lakes for the Future).
In 2006, EcoSpark launched the Monitoring the Moraine Program with key note speaker Gord Miller, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Monitoring the Moraine was a program that engaged communities across the moraine in: learning about the landscape; policy and ecological monitoring; participating in decision-making – in particular in participating in the 2015 Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan review.
EcoSpark gained charitable status. In 2005, EcoSpark was also awarded with a Green Toronto Award from the City of Toronto for the success and positive impact of our environmental education programs to students across the city.
EcoSpark delivered our air quality monitoring program, Learning Atmospheres, from 2001 to 2005. Citizens and youth in schools used a suite of epiphytic lichen as biological indicators of air quality. Our citizen science protocol was developed in consultation with lichenologists and Environment Canada. In addition, our participants tested ground level ozone using a hand-held ozone monitoring device, designed specifically for citizen scientists.
In 2006 and 2007, EcoSpark focused “Learning Atmospheres” into the “Toronto Lichen Count”. Over two years, we trained 415 Torontonians to monitor lichens in urban parks across the City. In total, 105 sites were monitored. As a result, baseline for lichen presence, abundance and diversity was captured for the City of Toronto.
EcoSpark is incorporated as a non-profit organization.
In 2000, EcoSpark made the strategic decision to shift focus from stream water quality monitoring using chemical parameters to biological indicators, i.e., benthic macroinvertebrates (BMIs), and Changing Currents as we know it was born.
This strategic shift was a result of Next Steps, an environmental monitoring conference that EcoSpark hosted in April 2000, attracting representatives from other NGOs, government and conservation authorities.
Between 1996 and 1999, we developed a series of simple physical and chemical surface water quality tests that allowed citizens to easily measure ammonia, turbidity, temperature, and phosphates. Participating groups collected their monitoring results and sent them to EcoSpark where their data were added to an on-line database, to which our participants and the general public have access. An average of 20 groups per year participated, including youth and adults.
EcoSpark was formed as Citizens’ Environment Watch (CEW). CEW was formed by Dr. Ursula Franklin, Dr. Beth Savan and Dr. Ian Brindle, and operated out of the University of Toronto’s Innis College. The objectives were education, citizen empowerment and quality data production. In our first year, we helped citizens test pH levels in their local rivers, marshes, lakes and ponds.
Between 1995 and 1998, there were severe cutbacks in the Ontario Ministry of Environment that impeded the government’s ability to effectively monitor environmental change. At the same time, it was recognized that there was potential for citizens to undertake a role in monitoring and decision-making. Although this led to the formation of EcoSpark, the organization was in no way designed to replace environmental monitoring carried out by government.