Kitchener-Waterloo’s Devon Fernandes on growing a culture of sustainability

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It has been a year since Devon Fernandes co-founded the KW (Kitchener-Waterloo) Library of Things which led to his nomination as one of The Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists under 25. Since then, the KW Library of Things has benefited the community by providing a pool of shared resources ranging from sewing machines to pressure washers, and Devon continues to work towards creating a culture of sharing.

A library of things allows members of the community to borrow infrequently used items, such as tools, garden equipment, kitchen appliances, or camping gear. The movement has been popular in many communities for its environmental and social benefits, as members have access to a wide variety of resources they would otherwise have to either buy or do without.

Devon discovered there was strong support for a Library of Things in the Waterloo region and ran with the idea while he was completing a Master’s degree in Community Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. He led the development of the library along with the strong support of two co-founding organizations, Sustainable Societies Consulting Group and Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region — a local not-for-profit that serves developmental and physical disabilities.

When talking to community members on the advantages of a Library of Things, he would often start by asking his audience how often they thought the average electric drill is used in its lifetime. Most would guess hours or days. The answer: only 11 minutes.

By pooling a community’s resources, each item can be used to its potential, which reduces the need for people to buy new items that will see minimal use. Every single one of the 504 items in the KW Library of Things has been donated by community members who are downsizing, decluttering or simply realizing they can share their resources more efficiently with their community. The entire region flourishes when less items unnecessarily enter the community.

The local landfill in Waterloo is projected to reach its capacity around 2030, and reducing waste by sharing and reusing items is one of the library’s benefits.

Within the first six months of opening, the KW Library of Things welcomed 127 members, and is steadily growing. It now has around 160 members and is continually adding new items to its inventory to meet the needs of its growing members.

Social sustainability and community benefits are a huge element of the library for Devon, and this is evident in its day-to-day operations. Membership to the library is $40/year, but those who can are asked to pay $60 or $80 to subsidize the membership of another community member.

Additionally, all the proceeds of the library go to support opportunities for individuals who face barriers to employment, such as individuals with disabilities.

When asked if he considers the library to be a success, Devon says, “I think you’d have to ask the community.” His hope is that the library will create benefits to the community and the environment. “If a dad is using a waffle maker he borrowed from the library to spend time cooking breakfast with his kids on a weekend, I consider that a success.”

Devon has certainly kept himself busy since the KW Library of Things opened its doors. Soon after his Top 25 nomination, Devon completed his Master’s degree in August 2018. He now works as a Sustainability Specialist at Humber College in Toronto, where he focuses on waste management and creating a culture of sustainability.

He remains deeply passionate about creating social and environmental change. He sees the KW Library of Things as part of a cultural revolution to help us transition from a “buying” economy to a “sharing” economy, where all members of the community have access to the resources they need with minimal strain on the environment.

While co-founding a community organization, saving the environment, and leading positive social change may seem like an overwhelming undertaking for most students, Devon’s advice is simple: talk to people. He suggests finding people in your community who are already doing similar things and reaching out. “You’ll find that everyone is willing to help in some way, whether it be funding, in-kind donations or mentorships.”

He’s also quick to emphasize that the library was not solely his achievement. “I don’t think of myself as a leader in the way people think of that title. I’m very community-minded. So many people helped with the founding of the library. We crowdsourced everything. It’s not ‘Devon’s library.’ It’s the community’s library.”

Creating positive change in your community is possible, even when you’re a student juggling multiple commitments. Seek support from the community you hope to enrich and remember: no good work is done alone.

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About the author

Andrea grew up in a small town north of Edmonton before moving to the west coast to attend university. While studying at the University of Victoria, she was surprised by the diversity of habitats found on Vancouver Island, as well as the number of opportunities to engage with nature in dozens of local parks and beaches. After graduating with BA double-major in Anthropology and Environmental Studies, she decided to stay and call Victoria home and was delighted to find work as an environmental educator. She loves to encourage people to use their senses to connect to nature by smelling a citrusy grand fir needle or touching a slimy moon snail. She sees writing for The Starfish Canada as another means of engaging an audience and fostering a connection to the natural world.

Andrea Neumann