Adria Vasil is one of Canada’s leading environmental journalists, with two decades of experience in sustainability reporting and a trio of bestselling books on green living. The longtime “Ecoholic” columnist is the managing editor at Corporate Knights, a sustainable economy magazine circulated in the Globe & Mail, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. The former lecturer with Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Journalism lives in the east end of Toronto with her spouse and their cat, Ziggy.
Journalism and books
I was a staff news writer Toronto’s NOW Magazine (largely writing about corporate irresponsibility) when I launched the Ecoholic column in April 2004. Ecoholic began as a green advice column and later became a mash-up of green news, interviews and brutally honest green product reviews. Vintage Press/Randomhouse approached me about turning my little weekly column into a book and the rest is history. I published four books under the Ecoholic banner: Ecoholic (2007), Ecoholic Home (2009), Ecoholic US edition (2009/Norton) and Ecoholic Body (2012).
Early personal life
I spent much of my childhood on an organic goat farm in Quebec raised by a commune of earth-loving hippies. Okay, maybe not. The real story is my Greek Canadian dad and French Canadian mom actually moved my family from Montreal, where I was born, to the aluminum-smelting town of Shawinigan to open up not a health store but a, um, McDonald’s. (Admittedly, steady access to milkshakes and McNuggets was magical to a 5-year-old, but it was a fact I would later hide in shame from my activist friends.) Giving up the Big Mac life, my family ended moving back to Montreal in the 80s. A lot of bad sh*t was happening to the planet. The Exxon Valdez oil spill, the hole in the ozone layer, acid rain. Watching it all unfold on the nightly news with my news junkie dad was intense viewing for a young teen.
It changed me. I started worrying. About everything. By the time we moved to Toronto, I was getting involved in pretty much every issue I could, from women’s rights to human rights to the crap that was in my shampoo and bathroom cleaners. Was it tested on animals? Screwing up the planet? Made in a sweatshop? I’ve been obsessed with the hidden impacts of our everyday choices ever since. Though I think I maintain my sanity and optimism better these days. Dancing in the kitchen helps. So does meditation, which I started doing after my big brother passed away while I was writing Ecoholic Body (he was a big meditator and it’s been my way of connecting to him). Plus I was raised in a family that watched way too many slapstick movies and cracks jokes through all of life’s highs and lows (my dad, who died of cancer in 2016, would have been pretty disappointed if no one made wisecracks at his funeral). So that helps, too.
How did I start doing what I’m doing? After I got my degree in political science from the University of Toronto in the late 90s, I was volunteering then working in the non-profit world researching corporate abuses in developing countries. I was in a planning meeting jamming about how the hell we were going to get the media to write about one of our anti-sweatshop campaigns when it hit me. I was going to go back school to became a journalist to draw attention to the issues I felt were being underreported. So I got a post-graduate degree in journalism from Ryerson University. Soon after, I started the Ecoholic column.
My biggest influence: Definitely my brother Nick. He was my family’s original environmentalist and alternative health guru. When I was a young teen, he started working for Greenpeace Montreal and began bringing home all sorts of flyers and stickers on saving the world, which I promptly plastered everywhere. Nick later developed pretty heavy duty health problems, including a lot of environmental sensitivities. It became clear that he was a canary in the coal mine, picking up on all sorts of pollutants that most of us couldn’t detect. He unplugged as best he could, studying herbalism, holistic nutrition and permaculture. Really, in everything he did, he showed all of us how to live more consciously, more mindfully, more simply. I’m still learning from him, even though he’s not physically around anymore. If he’s here in spirit, he’s probably laughing at the sad state of my garden at the moment.
Words of wisdom from my mom: When I was younger and unsure of whether I was making a difference, my mom told me the world is essentially a giant domino board. “You know, Adria, you can change the world just by working on your little corner of it.” She explained that if we all work on changing our little corners – influencing our friends, our families, our communities – we create a ripple effect that fans out across the country. She was right. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. None of us can change the whole damn planet single-handedly, but if we all work on our corners of it, watch out.
Pet peeves: Antibacterial soap and idling. I mean, really, there is no need.
Minor obsessions: Collecting mason jars and random beach rocks. Also all plant-, bird- and rock-identifying apps.