GUELPH — For one hour on Saturday night, Tova Davidson and her two sons, ages seven and 13, experienced life without electrical lights, computers or gadgets.

“We turned everything off,” says Davidson, who lives in Guelph and was recently named the new executive director of Sustainable Waterloo Region, an organization that works with businesses, organizations and individuals in this region to create a more environmentally sustainable community.

“We just cuddled up with some candles and played some games.” Better still, the games didn’t have anything to do with screens of any sort.

It was part of Earth Hour, an awareness campaign that tries to spread the message about the need to reduce electrical consumption and our collective carbon footprint on the earth.

Households all over Waterloo Region and Guelph and in cities around the world went dark for an hour, starting at 8:30 p.m. Municipalities powered down non-essential lighting and people gathered together by candlelight in civic squares.

Earth Hour was first held in 2007 and now there are 7,000 participating cities in 158 countries.

It is a symbolic gesture, but Davidson, who runs an environmentally-conscious household, says it is also an opportunity to educate children. “I think it is important for them to see that there are things we can do things to cut down and conserve,” she says. Plus, they discover that they can have a fun offline, she adds.

“But it can’t just be Earth Hour,” she says. “It has to become part of our daily lives.”

The flagship program run by Sustainable Waterloo Region is the Regional Carbon Initiative, which now has 65 businesses and organizations involved in setting targets to reduce their carbon footprint.

Businesses are realizing it is good for their bottom line, not just the environment, she adds. “It’s not just an altruistic thing to do. Companies become more profitable if they are using less electricity and less natural gas.”

It’s also good for their image and in attracting a new generation of skilled employees who want to work in environmentally sustainable workplaces, she adds.

There is also a travel-wise program run in partnership with the Region of Waterloo aimed at encouraging employee incentives for biking, walking, car-pooling and using transit.

Sustainable Waterloo Region is also behind a Climate Action Waterloo Region target of reducing total carbon emissions in the region by six percent by 2020. That includes residences, businesses and transportation, she added. “We hope to we will be able to meet that target.”

It is important to do it for the children, she adds. “Something like Earth Hour is a little step in demonstrating our commitment, but there is so much more that can be done.”

Rose Simon –