Tuesday, 28 December 2010

An environmental mascot for Britain

The annual Earthwatch Debate was held at the Royal Geographic Society this year and comprised four presenters each pitching their idea for an environmental mascot for Britain, with the notion that audience members would vote via text for their favourite at the end.

Some presenters were more inspiring than others and I voted for the only female presenter, Dr Samantha Burgess, who is the Senior Research Manager for Oceans at EarthWatch and whom I learnt a lot from about cold coral. I did not know this as I had always thought of coral as being in warm, tropical waters, but in fact, deep sea coral reefs are more expansive than tropical: in UK waters we have over 1300 species of cold coral reefs, each of an age of 200-8000 years. They are spawning grounds for much marine life, a sink of carbon and carbonate (important in this era of anthropogenic global warming) and a source of novel compounds for the pharmaceutical industry. These reefs can tell us a lot about temperature, salinity, acidity and marine nutrients throughout history, but are unfortunately under threat with ocean acidification (increased with rising atmospheric carbon dioxide), oil and gas exploration, overfishing and bottom trawling, seabed mining and cable laying. Cold coral is a species well worthy of a vote to be environmental mascot for Britain, I thought.

In actual fact, it was the humble bumble who won. Dr George McGavin, BBC Lost Lands Presenter and Honorary Research Associate for the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, successfully persuaded the audience of around 400 that the Bumblebee captures the inimitable spirit of Britain whilst representing its invaluable natural heritage. Unfortunately I turned up late so missed his presentation; the lowdown I got from my friend was that 'he's from the TV'.

I knew little more about the second presenter, whose presentation I also missed, other than that he has the best moustache I have ever seen. If you would like to see this incredible feat of human facial hair growth, check out Dr Johannes Vogel, Keeper of Botany at London's Natural History Museum, who represented the bluebell and who is doing his bit for biodiversity on a daily basis by providing a habitat of optimum conditions for many species on his face.

Professor Stephen Hopper, Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew gave a pretty convincing and fairly comical pitch of the oak tree stating that it is 'Britiain's biological backbone', an 'excellent emblem of grandeur' and 'Eurasian in origin, but global in reach'. He made a good point that the Oak Tree provides a home for the Bumblebee, bluebell and song thrush (as well as for 800 insect species and 500 fungi) and he joked that it's also a great habitat for Winnie The Pooh and for us- The Royal Oak. If that's not enough, Sir Francis Drake defeated the Spanish Armada in an oak ship, oak barrells are used in whiskey production, oak timber maintains the structure of the Salisbury Cathedral and acorns provide food for jays and wood pigeons (and Californian native Americans). Apparently the mighty 'Oak Tree' also has the most hits on Google out of all the potential mascots.

A criticism from Prof Hopper of Tony Juniper's song thrush was 'well just type thrush into Google and...'! Juniper, environmental writer, campaigner and adviser, countered Prof Hopper's argument with 'yes but the things that people went out in their oak boats to look for were more important, like the SONG THRUSH for example!' The song thrush is not garish or colourful but is subtle; it is practical, stylish and smart and- how British is that?! The 'throstle' has been mentioned in Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Chaucer and it sings more than any other bird. An entertaining presentation that didn't quite make the cut, but Juniper has a new book out called Harmony, written with HRH the Prince of Wales and Ian Skelly.

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and the Earthwatch Debate was an excellent chance to learn about and reflect upon the species that reside right here in the UK and remain important to our environment and culture.


Sustainability, eco, the green movement and environmentalism; social environmental, corporate sustainability; humanity stewardship, earth citizenship; low carbon, no carbon, carbon neutral, carbon responsible, carbon retired. You don't have to have the most perfect and up to date lingo in order to take action and make a difference so stop worrying about what it's called and get on with it before I get carbon VIOENT!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Can The UK ever be Sustainable?

On Wednesday 1st December 2010 I attended the 15th lecture of the 21st Century Challenges series at the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington entitled ‘Can the UK Ever Be Sustainable?’ After an introductory speech from Rita Gardner, Director of RGS, who stated that geography lies at the heart of all these challenges, Jo Confino, The Guardian Executive Editor and Chairman of Guardian Sustainable Business chaired the discussion.

The panellists were three and represented business, political and individual responses to the sustainability issue, respectively: Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Leader of House of Commons and former Secretary of State for DEFRA; Sir Stuart Rose, Executive Chairman of Marks and Spencer; Andy Hobsbawm Founding Director of Do The Green Thing.

Sir Stuart Rose

First up was Sir Stuart Rose, who told us about what Marks and Spencer is doing at Plan A. I have blogged about this quite recently so will not go into the full detail. It was all fairly fresh in my mind, but I felt sorry for those trying to listen to this for the first time as he spoke very fast and it appeared as though he had done this speech a million times before, although he also spoke quickly during the discussion so perhaps his mind works at a very high speed in general!
He started off by saying that what we need is positive action from business as 63/100 of the world’s largest organisations are corporations, not countries. Getting to grips with this goes far beyond ‘CSR’ and Stuart believes that this decade will represent a paradigm shift in moving towards sustainability in business. The Patagonia (ethical fashion and outdoor wear) founder said ‘every time we do the right thing, we make money’ and Al Gore also said that sustainability can be profitable. This is part of a new wave of business thought. Stuart feels that they have only done about 10% of what they intend to do at M and S and in order to do this, “the one thing we’re going to have to do is we’re going to have to collaborate”.

Hilary Benn MP

Next up was Hilary Benn, who had a slower-paced, but more creative style to his presentation, illustrating his points with examples and acting out the stories with flailing limbs. Apologies for the subsequent disjointed description of his presentation but that was what it was like! He spoke of many of the sustainability challenges that we face today. He started by saying that we have shown an astonishing capacity to use the earth’s resources and if our ancestors were to walk into this high-tech and modern lecture theatre now, they would be amazed at what these resources can make. He used the cautionary tale of Easter Island as an example of how we can get the balance wrong- they used all of the trees on the island for logs to roll very large face statues onto the coast and then had to leave the island shortly after that due to the lack of trees for living requirements.

Apparently, 1 billion of us on the planet are over weight, whilst 1 billion of us are going to bed hungry and malnourished. This is just one of the fundamental injustices in the world. He also quoted Mark Twain to illustrate the shortage of land for food growth, who said ‘my advice is to buy land because they’ve stopped making it’.

Martin Luther King did not begin his speech ‘I had a nightmare...’; with all of these issues, Hilary has found that scaring people does not work, for example the first anti-HIV adverts in the 80s had great blocks of concrete slamming down saying ‘ignorance kills’, but did not actually give practical advice on how to protect oneself.

So what do we need to get out of this hole that we have dug for ourselves? The economics of climate change means that it is more expensive to do nothing than to do something. We already have the means and the minds to get out of this mess and all we need is sheer determination.
Jo Confino asked what exactly labour did to act against anthropogenic climate change as he felt that they didn’t do much at all, but Hilary came back saying that actually the Climate Change Act of 2008 was due to pretty profound leadership.

Andy Hobsbawm

Andy took a different approach altogether to offer potential solutions to the sustainability problem. He showed several videos of ‘Green Thing’, the green coloured, multi-limbed monster and mascot for his non-profit organisation, illustrating, in a fun and sometimes controversial way, why it is beneficial to live sustainably. He claims that creativity is a critical ingredient in the future of sustainability and ‘Do The Green Thing’ aims to turn green living from something one ‘ought to do’ to something one ‘wants to do’.

Ironically the creative industries of marketing and advertising are mostly trying to make us buy things, but they can also be used to promote and sharpen important issues, helping to engage people by giving them something they can relate to, which comes back to Hilary’s point of not making the issue a scary one.

It can often feel like the choice is between a (non-sustainable) rich, high-tech, modern life that is fast-paced where everyone is busy and therefore important and successful vs. The (sustainable) life of less, a life of without, where everything slows down and we all have to live in caves. Creativity can be used advantageously to tell the other side of this story- to help people connect with the climate change issue and make them want to act, realising that it is a positive thing and they will not have to give up everything they are used to. Just one example of this is the anti-nuclear symbol used in the 1970s, which became ubiquitous over badges, sunglasses, t-shirts and bumper stickers and helped spread knowledge about the issue.


The discussion that ensued afterwards was interesting and sometimes heated. Hilary thanked Stuart for being the only retailer to lead on the plastic bag issue, whilst Stuart asked ‘well why didn’t the government put a levy on plastic bags? We could’ve transformed the problem over night!’ Andy spoke of there being a ‘dance’ between individuals and businesses waiting for the government to make regulations, the government looking to business to take action and to people for signs that they will support this with their voting. Stuart agreed that politicians need public encouragement too (who would vote for a party proposing petrol prices be increased four-fold?) and that we have a shared responsibility, but we do need to break this ‘dance’. Hilary concurred that we need to change and we need three main things: example, encouragement and incentive. Andy felt that it will take an extreme external event to shock people into change.

Overall it was a lively and thought-provoking evening, the presentations of which can now be watched on the RGS website.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

We are addicted to oil...

...In a similar way to:

1. Work- moving onto the next better paid job is seen as the difference between feeling empowered or powerless.
2. Consumption- more food, clothes, travel, material objects is seen as the difference between emptiness and feeling satisfied.
3. Relationships- moving onto the next partner or marriage is seen as the difference between isolation and connection.

Addictive patterns have twin drivers- out of consciousness, the fix is viewed as outside but the problem lies within.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Planning to not exist

This may well be obvious to veteran charity workers and environmentalists, but this is something that I have picked up recently from various people, including the Head of Fundraising for Article 25 and a Communications Officer from the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC).

This is particularly relevant for the SDC whose funding ceased during the summer of 2010 and who are consequently taking steps to hand over auditing and monitoring of sustainability issues within all 21 government departments to the departments themselves and some external parties.

What I have learnt is, that in general terms, the overall and eventual aim of such organisations is to terminate their existence, i.e. to have done enough positive work in that sector that the issue is solved or there are sufficient management systems in place and their service is no longer needed. It seems an odd thing to work towards but it is important in planning for their future.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

No Impact Man

Earlier this week I watched the film No Impact Man. Set in New York, it tells the real-life story of a journalist who decides that living on Manhattan Island shouldn’t stop him having as low an impact as possible on the environment and so he sets out on a year-long mission to live that life. It is not just him though as he also ropes in his shopaholic, reality-TV- and caffeine-addict wife and their baby daughter.

Without wanting to give too much away, I enjoyed the fact that it didn’t purposefully paint a pretty picture and aim to show that living a greener life is all smiles and roses, but rather it showed the beautifully raw emotion of the family unit as they go on this journey together, from the wife’s caffeine withdrawal mood-swings to feeling pretty disappointed without any electricity in the evenings. They tried out a wormery to faster compost their food waste, which worked until they got flies breeding in it that infested the flat; they tried no fridge, but had to rely on neighbours for their ice to keep milk fresh. They learnt a lot about compromise and sharing as a community, but also showed that a greener life, although not glamorous at first, can be more enjoyable with more time spent together in the present. They didn’t go the whole hog (still cooking on gas, which I was disappointed they didn’t mention), but they went pretty far and the ups and downs they face as a family make for lovely viewing.

No Impact Man himself is pretty good at explaining his own conclusions to their story and the stories continue on his blog. I recommend the film even if you’re not a greeny- it is a good watch.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Women In Carbon: Apart from beaches and tequila is it worth going to Cancun?


On Thursday 11th November 2010 I attended a Women In Carbon event held at Linklaters in Moorgate, addressing the expectations for the COP16 talks in Cancun, comprising 3 speakers followed by an audience-participative discussion.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty that was produced at the UN Conference on Environmental Development (UNCED) in Rio De Janeiro 1992 and became effective in 1994. It was signed by 194 parties and provides a general framework for intergovernmental efforts aimed at tackling the climate change issue. The basic aim is to stabilise the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The talks in Cancun represent the 16th COP (Conference of the Parties) to call for further commitment and compromise and are currently ongoing (29th November- 10th December 2010). Business Green and The Guardian Environment provide good updates online.

In general there are low levels of expectancy for the outcome of the talks in Cancun, but a feeling that it does represent an important step in moving towards a global deal and this event was set up to discuss the generalist hopes and fears. The first speaker was Harriet Thompson, the Head of Negotiation at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the second was Rhian Kelly, Director of Climate Change for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the third was Anna Lehmann, Market and Bioenergy Analyst at Toepfer. Anna was hired to set up the carbon trading desk at Toepfer, which is mainly involved in trading agricultural commodities like fertilizers, so where there is huge scope to minimise environmental impact.

Review of Copenhagen

The last COP was in Copenhagen in 2009 and Anna briefly reviewed it- expectations were raised very high as we needed an agreement what with the Kyoto agreement coming to an end. Many heads of state showed up, which raised the profile. They fell hard due to the lack of numerical commitments to emissions reductions as well as procedural and logistical mismanagement (5000 were allowed in the building, but 15,000 turned up so some people who needed to be in there were not able to enter). Since Copenhagen 2009 there have been feelings of hurt and a lack of trust surrounding carbon emissions targets internationally as we were left feeling that the real negotiations never really started. Rhian stated that we did achieve some things at Copenhagen and created momentum, but the media were responsible for the depression. Particularly after a few claims that the climate change science was dubious, there has been a need to reinstate the case for climate change.

Expectations for Cancun

Despite this, from the government’s perspective, Harriet stated that of course it is worth going to Cancun. The UK Government wants to be the greenest government and limit the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees. We need to represent the UK well, marketing ourselves and the steps we have taken towards targets to our counterparts.

This time there is no expectation of a global deal, but building on the progress of the last COP (in Copenhagen 2009) is the aim. Cancun will be an important stage post before Cape Town COP 2011 and there is hope for some tangible answers, for example a clear future for offset mechanisms.

At Cancun there is scope to make climate change mitigation legally, not just politically, binding, or at least take steps towards that. There have been pledges, especially from developing countries- the Mexicans have made excellent efforts in regaining trust, Brazil has committed to cutting emissions from deforestation. Some countries are recognising that it is important to take action and not wait for a global deal, to try and find a common ground and build up levels of trust again. There are a set of sub-decisions on the plate though, including those associated with adaption, technology transfer, capacity building, launch of readiness phase for REDD, the establishment of further financial architecture (general mechanisms and the Green Fund).

A member of the audience stated that in China, there is a difficulty as a lot of progress is made through personal relationships and trust (‘which province are you from?), however, China has the potential to embarrass America as have signed up to many emissions reduction schemes. China wants to protect its sovereignty and do things itself; their highest level of commitment is a 5 year plan. There has however been good news from California recently demonstrating that state-level action may be what is needed in the US.

What Rhian would like to see is:
-clear, transparent, carbon emissions reduction targets from major economies.
- An agreement over who pays and how.
-Plans for how to include all sectors (for example aviation and shipping too).
-Plans for how to inspire innovation.

Private sector fora

Rhian opened with the statement that ‘it is difficult to shake the Copenhagen hangover and blues’ but business has a vested interest in making this work as predictions dictate that low carbon markets will be worth £15 trillion by 2015. The CBI has a climate change board of 16 CEOs from around the world (they have international offices) to provide a coherent business voice and help support business reach their targets.

As well as the UN process, it is important to remember that there are other fora, like G20 (commitment to reduce fossil fuel subsidies), unilateral and bilateral action (i.e. India and Renewable Energy Certificates) and the Major Economies Forum (also has a commitment to the 2 degree target). For some businesses, for example those in the carbon markets, Copenhagen and Cancun are particularly important and for other businesses, the COPs have been less important as international business sustainability strategies are more important.

The private sector wish list for Copenhagen still stands for Cancun but is slightly shorter now- 75% of the funding for mitigation is expected to be from the private sector so there is an urgent need to integrate the private sector into this negotiation process. Other items on the wish list are actions and timelines (predictability) and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) reform to define growth opportunities.


Fantastic presentations by 3 women representing both the public and private sectors, to a room full of women (and one man) working in the sustainability sector were followed by a lively debate and in turn followed by nachos, tequila and mojitos.

Whilst the UN process is arguably the most prominent and has the most scope for impact on climate change mitigation deals internationally, it is important to recognise that there are other sub-international level deals being made that are equally, if not more important. The private sector needs to be integrated into these global deals. There are lower expectations for Cancun over Copenhagen and certainly no expectations for a global deal, but it is recognised as an important and necessary stepping stone to allow further progress at Cape Town 2011.

The Executive Chairman of UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres , recently said that governments had revealed a growing convergence and that a balanced set of decisions could be an achievable outcome- chief among these is how to take mitigation actions forward.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

CEN on Cancun with Gregory Barker MP

Certainly environmentalists and sustainability consultants, and hopefully increasing numbers of the general public, will be waiting with baited breath for the outcome of the COP 16 International Climate Change talks being held currently in Cancun, Mexico.

On Monday 29th November 2010, I was lucky enough to attend a discussion with Gregory Barker MP, Minister of Energy and Climate Change, just before he left for Cancun. The event was fairly small and intimate, organised by the Conservative Environmental Network and held at RICS. RICS itself was an apt location as with 100,000 members worldwide, it has the potential to make a large impact in reducing energy use in the built environment.

The discussion with Gregory, facilitated by Peter Ainsworth MP (former shadow Secretary of State for DEFRA), was fairly general and not entirely about Cancun; the audience were encouraged to participate as well.

The first question was regarding how well he and Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, work together, to which Greg replied ‘it works extraordinarily well’, before following up with ‘well, of course I would be expected to say that wouldn’t I?’ He explained that despite the previous public worry that the lack of a clear parliament would mean instability, incoherent policy terms and uncertainty, their work so far has proved that when it comes to energy and climate change, there is a genuine coalition of interest. One of the things they have achieved so far has been the scrapping of the third runway. Greg mentioned that Chris stands back a bit as he wasn’t intimately involved in the policy writing (for example the Green Investment Bank was a Conservative idea), but there is a definite commonality of interests on the agenda and in general there is not much between the party views in this sector.

The second question was regarding the current public mood on climate change. In a recent survey, it was found that most liked the idea of the Green Deal as it is nice to improve one’s home, whereas only 6% supported the idea as it is beneficial for the environment to improve energy efficiency. Gregory agreed that the global issue of climate change has taken a back seat for the past 12 months in part due to the economic crisis and consequent employment issues. In addition, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is the main provider of climate change evidence for policy, had their reputation damaged with the discovery that scientific evidence associated with the Himalayas was faulty. The science is getting more compelling by the day, but we need a new way of communicating it.

Greg compared the concern-action gap issue with medicine. If a Doctor tells you that there is a 60-90% chance that you will die if you continue with this lifestyle, it does not matter that the science is inexact; you will listen because the consequences of inaction are disastrous. Similarly, we should not wait for more and more scientific certainty- it has already been shown that it is extremely likely that we are causing this rise in carbon emissions above the natural level and that if we continue in this way the consequences are catastrophic.

Moving onto Cancun, when asked ‘are you going?’ Gregory replied ‘yes and if you read The Daily Mail you will know where I am staying!’ It is true that there has been a lot of media speculation that there will be more tequilas, flip flops and jacuzzis than concrete policy agreements in Cancun, yet Greg feels that the UK has huge scope to make a difference and in general there is great respect for HMG. There is a great need to reinject some credibility and momentum into multilateral approaches and a formal UN process should be established. What is important is an agreement on the principles of Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) to allow comparability between countries- India has actually come up with some international proposals for that (see also UK India Business Leaders Climate Group). The establishment of the Green Fund is an important step; private sector finance alone cannot do it, particularly in developing countries, thus public sector support is also needed. Greg joked that the aim this year is to get people to do what they said they were going to do last year at Copenhagen.

Agreements could all fall down for several reasons. There is a danger of a ‘climate change culture’ with the ‘usual suspect syndrome’ inducing a loss of perspective, as all attendees know each other from the previous COPs. Less economically developed countries believe in climate change but not that it is there problem, whilst others agree that it is their problem but are concerned about the short term impact of tackling it on the economy. Then there is the issue of sovereignty and economic prosperity, particularly with China who are also wary of any external committee that binds them. One school of thought with China is that they will sign a global agreement once they have secured the export markets. In relation to America, Gregory stated that ‘Obama is a disappointment’ (he did not embrace the green republican view, the republicans who were willing to stick their neck out, until it was too late) and without America on board we simply will not win.

One place where we may make progress is in forestry, with the establishment of the Forest Fund. Luckily there is a strong preference for sovereignty combination to tackle issues that require a global response, such as this.

An audience member asked whether we are taking inspiration from Germany, where there is a ground swell of public support for economic incentives that trigger the development of renewable technology. They started Feed In Tariff schemes over 10 years ago, but Greg stated that the Tories are committed to the UK FIT, which began in April 2010, on a large scale. He said it was disgraceful that we opened up the world’s largest wind farm recently, but over 80% of it was manufactured overseas and created ‘British jobs for German workers’.

Next, a member of the audience posed a fairly broad yet important question: ‘is the transition to a low carbon economy compatible with increasing quality of life and lifestyles?’ The answer from Greg was that we do not yet know as no one has done it yet, but we hope so and we are going to try.

In general, there is a lower expectation for Cancun than for Copenhagen, so the level of disappointment is likely to be lower. However, it is clear that Gregory and the other UK representatives are going to do there darndest to at least make progress towards a global deal for energy and climate change, even if they are able to enjoy a martini in their Jacuzzi afterwards.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Buy Nothing Day this Saturday

On Saturday 27th November 2010 it is Buy Nothing Day! A fantastic chance to enjoy life without consumerism and have a little think about saving the earth’s resources with the minimalist lifestyle, even just for one day…

It has got me thinking back to when I was in Borneo earlier this year (yes, on my gap yah) and what little I lived off for an entire 3 months. My toiletries consisted of a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, 2 in 1 (shampoo + conditioner), a razor and factor 30 suncream. I had a pair of shorts, a pair of trousers, a skirt and 3 t-shirts, a pair of flip flops, tivas and walking boots. There wasn’t much more than that. Not only did I survive without the latest fashions in my wardrobe and hoards of make-up (and cleanser, toner, moisturizer, day cream, night cream, anything else cream), but I also had a whale of a time!

We didn’t have a TV or internet either so evenings in our jungle camp were spent playing cards, making up quizzes, chatting, getting to know each other, playing games together (and screaming and giggling at the giant insects attracted to our head torches).

…so, have a great day on Saturday and spend time together, not money!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


At the Leadership for Sustainability event, the next speech was by Ramon Arratia, Sustainability Director for InterfaceFLOR, a carpet tiling company with an excellent reputation amongst sustainability experts. Their whole concept is a sustainable way of carpeting- having it in tiles means that when an area of the flooring becomes warn down or has a spillage on it, only a few tiles need be replaced rather than the whole floor. This is particularly important as some of their main clients are cafes and large airports.

Perhaps surprisingly for some, they are making green waves with their Sustainability Policy ‘Mission Zero’: “Our promise to eliminate any negative impact our company may have on the environment by the year 2020”- another big claim similar to M and S, but without implying comparability to other manufacturers. A worldwide leader in flooring and with a turnover of $1bn, they have the potential to make a big impact in the sustainability of their operations. To do this, they have challenged everything they know, redesigning their products and the way factories operate. Most make judgements based on what is visible today, but InterfaceFLOR spends a lot of time looking at the future and to this end they defined early on what they set out to do.

There is only one institution on earth large enough, powerful enough, pervasive enough,
influential enough to really lead humankind in a different direction. And that is the institution of business and industry.”

One of Ramon’s opening quotes (above) led him to plug the book of Ray C Anderson- Founder of InterfaceFLOR- ‘Confessions of a Radical Industrialist’. Moving on from that, Ramon described that what InterfaceFLOR have deployed since the start of their business has made a real difference:

Our results so far (Dec 2009)
–80% reduction in waste sent to landfill since 1996 per unit of production
– Water intake in manufacturing is down 80% since 1996 per unit of production
– Total energy use down by 43% since 1996 per unit of production
– Non-renewable energy is down by 60% since 1996 per unit of production
– Actual reduction of Interface GHG emissions by 44% from baseline 1996
–30% of global energy is from renewable sources
–36% of total raw materials are recycled or bio-based materials
– Cumulative avoided waste costs totalling $433 million since 1994
– All factories in Europe operate on 100% renewable electricity
–99.7% of the products sold in Europe were manufactured in Europe

Let me just emphasise one of those points- $433 million waste costs have been avoided globally since 1994. Ramon was an upbeat presenter and joked that when people ask him ‘does efficiency pay?’ He replies with ‘now that’s the $433 million question’.

So how do they do it?

A lot of the technology that we need to make big changes in sustainability is already there. Taking inspiration from the aeronautical industry, they produced an ultrasonic cutting machine, and now reduce the waste produced from cutting the carpet tiles. They also ‘close the loop’ to ensure ‘cradle to cradle’ and ‘like for like’ recycling- carpet waste for example can be made into carpet backing.

They deploy resource efficient transportation, with 99.7% of the products sold in Europe being manufactured in Europe and with grouped delivery in theNetherlands, delivery trucks are now 85-90% full on average.

With their yarn, they reduce the impact on the environment as much as possible-
Step 1- reduce the yarn (less is more principle).
Step 2- recycle the yarn (close the loop).
Step 3- invent a new yarn (low-impact alternative).
With their most expensive yarn being nylon, which depends on oil, this makes total sense. Their Environmental Product Declarations (Life Cycle Assessment + Product Category Rules= EPDs) make what they are doing measurable.

One thing that Ramon said stuck with me: ‘CSR is dead’.

He went on to say that Corporate Social Responsibility is dead ‘because what is the point of reducing the impact of a company when most of the impact happens outside of the company’. The value of sustainability is in the product, because that is what consumers buy, they do not buy companies. If they do not encourage their customers to buy the lower carbon products or the government to reduce landfill allowances, InterfaceFLOR will not reach their aims, which is why stakeholder and shareholder engagement is so important here.

The people of InterfaceFLOR apparently know all about what is going on- bonuses are paid based on sustainability and efficiency in the factories and with the average length of service in Europe at 13.5 years, 68% of the 3500 employees think ‘my company’s mission makes me feel my job is important’.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Plan A: Driving Innovation and Significant Change in Property

At the aforementioned Sustainability Leadership event, Munish Datta delivered an informative presentation about what ‘Plan A’, the Corporate Sustainability strategy for Marks & Spencer, is doing for the environment and society. Munish opened with an impact statement: ‘Five years.
Five commitments. One world. And 100 things we want to change’.

A summary of these five commitments:
- Climate change: maximize use of renewable energy, help customers and suppliers to cut carbon emissions, use offsetting as a last resort, become carbon neutral in five years (and carbon positive by 2015-30).

- Waste: reduce amount of carrier bags, packaging and ensure none of their clothing needs end up as landfill.

- Sustainable raw materials: Sustainable sourcing from fish to forests.

- Fair partner: Help improve lives of thousands in their supply chain and communities.

- Health: Expand healthy eating ranges, have clear labeling.

That all sounds brilliant, but so far none of these admirable statements have been coupled with a clear quantitative target, although I am told that Ernst and Young independently audit M & S’ claims. M & S’ ambition to become ‘The World’s Most Sustainable Retailer by 2015’ has been thwarted by critics due to immeasurability and incomparability- no other retailer is making that claim and measurability is important for progression in sustainable development. According to Munish, Plan A has demonstrated that we can make a real difference in business if every one gets behind it (he also predicts that businesses with non-sustainable operations will decrease in value over time) and next, Munish provided the figures I had been waiting for.

This year alone, Plan A has helped M & S to:
- Cut carbon emissions by 8% (20% per sq.ft.)

- they have very recently signed a contract with a solar panel company based in Muswell Hill

- Offer free insulation to 70,000 UK staff

- Reduce clothing packaging by 36%

- Reduce carrier bag usage by over 80%

- Increase the % of electricity bought from green sources to 40%

- Use the equivalent of 27m 2 ltr plastic bottles to make recycled polyester

- Help over 700 disadvantaged people a year via Marks & Start programme

- Generate / leverage £25m for charities

- Increase the % of wood from sustainable sources to 72%

- Launch a Wellbeing website for our staff

Every effort here is helping to develop a strong business case for sustainability, as this year alone M & S have made £50 million savings. Their partnership with Oxfam (wherein one receives a £5 M & S voucher for taking an unwanted, used item from M & S to Oxfam charity shop) has increased footfall and less packaging is costing the consumer less.

Munish made the classic statement of ‘we don’t have just one or two employees working on Corporate Sustainability, but every single one of our employees is aware and has sustainability embedded into their day to day working life’. Despite what critics are saying, M & S are always stretching themselves and striving to do better.

The success of Plan A has been put down to good LEADERSHIP, speaking in a LANGUAGE that people understand, effective COLLABORATIONS, the recognition that the LEARNING process is important, an emphasis on VALUES and setting a PACE that is both achievable and aspirational. Munish reiterated that we do not need to look for the ‘holy grail’ sustainable solution, but innovation (‘that sexy thing that you go to workshops for’) will see that multi-faceted approaches are fruitful. In fact, we already have most of the technology and skills available to make a significant positive difference.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sustainable Leadership: more than an aspiration

During the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd September 2010, I attended a Leadership in Sustainability seminar, ran by the Construction Industry Environmental Forum (CIEF) (part of CIRIA), Sponge and Forum For The Future.

Martin Hunt, Head of the Built Environment at Forum and formally part of CIRIA, gave the opening speech. He stated that it is useful to consider the pressures we face today: increasing pressure on natural resources, demand for/cost of energy, a growing population, a widening gap between rich and poor, biodiversity loss and climate change.

He highlighted an article in the FT (‘Call for urgent infrastructure overhaul amid climate change’) in emphasizing that although there is a lot of debate over the carbon dioxide levels at which we can stabilize the climate (350ppm currently), there is no debate over the fact that we have to take action now. According to Paul McNamara, Head of Property Research at PRUPIM, property is the key sector to look to for carbon dioxide emissions reduction. The Low Carbon Review, however is currently being undertaken and looks to be a mandate for change in the construction arena and it involves ‘whole life costing’. Climate change mitigation and adaptation is a challenge for industry sectors, government, individuals and large corporations.
To meet these challenges, we need leaders who adopt this ‘whole life costing’ approach, who understand the risks and opportunities from both the public and business perspectives, who drive the adoption of innovative fiscal solutions, who encourage the development of skills and enhance our capacity to be resilient and who can communicate the value of acting responsibly now.

To follow was a presentation by a gentleman from Marks and Spencers Plan A and one by a gentleman from InterfaceFLOR to show how their businesses are taking sustainability into consideration not only at the level of their property, but throughout the whole business and supply chain.

The Nemesis

This Thursday evening I attended an event hosted by Ecotricity at Somerset House, for the launch of their new wind-powered electrical car and to promote their four-year Eco Bonds.
Ecotricity is an electricity supplier that invests all its profits into building more wind turbines.

Champagne, canapés and celebrities made it a rather glamorous affair, which was only added to by the very sexy ‘Nemesis’ (which must be said in a very deep, powerful voice). The Nemesis is an electrical car, which, when the electricity is sourced from Ecotricity (produced by wind power), has no carbon emissions. The car was designed and created by a team of motorsports engineers who have previously worked with McLaren, Williams and Lotus. Damon Hill was there along with Dale Vince, OBE, the CEO of Ecotricity, with his long hair and friendly smile. An array of good looking women were also there, draping themselves over the car. I enjoy the way that that The Nemesis makes wind power sexy, which arguably needs to be done.

Signing up to Ecotricity, which Amida will be doing when we move into our new office later this month, gives you the opportunity to be part of the green revolution in subscribing to a renewable power source.

All in all it was an inspiring evening showcasing an exciting time for vehicles, wind energy and Ecotricity.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Dr Martin Blake as Non Executive Director for Amida

Amida and I have some very exciting news to share. Dr Martin Blake, former Head of Sustainability for the Royal Mail and Chairman of Carbon Zero Solutions, has agreed to be Amida’s Non-Executive Director. Martin has been a close support and partner to Amida over the past year and will now play an integral part in the business development.

This partnership will be highly beneficial to Amida as a sustainable development search and recruitment business for a number of reasons. The vision of Amida is to move sustainability forward globally through people, and more particularly, through facilitating talent into organisations who see the imperative of driving sustainability through their business. Martin is an influential and inspirational achievement-driven sustainability expert and visionary leader, with over 25 years practical experience, having recently deployed one of the most successful carbon management programmes in the world. His extensive knowledge of the built environment, infrastructure, transport, social and low carbon strategy is invaluable to driving this change and realising Amida’s potential.

For seven years, up until October 2010, Dr Blake led the Social Responsibility and Sustainability Teams at Royal Mail as well as designing and deploying an international award winning Carbon Management Programme to combat climate change. The Royal Mail is the largest private employer in the UK, with 175,000+ employees, 14,000 retail outlets, a fleet of 35,000 vehicles and over 30 Boeing 737’s transporting 85 million pieces of mail every day to 27 million addresses. Martin operationalised the Marginal Abatement Cost Curve, which was conceptualised by McKinsey, to produce a carbon management programme that saves £30m annually at zero net cost to the business. He defined and set measurements for carbon footprinting protocol that was recognised as a best practice model, winning the World Mail and London Liveable City awards for climate change innovation. Royal Mail has now won over 75 national and international awards for CSR since 2004 including World Mail Awards for carbon management and the Carbon Trust Standard.

One of his most notable achievements at Royal Mail was his significant contribution to the commercialisation of hydrogen fuel cell technology for use in vehicles and buildings in the postal sector including performing a competitive analysis, technological research, and designing hydrogen strategy to gain competitive advantage as market leader. This step has been influential on the vehicle industry and Martin has become recognised as an expert in hydrogen. Martin is a prolific keynote speaker on sustainability and carbon reduction at national and international conferences, events and academic institutions, which have included (this year alone): the Asia Pacific Academy for Business In Society (APABIS) in Japan, the Australian and Asia Pacific Mining Conference and the Low Carbon Fuel and Sustainability conference for Scottish Government in Edinburgh. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Sustainable Business Development at both Griffith University and the University of Southern Queensland.

Prior to joining Royal Mail, after a Bachelors degree in Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Martin worked for 6 years as the Chief for Preventative Medicine for the Ministry of Health in Abu Dhabi, UAE, where he successfully designed and formulated a comprehensive, regional and integrated preventive medicine programme serving a population of approximately 250,000 people, controlling a budget of $5 million and significantly reducing death and sickness rates. Martin then spent 12 years directing community infrastructure development in Saudi Arabia for oil company KSA. He strategically planned, constructed and managed multiple state-of-the-art community infrastructure projects including hospitals, roads and universities, for a population of 30 million people, controlling a 5-year capital development budget in excess of $5 billion.

He has diverse skills in organisational change management, stakeholder engagement, and risk management with a focus on large-scale CSR initiatives. Through his incredible network and aptitude to link people and organisations, Martin has an innate ability to see trends in business and actualise solutions. He will work with the four Amida Directors on business strategy and will work closely with myself in my Sustainability Manager capacity, to ensure that Amida is as sustainable as possible.

We welcome Martin to our business and very much look forward to working with him. Cheers to a successful business partnership and a positive, sustainable future for Amida!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Soap nut shells

One of the things that I learnt during my research for the swish was that 60% of the carbon produced from one garment is emitted after you have purchased it, due to washing. There are also lots of chemicals, perfumes and artificial detergents used in our laundry wash and fabric softener.

I have always washed at 30 degrees using Ecover. However I have come across a new natural detergent in my eco travels, which is harnessed from soap nut shells. It sounds like 3 different things, but it is one thing! Soap nut shells (I quite like to say it) are the dried husks of the soap berry tree (I also like to say that), native to Southern Asia. I probably unknowingly walked passed a few during my jungle trek in Borneo earlier this year.

In terms of sustainability, I cannot really fault them. They grow uncultivated in poor quality ground and help fight soil erosion. Local farmers harvest the fruit and the seed can be replanted. They are 100% natural, organic, biodegradeable and 5 shells can be used for 3-4 washes, at 9p a wash as opposed to 25-30p per wash for chemical detergents. Soap nut shells have a natural chemical called Saponin, which acts as a detergent when it comes into contact with water and they have natural hypoallergenic, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal actions. They preserve cloth fibres and protect colours, in turn increasing the life of clothes. The end waste detergent has antimicrobial properties that cleans the drainage system and is eco-friendly.

Apparently, in South East Asia, soap nut shells are also used as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, kitchen cleaner and to help cure dandruff and eczema!

They leave your clothes smelling neutral, so the advice is to add a few drops of essential oil to the washing machine drawer if you like that ‘clean, fresh’ scent. I have been using soap nut shells for the past 5 washes and my clothes come out lovely!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A SWISHING success!

Dear all swish attendees,

thank you for coming along and making it a truly fabulous swish this afternoon! There were around 50 people who attended, lovely cups of tea, delicious cakes and most importantly lots of amazing clothes swaps!
I for one, love my 'new' clothes and am truly grateful to those who brought them in to swap for ones that they would want. There was a wonderful trench coat, lots of glitzy tops, funky jackets and dresses, smart trousers, belts and necklaces and a rather fetching flowery swimming cap in the bargain bin (you could just take from the bargain bin rather than swap it for something).
It worked like this: ladies brought in their unwanted items of clothing and depending on how many they brought in, got a token with that number on, so if they brought in 5, their token would enable them to take 5 different items home with them. Us, the organisers, arranged the clothes on tables and displayed them on clothing rails while the clothing owners mingled and ate cake. At 3.45pm there was 30 minutes of browsing where ladies could take a look at clothes, touch them and try them on, but not take them. There were no cat fights to speak of, but it was definitely quite hectic in an exciting way, as people raced against time to try on as many things as they could in the cramped changing room and grabbed and tugged and oohed and ahhhed at the beautful garments so temptingly on offer. Then at 4.15pm, the swish was open and you could scramble for whatever you wanted!

I made some posters for the walls, which showed facts about the perils of fast fashion, for example 500,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill each year and 1 cupfull of pesticides and fertilizers is used for every t-shirt made, on average. This is not to mention the carbon emissions from the animals used to make wool like sheep, llamas and alpacas, from the farm machinery used in growing crops used for fibres and in the transportation of clothing around the world. I am appalled at the intensive water usage in growing cotton. Plus a sad little fact that in the making of conventional silk, cocoons are boiled, which kills the moth inside.

Also donning the walls were the posters I made called 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: 10 Little things to think about':

1. Investment buying: to reduce the amount of clothes we buy, purchase good quality items that will last through many many fashion seasons and wear-and-tear.
2. When you do need to buy, buy ethically: Fair Trade, organic, for example People Tree.
3. Upcycle old clothes: adding an assortment of buttons or a strategically placed bow can refresh your wardrobe!
4. Take unwanted clothes to a charity shop, sell on ebay or give away on freecycle. If clothes are unmendable- take them to your nearest textile recycling facility.
5. Shop second hand or vintage- it makes old clothes feel like new!
6. Make do and mend: a stitch in time saves nine, as they say. Often you can easily fix it and revamp it rather than replace it.
7. Join, network, participate, lobby: Estethica, Ethical Fashion Forum, Environmental Justice Foundation.
9. Borrow and hire: for example with girlmeetsdress.com- an easy way to instantly update your wardrobe.
10. Go to a swishing party!

Oh my goddness, it's such a rush and I think I'm addicted! Thanks to my pals at Transition Highbury for all your hard work and to Luis and Julien of Café Photo fame, who took model-style fashion shoot photos. Transition Highbury will most likely do it again in the near future as it was such a success so keep your eyes peeled...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

What does the Comprehensive Spending Review mean for sustainability?

Yesterday, on 20/10/10, the hotly anticipated Spending Review took place behind closed doors and now the verdict is in. Although intimate details are still not confirmed, the outcome for sustainability was a mixed bag and it gives a sense of the government’s priorities for the future. Here is a quick low down:

Green Investment Bank
· £1bn will be used to invest in low carbon research and infrastructure projects
· £200m for renewable energy: mainly offshore wind and port infrastructure adjustments to enable wind turbines to more easily be handled.
· The Green Investment Bank is delayed and will be operational 2013-14.

· £860m to promote use of low carbon energy for heating buildings.
· Feed In Tariff: Currently at around 43p per Kwh, there were rumours it would be cut by 10-20%, but this time the FIT was spared. They are likely to be cut 2013-14.
· £1bn has been set aside for a project demonstrating carbon capture and storage technology
· Renewable Heat Incentive: It has been a long time coming and £860mn will be spent on it over the next 4 years.
· The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) has been further changed: several thousand retailers and commercial companies will pay for their greenhouse gas emissions and the money will go into public spending, rather than being recycled within the same scheme, as originally intended.

· The Cross Rail project for London has the go ahead, but will be delayed by a year after cuts of more than £1bn. The central section will now be complete by 2018.
· Improvements to tube service in London will go ahead.
· Public transport fares to increase with inflation plus 3%.

· Dept for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) 5% fall average in yearly budget.
· and the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) to cut jobs.
· The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and its agencies will shed 5000-8000 jobs from their 30,000 strong work force, with an 8% yearly fall in budget.

Further reading
· The Green Deal
· Guardian Environment Blog

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

'Green' Festivals

It is getting slightly chilly so I would like to take a moment to reflect on my summer 2010, which although it feels like a long time ago now, still lives on in my heart and my mind. This year I went to the Edinburgh festival for the first time and had a thoroughly enjoyable time listening to gospel singers empty the contents of their lungs across the largest auditorium I have ever been in, marvelling at the raunchy rock and roll scenes in Spring Awakening, watching dancers and prancers leap across the stage like new lambs in spring and building up my stomach muscles with belly-crippling laughter at the comedians.

One thing I was not impressed with was all the paper. I was never a fan of leafleting during the Union Election period at Bristol University, for the obvious reason of several trees going into a promotion effort that will probably be ignored and instead end up being trampled on the floor or wasted in the bin when the message could have been done in some more eco-friendly poster/chalk on the pavement/ word of mouth based way much more effectively.

Edinburgh, however, was another kettle of fish entirely. Or rather, less like a kettle of fish and more like leafleting gone crazy, creating a slimy sea-floor of paper maché where leaflets and half-tickets go to die. The newly-printed leaflets and pieces of paper feel shiny and new-born only momentarily before the sad realisation that they too will end up in that muddy mush hits them like a haggis round the chops. Resistance is futile as the new leaflets just keep on a comin’. Walking down the Royal Mile during Edinburgh Festival gives you a chance to experience leafleting on crack. I don’t mean you have to be on crack to experience it, nor on crack at all, I just mean...oh never mind. Basically there was a lot of paper usage and wastage over about a month in the Scottish capital and I would like them to at least try and improve on that for next year. Rant over, thank you.

Moving onto Bestival on the Isle of White. Getting to Edinburgh festival involved a 4 ½ hour train journey from London, wheras getting to Bestival involved walking, 2 tubes to Waterloo, a 1 ½ hour train to Portsmouth, a taxi to the harbour, a 5 hour wait for the hovercraft, a 10-minute hover craft journey, a ½ hour bus to the festival site and finally, a 1 hour walk to find a decent spot to pitch our home for the week end. Surprisingly, the journey to Bestival was more fun, which might be something to do with the fact that the 5 hour queue also comprised best friends, sunshine and a certain amount of Southern Comfort mixed with ginger beer. All the ingredients to start off a decent week end dans les champs.

Despite being painted blue (all 6 of us were dressed genies) for most of the week end, my beedy green eyes were forever watchful. I understand that any music festival is going to have quite a large carbon footprint what with thousands of people travelling hundreds of miles for the privilege, not to mention the huge light and sound systems involved in projecting our favourite lights and sounds across large open spaces.

I did however, spot a few things which pleased me. Composting toilets was one. A sign saying ‘Bestival is a 10:10 festival’ was another. And finally, a whole field dedicated to the future of the planet and where we might get our energy from made me grin from ear to ear. Other festivals around the world take note. Festivals originated from peace, love, unity and an enjoyment of the arts and music. Although now over-commercialised and over-priced, I think in order to continue enjoying these ‘in-tents’ week ends (te he he), it is high time we went back to the roots of all this and made reducing the damage to the environment a priority.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Fabulous Islington Swishing party

Just one week to go and plans are well under way to make it the best swish ever!

Looking forward to seeing you all next Sunday 24th October 3-5pm at The Community Space, The Chesnuts, Highbury Barn, N5 2QE.

We are very excited to announce our first SWISH event. Brought to you by a few fans, some of which were lucky enough to be involved in the V&A Museum Conscious Style event in 2008, SWISHING is a new and fun way to have fashion without wrecking the planet!

Here is a little article I wrote about swishing for ecojam.org. that explains it a bit better.

What do you do? Well, first have a look in your wardrobe, chest of drawers for clothes, accessories, headwear and shoes that you like but never wear. Whether it was a panic buy, a not quite right gift or something that used to fit, as long as it is clean and in good condition then it's right for the SWISH. Just one item is great but if you have three or four then that's even better! The best things for a SWISH are those you like, which perhaps tell a story but for some reason, you just don't wear them enough to keep in the closet.

Then what? Ok, so drop off your swish stuff between 3pm and 3.30pm when we will collect everything and also give you a token for the number of items you brought. At 4pm, the SWISH will open for browsing only before the event officially begins at 4.15pm. Feel free to try on and take what you like although remember, no fighting, scratching or tugging!

So what? Everyone gets to go home with some lovely new things without spending a penny plus, it also reduces the amount of unwanted clothes going to landfill!

We will have tea, cakes, films and even some crafty tips on how to upcycle your new finds so there's no reason why you wouldn't want to take part in our SWISH! Remember, just one good, clean item is all you need!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Ethical Fashion Forum

As a nice follow-on from my visit to London Fashion Weekend, on Wednesday 13th October 2010 I met with Tamsin Lejeune, Head of the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF), to speak about her crucial work. I actually heard Tamsin talk at an industry event at RichMix last year while I was completing my dissertation in Environmentalism in Fashion. This time, I was very lucky to catch her at all; the whirlwind of London Fashion Week 2010 has subsided, yet life has not slowed for this ethical fashionista.

I will let the EFF missions speak for itself:

The mission of the Ethical Fashion Forum is to SUPPORT and PROMOTE sustainable practices, facilitate COLLABORATION, raise AWARENESS and provide the TOOLS AND RESOURCES needed to reduce poverty, reduce environmental damage and raise standards in the fashion industry.

…and that takes a lot of time and effort! EFF began in 2004 and within a decade has become the official industry body for ethical fashion. Here are just some of the things that Tamsin and the EFF gang have been doing: at the policy level, the ethos behind the Refashion Awards is now taking shape as a manifesto promoting key ‘helping hands’ like tax breaks for sustainable fashion. This manifesto will set out agreed goals and targets for fashion businesses to work towards related to sustainability- and will create a platform for the launch of a consumer campaign.

At the business level, design houses and retailers who subscribe to the Ethical Fashion Forum are taking a step towards their supply chain becoming a shade greener. The annual Source Expo, the industry trade show for ethical sourcing, was held in London on the 6th October and was a great success.

EFF is a not-for-profit organisation, with a consultancy arm whose profits go back into EFF. The EFF consultancy is run by a board of executives and runs training in communication, motivation, sourcing and many other topics related to helping the fashion industry become more ethical. I was reminded that ethical practices involve taking consideration of both social and environmental issues as the consultancy has undertaken much project work with the Bangladesh-British Chamber of Commerce, collaborations with the International Trade Centre to open doors to market for African-based businesses and community initiatives, as well as providing an advisory service for the Ecologist’s fashion pages. Lest not forget that EFF does fantastic work in the UK as well, for example with the Make Your Mark campaign, helping young people develop the confidence and skills to be entrepreneurial within the beautiful, complex and exciting world of ethical fashion.

In summary, from field to factory to finished product, Tamsin is making waves in the fashion industry. There is more and more work to be done, but more and more are taking notice of the inclusive and progressive EFF.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sausage dogs and really long and thin polar bears

Today before football practice I went to Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens in aid of 10:10:10- a day of promoting and DOING low carbon activities. The place was buzzing with organic locally sourced food, a bring and take stall (a bit like swishing but for books and things) and of course the Transition Highbury draft-proofing stall!

I brought along a laddered pair of tights and stuffed one leg with rags and some gravel. Then I hand-stiched some blue fabric into a tube, put my stuffed tight leg inside the fabric tube and sewed up the end. Hey presto- a fancy draft excluder! Others cut up stuffed animals, which sounds terrible, but then they made it even better because they gave the animals even longer, bigger and prettier bodies. There was a dalmation (pictured- aww he looks like he’s sleeping) and a polar bear and then there was a snowman, the latter of which a young boy and girl decided to have a screaming match over. At that point I decided it was time for me to depart, safe in the knowledge that I can place my blue sausage at the bottom of my front door, keeping the heat in an the cold out- one small but practical action to tackle energy efficiency.


On Thursday 7th October I had a delicious lunch with a colleague at The Innocent Pop-up Cafe, which popped up 2 minutes away from my office on Rivington Street. The idea is that you get 5 of your 5 vegetables and fruit for the day, for £5! We shared a starter of Vietnamese Spring Roles, I had Korean Kimchi Pancakes for mains, then finally we shared a delightful dessert of Meringues with Greek yoghurt and autumnal compot.

The long wooden tables gave a great feeling of community spirit and the winter vegetables and lettuce decorating the walls and tables provided a sense of earthiness. Innocent ain’t perfect, but they are trying to leave things better than they found them, with 100% natural ingredients 100% of the time, sustainable packaging, tackling their supply chain and giving back to the communities they work in. Their transparency is refreshing and so are their smoothies.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Carbon Show 2010

I spent Monday this week chinwagging with the sustainability stars at The Carbon Show, held at the Business Design Centre in Islington.

The welcoming ceremony was interesting; a speech from Rt. Hon. Lord Michael Heseltine rather reminded me of my winter scarf (really rather woolly and a bit too long). It also transported me back to the 90s: ‘all evidence points towards climate change being a major issue, too large for the body politic to ignore’ and ‘what we need is a global policy framework’, cue me banging my head against the wall.

This was followed closely by a slightly more informative speech by Chris Huhne, MP and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, DECC who is pictured above (I had quite a good view). Perhaps this was to be expected as Heseltine appears to be a (somewhat outdated) spectator whereas Huhne is immersed in it and is obviously going to have is finger on the Carbon pulse. In classic politician style, he emphasised the three principles of his approach to carbon emission reduction:

1. Action on efficiency: promoting energy saving in the home and public/private sector estates alike. The Green Deal later this year will see many houses qualifying for efficiency schemes and there is to be one visit to every home by 2050.
2. Action on energy supply: at least attempting to dampen our oil addiction by cleaning up our energy supply with less carbon intensive alternatives.
3. Action on policy: take credible steps along the path towards a global emissions deal.

He spoke of how it is important to show that investments in Europe are tied to a low carbon economy as ‘green growth is the best for our future prosperity’. With The Green Deal imminent, the establishment of the green investment bank, a whole new multi billion pound retrofitting industry will develop creating thousands of jobs.

I admit to thinking ‘I wonder how many times a day he makes this speech and how much is actually happening’; we are, afterall, 25th out of 27 EU states in terms of renewable energy installations. I cannot fault his enthusiasm though and I believe this is what we need, as well as realistic targets with feasible means of reaching them. I particularly enjoyed statements like ‘where are future jobs going to come from? The answer lies here, in this room, today’.
His claims that the next global growth sector is green are not overly pie-in-the-sky either as the carbon market is actually proving highly successful. According to Huhne, carbon trading is an ‘economic curiosity’ and at only 12 months old is the fastest growing market in the UK with $91bn carbon traded in the first three quarters of this year.

Unfortunately Lord Browne could not make his speech as was caught up in the tube strike chaos so I roamed around the conference stalls meeting everyone there was to meet. Showcasing possible pathways to our low carbon future were solar companies including Beech Solar and SOL20, a few carbon management organisations such as Carbon Guerrilla (apparently corporations need to move away from using Excel spreadsheets for their carbon monitoring and onto these computer software packages) and reforestation projects.

Ironically, there were a lot of brochures and business cards flying around the place. In fact, I was highly disappointed when a certain unnamed smart metering company handed me a plastic backpack continuing not only lots of paper but also a mini smart meter key ring and even a squeezy mini-van toy with their logo on it. I took their business cards and promptly handed this rubbish back to them, whilst being surprised that they were surprised at this! We are at a CARBON SHOW aimed primarily at showcasing low carbon solutions to our society’s needs and reducing the pressure on the earth’s resources so do not hand me stupid pointless squeezy mini-vans!

Anyway, Green-Ex was offering a high tech alternative to brochures and paper business cards where you scan your business card in at a stand or choose which of their electronic brochures you would like put on a USB or emailed to you. I did feel like I was living in the future when a lot of the stands merely scanned the bar code on my lanyard and would then have my contact details and company with one bleep instead of a business card.

In a later plenary debate that I joined, entitled ‘Apathy and Indecision- Strengthening the carbon Markets’, Pierre Ducret, Chairman and CEO of CDC Climat, stated that it is the emerging countries that ‘hold the hope’ as they are going to lead the carbon trading game whilst Henry Derwent, President and CEO of the International Emission Trading Association made the point that offsets are essential in trading.
The after party happened to be at The Hoxton Pony, conveniently in the same building as my office. After a few glasses of free wine, most people were no longer talking about carbon and instead conversations turned to who can do the best moonwalk. Unfortunately, Chris Huhne had left by that point.

Thursday, 30 September 2010


10 days to go until 10/10/10!

What will you be doing on Sunday 10th October 2010?

10:10 has designated this amazing and significant day to promoting, educating and having fun with energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction methods.

There are many events and 'low carbon lunches' being held across the world aimed at giving out practical advice for tackling these problems, whilst enjoying a bit of food or climate poetry.

One of these events is organised through the Arcola Theatre and will be in Dalston, London. Check it out.

What will YOU do?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Compliant or Maverick?

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need people who can dream of things that never were”
- John F Kennedy.

Ponder this: do you want to sit in your office with your ‘sustainability manager’ title and be content with the knowledge that you are compliant with all carbon emission legalities and recycling quotas? Or, if it does not content you to sit and accept the status quo, do you think beyond the boundaries and regulations of your company, industry, society? I spoke with a lovely lady from South Africa recently who told me of her friend who lobbied his business to change the work dress-code so that they could wear (smart) shorts and short-sleeved shirts to work, instead of stuffy, sweaty and constricting full suits and ties. Eventually it was passed and the business dramatically reduced their energy usage (with obvious consequences on their bills and carbon emissions) through less use of air conditioning. A small step you might think, but it is this kind of thinking that we need in order to make a difference.

Monday, 27 September 2010

London Fashion Week End

There was nothing really 'eco' (nor subtle for that matter) about it, but yesterday I visited Somerset House with a friend to emerse ourselves in extravagance at London Fashion Week End.

Fashion is inherently about trends that come and go with the seasons, where consumption is seen as a means to an end to get that desired look before moving onto a new one 2 minutes later. There were lots of jewellary stalls to browse and a maze of jampacked rooms where the larger designer labels were selling at sample price. Every attendee had made an effort with their look and often well-groomed ladies looked to other well-groomed ladies for inspiration just as much as to the clothing and accessories for sale.

I did see a nice trench coat and complimented the model wearing it, asking her where she got it from, to which she replied 'Burberry, sorry!' in a tone that was presumptuous of an inability to amass such funds worthy of her simply sumptuous designer coat. Well, I don't want one anyway!

So there we were in sunglass city, stood small among the willowy figures and draping silhouettes, our eyes aching from the retro prints gone crazy viral, our finger tips longing to touch every luxurious fabric in sight, our minds dizzy with the hedonistic atmosphere...when suddenly, a beautiful bright green beacon called out at me from a corner of the cacophonous chaos....a tiny whisper, what was that?

I moved closer and it screamed out at me: SAVE THE FUTURE.
Its voice only to be heard loud and clear when up close. It was the 100% organic cotton t-shirt designed by Katherine Hamnett for the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) selling for £25. Finally, like a breath of fresh air, the mother earth of using fashion for environmentalism (Katherine designed one of the first slogan t-shirts: 'Choose Life') spoke volumes to me. The girl selling them, however, did not: 'yeah it's for a charity which is really good because it's for the children and it stops pesticides because, like, the pesticides are like killing the children'.
Yes, dear.

I did not buy one but it got me thinking: which is better, a fair trade t-shirt, a 100% organic t-shirt, or a t-shirt made of locally-sourced natural materials? There is no one true answer, but my answer is none of them, if you do not need a t-shirt in the first place.

The slogan 'Save the Future' is an interesting way of highlighting the wrongs of the globalised and multi-billion dollar fashion industry, its unsustainable supply chains, and fatal engagement with want, lust and greed. It is just a shame that you have to consume in order to say it. A way of engaging those who would not normally think green, perhaps.
All in all, it was a fabulous day out, but for now I can only dream of a day when sustainability is synonymous with fashion- is that even possible? Sustainability should be thoroughly integrated into the industry and implemented as matter of course at every level: cotton growth, production, transportation, fabric sourcing, dying, printing, garment creation, packaging and purchasing. Rather than a stand-alone t-shirt in a sea of much sexier leggings, camel coats and preppy cricketer-style tops, sustainability should be woven into the structural texture of every one of those items.

Thank (the fashion) god that that EJF were selling £5 raffle tickets (I did buy one of those). Also, Estethica, the ethical fashion arm of the British Fashion Council are based at Somerset House and are doing really fantastic work in an industry so unimaginably widespread that it would be easy to feel helpless. I applaud them in their efforts and hope that more will pay attention.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

James Gifford

On Tuesday 21st September I met James Gifford, Executive Director of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI). A very talented Australian man and the driving force behind one of the world’s most popular and fastest growing responsible investment organisations, I admit to being slightly nervous, but was soon put at ease by his relaxed and friendly attitude. He clearly works extremely hard to make the UN PRI as big as it can be and has a real passion for pushing the Principles to their potential.

The aim of the UN PRI is to engage signatories (mostly pension funds, asset owners and institutional investment managers) in integrating environmental, social and corporate governance issues (ESG) into all of their investment decisions. Once signed up, they must take action and regularly report their progress. Any investment projects or areas are thoroughly scrutinised and The Clearinghouse department of the UN PRI holds online seminars (webinars) and conferences where signatories can discuss reports of unfair treatment of local workers in developing countries by transnational corporations, organisations where gender inequality has been an issue, environmental disasters or their investments into certain fisheries.

There are many similar lists of principles from various banks and investment houses, but it is the UN PRI that arguably holds most weight today. The UN PRI office in England is based in Shoreditch, London, around the corner from my office. It also has offices in New York and is expanding into other countries and markets around the globe.

Effectively, the aim is to have the most money possible going into worthwhile and sustainable projects and corporations (rather than unsustainable versions), to ensure a positive future for our planet and its people. Here, money has a big voice and by voting with their investments, the signatories are making a big statement to corporations who do not take ESG issues seriously.
Signatories currently include Standard Life, Teachers' Retirement System of the City of New York and the Royal Mail Pension Plan (bearing in mind that the Royal Mail is the largest private employer in the UK), whilst potential future signatories are continuously being identified, approached and engaged.

There appears to be increasing acknowledgement that ESG issues can significantly affect investment portfolio performance. The UN PRI is in a period of rapid growth and looks to be dominating the responsible investment space, whilst the Principles themselves are voluntary, aspirational and doing a world of good.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Pear tree

In spirit of the sharing associated with Transition Town foraging groups, which also help ensure that good food does not get wasted, I offer my pears to you! If you are passing through Islington soon, the pear tree in my back garden, photographed today, is at optimum bloom and has plenty of pears ripe for the picking...mmm I can smell a pear crumble coming on...

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Roots and Shoots

My eco trail got 790 views!

Roots and Shoots was one of the buildings I viewed on the Saturday as part of the eco-architecture trail and they gave us a tour. It boasts rain-water harvesting (the rain flushes the toilets), solar photovoltaic panels (any extra electricity needed is sourced from Green Energy and any surplus made is sold back to the grid), solar hot water and sheeps wool insulator as well as sustainably sourced building materials.

It is currently an education and training centre for biodiversity and conservation, which is aided by its ‘green roofs’, planted roofs and quite frankly flourishing wildlife garden. Apparently mini tulips grow on the gravel roof in spring where trapdoors spiders and wasps and other creatures live too.

I hope all 790 of you enjoyed it as much as I did!