Sunday, 30 May 2010

MC Malaysia

I do not normally buy magazines but for my flight home from Malaysia (25th April) I bought Marie Claire Malaysia because its front page was screaming out at me: ‘PROJECT ECO CHIC!’ I was intrigued and upon closer inspection of the contents found that it did indeed have eco-oriented articles including ‘can Malaysia really go organic?’ (they concluded yes, but with many difficulties), suggestions for eco-friendly hoovers, mobiles, i-pod speakers and a section on making fashionable clothes using recycled materials. It was a mixed bag though because it also had a bit about ‘green clothes’ and ‘green make-up’, which were so-called only because of their green colour! About their beloved eco-themed Avatar, MC Malaysia say ‘going green is finally mainstream thanks to Mr Titanic’ (p38).

I also bought Seventeen Malaysia because it said ‘157 new ways to be an eco-warrior! (the ultimate green guide)’ plastered across the front. It is easy to be cynical about the attempts of ditzy magazines to be seen on the green scene, but at least they are trying to engage a new audience by not being to preachy and making it fun, friendly and fashionable (even if that involves having a couple of pages about products that are simply green like Shrek!)

Friday, 21 May 2010

My brand spanking new job!

Yesterday I successfully completed the training and selection day to become a recycling advisor for Resource Futures on behalf of Westminster City Council:

The job will involve knocking on people’s doors in Westminster and asking them a series of questions about their recycling as well as giving them advice and I start today at 2pm, going on for 9 weeks! This ‘canvassing’ method of communication is proven to work at encouraging people to recycle more and in the correct way.

It will also help gather data to help improve the recycling service, for example Westminster currently recycles plastic bottles but not mixed plastics like yoghurt pots, but if there is a lot of resident feedback about wanting mixed plastic recycling then the Council can look into it. There is going to be a big push for reducing and reusing materials as well, because recycling should happen after that. I am interested and excited to learn at the ground level about what affects people’s environmentally sustainable behaviour, by asking them myself!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Planning for a Low Carbon Future

Last night with Sponge I attended and volunteered at a consultation event at RICS’ (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) beautiful building on Parliament Square, Westminster. The rather lavish room was full of ‘built environment’ and planning professionals all nattering away animatedly over wine and nibbles.

The consultation was focused on a Planning Policy Statement (PPS) entitled ‘Planning for a low carbon future in a changing climate’ and is intended to replace two previous PPSs that have become somewhat outdated due to much new legislation including the Climate Change Act 2008. PPSs are essentially documents that builders and planners must adhere to when considering a new development. This PPS seems to be stricter than previous ones, suggesting refusal of planning permission requests that do not meet stringent targets and regulations on sustainability. It focuses on several areas of planning including maximising building energy efficiency and ensuring that major developments are not detrimental and are in fact supportive of the physical environment. This includes supporting renewable energy sources, the ability to connect to local eco-friendly transport networks, considering options for decentralised energy, cables for plug-in and hybrid cars, as well as efficient drainage systems in relation to adaptation to the increased flood-risks associated with climate change.

After an introduction by Tony Mulhall and Tom Pienaar of RICS, Tom Randall, Director of Sponge, delivered a presentation summarising the consultation document itself. We then split into groups and discussed what we thought of certain points.

My group (comprising very interesting and passionate architects and environmental consultants) was focussing on energy-related questions. I learnt a lot very quickly as these people are experts in their field so really scrutinised the document in a great level of detail. In general it was agreed that a national-level PPS would provide better consistency in use and also many statements were vague, for example points 6 and 13 looked at how planning proposals would be rejected if they ‘performed poorly’ in relation to a set of criteria such as ‘use landscaping to reduce likely energy consumption’, but this is not clearly defined- would ‘poorly’ mean that they only adhere to 4 of the 7 points of criteria for example? My group suggested the use of a hierarchal system for planning consideration. My group also suggested using the phrase ‘annual energy output in MWh’ in addition to ‘installed capacity in MW’ for Question 4, when considering renewable energy, because ‘installed capacity’ does not provide a measure for how much the wind turbine or bio-fuel burner is actually used.

I am typing up the notes currently, the content of which will go back to Sponge, through RICS and eventually onto the (Communities and Local) Government who will collate and consider the consultation responses- hopefully we will have made a positive difference!

Get the LONDON look

Umm HELLO LONDON! I am loving you and your green offerings thus far. I have lived here in North London for nearly 2 weeks now and have met many eco-friendly people and organisations already.

Here are just A FEW of the lovely people I have met thus far in Laandaan Taan:
Tom Randall and Adam Dawson, Directors of Sponge,, a sustainability network for planners, developers and professionals working in the built environment. They are both professional and passionate pioneers of sustainability and are my mentors in my current voluntary work with Sponge as well as more generally in my career in environmental sustainability. No doubt I will blog more about the work I am doing with them soon so keep your eyes peeled!

Earlier this week I met with Olivia Sprinkel, who besides having a fabulous name is just generally fabulous in the world of eco-communications, creativity and community living:

At an event yesterday evening I met self-confessed sustainability geek Mel Starr, who is a sustainability consultant and writes an absolutely fantastic blog about the work that she does:

So life is looking up whilst I am looking forward to carving out my green career here in London baby...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Happy birthday Marion

May I just take a moment to think about my great friend Marion Corre-Labat (aka Mio). I met her aged 15 (she was 16) as we became French-English exchange buddies and have been friends ever since, sharing many great times together in both England and all over France.

On Monday 26th April 2010, she tragically passed away, suffering a heart attack whilst jogging on the beach as the sun was going down on L’Île De La Réunion. Today was her birthday and she would have been 24 years old. She had such a great love for her family and friends and was truly inspiring in her energy for life- she always said ‘quand on veut, on peut!’

On La Réunion, she was working for a renewable energy company called l'ARER (Agence Régionale de l'Energie de La Réunion) ) pour l'avenir durable de notre planète.

A true eco-chic with gorgeous green eyes and a lust for life, Mio- you will stay in my heart and memory forever...

Grosses bisous. Miss you sweety xxx

Friday, 14 May 2010

Panorama on Palm Oil

Daddy dearest recorded a programme on the plights of the Bornean rainforest for me whilst I was away. I didn’t actually learn much about it whilst I was there as there is a restriction on the media (environmental activists and journalists have previously been deported for investigating the subject too closely), but I did see mass deforestation and logging during our travelling time from project to project. The programme was set in Indonesian Borneo, whereas I was in Malaysian Borneo for the 10 weeks, however deforestation for palm oil plantations occurs in both countries on a huge scale.

Palm oil is a massive industry, earning Indonesia £5bn a year. It’s the cheapest oil on the market and is in many of our household products including soaps (even from The Body Shop), cakes, Kit Kats, the breadcrumbs of fish-fingers...the list goes on. Often it is disguised as ‘vegetable oil’ (e.g. in Flora margarine), so we are not even aware it is in these products. The reality is that only 3% of the world’s palm oil is sustainable and some of the plantations are developed illegally on protected areas. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, the Bornean rainforest is the orang-utans natural habitat and this is just one creature that is endangered due to the deforestation.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Gravity-fed water filter system

In my final 3 weeks I slept on the floor of a concrete house whilst living in Kampong Kopuron (Kampong means village in Malay) and helping to build a water filter system for the village and the next door village: the first of its kind in the whole of Malaysia! The Raleigh project groups for the 6 weeks previous to my group had concreted the weir in the nearby hills, which was the water source, installed both the filter and storage tanks (which are huge, I do not know how they carried them up to the top of the hill through the jungle!) and began laying the water pipe. We finished the project in 3 weeks, which involved laying the rest of the pipe, sometimes having to pick-axe across a road if the pipe needed to reach a house on the other side.

The main pipe was one inch wide; we then had connector and reducer pipes so that the pipe became ¾ inch closer to the houses and ½ inch when going into someone’s house. This helped ensure adequate water pressure. We then fitted taps in every house in the village, which they could drink straight from, so that they no longer had to trek for an hour to the nearest water fall, or to use the dirty water from their regular tap, which they had to boil or filter for hours. So 10km of pipe and 85 taps later, we had a fantastic opening ceremony.

Raleigh was helped financially by HSBC sponsorship and was working in collaboration with a local NGO called Pakos and also engineers from a company called Tomher. The latter whom designed this version of the system, supplied the parts for free and chose this village to be a ‘model village’ so that hopefully this will encourage other villages to use this system.

I spoke to Frank, the head engineer, who told me a little about the system. The filter system was invented in Scotland in 1812 and by the end of the century, every city in Europe was using it, but as the cities grew with industrialisation, the system was too big and expensive so they stopped being produced. In the 1980s it was reproduced to filter dirty water in Africa by WHO.

The basic idea is that dirty water enters the top of the filter tank and takes around 10 hours to reach the bottom as it filters through layers of sand, gravel and the all-important carbon, which in this case comes from local resources of coconut husk. It is then safe to drink, which has been scientifically proven. It does go through a chlorinator but this is only to kill any bacteria contracted from the inside of the pipes. It enters a very large storage tank, from which pipes go downhill through the jungle to reach Kampongs Kopuron and Bestaria.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Sun Bears

In my first three weeks in Sabah, Borneo, we were building a bridge from the Orang-Utan sanctuary to the brand new Sun Bear Sanctuary, both at Sepilok, which will help bring tourists and therefore money to the latter. We sawed wood, we dug dirt, we banged (bung?) in nails, we mixed concrete, all the while sweating in the sweltering heat and humidity while monkeys, and a baby pygmy elephant called Curtis, watched us from the nearby trees.

There were 12 bears at the centre when we were there in February and they are hoping to get more as soon as possible. The aim is to rescue, rehabilitate and release the bears, which are the smallest of only 8 bear species in the world. They are endangered and very little is known about them, but I learnt a little bit whilst on the project: they are dark brown and each with a distinct yellow (sun-like) marking on their chest- each one is different, like snow flakes. They have very sharp claws for climbing trees, an amazing sense of smell for sniffing out where there is a bee hive within a tree and extremely long tongues to reach the honey inside.

Unfortunately, people are charmed by these very cute bears when they are young and keep them as pets. When they are older, the owners cannot control this wild animal so keep it in a small cage and feed it scraps of food (mostly rice) with very little nutrients in, so its fur falls out and it grows thin and even more aggravated. The sun bears are also accidently caught in snares or shot dead for their organs, which are used in Chinese medicine; some believe that the gall bladder gives youthfulness and vitality when ingested, whereas others believe the middle claw will help you be ‘the middle man’ in any conflict. Obviously there is no scientific evidence for either of these claims.

This is the only Sun Bear Sanctuary in the world and I really hope I have made a small difference to ensuring its growth and successful maintenance in the future.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A slightly shorter blog post

I am aware that it is common courtesy to keep blog posts short and sweet, so to make up for the recent mini-theses below, today I would like to share a mere mini-phrase I found in an advert for Hermes, which for me evoked thoughts of the Glamorous Green: ‘she sleeps on silk and dreams green dreams...’

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Nature calls!

You may be wondering how on earth we managed when nature called. Well, every time we arrived at a new place on our jungle trek, one of the first things to do was to dig a long drop. The depth depended on how long we were spending in that place, but usually 2 feet deep would suffice for 15 people over night. We were on our static project sites for 3 weeks at a time so you dug it as deep as possible! I think on our first phase we dug 3 total for 3 weeks, each one about 5 feet deep. The soil from the hole was left by the side so that once you had done your business, you discretely covered it over. Before leaving, it was someone’s duty to fill the rest of it in with soil and cover it over with twigs/leaves. In a way we were actually feeding the environment!

I wrote a poem about it called ‘Ode to a long drop’ and it goes like this:

Dearest darling LD,
I do have something to confess:
Before we were introduced,
I was no fan of a cess.

But now that we’re acquainted
(10 weeks I’ve used you for wee)
You have become part of my routine
And therefore part of me.

At first I dreamt of toilet seats,
The flush of a regular loo.
I’ll admit there was a slight worry
About doing that first poo.

But back at home, I’ll still want to squat,
To see familiar AWAS* and hanging roll**.
‘Tis true, we are soon to part my dear
And I’ll miss you, you big old hole!

*AWAS refers to red and white caution tape strung up between trees to indicate the long drop location (Awas means caution/warning in Malay).
** A loo roll was hung in a plastic bag at the start of the trail to the long drop away from camp. If it was hanging there, you were free to go to the long drop. If it was not there, you had to wait as someone was using the long drop.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Aqua por favor

On trek our water was from rivers, which we washed in using biodegradable travel wash, or purified to drink. On static sites, our water was from a water tank, which we had to monitor so as not to waste water (remembering to turn it off before we left jungle camp, but also ensuring there was enough water in the tank for our return at the end of the day). We became water tank savvy as we got used to knowing how much water would be needed to fill up our large 25-litre jerry cans for purification and drinking, for our ‘showers’ (bucket over the head, my dear) and for our ‘three bowls’.

The three bowl system was set up to reduce the risk of any illness spreading throughout the group or infections from animals and insects. Before cooking, three large bowls were filled with just enough water for use: the first was used with washing gel to get food debris off our cooking utensils and cutlery, the second was a ‘rinse bowl’ of purified water and the third was water with bleach in it to kill bacteria. After meals we would ‘three-bowl’ (bowl #1, 2, 3 in that order), but before meals we would simply ‘two-bowl’, which meant putting your cutlery in the bleach bowl and then rinsing it off (bowl #3, 2).

Sometimes when it was very hot or there was a problem with the water pipe further down, we would not have any water available for a day or so. We quickly learnt about the importance of water conservation and realised how much we take for granted having running water at home.

I’m baaaaaaaaaack!

The rumours are true, I have indeed returned to the UK from my 10-week volunteering expedition to Borneo and finally have internet access again (not that I missed it) so expect a few more blog posts!

I have learnt a lot about reducing your impact on the surrounding environment and have adhered to the phrase ‘leave only footprints, take only memories’ as much as possible. We had to quickly learn to suppress our automatic-pilot reactions to very large bugs landing on us and not squash them as, according to our jungle-trek guide, this stirs up bad jungle spirits (Avatar anyone?!) We certainly were not picking flowers, but took scores of photos of them; however the guides did show us how they use the forest resources sustainably to make bamboo cutlery. We were careful choosing the trees to tie our hammocks to so as not to cause damage and put all our food waste in separate dry and wet slops pits, which we filtered and covered over.