Monday, 30 August 2010

Transition Training Week end

I spent the week end of 24th-35th July among like-minded greenies being trained how to help your town protect itself against climate change, peak oil and social justice issues. ‘Transition’ is a global, self-organised movement and this course offered the ‘A-C’ rather than the ‘A-Z’ as Transition is still emerging and growing. Post-agricultural and –industrial revolutions, Transition is a creative and flexible response to the need to act positively in these times of change, uncertainty and risk. This ‘third revolution’ is about NOT WAITING for government and industry to change and make the decisions. It also has an affiliation with the United Nations Decade for Sustainable Development. The next few blog entries will be learnings from this very informative, yet spiritual week end.

On the Saturday, we explored tools that can help people effectively work together for social change, including hand-signals to try and untangle the spaghetti of group discussions (I felt slightly silly shaking my hands in the air, a signal aptly named ‘Concordo’, to show I agree with someone’s point and making a T-shape to indicate that I have a technical point or question!).

In our first exercise we were given a card each with an image/graph on one side and an explanation of the corresponding environmental issue on the other side. We had a minute to learn the information and a minute to present what we had learnt to someone else. I learnt about Ecological capacity; the UK represents 2.4ha/person, but we are using 5.4ha/person through living beyond our means and having to borrow from outside the UK (‘ghost acres’), the future (drawing down) and from the past (‘fossil acres’- ancient sunlight). Also, 99% of the stuff that we buy is thrown away within 6 months and built-in-obsolescence is more common. For me, teaching others proved to be an effective learning tool as I really had to know my stuff before I could confidently present it to someone else and I also enjoyed it much more than receiving th information passively from a Powerpoint presentation. Interactive engagement involving everyone is the right way to go. It is useful to bear in mind that one does not have to be an expert to teach others- as long as you have the basic information, they can research it further through books and the internet if they need to know more before they feel like making a positive change.

With sustainability issues, there is a wealth of information, which can often feel overwhelming and thus paralysing. It is therefore imperative to deliver said information in bitesize chunks.
There are 3 essential components of transition initiatives: a vision, plans/pathways that create the transition from now to reach that vision, and a set of principles that guide and inform the pathways and plans.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Buildings and behaviour

We all know that supermarkets and casinos are often laid out so that we are encouraged to consume more, whilst new hospitals are designed to encourage faster recovery from illness. However, architects, planners and developers do not directly consider why and how people behave in reaction to a building design in relation to sustainability. In fact, many consider this to be common sense and therefore not worth studying.

This is a relatively fragmented and embryonic subject, but is worthy of research because, as the rise of environmental psychology demonstrates, in the built environment the sustainability of a building depends a lot on the building’s users. You can install all the eco-techno-gadgets you like, but if people are not motivated to use them or do not understand how (or are put off by their novelty), efforts will be futile. Many aspects of positive energy efficiency within a building can happen passively, i.e. people do not have to consciously act and make an effort in order to gain benefits from already existing insulation or a solar panel that does not require monitoring. The interior design of a building can subconsciously encourage more sustainable behaviour, for example by placing the stairs in the centre of an entrance hall and making them look much grander and more inviting than the energy-consuming lift or escalator that is hidden round a corner, through a door and down a corridor. I think a lot of it is about making it easier and incentivised for people to participate in pro-environmental behaviour within a building. But can the interior architectural design of a building also consciously influence positive sustainable behaviour? For example through the layout, high levels of natural light or eco-looking building materials; people will adopt an eco-identity if they feel that they are acting within an eco-building?

Obviously this is an elusive phenomenon and as I mentioned previously, best practice models in relation to sustainable behaviour should not be ‘one-size-fits-all’. It is important to remember that of course, other than the building environment, there are myriad factors influencing pro-environmental behaviour, for example internal cultural attitudes and social norms, knowledge and understanding on environmental impacts of energy use, or indeed one’s mood on the day! The built environment is just one influence on people’s choices in relation to sustainability, but it may be more important than we originally thought.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

10:10 Lighter Later Campaign

Eugenie Harvey, who is the founding director of We Are What We Do, whom I interviewed for my final year dissertation and who gave me a week’s work experience at the WAWWD offices in 2009, is now the Director of 10:10!

Here is a lovely video in which she explains the current 10:10 lighter later campaign. The campaign is lobbying the government to switch to GMT+1 in the winter, literally making it ‘lighter, later’. This has several large benefits including reduced road accidents, but the main ones that 10:10 are promoting are the large reduction in energy use and therefore carbon dioxide emissions that would ensue.

10:10 cannot reach its potential without kind donations. I have recently donated and also ordered a 10:10 (made of recycled jet plane) to spread the word, which arrived in the post yesterday- very easy to do and a fabulous way to help.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Cycling Projects

In September my friends Hattie and Christina are cycling from Portsmouth to Paris in aid of Cycling Projects; you can donate to their marvellous cause here. The charity encourages people to use the more eco-friendly form of transportation that is cycling and helps to make it more accessible through events, schemes and projects.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Money = happiness?!

It’s an age-old saying that money cannot buy you happiness, but perhaps now that we are (very slowly) coming out of an economic crisis, we have learnt to live slightly more frugally. Working long hours to earn lots to spend lots is not necessarily the key and, as described in the NY Times this week, we can be just as happy, if not happier, working less doing something we enjoy, spending less and living with less things.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Time banks

One of the many things that I learnt about at the Transition Highbury AGM was Time Banking. It encourages skills sharing and volunteering by providing a platform from which to give your time and receive time credits in return. So if you help someone to plant their potatoes for an hour, you can then have an hour’s help learning to paint for example- great for community spirit. Time banking is cool and has several famous patrons including Dame Anita Roddick and Jonathon Porritt.