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!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Oliver Heath

On the first of this month I met with the legend of sustainable architecture and design that is Oliver Heath, at London’s fashionable Hoxton Hotel. I was so excited to meet him that actually I spilt my cup of tea, to which he promptly responded by whipping out a bunch of tissues from his bag and mopping it up before I had noticed what had happened: ‘it comes from having 2 young daughters I’m afraid’ he said. Oliver’s charm is warm and welcoming and I could instantly see why he has been so successful in his career, with too many television, national newspaper and Grand Designs Live appearances to mention.

After a post-graduate degree in Architecture from the acclaimed Bartlett school at UCL, his company Heath Design has undertaken a number of interesting projects, including the design of Islington’s Green Living Centre, Virgin Atlantic HQ and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Mixing modern architectural innovation and natural, sustainably-sourced materials, whether eco exhibitions, events, museums, domestic or commercial interiors, everything Heath Design touches reeks of stylish classicism, whilst being an inspiration for our low carbon future.
The impression I got was that Oliver does not like to sit still for long and always has several exciting projects on the go. His most recent book, Urban Eco Chic is out in paperback now and available in 6 languages. If you're not quite as lucky as those who get given a signed copy (eh hem, myself), then it can be ordered off EcoCentric, the online design store that Oliver started a few years ago.

After being one of the main presenters and designers on Changing Rooms, his new TV programme, Dream Homes, comprises fifteen 1-hour shows due to air on Discovery Travel and Living from 4th October at 9pm, every day of the week. He is set to be the Energy Savings Trust spokesperson for the forthcoming Energy Savings Week (25th-31st October), on the theme of Taking Control (of your home’s energy use). He has also recently done work for Ikea, The Future Of Kitchens.

I honestly do not know how he found time for it in amongst all the ideas, schemes and tasks that permeate his everyday life, but Oliver has recently finished the retrofitting of his own home in Brighton. I particularly enjoy the foot pedals instead of kitchen sink taps to stop you wasting water. There is to be an article about it in the Property section of this week’s Sunday Times (Sunday 19th September).

A font of eco design knowledge, a wealth of sustainable style, a colourful career peppered with a rich tapestry of projects; all of these things, as well as modesty and magnetism, make Oliver one of the most fascinating people I have ever met.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

My Sustainable Architecture Trail

Dates: Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th September 2010
Cost: Free

Yes, the Pope is coming to London and Pakistan is playing England at Lords, but most importantly, the week end of my Eco Trail is here! I have organised this in my capacity as a volunteer for Sponge and here are the details:

This exciting eco trail has been designed as part of Open House London to give you a rich flavour of sustainable architecture, responsible materials, retrofitting and various architectural attributes such as rainwater harvesting, light maximisation and solar panels.

There are hundreds of buildings featured in Open House London that have sustainable elements, but we have chosen a few of these to showcase a variety of features whilst being in close proximity to one another in the South East.

A suggested trail, with all the information about building entry times and features can be found on the Sponge website here. You are free to tailor your own eco trail to include an eclectic mix of interesting buildings and walk or bus between them at your leisure. We hope that you find it inspiring!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Beliefs underlying our industrial growth

1. The fear of scarcity- we need to accumulate to be safe.
2. Consumption is seen as positive progression.
3. More=better and economic growth is intimately linked to the cultural view of social standing.

Thursday, 2 September 2010


More learnings from my transition training week end...yeah man...

It is important to consider that it may suit some people not to be involved and we must allow for our differences. We are currently living in an individualistic culture, but future conditions are likely to shift us into a place when it is both easier and beneficial to work, live, eat and sing together. Imagine if you suddenly had no money whatsoever and absolutely nothing of worth- suddenly, we need each other! Struggles are not the group failing, it is the group growing.