The all-consuming pursuit of happiness

That we live in an age of consumerism is all too obvious: a society in which each household owes an average of about £2,400 on credit cards. Consumer debt causes great distress to many people and, in many cases, is closely associated with mental ill health.

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So, how do we row back from all this spending? How do we find happiness in living more simply?

We have to, for debt is not the only serious consequence of consumerism. Our collective demand for energy, water, land, meat, palm oil, timber, and much else besides is rapidly and irreversibly depleting and polluting the resources and ecosystems on which everyone depends. We are in real danger of going into ecological overdraft.

Although it is possible to be a more ethical consumer, generally speaking, spending does translate directly into material consumption. Take clothes as an example, one which exemplifies prevailing attitudes and behaviours. The average UK household spends about £1,700 a year on clothes. About 30 per cent of these garments remain in wardrobes unworn and an estimated £140m worth are sent to landfill every year.

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Casual consumption and waste creation such as this is highly problematic. Research suggests three of the nine planetary boundaries essential for avoiding unacceptable environmental change have already been crossed. It’s time to recognise that every manufactured item or service we buy comes with several environmental costs.

Protecting the environment alongside economic and social development is critical for our well-being and it also makes business sense. Producing better and consuming more wisely is key to establishing resilient markets that stay within our planet’s safe operating space, safeguard our natural wealth and contribute to overall economic and social well-being. Increasingly companies are expected to address, not to worsen, environmental degradation – it is becoming part of their social licence to operate.

What does this mean for us, the consumer? Put simply, as well as asking ourselves whether we can afford a particular purchase or experience, we also need to ask whether the Earth can really afford to provide it?

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The prospect of changing our buying habits and expectations may be uninviting, but it helps to remember that personal wellbeing is not about material wealth (once basic needs are met).

Powerful evidence can be found in the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index. The HPI logs measures of life-expectancy, well-being and ecological footprint for 89 nations, and produces an overall score for each country. 

So, who are the happiest people on the planet? Well, Costa Rica is among the top-ranked countries. Although its GDP per capita is less than a quarter of the size of many Western European countries and North America, and its per capita ecological footprint is just one third of the size of the USA’s, people living in Costa Rica enjoy higher wellbeing than the residents of many rich nations, and live longer than people in the US. 

It’s not surprising to learn that wealth does play a small part in happiness. After all, incomes are more than 25 times higher in the happiest countries than in the least happy ones. In Denmark, another of those happy places, there is a decoupling of wealth and well-being. Danes will tell you that they focus on the small things that really matter, including spending more quality time with friends and family, and enjoying the good things in life.

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Indeed, we may know deep down that you can’t buy happiness but this intuition often gets lost under the many pressures to consume; we're bombarded by messages - often subliminal - to buy, buy, buy. A much happier future can be ours, though, if we concentrate on cultivating non-material assets such as good relationships, appreciating what we’ve got, a sense of meaning, and new skills, instead of on making and spending money.

Standard of living has much less bearing on happiness than the attitudes, values and expectations we bring to the way we live; at least, this holds true once basic human needs are met. Essential for wellbeing are a warm dry home, decent food and reasonable income. The global economic system, fixated on growth and profit, and resulting in environmental destruction, is deeply flawed. Radically different frameworks exist, based on real human needs and environmental limits. The challenge is how we embrace these and make them an attractive alternative to wider society.

Clearly, it’s time to get real about this stuff: the Earth’s environmental limits are the ultimate bottom line. There has to be an economic transformation its we are to slow the rapid trend towards disastrous higher temperatures. This will be complex to achieve, but the guiding principle is simple: life offers rich possibilities far more satisfying than constant consumption. All of us who have more than enough, need to learn to become happily modest consumers.

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Drip, drip, drip...

Sustainable water consumption is a major challenge for our increasing global population. Already now, a large share of population is suffering from water scarcity and water consumption is a main driver of ecosystem damage. The distribution of the resource and its consumption make it a critical resource in many regions.

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We face a huge challenge, given that by 2030, approximately 47% of the world's population is expected to be living in areas of high water stress. At a national level, England, Scotland and Wales are projected to be in deficit by 800 million to 3 billion litres per day by 2050 (5–16% of total demand) and by 1.4 billion to 5 billion litres per day by 2080 (8-29% of the total demand).

Isn't it about time we took sustainable consumption seriously?

 One-thirds of the global population (2 billion people) live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least 1 month of the year. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round. Half of the world’s largest cities experience water scarcity.

One-thirds of the global population (2 billion people) live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least 1 month of the year. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round. Half of the world’s largest cities experience water scarcity.

This growing pressure on water resources – from population and economic growth, climate change, pollution, and other challenges – has major impacts on our social, economic, and environmental well-being. Hosepipe bans, tankering of water to keep up with demand, applications to abstract additional water from already strained reservoir supplies, rescuing fish populations from depleted rivers, and the closure of an inland waterway: these are just a few of the steps taken in the UK in the past month.

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The fact that water is running out is not new, but what is becoming increasingly urgent is that without action towards sustainable water practices, companies and investors around the world face imminent and significant risks. And yet, it is staggering to discover that of the world's 276 international river basins, 60 per cent lack cooperative management frameworks. This is serious, given the wide range of competing demands.

Without changes to business-as-usual, the future is grim. The effects are real and happening right now, right across the globe: in the last 20 years, 55% of China's rivers have disappeared due to industrial use. More than 70% of the western United States has been hit by drought resulting in a loss of approximately $2.7billion to California's economy. In February 2015, São Paulo ran out of water for four days. Within the next 15-20 years, the worsening water security situation risks triggering a global food crisis, with shortfalls of up to 30% in cereal production.

 Where once there was water! Mega-drought in California - is this becoming the norm?

Where once there was water! Mega-drought in California - is this becoming the norm?

Business leaders have a responsibility to not only take action with sustainable water processes in operations, but also to impact the entire supply chain all the way to the customer. Beyond implementing sustainable water operations, companies and individuals need to work together to create a shift in purchasing behaviour helping consumers to favour water-sustainable products.

A huge opportunity exists for companies to save money by putting water management at the centre of their environmental strategy. Businesses can also learn important lessons from the challenges that energy has faced over recent years in terms of reducing use and waste; by using water more sustainably, they can operate more efficiently and effectively. Every business needs to ensure that it is doing all it can to use water as efficiently as possible during manufacturing processes, conserving and treating waste water, while continuously striving to reduce or avoid emissions that pollute the environment. 

As a means to help inform consumers, many argue that quantifying water inputs, like nutritional and calorie labels on food items, will help to influence purchasing habits, encouraging consumers to resist highly water intensive products. It would incentivise product manufacturers to scale back unnecessary waste and awaken consumer consciousness about water insecurity. Understanding our water footprint may drive some consumers to make better informed decisions.

A water footprint looks at both direct and indirect water use:  

Indirect water use refers to the water that is used to manufacture the goods that we consume or produce, and the services that we use, as well as all of the water that is made unusable by pollution or wasted by non-use. That includes all of the water used to grow the food that we eat eat, to produce the things we use in daily life - clothes, books and furniture - and the water needed to produce the energy we use.

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While this indirect water is "invisible", we often use far more of it than we realise.

In Europe, for example, the average person directly consumes between 100-150 litres of water a day - as drinking water, for washing clothes, bathing and watering plants.

But each person also indirectly consumes anywhere between 1,500 and 10,000 litres of per day, depending on where they live and their consumption habits.

Broadly speaking, you can reduce your direct water footprint by:

  • turning off the tap while brushing your teeth
  • using water-saving toilets
  • installing a water-saving shower head
  • taking shorter showers
  • only washing your clothes when necessary
  • fixing household leaks
  • using less water in the garden and when cleaning
  • not disposing of medicines, paints or other pollutants down the sink.

When it comes to reducing your indirect water footprint, there are a number of different approaches you can take:

  • eating less meat
  • switching coffee for tea 
  • cutting down on sugar
  • eating less processed food
  • consuming more local produce 
  • buying quality, not quantity
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It's festival season so celebrate, sustainably

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The summer festival season is upon us, and plenty of us will be looking forward to a day or two (hopefully in the sunshine) enjoying live music and arts. But, just how sustainable is your festival?

Many festival organisers now state that they are committed to reducing their event's ecological impact and being as environmentally sustainable as possible. 

So, where does a festival organiser start?

Reduce waste and maximise recycling 

Glastonbury Festival composts between 150 to 200 tonnes of food waste each festival — the majority of it is biodegradable packaging. Bestival goes further, providing 100 composting toilets on festival grounds.

At some festivals, money – in the form of bottles and can – can be found underfoot. Festivals like Shambala, Reading, Leeds, and Bestival are gamifying the waste game by charging deposits for cups and bottles. Collect enough discarded empties and bring them back, and you could get some merch or a fresh beer.

This extends out to the traders, partners, organisations and event-goers involved in the particular festival to reduce, reuse and recycle their resources. Working together, the aim is to: minimise use of plastic packaging e.g. plastic bottled water, plastic bags, plastic knives and forks; minimise waste – working with traders and partners to judiciously plan resources; and maximise recycling opportunities e.g. for traders’ wet waste, event-goers’ waste.

Minimise power and use clean energy where possible

U.K. festivals, which are held in farm fields far away from the grid, burn 4.9 million litres of diesel each year powering the stages and vendors.

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A recent survey has revealed that the percentage of UK festivals actively working with their power suppliers to increase efficiency and reduce fuel doubled from one in four to half of events between 2016 and 2017. On average, festivals use 6 litres of diesel — for powering all those remotely located stages and other amenities — per person per day! 

There are a number of positive shifts in power management for the 50 UK festivals surveyed: 58% started monitoring generator loads in 2017; 20% said they are using sustainably sourced fuel; and 20% are now using hybrid technology to help cut fossil fuel use, costs and associated emissions.

Shambala has put special effort into tracking and cutting its emissions: It's powered by 100 percent renewable energy, waste vegetable oil, wind, and solar. And it cut its emissions from 73 tonnes in 2009 to 37.5 in 2015. 

Minimise road and air miles

Attendees and artists' travel to festivals in the UK are estimated to produce 79,000 tonnes of Carbon emissions!

The percentage of festivals promoting sustainable travel to their audiences has significantly risen – from 28% of events in 2016 to 80% in 2017. With audience travel accounting for up to 80% of the average UK music festival’s CO2 footprint, this is a great place to start in tackling environmental impacts. In 2017, 25% of participating festivals offered travel carbon-balancing for their audiences to address travel emissions through the charity Energy Revolution.

Encourage responsible sourcing e.g. Fairtrade, organic

When it comes to eating sustainably at a festival, all the same real-life principles apply: Organic, local, and vegetable-focused meals are the least environmentally damaging. And festival goers are starting to demand it! According to a recent survey, 72 percent think festival organisers should ban the sale of overfished seafood that has been caught using damaging methods. And 83 percent would choose free-range eggs if given the choice, and 80 percent would prefer to eat meat that was raised humanely.

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Some festivals go above and beyond. For example, Sunrise Celebration, which is considered by some to be the leading sustainable festival in the U.K., asks that 85 percent of the ingredients from vendors be organic. Even the alcohol is 80 percent organic and, wherever possible, locally produced. The Green Man Festival in Wales sources its beer and cider solely from Welsh breweries, and its wine comes from Europe. Glastonbury gives priority to vendors who source fair trade, local, organic, and British ingredients, plus all tea, coffee, and sugar on-site is fair trade. The Shambala festival is removing meat completely from the menu, hoping to show attendees it's possible to live (and party) without meat. And every year they reward the greenest vendor with a free space at next year's festival.

So, what can you do to help?

Reduce Plastic

Festivals are now demonstrating a greater commitment to tackling single-use plastics. We can each support this by avoiding the use of plastic drinks bottles, instead opting to bring a reusable water bottle that can be refilled with water at the water points. Some festivals, e.g. Bestival and  Latitude, are now requiring vendors to use compostable disposable plates and cutlery. Why not take your own and reuse them.

Walk, cycle or use public transport to get to the event

Transportation to and from the festival comprises up to a whopping 80 percent of the total emissions for the event. So, organisers need to make it easy and rewarding to go the low-emission route. 

Ideas include: offering car-sharing incentives such as the opportunity to win backstage passes, meals, merchandise, and even VIP tickets for life; providing bus services and reduced ticket prices for those using them; installing a free bike parking lot, along with a dedicated shuttle; offering attendees the chance to purchase carbon credits to offset their trip to the festival. 

Don’t litter: Reduce Waste

Did you know that festivals produce the equivalent of over 2.7kg of waste per person per day — way more than you put in your own rubbish bin at home or at work!

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Waste accounts for about 35 percent of a festival's on-site carbon footprint. But anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of festival attendees say they would separate their waste if facilities were provided.

In total, U.K. festivals produce 23,500 tonnes of waste every year, and recycling rates are typically below 32 percent. It doesn't have to be this way. Festivals large and small all over the world are experimenting with ways to cut down on waste, support local and organic agriculture, and lower their carbon footprint. So, dispose of your waste in the correct bin to ensure that it will be recycled. 

Spread the word and encourage others to follow our suggestions and, importantly, enjoy the festival scene with a clear eco-conscience! It's an opportunity to use such events to promote a green, inclusive culture; while ensuring that it is a safe, welcoming and creative place.

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Thinking inside the box

Everyone has a fundamental human right to housing, which ensures access to a safe, secure, habitable, and affordable home. Sadly, it doesn't follow that there is an adequate housing supply to meet demand. Politicians make much of the need to build more homes, more family homes, more affordable homes, more social housing. In fact, housing is a hot political topic.

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A ‘fabric first’ approach is the best approach to creating an eco home. That means prioritising elements such as insulation and air tightness in order to deliver a structure that won’t leak heat.

Once you have a suitably efficient building fabric in place, you can begin to look renewable energy sources, such as heat pumps and solar technology. There’s no point in specifying these systems in a house that’s not up to standard as you won’t be able to maximise their potential (you may even end up paying more to run them than you would for conventional alternatives).

In the UK, it is claimed that building 300,000 new homes a year would help to make housing more affordable. However, affordability depends upon price and income, not a figure plucked out of thin air. Irrespective, we'll need to step things up. The last time  300,000 homes were completed in a year was way back, in the financial year 1969-70.

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How can we do it? And can the construction industry respond in a way that is sustainable?

The overriding principle in sustainable housing is ensuring it promotes better quality of life and involves less waste, better reliability, lower life-cycle environmental impacts, less maintenance and more re-use. 

A ‘fabric first’ approach is the best approach to creating an eco home. That means prioritising elements such as insulation and air tightness in order to deliver a structure that won’t leak heat.

Once you have a suitably efficient building fabric in place, you can begin to look renewable energy sources, such as heat pumps and solar technology. There’s no point in specifying these systems in a house that’s not up to standard as you won’t be able to maximise their potential (you may even end up paying more to run them than you would for conventional alternatives).

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Here's a list of a few things to consider:

Insulation

Put simply, the more insulation you can incorporate into the major structural elements of your home (such as the walls, roof and floor), the more heat it will retain and the more efficient it will be in use.

Insulation of walls, floor and ceiling or roof space will help to aid in cooling purposely to save on energy costs. Insulation will help in saving money on energy bills and make the house more comfortable because insulation will bar heat passing in and out of the house. It will maintain a comfortable temperature inside regardless of the outside temperature. 

Air tightness

Fewer gaps in your home’s structural envelope mean less heat lost to the outside world. Prefabricated systems, such as closed panel timber frame and structural insulated panels, tend to offer good air tightness off the shelf. With others, such as brick and block, high-quality workmanship on site is essential.

One easy step is to install windows that are double-glazed, as these will help to insulate the house making it cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter (see below re. natural light).

Thermal mass

Materials such as brick and concrete can absorb warmth from the sun’s rays during the day and release it into the home as external temperatures drop – helping to maintain a comfortable internal environment. Used correctly, this thermal store can help to reduce energy consumption.

The installation of solar panels and temperature regulating walls will make a house more eco-friendly and help to keep it cooler during hot weather. Design should aim to create a favourable microclimate, allowing lightweight ventilation in hot, dry climates, while being well insulated with good solar production during winter.

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Among the most popular technologies for generating energy are solar photovoltaic panels, solar thermal panels, biomass and stoves, and ground-source or air-source heat pumps. Other options include boilers that generate electricity as a by-product of their heating cycles.

Natural light

Maximising the amount of natural light in your home – through good use of windows, rooflights, sun pipes, etc – will help to reduce your need for artificial lighting. However, glazing is much less insulating than conventional walling, so it's important to strike the right balance.

Making use of the sun means that you orientate a new home for maximum sunlight. This involves passive solar heating designs and making use of daytime lighting fully. By the use of passive solar, the windows can let in energy and the heat absorbed reduces the need for warming the house during cold periods such as winter. 

Sustainable materials

There are various ways to ensure the products and materials you use are as green as possible. One key step is to select non-toxic building materials for constructing the house. Non-toxic building materials lower the environmental impacts over the life-cycle of the building.

Another option is to source locally. This is appropriate to reduce the environmental footprint from transportation. Consideration should be given to using natural products, such as sheep’s wool insulation. If you’re buying wood, always look for proof that it’s been sustainably sourced, for instance through FSC certification.

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During construction, recycling of wastes can be done to reduce their accumulation as much as possible. For instance, materials can be sourced from demolished products which have been recycled. These materials should be durable and easily recycled.

Design

The challenge now is to make environment-friendly homes also look easy on the eye, not a combination you would necessarily associate with common innovations, such as solar panels and plastic windows. Modern eco-homes are at the cutting edge of innovation. Architects are increasingly competing to achieve super-high performance in terms of heat-retention and sustainable building materials, while achieving fantastic, award-winning looks.

Fortunately, this can now be done in ways that are eminently affordable, too.

In fact, the constraints of building sustainable, energy-efficient homes actually drive better design. Look and build both have to be of the highest standard to ensure all targets are met. Think about it. Every part of the building has to fit together perfectly to keep warmth in, which encourages cutting-edge design. 

A key ingredient in a home like this is the use of glass. Triple-glazed, thermally efficient glass is often used on the south side of a property to maximise solar gain. 

Such homes are also built to minimise drafts, with a high level of insulation for the winter and windows open in summer to enable cross-ventilation. There may be ground- or air-source heat pumps, which use natural energy to warm the home, a bee-friendly, oxygen-producing green roof, and (rarely visible) solar panels too. 

Natural materials such as timber, stone, brick, and glass all retain heat well, so architects combine them with new technology and materials to create spectacular results. 

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Structural systems

All construction systems can be adapted to meet good levels of energy efficiency, but some lend themselves more immediately to hitting the highest standards.

Closed panel timber frame and structural insulated panels (SIPs) are two popular options, offering a straightforward route to a well-insulated, highly airtight structure. That’s largely thanks to their large degree of prefabrication, which minimises the potential for human error on site. Find out more about.

One of the advantages of SIPs is that the system involves a continuous layer of insulation, with no breaks for studwork. That makes for extremely low levels of thermal bridging (where internal warmth can find a path to escape to the exterior).

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A variety of other systems have been developed with energy efficiency and sustainability in mind. These include modern methods, such as externally-insulated solid walls, as well as traditional or natural options, such as straw bale building.

Modular homes

Modular homes are increasingly seen as a solution to the challenges of meeting the demand for housing and doing so in ways that are eco-friendly.

A modular home is one that is built indoors in a factory-like setting. The finished products are covered and transported to their new locations, where they are assembled by a builder. A modular home is not a mobile home; it is simply a home that is built off-site, as opposed to on-site. These homes are often called factory-built, system-built or prefab (short for prefabricated) homes.

Because modular homes are built indoors, they can be completed in a matter of a few weeks, as opposed to months. They don’t see the typical on-site delays caused predominantly by the weather. Modular homes must conform to specific rules, guidelines and building codes that often surpass those of traditional on-site homes.

Modular homes can be more affordable than site-built homes. Their shorter build time will save you money on the overall construction. Home inspections are not needed, as these are all done in the factory.

Modular homes are much more energy-efficient, so your monthly expenses will be substantially less. They also are environmentally friendly. There are a great variety of homes from which to choose, and many architects specialize in designing modular homes. As with any home, modular homes can be expanded.

It's an approach that's catching on, fast!

One of Britain’s major housebuilders is to prefabricate up to a quarter of its homes in a factory, in the latest attempt by the construction industry to tackle the housing shortage.

Berkeley Homes, which builds 4,000 homes a year, is planning to create a facility in Kent where builders will work to produce up to 1,000 houses and apartments annually which will then be craned on to sites. Another company, nHouse, is setting up a factory in Peterborough with the capacity to build 400 homes a year, complete with light fittings, bathrooms, bookshelves and kitchens; and claims it can build a house in 20 days in the factory which can then be erected on site in half a day. Several other developers, including Legal and General and Urban Splash, have also launched prefab home divisions.

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From social housing, through private housing, to student accommodation, design companies are working in close partnership with construction firms to create robust modular houses to meet the most demanding requirements. Designs include cutting edge, energy-saving innovations to reduce carbon footprint and utility costs.

Units are manufactured off-site in modern, state-of-the-art factory facilities, reducing overall build time by up to 50% compared with conventional building. Unlike traditional building sites, weather delays don’t have to be factored in, and modular houses can be installed where site access is difficult, and with minimum disruption.

The houses are assembled not by traditionally skilled tradesmen but rather by manufacturing and engineering trained factory operatives. This opens up the possibility of significantly contributing to the shortage without the need for finding more scarce traditional resource that is clearly not available in the UK.

These engineered and factory assembled offsite houses offer significant advantages in many areas:

(1) manufacturing modular housing in this manner offers considerable time benefits. As the modular houses are manufactured on a flow line there is no risk of late delivery. They can be manufactured at rates of twenty or more per week, with no more than a four week construction time.

(2) Modules are constructed to exacting quality levels in the controlled factory environment and with as much as 75% of the buildings manufactured offsite, the risk of accidents on site is greatly reduced.

(3) Such offsite housing products are designed to a standard that meets all 5 main elements required to achieve a BRE Green Guide Rating of B or above, and are designed to achieve a Code for Sustainable Housing Level 3 or above.

(4) Modular housing is designed from the outset to be an affordable, yet high quality, home. Its costs are design and site dependent, of course,  giving clients design flexibility coupled with achieving value for money.

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(5) Running costs are also kept to a minimum as standard insulation values are around 25% higher than building regulations. Exceptional airtightness ratings can be achieved and many other eco features are also available.

Modular homes, it seems, could well be the sustainable future of house-building in the UK.

Getting beneath the skin of sunscreen

The average adult has about 3.6 kilograms, or about 2 square metres of skin. It's our largest organ, and one that we should take care of. After all, it regulates your body temperature, as well as acting as a barrier, protecting the body from harmful things in the outside world such as germs and toxins, moisture, the cold and the Sun's rays.

Unlike my lawn, which is just about frazzled, I intend keeping my skin healthy. Every summer, at the first sight of the Sun, I reach for the sunscreen in the bathroom cabinet. Last year's sunscreen, or maybe older. Purchased without a great deal of thought for what's in it, just as long as it's labelled as being high protection strength. Like most of us, I should probably care a whole lot more.

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Yes, sunscreen is expensive. But, doesn't your skin - your first line of defence - deserve to be looked after? That includes thinking about what's in the product that you smear so liberally over your body, not to mention its impact on the environment. It got me thinking...

It's not just me, though. People are looking for safer, non-toxic and preferably plastic-free sunscreens, which is great news. Unfortunately, the selection remains rather limited at the moment (although there are many more options out there compared to a couple of years ago). 

So what’s the issue with conventional, off-the-shelf sunscreens? Where to begin…?

Given that our skin can absorb what we put on it, I'd prefer to put as few ingredients on my skin as possible. I'd also like them to be as organic and safe as possible. Conventional sunscreens can contain a cocktail of toxic, synthetic chemicals that are known hormone disruptors amongst other health risks.

On a bigger scale, it turns out sunscreens are destroying coral reefs, which we are learning are the “rainforests of the oceans”: home to a whole host of plant and animal species, they protect coastlines from erosion and they can be a vital store of carbon.  Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3), a chemical found in thousands of conventional sunscreen products, is not only toxic to coral reefs (disrupts coral reproduction, causes coral bleaching, damages coral DNA), but also damaging to algae, sea urchins, fish and marine mammals, causing - amongst other things - hormonal disruption.

Measurements of oxybenzone have been found 12 times higher than levels considered safe for seawater coral reefs in waters around Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands. Consider this: swimmers, scuba divers and snorkelers are releasing between 6,000-14,000 tonnes of sunscreen into coral reef environments each year.

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“It is estimated that 10,000 tons of UV filters are produced annually. On average about 25% of the sunscreen ingredients applied to skin are released in the water over the course of a 20 min submersion." Charlotte Vohtz, Founder of Green People.

So, there's a clear message: conventional sunscreen isn’t great for our health or for the ocean and the life it holds.

But there are better sunscreens out there – ones that use certified organic ingredients without nanoparticles, relying on uncoated zinc oxide as the only sunscreen. Zinc oxide is a mineral that does not absorb into the skin, instead providing a physical barrier that sits on top. This can mean a slightly white film appearing on the skin. I think that's a small price to pay, if it means my health and the environment aren’t at risk.

Then, of course, there's the plastics question. My other criterion in searching for that green sunscreen is that it shouldn't come packed in a plastic bottle or tube. Stainless steel tins or biodegradable cardboard tubes are being used now, and it's possible to purchase such products in the UK.

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Unfortunately, even in the eco-friendly market, not all sunscreens are equal.  Be wary of brands that say they offer “complete protection” without any further detail – this is  to get round marketing regulations.  Instead look for ones that specifically say that they give both UVA and UVB protection.

Also be wary of sunscreens saying they offer protection above SPF 50, as there is no evidence anything above SPF 50 offers increased protection.  This also fools you into thinking you can reapply less – you still have to reapply the cream every couple of hours regardless of the SPF.

So, here are a few brands you might want to look at:

Badger Sunscreen is one of the best eco friendly sunscreens on the market, offering a sun protection factor of 30, and protection from both UVA and UVB rays.  It’s 100% chemical free, contains 87% certified organic ingredients, and is hypoallergenic – making it safe for every member of the family, even little ones. What's more, it’s completely biodegradable and won’t cause any harm to reefs or other aquatic ecosystems.  And for the final thumbs up, it’s not tested on animals, although it’s not vegan (it contains beeswax).

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Jāsön eco-friendly sunscreen offers a hefty SPF45 protection from both UVA and UVB rays, making it great for all of the family.  It’s gentle and non-irritant and rubs in well.  It’s not tested on animals and vegan friendly, but not reef-safe. For a reef-safe product, choose the Jāsön Mineral SPF30 sunblock.

Invisible Zinc SPF 30 Sunscreen is apparently the eco-friendly sunscreen choice of celebrities, if that impresses you. It's a light and non-greasy eco-friendly natural sunscreen offering very high UVA and UVB protection.  Unlike other creams, Invisible Zinc provides a physical (not chemical) barrier between you and the sun using only one active ingredient: Zinc-Oxide.  Zinc Oxide is a mineral reflector found in nature, which creates a reflective barrier on the surface of your skin. As it’s low on ingredients it’s suitable for use on all skin types, and the good news is Invisible Zinc is also vegan friendly, and not tested on animals.

There is a growing market for these products, so be aware that new brands are hitting the market all the time. Take time to look closely at their composition and packaging. Your skin deserves it! 

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Global sporting events: their legacy

Here we go, here we go, here we go

With the 2018 FIFA Football World Cup about to kick off in Russia, the host nation facing Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the eyes of football fans will be on the 22 players on the pitch. There may be a few distracted by the magnificence of the stadia constructed for the tournament, but few will spare a thought for the overall sustainability of this global event. 

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How will Russia 2018 impact upon the environment? How will it leave a positive social legacy? These are important questions, not only for all large events that see thousands travelling from around the world in order to attend; but also in relation to the specific circumstances of the world's largest country (making up 11% of the world's landmass, with a population in excess of 144 million).

It is estimated that the event will generate over 2.1 million tCO2e. At 74.7% of this total, international travel to Russia and travel between host cities are the major contributors of these emissions. Unsurprising, really: the FIFA World Cup is the largest single-sport competition in the world. Staging a tournament of this scale inevitably has an impact on the environment.

 Travelling fans will account for 75% of the total Carbon emissions associated with the Fifa World Cup in Russia 2018

Travelling fans will account for 75% of the total Carbon emissions associated with the Fifa World Cup in Russia 2018

Russia 2018 has a bold sustainability strategy, following the framework set out in ISO 20121, specifying the retirements for an Event Sustainability Management System. It aims to ensure that the event is (1) financially successful; (2) socially responsible; and (3) reduces its environmental footprint.

Done properly, it can boost motivation of those working on the event, helping to attract and retain the best talent. It can enhance reputation and strengthen relationships with key clients, suppliers and partners. It can achieve cost-savings in terms of material consumption, waste and energy; reducing carbon emissions over the entire event supply chain. And it can strengthen the position of the organising body within the community.

So, what's being done?

Social capital

Working in partnership, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee are supporting initiatives in the areas of health and decent work and capacity building, inclusivity and equality, social development through football, as well as healthy living and sustainable sport legacy.

These include tackling social issues through football programmes for young people; the promotion of healthy lifestyles (stadiums will be 100% smoke-free), football development and youth participation in football; and ensuring the sustainable use of the stadiums after the event.

Inclusivity and equality have been key areas for attention, and actions include ensuring fully-accessible events and transport services for disabled people and people with limited mobility; the creation of opportunities for low-income groups to obtain tickets for matches; and ensuring a discrimination-free environment at all sites and events.

 Creating a lasting legacy, particularly around engaging young people in sport, is always a key aim of any global sporting event

Creating a lasting legacy, particularly around engaging young people in sport, is always a key aim of any global sporting event

Environmental capital

Addressing environmental concerns, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee have focused on (1) green building standards, to include developing the sustainable management capacities of stadium operators; (2) transport, carbon, energy and waste management; and (3) risk mitigation and biodiversity.

With the aim of reducing the environmental impact and raising awareness of climate change, FIFA has launched a campaign encouraging successful ticket applicants to offset the carbon emissions resulting from their travel to the tournament for free.

All ticket holders are invited to sign up on FIFA.com and take part in the campaign, regardless of where they live. For each ticket holder signing up, FIFA will offset 2.9 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (tCO2e), which is the average emission per ticket holder traveling from abroad. The incentive to get fans to sign up is that they will automatically enter a prize draw to win two tickets for the FIFA World Cup final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

This is in line with its long-running environmental program and its more recent pledge to the UN’s Climate Neutral Now campaign. So, FIFA will offset all unavoidable emissions over which it has control, plus up to a maximum of 100,000 tCO2e for the ticket holders who sign up. The list of offsetting projects selected will include verified low-carbon projects in Russia and abroad. 

As those supporters arrive in the impressive array of 12 new and refurbished stadiums as the tournament kicks off on 14 June, they will all have undergone a standards certification process for sustainable buildings, either through the new Russian certification or through the BREEAM international certification (e.g. the Luzhniki and Spartak Stadiums in Moscow and Fisht Stadium in Sochi).

Ensuring that the stadiums are designed to BREEAM standards will raise the bar of sustainable design and construction in Russia. Certainly, prior to this event, regulations in green building were not well developed, with few incentives to implement green technologies. It is important to recognise the significance of this achievement by the design team.

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Building sporting arenas in line with green standards not only reduces their impact on the environment but also, to a great extent, determines their future use, including lower water and energy consumption. Take the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow (shown above), which will be the main venue of the event: 

Energy conservation is achieved through modern heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, as well as bringing together all essential utilities into one automated central system. This will allow complete monitoring and control of how much energy the building is consuming.

Using LED-based lamps instead of incandescent lights will save a significant amount of electricity. The lighting outside the venue was also installed using electricity-saving strategies. 

Water-saving technology at the stadium will allow hundreds of thousands of litres to be saved during a match at full operational capacity.

Large green spaces and a high number of trees already present in the vicinity were preserved during the reconstruction, while even more greenery was also added. According to the stadium managers, 1,050 trees and bushes were planted, and 15,700 square metres of flower beds were laid down.

Part of the Sustainability Strategy is the development of a waste management plan for organising tailor-made waste collection and recycling processes at all official sites and events – along with the communication tools to inform and motivate spectators to dispose of their waste accordingly.

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So, at last year's FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, recyclable material was successfully segregated from general waste: 87.9 tonnes of glass, PET, aluminium, paper and cardboard were separated and recycled. The use of waste compactors will enhance the transportation and storage of waste ahead of reprocessing.

Furthermore, public transport information points aim to help visitors travel more sustainably, with site layouts designed to prevent the intersection of pedestrian, parking and delivery pathways. Free train tickets are available to supporters during the event, in a bid to encourage rail rather than air travel. The introduction of new, state-of-the-art hybrid trams will also see a sustainable transport legacy from the event.

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For the first time, ecological and biodiversity studies have been undertaken that go beyond typical local construction practice requirements, with measures to enhance local biodiversity. Crucially, , compliance has been strengthened around operations and regulations governing specially protected sites. In this way, it can be hoped that future construction and infrastructure projects will pay greater attention to environmental concerns.

With kick-off looming, it just remains to wish all nations every success (although we're obviously getting behind the England team to win it!), and hope that the true winners from Russia 2018 are the environment and communities impacted by this massive global event.

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Pack it in: the first thing your customers notice

Packaging is the first thing that consumers see, and it can heavily influence their buying decisions. 

Although innovation is offering solutions to the sustainable packaging challenge, many companies continue to make packaging mistakes. These happen because companies still tend to focus on two priorities: 

  1. how will this drive consumers to my product? and
  2. how much does this cost?

Packaging is more complicated than it looks, and sustainable packaging - not a difficult concept to understand - involves some particularly complex considerations:

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Are we too hung-up

on end-of-life innovations? There's so much to consider when looking at sustainable packaging

Can you replace a rigid container with a pouch? Are you removing a carton and letting a toothpaste tube or bag of cereals stand on their own on a shelf? How about creating one bulk pack instead of multiple single-serve items? Can you switch materials, such as using PET instead of PVC because it is easier to recycle? Would it be more efficient to change from a round to a square container, in order to be more space-efficient? How can you ensure faster set-up times on your packaging line, to minimise the amount of materials required and packaging waste generated? Have you made consumers aware of the value of your packaging and how it can be re-reprocessed or reused?

Of course, sustainable packaging is no longer focused on just recycling. Nor is it the sole focus of a company's greening targets. Rightly or wrongly, packaging is disproportionately scrutinised and used as a measure of a company's overall sustainability credentials. This may seem unfair, given that it may contribute a relatively small proportion of the Carbon footprint compared to other things, such as transportation, water and energy use.

There is a particular focus on end of life, with the result that many businesses are looking at closing the loop, to ensure collection, re-cleaning, reprocessing and remaking of packaging within a relatively short timeframe.

However, I would argue that true sustainable packaging needs to go well beyond consideration of its environmental impacts, to consider the social impacts, too. A far-reaching chain-of-custody certification which includes ethical material sourcing and manufacturing conditions is essential; and it's true economic cost needs to be taken into account.

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It's our biggest challenge

High-value products need to be packaged to ensure their safe transportation. but discerning customers demand a sustainable approach

Sustainable packaging is rife for rethinking, to identify innovative solutions to the challenges faced across all business sectors. The surge in public interest around environmental pollution resulting from plastics is driving regulatory responses by governments, and conscious consumers are making purchasing choices based on what they consider to be more sustainable options. The development of plant-based, compostable bioplastics is accelerating (e.g. Coca-Cola's PlantBottle). But bioplastics are just one alternative - bamboo, wheat straw and mushroom-based packaging are at the forefront of a packaging revolution.

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Mushroom-based packaging is now being introduced by large businesses such as IKEA, as a replacement for difficult-to-recycle polystyrene

Two particular personal frustrations are the ubiquitous crisp/snack packaging and take-away packaging, e.g. pizza boxes.

Why must we continue to see bags made from up to seven separate layers of foil and plastic? Yes, I do appreciate that this makes them light, reduces their shipping volume, ensures that they don't take up much shelf space, and results in them being graphics-friendly. But, they're not recyclable because the machinery is not yet out there to separate the layers.

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Why can't we recycle this?

There are currently no plastic-free or recyclable crisp packets from any brand.

As for pizza boxes (and other take-away containers), they're made of recyclable materials. The trouble is that they get contaminated, as cheese and other food scraps stick to the cardboard. Then they're no longer recyclable. Let's makes consumers aware of the value of the packaging, possibly by offering an incentive to clean and recycle boxes. Alternatively, let's see a move across the sector to compostable containers.

So, while it is true that the first impression makes the best impression, we live in rapidly-changing times and more than two-thirds of consumers say that sustainability of packaging now influences their purchasing decisions. It's time to step-up to the challenge. Switching over to sustainable packaging can result in a change in the overall cost to a business. The cost incurred may not be at a skyrocketing rate in most cases, but undoubtedly higher than traditional packaging designs. These additional costs are eventually passed on to the customers by companies to maintain their profit levels. Sometimes customers might start feeling that they are being overcharged for the same product, but the trend towards conscious consumers is real. Increased regulation will also act as a driver to change behaviour. You can't afford to be left behind.

You might have amazing ideas for incorporating sustainability packaging into your business, but at the same time, you need the help of experienced designers and marketers for implementation. Designers can help you identify the packaging that is best suited for your product without compromising the quality and appearance of packaging. At the same time, marketing professionals can help you pave the way to attract more customers..

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Don't put all your eggs in one basket

When it comes to packaging. There are multiple considerations. Seek help and make informed decisions

It's essential that companies understand their entire product lifecycle and choose the materials that are best suited for their products rather than choosing the most sustainable packaging option in isolation. Not all types of sustainable packaging can help retain the quality and intactness of the content inside for a long period, and this is certainly an area for more research. By consulting experts, businesses can make informed packaging choices to provide the most durability with reduced costs, and be authentic in their commitment to sustainability. At the end of the day, it is all about choosing what is right for the brand. Th question is "can your business afford to ignore the waves of change?" - first impressions count!

The purpose - profit problem

It's been an interesting couple of weeks. I've spent them rushing around, physically and mentally, trying to deliver on many levels and get clarity about what motivates me. Meeting with board members - my wise owls - challenged me to come up with some answers, to set out a clear vision. Tough love, some call it.

John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, in their book "The Purpose Revolution", describe as the first step needed to thrive in the age of social (and environmental) good the need to clearly find and name your purpose: namely, you must live the purpose you profess. Catchy soundbite, that! But, what does that mean when you're faced with the daily challenge of securing customers for your business; when you have an empty order book; when the lack of income is impacting on your life, and that of those around you?

 Agree your purpose and your direction becomes clear, too

Agree your purpose and your direction becomes clear, too

My purpose has always been to help others on their sustainability journey, to show them a way to generate social and environmental good alongside being profitable. But there's the thing: where is my profit? Like it or not, I'm not running a charity. I have to earn enough to live, how ever frugally. So, I need to have an offering that people want (not simply a service that they need). 

Bearing all of this in mind, I'm focused on building a relationship with customers (or rather, businesses that will become future customers). Engaging them, demonstrating that I genuinely care about their wellbeing - as much or more than I do about any profits. I'm also still concentrating on the purpose of Earth Matters to helping society solve its problems, crucially promoting a more sustainable way of living - a true circular economy. Am I activating those twin purposes?

 Sharing ideas on purpose, helping businesses spot opportunities

Sharing ideas on purpose, helping businesses spot opportunities

Yes, research shows that focusing on purpose over profits builds business confidence and drives investment (Deloitte, 2014 Culture of Purpose study). Companies leading with real purpose are found to build a deeper relationship with customers, going beyond the transactions of buying and selling; connecting with the customer. All well and good.

The problem is the inherent tension between a profit focus and a purpose focus. It's quite a challenge. Inside your head are two voices, each trying to drown out the other. Purpose or profit? Oil and gas companies struggle with this, and frequently struggle. Yes, they can talk a lot about purpose and how they are leading society's journey to a renewable future. But, they tend to fall short of actually delivering on this, as profits trump their purpose aspirations (too much short-term thinking, as they seek to keep shareholders happy).

 Talking the talk on a renewable future, while undertaking exploratory fracking, does not go down well!

Talking the talk on a renewable future, while undertaking exploratory fracking, does not go down well!

There's also the authenticity question. Companies can tell a good story and appear - at least for some of the time - to be delivering on their promises while under the spotlight. Unfortunately, in the cover of the shadows, their performance can be anything but authentic. Take Volkswagen, for example. Clean diesel was the message, but this was dramatically undermined as they devised software to trick the emissions tests. Once found out, the damage to the brand has been considerable.

 VW, a brand irreparably damaged?

VW, a brand irreparably damaged?

Businesses also need to be credible and avoid over-promising. I recognise this challenge only too well. As companies jump on the purpose bandwagon, it can feel forced and unclear. It needs focus, preferably on an issue that's directly within the business' sphere of influence. At the same time, some businesses (and I've met many, particularly among SMEs) have a well-established purpose but tend to stay quiet about what they are doing, before suddenly finding their voice. A consistent approach is crucial if you're to be believed.

 Open the box, unpack your sustainability story: be consistent in your messaging. If you're doing great things, let your customers know

Open the box, unpack your sustainability story: be consistent in your messaging. If you're doing great things, let your customers know

It's all about balance, consistency, and authenticity - you've got to mean it, passionately. So, when times are rough and you find yourself unclear about your purpose, take time out to refresh your purpose statement, decide where you fit, and then share your drive in order to activate that purpose in yourself and those around you. It needs reconnection, headspace, call it what you will.

 Time out to recharge and rethink your purpose; it's priceless

Time out to recharge and rethink your purpose; it's priceless

I'm off to do the work to find, define and shout about my purpose. Getting back on the bike after a wobble or a fall is never easy, but it's the way to be successful. For me, the challenge of pulling together a new workshop "Creating the Waves of Change" is helping to clarify my ideas and set out the purpose I seek. Perhaps it can do the same for you. Get it right and you can have purpose and profit.

Cultivating a healthy mind and body

In National Gardening Week, you'd expect a little more sunshine and temperatures to match. But, let's not allow the weather to get in the way. Gardening is good for the soul and helps to keep us fit. That's official. Numerous studies have found clear health and wellbeing benefits.

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Gardening can bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. It features in the fantastic work carried out at our local Dementia Resource Centre, which we've been privileged to support through working parties to keep the communal gardens in shape. It's very much at the heart of the philosophy of wonderful community growing spaces such as the Green Backyard and the Olive Branch, here in our city. 

In a strongly multi-cultural community, gardening brings people together to share in a common experience, where they can exchange ideas and learn together. It has the potential to teach people how to grow their own food, learn about business opportunities through growing flowers, herbs or keeping bees. It can help to reconnect people with the simple joys of getting their hands dirty, nurturing their crops, and cooking healthy, home-grown food. We've watched families and friends come together in the process, relationships refreshed.

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The benefits of gardening are seemingly endless, both mentally and physically. Not only can planting bulbs, digging trenches and pruning roses vastly improve your physical health, but it can also improve mental health too. 

Gardens are often thought of as intimate private spaces attached to private households but they can also be large private or formal gardens open to the public, or part of hospitals, care homes or hospices. Gardens serve many purposes: they can be cultivated for flowers or growing food; used as spaces for exercise, relaxation, solace and recovery; used as places to play, meet and volunteer; and can be part of wider environmental, planning or sustainability policies.

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Half of the adult population in England report being involved in gardening, and it is an important activity throughout our lives, reaching a peak just after retirement and declining as we age further. However, as we age it becomes relatively more important as other pastimes and activities reduce more quickly. Gardens are therefore important to our health due to the numbers of people who engage with them in many different ways and for different reasons.

Increasing people’s exposure to, and use of, green spaces has been linked to long-term reductions in overall reported health problems such as heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions; it has also been linked to reduced levels of obesity and high physical activity, and higher self-rated mental health. Living in areas with green spaces also seems to weaken the effect of income inequalities on health. Gardens can provide other important environmental functions, such as reducing flood risk and moderating climate and pollution, which have knock-on benefits for health.

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These are just some of the positive reasons why engagement with gardening and greenspace management ticks all the right boxes for companies that are looking to add value, to demonstrate a genuine commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. Given our own drive to be purpose-focused, we're looking at engaging isolated communities, including recent refugees from Syria, in growing together sessions; building a circular economy around the repurposing and reuse of garden tools through a 'sharpen up' project, aimed at providing a sociable environment in which retired people can meet and work together.

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Looking to the next generation of gardeners, there are exciting opportunities to engage children through school gardening activities. Studies suggest that children’s fruit and vegetable intake can be significantly increased combined with efforts to improve parental support; a further range of studies points to increased knowledge, and preferences for fruit and vegetables. Teachers report positive wellbeing effects, personal achievement and pride in ‘growing’ and, where volunteers are involved, gardening can be a way to break down social boundaries inherent in academic settings. For children with learning difficulties or behavioural problems, gardening as a non-academic task and the garden as a place of peace and meditation are particularly valuable. Of course, we recognise that so much more needs to be done: to make the space and time available for gardening within the teaching day. With initiatives such as the Eco-Schools network, with 18,000 registered schools in England, alone; we're heading in the right direction!

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With all this talk of gardening, even if it's a bit grey overhead, we're taking a break to enjoy a hour or two of pottering in our little patch of green. After all, those seeds won't plant themselves...

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If you need to ask why, then you probably shouldn't be doing it

What gets you out of bed each morning? What motivates you to go to work? Questions that are often ignored, and yet which can help us to find our purpose. In an age of social polarisation, for businesses to thrive, they too need purpose. It's what differentiates us and them. And it's the same for business, too. What's its purpose, beyond making a profit?

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Trust in companies has never been lower than it is now. At the same time, expectations for the role of brands in society have never been higher - they need to connect in a more authentic way to the aspirations of their consumers, who want a better life. Understanding purpose from the consumer perspective enables more meaningful relationships to develop, building greater loyalty and encouraging participation.

Once our basic needs are met - health & wellbeing, financial security, honest & meaningful relationships - we all search for a sense of purpose: to contribute to society, to be educated, to be happy, to enjoy the freedom to do and believe what we want. Increasingly, we also want to ensure that anything we do has a net positive impact on the planet and society.

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With growing awareness of poverty, income inequality, corruption, human rights abuses, climate change and environmental degradation; consumers are asking questions. They're making the connections between corporate actions, the quality of their own lives and the success of their communities. This provides new challenges and exciting opportunities for brands to show real leadership.

This is real: 65% of consumers want to support companies with a strong purpose, and almost half of us can name a company that makes a positive difference in society. Even more telling in the statistic that 28% of consumers now punish companies for their behaviour - this is up by almost 10% since 2013. People are waking up to the power that they possess as consumers.

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So, what steps can businesses make to ensure their brand remains relevant and builds-in resilience?

Putting people at the heart of what you do - call it empathy - is about respecting the consumer, listening to their concerns and responding to them in honest, authentic ways. Take IKEA: the Swedish home furnishings company has a campaign called "Where Life Happens", which looks at real-life moments and designs its products to help meet life's challenges. IKEA believes that looking beyond mere consumption habits, they are recognising the humanity in customers' lives and using this to create more value and lasting relationships with them.

Creating purpose beyond products. Although most brands know how to design a great product or reliable service, many begin to struggle when their company's deeper purpose has become hidden or is no longer relevant. What is your company's unique offering in the global marketplace? The Body Shop has always had a belief that business should be a powerful force for good. Not sitting back, the brand is now working with The Future-Fit Foundation to set goals beyond being 'less bad', instead doing business in an intentionally transparent way, making a net positive impact on the planet: "enrich our people; enrich our products; enrich our planet" is their message.

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Taking a stand is an essential, proactive action that makes it clear where a company stands when issues arise. Old models of CSR need updating to make them relevant, exciting and engaging for consumers. To achieve this, consumer-facing platforms and campaigns are needed to bring the brand's message, perspective and initiatives to a wider, global audience. Doing so helps to connect with consumers concerned with serious social and environmental challenges. Starbucks may face a number of challenges, but the company's commitment to employing 10,000 refugees over the next 5 years is laudable, if controversial in some circles. Not only does it help address a serious global crisis, but it reinforces the company's reputation at the local community level.

Starting a movement is a sure way of building brand loyalty, as it welcomes more and different voices to the debate over purpose. By utilising collective knowledge to solve problems, consumers and employees can be be encouraged to take action as part of the brand. Given that net trust in global corporations is less than zero (and is particularly pronounced in the developed world), companies are likely to feel apprehensive about 'going it alone'; under these conditions, partnerships make perfect sense for tackling meaningful issues in a way that unites the community. Ben & Jerry's have a long established record of fighting for climate justice. Now, recognising the lack of momentum at government level in some countries, notably the US; the company is now rallying its customers in partnership with the online activism platform, Avaaz, to raise awareness and demand climate action. "If it's melted, it's ruined" is true for both their ice-cream and the planet.

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It's good to remember that humans build brands, and brands are built for humans - to meet our shared needs, hopes and desires. If companies seek to solve the pressing environmental and social problems we face by designing with people at the heart of what they do; the chances are they will remain resilient, establish brand loyalty, retain and attract motivated staff, and lead the way in innovating and delivering positive outcomes.

Water way to make a difference

Water connects every aspect of life. Access to safe water and sanitation can quickly turn problems into potential – unlocking education, work opportunities, and improved health for women, children and families across the world. 

 844M people worldwide live without access to safe water

844M people worldwide live without access to safe water

And yet, in the developed world we seem to take it for granted.

We're also hooked on a dangerous reliance on throwaway plastic bottles of the stuff: an average of 35.8M plastic bottles are used in every day in the UK, contributing to the 8M tonnes of plastics that end up in the ocean every year - harming marine wildlife and spreading toxic chemicals.

 

 Plastic bottles can take more than 400 years to break down, and microplastic waste presents a serious threat to marine life

Plastic bottles can take more than 400 years to break down, and microplastic waste presents a serious threat to marine life

It's amazing to think that in the UK alone about 15M bottles are discarded each day. That's a staggering 800 per minute! That's a habit we just have to address.

Which brings me to the amazing story of Refill, a UK-wide scheme introduced by Bristol-based community interest company, City to Sea.  Refill is a national, practical tap water campaign that aims to make refilling your bottle as easy, convenient and cheap as possible, by introducing refill points on every street. Participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses simply put a sticker in their window – alerting passers-by to the fact they’re welcome to come on in and fill up their bottle – for free!

Using an app - which you can download for free - users can find their nearest Refill Station wherever they are in the country. 

 Working in partnership with PECT, we've spread the message across the city of Peterborough

Working in partnership with PECT, we've spread the message across the city of Peterborough

Earth Matters is proud to have been working with the Peterborough Environment City Trust (PECT) to launch Refill Peterborough, following in the footsteps of schemes in Hunstanton, Norwich, Brighton, Bristol, London, Bath, Cornwall, Dumfries and Galloway...the list goes on!

It's been a fantastic opportunity to talk to business about sustainability. We've been really encouraged by the enthusiasm to engage with the scheme, and feel part of a solution to a serious problem. We've come across business leaders prepared to embrace this, but also willing to innovate in other areas, too.

 Look out for the Refill Peterborough stickers - they're spreading fast!

Look out for the Refill Peterborough stickers - they're spreading fast!

It's a great conversation starter, both about the pervasive nature of plastics in our lives, but also the simple steps we can all make together for a more sustainable future. The scheme itself is so simple and that's the attraction: fewer plastic bottles used once and thrown away; people switching to sustainable alternatives and carrying them at all times; consumers purchasing fewer sugary drinks and drinking more water instead; businesses seeing increased footfall as a result of people using the Refill app. Everyone wins.

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Leave the herd

The best opportunities for business – to find new, sustainable growth, to engage customers more deeply, to stand out from the crowd, to improve their profitability – is by seizing the opportunities of changing markets. The best way to seize these changes is by innovating – not just innovating the product, or even the business itself, but by innovating the market.

It's actually an obligation!

next to our moral obligations to address global challenges, it is also an enormous business opportunity
— Paul Polman, CEO of Unilver

 

Such innovation carries risk, of course. It requires business to 'leave the herd', go it alone and take a chance. But given the opportunities, these are risks that business can't afford not to take. Fast-changing markets demand fast-changing businesses. Success in this new world requires a bigger ambition – to change the game, not just play the game.

Unlike the vulnerable young wildebeest that leaves the herd, seen by a hungry pride of lions, the outcome for business is unlikely to  terminal. Every time you take a risk in pursuit of your dreams, one of two things will happen: either you will succeed at your mission, or you will succeed at getting an education.

Innovators reject stagnation and hesitation, recognising that markets are malleable, geography is irrelevant, and sticking within the confines of categorisation is outdated. With the blurring of boundaries and the emergence of new spaces in which to operate, business practices and consumer perceptions can be shaped to your advantage.

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Be different, be noticed

And dare to leave the herd, to embrace new ways of operating. There are so many opportunities for those early-movers who rethink their business approach and shift towards 'for purpose' models that generate shared value for communities and the environment they live in.

The risk takers who opt to leave the herd do so by starting from the future backwards. They make sense of change, seeing the new patterns and possibilities, harnessing the power of ideas and digital networks to win in new ways. This requires new leadership thinking, and for the whole business to innovate (bring everyone along on the sustainability journey).

This goes beyond mere ideas. Someone needs to make them happen and, once a direction is in place, it’s about collaborating with customers and business partners. Concepts such as design thinking can be used to explore deeper, lean innovation to implement faster; co-creation to engage people more closely (to ensure buy-in and long-term commitment), and new business models to ensure they generate superior economic, social and environmental returns.

 Rethinking the way that tourism operates, taking account of customer concerns about their impact on the local environment and communities, has resulted in a huge growth in active holidays where people transport themselves in sustainable ways such as kayaking, cycling and walking

Rethinking the way that tourism operates, taking account of customer concerns about their impact on the local environment and communities, has resulted in a huge growth in active holidays where people transport themselves in sustainable ways such as kayaking, cycling and walking

Most companies like to focus on the ‘what’ (the product, service and experience), i.e. where they have conventionally succeeded. If they try to innovate, they do so within the existing game. The result of this is that most of their solutions are similar to competitors. Hence we see small differences to design and functionality, and small differences in prices. Consequently, the  focus on the what leads us to sameness. In contrast, leaving the herd and thinking about the ‘why’ and then the ‘how’, business can ‘reframe’ what it's about – redefining the market, on their own terms.

 Metro Bank are ripping up the 'rule book' with an approach to banking that puts the customer in charge. Their stores are open 7 days a week, including evenings, responding to what people are asking for; and are seen as community spaces where great things can happen.

Metro Bank are ripping up the 'rule book' with an approach to banking that puts the customer in charge. Their stores are open 7 days a week, including evenings, responding to what people are asking for; and are seen as community spaces where great things can happen.

Where this links to sustainability, we see the emergence of businesses which are focused on purpose, delivering benefits for people and planet alongside greater profitability. In the fast and crowded markets we have around us now, it's not about being slightly better, or slightly cheaper. Instead, it's about having a better vision, a better view of the market, and how business can make people’s lives better. In short, it's about creating the waves of change.

Let's talk positively about the environment

The disconnect between so many people, living busy lives, and the natural world around them can be startling. Children who are unaware how milk gets onto their breakfast table in the morning (even to the point of not knowing that it comes from cows - yes, honestly); young adults who have never been for walk in a nature-rich area ("I've never seen a waterfall in real life" I was told); older people in denial about man-made climate change ("Oh, it's always gone on. Always will. Nothing we can do about it"). So, two questions: (1) why is environmental education such a turn-off? and (2) how can we get the message across more effectively?

The ways that we talk about the future of nature, of the planet's support systems, really do matter. Too often, attempts to draw attention to critical environmental challenges employ stories and images that are loaded with fear, appeals and alarmist rhetoric. These can engender a sense of hopelessness and despair.

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"Britain faces climate change Armageddon within 30 years" - dramatic, but is it effective? 

Faced with such overwhelming challenges, a common response is simply to do nothing.

So, should we frame our communications negatively or positively? This depends on the issue. Research shows that negative appeals can help to raise awareness and concerns, but it needs balance. Continually bombarding people with negative messages after you've raised awareness will result in them just switching off.

Positive appeals are crucial after awareness is raised. After the huge success of the BBC's Blue Planet 2, people have been given practical, real life actions to take on plastics. clearly, communication needs to be action-oriented. We must encourage and empower communities by offering them options of what they might do to make a difference.

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#PlasticFree

It's an easy step to invest in an alternative to damaging single-use plastic water bottles

However, not all positive messages succeed. They need to resonate with people if they are to be successful. Few people are fortunate enough to experience the beauty of a tropical rainforest or see a humpback whale; luckily, many are yet to have first-hand experience of catastrophic flooding. 

The challenge is to appeal to our sense of altruism and justice (social and environmental), accepting that nature and the environment are complicated cultural concepts; not everyone sees the world like I do (as I constantly need to remind myself). To address this, it is important to create a sense of connection and empathy.

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Community-based initiatives, such as Peterborough's Green Backyard, offer local, convenient and welcoming places for people to get involved - at their pace, on their terms

The idea of 'wayfinding' offers strategies for engaging with nature and mobilising people. This requires us to understand how they make decisions: what motivates them? what considerations come into play? It strikes me that 'nature on your doorstep' is key to all of this: somewhere that you can visit nearby, that means something to you, in which you feel a sense of collective ownership. The journey that many people experience from starting out as a volunteer, for example, to becoming a committed and aware advocate for the environment, is something special to witness.

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Volunteer effort - such as this at Peterborough's Railworld Wildlife Haven - can establish vibrant community learning spaces, attracting engagement from businesses and the wider public; and helping to make the connection to bigger environmental challenges

Ultimately, we should get active rather than depressed. There is a growing body of evidence of the benefits from Green Gyms, the Transition Network, and other initiatives; these are positive steps that do engage communities to come together, even in areas of both social and environmental deprivation. Yes, it can be done!

Offer people positive reasons to engage, rather than make them feel powerless to act. Reconnection is not just possible; it's addictive. But don't just take my word for it.

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Inner-city growing spaces can soon become vital hubs for more cohesive communities, where reconnection with nature and learning are embedded

A winning circular argument

The way we produce, use and dispose of goods is unsustainable, rapidly depleting the Earth's natural resources. Urgent action is needed to tackle key global issues that result: rising carbon emissions, losses of biodiversity, degradation of land and marine environments, an increasing gap between rich and poor. To achieve this, we need to understand the relationships between population, consumption and the environment.

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Fortunately, responding to pressure from consumers, NGOs, shareholders and others, an increasing number of businesses are gearing up to be 'future-fit' by making positive changes to their production and consumption processes ahead of changes to the regulatory environment. For practical and brand reasons, there is an emerging trend for companies to consider the social and environmental aspects of their value chains. Consumer demand for sustainably-produced goods and services is up; commodity prices are becoming more volatile; and some new technologies are energy-hungry and hence expensive. In such circumstances, sustainable production becomes a winning approach.

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Consumption is equally important, as current business models and marketing strategies drive unsustainable behaviours. Demand for products and services far outstrips efficiency and productivity improvements. In fact, efficiency gains can drive more consumption, as consumers are able to access more goods at affordable prices.

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How should we respond to these challenges? As a starting point, we need to take a holistic view, to recognise the interconnections in a complicated system, to help understand causes and effects. What this means in practice is that companies cannot only focus on a single aspect of the value chain. While progress has been made in application of eco-efficiency measures and more responsible resource stewardship, these are unlikely to bring about the scale of change needed in the short timeframe available to us. It's time for ambitious, radical and faster responses.

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It's typically the case that value chains are conceived as linear, with the end product discarded and disposed of at the end of its life: raw materials - design - processing & manufacturing - transport - retail & service provider - consumer - waste.

In contrast, a circular economy model replaces the concept of ending product lives through disposal as waste, with recycling and restoration. In short, it is a system that is designed to be both regenerative and restorative: recover - recycle - remanufacture - repurpose. Such a system emphasises the use of renewable energy, the elimination of toxic chemicals, and aims to 'close the loop' and eliminate waste. Superior design is at the heart of the circular economy: materials, products, systems and business models - all need to be reconfigured.

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The business opportunities are considerable. Significant cost-savings can be achieved; brand image can be improved greatly; supply chain risks, including price volatility, can be mitigated; while the trust and engagement of employees and consumers can be enhanced. It's not always easy and the initial change may be uncomfortable for some businesses, but a thriving long-term economy that delivers profits along with lasting social and environmental benefits has got to be worth the effort!

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How to bring about change, effectively

Whether it's within your work environment or in your life at home or the local community, being an effective change agent requires careful thought and agility. Following a few simple steps can help to deliver the change you're looking for.

To start with, it's vital that you demonstrate you know the business or situation you want to change. Only by establishing a track record of making good, informed decisions and being committed to the business or community can you expect others to have confidence in you. You can do this by connecting your ideas to the business or community strategy. When sustainability is viewed as something that helps take this forward, you'll find a lot more attention is paid to it.

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Timing is everything. You need to know when to bring ideas forward and, equally, when to wait. Seize the moment when public opinion is shifting or when your business is most likely to be receptive. In order to hone your skills, keep abreast of what's going on in the world around you, in your business sector and the community. Find out who the thought leaders are and follow them!

Change can be daunting, so don't try to achieve everything at once. Instead, break things down into manageable chunks. When people can see the purpose and path to delivering change, and feel that it's something that they can do and benefit from, they'll engage with greater enthusiasm. Make change to a more sustainable future a fun process, a stepwise journey that sets out a challenge that's achievable, which empowers others to play their part.

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Challenge yourself and the way you think, while being prepared to challenge the views of others who may disagree with you. It's certainly far from easy, but if you're able to harness your passion while keeping your emotions in check, people will respect and listen to you. However, it's crucial that you keep sustainability from being perceived as a pet project. Open yourself to having your own views questioned.

You can't play it safe - sustainability requires changes that will disrupt, asking people to fundamentally change the way they've been navigating their professional and personal lives and habits for years. however, you can use behavioural nudges - personal, simple and small changes that require minimal effort to be adopted. Make sustainability personal - what does it mean for them, their job, their community.

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Believe that you have the capability to bring people with you, as these steps have the potential to enable significant change. As Socrates said: "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new". So, find your vision - today is the day to make it happen.

 

Plastics: driving real action beyond the headlines

What a week - everyone, it seems, has been talking plastics. Or rather, ending our dependence on them. Following on from the Environmental Audit Committee recommendation to ban microbeads, we've had Theresa May vowing to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste in the country by 2042. There have been plenty of social media likes and #plasticpollution has been trending.

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But what next? What happens when the politicians have moved on to the next big thing?

Clearly, we all need to hold their feet to the fire over the promises that have been made. There's no doubt that regulation is needed but we, as consumers, need to play our part in driving business to embrace opportunities to innovate, and fast. Government is pledging funding to support this.

Given the momentum created by a wide community of environmental groups and social enterprises, the time to act is now. People have been awakened to the damaging environmental impact of our throwaway plastics culture. They're looking for ways to be part of the change that's needed. Embracing new, plastic free lifestyles has become a thing.

So, how can we each use our buying power to nudge business behaviour in the direction that's needed?

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Let's be honest, purchasing without plastic is harder than ever. Although the media and, to an extent, the public have begun to understand, big business has largely ignored the problem. But not anymore. It's time for someone in the business community to be bold, to make a move in the direction of plastic free and be ahead of the game - creating the waves - and enjoy the longer term benefits.

Over to us, then. Starting with single-use plastic water bottles, we're seeing plenty of initiatives to phase them out. The City to Sea #RefillAndReuse scheme is spreading across the country, with the aim of shifting consumers towards reuse and replacement with more sustainable alternatives. We're doing our bit to progress a scheme in our city, but why wait - buy a reusable stainless steel bottle. There are plenty out there!

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Plastic straws, served up whether you want them or not, are another bugbear of ours. Having the confidence to speak up and #RefuseTheStraw can send a clear message to pubs, restaurants, coffee shops. Why not go a step further and provide them with the case against plastic, offering the compelling argument for compostable alternatives? It's remarkably liberating, too.

Around the home, we're phasing them out immediately. Any offending straws are now being reused for arts and crafts activities. Maybe we'll invest in some reusable stainless steel straws, or simply do without.

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Keeping food fresh is a household challenge that, in the past, has always led us to the ubiquitous cling film. It's the convenience, you know. Wasteful and damaging, too. Although biodegradable film is a thing, why not ditch it altogether? Beeswax wraps are growing in popularity, can be bought from a number of suppliers or you can easily make your own.

But the much bigger challenge is driving the big supermarkets to cut out the plastic that is being used to wrap the now infamous 'cauliflower steak' and even individual bananas! So, the Prime Minister says she wants a plastic-free aisle. Clearly,  supermarkets and brands need to change how they package our food, but we need to change how we shop - use consumer power. Not so long ago, plastic didn’t even exist and somehow we all coped. Let's start making choices, let's start demanding #PlasticFreeAisles.

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Finally, resolving to take some specific, achievable household actions, we've gone for the 3-Ts: teabags, takeaways and toothbrushes. As a nation, we consume millions of teabags every day, with perhaps 80% of these not fully biodegradable. What's more, the heat-resistant polypropylene goes unnoticed. So, we're making a return to loose tea and the rewards of making a real cuppa! Fed up with the amount of single-use plastic cutlery dished out with takeaway street-food, we've been lobbying local businesses to look at switching to sustainable wooden items that can be reused by customers. Just pop a set in your bag for the day and you can now say 'no thanks' to plastic. Retailers need to brush up on sustainable toothbrushes, given that alternatives with bamboo handles and BPA-free biodegradable nylon exist. At present, conventional toothbrushes just get lost in the recycling process, millions of them ending up in landfill. So, ditch the plastic and extend the life of your old brush, using it to clean jewellery, bathroom tiles and toilets, shoes, or even your computer keyboards!

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Although it can seem a daunting challenge to ditch the plastic as you look around the home and the shops you visit, we can all take small steps that, together, add up to a powerful consumer movement. There are innovative alternatives out there, coupled with simple lifestyle changes, as well as finding our voices to bring about change.

Together with regulation, consumer power can drive business towards a plastic-free future. We can do it before 2042 if we all make the effort.

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Resolve to take action in 2018

A New Year means a new start, right? Making resolutions is big business, more often than not focused on getting fit and healthy by making a commitment to go to the gym or take up running. Many, however, fall by the wayside after a month of initial enthusiasm; they've got to be achievable and we need to feel the reward. It's the same with sustainability actions.

So, if we are to make a difference - step by step - we need some actions that both challenge and reward, and add up to something that makes a positive difference to our pockets, the people around us and the planet. Here are a few suggestions.

As I sit here, writing this,  let's start by focusing on electronic devices, or rather spending some time away from them; we should all probably take a small step away from time to time! By doing so we have a positive effect on our environment. Use surge protector power strips to switch off televisions, radios, monitors, printers, etc. when you leave the house. Use sleep mode for your computer (it really does make a difference). The plus side could be a lower energy bill, so you win!

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Going plastic-free around the house is a real challenge, but one we will have to face in due course. Make it easier by targeting one area - say bathroom products - and pledge to get rid of dental floss, plastic toothbrushes, cotton buds, and look to use hair and bathing products that come in recycled packaging. You won't achieve it immediately, so set a realistic timeframe.

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Why not ensure that you have at least one oxygenating plant in each room of your house, and save water throughout the day to use for watering them. Lower your heating around the home by half a degree per month and put on an extra layer of clothing. While you're at it, why not do a lighting audit and see if there are any remaining bulbs that could be replaced with low-energy LEDs instead.

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Outside the home, you might want to consider volunteering with a charity or community organisation. Not only will they appreciate your support, but you'll be rewarded through new friendships and experiences and, possibly, get fitter as a result. For instance, if you don't have your own greenspace, then getting involved with a local garden project can be really liberating.

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Eating less meat is one of the quickest ways to reduce your carbon footprint. This does not mean you have to become a dedicated vegetarian or vegan overnight, you could pick two days a week where you only cook vegetarian/vegan meals. At the same time, follow one of the increasing number of seasonal cookbooks for ideas, and buy only seasonal produce at the right time of year.

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If any of these are going to work, we all need an immediate plan that can be started straightaway, with small steps and working upwards from there. Decide when you're going to take actions and what will help you to achieve them. If you'll need more time, then plan for it. Keep track by using apps, a diary or a chart to record your progress, and don't beat yourself up for any slips along the way.

Good luck, and here's to a sustainable Happy New Year!

 

Sustainable time with the children

As the schools break up and parents find themselves faced with over-tired, possibly grumpy kids; how about creating some quality time by embarking on some sustainability activities. You've got to admit: it's going to be more fun than iPads and TV and the stress they create!

A few principles can help:  (1) lead by example - be a role model by practising sustainable living yourself; (2) make it fun - be resourceful; (3) get the kids involved - ensure that there are plenty of 'hands on' opportunities; (4) read to and with the kids - there are plenty of great books out there, for children and adults, alike; and (5) volunteer with them - litterpicks, tree-planting, etc.

Why not engage your children in considering how your home affects the planet, i.e. how to work towards a zero Carbon footprint. What are the main resources you consume as a household? How can these be minimised? Start by setting an example in little but important ways: have you installed LED, low-energy lighting? Do you turn the lights off as you leave a room? Do you have a water meter? Do you turn the taps off properly? Do you have water-saving devices to reduce water use, e.g. when flushing the toilet, taking a shower, etc. do you conserve waste water during the day, in order to water plants before going to bed? 

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Getting them involved is easy and lots of fun. Consider reusing packing material and cardboard from purchases you've made, for arts, crafts and creative play. The same goes for plastic bottles and packages, which can be used to make much-needed winter bird feeders, for example. If you've got stuff you're not going to use, get them involved in flattening it before it goes into the recycling bin. Why not introduce child-sized bins to match the household ones, as a way to help them become 'waste wise'. Show them what gets recycled and why, and what we throw away and where this ends up. You could always weigh it, too.

Food waste is a big issue and one that children can be helped to understand. Ensure that you put food scraps into a compost bin, rather than throwing them out. Create your own composter in the garden or, better still, build a wormery. Get them involved with food shopping choices, thinking about air miles and what's seasonal. Consider the merits of buying local, looking for ethical products that support indigenous communities, and consider the benefits of organic production. Set them a fun challenge to choose the best value, lowest footprint products.

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Become a green cleaner - make your own household cleaning products, free of harmful chemicals. Children can join in, testing 'new products' safely, while helping you get your home clean! Why not use colour-coded microfibre cloths that can be washed and reused.

Get some fresh air, away from the centrally-heated house. Use the garden or local greenspace as a teaching and learning tool. Go out and search for, collect and use natural materials in creative play. Go on a nature hunt: how many different bird species can they spot?

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Or, if the weather's not conducive, then find ways to bring the outdoors inside. Think about designing your own wildlife-friendly green areas either in your own garden or in the school grounds. Involve them in choosing what goes where, thinking about the creatures it will benefit. You might even want to start growing some things indoors, on the window-sill. Children love finding out what seeds turn grow to become. 

All of these activities can help to develop critical thinking skills, help to build global awareness and understanding of the inter-connections and, most of all, engage the next generation in positive solutions. It goes without saying that you should avoid simply telling - show them and explain why, giving them the opportunity to reflect (possibly with a daily or weekly journal). It's meant to be fun, right, and offers a more varied diet than lounging on the sofa in front of the TV.

I'll let you know how we get on. Good luck!

 

Imagine a different, greener and fairer Christmas

While we live in difficult times, Christmas remains a great festival, with traditions that give it character for many people. Despite, this there's a growing angst about the environmental and social impact, as many question the rampant commercialism they see around them.

With a few tips and without adopting a Cromwellian approach to cutting back too much on these traditions, you can celebrate Christmas with a green and ethical conscience. So, don't expect a rant about the 10 million turkeys we will in the UK at this time of year (buy a free-range, organic bird, if you must, and seek out those compliant with the Soil Association's organic standards of 800 birds/hectare).

Here are some positive, even fun ideas to reduce the negative impacts of your Christmas.

Let's face it, presents seem to feature at this time of year. Giving can be a hugely rewarding experience. Buy smart by thinking green.

Local craft fairs and independent artisan shops are a good source of gifts that come without the added costs of transportation. What's more, gifts made locally often have a story which goes with the gift, and a positive social impact. 

Choose gifts from recycled sources. By supporting these businesses, you can help reduce the waste stream while promoting the sustainable use of materials. You can also give second-hand presents, generating less waste and lowering resource use. If you're worried about looking stingy, then why not supplement these with something like theatre tickets, cinema tickets or a stay in a green hotel. Order online and save paper, too!

Why not consider giving experiences as presents. It's a great way to limit the use of resources (obviously, don't give airline tickets or visits to health resorts with a spa - these are both very energy-consuming). with an experience that takes place some time later, you can spread the joy throughout the year, too!

While you're at it, do try to give gifts that are battery-free. About 40% of all battery sales occur during this holiday period, and we all know the hazards involved in their disposal.

Presents need wrapping, don't they? Wrapping paper - "three rolls for a quid" - appears cheap, but it is immensely wasteful. Always look for the FSC logo and avoid papers with metallic foil elements. Consider choosing paper made using hemp or with a high recycled content.  Avoid using sellotape and use ribbons instead, as this allows more of the used paper to be reclaimed. Alternatively, use gift bags made from fabric scraps or use old coffee sacks, maps, calendars or posters, jazzing them up with a bit of nature!

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Now, what about that tree? Go for an eco-labelled (FSC approved) product, grown without using pesticides. Consult the UK Christmas Tree Growers' Association.  If you can, opt for a live tress, preferably potted. If you have a garden, you can replant it when it outgrows the pot. If you don't have that option, get your tree chipped and mulched; it can then be re-used for landscaping or sold at low cost to local gardeners. Your local council can usually help.

Christmas can be an opportunity to connect with nature, too. Rather than crash in an armchair, half-watching the usual Christmas entertainment served up by TV companies; why not try something a bit different: establish a new family tradition, create new memories, and get active in the process. Here are a few ideas:

How about a Christmas Day bird count? With a pair of binoculars, visit your local greenspace. Compare results from previous years and become experts on your local bird population and migration patterns. 

Undertake a spot of nature restoration - plant a tree together. Not only does it symbolise the value of nature, it can offset any live trees cut for Christmas. You could also indulge in a clean-up or enhancement of a local natural area (a beach clean if you're near the coast, or a litterpick along a river or in your local park). It'll help you build up an appetite, after all!

Decorate a tree for the birds - make your own seed balls, 'suet' feeders, pine cones with peanut butter, and seed trays. It's great, engaging fun for children; they make superb gifts for the nature-lovers among your family and friends; and offer an important food source for birds through the winter months.  

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Environment as Entertainment: should it be more?

Who wasn't impressed by the latest sumptuous offering from the BBC, complete with David Attenborough's compelling narrative? Blue Planet 2 arrived on our TV screens last Sunday, and its success in securing viewing figures in excess of Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor will have been celebrated in the corridors of power at the Corporation.

It was, as we've come to expect, even better, more eye-catching than all of the Attenborough programmes that have preceded it. Innovative new camera technology offered us new, dramatic insights into the lives of species so fantastical that people were discussing them for days afterwards. For a prime time slot on a Sunday night, it was compelling viewing. We watched it, as a family, utterly spellbound.

So, why am I left uncomfortable at what I saw and my reaction to it? 

It was a programme full of beautiful images, with a smattering of facts, too. It touched on some uncomfortable truths about the impact that our lifestyles are having on fragile ecosystems and their dependent species. But, facts alone don't convince individuals to change their lifestyles - for these are deep-rooted, 'hard-wired' habits, norms and systems.

Does the BBC have a responsibility to go beyond information, using communication to let the receiver of the information grasp the intended meaning of the message, i.e. to get through to them? Clearly, it is not a campaigning organisation but, by changing the language in order to engage people and nudge behaviour, it could build a narrative.

When TV programmes raise difficult issues, it is now common for a statement at their conclusion, along the lines of "If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this programme..." So, why not the same for ecosystem degradation and climate change? The polar bear or walrus, struggling to find pack ice, can't ask for help!

If we expect TV crews to venture to remote locations, to film fragile systems for our entertainment, shouldn't we be thinking carefully about our collective duty to do things differently in response to what we are witnessing? Otherwise, are we not simply indulging ourselves in environmental pornography?  

 

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