Bringing nature into the inner city

It’s amazing what you can do to bring a bit of nature into the lives of people who’ve been disconnected from it. You can read about the benefits of time spent with nature, but when you actually see it in front of you it’s truly magical.


A patch of neglected rough grass, covered with litter, in a street largely devoid of anything green. In a community feeling starved of investment. Where children grow up fast. A space that, with imagination, can be anything you want it to be.

So, how about a new pocket park? With a beautiful showy display of flowering plants? Plants that are irresistible to butterflies and bees. A pollinator park to provide a stunning visual display, every day. In the heart of inner-city Peterborough? Why not!

Yes, there were times when it seemed a crazy idea. That it wouldn’t work. That local people wouldn’t get it. Perhaps I under-estimated how much my obsessive belief in the project would rub off on and enthuse local people. It has worked, it looks absolutely amazing, and there’s a whole new community of conservationists growing with it. By aiming high, doing things properly to a high specification with brilliant people who loved the project, and maxing-out on the best plants; it’s been possible to create that real ‘wow’ factor.


To quote one local mother, whose children now play in the park, ‘things like this don’t happen around here”. Well, they do now! Perhaps the best comment I’ve received came from a little girl, who, sat on one of the nearby benches, starting at the assembled biodiversity; said “It smells of nature around here now”.

It didn’t take long for them to come: both the local primary schoolchildren who explore the secret path that wends its way through the plants; and the hoped-for butterflies and bees, complemented by hoverflies galore, an invasion of dragonflies, and gangs of leaping crickets. The little oasis of green that’s become a magnet.


And what have I created? Children who now ask me to identify butterflies for them, to tell them about the migration of painted ladies, who have helped me build a bug hotel. Every day they visit the park, as do local women who sit together for a chat among friends. People shout out across the street, telling me how amazing it looks. Best of all, there are plenty of local residents who rightly refer to the park as theirs, who promise to keep an eye on it, to protect and maintain it.


It’s such a privilege to have been able to work alongside such a great community, to create something really special that is already changing lives. I’ve always been a firm believer that everyone has a right to experience biodiversity. People living in crowded, inner-city areas have just as much right as people fortunate enough to live in suburbia and in the wider countryside. And, boy, do they appreciate it when it’s brought to them.


Show some pride, all year

Rainbows are a powerful marketing tool, it seems

We’re into June - Pride month - and promoting inclusivity means that we see colourful LGBT brand campaigns and slogans everywhere. Which is fantastic, of course. But how many of these commitments will continue all year round?


As with opportunistic environmental campaigns that are seen through as mere greenwash, there’s a danger that business can seize the LGBT banner but fail to truly address the issues and challenges the community faces. Pinkwashing can be just as damaging!

There’s growing evidence that brands which reach the heart of the LGBT community with their messaging and support are likely to see a financial return on investment (ROI). But that messaging has to get it right: Merely sapping a rainbow across your logo to avoid seeming tone-deaf no longer cuts it. you’ve got to mean it - Rainbows for June are not enough - equality has to be embedded in your business purpose.


Many brands jump on the Pride Month bandwagon, to make a quick buck. However, with a global purchasing power estimated at $3.7 trillion, there are clearly rewards when the LGBT community flocks to brands that properly acknowledge its concerns and values.

So, how can business go further, building and sustaining a relationship with the LGBT community? A recent advertisement by Gillette, in which a father teaches his transgender son to shave, is an example of normalisation. Normalisation, not stereotyping, is key. It requires brands to take a risk and incorporate the LGBT community into regular, everyday depictions of life


Of course, it’s not simple and the diversity of the LGBT community means that its members face a variety of challenges. Visibility and progress differ. For example, a transgender woman of colour sees more day-to-day challenges to her lifestyle and existence than a white gay man, who by contrast has likely to have been out and visible for years.

It’s obviously important to know the issues. Some businesses may use rainbow branding because they’re not sure what the LGBT landscape looks like and don’t want to offend anyone. But they shouldn't worry - be bold, speak up! A brand that chooses even one touchpoint of the gay or trans experience can create a degree of specificity and understanding that lifts it above other brands.


For example, as legal gay marriage continues to expand across the globe, LGBT couples and families have newfound needs (and newly available consumer spending) around retirement and financial planning.

If your business doesn’t have a huge marketing budget or time to research and deliver multiple campaigns, then one way forward is to Invest in influencer marketing, working in partnership with voices from the LGBT community, to help spread their message and encourage engagement.

Pride celebrations and parades have become more commercialised in recent years. This has led to concerns within the LGBT population that the essence of a pride parade - highlighting local activists and grassroots organisations - is getting lost, drowned out by corporate participation.


Find the organisations that operate in your town or city, contact local groups and help amplify their cause. Spotlights on local organisations can be an inexpensive-yet-effective marketing strategy, and charitable giving helps to raise brand loyalty with young people.

Engage and support, 12 months of the year. After all, why simply compete for attention during the rainbow tsunami that is June when you can be winning the LGBT community over all year-round?


A recent UK survey showed that 33% of Generation Z individuals polled identified as LGBT. So, the sealer lesson for business is that if you resolve to capture the attention and trust of LGBT young people now, you'll more likely see snowballing consumer loyalty in the future.

#WorldEnvironmentDay and why it matters

5th June is #WorldEnvironmentDay!

So what, I hear you say. It’s just a hashtag. Maybe, but it’s a way to highlight the many and varied threats to our planet and the importance of the goods and services it provides.


So, it got me thinking. Thinking about the environmental highlights of my professional and family life. What gave me that buzz, that feeling of awe and connection with the world around me? With no apologies, this is a very personal view. But, what I would say is try it yourself - take yourself back to those special moments with nature; immerse yourself in those feelings of connection; rejoice at those experiences and, most importantly of all, recommit to being a voice for this planet we call home.

From an early age, I was dragged off to the ancient landscapes of the Wiltshire Downs for family walks. The flower-rich chalk grasslands were my playground, although at the time I was largely unaware of their fragility, the diversity of flowering plants beneath my feet. But, along with time spent among the ancient trees of Savernake Forest, it grew a love of nature in me that led to a career in biodiversity conservation.


The rare privilege afforded to me, as an 18-year old, to stand at the edge of the Zambezi River, at the point where its waters thundered over the stunning Must-a-Tunya Falls, was also a seminal moment. I was struck by the awesome power of nature, the stunning beauty of this spot, carved out over millennia; and the sight of hippos, crocodiles and other amazing wildlife around me.


Closer to home, I’ve been blessed with the chance to work in some amazing places, often alone with my thoughts, surrounded by trees, the sound of early morning birdsong, the roaring or red deer during the rutting season, and that wonderful chance encounter with a startled pine marten, as it crossed the track in front of me. Exploring ancient forests in Eastern Europe, full of massive lichen-clad trees, getting up close and personal with a female wild boar and her litter; holding sleepy, curled-up dormice in the palm of my hand; walking through drifts of wild garlic, its overpowering aroma filling me with joy.


To swim on the Great Barrier Reef, to see those unreal colours and patterns; to climb to the top of the Gloucester Tree in Western Australia; to bob up and down in a small boat, surrounded by breaching grey whales off the coast of British Columbia; to come face-to-face with a wedge-tailed eagle. These are moments that stay with me forever.


And now, as a parent, sharing my love for the natural world with my daughter. What greater pleasure and duty can there be. It’s her world, her future, and we owe it to the next generation to work together to protect, restore and enhance biodiversity, treading more lightly and ensuring a more sustainable relationship between us and our home.


Sick of hearing about biodiversity?

Sorry to start off with a depressing message, but “without biodiversity there is no future for humanity”. So said an acquaintance of mine, Professor David MacDonald, one of the UK’s foremost academics working on biodiversity. His words are borne out by the publication of the latest global report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a truly comprehensive compilation of the evidence from around the world. We face a huge crisis. This is as big as the climate emergency we’re just waking up to.

Will the IPBES message resonate with world leaders, with business, with society at large?

Biodiversity has value - huge value, when it’s properly accounted for - that’s ecological, social and economic.

Despite this, too few people understand how biodiversity impacts on their daily lives, and this disconnect prevents us from taking the real action that is required; the changes to lifestyles, business practices, national and international policies.

So, what has biodiversity ever done for us?

Well, apart from the obvious - food and clothing - it’s worth considering how plants and animals provide goods and services essential for us to enjoy healthy, happy lives.

Humans use at least 40,000 species of plants and animals every day! So, when scientists estimate that over-harvesting and loss of habitat threatens the survival of over 50,000 currently known medicinal plant species, we should certainly be concerned.

Let’s focus on drugs and medicine, things that we possibly take for granted.

Biodiversity plays vital roles in maintaining human and animal health. A wide variety of plants, animals and fungi are used as medicine, essential vitamins, painkillers etc. Natural products have been recognized and used as medicines by ancient cultures all around the world. Many animals are also known to self-medicate using plants and other materials available to them. More than 60% of the world population relies almost entirely on the plant medicine for primary health care.

The small, un-assuming and slow-growing Pacific yew tree is native to the Pacific Northwest of the USA. This plant is the original source of Paclitaxel, important for treating various cancers.


The Gila monster, is a lizard found in the drylands of the southwestern US and Mexico, whose saliva is the source of a compound now synthesised as Exenatide, injected by as many as 2 million people for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. It may also have potential for treating Parkinson’s disease.


in the valleys of central China, grows an endangered weed called sweet wormwood. This plant is the only source of artemisinin, a drug that is nearly 100 percent effective against malaria. If this plant become extinct, then our ability to control malaria would be diminished.


Many medicines such as antibiotics and painkillers are cultivated from plant and animal sources and , every day, new discoveries allow for the advancement of medicine and the treatment of diseases. Nearly half of all human pharmaceuticals now in use were originally derived from natural sources.

I’ll bet you’ve got some aspirin in the medicine cupboard at home right now. Well, this ‘evolved’ from a compound found in the bark and leaves of the willow tree and was later marketed by Bayer, as long ago as 1899. 50 years later, scientists identified anti-cancer compounds in the rosy periwinkle, which pharmaceutical heavyweight Eli Lilly later produced to treat leukaemia and Hodgkins disease.


Aggrastat is one of a number of anticoagulants based on the venom of the saw-scaled viper from the Middle East and Central Asia. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, since millions of people rely on venom to keep their blood pressure in check. A number of venom drugs are now in the pipeline to treat cancer, bacterial infections, and other ailments.


Clearly then, preserving biodiversity is in our self-interest, and this is particularly true for drug discovery. Its preservation provides a vital link to critically expand the molecular diversity that’s needed for successful future drug discovery efforts. Drug discovery from wild species has always been, and will continue to be one of the most critical for most if not all aspects of health care, disease prevention, and wellness.

Resources and knowledge (both traditional and modern scientific) about the ecology, taxonomy and usage of medicinally important organisms are too precious to squander. Consequently, all drug discovery programs, whether synthetic or natural, need to build sustainability into their research models.


According to some estimates, our planet is losing at least one important drug every two years. This is exacerbated by the irreversible loss of traditional knowledge on the medicinal use of plants and animals. The extinction of microbes, plants, fungi, and animals is resulting in a loss of molecular diversity. Put together, these losses threaten biomedical research, and in turn, the survival of humans.

Childhood activism: the days of your life?

These are the days of our lives…a Queen favourite, with Freddy’s beautiful voice a fitting and moving tribute to a very close friend, played at his funeral this past week. It reflected the wonderful childhood we enjoyed, able to play out in the streets, able to explore the woodland nearby, able to look forward without fear of environmental and social collapse.



Hyperbole? I’m not sure it is. We were largely carefree, although perhaps I wasn’t typical: I joined the Ecology Party (forerunner to the Green Party) aged 16, while most of my mates were tearing about on motorbikes.


Listening to my own daughter and her friends, climate change and concern for the environment are very much on their minds. It is their generation now asking the difficult questions, trying to understand our collective failure as adults to show some stewardship for the planet, and wanting to drive change in thinking at a global level. So, when their days should be stress-free, they’re having to face up to all this stuff.


While many of us are quick to heap praise on Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl whose climate strike action has now spread to become a global phenomenon; is it right that we’ve allowed the state of our planet to become their problem? Shouldn’t our young people be able to grow up free of fear and enjoy the excitement of those formative years?



Or, were our stress-free, teenage years, just part of the problem? Leading us to where we are today? The truth is that nobody talked about living within our means. There were no conversations about habitat destruction, single-use plastics, air pollution, or the Sustainable Development Goals (yes, I’ve even heard them discussed by a 12 year old!)


We all lived as though resources were infinite and our lifestyles sustainable (even if the word wasn’t in use).


Think about this too often and the guilt it engenders can be overwhelming and, on occasions, lead to some pretty dark places. But, let’s acknowledge this guilt and use it as a motivator for action. There can be no doubt that while our early experiences may not all have been so liberating and free, we all had it good in comparison to the future faced by teenagers today. So, why not channel these feelings and use them to inspire action alongside – in partnership with – today’s youth.



This is not a call to arms, to get marching and encourage your own children to go on strike (but, that’s cool by me, by the way); rather, it’s about reconnecting with young people. Not telling them, but listening to them; not frightening them, but reassuring them; not dissing their ideas and aspirations, but engaging with them.  It doesn’t need to be difficult, and certainly doesn’t need to be expensive.


I hear an awful lot of comments about young people ‘being on their screens’ all the time; how they don’t communicate anymore; that they prefer to be online rather than outside. But how many of us have actually offered them a choice, an alternative? 


Try developing a shared interest in something that gets you out and about? If you’re lucky enough to have access to a local greenspace, then make the most of it – I turned the Pokemon Go craze into a positive ‘get out and explore’ experience, and have continued to build on that through initiatives such as ‘Beat the Streets’ and other urban orienteering activities If exploring by foot isn’t your thing (or your child’s, for that matter), cycling, roller-skating, skateboarding, and even kayaking (see ‘Canoe Near You’



Share in the learning experience your child gets through school. You’d be amazed the topics they discuss across a variety of subjects. They are talking about sustainability; they know about climate change and what it means for their future; they have opinions about plastics, recycling, air pollution, saving water, etc. Show an interest and you might learn something, too.  Maybe I’m just fortunate, but my daughter and some of her friends have recently met with their Head Teacher, to present their case for the school developing a sustainability plan and aiming to go C-neutral. Their own idea, and certainly something I’m happy to back them on.


I do feel strongly that having an environmental conscience should not weigh heavily. Instead it should be something to celebrate. Let’s make it fun to do the right thing and live sustainably. Childhood should be a time of discovery, exploring the world around you and feeling that you have choices, with a whole life ahead of you.


We should all be able to look back and say those really were the days of our lives: a fun time but where we achieved something special. Today’s youth stand on the verge of achieving great things. Let’s work with them to help secure a better future, for these ARE the days of their lives. Let’s make them count.


Ecology: a celebration of great women

So, on International Day of Women In Science, I found myself thinking back to my own university days, studying Environmental Sciences, on a course dominated by women. Was there a reason why so many young women were attracted to ecological studies? How many have gone on to have successful careers? And who are the women currently shaping the science that’s addressing the key environmental issues of the day?

Schemes to support young women scientists are run by bodies such as The British Ecological Society, and do much to attract and develop talented researchers

Schemes to support young women scientists are run by bodies such as The British Ecological Society, and do much to attract and develop talented researchers

Let’s take a look…

Countless women have played pivotal roles in the study and protection of the environment. These are just a few to celebrate. Five of the best from a very large field.

Now, I’m biased as someone who loves trees and who has a fascination for all things African. So, my first choice is Wangari Maathai, a truly remarkable women deedicated to planting trees. Shei is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing trees back to the Kenyan landscape.  In the 1970s, she founded the Green Belt Movement, encouraging Kenyans to replant trees to replace those cut down for firewood, farm use or plantations. Through her work planting trees, she also became an advocate for women's rights, prison reform, and projects to combat poverty, demonstrating the inter-relationships between environmental protection and social justice. In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to protect the environment. A truly inspiring woman.


Going back to the early days of the global environmental movement, my next choice is author of the seminal work, Silent Spring. Rachel Carson’s book brought national attention to the issue of pesticide contamination and the effect it was having on the planet. It spurred an environmental movement that led to pesticide-use policies and better protection for many animal species that had been affected by their use. However, her work goes far beyond that. Rachel Carson was first a marine scientist working for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Washington, DC, primarily as a writer and editor. She wrote about geological discoveries from submarine technology and underwater research, of how islands were formed, how currents change and merge, how temperature affects sea life, and how erosion impacts not just shore lines but salinity, fish populations, and tiny micro-organisms. Climate change, rising sea-levels, melting Arctic glaciers, collapsing bird and animal populations, crumbling geological faults; all are part of her work.


In Silent Spring she asked the hard questions about whether and why humans had the right to control nature; to decide who lives or dies, to poison or to destroy non-human life. In showing that all biological systems were dynamic and by urging the public to question authority, Rachel Carson became a social revolutionary.

British primatologist Jane Goodall is best known as the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. She studied the primates for over five decades in the forests of Tanzania. Goodall has worked tirelessly over the years to promote conservation and animal welfare. In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane traveled from England to what is now Tanzania and ventured into the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. Through nearly 60 years of groundbreaking work, she has not only shown us the urgent need to protect chimpanzees from extinction; she has also redefined species conservation to include the needs of local people and the environment. Today, she travels around the world, writing, speaking and spreading hope through action, encouraging each of us to “use the gift of our life to make the world a better place.” As a conservationist, humanitarian and crusader for the ethical treatment of animals, she is a global force for compassion and a UN Messenger of Peace.


Vandana Shiva is an Indian activist and environmentalist whose work on protecting seed diversity changed the focus of the green revolution from large agribusiness firms to local, organic growers. . She didn’t start out as an ecologist, though, first training as a Physicist at the University of Punjab,and only later shifted to inter-disciplinary research in science, technology and environmental policy, which she carried out at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. In 1982, she founded an independent institute – the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun – dedicated to high quality and independent research to address the most significant ecological and social issues of our times, working in close partnership with local communities and social movements. In 1991 she founded Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources – especially native seed – and to promote organic farming and fair trade. For last two decades, Navdanya has worked with local communities and organisations, serving more than 500,000 men and women farmers, resulting in the conservation of more than 3000 rice varieties from across India. The organisation has established 60 seed banks in 16 states across the country.


Francia Marquez is a formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community, who organised the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. Illegal miners used mercury and cyanide to extract the gold from dirt and rock. These toxic chemicals flowed directly into the Ovejas River, contaminating the community’s only source of fresh water. Mining camps transformed into small cities, much like the boom towns of the California Gold Rush. With populations of up to 5,000 people, these cities gave rise to prostitution, illegal drug use, and rampant violence as miners preyed upon and clashed with local residents.

Francia exerted steady pressure on the Colombian government and spearheaded a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, resulting in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from her community. single mother of two who was born in Yolombo, a village in the Cauca region. She first became an activist at 13, when construction of a dam threatened her community. As a young woman, Francia became a local leader who took on the struggle for environmental and ancestral land rights, fighting and beating back incursions into La Toma by multi-national mining companies. She also educated farmers in her region on sustainable agricultural techniques and worked to promote Afro-Colombian cultural and land rights.


In order to attract talented young women into the environmental field, it is important that we all work to remove barriers to progress and ensure a level playing field of opportunity. There are so many great female ecologists, who we should celebrate for their important scientific and cultural contributions, and who serve to inspire the next generation of women in ecology.

So, who are your female ecologist role models? #WomeninEcology #InternationalWomeninScienceDay

Beat the cold, sustainably

Maybe winter has finally arrived?!


As temperatures drop and the weather disrupts lives up and down the country, how should we respond in ways that are sustainable? There’s got to be an approach other than ramping up the central heating, right?

After all, four out of ten of us are avoiding switching on the heating during colder spells due to fears about energy bills. At the same time, around of third of us complain that we can’t get our homes as warm as we’d like.

It’s true that in cold climates, proper heating is essential for everything from quality of life and health to productivity at work. Growing concern with lowering the cost and the environmental impact are fueling new ways to do both. Although there’s some exciting new technology, the growing importance of sustainability means that we should really be revisiting the idea of staying warm:: “first warm the person, then warm the room.”


As it turns out, there are plenty of little steps we can take which, when put together, amount to a sensible, sustainable way to deal with the cold snap. For little or no investment, you can easily warm up, and even have fun while doing it.

Let’s start with some traditional ways to keep ourselves warm:

It may seem obvious, but start by wearing clothes - the right ones! Dress in wool, wear several layers, and put a pair of slippers on. Don’t get too comfortable, though: do go outside, as it will help your body adjust better to the cold. Drink hot drinks, as this will raise your core temperature. Sorry, but avoid alcohol, as this will do just the opposite, lowering your core temperature. Why not do some baking, and leave the oven door open afterwards, while you’re snacking on a freshly-baked loaf of bread or cake!


Then, of course, there’s eating warm food, and plenty of it. Then you’ll feel the benefit of staying fit, which keeps you warm even when you stop moving. Why not light some candles - they add heat and create atmosphere (always good at this time of year).

Now, this may sound odd, but try taking a cold shower; it really does improve blood circulation. And, to cap it all, hug someone - shared bodily warmth and all that!

Around the house there are a number of quick wins. To start with, during cold weather, set your thermostat as low as is comfortable when you are at home during waking hours. Reducing the heat by only a few degrees when you're sleeping or out of the house will help save money. Reduce heat loss through the fireplace.


it’s also vital that you draught-proof your home and ensure that your pipework is insulated, too. An obvious thing to do, but one which many people overlook, is bleeding your radiators, in order to avoid cold spots in your home. While you’re at it, get up in the loft and make sure it’s properly insulated, and check your hot water cylinder as well.

Close your curtains before it gets dark or while you’re away from the house. A lot of heat escapes through windows, and you’ve paid for it - so keep it in! That way you stand a chance of keeping the temperature consistent, and it gives you a fair chance of keeping the heat in overnight.

If you still want to embrace technology, then a smart thermostat is a low-cost way to improve the efficiency of your existing heating system, allowing you to control your heating from your phone or tablet.

So, stay warm: body first, home second #sustainably

Doubling the benefits for our environment: how nature conservation and natural capital can work together

 “Isn’t it wrong to add a monetary value to nature? It’s more important than that.” So I was told by a good friend, last week.


It’s not the first time I’ve had this said to me (not that it’s my fault, by the way). There remains real tension around the topic of valuing nature, criticism relating to the morality and efficacy of doing so, and fear that it could facilitate the treatment of nature as a commodity to be traded.

Natural Capital has been described as the things we get for free from the natural world.

Therein lies the problem. If we don’t recognise the true value of nature, we’re unlikely to take care of it.

We may not like this uncomfortable truth, but the evidence is out there for all to see.

The Office of National Statistics has calculated the economic value of the UK’s natural assets to be £1.5 trillion – an unimaginable figure, but one that’s recognised to be a substantial under-estimate of the true value.

From an environmental perspective, a strong case can be made for a pure nature conservation approach involving policy interventions such as incentive payments and protected areas. These can be effective in maintaining environmental components and restore natural systems.

But, such an approach is limited by the practical and political difficulties of restricting commercial activities and the mounting costs in a time of such social and environmental change.

If we can attach realistic value to the goods and services we obtain from nature, then we might just be able to start addressing our natural capital debt. Here in the UK, our ecological footprint is running at 3.5 planets.



Government needs to speed up and amplify the uptake of the natural capital approach by business, helping to ensure that the value of natural capital is properly reflected in markets. That way, we can apply the ‘polluter pays’ principle:

  • Industry pays for wetland restoration that helps to purify water. This in turn offers recreational opportunities.

  •  Food-chain businesses pay for habitat creation, which helps to conserve wildlife. This brings reputational benefits.

  •  Insurance firms pay to slow water runoff and increase infiltration, helping to reduce flood risk. This results in lower insurance pay-outs and premiums.

  •  Water companies pay to reduce pollutant input or loss, improving soil and water quality. This helps reduce treatment costs. 


You get the point.

This natural capital approach can deliver environmentally beneficial outcomes in situations where there is short- or medium-term economic advantage to protecting the environment. It’s less successful when there’s no realisable, short-term economic advantage, such as conserving the most valuable wildlife habitats. This still requires a more traditional nature conservation approach.

The role of business in relation to nature conservation regulation is to keep environmental impacts within legal limits and stakeholder expectations; in relation to natural capital, it is to measure and manage natural assets for future returns. In either case, the condition of the natural environment has important implications for business in terms of:

  1. Risk, e.g. disruption to supply chains

  2. Cost, e.g. increased cost of materials

  3. Brand & reputation, e.g. increasingly discerning customers

  4. Revenue, e.g. price and market willingness to pay

We’re seeing a growing interest in Natural Capital Accounting, and this is highlighting that there is currently a considerable gap between the costs to business from any depletion of natural capital and the value lost by society as a whole.

Fortunately, the costs of action to preserve natural capital may be considerably lower than the value of the natural capital. This creates opportunities for business to invest in actions that can improve conservation outcomes and reverse natural capital depletion, establishing themselves in an increasingly green, ethical marketplace.


However, the costs of restoring natural systems at any meaningful scale are so great that the benefits to a business are likely to be insufficient to support a case for action, at least in the absence of shared responsibility or a strong sense of philanthropy.

Because it captures the true value of goods and services, the natural capital approach drives business action to reduce negative impacts, maintain beneficial practices and put right any damage. A role still remains for nature conservation, most notably where the benefit is to society at large, rather than an individual entity. By adopting an aligned approach, it becomes possible to increase the overall resources available to improve protection and restoration of our natural systems. 

Wouldn’t it be great to do more than simply aim to maintain our biodiversity (although, in truth, we’re still losing that battle)? Taking a new approach offers us the opportunity to have a net positive impact on our environment.

Positive effects not only balance but are expected to outweigh negative effects by:

(1)  Avoiding unacceptable impacts to ecosystems

(2)  Reducing the impacts that may occur

(3)  Restoring impacted ecosystems

(4)  Compensating for residual impacts with offsets

(5)  Seeking additional opportunities to contribute to local conservation


A better, more sustainable world: tackling the Global Goals

We’ve taken a little break, but now we’re back with a new look blog series that considers how we can all work to meet the challenge of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

We’re starting with SDG1, the challenge to eradicate poverty.


The often heard comment that “the poor will always be with us” may appear complacent, but it’s also informative: poverty needs to be actively reduced by deliberate initiatives rather than simply to be the by-product of the free market and economic growth. Fortunately, there are many ways business can take action, from technological innovation to ethical supply chains, and many reasons why it should.

Poverty reduction until the late 1990s was the exclusive realm of Aid agencies and NGOs. Business input was allowed via monetary donations only. Now, however, big business wants to pursue commercial ambition but at the same time pursue an ambition that also drives positive change in the economies in which they operate. Many are looking to employ innovative business models that are economically viable and good for development.

Donating profits to charity is certainly noble, and can be effective when done comprehensively, as in the case of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. However, few businesses are the size of Microsoft and, on smaller scales, the approach does little to combat the structural causes of poverty, such as low-quality jobs or unequal career opportunities.


Reducing prices for consumers can make a difference, but, significantly, the part of the economy where costs are most problematic is also the housing sector. People don’t queue up at foodbanks because of the cost of food; they do so because of the cost of housing. While business should add its voice to the debate, the issue ultimately requires the changing of minds to accept that we need more housing. This is a political task that is perhaps not best suited to business.

Job creation is vital to reducing poverty, but it’s seldom a priority. Poverty in modern Britain is caused as much by low-quality, low-paid employment as unemployment. If business is to reduce poverty, it is this that it should focus on.

That poverty has adverse impacts on business can be in no doubt. Poverty is often associated with illiteracy, which can affect productivity. Employees with poor literacy skills may struggle to fully understand workflow instructions, making them prone to making work-related mistakes, resulting in lost profits and reduced customer confidence. 

Poverty can also have a profound impact on the community in which businesses operate. The lack of stable income may drive people to turn to illegal activity to survive. In addition, areas with rampant criminality can render a location unsuitable for business, which may cause companies to move to safer areas, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and crime in a community. 


This negative cycle can be countered with a positive one: businesses can avoid these scenarios by helping to alleviate poverty. Businesses can have a positive impact on communities, and healthy communities are good for business. 

Business can help by investing in both expertise and capacity-building. One root cause of poverty is the lack of access to markets and resources. Businesses can address this by providing skills training and financing options to disadvantaged people and communities. Skills training helps citizens acquire the abilities to qualify for quality jobs. Financing helps poor communities set up cooperatives and enterprises to lift them out of poverty. 

Providing women with economic opportunities is another opportunity for companies to help alleviate poverty. If women are trained to be entrepreneurs, they can achieve independence and financial stability. Investing in women makes good business sense. If women have enough money for food, healthcare, education and other benefits for their family, their children have better opportunities to grow into healthy, educated and competent adults, translating to a highly productive workforce and viable consumer base. 

In some countries, water scarcity and unsafe sanitation lead to public health problems. A lack of clean water can drive people to utilise unsafe sources, leading to water-borne diseases. Inadequate sanitation can result in ailments such as intestinal parasitic infections. These illnesses can lead to work absences and decreased employee productivity. 

Businesses are addressing water scarcity and unsafe sanitation by helping communities obtain access to municipal water supplies, and by building safe and clean private toilets. Water is also essential for the maintenance of business facilities, so it follows that adequate water supply and safe sanitation will result in healthier and more productive employees, as well as fully-functioning business facilities. 


With the alleviation of poverty, people become more capable workers and professionals able to take advantage of the goods and services that businesses have to offer. When businesses thrive, so does the entire community. This is reflected in the shift from conventional CSR approaches to actively targeting what is known as the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ market.

Business targeting poor markets is sometimes criticised as a form of colonialism, and it’s true that in our online, connected age motives are questioned and scrutinised at every turn. However, while CSR motives were subject to greenwashing tags, corporations may feel they are on safer – and familiar – territory when it comes to making money.

The traditional division between not-for-profit and for-profit business is no longer clear. Large corporations have begun to say that if they need to do more than just respecting the law, and if they have to scale it up, then it needs to be profitable – otherwise they can't justify it to their shareholders.

By working in partnership with local NGOs, businesses have a higher probability of not only adhering to sustainable practices, but also actually addressing the most pressing problems of the community. Furthermore, such cooperation increases the amount of knowledge businesses have about the population they are trying to help, and increases the likelihood that their efforts do not bypass the actual causes of the problem they attempt to alleviate.

It's their future - let them speak!

“Dad, why don’t people listen to us? It’s our future and we’ll have to live with the mess”. So said my 11-year old daughter, overhearing me talking about the climate change talks in Katowice, Poland. And, to be fair, too frequently the only faces you ever see at the top table for these events are adults, and most often men. She has a point.

Think young people don’t care. Think again. A pioneering lawsuit against the U.S. government has won the right to a trial, overcoming the Trump administration's efforts to cancel it in court; and it’s pioneering because it’s being pursued by a group of 21 youths who are suing the United States government for failing to adequately protect the Earth from the effects of climate change. They claim the federal government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in “a dangerous destabilising climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations.


Across the globe, young people are mobilising, and we’d all do well to listen. While young people are one of the groups most affected by environmental problems like climate change, they are also the most innovative in terms of fighting for a better world.

Fortunately, there are many older people in developed countries now realising that the consequences of a high carbon lifestyle, that has been enjoyed throughout their lifetimes, represents a threat to the viability of any kind of similar life for their descendants. Grandparents care, it seems.

This realisation has spurred a wave of actions from divesting from fossil fuel related investments, to buying shares in the companies that pollute in order to have a say at shareholder meetings. There is now a growing unity of purpose between people of all ages who want to turn the tide of human behaviour.

We shouldn’t doubt the passion, knowledge and organising abilities of the global youth movements that are emerging. Take the UN’s Youth Climate Delegates (YOUNGO) for example. They show an impressive level of organisation, depth of knowledge, and clarity of message regarding what needs to happen. There’s also the required determination to achieve a set of global goals.


However, enthusiasm alone doesn’t guarantee them a voice. Back at Katowice, with 24 years of climate negotiations behind us and the situation currently at a very critical stage, surely there is no conceivable downside to allowing expert young people into the party negotiations?

After all, these young people represent the conscience of each nation and, frankly, come with a moral license to kick much harder than the weary veterans in this struggle.Why shouldn’t young people be given the opportunity to take on the role of the negotiators?

Can they do it?

Well, I spend a lot of time with young people, often working with students, and I can’t recall meeting a single one who didn’t care about global warming or social justice or trying to build a better future. Yes, millennials are a large and diverse group, and studies show how they value authenticity and transparency, and are more likely to be recyclers and conscious consumers. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘Malala effect’.


Their interest in the greater good is driving their engagement with various causes today, and their activism is on the increase. Growing up in this period of rapid man-made change, they are the most globally connected ever, building an activist community online. They may well be induced to march; they might even sue the government for its failure to protect their right to a healthy environment (as we’ve already seen). However, it starts, builds and evolves with social media (you see, it’s not all bad). We’re seeing people getting involved in social activism at a much earlier stage in life, with the capacity to arrange coordinated global protests in a matter of days.

In view of this, isn’t it time for NGOs, charities and global campaigns to learn to mobilise this movement? They need to establish effective social media management strategies, otherwise they stand to lose the 28% of young people who rely on social media as their primary source of news. And there’s the 43% of millennials who make financial donations through online platforms, or the one in two who share ideas with their friends online.

While the world leaders signing accords in conference halls are important, the real change is going to come from Generation Z. They are the consumers, employees, employers and future leaders who will see the devastating effects of climate change. Let’s give them a voice, listen to their message, and empower them to shape policies and structures that will determine their future.


Turning Friday Green

Black Friday really has become a thing, hasn’t it! We sometimes wonder if we’re the only ones not into it. The adverts are everywhere online, and there are even people now scanning websites to find you the very blackest of Black Friday deals.


Now, there’s no denying that we live in difficult times, and people have had to ensure years of austerity. So, what’s wrong with looking for a bargain? Black Friday, it seems, puts consumers into full-out hunting mode. They're alert, focused, and ready to pounce on every amazing deal they set their sights on (and anyone who gets in their way). Manic shoppers, indulging in this materialistic practice, help to increase sales for struggling businesses, don’t they?

And yet, there are many who feel that the country would probably be a lot better off without the Black Friday tradition. So, what’s wrong with a splurge of consumerism?

First off, it can be dangerous. Too many shoppers make for crazed crowds, too eager to get popular items. They’re prepared to go to great lengths to get them, too. Some years ago now, a Way-Mart employee was killed in a Black Friday stampede. Shopping rage has become a thing, too. Crowded stores and long lines can turn the calmest people into terrifying lunatics. Throw in the scramble for a good deal, and any store can turn into a mob scene or break out into fights.


Perhaps in response to such concerns, we now have Cyber Monday, a far more civil practice. It requires no camping out in lines for hours, no shoving people out of the way for the last TV, and no scary mob mentality. You can shop for discounted goods from the comfort of your own home, and though some of the deals from Black Friday might be sold out, many sites offer better or different specials on Cyber Monday. Many of the deals are also extended beyond the one Monday so shoppers have more time to save and less stress, too.

Some of the best deals you'll find during Black Friday are on electrical items such as TVs and laptops, kitchen appliances, and clothing. The only problem is that they typically aren't brands you’d consider buying any other time of the year. They’re often not the top-of-the-line brands you dream about. The prices are cheap, but the products often are, too. Kitchen appliances on sale are often more poorly made than the full-price versions and are items you won't use frequently. In terms of clothing, there's a reason you hear the most Black Friday chatter from bargain stores; expensive stores that carry name brands don't offer many discounts. You'll be buying items on sale that were cheaper to begin with.

It’s all too easy to get sucked into thinking you’re getting an amazing deal!

It’s all too easy to get sucked into thinking you’re getting an amazing deal!

Retailers have purposely low supplies on those hot ticket items, as a way to lure in customers with false promises, a practice that wouldn't be acceptable any other day of the year. If you can save hundreds of pounds on an expensive TV, you’ll take on the crowds to get it. However, with deliberately low stock levels, maybe as few as three or four, and huge crowds expected, you may well miss out.

Black Friday encourages overspending. It kind of defeats the purpose of trying to save money by shopping the Black Friday sales when you actually end up making a lot of impulse buys. Most individuals aren’t strategic about it, and the deals they stumble upon can be too enticing to pass up. The problem with these impulse buys is that you don't always know if they're actually good deals or not. You haven't compared prices, read reviews, or thought about whether you really want the item. Even though these products are on sale, too many impulse buys will really add up, especially if you're buying some big-ticket items. The stores themselves may be pushed into the black by all the purchases, but it’s hardly helping the country if all the shoppers are going into debt!

So, is Black Friday unstoppable?

It’s interesting to note that the luxury industry—whether that is fashion or travel—is growing in the direction of sustainability. It’s no longer the primary goal of luxury goods and services to be about quantity. Instead, retailers, manufacturers, and companies want to focus on economic and cultural sustainability, encouraging consumers to invest in more expensive items or experiences and support brands that are responsible with their business practices.

Furthermore, if we begin to change the language, replacing consumers with citizens, then there is growing evidence that people are concerned about over-consumption and its environmental and social impact. Brands with purpose are now asking, “What can I do for my clients?” instead of, “What can our clients buy from us?” - that’s very definitely not Black Friday thinking.


Satisfied customers are the best sales tam any business can ask for. Much of the growth of your business is in what others say about you. If your people are delighted with you, your service, and the quality of your work, they will justify your price. You should want a customer to walk away saying, “We’ve never been treated like that by a company before.” And the reality is, that requires quality work over quantity work. You can’t have a Black Friday mentality and still achieve the same high standards of work.

Perhaps it’s time for a fightback, for an Ethical Friday campaign, encouraging people to think about the social and environmental impact of their purchasing. Take the opportunity to become an ethical shopper, following a few steps:

(1) support ethical brands and vote for positive change every time you spend;

(2) adopt a less is more approach: do you really need that new pair of shoes? Is it really necessary to upgrade your smartphone again? Is there a better low-consumption alternative?

(3) Get creative before you recycle :throwing away is so passé. Fixing, up-cycling and reusing is what all the cool kids are doing;

(4) Shop pre-loved: from flea-markets to charity shops buying second hand products is another great way to help the environmental and save money, too;

(5) Help re-invigorate your local community: you can often find unique and interesting products by shopping with local, independent retailers, and their supply chains are likely to be more localised, too;

(6) Democratise your shopping: buying from progressive types of business, such as cooperatives, B-Corps and social enterprises;

(7) Look out for trusted labels: some ethical labels are more trustworthy and rigorous than others, so it’s worth a little research to find the strongest labels, offering real protection to workers, animals and the environment in each market;

(8) It’s a bit negative, but boycott the bad guys: There’s no doubt that consumer boycotts do work, so a great way to shop ethically is to avoid those companies that aren’t behaving responsibly;

(9) Take back control of your money: where our money goes is what it’s all about, so banking, savings and investments play an important part in consuming ethically. Unethical banks often invest in unethical projects such as nuclear weapons manufacture or fracking. By banking with ethical institutions you can be more sure that your money is going to fund projects that benefit society.

Let’s turn Black Friday into Green, ethical Friday!


Growing pains

So, it’s Green GB Week. It’s a landmark week of action, or at least that how the Government describes it. It also goes on to claim that it celebrates ‘clean growth’. Read on and you find that the Clean Growth Strategy represents “an ambitious blueprint for Britain’s low carbon future”, setting out proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy through the next decade. Great stuff, you’d think.

Investment in renewables is a critical part of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy

Investment in renewables is a critical part of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy

Forgive my slight cynicism here. This week has seen the start of fracking operations by Quadrilla, after a lengthy legal battle. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is about squeezing out further fossil fuel reserves and, as the company’s own Chief Executive admitted in a BBCRadio 4 interview, if “we don’t do it, someone else will”.

Remember that only one week ago, the IPCC issued it’s latest and perhaps most challenging climate change report. We need to keep no less than 80% of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to stand any chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Fracking resumes after 7 years in the UK, after a legal battle that has done little for public confidence over safety fears and the impact on climate change of extracting and burning shale gas

Fracking resumes after 7 years in the UK, after a legal battle that has done little for public confidence over safety fears and the impact on climate change of extracting and burning shale gas

There’s an awful lot of stuff going on here, not much of it logical. However, my biggest gripe is with the constant use of the term ‘growth’. Isn’t it growth that’s got us here? You know, in this mess? It’s been the obsession with economic growth that has led to the over-exploitation of the Earth’s resources and the resultant ecosystem degradation.

As chance would have it, I’m reading Kate Raworth’s excellent ‘Doughnut Economics’, and so forgive me if I’m a little obsessed myself. I’m obsessed with the idea of growth (mind you, I always have been; it’s just that I’ve found out that I’m not alone). Every politician, it seems, feels obliged to protect people from the uncomfortable truth, continuing instead to peddle the line that we can have GDP growth. We can’t. It has to end somewhere (even with clean, green, sustainable, balanced, long-term or all the other catchphrase versions they like to come up with).

‘Doughnut Economics’, the sweet spot that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet. But, can we stop obsessing over growth at all costs?

‘Doughnut Economics’, the sweet spot that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet. But, can we stop obsessing over growth at all costs?

But, rather than argue about the suitability of one definition over another, I’d prefer to look at the alternatives to growth in economic terms. What about growth as measured through health & wellbeing, access to food, housing, education and the development of skills, or social justice more generally? Besides, shouldn’t we be thinking about post-growth instead?

Don’t get me wrong. Anything that leads to big business genuinely stepping up action on climate change is to be welcomed. Investment in innovation is laudable, of course, and it’s right that we should be nurturing low carbon technologies, processes and systems. It’s just that there are always caveats (for example, the Government is clear that steps to decarbonising need to be '“as cheap as possible”); caveats that, in my view, rather ignore this bigger question about growth.

Investment in innovation must not be done on the cheap, and success must be measured in more than purely economic terms

Investment in innovation must not be done on the cheap, and success must be measured in more than purely economic terms

Isn’t it about time we stopped the ‘window dressing’, the rebranding of economic growth, and at least began an open, honest conversation about the need to make a radical shift towards a post-growth world, where we identify and work towards other forms of value? We might even stand a chance of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals if we did. It’s not an easy message to share, and certainly won’t be popular at the ballot box in the short-term. But, we need to get through these growing pains, to emerge on the other side in a world that can be sustainable.

From despair, let's channel action

Climate change news is, by definition, bad news. This week has been nothing but bad news, it seems. If you read it all or listened to news bulletins, you could be forgiven for thinking “there’s nothing I can do. It’s too big an issue”.

Melting ice caps, wildfires, droughts, storms. All seem beyond us as individuals to tackle, but break it down into little, local actions…

Melting ice caps, wildfires, droughts, storms. All seem beyond us as individuals to tackle, but break it down into little, local actions…

The challenge seems so enormous the natural response is to throw up our hands in despair and assume there’s nothing we can do to make a difference. Not so. Here’s some optimism.

Break it down into the little things that contribute to climate change: things such as how we work and travel, what we buy and eat, our domestic routines. These have the potential to tip the balance one way or the other. If we’re up for being part of the solution, then we can begin to change our personal habits in positive ways.

It might be as basic as reminding yourself to switch off a light when you leave a room, turn down the thermostat by a couple of degrees, or even go a day without meat, but when you repeat them over a period of months and years, the impact on the environment is profound and long lasting. Form a climate friendly habit, and you know what - you can save money, be healthier and protect the environment!

So, how about we all set some house rules? The home is where we consume most of our energy, and it’s where we can make the biggest impact in the battle against climate change. There are the actions we all know, like turning off lights when not in use, not leaving the TV in Standby mode, stopping the water tap running when brushing our teeth, and so on; nag, nag, nag - we’re getting there in our household!

But, looking for somewhat bigger gains, let’s tackle the washing machine. After all, washing in colder water (around 30-40°) is just as effective as hot water In fact, it may even be better at preserving your clothes, retaining the texture and colour of the fabric. More importantly, since about 70-80 percent of the energy required for a washing machine goes into heating the water, it’s cheaper as well as more environmentally friendly.

It has to be said that some investments may be necessary in order to make your home a much greener place. Some are relatively cheap, like replacing any traditional light bulbs with LEDs, which use up to 80 percent less energy and last 25 times as long.

You might also think about acquiring a smart meter to track your consumption – many energy companies now offer to install these for free. For a more comprehensive option, you can obtain monitors and plugs that not only track your energy consumption in detail, but enable you to operate the electrics in your house remotely via an app on your phone. This means you can crank up all of the appliances a few minutes before you enter the house and power down as soon as you leave.


When it comes to buying major appliances like a cooker, fridge freezer, washing machine or dishwasher, it’s really a no-brainer to look for ones that are more energy efficient. They might cost a bit more initially, but after a couple of years the savings on your energy bills will have cancelled out the difference. Look out for the EU energy rating system – it goes from A+++ (most efficient) to D or G (least efficient) depending on the appliance.

Our consumption behaviour is crucial. Again, there are some familiar ways to help the environment, like choosing food with less packaging, buying locally-sourced produce, and opting for organic produce that uses less pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, most of which are by-products of oil refining.

But there’s a growing awareness of how our diet itself is affecting climate change. Animal agriculture amounts to as much as 50 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. Reducing your consumption of meat, specifically beef, can have a surprising effect on the environment – for example, half a kilo of beef is responsible for 18 times the emissions of half a kilo of pasta!


Outside the home, our most obvious personal impact on the climate comes from the ways in which we travel. With Electric Vehicles (EVs) becoming cheaper and more practical, now is the time to think seriously about buying one when next looking for a car, especially given the restrictions already starting to come into effect on diesel cars in cities, with some countries like France, Spain and Sweden even set to ban them in the next five-to-ten years.

In the meantime, we can all make sure our cars are at least running efficiently by fully inflating tyres to improve gas mileage and driving in such a way as to keep fuel consumption down. But if it’s as practical and cheap to take a train then do that, and if you can make journeys by bicycle or on foot, even better. Why not decide to have car-free days each week, if feasible.


Beyond taking all these practical steps, remember that we each have a voice! If you’d like to use a bicycle but there are no bicycle lanes in your local area, start campaigning for them. As with all climate change issues, activism is incredibly important: talk to neighbours and friends, contact your local councillor or MP, set up community groups that might be involved in tree planting (a single tree will absorb on average one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime), car-sharing or raising awareness about pollution.

Finally, think about offsetting your carbon emissions, especially when you travel by air. You can do this in any number of ways. For instance, you might calculate the cost of your carbon footprint for any given journey and then choose to donate the equivalent to an organisation involved in combating climate change.

It might seem flippant to say this, but try to have fun tackling climate change. Create an element of competition within your household or local community. Support one another to make a difference and, perhaps most important of all, celebrate your achievements.


They don't make 'em like they used to

Having a tidy out at work or home reveals many things: just how much stuff you’ve squirrelled away and just how much of it serves no useful purpose anymore. Or does it? Planned obsolescence is a thing, sadly: certain gadgets, cars and other tech have deliberately short lifespans, to make you shell out to replace them (which is why you stashed them away, out of sight, in the first place).


Lightbulbs and various other technologies could easily last for decades, many believe, but it’s more profitable to introduce artificial lifespans so that companies get repeat sales. Is this true? Does planned obsolescence really exist?

The answer, it seems, is yes (to a point). If we look beyond the somewhat cynical idea that greedy companies are wantonly fleecing their customers, we need to accept some of the blame, too. Planned obsolescence is an inevitable consequence of sustainable businesses giving people goods they desire. It serves as a reflection of a ravenous, consumer culture which industries did create for their benefit, but one that consumers have been only too willing to embrace.

It’s not new, either. Competition between General Motors and Ford in the new 1920s auto market led the former to introduce the now-familiar model year changes in its vehicles. GM had pioneered a way to entice customers to splurge on the latest, greatest car, to satisfy themselves and impress those in their social circles, thereby creating a model for all industries..

So, although the term “planned obsolescence” wasn’t commonly used until the 1950s, the strategy had by then taken hold in consumerist societies. Back then, circular thinking was simply not on the agenda. But now…

Inexcusably, it’s very much alive and well in various forms, from subtle to unsubtle. From so-called contrived durability, where brittle parts give out (think small electrical home appliances), to having repairs cost more than replacement products (how about fridges and TVs), to aesthetic upgrades that frame older product versions as less stylish (think music systems, including headphones - getting smaller, year by year) – goods makers have no shortage of ruses to keep opening customers’ wallets.


For a really up-to-date example, consider smartphones; we all know what’s going on, but we appear locked into the “I must have the latest model” argument. These handsets often get discarded after a mere couple years’ use. Screens or buttons break, batteries die, or their operating systems, apps, and so on can suddenly no longer be upgraded. Yet a solution is always near at hand: brand new handset models, pumped out every year or so, and touted as “the best ever”.

Fortunately, there are companies out there who are challenging this. One of my favourites, Fairphone, point out that “Many of us, (around 400 million by the third quarter of 2017) have a brand new phone that we’re getting to know, and an old phone, our constant companion for the last 1.7 years, who’s about to disappear into the messy drawer we all have”. It’s all too easy.


Fairphone make the case: by recycling and reusing old phones, we can give them new lives in new homes, or recover valuable materials like gold, copper and palladium. We can reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing new phones, AND make the environment inside our messy drawers a bit cleaner!

What they’ve done is show the industry that there is another way. Fairphones are built to last. Yes, accidents happen, but that doesn’t have to mean the end of your phone. You can now make it last with easy repairs and replaceable modules, while regular software updates also keep your phone running smoothly. What’s more, there’s a growing market of ethical consumers, shown by present demand for Fairphones far outstripping supply.

Printers and printer cartridges, in particular, are another example which really frustrates me. In what is seemingly blatant planned obsolescence, microchips, light sensors or batteries can act to disable a cartridge well before all its ink is actually used up, forcing owners to go buy entirely new, not-at-all-cheap units. Someone please tell me why I shouldn’t be able to just go and get a bottle of cyan or black ink and simply squirt it into a reservoir? It’s crazy!


Looking at this, planned obsolescence seems very wasteful. It's estimated that 65 million are sold in the UK every year and that 85% of them are simply discarded or sent to landfill, where their engineering grade polymers can take up to 1000 years to degrade. What’s more, they also contain carcinogens and other chemicals, which can disrupt health making it harmful to both humans and the environment. Put simply, The more printer cartridges that end up in landfill, the more likely it will contaminate our water supplies and soil. Beyond waste, all that extra manufacturing can degrade the environment, too.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of recycling schemes for used cartridges, and these are making it ever-easier for business and private customers to do the right thing. Personally, I still find it frustrating that I can’t simply take my empty ink or toner cartridges and have them refilled (with vegetable-based products) locally, before my own eyes. Thankfully, we are seeing refillable cartridges, capable of being refilled from bulk ink bottles numerous times, with claims that a refillable cartridge starter pack can save the consumer over £400 in ink!

So, reasons for optimism, then, but still a long way to go. I’d better get back to the tidying exercise, but exercising caution and thinking about deconstruction and up cycling options. Modular products are the way to go, if we’re serious about tackling our throwaway consumerism; but we need to make the right choices in order to drive the market. A business-minded approach to smarter recycling, reuse and repurposing has arguably made a big dent in the planned obsolescence approach, and will so in future.

Waste not, want not

As we enter #ZeroWasteWeek, I find myself taken back to my youth and the often-used words of my mother: "Waste not, want not" - words from a childhood growing up in wartime. Only two days ago, I stood, transfixed, in front of a big shop window, but this was no ordinary shop; it was a library of things. Frome, Somerset, is one of those places where sustainability has begun to mean something practical to local people and 'Share', its library for items of all kinds offers a great way to deliver on mum's obsessive saying.


Share, borrow, donate: what a way to ensure that we 'waste not, want not'. Libraries of things are popping up all over the country, as people seek a more sustainable way of using and reusing stuff

You see, the trouble is that we've got ourselves into a mindset where we buy, own, use and then throw away. The problem is that there is no 'away'; things don't just disappear without trace. How inconvenient for us! As ZeroWasteWeek put it "Away isn't some magical place; it's landfill, an incinerator, the bottom of the ocean, litter or the stomach of an animal. It's always somewhere else..."

So, what's the solution? It's pretty straightforward, actually: we need to reduce waste through reuse, recycling and repurposing material for a longer life. Easy to say, but quite another to do. Where do we start?

It remains the case that many - the majority of - people are confused, unsure what the issue is and what role they can possibly play in tackling it. So, why not start by getting the message out. Begin by explaining the zero waste idea. Why is it so important to keep things out of landfill?

Why not put forward a few simple tips people could do to reuse things – basing these on your own experience. Ditch those plastic bags when out shopping, by taking your own reusable bags to the shops; get a refillable bottle and fill it with water before you go anywhere; reuse food leftovers as ingredients for another meal, either at home or by donating food to local food waste charities; reuse glass food jars for storing small items; take unwanted items to a charity shop or offer on Freecycle (or similar online platforms, e.g. Share Peterborough - my local favourite) so someone else can reuse them; join the car boot sale community - a great way to make a bit of money and find new owners for those unwanted items clogging up your loft, shed or spare room; make inventive use of plastic food containers (which can often be difficult to recycle) - as flower pots, for storing food in the freezer. There's so much to do.


It's amazing what you come across at a car boot sale, and undoubtedly a great way to get new life out of old, unwanted items.

Not all of it can be done alone, though. Local authorities need to step up and ensure that they explain recycling facilities and processes clearly, while making it as easy as possible for people to take part. They need to explain how people can recycle things from the kerbside at home and signpost people to where they can find their local facilities. However, they also need to know how and where they can recycle things when out and about.

Are we making household recycling easy to do? Facilities need to be easily accessible and understood. 

Are we making household recycling easy to do? Facilities need to be easily accessible and understood. 

I'm always struck by the plethora of recycling logos and the general confusion these cause for people. Perhaps it's time that we shared information on basic recycling logos and how people can recycle those items.


So, I've got myself a lot of actions to take over the coming week. Little by little we can make zero waste a reality. We have to - there is no 'away' after all and it's about time we got back to mum's adage of 'waste not, want'. It's not about wartime austerity; it's about ensuring a sustainable future for the planet.

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.


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.


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?


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.

Happy Danes_557.jpg

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

It's festival season so celebrate, sustainably


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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).


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


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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).


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.


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.


(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.


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.


“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.


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).


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!