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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drip, drip, drip...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where does a festival organiser start?

Reduce waste and maximise recycling 

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

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

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

Minimise power and use clean energy where possible

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

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

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

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

Minimise road and air miles

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

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

Encourage responsible sourcing e.g. Fairtrade, organic

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

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

So, what can you do to help?

Reduce Plastic

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

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

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

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

Don’t litter: Reduce Waste

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

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

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

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

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Thinking inside the box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insulation

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

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

Air tightness

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

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

Thermal mass

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

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

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

Natural light

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

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

Sustainable materials

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

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

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

Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Structural systems

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

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

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

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

Modular homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting beneath the skin of sunscreen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Global sporting events: their legacy

Here we go, here we go, here we go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what's being done?

Social capital

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pack it in: the first thing your customers notice

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

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

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

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

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Are we too hung-up

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

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

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

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

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

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It's our biggest challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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Why can't we recycle this?

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

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

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

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

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Don't put all your eggs in one basket

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

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

The purpose - profit problem

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

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

 Agree your purpose and your direction becomes clear, too

Agree your purpose and your direction becomes clear, too

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

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

 Sharing ideas on purpose, helping businesses spot opportunities

Sharing ideas on purpose, helping businesses spot opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

 VW, a brand irreparably damaged?

VW, a brand irreparably damaged?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultivating a healthy mind and body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water way to make a difference

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

 844M people worldwide live without access to safe water

844M people worldwide live without access to safe water

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leave the herd

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

It's actually an obligation!

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

 

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

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

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

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Be different, be noticed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's talk positively about the environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#PlasticFree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A winning circular argument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to bring about change, effectively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Plastics: driving real action beyond the headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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