Saturday, March 15, 2008

Finally a good policy from the government

Gosh it's been a while. Sorry. I'm studying for an OU course about International Development and I'm having to prioritise my spare time on that.

Anyway, I have decided to forgive the government for the increases on booze in the recent budget (14p on a bottle of wine!), in the light of the threatened plastic bag tax. Supermarkets have a year to introduce their own charges on "single use" carrier bags, and the bag tax will come in if this fails to cut consumption. Unusually, proceeds from the bag tax will go to environmental charities rather than just getting swallowed into the pot.

Although M&S have recently announced a 5p charge on plastic bags as part of their "Plan A", other supermarkets and high street stores have been slow to follow suit - indeed Tescos look like they are actively dragging their feet (their bags may be biodegradeable, but this is only part of the problem). So this move from the govenment is welcome.

In other ways, however, many envirnomental commentators have slated the budget as not going far enough. It is a little ridiculous that our plastic bag tax comes after China banned free bags, and 6 whole years after Ireland introduced a highly effective tax, to name a few. So come on, let's get a bit ahead of the programme....

Sunday, January 13, 2008

This year's carbon footprint calculation

So, has a year of trying to live a better life made a difference?


In all, my carbon footprint is a whopping 64% lower than last year at 6.9 tonnes, (or 15.9 tonnes without adjustment for flight offsetting and switching to green electricity)

The main positive changes are:

  • Lower secondary footprint (-24%) due to lifestyle changes (less red meat, more recycling)
  • Lower gas bill (-53%) even though we live in a bigger house - the boiler is quite new, and this seems to have made a huge difference. We have also turned down the thermostat, and turned off radiators in rooms we don't use.
  • Less driving - 4,000 fewer miles, due to (a) moving so we don't have to drive so far to see people, and (b) our low-carbon holiday
    • ... but this was more than made up for by 3,000 kms in a Toyata Hiace around New Zealand :(
  • Offsetting all flights
  • Moving to a green energy provider
On the downside, our trip to NZ made my personal flight contribution look pretty bad. Combined with two business trips to the US, this means that flights made up 54% of my footprint (before offsetting). This seems to be the main problem: how to reduce the impact from flying, without compromising on the need to see family and friends, and to fulfill the requirements of my job?

I used the Carbon Footprint site again, which now proudly claims to be the "webs leading carbon footprint calculator" (having seen the Government's attempt, this is not too ambitious a claim - more on this later). It has evolved to so that you can get a more accurate quote for your secondary footprint based on your lifestyle (I particularly enjoyed the wording of some of these options: "I enjoy carbon intensive leisure pusuits...").

The Carbon Footprint site reports that the UK average footprint has also reduced 11% to 9.8 tonnes, which is great news, but unfortunately the worldwide average needs to reduce to 2 tonnes per head to combat climate change. So we still have our work cut out...

Friday, December 28, 2007

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas...

So, ways in which we tried to reduce our carbon emissions this Christmas:

  1. Send e-cards - save on transport and manufacturing emissions. It does seem a bit of a waste to send paper cards which just get chucked away in January. We used Cancer Research which has a choice of cards, and rather usefully remembered all the email addresses from last year so it was very quick to send cards out again. We donated some money to show that we were not just being cheapskates :) Added advantage is that you can send them out on Christmas Eve rather than worrying about last postage dates. Friends of ours send ecards with cute pictures of their kids in santa's elves outfits, which is a bit more personal alternative (but, I think only if you have kids - a presidential-style couple shot by the holly-covered mantlepiece is a bit much).
    A cautionary tale - my father insisted on printing out his ecard so he could put it out with his others. Some people may not appreciate ecards.

  2. Virtual presents - we gave a few people Oxfam Unwrapped presents. Saves on transport and manufacturing emissions, and helps save the world. The two school books to an African school reduced my teacher mother-in-law to tears on Christmas Day. So if you put a bit of thought in, it can still be a nice personal present. I'm usually first in line to be cynical about some of these schemes - not sustainable, is the money actually doing good etc - but I have two friends who work at Oxfam who assured my that this scheme does genuinely help, so I decided to trust them.
  3. Food
    • Buy locally - save on food miles by sourcing local turkeys and other food.
    • Avoid food with lots of packaging
    • Don't buy too much food that will just be wasted.
  4. Reusable trees - get a real Christmas tree that you can replant in the garden (transport emissions) - we didn't actually do this, as we didn't get round to putting up any tree. But in theory, this has to be better than getting a new tree every year. Or is it? Perhaps we should encourage more trees to be planted? My instinct would be that the transport emissions would more than offset any CO2 absorbed by the tree, but I am happy to debate this. Or, just get an artificial one - will last for years.
  5. Foist eco-presents onto others (whether they like it or not) - ho ho ho. Credit to my father who bought us a "no more standby" electrical plug device. We gave a few people onya bags. Buy kids board games instead of plastic electrical things requiring batteries.
  6. Use recycled wrapping paper - didn't manage this in the pre-Christmas rush. Oops. At very least, make sure you recycle all your cards and paper.
  7. Turn off the Christmas lights (and all the other lights) when you are not around (save energy). Consider remonstrating neighbours who insist on lighting up their whole house with moving santa tableaus.
  8. Get low-energy LED christmas lights (save energy).
  9. Recycle presents - come on we've all done it. Better to pass on that tasteful jumper than to throw it way and add to the landfill.
Feeling a bit hypocritical as I have just booked a flight to Grenada in Feb and a skiing trip in March... not sure a local turkey is going to make up for that.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Recycling: can we trust our councils?

Like all good upright citizens I invest time in trying to recycle as much as possible, including separating out various types of waste which the council deems incompatible. In Richmond, this means putting envelopes and paper into different receptacles, which I forgave as they also take kitchen waste which seemed like a good step.

I was really pleased when Richmond recently expanded its scheme to cover plastic bottles and cardboard (about time too). So, imagine my disappointment when they missed the collection due to "serious over-demand" - apparently there was 20% more recycling than normal, I mean how could anyone have predicted that! Our recycling sat on the pavement for over a week getting soggy. Eventually some bin men arrived, threw everything into the normal bin and put it all in the back of a normal rubbish truck. I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. When asked the council what was going on, they said:

In order to deal with [extra demand], we are collecting some of our

recycling in refuse vehicles which can compact it. The 'co-mingled'
recycling is then taken to a special recycling facility in Greenwich and
separated for recycling. Please do not be concerned, it is still being
recycled and will not end up in a landfill site.

I thought this sounded a bit suspicious. The real story was uncovered after tireless journalism from the local paper, who found that [at least] three lorry loads of recycling materials had been taken to landfill by the council's contractors, just days after the borough's environment chief had described the claims as a myth.

It's enough to make me put my envelopes in with the potato peelings in disgust.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Paperless finances = no more filing?

Just finished an epic filing session which made me realise how bad paper statements are on many levels: a waste of paper, energy and effort as well as monumentally boring to deal with. So, I've tried to turn all of my accounts paperless. Here are the results - in reverse order of performance:

6. Worst performer in sixth place: Capital One
Who not only do not provide paperless statements, they have no information saying this on their website. I gave in and phoned them and they said that they were "legally required" to send me paper statements. I asked why other credit card companies were not legally required, and he said - with faultless logic - that they were other companies so he didn't know. I asked if they had any plans to change this, and he said no. I pointed out the environmental impact, and the guy actually laughed. Nice. I guess when you send out that much junk mail, you probably aren't that concerned about the environment.

5. John Lewis partnership card - who also have no option for online statements but at least said that they were working at it.

4. Amex (Red card) - they had messaging on the homepage and very simple process. I liked that they were very specific that they would send me an email when the statement was ready. They lost points only on the meaningless branding - "My St@tement" - really...

3. First Direct - had a link on their homepage urging me to turn to paperless statements and offering to plant a tree on my behalf as well. I can even vote for where the tree is planted. They have a cute virtual forest with one tree per account that had gone paperless (one real tree planeted for every 20 virtual trees), 2,500 trees planted to date. Once in internet banking, they lost points for trying harder to get me to take out a credit card than signposting the paperless statement option, but it was pretty easy to work out. I chose to turn off paper statements and also opted to receive changes to Ts&Cs online. Could have been clearer if they are going to send me an email when the statement is issued. Encouraging me to print the statements anyway somewhat spoiled the overall effect.

2. HSBC (who own First Direct) had the same virtual forest and tree-planting deal, but were promoting it in their internet banking and the process felt more slick.

And.... drumrolllllll
In first place - Egg - has had online statementing only since their launch, saving costs and the environment together. So, no fanfare or tree planting, but probably saved a few trees anyway over the last six years of no paper statements.

So, my summary of good practice for paperless statementing would be
- send an email when the statement is generated and be clear that you are going to do this
- signpost the option to have paperless statements prominently within internet banking
- offer a small incentive (like HSBC's tree planting) to max the feel-good
- don't encourage people to print the statements anyway

Total carbon emission savings? I will try to find out ...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Low carbon holidays

Just got back from the best holiday. We got the train down to Dorset, and spent a week walking along the South West Coast Path from little village to little village. We stayed at B&Bs along the way and ate at funny local pubs. The weather was amazing. More photos.

Made me realise that this is the first holiday I have ever been on where I didn't once get in a plane or car. Hopefully there will be more...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Green shoes?

Once you start thinking about it, there are lots of pretty painless ways to impact the environment less through your buying choices.

Starting with shoes - I bought a pair of shoes from a Spanish company called el Naturalista earlier this year. They are comfortable and funky (I don't think I've ever been more complimented on a pair of shoes, but that is possibly more of a statement about the rest of my shoe-drobe).

But more importantly, this is a company with values.

  • they live by an "eco-policy" that they also require all suppliers and agents to comply with. They use the least harmful materials they can to produce their shoes, including natural dyes and recycled rubber.
  • they support local producers
  • they promise to pay suppliers fairly
  • they have founded a charity for the education of Peruvian children, the Atuochi project, which they donate to with each pair of shoes.
  • and they have frogs drawn on the soles of the shoes. You can't beat that (my niece was jealous anyway)

You can order from thier site (which has nice touches an ipod function so you can listen to music they like while you shop) and there are a bunch of UK stockists as well, including the Natural Shoe Store.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Drive or fly?

We've got a week's holiday coming up and decided to keep it local. So we are planning a walking holiday in Western Ireland, and I'm investigating options to get there. We all know flying is bad, but is it that much worse than driving?

Turns out, CO2 wise, it's three times as bad. But, much cheaper and faster. Dilemmas...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Visualising consumption

Just back from a trip to San Jose (yes, I have offset it), where I picked up a copy of a magazine called "Good". It seems to be about a wide range of issues that people care about, and has some interesting articles and pretty graphs (always hard to represent data visually in an entertaining way, sometimes they lost clarity for style but at least they tried).

One article I enjoyed was about a photographic artist Chris Jordan who is using his art to help people visualise numbers that are hard to appreciate, for example the 60,000 plastic bags used by Americans every 5 seconds (below). He's also done a series on American mass consumption. Worth checking out.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Over the moon (cup)

Warning: we're about to discuss menstrual products, people of a nervous disposition may want to skip this post.

Tampons. They're pretty horrible things.

  • They take six months to biodegrade (pads, with their plastic backing, last forever) - imagine them hanging around in landfill sites and sewage treatment farms, or more worryingly in the sea.
  • 70% of sewage system blockages are due to sanitary waste (source: Woman's environmental network), and once sanitary waste gets to the sea it can really mess up marine life (Beachwatch). When Beachwatch carried out their 2001 survey, they found more than 14 towels/pantliners and four tampon applicators per kilometre of beach.
  • They're expensive: in 2001 we spent £370 million on them (source: WEN's Seeing Red), approx. £20 each a year.
  • We get through a lot of them: 12,000 in the average woman's lifetime (Seeing Red)
  • They contain chemicals (from pesticides to bleach), and can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (rare)
  • They smell, and leak, and you have to remember to buy them and carry them around.
  • And I don't know about you, but I'm pretty fed up with the woman-in-white-jeans-rollerblading-along-the-beach ads.
Anyway, I haven't yet been able to find any data on the carbon emissions of manufacturing, distributing and disposing tampons but I will keep looking. But I think it is safe to say if we can get rid of tampons, we'll be saving carbon emissions.

So, I've just started using the Mooncup - a small cup of made of industrial grade silicone which you wear inside you. It catches menstrual discharge and is reusable - should last for years. And it brilliant - last week, I went on two runs, swam, spent an hour in a jacuzzi and 8 hours on a plane, and I've never been more confident that I wasn't going to leak. And it's great that you don't need to carry anything with you, and don't need to change it as often. It's undetectable, you can't feel it when it is in position, and you quickly get the hang of removing and inserting it.

You can buy them from Boots (or other stockists) or direct from their website, which I used and it delivered in days. They are £18.99 which is a bargain when you think that wouldn't buy 10 packs of tampons.

10 year's worth of tampons, or one Mooncup (pictured is the Keeper, the rubber alternative to the Mooncup)