Posts Tagged ‘Features’

Tattooed avocados and shampoo bars: the businesses curbing plastics waste

September 2nd, 2017

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Tattooed avocados and shampoo bars: the businesses curbing plastics waste” was written by Tess Riley and Guardian readers, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 29th August 2017 06.00 UTC

The first global analysis of all mass–produced plastics refers to the “near-permanent contamination of the natural environment with plastic waste”.

From shops offering individually-wrapped bananas to apples packaged in tubes, plastic is everywhere. And news that fish are mistaking plastic debris for food, is just one example of the negative environmental impacts.

So where is progress happening? We asked readers to send us examples and here we explore three ways businesses are trying to curb plastics use. Do you have other examples? Add them to the comments below or tweet them to us @GuardianSustBiz and we’ll share the best examples on our Twitter feed over the coming week.

1. Minimising packaging

If you’ve been at the receiving end of an online purchase that has come swamped in plastic in an oversized box you’ll know how frustrating it can be. The answer seems simple – pack the product in something smaller and minimise the need for so-called void fillers such as polystyrene chips inside. Yet companies are often constrained by the limited range of box sizes available.

Meet Slimbox, a machine which helps companies create customised packaging boxes in-house to reduce cardboard and filler waste. At €25,000 (£23,100) per machine, Slimbox CEO Filip Roose says he’s aware how important return on investment is to his customers.

“We’ve calculated that if a company sends at least 30 packages a day then it should get a return on investment after approximately two years,” says Roose. “The more they send, the shorter this timeframe.”

As well as reducing costs over time, Roose highlights the environmental benefits: “Yes you reduce packaging use, but you also reduce carbon emissions by being able to transport more packages at once.”

Solution for waste of packaging

Solution for waste of packaging

We always owned a printing company. Finding right-sized boxes was one of our daily struggles. To remedy this problem, we built a machine that customizes boxes in-house in every shape en every size, called the Slimbox. The boxes are only made out of recycled paper and cardboard. By this we want to stop the waste of packagingmaterials and save our planet.

2. Refills

A number of shops now offer people the ability to bring in their own Tupperware, bottles and jars to refill with items like pulses, nuts, grains and washing-up liquid.

Splosh has taken this concept online, enabling customers to buy concentrated laundry and cleaning product refills, which arrive by post in plastic pouches that can then be posted back to the company free of charge for re-use.

“The problem of plastic waste cannot be solved while we still buy from supermarkets, because single-use plastics are essential to their business model,” says Angus Grahame, founder of Splosh.”

Splosh’s refillable concentrates, says Grahame, enable customers to cut plastic waste for most laundry, home cleaning and personal care products by around 95%. “We believe the move to the circular economy is about massive new business model opportunity rather than tweaking decades old systems as the likes of Unilever are trying to do,” he adds. “The value destruction to existing brands when it happens, and it will happen quickly, will be awesome.”

Splosh.com

Splosh.com

Splosh laundry detergent: one bottle you reuse countless times. Refills – v concentrated, which top up with water yourself – arrive in the post. Even better, the refills come in boxes that fit through the letterbox and which can be recycled. Finally, you can send back the pouches that the concentrate comes in to be re-used.

3. Banning plastics altogether

London’s Borough Market has pledged to phase out sales of all single-use plastic bottles over the next six months, offering free drinking water from newly installed fountains instead.

Similarly, some bars and restaurants have started to ban straws in an effort to reduce the volume of plastics that end up in the oceans. The city of Seattle is taking this a step further next month with its Strawless September campaign to get local businesses to switch to paper alternatives where necessary, and ditch straws altogether where possible.

Despite Marks & Spencer’s “apple tubes” and plastic-wrapped plastic cutlery, the company has been exploring innovative alternatives to plastic packaging. By tattooing avocados rather than using produce stickers, for example, it intends to save 10 tonnes of plastic labels and backing paper and five tonnes of adhesive every year.

Cosmetics company Lush takes a very clear position when it comes to packaging: the ideal is none at all (approximately half of Lush products can be purchased without any packaging, according to the company website). By creating a solid shampoo bar, Lush claims it saves nearly 6m plastic bottles globally every year. What’s more, since the bars are more concentrated than liquid shampoo, less is needed per wash, resulting in lower carbon emissions from transportation.

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Package free soaps!

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Package free soaps!

Lush Cosmetics follows all of these guiding conservation principles. I'm so glad they offer package-free solid bar products, as well as products packaged in recycled pots and bottles. And they've been doing it for a long time! This is nothing new and I remain hopeful that this environmental consciousness will continue to grow among other businesses.

Have you got any other examples? Add them to the comments below or tweet them to us @GuardianSustBiz.

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The eco guide to a happier, greener workplace

February 13th, 2017

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The eco guide to a happier, greener workplace” was written by Lucy Siegle, for The Observer on Sunday 12th February 2017 06.00 UTC

If you’re dreading the start of the working week tomorrow can I just check it’s not the lighting? A 1990s study showed plentiful natural light to be a top determinant of job satisfaction.

If you can’t get near a window at least press for LEDs (they have a life of up to 60,000 hours in comparison to 6,000 hours for a fluorescent tube). They also improve your mood, productivity and energy efficiency.

But for real practical change in the workplace, you need to influence facilities and purchasing staff. This is where the power lies. In Europe, better purchasing has led to 72% of our paper now being recycled.

Get your office in order and you’ll be up for multiple certifications, such as ISO14001, but if you want to aim high I suggest looking to festivals for inspiration of what we can achieve in our own workplace. Shambala, the UK festival held in August, has managed to reduce its carbon footprint by 81%, partly down to its plastic-free initiative; no bottled water sold onsite as part of its “bring your own bottle” campaign.

There’s so much innovation in the green festivals movement and offices can learn from them.

If greening your office – or festival – isn’t enough and you want to get deeper into saving the planet, The Ethical Careers Guide: How to Find Work You Love by Paul Allen is an excellent resource, full of real-world experience. By coincidence the book’s publisher New Internationalist will also be launching a community share offer at the same time.

In the world of green careers, things are moving fast. By 2018 Riverford Farm, the originator of veg boxes in the UK, aims to be employee owned. Start off changing the lighting, and you could end up with a stake in the future.

The big picture: the consequences of climate change

a dried-out patch of land seen from the air.
Drying up: an aerial view of the devastating effect of climate change

If you’re looking for the ultimate take-down of Trump’s flirtation with climate-change denial, Jared P Scott’s new documentary The Age of Consequences should just about do it. This is an investigation into the impact of climate change on increased resource scarcity, migration and conflict. It is frightening, but it also shows some unlikely climate-change allies – namely the US military (theageofconsequences.com).

Well dressed: Vivienne Westwood goes to China

the Vivienne Westwood exhibition, Get a Life!, in Shanghai.
Viva Viv: the Vivienne Westwood exhibition, Get a Life!, in Shanghai.

Chinese curator Adrian Cheng is credited with kicking off an art revolution in his native country. When he talked about climate activism with the veteran British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood some time ago, he became fixated on telling that story to Chinese designers and consumers through the medium of fashion. The resulting exhibition, Get a Life! (named after Westwood’s book on her brand of climate activism), has been three years in the making, but is now attracting record audiences to the K11 Art Museum in the Chinese capital, Shanghai. Alongside, China’s top fashion colleges are competing in an eco design competition, based on Westwood’s environmental vision. The work of the two winners will be stocked in K11’s concept store, Kuriosity.

Email Lucy at lucy.siegle@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @lucysiegle

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The innovators: looped water system for Earth friendly shower

February 23rd, 2016

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The innovators: looped water system for Earth friendly shower” was written by Shane Hickey, for The Guardian on Sunday 21st February 2016 09.00 UTC

When he was working on an academic project with Nasa, Mehrdad Mahdjoubi, a Swedish industrial designer, realised there could be parallels between sustainability in space and on Earth. The extremes of space required that the vital resource of water be used in the most efficient way possible. Water should also be used like this in the home, he thought.

Inspired by those experiences with the space agency, Mahdjoubi created a shower system that reuses the same water in a circular loop, while two filters take out impurities as it circulates.

This Shower of the Future , from his company, Orbital Systems, can operate on five litres of water. The water constantly circulates for 10 minutes or so – the time of an average shower – in turn saving also on energy.

“The reason that we make it work sustainably in space is because we have to do it,” the Swedish industrial designer said. “What if we try the same things on Earth … [if] the house was like a space capsule, how would we go about it? The most sustainable lifestyle is the one that we have in the most extreme environments and that may be in space or in a submarine where you actually have no choice but to really care for the resources that you have.”
Mahdjoubi said that while savings have been made in how water is used in toilets and washing machines, the same was not true of the shower. “Without changing the technology, we seem to just heat up water and put it down the drain,” he said. In Sweden, where the company is based, the average shower emits 15 litres of water a minute. During a 10-minute shower this amounts to 150 litres, he said.

The Orbital Systems shower starts with five litres of water and adds more if some is splashed out or is taken out of the system by the filters.

Water is first pumped through two filters, one which takes out larger particles such as sand, skin and dust and then a finer filter to extract bacteria, viruses and blood.

From there the water travels through a heater that moderates the temperature, which is set by a wheel control the user can change from hot to cold. The water then exits the shower nozzle as normal.

But when the water trickles through the drain it goes through a sensor which analyses it. If it is contaminated, the sensor recognises this and replaces the water.

The company says water flows at a rate of 20 litres a minute, compared to conventional showers, which typically range between seven and 12 litres a minute.

The shower takes in water from the mains until it senses that there is enough to go in a constant loop, said Mahdjoubi. “Even though the water is clean we would always flush it out before the next user. Comparing [it] to a hot tub where you sit in your own dirt for however many minutes, this is way more hygienic. When you stand in front of one of these showers you completely forget that the water is being recycled. It is the most unremarkable thing.”

The shower unit can be fitted as either an integrated system in the floor or as a standalone cabin with glass walls. The first units were delivered in December with most of the sales to commerical customers such as gyms, residential homes, swimming pools and the Swedish military. Nursing homes and hospitals have also bought them, said Mahdjoubi, because of the filter system.

“Not because they really want to save a lot of water but because you can guarantee that the water is clean and free from Legionnaires’ disease because it is always being filtered.”

How much money is saved depends on the cost of water and energy and how often the shower is used, he said. The company claims that a UK home can save £1,100 a year assuming there are four showers taken a day lasting nine minutes each.

Offsetting this is the price of the shower. The cheaper of the two residential units, where the shower is integrated into the floor of the bathroom, costs £3,300 while the standalone cabin costs £4,100.

As sales increase, Mahdjoubi said, the price would fall to less than £2,000 in three years. “I would say that we are steadily going down in price but we have to start where the market can afford it, that is why we have this premium and commercial focus we have right now,” he said.

A family would need to spend an average of about £110 every year replacing the purification capsules.

So far hundreds of the showers had been sold, said Mahdjoubi, and there had been particular interest from Denmark (location of one of the highest water prices in the EU) and from California, where there had been persistent droughts over recent years.

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The UK company turning coffee waste into furniture

May 7th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The UK company turning coffee waste into furniture” was written by Josephine Moulds, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 5th May 2015 15.06 UTC

Britain was falling in love with coffee just as Adam Fairweather was exploring ideas for new products and materials. Ten years ago, Starbucks stores were opening on every corner, followed by the burgeoning industry of artisan coffee roasters.

Fairweather, a designer by training and expert in recycling technologies and materials development, now develops materials from coffee grounds and uses them to design products including furniture, jewellery and coffee machines.

A poll of 2,000 Britons by Douwe Egberts in 2012 found 69% spent between £1 and £5 in coffee shops five days a week. “We use coffee as a moment to take a break, it’s a luxury product,” says Fairweather. “The idea that it already had this high value but we only use a little of it, that was interesting because I felt that there was a way of tapping into this perceived high value the product has intrinsically.”

On average, we use just 18% to 22% of the coffee bean when we make a cup of coffee but Fairweather says that coffee waste is not “the biggest problem”. “There are already massive recycling programmes in the UK that manage organic food waste very well. My interest is that we can use materials that have a perceived value to them, to communicate and get people excited about the idea of sustainability and social change and environmental management.”

Google seats coffee material
An example of Re-Worked furniture: easy chair and unity coffee table made with Çurface boards containing 100% recycled content and ash wood. Photograph: Re-Worked

Fairweather first tackled coffee waste by helping to develop the Greencup scheme, which provides offices around the UK with Fairtrade coffee and then collects their waste coffee to turn it into fertiliser. His new venture, Re-Worked, works with Greencup, so he has a ready supply of waste coffee grounds and a list of potential clients who may be open to the idea of other products made from their coffee waste.

Google uses Greencup’s service and has bought designer furniture from Re-Worked, created with a hybrid material made up of 60% used coffee grounds. “They’re all very quick sales,” says Fairweather. “It’s five or six conversations rather than hundreds, because we already have a relationship with the catering facilities management.”

Re-Worked has also teamed up with Sanremo, which uses a material made of 70% coffee grounds for the decorative housing of its Verde coffee machine. Fairweather says they have sold 300-400 of these each year since it was launched in 2013 and they are currently being installed in Wyevale garden centres around the country. High-end jeweller Rosalie McMillan makes use of another of Re-Worked’s materials, combining it with gold and sterling silver for her Java Ore collection.

Scaling up for profit

Re-Worked is a non-profit and Fairweather says the quest for funding has been one of his biggest challenges. “I’m really under-resourced. Because it’s been pioneering work, it’s made it quite hard to get the buy-in from people. We’ve never had huge amounts of wealth in the background to make things happen quickly.”

Re-Worked does generate revenue from trading, which it invests back into the business but Fairweather says the organisation still relies on grants. “In all honesty it’s not been massively profitable. The way we sustain ourselves is by getting government support.” This funds ongoing research into new materials and better production processes.

Fairweather says the process of making materials from coffee grounds would be economically viable if Re-Worked were to scale up. “Doing the life-cycle analysis of materials, is a very good way of seeing whether or not something stands up. If it’s more environmentally friendly, generally it’s more economically-friendly, because it means that you’re using less of everything.”

Java Rock Bangles
Java rock wrist bangle made by Rosalie McMillan using a custom Çurface material containing 70% recycled content. Photograph: Rosalie McMillan

Fairweather only wants to scale up, however, if he can maintain true to the original aim. He says the company explored the option of developing a low-value product, making fuel pellets out of coffee, to act as a staple to keep the business running. That hit a stumbling block when he realised they would have to take waste coffee from other sources and not just Greencup.

“It’s about promoting the idea of a circular business, if we started to offer the service to Nero, then we add value to their business, but we don’t promote the idea of this circular business model that excites people. It just becomes a service that people use.”

He admits he is not particularly commercially minded and that is, perhaps, why Re-Worked is not a million-pound business. “I’m not a marketer I’m more of an inventor. I like to invent the stuff. I like to work problems out.”

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Tesla’s new low-cost battery: ‘the missing piece’ in sustainable energy?

May 3rd, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Tesla’s new low-cost battery: ‘the missing piece’ in sustainable energy?” was written by Sam Thielman in New York, for theguardian.com on Friday 1st May 2015 12.12 UTC

Will the world become battery-powered? That’s certainly the ambition of Elon Musk, the PayPal billionaire turned would-be space explorer and electric car baron.

On Thursday night, Musk unveiled what he called “the missing piece” in sustainable energy: a range of batteries that can be used in homes and businesses to store power from wind or solar or take advantage of cheap electricity to charge up overnight and then be used in peak hours.

Two billion Powerpacks – as the batteries are called – could store enough electricity to meet the entire world’s needs.

“That may seem like an insane number,” Musk said. “We’re talking about trying to change the fundamental energy infrastructure of the world.”

The first place to feel the battery charge will be Nevada. Next year, Musk’s Tesla Motors is set to start operating a power-storage-device “gigafactory” across nearly a thousand acres of Nevada real estate. It’s required to contribute .5bn to the local economy, in return for a .25bn tax break.

Battery expert Davide Andrea, an engineer at Colorado-based battery manufacturer Elithion, worries about costs. The most basic home unit will cost ,500. No details have yet emerged about the cost of the large units Tesla is reportedly supplying to companies including Apple and Google to help manage their power supplies.

“Electricity is way too cheap to store in an expensive battery,” Andrea said. “It’s like saying I’m going to be storing my potatoes in a safe. Potatoes are too cheap to store in a safe.”

But Andrea is sold on the idea that batteries are part of a more efficient energy future. He is currently involved in a new project in Boulder to install batteries in homes, in order to ease the strain on power plants and avoid costly rewiring as the sizes of neighborhoods change.

Felix Kramer, a clean energy entrepreneur in California, said he hopes Musk’s presentation on Thursday evening changes minds.

“Tesla demolished the idea that EVs [electric vehicles] were golf carts,” Kramer said. “And maybe they’re about to do it again now. Maybe they’re about to demolish the idea that we can’t switch from coal and gas to wind and solar because of reliability issues. If they convince consumers, that changes the conversation.”

But Andrea and Kramer are enthusiastic about the possibility of greater infrastructure improvements with greater adoption of electric cars. Power provision could get a lot more efficient if cities can be persuaded to draw power from those car batteries, as well as supplying it. That would provide electricity and diminish local reliance on expensive, fossil fuel-powered generators during times of peak demand – when everyone in New York turns on the air conditioner, for example. Nissan is already trying to do this with the Leaf in Japan.

“In a home, the cost of the storage becomes much more important,” Andrea said. “It solves so many problems – the power company no longer has to turn on a dirty power plant during high-demand times. You can use the present wire infrastructure.”

If those sound like lofty goals, they had frankly better be: Musk will have to impress a great many people in order to justify the gobs of money the state of Nevada is giving him – the gigafactory will be allowed to operate essentially tax-free for 10 years and won’t pay property taxes for another 10 afterward. Beyond even that, the state is giving Tesla m in transferable tax credits, which the company can sell to other businesses in the region.

Nor is it the first time Musk has asked the government to chip in: SpaceX receives 5m in help from Nasa.

Still, if Musk’s batteries can merge wind, solar and electric car power into existing grids, that would constitute tremendous economic savings for cash-strapped municipalities everywhere.

“This is within the power of humanity to do,” Musk told the large crowd gathered at Tesla’s design center in a Los Angeles suburb on Thursday. “We have done things like this before. It is not impossible.”

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Don’t brand your business with the label ‘ethical’

March 26th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Don’t brand your business with the label ‘ethical'” was written by Oliver Balch, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th March 2015 09.30 UTC

Handmade cosmetics retailer Lush is proud of the fact it does zero advertising. It’s also pretty chuffed about its ethics. It has every right to be, having won an Observer Ethical Award last year. The Dorset-based brand shuns animal testing, caps executive pay, donates to anti-fracking groups, pays its African suppliers a fair price and much else besides.

Would you know though? Not from its minimal packaging, that’s for sure. Lush shuns the word “ethical” and its synonyms (think “eco”, “sustainable”, “responsible”, “good” and so on). Instead, its marketing is all about laying its products bare. That way, says Hilary Jones, the company’s ethics director, there’s “an obvious dialogue that begs to be had between us and our customers”.

On the face of it, Lush appears to be missing a trick. All the evidence suggests that consumers are increasingly concerned about the ethics behind what they buy. The latest Trust Barometer from public relations firm Edelman places ethics and integrity top of 16 specific categories that engender the public trust.

Just because consumers want their brands to be ethical, however, doesn’t mean they want brands banging on about it non-stop. No one much likes the person who boasts relentlessly about their charity work or moral good conduct. When brands do it, the effect is just the same.

Explicit ethical branding has other negative connotations too. First, there’s the quality question: will this eco-branded washing powder get my clothes whiter than white? Some shoppers will doubt it. Similarly, on price, there’s a widespread (and usually justified) perception that “ethical” means expensive. A niche shopper may pay a premium for their principles, but the majority will not.

“In practice, most consumers assess their needs first, then how much they can afford to get those needs met,” says Brian Ahearne, director at London-based public relations agency Parker, Wayne & Kent. “Sometimes ethics will come into the mix, but that’s pretty rare.”

It’s not just consumers who are wary about ethical branding. The branding people are too. The fear is that by boasting about their ethics, brands will be setting themselves up for a fall. Take the Co-operative Bank, says Ahearne. For a long time it was the ethical poster-child, but news of its financial woes and drug-taking management were met with an eviscerating, almost gleeful backlash.

“As I always tell my clients, there’s only six inches between a slap on the back and a kick up the arse,” says Ahearne. Or, to put it another way, if you put your head above the parapet expect someone to take a pot shot.

Perhaps finding a less toxic term than “ethical” is the answer? Giles Gibbons, co-founder of specialist communications firm Good Business, is cautious about name games. Terms that resonate with ethical shoppers rarely do so with mainstream consumers. “Fair trade” represents a rare example, he suggests, but even that carries a “worthy” (read, boring) image for some.

Actions, not words

For Gibbons, words are not the most important factor; actions are what count. “Too many brands are trying to get the green or ethical label, rather than genuinely being a good business and getting the benefit from that,” he says.

He admits that most marketing professionals gulp at this message. Branding is their home turf, not “being” – but there’s no way round it. If ethical marketing is going to work, the ethics have to come first and the marketing second. Therein lies authenticity. Anything else smells, well, fishy.

Cheryl Giovannoni, chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather, concurs. Take Starbucks, she says. The Seattle coffee chain has umpteen certificates to say it’s sustainable. So does she believe it when it claims to source its beans ethically? “Not when I question whether they pay the right amount of tax in the UK,” she argues.

That doesn’t mean brands should keep schtum. No one is a saint – not even Lush. What the public expects isn’t ethical perfection; it’s clarity on what a brand stands for, and transparency on how its ethics are staking up.

Sarah Pinch, president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, gives the example of Devon-based food box delivery brand Riverford. The company grew so quickly that it had to go back on an initial pledge to buy only UK-grown produce, she says. Now it imports veg from France in spring, although it commits to zero airfreight.

For Pinch, such transparency only adds to her trust in the brand – it doesn’t detract from it: “Consumers and the media are now much more adept at testing ethical claims, so the need for greater accountability and openness is absolutely vital. PR professionals have a responsibility to tell their clients: we can’t say Produce A is 100% ethical. What we can say is that we are taking every effort to meet this and this ethical standard and here’s the proof.”

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Climate change is overwhelming – so should we focus on small steps?

March 25th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Climate change is overwhelming – so should we focus on small steps?” was written by Sarah LaBrecque, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 25th March 2015 09.42 UTC

The challenges of our time can feel overwhelming: climate change, economic inequality, water scarcity – even the most passionate campaigner might want to pull the covers over and look away. So can single-issue campaigns such as Buy Nothing New Month or Meat Free Week help us divide important causes into manageable chunks? Or do they only distract?

Peter Burr, CEO of Meat Free Week

Peter Burr
Peter Burr.

Single-issue campaigns are most effective when we have an emotional connection linking us directly to the cause – an aunt dying of bowel cancer; work with mistreated animals; or a concern for the world we’re leaving to our children. Emotional connections compel us to support a cause because we hope to prevent others from enduring the same suffering.

We’re thirsty for knowledge, so any campaign that gets a conversation started will have an impact . Even if you take away only a single aspect of the message that positively influences your life, that’s got to be a good thing.

I have no doubt “wear out” means many people will not participate in a campaign for a second year. But with each year, campaigns attract a significant new audience. That coupled with the residual memory of previous years’ campaigns, will start to return greater numbers. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. We’re hoping to achieve that result with Meat Free Week – it’s hard to change habits of a lifetime, but they said that about cigarettes.

Tom Crompton, director of Common Cause Foundation

Tom Crompton
Tom Crompton.

Stepping up to the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss is not easy. Embracing small changes in our everyday lives is one important response – but let’s not kid ourselves that this can be remotely sufficient. In the words of David McKay, chief scientific adviser to the department of energy and climate change in the UK, “Don’t be distracted by the myth that ‘every little helps’. If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little.”

Anyone concerned about climate change could ask: How am I encouraging and supporting others to become more vocal in expressing concern – for example, by joining campaigns or public demonstrations, or making far-reaching changes in the way that they live?

Building this deeper concern need not require work on climate change at all. Work on a wide range of issues can be effective, even where there is no mention of anything obviously related to the environment. What’s needed is a re-connection with the things people say are most important to them: friends and family, our communities, beautiful places, the poor or disadvantaged, freedom and creativity.

Conversely, urging people to reuse their shopping bags, or to switch the TV off standby, can undermine this more important work. Unless they invite re-connection with these deeper values, behaviour-change campaigns can be counter-productive if they don’t invite reconnection with deeper values, and can leave people less inclined to respond in more significant ways.

David Willans, director of Will & Progress

David Willans
David Willans.

Single-issue campaigning is effective if you’re looking for change on a specific issue. It can be incredibly effective for behaviour change if people are aware of a problem, but don’t know what to do about it, as campaigns such as Jamie’s Chicken Run and Hugh’s Fish Fight demonstrate. Traditionally, this type of campaign is akin to taking market share from a competitor. You’re taking people from one behaviour to another. There are mountains of evidence out there demonstrating how to do it (pdf).

If someone’s making a change out of a sense of obligation, as soon as that obligation disappears, all things being equal, so does the change. But thankfully all things are never equal. If the change becomes part of someone’s sense of identity, or gives them a cocktail of personal, social and/or economic benefit that outweighs the effort, there’s a good chance it will last.

Something is effective if it delivers a desired result. If the objective of holistic environmental campaigns is holistic change, which history shows us is never the work of one action, how can you ever decide whether it’s effective? There are two schools of thought about how to drive change at this level. One is intrinsically led change, where we focus on connecting with universally held values and changing societal narratives. The idea is that over time people will shift from one way of living to another. The other is extrinsically led change, where we focus on specifics such as audiences, behaviours and benefits. The idea is that specific changes build up to create more holistic change.

The evidence shows both create positive change. Therefore we need to be doing more and sharing our insights to get better at it. Pitting one against the other is playing the kind of point-scoring game you hear at Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s self-serving and self-defeating and actively puts people off, preventing learning and ultimately wasting precious time.

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The way we live now: the rise of the energy-producing home

March 20th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The way we live now: the rise of the energy-producing home” was written by Elisabeth Braw, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th March 2015 13.49 UTC

Imagine living in a house that contributed to society: a house that produced energy, while consuming none itself. Well, imagine no more. After perfecting the “passivhaus”, which consumes minimal energy, engineers and architects have developed the energy positive house.

Generating energy is one thing, building a house is another. But with its plant-decorated walls and enormous double-glazed windows, the ArchiBlox Positive House, introduced in Melbourne’s City Square last month, looks elegant and modernist. “The trick is to make the sustainable and performance products visually pleasing while also practical,” reports David Martin, construction director of the ArchiBlox Positive House – the world’s first pre-fab energy positive house.

Rooftop solar panels and cooling tubes generate energy and regulate the temperature, while double-glazed windows and thick walls conserve energy. The end result: surplus power.

Energy producing house diagram
How an energy-producing home works. Photograph: Snøhetta

The ArchiBlox team is not alone in successfully completing the energy positive challenge. The German city of Königsbrunn, working in collaboration with the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences and a local gas and electricity company, is finalising the cube-like Visioneum in the central square, where city officials hope its presence will inspire residents to think about their household energy consumption.

At the University of California, Berkeley, students working in collaboration with Honda have developed yet another concept, the Honda Smart Home, which looks more like a typical terraced house, but which generates surplus energy the same way as the ArchiBlox and the Visioneum: by radically conserving it while generating more than it needs though solar panels.

Students at the Delft University of Technology, meanwhile, have invented a highly innovative “skin” that can be attached to existing houses with similar results. And in Norway, architecture firm Future Built has managed to turn two ordinary office buildings into energy-generating ones, cutting their energy use by 90% through additional insulation and the use of sensors to control light and heating. Here, too, solar panels on the roof provide energy that can be sold back to the grid.

With cars and homes accounting for 44% of greenhouse gasses in United States (and similar percentages in Europe), it’s no surprise that researchers and architects are trying to find ways of making homes more energy-efficient.

“The development of smart technologies, like the Google Nest, is making energy savings more convenient for users by allowing for control over temperatures in the house while you are away from the house, and allowing temperatures to follow your daily routines”, notes Esben Alslund-Lanthén, an analyst at the Danish sustainability thinktank Sustainia.

ZEB house
The ZEB house. Photograph: EVE

Kristian Edwards says building a plus-house is technically straightforward. “We calculated how many square meters of solar panels we needed and optimised the angle of the roof to get maximum solar yield,” he reports. “But plus-houses are also about minimising energy consumption, so we used as much recycled material as possible, such as whole bricks from a barn nearby.” With its box-like wooden top floor slanted over the lower floor for maximum sun exposure, Snøhetta’s experiment – the ZEB Multi-Comfort House, located in the Norwegian city of Larvik – boasts a visually striking appearance.

There’s just one thing: the cost. “Cost is always a factor when building houses that are taking advantage of the newest technology”, notes Alslund-Lanthén. “Plus-houses will likely remain more expensive than conventional houses, but on the other hand the owners will benefit from lower utility bills throughout the lifetime of the house, and in many cases from added benefits such as a better indoor climate due to improved ventilation, more daylight and better insulation.”

But Edwards, an architect at the Snøhetta architechture firm in Oslo, argues that plus-houses don’t have to be expensive, noting that a ZEB-style house may only cost 25% more to build than a similar, newly-designed home. The dropping cost of photovoltaic cells will also aid the advance of plus-houses.

Either way, utility companies are currently developing new payment models that will allow home owners to pay back the cost of the new technologies through energy savings. Other plus-house owners may opt to sell their surplus energy to the grid. At the ZEB house, in turn, surplus energy will power the electric car that future residents may own.

What’s life in a plus-house like? Norwegian families have volunteered to test the ZEB house for three months each and will report their findings to Edwards and his Snøhetta colleagues. And David Martin is about to find out for himself, having signed up to live in his ArchiBlox construction with his young family for the next 24 months.

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Observer Ethical Awards: 10 years of winners

March 9th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Observer Ethical Awards: 10 years of winners” was written by Megan Conner, Katie Forster, Ed Cumming, for The Observer on Sunday 8th March 2015 08.45 UTC

The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (Coast)

Diver Howard Wood on how the winners of the 2008 Conservation Project category went on to secure a marine protected area around the south of Arran

Nothing changes fast in marine management, so the higher your profile, the more government may listen to you. That was something that became apparent after winning our ethical award in 2008.

We have grown as an organisation since; at heart we are still a Highland-based community organisation, but we now have two-full time employees, whereas before it was purely volunteer-led. And we have an office. The whole business has become larger and more professional.

Scotland had decided that the only people involved in fisheries management would be commercial fishermen – a bit like only having builders and developers on a planning committee. With some excellent lawyers, we managed to convince the government to acknowledge that the seas were a resource that they have to manage for the public benefit. In 2008 we achieved the designation of Scotland’s first-ever marine No Take Zone and community marine reserve; last year a marine protected area was designated around the whole of the south of Arran. I think that’s a huge achievement for a small community group.

Next, we hope to achieve better marine management for the entire Firth of Clyde, to set up marine interpretation facilities on Arran, and replicate our work around the coast of Scotland in other communities. There is a constant challenge to be heard by the Scottish government and get better policies for our badly degraded sea beds and fisheries. Being ethical is not always completely possible; we still need petrol outboard engines to get around the islands here, for example. But you can try.

Things are slowly changing. If you look at larger companies, they now have ethical policies. Even if it’s just a bit of greenwashing, they’re still thinking about it.

'By 2016 we hope to provide sanitation systems in more developing countries': Virginia Gardiner of Loowatt
‘By 2016 we hope to provide sanitation systems in more developing countries’: Virginia Gardiner of Loowatt. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

Loowatt

Their waterless lavatory bagged the Big Idea award in 2013. Now, says Virginia Gardiner, CEO of Loowatt, they’re providing sanitation systems all over the world

Ours is not your everyday message, so getting recognition from the Observer was important. The waterless toilet system we created, Loowatt, collects human waste in a sealed filter that can be easily emptied. It’s basically waterless toilet technology, but we also generate energy from human waste, so it’s very popular in developing countries and areas of the UK where you need an off-grid toilet: the countryside, festivals… We first publicly demonstrated the luxury mobile loo unit at Latitude in 2014.

I was actually very pregnant at the time we won the award, but it was great to be at the ceremony and meet like-minded people who are also interested in sanitation. Since winning, we’ve received more than m in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Initiative, which will help us to scale up our pilot system in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, and put in more than 100 household toilets. We are also testing a new model designed for women in informal settlements, who have nowhere safe to go to the toilet at night. By 2016 we hope to be ready to provide sanitation systems in more developing countries.

An interesting part of our job is working with two markets that are so different. In the UK we’re building more event systems offering a luxury experience and we’re taking the toilet on the road to festivals. People are always surprised the toilets are so nice to use, so if you get to try a Loowatt, let us know what you think.

'There is no conscience in the mining industry: if you want to look into the dark soul of capitalism, look there': Greg Valerio.
‘There is no conscience in the mining industry: if you want to look into the dark soul of capitalism, look there’: Greg Valerio. Photograph: Richard Saker/Observer

Greg Valerio

Since winning his Global Campaigner award in 2011, Fair Trade jeweller and activist Greg Valerio has travelled all over the world to investigate the mining industry and expose the murky business of the trade in gems and precious metals. Now he’s launching his eponymous label

I’ve been a jeweller since 1996, and there are times when I have wondered why I’m in the business at all. I was in India when I first saw the exploitation of the supply chain – slavery, child labour, people working in terrible heat. That’s when I became an activist in the industry. By 2004, I’d managed to deliver the world’s first traceable gold, from mine to wedding ring.

I never expected to win the Global Campaigner of the Year award, though. I was up against Greenpeace and Avaaz, who both do a fantastic job, and I was very happy just to be nominated. Since then I’ve been travelling a lot, helping to initiate better supply chains. I’ve been to Sierra Leone, and worked with ex-militia in eastern DRC; I’ve been to Greenland to look at the problems with conflict rubies, and to California to see the toxic legacy issues of mercury left over from the gold rush – an estimated 19 million pounds of mercury in the watersheds. There is no conscience in the mining industry: if you want to look into the dark soul of capitalism, look there.

Now that we have traceable supply chains, it’s really important to expose the hollow marketing narrative that holds the jewellery industry together. It’s a completely manufactured value based upon people’s narcissism and the false pretence that somehow these products – gold, diamonds – make them special.

The dignity of the person who dug the product out of the ground is just as important as the dignity of the person who buys it. So I’ve written a book about the story of Fair Trade gold, called Making Trouble, and last year I started shooting a documentary in Uganda with Dartmouth Films, the production company who made Black Gold and The End of the Line.

As for the future, I’m going back into jewellery under my own name: Valerio Jewellery will have launched by this summer. I’m also working alongside the Gemmological Association of Great Britain on an accreditation system for gemstones and diamonds, which is really exciting because they’re the next big thing that needs to be addressed.

We have to be able to say this is not just a negative campaign: here we have the opportunity to do it right. If I look at a wedding ring and know where it has come from, and the impact that purchase had on that community, and I see the joy on the faces of the couple who buy it, that’s a positive legacy.

'There’s a misconception that if something is expensive, the worker is paid more': Carry Somers (left) and Orsola de Castro.
‘There’s a misconception that if something is expensive, the worker is paid more’: Carry Somers (left) and Orsola de Castro. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/Observer

Orsola de Castro and Carry Somers

Since winning their respective Ethical Fashion Awards in 2010 and 2011, Orsola de Castro and Carry Somers have partnered to create Fashion Revolution, a global initiative to encourage transparency in the fashion supply chain

Orsola de Castro It was cool to win an award for sustainability in fashion at a time when sustainability was not at all in fashion. Since then, From Somewhere [the designer label De Castro co-created, working with pre-consumer surplus from manufacturing houses and textile mills] has collaborated with Speedo and worked with Topshop on three bestselling collections. Fashion Revolution began as a reaction to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. Carry had the idea and called me straight away. Its aims are to encourage transparency and redress issues within the supply chain: there’s a misconception that if something is expensive, the worker is paid more. There are events all over the world, from open-air catwalks in Madrid to workshops on how to detox water in Nepal, and a dedicated Fashion Revolution Day [24 April, the anniversary of the disaster]. It’s about treating everything you buy with the respect it deserves.

Carry Somers In the days after the Rana Plaza disaster, there was a lot of discussion around why we need a more ethical fashion industry. I thought unless we channelled that momentum, it would dwindle and something similar could happen. Orsola seemed ideal to work with as she’s the “queen of upcycling”. The idea of Fashion Revolution is to create a platform which everyone – retailers, designers, academics – can use to showcase best practice. Pachacuti [Somers’s Fair Trade company, best known for its Panama hats] has helped a few hundred people, whereas Fashion Revolution can potentially change the lives of millions. Last year, Fashion Revolution Day trended worldwide. This time we’re asking people to turn an item of clothing inside out, take a selfie, contact the brand and ask: “Who made my clothes?” If we keep asking questions, it will start to filter through to the people who make the decisions.

'It’s been amazing to see so much wildlife flourish on a site that was previously household waste':
‘It’s been amazing to see so much wildlife flourish on a site that was previously household waste’: John Hall (centre, with Anne Watkinson and Terry Morris) of Essex Wildlife Trust Photograph: Suki Dhanda/Observer

Thurrock Thameside Nature Park

Essex Wildlife Trust won the Conservation Award in 2011 for its plans to transform a landfill site. CEO John Hall reveals how it happened

Four years ago we were deep in the planning stages to turn an 845-acre landfill site on the north bank of the Thames into a nature park. The site had taken waste from six London boroughs for 50 years, but we’d secured a 99-year “pie-crust lease” that would enable us to build on top of 20 metres of landfill. I can remember feeling like we were up to our necks in it; the first phase was building a visitors’ centre that required unique engineering and various people were questioning what we were doing. The Observer Ethical Award came along at a time when our resolve was being tested and gave us a much-needed boost of energy and confidence.

We opened a year later, in May 2012, to great fanfare: HRH the Duke of Kent visited the site and in 2013 we had an official ceremony with Sir David Attenborough and more than 2,000 attending. In his opening speech David described the project as “a miracle” and I think we were just so pleased to have him there that we all started crying.

It’s been amazing to see so much wildlife flourish on a site that was previously household waste: we have cuckoos and nightingales singing, peregrines and short-eared owls hunting, skylarks, shrill carder bees and adders out in the sun – and even a pod of porpoises in the Thames estuary. Years ago the area was populated by swarms of gulls, so it’s quite amazing to think that such a variety of animals are living on what is essentially a pie of rubbish capped with clay. We still have a way to go – there are still 400 acres to restore – but already it’s a living landscape.

Tanya Ewing in front of Longannet power station, Fife.
Tanya Ewing in front of Longannet power station, Fife. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/Observer

Tanya Ewing

The entrepreneur dedicated her life to her groundbreaking energy-and-water monitor, which won the Big Idea Award in 2008. Now she’s championing a new money-saving invention

When I first entered the awards, I was at the prototype stage with my product. I was in awe of the judging panel and to have their endorsement was a great seal of approval for its marketplace possibilities. We took the product to market a few months after we won; a year later we were starting to see revenue from sales. I was receiving tens of thousands of emails a week from people wanting the product, but because of money constraints we could only manufacture small volumes, so we focused on the new housing market. House builders were given points under the code for sustainable homes for installing our product, and that helped generate the sales we’re enjoying today.

I left the company seven years to the day after I founded it. I wanted some flexibility – I’d given the company my life for all that time, and I wanted to spend time with my young son. I also wanted the freedom to work on something without having to worry about shareholders. I started helping other low-carbon inventors take their products to market, and came across an innovative magnetic secondary glazing business called Glaze ’n’ Save. Now I’ve bought the concept and begun commercialising it. So I’m starting all over again!

Grace Harrop (left) and Emma Howard, former pupils at Queen Elizabeth II School in Peel, Isle of Man.
Grace Harrop (left) and Emma Howard, former pupils at Queen Elizabeth II School in Peel, Isle of Man. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/Observer

Queen Elizabeth II High School

Pupils in the Isle of Man scooped the Ecover Young Green Champions award in 2013 after their Grow Your Own Clothes project impressed judges. Grace Harrop, 18, reveals what happened next

The intention of growing our own clothes was always to make a statement about the impact of fast fashion: clothes made cheaply but unethically. It just so happened that by experimenting with bacteria, tea, vinegar and sugar in a bath, we also grew quite a good fabric. Since winning the award we’ve become fascinated by the science of it, but we’ve also been able to keep publicising our message. We’ve taken part in a fashion shoot at the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots awards, appeared on BBC Songs of Praise and spoken at the UN Convention Framework on Climate Change in Bonn. We’ve also won more awards, including the Society of Biology Prize at the National Science and Engineering Finals. And we were filmed for the Zayad Future Energy Prize, presented at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

In the meantime, some of us have left school – the four founding members finished their A levels last summer so we’ve handed the project over to Year 9 students, but we’ll still be their mentors. It’s their project now, we want them to develop it – maybe see a bit of the world publicising it, like we have, because it’s been fun.

'People are amazed at the underground tank in my garden because you can only see the lid': Averil Stedeford outside her eco house in Oxford.
‘People are amazed at the underground tank in my garden because you can only see the lid’: Averil Stedeford outside her eco house in Oxford. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/Observer

Averil Stedeford

The first ethical awards in 2006 saw Averil Stedeford, now 82, win DIY Project of the Year after she helped pioneer ‘retro-greening’ through the transformation of her own 1950s semi-detached house

Winning the award kick-started a whole series of events. The local press heard about it and named me “Oxford’s green granny”, which was rather nice. I started having open days so people could see the house and there were so many visitors I had to get stewards to help. Professional architects also came, which flattered and delighted me no end. People were amazed at the underground tank in my garden because you can only see the lid, and they didn’t know that rainwater could be used to flush toilets and run the washing machine. I still come downstairs and think: “This is my house.” But a lot happens in 10 years. Since winning, I’ve had a stroke and, just recently, cancer – I have no plans for the future but to enjoy living here as long as I can. Awareness of eco homes has improved a lot since I won the award 10 years ago. I am pleased there are more grants available now for those who want to build them. In 2006 hardly anyone had heard of using organic paint or fleece for insulation and it was very expensive. Now it’s actually quite reasonable. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the turbine I’d planned to in the end, as they’re not very efficient in an urban setting, but everything I’ve installed has worked well without any problems. The sun heats up water in the solar panels so the boiler doesn’t have to work so hard. To make your home more eco-friendly you should insulate well. When the gas man came to read my meter, he said: “You don’t use much!” as if I was a very bad customer – I liked that.

Vote in the 2015 Ethical Awards

The deadline for entries to this year’s award is 16 March. To nominate yourself or someone you know, go to observer.co.uk/ethicalawards

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Alpine ski resorts gain boost from going green

February 16th, 2015

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Alpine ski resorts gain boost from going green” was written by Simon Birch, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th February 2015 07.15 UTC

Tourism manager Dominique Geissberger is looking out from her office in the small Swiss alpine ski resort of Villars at forests dusted with fresh snow and spectacular mountains dazzling in the winter sunshine. “This pristine landscape is what we all depend on,” says Geissberger. “It’s what tourists expect to find when they come here.”

In an effort to protect the environment upon which the village’s tourist trade relies, Villars has embarked on a comprehensive programme of sustainability initiatives ranging from introducing a fleet of hybrid buses that ferry skiers about, to low-energy snow-making systems.

In recognition of its pioneering environmental work, Villars has become the first ski resort in Switzerland and one of three resorts in the Alps to be awarded the Flocon Vert – the green snowflake – a sustainable certifying label run by Mountain Riders, a French group that campaigns for a more sustainable winter sports industry.

Exploring the use of labels as a way of encouraging and implementing sustainable development in mountain regions is a key goal for the Sustainable Mountain Tourism Alliance (SMTA), a global network of groups and organisations working for sustainability in alpine tourism that has recently been launched in Switzerland.

“Climate change is the number one environmental concern now facing mountain communities,” says Dr Tobias Luthe, professor of sustainability science from the SMTA, speaking at its launch conference which was attended by representatives from the mountain-based tourism industry.

“Last year was the warmest on record and already this winter many alpine ski resorts have had an unusual lack of snow, leading to major economic losses. We urgently need new sustainable business models and labelling systems have an important role to play in promoting sustainable development in these mountain communities,” says Luthe. “By quantifying different criteria such as energy use, transport and waste, labels can be used to communicate sustainability to a range of different markets and, crucially, encourage best practice in the sector.”

The economic case for ensuring sustainable development in the Alps is compelling: about 80 million tourists visit the Alps every year, generating close to €50bn Euros, providing an estimated 10% of all jobs in the region.

There are more than 50 different labels available for mountain-based resorts and hotels across Europe and they vary enormously in what they measure and the scale and scope of qualifying businesses. For example, with 42 different environmental and social criteria, the Flocon Vert is one of the most rigorous labelling schemes and applies to the whole operation of a ski resort, from its transport infrastructure to its use of renewable energy.

The Swiss-based Ibex Fairstay scheme meanwhile only certifies individual hotels and is a more entry-level scheme requiring relatively few environmental initiatives for businesses to qualify.

So what are the benefits of these labels? “The key benefit is that many labels require businesses to reduce their energy and water use which in turn can save them money,” says Herbert Hamele, who chairs Ecotrans, the European network for sustainable tourism development. “The other key benefit is that businesses which have been awarded a label also have a marketing edge over their competition.”

Anne Dorte Carlson, who manages the Sustainable Destination Norway label, agrees with Hamele: “We’ve surveyed tour operators and 62% say that they would more likely be interested in a destination if it carries a sustainable or environmental label,” says Carlson. “We believe that in the future this will give us a competitive advantage.”

The commercial benefits of an environmental label have been confirmed by Trip Advisor, a colossus in the global tourist industry which is now rolling out its Green Leaders programme in Europe, having launched the scheme in North America in 2013.

“The Green Leaders programme is designed to help travellers book a greener trip by recognising hotels and B&Bs that engage in environmentally friendly practices ranging from recycling to energy use,” says Trip Advisor’s Tom Breckwoldt, speaking at the SMTA’s launch conference. “Qualifying properties are then marked with a badge on their Trip Advisor home page.”

Significantly, Breckwoldt revealed that Trip Advisor’s own research has found that Green Leader businesses are 20% more likely to be booked compared with those that haven’t signed up to the free scheme.

With more than 300 million people using Trip Advisor every month, many believe that this new initiative has the potential to be a game-changer in the push for more sustainable development in mountain regions. “Small groups such as Mountain Riders are doing great work but they don’t reach the majority of people,” says Luthe.

“Trip Advisor is a very powerful way of reaching a massive audience and if they implemented a combination of tools recommended by the SMTA then this could be really exciting.”

Back in Villars, Geissberger is in no doubt about the importance of ensuring that the village heads in a more sustainable direction. “The environment is our future, it’s how we earn our living,” says Geissberger. “If we lose it, we’ll lose our tourism and then we’ll lose everything.”

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