Thursday, 20 December 2007

Save our Puppet Theatre - Norwich Puppet Theatre under threat

I read in The Independent about the Arts Council cutting funding for many organisations, including all of the fudning it gives to the Norwich Puppet Theatre. You can read the Atrs Council Chief Executive's comment on the reasons behind the cuts here.

There are only 2 of these puppet theatres in the country and we have been looking forward to taking our son there when he is a bit older and able to appreciate it. Here's a bit of background about this innovative use of the old church of St James Pockthorpe.
The cut is £60,000 and represents about 35% of the Theatre's funding. As this Evening News article says, not surprisingly, the staff are shocked.

What is the world coming to that we devalue such things so easily, not least in the run up to Christmas when they are most likely to be popular and visited by many families?

This isn't some rubbish outfit. The theatre is a part of the community, and is a custodian for an art form and profession for the whole of the country. It even runs courses and workshops via the Norfolk Adult Education programme.

Proof of the regard in which this theatre is held at a local level can be seen by the support received by Norwich and Norfolk Councils. Why is the national importance going to be ignored?
The Arts Council is looking to support excellence, and yet they do not recognise the clear importance of Norwich Puppet Theatre.

The theatre acts as an Ambasador for the UK both abroad in touring in countries like Finland, Spain, Mexico and Canada, and as a host to touring companies from overseas.

Through the art of puppetry, the young can have their minds and imaginations opened to different ideas and cultures from around the world.

At a time when anti-social behaviour is seemingly on the increase and we are told that government is spending tax-payers money on preventative schemes to provide more effective, long term solutions, why are we trying to kill off Norwich Puppet Theatre when it has the potential to educate children and their families about the world beyond East Anglia and the UK, and perhaps foster greater understanding and tolerance?
Shame on the Arts Council.

No doubt their big favourite theatres in London that receive support won't suffer.

Norwich Puppet Theatre has a Friends scheme, which I will try to find out about and will post the details.
You can find out more about becoming a Friend of Norwich Pupprt Theatre here.
Even if you do not leave locally, you can still, like me, feel strongly about the need to keep places like this going for the benefit of UK culture, and could still become a Friend.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Fairtrade T-shirts at Sainsbury's

Sainsbury's are now selling Fairtrade mark T-shirts in their TU range. They are only £3 and I hope they are paying producers a decent amount and getting their profit by the volume of sales. This has to be a good step by the supermarket and I hope more fairly traded goods get into the mainstream.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Cheap Dimmable Energy Saving Light Bulbs at B&Q

Went to a B&Q on the inner ring road in Norwich as I'm doing some decorating.

Spotted that this B&Q was selling off the switch dimmable version of the DigiLux Dimmable Energy Saving Bulb.

At £6.98, you won't get a better deal and I'm guessing that this deal will be nationwide.
The 20W bulb is equivalent to 100W.

If you don't fancy replacing light switches with low voltage dimmer switches to try out the dimmable version of these bulbs, then the switch dimmable version may be the answer for you.

You switch the light on and off in various sequences to dim the light and apparently it has a memory for the last setting and can easily be reset.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Norfolk Wildlife Trust - Don't miss the kiss this Christmas!

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust is asking people to help and look in trees in the county and try to map the location of mistletoe as part of its Citizen Science Mistletoe Survey.

NWT is interested not only in mapping where mistletoe can be found but also to find out which trees it is growing on.

NWT needs to know when and where you saw it, and what type of tree it was growing on. The survey can be completed online click here or via a survey card. To receive a free card you can send a SAE to Mistletoe Survey, NWT, 22 Thorpe Road, Norwich, NR1 1RY.

The survey runs until the end of January 2008.

For more info on mistletoe have a look at this page on NWT's site.

Happy hunting.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Pledge to Tread Lightly - join The Guardian's low carbon diet and save the world!

I got an email this week, and it read as follows:

Hi Tractorboy,

My name's N***** and I work for Outside Line, a digital PR agency.

At this moment in time we are currently working with The Guardian to promote their new Tread Lightly campaign:

As one of the top 20 Green Bloggers, I am contacting you today as I thought your readers may be interested in reading about the Guardian’s ‘Tread Lightly’ initiative and learning more about how they themselves could making a real difference to this campaign.

Guardian Tread lightly is a new community site, which aims to encourage online communities into reducing their CO2 emissions through making weekly pledges and recording their actions against their pledges.

The idea is that every pledge is simple, straightforward, and something that everyone can do, so that people who are normally put off doing environmental things because it sounds like a lot of effort will find Tread Lightly a good solution to easing their carbon conscience.

A large part of what we are trying to achieve is to get community and online evangelists in the subject, such as yourself, to help us help educate and motivate the online community into taking those first small steps that make the big difference.

We have campaign outlines and a blogger’s button that we can supply you with, plus the Guardian weekly blog will make mention of key bloggers helping in the campaign, and we really hope you will consider being one of them.

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you require any more information on this, if you aren’t interested then thank you for taking the time to read this and we wont bother you again.

Many Thanks
N***** P******

It was a bit of a surprise to be described as an "online evangelist" on matters green!

Not sure I deserve this. Just trying to listen to my conscience and do the right thing when and where I can.

There are loads of these pledge-based groups around and I may do a post collecting some of the better ones I have found and subscribed to.

The Tread Lightly community seems worthy of a mention and I will add a link to the site on my blogroll.

Whether you are green, orange, red, blue or some sort of rainbow in terms of your politics, there is some good stuff here that goes beyond the standard Guardian readership.

Do have a look and maybe get involved. The issues go beyond politics and are about trying live a good life and cause as little harm as possible.

Even better, tell your mates as well and encourage them to live a low carbon lifestyle so that we can each save our little bits of the world. These bits could add up to a lot of planet.

Another incentive is that you could win a G-Wiz car in the New Year, or at least get a free cotton bag so you can stop using all those platic bags! :-)

If you want even more info, I asked for more from the PR company and received this:

Guardian Tread Lightly

Guardian Tread lightly is a new community site developed by Guardian environment that aims to encourage people into a low carbon lifestyle so that they come together to save the planet.

The idea is that people can go to
where they will find a different pledge every week that, if they take an act on, will help them reduce their CO2 emissions. The pledges will all be quite simple, achievable things, so the first one will be change your light bulbs for energy efficient ones, and this will be followed by things like: take showers not baths, recycle all of your newspapers this week, turn down your heating by one degree and recycle your glass this week. The idea is that every pledge is straightforward, simple and something that everyone can do, so that people who are normally put off doing environmental things because it sounds like quite a lot of effort will find Tread Lightly a good solution to easing their carbon conscience.

Once a user has registered with Tread Lightly and clicked on Take the pledge, they will be sent an email reminding them of what they have said they will do and this will be followed at the end of the week with reminder to go back to the site and say whether you fulfilled the pledge or not and what the next weeks pledge is.

The user will then get a personal profile page that will show them what pledges they have taken, how much CO2 they have personally saved and how much it equates to (5 less cars on the road for a day at rush hour etc).

The community aspect of the site will include a message board / blog where people can share tips on how to achieve that weeks target, a little bar chart showing how much CO2 the community has saved so far (in kg) and what this equates to (big things hopefully, like a coal powered power station being turned off for 2 minutes), and users will be invited to write in and give suggestions of other pledges.

With a big community, it’s hoped that when all of the individual carbon savings
are added up over time, the users will have made a real difference to the environment.

The launch will be supported by a competition to win a G-Wiz car and a free bag giveaway. Anyone who completes a pledge by the end of November will be automatically entered into a competition to win a G-Wiz electric car. Anyone who completes 12 pledges by the end of February 2008 will be sent a free Tread lightly cotton shopping bag. .

Monday, 26 November 2007

Plastic bag tax - sign the petition

Plastic bags are useful and are a menace to the environment.

If we use them then we should pay for this.

Apparently in Britain, we use an average of 300 plastic bags every year. Each bag lasts up to 400 years, spending the vast majority of that time in a landfill site or strewn across the British countryside.

Other countries have been more active and successful at sorting out this problem.

In Ireland, a tax of 15cents per bag resulted in a 90% drop in plastic bag usage, and raised 3.5 million Euros which was spent on environmental projects. Bangladesh has banned polythene bags altogether while Taiwan and Singapore are taking steps to discourage their use.

Paying for what has been free and has caused us to be wasteful and thoughtless might start a change for the better.

Paying 10p or so for any plastic bag might encourgae us to start reusing them, use longer lasting bags, boxes or non-plastic bags.

If you think that it is time to pay the price for our wasteful, thoughtless use of plastic bags then sign this petition at Green England.

If you can go out and spend some time gathering signatures, a document version of the petition is available here.

They have hit the 10,000 signature target and it is still rising!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

In the "Light Garden" with Greenpeace

Came across this video that gives some insight into what is now possible with energy saving lighting, and shows a fun, artistic way in which the myths about CFL bulbs can now be dispelled.

This lighting installation, the "Light Garden" was commissioned by Greenpeace and designed by the Jason Bruges Studio and made the shortlist for the "most innovative lighting"category at the 100% Design Show in London in September.

Varilight bulbs were used in the work.

For more info on this project, go to this link on the Greenpeace site.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Dimmable Energy Saving Light Bulbs Are Here!

I've been waiting for some bright spark in the UK to start producing with energy saving light bulbs that work with standard dimmers and at last, someone has!

It is the DigiFlux Dimmable and comes in 2 varieties and are equivalent to 100W bulbs. Screw and bayonet fittings are available.

The company that manufactures these is Varilight.

One works with a standard dimmer switch so long as it can cope with a minimum load of 20W (as pictured), and the other works with a normal light switch, which you flick on and off to control the clever electronics in the bulbs.

I bought one from Nigel's Eco Store and it cost me £10.95. The bulb that works with a standard switch is slightly more expensive (I think a couple of quid more) and I guess that is because of the extra electronics in the bulb.

The bulb works brilliantly and the light is really good. It warms up quickly as well.

The slight niggle is that the bulb hums a bit and it is noticeable.

Small price to pay though for reducing my electricity bill and producing less CO2!

In addition, my dimmer switch may need replacing to cope with the low loading on it and Varilight supply compatible ones so I'll investigate.

These bulbs are excellent and highly recommended.

Great to see that the company has won a Queen's Award for Enterprise: Innovation. Well deserved.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Volunteering - Friends of Eaton Park

I have been thinking about whether there is something I can do in my local area to help the community.

I don't have much time and I am lucky that my employer has a very progressive and supportive policy on paid leave for volunteering.

We got a flyer from some political party and what caught my eye was a group called the "Friends of Eaton Park".

My family visits this regularly as it is our nearest one and it is fantastic with its football pitches, skate park, basketball court band stand, model boatiung lake, miniature steam railway and children's play area.

You can visit the Friends of Eaton Park web site and find out about the history of this the largest park in Norwich, and how to get involved to keep this park special.

For example, the Annual General Meeting is at Eaton Park Community Centre on Thursday 29th November from 7 p.m. At 8 p.m. there is a guest speaker: Terry Baine from Norwich in Bloom.

I hope to be able to do some voluntary work in the Park, starting on Wednesday 5th December, 10 to 3 pm.

The volunteering opportunity is as follows:
Wednesday 5th December, 10 to 3 pm: 'work-in' with Norwich Fringe Project to help thin out and coppice a small piece of woodland in the park. All welcome - training, tools and refreshments will be provided. The Friends hope as many people as possible will come along and help with this practical work. Meet in the top car park (near Colman Road). For further information contact Judith Lubbock on 01603 504126.
Why not get involved with this or some other volunteering opportunity in your area?

If you visit the web site and type in your postcode, there will be lots of volunteering ideas and options for you.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Grocery Store Wars! Learn the ways of the Farm...

This is brilliant, especially if you grew up on Star Wars and like your organic veggies!

Go to the Store Wars site for the video and more downloads.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Norwich's largest "No Cold Calling Zone" to be launched in Eaton

After inviting Eaton residents to vote on the issue, on Wednesday the 7th November, Norwich is going to launch its largest "No Cold Calling Zone".

At 11 a.m. on the 7th November on the corner of Norvic Drive and Leng Crescent, residents are invited to the launch and to show their support for the scheme, which will be attended by a Trading Standards Officer.

This scheme means that this area of Eaton is a specified zone where the residents, supported by Norfolk Trading Standards, declare they are not willing to accept uninvited callers.

A "No Cold Calling Zone" is a designated area where the resident community declare they no longer wish to accept traders calling at their homes without an appointment.

The zone is designated via the installation of signs at the entrance and exit to the zone and residents are supplied with educational and advice information and door stickers.

Nationally there are 427 "No Cold Calling Zones" with many more planned.

This deterrent to unwanted callers has its benefits, particularly crime prevention.

In Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire have recently evaluated the success of their established zones. Cambridgeshire report an 11% drop in distraction burglary rates and Bedfordshire a drop of 23%.

Previously, the first scheme in Norwich was set up in George Carver Close in Northfields and was reported on the BBC News web site.

If you want to set up a similar scheme in your part of Norfolk you need to download this form and send it to Norfolk Trading Standards.

More information on "No Cold Calling Zones" can be found on the Norfolk County Council web site.

Friday, 26 October 2007

UK's Top 20 Green Blogs 2007 - please vote for me as the "People's Choice Award"!

I was amazed to receive an email from the Jim Jay of The Daily (Maybe) saying that I had been listed in the Top Twenty Green Blogs 2007. Wooo hooo!

His email said:


This is the second year of the the UK's Best Green Blogs
which has just been published in Iain Dale's Guide to Political
and was compiled by myself, Jim Jay, at The Daily (Maybe)
where you can read the entire list.

just sending you a quick message to let you know you're in the top
twenty, congratulations. As a side benefit this also means you're in
with a chance of the coveted "People's Choice Award" too, where readers
vote on who of the top twenty is their favourite read.



Not sure whether this is good or bad as Mr Dale is a Conservative supporter! Oh well, someone has to be I guess. ;-)

The Daily (Maybe) is worth a look though, even if you don't vote for me.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Got the blues - at least once a fortnight

We got a blue bin this week.

We can now recycle more stuff in Norwich, although like my previous post, no shredded paper is permitted.

I'll still rely on the worms in the wormery and compost bin for this.

Even though I am pleased about this, it is going to be a big culture change as we are also switching to fortnightly rubbish collection.

Well done to the city council as they have us a calendar for the year. Must make sure that I remember to look at it!

Blogging this from my mobile so I hope there aren't too many spelling mistakes.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Ultimate protection against identity fraud - get a wormery!

Last year my family bought me a Can-O-Worms wormery as a birthday present.

It came from Wiggly Wigglers and not only gives you a good way of managing your fruit and veg waste but also gives you some low maintenance pets!

With the increasing concerns about identity fraud and the advice being that we should shred all paperwork before chucking it out/recycling it.

This has been discussed on the BBC site as well and the refusal of some local authorities to collect shredded paper waste has been raised because of damage caused to the vehicles collecting it.

Like in this article on The Register, I've discovered that this more sensitive paperwork, like bank statements, gets dealt with really well by my worms.

Why not put some of your shredded till receipts or bank statements into a wormery or compost bin with your fruit and veg scraps?

Protect your personal data today!

Get a compost bin and a wormery. :-)

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Fair at the Forum on Sunday 7th October 2007 for Norfolk Mental Health Alliance

There will be a Fair hosted at The Forum, Millennium Plain and St Peter Mancroft on Sunday 7th October.

It will include Music, Stalls and Street Entertainment.

Radio Norwich Presenter Helen McDermott will be opening the fair at 10am.

Entertainment includes complementry therapies, kids games and much more.
It will be raising money for the Norfolk Mental Health Alliance and the event is being held between 10am - 4:30pm.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Green real ale, or is it blue?

Went to visit family in Ipswich on Saturday and got the chance to go the 25th Ipswich Beer Festival.

We are spoilt in Norwich as the Beer Festival every October half term (most of CAMRA members in Norfolk are teachers I am told!) is brilliant and is held in the grand cathedral-like setting of St Andrews Hall. Serious setting for serious drinking.

As it was lunchtime and I would have to drive later, I was on strict orders to only have one pint. This meant two half pints of course as it would be a big mistake to sample only one pint of over 200 real ales on offer.

The Corn Exchange behind the Town Hall in Ipswich was fine as a venue. Small but well organised. The festival was supporting St Elizabeth's Hospice, which was established in 1989 to meet the needs of those living with an incurable illness in East Suffolk. Needless to say, I donated my unused tokens to the charity.

Being an Ipswich Town Supporter, I had to try some local stuff and had a great half from St Judes Brewery. The St Francis Pale Ale and Gypeswic Bitter were great.

For those who are interested the name Gypeswic or Gippeswic, meaning a city on the Gipping, and is the old English name for Ipswich. I bought a bottle of both and I have to warn you that the St Francis is quite fizzy and was a bugg*r to pour, so my pint had a head on it as if it had been served at the Rovers Return in Coronation Street!

The brewery is a micro brewery and tries to be as green as it can. That is great but I would like to warn them against pursuing their blue beer fantasy.

Apparently their Suffolk Blue Punch (Suffolk Punch is a breed of horse, also on the badge of Ipswich Town FC), is a blueberry beer introduced mostly for women and the alco-pop market.

Don't get me wrong, blueberries are great. We have a small blueberry bush that produces lovely berries each year. Blue beer though? Fruit in your beer? What's that all about? I had a tiny taste and is was revolting.

I wish St Judes Brewery well and will buy their real ale when I can. You can buy it online.

One last thing though...

Green brewing, yes.

Blue beer, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The real cost of milk - more price rises from the Co-op

We get our milk delivered by the Co-op. Seems like a good idea. Supporting local farmers and dairies with the convenience of having the milk brought to your door.

The milkman left us yet another note saying that the price per pint is to rise yet again by a whopping 4p per pint from next month!

The note said that the price rise is as a result of increased demand for milk in the Far East and the rising cost of animal feed. Over the last 6 months, raw milk prices for the Co-op have risen 32%.

I think this is a bit of a wakeup call that we have been shielded too long from the real cost of food in general.

At least with the Co-op you can find out where your milk comes from, unlike other supermarket chains.

You start to think, is this service worth paying the extra for?

We just about think so, although I might have to learn to drink black coffee. ;-)

Friday, 21 September 2007

Free blog headers from "The green fingered photographer"

When I work out how to do it, I'll be changing my blog header with one of the free images from The green fingered photographer.

This is a great blog with some excellent photos. The wildlife ones in particular are amazing.

If this interests you, why not check out the blog owner, Mark Eccleston's Dragons and Damsels Wildlfie Photography site?

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Killing time, not the planet, and save a few quid!

If you haven't read it, do try to buy or borrow a copy of "The Rough Guide To Ethical Living" by Duncan Clark from the library.

Some good discussions, facts and thought provoking ideas about how to change your life for the better.

Here's a simple idea and change we have made at home.

We have a wall mounted clock in our kitchen/diner and yet we have one on the microwave as well.

After reading this book, what a pointless waste of time, electricity, natural resources and money.

This clock used to be on permanently and that amounts to about £7 per year, as in this standby state, you still use about 98% of the power required when it is used for cooking.

Apparently, this amounts to an approximate saving of 29kg CO2 from switching off.

We forget sometimes but for the past year, we usually switch off the microwave after use.

In our house, this £7 extra will get spent and probably on the mortgage repayments! ;-)

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Focus on life - Pentax and Organ Donation

Recently I was lucky enough to have saved enough to buy a Pentax K100D. It is great and I'm really pleased that I can still use my old K-mount lenses.

What suprised me most about the camera was that inside there was a leaflet called "Focus on Life", which was an invitation to join the NHS Organ Donation Register.

I'm assuming that it was Pentax that have decided to support this excellent scheme rather than Curry's Digital, where I bought the camera.

What a great idea and well done Pentax! How much effort is it to include such flyers for good causes inside the packaging for products? Of course, not much at all so why don't more companies do this?

An amazing statistic is that when asked, 90% of people say they support organ donation, but only 22% have registered their wishes.

I've been on the NHS Organ Donor Register for years and carry a Donor card. My family also know my wishes.

It's not morbid and don't put this off.

Register now and do an amazing posthumous act when the time comes, make sure you give someone, if not several people the gift of life. How fantastic!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Norwich makes history for the UK

This news story was little publicised at the time so I thought it was time to announce it again! :-)

As of June 25th, Norwich became the first and only city in the UK to join The World League of Historical Cities. This is a fantastic achiement and Norwich joins the enlarged group of 71 cities including Rome, Paris, Vienna, Istanbul and Jerusalem.

The success was brought about by the hard work of Norwich's Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (Heart), which has the author Bill Bryson as its patron, pushed through the bid with the help of former Lord Mayor of Norwich Felicity Hartley.

The scheme aims to help preserve and regenerate these important places.

The BBC covered the story in July.

Next stop is to gain World Heritage Site status for the city.

Best of luck!

Friday, 3 August 2007

Sign up for "Sustainable living and environmental awareness" in the National Curiculum

If you do one thing this week, please sign this petition to encourage the Prime Minister to:

"Introduce 'Sustainable Living & Environmental Awareness' lessons to our national curriculum for all pre-school, primary and secondary schools in the UK".

Sounds like a great idea. Learn useful, fun stuff and come home and teach us old 'uns something as well! ;-)

See more at the Greening Up blog as well.

Sustainability, photography and the 3 Ps

So what is "sustainability"?

Sustainability is finding a balance between environmental, social and economic factors and can be defined as "treating the World as if we intended to stay" (Robert Gray, 1993).

A quick way of remembering the 3 factors is planet, people and profit.

Another way of putting it is making sure that we live our lives using and replenishing the resources we have on this one planet of ours, and not being greedy and wasteful in our habits, pretending we have enough resources as if we live on 3 or more planets.

The World Wildlife Fund has some excellent resources and have set up a "One Planet Living" Campaign that I urge you to visit.

It is very easy for us to say that the planet or environment is the most important thing for us to concentrate on. Certainly climate change, greenhouse gases, green issues seem to be the focus in the press.

I do not disagree with the planet's importance. Without it, we are goners.

Surely it is more realistic to recognise that for us to make sure we cause less harm, we have to consider all of these 3Ps and get the best balance we can?

Where is the likely success and lasting power of measures to save the planet if they in turn cost people their jobs because companies do not make enough profit to employ them?

I would emphasise the word “enough” here. “Excessive” is what we usually associate with companies making profits, and normally at the expense of others. I believe times are changing and I’ll give you an example based on my interest in photography.

I have some Pentax SLR gear, and in particular a great camera, the Pentax ME Super.

Hopefully, I will raise enough money via some eBay sales to buy a DSLR and am keen to still be able to use my existing Pentax based lenses. They are still good and I do not want to throw them away.

Consumer power and buying behaviour will change things. I want sustainable products in the shops so although I can’t change the situation overnight for everyone, I can at least play my part as an individual.

I sent an enquiry to Pentax via their web site to ask about how sustainable their products are.

The reply I received was as follows:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your enquiry.

What I understand from your email is that you are interested in how social and environmental conscious we produce our products.

Please find more information about these topics on the
following website:

I hope that your question has been answered to your satisfaction.

Should you have further questions regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to
contact us again.

When replying, please make sure this email is included.

With kind regards,

J***** S********

Pentax Digital Camera Support Team

Looking at the links you find here is very interesting. They are certainly going in the right direction and taking steps to reduce their harmful activities and increase their beneficial ones. You will find statements about their company and products relating to the environment and social aspects. Their annual accounts show that the improvements they are gradually making has not stopped them from doing well financially.

Of course there will always be more that companies like Pentax can do. We should not damn them for not getting to a good situation straight away. Maybe we should encourage their efforts as getting the balance between the 3Ps takes time?

I am optimistic that if we all start asking companies questions about how sustainable their company and their products and services are, they will start to get the message that consumers will spend their money with the more sustainable companies and not with those who focus on profit generation.

Before you buy something significant, why not contact the company and find out what they are doing to make what they do sustainable?

Some other resources that are useful is “The Good Shopping Guide” book, Gooshing, Ethiscore, and “The Rough Guide to Ethical Living” book.

And if you want to be really sustainable, why not borrow the books from your local library rather than buy them?

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Carbon Calculators and offsetting - part 2

Thanks to some helpful feedback on my last post, I've learnt something new.

Apparently, we don't all carry 5 tonnes of CO2 by being a citizen of the UK and benefiting from public services. I was told this was the figure at the recent Sustainable Development UK Conference in London.

The carbon calculator from the Centre for Alternative Technology builds in this "infrastructure share" as 1.7 tonnes and who am I to argue! ;-)

In any event, I'm becoming suspicious of carbon offsetting as it seems to be a way for us all to not change wasteful and harmful behaviours.

With mortgage rates and utility bills rising all the time, the carbon calculators are a great way of auditing your lifestyle and getting ideas for living in a more sustainable way and saving money.

Whether some of these carbon calculators are more accurate than others, the point is that they can help you think about ways you can be less wasteful and save money and the planet.

That has to be a good thing!

Monday, 30 July 2007

Carbon calculators and offsetting - saving the planet or offsetting responsibility?

Carbon calculators are everywhere. Are they any good though and what should you do with the information?

You can get them on your mobile phone from the Centre for Advanced Technology (or if you were at Glastonbury'07 where they were bluetoothed around).

The government via Defra has the Act On CO2 Calculator, which looks quite funky.

The most bizarre one is from the Royal Society of Arts and their Changing Habbits project. This calculator is in beta testing and will result in an artistic installation of 1000 of "Habbits" (play on words for "Hobbit"). You can create your carbon footprint in human form (a "Habbit" rather than "Hobbit"), with parts of the body representing aspects of your lifestyle that generate CO2. Mine has quite big feet and yes, it does mean I need to use a bike, public transport or walk more! ;-)

These calculators seem to vary in their accuracy and what data they collect. For example, did you know water has a carbon footprint? I had never really thought about it, and when you do, it is obvious as water is pumped and treated, all requiring energy.

Apparently, all UK citizens carry the burden of about 5 tonnes of CO2 just from accessing public services. I'm pretty certain this is not included in these calculators.

By finding out your annual carbon footprint, the expectation is that you will change your ways or "Habbits". Make some less harmful, more energy efficent choices as a consumer. Or you can pay money towards carbon offsetting schemes.

A whole industry seems to have arisen that is designed to allow you to pay for the carbon dioxide your lifestyle generates without having to change your lifestyle.

This makes no sense to me, apart from it might give you the chance to donate to some good causes and help some people around the world that will be severely effected by climate change we are helping to cause in the First World.

Is this really "Cheat Offsetting" as discussed on the CheatNeutral site?

Certainly food for thought.

Monday, 2 July 2007

You can make your neighbourhood better with mySociety

If your neighbourhood has a problem with graffiti, unlit lampposts, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, why not do something about it rather than get cross behind closed doors?

There is a fantastic web site that was started in February this year called Neighbourhoodfixit) and it provides a straightforward and effective way to notify your local council of such problems.

This site was built by the charity mySociety and funded by the Department for Constitutional Affairs Innovations Fund.

I have tried it out a couple of times relating to graffiti and was amazed at how quickly Norwich City Council responded and removed it. Well done them! :-)

Regretfully, the individual/s came back and added more graffiti on 2 of the 3 sites I reported, and the web site provides a feature to allow you to report the status of problems, not least to report when they are fixed.

I haven't given up yet.

Who knows, my next step might be to find out who my District Councillors, County Councillor, MP or MEP are using another of mySociety’s services, and sending them messages via their site?

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Free loo roll - support for FSC by Sainsbury's

The supermarket chain Sainsbury's is giving away five million eco-friendly toilet rolls on today, Wednesday 26th June.

This action is intended to raise awareness about the Forest Stewardship Council-approved tissue and toilet rolls.

The FSC logo means the paper has come from trees which are replaced or allowed to regenerate naturally.

They claim that this represents 670 tonnes of sustainable paper and is part of a series of "make the difference" days organised by Sainsbury's.

You can read more about this story at the excellent Eco Street and why not go to your local Sainsbury's today and claim some free FSC loo roll?

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Vote 'No' to VAT on energy efficient products!

The consumer electronics retailer Maplin Electronics have launched a National Solar Week (June 18th-24th) and set up an online petition to remove VAT on energy efficient products.

Help to make energy efficient products more affordable in the UK and sign the petition now via this link!

Monday, 11 June 2007

Pedlars of pointless power usage and Star Trek doors…

Has anyone else noticed that you can be walking past a shop, nowhere near the entrance and the doors slide or are flung open in true Star Trek style?

I was on my way back to work today after a lunch break and was at least a couple of metres away from a DVD/Video hire shop and the doors whizzed open.

It was cold, wet and I had no intention of going into the shop.

It must be annoying, if not at times, a health and safety issue, for those poor souls working in these shops that get a blast from the elements outside by people just passing by. Not only that, how much wasted heat goes out of the door and is wasted pointlessly opening the doors?

Access to some shops must be a nightmare for those of us with disabilities. In a trivial sense, whenever I take my lad out and am using the buggy, we are basically barred from going into some shops as the stock is so crammed in as to make it impossible to move around.

Automatic doors are brilliant. What isn’t so good is the way they get set up.

People complain about the neighbour’s security light sensor being positioned badly and switching on too frequently. Maybe we should do the same about automatic doors on shops?

My workplace has a great solution. There is a large button that is positioned at the correct height for people using wheelchairs that can be pressed to activate the automatic doors. Otherwise, we can open the doors by pushing them.

Maybe we have become too lazy by using lifts and not stairs, and forgetting that we can actually open doors by pushing or pulling the handles?

If shops had optional rather than compulsory automatic doors, or positioned the sensors closer to the door entrance, then maybe there would be less energy wasted and they would save on their electricity bills?

The Times did speak some time ago about just how bizarre this situation can become with shop doors being kept open throughout the working day, and air conditioning or heating being on in the shop. Surely this is mad and no one can afford to do this anymore in terms of energy costs and carbon emissions?

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The foxes

Here are some pictures of the foxes.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Photography and environmental footprints - how big are yours?

If you are interested in photography, have any Pentax kit, and are interested in green issues, you might have come across this excellent Pentax blog called OK1000.

I am keen on digital photography and have an old 3Meg Canon Powershot A70 and some Pentax SLR gear, including my prized ME Super that my father-in-law kindly gave me some years back.

It is easy to assume that going digital would mean that a consumer's impacts on the environment would reduce and would therefore be a good thing. No more chemicals in the dark room etc.

The scale of the pollution and harm linked to the manufacture of film has been highlighted on Leo Hickman's blog, with Kodak being the focus. Thankfully, their switch to digital has demonstrated a massive reduction in the amount of pollution they generate.

Digital has not done away with coated paper usage though. The cameras themselves with their LCD screens and funky features eat battery power. With all those digital images taken, there is an increased demand for more storage online or on huge hard disks. The manipulation of images demand higher spec power-hungry PCs or MACs. Then there are the costs and impacts associated with home, online or high street printing services. The solid-state memory cards are a product from the semi-conductor industry, itself making use of highly toxic chemicals.

Digital photo frames sold in their thousands last Christmas - they use electricity and all these digital gadgets can cause harm in their production and improper disposal.

One things is clear. The marketeers try to convince that we must have the latest, digital whizzy megapixel-beast or our photographs will be pants.


I'm still using my 3 megapixel Canon A70 and Pentax SLR gear and to be honest, a new camera would distract me from getting used to the equipment I have and practicising to improve my photography skills. Sure, I would like a digital SLR (so long as I can still use my existing Pentax lenses with it) but I would not chuck out the kit I have now. There is always eBay, Freecycle, or charity shops where you can recycle your unwanted stuff.

I'm not sure that digital has a smaller environment footprint than than traditional photography but it is clear that consumer behaviour can make things better.

It isn't all doom and gloom and I would urge all digital photographers to read this excellent post OK1000 Pentax Blog: Considering Green Digital Photography.

Urban foxes - pest or pleasure?

We discovered that we have a family of 9 foxes living in a den in our neighbours garden. One Sunday morning, we saw the whole family sunning themselves and playing in our garden. What made it special was that my little boy got to see them.

Our neighbours are not so keen on them. One couple have a veg patch on an industrial scale and seem keen on snipers being involved in solving the problem of these urban foxes. Apparently, the foxes are trashing all their hard work. You can understand their frustration but not their interest in extermination. Some Londoners seem to be pro-gun as the problem seems to be huge there, but you do get a more rational view as well on the HolyCow blog.

We suspected they were around before we saw them as something was digging holes in our garden. I've learnt now that this was probably them looking for worms to eat.

Worst still, it seems that a local Conservative Concillor has become involved, and an assistant of his quizzed us last week, just when we had returned from a long day at work and really could have done without the interruption.

Because of the talk about shooting them, I listened to what he had to say and it seems a more moderate approach may be attempted, namely a petition or involvement of the local press. I'm not sure what that will achieve, as I thought that once the cubs are mature enough, they will move on?

I grew up in the country in a large village and seldom saw foxes. I have lived in a number of cities and have often seen foxes in an urban setting. Makes you wonder about how our environment is changing.

We haven't lived in our neighbourhood long so it is one of those emotive issues that you want to avoid. The veg-growers are pretty territorial and were keen to tell us stuff and talk at us, with little interest in listening or getting to know us. We want to enjoy living in our new home but will not condone harm coming to these foxes.

There seems to be loads of wildlife coming into our garden, and we were lucky to have Great Tits nesting in our nest box (we missed them moving out as we were away that weekend...b****er!), and have started getting Great Spotted Woodpeckers climbing up our pine trees.

It seems that our foxes may be living on borrowed time. The Tory man seem to say that the Council are not interested in complaints about urban foxes and the RSPCA are not able to intervene unless animals are injured. The RSPCA have produced two useful factsheets called 'Living with foxes', and 'Wildflife Welfare'. I've also discovered the National Fox Welfare Society.

We did notice that one of the foxes is limping when it moves. Is this enough to get the RSPCA involved and possibly get the family caught humanely and relocated to a more rural setting?

I hope to look into this and if anyone has a suggestion about saving these foxes, do let me know.

When I get time, I'll post a picture of some of these foxes but their hearing, eyesight and my low-res camera mean that the pictures aren't the best.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Fairtrade Foundation replies to the BBC - missed opportunity?

There was a response published on the Fairtrade web site on 23rd May to the news item about Pratt's Bananas, fairtrade and the exploitation of migrant workers.

I welcome the action taken in writing a letter to the company concerned and urging them to join the Ethical Trading Initiative but the rest of letter really is about damage limitation to the FAIRTRADE mark and the Foundation.

Using technicalities as a defence is not sufficient. We consumers used to trust the FAIRTRADE mark and saw the Fairtrade Foundation as custodians of fair trade.

Why don't they accept some responsibility here and see this as an opportunity to improve and make the FAIRTRADE mark and scheme even better?

We consumers see a fairtrade sticker on bananas and we assume that it means the whole supply chain supports the high standards of fair trade.

Why not evolve the labelling scheme to also become an international standard for ethical supply throughout the supply chain, from producer to consumer, as well as for fairtrade products?

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Fair Trade? Well we thought it was…

Following a critical article in The Guardian newspaper about Fairtrade on 10th May 2007, the BBC announced details of their investigation into the treatment of migrant workers at a so-called “Fairtrade” supplier of bananas to many of the UK supermarket chains.

I first came across fair trade products in Edinburgh as a student in the 1990s and believed then what a simple and important idea it was. To have an internationally recognised standard for products that recognised ethical practices in the supply chain, with producers getting a more reasonable payment for their products is fantastic. Just the sort of thing for consumers like me, trying to become more ethical and sustainable in what I buy, can look out for and make better, more informed choices.

If a scheme such as this is not being properly audited and is being abused by some companies to make a profit from the ethical and sustainability bandwagon, then it has been tainted and we consumers cannot trust it. As soon as the trust goes, so does the credibility of the FAIRTRADE mark and no doubt consumers will no longer see fair trade products as something good to buy, and rather as some sort of con.
I'm not alone in thinking this. An article on Green Options highlights the importance of transparency, accountability and trust in the supply chain for such fair trade schemes.

Isn’t time the Fairtrade Foundation woke up? We thought that they were the champions of getting a fair deal for producers in the developing world. This view is suggested by the definition of the FAIRTRADE mark: “… an independent consumer label which appears on UK products as a guarantee that they have given their producers a better deal”. Tell that to the migrant workers “employed” by Pratt’s Bananas in Luton!

I don’t want to give up on FAIRTRADE mark products quite yet but isn’t it time for the scheme to get tough, be rigorous and fight for its credibility and the producers that deserve a better deal?

We spend millions of pounds on Fairtrade products in the UK. Will members of the Fairtrade Foundation please use some of it to conduct rigorous checks on the Fairtrade supply chain and restore our faith in the scheme?

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Organic milk at any price?


This is my first attempt at blogging and I would like to get your help. Like a lot of people in the UK, our family is trying to make ends meet and we want to make sure we live as healthily, ethically and sustainably as we can.

In this blog, I would like your help in cutting through the unhelpful hype or misguided stuff on ethical and sustainable living, sometimes called the "greenwash".

It seems to me that the choices of what to do, what to buy are numerous and not straightforward. A recent example for us is whether to have organic milk delivered or regular milk. We have a toddler and the motivation to buy organic milk is strong.

We found out that the organic milk is supplied in tetra paks rather than glass bottles. Healthwise, there seems to be a strong consensus on the benefits of organic milk but buying the milk in this type of packaging concerns us.

In Norfolk there is a scheme to recycle tetra paks. When I contacted the City Council in Norwich, I was told that the pilots were successful, with 5.15 tonnes of waste not being added to landfill between February 2006 and April 2007. The scheme is available in my area and 5 out of 18 sites in Norfolk now recycle this type of waste.

My concern is that the tetra paks are recycled at a facility outside the UK (Norway I think?), and may involve transportation to a mill in Fife, Scotland before they are shipped overseas.

Is all this effort to avoid adding the waste to landfill and paying more landfill tax worth it? The transportation and processing costs, as well as the CO2 generated cannot be helping matters.

It is difficult to know what to do for the best. I have seen a bit of a debate on this in the It's Not Easy Being Green Forum and in a post on the How To Be Green blog, and certainly Tetra Pak promote themselves as being very environmentally responsible and espouse the benefits of their packaging.
We would like to buy organic milk and have it delivered to our doorstep but not if the costs are too high.

What would you do or what do you think?