Sunday, 19 September 2010

Zero Carbon Britain

The Centre for Alternative Technology has recently published Zero Carbon Britain 2030: a new energy strategy (the 2nd reportof the Zero Carbon Britain Project). I can't recommend this highly enough - the Executive Summary should be on the desk of every Member of Parliament and the leader of every local council. The report can be bought from bookshops, or direct from CAT, or can be dowloaded as a PDF (a very large one!).

The report is the result of collaboration between a wide variety of contributors, across many sectors, and consequently their conclusions are highly authoritative. The report is wide-ranging and demonstrates how - with political will and suitable investment, Britain could indeed become zero-carbon by 2030, and could create new employment and economic activity at the same time.

The 20-page Executive Summary provides an overview of the blueprint. A useful citizen action would be to download the PDF, as above, print off the summary, and send copies to your MP, your local council, the managing directors of any large manufacturing or construction companies in your area, the chief executive at your place of work (if you're in employment) . . . and anyone else you think of. Send it with a polite note urging them to read it, and telling them where they can get the book or the whole PDF.

The first section, 'Context', consists of three chapters. Chapter 1 is a 20-page overview of the current consensus on climate science. This is an excellent chapter, gathering together in one place what is known, what can be predicted with confidence, and what is not yet clear. Chapter 2 is about UK energy security, covering production and imports of fossil fuels, global energy security, peak oil, and the interaction between energy security and climate change. Chapter 3 addresses equity - how the poor in this country and the global poor will be impacted by the coming changes and what we must do to create equity - ie: justice - as the world changes.

The second section, 'Power Down', is the longest of the book. Chapter 4 looks at climate change and the built environment, and what we have to do with existing housing stock, existing non-domestic buildings, and new-build in both sectors. 27% of all UK carbon emissions are from energy use in our homes - therefore, what we do as individuals really makes a difference. Chapter 5 looks at transport, both passenger transport and freight. A useful graph gives the relative emissions per passenger mile for different kinds of transport. The development of electric cars, being re-charged overnight (thus spreading out the demand on the electricty grid), are shown to be a viable part of the new pattern, along with more use of public transport and walking/cycling.

A very important Chapter 6 looks at motivation and behaviour change - without which all the technical solutions in the world won't work. The value-action gap is a significant factor: it takes more than good intentions to change deep-seated habits and convenience behaviours. Interesting research from DEFRA is quoted, looking at how different sectors of the UK population respond to climate change.

In a section entitled 'From barriers to motivators' they suggest that we need to 'enable, encourage, engage, exemplify' different segments. DEFRA looks at 7 target audiences, based on their research:
  • Positive greens (18%) – high potential and willing [enable and engage]
  • Waste watchers (12%) – low willingness, moderate potential [encourage, exemplify, enable]
  • Concerned consumers (14%) – moderate willingness, quite good potential [enable and engage]
  • Sideline supporters (14%) – moderate willingness, moderate potential [enable and engage]
  • Cautious participants (14%) – moderate willingness, moderate potential (but a bit less of both than the ‘sideline supporters’) [encourage, exemplify, enable]
  • Stalled supporters (10%) – low willingness, low potential [encourage, enable]
  • Honestly disengaged (18%) – very low willingness, very low potential [encourage, enable]
In another section, on 'Engaging and motivating action' they use a 3-fold model:
  • Pioneers – inner directed, concerned with ethics, exploration, innovation (40%)
  • Prospectors – outer-directed, esteem-driven, concerned with wealth, position, glamour (40%)
  • Settlers – security-driven (in Maslow’s terms), concerned with home, family, community (20%)
Since the 1970s, there has been a fall in ‘settlers’ and a consequent rise in the others – a shift away from 'traditional values'. In terms of new behaviour, pioneers lead, prospectors follow, and settlers follow the prospectors. Pioneers are the largest motivational group; prospectors follow their example but not their values and underlying motivations. Their suggested strategy is to target the prospectors in relation to climate change action. Traditionally, the messages and approaches to communication about climate mitigation behaviours have been created by pioneers – and their messages don’t address the concerns and motivations of the prospectors. The point is focus the message on the audience, and not on the problem.

The third section of the book, 'Land use', covers agriculture, meat and other food, biomass for power generation, crops for biofuels, active carbon sequestration in the soil, woodland management, biochar, livestock management, and grassland. They also look at diet, nutrition, biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle, and replacement of fossil-fuel derived fertilisers.

The fourth section is called 'Power up', and focuses on renewable energy sources. The authors examine the current pattern of electricity demand and supply in the UK, and then look at off-shore and on-shore wind power, hydropower, biomass, biogas, landfill/sewage gas, solar power, wave power, concentrated solar power, and tidal power. They propose a particular mix of renewables that will generate the power needed in the UK. They then look at the options for space heating - biomass and heat pumps - and at how the whole mix can fit together. Chapter 9 examines the changes needed to the power grid to take account of all these different inputs - distributed generation and microgrids (also known as peer-to-peer energy).

The final section of the book, 'Framework', looks at policy, economics and employment. It starts with a quote from  Geoff Mulgan (former Director of the Strategy Unit, founder and former Director of the thinktank Demos, and now Director of the Young Foundation):
"Governments underestimate what they can do in the long term and overestimate what they can do in the short term."
In this chapter the authors examine global carbon pricing, cap-and-share, Kyoto2, global carbon tax, allocation of national carbon budgets, regional carbon pricing schemes, cap-and-trade, tradable energy quotas, and national carbon taxes. They examine financing the Green Economy, protecting the vulnerable, and making the switch to renewables.

In the final chapter thy look at the Green New Deal and 'green jobs'.

This is a comprehensive analysis and set of proposals - and it's ongoing work, of course. You can catch up with the latest developments at ZeroCarbonBritain.
* * * * *
If you want to post a comment, and are having technical difficulties, you can email your comment to me at  and I can post it for you.

If you are reader from outside the UK, please remember to post your comment in English - I won't post anything if I don't know what it says!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Two tales of shopping and sustainability

On Friday last week I needed some more washing-up liquid, so I took my empty Ecover bottle to the local shop - The Old Emporium - where I have, for a long time, purchased refills of washing-up and laundry liquid. I was told:
"We're not doing that any more. We hardly have any people coming in for refills - they say they can get it cheaper in the supermarkets."
In all the time I've been going to this shop, it was not primarily about saving money, and the supermarket is often more convenient - but I've persisted, for a number of reasons. It's a small local shop, run by someone who lives in the town. It sells vitamins, minerals and other food supplements; herbal remedies; organic and gluten-free or dairy-free foods; herb teas; environmentally friendly soap, shampoo, etc; fair-trade items; and - until recently - Ecover refills. It also used to sell good fresh coffee (they would grind the beans while you waited) - more about that below. It seems to me to be a good shop to support - I'm glad it's in the town and I don't have to travel elsewhere for the things it sells. The money made by that shop circulates in the local economy, rather than disappearing into remote shareholders' pockets.

And, in terms of Ecover products, getting refills there saved a plastic bottle every time.

But in spite of all this, too few people bothered to get their refills, so the shop no longer stocks those products.

Ecover is just acting like any commercial producer, and maximising its profits - but much of its attraction as a brand is its claim to being environmentally friendly, and it isn't being pro-active about this. The large supermarkets deal directly with companies like Ecover. They buy in huge bulk, so two things follow from that: the first is that they purchase in sufficient volume that it's worth Ecover's while to sell directly to them; and the second is that the buying power they have means that the supermarkets can beat down the price they pay to the manufacturer. So, when the product gets to the supermarket shelves, it can be priced competitively, even though it involves buying a new plastic bottle each time.

Small shops don't deal directly with a manufacturer like Ecover - they buy from a bulk-purchasing supplier, which deals with many small shops. But these suppliers don't have the bargaining power of the supermarkets, so they don't get such a good price; and then, of course, they have to take their cut to make a profit for themselves. So, by the time the bulk-supply of liquid, to re-fill customers' own bottles, reaches the local small shop, the price they have to charge for the refill exceeds the price the supermarket charges for a new bottle.

It makes perfectly good commercial sense, but environmentally it's dreadful - a plastic bottle gets thrown away every time a new supermarket purchase is made. At best, we can hope that the customers concerned will at least put out the discarded plastic bottles for recyling . . . but you know the mantra: reduce, re-use, recycle - recycling is the last on the list, the least eco-friendly of the three, not the first action.

Back to the coffee question! Not so long ago, we had a Waitrose store open in the town. It's interesting to see that they promote themselves by saying:
"At Waitrose, we combine the convenience of a supermarket with the expertise and service of a specialist shop"
They call this 'the Waitrose difference' - and what it means is that Waitrose poses far more of a threat to small independent stores than is the case with any of the other supermarkets. The range of goods they offer, and the way they pitch to customers, is in direct competition with the local specialist store. In the case I've been describing, it was after Waitrose opened that The Old Emporium stopped selling coffee - people were buying it from Waitrose, and demand fell. And it's Waitrose that is selling all of its Ecover range at a large discount, thus undercutting the refill service to such a degree that it's no longer viable.

The day after this disappointing shopping trip, I opened my Saturday Guardian and found a whole page article about food miles, again about the question of local producers and retailers, and the way the supermarkets work. The article was titled 'From here to eternity: 340-mile journey for clotted cream made two miles away'. The story is about the supermarkets' distribution networks - this particular story was about Tesco, but it's no different to any of the others.

Supermarkets are trying to include locally produced foods in their stores - this is admirable - but they only work on a large scale. So, in this case, locally made clotted cream was bought from the Cornish producer, trucked along side roads, main roads, and motorways to the distribution centre near Bristol; it was then incorporated into the delivery schedule the next day and the lorry turned up at Redruth Tesco with the cream on board - 340 miles round trip, 2 days, to end up 2 miles from where the cream was produced.

A second story in the article refers to Ginsters pies - another Cornish producer. The pies also go via the Bristol distribution centre, this time a round trip of about 250 miles, to end up quite literally next door to where they were made - Tesco in Callington is right next door to the Ginsters factory. Ginsters pasties sold in the Callington Co-op food store also travel about 250 miles, via Bristol and back - the Co-op has a distribution centre there too. Ginsters prides itself on its Cornish connections. All of its beef is British and 65% comes from Jaspers, whose abattoir is five miles from Callington. Ginsters sources around 70% of its vegetables from Cornwall, much of it from Hay farm in Antony, 18 miles away. A fifth of its flour is made using wheat from Cornwall.

Cornish-made Brie cheese travels 280 miles - from where it is made in Newquay, via Taunton, and back.

Cornish sardines, landed on  on the south Cornish coast, travel outside the county to be processed, and then trucked back. By the time they reach the shop - 45 minutes from the quayside - they are three days old.

The article then assesses these stories - what are we to make of them?

Tim Lang, the professor of food policy at City University London, who coined the phrase "food miles", said:
"At one level it's completely absurd but it is alas the reality of modern logistics, which is based on cheap oil, the motorway system and mass production. If people don't like it they are going to have to be prepared to pay more for a more sustainable system of logistics."
Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation thinktank, said:
"We do not pay the real environmental price for producing and transporting goods. It is economically inefficient and a market failure. To learn that Cornish goods are being taken on tours of Britain to end up being sold in branches of Tesco right next door to where they were made tells us that, for all the claims of being green, UK plc has a very long way to go to become environmentally efficient and responsible. It would be funny were it not for the sad waste of resources."
Tesco and the Co-operative insist their distribution systems are the most efficient and environmentally friendly ways of moving goods around. A spokesman for the Co-operative Group defended regional depots:
"If each individual supplier delivered directly to our stores, that would result in tens of thousands of extra vehicles on the road and not only significantly increase our carbon footprint but also add to traffic congestion."
Distribution centres were, said Tesco, the most efficient delivery network:
"If it were more efficient to make seperate deliveries to local stores from national suppliers, we would do so. But with more than 2,000 stores in the UK and an average Tesco superstore carrying 40,000 different lines, a centralised distribution system is more practical and efficient,"
The spokesman added that the company had cut the number of lorry journeys by investing in technology and other measures. Ginsters, which is praised for using local ingredients, is upset at the criticism. Spokesman Larry File said there would be "mayhem" if every producer tried to deliver to every store in the country. Consumers would have to come to terms with very limited choice if producers delivered only locally, File said. "There would be no fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables out of season."

So what are we to do? Very simply, support our local shops - use them or lose them. If more people had bothered to take their Ecover bottles to The Old Emporium, it would still be offering that service. If Cornish people bought their locally made produce from local retailers, the food miles would be slashed to virtually nothing. If more of us consistently make the effort to buy - whenever possible - local produce from local stores, it can make a difference. It may cost a little more and it may take a bit more time, but it will be worth it in the long run. Start a trend, and try to get your friends and neighbours to join in!
* * * * *
If you want to post a comment, and are having technical difficulties, you can email your comment to me at and I can post it for you.

If you are reader from outside the UK, please remember to post your comment in English - I won't post anything if I don't know what it says!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Catching up with Lizz's eco-year

You might have been following Lizz's exploits, either here or on her own blog. I've posted three digests here so far, on 23 May  8 June, and 19 July. In April, Lizz was feeling the pinch about what she's doing - wondering if the cumulative effect of a new challenge every month was beginning to get to her. I spoke with her at the beginning of August, and she was feeling good about the whole project and 'back on track', as she put it.

Last time, we'd caught up with Lizz as far as May, so this time I'm looking at her exploits in June and July. June's challenge, Lizz explained, was,
"to do something free at least twice a week – preferably every other day and start a world wide campaign! OK you might think I’m joking but it’s not impossible! Everyone has to start somewhere – even Gandhi."
She started by surveying the possibilities:
"Monday is sometimes pub quiz night and Sundays I often go to Quaker meeting – but there are loads of other things I could do; choirs, crafts, art gallery openings, theatres, concerts, gardens, walks, classes, museums, festivals, fairs, fetes."
Living for free isn't a new idea, of course - going way back there was Thoreau and Walden Pond in the middle of the 19th century. And then there was Richard Mabey's famous book Food for Free, first published in 1972, still going strong, and perhaps the originator of what is now a whole foraging movement.

More recent attempts at living for free have been documented in the books written by the people who tried it. There's Tom Hodgkinson's  How to be Free;  Katherine Hibbert's  Free: Adventures on the Margins of a Wasteful Society; and The Moneyless Man: a year of freeconomic living by Mark Boyle.

If you Google 'free stuff for kids', you get loads of websites offering either experiences of 'stuff' that you can send off for; whereas if you Google just 'free stuff' (without the 'kids') you get mostly free offers of samples from companies who hope later to get your custom! More interestingly, Freecycle and Freegle create local networks for giving away things you no longer want or need, and getting things you now need, all for free.

But on this occasion, Lizz is talking more about doing things for free than getting things for free. She explains:
"As a child we didn’t have much money so I didn’t have much in the way of material things but we did lots of fun stuff – climbing over iron age hillforts, going to free fetes, static caravanning in Britain, walking in the woods, building sandcastles in the rain, flying kites (also often in the rain). As an adult I think I’ve worked quite hard to become financially secure but I have begun to see that I am a bit of a workaholic."
Reflecting at some length on all of this (you can read it all on Lizz's June blog), Lizz came up with her new campaign: 'all we need is love’ TM (yeah I’ve copyrighted it) and this is what it’s all about:

I’ve identified 7 different aspects of life that most of us (ok not all of us, but you know, whatever) either have to engage with or really want to engage with at some level:
- consuming resources, goods and services
- working for some kind of income (if we’re not doing so now we probably did in the past)
- maintaining relationships
- being creative
- creating change
- exploring a spiritual practice
- relaxing, chilling, having a good time!

Here are 4 principles or approaches for each of these seven areas of life based on doing something with love and which suggests that ‘all we need is love’:

Working for some kind of income should be characterised by it being:-

likeable, option giving, viable, enough

Maintaining relationships should be characterised by it being:-
lasting, open, valuing, exploratory

Being creative should be characterised by it being:-
learning, original, visible/victorious/value led, experimental

Creating change should be characterised by it being:-
listening, organise, volunteer, encourage

Consuming resources, goods and services should be characterised by it being:-
local, organic, vegan, equalising

Exploring a spiritual practice should be characterised by it being:-
loose, organic, varied, engaged

Relaxing, chilling, having a good time! should be characterised by it being:-
laughter, ordinary, vital, energising
Following this burst of inspiration, Lizz goes on to chronicle her month of doing free things. In the first week she went to two exhibitions in London, a committee meeting (well, I guess that's free!), worked on the allotment, stayed with her Dad, went to a party. In week 2, she helped run a beekeeping course, an exchange of labour/time for a free place on the course; and went to an exhibition of quilts. In week 3, she went to a food festival, had dinner with a friend and went to a trustee meeting in London. In the 4th week of the month, Lizz was on holiday, and writes:
"freebies have included – swimming, walking, seaside stuff, promenade concerts, some museums, a craft festival, and meeting some groovy bee-keepers. I also went to the free eco-film festival most of which took place in an open air cinema. I knew about it before I went - it was one of the reasons for going at this point in June. I also went to a knitting party! Before going I had an evening at the allotment, an evening at a friend’s house"
Half of a fifth week fell in June, and Lizz went to a party . . . and throughout the month carried on thinking about her 'all you need is love' campaign - read all about it on Lizz's blog for June.

For July, Lizz's challenge was "Do something constructive in the local community each week, do something positive politically each week – tithe time and money!"

In the first week Lizz started giving money away, did 4.5 hours of gift-work, and wrote to her local councillors to express appreciation for the work they were doing on recycling initiatives. In week 2, Lizz put money  into loads of collecting tins, did a bird count and a beach clean-up (she was in Orkney at the time), and left little cards randomly in public places, urging people to be politically positive. In the third week, she continued to give away the appropriate amount of money, volunteered at an archaeological dig, and wrote to councillors in Orkney and to her MP - being positive, of course. In the final week, Lizz gave away the rest of the allocated money, returned to work, but managed to fit in some volunteer time, and wrote some more letters to public people.

Read all about the rest of the detail on Lizz's own blog for July.

In August, Lizz's challenge is to wear or use something she's made every day! And, as if she had nothing else to do, she has also posted a good books guide.

Lizz is currently looking for suggestions for her December challenge - you can post suggestions below.
* * * * *
If you want to post a comment, and are having technical difficulties, you can email your comment to me at  and I can post it for you.

If you are reader from outside the UK, please remember to post your comment in English - I won't post anything if I don't know what it says!