Friday, 22 October 2010

Day 159: Kitchen Woes (Part 1)

So, I'm halfway through a very painful kitchen refit. When I say painful I mean, of course, wonderfully fulfilling. In all honesty though, ripping out the hideous 1980s kitchen was more than satisfying and I feel a renewed sense of pride. Yes, I can use a hammer, a chisel and various other tools. Quite impressive really.

Being my ignorant self I hadn't really stopped to think about the impact our little project could have on the environment and, I'm ashamed to say, I think I've learned a few things the hard way. I've got one word for you: plaster. It's evil, evil stuff. Dip-shit here, unfortunately, didn't realise this. I'm talking about 'Gypsum' plaster here of course (the standard plaster everyone means when they use the word 'plaster') which takes up a hell of a lot of energy in it's production and is, all round, a bit on the dirty side. We are all so used to seeing literally buckets of the stuff being smothered over our walls when we decide we must have the latest high-gloss wall cabinets (ok, maybe that's just me) but have probably never spared a thought about the alternatives. 

I am here to inform, am I not? There are alternatives. There pretty much always are. How about a lovely coat of lime plaster? Very similar to 'gypsum' but with a much lower amount of 'embodied energy' - basically meaning less energy goes into its production. It's also boast all the same properties as gypsum plaster and can be used in exactly the same way (internally and externally). It is great temperature regulator too keeping warm in winter and cool in the summer. If only I had researched this before we arranged the plasterer to come. I now have three large bags of powdery shame hanging around that I can't bear to look at. 

Next mission: paint. I'm not going to let this one slide. Check back soon to see my findings...

- James
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Monday, 27 September 2010

Day 133: Ethical Chic

Paris Fashion Week is upon us. The deliciously flamboyant couture houses will no doubt churn out some remarkable, if a little off-the-wall, creations. We all know, however, that fashion ain't necessarily the 'nicest' of industries - for many reasons. It may be pretty to look at, but the ethics of it are more than a little fluid. So as not to waffle on about sweatshops, unsustainable products and, dare I say it: fur, lets take a different tack.

Now in its seventh year, the Ethical Fashion Show is a chance for sustainable and ethical designers and retailers to show off their creations. Note the distinct lack of 'earthy' types with clothes made of patchwork fabric tied together with hemp. There is not a garment in sight that is there purely because it's ethical, it has to have style too - this is Paris, after all.

Now held in the rather grand 'Docks en Seine' building, home of the French Fashion Institute, it seems like 'ethical' fashion need not be frumpy. Besides, who could call a couture dress made entirely from recycled film stock 'frumpy'? Hot names at this years show include: Terra Plana, Diffus and Ciel.

Up until recently, I have passed off 'ethical' fashion as a bit of a fad. Something that just won't, given the nature of the fashion industry, work. No matter how 'good' an item of clothing is (ethically speaking) if it's not aesthetically pleasing, it's not going to cut it. Shows like this, and the rather surprising statistic that the industry is now worth around £175 million in the UK alone, seem to point to a significant shift in our thinking. Are we now at the point where we are happy to sacrifice our fashion? Will we be saying 'no' to paying hundreds of pounds for a garment made by a child, in Malaysia, from unsustainable sources? I think we are. It's been a long time coming, but the timing feels right. All we need now is for these 'big' ideas to filter down through the high street so that us lowly 'masses' will have the luxury to make the choice ourselves. Failing that, we need a fit celebrity and a major fashion house to launch a ludicrously lavish campaign of some sort - I'm not holding my breath on that one.

- James
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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Day 121: Bristol Bristol Bristol

Phew. What a positively mental few days. I am finally getting round to putting a few words together about a couple of events I was lucky enough to attend over the weekend - Bristol's Organic Food Festival and Bristol Green Doors.

The weekend kicked off with the food festival. A wonderful display of organic produce - everything from locally grown veg to organic and ethically produced bedding - it was well worth the £5 entrance fee. I won't bore you with a stall-by-stall lowdown of what was on offer, suffice to say good times were had by all (especially when you throw in some Bath Ale). One stand-out stall was The Community Farm which is a lovely little project that brings together local produce from around the south-west. The volunteers were amazingly knowledgeable about the food and were damn proud of it too. They offer a weekly delivery of veg right to your door for a very reasonable price and, if you're feeling green, they welcome a hand at harvest time too.

So after a swift half of Bath Ale, it was time to hit the city of Bristol and have a sneaky peek into a few of the homes that had very kindly offered to open their doors and show us their greens. I only had time to visit three homes, but was lucky enough to visit three very different set-ups.

The first was a beautiful terraced Victorian house with the synonymous high ceilings and intricate coving - a total pain in the ass when trying to reduce your energy consumption. They had installed a solar water heating system that had practically slashed their gas bills to zero during the sunnier months. Another similar house had made the effective, but slightly less visible change, of insulating the walls, sealing the wooden floors and installing a wood burning stove (using sustainable wood, of course). The third house, crammed into a row of terraced houses on a narrow street, really was breathtaking. With little space to play with, they did what good ole' IKEA tells us - 'think cubic'. A Dahl-like stair case led up to a raised 'workshop' where a solar powered train-set whizzed around much to the delight of the children. Up yet another, even more tiny staircase, and you emerged in the middle of a greenhouse atop the roof of the garage (two-storeys up by this point) to find a fully utilised vegetable garden and 'green roof' - really quite an amazing feat. All the work of the home's owner, Simon Lewis and his marvelous company Bristol Green Roofs.

So, all in all, a very fun and very informative weekend. It was inspiring to see energy saving techniques that I had only heard about in the flesh and actually working, to see how it was making a difference to the environment and also to the lives of the people living there was invaluable. Now, if only I had a garage I could build a green roof on...

- James
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Monday, 6 September 2010

Day 112: Random crap in your house (or how to "upcycle")

We've all gotten to the point where we now what type of plastics we can, and can't, put into our recycling bins. We have come to recognise the dreaded type '7' plastic as being a horrific blend of chemicals (all with unpronounceable names) that should not go anywhere near your little green box. How about though, we do something with our used products before we throw them out?

Some frustrated Googling threw up a delightful article on what is known as 'upcycling' - basically giving a new life and purpose to something before we cast it into the green box or the blue bag. It's a 'pre-recycle', cycle. If you will. 

Ideas ranged from saving the fat from bacon to (eventually) make a bird feeder, to toilet roll tubes as cable tidies - have a peek and get your craft on!

- James
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Sunday, 5 September 2010

Day 111: Bristol Green Doors

What a lovely idea - a weekend where people around your city open their doors to show what they've done to make their lives that little bit more environmentally friendly. From the little changes: energy saving light bulbs, rainwater harvesting and home composting, to the larger changes like PV installations and complete house renovations. 'Green Doors' is an event taking place in Bristol (fast becoming a leader in 'eco-awareness' in the UK) on the weekend 11th & 12th September. Around 50 people will open their doors and let us all have a good poke around and ask those questions we'd all love to be answered: how much does it really cost? Do these changes actually make a difference? How does it impact on your day to day living? I'll be there, camera in hand, to report back on what I find out.

The 'green' aspect aside, the whole event strikes as a rather wonderful idea anyway. The idea of homes being opened up to the public, and for people to say: 'come in, this is how we live' is quite a heart-warming notion. As much as I'm sure I'll take away great tips and tricks to shave a few kilowatts of my footprint, I'm hoping to get a little more from the event. Maybe it's something we should all do. Every month we should all relax, open our doors and let the big bad scary world in for a few hours. Besides, what else is there to do on a dreary weekend in September? 

Visit: for more information.
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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Day Ninety-Three: Carbon Neutral?

Well, I think a giant BP sized slap on the wrist is in order for me. I have not blogged for nigh on six weeks. Shame on me. This project, to go 'carbon neutral', was always going to be a struggle. I knew that from day one. I was under no illusion that I could make a few small changes and I would suddenly become some beacon of eco-wonder. It's testament, I think, to how difficult this whole subject is.

I've continued to behave in as 'eco friendy' a way as possible. I've been recycling, composting, growing my own veg and have made a conceited effort to make those little, arguably easy, changes that we can all make. What does it all add up to? A slight underwhelming feeling, to be honest. We do like to see results, don't we?

I've come to the realisation that's it's all about context. Had I started this journey as an abysmal planet hating 'throw away' kind of guy, there may have been more of a dramatic change. I am, of course, not that kind of person. I harbour the same sort of middle class guilt that I think many of us share - I recoil at my neighbours who still do not recycle, at people who continue to buy unethical produce from the supermarket - but then who am I to judge? So I think it's time this project changed it's destination. A modest, humble acceptance that I am not going to become carbon neutral, but that I can continue to strive to improve my lifestyle within certain, boring, constraints.

An improved understanding and awareness of the world around me has opened my eyes to issues I was previously blind to, so I can only hope for a slow but definite upward trajectory to something resembling an environmentally 'sound' lifestyle. As and when I stumble across groundbreaking information I will continue to share and discuss them here on this blog, but I want to avoid the preachy 'do this, do that' mentality and focus more on the reality of the environmental state we're living in, and how the big stories and events around the globe affect us on a smaller, more personal level. I promise, therefore, that the next blog should be day ninety-five, or thereabouts, and not in another six weeks.

By the way, my compost is looking wonderful.

- James
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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Day Forty-Five: 47.76kWh

So it's been a week since I installed my NPower energy monitor and I am back with some official statistics. So far, over one average week's use I have used 47.76kWh of electricity, that equates to about 25kg of C02 emissions and has cost just under £6. A very handy little gadget. It allows you to easily switch between you energy usage for the past day or week, and gives you a target usage to stay under. It's quite scary to watch, in real time, how much electricity you're using. Turn a light switch on and suddenly your kWh shoot up  - I've come to fear the barely visible LED screen every time I walk by for fear I've fluctuated beyond control. To extrapolate into an insanely rough figure, my current usage would equate to about 1.3 tonnes of C02 a year - this would seem to tie into my findings from my carbon footprint last year. So what am I not doing to reduce this? Heading towards the same sort of figures is, obviously, not my intention. Have I merely reached the 'floor' of my electricity usage, or am I still just not doing enough?

I'm taking care to switch lights off, unplug appliances and take the telly of standby, but it seems this is not working. A year ago I was still environmentally aware enough to know I shouldn't be leaving appliances switched on overnight so I've come to the conclusion that, as far as electricity is concerned, I don't think I can reduce my usage much more than I already am (within the constraints of my current living arrangements). So what now? I don't even know where to begin to look at my gas usage - any ideas? Time to get my research hat on again and see what else I can do to reduce my C02 emissions.

As a side note and, being a bit of a gadget freak, I'd like to point out that if you own a first:utility smart meter you can access something called Google PowerMeter which is a wonderful pretty little tool that can produce all sorts of lovely graphs and charts showing your energy usage which you can access from anywhere using the online tool. There are also many other fancy meters available at various costs and some with subscription costs but, to be honest, if you would just like to see what you're using then a free meter from your electricity provider will suffice. All the big players provide them free of charge these days, and they're so easy to set up that there's really no excuse to not have one!

- JamesTweet This

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Day Thirty: 2010 Year of Green?

Barack Obama openly condemns BP's handling of Deepwater Horzion's 'leak'. Caroline Lucas takes Brighton and succesfully pushes Green issues into the limelight under the glare of the UK 2010 elections. Is 2010 to be a Green year? It is not without a slight wry smile and a huge dollop of irony that a giant like BP should be the courier to deliver climate change to the forefront of the news but,  when you think about it, I suppose it was always going to be like this - fate is not without a sense of humour. Environmentalists have been waiting for a fuck-up this catastrophic to cash in  on (unashamedly, and rightly so) to harness the sheer power disasters like this can hold. Images of thousands of gallons of oil covering the Gulf, birds literally entombed in the thick black sludge and the reports from the many thousands whose lives depend on the ecosystems that thrive in the Gulf has brought the kind of 'blitz spirit' seen during natural disasters like Haiti's earthquake.

My own personal journey, and my decision to start this site, was spurred on by the recent election and a growing awareness of the world around me - that had to come from somewhere. A general sense of apathy is, and probably always will be, the greatest enemy of these kind of issues. Problems that, for the most part, we cannot yet touch, taste or see for ourselves means that even though most left-wing among us draw a line somewhere between 'being green' and wanting that new Range Rover - it's a tricky equation to balance, and one that few can honestly say they've solved. These issues will, of course, only grow to become more pronounced, more damaging and ultimately become irreversible. (check out the film Age of Stupid

So how does it help when I blog and tweet about growing runner beans in my garden and deciding which brand of washing powder to use? I cannot express how vital these kind of changes are. Until we take a step back and look at what we can do ourselves, how can we ever expect multi-billion dollar companies to do the same? On a base level, if I'm not prepared to give up something, or change my lifestyle to suit the needs of the environment than how can I expect [insert oil hungry corporation here] to do the same? The 'Greenwash', as it's been dubbed, is in my opinion a pathetic piece of rhetoric that perpetuates the idea that we cannot change things as individuals, and that it's up to the Big Boys to sort us out. Well I for one have one very concise answer: fuck that.

Chaos theory states that one tiny, seemingly insignificant incident can affect a change massive in comparison to itself. So, you could argue that if you don't recycle that milk carton, that it ends up in a landfill site, and maybe that carton just might cause that landfill to reach its capacity, which in turn would mean a new landfill would be made, which means more pollution and ultimately the production of a new bottle that could have been made from this poor recyclable one. That one little change does make a difference. Once we all cotton on, and our collective conscious gets the better of us, I think we'll be surprised to see the power we hold over these [insert oil hungry corporations]. 

So let's make 2010 Greener than last year. Just by a bit, that's all I'm asking. For now. 

- James
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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Day Twenty-Four: 2010 European Solar Decathlon

The 'Solar Decathlon' is essentially a worldwide competition for architects and designers to create a dwelling that runs completely from solar energy - no prizes if you guessed that already. The 'decathlon' part refers to the various trials that each project is put through to test their 'eco-credentials'. Take a look at the website here and check out all the entries from around the globe - my personal favourite is Finland's ultra-efficient house that actually creates more energy than it uses - genius! Have a gander at it's beautiful form:

The UK entry from the University of Nottingham looks pretty nifty too, check out their video below:

University of Nottingham - Nottingham House from SD Europe on Vimeo.

The competition runs between 17th - 27th June in beautiful Madrid, Spain. Now to try and make my own home a little more like these - wish me luck!

- JamesTweet This

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Day Twenty-Two: iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 was unveiled in San Fransisco yesterday (drool) and I found myself not just admiring the incredibly sexy phone itself, but it's eco-credentials. Here's what Apple say:

This all makes me feel even better about wanting one so much it hurts. Of course, I cannot tell you that an iPhone is carbon neutral, nor that it is particularly environmentally friendly (Apple are undoubtedly trying to appear 'eco-friendly') but I think it takes guts in an industry that rarely looks at the environmental impact of it's creations. Kudos Apple! Plus, well, just look at the thing.

- JamesTweet This

Monday, 7 June 2010

Day Twenty-One: 10:10

More digging, more planting, more sweeping and the garden is getting better and better. With some runner bean plants donated from my parents we now have a decent stock of fruit and veg in the garden that I'm hoping will come to fruition nicely over the coming months. My new compost bin has proved successful and already the amount of waste being thrown away has been greatly reduced, although I have had to fish out a few teabags from the bin - I just keep forgetting to put them in the compost bin! 

Also on the horizon is Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride 2010 - an event that promises to be lots of fun, and a great way to promote an eco-friendly cause. I'll be taking part in the Avon Gorge Loop, a beautiful and not too taxing 14 mile loop, starting in Bristol's Millennium Square - wish me luck! 

With all this lovely weather leading us slowly but surely down the road of the ubiquitous summer festival, I was pleased to read an article in the Guardian called the '10:10' pledge - the basic idea is many of the big festivals have signed up to reduce their emissions by 10% in 2010. The festivals include: The Big Chill, Latitude, Bestival, Reading and Isle of White - not too shabby! 

The idea is also going global with France and the US getting on board too. Check out their website to sign up and find out more about how you can join in and try and cut your own emissions by 10% - a very achievable target, so they say. Once you've signed up the site has loads of really useful ideas to help you along your way including a carbon footprint calculator and something they call 'Monthly Themes' - whereby you tackle one big issue in your home per month. June is all about saving: "We're hunting down (and ruthlessly eliminating) wasted energy around the house. The writing's on the wall for electricity-hogging appliances and gas-guzzling boilers."

Get your calculator out, add up your emissions and let's make June worth saving.

- James
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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Day Fifteen: The Good Life

I've not blogged in a while - my excuse this time being the Bank Holiday. I traveled up to London on Friday night for my partner's birthday celebrations and, through nothing but pure neglect, put my eco-life to the back of my mind for a few days. It was nice to see, even with my mission filed away, that there are still things out there to get you back on track. I was wandering around London's Borough Market on Saturday morning taking in all the wonderful sights and sounds and, low and behold, was jerked right back into action when I saw something that made me smile.

Recycling bins everywhere! Not only that, but the drink I bought came in a 100% biodegradable cup (the confusion set in when we were told to put this in the non-recyclable waste bin - I'm not sure many people understood that part!) The food was all locally sourced and organically grown. Pricey maybe, but worth it on a Bank Holiday weekend I think.

The weather took a bit of a disappointing turn and saw the first real rain in weeks. Luckily my plants got a good soaking without the need for tap water and, because it stayed relatively warm, they are still looking good. My parental instincts towards them is something of a fascination to me - those who know me have been a little taken aback by my new 'green fingered' approach to things. One of my friends referred to myself and my partner as 'Tom and Barbara' from The Good Life (not sure which one I'd be) and cast himself as Margot - now a little running joke between us all.  As I said in my last blog, I feel I'm at a point now where I need to look further, I need to go above and beyond what I'm currently doing and really get my teeth into this environmental issue we're all facing - suggestions on a postcard please! My next short-term mission is to plan a holiday for late July with some friends - a camping trip to Wales - let's see how environmentally friendly I can make it.

- James
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Thursday, 27 May 2010

Day Ten: Planning for The Future

I've not posted a blog in three days - tut tut. This is not because I've decided to abandon this project, quite the contrary, I've been busying myself with research and, a bit of first time venture for me - the garden.

I'm lucky enough to have a manageable little spot here that, I hope, will one day become a great resource for both myself and my partner in future years. Now though, I need to garner my green skills by finding out how to actually make the garden work for us. I confess, apart from growing a few pansies in a pot on the patio, my knowledge of horticulture is limited and so, this year, I've taken it upon myself to take those first tentative steps into the world of 'grow your own'. Spurred on my the likes of the wonderful Alys Fowler, I have done the impossible (in my mind anyway) and have actually cultivated plants from, wait for it, seed. This may not seem like a big deal to many people, but for me it's quite an accomplishment. In my garden at the moment I have a few herbs - Rosemary, Thyme and Mint that seem to be doing well. I have successfully grown peppers, chillies and tomatoes from seed that, after a few nail biting weeks, now seem to be getting stronger every day. I find myself weeding, pruning and also, much to my surprise, consciously thinking about my garden rather than just sticking some plants in the ground and hoping for the best. Last night, for example, saw the first real downpour of rain in quite a while and, as I lay in bed listening to the rain, I was wondering - I hope my plants are okay. I awoke to bright sunshine again this morning and to find my little seedlings looking healthier than ever - hopefully a modest crop will present itself later in the year. 

Aside from my new found gardening pleasures, I have found some interesting little nuggets of information through my research. The Green Build Expo, for example is a two day event in Manchester that promises to showcase all the potential renewable energy sources we could be using. The event is free and, by targeting large national builders, tradesmen and the like, seems to me a great sign that the environmental agenda is getting pushed more and more into the limelight. You'll also be please to hear that the few shopping trips I've taken have all been either on foot or by bike, and I have made a conscious effort to buy the right sorts of food - environmentally friendly, organic, fair trade and with minimal packaging. My recycling boxes now greatly outweigh my 'non-recyclable' waste and, apart from a snotty note from the bin men asking me to cut my cardboard into smaller pieces, the whole transition seems to have gone without a hitch. I've been washing my clothes at 30 degrees, taking showers instead of baths and have become a full member of the Green Party. Phew. That was exhausting. What remains to be seen is how all of this will pan out over the coming weeks/months. I am still far from leading a 'carbon neutral' life, but feel I'm on the right track.

- James

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Monday, 24 May 2010

Day Seven: Create, Bristol

So the weekend saw an unseasoned heatwave and saw me do my bit by cycling over to Bristol (about an 18 mile round trip) to visit the Create centre. Unfortunately, I didn't plan ahead and when I got there it was closed! Eco-homes don't open on a Sunday apparently. Still, the ride was great and I did get a chance to peek through the windows and have a nose around the garden. As good as it all looked, without actually going inside, I confess I can't really say a lot about the place - a second visit needs to take place I think!

 Aside from my apparent awful planning, what came as a pleasant surprise was the actual cycle over there. I have lived in and around Bristol for most of my life and have always taken the city for granted. As a relative newcomer to cycling as a form of transport, and not just as a recreation, I was surprised to learn that Bristol is the UK's most bike friendly city (that's official) and I can see why. Bike lanes everywhere on the roads, plenty of bike racks and there just seems to be an absolute acceptance of cyclists on the roads - not one angry impatient driver revved their engine behind me. The cycle track I took from Bath (Sustrans 4) takes you right into Bristol's main train station, and from there it is easy to get across the city to practically wherever you want to go. I will confess, not having ridden my bike long distances since I was about, well 11, the journey did take it's toll on me but, 24 hours later, I feel refreshed and a little bit smug.

- James

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Friday, 21 May 2010

Day Four: To BBQ, or not to BBQ?

What a glorious day! Temperatures have hit 25 degrees in my little corner of the planet, and all of a sudden it feels like summer. It's hot, muggy and there's that feeling in the air that barbeque's will be happening up and down the country this weekend - just remember you carbon footprint when you're stoking up those coals. It struck me that I actually did not know which fuel was best to use on my barbeque, up until now I have always used charcoal (mostly through the lack of a gas powered unit), but what is actually environmentally better?

A little digging later and I found out that research has shown that gas barbeque's are the most C02 efficient, churning out approximately 2.5kg of C02 per hour, with charcoal coming in at around 5kg. This is, of course, based on the use of a certain type of charcoal - a mix of things like sawdust, corn starch, lighter fluid and borax(!?) - the kind you get in those ready to light bags at the petrol station, and more commonly known as 'briquettes'. Real charcoal, or 'lump wood' charcoal, is made directly from hard wood and can produce significantly lower emissions, but still does not reach the lows of natural gas. The problem here is that this 'real' charcoal isn't always readily available and, if it has to be transported for thousands of miles to get to your back garden, there's the danger it's lower emissions are negated by the carbon it takes to transport it. All very complex, as per usual. Gas, of course, does have the drawback of it's origins - it's a fossil fuel and, as such, is non-renewable; whereas charcoal is renewable.

So what do you do? Have nothing but salad? Massage your statistics to offset the C02 emissions against something else that you haven't done: I didn't drive my car to buy the coal, therefore that negates the emissions of me burning it. The truth is, in this situation, it's a little bit 'you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't' - helpful, I know. There is, however, progress being made in sourcing and producing an environmentally sound charcoal to use on your barbeque. Amidst some Googling, I discovered a wonderful French company called 'Green Hearts', they produce 100% certified carbon neutral charcoal briquettes. Very simply put: they plant enough trees to replace those they turn into charcoal - take a look at Gilles Provenzano (one of the company's founders) talking about the product below. Also, not that this adds any eco-credentials to the product but I thought it worth mentioning - they're heart shaped so, you know, you feel like you're doing something good!

The product is currently not available in the UK (sigh), but there are alternative eco-friendly products you can buy from places like Nigel's Eco Store that may not claim to be 100% carbon neutral, but they're one step closer, and a damn sight better than what you'd find at Tesco's petrol station. So fret no more - that barbeque you were planning can still go ahead.

- James

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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Day Two: 50 Things You Can Do

So it's day two. I've successfully calculated my own personal 'carbon footprint' and I'm ready to take on the world! Not that it's that easy, of course.

Those of you who may follow my Twitter feed (@c02neutralproj) may know that I already hit a small hurdle this morning. The mission: to get into the city centre to buy one item (a bike pump) without the need for cars, buses or public transport. Now, I used to walk to work everyday and it never bothered me, but faced with an ominous, heavy gray sky and seeing the bus, which stops virtually outside my house, every hour made my 'lazy gene' kick in, and I very nearly succumbed. You'll be glad to hear that I did not take the bus, and I did indeed cycle - and I feel all the better for it!

So now, new bike pump in hand I feel a renewed sense of 'eco-pride' (if there is such a thing) and am ready to get on with living the environmentally friendly life I've subscribed to. As a good start my partner came home yesterday, from a course of renewable energy, with, low and behold, a leaflet called: '50 things you can do to lead a more sustainable lifestyle' - my project, it seems, has the backing of the Powers That Be, or something like that. The list is mostly very achievable with things like: take showers instead of baths, turn your thermostat down by 1 degree and change to energy efficient light bulbs. These are all things that I am either already doing, or can easily fit into my lifestyle so, you know, kudos for me. You can find the full list of 50 on my page '50 Things' here, so you don't have to read through pages and pages of bullet-points in this post. Suffice to say, of the 50 things, I reckon I can easily fulfill at least 36 of them, but that does still leave me with a heinous 14 that either do not really apply to me, or are unachievable at the moment (install Solar Panels, for example - I do not have the cash for that right now).

One thing I have come to notice in all my research is that this whole 'environmentally friendly' lark really is a lot more complex than you might think. I stumbled across this video from the blog Every Small Thing and it just goes to show how you may think you're doing something beneficial for the environment, but in actual fact you're not helping at all. You'll never look at a paper towel in the same way again.

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Day One: Calculate my Carbon

Before I throw myself into an 'eco' lifestyle, I first need to assess what my impact is now. There's not much point in doing this if I can't compare it to my life before. This experiment is hardly what I'd call scientific, but this is the closest I'm going to get to having some kind of 'control' to compare my results against. 

Here's where you have to be careful with the statistics, and things get very fuzzy, very fast. On a personal level, I would argue my impact on the environment is small, but then it's not just me I have to consider. I live with my partner and, although my impact may be small, I cannot ignore our joint impact. We run (although I personally do not drive) a 2.0 litre diesel Land Rover, for one thing. Up until this experiment it was the norm to drive to the local supermarket to load up with a weeks shopping (interspersed with eco products where possible) and back again. It may only be a fifteen minute round trip, but calculate that over a year and that's around 13 hours of gas guzzling. So our 'Carbon Footprints' then, in my opinion, should be calculated using the 'unit' you call home. This may comprise of just yourself, or a family of seven, either way I believe that the 'home' (and all its constituent parts) is what needs to be assessed.

You may argue, 'how else would I do my shopping without a car?' - This is what I want to find out. Get the bus maybe? Practically though, few of us have the luxury of public transport links to the places we want to go. Then there's the crux of the issue: which is better? If you don't live in a major city (like me) then getting the bus may not be the better option. The bus closest to me, for example, rarely has more than two or three passengers, and of course runs all day everyday, stopping and starting and emitting C02 like crazy - surely the car is more efficient? All of these issues are a little foggy, a little contradictory even. So, to kick things off, I calculated my carbon footprint in order to see where I stand (pardon the pun), and here's what I got:

According to Mark Lynas' criteria here:

I came in just over 6 tonnes (roughly around 12 tonnes for both myself and my partner, over a year.) This put's me in the 'not too bad' category, apparently. When you consider though, according to Lynas, a sustainable carbon budget per person should be around 1 tonne annually, it sort of takes the shine of being in the 'not too bad' category. Obviously this 1 tonne ideal emission is pretty much unreachable for the average person in the world today, but that doesn't make me want to shave off a few kilo's here and there any less. Just in case you're interested, here's how my carbon footprint stacked up:

Carbon Footprint (over 1 year, for just me)
  • Gas = 851.2 kg
  • Electricity = 614.47 kg
  • Car emissions = 1,484.3 kg
  • Return flight to Barcelona = 1,282 kg
  • Other (manufacturing, retail & services) = 2,000 kg
My carbon footprint = 6,232 kg (around 6 tonnes)

So, now that I know what affect I'm having now, it's time to start reducing it.

- James
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The Carbon Neutral Project - What's the 'Big Idea'?

What is my 'Carbon Footprint'?

Up until recently, I would have said minimal, negligible, maybe even (dare I say it) neutral. How do I know this? Why do I care? What affect can I really have on the environment, and can 'we' really make a difference?

I have always considered myself fairly low on the list of carbon criminials, for one simple reason: I do not own a car - but does that really make me exempt from all this? The short answer is, of course, a big fat no. I may nag my friends to recycle, and despair at those who refuse to take a look at the mounting evidence that we're all going to be screwed in a few years time; but can I really call myself an environmentalist? I decided to take a step back and look at my personal impact on the planet and try to lead as eco-friendly a life as I possibly could. I will follow the guidelines that we are bombarded with almost on a daily basis and, more importantly, find out why I'm following them and ascertain the impact (or lack thereof) my actions will have.

When I came to planning this project, I hit a wall: how long should this go on for? The answer? I really don't know. You could argue that by living an eco-friendly life for, say a month, would be enough to show how easy or difficult, how effective or ineffective and how necessary or indeed unnecessary it all is. It's mid-May though and I know that, given the bright sunny weather, I'm going to be far more interested in growing my own food, walking to the shops and all the other eco-friendly things that are, let's face it, much more alluring with the chance of a suntan, than I would be in November.

This project then, will last as long as it lasts. I have no 'yard stick' to go by and no means of comparing any results I may come across to any sort of reliable 'control' experiment. This is all, you might say, a work in progress.

To avoid losing all but the already converted 'Green' people amongst us, here's the crux of what I want to find out: can I lead a 'Carbon Neutral' life, and what impact will it have?

So as to give as accurate a picture as possible, I will be blogging as often as I can. I will let you in on all the nitty-gritty details that you don't often hear about and tell you what it's like, in all aspects of my day to day living, to lead a 'Carbon Neutral' (or as close as I can get to it) life. I would also really appreciate any feedback and ideas from those whom stumble across this blog, I'm firmly of the belief that the more issues like these are discussed, the better educated we all become.

Wish me luck,

- James

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