Thursday, 31 July 2008

Low carbon cars

Most people are aware by now that hybrids aren't necessarily the most carbon-efficient cars on the market, but just how do you go about choosing a low emission car? The Department for Transport offers some advice on its website, not just about choosing a car but also about how to drive it efficiently. The driving tips are a tad obvious, but good advice nonetheless, and there's more of the same here.

The question of choosing a car is a little more tricky. For a start, only new cars are included in the rankings - indeed, only new cars rated "top 10" by What Car? magazine. Because there's a second hand market for cars, we can console ourselves that the one we discard will be re-used, however there's a good chance that further down the food chain somebody will replace a car that has no market value and will end up as scrap. Keeping our car for longer could therefore be a more sustainable option than trading up to a fuel efficient one, as long as it's not a real gas-guzzler, but I haven't yet managed to find a source of comparisons that includes previous models.

New Vehicle Excise Duty bands to be introduced next April will ensure that the most polluting cars pay more tax. The current 7 tax bands (A to G) will be expanded to 13 (A to M). Owners of cars in Band A do not pay anything. From April 2009, owners of cars in Band M will pay £440, increasing to £455 in 2010 - and there a also new "showroom tax" on new cars which pushes a Band M car's tax up to £950 in the first year.

Only two cars on the What Car? list fall into band A and attract zero tax: the Volkswagen Polo 1.4 Tdi and the Seat Ibiza 1.4 Tdi (which uses the same engine). Both have emissions of 99g CO2/km. But they aren't the cheapest to run: for example the Ford Focus 1.6 Duratorq TDCi has better fuel economy which more than offsets its Band B tax liability, although its emissions are 114g/km. There's a useful article on economical motoring here.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Plastic bags - a rant

I love home delivery for groceries - it's very convenient, and a well-planned delivery to multiple customers has a lower transport footprint than personal visits to the store. But I'm becoming seriously frustrated with Tesco, who don't seem to understand the concept of "without bags". Before they introduced this option, whenever I ordered wine with my groceries it was delivered in one of the six-bottle boxes that are used to deliver the wine to the store. Now I can have my groceries delivered without bags, but every time I order wine every bottle is lovingly wrapped in a plastic bag - sometimes two plastic bags!

I emailed Tesco's customer services team but all I got back was a standard-issue apology that I had been disappointed by their service. And my next delivery arrived with the bottles in bags just the same. Come on Tesco, sort it out!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Responsible print

I received a mailshot today about an initiative called Responsible Print. Offered by Four Corners Print, it provides a way for marketers to communicate the specific impacts of the marketing collateral they have printed, via a unique reference number printed on it. Entering the reference number at Four Corners' website provides access to on the specification of the print job and the materials used, plus the impacts of the factory and delivery fleet.

It's a neat idea, but I was rather disappointed to see a disclaimer at the bottom of the analysis to say that the carbon footprinting methodology used doesn't comply with relevant standards. To me, this undermines its value as an accreditation scheme. I want to like this scheme, I really do, but I'd find it easier to do so if it used publicly-available standards for its calculations.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

An elegant solution to water poverty

I'm impressed by the true sustainability of the Pump Aid project, which provides water pumps costing just $500 each for rural communities in Zimbabwe. Developed by Ian Thorpe, the elephant pump (so-called because its spillway looks like an elephants trunk, and the two people working it like its ears) can be maintained using materials available locally - unlike more expensive piston pumps which require imported parts.

The simple design, based on an ancient Chinese water-lifting device, uses a bicycle system to raise water through a pipe using washers knotted to a loop of rope. The Chinese used leather, but the Pump Aid version uses recycled plastic. A mould can be made from clay using an original washer and then when one breaks, a replacement can be made by melting down in a tin can any waste plastic available locally and pouring it into the mould. Rope is also easy to find, or can be substituted by locally-made tree bark twine.

A billion people around the world lack access to clean water. According to Ian Thorpe, a child dies every 15 seconds from unsafe water - the equivalent to 15 jumbo jets full of children crashing every day. Pump Aid is already supported by Aquaid and Thirsty Planet but requires additional sponsors to ensure that this shocking statistic is reduced, both in Zimbabwe and beyond.

The elephant pump won the St Andrews Prize for the Environment in 2005 and the World Bank Development Marketplace Prize in 2006. More info at

Friday, 18 July 2008

Greening Government ICT Strategy launched

Yesterday, the Cabinet Office released the Greening Government ICT Strategy report. According to Computer Weekly, the government has set its central department CIOs with the challenge of reducing the carbon emissions their departments produce. The target is for central departments to be carbon neutral by 2012.

The strategy outlines 18 steps that CIOs should take. These range from activity as simple as making sure staff turn off PCs after work to carrying out more complicated audits of the energy use of datacentres. The plan is to focus first on the quick wins, by encouraging behaviour change to reduce waste and save money. Eventually the programme will evolve to recommend the use of energy-efficient technology such as energy re-use systems, virtualisation technology and the introduction of thin client computing.

The government also called on private companies and individuals to follow its example, claiming that turning off computers outside work time will reduce annual CO2 emissions by the same amount as if 40,000 cars were taken off the road.

There is additional advice on carbon-saving actions here.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Go by rail!

I've just discovered, a fantastic site for those who would like to avoid air travel and go by rail instead. Full of inspiration, practical advice and useful links - well worth a visit!

There's a great article about its founder here, too.

Code of Conduct for Carbon Offsetting

I found out from that there's now a code of conduct for carbon offsetting published by DEFRA. This is something that has been challenging me for a while - I accept that offsetting can be worthwhile once you've done all you can to reduce your carbon impact but how do you choose a scheme that's credible and sustainable?

It may not have all the answers, but DEFRA's website might be a good place to start.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Charge your iPod while you dance!

A lovely new invention by curiously named greentech company Gotwind uses kinetic energy to charge electrical devices. No, seriously. Check it out here.

Car companies to be forced to show emissions data on posters

The Department for Transport has ruled that posters advertising cars must give CO2 and fuel information equal prominence with the main text, including length of warranty and price. They have had to do this in press advertising for some time, but it will be a particular challenge in outdoor media which requires text to be much briefer in order to communicate to readers on the move.

Marketing magazine claims that the car industry spent £76.4m on outdoor ads in 2007, up 32% on the previous year - possibly due to the introduction of the CO2 reporting rule for press ads.