Monday, 13 December 2010

SKA standard for sustainable commercial fit-outs

The Royal Institute of Charterered Surveyors has established a benchmark and rating system for sustainable fitting out of office buildings. Complementary to the BREEAM standard, which includes to the building shell, the SKA standard considers the finishes, fixtures and fittings and comprises 99 good practice measures that can be applied to both new build and refurbishments.

A good practice guidance document is available for download - please don't print it as it is 206 pages long! There is also a free online self-assessment tool. Projects can also be certified by an accredited SKA assessor, subject to payment of a variable fee that takes into account the scale and complexity of the project.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

CRC revenue recycling axed

Although the chancellor made no mention of it in his speech on the Public Spending Review, the revenue recycling element of the CRC has been dropped. In a press release issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, it was announced that the revenue would instead be used to support the public finances. The statement suggests that it will be invested in projects including "spending on the environment", although the £1bn it is predicted to raise would be a welcome contribution to the budget deficit.

This effectively converts the CRC to a stealth carbon tax and throws into doubt the validity of the early action metrics designed to earn a higher place in the league tables and a higher incentive payment.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The future of motoring?

A video report from the BBC today showcases the first hydrogen-powered car to be made commercially available - although not, so far, in the UK. The Honda Clarity is powered by an electric motor, which is charged by a fuel cell stack that converts the hydrogen to electricity and water. Its range is over 200 miles.

The catch, of course, is the lack of a hydrogen filling station network, but Honda has addressed this by developing a solar-powered hydrogen generation station suitable for domestic installation. It is designed to use grid electricity overnight to create 0.5kg of hydrogen, then return the energy to the grid from its solar panels during the day. The hydrogen generated in 8 hours is only sufficient for 30-35 miles, however.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Green Curtains

The simplest ideas are often the best, and this one is beautifully simple. Kyocera Group has planted "green curtains" around 20 of its facilities on three continents. Fruit-bearing plants are grown up temporary nets or trellises to shade walls and windows from the sun, reducing direct solar gain through the windows and thermal transfer through the walls. The green, leafy shade is attractive for its workers to look out on - plus they get the enjoy the fruit and vegetables grown by the curtains in the staff canteen.

The company even publishes a "how to" guide on its website for other businesses that want to emulate it.

The green curtains are comprised of cucumbers, peas and a bitter gourd called goya, and cover 32,750 square feet (3,043 square metres). Kyocera has calculated that they decrease the temperature of walls by as much as 15 degrees C (27 degrees F). At the same time, the green curtains absorb an estimated 23,481 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the effect of 761 cedar trees.

Kyocera has a longstanding reputation for environmentally-responsible business and also operates a "cool biz" dress code in the summer to help staff stay comfortable without resorting to air conditioning. And it's also in the process of installing the solar PV panels it manufactures on more of its premises. By March 2011, the company expects to have solar power installed at all of its 10 manufacturing sites in Japan plus 20 sites globally. These include a 214-kW solar power generating system at its global headquarters in Kyoto, and a solar grove in the car park of Kyocera’s San Diego facility, which also shades cars from the sun.

The new projects will boost Kyocera's total solar output from its own installations to 1,815kW, which combined with the offset provided by its green curtain, will help to reduce the company's CO2 emissions.

(Declaration of interest - writer is employed by a Kyocera Group company in the UK)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Proof that Feed-In Tariffs make solar viable

I was alerted by the excellent Money Saving Expert to an offer whereby companies are offering to install solar PV panels for free in return for collecting the Feed In Tariff payments on behalf of the property owner - who still gets to benefit from the resulting energy savings. If companies are prepared to make this kind of offer, they must be pretty sure that they can recover their investment within a reasonable period, AND make a profit. Therefore, it looks like solar PV has finally become a financially viable option for UK homeowners.

I don't know enough about either of these companies to recommend them, but you can find out more from Isis Solar or A Shade Greener. There's a useful summary of the Feed in Tariffs on the Ofgem website, and you should only use a supplier certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme.

Unlike the previous green energy grants scheme, the Feed-In Tariffs provide a guaranteed index-linked income for 25 years, as long as they remain the owner of the property. Companies and individuals that install microgeneration systems receive payment for all electricity generated, even that which they use themselves, although energy exported to the national grid earns a much higher rate. Full details of all energy saving grants available can be found at the Energy Saving Trust.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


I've just bought 80 fairtrade teabags for 28p - Sainsbury's Basics range. So, how does that work then? If you can sell fairtrade tea for 28p - including the cost of processing, packaging, shipping etc. - just how much does the grower get for fairtrade tea? It doesn't seem like nearly enough. Do all fairtrade brands pay their growers the same, or is some fairtrade fairer than others? And if they all pay the same, how do some brands justify charging 10 times as much or even more?

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Rotten to the core?

Despite ranking a creditable 5th in Greenpeace's Greener Electronics guide, Apple fares less well on ethical use of labour. Those paying premium prices for the new iPad might be dismayed to learn that it is built by workers in a military-style factory in China, which is now in the spotlight for its high suicide rate among workers.

300,000 people work at the Foxconn factory, where they are forbidden to talk on the production line, even during breaks; many have complained of feeling lonely and alienated. These conditions, combined with massive demand for products like the 2M-selling iPad, appears to have placed an intolerable strain on workers, who are quitting the Longhua factory at the rate of 15,000 a month.

Workers have routinely worked more than 70 hours a week to fulfill orders. However, Apple maintains that Foxconn, which is one of Apple's primary suppliers, is not a sweatshop. Nevertheless, Foxconn has just agreed to immediately raise the basic salaries of its workers by a third, from £90 per month to £120.

You can read more on this story here, and from a marketing viewpoint here.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Earth Day, 22nd April 2010

For Earth Day 2010, we're being encouraged to join a Billion Acts of Green, by pledging an action to reduce our environmental impact. The timing is poignant given that the European airlines have been grounded for most of the last week due to a natural disaster. A timely reminder that we have no control over the forces of nature, and perhaps it will stop us from taking air travel so much for granted in the future.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Walk to Work Week

Walk to Work Week runs from 26th to 30th April, a project of Living Streets. The theme for this year's event is 'Get fit without the hassle. Try walking to, from or during work.' They have set 5 challenges for employees:

1.Try walking all or part of the way to work
2.Try walking all or part of the way home from work
3.Hold a walking meeting
4.Walk all or part of the way to a meeting
5.Take a walk during your lunch break

An online tool will enable workplace organisers to track the impact of the Week, and will also allow individual employees to track their own progress. Prizes will be available both to partcipating employees and workplaces.
There are a number of free resources to help workplace organisers promote the Week and get their colleagues involved both leading up to and during the event.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Switch off for Earth Hour

8.30pm on Saturday 27th March sees the start of Earth Hour, when we are all urged to switch off unnecessary lights for an hour in support of resource conservation. Iconic buildings like the Empire State Building, Sydney Opera House and the Las Vegas Strip will go dark for an hour at 8.30pm local time. Seems like the perfect opportunity for a candlelit dinner.

Or why not go one further and switch off the TV, PC and gaming consoles too and play good old-fashioned board games or cards?

The WWF is encouraging participants to record their contribution by uploading photos to Flickr, videos to YouTube and tweeting with the hashtag #earthhour. You can find details of how to get involved here.

Climate Savers Computing is encouraging all its members to set their computer's power management settings to a more frugal setting for Earth Hour - a timely reminder that if you work in an office it's likely to be unoccupied for at least 70% of the time. Turning off computers and other office machines out of hours could reduce your energy bill as well as your carbon footprint, so reach for that off switch before you go home this weekend.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Fairtrade Fortnight The Big Swap

Today sees the start of Fairtrade Fortnight and this year the theme is The Big Swap. People are encouraged to switch to fair trade products and register their swap on the website, to count towards the target of one million and one swaps during the campaign. The website contains useful information on how fair trade products benefit those involved in their production and suggests categories of product where the switch can be made, from coffee to cosmetics.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Vintage - recycling in style

With fashion fads changing so quickly, the timeless appeal of vintage clothes gives them a longevity that today's clothing just can't match. But finding good quality vintage pieces can be difficult; most of us don't have the time to scour the fleamarkets in search of a bargain and vintage retailers are relatively rare. But buying online can be risky, as you're never quite sure what you're getting.

I'm impressed by online vintage retailer Love Miss Daisy. The clothes are gorgeous, condition is both categorised and supported by individual comments about any blemishes, and actual measurements are provided instead of just the size on the label. Vintage clothing is great from an environmental point of view, as it gives new life to garments that would otherwise end up in landfill. And it's the perfect choice for individualists who don't want to run into somebody else wearing the same outfit to the same event.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Permitted Development for domestic wind turbines mooted in Scotland

According to the BBC, homeowners in Scotland may soon be allowed to put wind turbines up to 3m high and 3.5m in diameter on their roofs without planning permission, under permitted development rules. Free-standing wind turbines as tall as 11m and at least 100m from neighbouring properties could also be allowed, except in conservation areas. Air-source heat pumps would also be allowed, even in conservation areas, if they were invisible from the road.

The proposals are due to be launched next Friday as part of an ongoing consultation on renewable energy.

Climate change minister Stewart Stevenson claims the proposals strike the right balance in the best interests of Scotland, claiming: "By cutting red tape in the planning system we can make it easier for households to generate their own clean, green energy." He argued that the proposals will boost Scotland's renewables sector, potentially generating new jobs.

There's still considerable controversy about the carbon efficiency of small scale wind turbines, with fears that they may not be able to save enough carbon during their operational life to repay the carbon debt incurred in their manufacture. And many urban sites will not have sufficient airflow to operate the turbines effectively. The plans do allow anemometer masts, which measure wind speed, on roofs and in gardens, for a maximum of 12 months, but it's possible that many homeowners will skip this step to reduce the expense.

Relaxing planning restrictions on renewables is generally a positive step, but much better information on the relative efficiency of different systems is essential to avoid people investing in sytems which, despite their good intentions, don't reduce carbon emissions.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Note to Greenpeace - it's not about the polar bears!

I spotted a banner on the excellent Greenbang site from Greenpeace, which is exhorting us to save the polar bear by donating £3 per month. Surely this kind of "save the fluffy animals" approach to climate change is way out of date? It's not that I don't care about the polar bears, but much more is at stake. And photos of cute creatures simply trivialise the largest single threat to mankind ever. It's our own extinction we're facing, not some animal most of us have only encountered in zoos.

It's not that I don't applaud Greenpeace's work, I just think they need better ads - especially on a site like Greenbang, which is likely to attract readers already quite well informed on climate issues. Any species going extinct is a bad thing - but if we can save ourselves, the polar bears will survive too.

Ethical travel company drops offsets

Ethical Performance this month reports that has removed the facility for its customers to offset their travel emissions, arguing that effort needs to be reinvested into actually reducing greenhouse gases. The travel agent was established in 2001 with backing from private investors including Anita Roddick and was one of the first in the tourism industry to introduce an offset scheme. However, it now feels that carbon mitigation must be its first priority and that offseting distracts from the real issues. turns over more than £10m and offers a choice of 3,500 holidays, all of which can be booked as "land only" packages that don't involve flying. It now offers "carbon cautions" to customers, giving advice on reducing emissions through lifestyle changes. Its actions are likely to be welcomed by NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, which has called offset schemes "a dangerous distraction", and Sinkswatch, which says that offsetting schemes run the risk of exacerbating climate change by providing a false expectation that they are making a difference.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

UK Government announces boiler scappage scheme

Today's announcement of a new boiler scrappage scheme will be good news for people struggling to meet the cost of upgrading old, energy-inefficient boilers. And, unlike the car scrappage scheme, it actually promotes the adoption of more energy efficient products. A payment of £400 can be claimed from the Energy Saving Trust by any householder replacing a G rated boiler with an A rated one, and boilers can be purchased from any authorised installer. The large energy companies are likely to offer a £400 reduction in price to match the government's contribution, but buyer beware - their prices are often higher than independent installers, so it pays to shop around.

The government estimates that domestic heating is responsible for 14% of the UK's carbon emissions; the scrappage scheme will reduce energy bills by an average of £235 per year, saving as much CO2 as taking 45,000 cars off the road. The £50m fund will only cover the rebate for 125,000 households of the estimated 3.5 million with G rated boilers, so it pays to act quickly. You can check your eligibility here.