Thursday, 28 July 2011

Discussion session with Dr Jane Goodall

I was lucky enough to be invited to a group discussion between Dr Jane Goodall and a variety of students and young professionals, who have been involved in interesting sustainability projects. Jane is a world famous primatologist, environmentalist and humanitarian, and founder of the Jane Goodall institute, an international wildlife and environment conservation organisation.

The meeting took place in Cape Town, South Africa, kick starting the Cape Town leg of Jane’s Roots and Shoots program. Roots and shoots is a youth program that connects thousands of youth of all ages, providing a platform that they can use to bring about positive social and environmental change in their communities.

The discussion revolved around Jane’s experiences with communities and animals, and certain themes that are important to begin a sustainable future were identified by the group.

  • Education – A big challenge in ensuring a sustainable future is education.  Educating kids from a young age is important.
  • Women and young mothers – Proper support for women and young mothers, especially regarding pregnancy and the number of children that can be comfortably raised, is a part of the cure to some of the underlying causes of this issue.
  • Listening – Coming up with solutions to a closely related socially and environmentally sensitive situation can be tricky. Listening to what the communities and individuals have to say before any action is taken is crucial in developing the best approach.
  • The role of the youth – Kids and young adults will play an extremely important role in fighting for a sustainable future, and Roots and Shoots is a great way to share ideas and experiences.
It’s a pity it was such a brief encounter, because she has so much valuable experience to share, but overall it was a fascinating discussion with an incredible woman.

Nicholas Wiid
Junior researcher & writer at green24

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Bluebuck Youth Sustainability Summit

Recently I attended the BlueBuck Youth Sustainability Summit at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. The BlueBuck Network is a platform where different universities and independent green projects can share ideas, resources and experiences, the organisation also acts as an international sustainability representative for the Southern African youth. The main goal of the conference was to establish the connections and contacts for the network to take into the future.

Two key themes were identified at the summit, themes that would carry initiatives like this forward and ultimately contribute to their success.

Collaboration is key
The need for collaboration was one of the main reasons why the network was initiated in the first place, and it was highlighted as key to the success of any environmental initiative. We are faced with a daunting task trying to build a sustainable future, so sharing knowledge and working together is the easiest and most logical way to move forward.

The role of social media
With a greater number of eyes having access to more information, the accountability and transparency of those in the spotlight can only improve, and sustainability will become a large focus with all of this public attention. Social media plays an important role in the transformation to a greener society, because you’re able to share ideas, experiences and information about sustainability.

All in all, it was an inspirational weekend and a great source of motivation, reminding me that there are so many individuals and groups with positive energy for change.

To see how we are using social media to spread our message, visit our Twitter page.  

Nicholas Wiid
Junior researcher & writer for green24

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Playing for the good

The carbon lottery is one of the most innovative offsetting schemes the world has seen, and I recently took part in a webinar on this relatively new program to learn more about it. Basically, for a £2 ticket, you can help tackle climate change and stand a chance of winning a bucket load of cash and prizes.

How it works
You choose your numbers online, before calculating your carbon footprint. You are then told how many lottery tickets you can buy to offset your personal emissions. Each ticket is worth 100kg of CO2, which means that the average UK citizen would have to buy two tickets a week to live a carbon neutral lifestyle. Over half of the ticket price goes to providing the prize pool to pay out the Lottery prizes and the remainder goes into the cost of sourcing, assessing, negotiating and purchasing the best community-based offset credits across the globe.

How your business can get involved
You could start a lottery pool at the office, where staff each put in a certain amount per week or month. You could choose a set of numbers as a group, which you will pick every time you play. And if the pool wins, you share the prize equally. It’s a fun way for your business to get involved in helping the environment.

Remember that everyone should put in exactly the same amount. No one should have a greater share just because they had more money in their wallet that day. This should be as uncomplicated as possible, which is why getting it in writing is important. There are many lottery pool agreements on the internet to choose from, here’s a basic example

The Carbon Lottery is a brilliant, simple and rewarding way to make a difference. It brings with it the potential to create awareness, as well as the possibility of winning cash and prizes, win-win! Let’s hope it’s a success, and is rolled out in other countries as well.

To find out more, visit the Carbon Lottery’s website, or follow them on Twitter.

You can also watch this introductory video, which will tell you everything you need to know. 

Candice Reichlin
Web Content Manager at green24

What is single most important green issue for young people to learn about and understand?

One of the greatest issues facing young people today is apathy towards making a difference to the environment. Many believe that they can’t instil change by themselves, and so, they do nothing. This problem escalates, until we reach the situation where no one does anything. This makes it an even harder task for those who decide to live more sustainably, or try and right the wrongs of others.

So, one of the most important green issues for the youth to learn about and understand, is that every positive action they undertake for the environment, makes a difference. Because ultimately, if one person makes a change today and someone sees that and follows that person’s lead, the process continues until other environmental crises become more and more manageable, and can even be averted.

Sustainability starts with one person, and grows outwards!

Tagging Great White’s for science

I was fortunate enough to be invited onto a research vessel this month (July 2011) for a tagging exercise for Great White sharks. This project formed part of an ongoing study to map the movements and migration patterns of these magnificent animals. Braving rough seas and a known disposition for sea-sickness, I donned my slicks and started chumming the waters. It didn't take long for a three-and-a-half metre monster to rise from the deep.

It took 6 hours to properly tag one Great White, and make sure that everything was working perfectly. The tagging procedure is fairly painless for the animal, and involved a long pole, with a tracking device attached to a barb at the end. There are a number of considerations that need to be taken into account before jabbing the dorsal fin, which include distance from boat to shark, parallel angle of shark to boat, height of dorsal fin above water, etc. All very scientific!

This data will be shared with fellow marine biologists around the world to better promote the understanding of these misunderstood animals. They are not blood-hungry man-eaters, but rather animals at the top of the food chain that are being hunted relentlessly. It is only through comprehending the complex behaviours and biology of these species, that we will be able to inform people about the importance of them in marine ecosystems.    

Gregg Brill
Senior researcher & writer at green24

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Is canned tuna a responsible seafood choice?

Many of us love the simplicity of canned tuna, either as a quick lunch at work or a simple dinner. This product is protein-rich, low in fat and relatively inexpensive, which makes it an affordable, healthy meal option. But some tuna species are becoming highly endangered because of the increasing demand for fresh fish. But for many, it’s unclear whether canned tuna fits into the endangered category or not.

The short answer is that all tuna populations are in trouble.  

Species and sustainability
There are seven tuna species that are caught and consumed: Albacore, Bigeye, Skipjack, Yellowfin, and three species of bluefin: Northern bluefin, Pacific bluefin, and Southern bluefin. Bluefins are the most valued, which makes it unlikely to be used for canning. These and other large species are used in the restaurant industry for steaks, sushi and other seafood dishes, their populations being heavily impacted because of this.

So, with bluefins destined for the restaurants, a number of other tuna species are used in canning. But even though these species have less impacted populations, there are issues centering on where and how they are caught. 

A major concern is that the tuna industry uses destructive fishing techniques (no matter what type of tuna is being fished), which severely impact on the environment and other marine species, like turtles, sharks, seabirds and dolphins. Many of these species often end up as by-catch (unwanted catch) and either get tossed overboard or used as bait.

The tuna industry has adopted measures to try and limit the amount of by-catch, and the impacts on other marine mammals, through dolphin-safe or dolphin-friendly certification. Check for products that carry this labelling, as they are more likely to take other marine species into consideration.

Label liability
Labelling on tuna products can be misleading because often the labels don’t mention the type of tuna used or where it comes from. Unless these details are specified on the can, it is difficult to judge how sustainable a product is. If your products do mention the type of tuna used, opt for skipjack tuna, as it has healthier populations, and contains less mercury.

Are canned goods all that good?
There is no need to stop eating canned tuna, but rather be mindful of the impact this fishery has on the marine environment. Make sure to look for certified products and opt for species that come from more sustainable fisheries.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Where can I find reliable information about CO2 captured per year by trees of various species?

A great deal of data has been done on the CO2 capture rate of individual tree species. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to compare this information across species, for a number of reasons:
  1. Individual tree species have different efficiency ratios due to their physiology. This means that some trees are better equipped in absorbing carbon from the air than others. This said, can we compare a giant redwood and a banana tree? They may have similar efficiency rates, but there biomass (i.e. the area with which they can capture carbon), growth rates etc are not comparable.
  2. Same species are found in different environmental conditions. You may find that one species e.g. bitter orange, found in different environmental conditions are more suited for carbon capture, depending on levels of sunshine, CO2 concentrations, rainfall, soil conditions, etc.
  3.  Number of species will make a difference. Even though you can compare individual tree species against one another, it is difficult to compare scales of density. For example, even though a blue gum may be more efficient at capturing atmospheric carbon than a pine species, is it possible compare the effects of a blue gum stand of 500 trees, versus an arboreal forest of 100 000 pine trees?

Current research (Europe and USA)
The US Department of Forestry has listed several tree species as the most effective in terms of carbon sequestration (in boreal forests). Species include: Common Horse-chestnut, Black Walnut, American Sweetgum, Ponderosa Pine, Red Pine, White Pine, London Plane, Hispaniolan Pine, Douglas Fir, Scarlet Oak, Red Oak, Virginia Live Oak and Bald Cypress.

Researchers at the University of Sevilla further tested tree species and found that the Aleppo Pine is able to capture an average of 48000 CO2 kg per year, while the Stone Pine can absorb 27 000 CO2 kg per year.

Forests with high species diversity in tropical locations seem to have the highest levels of carbon sequestration efficiency. Check out this article on world forests acting as carbon sinks.

Other good resources regarding this question can be found at:

Monday, 18 July 2011

Financial services and going green

The financial services industry is not always the first sector you think about when thinking about sustainability. But, as a major employer across the globe, and a very influential sector, it can play an important role in promoting green issues and developing its own capabilities in this area.

So, how can financial services be green? Firstly, it can get the green basics right:

  1. Recycling paper and reducing the printing of emails.
  2. Banks could look at their reports and accounts, as these are often extremely long.
  3. Greening air miles by offsetting and using video conferencing when possible.
  4. Though they may not be the biggest consumers, financial firms can also reduce their water, energy and material usage.
    Financial services can also play a big role in the greening of our planet through their ability to raise awareness with the wider community. This important issue was discussed when I gave the keynote on 7th July to the UK's Financial Services Research Forum at the Association of British Insurers on 'the Big Society' to a packed room from firms across the sector. This is something green24 can help with, if banks and insurers include a green angle on as many offerings as possible, they are passing on the green message to a huge group of consumers.

    Not only can banks and insurers pass on green messaging to their customers, but they can incorporate this philosophy in everything, from lending decisions to investment products. Green funds and pensions have grown, especially among the youth.

    Given these opportunities, all financial firms have a responsibility to review what they are offering. Often, financial advisers neglect to ask about a customer's values as part of their 'know your customer' due diligence, and it can sometimes be surprising how positively clients react when offered green alternatives. Nowadays, choosing a green investment doesn't mean taking a lower return.

    The real return is the long term commitment of banks and other institutions, rather than short term fashion, as we have seen with some forays into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for mainly good PR reasons. It’s changing the levels of expectation and setting new benchmarks in sustainability, passing ideas and standards from business to business, that shift the horizon of what is acceptable and normal internationally.  

    Financial services can be a little conservative and risk averse, but here is an area where the sector can take the lead and even be adventurous! Commitment is not necessarily a risk or costly, and can bring long term benefits to all. Ask us how it’s done!

    David Jackman

    Thursday, 14 July 2011

    Quick & easy ways to save water in the home

    We recently received a question from one of our Twitter followers, and we thought we'd share it here. Our follower wanted to know what water saving tips we would suggest to someone living in a small house, who doesn't own a car, as she felt her options were quite limited. 

    Saving water in a small apartment can seem like a bit of a challenge, seeing as you might not have a garden or car to use wastewater on. But don’t lose hope in your water-wise ways, as there are many alternative options to save or reuse water. Here are a few unconventional, yet inexpensive and easy ways to save water in the bathroom and kitchen.

    In the bathroom
    1. Keep a bucket in the shower to catch water as it warms up or runs. Use this water to flush toilets, water house plants or for doing hand laundry in.
    2. If your shower fills a five-litre bucket in less than 30 seconds, replace the showerhead with a water-efficient model.
    3. Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you'll save up to 600 litres of water per month.
    4. Save water and time by washing your face or brushing your teeth while in the shower.
    5. When you are washing your hands, brushing your teeth or shaving, turn the tap off.

    In the kitchen
    1. When washing dishes by hand, don't let the water run while rinsing. Fill one sink to wash in, and the other with rinse water.
    2. Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrape them clean.
    3. Don't use running water to thaw food. Defrost food in the refrigerator for water efficiency and food safety.
    4. Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of running water from the tap, then reuse it to water houseplants.
    5. When buying new appliances, consider those that offer cycle and load size adjustments. They're both water- and energy-efficient.

    Finally, make sure to monitor your water bill for unusually high use. Your statement and water meter are tools that can help you discover leaks.

    Wednesday, 13 July 2011

    Cycling for a worthy cause

    Gregg Brill, our senior researcher and writer, travelled to Namibia from the 1st to the 9th of July 2011 to cycle through Damaraland, raising funds to support conservation initiatives for the desert-adapted black rhino. Challenge4ACause, a South African-based non-profit organisation runs this annual event for individuals who wish to make a difference, while experiencing and exploring the unspoilt wilderness of Namibia.

    Why rhinos? Since 2008, rhino poaching has increased in a big way, with more animals being killed annually than was seen throughout the past decade! Without adequate protection, this species will become extinct within the next 10 years. Rhino horn is used in Asia as a traditional medicine, believed to cure a variety of ailments, although the product contains no medicinal value.

    Support Challenge4ACause or Save the Rhino Trust by clicking on the links and making a donation. Or perhaps get actively involved with the organisations by cycling through one of Africa's most beautiful countries in aid of the rhinos.

    Thursday, 7 July 2011

    Can contact lenses be recycled?

    The short answer is simply no. Contact lenses are made out of a specific kind of breathable plastic that absorbs water and transmits oxygen, helping to keep your eye moist and healthy. There are no places that specifically take and recycle these lenses, although there are a number of interesting home project ideas for what to use them for or make them into. 

    The contact lens casing will usually be recyclable, displaying a plastic identification recycling code, and can be added to your other plastic recycling.

    Some eye doctors, manufacturers or retailers may take unused contact lenses back to be reused or recycled, but to what degree they are recycled is not known or advertised. The best thing would be to send them back to where they came from, or find a place that you can donate them to, like:

    The next best thing to do would be to throw the lenses away (if they are used), and recycle the packaging/container.

    Sunday, 3 July 2011

    Ask our experts!

    As part of our effort to encourage and support those choosing to live more eco-savvy lifestyles, we have started an "ask the expert" competition. We want you to ask us any green question, and we promise to give you a detailed response from one of our experts. You can ask your question on Twitter by adding a #asktheexpert hastag, or by emailing us at We will publish answers on twitter or on our blog, depending on the length of the answer.

    Our supremely bright and experienced researchers and writers will give you credible advice and information, presented in a straightforward, easy-to-use way. We cover all aspects of living green, from home and parenting, to work, transport and travel, to science, technology and architecture, so really, ask us anything!

    The most interesting questions stand a chance to win a month’s free subscription to green24’s members-only website, where you'll be able to take full advantage of our “ask the expert” feature, having any query answered for an entire month!