Sunday, 25 November 2012


I was inspired to write this blog by a ‘Big Issue’ seller in a doorway of Edinburgh’s Waverley railway station. The Big Issue is a magazine sold by and for the homeless. This particular man looked so forlorn; it was such a dank, dreek and cold evening, even by Scottish standards, that I could not walk by on the other side. It is, I am very afraid to say, a long time since I have bought a Big Issue and I offered up a pound. It’s now £2.50, but a good read.

The cover attracted my attention: ‘What are we without our trees?’ What indeed? We are facing in the UK and in Europe the rapid spread of a withering disease of ash trees called Ash dieback. I did not realise that 30% of our trees in Britain are ash. To lose that proportion of our trees would be as disastrous as Dutch Elm disease that I recall from my 1970s childhood.

The UK government has called meetings of its crisis emergency committee, more used to combating threats of terrorism, to consider what can be done. Very little it seems, so trees with genetic modifications survive, but most do not.

I went out into the wood in our garden and found that we do have a much higher number of ash than I imagined. They all seem fine at the moment and as we are isolated, may be spared. We used to live in a delightfully wooded area called Ashridge, which as the name suggests, might be sadly and severely affected by the impending disease.

There have been heroic protests in the past, sometimes to save a single, prominent tree or a much-loved wood. The Pollok M77 protest was one such stand. As the Big Issue says, and I agree, quite apart from their commercial and environmental value, trees are a part of our sense of place and being. They feed our soul. To punch such a big hole in the fabric of everyday landscapes drains our spirits and lowers the mood. In a time where resilience and confidence is needed so much, this blow may have an even more disheartening result than we may now realise. We must do what we can, even if it is re-planting other species in the gaps that are left.

We need to do this for all of us, not least for the magazine seller in the doorway who may just now be homeless. We need as much hope as we can get.

David Jackman

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Gardens - revisited

A few months ago I blogged about a forthcoming new attraction in Singapore—the Gardens by the Bay—a biodiversity exhibition under domes such as those that have become familiar through the UK’s Eden Project. The expansive confidence of the enterprise in Singapore’s downtown is undeniable, including a cloud dome and a flower garden boasting blooms from every continent.  Just opened now, I have been able to walk around the first phase and wonder at the engineering feats as well as the splendour of the natural flora on show.

The striking centre-piece of the gardens are some false super-trees constructed out of steel, like something from a fantasy movie and intertwined with a variety of real trees and saprophytes. The engineering is awesome, just as the giant framework of the skeletal domes also stretch into the sky. They seem to be straining at the very limit of human endeavour, holding up immense structures that protect the biospheres.  It is a metaphor, I thought, for the decisions we are making right now about sustainability. Either we are straining at the edges but will be able to extend technology so that it can protect and enhance the environment or we have reached the limits of what is humanly possible (typified by these super-rich city states of Singapore and the Gulf) and will find ourselves soon falling back, overcome by the strain. I wonder which it will be?

The really interesting aspect of the Gardens is the highly educational presentations and displays that every visitor has to pass through setting out the facts of global warming and explaining what each person can do. I did not know, for example, that human beings breath in 0.8 kg of oxygen per day on average, while we breathe out 1 kg of carbon dioxide per day—so we are on a losing wicket right from the start! While nature’s carbon cycles potentially balance out, man’s additions to greenhouse gasses could add up to 5'C this century cumulatively and exponentially. We can argue projections but there’s no doubting the power of the overall story being told.

Great efforts have been made to make these gardens carbon neutral (let’s not ask about the embedded carbon in the physical structures) but like our planet, what we do next and how the many thousands of visitors respond make the difference to the outcome, or at least the next pages, of that crucial story.

David Jackman

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The uneven space of green ideas

When visiting friends or relatives, one notices much more little qualities of everyday life. The water can be harder, the house hotter or colder, and all the kitchen utensils are in the wrong place! But, of course, these qualities become familiar and eventually comforting. There is one difference, however, which is becoming more and more marked – the local recycling customs. In rural Cumbria, you can bung your empty cans and jars into a crate by the road and think little more of it. When visiting London, I’m almost surprised that councils don’t provide on-call chemists to ascertain whether the empty bag of Weetos goes in the bin for biodegradable/compostable packaging or “General Waste” (who I like to think is ranked below Field Marshal Rubbish but above Colonel Littering). The serious point here is that green solutions to potential environmental problems differ widely between different areas, which can limit the effectiveness of central policies. Indeed, delegating such solutions as recycling and limiting emissions to councils suggests the government is not particularly interested in a centralised approach, or in making environmental concern a common theme in its policy more generally.

This too is a microcosm of environmental policy on a global scale. Consider, for example, the failure of the summits at Kyoto and Copenhagen to deliver unified and powerful environmental policy with global influence. Emissions targets are all very well, but there must either be apparatus to enforce targets (a solution which seems too unilateral), or a process to educate people, councils and governments to secure and apply useful ideas consistently.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Paralympics – a great inspiration

We are now being treated to the second half of a great summer of sport. The Paralympics, which has its origins in Stoke Mandeville in the UK and the previous London Games of 1948, has started with the same enthusiasm and support experienced for the London 2012 Olympics a few weeks ago. London 2012 I am sure will be remembered as much for raising levels of admiration for those with disability, as much as celebrating the triumphs of the able bodied Games.

Both sets of Games are united by the same aims of common endeavour and striving for excellence, and both rebuild our confidence in human achievement and the human spirit. But the Paralympics has an extra special dimension, of battling against the odds, of overcoming often immense obstacles and demonstrating tremendous determination. The backstories of some of the athletes are truly amazing.

The Paralympics tells us a lot about sustainability. It’s a showcase of the resilience and adaptability right at the heart of the sustainability theme. Individuals and families, often caught unaware, have had to cope with difficulties and limitations. They have had to find ways round what must seem like huge blocks in the road and have come out with something hugely positive.

Technology has played its part in liberating many participants, providing them with a mechanism to take part or improve their performance. Not all countries are equally advanced, but there is a sense of sharing expertise to raise the overall level. This is how sustainable development works – or should work – the sharing of ideas, pushing back boundaries, reducing limitations and finding innovative and imaginative solutions together. 

The Paralympics opening ceremony was as instructive as Danny Boyle’s awe-inspiring Olympic opener. The Paralympics’ curtain-raiser focused on enlightenment, enterprise, scientific advance and sensitive creativity. We all learnt something. We learnt that disability is a part of the rich diversity of human experience; we learn more about what success looks like, we learnt more about the world this generation and subsequent generations might try to create and we learnt a lot more about the power of the human spirit.

I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel very optimistic and more motivated to pass on a world in as good a condition as possible. Sustainability could do with being and appearing to be more positive, less grumpy. And it is a wonder how empowering putting so-called ‘disability’ centre-stage can be!

David Jackman

Thursday, 30 August 2012

How green a Games?

We have seen the ‘greatest show on earth’ – the Olympics. Usain bolted, world records crashed, Ennis and Farrah became new national heroes and everyone had an exceedingly good time. The sun even shone (most of the time)!

But did London 2012 live up to its aim to be the greenest Games ever?

I was lucky enough to get tickets to go on one day, to see the Hockey on the first day the Olympic Park was in full use. It was amazing! Just to be inside the Park was enough. The crowds of people thronging down the walkways and the cheers echoing from the stadium - I shall never forget.

Whether the thousands there were aware that monumental efforts had been made to reduce the carbon footprint, many structures being built in a deliberately low intensity, demountable way, I am not sure.  The low-carbon energy centre was clearly evident but there was, perhaps, little ‘education’ about the innovative way this was running.

Recycling was very much in focus; however, the choices of bins seemed confusing to some. By the end of the day I suspect most ‘got it’- and that was the point.  The extensive planting of the site was extraordinary and was missed by no-one, I expect. The comments I heard about the wild meadows full of flowers and trees were legion.

Having spent nearly seven years preparing for these two weeks and as a member of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, which is the sustainability assurance body overseeing the event, all our efforts were worthwhile and made a real contribution. This set a new benchmark for events of this scale, including the upcoming Paralympic Games. We are now working on the vital legacy of establishing a new community and economic hub in once run-down east London.

But the real success was something else that perhaps no-one really expected. It was the tremendous spirit and goodwill generated by the Games. The volunteers, who noticeably got the biggest cheers in the closing ceremony, were also the stars with their humour, cheerfulness and sheer commitment.  It was infectious. Now we have to nurture that collective spirit, enthusiasm and moral legacy. We have to talk about the sustainability of community spirit which goes far beyond buildings and carbon footprint. This is a new kind of ‘green’ and in this we did very well indeed.

David Jackman
Member of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Quick fixes

A helicopter is bearing down on me, not 100 feet above my head! The noise is deafening. From below is slung a large bag bulging and swinging worryingly. The helicopter now turns and deposits its load just behind our house on the mountain side and without a pause returns to the far mountain from where it came to be loaded up once more.

It does this time and time again. A never ending circuit, that’s been going on for at least the last 3-4 hours.

The heavy cargoes suspended below the helicopters are stones, slates and rocks; they are being dropped in massive canvas bags on the popular mountain path above us. Later National Park wardens will lay these to strengthen the path, make it safe and mitigate the effects of severe path erosion from the hundreds of tourists and walkers who climb here every week. It is particularly busy (although not today, obviously) as it forms part of the increasingly  popular  ‘coast to coast ‘ long distance path that allows you to walk across the UK at one of its narrowest points through some of our loveliest scenery.

This work in progress is the local ‘fix-the-fells’ programme in action. It’s now our turn. The money to pay for this needy work is raised by voluntary donation, partly an optional £1 per night levy on hotel guests in the area.

It makes me think that many must be aware of the possibility of environmental damage and are prepared to share some responsibility, however small, when they come to such a beautiful but pressured place. Surely the principle extends further, and we have responsibility for many other actions in our lives, not just on holiday. The challenge which fix the fells has cracked is to make that responsibility real and secondly to make a way of contributing practical and easy to do. This is what green24 is helping to do as well. Help all of us to see our responsibilities and also show us ways of dealing with the consequences. Big business has long been in the frame and can always do more but it is a responsibility of each and every one to be involved at an individual level.

If we don’t we will soon find that delightful places that we all take for granted will no longer be so accessible or pleasant and other elements of our environment will give way just as fast.

David Jackman

Jubilee weekend

In the UK and across the Commonwealth, we are celebrating the Queen’s 60-year reign. In our village we are having a big lunch, races for the children, the service of thanksgiving and a drama performance. The highlight will be the lighting of beacons across the mountains which will be visible from miles away!

In London of course, there will be a pageant of over 1000 boats on the river, a procession and a concert starring, amongst others, Paul McCartney, Jesse J, Take That and Tom Jones (an event that I am sure the Queen will enjoy!)

It is good to have moments to mark the passing of time and to reflect.  If you look back over this second Elizabethan age, so much has changed. I recall my parents telling me that they, like many others, bought their first television to watch the coronation, now many will be watching the jubilee online. Many have enjoyed relative prosperity, while for others, inequalities seem to have increased.  Mass consumption has placed great pressure on resources; we have been labelled a throwaway generation. We have reached the Moon, but managed to confuse the climate. 

How much have we actually ‘grown up’ in the last 60 years? Are we more responsible, or just taking anything on offer? I’d like to think that we have in recent decades been able to think beyond ourselves, and nation, and to have some responsibility for the wider community and environment. We are more equipped to deal with complex and interconnected problems, and have achieved great progress in combating poverty and the abuse of human rights, although there is still much to be done.

Sustainable development is a great expression of this progress and shows how having an eye to the common good can be achieved without creating havoc in economic terms. The emergence of public support for sustainability shows that individuals and companies are getting involved without top down direction. However, the green agenda needs to expand in order to reflect and engage with wider interests involving social progress. The emergence and continuation of sustainable development is an important initiative that should be implemented during what will hopefully be many more years of Elizabethan reign.
David Jackman

Gardens by the Bay

It’s surprising the assumptions we make sometimes. Recently, I was lecturing to a group of young professionals and asked how many of them knew what sustainability was. Incredibly none had a clue. The closest we got was the sustainability of a business in financial terms, not exactly what I had in mind.

Maybe it is different terminology. It seemed that while sustainable development was not a familiar term, corporate social responsibility (CSR) was. But they are not the same in most accepted definitions and the environmental angle of sustainability need not be prominent in CSR.

This apparent gap in mutual understanding is all the more surprising as it is in Singapore, a first world developed state, where everyone talks about the weather and climate change is openly accepted as the reason for the quirks experienced here, such as the lack of rain in the last two weeks! So the symptoms are familiar enough and being ‘green’ is commonly discussed. And to cap it all, this is a country that is about to open its spectacular ‘Gardens by the Bay’, a recreated tropical paradise, in the heart of the city. This Asian version of the UK’s Eden Project is designed to bring awareness of the balances of nature into a rapidly growing and teeming hub of urban living.

What was evident, when we had explained each other’s versions of ‘green’ was the absence of a sense that there was much that any individual or company could usefully do, or any strong sense of responsibility. This could be a bit of an unfair summary, and may be the result of being a small country in a highly competitive region, but the disconnection was clear.

green24 is a way of re-connecting people and companies to a larger framework and set of ideas. Employees and customers must become aware of what it means to be green and how they can contribute to this initiative. Overall, it is about disseminating more information, because greater awareness creates more options. Also, creating more discussion breaks down misconceptions and builds common understanding. Maybe at the end of our discussion in Singapore some eyes were opened. Building understanding, responsibility and environmental education, or whatever we wish to call it, is a large project in which each of us can play a part. The advent of internet technology gives us all the opportunity to spread awareness through information services like green24 and demonstrate – dare I say – sustainable commitment.

David Jackman

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Blog for business

Calling all businesses – we need to know what really helps you. For years now, I have been creating new tools to help firms become more sustainable. Many, thankfully, have worked, but often only in specific sectors. Sustainability is much more ‘on the agenda’ but it has to be practically focused and deliver business benefits.

I know that more top-down regulations usually create burdensome bureaucracy (I have to say, I  have written many rules in the past) and I am aware that once sustainability is seen as an imposed cost, commitment and hearts and minds are easily lost.  In recent years I have progressed to designing a series of voluntary standards, both nationally and internationally, which help firms to implement sustainability for themselves.  These are often more effective because they are internally driven.

Now there is a possibility of these guidance standards becoming certifiable British Standards or ISOs. I am off to meetings to discuss the way forward. But I have to ask: is this useful? Do firms want to be able to demonstrate their sustainability credentials in this way? Or do companies really want more information and benchmarking – the sharing of good practise? How can green24 help in this?

It may be that it is not just organisations that need to be engaged, but their customers, communities and the public at large. That is the trust of much of my new work and probably lies at the heart of green24’s mission. It’s about widening responsibility and education, not just focusing on organisations to deliver everything.

Let us know what you think. We’d be delighted to hear your views.

David Jackman


There was an interesting phrase buried on page 70 of the UK House Of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport issue this week about phone hacking and News International. The controversial line which did not get cross party support for the statement that Rupert Murdoch was not a fit person to be a steward for an international company. The interesting word in this damning indictment is the word ‘steward’.

The committee might easily have said ‘director’, but they chose to use steward. The choice is very revealing as it shows a change in attitude towards the roles, responsibilities and purpose of the main board of directors and senior management teams in general. The term points up a broadening of the traditional financial driver of shareholder value, to include a wider set of responsibilities which relate to other stakeholders, and, I would argue, the environment. There are many other elements that could be included, but this is relevant to green24.

We are all stewards of the natural resources around us, as well as the cultural, economic and capital we create, affect or hold in trust. Unlike the others, environmental resources have limits; once the damage is done, it is very difficult to repair or restore. So in this area, which is particularly fragile, we have to be careful – just as the Murdoch’s have found that good reputation is extremely fragile and requires careful husbandry.

So maybe this moment marks a shift towards a clearer statement of directors’ responsibilities.  It is landmark cases like this that change the architecture of corporate governance. It may not set legal precedents, but it does set a precedent in the court of public opinion.

Many will be familiar with the concept of triple bottom line, but this is rather nebulous for companies to grasp in practice. If we can establish that senior management are more like stewards of our society and cultural capital than robber barons, then we will have moved on in a way that most will understand. Companies have responsibilities outside their bubble; they cannot operate in isolation regardless. Certain things are acceptable and others are most definite not.

To be a corporate statesman needs higher levels of competence and integrity; and this integrity needs to extend to the environment in in which we all live as much as anything else.

D Jackman

Here comes the sun

There is nothing that the British enjoy more than talking about the weather. Many a conversation starts with a review of the meteorological conditions for the last day, week, month or year. Even an hour by hour report is useful and interesting. It is a sensible subject to discuss of course. We need to know what to wear, what to prepare for, how long the journey home might take, perhaps what to eat. And it is not just a selfish endeavour; the information may be useful to us and to our friends, families and colleagues!

The last month has given us a treasure trove of material. We have gone from dire warnings of drought across the southern half of England to floods, deaths of travellers in storms and torrential rain. Everyone is rather confused. This is spring going into the summer and yet many water utilities have instituted hosepipe bans, some as early as from March. Farmers have been bemoaning arid land and fears for crops this year. Where I live, rainfall has been half that recorded last year. That’s quite a substantial drop.

The hosepipe bans are still in place despite some of the heaviest rainfall seen for years. Rivers have flooded and transport routes have been disrupted. April has been the wettest on record. The recent rain has not been enough to restore reservoirs or revive groundwater stores. There’s been talk about the need for a national water grid like many other countries have in place (replicating the electricity network), so that producing areas can supply those most in need. This will take a long time to come to fruition and in the meantime, if there is a pattern of continuing seasonal disruption, there will be a need for many other measures.

Everyone is a weather expert. But some are now admitting uncertainty. Strange things happen, such as high temperatures in the mountains in the north, and lower temperatures and rainfall in the south.  There is also water politics. Some people in the north are saying stridently that they would not want to send their water to the supposedly deserving south east, around London; however, in reality, they may not be on strong ground as they may not have enough water to give.

There are so many who do not believe in climate change. And this alone is a considerable block to increasing environment engagement. But now this bedrock of their faith is coming under challenge. No-one wishes for environmental catastrophes, but little more of the climate surprises may be very useful in changing values and attitudes.

Here’s hoping!

D Jackman

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Can we be ‘green enough’?

The name of this website is green24. The implication, perhaps, is that one can be truly ‘Green’ with a capital ‘g’ only by adopting an environmental outlook and then applying it constantly and perfectly – 24 hours per day, every day. To analyse this, let’s first accept that the idea of ‘green’ is valid and that it signifies an approach that is mindful of the environmental consequences of action, and which seeks to minimise those effects. It’s a useful code word, a concise and unmistakable way of marking a product, business or activity which prioritises this philosophy. “Green” is a theme, not a directive. 
But the idea of doing green ‘24’ is slightly different; it asks how much greenness one is managing to squeeze into a day, rather than questioning how environmentalist ideas can be extended and refined. In everyday parlance, it’s placing a long term focus on the green approach.

If only we could escape the tired metaphors of environmentalism’s detractors: If ‘green’ is really a religion, an embedding approach is fundamental, the cult of asking, ‘Am I green enough?’ in the stereotypical terms of how much I’ve recycled, how far I’ve cycled and how much local food I eat. Instead, we need a green ethic (with a small g) which asks, ‘How can I think of x in terms of sustainability?’ For example, how can we bring an environmentally-conscious approach to investment, or how can we influence policies or developments to be more sustainable? After all, thinking green is not straightforward and requires compromise. I may be typing this rather than using paper, but I’m using electricity. And I’ve been using the subway a lot, but I’m doing it in Singapore, having flown here. And the building I’m in may have numerous solar panels on it, but the air conditioning keeps humming day and night to keep it a good ten degrees cooler inside than on the streets of the tropics…

So in answer to the question in the title: No, we can never be green enough, because that approach requires perfect adherence to imperfect methods. But we can be mindful, and we can be green.

David Jackman, with additional material from Alexander Jackman

Friday, 24 February 2012

The true costs of cigarettes

Cigarettes carry with them some serious health warnings, often plastered on the boxes in which they are held. But is it just our health we should be concerned about, or are there additional aspects we should consider when thinking of lighting up? Even though a pack of cigarettes may cost a couple of Pounds, the true cost of these tobacco products is much higher when you include the environmental price tag.

The major environmental concerns come down to the following impacts:

Monoculture - Forests and other indigenous vegetation types are cleared to make room for high-intensity tobacco plantations

Fertilising - Potassium used to feed the tobacco crops messes with the soil, and causes algal blooms in neighbouring water sources.

Pesticides - As many as 16 applications of pesticides are needed in a three-month period to keep diseases and pests at bay.

Chemicals - Toxic substances released from cigarettes leads to smog and acid rain.

Petroleum - Large amounts of fossil fuels are used in the production of cigarettes, ranging from farming machinery, to plastic production.

Mining - The aluminium foil used to line the inside of a cigarette box is often strip mined, which is a highly destructive process.

Trees - Millions of trees are chopped down every year to create enough paper to roll the tobacco in.

So, the next time you light up, think past the health concerns and start being cognisant of how the environment is being impacted too. Because even though a pack of 20 will not break the bank, it may well cost humanity a heck of a lot more!

Friday, 17 February 2012

The take-away message

Eating out has become a culture for many people around the world. Whether you are out to celebrate a birthday, or at a business luncheon, or even ordering a cheeky takeaway, you will at some point hit the restaurant scene.
As part of living a greener lifestyle, you can make healthy and eco-conscious decisions when ordering off the menu.
When choosing an eating establishment, look for one that puts eco-friendly values first. Ask yourself the following questions beforehand:
1. Are the ingredients fresh, free-range, organic and sourced locally?
2. Do they use seasonal produce?
3. Are fish and meat bought from sustainable sources?
When ordering food, avoid the temptation of choosing something that is too large, as food wastage is one of the leading contributors to landfills. If you can’t finish the dish, take it home and eat it the next day, instead of getting the eatery to toss it out.

When at restaurants, especially take-away outlets, there a number of actions we can take to make our meal times a little more eco-friendly. The most important of these relate to waste management, and include:

1. Skip the single servings
Individual sachets of condiments produce massive waste issues, as small quantities of the contents get wrapped up in large amounts of paper, plastic and other materials. So, instead of asking for small sachets, use bulk dispensers that are available at most takeaway eateries. This can also be extended to restaurants, which can decant a small amount of the condiments of your choice from larger, bulk containers.
2. Skip the bottles
If getting water with your meal, why not opt for plain old tap water as opposed to a bottle of sparkling or still? Not only is tap water the more economical option, but it is also considerably greener, as plastic bottles are clogging up landfills and contributing to environmental pollution.
3. Skip the disposables
When eating at a takeaway there is very little need for a plastic knife, fork and spoon. Finger foods are best enjoyed when eaten with one's hands, so dig into those burgers, pizzas and other tasty treats. This rule may not apply to an upmarket restaurant, but generally these establishments will have reusable cutlery.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Turning the day of love green

February 14th is just around the corner, so start planning the most romantic day of the year to make it as eco-friendly an event as possible. Now before you sigh and complain that this day of love is already too much of a mission, know that by giving some attention to your loved one, as well as to the earth, you can make the day seem less trivial, and more about being sensitive.

Valentine’s traditions generally include four key areas. Have a look at what you can do to make these components more eco-savvy.
Cards - Ideally send an e-card as no paper is used. If you do want to hand over a love letter, look for one printed on recycled paper.

Flowers and gifts - Look for fair trade chocolate, locally-grown, indigenous flowers, and vintage, pre-owned jewellery.

Setting the mood - Light up some soy or beeswax candles, as these are petroleum-product-free. Natural essences and oils in a bath will definitely warm the cockles of your heart.

Fine dining - Opt for organic and free-range meat or sustainable seafood options and serve with seasonal vegetables. Accompany the meal with an eco-friendly wine.

Whether you plan on going all-out on the 14th of February, make sure that your romantic rendezvous are as eco-friendly as possible. This way, you show affection to both the love of your life and the earth too.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Olympic-sized dilemmas

The London 2012 Olympics have been in the news recently over its plan to use a wrap for the Olympic stadium made by Dow Chemicals of the US. The problem is that Dow bought Union Carbide in the 1990s, a company whose failings were responsible for the terrible Bhopal disaster in India which killed and injured tens of thousands and caused extensive environmental degradation. Victims of the disaster still maintain that they have not been adequately compensated and the Indian Supreme Court settlement which was meant to draw a line under the compensation claims is being challenged.

The dilemma is: how far is any organisation responsible for the actions of its partners, or in this case, purchases? Legally, the position is that Dow is not liable and the Olympic organisers are relying on that judgment when selecting Dow as a sustainable supplier. It is possible that Dow didn’t do sufficient due diligence and that the Olympic movement, as Dow is a sponsor of the International Olympic Committee, has not done sufficient due diligence and that there are facts that are still to come out. If so, these are likely to come out around the time of the Games as it is a powerful platform for making a point with the world’s media watching.

One member of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 resigned in protest over the Commission’s apparent support for the wrap sourcing. We can all respect her decision, because the Bhopal tragedy is so ingrained on our memories and emotions. But how far does that perceived ethical responsibility go beyond legal responsibility? It really is very hard to say, particularly in this complicated case where mistakes have been made on all sides. In being green and responsible, just how far along any chain can the claims of decency and integrity go?

As the public statements show, the Commission, which checks and audits the sustainability of London 2012, takes the view that it is more useful to ask the awkward questions about this and similar matters, than rule on a case where there are few precedents or examples of good practice. Maybe that will look week in the eyes of the public and politicians, and maybe, if new facts come to light, such a decision will need to be reversed. We’ll see.

But this does show just how difficult environmental and social responsibility can become. Perhaps it is one version of the sins the fathers being visited upon the children.

David Jackman

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mind the gap: the difference a generation makes

More and more people are taking steps to try and live a greener life. But there are some people who are resisting the shift to a green consciousness, not out of stubbornness or unwillingness to change, but due to reasons that sometimes confuse the younger generations.

A generation ago the earth was merely a source of seemingly inexhaustible resources. Thirty years ago there were around five and a half billion people on the planet. Now, there are over seven billion humans all vying for natural resources. So perhaps there was no need back then to consider being eco-friendly, or perhaps we should have seen the potential impacts of our continued over-exploitation and started making plans back then already?

Thirty years ago recycling was almost non-existent by today’s standards. There were very few countries that had dedicated recycling systems in place that collected, separated and processed recyclable waste. This said, a generation ago people were practicing their own form of recycling through the products they used.

Liquid products (like milk, soda and beer) came in bottles. When you had emptied the contents you returned the bottle to the store at which you bought them from, who would, in turn, send them back to the plant to be washed and sterilised and refilled. A generation ago everyone washed the baby's diapers because there wasn’t any other option. People dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling tumble dryer. Back then, people took the bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters.

At the end of the day, we can all point fingers at each other. But this solves nothing, and the earth needs solutions today, to ensure that we are able to survive tomorrow. By playing your part in doing a few small green actions every day, the collective action of our efforts will be immense.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Why getting your pets sterilised matters

We may not see it, but stray pet numbers are out of control. And we’re not talking hundreds or even thousands, but millions of feral cats and dogs roaming the streets or living in wild areas near urban centres. This may not seem like a massive issue, but dogs and cats that survive in these areas take a massive toll on the environment, from killing other animals for food, to polluting water sources and soil. So, how can we sort this problem out? Apart from keeping our pets close to us at all times, it has been shown that sterilising your pets can reduce the impacts they have on nature. There are three reasons why we should give our pets the snip:

1. Reducing pet populations
We need to ensure that there are no unwanted pregnancies that could result in cats and dogs being let loose to wander the streets or worse, get into native ecosystems where they cause havoc.

2. Concerns for our communities
Unwanted animals can pose considerable health and safety concerns for our communities, from spreading diseases and fouling parks, to scaring children.

3. Close to home
Sterilising pets has been shown to improve attitudes of animals and will reduce the urge to roam. If your pets stay close to home, they will limit their exposure to other animals, avoiding diseases, fights, getting impregnated and other unwanted activities.

Apart from looking after your own animals, it is also recommended that you contact your local animal shelter about strays in your area. They will collect these animals, sterilise them and put them up for adoption.

At the end of the day, even though you may not have put too much thought into your pets’ private parts, know that by sterilising them you not only promote their health, but the health of the environment too. By giving them the snip-snip, it becomes a win-win for all.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

5 things we should repair instead of replace

Some people seem to have supernatural abilities to fix things - from rewiring a radio to polyfilling a patio. There are a number of benefits to fixing things instead of tossing them out and buying new ones, plus you save money and the environment. In many cases simply sewing on a missing button, touching up a paint job or gluing on a broken corner can get your possessions back up to scratch with minimal effort and very low expenditure. So, what are some of the things that we can do in our home to fix what we have, instead of replacing them?

When to repair
There is no hard and fast rule here, but generally people tend to repair something if the repair costs are less than 50% of the original purchase price. Even if the costs are a bit more, there may be something to reducing waste and keeping with what you've already got. Heirloom items or pieces with sentimental value are always worth repairing.

1. Caring for your car
Although fairly obvious, cars need maintenance and repair from time to time. Instead of buying a new car every few years, which can really drain your bank account, consider keeping cars for longer periods. If you're good with your hands and know what you’re looking at when you pop the hood, consider changing your own batteries, oil, fan belts, spark plugs and more.

Top tip: By working on your car yourself, you can also dispose of old parts correctly and in an environmentally-friendly way.

Up, up, upholstery
Instead of tossing out that tired couch, why not spruce up the sitter by considering upholstery? There are loads of how-to videos available online for you to do it yourself, or you could support a local upholstery company and get them to recover the piece for you. Not only do you keep a piece of furniture out of the landfill, but you also reduce the need for more furniture, which is often made from virgin materials.

Top tip: Look for upholstery materials made from recycled fabrics, as these may be more eco-savvy and design trendy.

3. Saving the suitcase
Luggage takes a beating when you travel with airport handlers, conveyor belts and the loading in and out of cars. But luggage is also expensive, and minor damage can be repaired. You can patch over rips in luggage, even with heavy tape if you are in a pinch. Replace broken straps or handles with new ones and glue or tape worn corners. You might even be able to swap out broken wheels.

Top tip: Call the manufacturer of your luggage and ask if they have a refurbishment plan. Many designer luggage makers have good programmes.

4. Easy-to-fix electronics
All too often we fall into the trap of just buying a new blender, DVD player or other electrical goods because the previous one packed up. But getting an appliance fixed not only provides jobs for local electricians, plumbers and craftsmen, but also reduces the amount of electronic waste sent to landfills.

Top tip: Finding someone to repair your broken appliances is fairly straightforward, so either call your manufacturer or try looking up "electronics repair" on the internet.

5. Bless their soles
Many of us have a pair of shoes that we cannot bare to part with. They may have holes in the soles, or look a bit worse for wear. A way to liven up the old loafers is by taking them to a shoe repair shop. For a couple of Pounds you can walk out with brand new soles, giving your shoes a new lease on life.

Top tip: Repair expensive work shoes or outdoor gear like hiking boots, as these shoes can last a lifetime.

Prepare to repair
Many of us may have forgotten how to fix things, instead replacing broken or damaged items at the drop of a hat. Recently there has been a resurgence of those who are strengthening their DIY muscles. Whether this is for personal project reasons, to save money, or to, more importantly, reduce waste and save the environment, it just makes sense to repair your things instead of simply replacing them.