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.