Counting on … day 281

18th August 2022

When homes are sold they are given an ‘energy performance certificate’  that shows how well the place is insulated and how efficient is its in terms of the energy used. The certificate may also point out where improvements could be made. A second certificate records the ‘environmental impact (CO2) rating’ and measures the carbon footprint for the unit. Both range from A, being the most efficient, to G, least efficient.

Eco Tips: Stuff 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share my experiences.

Previous pages have looked at the use of heating and energy, food and travel for which it is generally easier to calculate one’s carbon footprint and assess the sustainability of alternative choices. Today I am going to reflect on the none food things I buy such as books, clothes, things for the house and garden. These all have a carbon footprint and have more or less sustainable credentials. Here are some of the ways I try to ensure that I use stuff sustainably.

*Not acquiring things that I don’t actually need. It is surprising how often we are tempted  – or encouraged by advertising – to buy things we don’t need. Do I really need it? Do I need to buy it now or could I wait and see if I still need it at a later date? Have I got something similar that will fulfil the same purpose?

* Research – find out what choices are available: which product is most sustainably, how long it will last and, if electrical, its energy efficiency. The internet is useful, as is Ethical Consumer which has both a web site and a magazine. When we needed a new printer, we bought a more expensive Epson model that instead of using disposable cartridges (which hardly last any time at all) has an economical  refill system  – and 8 months later we have yet to need to refill these. 

  • Buying second hand – or more endearingly, preloved – items allows existing resources to be reused  rather than consuming even more fresh resources. I buy clothes and books from charity shops with the plus of funding a worthwhile cause. Sometimes I can also find household items here too – such as a saucepan or a pestle and mortar – but then I do have to be patient as what a charity shop stocks is not predictable! I bought my mobile phone and iPad from Music Magpie – an online second hand site.  When I need a particular book I try web sites such as World of Books and Oxfam – I avoid Abe Books and The Book Depositary being subsidiaries of Amazon. If I buy new books, I use our local independent book shop. 

* Repairing rather than replacing. When something breaks, see if it can be repaired – either at home or via a specialist. Years ago, I bought a Globe Trotter suitcase because of their reputation for quality. When the handle broke, I was able to take it back and have a new one fitted. I frequently darn socks and T shirts, patch up tears, glue broken items in the kitchen, mend punctured tyres, takes shoes to the cobbler,  and buy spare parts from the manufacturer.

  • Up cycling – sometimes rather than buying, I can make what I need from something I already have. Eg pillow cases from worn sheets, plant pots from have cartons, a seed sprouted from a jam jar and a piece of muslin. Old inner tubes become garden ties, and shoe laces are reused as string. Old trousers become shorts, and trouser legs bags for root vegetables.
  • Making do with – enjoying! – what I have: I could buy a food processor but instead I use the knife and the ballon whisk I already have. We have an old kettle whose automatic switch no longer works but since the rest functions, we continue to use it. 

* Lending and borrowing: do I need to buy something if I am only  go to use it occasionally? As well as libraries for books and videos, there are libraries for things. I prefer to rent skis  knowing that they are going to be well used, as opposed to buying skis that would become obsolescent before they wore out.

* If I can, I look for options that will make a positive contribution to someone else: eg choosing a fair trade or organic option, supporting a local producer, buying from a B corp.

  • Packaging – I often make choices dependant on packaging, choosing not to buy something because it comes wrapt in plastic. For example buying a pencil I might choice the pencils sold loose over those pre-packed in plastic.
  • I prefer to spend money on doing rather than having: going to a cafe for a coffee and a cake rather than buying a magazine, going to the theatre rather than buying clothes, buying membership for a nature reserve (eg The Wetlands Centre) rather than cosmetics.

Eco Tips: living sustainably and travel 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences.

The single biggest issue that affects the sustainability of travel is the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used directly in the form of petrol and diesel to fuel cars, motor bikes, farm vehicles, lorries … as aviation fuel for planes, diesel for trains where there is no overhead or third rail electrical current,  the low grade petrol or bunker fuel used for ships. In addition fossil fuels are used indirectly where electric powered transport uses electricity non renewable sources. World wide transport contributes around one-fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions. (https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint)

Sustainable travel has to be that which minimises the use of fossil fuels. 

Setting aside the means of transport used to get products from farms and factories to our homes and tables, and leaving aside the transport used by the emergency services etc. I shall focus on the transport solutions we use to get from A to B.

We live in a suburban part of London. We have good range of local shops for food, books, bikes, paper and craft materials, tools and timber, household and homewares. There are also schools, churches,  gym, library, GP, green spaces all within a mile of our house.

  • Our main mode of transport is walking. Cotton bags and rucksacks provide carrying capacity, waterproofs and umbrellas protection against the elements.
  • Second to this would be cycling. This makes the dentist, swimming pool, theatre, cinema, shoes shops and department easily accessible – all within a half hour cycle. (Cycling is a would-be as my recent neck injury requires a year’s restraint from such activities). When I both worked and studied in central London, cycling was quick, reliable and enjoyable. A well maintained bike, panniers or rucksack, waterproof clothing, lights and a helmets are essential.
  • Next comes the bus for short trips, plus the train and the underground network. This gets us all over London. 
  • Trains also provide long distance travel both here in the UK and across Europe, for holidays, visiting friends and families, etc. Starting off in London makes this easier: when we visit places less well served with public transport we do have to rely on family or a taxi to drive the last leg of the journey. Did you know you can go from London to Berlin or the Swiss Alps by train in a day? London to Glasgow or Edinburgh can be an overnight journey.
  • Flying we avoid. Next year we would like to visit North America and are looking to travel with one of the passenger carrying cargo ships. 
  • There are some trips which we do choose to make by car. For example when my husband volunteers on a steam railway in Hampshire, or when transporting a model railway to exhibitions. At other times we use a taxi for my mother who struggles with escalators on the underground. 

A rough calculation of the carbon footprint of the journeys I make annually by bus and train comes to 0.56 tonnes of CO2. If I were to make those journeys by car (even a reasonably fuel efficient one, 52 mpg) it would have produced 1.52 tonnes of CO2. If I had flown that same distance, it would have produced 2.27 tonnes CO2.

What I haven’t calculated is what my carbon footprint would have been if I had made all my local journeys by car rather than on foot. If say I normally walk 4 miles a day but instead make those journeys by car, I would produce a further 0.43 tonnes of CO2.

A further advantage of walking or cycling in terms of sustainability, is the low capital outlay or expenditure of resources. In the case of walking that would be resources used in making a pair of shoes, or for cycling, that of making a bike. Both will be significantly less than is needed to make a car. The resources needed to build a bus or train are considerable but when apportioned across the number of users and the life time of the vehicle, is probably less than the equivalent for a private car (which will often carry a single passenger as well as spending 95% of its life parked on a drive).

If you want to know more about the carbon footprint of cycling, taking into account the cost in resources of building and maintaining the bike and the calories consumed in pedalling, visit: https://www.bikeradar.com/features/long-reads/cycling-environmental-impact/

Eco Tips: living sustainably with what eat 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences. What we cook and eat and where we shop, has been shaped by three principles. 

First there is the LOAF principle, a useful nemonic devised by Green Christians. It is a guide for choosing what food to buy and eat.  https://greenchristian.org.uk/loaf-church-resources/

L is for local: locally produced food, which can include things grown or produced in one’s immediate locality and things where local can mean the UK rather than abroad. For example in East Sheen we can buy honey that comes from Richmond Park. We can buy coffee beans roasted across the river in Chiswick. We can have breakfast in Putney enjoying porridge or eggs Benedict made on the premises. We can choose to buy strawberries from Kent as opposed to imported from Spain. Equally we can eat strawberries grown in our back garden. We buy beans and pulses, seeds and grains such as quinoa, from Hodmedod whose produce is all UK grown. 

O is for organic: organic food has a less damaging impact on the planet than non organic food. Indeed it’s effect can be positive, with soils improved with vegetable matter rather than being stripped of its micro-organisms by fertilisers, with pollinators encouraged rather than being killed by pesticides, with livestock well cared for rather than being routinely treated with antibiotic prophylactics. We buy organically grown oats, and flour that comes from farms in Cambridgeshire and which is milled in a windmill!

A is for animal friendly: animals that live as near a natural life as possible (often organically raised). If we buy eggs for my husband we opt for free range, organic ones (although at the moment no eggs are free range owing to restrictions around bird flu). At Christmas the festive bird for my husband is a cockerel that has enjoyed a whole year of life unlike most of chicken meat which comes from birds that live may be 6 – 8 weeks (up to 12 for organically raised birds).

F is for fairly traded: the Fair Trade mark is well known as measure where production has guaranteed a  price above the market minimum, where the work force receive fair wages and where provision is made for services such as schooling and health care. We buy fair trade bananas, chocolate and tea which are now widely available. We buy coffee beans that have been ethically sourced from small scale producers who grow top quality beans, appreciating that the higher cost reflects their value.  

Secondly we avoid excess and plastic packaging, a habit we learnt through a zero waste experiment. We buy dried fruit and nuts, and dry goods such as rice, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, spices, sugar, cocoa, millet and polenta from local refill stores where goods are dispensed into paper bags – often ones we have brought to reuse. We also buy refills of olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, tahini and peanut butter, taking our own jars and bottles to refill. Milk – both oat and dairy – comes in reused glass bottles on the milk round. Since we cook meals from scratch we avoid lots of single use plastic boxes. Likewise making our own cakes and biscuits reduces the amount of waste we generate. Jam jars are reused when we make jam, marmalade and chutneys and when we bottle summer fruits. Deliveries from Hodmedod come in paper or compostable bags, flour and oats come in bulk in paper sacks. 

Thirdly we seek to reduce the carbon footprint of what we eat. Most meals are vegan – Paul enjoys cheese in his sandwiches and dairy milk on his cereal. A vegan diet can save in the region 400 and 900 kgCO2 a year. Even with a vegan diet there are ways of being more or less carbon efficient. By  choosing locally produced food, food that is in season and cutting back on food waste (other vegetable leaves, tea bags and coffee grounds all go into the compost bin whilst apple cores go to make cider vinegar) we aim to minimise our carbon footprint. We have a weekly fruit and vegetable delivery from OddBox which collects fruit and vegetables from farmers and suppliers that would otherwise go to waste – because supermarket demand has dropped, crops have been larger (or sometimes smaller) than expected), crops have ripened too quickly/ slowly, or items are too small/ big/ misshapen for general sale. OddBox by preventing food from going to waste, saves some 11,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

 Counting on … day 222

23rd June 2022

Kew Gardens in the sun is the place for an ice cream treat. The ice cream stand not only offers three plant based flavours, but also compares the carbon footprint of the different flavours on offer. The vegan strawberry ice cream has half the carbon footprint of its clotted cream sister. 

I wonder if they would sell more vegan ice cream if those flavours featured at the top of the bill board? 

Eco Tips: living sustainably with electricity 

22nd June 2022

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences. We buy our electricity from a green supplier – Ecotricity – as well as producing our own from solar panels. We are currently investigating installing batteries so that we can make greater use of what we generate.

Living sustainability with electricity is about not using it unless needed. 

  • no dishwasher and no tumble dryer – clothes dry on the line outside or a clothes horse inside when wet – and no freezer
  • Hand turned burr coffee grinder  
  • Hand whisk 
  • Broom and dust pan for most floor cleaning and vacuum bedroom carpets
  • Hand sewing machine
  • When we buy appliances – fridge, washing machine, cooker – we look for those with AA ratings. For a television we also opted for small rather than large screen. 
  • Ditto small rather than large fridge
  • Our regular wash cycle is the 20 minute express programme with 10 minute extra soaking time.
  • Only washing clothes when needed – a shirt will last 4 or 5 days, trousers and jumpers even longer.
  • I use an iPad rather than a laptop and an iPhone and where possible charge them when our solar panels are producing energy. Ditto for recharging bike lights.
  • Only filling the kettle as needed and only heating to the temperature needed – 94C for coffee.
  • Plan baking bread and cakes to fill the oven. Use these days for an oven baked dinner
  • Planning meals to minimise number of hot plates needed. Turning hot plates off before cooking finishes to use the residual heat.
  • Using the microwave to cook porridge, vegetables and fruit
  • Turning off lights when not in use and using low energy bulbs
  • No electric garden tools

Our metered electricity consumption for the last 12 months was 1542 KWh

 Counting on ….day 221

22nd June 2022

Carbon Independent suggests that having calculated your carbon footprint, you should set a target of reducing it by 10% each year. The two biggest contributors to my carbon footprint are gas for heating and my general spending. Having turned true gas boiler off for the summer, I will see whether that gives the desired reduction. As regards general spending, I will look at the carbon footprint of what I am buying – but the Carbon Independent calculator is not very sensitive so I am will need a different calculator. 

Counting on ….day 220

21st June 2022

This month at church we have been encouraged to calculate our individual carbon footprint. There are various on-line calculators available, some quick and easy, and some more complex but more reflective of the uniqueness of our individual lifestyles. Using Carbon Independent’s calculator my footprint came out at 4.26 tonnes. 

https://carbonindependent.org/

Eco Tips: living sustainably while heating our homes.

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences.

About ten years ago we installed double glazing, put solar panels on the roof, installed cavity wall insulation and fitted two wood burning stoves in an effort to reduce our carbon footprint. The cavity wall insulation and the double glazing produced an instant effect with the house feeling much warmer. The stoves, when we use them, warm the whole house. We have burnt wood from two trees felled in our own garden (both had grown too large) plus wood collected from a local tree surgeon. All reducing our heating costs and carbon footprint. Both stoves were chosen for their clean burn credentials but current scientific advice suggests we should not use them because of the contribution they make to air pollution. 

Otherwise our main source of heat is a gas condensing boiler. To minimise our gas consumption and carbon footprint, we limit the hours when we run the boiler to an hour or so around breakfast time and for about four hours in the evening, turning the heating off about an hour before we go to bed. We heat only the rooms we use in the day time – kitchen, living room, study – plus the bathroom. We keep the thermostat at about 16C and wear several layers of clothes as necessary! Once the sun sets we draw the curtains in all the rooms, and these have thermal linings. In bed we have hot water bottles. 

The boiler also provides hot water. When we upgraded the house’s insulation, we also replaced the bath with a low powered shower – think light rainfall. Over the last year we have cut back on daily showers, replacing them with a wash in the handbasin. The distance from the hot water cylinder to the kitchen sink is such that to get hot water, you need to draw several litres of colder water. As this ultimately waste hot water left in the pipe, we use a kettle to heat water for washing up. This saves about 5 litres of hot water a day. 

This summer, given that we shower once or twice a week, we are cutting back further on gas by turning off the boiler. Instead we use the electric emersion heater when we do need hot water for showering. As we have solar panels, we aim to run the emersion heater when the sun is shining. 

Our annual gas consumption for the last twelve months has been 6739 KWH and for electricity 1542 KWH.

The Green Tau: issue 43 

“MAKING SUSTAINABLE LIVING THE DEFAULT OPTION”

– strap line for the UN’s Earth Day. 


What is sustainable living? And how do we go about it? Something that is sustainable is something that can keep on going for a lengthy period of time without diminishment. We might look at household budget and apply the Micawber principle: 

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six, result happiness.  Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

As long as the required input is equal or less than output, the budget is sustainable. When what is consumed exceeds what is coming in, the budget is no longer sustainable. Sustainable living is the same: our lifestyle is sustainable if what we consume is equal to or less than resources we use. 

Let’s us taking heating for our homes as an example. 

If say we were to heat our homes with a wood burning stove, for that to be sustainable, we would need sufficient mature woodland to produce each year the wood we would burn. (This is not taking into account the cost to society of the pollution to the air). 

What if we hear our homes with oil and gas? That is ‘sustainable’ only in the short term as both these fossil fuels are non renewable. Once they are gone, they are gone. They cannot be replaced. Aside from air pollution, the major problem with soil fuels is the amount of carbon dioxide that they release into the atmosphere. It is a rate that far exceeds the rate at which it can be absorbed by the planet. This is why heating our homes with fossil fuels is not sustainable in either the short or long term. 

The most sustainable way of heating our homes is not to use any fuel but rather to build/ refurbish them with insulation levels that make extra heat (over and above our own body heat) unnecessary. Houses equipped to this standard are known as a “passivhaus” – https://www.passivhaustrust.org.uk/

Retrofitting is not without its financial cost which puts it out of reach for many people. (Sadly our government doesn’t understand that the whole nation would all benefit if insulating homes was state funded). Nevertheless any improvement we can make to the insulation of our homes will reduce our carbon footprint and energy bills and therefore makes heating our homes more sustainable: https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/insulating-your-home-back-to-the-basics/

A related area to that of heating, is electricity. What determines the sustainability of electricity?

Electrical production can be divided into two categories, renewable and non-renewable. Non-renewable electricity comes from power stations powered by coal/ gas/ oil. These fossil fuels are finite and cannot be replaced. Because of the scale of their carbon emissions, using them is highly destructive due to the adverse effects they cause of climate change and air pollution. Electricity produced by a fossil fuel driven generator is similarly non-renewable. 

Renewable electricity is produced using wind, solar, tidal or geothermal energy. These sources of energy are not diminished through use; they are available on an ongoing basis. In other words, they are sustainable.

Less easy to define is electricity produced using nuclear energy and that produced using biofuels such as wood chips, sugar cane etc. The amount of nuclear fuel needed in proportion to the energy generated is minuscule which is why nuclear power is often included along side renewables, but there are huge problem surrounding the safety of nuclear power stations and the disposal of nuclear waste that raises questions about its sustainability. 

Wood chips and sugar cane are both renewable resources but using them as an energy source is questionable. In a world where many go hungry and where more and more of the world’s natural or wild landscape is being lost, is it sustainable to use scarce land resources to grow crops for fuel rather than food?  

Questions around the sustainability of energy sources also apply to the sustainability of different forms of transport. The most sustainable means of transport is walking. It’s what we are designed for and uses no more energy than that required to feed us. The same is true of cycling, although according to Mike Berners Lee in his book, How Bad are Bananas, suggests that, depending on whether our diet is made up of beef burgers or bananas, a battery powered bicycle may have a lower carbon footprint! As above any transport reliant on fossil fuels – whether that is a petrol car, a diesel train or a plane – is not sustainable. Electric powered transport where the source of electricity is renewable is more sustainable but there are downsides to consider. Electric vehicles rely on batteries which are made from non renewable minerals such as lithium and cobalt – and cobalt in particularly comes predominantly from mines where employee welfare is minimal.

In sparsely populated areas, transport systems that rely on buses or trains may need to develop on-demand rather than time-tabled services, in order to make their use of limited resources sustainable. 

Plants are a naturally renewable resource but that doesn’t make all food equally sustainable. Factors to take into account include water, fertilisers, transport to markets, food waste, and whether the plants are feeding us directly or indirectly. Some crops such as rice, strawberries, blue berries and almonds,  require large amounts of water. In water sensitive regions irrigating such crops may divert water away from supplies used by local people for growing staple foods, as well as for drinking. It may also divert water away from aquifers and wetlands regions thus damaging local flora and fauna. In such circumstances, these crops cannot be classified as sustainable.

Fertilisers, especially artificial ones, use up limited non-renewable mineral resources, as well as contributing large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In addition the run off from fertilisers damages water courses and kills plants and creatures, compounding existing biodiversity losses. 

Where foods are imported over longer distances – and especially so when the mode of transport includes airfreight -will consume more resources and in particular will increase the food’s carbon footprint. Imported Spanish  strawberries, out of season avocados and air freighted asparagus are a few examples of unsustainable foods. In some instances the sustainability of a product becomes questionable when it takes over land used to grow staple foods for the local population or where it involves the clearance of indigenous wild vegetation such as the clearance of tropical rainforest to grow sugar cane. 

The majority of farm land globally is used not to feed people directly but to grow food for animals intended for human consumption.  It takes 100 x more land to produce 1kg of beef than to produce the equivalent in plant based food. In terms of feeding the global population a diet with high levels of meat consumption is not sustainable.

Plants as a renewable resource are also used for making things – clothes and fabrics, paper and furniture, rubber, paints etc. As with plants brown for food, similar questions about sustainability arise. Cotton for example is a heavy user of water – water abstracted for cotton growing was the major factor causing the disappearance of the Aral Sea. The growth in demand for palm oil used in products as diverse as lipstick and margerine, has led to the clearance of vast areas of natural habitat including mangroves. Demand for paper has seen naturally biodiverse forests replaced with monoculture pine plantations. 

The sustainability of every product we use needs to be measured in terms of renewability, carbon footprint, water footprint, impact on biodiversity, impact on local populations, the working conditions for those who grow, produce or sell, transport footprint, and the ease with which at the end of its life it can be recycled or disposed. Sustainability may begin as a question about individual lifestyle but quickly becomes a question about global sustainability.