Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A (mini CFL) Spotlight on Lighting Innovation

I've blogged before on different types of compact fluorescent bulb. Well I finally got my hands on some of these little 7W beauties (left and illuminated in the centre) made by Megaman which replace 40W mini-spots (right). That's less than 18% of the energy if you don't leave them on longer "'cos they're efficient".

What is really amazing (OK, if you're sad like me) is how far the technology has progressed. Only a couple of years ago, compact fluorescents were huge, ugly and ungainly because of the size of the 'ballast' required to light the bulb in the first place. Now the ballast can be squeezed elegantly into the slender neck of the bulb and these smaller bulbs can be replaced like for like.

If only someone could come up with a dim-able energy efficient bulb...

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

With this recycled ring...

Now I've always been the bridesmaid and never the bride, but with the average spend on nuptials rocketing, it is no surprise to see a rising interest in Green Weddings. According to the Independent yesterday, the average wedding is responsible for 14.5 tonnes of CO2 (the average annual output per person is about 10 tonnes).

While it is not exactly rocket science (use recycled/second hand stuff, source organic local food and try to minimise transport), green wedding tips can be found at:

Friends of the Earth, and,


Or, if you want someone else to sort it out, Green Weddings will be happy to relieve you of your cash...


Monday, January 29, 2007

Book Review: ReadyMade by Berger & Hawthorne

I came across this book in the Baltic Art Gallery shop when looking for a birthday present for my art-loving partner and it is brilliant. The title is a reference to the Ready Made/Found Art movement triggered by Marcel Duchamp's infamous signed urinal.
The book combines art and ecology to make some beautiful products (mainly furniture) from stuff we everyday folks throw away. While the text is in a strongly left-field-american-self-empowerment style, the project ideas are brilliant, the sections on materials are excellent and the bonkers "This is Not a Project" bits are intriguing - a history of Heavy Metal? Fear of Flying Courses? How to make an Art House Film? It's all here - and all very nicely laid out.
My favourite project idea is the 'Eames Style Drawer Unit' - a bookcase made out of three drawers and four aluminium angles. But the CD case wall mural comes a close second.
If you want to do some of your own recycling, want a house full of stylish eco-friendly furnishings, and can handle a cordless drill, then this book is for you. If you want something to leave in the downstairs loo to impress your friends, then it will do that job too. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

And in the Green Corner...

Following the outbreak of green grocer wars, I thought you might like to see the stats on the two main contenders.

You can read Sir Terry-of-Tesco's speech on the theme of “Green Grocer? Tesco, Carbon and the Consumer" here. You may have noticed the company's ads in the press today promising 50% off CFLs permanently...

The details of M&S's "Plan A" can be seen here.

Both very comprehensive IMHO - let's hope it all comes to fruition.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Watts The Matter?

Labels matter.

Since energy labels were put on white goods, the market share of 'A-rated' white goods rose from 0% in 1996/97 to 74% in 2005/06. It is clear that the punters want the best rating and the manufacturers see it as a selling point. It's a pity we don't have them on all electrical items as it is a nightmare trying to get sensible information out of retailers or manufacturers. Try asking in your local Curry's which HD Ready mega-TV is the most energy efficient and you'll get a blank (or blanker) look.

Fortunately, the SUST-IT website can help you choose between different products on the grounds of their energy consumption (hat-tip to The Green Guy for that one). You'll see that the variations can be quite pronounced - some of the rules of thumb I had went right out of the window.

On a slightly different, but related, note, I've been standing back a little from the debate on the usefulness of the B&Q roof-mounted wind turbine. Apart from whether or not it will pull the gable end off your house, the main point of contention has been how much energy you can actually get out of it. Various estimates have ranged from 10-25% of the claimed 1000 units per year, but the Centre for Alternative Technology's Slate Magazine claims the actual figure is as low as 5%, or enough to run a one bar electric fire for 50 hours. Apparently the problem is not the turbine itself, but the close proximity of a pitched roof, which is the last thing you need for a nice clean air flow. Solar Photovoltaic panels will give you more energy, won't wreck your house and won't give your neighbours so much to tut about.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Green Grocer Wars

You can't have missed the recent declarations of green intent from most of the big food sheds in the last week or so.

Why is this so important?

Well first off, £1 out of every £8 we spend in the UK, we spend in Tesco. If you add in Sainsbury's, ASDA and M&S, we're talking a massive chunk of our consumption of 'stuff' (as opposed to 'services' such as telephones, cable TV, internet etc). A green war between the Supermarkets will have a significant effect.

Secondly, food accounts for more carbon than personal transport, space heating or electricity. In fact it has been estimated that every calorie of food needs 10 calories of oil (BTW this means that cycling creates more CO2 per mile through the food you burn off than driving the same distance - believe it or not - but please don't stop pedalling, just change your eating habits!). And this isn't just about air-miles - non-flying food accounts for 87% of food transport CO2 due to the way the supermarkets shift stuff around. The milk I pour in my tea here in Newcastle could come from a cow a couple of miles away, but the milk could have been to Devon for bottling and then will have ping-ponged its way back up the country through a centralised distribution system.

Thirdly, look in your bin. The vast majority of waste will be food or food containers (or both...) - the only major other type of rubbish is newspapers and magazines which supermarkets sell as well. Better packaging = less waste.

Even the usually cynical George Monbiot welcomed these moves, saying:
"The choice between two rival brands of margarine appears to have become more meaningful than the choice between Labour and the Conservatives... When a huge company changes course, the impact is felt all over the world."
Although he pointed out that it will never be in the supermarkets' interests to sell less and they will continue to crush smaller rivals in their way.

Me? I'm not converted yet, maybe because I hate the shopping 'experience' in big stores, and will continue to give most of my custom to small stores, organic supermarkets and veg boxes, but I am glad to see these behemoths start to shift as that's where the big differences will be made.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Climate Change: Britain Under Threat

Just watched the BBC's excellent programme on climate change, fronted by the much-trusted Sir David Attenborough with able support from Kate Humble and Matt Allwright. The programme featured the results of the Beeb's distributed computing experiment to predict climate change effects which used 56 000 viewers' PCs to model the future until 2080.

It was very well presented and clearly showed the impact climate change will have on the UK if we don't do anything different soon. It also showed up some follies - like the massive building programme in the Thames Gateway area when it could be under 4m of water in a matter of decades. I particularly liked the guy who had decided to make hay while the sun shone and started an olive and almond grove - he was surprised at the success of his crop so far.

All good stuff & much better than the clearly confused Nigel Havers making a complete twonk of himself trying to put climate change into Room 101 on Friday night - he didn't seem to know whether he thought it was or wasn't happening, whether or not it was a good or bad thing, or whether cyclists were to blame. I hope he was watching Sir David tonight.

More parochially, readers in the North East of England may be interested in the new Climate Dome touring the region to get the message across. I'm a trustee of the charity behind it, hence the plug. It has been designed to appeal to people who wouldn't normally take an interest - see what you think.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

David Miliband and the Carbon Standard of Gold

I woke up this morning to the BBC leading on the Goverment's new 'Gold Standard' for offsetting carbon, introduced by DEFRA Minister, David Miliband. It just goes to show how controversial offsetting has become that this can take the covetted no. 1 slot on Today - I still think the detractors haven't addressed my point that the money you spend on offsetting can't be spent on more cheap flights... Anyway, given some of the dodgy schemes that have come and gone, and the general negative press offsetting has got, a standard can only be welcomed. Only four schemes actually meet it at present and some of the others are squeaking at not having been consulted.

I crossed swords with Miliband at a Climate Change event he held in constituency last Friday when he repeated the "Britain is only responsible for 2% of global CO2" myth and my point got the support of Tony Juniper of FoE, which was nice. Now I'm not a Labour supporter (to say the least) but apart from the 2% blooper, I was very impressed with Miliband. When he was appointed minister, I thought he was just another on-message NuLab policy wonk, but at the meeting he was very open to criticism, tried to answer most questions, and appears to be taking climate change very seriously.

Interestingly, he made an aside about not being allowed to talk about 'pay as you throw' charges for waste disposal...

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

LED there be light!

There's been a lot of hype about the next generation of lighting using white Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) as they're much more efficient than tungsten bulbs and a lot less toxic than fluorescent bulbs.

I got a Cyba-Lite LED/Xenon torch (right) last summer. You use the LEDs for walking around, but if you lose your car keys, you can switch to the powerful Xenon bulb for more oomph. The batteries will last over nine hours on the former, but only one and a half on the latter.

Then Santa got me this great solar-powered LED bike light (left) from The Natural Collection. I was going to wait to see how well the charging works in practice before reviewing this product, but as the light works for 15 hours from a peak charge and it gets plenty of daylight to trickle charge the batteries during the day, I'd be waiting a long time... During the summer, you can use it as a torch or just as a solar charger for two AA or AAA batteries.

While both of these uses are small beer in terms of energy use (and avoiding toxic waste batteries), the really exciting development is domestic LED bulbs. I haven't tried them out yet, but I understand they're still for decorative lighting as they can't match those 50W halogen spotlights just yet...

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Green Home Improvement - Energy

It's been a revolutionary eco-living week chez Kane this week (hence the lack of posts). We've had a new condensing boiler put in along with a solar hot water panel on the roof. The condensing boiler is about 97% efficient compared with the 80% efficiency of the knackered old 80's combi we found when we moved in, which will save a lot of gas and carbon dioxide in itself.

To comply with building regulations, we had to have thermostatic valves installed on most of our radiators. These use a gas filled piston to open and close the radiator valve depending on the room temperature. We've found this has really helped level out the heat in the house and cut draughts.

Most solar hot water systems use a twin coil hot water tank which is heated by a conventional boiler and the solar panel in parallel using a coil each.

We didn't have space for this type of tank and wanted to keep 'hot water on demand', so we went for the alpha boiler system. This has its own tank heated by the panel (the picture shows it without its polystyrene cover). If the water in the tank is above 60°C the water feeds the taps directly. If it is below 60°C, it feeds into the boiler for a top up - using a lot less gas. This arrangement means we never heat water with gas that we don't use as we would inevitably do with a hot water tank system.

The standard rule of thumb is that a well-positioned panel will provide 70% of the hot water for an average household. Frankly our panel is not well positioned as we're in a valley so we don't get much sun in the winter and our chimney shades the panel from the south west. So at the minute it's not doing an awful lot - raising the water temperature by about 3-5°C, but in couple of weeks it will be getting direct sunlight and we'll be able to see what it can do. This seasonality will lengthen the payback and reduce the carbon savings, but we put it in as much for the statement as anything else.

Sadly, we've been wandering about for the last couple of days getting envious of houses with unshaded south facing roofs bathed in lovely winter sun...

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Good Life: Art Becomes Reality

After my harrumphing at the Mail yesterday, I found an interesting eco-living piece in an unexpected place today - the normally green-baiting Evening Standard.

The Jordan family have bought the original Surbiton house used to film the 70s classic sitcom "The Good Life" and are going self-sufficient. Unfortunately the pig-manure-powered-generator is being replaced by a wind turbine. It will be interesting to see how their relationship with the neighbours develops...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Reactionary Recycling Rats?

"Squalid: Recycling 'mania' has sparked a plague of rats" is the picture caption for a Daily Mail article from Friday last week. Interestingly the actual article reflects the real story - that the lack of a free rat-catching service in most councils has caused the country's rat population to soar - but obviously some sub-editor has decided that it would suit the Mail's readership for it to be the fault of smelly hippies and bearded do-gooders (see my picture - right - they're talking about me).

Home composting and recycling did appear (at number 7) on the list of other contributing factors in the original report by the National Pest Technicians Association. In particular they singled out 'alternative weekly collections' of residual waste (ie the bits you can't put in your recycling box/bin). I've certainly never seen a rat get into a closed wheelie bin, although do I hear they're crafty buggers. Compost bins on 'soft ground' are blamed for feeding rats, but I'd rather have a few rodents around than climate change.

Who should ride to the rescue but everyone's favourite Tesco-bothering thesp, Jane Horrocks. According to the BBC, 'launching a campaign to recycle 90 million Christmas cards, Ms Horrocks said: "It is absolute rubbish. I've got two compost bins and I haven't seen a rat in all the time I've had them."'

Looks as if the "this Green stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be" angle for populist hacks (and Jezza Clarkson and various PR companies representing vested interests) is going to run for a while yet. I'll leave the last word to our Jane:

"I've not seen a rat but I do smell a rat."

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

How Does Your BabyGROE?

I'm staring fatherhood in the face this month, so as good right-on-parents-to-be, we've been working on how to make this a Green baby.

The cost of buggies, cots etc is extraordinary, and I have an irrational hatred for Mothercare (plus our local one is in the Gateshead Metrocentre for which I have a completely rational hatred), so we've been getting most of our gear from friends as hand-me-downs, second hand shops and freecycle. We're also going to try to dissuade friends & family from buying the baby clothes as kids grow up so quickly - a couple we know gave away half their 0-3 months clothes unworn and racked up an impressive 51 bibs.

So far, so good - but we've got to address the nappy issue. There has been some controversy over nappies in the past due to a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) done by the Environment Agency (see results here) that said there was no real environmental difference between disposables and renewables. This result was refuted by the Women's Environmental Network.

I'm with the WEN ladies on this one - I can't believe washing nappies is the equivalent to chucking away 4 or more a day for a couple of years. Certainly our local real nappy lady (who is also a midwife so has plenty of experience) is recommending far fewer real nappies are required than that assumed by the LCA (24 rather than 47). The problem with LCAs is that they never give a clear answer due to their inner workings and they're always very dependent on factors which are hard to predict.

So we're going to keep it real... but we're not going to be anal about it (excuse the pun) - we'll use biodegradeable disposables if pushed.

And finally, a very good resource for parents of lil'uns is the BabyGROE (Green, Recycled, Organic and Ethical) who will send you a nice brochure with plenty of local contacts and helpful organisations.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!