10 Green ideas
The clever bit: “The problem is that businesses will do anything for money,” says 27-year-old US environmentalist Brent Schulkin. “But what if that’s also the solution?” In order to find out, Schulkin approached 23 liquor and grocery stores in his San Francisco neighbourhood and asked what percentage of a day’s takings each was prepared to invest in energy-efficiency improvements in return for him organising a “mob” of shoppers to visit the store. The rather unprepossessing K&D Market won the bidding with 22%. Using the internet, Schulkin publicised the scheme, then nervously waited to see if any shoppers would turn up. They did. A huge K&D carrotmob spent about $9,000 in two hours, breathing life into the old corporate-social-responsibility adage that corporations with values can translate this into cold, hard cash. Schulkin appears to have hit on a form of activism that could have mass appeal. Ultimately he wants to create carrotmobs so big that they can negotiate with some of the globe’s biggest corporations.
In a nutshell: Counting carbon emissions rather than calories.
The clever bit: The goal is to change your diet to be low carbon and low impact by choosing foods with the lowest environmental overburden or footprint you can find, with the lowest global-warming potential (GWP) and the least chance of messing up the planet via their acidification and pollution potential. Essentially you’re looking for the foodstuffs with the lowest energy inputs and the greatest efficiencies in production. For example, forgo meat from ruminants, particularly cows, in favour of pig and poultry that has a lower environmental impact. As sugar refining uses huge amounts of energy, cut your intake of sweets by 50% and eat dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate (which has a big environmental impact).
12. Zero-waste fashion
The clever bit: That fashion is a profligate business is hardly a revelation, but zero-waste fashion sees no need to conform to a system of excess, instead borrowing from Japanese automotive manufacture, phasing out to minimise ecological impact and maximise profits. Based in London, eco-aware Central Saint Martins graduate Mark Liu created the Zero Waste range. Given that fabric widths are standardised, he has calculated that nearly 15% of fabric is wasted during the pattern-cutting process. To avoid this he engineers cuts, prints and pattern repeats so that no fabric is wasted.
The clever bit: It’s consumerism, but not as we know it, because when transuming you pay for the service rather than the actual product. Therefore you get the benefits of the product, but you will never own it. A good example is the Interface Evergreen carpet available to lease by the month (interface-resource-europe.com). “We sell only the services of the carpet,” says the company website. “That’s the colour, design, texture, warmth, acoustics, comfort under foot and cleanliness.” Immediately this takes the environmental heat out of consuming, as the onus is put on the manufacturer to reuse, recycle and to make products that can easily be disassembled and changed – ie, more sustainable products. Research shows that when the product remains with the manufacturer, there is an incentive to produce more durable goods, as transuming puts the brakes on the shop-to-landfill consumerist cycle. The first buds of this trend are strongly in evidence with the Rent Not Buy movement. Begun in Anchorage, Alaska by particle and nuclear physisicists Mr and Mrs Caius Howcroft, there is now a flourishing UK chapter (rentnotbuy.co.uk).
4. Rehome a mutt
The clever bit: Last August the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed suggested that Crufts, the annual jamboree celebrating canines from an ever-decreasing gene pool, in effect promoted health problems in dogs. While it was suggested that the Kennel Club get its house in order, Pedigree pet foods dropped its sponsorship of Crufts and the BBC chopped it from the schedule. This is in step with global trends. When Barack Obama promised his daughters a new puppy when they moved into the White House, Ingrid Newkirk, president of Peta, didn’t miss a beat. “Senator, no one needs to tell you that this country is proud to be a melting pot and that there is something deeply wrong about wanting only a purebred dog. Millions of Great American Mutts – the dog that should be our national dog – are set to die in our nation’s overcrowded pounds and shelters for lack of good homes. When you are ready, please adopt a homeless pound puppy.”
5. Backyard sufficiency
The clever bit: Also known as Micro Eco Farming, backyard sufficiency is about exploiting small (and often unpromising) plots of urban land until they yield a bumper harvest. It uses techniques such as vertical horticulture and hydroponics to grow upwards and more intensively. Using pesticides is not an option, so it is by definition organic. Some techniques are low tech and based on the selection of hardy and adaptable crops, such as planting mushroom beds; others are still works in progress, such as growing your own fish. At Aquavision in Devon (aquavisiononline.com), the UK’s first organic carp farm, sustainable aquaculture specialist Jimmie Hepburn is busy developing small carp ponds to demonstrate that backyard carp growing for the table is possible
The clever bit: Hypermilers don’t just aim for good mileage, as eco drivers do – they push fuel efficiency to the limit. Some hypermiling tips are just common sense: the correct tyre pressure on your car can chop 10% from your petrol; decreasing your speed from 75mph to 65mph increases fuel economy, and idling the engine is out – it increases emissions by 13% (go to eta.co.uk for more ideas). Other hypermiling absolutes might seem a little more out there, such as driving in soft soles, dispensing with footwear in order to increase pedal sensitivity (to prevent fuel loss) or ridge riding, aka driving with your tyres aligned with the line at the edge of the road to avoid driving through water.
7. Strategic organics
The clever bit: Organic production has lots of eco merits, but the thing that made organics the darling of the shopping trolley was the fact that their production ruled out pesticides. But however skewed the economics (critics contend that conventionally produced food does not reflect its true environmental cost), organic produce still attracts a premium. Strategic organic is therefore about prioritising which items need to be organic, and which non-organic (and therefore cheaper) products you can get away with. The bible of Strategic Organic, the US Environmental Working Group report published in October 2008, ranks fruits and vegetables by the amount of pesticides found on each and is based on testing 43,000 products. The 12 types of non-organic produce to be avoided (the “dirty dozen”): peaches are the “dirtiest”, followed by apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, spinach and potatoes. Meanwhile vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus and onions have relatively low levels – so you can get away with non-organic versions. They are the “cleanest” foods, along with avocados, pineapples, mangos, frozen sweetcorn, frozen peas, asparagus, kiwis, bananas and cabbage.
8. The slow wardrobe
The clever bit: How big is your fashion footprint? From 2003 to 2007, garment prices fell by an average of 10%, and over the past five years the rate of frenzied buying has accelerated. We make room for the new by discarding some 2m tonnes of the old every year, which goes into landfill. The slow wardrobe extends the useful lifespan of the threads already hanging in the national wardrobe while redistributing stockpiled fashion to those who will wear it, with the aim of decreasing today’s average annual consumption of 35kg of clothing per person to a more sustainable 7kg. Consumers prioritise longevity by buying trans-seasonal garments (such as a classic jacket) rather than pure fashion and by purchasing as far up the material food chain as they can afford. We also learn to wash and dry clean more sparingly (both decrease lifespans of clothes) and to use specialist services to refashion and/or mend older garments (just 2% of the annual fashion budget goes on mending or servicing clothes, so this needs to be increased). Meanwhile a 2008 YouGov poll found that there are an amazing 2.4bn pieces of clothing unworn for an entire 12 months (many possibly brand new) cluttering up the national wardrobe, which adds up to £10bn-worth of stockpiled fashion. This needs to be redistributed via a system of clothes swap parties and targeted donations before it is chucked in landfill.
The clever bit: Precycling represents the stage before recycling and, unlike recycling, it expends little energy. Precycling happens at the point of purchase, and entails you choosing the product that comes in the least packaging (therefore diverting waste from landfill) or bringing along your own container or bag. Instead of buying packaged sandwiches, for example, take a lunchbox to work, along with cloth napkins and a reusable water bottle.
10. Ethical texting
The clever bit: Fish stocks are in famously poor health – only 10% of the top predator species, such as tuna, that swam the world’s oceans when industrial fishing began 70 years ago are believed to be left. All of which makes shopping for the right fish problematic. American consumers now have the answer to sustainable fish shopping at their fingertips, as the Fish Phone text service spares them from carting around a copy of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood by Taras Grescoe – instead they text the designated number. The Blue Ocean Institute monitors 90 seafood species for up-to-the-minute sustainability ratings and will text back either a safe code “green” or a danger code “red”, such as for farmed salmon, along with the health advisory warning that indicates the possible presence of PCBs, dioxins and pesticides.