Tag Archives: sustainability

Sustainability: the story of kindness?

ceiling of la sagrada familiaFor me, sustainability is about compassion.

I went to Barcelona this weekend for the first time. I saw Gaudi and Picasso and was completely and utterly blown away. Brain fuzz.

Each artist’s strength lay in the radically new perspective they brought to their work.  Although they saw the same things as everyone else, they explored their focus from previously untold angles. La Sagrada Familia embodies this radical approach – de-constructing and rebuilding the idea of a catholic cathedral so profoundly different to that found across the rest of Europe.

And so my thoughts (as always) returned to sustainability.

The story of kindness, of compassion, is one which – although I’m sure is familiar to many others – for me, has only recently connected to sustainability.  I want to use this story to give a new perspective on working towards a greener, fairer world, and indeed, how we communicate about that ambition.

I think we care about creating a sustainable world because we care about one another.

Of course, “sustainability” embodies a whole host of concepts, from carbon permits to biodiversity offsetting to closed loop recycling. Money, reputation and politics make an inevitable appearance also.

But at the heart of the matter lies kindness; caring for one another – for our families, our children, our society. For our grandchildren and great-grandchildren as yet unborn, and for everyone who we share this moment of existence with.

So compassion can be seen as the driver.

Moreover, it’s also the facilitator. No one can create sustainable change alone – we need to collaborate. And this process requires us working to understand and be understanding with a whole host of people, many coming from perspectives and vested interests we may find challenging.

Only compassion can make this happen.

I don’t think these are just airy fairy words. Check out the great work from Common Cause on intrinsic values, the Dalai Lama’s words on environmentalism, Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I am”, or the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities.

Sustainability both demonstrates and requires compassion. What’s more, perhaps compassion provides a greater setting for the tale of environmentalism than offsets and permits?

Gaudi orchestrated such beauty through connecting the ideas of  creativity, nature and morality. We need to explore every avenue we can in creating a world that works for us all. Why not start with kindness?


So – I am super impressed. Further to last night’s self-flagellation and my email to Marks & Sparks querying the sustainable sourcing of my favourite nut salad – I was expecting at least a few days’ wait for some ethical … Continue reading

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All Talk, No Action – Me, Myself & I.

(c) www.iwastesomuchtime.comI’ve recently realised that while I talk the talk, I don’t always walk the walk of sustainability.

I spend all day working for an organisation exploring how we can fish sustainably; I spend many of my evenings thinking about how we can engage people in these issues, and furrowing my brow over why we’re not living a more engaged democracy at a time of environmental crisis. Yet the rather concerning truth is – I, personally, could do more – a lot more.

I love the chat, chew the fat and then fly to New York for a city break. I eat turkey for breakfast and have a penchant for ready-prepared tropical fruits – whose carbon footprint I’m sure is astronomical.

My personal carbon footrpint’s not too shabby – but much of this is due to passive circumstances rather than my own action. I don’t drive, as I can’t drive; I walk to work, but that’s powered by fat fears rather than eco-love; I live in a flat with an energy of rating is A, but that’s the way it came, not the way I made it.

Not to be too self-flagellating – I do make a few positive choices – I always carry a plastic bag around with me, and I make a point of buying fairtrade/organic/sustainable label wherever possible. I’m a member of the Green Party, Greenpeace and I always turn the tap off when I’m brushing my teeth.

But that’s about it!

So. A decision has been made. I have committed to doing at least two proactive things per week in order to “make a change”. Ghandi and all that. etc.

The first is a letter to Marks & Sparks regarding their delicious and I’ve no doubt nutritious “Nutty Super Wholefood Salad“. This is a salad I simply adore – I eat it for lunch five days a week – and last week, I had it for breakfast too.

But I’m guessing that the soya beans (in the soy sauce) may have come from somewhere suspect. My worse fears is that my love for vegetable protein is leading to the deforestation of some glorious prime rainforest. Moreover, I’ve recently read some troubling reports of how quinoa production is causing food security fears and poverty in South America.

Accordingly, I need to act.On consideration, I’ve decided to write an email to the lovely people at M&S. My plan is that this will, if nothing else, prove that some of their customers are concerned regarding the sustainable and ethical sourcing of their goods. Of course, I could avoid all doubt by trying to stop eating the salad altogether. But realistically, my will power is too weak, and I’d simply end up trying to suppress some well-placed guilt.

So the email’s sent off (screen shot attached), and I’ll let you know if they respond. In the meantime, I need to think of another action before next week. I’m sure there tons – so let me know if you think of any?

I want to take responsibility for the world I live in, but realise that I’ve been shirking my role in doing this, while trying to orchestrate others to take the path I haven’t yet travelled.

Time to talk less, do more.

Email to Marks & Sparks 2nd June 2013

Our Environment – Our Common Pension?

Pensions © guardian.co.uk

Pensions © guardian.co.uk

Us humans have a tendency to undervalue the future compared with our immediate needs. That’s why banks pay us interest on money we don’t spend.

Despite this, and because security is important to us all , many of us have the foresight to save, provisioning for our future old and infirm selves.

At first, we may rally and moan against the short-term sacrifice of saving for pensions, but we soon settle down. We’d rather make a sacrifice in the short-term to ensure our security in the long-term.

Yet governments around the world are unwilling to make the same sort of decision – failing to recognise the value of security in our future.

Ecuadorean Amazon (c) Guardian.co.uk

Ecuadorean Amazon (c) Guardian.co.uk

Ecuador’s announcement of their plans to auction off more than 3 million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies (as reported by Jonathan Kaiman) is understandable. As described by Ecuador’s Ambassador when addressing the Chinese delegation at talks, this would establish “a win-win relationship” between the two countries. Meeting both Ecuador’s development needs and China’s energy requirements – the arrangement is one which the West could not denigrate without being hypocritical.

Yet this decision prioritises immediate reward over the natural capital offered by forests, important for both national and international security in just decades. Our collective environment is akin to our common pension.

Governments are charged with responsibility, to lead their nation for today and tomorrow, and within that to look after the commons. So we need to let them know, we want to save some for humanity’s future.

Treasuring trash and keeping it local

food waste (c) myzerowaste.com

Dinner? (c) myzerowaste.com

From rags to riches, trash to cash and rubbish to resource – the dream of closed loop recycling is both worthy and lucrative. Just this week, statistics revealed that the average British shopper bins almost 10% of their weekly food shop; not chucking fridge leftovers alone would save Brits £12bn a year.

But while recycling is a no-brainer, we need to be careful that loops of material reuse are small and local, returning both the advantages (and disadvantages) close to the source of the resource.

To do this, we need to be crafty; both like a fox and the Women’s Institute. I recently visited “Materials for Living”, an exhibition organised by two parliamentary groups, focusing on design and sustainable resources. The exhibition included a showcase of how by-products of today’s food system can be used to produce beautiful, durable, USEFUL materials.

A'Peel (c) Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group

A'Peel (c) Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group

For example, orange peel is the rubbish of choice for Alkesh Parmar, who has utilised this by-product of juice extraction. The result of his ingenuity and hard work is a strong flexible material (A’Peel) which has the feel of bakelite, but which is completely biodegradable AND makes use of the millions of tonnes of Brazilian orange peel which would otherwise go to landfill.

Materials from fish scales (c) Erik de Laurens

It doesn't even smell. (c) Erik de Laurens

Erik de Laurens has produced a material made entirely from treated fish scales, again, an otherwise unwanted (and massively produced) by-product of the fishing industry. And pineapple leaves from the Philippines have been used by Carmen Hijosato make an alternative to leather.

Importantly, with all these projects – they return the benefits of reuse to the community from which the original resource came. On speaking to Carmen Hijosa, she was eager to emphasise that it is the pineapple growing farmers who have clubbed together to form a cooperative for processing and sell “Ananas Anam”, and it is they who profit from doing so.

Carmen Hijosa (c) Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group .php

Carmen Hijosa and her pineapple. (c) APDIG

But while positive project such as those above are offering solutions – there are many other examples where material loops, in our globalised world, are extended and sloppy. The result is that the impacts (both good and bad) of those who produce waste are divorced from those who recycle it.

The export of e-waste to developing countries

The export of e-waste to developing countries

Stephen Metcalfe MP recently wrote about the horrors of electronic waste being dumped in developing countries for processing and reuse. Some argue that developing countries are keen to accept this source of materials, both as another source of income, as well as a way of joining the digital age at a cheaper price. But images of emaciated children picking their way through town-sized garbage tips reveal these countries’ lack of infrastructure to deal with the reality. For example, Nigeria, which despite having a population of 155 million people does not have one licensed landfill. The untold effects of heavy metal toxins on these people’s health and environment is reason enough to stop this digital dumping from the rich, onto the poor far, far away.

Animal by-products (c) CAFO, Foundation for Deep Ecology

Next meal for the chickens? (c) CAFO, Foundation for Deep Ecology

Moreover, there was a recent House of Lords debate about the reintroduction of feeding animal by-products to livestock. Following the British BSE crisis in the late 90s, there have been very strict regulations on feeding animal by-products to other animals. But the EC is now looking to review these laws, and as such, so is the UK parliament. While it looks unlikely that cattle (as non-ruminants) will be fed offal anytime soon, pigs and chickens can certainly look forward to it on the menu. In theory, this is a good, environmentally-efficient practice (waste not want not what?). But the reality is that with today’s modern industrial farming methods and a globalised food system, feeding one dead animal (provenance unknown) to another is a super-efficient way to spread disease. After all, MRSA has been found in intensively reared pig farms, and let’s not forget why this practice was banned after the first BSE crisis. The recipients of the recycled goods (you and me picking up a pack of chicken breasts in Sainsbury’s) will be a very distant notion for the producers of the animal by-products from god-knows-where.

So the moral of the story? Reduce – yes, good. Reuse – go on then. Recycle – oh lordy, yes purhleease. But can we do it in our own back yard?

We need to be careful that the boons of recycling are not hijacked by economies of scale, as our food and banking systems have been. We need to connect benefits and costs. We need to keep things local. We need to tighten the noose on our resources.