Tuesday 30 March 2010

Zero Heroes - London’s Zero Food Waste Heroes

Waste has an image problem. For many there’s a perception that it’s not in vogue, not as important or ‘sexy’ an environmental issue as climate change or water shortages. Yet agriculture is the world’s largest consumer of water, and the food miles required to transport food around the world contributes to climate change, which in turn disproportionately affects the poorest people in the world. Reduce food waste and you’re dealing with a multitude of environmental and moral injustices. I met with Chris Wilkie from London Citizens Greener Planet Action Team, to find out what they’re doing about all the food waste in London.


Chris, can you tell us a bit about London Citizens, and the Greener Planet Action Team?
London Citizens is a charity with a large membership of faith groups, universities, schools, trades unions and other community organisations, working together on a wide range of important social issues across the Capital. In the couple of years I have been working with them I have seen amazing progress on issues including the London Living Wage, affordable housing, engaging communities in tackling street crime and immigration/asylum issues. London Citizens is not affiliated to any political party, so it can work independently with no political influence. Issues to be tackled are chosen democratically by the members.

The Greener Planet Action Team (GPAT) is a group within London Citizens, formed almost three years ago to tackle environmental issues across London. In May 2008 we held an event called London’s Green Future at Imperial College, featuring guest speakers and workshops with experts such as London’s Green MEP, Jean Lambert, and the environmental broadcaster Mark Dowd. In January 2009, together with Transport for London and the major newspaper publishers, we launched a publicity campaign on tube trains, in stations and on buses, encouraging people to recycle the free newspapers they picked up each day. Throughout 2009 we delivered a series of environmental training workshops for our member organisations. Last November we held a screening of the film “The Age of Stupid” followed by a discussion on which major issue to tackle in 2010. We decided that the problem of food waste was an area where we could make a real difference in our communities. This is how Plan Zheroes was born.

So what is Plan Zheroes and what does it aim to achieve?
Plan Zheroes is the name we have given to our food waste project. The aim is to prevent good food from becoming waste, ideally creating zero waste. Those achieving this would be promoted as “zero heroes”, hence Zheroes!

We want to create links between food donators (e.g. supermarkets, restaurants, schools etc,) and people who really need the food. Our aim is to inspire as many businesses as possible to help us solve this environmental and social issue.

Why do you think supermarkets, restaurants, schools or other businesses will want to be a part of Plan Zheroes? Will it help them to save money?
They will want to participate because they all recognise the problem of food waste, they aspire to be more environmentally and socially proactive and we will help them celebrate and publicise their successes. I think it is too early to say whether it will help the supermarkets save money but those who receive the food will certainly make savings.

Where will the food be directed and who will benefit most?
The idea is to redirect the food to organisations who help people on low incomes, the homeless, perhaps the elderly – in fact anyone who can benefit from it. We know that many families and individuals are struggling financially and cannot afford to eat properly every day. For example, we heard of one family which can only afford to give one member a hot meal each day, so they have to take it in turns. This is a really unacceptable situation when so much food is simply thrown away each day in London. The Greener Planet Action team is determined to help do something about it.

Which other organisations are you consulting for advice and support for Plan Zheroes?
We have already had discussions with The Green Alliance, Waste Watch, The Soil Association, FareShare, and Ealing Friends of the Earth. We will work together with these and other organisations as the project develops. Our aim is not to reinvent the wheel where good work has already begun but to add the considerable influence and power of London Citizens.

What are the timescales for Plan Zheroes to start taking shape?
We began the project in January this year and are currently gathering evidence about good and bad practice in food waste management, piloting surveys initially in West London. We anticipate this will take until May, at which point we will assess the success of the pilot and modify the surveys if required. After May we will use volunteers from our member organisations across London to continue gathering data and begin matching donators of food with organisations who can redirect it to those who need it. I would like to see some tangible results, i.e. systems in place where food is being donated and used, by this summer.

And finally, if readers want to know more, support or get involved, where can they find out more information, and who should they contact?
Further information will be available on the London Citizens’ website - www.londoncitizens.org.uk. Anyone interested can contact me by email at chris.wilkie@tiscali.co.uk or on 07985 306 832 if they would like to find out more or help us with this very important work. The more volunteers we have, the bigger impact we will make! Thanks, Atul, for giving us the opportunity to publicise Plan Zheroes.

Atul Srivastava
Follow me each day on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ecoexperttv

Monday 8 March 2010

EcoSaving Property: Report from Ecobuild 2010

Ecobuild is the world’s biggest event for sustainable design, construction and the built environment, bringing together more than 1,000 suppliers of sustainable construction products at Earl’s Court on 2 – 4 March 2010. I teamed up with cameraman Felix Gonzales and interviewed Emma from Buglife about green roofs and how they can save people money, at the same time as proving a high rise home for wildlife.


About a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions come from our homes. With fuel prices on the rise, there is increasing incentive for us to reduce our energy use in our homes and business premises. By undertaking straightforward measures like insulation, and simple actions like switching to low energy light bulbs, a typical householder would save about £300 a year, potentially over £500 a year.

The Energy Savings Trust is a major player in the eco property industry. They have quantified the following top tips for saving money in your property.

1. You can save around £55 per year for every one degree Celcius you turn the thermostat down.
2. Upgrade to Energy Saving Recommended appliances and save up to £36 a year.
3. Turn appliances off standby and save around £33 a year.
4. Replace single glazing with double glazing and save around £135 a year on heating bills.
5. Replace inefficient light bulbs with low energy light bulbs and save around £37 a year.
6. Save around £25 a year by draught proofing around windows and doors.
7. Insulate your loft to the full recommended depth of 270mm and save up to £150 a year.
8. Insulate your hot water tank and pipes, and save around £45 a year.

Total savings: £516 a year!

Over 1,000 suppliers were demonstrating their products at Ecobuild 2010, I couldn’t possibly get around to see all of them. In essence they were mostly trying to do the same thing: help us to achieve the ‘EcoSavings’ listed above. There were some innovative approaches, such as Mira Showers, who have invented an Eco showerhead that reduces the amount of water used by up to 75%, saving money particularly for people on water meters, as well as saving money on the energy required to heat the water.

Amongst the usual suspects of companies displaying their innovative ways to insulate your boiler or stop heat escaping from your windows, there were also some unexpected exhibitors. Buglife, RSPB and the Bat Conservation Trust were on hand to explain how property and nature are intrinsically linked. I teamed up with cameraman Felix Gonzales and interviewed Emma from Buglife about living roofs, also known as green or brown roofs. Emma explained that they can save people money at the same time as providing a high rise home for wildlife. Green roofs provide extra insulation to a building, improving its heat efficiency, which means lower energy use at the same time as supporting an incredible diversity of wildlife, from birds to beetles and rare bumblebees.

No wonder Ecobuild was buzzing this year!

Atul Srivastava
Eco Expert
Follow me each day on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ecoexperttv

Sources and thanks to:
1. www.ecobuild.co.uk
2. www.buglife.org.uk
3. www.mirashowers.co.uk
4. The Sunday Telegraph Special Report: 31 January 2010
5. Fraser Winterbottom, Chief Operating Officer, Energy Saving Trust, quoted in The Sunday Telegraph Special Report: 31 January 2010

Monday 1 March 2010

Model Thinking: The Economic Benefits of Eco Fashion

After speaking to many of the 28 Eco Designers at London Fashion Week, I felt the 'Slow Fashion' movement could benefit from publicity as money saving for individuals - buying fewer clothes, perhaps at slightly higher prices, that last much longer and therefore save people money in the long term.

Many of the 28 Eco Designers within the Estethica Exhibition at London Fashion Week mentioned the term ‘slow fashion’ during our impromptu interviews. The slow fashion movement aims to slow down the fast turnover of clothing in the retail industry, reducing clothing waste to landfill, and moving towards eco friendly clothing that lasts more than one or two fashion seasons. Men’s suits are a good example of slow fashion; you can wear the same smart jacket 15 times and remain fashionable, as long as you wash it occasionally.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experience in the environmental sector, it is to never forget the accepted and astonishingly simple model of sustainability. That model is portrayed by 3 interlinking ‘Olympic’ circles of sustainability: Environmental, Economic and Social. The central area where these 3 circles interlink is where true sustainability occurs. I’m yet to find an example where this model of thinking is not helpful.

I’d say the Eco Designers are all pretty sorted on the Environmental circle. Their eco clothing features organic cotton, recycled and up-cycled materials, pesticides free, etc. On the Social circle, a few of them quite rightly said the phrase ‘Fashion First’ – there’s no point being eco if no one wants to buy their clothes to look good for social occasions.

But what about the Economic circle? While some of the designers highlighted that slow fashion can save consumers money in the long term, my feeling was that this was not emphasised enough in their advertising strategies. Perhaps it’s the very labels eco, ethical or sustainable fashion themselves. These terms appeal to an altruistic sensibility that may make existing consumers feel good about wearing their clothes, but not necessarily reach new audiences concerned with economic self preservation during a recession.

If PR based on eco, ethical or sustainable fashion is preaching to the converted, how do they reach new customers?

As an environmentalist I’ve learnt to emphasise the economic and social benefits more than the environmental. Try emphasising your clothes as durable in your advertising, saving people money because they won’t need to buy new ones next year. If you make full use of all waste materials, try advertising this as efficiency and a means of keeping your costs low. If your materials are sourced within the UK, that’s a benefit primarily to the consumer who doesn’t have to ultimately foot the bill for the ‘fashion miles’ of flying materials around the world; the secondary benefit is reduced climate change.

Some of the designers were already using this model in their PR. I hope more Eco Designers benefit from this model of thinking.

Atul Srivastava
Eco Expert
Follow me each day on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ecoexperttv