On a dull January day, nothing beats the blues like booking a cottage for a short break or summer holiday. The UK has some great holiday destinations and a wide range of self-catering options, many in our beautiful National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And, although it’s early to think of a dip in the sea, how about considering the cleanliness of the beach and the water quality? A must if you have young children. You can search for Blue Flag beaches on Cottage World, as well a looking for properties in National Parks, holiday cottages that allow dogs, or are near a pub! There’s lots of choice, from a Grade II house in Pembrokeshire that sleeps 10, with it’s own hot tub to a cosy barn conversion in Exmoor for just 2.
Taking in part in the recent eco-open homes event which coincided with the nationwide Heritage Open Days proved again to be a worthwhile experience, with lots of interest in our ground source heat pump.
I must admit, opening our house up to strangers, is not something we really look forward to, but it’s a big incentive to tidy up and it is good to discuss the pro’s and con’s of energy efficiency measures with others; whether it’s about saving money and reducing energy bills or about saving the planet. There was some interest in the wind turbines, and in the way the house was built and designed re-using materials, maximising solar gain and minimising heat loss, but the heat pumps – both ground source and air source certainly seemed to be an area of growing interest. We installed our heat pump seven years ago as part of our new-build eco-house. It involved sinking 160 metres of pipe in two loops 1 metre down out into the field. The actual heat pump bit sits in the utility room, looks a bit like a fridge freezer and works like a fridge in reverse! It provides all the hot water and heating; underfloor downstairs and radiators upstairs. The questions most people asked apart from How does the heat pump work? Were – How efficient is it? Well, we know that for every one unit of electricity put in we get about 4 units out and that it performs well – but we can only go on our experience of running a heat pump to service a house built with high insulation values, so investing in insulation measures has to be a starting point for most homeowners. Another frequently asked question was, how noisy are heat pumps? I know some people have had noise issues with air-source heat pumps, but our ground source is fairly quiet running and no more intrusive than your average central heating boiler. There is obviously some debate about how green heat pumps actually are given that they still rely on carbon producing electricity to run on (even if they are using it more efficiently). One solution is to install PV solar panels to generate some of the electricity then they are a greener alternative to oil.
And heat pumps were given a further boost today when the Government published proposals for the long term support for householders who install renewable heating systems such as heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar thermal in their homes. The consultation which ends 7 December 2012, proposes that the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for householders, would be managed by Ofgem, is aimed at any householder seeking to replace their current heating with renewable heating kit or householders who have installed any such technology since 15 July 2009, (shame we were before this!). The plan is that householders will get paid for the heat expected to be produced by their installed technology. The Government have also published consultations on expanding the RHI scheme to commercial, industrial and community customers and also on the Air to Water Heat Pumps and Energy from waste.
See here for further details.
I’m always nervous when a low-energy light bulb blows. You wouldn’t think this happens very often given their supposed lifespan, but it does, and I have a boxful waiting to be recycled. Why should I be nervous? Well, low-energy light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury giving them their energy-saving properties. So I worry that one will break. And, whilst this may not be harmful on its own, if large quantities of these bulbs end up going to landfill they could be damaging to the environment.
But research by the Lighting Industry Federation, the recycling scheme Recolight and others, showed that I am quite alone in my concern with 8 out of 10 consumers unaware that low-energy light bulbs MUST be recycled.
Only 18 per cent of those surveyed were aware that low-energy light bulbs need to be recycled through specialised recycling facilities. Alarmingly, when asked what they thought they would do when their old low-energy light bulbs reached end-of-life, 69 per cent said they would throw them away in the normal household rubbish.
And with the research showing that there are approximately 133 million low-energy light bulbs currently in use in homes across the UK. That could add up to a lot of mercury. As Recolight Chief Executive Nigel Harvey explains; “In the next three to five years we expect large quantities of low-energy light bulbs to start reaching end-of-life. It is essential that we raise awareness now of the importance of recycling these bulbs so that they don’t end up in landfill.”
“We are working with retailers and local authorities to provide more facilities for consumers to recycle their old bulbs, therefore making it easier for people to do so and helping to raise awareness of the issue. We have also set up a community recycling initiative to enable recycling champions to set up recycling facilities in convenient community locations, using our specially designed collection container.”
So to help promote the need to recycle a colourful animation was created by Sam Duggan, illustrating how people can help increase recycling rates of low-energy light bulbs in their community by becoming a CoBRA volunteer.
CoBRA was set up to create volunteer ‘recycling champions’ up and down the country who help take responsibility for collecting used low-energy light bulbs for recycling in their local area. These ‘Champions’ take on responsibility for collecting the used light bulbs in specially designed collection containers which can be placed in community locations of their choice. The waste light bulbs will then be taken to a central collection facility by the volunteers, ready for collection and lead to responsible recycling. So think twice before you chuck the next bulb to blow in the bin.
The Port of Tyne has welcomed the world’s most energy efficient car carrier, bringing 60 Nissan LEAFS ready for their UK sales launch on March 1st. The carrier, the City of St Petersburg, has an aerodynamic bow, which reduces wind resistance by 50% and saves 2,500 tons of CO2 emissions per year.
Nissan is focusing on reducing CO2 emission across the board, so as well as manufacturing electric and environmentally friendly vehicles, they are working at reducing CO2 emissions during the production, transportation and sales processes.
A major step in reducing CO2 emissions will be in 2013 when LEAF production begins at Nissan’s Sunderland plant, until then they will continue to be imported from Japan for distribution to 25 UK Nissan EV dealerships.
There is no doubt that people have an impact on the environment but measuring our own individual impact is not easy. Over the last decade or so there have been many attempts to develop ways of measuring human impact on the natural environment and to devise indicators of progress. These require one to answer questions about one’s lifestyle: how much energy one uses, how far one travels and whether by car, public transport, bicycle or foot, what one eats, and so on. They then combine this information into an indicator of one’s environmental impact. Currently most either convert the data into the amount of land needed to support one – one’s ‘footprint’ – or into carbon emissions. Most contain links to information on reducing one’s impact.
Some footprint calculators are quite simplistic, while others require actual figures for energy consumption, or travel, for example. Human behaviour is very varied and variable at an individual level. Some weeks we may, for example, use lots of energy, if it is a cold spell or one is at home all day rather than at work. And if one has just taken that once in a lifetime flight across the world to see distant relations one’s carbon footprint is going to be seriously skewed. So calculating one’s environmental footprint is not at all easy. The world is very complex and there is a lot that is still not known about human impacts on ecological systems.
Decisions on greening your lifestyle are taken in the context of a very complicated world but reducing your impact is worthwhile. The important thing is to make a start.
Making a Start
There are lots of things that can be done – see Tips and Starters for some ideas.
There are many carbon calculators around and several that calculate ecological footprints. The following list is not comprehensive, but none require you to log in or buy software. Several companies offer to offset your carbon emissions by planting trees or funding climate care projects and some of these, which have carbon calculators, are included in the list below.
Act on CO2 was the Government campaign aimed at getting everyone to reduce their carbon. The Act on CO2 Calculator, provided a way to check out your own carbon footprint and gives advice on how to reduce it with a simple, personalised action plan.
Climate Care also offers very simple carbon calculators, for day to day emissions from car, home and air travel. The results comes back as emissions in tonnes of CO2 with a note of the cost of offsetting this with a payment to Climate Care (minimum £5).
CO2 Balance also offsets carbon emissions with treeplanting and has home, car and holiday CO2 calculators. They say their methods have been validated by Bournemouth University School of Conservation.
The BP carbon footprint calculator is based upon energy in the home, whether one recycles waste, car usage and flights but does not provide many options for answers.
The US Earthday Network has a 15 question quiz which calculates one’s global footprint in terms of global hectares, broken down into food, mobility, shelter and goods and services. Based on national consumption averages, it is not highly detailed but gives you an idea of your Ecological Footprint relative to other people in the country you live in. Once one has done the quiz quite a lot of extra information is available with very informative FAQs. It was created by Earth Day Network and Redefining Progress, a US nonpartisan, non profit public policy organisation.
There is a vast and ever growing amount of information regarding human impact on the environment, with a lot of research being carried out and many academic publications and books. Several of the websites above contain links to further information.
Ecological footprints tend to be based on the amount of productive land available. Redefining Progress, the American public policy organisation, who are behind myfootprint.org work on the assumption that there are 1.8 biologically productive hectares per person worldwide. In the UK the average ecological footprint is 5.3 hectares. So one can calculate how many planets like earth would be needed to support the world population if everyone had a UK average ecological footprint.
Carbon calculators are generally related directly to estimates of carbon dioxide emissions, which are very significant in terms of climate change. Many of the calculators listed convert the results in carbon dioxide emissions per year and compare this with the average for the UK (10 or 11 tonnes/person/year). The UK government target is to reduce this to 4.5 tonnes by the year 2050 but the sustainable world average is 2.5 tonnes/person/year.