Fulfilling a dream

I made a New Year’s resolution on January 1st 1994, to buy a field and start planting a native woodland. Unlike many resolutions,  this one came true and has brought me a lot of hard work and happiness. I advertised for land, and nearly bought a field elsewhere, and then Julian and Emma Orbach asked me if I’d like to buy one of the fields on their newly acquired farm, Brithdir Mawr – the rest is history. Continue reading

Humidity in the home – controlling condensation

Some Options

In the British climate humidity and condensation are common problems in our homes. A clammy atmosphere feels unpleasant and also encourages the spread of house dust mites causing respiratory problems through allergic reaction. In serious cases mildew can make an appearance too. The traditional solution of throwing open a window, for example after taking a shower, is still a good one but may be wasteful of heating energy if you forget and leave it open too long. Many of us are concerned about security and are reluctant to open windows at all. Continue reading

Get your own back!

and reduce waste by joining the Local Paper for London scheme.

You may have thought about setting up your own office paper recycling system but perhaps time and support were in short supply? Or would like to switch to recycled paper but don’t know where to start?

Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone

Help is at hand, BioRegional is providing a sustainable office paper cycle for London and the South East, with free advice and support on how businesses can recycle their white office paper waste at their local paper mill, then buy back the 100% recycled office paper that the mill produces, thereby ‘getting their own back’. The scheme called Local Paper for London, gives measurable results. Offices are saving money, reducing landfill and waste incineration rates, and saving trees too. Appropriately launched by the then Mayor Ken Livingstone in 1999, the initiative is a positive solution to the incineration or dumping of waste office paper in the South East. Devised by local environmental organisation BioRegional, Local Paper for London aims to counter the area’s currently unsustainable office paper use and make it easy for offices to deal with their paper waste effectively. Continue reading

Domestic central heating

Issues and Alternatives

Central heating became a standard feature of British houses with the arrival of cheap North Sea gas. It was more marketable than super-insulated houses like the Waites house at C.A.T. (1973). Over the years building standards have improved but few of us come close to the zero heating houses of Hockerton and BedZED. BedZED Nevertheless, before shelling out on central heating equipment, be sure that you have copious insulation in the loft, insulated cavity walls, double or triple glazing (no PVC please!) and modern ventilation.

As 50% of the nation’s energy is used in buildings it pays to get heating right. Get a home energy check and use your home energy adviser to guide you through the bewildering choice of systems and controls. Our article on renewables has more information on alternatives to conventional heating systems such as ground source heat pumps.

Gas is still the most popular fuel but as North Sea production declines future supplies will be coming from further afield. Current events (August 2002) imply this might involve military action. As consumers we will need to be responsible, demanding fairly traded fuel, local supplies and of course reducing consumption.

Mains electricity is generally unsuitable for heating because of the pollution generated at power stations generated at power stations (twice the carbon dioxide emissions of gas). Green tariffs are better but electricity is still more appropriate to drive the low powered pumps and controls which underpin the efficiency of a modern boiler. The nation can not be heated exclusively by wind and hydropower because the capacity is not there. However, there are special cases where electricity has a direct role in heating, through heat pumps, dehumidifiers and even the humble electric blanket.

A fresh prospect is domestic combined heat and power (dchp) which actually generates electricity in your home for export to the grid. These systems are just becoming commercial with units on trial in British homes at this moment. This is the most rational way to supply energy in urban environments.

If you can not wait for chp then a gas (or oil) condensing boiler is likely to be your choice. These are 20% more efficient than traditional models. But don’t assume that full central heating is necessary. If you have taken insulation seriously some rooms may not need radiators, saving space, cost and energy. For example upstairs rooms usually benefit from heat rising from the ground floor and even on cold nights an electric blanket may be all you need.

A further 20% improvement in efficiency is claimed for underfloor heating. Instead of using a radiator, hot water is circulated under your feet keeping toes warm and head cool. Users find they can lower thermostat settings by 2 degrees Celcius for the same comfort, thereby saving energy. If you are building new or refurbishing an old house, underfloor will be a real treat.

The sustainable source of domestic fuel will be biomass such as wood. For the enthusiast biomass chp is under development in California but more readily available is the traditional wood burning stove. Good management is required to avoid air pollution and hot firing is preferable to slow smouldering. Ceramic stoves have the cleanest reputation.

Solar CollectorsFinally passive solar heating already makes a significant contribution to space heating through south facing windows; no extra equipment required. But however good your glazing, insulated window shutters will help to keep that heat in during the night. In summer, solar collectors can supply the majority of domestic hot water needs so that a boiler may be switched off for several months.

Peter Pope

Peter is an Environmental Engineer and Permaculture Advocate living in Cambridge. He works in housing refurbishment, renewable energy and composting.


Climate Change

Dr Dave S ReayYour Choices

by Dr Dave S Reay

Dave Reay is a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh and studies greenhouse gas emissions in environments ranging from the Southern Ocean to evil-smelling drainage ditches. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Climate Change Begins at Home (Macmillan) and editor of the leading climate change website GreenHouse Gas online. He lives in a house well above sea level.

He has written this feature especially for Green Choices. It covers, with useful links of course, the Science, the Impacts, What’s being done?, Climate change: Our Choice and Tackling Climate Change. In addition, he has prepared a section on Climate Change: Your Questions.

Your carbon footprint on the earth


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.

Carbon calculators

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.

Resurgence has a detailed carbon calculator for which you’ll need your fuel bills and information on journeys made.

Background information

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.