Volunteers needed to help people get active in Kent

Keen cyclists and walkers are needed to help encourage more people in Kent to get about in healthy and environmentally friendly ways.

Volunteer rangers for Sustrans, the UK’s leading sustainable transport charity, are inviting new recruits to join them at an information evening in Canterbury on Thursday (March 5).
The event will be a chance for newcomers to find out more about rangers’ variety of tasks to keep the National Cycle Network safe and attractive, from cutting back brambles to resurfacing paths.

A new partnership has been agreed between Sustrans and Kent County Council (KCC) which has been driven by their determination to keep routes well signed, well maintained and accessible. In return for funding, Sustrans aims to provide 50 new rangers to help strengthen existing groups and create six new groups for the county.

Simon Allum, Mobility Management Team Leader at Kent Highway Services (KHS) said: “The agreement is an exciting opportunity to build on our existing strong relationship with Sustrans and to facilitate the building of strong relationships with cyclists across the county. It will enable greater engagement between KHS and the cycling community and will hopefully lead to a sense of ownership with the cycle network and the forging of strong partnerships for the benefit of all.”

Sustrans Ranger Sheila Webb, a volunteer since 1991 and a founder member of East Kent cycle campaign Spokes, said: “It’s really quite satisfying to see so many people take up cycling again or enjoying a long walk because they have lovely routes nearby such as the Crab and Winkle Way from Canterbury to Whitstable. There are many different tasks for rangers to maintain and improve the routes from cutting back vegetation to painting a milepost or building a seat out of an old railway sleeper.”

Sustrans Volunteer Ranger Coordinator Julie Tublin said: “This is a great opportunity for people to make a positive difference in their community. Volunteer rangers act as the eyes and ears for Sustrans and local authorities, making sure that routes are kept as safe and attractive as possible for cyclists, walkers and wheelchair users.

“Rangers can put in as much or as little time as they can manage and any level of involvement will really help lighten the load. We are really looking forward to welcoming more people into the fold.”

The meeting will be held on Thursday 5th March from 6.30pm to 8pm at The Friends Meeting House, 2 The Friars, Canterbury, Kent CT1 2AS.

For more information or to register your interest call 0207 0172356, email volunteers-london@sustrans.org.uk or visit www.sustrans.org.uk and click on ‘Support Sustrans’.

Source: Sustrans

Bamboo – A sustainable alternative to hardwood

by Michael Smith

The headline can be seen as both a statement of fact as well as a question and we shall be looking at it from those angles as well.

Aside from using bamboo as a (sustainable) replacement and substitute for wood, it can also be spun, if that is the correct term here, into fiber and yarn from which to make clothing, such as T-shirts and such like.

However, our immediate concern here shall be as regards to bamboo as a (sustainable) replacement for hardwood and even more.

In the Far East, where bamboo originates, this grass, for that is what it is, for it is not a tree, is used also in many instances to replace metal.

Scaffolding, for instance, are made from bamboo poles in places such as China, and also, so I understand, the structural frame of many building, instead of using steel. As the material is extremely flexible, even when dry, it is much better in, say, earthquake areas, such as are many of its home countries, so to speak. Bamboo frames withstand the shocks of the earthquake much better than steel does and appear not to suffer the same damage.

Bamboo has also been using in many of those countries such as China, Vietnam, Japan – and in other places where it does grow, such as in the jungles of Asia and Latin America – for cutting blades, such as knives, arrows and spears. Also is was uses as a replacement for steel in the way of digging tools such a spades and shovels, and tools for tending the gardens.

But, I digressed a little here again: we were dealing with bamboo as a (sustainable) substitute for certain uses of hardwoods, were we not?

From what I have so far of products made from this plant, such as the kitchen and lifestyle utensils and accessories by “bambu”, and American company, whose products are now available in the UK via “Green Pioneer Ltd.”, and also others, such as the use of bamboo in ASUS laptop cases, it is quire capable to be a more sustainable (?) substitute for some hardwoods, especially the tropical kind, and in the case of computer cases, of plastics.

The reason I have been putting the word “sustainable” in brackets or, as in the previous paragraph, marked with a question mark in brackets, is that I, to some degree, question the sustainable issue.

Why do I question the sustainable issue as regards to bamboo and bamboo products? The answer here is that, while I am well aware of the fact that bamboo regrows to its full height and extent after cutting in about seven years and that cutting actually makes it grow more vigorously, live any grass, I do wonder as to the environmental footprint of transporting the goods, though often made in “Fair Trade” workshops from, say, China or Vietnam, to the UK or the USA.
That, however, I would hasten to add, is my sole concern, I think, as far as bamboo's green credentials are concerned.

The nice thing with bamboo is that containers can be made from it without the need of much work even, should one want the real rustic look. On the other hand it can be worked into many different things, the list which would be a little too long to mention here.

I must say that the more I hand bamboo the more I enjoy it and it's texture, though I also and especially love wood. The latter is, probably, still a greater love of mine, and here particularly native hardwoods.

Bamboo has an advantage over wood per se in that it can be used for the making of disposable flatware, as well as disposable plates and dishes; something that just cannot be made from wood, at least not directly. In addition to that there are eating utensils such as small pocket-size sporks and also other items of reusable picnic flatware. Not that one only has to use that kind of flatware for picnics, now. Wood just would not have the structural integrity and strength for this. Wooden spoons are one thing but...

Therefore bamboo is a suitable and possibly green substitute here and we should welcome it, especially when those products are made at Fair Trade approved workshops and conditions.

Bambu products can be purchased in the UK via http://www.bambuboutique.co.uk/ and in the USA via http://bambuhome.com/. For stockists in other areas contact bambu in the USA.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

Be The Change Book – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith

Be The Change Book
Interviews by Trenna Cormack
300 pages – Paperback
Published in 2007 by Love Books, Bristol
Printed by Beacon Press, Uckfield, East Sussex
ISBN 978-0-9555213-0-0

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” said Mahatma Gandhi and each and every individual features int his book is trying to be “the change” in his or her field and corner.

This book was conceived at Be The Change 2005 and one can but recommend it.

Be uplifted and, hopefully, inspired by the stories of 28 pioneers, social entrepreneurs, activists and campaigners working in many fields - including the media, education, health, peace, finance, business and the environment.

In exclusive interviews, individuals working on all scales – from global and national to local and grassroots levels - tell us how and why they are bringing positive change. They share the challenges and the joys, and show that a brighter future is not only possible, it's already emerging.

The accounts given in the book are those of dedication, innovation, determination and courage. Be inspired to know what anyone can achieve when they decide to be the change.

The book includes accounts by speakers from the “Be The Change 2007”, Maude Barlow, Rob Hopkins, Jonathon Porritt and Vandana Shiva and also from previous years. The latter include Hafsat Abiola-Costello, Boo Armstrong, James Dakin, Scilla Elworthy, Gill Hicks, Satish Kumar and Lynne Twist. The Afterword was written by Elisabet Sahtouris.

The book can be ordered via the Be The Change website at http://bethechange.org.uk/book.cfm

The price given there is £10 + postage. The RRP of the book is given as £12.99, which I assume is when the book is ordered through and bought via a bookstore.

Anyway and any case this is a book well worth investing in as it may just inspire the reader as to try to make his or her stand in a small or even large way in his or her field and corner, and the book sure is full of inspiration.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

Secateurs used as wire cutters

by Michael Smith

Time and again I see this and cringe. People, whether pruning roses or people pruning vines, they need to cut some wire, often just tying wire but at times also some slightly stronger ones, resort to the pair of secateurs that they are using rather than going and getting the proper tool. Using the hardened cutting blade of a pair of secateurs to cut wire not just dulls the blade; it can, in fact, cause nicks to be broken out of the blade and with that the blade be ruined irreparably.

Now there is no more need to worry and do that for all secateurs in the Ergo range from Bahco have a special aperture at the heel of the blade which, in fact, is a wire cutter. Very clever, methinks. Only shame that until my recent visit to the Garden Press Event 2009 at the RHS Halls in London's Westminster I, and more than likely many readers neither, did not know about this. I have reviewed two of the secateurs in that range last year after the Garden Press Event and even though this aperture was already part of those pruners then no one mentioned this and this was also not included in any of the press material.

As far as I am concerned, this is a feature that should be mentioned for now one no longer has to feel guilty when using one's secateurs with which to cut some tying wire or such, as long as one uses the right part of the blade and, obviously, one of the Ergo range of Bahco's pruning shears (secateurs) that have this facility built in.

While Bahco secateurs (pruning shears) of the Ergo range certainly are not cheap, they are the only ones that allow for the need to cut, say, tying wire without damaging the blades. Nice one.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

Downsizing our lives and the economy

by Michael Smith

Now that we have more reason than before, due to the downturn in the financial sector and the economy, to look at our personal budgets we should do with great discernment. The same also as regards to the economy of the nation and the nations as a whole.

When it comes to our budgets, to what we spend on this or that the questions should be “do we need to” and/or “do we needs that, really need that?” and more often than not I am sure that we find that we do not. It is often now a need anyway but a want and there are times when I am as guilty as the next person, so do not think I am just going to preach here.

In the current climate our thoughts should also be to “can I do that not myself from this or that?” and aside from the fact that it would come free or for little money the satisfaction of in fact having made this or that that we need or even want ourselves is the best reward of all.

There are many things that one may need or want that do not have to be store bought but that one can make easily oneself. Also, as far as food is concerned; if the takeout really necessary or the meal in a restaurant. Would the money not much better used elsewhere and would the food not be much better if made at home, to be served and eaten at a time that suits us. In addition to that you know where – to an extent – every ingredient of the meal comes form, how it was cooked and how clean the kitchen and all was. A lot cheaper too.

On the general things front there are so many things that I find that can be found that can be made use of for this or that requirement and I am always on the lookout as to what I can make of this or the other natural thing or and especially of things that are regarded by most people as trash.

Here a couple of ideas that may give you all some food for thought in that department:

Need clothespins? Why buy some crappy wooden or plastic ones with springs from China or thereabouts that break under the least strain when you can go out and make your own that can,if made right, last for decades. I am talking here about the old-fashioned Gypsy pegs, that is to say, split pegs. With a little knowledge and skill – the former obtainable from reading articles and the latter comes with practice often – you can easily make them yourself.

Need some storage containers? Well, look not further than the glass jars that often go into the recycling bin or to the tins that biscuits (cookies to our Transatlantic cousins) often come in or chocolates. In addition, at least here, there are the plastic containers from sweet shops (candy store) in which the candy comes that they sell as individual pieces. Those containers are sometimes sold for a few cents each or even given away.

There is no to go an buy expensive Tupperware containers and similar, whether for storing leftovers or for other things. Glass jars and other containers are fine also in the fridge for keeping leftovers for a few days and containers such as tins or those sweet boxes can be used to store a number of other things.

I use them to store all manner of things and literally refuse to pay good money for things of this sort that I can get for little or no money.

Desk tidies and such too can be had for little or no money from recycling things that otherwise might be thought of as trash and discarded.

Small cardboard boxes can be used as pen bins, as containers for index cards (I use those for my Hipster PDA). Tins of various sorts also can be useful on desks for a variety of uses, such as for paper clips, drawing pins, and other things.

Gift boxes, the kind of small cardboard boxes, for various things, which are often thrown, make great trays for pens and other things.

What else can we think of that we can make ourselves rather than going out to the stores for?

Need some coat hooks? Make your own ones using a reclaimed board for, say, a pallet and some Champagne corks. With some screws and a little sanding of the board you soon have some great looking coat pegs done. An instruction for this can be found in the virtual pages of this journal.

I am sure that we all can put our thinking caps on and I am sure that we can all find many more such ways of reducing waste and even making things that we can use or that can even be given as gifts to someone else to use or, if well enough made, even be sold on crafts fairs and elsewhere.

Now, let's do some of this kind of downsizing and reducing waste at the same time.

Staycations is the new term for vacationing at home and we have visited this before and it will help both our pockets and the environment.

I must admit that I have not had a foreign holiday proper ever and I cannot see the reason why anyone who has a nice home, especially with large and nice garden, wants to take holidays abroad with the trauma of traveling there and back and needing a holiday to get over the one one has just had.

I have been abroad and have traveled both by car, train and plane to such places and but neither have been for vacation and I must say that I have not enjoyed such traveling at all. That is why I just cannot understand why anyone wants to go to such lengths to go away for a couple of weeks in the sun, which is not the best idea anyway, when they have nice homes and we have a lovely country that most of them have never explored.

Even if one has not a big home and big garden there are places where one can have a great time while vacationing at home, such as local parks.

Staycations, like Fakeaways, are a way of saving money and also, to an extent, saving the Planet.

Fakeaways or fakeouts is the home version of the takeaway of the takeout meal, the pizza, the Chinese, the Indian, or whatever meals ordered from a restaurant and which one then picks up or gets delivered. In the fakeaway version you make it yourself, from scratch.

I love a Curry though my stomach is not always as fond of it due to the awful IBS and the same for other such “foreign” foods. However, I am no friend of the pizza of the flat, thin thing. Pizza to me is the kind that is made in some areas of Italy in the rural areas, which is deep bread dough in a pan with the topping of a variety of things. All possible to make at home.

Depending on where you live leaving the car at home and walking or cycling is also a downsizing option to save some of the much needed cash and not spend it on the gas to power a car.

If you can get rid, so to speak, of the car altogether you can save even more money, as you will no loner gave to pay the road taxes, insurance, and other costs associated with running a car. However, I am well aware that that does not work everywhere and especially not in many of the more rural areas, as stores are no longer local, not even the post office.

Just some food for thought here.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

Cleaning the blades of secateurs, pruning shear and loppers

by Michael Smith

All of those cutting tools get clogged up at the blades with tree sap, and some of it worse than others, during the working day.

Aside from the fact that this sap tends too stop the secateurs, for instance, from working properly and makes the blades stick, especially in the case of bypass secateurs, it also, if left on the blades, will cause the blades to corrode.

Many manufacturers recommend that you use their brand (or some other) sap removing agent which, obviously, is not a cheap option. Then again neither is having a pair of expensive secateurs die a death because of lack of care.

I have found that you do not need to buy expensive sap removers; baby wipes will do the job as effective as any sap remover and, as those contain lanolin, will also put a coat of that oil on to the blade. Nigh on two birds with the one proverbial stone.

Those wipes work wonders on the blades, so I have found, and if you buy the most basic ones of the wipes, such as Sainsbury's Basics version of them, they cost about a penny a wipe. Not something too worry about using, I am sure.

On the other hand you can get it cheaper still. A cloth impregnated with vinegar, whether brewed malt vinegar, wine vinegar or whichever other kind, is irrelevant. Again here you could buy the cheapest available, as I do as a disinfectant in the use of washing dishes, for instance. At 15p a bottle it is not a fortune either.

The only thing to remember is that if removing tree sap from secateurs and other cutting tool that you will have to put some oil or grease onto the blade afterwards. Ascetic acid will not be too kind to the steel if the blades are left uncoated. A little bit of Vaseline on the finger and rubbed over the b lade will do nicely as will a little chainsaw oil or such.

There you have it: no need for expensive sap remover and still clean secateurs that will go on and on.

P.S. This also works with knives, etc.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

Bank of England Chief says Britain in deep recession

by Michael Smith

In a statement on Wednesday, February 11, 2009, Mervin King, the head of the Bank of England, said that Britain is in a deep recession but, it would appear, that like the politicians as well, he is not willing to accept the fact that it is a D and not a R; in other words, it is not just a recession, it is a depression. The governor might do well to have another look at the letters of the alphabet; depression is spelled with a “D” and in this case an uppercase one too.

Mervin King said further that the economy is going into the minus range, as if people hadn't realized that as yet. The only one that does not seem to be able to realize this and willing to accept it are the Labor regime of the UK and the state bank.

The Governor of the Bank of England also stated that other measures will have to employed, other than interest cuts, as the interest rate can basically be cut not much further, and are talking about the need to “print money”. This is NOT a good idea, as we have seen in places such as the former Rhodesia.

We need to find a new way and a new style of economy or the way things are for it is no longer going to work the way things are being done.

The present system is “kaput”, as they would say in German; it is broken, and the way I see it it is not fixable either. It if finished and we need to have a look at some new options. Some of those options are not, in fact, that new and are age old and well tested.

The system of buying on credit might be something that must be reconsidered as far as the individual consumer is concerned and either it is cash, check (though nearly no one wants to accept them bits of paper no more because of the costs of processing them) or debit card. In other words, if one does not have the money – saved – in an account or under the mattress – then one cannot buy the thing that one desires. A good was to be, methinks.

The greedy banks got us into this and we must never let them do this again.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009


2008 ReCellular Corporate Sustainability Report Details Cell Phone Collections, Charitable Fundraising, Reuse Processes, and Recycling Results

ANN ARBOR, MI, February 20, 2009ReCellular, the world’s leading electronics-sustainability firm, collected and processed 5.5 million phones for reuse and recycling in 2008. This represents a 35 percent increase year-over-year, reflecting ReCellular’s ongoing efforts to increase the availability and consumer awareness of cell-phone recycling in the U.S. and Canada.

“This year, we made great progress towards our goal of transforming the lifecycle of a cell phone,” says Chuck Newman, ReCellular CEO. “With the help of our industry partners, ReCellular is working to create a sustainable model where every handset is recycled into the core materials needed to build its replacement.”

That progress is documented in the company’s first annual sustainability report, available at www.ReCellular.com/Sustainability. Highlights of ReCellular’s 2008 report include:

  • ReCellular collected 5.5 Million Phones, weighing as much as three Boeing 747-400s
  • ReCellular donate-a-phone programs raised $4.0 million for charitable causes and grassroots organizations, from local Boy Scout troops to the national Cell Phones for Soldiers program
  • ReCellular’s 102 point data-removal process deleted an average of 5 megabytes of information per handset – removing a total of 10 terabytes of personal contacts, e-mail, photos and financial information from donated phones
  • ReCellular recycled 1.2 million pounds of materials, including handsets, batteries, phone chargers and accessories, and paper and plastic shipping materials
  • ReCellular reclaimed 21,000 pounds of copper, 954 pounds of silver, and 96 pounds of gold from recycled circuit boards and electronics accessories
According to Newman, ReCellular decided to publish their annual sustainability report to help address consumer and corporate questions about responsible recycling practices:

“Recently, we have seen a sharp increase in recycling as people become more environmentally conscious. We have also seen literally hundreds of companies springing up to take advantage of peoples’ good intentions. Unfortunately, the improper recycling practices of some firms can have serious environmental and social consequences – causing people to worry that recycling their phones could make the situation worse, not better.”

“We hope our 2008 report demonstrates that responsible electronics recycling provides tangible benefits, including charitable fundraising, social empowerment and environmental conservation. We also hope the information detailed in our 2008 report will solidify ReCellular’s position as the most responsible, most trusted electronics-sustainability firm in the world.”

With offices in the United States and Hong Kong, ReCellular Inc. is the world’s leading electronics-sustainability firm. We provide solutions for the collection, reuse and recycling of used personal electronics that generate financial return for our partners, quality products for our customers, funding for charity organizations, and protection of the environment. Corporate, charitable, consumer and wholesale information is available at www.ReCellular.com.

Source: ReCellular

Envirosax – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith

Envirosax, the original designer reusable bag – since 2004

Envirosax were the first modern day reusable shopping bags available that could be packed small enough to be carried for he “just in case” shopping spree, while still being large enough and strong enough to carry a considerable amount of stuff.

They have been the first designer reusable bags available to buy in stores, and Envirosax have been around since 2004 and that would mean well before anyone else was even thinking of using reusable shoppers, especially as regards to protecting the environment.

Envirosax reusable bags are indeed very nice and useful shoppers and those that are made from polyester come in a variety of colors, including camouflage. The latter, I guess, for those that want to hide their groceries in the woods. Just joking.

Envirosax bags are made through a company-owned manufacturer. Fair trade and fair wages is an issue in Third World countries, but the manufacturer for Envirosax has met all fair trade guidelines. At Envirosax they deal directly with the manufacturer and therefore there are no middlemen and there are no children, for instance, employed in the factories in China.

Aside from the lighter and cheaper polyester bags there are also 100% cotton ones in the range of Envirosax. Those, however, do not pack as small as do the polyester ones, nor do they come in as many colors.

Envirosax reusable bags are totally safe to carry food. Before using a reusable bag to carry your shopping, especially your groceries, you should ensure that it has been tested to show that it is safe to do so.

The original home of the Envirosax bags is on the Australian Gold Cost and the bags have all undergone food migration safety tests conducted by the Australian Government National Measurement Institute. The samples from the bags were extracted in accordance with AS2070-1999 “Plastics materials for food contact use”. The test results indicated full compliance with the AS2070-1999.

Envirosax reusable shopping bags (and they can be used for other things aside from shopping) come in many colors and many types, to list them all would be a bit too much.

The polyester bags are able to carry at least 20kg (which equals a little over 40lbs – for our non-metric cousins) and I personally would not ever wish to carry that kind of load in my hands or on the shoulder;; the handles are large enough to be looped over one shoulder.

The retail for the polyester version of the Envirosax bags was given as Euro 7.50 for a single bag or the Graphic, Greengrocer or Kids series. The organic series are somewhat more expensive.

Viewed from all angles those Envirosax bags are great and a good investment in the future of our Planet. So, don't delay, get your Envirosax bag today!

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009


TORRANCE, CA, February 19, 2009: Honda's auto plants in Ohio and Alabama have received Energy Star awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for advances in curbing energy use during the production of passenger cars and light trucks.

For the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2008, Honda's average CO2 emissions per vehicle produced in North America were at their lowest levels since the company began measuring results in 2001. The EPA bases the award points on the amount of energy needed to produce an automobile, and includes factors such as vehicle size and production volume.

In Ohio, Honda of America Mfg., Inc.'s Marysville Auto Plant and East Liberty Auto Plant each earned top energy performance scores of 100 points. Both plants continue to find new ways to reduce the use of electricity and natural gas. Honda has focused most of these activities on more efficient use of lighting, chiller systems, motors, metering, heating, compressed air and air conditioning. The Marysville plant produces the Honda Accord sedan and coupe, and the Acura TL and RDX, while the East Liberty plant manufactures the Honda CR-V and Element.

"Improving the energy efficiency of Honda factories is the single biggest focus to reduce the impact of our manufacturing operations on climate change," said Gary Smith of Company Facilities at Honda of America Mfg., who worked with EPA on the project. "We have launched significant efforts throughout our operations to reduce the energy intensity of automobile production."

At the Marysville plant, associates significantly reduced electricity use by reprogramming plastic injection molding machines to run only during the production cycle. This has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 80,000 pounds per year. At the East Liberty plant, Honda replaced older chiller pumps with smaller, more efficient units that reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 508,000 pounds per year.

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, LLC, which produces the Odyssey minivan, Pilot sport utility vehicle and now the Ridgeline truck, also earned the Energy Star award. The Lincoln, Ala. Plant implemented an initiative to monitor the use of equipment between shifts, during lunch and breaks, and on weekends. The monitoring program helped reduce electricity use on the paint line by 10 million kilowatt hours, representing about 15 million pounds of CO2.

In addition, these auto plants are implementing a unique "intelligent paint booth" technology that reduces energy consumption and related CO2 emissions from painting operations by as much as 25 percent. Automobile body painting consumes large amounts of energy because automakers need to condition the temperature and the relative humidity of the air to achieve the desired product appearance and finish quality. Developed by Honda in Ohio and Ohio State University, the system uses a predictive control mechanism to keep the temperature and humidity within specifications, even as weather conditions change.

"Our objective is to reduce the CO2 emissions throughout Honda's manufacturing operations," Smith said. "Initiatives like these are helping meet our commitments to reduce the environmental impact of product manufacturing."

In addition, Honda's strategy of building products close to its customers helps to reduce energy, emissions and waste associated with the transportation of products and component parts. Approximately 77 percent of the vehicles Honda sells in the U.S. are produced in North America.

About Honda This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment in 1959 of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., Honda's first overseas subsidiary. Honda began U.S. motorcycle production in Ohio in 1979, and U.S. automobile production in 1982. The company has invested more than $10.6 billion in its North America operations, including 16 major manufacturing facilities employing more than 34,000 associates, to produce Honda and Acura automobiles, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, personal watercraft, lawn mowers, general-purpose engines, and other power equipment products. For more on Honda’s environmental initiatives visit http://corporate.honda.com/environment.


Biofuels, biofuels and biofuels again

by Michael Smith

I must say the whole issue of biofuel, biodiesel, and such like is beginning to get on my nerves for we are not making things one iota better if we keep burning this or that other fuel in the infernal combustion engines of our cars and trucks, not one little one. It is still releasing pollution, including CO2 and other such gases, into the air and the atmosphere in the end.

In addition to that those fuels are, predominately, made from this or that food crop or, of they are not than they use land that could be and should be used for the production of food.

We must find other ways of transportation and we must get away from the infernal combustion engine, unless we get back to the fuel the car was supposed to be run on, namely methane gas. That's right, sewer gas.

On the other hand we must find a cleaner way of getting about, aside from, I mean, walking and cycling and using horses and buggy. Not that there is anything wrong with those methods of transportation, none whatsoever in fact.

When it comes to so-called biofuels I do not care whether this is ethanol or biodiesel; both still pollute and, according to some studies, they in fact are worse than the oil-based fuels that they are meant to replace. They are not as green as the credentials that are often given them. We don't even want to talk about as to whether they are ethically pure.

If it is just the fact that we are running out of oil, the so-called black gold, and wish to replace it with something that can be grown rather then that is one thing. But this is not the way that we should approach this. We must use the opportunity of peak oil to find new ways of powering cars and trucks and the methods, it would appear, are there already and have, in fact, been thus for decades if not longer even. The only problem was and still is that the oil lobby is stopping the proper development of those.

According to what I have read and therefore understand good old Henry Ford designed the Model T not for oil-based fuels but for methane, originally, in the same was as the first electricity generating plants were designed to be run on the same gas.
However, oil became plentiful and therefor cheap cheap and thus the switch was made too run cars and trucks and oil-based fuels such as diesel and gasoline. The lobby is still strong and is now going over to other oils for the manufacture of fuels with which to power the motor vehicles. They have the refineries and all they look at doing is to change the setup, so at least it appears to me. They just switch to the new kind of oil and other substances which to turn into fuel for the ICE. The same lobby will control the biofuels, of that we can be sure, and this may just mean that other kinds of propulsion is being suppressed yet again.

As far as biofuels, whether ethanol from sugarcane or other crops, or biodiesel from palm oil (oh dear) or other plants, are concerned all I am seeing is trouble ahead and this because not only is the world running out of the Black Gold, the oil, but we are also running short of food and of land on which to grow the same. But the biofuel industry is advocating the growing of crops, including food crops, for the making of biofuels, as in the case of maize (corn, for our Transatlantic cousins). This just does NOT compute. Food must be the priority and water; both of which are being sacrificed in the rush to keep the ICEs going.

A thorough rethink is required as to how we wish to transport things about and ourselves and while cars and trucks will still be needed we must find another means of propulsion. Electric cars is one answer and electric motorbikes, scooters and such and delivery vans. When is comes to the 18-wheelers then we may have to look at the use of methane in internal combustion engines, as I do not think that there are – at least not as yet – electrical motors powerful enough to shift the likes of tonnages that they carry.

Nautical transportation – to a great degree – maybe – could go back under sail and with today's modern technology it should be quite easy to do just that. We may have to look at another way of packing the cargo though as containers on deck might not work.

We have the technology to get away from the ICE – at least to the greatest extent – and get about with clean vehicles. Biofuels are not the answer, at least as far as what I can see, as the production of same could cause many hundreds of thousands if not millions to suffer serious hunger around the world and even in our own countries of the developed world. Food must be the priority not fuel for cars.

I rest my case.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

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The String Bag, the net, is making a comeback

by Michael Smith

When I was a child it was a common sight to see a housewife taking home her groceries in a string bag and children too who had been sent on errands used this bag in which to carry home the things they had been sent to fetch.

It sort of died a death in the same way as the ordinary shopping bags made of various materials, from leather and burlap to American cloth, and everything in between. This was due to the arrival of the plastic grocery bag and especially the free one; for initially you had to pay a few pence for the shoppers from the supermarkets and stores.

Now, where we have finally realized – most of us at least – and helped by the fact that the stores now, in the main, no longer simply stuff things into a carrier bag – that we cannot go on this way and the plastic carrier bag.

Now that we are encouraged – and to a degree forced – to bring our own reusable shoppers again people have taken to bringing shoppers of a variety of materials, which often have been sold somewhere for a cause.

The first time I ever really saw the string bag again, for sale, so to speak, was at the recent Top Drawer Spring trade fair that was held at London's Earl's Court. Not that there were many selling those. In fact only one company was there doing so and I shall be doing a more detailed review on the bags and the company in a separate piece.

The bag encountered at Top Drawer Spring 09 were “Turtle Bags”, made from natural cotton, handmade in India. They come in a variety of colors all of which, I believe, being created with natural dyes.

Some folks may feel a little strange using a net, especially the males of the species, of which I am one – a male, I mean, though not someone who would feel strange using a shopping net – and also for the fact that anyone really can see what one has bought but, so what.

The string bag, the shopping net, was what every woman tended to carry on her – rolled up in the apron pocket (the older village and town's women) or in her handbag, whether or not she actually headed tot he stores.

Mind you then, in them days it was the little grocery stores where you also bought things loose and which were then put into paper bags and into the net and fetched home. Today everything is so over-packaged and this is the greatest source of the rubbish that we create.

Now that we have the shopping net back, can we also have the loose goods back?

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

Can the Recession save the Planet?

by Michael Smith

For years now environmentalists have been urging and pressurizing governments to tackle climate change – now it seems World leaders have a greater incentive – not only will green innovation help fight climate change, it will also create jobs.

The new President of the United States of America, Barak Obama, has already pledged to create 5m jobs by driving the US towards clean energy independence. Rumor has it that the devolved government in Scotland is going to announce the creation of thousands of new "green" jobs as part of its economic recovery plan.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January /beginning of February 2009 the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stressed the importance of cooperation between governments and the private sector in tackling climate change despite the current economic recession.

According to the British PM investment in green technology and energy efficiency could act as a spur to recovery in the global economy, he said:

“We cannot afford to relegate climate change to the international pending tray because of our current economic difficulties. We must use the imperative of building a low carbon economy as a route to creating jobs and growth, the path that will see us through the current downturn”.

So, and what after. Business as usual?

Dr Neil Bentley, CBI director of business environment speaking at the Carbon Trust’s annual stakeholder event last week said:

“Moving towards low carbon, especially in these times, is not a luxury. It is a critical issue and an important opportunity for business and for creative thinking. Where the great depression was solved by building roads and bridges, what this economic crisis needs is green innovation.”

"Climate change threatens all our goals for development and social progress," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the world's business and government. "On the other hand, it also presents us with a gilt-edged opportunity."

"The green economy is low-carbon and energy-efficient. It creates jobs. Investment in sustainable technologies will turn today's crisis into tomorrow's sustainable growth."

But it always seems to be the economy, the economy and the economy again. The real consideration for the Planet does not really come in in this scenario, methinks.

We are still being encouraged to go and spend our way out of the downturn and this is the most stupid notion I have ever encountered.

However, with the crisis at hand and needing to save maybe, just maybe, government, industry, commerce and people in general will realize that saving energy, for in stance, makes economic and financial sense and the same as to not wasting food and other resources, such as, for instance, water.

Both climate change, whether it is man-made or, as I am believe, a natural phenomenon of the Planet ,which is probably exacerbated by our irresponsibility as regards to Nature and resources, and the depression that is looming – if it has not, in fact, arrived already – are a threat to the stability of our society and that of the world as a whole. So, if we can kill two birds with one stone (without harming a bird in the process), so to speak, by tackling the issues of climate change and the environment and the economy at the same time then the better.

What we must be considering, and it often is not being considered that, if climate change is a natural cycle of the Earth we must make preparations to live with it and hence look at ways to doing this too.

We also, while we are at it, must get away from our dependence on (foreign) oil and gas and find natural sources of fuel – without, however, having to use food crops for it – in order to fuel our power stations to generate electricity. Also, we must get away from our love affair with the ICE, the infernal combustion engine, and this regardless of whether the outputs of such is affecting or causing climate change. The general pollution caused by the millions of cars on our roads is enough reason to look at clean alternatives.

All of this could fuel innovation and new industries. At the same time some of the old skills, crafts and industries too may find revitalization, such as shoe mending, and other repair skills.

The trade of he wheelwright even and the farrier might become in fashion once again for we could do worse than, in some regions at least, adopting some of the ways of the Amish, for instance.

The horse is already for some time again proving its worth in forestry operations and, I am sure, it could, once again, be viable in other sectors too.

The bicycle for transportation should be considered again, as it is by some folks already, in Europe and also the UK, though there is still a way to go in places such as the USA, and bike repair could and should be a trade again that could blossom.

Why do we need to constantly look at exports? We should look at doing and making things at home for the home market at reasonable affordable prices. How can it be possible to make thin gs so cheap that while they are made in China and then shipped all the way from there to here they are still only half the price if not less even than the, supposedly, could be made for at home. Somehow this, in my opinion, does not compute.

We are being taken for a ride, methinks. Let us demand “Made in Britain”, “Made in America”, etc. at a price that is the same or maybe just a little more than the cheap labor exploitation stuff from Asia. It is corporate greed that says it cannot be made cheaply at home; nothing else. So, at least, I see it.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

Amid GSMA Embrace of Universal Power, Consumer Electronics Makers Line Up Behind Green Plug Open Power Solution


Ricoh, Fabrik/SimpleTech, PG&E and Natural Resources Defense Council Among Those Endorsing Emerging Standard; Support Coincides with GSMA Embrace of Universal Power for Mobile Phones by 2012

SAN RAMON, Calif. (February 18, 2009) – Across the spectrum – from consumer electronics companies to public utilities, from environmental organizations to national governments – momentum is building toward an open, green standard for universal power.
To capture and share these sentiments, Green Plug today unveiled an extension to its website, at http://www.greenplug.us/supporters.php. The initiative complements the ongoing, consumer-driven “I Want My Green Plug” campaign. Beyond the ability to vote for CE devices to “Green Plug-enable,” http://iwantmygreenplug.com includes social tools for sharing with friends, embedding a widget on a blog or web site, bookmarking it on social sites, joining IWMGP groups on social networks, and following the Green Plug blog (http://blog.greenplug.us) for updates.

The momentum behind Green Plug coincides with this week’s announcement from the GSM Association at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona , where 17 wireless operators and handset makers agreed to standardize chargers by 2012 for most mobile phones. Chargers will be interchangeable among manufacturers and will work with future handsets. According to the GSM Association, discarded chargers account for upwards of 51,000 tons of waste annually.

Green Plug is the first green technology company to apply two-way digital communication to convert a universal power source to a device’s specific power requirements. Stylish DC power hubs enabled with Green Plug’s Greentalk™ digital protocol are able to simultaneously power multiple devices, each with its own specific voltage and power requirements. Green Plug technology minimizes e-waste by enabling consumers to keep their chargers for use with future devices after their current devices have become obsolete.

Embracing Green Plug’s approach to fixing “the broken power model” are the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Gas & Electric, the Green Electronics Council, a representative of the Chinese government, and manufacturers Ricoh, Fabrik, Innergie, Luminary Micro and Westinghouse Digital Electronics, among others. A sampling of statements of support follows:

  • "Imagine a world where you only need a couple of external power supplies to charge all the portable electronic devices in your home -- imagine the amount of energy and raw materials we can save by preventing the need to build billions of new power supplies each year,” said Noah Horowitz, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Alliance for Universal Power Supplies is working to make this dream a reality. We at the NRDC are fully supportive of efforts that will ensure that new external power supplies are energy efficient and can be used to charge multiple devices. The time for a universal ‘plug and play’ charger is now."
  • "It seems intuitively obvious that all these unique external power supplies serve no one's interest,” said Jeff Omelchuck, Green Electronics Council, Portland , Oregon . “What a great idea to develop a simple communication protocol on a common connector so the device tells the power supply how much of what kind of power it needs, then turns the power supply off when it is charged. This is more convenient for the consumer, makes smarter power supplies cost effective, prevents the manufacture of yet more inefficient and dumb external power supplies, and keeps them out of our waste streams and landfills. A classic win-win-win!"
  • "PG&E applauds the efforts of the industry to explore innovative ways to reduce standby power savings,” said Lee Cooper, Manager Emerging Technologies, PG&E. “The notion of utilizing digital collaboration between power supplies and the devices that use power holds promise for advances in monitoring and optimization."
  • “Ricoh's commitment to the Three P's -- Balance™, Planet, People and Profit -- is more than just a slogan… we act,” said Harrison Tajima, Digital Camera Marketing, Ricoh Company Ltd. “When Green Plug presented Ricoh with the opportunity to build a digital camera concept system that incorporates the open systems power interface, we naturally wanted to pursue research in this topic.”
  • “Innergie will soon be incorporating the Greentalk™ open systems power interface to more conveniently support almost any electronic product and to facilitate future monitoring and control applications,” said PS Tang, Senior Director, Innergie. "With the availability of Greentalk-enabled power accessories like Innergie, consumers will need just one, small power supply for all of their portable devices."
  • "Green Plug's mission to set global standards in reducing electronic device energy consumption is to be applauded,” said John Harting, vice president of programs and platforms at SimpleTech, a Fabrik company. “When Green Plug approached us with the opportunity to participate in their recent CES™ demonstration showcase, we were excited. Pairing Green Plug's intelligent power supply technology with our new SimpleTech [re]drive, the world's most eco-friendly, resource-conscious external hard drive, is a smart choice not only for consumers who want to protect their digital content, but for those who want to protect the environment as well."
  • "Besides helping the environment, the Green Plug technology will also help Westinghouse to cut its costs,” said Darwin Chang of the Alliance for Universal Power Supplies “Eventually it could stop shipping power adapters with its products because customers will already have a universal adapter at home."
  • "The current power supply model could not fulfill future usage… It is time for development [of] a new power supply model for flexible application and environmental benefits,” said Mr. He, Guili, Director of ChinaTTL, China Academy of Telecommunication Research of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. “Universal power supply is [the] trend, with all its advantages."
  • "It is becoming increasingly important to develop smarter, processor-controlled power supplies that are universal and interoperable with all DC-powered products. OEMs who care about the environment and about consumer satisfaction will leap at the opportunity to standardize their consumer electronics power solutions,” said Jean Anne Booth, CMO , Luminary Micro, Inc. “Luminary Micro provides the ideal platform for building new, innovative power applications on top of the smart, open systems power interface and is the architecture used in Green Plug reference designs.”
Green Plug is the first developer of digital technology enabling real‐time collaboration between electronic devices and their power sources, allowing manufacturers to standardize on one universal power connector and eliminate environmental waste. Consumer electronics, residential and commercial builders, power tools and power supply manufacturers license Green Plug’s embeddable power supply technology to provide universal and safe connections, promote environmentally friendly reuse, make their products more affordable, and generate customer loyalty. For the company’s thoughts on universal power for consumer electronics, please visit http://blog.greenplug.us. Green Plug, headquartered in San Ramon , Calif. , is privately held.

Source: Edge Communications, Inc.

Is reuse good for the economy?

by Michael Smith

The Financial Times has started using the word "austerity" in many of its headlines – and charity shops, the face of the second hand market in Britain, are experiencing a buying boom.
On the other hand a fair – though not so fair in other terms – of retailers, the purveyors of brand new things, have gone bankrupt, in liquidation or receivership, such as Woolworth, MFI and some other well known names.

Does this mean we are saturated with stuff?

The answer to this could be a probably maybe. But the truth, more than likely, is that people, that is all of us, are feeling the squeeze as with the recession and the prices for fuel and everything going up and up.

Do we still need to keep on spending on new things to keep the economy moving?

While the economic whizkids, who got us into this mess in the first place or who simply were so blind that they could not see it coming, and especially the powers that be, tell us to go and shop till we drop, basically, to help those ailing capitalist economies of ours, the truth is that we cannot do so. First off the environment must be considered for if we don't it does not matter what we do; we may no longer have a habitable planet. Secondly there is no money there and no credit to be had – not that one should work on the credit thing anyway – so how do the powers that be think that people can go out and spend, spend, spend.

Is designed obsolescence soon to be obsolete? Or should we keep on refreshing our material possessions to keep the economy moving?

In other words, the question is, "Is reuse good for the economy?"

I know that the government of this country – and, so it wold appear, also of other countries – is trying to create stimulus for us to keep on spending, and spending and spending; spending our way out of the recession, so they say. Personally I do not think that that will work.

Alternatively, maybe, just maybe, the economy is so far up the creek that we should consider building an alternative one and slowly migrate over to it.

There is no way, in my opinion, but then again I am no economist, that we can administer CPR to this troubled economy by spending as much as possible. It will not work and, well, do we have the money to do so, and, do we really need more stuff (only to throw other stuff into the garbage then).

Paul Smith of the Furniture Reuse Network (FRN) certainly advocates that reuse is a good thing but you might argue his focus is short-term and on real people rather than on the long-term health of the more abstract economy?

To some degree, methinks, the reason that the economy is in the dire straights that it is in because people and the planet were taken out of the equation by the the bankers and financiers and the big capitalists and especially the multi-nationals. As soon as you do that, that is to say to remove the people and the planet out of the equation as far as economy, and not just the economy, is concerned you head for severe trouble and so we did. Greed was all that fueled the banks and all that seems to have fueled industry and now we reap the whirlwind. But it is the little man an d the environment that suffers and not the fat cats. While we, the taxpayers, have to bail out the banks and certain sectors of industry, those who got everyone into that mess still award themselves fat multi-million pound bonuses and such payments. But I digressed somewhat.

Given that the governments of the world are doing everything they can to get spending going again it would seem that the powers that be certainly do not want reuse as a general practice, despite their “reduce, reuse, recycle” message about waste management, to take place. They want new cars, new houses, new washing machines, plasma screen TVs, MS Vista 09 and every other material (and immaterial thing) that generates jobs to start moving again. I mean, how many more sofas, TVs, etc. do we need. No, your old PC is not obsolete as yet, regardless of what the folks in Redmond try telling you. All you need is an operating system that works with less resources, e.g. lower processor speed, such as Linux.

There is no doubt in my mind that the economy is shrinking – and for everything that is reused that is one less thing that is made from scratch – environment 1 - economy nil. The same applies for re-purposing. But, as said, the powers that be do not seem to want this to happen, in all honesty, despite their pratter.

Artificially encouraging spending with the policy and print runs at the mint is only going to produce artificial demand – which in turn, produces artificial economy. It is the same as the alcoholic having a drink to get rid of the jitters - the junkie shooting up to avoid the come down. The example of Zimbabwe should also be obvious enough.

Grow your own, repair before replace, live lightly. Using and producing less is a global objective, or at least so it should be.

While it might be painful, painful for all of us, I do think that we have to go through this and kick the habit of waste and spend, spend, spend. I say reuse, don't refuse!

To some this may appear to be a stark choice between two paths, but is it really. We all know, at least those of us with some common sense, that business as usual will not be solving the problems we face. On the other hand, massive economic shifts in short periods of time seem to cause significant unrest and violence, do they not?

Then again, the choices here may not be as stark as some may think. Re-use often needs testing,such as in the case of electrical goods, and sometimes repair. These are key skills that allow re-use organizations to train and employ people. There is also a danger that the economic interest are short term. We live on a finite piece of rock with finite resources the longer we can keep items and resources in circulation the longer we will be able to have an economy at all. It is not a choice between the environment and the economy but a choice between short and long term thinking and, most importantly, survival.

Thus, in a reuse economy there are actually just as many jobs and transactions – just different skills and tills. An important thing wold be if we could but remember en mass some of the skills we have lost and then, maybe, get around to relearning some of those – all important, in my view anyway – skills and trades.

I would also like to add that I think that it would take us quite a while to use up what there is to reuse at the present time. It would be healthy to reuse as long as possible until we have thought up a way to a durable economy. It would also give the overexploited countries a chance to recenter themselves on their own needs and their own resources without having to hope that they can carry on pampering our so-called 'needs'. It is our own responsibility to live on what we have around us. We also have plenty of great skills and can learn some more too.

Being, as I said before, from a rather large Gypsy family, the reuse issue has always been part of us and that not just because we were a large family. In fact the Gypsy people recycled before the word was even invented. We made things from virtually nothing to sell at fairs, markets and door-to-door, and we reworked “trash” into goods people wanted to buy. Another kind of economy.

© M Smith (Veshengro) February 2009

Rochdale 's canals to be refurbished for everyday journeys by foot and bike

Just over a year ago, local communities in Rochdale, Oldham, Middleton and Heywood voted in their thousands for Sustrans Connect2 to win the lottery vote to bring £50million from the Big Lottery Fund to 79 communities across the UK to create networks for everyday journeys for people travelling by foot and by bike - including Rochdale 's towpath.

Now, the £1.6million pound project to connect walkers and cyclists via a tranquil and pleasant green corridor running the length of the canal is a step closer as sustainable transport charity Sustrans and its Connect2 partner at Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council sign the paperwork that will guide the development for the coming years.

This agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding, confirms partners' continued commitment to the project and pledges £450,000 from Sustrans' Connect2 lottery award to complete the network of paths along the Rochdale canal and links into the community across the Borough.
More than 300,000 people live within a mile of the network, and when open, it will offer a pleasant waterside route along the canal, in contrast to the busy A627.

Howard Gott, at Rochdale Borough Council says: "We are delighted that
funding from the Big Lottery Fund is now in place to regenerate Rochdale 's canal for everyday journeys by foot and by bike. We anticipate that work will begin in summer 2010 and I look forward to the grand opening in summer 2012."

Peter Foster, Sustrans' regional director says "We are really excited about this new route to connect communities along the entire length of the borough. There's already an extensive walking and cycling network, but once open, this greenway will link them all up to offer people a more enjoyable way to get to where they need to go."

This scheme has been made possible through the enormous popular support for Sustrans' Connect2 - as voted for by the public in the UK 's largest lottery competition last December.
The anticipated cost of the Rochdale Towpath scheme is in excess of £1.6million, with £450,000 coming from the Big Lottery Fund as part of Sustrans Connect2.

The lottery award will join locally sourced match-funding to transform local travel in 79 communities throughout the UK - changing the lives of six million people who live within a mile of a scheme. Over the next five years, nearly £30 million a year will be invested in creating these local walking and cycling networks from Devon to Perthshire.

Source: Sustrans

Sustrans offers free training for Glasgow schools to help tackle the school run

Pupils, teachers, parents and school representatives from across Glasgow will come together at the GO Business and Conference Centre in Glasgow for a free day of training on Wednesday 10th March. The focus of the day will be to help boost healthy school travel across the city – and there are still places left!

The School Travel Plan Action Day has been organised by sustainable transport charity Sustrans and is one of a series taking place across Scotland through March to help school champions learn more about promoting healthy and environmentally-friendly travel to and from school.

The free training, supported by the Scottish Government, is designed to help schools proactively tackle the school run, promote walking and cycling as a healthy and fun way to get to classes, and find out more about creating and implementing a School Travel Plan.
Cecilia Oram, Sustrans’ School Travel Project Officer for Scotland , said: “Sustrans has been working with schools throughout Scotland for over 10 years so we have lots of experience in helping make school travel more healthy and environmentally-friendly.

Currently the school run accounts for a fifth of all traffic on the roads every morning and obesity levels in the UK continue to rise with 25% of 11 to 15 year olds being overweight or obese. It is vital that we address these issues by tackling the increasingly car-dependent school run in Scotland and encourage parents, teachers and children to take to two wheels, two feet or use public transport to travel to and from classes. These free training days will give representatives the knowledge and skills they need to champion green and healthy travel in their schools.”

Source: Sustrans

Volunteer rangers debate how to get people moving in Dundee

Dedicated volunteers for sustainable transport charity Sustrans will debate how to get people more active at a Ranger Day in Dundee on Saturday (February 21).

About 80 volunteer rangers from all over Scotland will pedal off on a bike ride around Dundee’s National Cycle Network routes before an afternoon of discussions at West Park introduced by Lord Provost of Dundee John Letford.

The rangers help keep the National Cycle Network safe and attractive through various tasks from cutting back brambles to resurfacing paths. Routes include Dundee to Arbroath, which enables locals and tourists alike to enjoy walking and cycling along flat, coastal paths and minor roads.

Sarah Jeffs, Sustrans volunteer manager in Scotland, said: “Some of these volunteers have been with Sustrans for more than ten years and their often innovative work has been instrumental in expanding the Network.

“This event will be a fantastic opportunity for them to meet their counterparts from across Scotland, and share their experiences and ideas. I am sure it will excite and motivate them to make an even greater contribution to giving more people the opportunity to walk or cycle on high quality routes.”

The volunteer rangers and Sustrans staff will also consider how to improve routes to schools and how to set up walking and cycling groups for inactive people.

Source: Sustrans

Be thrifty in the downturn

by Michael Smith

Cooking with leftovers, swapping clothes, growing vegetables, baking bread... all of it is coming back in vogue.

With recession worries growing in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, no doubt, people are trying to rediscover the ways things were done in years gone by and how people adapted to the dire shortages of World War II and the Great Depression before that. Books on that subject are now well on the way to becoming the new bestsellers. In the same way, I should think, books that describe the skills of even farther back will too.

There is a slow-down in the housing market, which makes everyone feel less confident financially. Credit not only will be harder to come by, it is getting harder to come by. We all should and more than likely may soon have to be tightening our belts. The lest we must learn to – once again – live within our means and not beyond them. If you have not got the money saved to buy this or that then, well, you cannot buy it and, as far as I am concerned, that also applies for a car. With a house it may be a little different, I grant you, but in general the way should be that if you have not got the ready money in cash or in the bank account then you will just have to wait until you have managed to save up for it.

It's not quite as difficult as it sounds. Recession thinking tends to be practical but also ordinary and rather simple. Most of it sure is not rocket science.

Switch off the lights when you leave the room. Turn the heating down and put on a sweater. Turn off the tap when cleaning teeth and take showers instead of baths. Take your shoes to the mender rather than throwing them away.

The biggest problem at times is that, in our throwaway society, it is often cheaper to buy new than to have something repaired. This is utterly stupid, I know.

Personally I find it ridiculous that a printer, for instance, that costs £30 the company wanted to charge over £100 for repairs and when they were told that for that time about three of those printers could be bought the comment just was “suggest you get a new one then.”

Folks are also starting allotment gardens again and those with gardens at their own homes turn much of it over to food production.

Geoff Stokes, of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardens, says that demand for allotments has been so huge that some London boroughs have a 10-year waiting list.

There are area though also where allotments are still going begging and no one has as yet taken a real interest in the plots, and that in areas in the outer boroughs of London.

"Fresh air, exercise and fresh food, what could be better?" says Geoff Stokes. "And because so many younger people have started working on allotments, and mothers come with their children after school, there tends to be a real community spirit."

Here are some tips from the book “Austerity Britain 1945-1951” that might come back into vogue:, and not too soon either:

1. Turn over old cuffs and collars: If a shirt cuff or collar looks frayed, instead of throwing the shirt away, simply turn them over.

Though there is a problem with that too and that is that, unlike in the days of old, collars and cuffs are rather attached and unless one is rather good in sewing it might b e a slightly difficult affair.

2. Refashion old sheets: There is an old phrase, "sheets sides to middle," which refers to the fact that bed-linen tends to wear out more in the middle. During the war, women would cut threadbare sheets down the middle, turn them over, then sew them back together.

3. Make the most of leftovers: In the spirit of thrift, nothing should be thrown away. Therefore leftover vegetables become bubble and squeak; the Sunday roast becomes Monday's cottage pie.

In order to do that, however, people will have to learn, once again, how to cook from scratch. “bubble and squeak” and “cottage pie” are not made in a microwave.

4. Create a soap ball in the kitchen: Collect tiny fragments of soap from elsewhere in the house, then stick them together to form a soap ball for the kitchen or scullery.

5. Wash and re-use silver foil: A common practice in the '40s and '50s, typical of that generation's attitude to recycling.

6. Buy from thrift stores and Charity Shops rather than new as and where practicable. I do for most of my clothes and books.

7. Walk, use public transport or cycle instead of using the car or taxis. Not only does this save yu money; it also keeps you fit – well, the walking and cycling at least.

8. Cut out the latte in the coffee shop and have ordinary coffee at home. Take your own homemade sandwiches and a thermos flask of coffee to work with you.

Look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves and it can be incredibly rewarding, this lifestyle.

Thrifty thinking is also about making creative, imaginative choices, even down to the cuts of meat you buy. Then again, does it really have to be meat all the time and nigh on every day. It did not used to be thus. Meat was for the more special occasions, and that includes chicken.

Thrifty food shopping is not only restricted to meat. Buying vegetables in season is also recommended and being experimental.

Again, however, the being experimental is linked to actually being able to cook from scratch, a skill which, alas, is sadly missing with so many people nowadays.

The current way of waste is not just scandalous, it is, in fact, immoral and must be stopped. We got into the habit of being sensible in the war; we managed beautifully when money was scarce. We used up our food instead of throwing it away.

We live in a disposable culture; everything is designed to have a short life, to be thrown out and replaced as soon as it no longer works – or even before that when it is “obsolete”, according to the manufacturers. No one has any idea how to mend things or repair them or when they do then the charges are astronomical and one can buy new several times over. Other things hjust are designed not to be repairable. This is not sustainable.

It is not only that we cannot do this ourselves – in fact many electrical things you are, theoretically, no longer allowed to fix yourself - it's almost impossible to find someone who will repair a toaster, say, because toasters have become dirt cheap. All this makes people think very little about stuff - where it comes from and the effort and energy that has gone into making it.

If you can buy a new T-shirt for £1, why bother to mend it when it gets ripped, so at least the attitude of the masses. I was taught me to mend stuff. We had leather patches on our jumpers,on the knees of our pants – or patches from other pants - but you never see a man with that these days, unless they have stitched on by some fancy designer.

Being from a large Gypsy family I was raised with the values of “waste not, want not” and not just as regards to food. Clothes were hand-me-downs, often that our Mom got given by people when out “calling”, that is to say, hawking. Shoes were only worn, I must say, at certain times of the year and occasions. Toys were very rare and certainly things that had been someone else's before us. I must say though that we did not even mind. At least I cannot remember ever doing so.

How many things might you not have to spend money on buying if you could and would make them for yourself either from scratch or by reusing or re-purposing some items of what would normally considered trash. It is always a challenge to me to see what I can turn this or that item of trash into for use on my desk or elsewhere in the home or office.

Our parents and grandparents re-purposed glass jars and tin cans for various tasks, from keeping buttons in them, or nuts and bolts, to measuring cups and a variety of other uses.

In an economic downturn heading for a recession and may be even, as some analysts of the economy reckon, a depression that could equal the Great Depression of the 1930s, such measures must be employed for sheer survival. In addition to that it is good for the environment and the Planet too.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009


Project Energy Code Brings Social Scientists into Discussion on How to Close Green Gap Between Stated Intentions and Actual Behavior

WASHINGTON D.C., February 12, 2009: EcoAlign, a strategic marketing agency focused on energy and the environment, released the second Project Energy Code report, “Markets, Technology and Institutions: Increasing Energy Efficiency Through Decentralized Coordination,” written by distinguished economist Dr. Lynne Kiesling.

The report explores new infrastructure technologies that increase consumer awareness of electricity consumption and the ability of consumers to modify electricity consumption. These technologies facilitate economic decision-making through “decentralized coordination” which contrasts with regulation and central decision making. Dr. Kiesling concludes that decentralized coordination is more effective at closing the “green gap.”

“Our traditional regulatory institutions were premised on, and designed for, a static economy with little technological change,” concludes Dr. Kiesling. “That world no longer exists in the electric industry, and the failure of our regulatory institutions to adapt to unknown and changing conditions is costly, in terms of economic inefficiency, of greater resource use than may be optimal, and of long-term environmental quality.”

Dr, Kiesling also considers how individual behaviors affect economic decision-making, and the consumer behaviors of risk aversion, status quo bias, and loss aversion. She refers to a research agenda that will explore human behavior through the lens of experimental economics to better understand our information-rich and complex institutions.

The report is part of Project Energy Code, a new research program developed by EcoAlign, which will provide an ongoing analysis of consumer behavior with regard to energy consumption and the environment from an approach grounded in social sciences.

A copy of the full report is available at no charge by visiting EcoAlign’s website at www.ecoalign.com.

Dr. L. Lynne Kiesling is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at Northwestern University, and in the Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) program in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

EcoAlign is the foremost energy and environment marketing agency that aligns corporate and consumer behavior with the future of energy and environment via innovative marketing and communications strategies.


Brooklyn Educator Recognized for Environmental Leadership

Honoree Receives Audubon/Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship

New York, NY — A Brooklyn, New York woman is the recipient of a new national fellowship designed to advance the work of individuals with outstanding potential to help shape a brighter environmental future.

Jillian Rubio is one of only 40 people selected from competitors nationwide for the TogetherGreen Conservation Leadership Program, part of a new conservation initiative of the National Audubon Society with support from Toyota. Fellows receive specialized training in conservation planning and execution, the chance to work and share best practices with gifted conservation professionals, and assistance with project outreach and evaluation. Each Fellow will also receive $10,000 towards a community-focused project to engage local residents in conserving land, water and energy, and contributing to greater environmental health.

For her fellowship, Jillian will partner with Stoked Mentoring, an action sports mentoring program in New York City, and together they will create a unique opportunity for Brooklyn youth to gain supportive mentors, along with a team of people determined to see them succeed. Youth participating in this program will be introduced to both the resources of the Prospect Park Audubon Center and the life lessons of an action sports mentoring program. Each participant will be paired with a mentor and will take part in both a series of onsite environmentally-focused workshops and activities at Prospect Park and in offsite activities including snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing. By engaging urban youth in this unique way, they will have an opportunity to be outdoors and experience nature, on their terms.

Rubio has been involved in conservation efforts for over a decade and has proven to be a dedicated and innovative environmental educator. In her current position at Prospect Park, she leads Audubon’s first urban Audubon Center, welcoming over 90,000 visitors a year to this unique and beautiful green space; bringing nature experiences and environmental education to children and adults. Previously,
Rubio worked for Project Learning Tree in Arizona and the Arizona Association for Environmental Education. Rubio received her Masters in public administration in public and non-profit management and policy from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, and her Bachelors in natural resource management from the University of Arizona.

“Jillian is the kind of person who can make a real difference in the health of our environment and the quality of our future,” said Audubon President John Flicker. “Each of our TogetherGreen Fellows demonstrates exceptional environmental understanding and commitment, combined with tremendous potential to inspire and lead others. Together, they represent the talented and diverse leadership the environmental community will need to tackle the huge challenges and opportunities confronting us now and in the years to come.”

“The opportunity to be a part of this Fellowship has motivated me to expand how the Prospect Park Audubon Center serves our community in a unique and innovative way,” said Rubio. “Being based in Brooklyn--within an urban setting—has enabled us to meet the mission of the Center while serving a diverse urban community. My project further expands this ideal, by identifying the specific interests of a group we want to reach, namely youth in their early teens, and meeting them with a collaborative program that is both exciting and relevant”.

Half of the TogetherGreen fellows come from within Audubon’s far-reaching national network; half channel their environmental efforts through other organizations.

“Toyota believes in the power of grassroots efforts to develop the environmental leaders of tomorrow,” said Patricia Salas Pineda, Group Vice President, Toyota Motor North America. “These 40 TogetherGreen Fellows will receive invaluable training for the future while immediately making a difference today with on-the-ground community projects.”

A complete list of the 2008 TogetherGreen fellows can be found at www.TogetherGreen.org/fellows.


Volunteers needed to help get people moving in Luton

Charitable people are being encouraged to find out about volunteering opportunities, which will boost healthy and environmentally friendly travel across Luton and Bedfordshire.

Sustainable transport charity Sustrans will hold a recruitment fair this month to showcase its array of voluntary roles to support its practical projects.

New recruits can help maintain the National Cycle Network, get trained up to lead guided walks and bike rides, learn to become a bike mechanic, qualify as a Bikeability instructor or help out with office work - whatever best suits their skills and interests.

Volunteer Kathy Smith recently gained a part-time role in Sustrans’ Luton office after a successful year helping out with office tasks one day a week.

She said: “Volunteering got me gently back into the swing of working life, stopped me getting rusty and gave me an idea of what a permanent job here would be like.

“It’s really enjoyable to be part of such a friendly team and no two days are ever the same. And it’s great fun to pedal around the estate on a trike delivering various errands. I have a disability, but I don’t let that stop me and having access to a Sustrans trike is a real bonus.”

Kathy and current volunteers will chat to potential new recruits about their experiences at the recruitment fair, which takes place on February 26 at Luton Co-op Social Club in Stockingstone Road from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Information leaflets about Sustrans’ various projects will also be available and refreshments will be provided.

Source: Sustrans

EcoGen biodegradable plastic products – Product Review

Bug “fat” becomes injection moldable plastic

Review by Michael Smith

Recently I encountered the EcoGen products on the Top Drawer Spring 2009 show in London's Earl's Court I and I was then sent a set of the bathroom accessories, the only products so far on the market, made from this revolutionary new plastic.

EcoGen is the first biodegradable plastic that can be injection moulded, just like ordinary thermo-plastic, and while the products will not deform, lose their shape or suddenly disintegrate in normal use, once the consumer no longer wants them he or she can safely, without any need to worry (so we are told) dispose them in the ordinary compost and the material will have composted down within 6 to 9 months or thereabouts.

EcoGen Bullet Points

  • The first products to be made entirely from a biodegradable, injection molded material developed from renewable resources.
  • A leather boot in a landfill will last 40 to 50 years, a soda pop can up to 500 years, a plastic jug 1 million years, and a discarded Styrofoam cup or glass bottle possibly forever.
  • In contrast, EcoGen will biodegrade in six to nine months when composted.
  • The science behind EcoGen is a polymer called PHBV (poly-hydroxy butyrate-covalerate), a derivative of the molecule that Forbes magazine declared “one of the five molecules that will change the world.”
  • To create EcoGen, we feed naturally occurring bacteria a sugar that is obtained from non GM modified corn starch.
  • These “bugs” digest the sugar and store the resulting PHBV polymer much as the human body would store fat.
  • Extracted from the “bug,” the stored “fat” becomes an injection moldable material.
  • This material, Enmat®, is then blended with other biodegradable compounds to enhance its ability to process efficiently in standard injection molding machines.
  • When exposed to microorganisms in compost or soil, EcoGen decomposes into carbon dioxide, water and biomass.
  • Extensive scientific testing has established no harmful toxicity from the process or the end product.
  • The material’s natural decomposition requires exposure to bacteria commonly found in compost and many soils. So it will not deteriorate in the open air or with ordinary use.
  • EcoGen can withstand temperatures of 110 degrees Centigrade / 230 degrees
  • Fahrenheit and will last indefinitely under normal conditions.
  • EcoGen remains unique, there is one known competitor, believed to be 6 months behind us, and using GM modified crops
Aside from the bathroom accessories range that I was sent for review purposes EcoGen have a range of office/desk accessories in work that shall hit the stores soon. It would be nice if we could have it in time for the Green Office Week - if not for this year then it could be something where this could be marketed next year.

The products look real good and also have a nice feel to them. The smell may be a little strange to people at first for it is not the “normal” plastic smell but it is only a very slight one when one takes a very close scrutiny to the objects with one's nose. Those of the readers that use the compostable liners for kitchen waste caddies will be used to the smell which is a little vinegary, though I can never understand why anyone would want to use such bags as they look rather unsightly on one's compost heap and are also rather expensive. Much better just to use the caddies as they are and then wash them as and when needed. Certainly cheaper and better. But back to EcoGen. The smell I mentioned does seem to dissipate somewhat once the items are exposed to air for a few days.

The EcoGen plastic is different to that of the liners in that it composts faster than they do and also that it is an injection moldable one allowing the production of bioplast products that normally require petroleum-based plastics.

I look forward to seeing more products made from this material so that we can compost them in the end rather than having to dump them in landfills or burn them in incinerators. If the latter be for the generation of electricity then it is not too bad but I still rather would see all our plastic products, over time, be replaced by EcoGen plastic products so that, at the end of their life those products can be safely disposed off and then become compost, What a brilliant way to go. Only drawback is here that the archaeologist of the future will have no artifacts to dig up from which to judge what our civilization was like. Not a bad thing either, I guess, as they might get a real bad impression.

The products are made in China but so are most plastic products nowadays and so many other products as well. It is a shame that we do no longer produce things on a more local level but such is the world at present.

From the quality of the products and the fact that the plastic has a slight bit of elasticity I would reckon the items to be virtually unbreakable. Why would you ever want to throw them away, therefore.

I cannot vouch myself, I am afraid, as to the composting time and such as yet as I have no intention of disposing of this set as yet, not even of a single item. It would be a waste of some lovely products.

So, if you are looking for some nice bathroom accessories and want to consider the environment as well then those made by EcoGen of this new kind of plastic would be the right way to go. The sets come in black, blue and white. The white ones used to be exclusive to the stores of the John Lewis Partnership but are now also available everywhere.

If you have any problems finding stockists for the EcoGen range please check out www.homearama.co.uk. The products can be found in this section, where the entire range can be bought.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

Green (Living) Review wins "Greenopolis Blog of the Week"

by Michael Smith

My article "What our elders can teach us (the title on Greenopolis) – What our elders can teach us about saving the world" from the Green (Living) Review, that I posted on my Blog on Greenopolis won “Blog of the week” for week ending February 14, 2009 at Greenopolis. Many thanks to Greenopolis for thinking this article worthy of that honor.

Greenopolis is a really great site, at which anyone can participate in a dialogue with a community of writers on green and environmental issues and topics – by reading Blog entries and posting posting entries on one's now Blog, by commenting on other people's posts and thereby engaging with the writers, by creating and taking part in polls, as well as keeping up with the latest green news headlines. Greenopolis even has a green job board and also a Free'N Exchange where one can advertise things that one wishes to pass on.

I think that community, especially “green” community is really important.

When you are making sacrifices in order to green your lifestyle, it can sometimes feel like you are a bit alone out there in doing so.

Taking part in such an online community can be a great way to locate others in your area that are interested in the same things you are exploring and Greenopolis is a great site and community in that respect.

Those of us this side of the big pond in the UK and elsewhere in Europe may feel a little strange there at time as it is a North American site and I am not sure, as yet, how many connections there are from Europe. I guess we shall find out sooner or later.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009


Civic GX tops list for sixth consecutive year

TORRANCE, CA, February 2009 : Recognizing Honda’s dedication to fuel-efficient and alternative fuel technologies, three Honda vehicles earned recognition from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) as the “greenest vehicles of 2009” with the Civic GX natural gas car taking the title of the greenest vehicle for the sixth consecutive year. In the 12th annual ACEEE’s “Green Book® Online” ranking of environmentally responsible vehicles (available at www.greenercars.org), the natural gas-powered Civic GX ranked first with the gasoline Fit and Civic Hybrid joining the list of the 12 most environment-friendly vehicles available to the public. This is the ninth year in a row that a Honda vehicle received the number one ranking.

“Honda is proud to receive this recognition from ACEEE and will continue to look for new ways to reduce our environmental impact,” said Dan Bonawitz, executive vice president of American Honda. "As part of our philosophy to be a company that society wants to exist, Honda is deeply committed to developing a wide range of both fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles available to the public.”

Using a singular measure that incorporates fuel economy, health-related pollution impacts and global warming emissions, all vehicles are analyzed and given a "Green Score.” This score is used in ACEEE’s ranking system, resulting in a ranking of each vehicle’s total environmental performance, including a list of the 12 "greenest" and 12 "meanest" vehicles. The Civic GX, first introduced in 1998, is the cleanest internal combustion vehicle certified by the EPA*, and is 90% cleaner than the average gasoline-powered car on the road today.

Honda has a long history of environmental leadership including the introduction of America’s first hybrid, the Honda Insight, delivery of the first fuel cell vehicle in the U.S., and the first vehicles to meet stricter emissions standards, including:

  • The first gasoline Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV), the 1996 Honda Civic.
  • The first gasoline Ultra-Low Emissions vehicle (ULEV), the 1998 Honda Accord.
  • The first gasoline Super Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV), the 2000 Honda Accord.
  • The first Advanced Technology Partial-Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), the 2001 Civic GX natural gas vehicle.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing energy efficiency as a means of promoting both economic prosperity and environmental protection.


*EPA Tier-2, Bin-2 and ILEV certification as of May 2008