DIY Retailer Teams Up with George Clarke, The Restoration Man and the Ideal Home Show to Retrofit Weatherfield Home

B&Q, the UK’s largest home improvement retailer announces its sponsorship of the Ideal Home Show Refit designed by George Clarke. Over 250,000 visitors over 17 days will view the retrofit of the famed terrace house on the cobbles of Coronation Street to show visitors just how easy it is to create a sustainable home.

Named ‘The Ideal Home refit, sponsored by B&Q’, the home has been designed by architect and TV presenter of Channel Four’s The Restoration Man, George Clarke who is also a recent addition to the B&Q team as an ambassador to make home improvement easier.

The Ideal Home Show will allow visitors to see up close the current home of Deidre and Ken Barlow and then pop next door to view the eco-vated version of the iconic terrace. From Forest Friendly timber floors, resourced from 100% of well managed forests to efficient under floor heating, the house will be transformed into the greenest house on the street.

And a trip to Coronation Street would not be complete without a visit to the local Rovers Return where Betty’s famous ‘Hot Pot’ and a pint are so familiar.

George Clarke says; ‘The retrofit is designed to show that whether you’re in a Victorian terrace or a modern penthouse, greening up your home is affordable and possible. Many of the products on show can be bought from your local B&Q whose sustainable products are both easy to work with and make a real impact into cutting your home’s carbon emissions.’

George will be at the show giving ‘How To’ talks to keen home improvers as well as being on hand to showcase the home to VIP visitors.

Matt Sexton, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at B&Q says; ‘It’s great that we’re involved with the biggest home exhibition in the UK and getting the chance to tell 250,000 visitors how we’re making it easier for them to live a more sustainable way of life. From Forest Friendly timber and FSC wallpaper to energy monitors and low energy light bulbs we’re on a mission to make it easier for customers to green up their homes.’

B&Q is also giving away tickets to the public via social networking site Twitter and their own website www.diy.com.  Watch out for the online competitions where followers will be asked to showcase their best home improvement makeovers.

B&Q has achieved a 16 per-cent absolute reduction in carbon emissions over the last few years and is working towards a 20 per-cent reduction target by 2012.  To see more about what B&Q is doing to reduce its environmental footprint, visit www.diy.com/oneplanethome.

B&Q has recently achieved its 100 per cent goal of only buying timber from responsibly sourced forests

B&Q is the largest home improvement and garden centre retailer in the UK and Ireland with 330 stores, employing more than 30,000 people nationwide, more than a quarter of whom are over 50 years of age, with a similar number under the age of 25. For more information about B&Q please go to www.diy.com/aboutus.

Source: B&Q via Z-PR

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Audubon/Toyota Alliance Seeks Applications for Leadership Development and Innovative Community-Based Conservation Projects

TogetherGreen Funding is Available to Support Innovative Ideas and People-Powered Conservation

Audubon Logo New York, NY, February 2011: TogetherGreen, a conservation alliance between the National Audubon Society and Toyota, is now accepting applications for its 2011 class of Fellows and Innovation Grantees.

Through TogetherGreen Conservation Fellowships, 40 promising individuals will be chosen for their demonstrated leadership, as well as leadership potential, skills, and commitment to engaging people of diverse backgrounds in conservation action. Fellows receive a $10,000 grant to conduct a conservation action project in their community, as well as specialized training and support to help shape and implement their projects. They also become part of a dynamic alumni network of conservation professionals from across the country.

TogetherGreen Innovation Grants annually provide essential funding that enables Audubon groups and their partners to inspire, equip, and support activities that engage new and diverse audiences in conservation action and create healthier communities. A minimum of 40 projects will receive funding, totaling more than $1 million dollars of support—with grants ranging from $5,000-$80,000. Grants will be reviewed by an expert advisory panel, and the average grant awarded will be around $25,000.

“Through TogetherGreen Fellowships and Innovation Grants, we have an opportunity to create a vibrant network of conservation entrepreneurs,” said David Yarnold, National Audubon Society President. “Audubon and Toyota care about empowering people and creating conservation results in communities across the country.  We look forward to selecting another stellar group of people and projects that will engage thousands of Americans in local conservation action.”  

Since the program’s inception in 2008, more than 135,000 individuals have participated in community-based TogetherGreen projects in 49 states and more than 150 cities around the country. More than 130 environmental projects have received Innovation Grants totaling more than $3.5 million, which was then matched 100%. The inaugural class of 40 TogetherGreen Fellows recruited more than 3,400 individuals who spent 37,000 hours on conservation activities.

Candidates for the TogetherGreen Fellows program must have at least six years experience in some aspect of the environment, a passion for conservation, the desire to learn and grow, and an interest and ability to reach diverse and previously underrepresented audiences.

Innovation Grants funding will be awarded to groups in Audubon’s national network, including state programs, Centers, and local Chapters– working in partnership with one or more external organizations. Recipients will be chosen for innovative ideas that achieve conservation results focused on habitat, water, and energy. Applicants will also need to demonstrate how their project will reach new and diverse communities and directly engage people in conservation action.

Selection of the TogetherGreen Fellows and Grants will be made upon the recommendation of a national advisory board of conservation leaders, with expertise in education, evaluation, diversity, conservation biology, and other disciplines.

To apply for a 2011 TogetherGreen Fellowship, visit www.togethergreen.org/fellows. The site includes application guidelines, selection criteria, eligibility, benefits, and an online application. If you require additional information, contact Eddie Gonzalez at fellows@togethergreen.org or 202-861-2242, x3065.

To apply for a 2011 TogetherGreen Innovation Grant, visit www.togethergreen.org/grants.  The site includes application guidelines, selection criteria, benefits, and an online application. Interested organizations not affiliated with Audubon should contact Florence Miller at grants@togethergreen.org or 802-505-0839 to learn about partnership possibilities.

The deadline to apply for both the TogetherGreen Fellowship program and the Innovation Grants program is 11:59 p.m. PDT on May 2, 2011. Fellows and Grant applicants will be notified in July 2011 and August 2011 respectively.

Audubon and Toyota launched the five-year TogetherGreen initiative in 2008 to build the promise of a greener, healthier future through innovation, leadership and volunteerism. For more information, visit www.togethergreen.org.

Now in its second century, Audubon connects people with birds, nature and the environment that supports us all. Our national network of community-based nature centers, chapters, scientific, education, and advocacy programs engages millions of people from all walks of life in conservation action to protect and restore the natural world. Visit Audubon online at www.audubon.org.

Toyota (NYSE: TM) established operations in the United States in 1957 and currently operates 10 manufacturing plants, including one under construction. Toyota directly employs nearly 30,000 in the U.S. and its investment here is currently valued at more than $18 billion, including sales and manufacturing operations, research and development, financial services and design.

Toyota is committed to being a good corporate citizen in the communities where it does business and believes in supporting programs with long-term sustainable results. Toyota supports numerous organizations across the country, focusing on education, the environment and safety. Since 1991, Toyota has contributed more than $500 million to philanthropic programs in the U.S.

For more information on Toyota's commitment to improving communities nationwide, visit www.toyota.com/community.

Source: Audubon

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‘Super’ Greenhouse Gases Targeted by India and US Task Force

Washington, DC, February 2011 – On Friday, significant progress was made toward addressing emissions of ‘super’ greenhouse gases when India and the US agreed to establish an Indo-US Technical Task Force on hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. India’s Minister of Environment, Jairam Ramesh, hosted US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment, Daniel A. Reifsnyder, in New Delhi, along with members of industry and civil society groups to discuss the HFC issue.

HFCs are chemicals are potential substitutes for ozone-depleting and climate-warming CFCs and HCFCs currently being phased out under the Montreal Protocol treaty to protect the ozone layer. Although they don’t harm the ozone layer, HFCs are powerful climate warming gases and their emissions are expected to rise sharply over the next few decades without aggressive action, significantly contributing to climate change.

The task force will include industry representatives, scientists, and government officials from India and the US to evaluate a phase-down of the production and use of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

“Reducing HFC emissions under the Montreal Protocol is the biggest, fastest piece of climate mitigation available to the world in the next few years and Minister Ramesh is one of the best-positioned people to lead the world on this important opportunity,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.  Minister Ramesh was a key climate leader in the Cancun talks last December, helping broker an outcome that moved the multilateral process forward to the next meeting of the UN climate talks in Durban , South Africa later this year.

Minister Ramesh stated during the workshop that the ozone treaty was “the world’s most successful international environmental agreement” and that India has always complied with its phase-out obligations, often ahead of schedule.  He noted, for example, that India ’s phase-out of CFCs was completed 17 months ahead of the treaty’s 2010 deadline.

Last year, the Federated States of Micronesia along with other vulnerable island countries proposed an amendment to the ozone treaty to phase down the production and use of HFCs. Once agreed, the amendment would ensure climate mitigation of up to 100 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2050, many times more than the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty.  The United States , Mexico , and Canada also proposed a similar amendment.

Although India – with concerns about alternatives and available financing – did not voice support for the 2010 Micronesia or North American proposals, Minister Ramesh acknowledged on Friday that, “With international financing and technology support, there is no reason why India should not lead in the phase-down of HFCs.”

“With 91 Parties to the Montreal Protocol already backing climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs, India ’s positive approach to the issue is a significant step forward. Their leadership would ensure success,” said Zaelke. The new task force is expected to submit a report by August 1st of this year, in advance of the Montreal Protocol’s mid-year, Open-Ended Working Group meeting August 1-5 in Bangkok .

India Ministry of Environment and Forests Press Brief: http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/Press%20Brief-on-Indo-US-HFC-Workshop.pdf

Source: Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

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Although limited data exists on perfluorinated chemicals in water, a recent study published in CIWEM’s Water and Environment Journal has found that perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS) is not a widespread contaminant of drinking water in England.

PFOS has a number of industrial and commercial uses, including as a surfactant for fire-fighting foam, a mist suppressant for metal-plating baths and in dirt-repellent treatments such as those used in the textile and carpet industries. However, PFOS has been shown to be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, very resistant to breakdown processes found in the environment. It is a focus for restriction within the European Union, with a Directive to restrict the use of PFOS coming into force at the end of 2007.

Limited monitoring data is available for PFOS in environmental waters, and even less for its detection in drinking water. Data available in the United Kingdom indicate that PFOS contamination of environmental waters has only occurred following specific, pollution incidents. Even when groundwater contamination is more significant, such as the case following the use of PFOS-containing fire-fighting foams following the Buncefield Oil Depot fire, the amount reaching surface waters and drinking water appears to be limited. However, this incident heightened the priority for gathering monitoring data.

This study, which monitored 20 raw and treated drinking water sites in England and covering four seasonal periods, showed that PFOS is not a widespread background contaminant of raw and treated drinking water in England. Where PFOS was detected, concentrations were below the current DWI English and Welsh drinking water guidance levels, and the water source was considered at higher risk due to a specific incident, or the presence of a local source of contamination (e.g. an airfield).

Source: The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)

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At the last price review, the water industry took tentative steps towards customer empowerment. Customers were consulted about strategic direction and much was made of this engagement. Whilst it was certainly a step forward from previous reviews, less than one percent of consumers actually took part in such exercises and it is unlikely that they can see how they influenced the results.

Janine White from United Utilities Water will be talking about how water companies can empower customers at Water & Environment 2011: CIWEM’s Annual Conference. Janine believes that it is time for water companies to embrace the Big Society and address the issues this implies.

During ‘Empowering Customers in the Water Industry - It’s for their own good’, she will be asking what local responsibility and community power will mean in an industry where many quality and service requirements are exogenous; how local choices can be reconciled with regional solutions; how relevant are individual views in the delivery of a public good; and what can be learned from decision making in water services in other countries or in other UK services.

Water & Environment 2011: CIWEM’s Annual Conference will focus on the Big Society and aims to provide a comprehensive response to the Government’s Programme.  The event takes place on 6th and 7th April 2011 and will include a mix of keynote speakers, offered papers, exhibitions and networking opportunities that will make this the key event for water and environment professionals.

Richard Benyon MP, Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, and Tony Juniper, environmentalist and former Executive Director of Friends of the Earth are just two of the confirmed keynote speakers to give their response to the Government’s programme. For more information, go to http://www.ciwem.org/events/annual-conference.aspx.

Source: The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)

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Baby food is a modern myth

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Baby food is a modern myth. There is no scientific foundation whatsoever for canned Baby food in jars. There is some against it though as many jars, even though they are glass, contain a high amount of Bisphenol A (BPA),m a serious hormone disrupter.

If such canned baby food was needed how come that any of us of the generations where such foods were not available and those that have gone before long ago ever managed to reach adulthood and a healthy life.

Most of us of a certain age never had the jarred baby food that parents today are told they have to have for their offspring because it is so full of vitamins and nutrition, etc. I doubt all of those claims but would not put it past the powers that be that they know full well as to the effects of BPA and have done so for a very long time already.

Findings now show that BPA changes the behavior of both boys and girls and affects the production of testosterone in boys but also seems to produce this hormone in girls. It is for this reason that, so it is believed now by a number of scientists, we have ended up with girls becoming ladish and vicious in their behavior.

As there is no scientific evidence to prove that factory produced and canned baby food has any benefits my suggestion would be that parents make up their own. It is cheaper, and in the Great Recession that we are still in despite what the powers that be want us to believe, and therefore better for our wallets it is also better for your children as it does not have the food exposed to harmful chemicals getting into it via the jar and especially here the coating on the lid.

While I am well aware of the fact that today's parents are under time stress all the time and that canned baby food is, somewhat, of a convenience, a bit like baby fast food, it is also not much better than fast food. It also does not take all that much time to make up some food for baby at home.

Maybe we need to reconsider our entire approach on life as well and on how we care for and look after our children and especially in the first years of their lives.

© 2011

Why go Green?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

As we embark into the second decade, now, of the twenty-first century we are, I think, beginning to, finally for the majority, though still not all, that we are about to set out onto uncharted water, namely that of a changing climate that we may, or may not, be able to do something about.

It is, however, not just the climate that is in trouble; it is the environment as a whole and, thus, with it, in the end also we, humans, who are much to blame for what is happening to the environment and the climate.

The term global warming, finally at least, has been put, in general, ad acta, and the term “climate change” has been adopted, and that is the correct one, for the climate is indeed changing and going about like a yo-yo. Whether partly natural climatic cycle and partly human induced, or whatever, is hardly relevant. The fact is that the climate is going haywire and we need to (1) see what we can do to mitigate things and (2) adapt to it.

But something else is more pressing and the issue about carbon and carbon dioxide has been pushing that off the table and that is the rest of the environmental impact that humans, that is to say we, and human activity, that is to say, that what we do, has on the Planet.

The amount of waste, toxic substances and pollution that comes from our homes, transportation, business and industries must be addressed at a grass roots level to make significant impacts. We have the technology, the knowledge and the know how to address several problems. However we lack the ‘green’ commitment by political leaders and heads of industry which alienates any efforts made. Many businesses seem to believe, and individuals too, that going green is expensive and they cannot afford it.

However, there are in fact several factors that preach the opposite.

Going green makes actual economic sense and is great for business. The easiest and most cost effective solution are the so-called “eco-efficiencies” that can be sought out by means of picking the low hanging fruit with simple energy, water, and waste audits.

At times the cost savings can be so large that it makes significant impact to the bottom line, and this is only skimming the surface of the economic benefits. There are other intangible factors that may positively be affect organizations by ‘going green’ which may include; a larger talent pool to choose from, more productive workforce, lower employee turnover, increased market share, and lower insurance and loan costs as future environmental risks are being mitigated by the due diligence of business’s aiming to be more sustainable, and in the end more profitable.

Equally, if not even more importantly, it is the individual whose grassroots efforts, alone, as well as as households/families and other groups,walks the green path in everything possible.

Many people think that their small acts of greenness does not do anything but what they forget is that if everyone makes those small efforts many small efforts will make a rather large whole.

People must be educated on the destructive nature of our consumerist society and willing to make the difference starting with their homes and more importantly carry the values we teach our children, into the business world where the most significant changes can be made. Human beings can no longer set aside environmental issues in hopes that a new technology will come and save the day, this problem will not be overcome in one year or one term of presidency nor in one decade; sustainability is not a place – it is a journey and it must start now, this very moment, and it can be done.

So, come with me on this journey and let's do it.

© 2011


greenpigB&Q B&Q has received over 25,000 signatures in support of its campaign to reduce the VAT on green goods, since it launched last autumn.

The UK’s largest home improvement and garden center retailer, believes energy saving should be affordable for all and found 95 per cent of its customers agreed when surveyed that reducing VAT would encourage them to buy energy efficient products. A view now supported by the Government.

A recent letter from the Treasury has recognized that energy efficient products, not currently in scope for the VAT reduction, ‘may play a major role in reducing household energy use’ and are being kept under review. The letter states

“…the Government remains committed to meeting environmental challenges and recognis that other items (non installed) are energy efficient and may play a major role in reducing household energy use and increasing the energy efficiency of existing homes. The Government keeps the reduced rate tax under review and will consider carefully the proposals to lobby our EU partners for extensions to the scope of the reduced rate.”

The petition for customers, colleagues and MPs to sign has been met with enthusiasm, with B&Q’s in-store Green Piggybanks and its online petition having been filled with in excess of 25,000 signatures all lending support to the green initiative.

With a month to go before the petition is presented to Government, an online viral has been launched by B&Q on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to encourage the online community to also sign the petition and sow their support.

B&Q has evidence that price reductions significantly drive up sales of energy saving products like insulation and light bulbs and believe the VAT reduction will go a long way in making energy saving product more affordable. There is real urgency to this - the UK and the EU will miss their carbon reduction commitments if they fail to make it easy and affordable for people to make their homes more energy efficient.

Matt Sexton, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at B&Q says; ” We’re committed to making it easier for our customers to green up their homes and we believe the Government and the European Commission must do more to help us make energy saving products affordable for all by cutting the VAT to five per cent on energy saving goods. That’s why we urging people to sign our petition which we will present to Government next month.”

B&Q and its parent company, Kingfisher plc has been pressing the Government and the European Commission for over five years to reduce the VAT on green goods.

VAT is currently charged at the reduced rate for certain energy saving goods and services, but only if these are professionally installed by a third party. Examples include solar panels and insulation materials. If somebody wishes to buy goods and services of this kind and fit them to their own home themselves, VAT is charged at the standard rate.

Boilers, including very efficient combi-boilers incur VAT at the standard rate unless they are installed under a Government grants programme and there are some energy efficient products that are charged at the full standard rate in all cases, such as low energy light bulbs. There is also currently no VAT reduction for the electrical goods that are the most energy efficient in their product category e.g. goods that are A rated.

Log onto www.facebook.com/bandq to see the viral and sign up to the petition.

VAT is an EU-wide tax on goods and services. The European Commission gives Member States some discretion as to which goods and services incur VAT, and at what rate, but all Government decisions have to be approved by Brussels.

Some goods and services are either zero-rated (e.g. children's clothes, water supply and medical treatment) or are charged at either the standard or the reduced rate.

In the UK currently, the rates are as follows: Standard: 20%. Reduced: 5% Domestic energy use accounts for roughly 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (source: HMT, Budget 2007).

The British Government wants to be the first EU Member State to phase out the sale of traditional, inefficient incandescent light bulbs, by 2011 (under new EU regulations, the sale of all incandescent light bulbs must be phased out by 2012).

Across the EU, household products account for 16% of total energy use and 10% of EU greenhouse gas emissions (source: Euro Coop).

Price is, obviously, a key factor in influencing purchasing decisions. Research by DEFRA shows that 42% of UK consumers would buy more efficient products if they were cheaper.

Source: B&Q via Z-PR

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Tapwater iPhone App Has Arrived - Get Tapwater on the go for FREE

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

tapwater-logo The Tapwater revolution is gathering momentum. With more than 440 ‘refilling’ stations in the UK, tapwater.org has come a long way since it launched in November 2010 with only a handful.

But let's look at the past. For years, nay decades and more, we used to have public tap water fountains in public parks, at schools and elsewhere. And then? Then they were taken away. Why? Beats me. And suddenly it also had to be bottled water. Bottled “spring” – what spring – water was supposed to be so much healthier than municipal water.

Now the recently launched tapwater.org iPhone app lets you locate free tap water refilling stations where you are. It will show you the closest pubs, shops, cafes and public fountains in your area. All part of tapwater.org’s global network, offering drinking water on the go, it's free to download and available now on the App Store. All you need is a reusable bottle and you can get one from them soon as well.

A not-for-profit organisation, Tapwater.org’s aim is to develop a global tap water map by partnering up with similar schemes in Canada, America and Holland where networks are already in place.

To support the scheme Tapwater. Org will be selling wholesale/retail a high quality stainless steel "lifebottle” designed by Neil Barron who won 2009’s Carafe for London competition sponsored by Thames Water as part of its London on Tap campaign. The bottle will be available to buy from Tapwater.org’s website or through it’s participating partners in June.

Tapwater.org intend to feed back 100% of profits from the organisation into providing funding for water related schemes in educational establishments and participating businesses.

As far as i am concerned this is a great idea but then again regular readers will know my take on bottled water vs. tap. Make mine tap every time, as long as we are talking safe municipal water supplies.

For further information about joining the scheme please go to www.tapwater.org or contact Cristina@tapwater.org

© 2011

'Show off your label' for Fairtrade Fortnight

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

fairtrade People across the London Borough of Sutton are being urged to "show off your label" and give a helping hand to millions of people in the developing world during the upcoming Fairtrade Fortnight.

The national event, running from 28 February to 13 March, aims to raise awareness of the difference that buying Fairtrade products can make to small scale farmers. Sutton is one of 21 Fairtrade London Boroughs, which means that it is even easier to find ethically traded products.

The focus of this year's event is on Fairtrade cotton and as well as running events like bake sales, fashion shows and school displays, groups are being urged to get creative and decorate a piece cotton bunting. After displaying their handiwork, participants will send the flags off to be stitched together into what organizers hope will become the world's longest piece of bunting.

Councilor Simon Wales, Executive Member for Communities, Transport and the Voluntary Sector, said: “100 million households worldwide rely on cotton as their main source of income, but many cotton farmers in the developing world have to survive on less than $2 a day.

“Buying Fairtrade is an easy step that we can take to help make sure that these small farmers get a fairer deal. All sorts of Fairtrade products are stocked in shops across Sutton, so why not look out for the Fairtrade mark next time you're out shopping, or organize your school, work or community group to raise awareness through a Fairtrade Fortnight event?”

To get involved in year round Fairtrade events in Sutton, the Sutton Fairtrade steering group meets once every six weeks to plan events and campaigns and welcomes new members. The next meeting will take place 13 April at the Tariro Cafe in the Salvation Army building in Benhill Avenue, Sutton.

The group will be running a stall stocking Fairtrade products in the St Nicholas Center on 12 March, where shoppers will be given the chance to try Fairtrade produce, as well as to find out more about ethical trading.

It is such a shame that so many other London borough and also and especially neighboring boroughs of the counties of Surrey, Kent, etc. are missing in this scheme.

For more information visit www.fairtrade.insutton.org, or www.fairtrade.org.uk

© 2011

The first gourmet coffee to come from DRCongo for over 40 years hits the UK

t_sourcing_with_integrityLondon, February 2011: Sainsbury's is helping to rejuvenate the coffee industry in two African countries by releasing a new limited edition Fairtrade coffee for Red Nose Day that will see the first high quality coffee from the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) available in the mainstream market since the 1960s.

The coffee is a blend of beans from the Sopacdi cooperative in DRC and the Mzuzu cooperative in Malawi, creating a unique Fairtrade coffee blend that is being launched at Sainsbury's this week. This product will reach stores in time for Fairtrade Fortnight (28 February to 13 March) and Red Nose Day (Friday 18 March) with at least 30p per pack donated to Comic Relief.

Fairtrade_Coffee_FarmerIn DRC, the project marks the start of a revival of the coffee industry in the Lake Kivu region, where most of the more than 4,000 tonnes of Arabica coffee produced annually is currently smuggled out of the country due to lack of formal market opportunities. It is estimated that around 1,000 people die every year as they attempt to transport their coffee illegally across Lake Kivu into Rwanda in search of higher prices.

The Mzuzu cooperative faced different challenges. The established agricultural system was vulnerable to changing climatic conditions and overly dependent on expensive inorganic fertilizers. To secure the quality and increase the yields of this coffee in the long term, Mzuzu farmers are developing more sustainable production systems.

The smallholder farmers in both regions are able to grow coffee at altitudes and on soils ideally suited to the production of speciality coffees, however they struggle to access markets for a variety of reasons, including achieving consistent high quality, lack of certifications or lack of consumer association of the DRC or Malawi with high quality coffees.

Liz Jarman, Sainsbury's head of Fairtrade, said: "This is a unique coffee with a fantastic back story. By buying it, customers will not only get a great coffee, they can also feel satisfied that they doing their bit to help lift two of the world's poorest countries out of poverty.

"The coffee will make a very real difference to farmers in these countries, and should help prevent many farmers dying in an effort to find more lucrative markets for their coffee."

The Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell said: "Trading with a large UK retailer will make a big difference to the livelihoods of farmers in Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is a step towards the two countries being widely recognized as coffee growing nations.

"Trade drives growth, which in turn creates jobs and wealth in communities. Through trade we can help people to pull themselves out of poverty. Ensuring farmers and other producers get a fair price for their produce and effort is central to this. Trade will soon become a central theme across our aid programme, particularly in Africa, helping developing countries including those emerging from conflict tackle the obstacles that prevent them from making the most of trading opportunities."

The project is a joint partnership between Sainsbury's, Comic Relief, Twin Trading, Finlays and the two African smallholder cooperatives. The organisations have worked together to develop the coffee, which has been part funded by DfID's Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund (FRICH), which aims to find innovative ways to bring more food from Africa to UK consumers.

Liz added: "By bringing two new coffees from the DRC and Malawi to our customers, we will really shine a light on Africa's potential. Although this is a limited edition blend we are launching for Red Nose Day 2011, our ultimate goal is to work with both cooperatives over the coming months to make quality Congolese and Malawian single origin coffees a permanent fixture."

Sainsbury's has worked with Finlays, its supply partner, to roast and package the coffee. Twin Trading, a project partner with expertise in developing smallholder commodity supply chains, has worked with both cooperatives to develop the supply chain and build local capability in agronomy, management and coffee exporting.

"With Sopacdi we have started from a very low base - pulling in farmers with a hectare or half a hectare each; financing agronomists to help them rehabilitate the coffee farms, putting processing infrastructure in place and working with farmers to meet quality control standards," says Richard Hide, a senior coffee manager at Twin who is overseeing the project. "There's a huge appetite and commitment to get production off the ground again."

Ian Barney, Twin's Managing Director, said: "We are delighted about the launch of this coffee and the profile it gives smallholder producers in both regions. We have been working closely with producers in both countries and know how much pride they take in their coffee. This is an important milestone for the farmers and communities of Sopacdi and Mzuzu and will put quality coffee from both regions on the map".

Sainsbury's is the world's largest retailer of Fairtrade products, having converted all of its bananas to Fairtrade in 2007. Since then, it has converted a number of additional ranges to Fairtrade, including its roast and ground coffee, in an effort to ensure that growers in the developing world are paid a fair price for their goods.

Source: Sainsbury's

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Seed for thought

Now is the time to really look forward to the growing season with the lengthening days and spring just a fingertip away. To kick-start the season Harrod Horticultural have introduced a number of new products to their comprehensive range to get seeds off to a flying start:-

Growtubes GPR-034 Pack of 20

GPR-034 Grow Tubes1-1 These biodegradable GrowTube bottomless pots are absolutely priceless when it comes to sowing, growing and transplanting tap rooting vegetables such as peas and beans along with deep planted veg such as leeks - every potting shed should have some!


Standard GPR-036 and Fine Grade Vermiculite GPR-037 both £6.95

Vermiculite has been used by plantsmen, propagators, growers and gardeners for decades and our standard Vermiculite and Fine Grade Vermiculite will allow you to improve your seed sowing germination rates and give your seed and potting compost mixes the edge.


Perlite GPR-038 £6.95

Perlite - those little white bits you find in all the best composts - allows you to achieve those fluffy potting compost mixes, full of air spaces and retained moisture, you've always dreamed of and will give your greenhouse seed sowing and growing activities a real leg-up.


Maxicrop Original Organic Plant Growth Stimulant 2.5 litres GFE-267 £13.95

The Maxicrop Original Organic Plant Growth Stimulant is a potent, plant-benefitting liquid feed mix based on seaweed extracts and almost guaranteed to give flowers, fruit, vegetables, shrubs and trees a real health boost! This heady and versatile plant feed, approved by the Soil Association, can be applied as a root drench, foliar spray and general liquid feed fertiliser and used through all stages of growing - germinating, propagation, transplanting, and growing - and with regular use, plants will become stronger, healthier and develop increased resistance to pests and diseases. Maxicrop Original Organic Plant Growth Stimulant is supplied in a 2.5 litre bottle with full dosing rates and application advice and can also be used on lawns and turf throughout the growing season too, making this an organic plant feed for the whole garden!


Maxicrop Organic Seaweed Meal GFE-268 £11.45

Each box of this Maxicrop Organic Seaweed Meal brings 2kg of brown knotted wrack seaweed to your garden in powder form along with the many plant benefits this Soil Association approved milled seaweed feed possess, leading to improved plant helath and growth and increased resistance to pests and diseases.


Maxicrop Organic Plant Cal-Sea-Feed GFE-269 £6.95

Not only does Maxicrop Organic Plant Cal-Sea-Feed do your plants and lawn the world of good thanks to the blend of ground dried seaweed but it allows you to reduce the acidity of soil and grow crops which would otherwise flounder - it's a great all round organic garden fertiliser!


And don’t forget Harrod Horticultural also have a comprehensive range of seeds in the range to meet all your planting requirements - http://www.harrodhorticultural.com/HarrodSite/category/Organic_Vegetable_Seeds_and_Plug_Plants/

As with all plant food, it is just that, a plant food fertilizer and often not something that actually puts goodness into the soil, In order to do that you need compost, ideally homemade, and other organic matter. It is organic matter, such as manure, compost and even grass clippings, that enrich the soil and feed the soil and the soil in most paces is what needs to be fed and revitalized.

Far too many fertilizers, especially those based on petro-chemicals, leach the goodness from the soil rather than giving anything. The plant feeds listed here by Harrod Horticultural are, it would appear, entirely organic and thus the leaching should not occur but still these are but plant foods and not soil foods. Always first feed your soil before you plant.

Source: Harrod Horticultural with additional writing by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

© 2011

Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.

Grow your own small vegetable garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Even the smallest space can produce plenty of vegetables, and this has been shown by several “studies”, for lack of a better words, such as the square foot gardening idea of the RHS in Britain. It works.

But in order to work the way they did it feeding an family of four from a very, very small space of raised beds, you have to have a way of groping plants on as plugs, ideally, bar those that cannot and should not be done that way. You cannot, period, grow carrot plugs. They do not work.

The advantages of growing your own vegetables are written about on a regular basis and some authors, no doubt correctly, have pointed out that not only do people waste less food by being able to go pick fresh vegetables when they need them, but the cost of having a small garden compared to buying fresh produce from the grocery store can save us a lot on food.

To make a statement, however, saying that a tomato plant can be worth $50 and then backing it up with a comparison that says that if you harvest 30 pounds at $2 per pound, that plant is worth $60 and when the plant costs only $2.90 to buy the plant, a few cents for water and 15 cents for the fertilizer, then that would make it at least $50 worth. I would like to see a tomato plants that will produce that amount in weight in fruit. Yes, tomatoes are fruit not vegetables. I have yet to get more than a couple of kilograms from a single tomato plant. So, such a comparison does not add up, except when grown either in an area where they can produce well or in the greenhouse and then other costs have to be factored in.

Plastic Tub Gardening

There are a number of “ready-made”solutions on the market, such as Earth Box and I do like the idea, but the price tag (almost $50 a piece) is a definite turn off, and not just to me. I should assume than many poorer families have looked at the ready-made solutions and decided that small space backyard gardening is not for them because of the cost.

However, you can make your own Earth Boxes out of Tupperware containers for about $12 a piece, and if you use other materials and sources too for even less.

Do you have to go out and buy stuff? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends what you can make and what you can scrounge and what you can find thrown away.

First of all, some vegetable do not need much in the way of depth of soil. Lettuces do best with little soil depth and thus they can be grown in shallow containers such as old washing up bowls, whether round or sort of square or rectangular or other containers.

Another great way of making rather deep raised beds, without using boards or anything like that, is using so-called builder bags, which are large woven polypropylene sacks in which sand, etc., is delivered to building sites and especially to the home builders. In this country they now are no longer returnable – they once were – and will end up in the skip outside the site and are destined for the landfill.

Fold their sides down to about half – you don't need more soil depth than that for growing vegetables and fill with earth. They make great planters, can be had for nothing or next to nothing from out of the skips and can, if need, rolled or folded up when you don't need them anymore or when you move.

In addition to all manner of vegetables – only chose, for starters those that you definitely like and those that are, according to books like “Down to Earth” are easy enough to grow – you can also grow herbs for use in the kitchen and in medicine.

Space is not an issue

The do-it-yourself Earth-type boxes are perfect for roof-top gardening 9just ensure that your roof can handle whatever amount of soil and remember that wet soil is several times heavier than dry soil), apartment balconies, small courtyards or a yard without a lot of sun. Another benefit is that when the growing season ends, it can all be taken down and stored until next year.

In all cases, ensure how much weight you roof or balcony can take. There is, obviously, not problem like that with courtyards, backyards with hard standing only, patios, and such like.

In fact, by using containers, and there are many kinds that can be used, just let your imagination go wild, there is nigh on no place where you cannot grow some food.

You like to grow some flowers too, for color and such. No problem. Just plant veg in with the flowers or vice versa and some benefits can be had by planting some flowers with some veg. It's called “companion planting” and some flowers are most beneficial when planted with vegetables.

So, go on, start a vegetable garden.

© 2011

US Congress wastes thousands on bottled water

Congress wasting thousands of dollars in taxpayers' money on bottled water that harms our environment

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

During and after the State of the Union recently, President Obama and Congressional Republicans waxed poetic about the need to cut wasteful spending in Washington. But there is an easy place to start:

According to Corporate Accountability International, Congress spent nearly $200,000 on bottled water in just three months last year. Recent studies estimate that bottled water costs almost 2,000 times more than tap water – even though the two types of water often come from the same sources.

Besides being a waste of money, bottled water is terrible for the environment: The energy needed to produce the plastic consumption is enough to fuel three million cars for a year.

But it is not just the plastic bottled and the fact that most of them never get recycled, for instance, that is the problem; the unnecessary extraction of water, whether from springs or municipal sources, as it the case in 40 percet of all cases, is what is the greatest problem even.

Nearly one million tons of plastic bottles are discarded as litter each year, ending up in landfills, lakes and streams. What's more, public water infrastructure in DC and around the whole country needs all the support it can get – especially from Congress.

And the same is true elsewhere too and while the American citizen can, theoretically, find out all theses things, such as Congress expenditure on bottled water in Britain, for example, that information is, and please don't laugh, covered by the “Official Secrets Act 1911”. Sad, I know. It is, however, the belief of the British government, over the years, that the general public could not understand all those fact and figures. In other words, the Subjects of Her Britannic Majesty are seen as and treated like children, or imbeciles.

American lobby groups are now calling upon Congress to stop wasting our money and end its use of bottled water and to sweeten the deal, DC Water (a local utility) has even offered to provide every member of Congress with a reusable water bottle as well as free water quality testing systems for Congressional office buildings.

When members of Congress complain about wasteful spending, they should curb their own bad habits first.

No doubt the same problems exist in the Houses of Parliament as regards to bottled water usage and other waste too. I could mention the waste of food, for instance, and while government keeps telling us that we must end the practice of food waste the catering establishment within the Palace of Westminster, in the way they operate, waste tons, literally, of food a week. Food that has been cooked but never been eaten.

They, whether in the Palace of Westminster or Whitehall or at Capitol Hill in DC, try to tell the general public how to live and behave but it would seem that it is a definite case of “Do as I tell you not as I do”. Shame they think that different rules apply to them than to the rest of us.

We can see that by the way the British MPs have been milking the expenses system and when they are caught with the hand in the till, so to speak, try to claim parliamentary privilege and thus exception from criminal prosecution. They really think themselves, in the majority, better than those that have put them there. Time for a change, methinks, a serious one.

© 2011

Fiskars Camping Axe X5 – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

X5-1 The Fiskars Camping Axe X5 is an ideal small axe (hatchet) for hikers and outdoor people.

In years gone by – maybe still today – there were small axes (hatchets) about that were referred to as “Forester hand axe” and this one definitely falls under that category and usability. The X5 would be idea for a forester and forest manager to carry on his or her rounds, and also for countryside officers and Rangers.

The X5 is a small, light axe that can be easily carried in your bag or on your belt and comes with a canvas sheath with some ballistic nylon accoutrements, such as the flap and the belt loop.

X5-2 The weight of the blade is 390 grams and the overall weight of the axe is 480 grams. The length of the hatchet is 228 mm, just a bit over 8 inches. The axe head is just under 5 inches from blade to poll. It is drop forged with a precision ground, double hardened blade for maximum durability, yet, so it is said, it is easy to sharpen. I say, so it is said, for I have, not as yet, tried to sharpen it, as there is no need.

The blade is extremely resilient, as I have found out when I dropped it onto tiles of sorts where a chunk was taken out of the tile but the blade suffered no damage whatsoever. Just glad I got my bare foot out of the way quick enough when the hatchet fell; the result otherwise would not have been pretty.

A PTFE coating on the blade reduces friction by 25%, making it easier to pull out of logs, and it also protects the blade against corrosion.

The handle is molded around the head to ensure it stays put, even in heavy use, and is made from ultralight and durable Fibercomp™ which minimises fatigue and makes the axe virtually unbreakable.

A real little all-rounder hatchet that is ideal for any outdoor activity and for foresters and rangers as a utility hatchet for trail marking, marking trees for felling, removing small trees, etc.

The UK recommended retail price for the Camping Axe X5 is £33.33 excl. VAT which, with VAT of currently 20%, should equate about £39.99. This is, I am well aware, not cheap by any standards but, on the other hand, you will get a quality tool that, even if not too well cared for, will last for a long time to come.

© 2011

The Fairtrade Foundation welcomes the Co-operative's new ethical operating plan

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Fairtrade Foundation congratulates The Co-operative Group on the recent announcement that it is rolling out an ambitious three-year Ethical Operating Plan and says that it is delighted, on behalf of Fairtrade producers around the globe and UK Fairtrade supporters, that a key element of the plan is devoted to tacking global poverty through Fairtrade.

The plan includes a major programme of unequivocal support for Fairtrade, including that “if it can be Fairtrade, it will be Fairtrade”. By 2013, The Co-operative plan that 90% of the primary commodities sourced from the developing world will be certified to Fairtrade standards. They are also developing a range of projects and initiatives that will benefit producers.

“At the check-out, there is a modern day revolution going on as people flex their consumer muscles to demand and look for Fairtrade products in order to drive social, economic and environmental changes in the way our food, drink and clothes are made and traded,” says Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation. “At the forefront of those changes is The Co-operative and its six million members – a living example of just how much ordinary people can achieve when they put their minds to tackling injustice.”

The Co-operative, now the country’s fifth biggest supermarket, has helped drive the development of the FAIRTRADE Mark in the UK since products with the FAIRTRADE Mark first appeared in the early 1990s. The Co-operative has chalked up a list of “Fairtrade firsts” starting with the first ever major category switch when they converted all their own-label block chocolate to Fairtrade in 2002. Since then, they have switched all their own-label coffee, tea and sugar to Fairtrade and were the first to introduce Fairtrade oranges, Fairtrade mangoes and other products including a huge variety of composite bakery and confectionery items.

Harriet continues: “The Fairtrade Foundation shares the values of The Co-operative on a range of issues. For example, their consumer co-operative model is an inspiration in the UK as are the co-operative groups with which the Fairtrade Foundation works in developing countries. We look forward to strengthening our mutual links over the next few years as we work towards making more and more of the primary commodities The Co-operative source from the developing world certified to Fairtrade standards, bringing more and more benefits to farmers and workers.”

Last year, Harriet accompanied Peter Marks, Chief Executive of The Co-operative to tea plantations in Kenya, where, thanks to funding from the UK Government’s Department for International Development, there is a scheme to organise thousands of smallholders to become Fairtrade certified. Mr Marks was visiting South Africa and Kenya as part of a fact-finding trip. The smallholders in Kenya showed Peter round their tea-farms, their vegetable gardens and their homes. A woman called Mercy told Peter how she has to walk one and a half miles to get water from the river. So, she said, top of her list of her needs was clean drinking water.

“Normally we have to sell for low, low prices at the auction,” said another farmer. “We have so many brilliant children. But they cannot study because the income from our tea is not enough for us to educate our children. If we can sell as Fairtrade, then we can sleep easy.”

Mr Marks said: “We have seen a substantial increase in Fairtrade sales and that's surprising I guess because in a recession you think people are more concerned about price. But we have found our customers in The Co-operative are more concerned with ethics. They don't just ignore their values and principles because there is a recession on.”

Despite the economic downturn, sales of Fairtrade produce at The Co-operative remain strong, increasing year-on-year by more than 50%.

The same trend, so it would seem, can also be seen as regards to Fairtrade products elsewhere on the high street and in the supermarkets and the same could, it prices would not be hiked that much, be the case with proper green and ethical products.

© 2011

Council considers change to recycling program

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Council of Bolton, in Lancashire, England, is considering a reduction in the number of kerbside recycling collections it makes, according to reports.

Bolton Council is trying desperately to save money as central government calls on local authorities to curb their spending, and it seems to have identified its waste programme as a potential cost-saver.

However, the plans to switch to monthly collections of recyclable material would be a blow to recycling firms in the area, as fears are raised of a reduction in the amount of waste being reused.

This is despite communities secretary Eric Pickles stating that the cancellation of weekly rubbish collections was eroding trust in the democratic process.

Bolton Council, however, insists that switching to monthly collections is one way of making the service more efficient, and it denies that service will be severely affected.

“Bolton Council is currently developing a waste strategy which will examine a number of ways to make our waste collection and waste disposal services more economical and efficient,” a spokesman for the authority said.

The fact that recycling firms are worried about losing the recyclables on a fortnightly or even weekly basis is that they cannot see any other way of getting the stuff cheaply. But there are other ways.

One of them would be for the companies to start their own recyclables collection system or, better still, pay people for recyclables when they bring them in to centers that could be set up.

This kind of system does work very well in the United States, for instance, and it would appear to be a total win-win situation for both sides. But, quite obviously, this would not work in Britain, they would say, because Britain is different.

Paying people to bring in the materials that you want would, obviously, mean having to sacrifice a little on the profit margin but I am certain that, like in the USA, it could work very well in Britain and could be of benefit to all sides.

Why don't we think about it...

© 2011

We must and we will shrink our government

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

That are the words of some American Republican governors and such like but they should, like in Britain, where the same garbage is being talked, cut the heads and not the front-line staff.

In the US they are trying to destroy the Unions and the same, in a way, is true in the UK.

And now the coalition government of Conservative and Liberal Democrats, with Prime Minister David Cameron heading the line, is heading down the line of the Big Society idea also being used to destroy the public services by wanting charities, groups of residents, etc., to run parks, libraries, to take on the repair of roads, and much more.

I have mentioned the issue of road repairs by residents already in an article about the London Borough of Sutton and this is, so it would appear, something that the Prime Minister wishes to see all over the country.

The point here is, obviously, that if you can get work like that done by volunteers you no longer need the low paid front-line council crews or subcontractor that normally do the job. The same for parks, libraries, etc.

In other words, this is a destruction of the public service as we have known it for many decades, with the front-line being destroyed while the fact cats of chief executives and other directors remain in place begin able to draw bigger salaries as no little workers needing to be paid anymore.

The idea of the Big Society, as I have said before, is a good one on some levels but the way Cameron and Clegg are trying to impose it now, where volunteers are supposed to take over park services, library services, and the repair of roads even, this is not the way it should be.

While it is true that Britain is in a financial crisis as a country in that the previous government, the “Labor” one, under Blair and then Brown, left the coffers of the Treasury rather bare as they spent everything and then some and left the country in a rather severe debt situation, this is not the way that the country can be run either.

Some things, such as youth centers, and a number of other services, can be run by volunteers and by charities; they always used to in the days of old before World War Two, for instance, before the welfare state became the nanny state but there are some services that are – statutory – such as the provision and the running of parks, which fall under the Public Heath Act, that cannot be done, entirely, as envisaged by the Cameron/Clegg coalition, by charities and volunteers. Unless, and I would not put that past them either, they intend to be rewriting those statutes and statutory requirements.

What next? Our NHS hospitals and doctor's surgeries run by charities and staffed by volunteers?

© 2011

Don't throw it! Instead Yiuco it...

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Yiuco is a web-based service – the first of its kind – that lets people sell things so long as they are recycled, reused, upcycled or re-manufactured. People are also able to share their ideas for reuse and recycled objects.

Yiuco offers a space for creators, inventors and entrepreneurs to run their own online shops. It's like eBay meets Etsy but everything listed has to have had a previous life. Yiuco, the Greek word for piled up clothes, aims “to create, design and think of new longer life-lasting products that will be more easily recycled and be used again instead of ending up as waste.”

The name is a bit amorphous as the service doesn't just handle clothes. Yiuco has a wide range of categories from baby to movies and music to electronics. Items listed on the site include tin can creations, jenga block keychains and bowls made from old vinyl.

Since the service is so new and still being populating by new buyers and sellers, there are no transaction or listing fees until spring of 2011.

It looks like an interesting service and might just catch on. In fact, I seriously hope so and I hope it will become the Etsy for recycled and upcycled goods.

This idea does not come before time and I sincerely wish it all the success in the world.

© 2011

Healthy habitats are fast disappearing, for man and beast

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Some people don’t mind living crowded together; some people do. But the aspect of population density is not very important.

There can be no doubt, however, that the quantity of resources on this planet is dwindling, and that is true for everything. There are clearly less fish in the ocean, less virgin forest to lumber, less ore to mine, less oil to he pumped and possibly most important of all, less clean fresh water available. To dismiss the connection between human population and these dwindling resources as conspiracy theory, or as a political, racial or religious issue is truly the last straw.

When it comes to trees for wood there should be no virgin forests used anyway but only sustainably managed forest sources. The last vestiges of virgin forest, whether in the tropics or the boreal ones in Canada, should be left alone. We should be able to work with what we have – if we but reduce our impact. Why do we have to have more, and more and more?

As regards to population a smaller human population has a smaller impact on the planet. This is simple logic, not subject to research or opinion, and no huge multi-million dollar studies and research papers will be required. Mind you, they are going to write them anyway.

The common denominator of all the world’s problems, human and otherwise, is simply that there are too many people chasing ever dwindling resources. This is not the same as too many people for the planet to support at this time or in the next number of years, but too many people for the planet to support without a negative impact on everything other than humans.

Healthy habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate. I am not just talking about the human environments that are in bad shape, such as Mexico City or Cairo. Respiratory illness in Los Angeles is on the rise. The Colorado River is now a polluted trickle emptying into the Gulf of California. We have viruses and bacteria that are mutating beyond existing medicine’s ability to keep up. Not only that, but we also have the speed of jet travel that allows a person carrying a disease to spread it before even coming down with the symptoms.

You don’t have to take my word for it, or even that of some “expert”. Do your own homework. Try to find one body of fresh water on this planet that a human dares drink from without first filtering and what have not. Go talk to fishermen all along our oceans, not only in the USA, but everywhere. Talk to a building contractor about the quality of lumber from today’s trees vs. what was available only two decades ago. Go to Africa and talk to the people who live in the deserts, who have watched that desert grow beyond their village in one or two generations. Don’t pass on the words of some “expert” just because he or she is telling the world what you want to hear and ignore the words of those that are telling you something that you do not want to hear.

We all have to lend a hand to try to fix the situation, and the first step is to acknowledge the true cause of the problem. If we had half of today’s world population we would have half the pollution, half the draw on resources, and be twice as far towards a healthy planet again. I am not suggesting that everyone take a number and all those with odd numbers march over a cliff. All children – all people – are precious. We can’t halve our population but we can take steps to limit its future growth.

The Lord may have given mankind dominion over this Earth, but He did not say to trash it.

Reducing the amount of people on this planet could be done simply by the “stop at two” program, as far as children are concerned, for in our modern day and age childhood mortality in the developed world is so low that large families are, in fact, not just a burden on the Planet but anti-social.

This must also mean, as far as children are concerned, that there is no hunt on in every family to have a male heir, and in the process producing many girls simply because girls, to some, have no value. This is something that must stop, period. For our very survival's sake and that of the Planet.

Still there are religious zealots and bigots that claim the we cannot be the judge and also that many children are a blessing from the Lord. Mind if I disagree. The likes of the Duggard family with their, how many are they now, kids and others of the same “ilk” are an anathema in today's modern world, and are a burden on the Planet if not on society. It is time that a stop would be put on such over-large families.

Industry, obviously, and other human activity, has to also take a great deal of responsibility for the destruction of the Planet's healthy habitats and our exploitation, for greed, of the natural resources, is another not to be forgotten culprit here.

We cannot get enough, can we, and while we pursue the more, more and still more, we destroy the very foundation that makes life possible. But we have the attitude that we can carry on. We just have to find the technology to do something about it or, if all else fails, go and find another planet in our solar system to trash.

The problem is that there is only One Earth and we discovered that already in the 1970s and the slogan against pollution was that “Only One Earth”. What is taking us so long that we still have done absolutely nothing about improving things for us and the Planet? Greed, that's what is causing this delay. Greed of multinational corporations and commodity traders for more and more wealth to be accumulated. A wealth that they cannot eat and that cannot clothe them nor can they drink it.

Man was set to have dominion over the Earth but that does not mean domination and trashing it. It meant to be a husbandman, a steward, a caretaker; not to exploit and destroy. Alas, somewhere it went all wrong.

Now, in the last days, so to speak, we must turn this supertanker around and stop it from destroying us and everything. We can do it but we must do it now, this very moment, without delay. We all know how long it takes for a supertanker to stop and turn. Now hard left rudder for a 180degree turn and very slow speed ahead.

© 2011

Liverpool pulls out of Big Society drive

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The leader of Liverpool City Council recently has written to Prime Minister David Cameron informing him that the authority is pulling out of the Government's Big Society plans.

Liverpool was one of four pilot areas for the scheme, aimed at giving community groups and volunteers more control over their local services. In a two-page letter, however, council leader Joe Anderson has told the PM that the Government's cuts have seriously undermined the ability of community organisations to improve the quality of life of residents.

The letter concludes: “How can the City Council support the Big Society and its aim to help communities do more for themselves when we will have to cut the lifeline to hundreds of these vital and worthwhile groups?

“I have therefore come to the conclusion that Liverpool City Council can no longer support the Big Society initiative, as a direct consequence of your funding decisions.”

The Prime Minister announced his Big Society plans in Liverpool in July 2010, with TV writer Phil Redmond leading the initiative.

Mr Cameron said community groups should be able to run post offices, libraries and transport services, and shape housing projects.

Joe Anderson said: “When we agreed to become a vanguard, your Government promised to work with us to remove some of the problems and blockages that were preventing us from successfully delivering our Big Society programme.

“I have to say, the Government has failed to deliver a single change that we have requested, which has severely hampered many parts of our programme.”

The letter goes on: “Liverpool has been doing the 'big society' for many years.

“We call it 'working with our communities' and it is something we are very much committed to.”

But the council leader said the community's ability to help improve the quality of life for Liverpool residents had been “seriously undermined” by the loss of more than £100 million of Area Based Grants to Liverpool and the council's “extremely poor” local government settlement, which means a £141 million reduction in council spending over the next two years.

“This level of cuts will significantly impact on council services, including the funding of many of our voluntary and community groups,” said Mr Anderson.

Sean Brennan, leader of Sutton Council in south London – one of the other pilot areas – said the authority would continue to take part in the scheme.

“It's disappointing that Liverpool has pulled out of Big Society but we will continue to support it because we believe in the principle and taking part in local life is part of our DNA,” he said.

“The Big Society is actually very simple – It's about local people knowing what's going on, being able to have their say and get involved in the running of their area if they want to.

“Our experience of the Big Society is that many people in Sutton are not just willing but enthusiastic to play a more active role in their communities if you involve them in the right way.”

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell said: “David Cameron's Big Society is imploding.” But then again, she would say that wouldn't she, being Labor.

Liverpool suddenly pulling out should not, however, be a surprise to anyone who knows the British political picture. The Labor local authority that is Liverpool, which once was Militant Labor, just cannot do other than to do anything at all possible to throw spanners in the works.

Readers will know my take on the “Big Society” issue anyway. While I think the idea is a good one I do not think that it is going to work – or at least it will take a very long time to catch on – because it is being imposed, for lack of a better word, from above.

You don't encourage people to do things for themselves when you tell them that's what they HAVE to do.

© 2011

Things to do in the garden as the weather gets warmer

Things to do in the garden now, at the end of February and the beginning of March

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

As the weather starts to get warmer – well a little bit anyway – the list of jobs in the garden starts to grow, and if you don't tackle the jobs when you can bad weather may prevent you from getting them done at all. However, so far every time it try to get into my garden I am looking for a way to do drainage; it is still like a swamp out there.

I have been trying to get the planters prepared for the new season and also start to set out the first potatoes into containers but bad weather has so far prevented me from doing so.

There is so much to do, in my garden and I am sure in yours too, however, with another wet weekend forecast it looks like it there isn't much going to happen there this weekend either.

The apple trees need pruning and so far that has not been possible either simply because of the weather but it must be done soon, before it is too late, and the espalier trees of mine are getting way too high. The branches, however, will, some of them at least, make nice walking sticks, I should think. As said, it has to happen soon and I may have to do it this weekend, regardless of what the weather is going to be like, as long as it is not raining too much. as the buds are swelling up already.

Winter pruning of apple trees

The first months of the year, theoretically, is the time to prune apple trees and the same also applied to pears.

So, when I start pruning the first thing I do is look at the tree and look at the shape and how the branches have grown. Keeping the general shape in mind whilst you are pruning helps you to not make any rash decisions and prune with a heavy hand.

The next thing to do is to remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches and any branches which cross or touch another, as branches that are getting close to each other or are even touching will rub and such rubbing will cause wounds and can allow – in fact, it will allow – pathogens and diseases to enter. And that is something you definitely do not want.

What that is done look to open up the centre of the tree so air can circulate around and reduce the possibility of any disease building in the still air. This, obviously, only applies to free-standing trees; espaliers are different.

Lastly you should be left with last years growth to prune and this should be trimmed to about half the length and to an outside facing bud.

If you follow all those steps you should now have a healthy tree which should produce a good crop of apples.

If you have your trees in an espalier style growing against a wall or fence you don't want it to get too long ion the tooth, so to speak. Thus you may, like what I will have to do, cut off some serious long growth, as I got delayed to do it last year and could not do it because it had gotten too late.

Any dead, decayed and diseased branched that remove from the trees burn and do not chip and use in composting or as mulch as you might transfer disease to other areas. Always consider any and all branches that are dead on a tree as having, probably, dies as a result of disease, to be on the safe side and, as said, burn any such wood.

Other tasks

You can now, as it is getting warmer, start the early potatoes from slips that have eyes on them and you do not, necessarily, have to have seed potatoes. On the contrary; if you have store bought potatoes developing eyes peel the potatoes thickly where the eyes are and those slips will grow into potato plants without any problems.

Other tasks are putting on well rotted manure and other soil improvers, such as compost made with bracken, and a very good one on that level is the “Lakeland Gold” compost. If you use such compost as soil improver, or, obviously, your own, home-grown one, apply about a two to three inch thick layer and fork over the beds and containers to give some goodness back to the soil. Don't use the likes of “Grow More” or such “fertilizers”, as they do nothing for the soil; they are but plant food.

Dandelion has started to grow now as well and you can either go and dig them out or allow them to grow, if not in the wrong place, and harvest the leaves – and other parts of the plant. Dandelion leaves are great in salads and on sandwiches too.

If you want or have to dig them out try to go for green ways of doing it and the investment in a Weed Puller, such as the Fiskars W52 or W82, or the Grandpa's Weeder, will soon pay for itself. Those tools make removal of such weeds extremely simple and easy.

© 2011

Sainsbury’s to ease strain on National Grid

t_respect_for_enviroment Innovative store technology cuts energy costs and reduces UK carbon emissions

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The new Sainsbury's store in Hythe, Kent, which opened this morn Sainsbury's is using experimental technology to help reduce the UK's dependence on fossil fuels. Many people are unaware of the strain the National Grid comes under at peak times, as coal-fired power stations across the country have to be ‘switched on' to meet the increased demand on the UK's electricity supply.

Power station malfunction and the unpredictability of wind power can also cause changes in supply to the grid, but such changes could become more manageable thanks to the innovative ‘Smart Grid' system at the new Sainsbury's store in Hythe, Kent, which opens on Wednesday, February 22, 2011.

The system monitors the grid and activates the store's biofuel generator when there is an increased demand for electricity. As a result, reserve power stations will not have to be used as much and the UK's carbon footprint will be reduced.

The generator is the first of its kind and will be powered by waste oil and fat from Sainsbury's stores to act as an auxiliary power source. Additional technology in the store will reduce strain on the grid further by deactivating or reducing the store's heating, ventilation and lighting systems at peak times.

Neil Sachdev, Sainsbury's property director explains: "To ensure that both consumers and businesses have enough electricity at all times, power stations are kept on stand-by, ready to come into action when required. The trouble is that two-thirds of the UK's stand by power comes from high-carbon-emitting non-renewable sources.

"By introducing this technology, we will cut the UK's dependence on fossil fuels, reduce our own energy costs and reduce our CO2 emissions."

The introduction of the Smart Grid system is part of Sainsbury's environmental stores programme, through which the company invests in environmental technology to drive energy and carbon efficiency in an effort to lessen the impact of climate change. Technology trialled in environmental stores is often rolled out to future store developments as standard.

Neil added: "We are absolutely committed to introducing experimental carbon-reducing innovations such as this. As a large retailer, we are able to make a tremendous difference by investing in new technology and rolling it out onto our estate. We are extremely agile as a business so can implement changes quickly by ourselves, rather than waiting for climate change legislation to bring about change.

"When we find a technology that can work at scale, we immediately set about planning how we can roll that into the rest of our business. Our customers trust us to make sure we minimise our environmental impact, so we are constantly working to ensure we meet their expectations."

Sainsbury's has been at the forefront of environmental store development for many years. It was the first retailer to use anaerobic digestion at scale to dispose of food waste, and opened the first store to be heated and cooled using geo thermal energy at Crayford last September.

Neil said: "The testing of the geothermal energy system at Crayford has gone extremely well, so we now aim to roll this out to at least 6 stores by the end of the year. If this Smart Grid technology trial goes well, we'll be looking at how we can roll that out too."

The creation of the Smart Grid store is the first major output of Sainsbury's partnership with Imperial College London's Faculty of Engineering and Grantham Institute for Climate Change. The partnership, which launched last year, was created to develop technologies and solutions that will help Sainsbury's lower its carbon footprint to help it meet with future climate change legislation, and continue to be the UK's greenest grocer.

While this biofuel generator is a great idea as the fuel is a renewable fuel but let's be honest, it is still going to put out CO2 emissions, and also, as it is more than likely basically a converted diesel generator, quite a bit of soot particles.

I would be more impressed here if there would be photo-voltaic panels in play too and wind turbines to reduce the power that the store uses and not just a biofuel (bio-diesel) generator. But it is a start and maybe we could see a greater move to renewable energy being used by Sainsbury's and others.

© 2011

Fairtrade sales take off as hard-pressed customers continue to shop ethically

t_sourcing_with_integrity Sales of Fairtrade jump by 27% to £276m

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sainsbury's has announces on February 16, 2011, that sales of Fairtrade products have continued to rise over the past year despite pressure on household spending. Sales over the past year have totaled £276m, an increase of 27%, showing that customers continue to seek Fairtrade products.

Fairtrade_Coffee_FarmerSainsbury's is the world's largest retailer of Fairtrade products, having converted all of its bananas to Fairtrade in 2007. Since then, it has converted a number of additional ranges to Fairtrade in an effort to ensure that growers in the developing world are paid a fair price for their goods, including all its own brand of tea, without the slightest loss in quality.

Now the supermarket is turning it attention to chocolate, with all of its full size hollow Easter eggs Fairtrade certified this year. It will also convert all of its standard tier and Taste the Difference chocolate to Fairtrade within the year.

Liz Jarman, Sainsbury's head of Fairtrade said: "Fairtrade sales are going from strength to strength as customers continue to look for affordable ethical products when they shop. We converted our bananas to 100% Fairtrade in 2007, and since then, many of the branded manufacturers have followed our lead.

"We are absolutely focused on providing Fairtrade to our customers for free. So where Fairtrade is the only own-brand option in our stores, as is the case with bananas, we make sure that our prices remain on a par with those of our non-Fairtrade competitors. This encourages customers to continue to shop with us and to continue to buy Fairtrade.

"We believe that large businesses like Sainsbury's have a responsibility to help small producers in the developing world to grow and develop sustainable routes to market, particularly during the current world economic downturn."

Sainsbury's has become the UK's largest supplier of Fairtrade products thanks to a series of conversions it has made in switching major food and drink items to Fairtrade over the past few years. In July 2007, the supermarket moved all its bananas to Fairtrade. In November 2007, it announced it would switch its entire range of tea, roast and ground coffee and hot chocolate. Own-brand sugar has been Fairtrade since March 2008. It is just a shame that the own-brand sugar seems to be difficult to find in stores. I, for one, have not seen any in my local Sainsbury's.

Liz added: "We sell 700 million bananas a year or 1,000 a minute, which means a total Fairtrade premium of £4m per year going straight into the pockets of the small farmers who grow them. As we add to the number of Fairtrade products we stock, we continue to make an increased impact on suppliers from poorer countries."

Sainsbury's efforts have already generated far-reaching results for Fairtrade communities across the world. Shoppers have contributed to the education of thousands of school children, helped to build health and social care for workers and their families, and added to community infrastructures including roads, bridges, lighting and wells.

In addition, Sainsbury's will this year celebrate the third anniversary of its Fair Development Fund - a scheme which started with an initial commitment from Sainsbury's of £1 million, to be used to support a number of Fairtrade initiatives over a four-year period. The fund was introduced to provide a major boost to the livelihoods of producers who are not yet participating in the Fairtrade system, helping them access new international markets.

Sourcing with integrity is central to Sainsbury's ability to deliver great products at fair prices. It is committed to offering products that are better for customers and for the environment, in away that is also better for the animals, farmers and producers involved in their production.

Sainsbury's has shown that Fairtrade can be done by a large supermarket chain and that without having to rise the prices – let's face it, even Sainsbury's Basics range bananas are Fairtrade – and that it does not have to damage the bottom line.

© 2011