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Changing the face of empty space



We need to think of empty spaces as blank canvases, rather than shadows of what they once were, argues Fiona King of Healthy Planet.

Empty retail spaces in the UK have hit an all-time high of 14.6%. We hear about retail giants shutting down or going out of business with increasing frequency.

Companies that were once household names like HMV, Woolworths and Blockbuster have closed down, leaving behind empty shells and a correspondingly sorry-looking high street.

It seems inevitable that we might mourn the loss of the wonderful diversity of our high streets. But, what if we began to view this phenomenon in a different light? Perhaps instead of fretting about what is lost, we should see the potential presented by these empty spaces.

Although it is never pleasing to see businesses go under, perhaps this is the beginning of a different kind of diversity on the high streets- and we can apply this logic to all empty spaces, not just retail. Factories, warehouses and offices are all up for reinvention but, in order for that to happen, people (including owners, councils, and communities) need to see beyond the obvious and begin thinking in fresh new ways.

The reality is that empty spaces, whether residential or commercial, can have extensively detrimental impacts on the surrounding community – an effect which is particularly compounded when multiple abandoned properties crop up in close proximity to one another. Empty units can be unsightly, harbour pests, devalue local property and attract anti-social behaviour, as well as signify a loss of amenity and a floundering local economy. Nobody likes to see boarded-up windows and the proverbial tumbleweed blowing across a once bustling town centre.

One possibility for these empty spaces is for regular charity shops to move in, retailing and selling on second hand wares and goods. However, why not go one further and kill three birds with one stone, making worthwhile use of an empty space, benefiting a charity, and giving a big boost to the community in one step?

In lieu of permanent occupiers, ‘pop-up shops’ are becoming increasingly popular in empty retail units. These shops are transient, able to move in and out of properties at short notice. A prime example of this phenomenon is demonstrated by the charity Healthy Planet.

Its angle is refreshingly simple: to collaborate with landlords nationwide to reach a solution which benefits everyone. Working with a legitimate charity, landlords are able to receive rates relief when they move into empty spaces. But there’s more to it than that. The situation can be win-win from all perspectives.

Healthy Planet is best known for setting up Books For Free centres in empty retail shops or retail warehouses. The idea is that good quality books are rescued from going to landfill or pulping and then given away completely free to the local community. These centres are often established in collaboration with another charity partner, as happened with Furnish in London’s W12 shopping centre.

Over 30 of these centres have been established across the UK in city and town centres to date, and over 3m books have been re-homed in the process. This initiative is particularly valued in areas where disposable income is low, giving individuals and communities the access to literature they might not have otherwise. The centres often bloom into community hubs, becoming essential places for people to meet and socialise with no obligation to part with hard-earned cash. And thus, a previously ‘useless’ empty space becomes something invaluable.

We need to revolutionise the way we think about empty spaces. Think of them as blank canvases, rather than shadows of what they once were. A space represents an investment, one of materials, of time, of resources. Utilising our existing resources is the key to becoming a more efficient and more sustainable society.

It seems counter-intuitive to even consider greenfield developments whilst the power of existing spaces lies dormant, waiting to be tapped into. Of course, the UK’s empty spaces are in variable states of disrepair (some requiring more devotion and imagination than others) but ultimately, armed with the right attitude, the vast majority of spaces are ripe for reinvention and present the opportunity to benefit our wider society.

Retail spaces give businesses a tangible presence in the community, rather than an ethereal existence on the internet, and that is not to be undervalued – and other spaces are just as valuable. An empty office block in a high-rise building could house a budding social enterprise that just needs that bit of space to get their team together and get their business off the ground. An empty warehouse could house a collection of artists, or stage a play that engages the community and benefits actors who need the exposure. Out of small things, big things begin to grow.

Recycling and reuse does not stop at plastic bottles and egg cartons. We also need to view our empty spaces as a recyclable commodity and give them another lease of life.

If you are a landlord or a social enterprise interested in working with Healthy Planet via their Healthy Spaces initiative, find out more here.

Fiona King is an environmental management graduate currently working for Healthy Planet as a marketing and social media executive.

Further reading:

A sustainable high street

Ethical consumerism’s long journey to the mainstream

Greening the High Street


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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