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‘Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?’



So said Tony Hancock (who would have turned 90 today) in 1959′s 12 Angry Men, a brilliant spoof of Henry Fonda’s 1957 film of the same name. Magna Carta, King John’s grudging attempt to appease rebellious barons and clergy, celebrates its 800th anniversary in 2015.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014.

Magna Carta is seen as an historically significant document that enshrined liberty under the law and laid the groundwork for subsequent great constitutional documents. These include its own reissues in 1216, 1217, 1225 and 1297 (the last as statute), as well as the UK’s Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689), the Act of Settlement (1701), the US Constitution (1789) and UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights (1948).

Lord Denning, the late, great master of the rolls (the second most senior judge in England and Wales) described it as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.

At the time, it represented a desperate last ditch effort to secure peace between a bankrupt and beleaguered king and incredibly whiny, warring barons. The barons resented paying tax to a king who had failed to defend their rights, privileges and, most importantly, their territories in France. As a result, they wanted the king to stop raising taxes and seizing inheritances without their explicit consent, and much of the document deals with those more mundane issues, rather than profound issues of the constitutional governance of a nation.

John’s hand was finally forced by the threat of full scale civil war and he gave his seal to the document on June 15 1215, near the reeds of Runnymede on the Thames. In effect, Magna Carta ended absolute monarchy and introduced semi-constitutional monarchy. The king, like everyone else, was to be under the law.

Lincoln Castle, where one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta is housed. Photo:

Magna Carta has grown in significance since. It was reissued four times over the first hundred years and has been cited in some of the greatest parliamentary and legal debates over constitutional reform. However, the original agreement lasted only a few months before Pope Innocent III annulled it, refusing to accept any constraint on the dignity and divine right of kings (clause 61). Civil war broke out shortly after, so the original version was not exactly a success; its later reissues more so.

William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John (1590s) makes no mention of Magna Carta, reinforcing the view that its real constitutional importance came in later years – especially in the parliamentary debates leading up to the English civil war (1642-1651). As with so many of Shakespeare’s plays, it did leave us with the oft-misquoted phrase “to gild the lily“.

Over time, clauses of Magna Carta became absorbed into statute. Today, four clauses effectively remain in force: the freedom of the English church (clause one), the ancient liberties of the City of London (eight) and the right to due process (39/40). The last two, which became a single clause in the 1225 reissue, are the most significant, in that they state that people should be judged by their peers, and justice could not be delayed or sold. Recent governments have done their best to get around this right through extraordinary rendition and secret courts.

This incredible document has a special affinity for me as one of only four remaining copies (there is no original) sits in the castle prison in Lincoln, where I live, alongside its sister document, the Charter of the Forest. The castle is subject to a £22m refurbishment in advance of the 800th anniversary. Salisbury Cathedral has another copy and the British Library the other two. Magna Carta was also the basis of an alternate reality game I developed in 2006, which weaved its real history with a fictional tale of buried treasure.

Not many people know the courageous and pivotal roles played by Archbishop Stephen Langton, Elias of Dereham, William Marshal, Hubert de Burgh, Eustace the monk or Arthur of Brittany (the senior heir to Richard, reputed to be murdered by John, or on his orders). Nor do many know the throne of England nearly ended up in French hands with the popular support of the English, abruptly ending just under 150 years of independent Norman rule. Our history would have been radically different had Prince Louis Capet secured the throne in 1216.

John died (poisoned or broken by his struggles) in Newark Castle in October 1216, shortly after losing his baggage train and much of his wealth in the Wash between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. This created the schoolboy joke of “King John losing his Crown Jewels in the wash”. At that point, Prince Louis had captured Winchester and London, both our ancient and current capitals, plus half of England. John’s death allowed the rebellious barons to switch their support to his nine-year-old son, Henry III (although they probably regretted that decision by 1258). They simply wanted rid of John. Until his death, Louis was the only credible pretender. In 1297, John’s grandson, Edward I, directed that charters based on the Magna Carta become part of the common law of the land.

Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta is perhaps the best preserved of all four remaining original copies. Photo: chappy14 via

John’s reputation has been that of a ‘bad king’, akin to Richard III. No king since has shared either of their names. In reality, it is far more complex than that. John inherited a kingdom bankrupted by King Richard’s adventurous crusades, imprisonment and subsequent ransom. Richard spoke no English and hated the cold and rainy country with a passion, staying away for all but five months of his 10-year reign. He is reputed to have said, “I would have sold London if I could find a buyer.” Now, he is lionised as one of our greatest historical figures, with a triumphant statue outside parliament in London, the very place he wanted to sell. Richard shares as much with patriotic Englishmen as our patron saint, St George, a Greek Roman soldier who never set foot on our green and pleasant land.

Faced with bankruptcy and war with the expansionist Philip, King of France, John lost land in France, raised taxes and seized church assets, while trying to appoint his own loyal archbishop over the heads of the clergy of Canterbury. In doing so he annoyed the pope, leading to the whole of England being excommunicated for several years. It was clerics who wrote the historical records of the time and they didn’t like sharing their choice of archbishop, wealth or power. Despite victories against France in the early part of his reign, he eventually lost too much territory that belonged to his barons. In contrast, his father, Henry II, had controlled the vast majority of France through the Angevin Empire, by marriage and conquest.

He was undoubtedly a ruthless man, but what son of the overbearing Henry II and a Plantagenet would not have been? All of Henry’s sons rebelled against him at some point. John persecuted his enemies mercilessly, but that is nothing exceptional for those times, and he was a particular insecure monarch (nicknamed ‘Lackland’ and ‘Softsword’) with strong pretenders and powerful enemies. Killing relatives to secure your throne has been the modus operandi for a lot of rulers.

In many ways, his weaknesses and bad luck left open the opportunity for taxpaying barons to secure more power and show that there was an alternative to absolutism. Once the barons had secured more power, the door was open for the taxpaying cities and shires, the commons, to demand more power. The Boston Tea Party cry of “no taxation without representation” echoes down from Magna Carta. British rulers in 1773 clearly hadn’t learnt the lesson of Magna Carta.

John’s failings led to Magna Carta’s creation, which in turn seeded our parliamentary democracy. A stronger, more effective absolute monarch might have held that door shut for another century or two. This would have been good for the monarchy, but bad for the people.

Magna Carta says rulers are under the law and only rule with the people’s consent (albeit ‘the people’ were the barons in 1215). It says certain groups require special protection and we all have a fundamental right to justice and freedom from arbitrary decisions.

What we can learn from Magna Carta is that sometimes we need a weak government to have the opportunity to create a better government. Is it time for a new Magna Carta?

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta’s signing, and there are a range of events planned in both the UK and the US. These include exhibitions of the four remaining original copies, housed in LincolnSalisbury and at the British Library in London, starting in May 2014.

Featured photo: sherrymain via Flickr

Further reading:

Magna Carta: 800 years on

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.


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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