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History, culture, sustainability: the Landmark Trust on restoring important buildings

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The renovation of Astley Castle was completed in 2012 by the building conservation charity the Landmark Trust. The Saxon property, in the heart of Warwickshire, was rescued from dereliction, painstakingly restored and then transformed into an attractive holiday let.

Since its restoration and just over a year since it was reopened, the building was named the winner of RIBA’s prestigious architectural Stirling Prize for 2013.

Astley Castle is now one of 194 magnificent properties located up and down the UK, in France and in Italy that the Landmark Trust has acquired and now lets for holidays. Its director, the historian Anna Keay, spoke to Blue & Green Tomorrow.

What is the Landmark Trust?

We’re a historic buildings charity, and we exist to rescue and provide a secure future for architecturally important, at-risk and historically significant buildings, principally in Britain but also in France and Italy.

Our founder Sir John Smith, 50 years ago, noticed that all around us are these incredibly precious, scarce and unique remnants of our past. Ultimately his reason for starting the Landmark Trust was that if these special, interesting and beautiful buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair, then we would all be the poorer for that.

His vision was to establish a charity which would intervene, to acquire, restore and repair these really important old places. It wouldn’t just be a pressure group or a lobbyist; it would actually do it, it would actually be there restoring these fantastic properties, and giving them a new lease of life.

Those previously derelict buildings would then be transformed into places which absolutely anybody and everybody could rent and stay in for a week or a long weekend. This would mean that the pleasure, interest and understanding, which come from inhabiting these places, would be available to all.

It sounds like the very essence of sustainability.

It is. Putting aside the cultural value of the buildings, the embedded energy that exists in a building of the past is absolutely enormous. The carbon that had to be burned to create the bricks, and the trees that had to be felled to make the timber frames and so on; it is embedded energy from centuries ago.

To keep these places standing and to help people realise why they are so special is the kind of profound investment in a sustainable way of living – both now and in the future.

What’s the business model?

We don’t run a membership scheme; we’re totally open to everybody. We have a website with 194 buildings that you can book. The money you spend on booking the building isn’t something that goes to somebody’s profit. It goes 100% into the buildings’ maintenance.

Gothic Temple, Buckinghamshire

As a charity, our objective is rescuing buildings and giving people inspirational experiences. The running costs of our buildings, once they’re restored, are by and large covered by the income from letting the buildings.

Where we rely hugely on the generosity of our supporters is raising the money to undertake each one of the renovations, and for each we have to look for philanthropic help.

Which are your favourite buildings?

We’ve got a wonderfully varied selection of buildings, catering to a complete variety of different tastes. We’ve got the wonderful 18th century, 13-person country manor, Auchinleck House, where James Boswell was brought up and where he hosted and discussed politics with Dr Johnson during their tour of Great Britain.

In contrast to that, the range includes an incredibly simple fisherman’s cottage on the shore of Caithness in the north-east of Scotland, which sleeps two. Steeped in a very different side of history, it is where generations of people, cleared and relocated from the Highlands, subsequently learnt how to become herring fisherman and sustained a whole new way of living.

Entering each and every one of our buildings seems to feel like you are opening the first chapter of an amazing story about its past, so I can never quite choose a favourite. That is the great joy; the story that each one has to tell is amazing, and you get completely addicted.

Is there a typical Landmark Trust supporter?

We recently had a wonderful gift to a restoration project from somebody who works in fund management. He had been to stay in a Landmark property when he was 22, with friends from university. He now has a vast country place of his own and so doesn’t do those kind of holidays anymore, but he wanted to support us because he found it such a wonderful thing as a young man – going to stay somewhere which provided that kind of window to the past – and he loved the idea that we were doing that, opening the door for others.

We tend to have an audience that is intellectually curious – who want to know more about the past and are also looking to go back to a simpler kind of family holiday. We have a real range of customers – those who are very affluent and those who have very little money – but they share an interest in the value of the precious places in this country, and the pleasure of spending time in them.

What does it take to restore these properties?

It’s a big operation and a long process. Restoring historic buildings is something that takes a lot of time and care, and one of the things we really believe in is looking after buildings and restoring them in ways that mirror the same level of care as when it was first constructed.

We are not about cutting corners or finding cheap solutions. We work meticulously, absolutely to the highest possible standard, employing age-old methods of craftsmanship whilst using the best possible materials.

When it comes to raising the renovation money, we seek help from trusts, foundations and grant-giving bodies, but also from private individuals who see the work that we do as the sort of charitable body that they would like to support.

Once we’ve raised the money, we start on site, and it’s perhaps three or four years from first being approached to seeing a building finally rescued and reopened.

Does a lot of work have to go into making these buildings energy efficient?

One of the big misapprehensions is that historic buildings are somehow intrinsically inefficient, which I don’t think is the case at all. With any building, the way you use it is absolutely key to how energy efficient it is.

We are not the first generation to be concerned about energy efficiency. Millennia of people living in this country have wanted to be warm, and although they haven’t thought about global warming, they have certainly thought about trying to make every joule of heat go as far as possible.

Astley Castle, Warwickshire

All the buildings we have opened in the last three or four years have had a green energy system in one form or another. We do groundsource heat pumps, air source heat pumps, biomass fuel systems – it just depends on what works for each specific property.

The great thing about doing a building restoration project from scratch is that you’re invariably designing a new heating or energy system from the beginning, so you can really think about what works best for the property at hand.

Why should someone book a holiday at a Landmark Trust property?

The thing about staying in our buildings is that it’s completely different. It’s a total escape from the drone of modern life. We have buildings that are focused on the beauty of materials and the quality of furnishings and space. We have modern bathrooms and kitchens in all of our buildings, so it’s not as if you have to rub two sticks together, but we don’t have televisions, Wi-Fi, video games or anything like that.

It’s about lighting a fire, sitting around with your friends, drinking a glass of wine and feeling that you and your companions are writing out your own great story.

Further reading:

Sustainable tourism: people power and destination stewardship

UK green tourism certification scheme ‘most credible’ in the world

Beyond Tourism launched to make sustainable holidaying the norm

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013

Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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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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