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‘If an election were held tomorrow, Ed Miliband would win by a landslide’

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The headline for this piece is taken from a Daily Telegraph article from Wednesday. We imagine our readers will either be horrified or rejoice at the news. With 100 weeks to go until the next UK general election, we look at how the coalition is doing on its agreement and the prospects for 2015.

The 2015 general election will be fought under very different circumstances to the one in 2010.

The coalition parties, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), will be trying to differentiate themselves after five years of governing very closely together. The economy may have started to recover. Scotland may have voted for independence (September 18, 2014) and a referendum on EU membership will play a central role in the general election campaign.

UKIP, which will campaign very loudly on this issue alone, will be a wildcard after another boost to its momentum following the European elections of 2014.

In 2010, an effective challenger could have easily beaten a tired and divided Labour party with an unpopular leader denigrated by the press.

The economy was still in crisis and national debt (not to be confused with the deficit) was rising fast from 44% of GDP in 2008 to 79% in 2010. In 2012, it stood at 90%. Between 1997 and 2007, debt as a percentage of GDP had fallen from 51% to 38% in 2001, before gradually rising to 44% before the crash, according to Eurostat.

– National debt – the total owing by government

– Deficit/surplus – the difference between tax receipts and government spending, which adds or subtracts from the national debt

The electorate, instead of handing the keys to number 10 to the then opposition, denied any party an overall majority.

The Conservatives gained 36% of the popular vote giving them 47% of the seats, just 3% and 20 seats short of a majority. The second most popular ‘party’ was ‘none of the above’, with 35% of the electorate not bothering to vote.

Labour gained 29% of the vote and 40% of the seats. The Lib Dems gained 23% of the votes and 9% of the seats.

If those votes-to-seats figures look strange, such are the quirks of the first past the post system. The alternative proportional system distributes seats to reflect the actual proportion of votes. If you get 10% of the votes, you get closer to 10% of the seats. This was defeated in the AV referendum in May 2011, 68% to 32% on a 42% turnout. Electoral reform seems to be too esoteric for people to care.

The subsequent Conservative-Lib Dem coalition ostensibly formed to provide political stability, tackle the economic crisis and address uncertainty in the markets. It bound itself together with a 36-page coalition agreement.

Four areas of the agreement were of specific interest to us: banking, energy and climate change, environment and transport.

What the agreement says on banking

“In recent years, we have seen a massive financial meltdown due to over-lending, over-borrowing and poor regulation. The government believes that the current system of financial regulation is fundamentally flawed and needs to be replaced with a framework that promotes responsible and sustainable banking, where regulators have greater powers to curb unsustainable lending practices and we take action to promote more competition in the banking sector. In addition, we recognise that much more needs to be done to protect taxpayers from financial malpractice and to help the public manage their own debts.”

While the government claimed in January that the stability of banks had improved our banking system remains as unstable as it was before the crash.

Despite the Vickers’ review and various committees calling for better regulation, speculative investment divisions and retail banks remain integrated, despite promises of ringfencing. More scandals have ensued. The major banking groups still dominate the market and fail to lend to SMEs.

The reform of regulation from one three-letter abbreviation to another will have to prove itself in the next couple of years.

We need more sustainable banking and investment. Breaking up the big banks to increase competition and separating the investment and retail divisions to reduce systemic risk should be a core part of the next government’s manifesto.

The publicly owned banks should be broken up and mutualised to reenergise the mutual banking sector. Banks should only be allowed to draw on government money and guarantees only if they lend to the SME sector.

What the agreement says on energy and climate change

“The government believes that climate change is one of the gravest threats we face, and that urgent action at home and abroad is required. We need to use a wide range of levers to cut carbon emissions, decarbonise the economy and support the creation of new green jobs and technologies. We will implement a full programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for a low carbon and eco-friendly economy.”

The government has been anything but the greenest government ever.

The resignation and fall from grace of Chris Huhne did not help. His successor Ed Davey has had to work with climate sceptic ministers and a senior partner party, which is deeply sceptical – and well connected to the fossil fuels lobby.

The creation of the £3 billion Green Investment Bank was a positive step. £1 billion for carbon capture and storage alongside the rise in renewables contribution to the grid is positive.

The decision not to create a decarbonisation target showed little leadership and messing with feed-in tariffs was disruptive to this infant sector; overall investment in renewables has fallen; the green deal is a farce.

Backing shale gas, gas-fired power stations and offering even more subsidies to energy intensive and fossil fuel industries smacks of business as usual. This hardly seems like the actions of a government addressing one of the gravest threats we face.

The UK’s capacity for cleantech innovation should make us a global leader in renewables. Our tidal, wave and offshore wind capacity could turn us into a net exporter of energy.

Rather than dithering over nuclear and fanning divisions over renewables, the government should support this infant industry with research and development grants, tax incentives and an unbiased public information campaign – that tackles head on the disinformation spread by the mainstream media.

What the agreement says on environment, food and rural affairs

“The government believes that we need to protect the environment for future generations, make our economy more environmentally sustainable, and improve our quality of life and well-being. We also believe that much more needs to be done to support the farming industry, protect biodiversity and encourage sustainable food production.”

The government’s relaxation of planning laws and abandoned plans to sell of forests has shown little concern for protecting the environment for future generations.  Illegally logged timber remains legal and there is no sign of a tree planting campaign. Our flood defences, as demonstrated last year, are in a shocking state.

We need to protect our environment. Brownfield sites should be used for development before any greenfield sites are touched. A land value tax would stop land banking by property developers and asset owners. We need a root and branch reform of how we support farmers, mitigating the hardship they face and encouraging sustainable practices and permaculture.

What the agreement says on transport

“The government believes that a modern transport infrastructure is essential for a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy, as well as to improve well-being and quality of life. We need to make the transport sector greener and more sustainable, with tougher emission standards and support for new transport technologies.”

While HS2 and Crossrail are bold developments, they do too little too late for the herculean transport challenge we face. Our roads are gridlocked, air capacity full and rail struggling under record passenger numbers. The coalition has boasted about a significant expansion in the road network – which is a recipe for greater congestion.

We need to invest in highly efficient, low-cost local rail and public transit. If we want our transport to keep moving, we need to charge more for inefficient road use. Modern transport infrastructure is digital communication and mass transit.

Does Labour offer a credible alternative?

Despite the Telegraph’s headline, we have yet to see enough of Labour’s detailed policies to determine whether they offer a sustainable alternative.

What we desperately need is the major parties to engage in an informed and serious debate about sustainability. Businesses, communities and individuals get it. It remains our nation’s loss that our politicians do not understand the gravity of the situation or are not willing to lead on this debate of vital national importance.

In the absence of real political leadership single-issue parties and voter apathy will keep rising.

Further reading:

Ed Miliband’s Bedford speech heavy on rhetoric, weak on action

David Cameron still needs to show real leadership in delivering a sustainable recovery

Ed Miliband: “I believe we have duty to leave the world a better place than we found it”

Slaying a new dragon: environmental ennui

Are we the zealots of a new religion; an environmental Taliban that is silencing dissent? Not really

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.

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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Energy

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

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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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