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Stockwood CBS: putting a local farm in the hands of the people

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Blue & Green Tomorrow’s core aim is to encourage readers to buy from, and invest in, businesses that balance the needs of the planet, its people and all of our prosperity. One such organisation is Stockwood Community Benefit Society.

Formed to preserve and protect the 150 acre Rush Farm, near Redditch in Worcestershire, it was recently unveiled as the latest product available on the social investment website Ethex.

Ethex is aiming to raise £425,000 or more so that Stockwood CBS can bring Rush Farm and the nearby business park into community ownership – boosting its already significant contribution to the local people and the environment.

Founder Sebastian Parsons took some time out to speak to Blue & Green Tomorrow about why opting to invest in Stockwood would be a wise choice.

What is Stockwood CBS?

Stockwood Community Benefit Society is a trust created to bring Rush Farm and Stockwood Business Park into community ownership and to ensure they benefit society forever. Rush Farm is located in the hamlet of Stock Wood and the business park is located on the farm.

Stock Wood is near Inkberrow, a large village in north-east Worcestershire. Rush Farm is a biodynamic organic farm with outstanding natural habitats that are part of the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.

Stockwood CBS objects extend from the farm into the development of ethical business, better environmental practice and training in rural, environmental and ethical business skills.

What problem is Stockwood CBS uniquely solving?

The first problem is how to protect the natural environment in a sustainable way for wildlife, human beings and the planet. The way Stockwood CBS is solving the problem is unique.

Fordhall Farm in Shropshire set the model for protecting land through community benefit societies. Stockwood CBS develops the model by adding in the financially robust and sustainable Stockwood Business Park. This means that Stockwood CBS will be able to pay an interest coupon to investors of 5%.

The second solution Stockwood CBS is modelling is the ownership of mainstream capital assets (the business park) in a supportive and developmental community, without investors sacrificing their wealth.

Why do you do what you do? What are your drivers or inspirations?

We are passionate about biodynamic organic farming and ethical business. We believe that profit is a prerequisite of commercial enterprise, not a reason for commercial enterprise.

We believe that all people should have the opportunity to work in organisations that are driven by purpose rather than profit because a sense of worth is fundamental to happiness, and happiness is as important an aspiration as financial security.

By working with Rush Farm and Stockwood Business Park in a modern transformative capital structure such as the CBS we successfully work towards our goals.

Why should people invest in the company, either through Ethex or direct?

Investment in Stockwood CBS empowers us to deliver our mission – to preserve the beautiful Rush Farm for the community, and to create meaningful rural employment through the business park.

But we think Stockwood CBS is also a good investment. This is a relatively low-risk project, with good tenant retention over a long period, and a stable and established management company with excellent tenant relationships. At the same time it offers a very reasonable return.

What will the investment help you to do? And what will investors get out of it?

The investors will become part of a community which is based on a beautiful farm and they can engage with that community as much or as little as they like. There are farm working days, training courses in biodynamic gardening and farming, and we will develop a programme of courses in rural skills, ethical business, ethical leadership and property management.

They can also engage with the land, through volunteering on the farm, walking the land, and joining in with our programme of festivals and events.  Upcoming is Rush Farm Fete, and for 2014 we are planning a music festival to celebrate midsummer.

Stockwood CBS is holding an open day, the Rush Farm Fete, on August 3. For more information, see here. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in investing in the business, you can do so through Ethex.

Further reading:

Ethex: empowering education into ethical investment

Sustainability at the heart of food and agriculture

Rob Hopkins: Transition Towns is the only ethically defensible thing to do

Harnessing the power of a community

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

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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Environment

How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool

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eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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