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Think-tanks think sustainability: #3

In the final instalment of this three-part series interviewing representatives from the UK’s leading think-tanks, Alex Blackburne speaks to Dustin Benton, from the Green Alliance, about sustainability.

The Green Alliance is one of the UK’s foremost green think-tanks.

Founded in 1979, it boasted environmental writer Maurice Ash and former Lib Dem and Green Party Life Peer Tim Beaumont, amongst its supporters during its fledgling stages in the 1980s.

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In the final instalment of this three-part series interviewing representatives from the UK’s leading think-tanks, Alex Blackburne speaks to Dustin Benton, from the Green Alliance, about sustainability.

The Green Alliance is one of the UK’s foremost green think-tanks.

Founded in 1979, it boasted environmental writer Maurice Ash and former Lib Dem and Green Party Life Peer Tim Beaumont, amongst its supporters during its fledgling stages in the 1980s.

According to senior policy adviser, Dustin Benton, the Green Alliance has two roles.
“The first is to act as a think-tank, which means understanding policy and bringing green ideas to the mainstream”, he says.

“The second is to be an environmental advocate, by understanding political decision making, helping to change policy and working with partners to advocate proposals that are influential across the whole political system.”

On its website, the think-tank sets out the six themes it covers – one of which is called ‘Climate and Energy Futures‘, which explores “the need to develop the infrastructure necessary to secure a low carbon future for the UK“.

So far in this series of think-tank features, the whole nature of climate change has been responded to in rather differing ways. Philip Booth of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), for example, insisted that individuals should be sceptical about climate science, whilst Reg Platt of the Institute of Public PolicyResearch (IPPR) outlined the need to avoid the “calamitous changes” brought on by climate change.

Out of the two previous interviewees’ views, Dustin Benton and the Green Alliance are on a similar wavelength to the IPPR.

“I think we’re very much in line with the scientific mainstream”, Benton says.

“Climate change is happening and it’s driven by human activity – I don’t think anyone spuriously disputes that.

“There is more scientific uncertainty about the effects and extent of climate change, but there’s a very high likelihood that the impacts will be pretty terrible, so we need to address climate change by limiting our emissions.”

He relates his comments to the Climate Change Act 2008“the world’s first long-term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of climate change”, and a law that the Green Alliance obviously backed.

With regards to the organisation’s stance on sustainability, Benton is quick to point that it’s not about balancing economic needs with social and environmental ones as my question to him suggested, but instead, is about “ensuring that social and economic aims are pursued within the context of environmental limits”.

“Bringing in this idea that the environment is the context, under which everything else operates, helps you to align any goals that you have within the environmental context, and you’re able to pursue the economic and social goals that you feel are appropriate”, he says.

He relays a quote to me by Gaylord Nelson, one of the principal founders of Earth Day, who said, “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around”.

“If you don’t have an environment”, Benton explained, “You don’t have an economy”.  This echoes Ben Goldsmith quoting his father in a recent interview, who said, “There’s no business to be done on a dead planet”.

He points out that the fight against climate change, and ultimately the need for a sustainable world is not only absolutely essential, but it’s also feasible.

“If everyone lived as we do in the UK, we’d need three planets worth of resources to support us. In the US, it’s five going on for six, and even in the developing world it’s nearly two.

“A lot of what we’re doing is unsustainable, and I guess you could call that irresponsible, but the point is that we have the potential to change this.

“We can become sustainable, and that’s going to take clear policy, innovation, particularly amongst businesses, and behaviour change from individuals.”

To investigate these three requirements in more detail, the “clear policy” comes from worldwide governments. The Climate Change Act 2008 is a good start, under which carbon budgets were introduced. Then there is the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) 2050 Pathways Analysis, which looked into the measures needed in order to reduce the analogical number of planets needed to support the country.

Other examples of government leadership are the Habitats Directive (although these look to be relaxed after this week’s Autumn Statement) and the Water Framework Directive, both of which are crucial if we are going to make sure the valuable species and habitats stick around.

Benton goes on to explain how, on top of leadership, governments must also “translate science into something which we can act on“, as well as “setting the framework for innovation“.

He explains the second requirement – “innovation, particularly amongst business” – with reference to one of the world’s most famous brands, Coca-Cola.

“It has managed to make a product that is basically sugar water, so attractive, that there are literally people who would carry big boxes full of glass bottles on their backs up mountains in Nepal, so that tourists can drink this stuff.

“That’s an incredible amount of motivation. If we could turn that power of marketing to sustainable aims, to help people to reduce their energy use for example, then that would be a fantastic thing that companies can do.

“Companies need to be innovative and deliver on that innovative potential. We need change, and we need innovation in order to be sustainable.”

The third requirement is, “behaviour change from individuals“.

“Ultimately, individuals have to give the mandate to politicians to act to improve to the environment, and they have to give politicians the message that we are all adult enough to accept short term costs if that means that we get a better environmental economy out of it”, Benton explains.

“That’s not an easy thing to do, particularly in the middle of a recession, but that’s absolutely crucial.

“The other thing to do is to actively choose both lifestyles and products and services from companies which are sustainable.”

He calls for change. Change within government, change within businesses and change within individuals’ behaviour.

To repeat what he already said, though, “We have the potential to change this. We can become sustainable”.

If you would like to find out more about investing in sustainable companies or would like to know how you, as an individual, can help to make a difference, ask your financial adviser, if you have one, or complete our form and we’ll connect you with a specialist ethical adviser.

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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