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Vote for Policies crowdfunding to support ‘sustainable democracy’



Vote for Policies, an online service that allows people to compare manifesto policies without knowing which party they belong to, has raised almost £10,000 towards its £20,000 crowdfunding campaign with 12 days left. The organisation aims to improve voter turn out and create more accountability by focusing on party’s policies and promises.

The target amount for the crowdfunding campaign is “a challenge, but achievable” and would help Vote for Policies build on its success, Matt Chocqueel-Mangan, founder of the organisation, said.

He explained, “So far what we have got is a very large experiment, with interesting results, and the fact that is has had as many users as it has without any marketing or funding is great. But to take it to the next level we need a lot of people using it so that you can get a broad demographic from the UK population.”

The money raised through the crowdfund will be used to ensure that the service can reach more people in the run up to next year’s general election. In the six weeks running up to the 2010 election, over 280,000 people used the service. This time, the organisation hopes to reach 5 million people, to help them to understand which party their values and views mostly closely align with.

In the long term, Vote for Policies wants to encourage more voters to engage with politics. It wants voter turn out rates to top 80%, after over a third of the electorate failed to vote in the last general election. Increasing the number of people who cast their vote will help Vote for Policies achieve its vision of creating a “sustainable democracy”, Chocqueel-Mangan said.

If more people voted it could shift ownership of politics, he explained, “I think we would start to see more feedback loops develop, so it would naturally become a more healthy debate between the electorate and the politicians. Essentially it would create accountability, and allow ownership of politics to move back to the voter instead of the politicians.”

However, engaging with the public about politics and encouraging more people to take an active role in the area is a challenge. The media is often full of spin and bias, turning voters off, and tends to focus on a few areas of policy, whilst the rest of the issues are ignored. This has led to many voters feeling unsure of how to vote for.

Chocqueel-Mangan commented, “I think a lot of people don’t know who to vote for because it’s very confusing, I don’t think people trust politicians to deliver on their promises, I think there is a lot of media bias and there’s also a lot of negative campaigning that turns people off from voting.

“I think there are many factors that stop people from voting but it’s certainly not the fault of the electorate. It’s the system that is inaccessible and we need to turn that around.”

Vote for Policies aims to be part of the solution in creating a more accessible democracy by focusing on party manifestos. Currently, manifestos are not user friendly. They are often difficult to read and overly vague. The Vote for Policies platform presents users with the manifestos of each of the parties in particular areas, such as education, health and crime, allowing them to select the one they believe is best, without the spin. At the end of the survey users are shown which political party their answers suggest they should vote for.

Focusing on manifestos not only allows voters to select a party with close beliefs to their own but could also make governments more accountable to their promises. Chocqueel-Mangan said, “The lack of accountability I think is something that frustrates a lot of people and turns people off from voting because what is the point if governments aren’t accountable to their promises.”

When asked if the political parties themselves should be taking action to make their manifestos more accessible, Chocqueel-Mangan said they should.

“But who’s going to make the first move? We can make the first move by saying regardless of whether the manifestos are good or not, they’re what we’re going to take your word on. By us taking the lead it will force parties to get involved.

“I think the forward thinking parties will realises it makes a lot of sense. But the first step, and the most effective step to get better manifestos, is to start voting based on the contents of them now.”

The party that does take the first step in improving their connection with the electorate could potentially boost their support as a result.

People who have used the Vote for Policies service are often surprised by their results, demonstrating a need for manifestos to be more accessible so that voters can use policies to make informed decisions.

If Vote for Policies’ crowdfunding goal is reached, the site will incorporate new features, allowing users to give feedback on their results and their voting intentions, and making it easier for people see what everyone else is thinking in their constituency.

Chocqueel-Mangan concluded, “It could be a real game-changer next year and the crowdfunding campaign is essential to making it happen. We’re particularly interested in hearing from organisations that might want to pledge to be associated with our work and audience, and a socially positive, innovative brand.”

To learn more about Vote for Policies, the crowdfunding campaign and to support the service click here.

Photo: Khairil Zhafri via Flickr

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Further reading:

Vote for Policies crowdfunding campaign tops £3,000

Voting for the next 60 years: Vote for Policies

If we voted for policies at elections, and not parties, the results might surprise us all

Vote for Policies launches crowdfunding campaign to back sustainable democracy

The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014


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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How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool



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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