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Sustainable September: 20 questions with… Manda Brookman



Manda Brookman answers 20 questions on life, sustainability and everything.

Manda Brookman is the director of CoaST: One Planet Tourism network, an independent social enterprise leading sustainable tourism in the Cornwall area, which she also co-founded. She will be speaking at Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Sustainable September Tourism Debate, at the Museum of London on September 3.

Brookman will be arguing for the motion “Growth in tourism is undesirable: it is rarely economically or environmentally ‘good’. Tickets for the evening event are available here.

We want the world to be as blue and green tomorrow as it was yesterday. What’s your mission?

CoaST’s mission is to inspire the tourism industry, and all its related sectors, to become an agent of change – to use its influence to deliver social, environmental and economic benefit. To make change for good.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be in the diplomatic corps, to use communication to bring greater understanding. It makes me laugh now, as some would find me the least diplomatic person they know. But there is not a shred of doubt that communication, persuasion, engagement and not bashing other people on the head is at the heart of bringing about the change we need.

How would your friends describe you?

Hmm. Noisy?

What was your ‘road to Damascus moment’ in terms of sustainability?

I don’t think I had one of those. I was brought up in the Pennines, in rural Wales, and on a Scottish island, amongst other places, and you learn living within your limits, and the importance of social and environmental capital, at the same time as learning to talk.

I never ever threw anything away, because to be perfectly honest we lived in the middle of nowhere, and there were five kids, plus lots of people who ended up being homed by us because of life difficulties, so you looked after what you had and nothing was rubbish. Living sustainably was about living in a way that was able to be sustained. So it was sort of common sense. No biggie.

Who or what inspires you?

Brave, principled people who stand out and go against the grain to do what’s right. This picture shows one such: August Landmesser, who married a Jew, and was imprisoned and persecuted by the Nazis as a result. He’s the only fella in this photograph not taking the Nazi salute. And he’s doing it entirely out of personal principle, surrounded by compliant colleagues, completely isolating himself to no personal gain, risking everything, and not even knowing or caring that someone was capturing his principle on camera. He’s what we could call a “positive deviant”. Thank God for people like him. He’s the sort of person who inspires me.

What really grinds your gears?

Disingenuousness, cruelty, small-mindedness, selfishness, lack of imagination (with no excuse), inability to think in systems (linear, reductionist thinking), any form of prejudice; the things that grind people down so they say I’m just a number, or it’s not my problem, or it’s too difficult, or I can’t.

Making small problems into big ones. Can’t bear that. A partner used to say I saw illness as a moral failing; that’s not quite true, but I can’t bear unnecessary negativeness or self-pity. There are plenty of real bad things; we can’t go round making the small ones out to be a big deal, too! I suppose it’s the opposite of positive deviance – negative compliance?

Describe your perfect day.

Anywhere in the world laughing with my children until we can barely breathe.

What do you see when you look out your window at home?

Green. And blue. Trees and trees and trees. And sky. And chickens, demolishing my seedbeds.

What do you like spending your money on?

Erm. Never thought about that. I don’t know. I like finding a bargain, especially second-hand stuff; but that’s not really about the exercise of spending, as such.

I definitely don’t see shopping as a leisure activity, and nearly fell over in exasperation when some of our local councillors expressed a desire to have a big supermarket near our town so that it could become “a shopping destination”. Where to start? Citizen not consumer!

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

I think I prefer traveling to “going on holiday”, and I prefer seeing stuff that makes my head go into overdrive.

Like looking out of train when I was travelling over land to Cyprus, rattling through Romania and Bulgaria in an ancient 1940’s German rolling stock. I took five books, and never opened one – the outside was transfixing. I watched hour after hour of landscape of tiny scraps of land, being farmed by two or three people, late into the evening, with pitchforks and donkeys, and then realising that they were all in their seventies and eighties. I live in a different world to them, and then they looked up to see the train, something they could never afford to use, and smiled, and waved, full of welcome. I waved back for hours, utterly humbled.

What’s your favourite book?

Oh good God. Far too many. Grapes of Wrath, Oryx and Crake, The Limits to Growth, Prosperity Without Growth. I think Grapes of Wrath should be read by every politician before they are ever allowed to utter a word.

What’s your favourite film?

Far too many to even begin to have a favourite.

You’re made prime minister. What’s the first thing you do?

Get every politician to read Grapes of Wrath. Then I’ll quiz them on it.

If you were stuck on a desert island, which famous person would you like to be stuck with and why?

I would like to speak to the people who without a doubt tried to tell the Mayans, the Incas, the inhabitants of Easter Island, the Anasazi peoples, that living outside your limits is a rubbish plan; then what they would do differently now, given they failed to stop their own communities from collapsing so catastrophically. We need their expertise and lessons learned, and I would say pretty urgently.

What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given? And the worst?

I’ve been given much advice over the years, covering the whole spectrum of brilliant to completely deranged.

One of my faves, from a very close friend, colleague and manager, was to  “Be careful – but not too careful”. That stayed with me. Don’t be so cautious you never achieve anything. Rather like my grandma and mother: “He what never made a mistake, never made anything”. Damn right.

Worst advice? From someone whose support we needed to secure money: “Environmental input does not lead to economic output ”. That, needless to say, I roundly ignored. I said we’d get the money without their support. We did.

What would you like to be doing five years from now?

Playing a full part in a joined up, systems based, social and environmental impact focused, circular economy at a local and national level, prodding for better, learning a new skill every year, playing the cello without my ears hurting, teaching more and more big and little kids to get outside, get mucky, starting investing back in our natural systems, and to slow the *&^% down, and grow lots and lots of green stuff.

What’s your biggest regret?

That I can’t remember every single day of my children’s lives in every single minute detail as they were growing up, from the socks they wore to the expressions on their faces, so I can value it now for the extraordinary thing it is to have and be with children  – because you never do at the time.

What one thing would you encourage readers to do to make their life more sustainable?

Think in systems. The knee-bone’s connected to the hipbone; the World Bone’s connected to the us Bone. See how everything is connected to everything else, and everything you do can have an impact. Makes you do things differently.

What’s the one idea that you think could change the world for the better?

If we better understood that eco-logy means knowledge of our home, or resource; and eco-nomy means management of our home, or resource. They’re rather more connected than we tend to think. It’s about working in systems, and investing IN them, rather than extracting FROM them.

What’s your favourite quote?

“Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Go, Margaret Mead!

Take our 2014 reader survey and you could win an iPad, Kindle or donation to a charity of your choice.

Further reading:

Yates, Brackenbury and Watson confirmed for Sustainable September Tourism Debate

Museum of London to host Sustainable September Tourism Debate

Tickets on sale for Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Sustainable September events


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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.


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