Introducing Sustainable September

Sustainable September logoBlue and Green Tomorrow, the UK’s fastest-growing sustainable investment magazine, this year launches Sustainable September, a month long celebration of sustainability. We’re proud to be associate supporters of the month and asked Blue and Green Tomorrow’s editor, Alex Blackburne, to give us a preview of the programme…

At Blue & Green Tomorrow, we believe that all things are connected. How we live our lives, how we invest and how we spend shape our environment, society and economy – not only today, but for the generations of tomorrow.

We already live with yesterday’s poorly informed investment and spending decisions, made by billions of individuals, companies and governments. But today we can make better decisions, if we choose to.

Over a single month in 2014, Sustainable September will explore the interconnectedness of everything. This is not to dismay, frighten or lecture you, but to showcase the truly incredible people and organisations who are taking practical action today to create a better, bluer and greener tomorrow for us all.

Sustainable September features four debates on our core subjects – one per week, covering spending, travel, energy and investment. The month will conclude with a TED-style conference with sustainability’s thought leaders.

The events are as follows:

The Sustainable Tourism Debate – Museum of London, September 3, 6-9pm
“Growth in tourism is undesirable: it is rarely economically, socially or environmentally ‘good’.”

The Sustainable Retail Debate – Royal Geographical Society, September 10, 6-9pm
“Free trade trumps fair trade in helping developing economies.”

The Sustainable Energy Debate – Siemens Crystal, September 16, 6-9pm
“Shale gas and nuclear power will address carbon emissions in the immediate term, far more effectively than renewables.”

The Sustainable Investment Debate – Royal Geographical Society, September 23, 6-9pm
“The purpose of investment is maximising financial return and nothing else.”

Sustainable September: The Event – Central Hall, Westminster, September 30, 8am-6pm
The all-day sustainability event will bring together over 20 visionaries and thought leaders to discuss sustainability, solutions to unsustainability and how we create a blue and green tomorrow.

You can find out more and see the speakers here, or book tickets for any of the events here. There is a 15% discount if you buy tickets to all five events (i.e. you get one debate free) and for those booking five tickets to the main conference event (i.e. 10% group discount).

You can also keep up with all the latest updates by connecting with Sustainable September on social media. Follow the event on Twitter (@SustSept), Facebook (facebook.com/sustsept) and through the dedicated LinkedIn group.

Kicking the habit: how can we quit fossil fuels?

What mix of politics, psychology, economics and technology is required to persuade the world to abandon fossil fuels? Carbon footprinting expert and friend of Ecology Mike Berners-Lee and author Duncan Clark explore the issues in new book The Burning Question. Here, Duncan explains why we continue to extract and burn more fossil fuels than ever…

Image of The Burning QuestionWe have far more oil, coal and gas than we can safely burn. For all the millions of words written about climate change, the challenge really comes down to this: fuel is enormously useful, massively valuable and hugely important geopolitically, but tackling global warming means leaving most of it in the ground – by choice. The climate doesn’t know or care how much renewable or nuclear energy we’ve got, how efficient our cars and homes are, how many people there are, or even how we run the economy. It only cares how much globe-warming pollution we emit – and that may be curiously immune to the measures we usually assume will help.

There are three facts that tell you all you really need to know about climate science and politics. One: for all the uncertainty about the detail, every science academy in the world accepts the mainstream view of man-made global warming. Two: virtually every government, recognising the profound danger of tampering with the climate that allowed human society to thrive, has agreed the world must limit the global temperature increase to 2°C – a level which isn’t by any means ‘safe’ but may be enough to avoid the worst impacts. Three: the amount of warming we will experience goes up roughly in proportion to the total amount of carbon that global society emits – cumulatively.

Here is the rub. Even if we gave up on all the obscure and unconventional fossil fuel resources that companies are spending billions trying to access – and just burned the ‘proven’ oil, coal and gas reserves – it is overwhelmingly likely that we would shoot well past 2°C and towards 3°C or even 4°C of warming. It is impossible to say what changes another three or four degrees would bring, but after less than 1°C of temperature increase so far, we are already seeing some profound changes, including a collapse in Arctic sea ice coverage more severe than even the most pessimistic predictions from just a few years ago.

Given what is at stake, it is no wonder that governments agree global warming must be stopped. But that is where the common sense ends and the cognitive dissonance begins. Because to have a decent chance of not exceeding the already risky global target, we need to start phasing out fossil fuels now at a fast enough rate to bring down emissions globally by a few percent a year, and continue doing so for decades to come. Now compare that with what is actually happening. The growth rate in total carbon emissions in the past decade, at around 2% a year, was the same as that of the 1850s. For all the mounting scientific concern, the political rhetoric and the clean technology, nothing has made a jot of difference to the long-term trend at the global level.

Though our governments now subsidise clean-power sources and efficient cars and buildings – and encourage us all to use less energy – they are continuing to undermine all that by ripping as much oil, coal and gas out of the ground as possible. And if their own green policies mean there isn’t a market for these fuels at home, then no matter: they can just be exported instead.

It is not just governments that are in near-universal denial about what needs to happen to the fossil fuel sector. Blithely ignoring the fact that there is already far more accessible fuel than can be safely burned, pension fund managers and other investors are allowing listed fossil fuel companies to spend the best part of $1tn a year (comparable to the US defence budget, or more than $100 for every person on the planet) to find and develop yet more reserves. If and when we emerge from this insanity, the carbon bubble will burst and those investments will turn out to have been as toxic as sub-prime mortgages. But for now, the fuel is still flowing freely.

Of course, oil, coal and gas use will level off eventually no matter what we do. Fossil fuels are a finite resource and each year they get more expensive relative to renewables and nuclear. But given the continued acceleration not just in fossil fuel extraction but in the production of cars, boilers, furnaces and power plants that need oil, coal and gas to function, there is zero prospect of that happening of its own accord any time soon. Forget peak oil caused by dwindling supplies. At least until we’ve cracked cheap carbon capture, we need to bring about peak fossil fuels. Voluntarily. And soon.

Globally, the vast majority of people want climate change dealt with. But can we bring ourselves to prioritise a safe planet over cheap fuels, flights, power and goods? Can we face calling on our leaders to end the double-think and constrain oil, coal and gas supplies on our behalf? Can humanity muster the restraint and cooperation needed to leave assets worth trillions in the ground?

This article is an edited version of an article written for The Guardian, reproduced with kind permission of the author.

Thinking of switching to an ethical electricity supplier?

Good Energy’s Thalia Dilaveri gives a quick fire guide to sussing your energy supplier’s eco credentials

Image of wind vaneIn a complex and competitive world, ensuring you choose the most ethical products possible can feel impossible. And selecting an energy supplier is in many ways the most confusing of all. The industry is dominated by a few large corporations, primarily selling a product that is damaging to the planet, with a proven track record of misleading consumers to boot.

But there are energy companies out there that have decided to do things differently; you just need to know how to find them. Asking these five quick questions can take you a long way towards separating the green from the chaff.

1. What is your fuel mix?

Fuel mix refers to the electricity a supplier purchases over the course of a year to cover the amount their customers take out from the national grid. In 2012, on average the UK got just 9.2% of its electricity from renewable sources – the vast majority is from coal, nuclear and natural gas.

Good Energy, however, matches all the electricity its customers use over the course of a year with electricity sourced purely from certified renewables like Cornish sunshine, Scottish wind and Welsh rain.
You can see the fuel mixes of all UK electricity suppliers on this independent website.

2. How do I know your tariff is truly green?

Most of the major electricity suppliers offer a green tariff, but unfortunately they’re not all made equal. Many simply assign you some of the green electricity they’re already required to supply, while reducing the amount of renewable energy they provide to other customers. This does not increase the amount of renewables in the national grid.

Good Energy is the only electricity supplier in the country to ensure its main electricity tariff is independently certified by the Green Energy Scheme. This not only guarantees the electricity comes from exactly where we say it does, but that it makes a positive difference to the environment. On behalf of customers on its main tariff, Good Energy invests in renewable heat schemes at National Trust properties, such as the biomass boiler at beautiful Acorn Bank in Cumbria.

3. Do you have any other independent accreditations?

There are a number of independent ethical accreditations for green electricity suppliers out there; Ethical Consumer and the Ethical Company Organisationare two of the best-known and most respected.Ethical Consumer gives each tariff an “ethiscore” out of 20, rating companies on their social, ethical and political record, their company ethos and the sustainability of their products. Good Energy has been named their best green electricity supplier every year since 2003, gaining 15.5 points this year.

Ethical Company Organisation assesses a company’s track record on the environment, animal welfare and human rights. In particular, it looks at pollution records and how much energy it gets from renewable sources. This year, Good Energy was once again the only renewable electricity supplier to receive top marks in the assessment, securing Ethical Accreditation for the ninth year in a row.

4. Do you encourage the development of more sources of renewable electricity for the UK?

With tales of soaring profits at some of the country’s biggest energy suppliers it’s worth asking where this money is being spent: investing a proportion into securing a cleaner, greener energy future is certainly an answer you would hope to hear.Good Energy plans to build 110MW of new generation capacity by 2016. It already has its own 9.2MW wind farm in Cornwall and work on Hampole wind farm near Doncaster began recently. Once complete the site will be home to four wind turbines with a combined capacity of 8.2MW.

5. What measures do you take to make sure your renewable developments are as responsible as possible?

With so many stakeholders, from NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard) and BANANAs (Build Absolutley Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) to politicians, investors and environmentalists, this is an issue fraught with opposing opinions. Ensuring renewable energy developments have a positive impact on the surrounding human and natural environments should be a priority, but in reality this isn’t always the case.

Good Energy has created a Development Charter to clearly lay out the ethical approach it’s committed to when working on new renewable projects. It includes, among other things: offering a discounted electricity tariff to those households closest to any onshore wind farm it develops that is over 4MW in size; and implementing exciting biodiversity action plans to create and enhance local, natural habitats.

The hope is that more companies in the industry will do the same, ensuring an increasingly responsible and ethical renewables sector that puts communities at the heart of renewable energy generation.

This content is adapted from the Good Energy blogEcology Building Society does not necessarily endorse or guarantee the quality or applicability of the products or services listed here. The contents of this web page do not constitute recommendation or eligibility, or any form of financial or legal advice.

SuperHomes: get inspired to go green

SuperHomes Open Days are a great opportunity to speak to homeowners with real retrofit experience. Here SuperHomes’ Gordon Glass, reveals one of the properties opening its doors to the public this September … 

Thanks to the bountiful offerings of their garden polytunnel, Chris Southall’s family enjoys “fresh salad to eat every day of the year”. But, this isn’t the only sustainable thing going down at the Southall residence: their 1930s bungalow has undergone an extensive retrofit enabling them to enjoy near zero energy costs.

The bungalow stands on half an acre in Clacton-on-Sea, where Chris Southall and Rosie Dodds engage in their passion for urban permaculture. Combined with their newly retrofitted home, this means greater self-reliance in terms of energy and food, as well as lower living costs.

Chris and Rosie reuse waste materials scavenged from the neighbouring industrial estate. They burn wood for space heating, water heating and cooking, and recently took on some woodland which they are coppicing for fuel and building materials. It’s very hands-on and certainly keeps everyone fit!

The refurbishment has improved the bungalow’s carbon efficiency by 76% and, thanks to Chris’ skills as a retired engineer (plus a flair for DIY), much of the work was completed at low cost. Solar photovoltaics and solar water heating have been installed, as well as double glazing and cavity wall and loft insulation. You’ll also find some ingenious DIY improvements and some great examples of joined-up thinking.

Chris has also built a greenhouse against the sunny side of the bungalow. The thermal energy that is captured is blown over buried rocks, which store the heat and release it at night, keeping the plants warm. A reed bed purifies grey water from the bungalow ready for use on the vegetable patch and chickens provide fresh free range eggs which, when combined with Rosie’s passion for home baking, are very special indeed.

After dropping in at Chris and Rosie’s place, visitors always leave with plenty of ideas for greening their own homes. The couple will be hosting free open days on 14 and 15 September – you can book a visit here. This is one of over 50 SuperHomes opening to the public in September – older homes that have been renovated by their owners to reduce carbon emissions by at least 60%. To find out more about SuperHome Open Days in September and March, visit www.superhomes.org.uk.

Chris and Rosie outside their urban permaculture home

Chris and Rosie outside their urban permaculture home

Easy PV – Pam’s story

Pam WaringSmall-scale renewables can help you earn money as well as reduce your carbon footprint – but what’s it really like to turn your home into a mini power station? In 2011 our Finance Director, Pam, installed solar photovoltaic panels on her house. She tells us about her experiences…

Our three-bedroom bungalow already had loft and cavity wall insulation, and five years ago we added a solar pipe to channel sunlight into the ensuite shower room, as it has no external walls and therefore no windows. After Dan, our Business Development Officer, installed solar panels on his home, I began thinking about whether it was the next step for us. Although it would be a significant investment, it seemed like the right thing to do. I hated the fact that we were wasting energy from the sun that could be used to power our home.

Dan had already done lots of research into the solar panels and I used the same local family firm that he had chosen. I contacted them in October 2011 and they arranged an installation date, which fortunately was before the rate of the government’s Feed-in Tariffs changed, meaning I could get maximum return for my investment. The company were working flat out to set up as many installations as possible before the deadline.

We already had a mortgage from Ecology and added the cost onto our mortgage using the C-Change Energy Improvements scheme. This gives a discount of 1% off Ecology’s Standard Variable Rate (currently 4.90% – the overall cost for comparison is 5.0% APR) for money borrowed to install energy efficiency or renewable energy measures.

Before the installation, the company came to my house to assess where to put the panels and where the meters would be fitted inside my house. Although there was some shading from trees, there was enough space to get reasonable exposure to the sunlight.

The panels were installed in November 2011 and the process only took a few days, although the scaffolding was up for about a week. We didn’t really have to prepare the house – we just ensured that the installers could access the area inside the house where they would install the meter and inverter. Domestic users can install up to 15 panels, so we had eight panels on our main roof and seven on our extension. Because the back our home isn’t overlooked, none of our neighbours really noticed the difference!

Now that the meters are installed, we can look at how the panels are performing whenever we want. It gets very addictive, especially in the summer! It makes so much sense to use the energy from the sun – I can’t understand why all new buildings don’t have renewables and recycling built in.

We filled out our paperwork for the Feed-in Tariff and submitted the documents via our energy supplier. We had to wait a while for the registration to go through, because lots of people sent in their paperwork just before the Feed-in Tariff rate was cut. We received our first payment in July 2012, giving us £614 for the initial six months of operation. We’re really pleased with the return, especially when we factor in our reduced energy bills.

My one tip for anyone considering installing solar photovoltaic panels would be do to your homework on the firm. Picking the right installers can mean a very smooth operation – and vice versa!

Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage. An early repayment charge may be payable if you repay all or part of your mortgage within the first four years.

Providing the power to save energy

This autumn we launched our innovative partnership with The Energy Saving Co-operative, offering a ‘Fair Green Deal’ to thousands of homeowners across the UK. We asked Ewan Jones, co-founder of The Energy Saving Co-operative, to tell us more…

The UK’s buildings contribute nearly 50% of our final energy demand and resulting carbon emissions. Unlike some other sources, net carbon emissions from buildings can be reduced to zero using simple existing technologies – but people are not yet ‘powering down’ fast enough.

The Energy Saving Co-operative solves this problem. Homeowners, community groups and local tradespeople co-operate to make the greatest energy savings at the lowest cost to homeowners, while creating local jobs from the financial savings.

Outline of Energy Saving Co-operative processThe Fair Green Deal

Our innovative Fair Green Deal gives free, honest and straightforward advice on which energy saving improvements make financial and environmental sense for each building. We then install real energy saving improvements though local tradespeople, benefitting local economies, and provide fair and ethical finance for those who need it. We’re delighted to be partnering with the Ecology Building Society to offer their innovative C-Change Retrofit mortgage discounts to our members.

We’re piloting the Fair Green Deal in Oxfordshire, the West Midlands and East Midlands. In each of these areas, we’re working with established local community groups to reach people who already recognise the importance of saving energy in their homes, and want to take the next step beyond advice to making real and significant energy savings.

The co-operative opportunity

2012 marks the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives, and last week co-operatives from around the world joined together in Manchester to celebrate Co-operatives United. Will 2013 be the year where UK co-operatives take the lead on our great transition towards joined-up sustainable energy?

Mutual and co-operative businesses place people and the planet above the vested interests of financial shareholders, so will play a vital positive role in our learning to live within the earth’s ‘one planet’ resources. Co-operatives also thrive where there is market failure. What could be bigger a market failure than failing to invest to reduce our demands on fossil fuel energy?

Working together, ‘big’ and ‘local’ co-operatives can deliver energy savings that would terrify the shareholders of the big six energy suppliers. That’s why The Energy Saving Co-operative is working to embed the co-operative model throughout the delivery of its services.

As part of the ‘Fair Green Deal’, a new, all female, Birmingham worker co-operative called Energywise is delivering energy assessments for our pilot with Northfield EcoCentre, and social enterprise the Jericho Foundation will install many of our energy saving improvements in Birmingham. In Oxfordshire, worker co-operative R-Eco are installing many of our solar panels, and we’re helping to establish ‘powering up’ community-owned renewable power stations wherever possible (such as the community solar thermal scheme we’re working on in the Barton area of Oxford).

We take our inspiration from the pioneering co-operators who got together in the inns coffee houses of 18th century Birmingham to establish the first building societies – and from the more recent co-operators who established the Ecology Building Society to finance their own energy-saving homes. So we’re delighted to join forces with Ecology: their proposition and values are a perfect fit with ours.