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Pokemon Go(als)

My two worlds collided last week when I was alerted to the fact that Pokemon Go creators Niantic were ‘standing with the global goals’ and were offering free global goals t shirts to every Pokemon Go players avatars.

Now if you are not familiar with either Pokemon Go or the Global Goals, this next bit is for you:

Pokémon Go is a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. The game was the result of a collaboration between Niantic and Nintendo, by way of The Pokémon Company.  Players create and customize their own avatars, which as the player moves within their real world surroundings, their avatars move within the game’s map. The purpose of this is to catch and collect Pokemon which if you were not a 90’s kid probably need their own explanation.

The Global Goals are the 17 aspirational goals established by 193 countries and United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in 2015. The 17 goals cover the world’s greatest challenges and are underpinned by over 100 targets to eradicate poverty, halt climate change and end inequality by 2030.

Now as an avid Pokemon Goer in my spare time, and a sustainable development professional as my day job I did not see this coming! So why have Pokemon Go and The United Nations paired up on this project?

At the last estimate around 65 million people are playing Pokemon Go each month and perhaps unsurprisingly the majority of players are under 30.

The United Nations and World Economic Forum has said before that that young people are crucial in delivering the goals as they are the people that are going to be most challenged by the current status quo, for example unstable work, low wages, education inequality, climate change effects etc…

So what better way to keep the conversation going about the goals amongst young people than by making it a part of well loved and daily signed in game.

Niantic have asked, “We hope everyone will join us in having their avatar wear the Global Goals shirt proudly to show their support and spread awareness for these critically important Goals.”

It may be a little thing but I have to say it has been heartening to see just how many other Pokemon trainers are wearing the Global Goals shirt as I have been out playing the game. Hopefully this is just another little things that pushes the Global Goals into the consciousness of people, and I shall be doing my bit by wearing my shirt proudly!

Let’s save the World one return form at a time!

This week’s guest post comes from Claudia Cox, a Classics student at Edinburgh University entering her final year of study. Claudia is passionate about sustainability and protecting the environment, and also loves getting involved in social and environmental projects to encourage positive change where possible.

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Why its time online retailers get serious about sustainable packaging

A recent survey by UPS shows that people are now doing 51% of their shopping online (excluding groceries), which is a vast amount in comparison to just a few years ago.

This is great news for the environmental side of things, as customers who tend to shop online rather than in stores have already reduced their carbon footprint by driving less, and research carried out by Carnegie Melon University has found that it is more eco friendly for businesses to be online since they have an overall energy consumption that is 30% lower than traditional shops.

But there’s also another side of the same coin: with increased demand for delivered items also comes the need for more and more packaging.  So it becomes clear that it’s time online retailers up their game and think seriously about the parcels they’re sending out each day and the ways in which they can help reduce their negative impact on the environment.

Who hasn’t, at some point, been shocked by the awfully excessive amount of wrapping they’ve ended up with when ordering a very small item? It is sad to learn that the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in 2012 containers and packaging accounted for 30% (75.2m tons) of total solid waste generated in the US. Using eco-friendly packaging is therefore one of the most important steps companies can take to minimise their environmental impact.

However, conceded that having fully sustainable packaging throughout the supply chain is still a big challenge, it feels like all ecommerce retailers, and particularly the major ones, should be doing more to improve their packaging practices. Technology and innovation has helped to create sustainable alternatives, but big companies should also pay close attention to what startups are doing.

Ecovative, for example, uses agricultural waste to grow packaging in different shapes and the Finnish startup RePack gives customers of online retailers adopting the solution the option of paying a small deposit for reusable packaging at checkout. This deposit then gets reimbursed once the bag or box finds its way back to the company, via any post office in Europe. Others, like ethical clothing company Verry Kerry, have found some creative ways to minimise their environmental impact. Firstly they do not include a return form in every parcel, which on a large scale could amount to a huge saving in paper and ink. Enclosing return forms in every order seems to be a common practice among fashion retailers (ASOS & co) but, as Amazon & eBay demonstrate (with their online return policy), it’s clear that alternatives are available. Verry Kerry also send their (sustainably made) garments in recycled paper mailing bags, which are a great substitute of the commonly used plastic alternatives .

 

This is another way to check your packaging is sustainable, by ensuring that your products are enclosed in materials which are recyclable, as far as possible. For online retailers, this means not using flimsy plastic packaging to wrap items which is wasteful and unnecessary, but rather placing them inside packaging such as a reusable bag or a large recycled paper envelope. This keeps costs and environmental impact down to a minimum. Reducing the overall amount of packaging is also important, for example not using two separate bags for a product where one would suffice, and getting rid of excessive amounts of paper/plastic enclosed within the parcel.

The leading online fashion company ASOS have a list of packaging initiatives in line with these ideas, among which include using lighter packaging to help reduce CO2 emissions from deliveries and recycling packaging from customer returns. However although all their boxes are fully recyclable still only 25% of their bags are, and sadly this is the sort of packaging which is most frequently used by ASOS. It is clear from this that they are only part of the way there, and there is definitely so much more that they, as well as other large retail companies, can be doing to improve upon this.

To summarise, it is crucial that online retailers get their act together and start thinking seriously about how they can reduce the negative effects which unsustainable packaging has on the environment. It is the hope that in the future all retailers will have to adhere to strict guidelines about the way in which they conduct their packaging process, so why not take some initiative and start now, one step ahead of everyone else!

It’s Easy Being Green – How To Travel And Keep Things Sustainable

This is a guest blog from James Hale, a graduate of the University of Kent. Having studied English and American Literature, James now works as a freelance writer, penning his thoughts on anything and everything of interest. He’s passionate about sustainability, and loves helping to spread the word about how we can all factor it into our day to day lives.

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For many of us, sustainability has become an integral part of day to day life – we recycle, we habitually turn off lights, and some of us even cycle to work on a regular basis. But when it comes to travelling, these habits tend to get left at the check-in desk. With so much to organise when planning a globetrotting adventure, going green and being eco-friendly are often the last things on our mind. But there are plenty of steps you can take to factor these things into your travels, without sacrificing the quality of your holiday in the process.

Travelling offers us an escape from our day-to-day lives – a chance to explore new cultures in a liberating and exciting way. On the surface, it might seem that factoring sustainability into our travels would be burdensome.

In reality, it’s a lot easier than you might think. You don’t need to go to the ends of the Earth (pun absolutely intended) to make a difference; the key thing is to understand exactly how travel and sustainability are linked, and what you can do about it.

Condensation trails from aircraft

 

How does travel affect sustainability (and what is being done)?

There are, broadly speaking, two main areas in which travel affects sustainability – the impact it has on the planet, and the impact on the local ecology and economy.

  • Impact on the Planet

In terms of the environment, CO² and other greenhouse gas emissions are the most immediately obvious areas in which travel impacts sustainability. Air travel specifically is one of the most damaging culprits – accounting for 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions annually, and a staggering 781 million tonnes of CO² in 2015 alone.

Fortunately, initiatives are being introduced to reduce these impacts. Airlines are responding positively to carbon-cutting targets, and an increasing number of airports are even fuelling aircraft with alternatives to traditional pollutant fuels.

  • Impact on local economy/ecology

Through its ties with the hospitality industry, travel also has a big impact on local economics and ecology.

Simply put, travelers and holidaymakers need somewhere to stay. Unfortunately this has lead to the dominance, in many popular destinations, of international hotels and corporations. Thanks to global supply chains, these often fail to invest in local culture, buy local produce, or hire local staff.

Even alternative, private accommodation options such as second home ownership can be detrimental to local communities. Properties left vacant throughout the majority of the year are a drain on space and resources, and can stall community development. The rise of popularity of property investment funds and other fractional ownership platforms offers some relief to this issue, but it’s still a huge problem for local sustainability.

Similarly, the activities travelers engage in also have a big effect on local ecologies and economies. UNEP found that some 80% of the expenditure of ‘adventure tourists’ goes to international companies rather than local businesses or workers, damaging local economies. There are however some initiatives, such as WHOA (Women High On Adventure), which aim to tackle this in innovative and inspiring ways.

So what can I do when I go travelling?

Fortunately, you won’t need to overhaul your plans, break the bank, or go to any extreme lengths; factoring sustainability into your travels can even save you money. The key thing is to identify which elements of your travel plans are likely to have the biggest impact, and see if you can make small changes when planning your trip, and during your stay.

Before you embark

Firstly, consider the transport you’ll be taking. In many cases, flying will be an inevitability for excursions abroad or to far-off destinations, but you can still make green decisions. Take-off and landings are the most CO²-heavy parts of air travel, so if possible, choose a direct flight with as few stopovers or landings as possible.

If you’re travelling somewhere closer, consider making a more eco-friendly choice than flying. Trains, for example, offer staggeringly lower CO² emissions when compared with aircraft – and are usually cheaper. It can be tempting to simply want to opt for the faster option, but if train travel is an option, it’s worth exploring.

Another thing to think about is where you’re going to stay (which will depend, naturally, on the type of trip you’re taking).

If you’re planning to stay in a hotel, consider sharing rooms – sharing a space inevitably is beneficial in terms of energy consumption and sustainability. If you’re travelling solo, or are backpacking, options like Airbnb or Couchsurfing could enable you to stay with a host in their home, eliminating any affiliation with large, consumptive hotel chains.

It’s also a good idea to be aware of which corporations, businesses and brands you opt to use. There are almost always multiple options when it comes to booking transport and accommodation (particularly if you use comparison sites), and taking the time to do some research – via online ‘green index’ tools, or simply checking company websites for recognised sustainability certificates – can reveal which of your potential choices are most committed to sustainability.

Things to think about when you’re there

The priority during your time spent travelling should be to enjoy yourself – but there are a few simple things you can do to keep things green, which won’t detract from your experiences.

Try to use reusable containers. If you’re shopping, aim to bring at least one reusable bag with you to reduce plastic consumption. In many places it might be necessary to purchase bottled water, but where you can, use a reusable water bottle too. This is particularly important if you’re backpacking, and it will save you money too – all those Evian bottles add up!

Backpacking!

Think about where you’re shopping too; if you only need a few ingredients for some evening cooking, then shopping at a small local business is a more sustainable option than choosing to visit a huge multi-national supermarket (as tempting as this can be). It’ll also give you a far more authentic taste of the local community and culture, so it’s a win-win. If you’re eating out, try to opt for local restaurants or cafés that source their ingredients locally.

The other main thing to be wary of is the activities you take part in, or more generally, the things you do when you’re on your travels. As appealing as it may be to drive a quad bike through the jungle, or water-jetpack around a harbour, it might be a good idea to limit how many of these environmentally harmful activities you take part in.

Even just being as self-aware as possible can make a difference – if you’re hiking or walking, don’t drop any litter, and if you see any, try to throw it away. Do your best to leave as minimal an imprint on the local ecology as possible – stick to the well-beaten path; even hiking can cause damage over time, but as long as you are conscious of the environment you’re exploring, these effects can be dramatically reduced.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to travel, as with many other walks of life, it’s often the little things that can make a big difference in terms of sustainability. It’s not worth letting an environmentally conscious attitude prevent you from enjoying yourself – you need merely try to be as aware and informed as possible when making choices.

When you’re traveling in the future, simply do some homework; check out the different options available to you, and try to be mindful of what impact you might have. The real goal shouldn’t be to compromise the quality of your experiences, but simply to see if there are more sustainable alternatives, as doing so can save you time and money. Along with a tan and an abundance of photos, you’ll return home with a real sense that you’ve done your bit to keep things green.

How Worried Should We Be About Air Pollution In Canterbury?

Today we have our second guest post from Justin Fox, a graduate of the University of Kent, having studied History here from 2012-2015.

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Situated a good ways south of London amidst the ‘Garden of England’, you could be forgiven for assuming that Canterbury and the surrounding parts of Kent are oasis’s of environmental welfare and a triumph of nature. However, as with any urban hub that has increasingly developed and become more and more built up over time, there is a hidden menace which threatens our health and goes against the most central tenants of sustainability.

Whether you’re based up by the University or in the heart of the city, there’s no getting away from the emissions of industry, transport, and those generated just from day to day living. According to Canterbury Council, their current objective in this regard is to keep a lid on the quantity of nitrogen dioxide being produced and specific attention is being paid to the city centre and surrounding primary roads.

 

The ring road around Canterbury city centre

Naturally when compared to the larger and more densely populated cities across the country, Canterbury is hardly going to be the first location that requires urgent aid. Statistics from Air Quality England since the turn of the year place the city within the lowest ‘band’ of pollution and note that the Strategic Objectives for the area are ‘not exceeded’.

However that’s not to say things are totally fine and there’s no reason for Canterbury residents to be concerned about air quality at a local level. Persistent exposure to unclean air can have all kinds of unforeseen consequences as even low levels of pollution can do damage to someone if they feel its impact each and every day.

The prevalence of agricultural farms on such a scale nearby also could be some cause for concern as a factor driving air pollution as animals on farms in particular are known for being a net contributor to methane emissions. Whilst there’s no denying the valuable economic contribution food production has both countywide and nationally, that as with most things comes with an environmental cost.

Indeed there were worries in the Spring of 2016 that air pollutants from farms within Kent were going to combine with those from mainland Europe and create an ‘agricultural smog’. Various officials recommended that those with pre-existing breathing issues should avoid physical activity and seek shelter where possible, and that anyone else displaying symptoms of breathing difficulties should also stop what they are doing and take things easy.

Westgate Gardens

Overall the point is that despite appearances, air pollution is a serious matter even in locales where you might not think it would be a matter of priority. Whilst comparatively benign compared to larger population centres, that’s not to say work isn’t still needed to better air quality in Canterbury. Newly incoming MP Rosie Duffield had covered the matter in the run-up to the election, so hopefully action can soon be taken to set matters aright. For the time being though individual responsibility is still vital to protecting ourselves from the effects of pollution, as complacency cannot be afforded with an issue that impacts on every one of us.

Mental Health Awareness Week: ‘but you always look so happy!’

My job is sustainability. I talk about it; I encourage it; I care about it; I never stop learning about it; and I am not afraid to try and change how things are done in order to create a more sustainable society.  As many of my fellow sustainability professionals out there will know, this takes an extraordinary amount of energy, resilience and a seemingly endless pot of enthusiasm.

I have had on many occasions people comment on my ‘sunny’ disposition, cheery nature and generally positive attitude, all of which I take as a compliment! However, today I wanted to mention my ‘other side.’

I have suffered with depression and anxiety for ten years. I was diagnosed formally around four years ago and since then I have had to make significant changes to my life in order to manage my condition as much as possible.

To those who I have told, their first reaction has always been, ‘but you always look so happy!’

The reason I am writing about this today is because it is Mental Health Awareness Week and as someone who actively has to look after their mental health daily I am only too aware of some of the misconceptions, fallacies and misinformation that surrounds this topic.

I generally do not talk about my struggles for good mental health beyond my circle of close friends and a couple of extremely good line managers, however, after browsing twitter this morning I saw a few comments and discussions around raising awareness that made me feel able to talk about my condition ‘publically’ for the first time, especially in the context of the job that I do.

I am lucky enough to work in a job where my day to day activities and objectives align quite neatly with my own personal values and therefore my job never feels entirely like ‘work.’ This means the line between the work and the personal can get quite blurry, and even if you are someone with good mental health this can have an effect on you in the long term. Speaking to fellow sustainability professional across different sectors I have heard the same stories of people struggling to leave their work behind when they come home. Even when things are going well I know that my mind cannot quite seem to let go of new possibilities for change despite the barriers of time, resources and energy.

I try and leave work at work now as a habit, although it is easier said than done when it seems that 9 to 5 is not quite enough time to save the world!

And as for ‘you always look so happy!’ Well, hopefully most people are moving towards an understanding that depression is not just about being sad. It can be many different things for many different people. For me it is a lack of confidence; a struggle to find motivation for even the things I like to do; it is energy absorbing and isolating. It is not about feeling sad. I can still crack a joke and to be honest I think my default face is smiling anyway.

On this Mental Health Awareness Week I encourage anyone that reads this to be kind to those around you. The smiley people, the grumpy people, the sad looking ones. With 1 in 4 of us experiencing some type of mental poor health in our lifetimes, it is quite possible that under the surface they are struggling.

And to all my fellow sustainability professionals out there who spend their time fighting for change; take care of yourselves.

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Emily Mason

How Can We Reduce the Environmental Impact of International Industry?

Today we have a guest post from Justin Fox, a graduate of the University of Kent, having studied History here from 2012-2015.

Using the analytical skills he developed during his time here, he now works as a writer within numerous fields, from environmental affairs to politics. Always interested in current affairs and keen to give something back to the University, he saw the launch of the new blog as an opportunity not to be missed!

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As the threat of irreversible climate change draws ever nearer, humanities collective need to tackle the effects of pollution and global warming has never been more necessary. Achieving a sustainable solution to the Earth’s environmental issues is paramount if we wish to continue with our current rate of consumption, and a failure to address key issues affecting the planet is simply not an option looking forward.

Out of all of the various sources of pollutant gases, commercial industry is one of the most notorious contributors. The scale of transport related carbon emissions caused as byproducts of such production is truly shocking, and the statistics tell a similar story. A Chinese study has recently concluded that approximately 22% of early deaths caused by air pollution come about due to production of ‘products destined for a foreign market’. Whilst it would be unfair to make a sweeping statement and say that no action is being taken by corporate giants to reduce their carbon footprint, there is still more work that needs to be done.

Consumer Spending

Arguably, the best place from which to affect change is from the perspective of us as consumers, whose wallets carry significant influence. Quite simply by choosing to purchase more from those companies with a more conscientious environmental agenda, hopefully that can galvanize those who don’t at present into taking action. For example, in the takeaway drinks industry, there are massive problems with disposable coffee cups ending up as rubbish as large chains fail to provide the facilities for the recycling of these cups to take place. Some however have begun to sell reusable alternative cups which whilst a start, seems to be shifting responsibility from supplier to customer, when it should be more of a joint effort between parties.

On the other hand, businesses such as Lush have carved out a niche within the cosmetics industry using sustainability as their unique selling point, to the extent that they can charge more than their rivals and still enjoy a reputation as a top quality brand. More and more young people in particular have been found to take considerate policies such as these into account, so it’s far from the case that cheaper automatically equates to better selling goods.

This culture of sustainability of course though should not be contained within just the one industry, and can be applied to nearly any other, from clothes to car buying. Whilst they tend to be somewhat costlier, environmentally responsible goods are the gateway to getting such ideals to go mainstream, and to affect real change at the top of the business world.

Cut Down on Plastic Usage

Despite being crucial in countless products, there are various forms of plastics that have a terrible effect on the environment, and on wildlife in particular. We’ve all seen the horrific images of animals stuck in various bits of thrown away garbage and aquatic life choking on smaller items, and each case is another argument why more must be done to amend our current ways. Microbeads in particular are notorious, which damage marine life tremendously despite being so minute.

To reduce the scope of this issue, we quite simply need to reduce the amount of plastic that we consume. There’s so much that gets tossed away needlessly, such as with bottled water-roughly 176 billion bottles every year will need disposing of despite it being a resource available (in the developed world at least) from literally any tap. A lot of work needs to be done to restore the world’s oceans and seas, and taking control of the plastic problem is a key element of most plans to do so.

If the usage of plastic is unavoidable however, it’s vital that the adequate facilities are in place to allow for the recycling of the material and that the public is made aware of what forms of plastic can be recycled and what can’t. All too often, recyclable material is instead sent to landfill due to contamination, as well-meaning people have made a mistake and put non-recyclable items in with them. Going forward though the ideal scenario would be for biodegradable plastics to become standard usage in all walks of life, as part of a transition towards 100% recyclable plastics in all forms. Water is quite literally the planet’s lifeblood, and ensuring its security should be one of our highest priorities going forward.

Buying Local

Something that often flies under the radar when discussing environmental practices is the significance of local produce. Typically part of the debate around organic farming and ‘food miles’, by buying local goods, small-scale businesses can profit- businesses that often rely on traditional methods of production which are less environmentally damaging.

The close proximity between producer and buyer also cuts down on transport emissions, which as we discussed earlier is a major cause of air pollution. Getting even a small amount of long-haul lorries off of the roads can only be a good thing, but these local producers rely on the loyalty of their market to survive. Against larger competition who can offer a wider variety of services, it is once more up to us the customer if we are willing to perhaps pay a bit more and look a bit further for the most eco-beneficial bits for sale.

Furthermore from a global perspective, supporting local sources of production is vital for the development of economies in less well-off parts of the world. Aid from wealthier countries whilst well intentioned, often cripples economies as producers of any goods cannot compete with literally free handouts. Developing the global economy at a town and village level is vital to help the planet as it is only when this foundation is laid that sustainable development practices can be introduced. Actively choosing fair trade products wherever possible will do wonders in this respect, providing critical support for those in need and ready to work to create their own solutions.

Apply Pressure on Environmental Offenders

If more diplomatic efforts fail to yield results, unfortunately the best course of action is for concerned environmentalists may very well be to organise campaigns highlighting various companies disregard for nature, so as to turn public opinion against those who refuse to listen to reason.

Such activism may seem exhausting and often fruitless when faced with an opponent with such extensive resources, but many peaceful movements have done a fine job at persuading big business to rethink their approach to sustainability. John Lewis is a prime case where this worked in 2010, when animal activists led a protest against the chain’s usage of wool obtained via ‘mulesing’, a particularly nasty way of obtaining wool from lambs. Their supplier in Australia even agreed to invest $23 million in finding an alternate solution, all thanks to the efforts of a comparatively small group of concerned individuals.

Ultimately, the most powerful weapon that individuals can bring about change to create a more environmentally minded international industrial outlook is to use our money to affect change. Business of all shapes and sizes are inherently profit-driven, and will react to consumer demand if enough of us let them know that we want sustainable practices and sources of goods, even if it costs us a bit extra. Change will come about given time and persistence, and eventually buyers, sellers and all the planet will benefit, thanks to a more thoughtful approach to global production.

Justin Fox

Why water?

Recently I asked the sustainability champions of the University of Kent to pick out one of the Global Goals that resonated with them. A goal that they felt was really important to them, and that they themselves could do something to help make a reality. You can read more about my call to action in our blog post about the Global Goals.

I am not one to issue a challenge without taking it on myself so I looked at the goals and tried to pick one out. Now as a sustainability professional they all resonate with me, so that was not a great starting place for narrowing them down to one. I trained and worked as a wildlife conservationist so found myself drawn to 14 and 15; as an avid gardener and ‘Good Life’ wannabe number 2 seemed a good pick also; I work in Higher Education so number 4 was super important to me; so it was not long before I found myself making a good justification for each of the 17 goals as to what I do and can do for them.

I mulled this over for a few days and then one day it was clear to me. There is one thing I always have on my desk. No matter the time of day, be it my desk at work or home, there is always a glass of water next to me. I tracked how much water I drank in a day, it was close to 3 liters. Then, without getting too graphic when you drink that much water that mean quite a few trips to the loo!

It is something I think a lot of us take for granted, I know I do. I am fortunate to live somewhere where I can access clean water from a tap only a few steps away, and I can go to the loo somewhere safe and clean. This is not the case for everyone.

There is another aspect to this which on this day, March 8th, International Women’s Day makes me think harder about how important access to water is. Figures collated from Water.org from a number of sources including the UN and the World Health organisation show that:

  • Women and children spend 125 million hours each day collecting water
  • Women and girls living without a toilet spend 266 million hours each day finding a place to go
  • Women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection
  • Women and girls often spend up to 6 hours each day collecting water
  • Reductions in time spent collecting water have been found to increase school attendance
  • Globally, 1/3 of all schools lack access to safe water and sanitation
  • Involving women can make water projects 6 to 7 times more effective

I don’t know about you but not being able to access a toilet that is clean, private and safe, especially when on my period sounds frightening and would strip an individual of their dignity. The taboos around menstruation still exist and even in the UK many women will know the dance of hiding sanitary products up their sleeves so they can walk through the office to the loo. Now couple this taboo with schools that do not have anywhere for the disposal of sanitary products, and toilets that only designed for men (urinals). By keeping girls from going to the loo they are not going to remain in school especially as they reach their teenage years, and with the pressure to walk further and further to collect clean drinking water as climate change reduces access to water many girls will miss huge chunks of education.

This is why I have picked Global Goal 6 as my goal to champion.

So, now we know the problem, what can we do?

  • Raise awareness – tell people about this issue
  • Support the Global Goals
  • Support charities that are working on the ground with women where the problem is felt the worst e.g. water.org, Water Aid etc
  • Find out what is happening here in the UK – Homeless women rarely have access to clean toilets and sanitary products during menstruation – http://thehomelessperiod.com/ 
  • Don’t take the access we have to clean water and sanitation for granted!

 

A sustainable food breakdown

Monday saw the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, two weeks of celebrating the Fairtrade movement, raising awareness of what Fairtrade is and what it had achieved, and encouraging people to switch over to Fairtrade where possible.

The University of Kent is a Fairtrade University and has a Fairtrade Steering Group that works to promote Fairtrade to our staff and students, ensuring that we stock an increasing range of Fairtrade products and seeking opportunities to increase our communities knowledge around trade issues.

Fairtrade is one aspect of what I would term sustainable food. Sustainable food, being a grouping of food and drink items that are produced in a way that has a reduced negative impact on our environment and communities. Below I give a breakdown of some of the key areas of that may come under the sustainable food collective; the list is not exhaustive so if you have any others you would like featured here, please let me know! (Header image – Enjoy responsibly by Dan Norris and Ray Shaughnessy)

Fairly traded goods

For more information on fair trade and the difference between fair trade and the Fairtrade Mark please take a look at last week’s blog.

Local Food

There is no official definition for ‘Local Food’ but often we expect local food to be comprised of the following characteristics:

  • Low food miles – the miles the food has traveled from where it was grown/produced to our table
  • Direct sales – the consumer can purchase the food locally often directly from the farmer/producer e.g. through farmers markets
  • Ecological/geographical charateristics – the food has been grown/produced in an area that shares the same ecological/geographical characteristics e.g. same soil type, same flora/fauna diversity etc.

Some people consider the fairtrade movement and the local food movement to be automatically opposed as one requires the shipping of food across the globe whilst the other does not. My personal opinion is that the two can coexist quite happily together. We are not going to be growing locally produced bananas and coffee anytime soon and unless large swathes of the population are prepared to give these items up, why not choose to buy these items through a fair trade cooperative?

The Goods Shed near Canterbury West Station. A great place to buy directly from local producers.

Organic 

The Soil Association … define organic as the following:

“More of the good stuff, less of the bad – Organic means working with nature, not against it. It means higher levels of animal welfare, lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of the land and natural environment – this means more wildlife!”

Anything labelled as organic as a minimum will mean:

  • Fewer pesticides
  • No artificial colours & preservatives
  • The highest standards of animal welfare
  • No routine use of antibiotics
  • GM Free

This is good not only for the environment especially our soil, but also is good for us. In 2015, Government testing found pesticide residues in 43% of British food, and with there being around 320 different pesticides being used it is hard to know exactly what is on and in your food and therefore what is going into your body. The easiest way to eliminate this is buying organic. Find out more about pesticides from the Food Standards Agency.

Seasonality

Seasonality is basically eating food when it is in season. It is as simple as that.

Eating with the seasons often ties in with local food as your local food providers will be changing what fresh produce they sell dependent on the time of year and what they can grow.

Eat The Seasons provides a great breakdown of the benefits of eating with the seasons:

“WHY EAT THE SEASONS?

There are a number of good reasons to eat more local, seasonal food:

  • to reduce the energy (and associated CO2 emissions) needed to grow and transport the food we eat
  • to avoid paying a premium for food that is scarcer or has travelled a long way
  • to support the local economy
  • to reconnect with nature’s cycles and the passing of time

but, most importantly, because seasonal food is fresher and so tends to be tastier and more nutritious”

At the time of publishing we are deep into Purple Sprouting Broccoli season so make sure you pick some up and taste the difference!

Higher Welfare

Often higher welfare for farm animals is considered an ethical issue rather than an environmental, however Compassion in World Farming has done a fantastic breakdown of the environmental consequences of factory farming that, wherever you stand on the ethics of meat and dairy production, is a compelling read for those that are concerned for the environment.

Factory farming has been linked to:

Find out more here.

Conscious meat consumption

Leading on from higher welfare is conscious meat consumption. For some this means going vegan or vegetarian, eliminating meat and dairy from their diets to reduce their personal carbon footprints, take away money from the meat and dairy production industry and/or for health reasons. The associated carbon and water footprint of the meat industry has been covered in many articles.

The Guardian – Giving up beef will reduce your carbon footprint more than cars

Foodtank – Meat’s large water footprint

The Daily Mail – Help save the planet – Ditch lamb for rabbit!

For those that do not want to remove all meat and dairy from their diet there is a way to consciously think about the amount and type of meat you eat, and there are many well known campaigns that support this idea. Click the pictures below for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less waste

From growing to transportation, packaging to our plates there are a lot of opportunities to reduce the amount of waste produced in our food system.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall from River Cottage Fame has been highlighting the issue of wasted food recently bringing this huge issue to the forefront, from campaigning supermarkets to stock ‘Ugly Veg‘ to helping people make the most of their left overs.

Eat Ugly by Harriet Stansall

According to Love Food Hate Waste, throwing good food away costs the average person in the UK around £200 a year, which is not great for your wallet. This total is nothing compared to the amount of food thrown away during productions and from the supermarkets. Organisations like FareShare are working hard to address this issue. “Last year [FareShare} redistributed more food than ever before, enough for frontline charities to provide 18.3 million meals for vulnerable people. Yet hundreds of thousands of tonnes of perfectly edible food still gets thrown away, or used to generate energy or animal feed, every year –  enough to provide at least 650 million meals for people in need.”

Traceability

Knowing where your food comes from has become much easier in recent years with fresh produce in particular being labelled with its origin. This allows the consumer to look out for things such as food miles as mentioned earlier. One area where traceability is crucial to a sustainable diet is fish.

The easiest way to ensure the fish you buy is from sustainable fish stocks and can be traced is to look out for the Marine Stewardship Council’s Blue eco label:

 

“The blue MSC label is only applied to sustainable fish and seafood products that can be traced back to MSC certified fisheries. Supply chain businesses must identify and separate MSC certified product in order be certified to our Chain of Custody Standard for traceability. Every business, along every step of the supply chain, is audited by an independent certification body.  The MSC regularly monitors the supply chain and auditors’ application of the Standard to make sure requirements are being followed correctly.

We also conduct a series of monitoring activities to ensure the robustness of the system. One of the ways in which we ensure our traceability system is working is through independent DNA tests. Tests have been carried out on hundreds of random samples from MSC certified products and have shown that mislabelling is extremely rare. In the last 6 years, less than 1% of samples have been found to be incorrectly labelled on average.” Marine Stewardship Council

The Global Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals for a more sustainable world feature sustainable food. These Goals ask us what we can do as individuals, communities and countries to ensure that we meet these goals 2030. For more information on the goals please visit our blog calling you to action!

Sustainable Food is a crucial part of the goals so after this breakdown how sustainable do you think your plate of food is? Can you change the world for the better three times a day?

“What actually is Fairtrade?”

It is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight today and this year’s theme is ‘Take a Break for Farmers.’ To find out more about this year’s fortnight please visit the Fairtrade Foundation’s website.

To kick things off at Kent we thought we would answer the question that we hear a lot from students:

“What actually is Fairtrade?”

The Fairtrade Mark

 “When you buy products with the FAIRTRADE Mark, you support farmers and workers as they work to improve their lives and their communities.

The Mark means that the Fairtrade ingredients in the product have been produced by small-scale farmer organisations or plantations that meet Fairtrade social, economic and environmental standards.

The standards include protection of workers’ rights and the environment, payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community projects.” The Fairtrade Foundation

Most people are used to seeing these marks on some common food items such as: tea, coffee, sugar and of course chocolate and bananas. It does not end there though, cotton, beauty products, flowers and gold are all available as Fairtrade options.

The Fairtrade Premium

Fairtrade goods you buy will usually cost a little more than you are used to when buying non-fairtade alternatives. This is because an additional sum of money is added – the fairtrade premium. This premium goes directly to the workers and farmers for them to use to improve social, economic and environmental conditions.

Now, not everyone can afford to swap to every available fairtrade product so where you can, make one or two swaps and see where your money goes…

 

Fair Trade

There is of course fair trade outside of the Fairtrade branded mark. Traidcraft provide this simple explanation here:

The definition is not so different but there are differences in trade that is defined as fair and those who are under the Fairtrade Mark.

Controversy

The Fairtrade label has been criticized and that by buying into free market forces it is inherently unfair. By sticking with the same market system it cannot help every farmer and therefore some will remain in severe poverty, especially those who cannot afford to pay the labeling schemes fee.

As a Fairtrade University we are encouraged to stock an increasing range of Fairtrade labelled products which we do and which sell well. However, is this to the detriment of other stock items such as more sustainable local produce or other labelled scheme items such as Rainforest Alliance?

Wherever you sit on this issue it is clear that there is not a one label fits all approach to ensuring producers of our favourite food, drink and other items get a fair price for the work.

If you have any thoughts please comment below or alternatively, submit your own blog to be published here by following the instructions on the Write For Us page.