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International Women’s Day 2019: Whose job is it to save the world?

Blog post by Emily Mason. Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Kent. 


On this International Women’s Day I wanted to just write a short note on something that has been intriguing me for a while now and perhaps start a conversation with others in the sector to see if they experience the same.

I have been working in sustainability within Higher Education (HE) for just over 8 years now and I have noticed something that is perplexing me. Whenever I recruit student volunteers onto a sustainability project or internships, or when teaching sustainability modules, the people that show up are predominantly women. Thinking back across all the projects I have run it is a very rare occasion that men make up more than 25% of the room.

This doesn’t go unnoticed. The students themselves often ask me if this is normal to which I answer yes. But when they ask why, I cannot answer them, as I do not actually know. I often ask the students why they think this is the case and I have heard a wide variety of responses but the one that is most common is:

“Caring roles are often associated with women, so why should caring for the planet be any different.”

There have been lots of variations on this of course but this particular student’s words have stuck in my head. I ask students how they feel about this and many including the men express frustration that 1: caring roles across society are undervalued 2: that any role/job is gendered 3: and that the sustainability movement in HE should not be left up to women to sort out.

A few of the male students have expressed that many of the projects within sustainability are collaborative and that they have to check their ego at the door and try not to assume a leadership role, and sometimes this can be a little difficult, but also rewarding.

Now these anecdotal experiences do not a reason make and despite trying to find some research on this I have come up empty. However, when chatting with those who do a similar role to me at other Universities I have found that I am not the only one experiencing this. If anyone does know of any good research or insights on this then please send it my way!

Last year Green Business reported on gender in the sustainability industry and despite the clear wealth of talented women who are becoming professionals in sustainability there was an alarming discovery:

“In sustainability roles, women are earning less than men. According to the latest CR Sustainability survey from recruitment consultants Acre, published in 2016, the global average salary for corporate responsibility professionals stood at £67,408 for men, compared to £55,148 for women. This is despite there being a 51:49 gender split in the industry in favour of women. In the UK, average corporate responsibility salaries are £63,180 for men and £52,170 for women. While there are signs that the sector’s gender salary gap is narrowing, it is still most definitely there.

And it’s not just in the business world that this pattern of gender inequality plays out. At the UN negotiations in Bonn last year, almost half of attendees were women but under 30 per cent of government delegations were led by women. Here too, women are not equally represented at the top of the ladder.”

So whilst the gender ratio seems to even out in industry the gender pay gap rears its ugly head. It seems the future focused industry of sustainability is not immune to backward thinking.

I recommend reading the whole article which gives some valuable insights into why this is the case in our industry as well as many others.

So whose job is it to save the world? Obviously it is all of ours (in particular the 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions) but I am yet to get to the bottom of why within HE it is female students that are leading charge of sustainability. Whatever the reason, I hope that by the time some of them are sustainability professionals and leaders, they are being paid the same as their male counterparts.

Eating, Building, Moving: 3 Industries That Could Hold The Key To A More Sustainable Future

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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It’s not uncommon to see concerns about sustainability appearing in the news. While unfortunately it’s not always to decry a positive update, it’s certainly a good thing that this vital issue is so prominent in the public eye. One recent story, however, caught my eye – the news that some of the world’s most prominent investors have called on the largest fast food companies in the world to act urgently on the climate and water risks in their supply chains.

This got me thinking a bit. Of course this is a step in the right direction, but one statistic jumped out at me: “animal agriculture is the world’s highest-emitting sector without a low-carbon plan.” This makes perfect sense with the sheer scale of animal farming in mind. But which other industries are the most harmful to our natural world? And where are the most significant opportunities for change and improvement?

After a little bit of digging, a few stats emerged that I found fairly surprising. Particularly the fact that 71% of all man-made emissions since the dawn of the industrial age have come from just 100 companies. We’re constantly reminded of the things we can do to improve our carbon footprint – recycling, bringing our own bags when we shop, turning the lights off. But it’s clear that while we all have a part to play, the largest responsibility falls on industry. But which industries?

With this in mind, and following on from some of the other posts I’ve written for the sustainability blog, I thought it would be good to take a look at a few of the industries that have – or could have – the biggest impact on the environment, and in particular, those with the potential to have the most positive effects if appropriate steps are taken.

How to define environmental impact

But first, a quick note. It’s very easy to band about phrases such as ‘environmental impact’ without much clarity on what they actually mean. With the risk of being reductive in this sense, I think it’s important to establish how we actually define how ‘environmentally friendly an industry is.

A simple approach can be to simply look at the cumulative estimated emissions (in the form of various greenhouses gasses such as Co2, methane or nitrous oxide) that a given industry is responsible for. But while this is a vital statistic, focusing solely on this one aspect of sustainability arguably isn’t the best way to paint a wider picture.

Instead, for the purposes of this article, I’ve decided to take a slightly broader approach, and consider the far-reaching and hypothetical impacts an industry can have. This includes things like the role an industry has on consumer behaviour, the potential it has to change the way we act and live, and various ways different supply chains can impact the natural world. Basically, we’re talking big picture, and I’m not trying to make any definitive claims!

1: Agriculture/Food production

It makes sense to start with the industry that triggered this train of thought. Food production is one of the building blocks of our civilisation, and it’s hard to underestimate its scale and potential impact. The agriculture industry is so vast, and involves so many different stages and sub-industries, that it clearly takes responsibility for a huge majority of our global carbon footprint.

How does agriculture affect the environment?

This is hard to summarise succinctly and with any true degree of accuracy, but simply by considering the vast number of elements involved in the agriculture industrial supply chain, it’s easy to see just how significant its impact is. It would be foolish to attempt to list all of these, but instead let’s look at a few diverse elements:

Deforestation

In order to farm, land is required. And in order to make more land available, those pesky forests that produce oxygen and provide a self-sustaining biodiverse ecosystem need to go. According to British environmentalist Norman Myers, 5% of deforestation is due to cattle ranching, 19% due to over-heavy logging, 22% due to the growing sector of palm oil plantations, and 54% due to slash-and-burn farming (burning large areas to create a layer of ash, resulting in nutrient-rich soil.)

Food packaging

Single-use disposable plastics for packaging food are a hot topic at the moment, and the absurdity of the amount of plastic we use in food packaging (think mushrooms wrapped in clingfilm in a plastic holder wrapped in clingfilm) is hard to deny. It’s easy to forget that this is a part of the food production industry, but with food products representing a huge amount of our regular purchases, this is a vital consideration.

Pollutants

 

When producing food, all kinds of pollutants are used in the process. From pesticides and herbicides used to ensure quality, to emissions from farming equipment and machinery, and even the pollution of surface and groundwaters from waste, the agriculture industry contributes a staggering number of pollutants to the environment en masse every year.

How could agriculture make a difference?

Far be it for me to suggest how to fix the agriculture industry, but it’s worth noting that on the whole, if broad and far-reaching improvements were made to the way we farm and distribute food produce, the impact on the globe could be massive. If we’re going to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, big changes are needed in farming.

Fundamentally, a global shift towards agreed upon low-carbon guidelines and plans would be an important first step. Agreements between suppliers on clear policies that take steps to reduce freshwater impacts and reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be vital. Similarly, while industries such as the automotive industry have taken steps towards quantitative accountability, it’s crucial that global quantifiable agriculture targets are agreed upon, set, and regularly reported on. Put simply, we need a clear, numbers-driven plan to reduce the harm farming is doing to the environment.

The widespread adoption of sustainable practices including water management, healthy soil maintenance, pollution reduction and biodiversity promotion will be essential – and these will need to be established in clear guidelines and targets for farmers and producers to meet. If we can achieve this, the potential positive impact – or at least the reduction of the current scale of damage – is hard to understate.

2: Construction and Building Design

However well (or poorly) we treat the environment as a society, we still have to live in it. As humans have evolved, we’ve increased our proficiency in design and construction to such an extent that architecture has become one of the most significant industries in terms of our impact of the natural world.

I wrote an entire piece about this on the sustainability blog a little while ago, but seeing as we’re discussing industries with the biggest role to play here, I would be remiss not to include it again. I’ll provide a slightly condensed analysis this time though!

How does architecture affect the environment?

Put simply, the buildings we construct and reside in have a huge effect on how sustainably we live as a society. The supply chain involved in architecture is vast, but generally the impact of building design comes down to two things: construction, and the way we use buildings in the long term.

Construction

The construction industry alone is responsible for a huge amount of environmental damage, which can be attributed to a few different key areas. These include waste (60 million tonnes of materials are disposed of every year without ever being used, due to damage or inaccurate ordering), the emissions from large-scale and long-distance transportation of materials and machinery, and on-site emissions, identified as one of the main causes of CO2 pollution in the UK (with up to 40% of carbon emissions attributable to construction).

Building use

It’s not just the way we construct buildings that has a profound and measurable effect on the environment – it’s the way we use those buildings too. Once construction is complete, a structure’s environmental impact doesn’t go away, it changes. The parameters are different, but the effects are just as significant.

The way a building provides heating, water, ventilation, and energy all play a part in its overall sustainability. The supply of these elements, the energy efficiency of the interior spaces, and things such as the disposal of wastewater need to be considered, and can have both negative and positive effects.

How can building design and construction make a difference?

When thinking about this, it’s important to get to grips with the term ‘sustainable’, as this is really key. Architecture and construction aren’t ever going to have zero impact on the environment, and yet they’re a necessary part of our societal development – so the specifics of sustainable development, that is development which doesn’t involve the irreparable destruction of resources, is crucial.

Sustainable construction practices are already in place which can help us to achieve this goal. This predominantly involves the use of things like nontoxic materials, and renewable resources (such as harvested wood and glass) in the actual building process.

On top of this, it’s worth noting that the way architects approach the design of a building could also have a significant long-term benefit to the overall sustainability of our future. Simple amendments such as the inclusion of effective daylighting through use of something like a glass rooflight, or the inclusion of effective ventilation and natural heating can make a huge difference.

This could have a massive impact on our natural world as we continue to expand our man made influence upon it; rather than reducing both space for natural ecologies to thrive and the amount of resources available to build, sustainable construction and design could ensure that we maintain the resources that are available as we provide efficient and sustainable new living and working spaces for our expanding population – all the while reducing the long-term environmental impact our buildings have.

3: Energy Industry & Fossil Fuel Producers

For many people, regardless of how aware they are of the overarching issues affecting our environment, the energy industry often springs to minds as one of – if not the – prime culprit when it comes to emissions. This opinion is hardly unfounded. In 2017, the ‘Carbon Majors Report’ from the CDP determined that “…a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions.”

The impact of those producing energy from fossil fuels is undeniably crucial. Reports such as the one cited above are illuminating, because they hone in specifically on the emissions of energy producers rather than simply analysing emissions on a national scale. And the data is telling.

How does the energy industry affect the environment?

In a very simple sense, the way the energy industry impacts the environment is fairly straightforward regardless of the specific energy source in question. When fossil fuels in any form are burned for energy, they create an abundance of harmful greenhouse gases that are emitted and dispersed into the atmosphere, which over time accumulate and cause an array of problems for the planet. (I know this is GCSE level science but that’s the gist of it!)

Large-scale emissions

These emissions are some of the most significant influencing factors in climate change, and the energy industry is responsible for a terrifying proportion of them. While other industries impact the Earth and sustainability in a variety of ways, the large scale emissions of harmful gases from the burning of fossil fuels have a direct impact on the natural state of our climate.

Since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has increased by about 40% to above 400 parts per million, and current CO2 levels are 100 ppm higher than at any time in the last million years (possibly even more than any time in the last 25 million years.)

This increase of 100 ppm over 120 years is something that normally takes 5,000 to 20,000 years, and is directly correlated with and attributable to the increase in burning of fossil fuels. As we continue to do so, we effectively wrap the world in a gaseous heat blanket, and the effects of this are causing chaos to our climate.

Coal (yes, we’re still burning it)

While the coal industry’s demise in the UK might make it easy to assume this is no longer a significant problem for the wider world, coal is still burned on a massive scale and remains one of the primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Coal-fired power plants are the main contributor of Co2 into the atmosphere,

What’s particularly surprising is the extent to which this is true. With so many more ways of generating power sustainably, and so many more providers of green energy, I was shocked to discover that between 1988 and 2015, a staggering 14.32% of ALL global greenhouse gas emissions originated from a single company: China Coal.

How can the energy industry make a difference?

The statistics acknowledged above are indicative of the sheer scale of the problem presented by the energy industry, and it’s clear that even a small but industry-wide modification would have a drastic and far-reaching positive impact.

When it comes to tackling emissions (which currently present the most significant threat) there are three fundamental approaches – plants that use fossil fuels need to either: 1. Remove the hazardous, pollutant-causing materials before they are burned 2. Find ways to contain and eliminate the pollutant after it has been created 3. Find methods and processes using the same materials that eliminate (or drastically reduce) the pollutants usually formed.

Fortunately, there are already technologies emerging which allow energy producers to do this. The collection of gases in other liquids or on solid materials that can then be destroyed safely, and other more complex techniques such as electrostatic precipitators or cyclones are also possible.

Of course the technology may already exist, but the challenge will be implementation. It’s clear that the energy industry has the potential to make a huge contribution to the reduction of global emissions. But this will either require the widespread and universal abandonment of fossil fuel-based energy production in favour of the adoption of sustainable energy production, or a large-scale investment (potentially involving a legal impetus from governments or other ruling bodies) in reducing the emissions of long-standing industries.

Conclusion

I’m certainly not trying to suggest I have all the answers when it comes to this vast, and vital topic. This is such a multi-faceted, complex issue that it really isn’t as simple as saying ‘if we do X, then everything will be fine’. What I think is important, however, is acknowledging how vital a role industry has to play, and coming to terms with both precisely which industries have the largest impact, and how they could potentially hold the key to a sustainable future.

We all know about the impact we can have individually, and there’s no denying how important this is, but when you break down the numbers it seems clear that for us to truly make a global difference as a species, we’re going to need to rip up the rulebook for industries everywhere – and whether it’s in the food we eat, the buildings in which we live and work, or the way we power our increasingly digital lives, we need to be bold in redefining how we operate as a society.

Introducing our new Student Sustainable Goals Ambassadors (Part Two)

Celina

Hey!!

My name is Celina, and I’m basically a product of 3 different countries; Born in Portugal, but my family is from this little island called Sao Tome (which you’ve probably never heard about, but it’s okay!), however, I consider London to be my home now.

I am studying Biomedical Sciences, and I am on my first year. I’ve chosen this course because, although I’ve had many career aspirations when I was younger, caring for people and somehow contribute to a happier and better world has always been a consistent theme for me.

I am quite a simple person to be honest, and enjoy the most generic things you can think about, like watching movies, dancing, learning about new cultures, going out with friends and partying, you know…nothing too out of the ordinary really!

Now, why am I interested in sustainability?

The concept of sustainability was something that I’ve been hearing about for a long time. However, it was first taught to me in a very traditional sense; “climate change is bad” “the ice caps are melting” “the sea levels are rising” “biodiversity is decreasing substantially”, which sadly, are all true and terrifying. But it has never crossed my mind how much more interlinked sustainability is with many of the important issues that are currently going on.

When we take, for instance, the example of gender equality, and we look at the fact that only in 42 countries do woman hold more than 30% of the national legislature seats, or that girls still do not have the same educational opportunities as boys in countries in western Asia for example, we might think “oh, how unfortunate”. But by taking this further, we can reach the conclusion that this will make them more prone to suffering the effects of climate change; in a place where girls and woman are uneducated, they are much more likely to be responsible for providing their families with food or water, and if these sources are disrupted as a result of climate change, then they would have to travel further and spend more time looking for that water, which in turn decreases their chances of getting education, creating a vicious cycle with seemingly no end.

This is just one example of how sustainability applies to social, economic and environmental issues, and how it isn’t “just” about “the polar bears dying” (which I honestly don’t understand why it isn’t enough to make people take this more seriously, I mean, look at them!)


But it does concerns so many other things, and in a lot of cases, it will be the most vulnerable people who will end up living the consequences. Actual human lives are at stake here, and something needs to be done.

Learning about all about these things and much more, made me want to act; Sustainability affects everyone everywhere, and it is our responsibility! We must do something about it. Thinking about what is happening and how preventable it is, is to me as hopeful as it is infuriating. But I do have hope, and I do think that bit by bit, we can encourage more and more people to change the way they see sustainability.

Which goal am I passionate about and why?

While I consider all 17 goals to be of great importance, since they are so strongly interlinked with both sustainability and the things I am personally passionate about, one of the goals I find the most relevant at the moment is that of climate change this is because when we have leaders, whether in the government or in other positions of power bluntly stating that our actions are not indeed contributing to climate change, knowing that the majority of the scientific community agrees that that is actually what is happening, is not only unbelievable but also discouraging.

People in such positions believing and spreading such ideologies are dangerous, especially knowing that a lot of the times their only aim is to score political points and being on someone’s side. It’s beyond me how they do not seem to look at this problem as the unfortunate threat that it actually is, and how things such as carbon emissions, animal endangerment or natural catastrophes are not enough to alarm them about the prospect of such a dangerous future for the generations to come.

My ambitions for the role:

My main aim with this role is to motivate and encourage a group of people to change how they choose to think of sustainability, regardless of how big or small that group is; I would like to help fix that disconnect that people feel between themselves and the idea of sustainability, and help them get rid of the notion that their actions don’t matter, and that whatever they do will not make a difference.

Also, because there is already an increasing number of sustainability friendly businesses running which are very successful, and I would like to help promote them and not only learn from them myself, but hopefully help to reinforce the idea that sustainability is not only possible, but also economical and leads to a world where everyone benefits from.

There are so many things I still do not know and have to learn about, but hopefully this is a journey that I can take together along with everyone else and help people be more proactive when it comes to these issues!

Sarah

My name is Sarah, I am from Libya. I am a postgraduate student, studying architecture and the sustainable environment. I am also a youth activist working with the NGO ‘Makers of Hope.’

I am interested in sustainability because it is the only way to ensure our future generations have a healthy life. I believe that sustainability is very crucial and that every person should carry a sustainable lifestyle. Leading a sustainable lifestyle will reduce the chronic problem of climate change.

I am passionate about goal number 7, 11 , 12 and 13. Personally I believe all the goals are important however these goals stand out to me as an Architect. Firstly, these four goals are connected for instance by being responsible in terms of consumption whether it’s food or plastic production, the less we consume or rather when we consume exactly the amount we need, this will lead reduction in climate change effect. Furthermore, one of the most important issues of our generation and the upcoming is the non-renewable energy therefore we should advocate more the use of renewable clean energy which is also a parameter effecting climate change. Lastly, with the ever-increasing population of the world, more cities will be designed roughly around 2000 more to host the increasing number of people. These people need to live in a inclusive sustainable cities that can provide comfortable acceptable living standards.

My ambition as an ambassador is that every student on campus is aware of the sustainable development goals. Furthermore, that they are aware of their responsibilities as individuals on this planet. I want the students on campus to be more compassionate towards the problems that occurring in the world and to take action.

Michael

Hi, I’m Mike! I’m a fourth-year student who has recently come back from a year abroad placement in Hong Kong. I am currently volunteering as a Radio Presenter, School Representative, Global Officer, and co-organising this year’s TEDxUniversityofKent event.

Outside of university, I am an avid traveller, highly interested learning about different cultures and traditions when meeting people from my personal travels.

 

My first spark of interest becoming more sustainable was seeing the alarming rates of extinction surrounding animals. I began becoming more attentive to the huge realm of sustainability and realised how unaware we truly are as citizens of how impactful our day-to-day lifestyle choices are. By becoming interested in sustainability, I want to learn how to become more sustainable in my lifestyle choices and how to reduce the impact we have on the world.

Although I am deeply passionate about all 17 UN sustainability goals. I have particularly worked on Goal 4, Quality Education in a start-up. Recently my team and I have founding an app “Ins-Tutors” aligning with the goal of providing Quality Education. This proved successful in the KentAppChallenge taking 2nd place. With this app, we plan to provide education in developing parts of the world and provide education for everyone and anyone.

From this role, I want to deepen my knowledge around the realms of sustainability and what measures I can to become more sustainable. From this, I hope to and educate myself and students to become more conscious when making their day-to-day decisions.

 

Introducing our new Student Sustainable Goals Ambassadors (Part One)

As part of the University’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and our under our FutureProof behaviour change project the Sustainability Team have recruited a group of amazing students who are Kent’s first Sustainable Development Goals Ambassadors.

The SDGs or the Global Goals are 17 goals that outline the vision for a sustainable world by 2030. The 17 goals and underlying targets were created and signed by 193 countries at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2015. The goals seek to finish the job that was started by the Millennium Goals which ran from 2000 to 2015 and brought 850,000,000 people out of extreme poverty and yet saw carbon emissions increase by 9,850,000 kilotons.

The Student Sustainable Development Goals ambassadors’ role is to promote the goals to fellow students and staff; encourage, motivate and support the Staff Sustainability Champions network; increase the ease of reporting on sustainability achievements within the University; increase student staff collaboration; and lead on their own sustainability projects.

From the role we aim to support students in understanding more about sustainability; equip them with useful skills for future employability; and recognise their efforts with employability points.

In their own words, over the next few blogs posts we will introduce this year’s cohort of Sustainable Goals Ambassadors.


Huda

My name is Huda and I’m an architecture postgraduate student from Sudan, Africa. I’ve always been interested about animals and conservation, as a child I’d watch natgeo documentaries just as much as i watched cartoon network. I always wondered what i could do as an individual to preserve the planet for both animals and people, the answer was sustainability as a lifestyle, not just a trend. Living in a poor country made me interested in low cost solutions specifically that help improve people’s quality of life on a tight budget and without impacting our environment. Therefore, as an architect, my focus in the Sustainable development goals is on sustainable cities and communities.

During a trip to zanzibar, the hotel owner showed me how he built wells for the village using plastic bottles. His idea provided clean water, cleaned the beach of plastics, provided a source of income for the village ladies in filling the plastic bottles and taught villagers how to build using this sustainable method all in one solution. My ambitions for my role as a sustainability ambassador is to advocate for solutions that have a multitude of benefits both environmentally and economically.

Adrian

Hello, my name is Adrian Joyeux. I’m a 2nd year student studying Politics and International Relations with French. At this moment I cannot think of anything else to describe myself that doesn’t sound rehearsed or boring. So, instead I have chosen to just state three random sustainable or earth related facts that are dear to my heart, because anyone that knows me will now that I absolutely LOVE random facts. The first random fact, is about me, I currently take up about 3 earths (meaning that if everyone lived like me, then it would take 3 earths to sustain my lifestyle). The odd thing about it is that I am happy about it. Before then I took up 6.5 planets, so I have definitely improved somewhere. The second random fact, is that the earth is constantly recycling. Nature uses everything to sustain and grow the environment. The third fact, is that it takes about 2,700 litres of water to produce 1 cotton t- shirt.

I am taking part in the Sustainability Goals program on campus for two main reasons. One reason being, today we are seeing drastic changes in the world both good and bad and nature is reacting.   More and more people are being forced to immigrate to other countries due to environmental reasons. Sadly, one day, places like the beautiful sandy beach and clear blue sea waters of the Maldives will disappear. Reports, are stating that many countries such as South Africa, Mexico, and even the United Kingdom has or will have a day zero were they cannot provide continuous running water. The other reason I am taking part of this program is because I would like to learn more about sustainability internationally and domestically and to see how we as individuals and organizations can make an impactful change in sustainable living and production.

By taking part in this program I believe I can make a positive impact by promoting the various sustainable actions the University is participating in and hopefully creating action that will be adopted by the University.  I aim to mix various goals together such as goal 6: Clean water and sanitation, goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy and goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities. I hope the chain reaction will affect other developmental goals.

Louise

My name is Louise Al-Hakkak. I’m a French exchange student here for a year. I study social sciences, politics, law and international relations at my home university. I was part of the Environment society there and took care of an organic vegetable garden on campus. I’m passionate about nature, Latin America, languages, politics and geopolitics, history, photography and environmental issues.

I’m interested in sustainability because I think it is crucial that we limit our impact on the earth as quick as possible so that we can have a habitable environment for ourselves but most importantly so that we stop destroying biodiversity.

The goals I’m most passionate about are No Poverty (1), Clean Water and Sanitation (6), Reduced Inequalities (10), Responsible Consumption and Production (12), Life Below Water (14) and Life on Land (15). Goals 1 and 10 tackle social problems which I would like to see eradicated. I like goal 6 because the sustainability workshop made me realise how important sanitation is and why it is so important that everyone has access to it. The water aspect is also very important when we see that water is being privatised in many parts of the world. Goal 12 is probably my favourite one as it is the one which tackles consumerism and waste. Finally, goals 14 and 15 concern biodiversity which is a big concern right now seeing the state of the ocean and how many species are going extinct almost every week.

My ambition for the role is to be able to have a real impact on campus, to feel that I’m useful and that I am actually helping to move towards the Sustainable Development Goals. I would like to work around recycling, food waste, reducing packaging …

 

 

Printing the world to rights: how print firms are approaching sustainability in Kent and the UK

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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Print is everywhere; it is so ubiquitous that we rarely notice it. When we think about printing, we tend to imagine newspapers, books, magazines, leaflets and cards, but how often do we stop to consider the impact large format print has on the environment?

Large format printing – the process by which the enormous billboards and banners of our modern world are realised – is everywhere, a major industry that populates our bus stops, shopping centres, train stations and more with vast advertising images.

We live in an ever-more eco-conscious world, and while we may rarely think about this type of printing or the impact it might have, print companies are working to make sure they can deliver their products in a way that is kinder to the environment around us.

Getting interested

For printing companies, however, finding ingenious ways to offer ecologically sensitive products is only half of the story. The Image Reports Widthwise Report published in June this year reveals that seven out of ten British print service firms have never once been asked by their clients about their eco-friendly credentials, despite the fact that a recent global census conducted by Fespa reported that 76% of printing companies worldwide said that their customers were keenly interested in environmental issues.

What’s especially notable is that these businesses felt it prudent to plan their strategies with that environmental interest in mind. Whether the UK is really lagging behind the rest of the world in its awareness of the ecological impact of large format printing, or whether this might be just a statistical anomaly, the point remains that there is a fundamental problem still facing the industry: how should they sell a service to clients who aren’t asking for it?

Communication, communication, communication

It’s an issue that some businesses have put a great deal of thought into. The Verdigris Project is an industry campaign that aims to raise awareness of environmental concerns and initiatives in the printing trade, and is sponsored by a number of industry giants, including HP, Kodak, Agfa and Fespa (a global collection of national associations for professional printers). It’s also hoped that printing companies will seek their own ways to inform clients about the environmental impact of their projects, and to confidently offer them greener alternatives.

Substrate procurement

The UK reportedly uses 12.5 million tonnes of paper every single year, and any environmentally-minded printing firm should be concerned about using recycled and sustainable paper wherever possible, and this means they need robust procedures for obtaining recycled paper.

Modern recycling techniques mean that large format paper made from recovered fibre can be just as good a printing substrate as ‘virgin pulp’. As a result some companies have opted to commit to procurement policies that insist on recycling-based solutions.

Other substrates

Of course, when we get into the realm of specifically large format printing, the substrate in question may not be paper-based at all. Many large banners and signs are printed on vinyl and other plastics, not to mention the many other materials of varying environmental friendliness.

If a large format printing firm wants to lessen the potential negative impact of their work on the environment, finding alternative substrates that don’t involve plastic would be an excellent place to start; much has been said lately about the growing unpopularity of plastic following David Attenborough’s BBC show Blue Planet II and the discovery of a plastic bag 35,000 feet down inside the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the world’s oceans.

Some firms, such as Kent-based industry leader PressOn, have adopted new and innovative print solutions to alleviate the problem. PressOn were an early adopter of products known as Tension Fabric Systems, which involve a printed sheet of fabric suspended across an aluminium frame, creating a large printed piece that is ideal for interior environments such as offices, malls and shops.

The metal frames are endlessly reusable for other printed designs, and the fabric that serves as the substrate completely removes the need for plastic. Nigel Webster, PressOn’s managing director, explains:

“Although popular in the States for a few years, we first started using tension fabric frame systems in the UK two years ago for one of our largest US based retail clients. PressOn always strive to promote this more environmentally friendly system to our clients, and it’s reassuring to see that the demand for this type of system has grown dramatically.

Brands in the retail sector traditionally use a lot of self-adhesive vinyl on their graphics inside the store and the shop windows, with regularly changing campaigns and offers to promote. By switching to the fabric frame system and installing aluminium frames in stores, we can print graphics directly onto more sustainable polyester fabrics using latex inks. These systems mean we don’t need to print, install and then remove and dispose of vinyl graphics.

The demand for eco-friendly print solutions has now extended to other sectors, too. They’re popular in corporate branded office environments (we’ve recently completed a project for Sky to use these systems in their offices), hotels, restaurants, bars and even to event and exhibition graphics too. Along with tension systems, other options for non-pvc products include paper wallcoverings from sustainable sources and also self-adhesive polyester fabrics as well. It’s great news for the environment and the print industry.”

Choosing the right inks

It could be said that the use of plastic and the wastefulness of large quantities of paper are more obvious problems than the ink used to create the printed designs — particularly as some varieties, such as petroleum and solvent-based inks, can be a source of gases that are harmful to the environment. Fortunately, there are several more ecologically friendly alternatives.

Eco-inks – made from vegetable oils or soya beans from sustainable farming environments – are becoming more widely available, while some printers are turning to UV-curable (UVC) inks. The liquid in UVC inks is aqueous-based; after printing, the ink is dried (or ‘cured’) via exposure to strong ultraviolet light. Significantly, however, these types of ink aren’t typically used by the large format industry, and are usually preferred by businesses producing packaging.

When it comes to large format printing, the best option usually lies in latex-based inks, which also don’t emit any unpleasant chemicals or odours, and have the added advantage of drying almost instantaneously after printing.

The environmental issues with some inks don’t end there, however. In order for paper and cardboard to be properly recycled into a clean pulp that can be reused as new paper, it must first be subjected to a process of de-inking to remove anything that may have been printed on it previously. Water-based, hydrophilic inks can be resistant to the alkaline floatation de-inking technique widely used in Europe; this is designed to separate ink from fibre and cause it to float to the surface, where it can be completely removed from the pulp.

Paper recycling is also an enormous endeavour – around 90% of Europe’s newspapers are printed on recycled paper – so finding inks that can be removed easily and efficiently is of paramount importance for eco-conscious printers.

In the end, the large format printing industry’s ability to be environmentally conscious rests as much with its customers as its service providers. The technology is there to print and recycle in a way that minimises chemicals and waste products; it only remains for those who commission billboards and large signage to be open to new techniques and approaches.

What Kent Businesses Are Doing To Reduce Their Impact On The Local Environment

Guest post: This post was contributed by Lee Sadd, a senior trainer at Kent health & safety consultant and training provider SAMS Ltd, based in Ramsgate. SAMS is a leading provider of environmental safety courses, and offers a range of classroom and online courses, business advisory services and event management solutions.

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Our environment is being placed under increasing pressure by human activity, and businesses everywhere are becoming more aware of the need to adopt sustainable and environmentally-friendly practises.

With no fewer than 116 sites considered to be of national and international importance for conservation, and with 350 miles of coastline, the county of Kent has a lot to preserve. Over the last five years alone, there has been an incredible 719% increase in the amount of renewable energy generated in the county, while 13,000 electric cars have been registered since 2016. Kent now also has around 56,000 people employed in the low carbon environmental goods and services sector.

With environmental impacts on business now thought to be costing the global economy around $4.7tn every year, businesses across Kent are investing in ways to minimise environmental impacts around the use of energy, carbon, waste, water pollution and emergency planning. The ingenuity of local businesses both large and small could have a tangible effect on the world and the local environment, both through new breakthroughs and cumulative changes.

Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

There are many steps a small or medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) might take to reduce its overall environmental impact. Easy gains include using less paper, introducing recycling bins throughout the workplace, and working with fellow green-minded businesses. These can be complemented by other impact-reducing ideas, from energy-saving LED lighting to more sustainable heating-systems.

These will not only reduce your business’ environmental impact, but also bring down costs through more efficient resource management. And while larger businesses can adopt many of the same simple strategies to reduce environmental impact, SMEs may also be eligible for a grant to reduce their carbon footprint.

Low Carbon Across the South East (LoCASE) is a programme that provides support and grants to SMEs in South East England for low carbon initiatives. Many Kent SMEs have already benefited from LoCASE grants, including Winterdale Cheesemakers – a well-established and award-winning manufacturer of Kentish Cheese.

With funding from LoCase, Winterdale introduced solar panels and invested in an electric vehicle for deliveries. The company now aims to completely operate from renewable sources, saving a remarkable 6.5 tonnes of CO2 and over £2,500 in energy spend. LoCASE has also given grants to a range of other SMEs to help reduce their energy use and environmental impact.

Low Carbon Kent, a network of businesses dedicated to reducing environmental impact both locally and globally, is another body set up with Kent SMEs in mind. One organisation that was recently able to benefit from its funding and advice is also amongst the most important historical site in Kent – Canterbury Cathedral. Part of its roof is now covered in a new solar panel system, which over its lifespan will offset 152,000 kg CO2 and save an estimated £101,567.

Big Businesses

The bigger the business, the bigger its environmental impact is likely to be – and Kent punches above its weight when it comes to contributing to the overall UK economy. Despite its relatively small population of 1.7 million, Kent produces somewhere in the region of £18bn worth of goods and services, and is home to some of the largest and most well-known companies in the UK. Kent’s businesses cover an amazingly diverse array of industry sectors, from tourism to pharmaceuticals.

Kent is also (and rightly) famous for its beer. Faversham’s Shepherd Neame Brewery, which makes favourites like Spitfire and Orchard Brew, has a history stretching back to at least 1698 – and may be even older than that. Despite its age, Shepherd Neame has been remarkably proactive in taking steps to reduce its environmental impact on the local area. 97% of the grain and hops used in the brewing process are now recycled as feed for farm animals,. In 2013 the company invested £3 million in a new Water Recovery Plant, which allows it to recycle the waste water that results from brewing and cleaning, bringing down water consumption by 40%.

By introducing a new heating system, the company was also able to generate impressive energy savings. Other players in the industry have also taken similar steps. J.D. Wetherspoons boasts many pubs in Kent, including the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, which may be the largest pub in Europe. Wetherspoons has also now stopped using plastic straws in its premises – a move that will have benefits for the environment in Kent, particularly around its seaside pubs and bars.

Kent is also home to the first sustainable business park in the UK – Betteshanger Park, in Deal. This £40 million park combines business, ecotourism, and research and development, providing a site for low carbon and sustainable companies involved in food security, environmental technology, life sciences (including agri-tech) and green technologies. Through its proposed Education Centre, Betteshanger Park will also provide up to around 500 traineeships in green technologies, improving the presence of environmentally-friendly businesses in Kent and the U.K. more widely.

More exciting news includes the fact that Kent is soon to be the site of the largest solar power plant in the UK. Cleve Hill solar farm will occupy the north coast of Kent and, when built, will provide up to 350 MW of generating capacity. Kent already has an impressive green energy profile, with the Thanet Offshore Windfarm – at the time of commissioning the largest wind farm in the world – producing over 7m hours of electricity since being officially commissioned in 2005. Kent may soon become the home of renewable energy, sustainable energy and eco-businesses in the U.K.

There is always more that all of us – businesses and citizens – can do to be greener. But Kent has already done plenty to trial and innovate business practises that reduce impacts on the local environment, and create a better future for us all.

Plastic straws are a scapegoat. It’s time for big companies to change

Guest post: Mark Roberts is CEO of Conscious Creatives, a group of like-minded individuals pursuing a greater purpose through our work. Saving the planet by producing branding and digital communications packages that place sustainability at their heart and deliver long term revenue.

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There will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

That is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in after decades of plastic abuse.

Plastic straws, in particular, have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Poignant footage of a straw being removed from a turtle’s nose highlights the problem in microcosm.

But of the nearly 9 million tonnes of plastic waste that hits our oceans every year, just 2,000 tonnes comes in the form of plastic straws. That’s 0.22%. So is banning straws the answer our environment is crying out for?

The demand for change

Recently there has been a wave of support for plastic-free alternatives and for the reduction of plastic use altogether. Organisations like Surfers Against Sewage are helping people turn their local communities into plastic-free zones and companies like Costa Sunglasses are turning plastic waste into sunglasses.

This awareness is fantastic and it helps consumers understand the importance of why they should pay attention to this scourge of the sea. One comment I heard recently though was “I didn’t ask for my products to come in this kind of packaging, it’s not my fault”. Infuriating as the lack of responsibility was at the time, I actually understand why the comment was made.

At a time when climate change has become more and more evident and we have documentaries like Blue Planet 2 highlighting the over-consumption of plastics it now goes beyond the consumer to governments and corporations to do their part.

The role of politics and industry

At the highest level, the United Nations and its member states are working towards the Sustainable Development Goals. These include 17 major areas of sustainability that go far beyond just plastic, seeking to eradicate hunger and social inequality as well.

The corporation part comes from the work done by the UN Global Compact, which partners with businesses all over the world to collaborate on the agendas set out by the UN. Some of the largest businesses in the world are part of this group and in theory this is a great step towards the highest authorities taking responsibility.

However, Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director for the UN Global Compact explained at a recent sustainable business summit that we need to be spending around 2 trillion dollars per year to meet these goals. At the moment, we are well short of that target.

To most of us, 2 trillion USD sounds like an awful lot. Here in the UK, the high street banks pull in 12 trillion GBP per year, with a shadow banking sector adding another 2 trillion GBP. It’s not that the money is not available to solve all of these problems — the reason we have not solved them is that they are simply less important than profits for the elite. If one sector from one country could save the planet, imagine what would happen if the whole world took part.

Single-use plastics: the consumer dilemma

As consumers we are stuck in two minds: either we wait for the giant companies to do something when they feel like it, or we engage our inner activist and make choices that force businesses to listen. The person who made the statement above may feel powerless, frustrated and ultimately a little guilty that their consumer habits are impacting the world in a way they don’t want. But there are reasons for optimism.

One example of a good fight against a giant corporation is Greenpeace’s work against Coca-Cola. With all of their various products they produce an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles per year. They are very much at the centre of this problem.

Coca-Cola, however, have done what many corporations have done — acknowledged the problem but offered no real solution. Coca-Cola Europe have committed to their packaging being 100% reusable or recyclable by 2025, but that’s the only hardened objective that the entire company have set forth.

If we as consumers stopped buying Coca-Cola products then it wouldn’t take long before they noticed. This is where the power of the consumer comes in. Whether we feel like it or not — and it may be very difficult to accept — we do have a choice.

Other organisations like Iceland have vowed to remove single-use plastics from their shelves, so why can’t companies like Coca-Cola follow suit?

Positive action you and I can take today

I offer then a conclusion that lies in action. No longer can we sit on the fence. We have to take a stand and ask ourselves what kind of state we wish to leave the planet in for future generations. The choices we make right now will affect billions of people, present and future.

It is not fair that the giant manufacturers are using our busy lives and desire for a good life as a way of profiteering at the cost of the planet. It’s now time to move past being angry at that fact and face the reality of what needs to be done.

I urge you to find your local zero waste store, explore what they have and ask lots of questions. By local, buy high quality and buy less. Look for the places that offer paper straws instead of plastic straws but understand that while this problem is way bigger than any individual, this is our stand for what we believe in.

If you feel inspired do not stop there. Speak to your local council, your local MPs and your local businesses to see what they are doing to tackle the problems that the environment faces. The more people that show they care, the more likely the big companies will make the changes required so that we as the consumer can have the choices we really want and the planet really needs.

 

The Environmental Impact of Flushing Tampons Down The Toilet

As a regular reader of the blog, Jo Greene, from a family run Kent based business called VR-Sani Co, wanted to share some of her expertise about the not often talked about plastic that ends up in the sea – tampons.

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After years of procrastination, it seems that we’re finally starting to tackle the global issue of plastic pollution. No doubt encouraged by Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II that horrified much of the UK, supermarkets, governments and society as a whole are starting to take measurable steps in order to reduce the amount of plastics we use.

At the heart of the topic has been the humble plastic bag, a symbol for change that has served as a stark reminder that our preference for ease and convenience often comes with a heavy price. Images of turtles, seabirds, and other marine life caught in the aftermath of our weekly shop have helped shine an uncomfortable light on our actions.

The hope is that through education and awareness, the simple act of reusing our bags will make a tangible difference to the amount of plastic that ends up our seas. But while this is a good first step, it opens the debate as to what else we need to consider.

The conversation has naturally extended to our use of water bottles, coffee cups, and even some of the more obscure products we use on a daily basis, including the small plastic beads found in a number of facial scrubs. However it is surprising that the disposal of tampons and their environmental impact hasn’t fully entered into the public consciousness in quite the same way.

The equivalent of flushing a plastic bag down the toilet

On the surface at least, what we do with our tampons may not seem like a pressing concern. After all they’re fluffy, small, and if we “accidentally” flush one down the toilet it probably just dissolves into harmless mulch of eco-friendly nothingness. But tampons, pads and panty liners generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year in the UK alone, and the alarming statistic is that nearly all of them contain plastic. The impact of flushing our tampons down the toilet, while convenient, can have unexpected and often dire consequences, particularly on our beaches and in our seas.

In an attempt to save the hundreds of species from accidentally eating or becoming entangled in the litter strewn across our coastlines, the Marine Conservation Society held a beach cleanup in 2016. During their efforts they found 20 tampons and sanitary items for every 100 metres of shoreline. It’s a significant figure, and overall they estimate that between 1.5bn to 2bn sanitary items are flushed down Britain’s toilets every year.

One of the challenges is that people can often assume that sanitary products flushed down the toilet will be picked up and extracted via the local sewage system. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case, and they’re not always effectively filtered. As a result sewage-related debris ends up contributing to about 6% of the litter found on Britain’s beaches.

Changing attitudes to reverse the trend

It’s obvious that we must try and reverse this trend, but in order to openly discuss the practical steps that we as a society need to take, we firstly need to address the topic of menstruation without the fear of stigmatisation or disgust. Yes bleeding and cramps aren’t always topics generally considered apt for polite conversation, but that doesn’t mean menstruation needs to be shrouded in secrecy. The topic of periods and tampons may still be a relatively taboo subject, but by avoiding the subject entirely, we’re helping to fuel a huge environmental issue.

Many skeptics would say that this cultural taboo has, at least in part, helped the disposable feminine hygiene industry to thrive. It’s argued that clever advertising messages and a failure to clearly disclose important product information from major feminine hygiene product brands might be responsible for holding women back from disposing of tampons safety, or even considering more environmentally friendly options.

These alternative products, from reusable menstrual cups to organic cotton tampons, could help to support the use of more sustainable alternatives to conventional sanitary products. What’s interesting however is that many of these products have already been on the market for years. Their success (or lack of it) have been hampered by the popular business model that’s predicated on disposability, viewed by most brands as the more attractive option in order to drive repeat purchases.

As a result tampons have been marketed aggressively over the years, purporting the benefits of hygiene and convenience as their primary advantages. In the ever increasing quest for profits, it was always unlikely that companies would embrace a reusable, yet more environmentally friendly product line.

Marketing messages based on profit

Compounding the challenge is that tampons aren’t technically classified as medical products, and as such, companies don’t have to provide detailed product information. However, many of the modern materials used in their production derive from the petroleum industry. The potential environmental impact of these materials finding their way into a delicate ecosystem is unfortunately all too easy to predict.

Against this backdrop, it’s also easy to see why many women feel that it’s ok to flush tampons down the toilet. Anything classified as “disposable” automatically invokes a throwaway attitude, and similar products like wet wipes are often touted as flushable, even when they’re not. From a marketing perspective, it’s probably fair to say that not many people would buy a wet wipe if their strapline was “feel fresh and stick a soiled piece of cloth in your bathroom bin”.

The unfortunate reality is that unhelpful marketing messages have often encouraged us to put convenience above legitimate environmental concerns, but this isn’t impossible to overcome. Critically, we simply need the accurate labeling of products with disposal information, and to take note as a consumer whenever we purchase a sanitary product.

For example, biodegradable 100% cotton tampons are a much greener choice than standard products, but they still can’t be flushed down the toilet. Seeking the more eco-friendly products is always a great start, but typically most products will still need to be disposed of in a sanitary bin.

However relaying this message to wider sections of society has always been a little more challenging. Until we can all overcome our squeamishness towards menstruation, it’s always going to be difficult to discuss any period-related issue without it being viewed as an icky topic. Without doubt, the silence and stigma around menstrual bleeding remains a significant cultural barrier to successfully addressing and discussing a variety of important issues.

But public attitude has undoubtedly turned against disposable plastics; we simply need to be aware of where they exist in our daily lives, and for manufacturers and marketers to be more open and honest in their messaging. If we can all work together, we can help to turn off the tap of throwaway packaging once and for all.

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This post was written by Jo Greene of VR Sani-Co. An established family business that has been providing washroom services and sanitary bins in Kent and Sussex for over 20 years.

How sustainable architecture could be the key to building a greener society

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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If you think humans are wasteful, just consider the buildings we live in. Buildings consume 40% of the world’s energy, while 25% of the planet’s wood supply and 15% of its water are also eaten up by residential and commercial constructions.

In the pursuit of global sustainability, it’s clear that if we’re going to make lasting changes to our impact on the planet, we not only need to pay attention to how we can improve modern society, but to how we build it.

In recent years, architects, designers, and construction experts have been turning their focus to ‘sustainable architecture’ – mastering this principle of design and construction could be the key to building a greener society.

Understanding the impact of architecture on the environment

There is near unanimous agreement in the scientific community that the increase in global GHGs (Greenhouse Gas Emissions) can be directly attributed to human interaction with the planet – and more specifically, as a result of fossil fuel based energy generation.

While this might be a commonly acknowledged premise, it’s one that directly links to the way we design and construct the buildings we use. When considering architecture as a practice, design and construction are often regarded as one and the same, but the difference between the two is an important factor to acknowledge.

Building construction

In the UK, the construction industry is responsible for 32% of total landfill. Each year, over 400 million tonnes of materials are delivered (a process involving significant carbon emissions) to building construction sites, of which approximately 60 million tonnes are disposed of straight away, due to storage-related damage or inaccurate ordering.

Photo credit: John Jones https://toolstotal.com/

This creates an immediate issue related to space – simply put, we don’t have enough room for the amount of landfill that we’ll need should current rates continue. While moves towards innovative methods of landfill are being made and increases in landfill tax are being levied, the drive for sustainability makes this a massive and hotly debated issue.

Possibly the most significant other aspect of construction lies in the CO2 emissions associated with the process. Construction involves multiple stages that cumulatively lead to large-scale carbon emissions, two of the most significant of which are:

Transportation

This includes the transportation of both people and materials, which often takes place over a long period, and via a large number of sources. This includes (but is not limited to) vehicles used to drive to and from the site, and international and national freight of materials (sometimes via boat, train, or even plane).

On-site emissions 

The largest quantity of CO2 is usually emitted from on-site procedures. This involves both direct and indirect emissions as a result of processes such as combustion, as well as energy used on site by everything from heavy-duty machinery to the microwaves used to heat lunches.

Government research has found that construction is likely one of the main causes of CO2 emissions that in the UK, and is potentially responsible for over 40% of total emissions in the country. Within the construction process itself, the largest cause of emissions is the manufacture of products and materials.

Building Design

The other cornerstone of the architectural process, and possibly the one most intrinsically associated with the profession, is the way buildings are designed. Thoughts inevitably turn to aesthetics – but when it comes to sustainability, this factor has a far more important role than simply leaving a lasting visual impression.

The same government study into the impact of construction on CO2 emissions found that some 80% of total emissions of buildings came from ‘in-use’ factors – that is, the activities that take place within buildings themselves.

This is a huge element to the sustainable impact of architecture: the way we use a structure and how ‘healthy’ and efficient it is, is of critical and often underappreciated importance.

One of the most significant factors in a building’s sustainability lies in its energy efficiency, particularly when it comes to things such as heating – and this largely comes down to the way the structure is designed. There are many factors that impact efficiency and sustainability in design, but a few of the most important include:

Heating 

When a building is heated, a lot – typically up to 75% – of that energy gets lost as it bleeds through the structure (with nearly 50% lost through the windows and roof). The insulation of a structure, the types of glazing used and the way a building is heated all have a part to play – the more energy required and the more that’s lost, the less sustainable the design.

Water

Water consumption in the western world is increasing, with the average UK citizen using an average of 150 litres a day. The way water is incorporated into the design of a building, both in the way it is supplied and removed (and for what purpose), can have a significant impact on its sustainability.

Ventilation and Air Quality

Maybe a little less obvious, but nonetheless a vital factor in the sustainability of a building’s design, is the way it handles the ventilation and circulation of air. This is particularly relevant when it comes to large commercial or industrial buildings (which often feature elaborate integrated ventilation systems), and can involve a large amount of energy consumption – along with physical emissions of CO2 and other gases.

Electrical consumption

The design of a building significantly contributes to its electrical consumption, and this in turn has an impact on the structure’s overall sustainability. Everything from wiring and lighting to other features (including appliances and integrated systems such as motorised doors and windows) will determine whether, over time, the building can operate sustainably.

How can architecture be sustainable?

By considering the way buildings are constructed and used in the long run, and taking into account the impact the structure will have on the natural world and the environment, architects have developed and honed new techniques and practices – helping to ensure that the process of design and construction can operate sustainably. These include:

Sustainable Construction

Sustainable architecture focuses on wastage during the construction process, and finds new ways to economise the use of materials and their harmful impacts on the environment. A few simple but crucial tenets of sustainable architecture can be applied to construction to reduce environmental impact.

Firstly, the application of nontoxic materials and adhesives is an important step. The use of many standard components can result in what’s known, as ‘outgassing’ (the release of volatile and dangerous substances into the atmosphere), even after construction is complete. Simply substituting these for nontoxic variations can mitigate this issue.

Additionally, by using recycled and natural renewable materials (such as harvested wood, glass, concrete, and rock), designs can minimise the carbon footprint of the material aspect of the construction process.

Architects may also choose to incorporate features and fixtures, such as doors or flooring, from other buildings, reducing the production impact of their constructions. Partnerships between architectural studios and construction firms (who have themselves committed to a sustainable model) can also help reduce the impact of building construction, enabling professionals to determine the most appropriate strategies on a project-by-project basis.

Technological innovation

In both architecture, and all constructive professions more broadly, sustainability can be approached in one of two ways. The first involves finding strategies to reduce the impact we have on the environment, and to improve the efficiency of our technology. The second is to adopt a more ‘tabula rasa’ mentality: start from scratch, innovate, and create new solutions to problems that have heretofore been solved in an environmentally irresponsible way.

By working with suppliers, specialists, and designers, architects can create buildings and structures that don’t just approach sustainable design by the book – they rewrite the book entirely, and create solutions that redefine what we can achieve in terms of environmental construction.

Whether it’s the work of companies like structural glazing firm Cantifix – who used cutting-edge insulated glazing technology to create the world’s first all-glass living environment – or the relatively new phenomenon of ‘living buildings’ (structures that use net-zero or net-positive energy systems, along with all kinds of other eco-techniques to ensure a carbon footprint that’s close to non-existent), the use of innovative technology can ensure that the quest for a greener society continues to progress.

Efficient insulation

Insulation is usually the largest determining factor when it comes to the energy required to heat a building. Simply put, a well-insulated structure loses less heat, requires less power to keep warm, and has less of a carbon footprint as a result.

This can be achieved simply through the use of more efficient insulating construction fabrics and materials. Other elements such as double-glazing will ensure that insulation is taken fully into account as a cornerstone of sustainable design.

It’s also worth noting that when it comes to insulation, both interior heat retention and exterior heat reduction are important for reducing the need for air conditioning, particularly when it comes to solar gain. Efficient design ensures that interior climates are maintainable with as little energy as possible.

Intelligent water systems

All buildings need a water supply, and depending on their intended purpose some need an awful lot. Sustainable architecture seeks to find ways to both conserve and reduce the amount of water used, as well as ways to potentially reuse water.

Appliances, while not necessarily within the remit of the architect, contribute most significantly to the water consumption of a building – with toilets alone responsible for around 40% of total water usage. The installation of more efficient water fixtures, integrated with systems that collect and reuse water or use gravity to reduce the need for assisted water pressure, can make a big difference.

There has also been a move to reaffirm some of the ways water was used by architects in the pre-industrial era. In what is known as ‘bioclimatic’ architecture (designs that aim to provide thermal comfort based on local climates, using elemental resources such as solar energy), water can be used as an interior thermal regulator. This, along with techniques such as passive water-cooling, can redefine the ways we think about and use water – reducing climatic impact as a result.

Humane site selection

While the processes involved in the design of a building can factor into sustainable practices, one of the biggest improvements to the environmental impact of architecture is through humane site selection and design.

 When selecting the location for a design (particularly applicable to rural plans), architects can make sustainable choices, such as factoring in sunlight as a source of light and heat, and angling a building in such a way that it integrates natural solar gain. Even situating a building with shelter from prevailing winds can improve energy efficiency if the terrain is suitable.

In rural architecture, the preservation of natural conditions can contribute to the sustainability of a design – such as respecting existing topography, taking steps to ensure the water table remains undisturbed, and considering flora and fauna. Simply selecting a site that doesn’t require extensive excavation can make all the difference.

When it comes to urban and city projects, other factors (e.g. vehicle access and proximity to/integration with public transport) can combine to reduce the need for extensive vehicle use.

Sustainable urban architecture also pays attention to purpose. By combining residential, commercial, and professional spaces, commutes can be reduced – as can the continued expanse of sprawling suburbs, and other harmful developments further out of city centres.

Sustainable energy production

One of the most widely recognised ways in which building design can work towards a more sustainable society lies in the ways in which energy is produced. If an architect can factor in energy production via solar panels, for instance, then the carbon footprint of a building can be hugely reduced.

From photovoltaic panels (the deep blue panes many of us are accustomed to seeing on rooftops) and cells, to solar water heating systems, architects can negate the need for large-scale energy consumption. With power being such a primary concern when it comes to sustainability, this is a crucial step towards a greener society.

A brighter, greener future

Sustainability is a complex and multifaceted topic; almost every human action, from the ways we travel to the food we eat, has an impact on both global and local ecology. But with more of a focus than ever now being placed not only on how we live in society, but also how we build it, architects could become the vanguards of a greener, more sustainable world.

 

The women who inspire me…

“With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away – there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress. And with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements like #MeToo#TimesUp and more – there is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity.” International Women’s Day 2018

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What better day than the 8th March to talk about the women who have inspired me, and continue to inspire me in the work of equality and environmental activism.

Caroline Lucas (1960 – )

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and the Green Party’s only MP changed the way I viewed politics. I was always of the belief that if you wanted to get elected as an MP you needed to throw out your morals and convictions and make yourself super vanilla. Caroline is not vanilla. Her work with CND has always inspired me, and her recent vocal support for women fighting against harassment in the workplace has been loud. She is a Matron of the Women’s Environment Network, an exceptional charity that I used to work for that supports women in marginalised communities to grow their own food, and advocates for more women’s voices in decision making around climate change.

Caroline Lucas was quoted as saying, ” I’m just going to dedicate the rest of my life to this party” after reading Jonathon Porritt’s Seeing Green, and she has done this with charisma and  conviction. There are not many MPs that can increase their majority at each election whist also getting arrested for protesting against fracking operations and donning a ‘No more Page 3’ t shirt during a commons debate.

“I’ve always been a bit ambitious, but I do think the Green Party is the real opposition.” Caroline Lucas

Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)

Rachel Carson, ecologist, marine biologist and writer, is best know for her book Silent Spring, in which she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government on the widespread use of synthetic chemical pesticides. Originally a marine biologist and writing many books and papers on her specialism, it was with reluctance that she turned to writing about chemical usage, driven by what she saw as a disturbing practice and one that would have long term impacts on human health and the health of our environment.

Carson was attacked by the chemical industry and some in government as an alarmist, but courageously spoke out to remind us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural world subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. Testifying before Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the environment.

Silent Spring is considered by many to have been the catalyst for a wide spread environmentalism movement in the western world. 

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Rachel Carson.

The Trimates (Biruté Galdikas 1946 -, Dian Fossey 1932 – 1985, Jane Goodall 1934 – )

Growing up I had all the usual pictures on my wall, Leonardo Di Caprio, Orlando Bloom, Blink 182 and of course the Trimates. Okay, maybe the Trimates were not so usual for a 14 year old girl to have on her wall, but to me these women were rock stars.

Dian Fossey, Jane Goodhall and Biruté Galdikas were all selected by Louis Leakey, a Kenyan paleoanthropologist and archaeologist who wanted to promote the field research of primates in their own habitats. The three women went onto become household names for their important scholarly work in the field of primatology as well as their work in the conservation of these species.

For over four decades Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied and worked closely with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat, and is today the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan. At the age of 71 she is still hugely active and you can follow her work on twitter @DrBirute 

Dian Fossey did not plan to be a primatologists but her love of African nature and a chance meeting with Louis Leakey led to her setting up a small research outpost in Rwanda: the Karisoke Research Center. Fellow gorilla conservationist Ian Redmond , said of Fossey, that it was her shy inhibited nature that led to the habituation of the gorillas that they were studying. He called her method of habituation a gift to the world and it is still used today in gorilla observations. However, Dian was also combative and her conflict with the government, poachers and other conservationists grew to the point of isolation. In 1985 she was murdered, and her murder is still unsolved to this day. Her career is controversial but she was always a fierce advocate for the gorillas.

Jane Goodhall was the first of the Trimates and in 1960, she travelled from England to Tanzania and entered the little known world of wild chimpanzees. She won the trust of these initially shy creatures and opened a window into their sometimes strange and often familiar seeming lives. Jane is still working today, mobilising action on behalf of the endangered chimpanzees and all wildlife species. The Jane Goodall Institute works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, but recognizes this can’t be accomplished without a holistic approach that addresses the real needs of local people. Their conservation efforts include sustainable development programmes that engage communities as true partners.

“The environment, after all, is where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest.  It is one thing that all of us share.  It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.” Jane Goodall

Wangari Maathai  (1940 – 2011)

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and author of Unbowed, Wangari Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, and became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively, being the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

I first became aware of Wangari when a friend lent me Unbowed, telling me ‘you have to read this.’ It took me a while to get around to reading it, but when I did, it stuck with me for a long time. Unbowed is a memoir of Wangari’s life and tells of her passion and integrity, and the journey she went on to see planting trees as a way to empower local communities. She founded the The Green Belt Movement in Kenya and wrote with key insight on how to galvanize grass root movements into positive, holistic and sustainable action.

Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. The Norwegian Nobel Committee noted Professor Maathai’s contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace” and that Professor Maathai “stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally.”

“Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.” Wangari Maathai

On this International Women’s Day, spend some time thinking about the women who have inspired you, and those that have forged a way ahead for a more sustainable future for people and planet.