A Bottled Water Resolution for a More Sustainable 2013!

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Many of us are lucky enough to live in an area where the municipal water is safe and potable. Despite this many people living in such areas prefer to consume bottled water. Maybe they think it’s a sign of wealth, or its healthier or its cooler. In reality bottled water is really just unsustainable and not necessarily healthy, and definitely not “cool”.

The town of Concord in the USA, has started the year with the promulgation of a law, making single-serving bottles of water illegal. The law aims to discourage the use of bottled water and encourage the use of tap water and help in combating the worldwide problem of plastic pollution. Ten ecocred points to the town of Concord!

I thought this was a great way for the town start 2013 as the law is significant in more ways than one, as its impacts go beyond the reduction of plastic pollution. The bottled water industry, like most things in life, has impacts that we often don’t see and therefore do not consider. The consumption of bottled water is also associated with carbon emissions, inequitable water use, and inefficient energy use, commoditization of nature and a natural process, inequity and a lack of sustainability. Thus the impact of bottled water goes further than discarded plastic bottles often seen littering roadsides, rural areas, rivers and beaches.

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The bottled water industry may be seen as an indicator of a larger unsustainable consumption pattern or problem that many people are not fully aware of. I could go on and on about why bottled water is so very very bad and you would probably get very tired and bored while I list all the reasons. So I thought it easier for all concerned if I provide a little information on the key reasons that I believe bottled water consumption is unsustainable. I am not going into the issues in detail, but you can always find more detailed information on the topic as there are tons of articles etc out there. In addition I will also leave some links behind that you could follow should you be keen.  

The key reasons for dropping your bottled water habit are;

  • Toxicity and health: Most plastic water bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) that is associated with ill health and toxicity. In addition plastic bottles are known to leach harmful chemicals into water that could have health impacts.  

The World Health Organization states that chemical contaminants, such as lead, arsenic and benzene, may be present in bottled water.

(nowastewednesdays.com 2011)

  • Quality: Municipal water is regularly tested and the quality is regulated, not all bottled water suppliers and processing plants are regulated and tested.

“in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can cost up to 10,000 times more.” (www.treehuger.com,2006)

  • Energy use: the bottled water industry is energy intensive and has a large carbon footprint. Energy is used to transport water to the bottling plant and to transport bottles from the bottling plant to consumers. This results in unnecessary energy use and carbon emissions.

municipal water requires only a little energy to pump the water through pipes to our homes”

  • Oil use: many billions of barrels of oil are used to manufacture plastic bottles. This may be seen as unnecessary use of oil. Oil mining, processing and combustion are associated with environmental degradation; reduction of oil use would benefit us all. One way of reducing your oil use would be to stop the unnecessary consumption of bottled water. 
  • Equity and Commoditization of water: Bottled water companies are using water, a natural resource, as a private commodity. In order to secure profits such companies are trying to and have often succeeded in securing access to water resources such as aquifers and wetlands. In the long term this could have dire consequences for food security, environmental health and the economy, as many people may not be able to afford water due to rising water costs, profits and the commodification of water.   

“Multinational corporations are stepping in to purchase groundwater and distribution rights wherever they can, and the bottled water industry is an important component in their drive to commoditize what many feel is a basic human right: the access to safe and affordable water.”

http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/5-reasons-not-to-drink-bottled-water

  • Pollution and waste: a great deal of the plastic used for water bottles does not get recycled and ends up in landfills or littering out urban and natural environments. The management and landfill of waste especially plastic is costly and this cost could be avoided by not consuming bottled water. A lot of the plastic bottles that don’t get landfilled and or recycled end up in nature where they cause litter and harm to nature and natural processes.  

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So if you want to start of 2013 with a quick, easy to keep and sustainable resolution all you have to do is quit you bottled water habit! This would simply entail:

  • Always asking or non-bottled water, unless you are in an area where there is no safe potable water.
  • Carrying your own water bottle (not plastic) with you and fill up at water fountains, taps etc.
  • Choosing non-bottled water whenever you have to option to do so. E.g. if you are at a meeting or conference or workshop and bottled water is provided ask for non-bottled water.
  • Asking for tap water when dining out and the waiter suggests bottled water for the table.

The multiplier effect of reducing your bottled water consumption also will include the following “good and green’ actions;

  • Reducing your carbon footprint
  • Reducing the amount of plastic waste that has to be landfilled or becomes litter landfilled
  • Ensures that access to water remains a basic right for all, not just for those that can afford it.
  • Support your municipality
  • Prevents the privatization of water
  • Prevents the unsustainable use of aquifers and water resources.
  • Prevents unnecessary energy use.
  • Prevents environmental degradation.
  • Saves you money.

 

 

References and more information:

http://news.iafrica.com/quirky/834862.html

http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/5-reasons-not-to-drink-bottled-water

http://www.sierraclub.org/committees/cac/water/bottled_water/bottled_water.pdf

http://nowastewednesdays.com/2011/03/09/bottled-water-a-bigger-enemy-that-you-think/

http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/purchasing_guides/bottled_water_university_edition/social_environ/

http://www.treehugger.com/culture/bottled-water-what-a-waste.html

http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/purchasing_guides/bottled_water_university_edition/social_environ/

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My Latest Green Fail….

…. another post about green that isn’t really green and how we all need to change our thinking and consumption patterns…and yes I am not perfect …..

My previous post on rare earth minerals got me thinking about the fact that transitioning towards a greener and more sustainable economy by focusing on technology, resource and innovation may not necessarily be the best option, especially when:

  • The new and innovative technologies end up increasing our dependence on resources, albeit, new or different ones.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in dependence or impact that is merely dressed up in different possibly green-washed and even organic new swag.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in an increase in unnecessary consumption often due to green wash and unsustainable trends.

Keep in mind that not all new and greener technologies are unsustainable. What is important is the manner in which we make the change to newer technologies, and the quantity and quality of the new technologies that we buy. Merely buying the newest and greenest technology will not make you greener and in fact may make you guilty of unsustainable and unethical consumption patterns.

It is very important that when we make our “green” choices we consider the entire impact and not merely the superficial impact that we would like to see?  Unfortunately, and much to my dismay I am guilty of this in many respects. So I thought as my good deed for the day…..I would share some of my green fails with the hope that I could prevent someone else from going down the same route.

My most recent “goody two-shoes green delusion fails” are;

  • Falling for a new high-tech gadget and upgrading my iPad to the latest version, that isn’t really that different from my previous one? From a functionality perspective I use the new one for exactly the same purpose as the previous one.  The question is did I really need the new one? and was the overall cost of the upgrade really worth it?

Green Pros:

  1. Less paper use and waste by reading eBooks, magazines and online news,
  2. Note taking, report editing and emails on the tablet = less printing of emails and reports and having an easily transportable and accessible library of documents that I need during the day.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use of resources and rare earth metals used to produce, package and transport my new tablet: think ecological footprint etc
  2. The iPad 3 has a higher carbon footprint that the iPad 2. (http://ecolibris.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-green-is-new-ipad-part-6-comparing.html#)
  3. Waste: landfill / recycling and disposal costs associated with the previous tablet. (though, I did try to offset this cost by up-cycling  the old tablet)

  • Green Retail Therapy: I recently bought a whole new batch of solar fairy lights and garden lights. The new solar fairy and garden lights were marketed as being greener than the previous generation of solar lights etc.  … so despite that fact that I already have a few pretty solar fairy lights twinkling away in my little garden and the fact that I don’t need more lights in my garden, I bought some more.

Green Pros:

  1. At least I didn’t buy conventional fairy lights that would increase my use of electricity generated from coal.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use and waste of resources that were used to produce, package and transport my new ”green” lighting.

Ultimately, these two examples are a large-scale green fail on my part that has sent my ecocred plummeting, despite the fact that I didn’t send the old iPad or fairy lights to a landfill.

I didn’t really need a new tablet to do exactly the same things that my previous tablet did. Neither did I need additional fairy lights., …even if they were solar-powered and therefore greener than conventional lights.

I was just a greedy little wannabe wanting to have the newest and shiniest gadgets. Gadgets, that are being marketed as green, that maybe a bit faster, prettier etc , yet barely have enough new features to outweigh the environmental and social costs of the new gadget or technology.

Not everything that is green is sustainable!

Additional reading to up your ecocred!

Five things you should know before buying apples iPad.

How green is the new iPad?

RIO+20:Renewing Commitment ?!?

Despite stating (in my previous post) that I wouldn’t spend too much/ or any time on Rio+20 I cant seem to prevent myself from having a little “vent”. For once, this doesn’t happen that often, I really wish that I was wrong. I had secretly hoped that I was wrong about my view that “Rio+20 is a waste of time and the money spent on Rio+20 would have probably had a better development impact if all efforts had been directed towards delivering tangible development outcomes!”

“Some 40,000 environmentalists and 10,000 government officials gathered with politicians from 190 nations for a meeting which the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said was “too important to fail”. (S Nair in the Tribune India)

I had hoped that at the close of the summit I would hear the awesome news that despite all the divergent views etc the summit was a success and then a plan of action with appropriate funds and an implementation team had been agreed upon and that the world would finally be able to see some effective development actions being implemented. Instead I find waiting in my inbox a copy of “The Future We Want“. The outcome of the Rio+20 Summit. The text starts with the following;

” We, the heads of State and Government and high level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20-22 June 2012, with full participation of civil society, renew our commitment to sustainable development, and to ensure the promotion of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.” (The Future We Want, 2012)

My first though was (and still is) “is that it!”…  I do understand that the begining does not comprise the message of the entire document but unfortunately the opening statement pretty much sums up the entire document. Thousands of powerful people, government representatives, the development set, the green bling brigade etc all met up in Rio to renew committment! We have been committed to sustainable development, poverty eradication, access to energy and safe drinking water for all etc etc etc…. for at least 20 years or so?

Could we not have had the same outcome if the key people had met up on skype, or via a conference call etc to renew “our” committment!, recognise what needs to be done, reaffirm other commitments and acknowledge that we have a problem? 

 But, as I said it’s just a thought, and there is no point in crying over spilt milk or wasted funds or a (rather large) carbon and ecological footprint.

Click here to link to the full the full text of the “The Future We Want“.

Some Thoughts on Green Buildings & Sustainable Development

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Something to think about and some ideas that you could use next time you play simcity or make very important decisions about how the planets resources are used!

 

 As a society we are dependent on our built environment and our natural environment. It is evident that the built environment has significant impacts on our natural environment and the health of our society. It therefore makes perfect sense to ensure that our built environment does not negatively affect the sustainability of our society and nature. The built environment is a significant contributor to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and influences the manner in which we as a society utilize our resources. There is also proof that green buildings promote the health and productivity of the buildings’ inhabitants and uses.Consequently we need to ensure that our built environment reduces and minimized GHG emissions and also facilitates the sustainable use of our resources.

“… green buildings typically cost up to 5 percent more than standard buildings during construction, but can reduce waste output by 70 percent, water usage by 40 percent and energy usage by 30 to 50 percent.” (www.worldgbc.org)

Thus it makes perfect sense for all new buildings to be green. However, the concept of green building and the green building sector have been around for quite a while and don’t seem to have made much of an impact on the built environment landscape. 

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How many of the buildings that you use/ see every day may be categorized as green buildings that are contributing to the sustainability of the planet and society?

 “Green buildings represent 2 percent of the commercial buildings and 0.3 percent of new homes in the US.” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=green-buildings-may-be-cheapest-way-to-slow-global-warming)

 The concept of green buildings and the greening of the construction and building is a dynamic and evolving debate that covers (and brings together) a plethora of stakeholders, professions and topics. This in my opinion is the reason that the green building sector hasn’t moved beyond building certification, passing of (some) legislation and the development of a few green buildings that may or may not be facilitating the establishment of a sustainable society. It is evident that green building could in fact contribute to sustainable development; however, there are a few barriers that need to be overcome before the green building sector is able make a more sustainable development impact. The key issue in this regard relates to the skills and stakeholders involved.

In order for the green buildings sector to be able to make a more effective development impact and contribute successfully towards sustainable development the following should be considered;

  • Fast tracking of the creation of an enabling environment. This includes policy frameworks, legislation and regulation through increased public sector involvement. This would create a demand for green buildings and greening technologies as well as create incentives and tax benefits.
  • Broadening of the skills set in the construction sector and the use of multidisciplinary teamsthat do not only include the standard construction industry type of skills.
    • The members of these teams need to be able to effectively work and communicate across professions.  
    • Team work, coordination and leadership skills are core skills in green building (www.uncsd2012.org)
    • Increased awareness and capacity building initiatives that include non- construction sector stakeholders. This would;
      • Ensure that people understand why it is important to build green buildings
      • Show the public that there is another way of building
      • Highlight the cost and health benefits of green buildings.
      • Increase the demand for green buildings.
      • The need to move away from an energy efficiency focus in green buildings towards a more sustainable development focus. There needs to be a more integrated approach that goes beyond energy, emissions, heating, cooling and solar panels etc Waste, transport costs, water and biodiversity should be integrated into the planning and build process.
      • A move away from green buildings being seen as primarily large scale developments to a broader focus which includes green buildings within the residential sector. This would also have the effect of making green buildings accessible to a larger portion of the population.
      • A move away from a tick box approach to green buildings towards an increased focus on the actual performance of the building.
      • Green buildings need to be contextualized within a broader development and planning framework. Of particular importance is the need to focus less on individual green buildings and increase the focus on green developments which incorporate and integrate green buildings and green design.
        • A green building that is inaccessible would negate the benefits of being green if it is associated with high travel costs and travel related GHG emissions.
        • A green building that provides bicycle parking yet is located in area that is not conducive to bicycle use is a waste of bicycle parking space.   
        • Green buildings need to be integrated into the service provision and infrastructure needs of the surrounding environment. A green building that doesn’t contribute to the sustainability of the area that it is situated in is not really that sustainable or green.
        • Green buildings could be used to provide services to the surrounding area. Examples are
          • A building that generates excess electricity (solar, wind, biogas etc) that is then feed into the grid.
          • A building that harvests rain water that can be used to water parks or gardens in proximity.
          • Rooftop gardens that provide green spaces or act as green lungs in dense urban areas.  
          • Rooftop gardens that provide food to surrounding areas
          • etc

References and additional reading FYI:

www.gbcsa.org.za

www.worldgbc.org

www.uncsf2012.org

Another How To Green Your Valentines Day Post!

You either: love Valentine ’s Day, hate it or are completely ambivalent about it! Which ever it is you clearly think something about it if you ended up here reading this post! *smirk*

I have already seen articles and blog posts about “how to green” your Valentines Day blah blah… so being the dutiful or not so dutiful green-band-wagon-blogger that I am, I contemplated doing a similar article. The thing is that I don’t actually believe in Valentines Day, well at least not in the manner in which we tend to celebrate it anyway….. No, I am not an alien or some weird species of mad tree hugging anti joy and happiness type of person! I actually love the thought of champers, prezzies, and chocolates and being spoilt etc… I just think that picking one day in a year to do so an absolute waste of time, effort, emotion, money and natural resources. I think everyday should be Valentines Day and we should always show our loved ones and Valentines that we love and appreciate them (without being a stalker though… )
Here are a few reasons that Valentines Day needs a bit of a rethink, other than the inherent cheesiness. You should think about:

  • Trees grown in unsustainable monoculture plantations cut down to make cheesy cards. Imagine the waste of resources….
  • Flowers are grown in monoculture plantations, where farmers in all likelihood using GM seeds, too much water in water poor areas of the world and are shipped around the world in refrigerated planes and trucks emitting GHG emissions etc… (see the article on greening tips and flowers)
  • Flowers wrapped in plastic that will be grossly overpriced for the day… what’s the point?
  • Cheesy yucky tasting chocolates and sweets that will be molded into heart and cupid etc shapes that will be sold all over the place and will most probably be thrown away by recipients who don’t like said yucky chocolate which will in any event be on sale two days after Valentines Day …. Rather save the worlds chocolate resources and buy good quality sustainably produced chocolate that actually tastes nice and is good for the planet.
  • Think of all the waste when the valentine hued cards, wrapping and uneaten chocolates, flowers etc that will have to disposed of…
  • Underwear that is supposed to be made from sustainably grown/sourced cotton that is not really that good for the environment or the communities that it was meant to benefit. (see the article on Victoria’s Secret for more info)
  • The stress caused by all the build up to Valentines Day and the possibility of being rejected by the person you choose to be your valentine…. this can be particularly unsustainable to humans….
  • The list just goes on and on ….

So instead my message is celebrate Valentines Day… just don’t be a cheesy eco-douche and fall for all the green wash! You don’t have to spend mad cash on overpriced “pretend” sustainable flowers, organic champers or not so sustainable Victoria’s Secret underwear or whatever it is that you do on Valentines Day. Rather make a Valentines gesture that is sustainable and has a more sustainable impact on the environment:

Some options for those of you trying to be a bit nicer to the planet this Valentines Day are:

  • Do nothing (and risk being ostracized, broken up with etc. This is a good option for those wanting to end a relationship on Valentines Day!) (-1000 points)
  • Make a homemade Valentines Day card … preferably using organic, sustainable sourced paper and ink etc (+20 points) for your loved one.
  • Cook your Valentine an organic home cooked meal. Ideally you would have grown the veggies at home using the worm juice/tea from your wormery, but if not, at east try and source the food from a reliable non-green wash supermarket chain (see article on supermarket refrigeration and GHG emissions) or local farmers market. (+ 50 points if you swopped some organic veggies and worm tea with the vineyard down the road for organic wine or champers to accompany the meal.) Additional information on more sustainable food consumption can be found in this article.)
  • Adopt an endangered species/ donate to worthy cause in the name of your Valentine! Please note that adoption of an orangutan, rhino, gorilla or panda does not mean you are to bring the animal home for your valentine. The aim here is to contribute to helping out the conservation of the species not facilitate increased poaching or removal of species from their natural environments. (Extra points directly linked to the more endangered the species and the larger the donation!) I am not going to tell you what to adopt or which cause to donate to. You should know what the worthy causes in your area are.
  • Plant an indigenous tree/ plant/ flower with your Valentine to symbolize your love …. (be sure to water and look after it ….. don’t let it die as that could be taken as an bad omen for your relationship)… cheesy I know but at least you will hopefully help with carbon reduction and the prevention of biodiversity loss.
  • Pick a flower from your/ a garden and give it to your Valentine. Preferably, an indigenous flower (+10 points) grown in a safe non-pesticide using garden.
  • Spend quality time with you Valentine/ loved one etc. This has particularly low resource consumption, though if you have to travel halfway around the world to do so your carbon miles may actually make this option unsustainable for you, so maybe you should try something else… or public transport.
  • These are just a few options, if you can’t find anything that suits your here do an internet search and you should find a good green Valentines Day option to suit you!

The point is that there are tons of things you can do, to have a greener and more sustainable Valentines Day so please try and stay away from the unnecessary consumption, and resource depleting type of Valentines Day and don’t be an eco-douche!

Food & Environment

We need food to survive. We also need a safe an healthy environment to provide us with food. Without food we would all die and without an healthy environment we would not be able to eat. This is all very simple…. however, we need to be a bit more mindful of the environmental impact of what we eat.  The manner in which our food is produced, harvested, stored, packaged, transported, prepared and eaten all have environmental impacts that are in many instances contributing to the degradation of our environment, which is counter productive considering that we need the environment to provide us with food. 

The fact that we all need food and all eat at least once a day (those of us who are food secure) means that by simply introducing one or two (preferably more, but something is better than nothing) environment friendly habits to your eating habits you could contribute to a healthier environment and also a healthier you!
The quickest way to green your eating habits is by focusing on reducing the food miles, carbon emissions, pesticides, wastes, and packaging associated with the food you eat.  A few simple tips are:
  • Buy and eat seasonal fruit and vegetables that are preferably organic, pesticide free and locally grown.

    Fresh Cherries

  • Stay away from over/ unnecessarily processed foods such as pre-chopped veggies or peeled and sliced oranges? Processing and storage involves energy and emissions so if you don’t really need the processed food don’t buy it!

    Reusable shopping bag

  • Reduce food waste. Only buy and prepare as much as you eat. Less waste less pollution and less costs!
  • Buy your food in packaging that is either recyclable or reusable or try and stay away from unnecessarily packaged food. Individually packaged fruit and vegetables is wasteful and unnecessary. Do we really need individually wrapped oranges/bananas/ onions etc?

    Individually packaged fruit.

  • Reuse your shopping bags.
  • Grow your own fresh fruits, vegetables and or herbs? This will save on production and transportation and storage costs which will in turn result in fewer carbon emissions.
  • Recycle your food waste by having a wormery or composter. You can use the nutrient rich “worm tea” and compost in your garden.
  • Buy local produce. This reduces transport related emissions (food miles) and also supports the local economy.
  • Eat less meat, this reduces your GHG emissions.
Some informative links on the above are:

Example of a Worm Farm