Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Knotty Question: Green or Greenwashed?

I set myself the challenge this month of reading my company's annual sustainability report. There's some great stuff in here which we can be justly proud of. We are one of the world's biggest environmental and engineering consultants, with some impressive stories from low carbon buildings to new wastewater treatment plants that can remove much higher proportions of pollutants such as nitrates from sewage and capture methane from solid sludge as a source of energy for the plant. We have also worked with councils to change user behaviour when it comes to waste and divert 95% of waste away from landfill. We have committed to WRAP's commitment to halve the volume of construction waste arising from our projects which goes to landfill.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Climate Politics: Where Are We Now?

Addressing climate change requires international as well as local solutions, which means co-operation and negotiation on a grand scale. The scientific community has been doing this very well: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988, and has been called the largest international scientific undertaking in human history, with thousands of experts involved from around the world in the task of examining peer-reviewed technical literature and publishing the results to advise policymakers. Over the years, the language in the reports has grown stronger and stronger as the scientific consensus has grown more and more confident, to the point that the 4th report published in 2007 could state baldly that:
“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising sea levels”.
However, the policymakers' response to the ever-growing body of evidence that the climate is warming and that human activity is responsible has been essentially: “La la la, I'm not listening”

Monday, 20 January 2014

Bike + Train = ?

As mentioned in my carbon footprint results, I cycle or take the train everywhere (with the occasional walk or bus). So this post is about what happens when you try to mix the two, ie take your bike on the train? There isn't a simple answer to this (hence the question mark) because we have a variety of different train companies which have different approaches to fulfilling the law that requires that all trains must be able to carry at least 2 bikes.
So my experiences have been pretty variable and here's a guide to the different attitudes I have experienced:

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Towards a Sustainable Railway - Part 2

A few weeks ago, I met an environmental consultant who told me about a small architectural practice which he had helped to implement an environmental management system accredited under ISO14001 – but this ONLY related to their office environment, not their project work. I'm not sure which of us was more surprised by this conversation: me, that any company could be stupid enough to think that recycling the office's waste paper is 'doing enough' while failing to address energy efficiency and waste in the buildings they design, or him, when I told him that no public sector client would ever employ a consultant engineering firm in today's marketplace who doesn't have an effective EMS for their projects.
But sometimes I wonder if we have allowed this to put sustainability in a box.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Carbon calculator: The results!

I have used the method set out in the book 'Carbon Detox' by George Marshall (highly recommended!) to calculate my personal carbon emissions in six main areas: energy for the home, transport (land/international), food, goods and services. Note that this is (necessarily) an estimate, but the purpose is to provide an indication of where my biggest carbon emissions are and opportunities to reduce them.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

January Challenges

This post is a summary of my challenges for January, because it helps to be specific.
Personal: I will calculate my carbon footprint and publish the results. This will act as a steer for future months' challenges by highlighting the areas where I can achieve the most significant reductions.
Political: I will write a letter to my MP as part of Age UK's 'Spread the Warmth' campaign calling for measures to improve insulation for people on low incomes. This is really important, because Age UK's estimates indicate about 24,000 elderly people will die this winter unnecessarily because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Given that research indicates that the UK has the leakiest homes in Europe (letting more than 3 times more heat out of the average house wall than houses in Sweden, for example), we need to act.

Engineering: As I noted previously, this requires some research. So this month my challenge is to read my company's sustainability report and two  recently published reports about low carbon infrastructure: "Construction 2025" and "Decarbonising Infrastructure".
Prayer: This is a commitment to pray daily for an effective response to tackle climate change. This problem is much bigger than me, and I want to work with the creator of everything so prayer is absolutely key. To that end, I have signed up to Christian Ecology Link's prayer community and I'll be using their daily prayer guide to help me pray.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Towards a Sustainable Railway – Part 1

My first stage in working out where I can usefully contribute to making the railways more sustainable is to consider where our environmental impacts are coming from. Today I'll consider the impacts from normal operation of the railway, for example powering trains, buildings and encouraging passengers and freight to use more sustainable forms of transport.

Good news - British railways are getting better!

Here is a good news story that you don't hear very often: Britain is currently undergoing the biggest investment in railway infrastructure since the  Victorian era, with plans now approved for £37bn of investment over the next 5 years (note that this figure includes normal operations and maintenance as well as enhancement work).
And no, I'm not talking about HS2, being the only railway project most people have heard of! In fact, I'm talking about what's happening to improve our existing railways: Network Rail has a big vision for how we could make the railways work better and the long term funding to make it happen. And a recent report by the European Commission which compared progress in all EU countries since 1990 concluded that we have the most improved railway network in Europe.