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Responsibility for the total

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Clare bought me an axe for Christmas to cut kindling up with. Below is what was written in the booklet that came with it. I couldn't have said it better. This is not an axe. It's another way to run a company.

'What we take, how and what we make, what we waste, is in fact a question of ethics. We have an unlimited responsibility for the Total. A responsibility which we try to take, but do not always succeed in. One part of this responsibility is the quality of the products and how many years the product will maintain its durability. To make a high quality product is a way to pay respect and responsibility to the customer and the user of the product. A high quality product, in the hands of those who have learned how to use it and how to look after it, will very likely be more durable. This is good for the owner, the user. But this is good as well as part of a greater whole: increased durability means that we take less (decreased consumption of material and energy), that we need to produce less (gives us more time to do other things we think are important or enjoyable), destroy less (less waste). One of the goals for Gransfors Bruks is to make high quality durable products. As proof of this goal, and to show that we have a responsibility for the product, Gransfors Bruks gives a 20 Year Product Guarantee.'



Today 15 million plastic bottles will walk out of our supermarkets. In a year that is getting close to a half a billion bottles. In our country we use more food packaging per person than anyone else in Europe.

The way we look at things is this: It is better to produce less packaging than to try and get everyone to recycle more. To do this we have to convince just five people in the UK: the all powerful supermarket bosses. If they wanted their suppliers to use less packaging, their suppliers would have no choice but to listen. But if our supermarkets want to lead the way in terms of corporate responsibility, they could put this power to good use. There are plenty of ways that they can do this. Manufacturers could market products in more concentrated form, use packaging that is thinner, lighter or better designed, or ideally, use biodegradable packaging, (A similar scheme in Germany cut down 1 million tons of packaging in four years. An aircraft carrier weighs approximately 60,000 tons).

So here's what to do.
If you find stuff littering the street, the beach or the mountains just send it back to the supermarkets using one of the addresses on the left. The hope is that they will talk to their existing suppliers about cutting down on packaging and getting manufacturers to take responsibility for their products after they have left the store.

Of course, not every supermarket will do it. It will be interesting to see who leads the way. And maybe, the reward for the one who leads the way will be that we like them more. Because they shouldn't forget that there will be a day in the not too distant future when all supermarkets are selling the same products at the same prices, and we will shop at the one we like the most, or in other words, the one who used their power to do the most good.

The Chairman
Tesco Plc
Head office
Delamre Road

The Chairman
J Sainsbury
33 Holborn

The Chairman
Waitrose Ltd
Doncastle Road
Industrial Area
RG12 8YA


In Britain, 4m tons of packaging ends up in landfills
every year.

There are 25 million tons of litter on our streets.

The Green Ant

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Ants are co-rulers of planet Earth. There are ten thousand trillion worldwide. Roughly. If you weighed all the humans on Earth today, we would weigh around the same as all the ants. They have been on Earth for 140 million years. They outlasted the dinosaurs.
In a typical colony, almost exclusively female, adults care for the young, a queen acts as the Head of State, and a regimented division of labour predetermines the chores that maintain the community. They can sew silk, garden, enslave other ants, and are one of the few species, other than humans, truly capable of altering their surroundings.
Just like humans, ants have their own unique way of communicating. They have mastered an odorous alphabet that allows for recognition, alarm, territoriality, and internal balance of the colony. The letters of their alphabet are called pheromones and they help spell out the immediate and long-term activities needed to govern the nest.
But in terms of ecology, we have a lot to learn from the humble ant.
In the process of going about their business, ants recycle the nutrients of the earth, turning more soil on a daily basis than the ubiquitous earthworm. Indeed, ants are the premier soil turners on Earth. They help the environment by consuming unwanted plants, enriching the soil when they process their food so nothing goes to waste. To them waste is food.
They have learnt to coexist with trees and plants so that all parties benefit. Some ants even help in the spreading of seeds. And they don’t have to run a huge advertising campaign to get ants recycling. It is instinctive.
And yet the ant can do all this with a brain that weighs less than one millionth as much as a human brain.
And there we were thinking that we were the smartest critters on the planet.

The rain factories

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


The wind comes up from the south west, tailing the Gulf Stream, making its way over the North Atlantic. Fitzroy, Sole, Fastnet, Lundy, Irish Sea: the shipping forecast followed like a roadmap. Picking up moisture all the way. Pausing for a last drink in Cardigan Bay before it heaves up over the Cambrian Mountains.

The air cools. Raindrops form and fall on grass, rock, sheep and a biker or two. The mountaintops drain into pools, like this one: Llyn Teifi. From here flows the River Teifi, sometimes this way, sometimes that, forever downhill, through our back garden, seventy-five miles into Cardigan Bay.

The river’s been here a lot longer than we have. Maybe there was something it could teach us. So we went out and watched and listened and followed the river from source to sea.

The Sea Is A Good Teacher

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Take the simple Mussels that live on rocks at the sea edge.

They are sometimes exposed to air, sometimes under water, and are regularly buffeted and bashed by the waves.

How do they hold on?

Well, the mussel has a glue that is just as strong as any super glue on the market.

Yet, it is created at low temperatures and causes no environmental damage at any point in its lifecycle.

By contrast, man-made glues are made from fossil fuel based polymers and are, in many cases, highly toxic.

Nature has solved most of the problems we face.

We will have to start to view nature not just as something
we take from but something we can learn from.

More stuff:

www.zeri.org (zero emissions research and initiatives)
www.iucn.org (The World Conservation Union)
www.biomimcryguild.com Biomimcry – innovation inspired by nature
by Janine Benyus

There is no waste in nature

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Take ants as just one example of nature's brilliance.

Ants safely handle their own wastes and those of other species.

They grow and harvest their own food while nurturing the ecosystems of which they are a part.

They construct houses, farms, dumps, cemeteries, living quarters, and food-storage facilities from materials that can be truly recycled.

They create disinfectants and medicines that are healthy, safe and biodegradable. And while they are busy doing all that they maintain soil health for the entire planet.

Nature doesn't have a design problem.

We do.


We have become distracted.

We are all too busy watching Big Brother or Celebrity This or That while the corporations take the rainforest down, one tree at a time.

While the polluters carry on their merry way, we are sipping our coffee, mulling over which plasma to buy.

While Gordon Brown talks green, this government is approving airports, motor ways and trying to wriggle out of green energy targets.

Yup, we have become comfortably numb to it.

The entertainment industry is keeping the masses quiet.

Keeping us from thinking too much about stuff.

It used to be opium for the masses, now it's reality TV.

Jeez, how did we get here? We are all part of the problem.

We care. But we are just too busy to say something.

The government, the corporations, the polluters must just love us.

Protest about nothing. Accept just about everything.

The Distracted Nation. 'Oh waiter, another latte please.'

(12,090 trees were cut down in the time it took to read this)

Where Have All The Wiggly's Gone

  • Posted by howies
  • 30 October 2008


Testing water quality of a river has changed in recent times from being an exercise in measuring for this and that to considering what makes the river water tick.

There are many ways to test a river. There is Physico-chemical Quality, which is Acidity (pH), Turbidity (clarity), temperature, presence of chemicals and so on.

There is Biochemical Quality BOD5 (biochemical oxygen demand) a measure of how the organic loading in water can consume its dissolved oxygen over five days.

And then there is Ecological Water Quality. What is in the river against what you would expect to find there. Basically, are the Wiggly's there? The little larvae and bugs that keep the rivers inhabitants well fed. The real sign of a healthy river.

At first sight, the River Teifi looks clean. Clear waters ease past grassy banks, woodlands and marshes towards Cardigan Bay. Sure, its chemical and biochemical quality is excellent, the right clarity, temperature, nutrient loadings and so on. Yet its wildlife is not quite what it could be. While Sewin (the local Sea Trout) and Salmon numbers are alright, Brown Trout numbers are not. There are a lot of invisible factors at play.

In the upper parts of the river, we are still suffering from acid rain a decade after this leached away from the lowland. The acidic soil cannot buffer the residual airborne pollution and forestry practices which encouraged swift drainage, and means that surface run-off is a real problem. The water is clear, but it does not harbour the insects whose larvae the fish need if they are to thrive.

Lower down, illegal sheep dip emptied into the river can wipe out insects and fish at any point for up to a mile downstream.

Who is to blame when supermarkets force farmers to sell their products at less than cost price? How can they afford the more expensive sheep dip (and the less harmful one) when they are finding it hard to put food on their own table? The percentage of what you pay for lamb going to the farmer has fallen by 25% since 1988, the rest going to the supermarkets.

Closer to the sea, it is the threat of over-abstraction and low flows during summer as new demands stretch an old resource.

What can we do? Well, upland management needs to take into account the value of a healthy river. We can buy from local organic farmers and growers that will mean less toxic run off for us and higher prices for them.

Water consumption can also be driven down with efficient equipment like dual flush loos and a better metering mentality.

But perhaps the single biggest hope for change is The Europe's Water Framework Directive. This law calls for allinland and coastal waters to have 'good ecological quality' by 2015. This means the wildlife that ought to be in each stream, river and rock pool should be there.

So in time a clean river will become a healthy one once more. The Brown Trout is looking forward to it.

by David Lloyd Owen


Tescopoly - a site dedicated to supermarket excess
The European Union Environmental Directorate General - studies and information on water policy
The Environment Agency


Until now a deodorant has just been designed so it's safe for humans to use. That would be fine, if the only place it ended up was under your armpit. But that isn't so. The residues from your deodorant will wash off when you have a bath or shower. From there they will eventually make their way into our rivers, and, in turn, our seas. So even something as simple a deodorant has an impact on our environment. Indeed, we are all downstream of lots of poorly designed products without really being aware of it. But it's not all doom and gloom. Good product design can change all that.

Take the humble deodorant. We could design it so when it appears in the river, it will break down quickly and harmlessly. And even help the health of the river as it does so. Today we don't lack the know-how or technology to do this, just the desire to do so. But as environmental pressures grow, we will have to think differently about how we design products. We will have to consider a product's second life and third life as much as we currently think today about its first. We will have to change the way we make things.

If a river can alter its course over time, so can we.

(Kite photography by Michael Coombes)

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