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Paint it green

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2009


Paint it green

Paint it green
In Sweden, they’ve been painting houses this colour since the 1500s. It’s called Falu Rödfärg, or Falun Red. It’s made from natural pigments extracted as a by-product from the copper mine at Falun, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The red mull comes from ore with a low copper content that has decomposed for a long time. It is washed, sifted and roasted, then ground to a fine pigment.

You can buy the pigment in powder form, in a box, so you’re not shipping water or a tin. You can mix it yourself, with water, linseed oil, iron sulphate, some wheat or rye flour and a bit of soap. 

The iron sulphate and the minerals in the pigment – iron ochre, silicon dioxide, copper and zinc – all help to preserve raw timber, which means you don’t have to repaint or replace the wood so often.

It’s not oil-based – linseed doesn’t count – and contains no solvents. At the end of its long life, it will decompose naturally.

The paint has a matt finish and the coarse silicon dioxide crystals reflect the light in different ways at different times of day. Your shed will take on a life of its own. 

So if a Swede tells you something is like watching paint dry, it might not be such a bad thing.

Jon Matthews

Technology is not the enemy

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2009


Technology is not the enemy

Technology is not the enemy
Whenever my Dad fills up his car with petrol he notes down how much he put in and his latest mileage in a little notebook. And, every now and then, he sits down and works out how the car’s performing. He’s an engineer. That’s what they do. They pay attention to things. And it strikes me that attention is going to be very important in understanding, and doing something about, the size of our footprints on the planet. Because you never do anything about things you don’t notice.

And that’s what’s rather exciting about technology at the moment. Oh, I know, all us econutters are supposed to be against technology and its relentless inhuman crushing of the little flowers and animals, but that sort of knee-jerk silliness won’t get us anywhere. There are technologies out there that’ll help us monitor our footprints – and therefore get us doing something. Look at a website like www.walkit.com - stick in a couple of locations and it’ll show you the best walking route and tell you how much carbon you’re not using if you walk it. Or a device like Wattson will keep an eye on how much electricity you’re using.  And then you can feed that into a site like www.pachube.com and start to share your data with the world (though you have to be a bit geeky at the moment).  Even RFID chips – those little tracking tags that generate so many privacy worries – could be a great help here. They could give each item we make, buy or consume a unique identity – allowing us to measure it, monitor it, make sure it’s energy responsible.  Even that little camera in your phone is a potentially world-changing device – the best first step to improving the world is noticing, capturing and sharing the way it actually is, in all its tiny lovely detail.

Technology is not the enemy. Inattention and waste are the enemy. If you don’t notice your footprints you won’t clean them up. So remember to take notes and use whatever tools can to keep you paying attention.
Words: Russell Davies
Illustration: Nic Burrows


From Mighty Oaks, Little Acorns Grow

From Mighty Oaks, Little Acorns Grow
Old growth forest is a good place to take an economics lesson.

I was standing in a stretch of temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island. It wasn’t the 800 year old Douglas Firs surrounding me that got my attention – not that you can miss something 70m tall and 2m in diameter – or that I’d never realised there were so many shades of green. It was the stuff on the forest floor.

‘Old growth’ means the forest has been untouched for hundreds of years by fire or loggers. It manages itself. When a tree gets old or sick and a big storm comes, it falls over. As it begins to rot and gather moss, it catches seeds that fall from the other trees above. Here, above the forest floor, away from faster growing plants that would take their light, fed by nutrients from the rotting tree, the seedlings grow.

The healthiest and luckiest will root through their ‘nursery log’ to the forest floor and grow strong until, in another few hundred years, they start the cycle again.

And the economics? Well, in December 2008 the US government loaned $17.4 billion to the US car makers Ford, GM and Chrysler. Car companies in the UK and Europe are all looking to be propped up by the taxpayer.

Let them fall.

Nobody buying your car? That’s because it’s no good. You’re making too many of them. The ones you make use too much gas, look like crap and fall apart too soon.

And, worst of all, you’re keeping Jeremy Clarkson in a job. The car industry is full of really clever people doing really dumb jobs. There are engineers paid to make cars go faster instead of making them more economical, designers paid to make cars look more aggressive instead of making them safer for other road users, marketing managers paid to sell the freedom of an open road to people who have nowhere to park.

How about better public transport or car sharing systems or cars that don’t run on petrol? Or better laid out cities with space for people and bikes? We’re going to need people to design, engineer, build and sell these things. And factory space. And billions of dollars. Where’s it all going to come from?


Words: Jon Matthews
Illustration: Matthew Hams

Tell the truth, even if it hurts your business
Back in 2000, I fell in love with Merino. I loved its function, its quality and most of all that nature provided it. And because it came from the land, one day after it had come to the end of its day, it could return to the land too.

I was sold. I still am.

It was my answer to all those petro-chemical base layers out there, which I know from using them, just don’t do what the packaging says they do. (Nice packaging though.)

Around a year ago, we started a project to find out what the footprint of each of our products were.

David Hicks sat in front of a computer collating the data, and also working out what it meant. To find out the truths and not just what we had assumed.

And the truth of it is we didn’t like some of the results.

Moving the production of Merino from New Zealand to Fiji a couple of years ago to save a few pennies had increased our carbon footprint many fold. And we didn’t even know.

What we had not been aware of was that the fibre had gone from New Zealand to China to be made into yarn, then had gone back to New Zealand to be made into fabric. That’s before it even arrived in Fiji. After Fiji had made it into our garments, it was flown back to New Zealand. Then onto LA. Then to London. Then finally to Cardigan.

It was ugly everywhere you looked. It was a bit like finding out your dad swore as a kid.
 That said, Merino is a truly great product. The best there is. And because we use the highest grade that we can find, ours has a great reputation. And regularly wins the awards against all the big boys.

But how we are making it right now is dumb. It doesn’t fit with our aim to produce the lowest impact clothing that we can. That hurts. But the truth isn’t always what you want it to be. So we have to change. Stop making it in Fiji is the first thing we have to do.

Then we have to work out if it is best to make it New Zealand or actually if the Merino is being turned into yarn in China, whether it is best to make it there. The lesson has been learnt.

We have to look at our footprint as much as the unit price.

The worst CO2 figure in our range is Merino. 
A long sleeve NBL generates 2.60 kg of CO2 
from fibre to delivery in Cardigan, and the product travels 45,809 km in total.

The supply chain is:
Fibre from Southern Alps, NZ.
Goes to China to be made into yarn.
Back to NZ to be made into fabric.
On to Fiji to be cut & sewn.
To the UK via Auckland and LA.
Then London to Cardigan.

Good news, Bad news

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2009


Good news, Bad news

Good News, Bad News
No-one can seem to agree if the recession means good news or bad news for the environment. We summarise the key arguments:

Global demand for oil is falling.

Petrol gets cheaper.

Pubs close heated outdoor terraces as people cut back on eating out.

Patio heaters 60% off at B&Q.

Woolworths goes bust, leading to falling sales of cheap plastic crap.

People drive miles in search of alternative Pick’n’Mix.

Premier League footballers cut back on purchases of luxury cars.

They’re all buying cut-price helicopters.

Drivers put off buying new cars.

And keep driving around in their old gas-guzzlers.

China shuts down 20 coal-burning power stations.

And opens four nuclear ones.

Construction of Severn barrage put on hold owing to credit availability. 
All of Gloucestershire designated Wading Bird Preserve as continued global warming causes flood havoc.

Gordon Brown’s government announces plans to create thousands of jobs insulating UK homes.
UK Government buildings continue to produce more CO2 output than the entire Kenyan economy.

Kenyan economy cuts CO2 output by 25%.
UK government buys Kenyan carbon credit instead of insulating roofs.

Fashion industry responds to falling sales by switching from four 
seasons per year to one season every four years. 
You will be wearing yellow low-cut velour disco pants until spring 2013.

Words: Jon Matthews
Illustration: Nicholas Saunders

The Wind of Change

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2009


The Wind of Change

Winds of Change
Portugal’s international reputation usually orbits such things as wine, port, olives, fish, cork, and holidays. Being half Portuguese, to me it also means cold beer, Catholicism, gossipy old women in black, beautiful young women in bikinis, and the Azorean islands. In all, a fairly traditional picture. However, my work in renewable energy makes me proud of the moves the nation has made in the direction of a low carbon energy system.

The country is blessed by geography and climate, having a long, windy coastline, strong rivers and hot sun, giving it a huge natural endowment of wave, wind, tidal and solar power. They now have a target to produce 45 per cent of their electricity from alternative sources by 2015, and facilitate it with various incentives, including a guaranteed price for the energy fed into the grid (a feed-in tariff), investment subsidies and tax reductions. That it has no fossil fuels of its own, nor expertise with nuclear energy, is becoming the best thing that ever happened to the country.

The world’s biggest solar park is found in Amareleja, in the Alentejo region, which will be nearly double the size of Hyde Park and supply energy for 30,000 homes. The world’s largest wind farm is under construction in the hills near the Spanish border, and when currently planned wind farms are all completed, they will power around 750,000 homes. Wave power is expected to supply energy to around 450,000 homes when planned investments are deployed along the coast. New technology (made in Scotland) is currently being tested in the Porto area.

The clean energy transition in Portugal is expected to create around 10,000 jobs, jobs which should stay in the country. Germany, Spain and Denmark are all world leaders in renewable energy, but we can expect increasing competition in global markets from China, Japan, India and the United States. The election of Barack Obama came with the promise of five million new ‘green collar’ jobs in the coming years. When leaders lead by example, and profit, others follow.

The kind of revolution that we need, on a global scale, will be led by examples of what works. Portuguese focus and determination on renewable energy – and on energy efficiency – is just such an example. They pulled out the stops, and that is what it will take. The faster we make climate and environment protecting activities normal, everyday things, the sooner we will get the snowball effect – everyone is at it, because society has chosen that path. Think of the industrial revolution, or the telecommunications revolution. Societies around the world are able to use the latter to share ways of overcoming the multiple problems created by the former.

The year 2009 is likely to be another breakthrough year on all these fronts. There are now too many people around the world working on solving these problems for it to be otherwise. When the solutions create jobs and industry too, that speaks loudly to voters and politicians. Watch this space.

Don't do a Midgely

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2009


Don't do a Midgely

Don't do a Midgely
I'd like to coin a new phrase. Have you ever been faced with a problem and, in desperation, you've tried to solve it quickly only for that quick fix to actually make the problem ten times worse? No? Oh. Well, for those of you that have you must bow at the feet of Thomas Midgley Jr, the man accredited with having "more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history".

When charged with the problem of how to lubricate car engines he suggested adding lead to petrol. And when asked how to make aerosols more efficient, he suggested chucking in some CFCs. This double whammy led to two environmental problems of Ferris Bueller proportions. He may not have known what he was doing but that's still a fair kick in the chops for old Mother Nature. Midgley isn't around anymore but there are still those who, in desperation to solve a short term problem put the environment at long term risk. You wouldn't exactly call them “tree-huggers” I suppose. The thing is if we find these Midgleys and try to make them see the error of their ways, try to let them know that all they are doing really is creating a much bigger problem for future generations then maybe we can stop them. They may never end up hugging a tree but they might at least consider shaking hands with a plant.

Words: Ben Harris
Illustration: Paul Ryding

My big feet

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2009


My big feet

My BIg Feet
My foot measures a foot, as in twelve inches. 

Actually both of them do. Pretty big and very useful for measuring out an impromptu swimming pool.

My footprints can vary in size though. Sometimes they’re tiny when my big feet are happy to look for locally grown fruit and veg. My big feet will also politely refuse carrier bags and my big feet don’t mind going on a trip to the recycling bins down the road.

But then you got the odd day when my footprints are a bit massive. If my big feet want mango, my big feet will have mango god dammit. If it’s a long walk home for my big feet, a couple of carrier bags won’t hurt and if it’s too cold and wet for my big feet to go outside I’ll just chuck the paper in the normal bin this time.

Having spoken at length to my feet about this they both agreed they like being big but they love having small footprints.

Words: Ben Harris
Illustration: Federico Jordan

Return to simple

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 December 2008


Return to simple

Return to simple
Nature is my passion – it’s been my obsession for as long as I can remember.

When I left the academic world to become a pig farmer a couple of years ago I was determined to get back to a more simplistic, natural way of life. My plan was to live and work on my own farm, raising free range animals and growing food as nature intended. I wanted to get back to basics. The idea was to put into practice some of the more traditional British farming methods. I wanted top quality, seasonal, fresh produce so I set about creating an environment and infrastructure on the farm to support this.

The type of farming that we practise here on the farm was commonplace before the Second World War; free range, low intensity – oh yes, that good old-fashioned farming. Five years on and I am proud to say that our farm produces rare-breed pork of the highest quality from slow-grown pigs that lead a completely free range life, roaming over pasture and woodland where they are able to root for wild garlic, chestnuts, acorns, tubers and grubs.

The variety and quality of food harvested from our nation’s countryside is one of our greatest assets. We have a wealth of farmers and small producers who grow or raise some of the best meats, fruit, vegetables and cheeses in Europe. The heartening thing is that there is much more interest now in where our food is coming from, how and where it is produced and who has produced it, not to mention the plethora of manuals and cookbooks out there telling you how to cook it! The growing interest in the provenance of food, environment and healthy diet means that people are more aware of what they are buying, cooking and eating.

It is cheering also to see that in many parts of Britain we have viable, lively local food economies, which bring together the farmers and consumers via small convenience shops, butchers and farmers’ markets. It is a growing trend – farmers’ markets are starting up all over the place, food festivals and shows draw larger and larger audiences and, at last, we seem to be waking up to the fact that it is not particularly difficult or expensive to eat real food. It occasionally takes a little bit of effort to seek out and maybe a little thought and time to prepare.

So, once home with a bag full of these wonderfully fresh, seasonal ingredients, what to do with them? I like to do as little as possible – one of my favourite dishes has to be slow roasted belly pork. A superb piece of free range pork, skin scored and sprinkled with sea salt to produce crunchy crackling, slow roasted for a couple of hours produces one of the richest, most comforting meals you can think of. Served with steamed vegetables, a dollop of creamy mash and the juices from the pan, this is a simple, traditional and wholesome supper. Fabulous!

Jimmy Doherty

Of the 5 million pigs in the UK, only 33,000 are organically reared.

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