Green

Calke Abbey – dual standards?

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I am a big fan of the National Trust and what it does in terms of preserving our heritage and also providing very pleasant destinations for a few hours walk or similar. As a family we have been members for many years and I do feel it provides great value for money.

Recent years have seen the Trust move towards increasingly more open and commercial approaches to their property management and ‘offer’. Some see this as a negative thing – but I don’t agree, it has made the properties far more popular and busy, they have to move with the times to survive and fund the works to their portfolio of properties and estates.

In many places the retail offer has been expanded to increase the provision of food and drinks – either by way of new cafe or restaurant premises within the properties themselves or in adjacent outbuildings. This is always done in a sensitive manner in keeping with the property and its environment – just as the National Trust do most things.

The new cafe
The new cafe

Calke Abbey which is one of my favourite local NT properties is a classic case in this regard, it is very popular and the restaurant has been ‘creaking’ for a number of years. There is an area to the rear of the restaurant which has been used as a picnic area for years and it has buildings around it which have cried out for refurbishing for a cafe use or similar for years. Finally last year this work was completed and there is now a very smart cafe in this area – and it has been completed in a very sensitive way to fit in with the surrounding buildings – well done National Trust.

However I am at a loss to understand why all hot drinks from here are served in disposable paper cups – this is surely totally at odds with the Trust’s ‘ethics’? One thing that is always noticeable at a NT property is the lack of bins – they expect people to take their rubbish home with them (which most do). So why have they now chosen to use something which I accept probably can be recycled but is surely nowhere as ‘green’ as using traditional crockery and then washing it?

Or am I missing something?

Nothing in life is totally free…..

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It is an old adage – there is no such thing as a free lunch – and sadly it is true, especially in this day and age….

A classic example is Nottingham City Councils current ‘free parking’ deal – on the face of it a great offer (and I have used it). Basically on street parking has been free on Wednesday’s after 4pm and all day Sunday since the 18th of November, Christmas Day and Boxing Day will also be free all day.

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But, there is a tiny catch which I only caught up with last week. I always pay for my on street parking in Nottingham via the Ringo App on my iPhone – it is very good as you can get a text reminder 10 minutes before your parking expires (and a proper receipt which is good for work). However last Wednesday I discovered that the free parking is only available if you ‘pay’ via the Ringo App – if you only have cash or card you can’t register for the free space.

Now call me cynical but this does look to me to be a sneaky way to get more people paying via their smart phones and thereby reducing the cost to the City Council in collect cash or paying credit card fees?

So on one hand it’s ‘thanks Nottingham City Council’, but on the other as I say – there is no such thing as a free lunch (especially if you don’t have a smart phone)

Is this progress?

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I am a big fan of our Nottingham bus service, it provides a great service that I use (very) infrequently. But when I do I know that I can find the next bus due at our local stop (or any other in the city) just by looking at the NCT app on my iphone – it is a great app and works really well – until today….

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Now lost to my home screen

I was checking twitter this morning and discovered a trail between my mate @johnlyle and Nottingham City Transport. He was berating them for the loss of the NCT app which they had ‘killed’ in favour of their nice new website. Now I accept that the website provides all the information the app did (and more). But, and this is my issue – it isn’t as handy to access and requires a greater level of ‘techy’ knowledge to set up a short cut onto the screen of your iphone – not ideal for all users.

Apparently NCT had around 20% of users who were unhappy with the app – this they consider to be a lot. Personally I would have thought that 80% satisfaction was good in their industry?

What is likely to cause them more ‘fun’ is the fact that the loss of service via their app came as a surprise to them. They were going to publicise the removal off the app during October and then end it fully in November according to the twitter exchange I had with them. Something tells me their 20% rate is about to get a whole lot worse!

How about bringing it back instead NCT?

The Green Deal – a flawed deal?

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Today sees the launch of the Green Deal – you have possible heard of it, but probably don't know the details of what it offers or how it works. The government haven't in my opinion been very forthcoming when it comes to publicising it! So what does it offer and is it worth your time?

20130127-195824.jpgWell, on the face of it the scheme is a great idea, providing funding for home improvement that make a property 'greener' – by way of new boilers, better insulation etc – you get the idea. The repayments are handled by your services provider, the idea being that the savings you make on heating are paid for by the cost of your loan – so in effect your bill doesn't drop, but your house is more efficient – but here lies the problem;

The loan can be over a long period – up to 25 years and passes with the property. So if you do a lot of green deal improvements and then a few years down the line sell up, the loan passes to the next owner.

Perhaps even more of a problem is that the loan is not interest free and this can actually make it more expensive that just borrowing the money on tHe high street to do the works!

But the real killer is that the initial survey is not free – costs of between £100 – £150 are quoted, and this is not recoverable if the green deal won't actually work for your property!

People will only do these works if they can see a benefit in their pocket – everything about the way the deal works goes against this – and is possibly why since October when green deal surveys could start to be done only a handful (literally) have been done!

So a great idea, but very badly managed. Cost to the government will be the reason for the charges and interest payments, but I cannot see the Green Deal doing much business until something changes…..

“Ugly fruit and veg” – you can tell the difference!

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My wife is a big fan of the ‘delivery box’ type of veg and meat services – she uses Abel & Cole – I like the fact that we get real strange shaped vegetables and fruit, and muddy potatoes – rather than the usual scrubbed and perfectly shaped veg from the supermarkets. It makes me feel as if we are getting real produce, and the claim is that it tastes better. Yes it costs a little more, but can you tell the difference – or more to the point is it worth it?

MFB_XLTruth be known I have always been a bit of a sceptic, but have gone along with it! But I can now honestly say that the difference is significant! When I am in my ‘losing weight mode’ (rather more necessary these days) I tend to have carrot and cucumber to nibble at lunchtime (normally with houmus) as part of my pack up. Having been on Abel and Cole carrots for a while I have got used to a certain taste – until this week when due to a pre Christmas ‘fill in’ shop, we had Sainsbury’s carrots. And the difference is amazing – there is literally no taste to the Sainsbury’s carrots – they are just bland! First strike to ugly veg!

Also we had supermarket chicken in a curry last night (normally we have had Abel & Coles) again it was tasteless and tough! Strike 2! I could go on, the comparisons are endless and all go one way.

So I can hand on heart confirm that the difference is there and I recommend getting “real veg, fruit and meat” – which is what we all used to do in this country before the rise of the supermarkets. Time to rebel against them perhaps?

The future of lighting?

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The move away from the ‘good old’ tungsten bulb is now almost complete. Some people have stock piled them in cupboards as they don’t like the much more efficient and longer lasting alternatives – compact fluorescents and LED’s. but generally there does now seem to ba an acceptance that the move away from old style bulbs is the way to go (unless of course you read the Daily Mail!).

It appear now however that there is a new kid on the block – the plastic bulb. Sounds strange I will admit, and it is currently at a very early stage. But according to the inventors ( in the US) it gives a much nicer light. So what is it exactly?

The new light source is called field-induced polymer electroluminescent (Fipel) technology. It is made from three layers of white-emitting polymer that contain a small volume of nanomaterials that glow when electric current is passed through them. 

The inventor of the device is Dr David Carroll, professor of physics at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He says the new plastic lighting source can be made into any shape, and it produces a better quality of light than compact fluorescent bulbs which have become very popular in recent years.

And the first versions should be available next year!

A better approach?

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As one of the Worlds major economies we are used to hearing the mantra about growing GDP (gross domestic product) in the UK – if it falls it is apparently ‘the end of the world’. But what if there is a ‘better way’?

The tiny country of Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not GDP.

r733829_5941383Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La. For the past three decades, this belief – that wellbeing should take preference over material growth – has remained a global oddity. However in the current world which is beset by economic and environmental disasters this approach is beginning to interest the larger world players, and will be discussed in Doha at the UN climate change conference.

Bhutan’s stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure. At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.

We all hark back to simpler times at some point in our lives, perhaps this is a further example that some of the ‘old values’ are perhaps even more valid today than they were then?

Not down to us?

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I had an extremely pleasant evening last week at the Mattioli Woods charity dinner in support of Rainbows Hospice – a fabulous cause and hopefully one that benefited greatly from the night.

The guest speaker was Lord Lawson – known to the younger members of society as Nigella’s dad, but better known to the rest of us as the Chancellor during Maggie’s three periods in office. He is now in his early 80’s, so it was going to be interesting to see what his take on things as they are now was. And in many ways we were not disappointed – he is undoubtably a very bright man, and if I am half as active at this age I will be very happy!

However, there was one part of his speech that did worry me – he will always play to the ‘Daily Mail readers’ in a room, and the other night was no different. But his views on Global Warming I did find rather blinkered, especially after his comments about it being ‘a religion’ that no one was permitted to challenge anymore! He basically appears to believe that we are having no effect upon the planet and that burning fossil fuels is definitely the way forward!

I accept that it is not a clear-cut case – but the current extreme weather, the melting polar areas – not our fault?

The photo above is of my home town, Malmesbury in Wiltshire. As a family we have been there over 40 years and I cannot recall a time when the bottom of the High Street has flooded and blocked access into the town – even before all the flood alleviation work was done a good few years ago – so do we assume this is just a fluke event?

Trinity House

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This week I was lucky enough to have a brief tour of the new EON building – Trinity House – that sits at the corner of Trinity Square in the heart of Nottingham. Now this is the largest office building to be built new in the city for a number of years – the pre-let to EON ensured that it would happen.

The building is quite impressive inside, having a central full height atrium with glass lifts serving all 9 floors, it is also the greenest building in the city – holding a BREEAM excellent rating and an ‘A’ rating for its EPC. As an environment for its just over 1000 occupants it will be modern and comfortable. However, as a building it doesn’t really push any ‘boundaries’ for me.

Due to the fact that EON are tenants in the building and they don’t own it, the structure is actually quite ‘normal’. One might have expected there to be a raft of renewable elements, but in reality there is next to nothing – no PV’s, no water harvesting, and only a very small element of green roof. It is connected to the district heating scheme, which helps its cause, but that is really it for renewable energy.

Now, I am sure that if EON had more control over the building spec they might have added some renewables, but I do think this is a lost opportunity for the City. As a part of the street scene I think it looks well – it doesn’t ‘over power’ the surrounding buildings – something the architects should be proud of.

Yes, it is a green building, and it has managed this using existing technologies – which is impressive, but in my view it doesn’t push the envelope at all.

Renewables – it’s all about getting a balance

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Renewables are a great idea – once the method of extracting the energy has been built it is free – whether it is wind, sun or wave power is irrelevant, as long as there is a selection of types to provide general cover. This is the normal argument against renewables – what happens when the sun is not out or it’s not windy – hence the need for a selection of producing sources.

The Germans appear to ‘get this’ and have moved forwards in the quest for a replacement for their nuclear industry that is to be wound down following the Japanese disaster.

German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity over a mid day period earlier this month. This is in response to Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass (a sensible spread).

The 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid met nearly 50% of the nation’s midday electricity needs, yes it was only for a short period, but it shows what can be achieved. Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity. The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world’s leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy and the country gets about 20 percent of its overall annual electricity from those sources. Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four percent of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

All this at a time when our Government appear hell-bent on crippling our solar industry just as it was getting into its stride – time for a swift U-turn?