Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Happy World Earth Day!

Sam Dawson - Graduate Consultant

Earth Day occurs on April 22nd every year to mark what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

Earth day was founded by the environmentally conscious Gaylord Nelson, who was a US Senator from Wisconsin at the time. Disgusted after witnessing the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California and inspired by the student anti-war movement Nelson decided to take a stand.

Earth Day 1970 embraced the population’s newly emerging consciousness of air and water pollution and channelled the energy, created through the anti-war protest movement, into protecting these environmental concerns.

Groups that previously demonstrated against oil spills, polluting factories, pesticides and the loss and extinction of wildlife (to name a few) suddenly realised they shared common values and united. 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment along with thousands of companies and universities organising protests against the deterioration of the environment.

A surprising result occurred; environmental protection was forced onto the national political agenda. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment which enlisted support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city businessmen and farmers alike. The first Earth day led to the creation of the United States Environment Protection Agency and the passing of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

In 1990 Earth Day went global, recruiting 200 million people in 141 countries. This, in turn, gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped inspire the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest honor given to civilians in the US) in 1995 by President Bill Clinton for his role as Earth Day Founder.

“It was a gamble, but it worked.” – Gaylord Nelson

Earth Day is continuing to be a huge success with over one billion people taking part across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Oceania and the United States.

This year’s theme continues on from last year with “The Green Cities Campaign”. This campaign was launched to help cities around the world become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint through focusing on three key elements: buildings, energy and transportation. The campaign aims to help cities accelerate their transition to a cleaner, healthier, and more economically viable future through improvements in efficiency, investments in renewable technology, and regulation reform.

Around the world schools will be getting involved by holding environmentally-themed lessons, such as learning about their ecological footprint, and activities including “The Canopy Project”, which aims to plant a billion trees worldwide. In Ghana, the “4-H million Tree Project” will be enabling students to plant mango trees; this fruit will be sold to local retailers to raise incomes among community members.

Communities will be enjoying a variety of events across the continents including exhibitions; Washington will be holding demonstrations from NASA, and free festivals which will showcase activities and entertainment inspired by wildlife.

Google has been a significant contributor to raising awareness of Earth Day including a link on the homepage and a customised logo. Google also provided a link to some beautiful photos showcasing nature at its best from around the world - https://mybeautifulearth.withgoogle.com/

For more information follow: http://www.earthday.org/greencities/

Thursday, 17 April 2014

How we can make London more sustainable

Carol Somper - Technical Director

In January, Temple moved home from an unassuming riverside location on the south bank of the Thames to the north bank, slap bang on the river, close to Tower Bridge. We now enjoy breath-taking views up and downstream, taking in the GLA and the Shard up river, with Butlers Wharf across the way and the lofty towers of Canary Wharf in the distant east. On the other side of Devon House we have views over St Katherine’s Dock, a quiet haven during working hours with an intimate mix of flats, shops and eateries focused around the little harbour, complete with shabby working vessels, slim elegant yachts and blowsy floating ‘gin palaces’. We’re very happy with our new home, but surrounded by all this amazing ‘London’, brimming with busy city types and eager tourists cheek by jowl, it makes you think about how London got to where it is now, and more importantly, where it’s going. What will London be like in 10, 20, 30 years’ time? What will it be like to work and live in London when we reach 2050, the mega milestone for carbon emissions reduction? How will the transport problems have been resolved so that Oxford Street is no longer the worlds’ biggest static bus queue, London’s green spaces and places are even better and key city workers can actually afford to live in the capital?  

London, as one of the world’s top performing cities, is an iconic global centre with an incredibly rich heritage, it has one of the most unique skylines in the world centred on the Thames’ river frontage. London is thriving as a cultural capital providing world class entertainment, leisure and commerce. There are lots of issues, as with any city, but some of these are growing at an increasingly rapid rate and they need fixing urgently if our wonderful city is to really flourish in the future. The recent annual report from UK ‘think tank’ Centre for Cities UK states that since 2010, 79% of private sector jobs growth has occurred in London, whilst Britain’s next nine largest cities accounted for only 10% of all new private sector jobs created. The Centre suggests that “the debate around London’s role in the UK economy has polarised” with one side of the argument being that London needs to grow to drive the whole economy, whilst on the other, that its gravitational pull is more like a black hole, sucking the life out of the UK. Neither of these views are true and the issues are far more complex.

London’s contribution to the UK economy is critical and as one of the most successful cities in the world it needs to keep its role as a driver of national prosperity. The challenge is to guide and enable the right kind of growth so that by reinvesting in London’s infrastructure – grey, green and blue - its commerce, civic realm and housing, the revenues generated can help to benefit the rest of the country. As a C40 City with an ambition to be one of the greenest in the world, how should London’s continuing evolution be shaped for the biggest benefits all round? What are the urgent challenges that need immediate and more radical solutions?

Traffic and transport: On a still, cold winter’s morning there is a visible brown-tinged smog hanging over central London’s streets. This deadly complex mix of toxins is largely the result of congestion and exhaust fumes, giving London the highest levels of NO2 of any capital city in Europe. The concentrations are now so bad that London’s mayor has been served notice by the European Commission and the GLA is facing an fine of £300m/annum. The recent Saharan dust incident only served to highlight that air quality in London is so bad that any further extreme weather events will make a bad situation much worse. New research using 2011 census data, recently conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, reveals that London is the country's cycling capital when it comes to commuting, whilst Southern regions saw the greatest decline in car travel to work. In Greater London, the proportion of commuters relying on private motor transport had fallen by 8.8%. Just under a third of commuters in the capital (32.2%) drove or rode motorcycles to work in 2011 while more than half of them used public transport - a rise of 7.3%. Those not motoring or using public transport in London were walking or getting on their bikes. Pedal power is becoming increasingly popular in London with cycling accounting for 4.3% of work journeys in the capital. London’s public transport usage continues to grow so for commuters and tourists alike, intelligent mobility enabling seamless multi-modal intra-city travel is essential. Enhanced logistics planning could easily cut daily deliveries of goods and materials into the centre by at least 50%. For example, UCL’s construction programme will be looking to do just that, reducing impacts at peak commuting times when it’s of most value.

Green infrastructure in the heart of the city: London’s parks and garden squares are a wonderful resource but they need to be framed by a thriving network of green connecting corridors. Green roofs and walls really do improve air quality on the street, by creating better micro-climates they help to reduce the ‘heat island effect’, help cut carbon emissions, can benefit wildlife, help to reduce flood-risk and make places much more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. Future scenarios of London always illustrate it as being incredibly green; why can’t we have these scenarios here and now, we have the know-how. Even the proposed ‘mega towers’, as vertical communities, can benefit from ‘sky gardens’ with landscaped terraces and roofs. London can even continue doing its bit to conserve the UK’s declining bee populations as, according to a recent University of Reading study, losing bee populations could cost the economy up to £1.8bn. A growing number of the capital’s leading eateries are selling foods made with honey from London’s roof-top bee gardens as well as its parks and open-spaces.

Housing: Over the last decade house prices in London increased by an average £213,000. This growth alone would be enough to buy two average priced homes in Hull. The Evening Standard recently ran a number of articles about the rise of the foreign property speculators and increasingly affluent ‘empty’ neighbourhoods caused by middle-eastern and eastern absent owners. The newspaper is also highlighting the growing debate over the 20 plus new ‘super towers’ proposed for development along the city’s riverside townscape. Will these changes be positive or will the rising property market benefit the few, often non-UK speculators and make home ownership impossible for the masses? The current trend remains one of people in their early thirties moving out of London to raise families in the suburbs and beyond, where homes are cheaper and things are greener. A new BRE report FB65: The cost of poor housing in London found that 15% of households in the city can be classified as ‘poor housing’ and that improving energy efficiency and reducing the worst hazards in these properties could save the NHS around £56m per year. Currently an unacceptable number of households are likely to experience fuel poverty and overcrowding as a result of increasingly high housing costs in London. The report suggests that the projected £56m annual savings for the NHS could rise to over £140m if other costs relating to living in poor housing, such as lack of educational attainment, lost work days and additional energy and insurance costs are taken into account. Unsurprisingly, housing conditions were found to vary considerably both between and within boroughs, and there are parts of the city where conditions are significantly worse than the national and London average.

To counter these trends the Mayor’s new Housing Strategy will include Housing Zones and measures aimed at bringing forward new housing at the rate of 42,000 new homes per year (described by Boris as an ‘epic challenge’).The strategy aims to encourage much more affordable housing development aimed at specific age groups, such as low income households, ‘graduate’ housing and housing for older people. New garden suburbs like that in development at Barking Riverside are proposed. Others are planned at Beam Park, Dagenham and at Thamesmead but details are yet to be released. But over 80% of housing is existing stock and the challenge is also to actively explore how retro-fitting sustainable energy, water and green-space can be achieved. City living makes de-centralised energy networks and heat-based energy systems so much more affordable. The Mayor’s ground-breaking Decentralised Energy for London programme is a big step in the right direction but investment needs to be much more joined-up across the boroughs so that key workers and businesses can really benefit from low to zero carbon homes with tiny, very affordable energy bills.

Water: it’s an urban myth that London’s water has been through 7 other people before it gets to you. London has highly efficient water supply and waste water systems but these are under considerable demands and smarter development and refurbishment will help to create a more sustainable future network. In addition to making rain-water harvesting and grey-water recycling the norm, more strategic borough-wide strategies to manage river and fluvial flood risk is urgently needed. London’s tidal barrier prevents whole swathes of the city, including the Houses of Parliament, the O2 arena, Tower Bridge, Southwark, the Isle of Dogs, Whitechapel and West Ham from being submerged. According to the Environment Agency the barrier has been raised 141 times since 1982, with the need becoming more frequent, e.g. it was closed more than 100 times since 2000 and 13 times in January 2014 alone. It can be better supported by a much more effective London-wide approach to green infrastructure and Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUD) measures such as those recently retro-fitted in the Victoria area. Even more impressive is Rotterdam’s approach to future climate resilience from flooding and making itself climate-proof - able to withstand whatever the weather throws at it - by 2025. What can London learn from the Dutch?

Waste and materials: London needs to reclaim the circular economy it had several decades ago, when waste management was more effective and a greater proportion of materials were locally re-used and recycled to a much greater extent than they are today. Bigger, better, stronger partnerships across borough councils and the commercial sector are needed so that new collection systems match the efficiency of new development. London’s entrepreneurs need much more encouragement to develop technologies and quality products that optimise materials from waste streams. London could perhaps be a world leader in the circular economy, similar to Singapore, but this calls for concerted and wide-ranging collaborative to challenge the status quo. London needs more resilient supply chains towards enabling materials retention and exemplary ‘local product’ stewardship.

Lastly, other cities in the UK need to benefit from London’s experiences and experiments, in achieving cleaner, greener and healthier places to work and live. The vision and ambitions for what could be are becoming clearer and increasingly more tangible. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

The paradox of tourism and the unspoilt environment

Peter George - Technical Director

Sitting on the train into London Waterloo this morning (a rare experience in itself) I found myself reading an article in the Metro about Nicaragua and its emerging tourist appeal as a result of its unspoilt beaches, adventure opportunities and rainforests full of unusual wildlife. The tourist potential of rainforests, this incredibly beautiful but globally diminishing habitat got me thinking about the paradox that presents itself in these situations, and my own experience of dealing with this in the context of EIA. The questions that arise are these: at what point does the unspoilt become spoilt because of our need to see it ‘in the flesh’, what is the carrying capacity of this resource and at what point does tourism development become part of the problem rather than a means to facilitate a solution?

Going back a hundred years, exploring wild and untamed lands was the domain of a few aristocrats with double barrelled names and both the time and financial resources to undertake expeditions to Africa, South America and other remote locations. Their motives were, arguably, centred more around self-promotion among their peers and the lure of big game hunting than any loftier environmental goals. After all, the world was considerably less developed and the population very much smaller (a mere 1.7 billion in 1900 compared with 7.2 billion today). There just weren’t anything like the pressures on natural resources, habitats and species that there are today. The Amazon rainforest would have been largely untouched and lions, tigers, elephants and other majestic species now teetering close to the edge of extinction would have roamed the African plains in vast numbers. How incredible it must have been to see that.

So what does this have to do with Nicaragua and its rainforests today? Globally, rainforests have suffered catastrophic devastation as a result of being cleared to make way for plantations and trees felled to meet the world’s seemingly insatiable appetite for hardwoods and other exotic materials and derivatives. And this devastation is not just restricted to rainforests. The seas around our islands are being decimated of fish and coral reefs are dying from bleaching as a result of rising water temperatures which in turn is linked back to climate change. Our fragile earth is under siege and so when small pockets of ‘untouched’ and ‘unspoilt’ habitats are found, we seem to feel a need to go and see them, perhaps to look back to a time when we were not so apparently hell bent on destroying the resources that breathe life into our planet and sustain our very existence. Which brings me back to the paradox I mentioned at the beginning. I have been very fortunate in my life and career to have experienced some incredible places around the world, from diving on the Great Barrier Reef, hiking through the rainforests of Borneo, to getting up close and personal with the amazing wildlife in Yellowstone National Park in the United States, to name but a few. But it was while working on a project in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) back in the late 1990’s that the issue of tourism potential and the unspoilt environment really came to my attention. The consultancy I was working for at the time won the contract for the EIA of a proposed runway extension at the main airport. At that time, only small 42 seat turbo-prop aircraft could land due to the short length of the runway. The plan was to extend it to accommodate larger 72 seat turbo-props and small jet aircrafts. The project was part of a wider redevelopment of the airport which included construction of a new terminal building. The existing one was, as I found out when I went out there, an old supermarket building from another island that had been taken down brick by brick and rebuilt at the airport. An interesting example of material re-use to be sure and somewhat amusing to experience going through customs and putting your bags on what was previously the check-out counter!

I was fortunate enough to spend 5 weeks on the islands and, in addition to project managing the EIA, undertook scuba surveys of the coral reefs and terrestrial ecology surveys. The island on which the airport is located was home to a diverse flora and fauna and fascinating habitats. There was also a small community centred around one of the idyllic white sand bays, which included local artisans and some charter boat operators, sailing being a very popular activity in the BVI. The problems arose from the plans for the airport. It was to be made significantly larger meaning it required more land and therefore encroachment in to the surrounding habitats. Furthermore, the extension to the runway required the infilling of another small bay. The land reclamation was to use sand dredged from nearby channels in between the islands resulting in at least temporary loss of habitat and impacts on fish and shellfish populations. Although ultimately the EIA concluded that the environmental impacts in the longer term would not be significant and extensive mitigation was proposed to address both short and long term effects, the question of tourism potential was one that vexed the team and myself. In consulting with tourism officials and local companies, the BVI’s ‘unspoilt’ islands with their rich flora and fauna, not to mention the surrounding coral reefs and excellent scuba diving, was cited again and again as a reason for bringing in more tourists and hence justified the expansion of the airport. However, what seemed to be lost on them was the fact that in order to do this it required some of those habitats, plants and animals to be destroyed. Furthermore, given the potential numbers of additional tourists anticipated as a result of the increased capacity of the airport, it became apparent that there would be insufficient hotel rooms to accommodate them. Of course, the solution would be to build more hotels, taking up more land and consequently destroying even more of the very thing that is one of the island’s main tourist attractions. And so the question arose as to how much development could be accommodated before the islands could no longer claim to be ‘unspoilt’. It was one that was never answered, at least not while I was there, and had been conveniently scoped out of the EIA before the consultants were commissioned.

Although I returned briefly to the BVI a couple of years later, I have not been again since the airport was completed. Aside from having an office on a palm fringed beach for five weeks, one of the things I enjoyed most about my time out there was driving and hiking around the main island of Tortola taking in the breath-taking scenery and experiencing the tranquillity of isolated bays and the incredible wildlife. I can see the attraction and can understand why those in charge of tourism in the territory could see the economic benefits of bringing in more people, although historically the BVI has been the most prosperous economy in the Caribbean thanks in large part to its principal industry of financial services. It may seem selfish and even a bit hypocritical having had the opportunity to experience it myself, but I don’t think we should be developing tourism based simply on somewhere being unspoilt or untouched by human hand. Building even one small eco-friendly resort inevitably means human interaction and potentially negative impacts unless very carefully managed. So I say let’s leave the unspoilt the way it is. This is the paradox, how can something continue to be considered unspoilt once we have built hotels and all their associated infrastructure to allow all of us environmental voyeurs to see it and interact with it.

As for the BVI, latest figures suggest visitor numbers have declined in recent years, mainly due to the recession, but it’s also worth noting that more than half of visitors still arrive by cruise ship and as such are very transient. They also do not require hotel accommodation on the islands which I suppose is a good thing from an environmental perspective. One wonders then whether the expansion of the airport was ever really needed and have some of the island’s natural habitats now been lost forever based on a potential that was never really there.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

What's missing from DIY environmental management systems?

Martin Gibson - Head of Operations

This article was originally posted on 2degrees - https://www.2degreesnetwork.com/ on 07.03.14

I once led a project that helped businesses to come to terms with environmental issues. This was back in the 1990’s when most businesses didn't deal with environmental issues in their day-to-day operations. However, things were changing and the Welsh Office had set up a project to help lead the way.

One of the things we helped with was the, then new, idea of environmental management. A do-it-yourself guide to environmental management systems had been released and we asked some of the businesses we were helping if they wanted to have a go at using it.

The guide was easy to read and well set out. It told companies what they needed to do to put in an environmental management system. As part of our project, we gave a number of companies the guide, asked them to get started and arranged a visit for a few weeks later. All of the project leaders in the companies were keen to get started.

When we went back a few weeks later, we were disappointed to find that none of the companies had made much progress. We went through the first steps with them, explained how to do things and arranged to meet them again a few weeks later.

You may not be surprised to know that on the second visit, the companies had made progress on the issues that we’d covered with them but hadn't gone any further. We soon came to realise that the do-it-yourself guide told them what to do but now how to do it.

Since then, I have taken to heart the message of having to help people with the ‘how-to-do-it’. However, not everyone needs to know how to do something. Some people already know how to do the things that they are being asked to do. It may seem obvious to you but it took me a while to recognise this as competence. Nowadays, we are often asked to demonstrate that someone has the skills to be competent in a particular task or approach. This was rarely asked 20 years ago (or at least, it was rarely asked in such direct terms).

If someone doesn't have competence, it is imperative to provide how-to-do-it information to help them with what they need to do. This can be through formal training but is often communicated through written guides or informal coaching. Putting this type of guidance into written information is not always easy. However, when I was in charge of the now defunct Envirowise programme, I tried to ensure that the guides would be useful for people who weren’t competent but were capable. On the whole, I think we did a pretty good job. If you would like an electronic copy of one of the Envirowise guides on Environmental Management Systems to judge for yourself, please email me. The guides are available for free but harder to find than they used to be.