Integrated Network for Social Sustainability

This weekend I am going to the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability Annual Meeting in Charlotte, USA, where I will present a poster co-produced with anthropologist Cristina Grasseni. The poster title is Food Sovereignty and Social Sustainability Through Solidarity Economy Networks, and it fits into a meeting whose focus is to prioritize challenges for social sustainability.

A possible sustainability diagram?

A possible sustainability diagram?

Our poster presents work-in-progress insights into solidarity economies. We are looking at provisioning activism, or different ways people go about sourcing and buying the products they need in their daily lives. If you read my food series you might have seen references to this work, particularly the review of Cristina’s book about Italian food provisioning networks.

Through the poster I will be talking about groups of people who get together and form collectives or food coops, or run urban community gardens or community-supported agriculture. Other projects also include the development of small workers’ cooperatives with ambitious plans to create “green” jobs for marginalized youth in post-industrial wastelands.

These groups are organizing themselves in an attempt to replace supply chain consumerism in many fields with locally controlled networks. Although it was initially limited to food, “provisioning activism” increasingly focuses on clothing, IT, renewable energy, green construction, recycling, mutual insurance, cooperative credit and local currency exchange.

Here in Massachusetts for example we have the town of Worcester that acts as an informal focus point for groups that produce and distribute food, invest in locally owned and produced solar energy and are constructing a bio-fuel plant where they can produce bio-diesel from used vegetable oil collected from local restaurants.

There are other examples in the energy sector, take a look at this post I wrote years ago about a similar plant that opened in the UK. Sundance Renewables is the name.

And this is not just a fringe market. The main energy coop in Worcester takes $1.3 million a year in income, while in Italy a loose network of solidarity buying groups spends about 80 million Euro per annum, mainly on locally produced food.

The meeting also includes a tour of Charlotte’s renewable energy manufacturing base, so I should discover a lot more about this sector of the economy across the USA. I will report back next week.

My experience of smart meters

This post is written in partnership with British Gas, however as always, all opinions are mine.

In December 2011 I wrote about how smart meters are the future for our electricity. The UK roll-out is well under way and I suspect that some of you (like me) now have a smart meter in your homes.

Smart what?

So what exactly is a smart meter? Brownie points need to go to whoever name it, as (unless it was named after a Mr Smart) the name is pretty self explanatory; a smart meter is a smarter version of your original gas and electricity meter.

So what makes it smart(er)? Well smart meters are going to put an end to estimated bills by feeding your energy usage directly back to your provider, removing the hassle of having to report your readings. This also means that there is no longer a need for someone to come around and read your meter.

So your bill is always timely and accurate. Isn’t that convenient!

This video by British Gas explains it a little further.

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It isn’t just your energy provider who gets data from your meter though. British Gas provide a smart energy monitor, so that you can see exactly what you are using, in real time!

A British Gas energy tracker

British Gas’s smart energy monitor

I have found this really useful, as it lets me see exactly what (gas and electricity) I am using at any given moment. I can set an ideal level of energy to use each day, and then track this with my monitor, to see whether I am over using!

A kettle boiling

Seeing how much energy my kettle uses has made me think about how much tea I drink!

The real time aspect of the monitoring does make you more conscious of what you are using. I nearly had a heart attack when I turned on the kettle! The electricity consumption shoots up to about 2.5 kilowatts of usage! I can now tell you what (almost) all of my appliances use: the vacuum is around 1.5kW, oven around 3-4kW, computer and monitor is about 0.3kW (more with speakers on though – use headphones!). I believe that being more energy conscious is saving me money – and also reducing my carbon footprint.

The smart monitor British Gas provide is really good, showing you everything from how much your energy use so far today has cost you, to how strong the WiFi connection is. The touch screen monitor comes with some on-screen tips (which you can access through the help menu) which give you ideas as to how to save money.

As I mentioned above, the meter lets you set targets as to how much energy you want to use each day, and then alarms when/if you go over. This is helping me to encourage everyone in the house to keep their usage down, so we can go later and later each day without going over the target and setting off the alarm!

I have noticed that (especially with concern to gas) my energy usage is higher in the winter than summer. This is my first year with the meter and I had it installed over the summer, but the cold and dark means we are in the house more often, using electricity and the heating more. Using the gas hob doesn’t have much of an impact at all, but whacking the boiler on for the heating and hot water certainly does.

I feel that my smart meter has given me more control over the energy I use and more flexibility in how I manage it. Smart meters get a thumbs up from me. If you have one let me know what you think in the comments below.

UK Roll-Out

Because of the benefits smart meters offer, (mainly helping to significantly reduce our carbon footprint) the UK government has stipulated that all homes and businesses will have a meter installed by 2020 – to help us meet our 2020 EU energy targets.

This means that if you live in the UK and don’t already have a smart meter, you will be getting one very soon. Which? explains how the roll-out is going to be picking up pace from 2015-2020, however if you can’t wait that long, you can get yours installed now. If you switch to British Gas, you can get one installed straight away, or if you are already a customer you can register your interest for a free upgrade here.

More

You can get more information on smart meters in British Gas’s video series on YouTube. You can also find out more about the benefits and the roll-out on their website. If you want to know more about my experience of having a smart meter, please feel free to ask me in the comments below. 🙂

How to be a little greener

We all leave a footprint on the world, just by being alive we contribute to environmental degradation. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate your effect (offset it maybe) on the world, but you can minimise it.

In this article I am going to look at some very simple things you can do to reduce the impact you have on the planet, making you a greener individual.

Water Usage

The amount of water we use has a big impact on the environment, as well as other people. Last April I posted an article which asked you to question your usage of water. I have included a brief summary of the article

Of all the water on earth, just 0.007% is drinkable, and whilst our usage of water and the number of people on earth are both rapidly growing, water supplies aren’t. Drought is a real issue in many areas of the world and one in nine people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

Rainwater storage tank

Wall mounted water butts are becoming more popular – a great way to collect and store rainwater.

Excessive use (and arguably wastage) of water via things like regular use of hose pipes and using water hungry appliances (like washing machines) when they have spare capacity, can easily be reduced, and can significantly decrease our water usage.

In the comments, there was some great feedback. Jonny suggested using a water butt to collect rainwater to water your garden, saying “it is really shocking to think that many people use drinking water to keep the lawn green“. Shane told us how he plays 5 minute songs when having a shower, so he know when it’s time to get out, and Jean noted how he tries to fix leaks as soon as he finds them, as they are a massive waste of water – and money!

Buy Local

Another step you can take which will reduce your carbon footprint is choosing local. In 2009, I wrote an article on the technology behind food, discussing the journey food takes, and the impact it has on the planet, getting it to our table. Although the figures might have slightly changed, the concept behind the article is still the same: buying local produce significantly reduces your carbon footprint.

Local doesn’t even have to mean that close. Ideally, within 20 miles of the shop you buy is the best sort of ‘local’, however even food that has been grown within 200 miles is much better than food that has been flown across the globe.

Local food not only promotes energy conservation, but it also supports local farmers. Farm shops are a really good place you can get local food, why not check out BigBarn, a site designed to help you find where you can get locally produced food.

Farmers shop

Farm shops are a great place to source local food.

Reuse, Repair and Recycle Technology

It is important to use technology to its full potential, and to keep using it until it is no longer viable. Once something stops working, or is no longer able to fulfil your needs, whenever possible, repair or upgrade it. If your PC is starting to run a little sluggish, try to speed it up again (maybe visit my speed up your computer article) add some more RAM, upgrade the graphics card, and consider increasing the storage capacity.

As Jonny wrote last year, electronic waste is a real problem, computer components can be hard to recycle, and are often toxic. Therefore it is important to try to reduce electronic waste, and when it does occur, ensure it is disposed or/recycled properly.

If you have reused and repaired a device as much as possible, the next step is recycling. Recycling electronic waste is a growing industry, computer recycling and schemes which enable you to recycle mobile phones, so your technology is either properly recycled, or repaired and reused, either resold locally, or distributed to developing countries are becoming ever more common. Many firms (like the one I link to above) are even paying you for your old technology – reduce your ecological footprint, and get paid, what more could you ask for!

Save Energy

There seems to be a growing resistance to nuclear power, fossil fuels are running out and this matched with the lack of investment in renewables, is leading us to a global energy crisis. Every individual can make a difference, by reducing their consumption.

Electrical energyTurning off devices instead of leaving them on standby, switching to energy bulbs, and insulate your home and relatively simple and cheap ways to save energy, which we have probably all heard many times. Steps which involve using smarter technologies, such as getting Remote Heating Control installed and choosing smarter energy using devices are also good ways to save power, and are now also becoming more common.

In Summary

Four of the best ways you can reduce your environment impact are to: be more frugal with water; try and buy local produce; maintain technology for as long as possible, and then recycle it; and reducing your energy usage.

Feel free to critique any of my points, and by all means, suggest your own ideas below.