Wednesday, 28 September 2011

More wool rugs and jute rugs at the Natural Rug Store

The Natural Rug Store, the online seller of rugs made from natural materials, has added more wool rugs and jute rugs to its product range. Since buyers have the option to build rugs to their own specification, the additional styles make the product range effectively limitless.

Among the vibrant new wool rug patterns at The Natural Rug Store are a wide range of stripes including Audrey, Mississippi, and Chicago. Stripes give rug-buyers a chance to design their own striking conversation piece rugs. By blending lighter or darker stripes with matching or contrasting borders, they can create a rug that's entirely unique.

The new jute rug patterns include herringbone – a look that is at once classic and modern.

"The popularity of wool and jute rugs is increasing," says James Hughes, marketing director at The Natural Rug Store. "These are natural materials that rug-buyers are already familiar with. People know what wool and jute are capable of – what we've been able to do is give them more choice and more scope for creativity."

Rug designers choose jute when they want to add a touch of luxury in sitting rooms and bedrooms. Jute has a soft natural sheen that the weavers at The Natural Rug Store exploit to the full. The effect is calming and luxurious.

The Natural Rug Store team go to the fertile Ganges delta for their jute. Here the climate is hot and humid – perfect for growing top quality jute. To keep the fibres intact, the plants are harvested by hand, then soaked for up to 20 days. By this time, the fibres can be separated with ease, ready for drying in the sun.

Wool is by far the most familiar natural rug material. It feels soft underfoot and gentle on the eye. It's an easy material to work with, which is why The Natural Rug Store is able to offer such a wide range of colours and weaves. By choosing breeds of sheep that produce soft yet hard-wearing wool, the designers at The Natural Rug Store have created a range that will take the pounding of feet without losing any of the warm and welcoming softness that rug-buyers expect.

To see the full range of natural wool and jute rugs, visit The Natural Rug Store

Monday, 26 September 2011

Plastic debris in the ocean

A study has measured the amount of plastic debris found in a region of the Atlantic Ocean over a 22-year period. US researchers, writing in Science, suggest the volume of plastic appeared to have peaked in recent years perhaps due to tighter marine pollution rules that prevent vessels dumping their waste at sea.

The team found plastic, most pieces measuring no more than a few millimetres, in more than 60% of 6,136 samples collected by dragging fine-meshed nets along the ocean's surface.

The researchers - from the US-based Sea Education Association (Sea), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Hawaii - described plastic as a "major contaminant".

Friday, 23 September 2011

Green cars

Hybrid cars Hybrid cars use a conventional petrol engine as well as an electric battery that charges as you drive and automatically switches on when the car slows down, making city driving more eco-friendly. These cars cost around two-thirds less to run than a petrol car, have reduced road tax and are exempt from the London congestion charge.

Electric cars With no exhaust emissions, electric cars are currently the most eco-friendly way to drive (assuming your electricity supply comes from a renewable source of course!). Plug them in, charge up for a few pence and away you go. Electric cars are really only suitable for local driving as they have a typical range of about 40-50 miles and a top speed of about 50 mph. However, technology is fast improving.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) Adapting your car to run on LPG typically costs £1000 - £2000, but it is more efficient than petrol and produces less pollutants than diesel. A full tank will cost around half the cost of petrol, although the cost of new LPG cars will be higher - typically £1200 - £2000 more than for non-LPG versions.

Petrol versus diesel? Diesel cars are more fuel-efficient than petrol-driven ones - burning a litre of diesel creates more CO2 than burning a litre of petrol, but the engine efficiency just about makes up for that. However, diesel will create more dirty emissions such as nitrogen oxides and particulates that can affect health. If you are considering buying a diesel car, choose one with a diesel particulate filter (DPF), as this will reduce these emissions. That said, if you live in an urban area and drive a petrol engine that uses the latest low-sulphur fuel, it will be greener than diesel (source: Friends of the Earth).

The largest carbon-neutral settlement on the planet

Samsø island in Denmark is the largest carbon-neutral settlement on the planet, with a population of 4200, based on wind-generated electricity and biomass-based district heating. They currently generate extra wind power and export the electricity to compensate for petro-fuelled vehicles. There are future hopes of using electric or biofuel vehicles.

Green car insurance. What is carbon neutral?

When insurance companies talk about being carbon neutral, they mean balancing a measured amount of carbon emissions with an equivalent amount that is captured through one process or another. With net emissions being zero it becomes ‘carbon neutral’.

The most environmentally aware insurance companies will always seek to firstly reduce their own emissions and those of their customers. This will include making their buildings more eco-friendly and cutting energy use. Customers will be encouraged to drive more fuel efficient cars and given advice and incentives to reduce their carbon footprint. Only after this will unavoidable emissions be offset.

Carbon emissions can be offset in a number of ways. For example, carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels can be balanced against renewable energy that creates a similar amount of useful energy, so that the carbon emissions are compensated. More dubiously, insurance companies can pay others to remove carbon emissions by planting trees or by funding 'carbon projects' that lead to the prevention of future greenhouse gas emissions, or by buying carbon credits to remove them through carbon trading.

Always be wary of companies who claim to be carbon neutral by simply paying for their emissions to be offset!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Supermarkets, which are the greenest?

The number of supermarkets in the UK has risen dramatically over the last few decades. Its not just the numbers that have risen - supermarkets have aggressively expanded into a wide range of non-food markets including clothing, electrical goods, books, CDs, DVDs, financial services, pharmacy products. The list keeps on growing.

At the same time, the number of independent shops, grocers, butchers, florists and corner shops has been in gradual decline as they struggle to compete with the sheer size and prices offered by the large supermarkets.

The current picture is one of a rapidly expanding supermarket sector coupled with the demise of local and small shops.

Whereas it was the small food retailers that were previously threatened by supermarket expansion, a plethora of smaller shops are now facing increased competition as the supermarkets diversify their product range.

The dominance of the supermarkets is also centred around four main companies; Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Morrisons. Most people in the UK now shop at one of these big four supermarkets. According to the Independent (6th June 2011), Tesco has a 31% market share, Morrisons 12%, Sainsbury's 16% and Asda 17%.

Supermarket dominance is important not just from a local economy perspective but also from an ecological standpoint. That is because the big four supermarkets often pursue business models which are inherently unsustainable and damaging to the environment. Whilst they try to mask this with pseudo-green marketing campaigns, underneath the facade it is apparent that their true motive is profit.

For example, cheap food is often flown in from around the globe clocking up a huge carbon footprint whilst cutting out local producers. Palm oil in many of the supermarket products such as biscuits, sweets, confectionaries, margarines, breads, crisps and bars of soap often comes from rainforest areas that have been cleared for palm oil plantations. Cheap labour and sweatshops in third world countries are used to produce bargain clothes. Landfill sites, streets and the countryside are littered with plastic bags given away free. These are just a few examples of the long list of ecologically damaging and unfair practices that the supermarkets pursue.

The problem, however, is that in the real world profit-driven monopolies seldom change their policies in the face of a largely apathetic or uninformed general public who are seeking to reduce their outgoings in response to the economic downturn. That is why it is important to expose unsustainable and unfair practices amongst the largest supermarkets and publicise them widely, so that consumers can make more informed choices and see exactly what they are buying.

So, which are the greenest supermarkets? And how do you measure green? There is no single measure that can be used to establish green credentials but typically a range of measures would include its stated ethical policy, commitment to protecting the environment, its policies and procedure for reducing carbon emissions and pollution, labelling of products, treatment of employees including those in other countries, the way it deals with its suppliers, packaging and use of plastic bags, and its contributions towards charities and local causes. In combination, these provide an indication of how green a supermarket is.

Ethical Consumer conducted one such exercise in 2011, measuring 19 supermarkets against a range of environmental and social indicators. It found that the Co-operative was the greenest supermarket followed by Marks and Spencer. From their fishing policies to palm oil use to renewable energy, both companies scored well with a genuine commitment to protecting the environment.

Languishing at the bottom of the table was Britains biggest supermarket Tesco. Its policies and lack of concern for the environment were illustrated in a Guardian article about the Tesco 'flights for lights' promotion, offering air miles in exchange for low-energy light bulbs, which it said was like giving away a pack of Benson and Hedges with every Nicorette patch.

Tesco, every little hurts.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Celebrity environmental quotes. How celebrities influence public opinion on environmental issues.

All too often, people concerned about the environment and trying to make a difference are parodied by cynical celebrities as tree huggers, eco warriors and cranks. TV programmes caricature the hippy eco warrior with long pleated hair, silly looking hat and cardigan stood in front of some symbol of corporate excess and refer to them as protestors from the environmental movement.

In reality, I suspect that very few people would claim to have no concern about the environment and the world that our children will inherit. And it is not just about the now tiresome debate over whether global warming is true or not. It is also about protecting the rainforests and endangered species from extinction, working out how we will feed and support a rapidly increasing human population, where we will get our energy from as fossil fuels run out and much more. Then there are issues of fair trade. How many people are truly comfortable knowing that the cheap shirt they bought was produced by young children working in sweatshop conditions? These are very real and pressing concerns for all of us and not just the preserve of a small group of so-called eco warriors.

Whether we like it or not, opinions and perceptions about the environment are heavily influenced by the media and celebrities, what they say, what they do and how they behave. A stark contrast in environmental quotes from a range of well known celebrities and public figures is shown below.

Does anyone really imagine for a moment that my wife gives two stuffs about global warming? She certainly did not appear to be all that bothered on Thursday evening when, during the great carbon-saving switch-off, I ran round the house furiously turning on every light, hair dryer, dishwasher and toaster. Jeremy Clarkson, TV Presenter and Journalist

It is not just global warming, it is not just a loss of biodiversity, it is not just the pollution of our oceans and the clearing of our rainforests and all these complicated systems, The [11th Hour] movie talks about the world economy, it talks about politics, it talks about personal transformation and environmental consciousness that we need to have in this generation to implement a lot of these changes that need to occur. Leonardo DiCaprio, Actor

I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defence of our resources is just as important as defence abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend? Robert Redford, Actor

Cows eat grass and silage. This is melting the ice caps and killing us all. So they need a new foodstuff: something that is rich in iron, calcium and natural goodness. Plainly they cannot eat meat so here is an idea to chew on. Why not feed them vegetarians? Jeremy Clarkson, TV Presenter and Journalist

In the absence of sound oversight, responsible businesses are forced to compete against unscrupulous and underhanded businesses, who are unencumbered by any restrictions on activities that might harm the environment, or take advantage of middle-class families, or threaten to bring down the entire financial system. Barack Obama, US President

A lot of lies and misinformation has been put about by eco nuts on the back of a report by an idiot economist [Sir Nicholas Stern]. Environmental head bangers are talking nonsense when they claim that aviation is the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions. Coal-fired and oil-fired power stations are the biggest contributor of carbon but I have yet to hear any fearless eco warriors advocating nuclear power as they drive around in their SUVs to their next protest meeting. Michael OLeary, Ryanair

Our generation has inherited an incredibly beautiful world from our parents and they from their parents. It is in our hands whether our children and their children inherit the same world. Richard Branson, Tycoon

We want to annoy the ******* whenever we can. The best thing we can do with environmentalists is shoot them. Michael OLeary, Ryanair

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Shoot the messenger – the scandal of the rainforest killings

In 2005, a 73-year-old US-born Catholic nun and activist named Dorothy Stang was murdered in Brazil. Dorothy had been campaigning to protect the Amazonian rainforest for four decades. The murderers were killers hired by local landowners. Those responsible for clearing the rainforests can’t win the moral argument as their actions are based on greed and personal gain at any cost. So, instead, they resort to killing those who try to stop them.

The killing of Dorothy Stang was high profile but it certainly wasn’t an isolated incident. In May 2011, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo, a husband and wife team of activists who dedicated many years fighting against illegal deforestation, paid the ultimate price when they were shot dead following numerous death threats.

This situation is not recent either. As far back as April 1996 there was the "massacre of Eldorado de Carajás", in which 19 rural protesters were killed when Brazilian police opened fire on a crowd of peasant farmers who were holding a peaceful demonstration against illegal logging.

The Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), which has documented rural violence in Brazil since the 1980s, has counted hundreds of such killings. There is a long history of intimidation, kidnappings and death threats against people trying to protect the rainforests. Many are murdered without anyone ever hearing about it.

Little is heard of these killings in the mass media and larger corporations who are indirectly linked to rainforest destruction are conspicuously quiet on the subject. Such is media apathy that campaigners are often derided as ‘tree huggers’ with headlines instead dedicated to footballers’ affairs, ‘reality’ TV shows and celebrity gossip.

The latest candidate for execution is Raimundo Francisco Belmiro dos Santos, a campaigner for protecting the Amazonian rainforest. His only crime is speaking out against the illegal loggers and those trying to destroy the rainforests. Apparently, landowners in the northern state of Pará have offered a 50,000 dollar contract for his death. He has already received numerous death threats against him and his family.

Clearly, large corporations are not directly involved in violence and intimidation of this nature. However, the lead up to deforestation often begins with groups of illegal ‘land grabbers’ known as ‘grileiros’ who invade and seize land belonging to others often with forged documents. This is backed up with intimidation and violence. This illegally obtained land is then sold to large landowners. And that is how much of the large-scale deforestation occurs.

Environmentalists have stressed the need to draw attention to the dreadful situation occurring in the Amazon and to highlight the plight of both campaigners and innocent people caught up in the violence and intimidation. For this to happen there needs to be much greater global awareness through the media of what is really going on, genuine commitment from the large corporations to disassociate themselves from rainforest destruction coupled with concerted efforts by Brazilian and international governments to tackle the problem. Those responsible for the threats, shootings and killings need to be brought to justice. The price of failure is no less than the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

Major success in protecting Amazon rainforest

Brazil’s second largest beef exporter, Bertin, has agreed to review its entire supply chain to ensure that none of its sources are involved with deforestation, slave labour or land grabbing. The move follows intensive campaigning by Greenpeace through its ‘Slaughtering the Amazon’ report. Other successes include Marfig, one of the largest beef producers and further pledges from Clarks, Nike, Timberland, Geox and Adidas.

"Bertin's decision should pave the way for the modernisation of the Brazilian cattle industry", said Sarah Shoraka, Greenpeace Forests campaigner. "Given the sheer size of both Bertin and Marfrig's operations, this commitment will have real impact on driving down Amazon deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. Greenpeace will closely monitor the moratorium's implementation to ensure its success.”

Whilst there is no room for complacency it’s heartening to hear of Greenpeace’s success and it is to be hoped that other major brands follow suit. The task won’t be easy as deforestation continues apace with the criminal network behind the killings of rainforest campaigners still at large. Clearly, greater transparency in tracking supply sources coupled with exposure of those brands still involved in deforestation are major factors in protecting the Amazon and its inhabitants.