ZCBlog: Volunteering for a sustainable future!

Volunteers are extremely important to the Zero Carbon Britain project. As the research nears completion the long-term volunteers are beginning to look at how best to communicate ZCB to the people that will have to embrace a sustainable future: the public.

Two new long-term volunteers, Sarah and Megan, are working hard to support CAT and the ZCB team in both research and communications.

Sarah Everitt has been working with the ZCB team for a few weeks now. She is enthusiastic about making an important contribution to a project that has the potential to vastly benefit not only the UK environment, but the global climate too.

At the moment, now that the research is coming to a close, she is working to improve the report’s structure. Sarah is putting together a template that can improve accessibility of the new report to a wider audience. This is not such an easy task, with a scenario covering a variety of topics and  complex research data, but key to communicating ZCB to the general public.

Megan Jones joined the CAT team last week from the Isle of Anglesey, Wales, where for the last three months she has been a Residential Volunteer for the RSPB at South Stack Cliffs. She came back to Britain last autumn after finishing a BA in English at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, USA.

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved exploring woods and mountains (so mid-Wales is pretty perfect for me), and I’m hoping to make a career inspiring others to love nature and protect biodiversity. I’m very much looking forward to being a long-term volunteer at CAT, where I’ll be sharing CAT’s stories through social media, gaining new skills in marketing, and helping bring the new Zero Carbon Britain report to fruition.”

The Centre for Alternative Technology’s achievements over the last 40 years simply wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work, inspiration and dedication of the volunteers. With Nuria leaving at the end of February and a new volunteer starting in the coming month, ZCB’s volunteers have been invaluable to the evolution of the project.

Both Megan and Sarah are helping to co-ordinate a series of discussion papers titled ‘ZCB and…’ These will explore how the Zero Carbon Britain scenario effects wider topics beyond the team’s core research. Read more about the project here.

Sustainable Architecture Blog: Should buildings be green or sustainable?

Last week the blog looked at the future of sustainable architecture, this week we explore the differences between sustainable, green and natural architecture. Sustainability appears to be a much more popular concept in professional circles than it is being green. So should architects distance their designs from being labeled as green?

In recent years, the prefix green has become increasingly unpopular, particularly in professional circles, in promoting environmentally responsible architecture.

But what does green mean? The word brings to mind a wide range of associations. It has grown to be synonymous with environmentally-friendly lifestyles. But for many, green simply means that the end product minimises effects on natural resources; producing less waste in the process.

A lot of the backlash against using the word green stems from the trend to promote businesses and brands as environmentally friendly, even when they are not. This practice is known as ‘Greenwashing‘. Fortunately many of the underhand tactics used to make businesses appear environmentally responsible, have now been curtailed by international advertising standards and regulatory bodies. However, it seems that architects prefer to promote their designs as sustainable rather than green.
In recent discussions with architecture students, both AEES postgraduates at CAT and undergraduates from other colleges, the opinion was that the phrase ‘green architecture’ has connotations with natural building. To some it lacks precision, being more issue driven than quantitative in a measurable manner. It seems that green building is not seen as being cutting edge in the same way as sustainable architecture often is.

Natural building focuses on using local resources to negate the environmental impact of a building. These resources can include geological factors and the surrounding ecology. The use of plentiful materials that have not be treated with synthetic chemicals is often key to reducing the ecological impact. In general this means that many of the building processes are informed by historic methods of building. Therefore natural building tends to rely on human labour, more so than cutting edge technology.

Popular raw materials include stone, clay, sand and locally sourced & renewable wood. These materials can be combined to create surprisingly resilient structures. For instance, earthen architecture is one of the oldest examples of built environments. Cob, rammed earth and adobe are all examples of earthen architecture building methods.

So how does natural building compare to sustainable architecture?

Sustainability as a concept can often be contradictory and muddled. To be sustainable is be aware of the long-term; the effects of what you do on your environment and the future. To sustain is not to over-reach but to endure. In this interpretation of the definition, sustainability is about so much more than just being green.

However, a building can claim to be sustainable without being truly environmentally responsible. If a building is energy efficient then it can be argued that the structure is economically sustainable. Indeed, energy efficiency has become the over-riding consideration for much of sustainable architecture. An architect may design a building that is totally energy efficient but it might not be green. As sustainable assessment methods, such as LEED and passivhaus certification, become more popular the aim of many sustainable building projects have shifted. The aim might now be to achieve a certain rating at the expense of the environment.

An example of this is the use of concrete as a building material. Concrete has a high thermal mass and therefore, can be very efficient at storing heat or insulting buildings. This can make it very energy efficient. But the production of concrete is very energy-intensive. The concrete industry emits large amounts of carbon emissions because of transport and production. A final consideration is the fact that concrete is resilient, so the building may last a long time. The materials needed for repair might be reduced. This highlights how a construction material can be seen as sustainable but not necessarily green.

The argument for and against labeling building methods as green will continue to rage. It is obvious that professionals might not want their projects defined as being green but architects should not be afraid to label their sustainable processes as green.

By designing buildings that have a holistic approach and a green ethos, architects can consider the wider impacts on climate and environment. This must be the goal of all sustainable architecture.

Further reading:

 

ZCBlog: An update on ZCB and news of decarbonisation around the globe

The Food and Diets team for ZCB hosted a discussion workshop in London on January 24th. They presented their research and opened the floor to debate, which focused on ‘Minimal-Carbon Food & Diets’.

The event took place at the Open University, Camden, and was hosted by Peter Harper and Laura Blake, both researchers for Zero Carbon Britain. The delegates included a range of respected authorities within the field of land-use and nutrition research. An important topic for discussion was livestock products. Is it possible to simply remove livestock products from the normal UK diet? Meat consumption needs to be reduced if carbon emissions from land-use are to be minimised. However,  a resulting scenario would still need a nutritionally adequate diet and meat substitutes.

Other discussion points included assessing GHG implications of diets, food related behaviors and land-use in Britain. Dietary health is a very important factor in the new ZCB report and the team are committed to presenting a responsible diet in terms of carbon emissions. ZCBlog will report on the outcomes of this fruitful debate in upcoming articles.

  • Below is a round-up of other news covering everything from clean energy to carbon budgets:

Audi hopes to use solar and wind power to make renewable methane. The car manufacturer intends to use the synthetic fuel to power new natural-gas vehicles. MIT Technology Review writes about the process here.

In the new ZCB report we will propose the technology be used to produce methane gas from renewable electricity for storing energy for times when the demand exceeds supply.

The ZCB team have been testing the scenario against a range of weather conditions, including difficult weather years such as 2010 which had cold temperatures and lower than usual wind-speeds. The initial results are from hourly modelling using ten years’ worth of weather data, which is between 2002-2011. This modelling suggests that the scenario is robust but highlights the importance of adequate storage for biogas such that surpluses can be stored over months or even years and used when required.

The work is also raising interesting questions about the extent to which occasional peaks in net demand should be met by additional back-up capacity i.e. extra power stations that are rarely used. A market approach may see such spikes avoided as the price would become too high and demand would be reduced or shifted. However, it would not be desirable for price to exacerbate fuel poverty. ZCB would achieve most off its required demand shifting with automated control of uses such as electric car charging and hot water generation.

David Cameron launched DECC’s new ‘Energy Efficiency Mission’, which is designed to promote the government’s energy efficiency policies. The Prime Minister used his speech to stress that Britain must prioritise green energy; not only to minimise the impact of climate change but to benefit the economy as well. He insisted that:

Together we can make Britain a global showcase for green innovation and energy efficiency.” Read more…

Zero Carbon Britain project agrees with this statement but a clear and politically binding framework is needed if we are to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to the necessary levels.

Positive news from Spain! Wind farms there have broken energy records, generating more electricity than any other source in January. Read more…

New technology is being tested for British offshore wind. Forewind hopes to use ‘suction bucket’ technology to install 2,000 turbines at Dogger Bank. Watch a video explaining the technology here or read more…

More wind in Japan! Mitsubishi Corporation is taking an interest in offshore wind projects. Read about their development plans here and there’s more info about plans for windfarms at Fukushima here.

There’s more good news from America about US carbon emissions, which according to a new report are at their lowest levels since 1994. You can read the BCSE report here and here is an article summarising the findings.

Could we use geothermal to heat Britain’s homes? GT Energy thinks so because they are looking to build a plant in the northwest. Read more…

A nuclear power company has shelved plans to build new reactors in Britain. Centrica’s exit means no major UK company remains involved in plans for new nuclear reactors in the UK, but Centrica retains its 20% stake in eight existing nuclear power stations. The Guardian writes more here.

Carbon prices in Europe have fallen again. The EU’s emissions trading scheme has seen prices drop to an all time low. The Carbon Brief writes about the policy here…

 

ZCBlog: Discussing a zero carbon future

The new ZCB report will layout a scenario for an emissions free 2030 but one of the wider project aims is to raise awareness for a more carbon responsible society. Because of this, the new report will include a series of discussion papers about how ZCB relates to wider topics.

The third ZCB report will focus on a number of specific areas for a 2030 scenario. However, the team would like to discuss how ZCB could relate to other subjects. The ZCB project is looking for contributors who want to use the ZCB scenario to highlight how reducing carbon emissions will affect the UK. These discussion papers should tackle themes and issues that are outside of ZCB’s core research.

Sure, the ZCB team have researched how to eliminate carbon emissions in energy production and land-use but how will the scenario affect less quantifiable subjects. For instance, how would the ZCB scenario affect wellbeing? Could it create or diminish green spaces for recreation?

Each “ZCB and…” discussion paper should be no more than 1,000 words but preferably be between 600 and 800. If you wish to be involved then let us know! You can get in touch here.

Not sure what subject to tackle? ZCBlog will be featuring news articles next week that reflect what is happening in relation to decarbonising the UK.

How can we overcome political and environmental barriers for change?

 

The Centre for Alternative Technology hosted it’s first environmental question time earlier this month. The subject for discussion was politics. A whole host of questions were put forward by CAT’s postgraduate students and also by the general public online via twitter.

The event was part of the politics module for the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course and gave postgraduate students the opportunity to discuss the subjects they have been studying. On the panel were Paul Allen, project co-ordinator for Zero Carbon Britain; Kim Bryan, CAT’s media officer and a freelance writer on environmental issues; and Andrew Cooper who is chair of the association for green councilors and energy spokesperson for the green party in England and Wales.

The debate was chaired by Adrian Ramsay, former Deputy Leader of the Green Party and visiting lecturer for CAT. Here is just a taste of the impassioned debate that ensued:

Adrian Ramsay: The Green Deal is considered underwhelming and unlikely to achieve the required level of carbon reductions. What would the panel recommend as a viable alternative national scheme?

Paul Allen: I’d recommend the Green New Deal. The economic stimulus would be beneficial. Fuel prices are coming, the days of cheap abundant oil are long gone. An economic stimulus could create a huge amount of jobs and get people back to work… help get the economy back on track. So have a look, not at the Green Deal but the Green New Deal.

Kim Bryan: It’s better than nothing. At least we are trying to encourage change and… make houses more energy efficient. It is a step in the right direction.

AC: It’s not a step forward, it’s a step backwards. Now we have a policy which is going to produce less jobs and less work. Ultimately we need a compelling offer. That’s not going to happen with the Green Deal.

AC: I do wonder in reality if these things are the other way round; green politics disappear from the agenda during elections. It seems like the government has a bit of a one trick pony regarding economic stimulus. The Green New Deal is a way to move it on. Passivehaus retro-fit is what is required but there’s not enough of that work going on.

AR (putting forward a question that was asked via twitter): Could renationalising the utilities help decarbonise the energy supply?

KB: I certainly think privatising the energy supply has not done us any favours. But we need to be promoting community energy schemes, people taking more control of their energy and their usage. Behaviour change and education is a huge part of any retrofit that we do because if we don’t do that then it doesn’t lead to carbon emission reduction.

AR (via twitter): Many green topics only enter politics as election issues. How can we get politicians to commit to environment in the long-term?

PA: Well, that’s the million, million dollar question isn’t it? The experience we’ve had with the creation of the Zero Carbon Britain energy scenario… we got to launch it at the all party parliamentary climate change group. But if we want the the minister to act on it there has to be a shift in public attitude.

AC: I think green issues and green politics are mainstream at the moment but it has to got to be framed in economic terms… to be seen as a solution for getting us out of the situation that we are in. The green politics are going to get us out of the problem.

AR: What do you think has been the [green] movement’s main achievement… and where will it be in another forty years?

PA: We’ve created a whole new vocabulary. There was no such thing as renewable energy [forty years ago]. It’s moved into the mainstream.

AC: This is mainstream technology, this is the way people are going to have to live in the future; future technology. This is now technology!

The event was a great success and the hope is that future debates can expand to include other topics for discussion.

The entire debate will soon become available as a podcast on the blog.

 

 

 

Volunteers get a taste of CAT

Josh on Volunteer Taster Session

 

This week CAT welcomed some volunteers for a taster session to show them what it’s like to volunteer at the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth.

Josh from Liverpool studied business management at university, and after travelling in Australia fancied a change of direction. “I wanted to try something different and unusual, so I’ve come to CAT to learn about gardening.”

The taster session gives volunteers an insight into life at CAT before they decide to stay for a longer period of time. Long-term volunteers can stay from two to six months, and there are several different areas in which volunteers can work:

•Natural Building Materials Research

Zero Carbon Britain

• Site Maintenance

• Water and Natural Resources

• Eco-cabins Maintenance

• Gardens

• Marketing/Media

The centre also works with local volunteers on a flexible and part-time basis. Click here for more information on volunteering.

Josh on Volunteer Taster Session

ZCBlog: Communicating a positive future

 

As research progresses towards the release of a new report, the Zero Carbon Britain team are fully committed to communicating our findings.

Not only have we been communicating with our supporters, we have also appointed an artist in residence. The team are working with interested parties that are keen to promote the ZCB scenario, which will launch in the summer.

The London College of Communication visited the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales last year to learn about the ZCB project and in December 2012, Lightgeist Media was asked to document the visit. The video was made by the University of the Arts London to plan how to communicate Zero Carbon Britain to a wider audience. You can view the video below:

If you would like to work with ZCB or CAT to communicate our message of a positive future please get in touch here.

 

 

ZCBlog: How do we feed Britain and eliminate carbon emissions?

Laura Blake is Zero Carbon Britain’s food and diets researcher. Here, she looks at the main issues facing the food and diets team when proposing their scenario for a decarbonised 2030:

The ZCB scenario proposes some significant changes to land use in the UK.

However, the proposed reduction in meat consumption (particularly red meat) has raised many questions regarding livelihoods of farmers that specialise in livestock. ZCB also has to look at land suitability for other products such as food, biomass and woodland. Is it possible for livestock farmers to adapt to different industries in a scenario such as ours?

For me it also raises important questions about what we would eat. How would eating less meat affect future diets in the UK and what repercussion would this have for health?

It is generally accepted that we in the UK, and developed countries in general, are consuming higher amounts of meat than is recommended.

Current recommendations advise that individuals consume approximately 55 grams of protein per day. The UK average for 2011 was around 76g of protein per day and meat is one of the largest sources of protein in our diet. It has also been found that our diets contain too much saturated fat and meat contributes over 50% of our saturated fat intake.

Therefore, the proposed meat reductions in ZCB could have a significant health benefit for the population. A recent study on red meat, for example, found that reducing red meat consumption by just one serving per week could lower mortality risk by up to 19%.

Another study found that a reduction in livestock products could significantly reduce the risk of premature death from ischemic heart disease. Having said this however, the reductions in numbers of livestock that are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels required in ZCB may mean that we are left with a significant gap in our supply of protein as well as various other micronutrients such as iron and vitamin B12.

What can be used as a replacement of meat to fill this gap?

Plant sources of protein may be much more plentiful within the ZCB scenario but plant proteins are less easily absorbed and sources of the above micronutrients are limited. Today, many vegetarians use meat alternatives such as soya products to replace nutrients found in meat, but soya cannot be grown in the UK. So what could we use instead?

The proposed changes in our diet also raise questions of palatability. Bearing in mind the current diversity of eating habits within the UK, is it really possible to provide everything necessary to supply the UK population with a healthy diet within ZCB?

Land use and diets need to be considered when discussing the elimination of carbon emissions, especially in a scenario such as ZCB. But as you can see, there are so many questions that face this line of research.

We do not know the answers yet but that is what the new ZCB report will address come the summer!

For more information on food and diets please contact me at laura.blake@cat.org.uk

ZCBlog: Artist in residence

Hello! My name is Joanna Wright and I’m the artist in residence with Zero Carbon Britain for the next year.

I’ve been inspired by CAT since my first visit, over 10 years ago, and I’d firstly like to say thanks to CAT and the ZCB team for having me, to the Arts Council of Wales, who have made this residency possible and to Oriel Davies in Newtown, for their support.

We accept the way we live today as normal, but how did we get here, and where are we going?

The team at ZCB are an amazing and dedicated group. They are in the process of building a picture of what a future Britain can look like. How we’ll live, where our power will come from, what we’ll eat, how we’ll travel, and what we can do as society to affect positive change.

Research coordinator Alice has drawn it out in this diagram, it looks easy doesn’t it?

I hope that, in a small way, the work I do during the residency can make the work of the Zero Carbon Britain team more visible to a wider audience.

As an artist and documentary filmmaker much of my recent work uses existing archive material and oral history recordings. For part of my research for this residency I have started to look at how people in the past imagined the future

Through archive we have an opportunity to gain insight and reflection into where we stand in relation to the time that the original material was produced, and perhaps, where we might go from here.

You can see some postcards by artists from 19th century France imagining what the year 2000 would look like here. There’s an early forerunner of Skype in one of the pictures.

And there’s a link here to a film clip about petroleum products from the 1950’s here. (Warning, contains slight nudity!)

If you are coming to CAT then please feel free to come and visit me, I’d love to talk to you. Work in progress and research during the residency will be updated online at the Zero Carbon Archive.

You can contact me via email at joanna.wright@cat.org.uk , or follow on twitter @joanna_martine

ZCBlog: Zero Carbon Britain 2013

 

2013 is here! Paul Allen takes a moment to assess what lies ahead and his hopes for the new year…

I have recently received an analysis from a group of my colleagues working for the International Network for Sustainable Energy who presented at the COP18 Climate summit in Doha, Qatar. The outcomes do seem to open new doors for climate action, but it is not the breakthrough that we need to keep global warming to sustainable levels (i.e. global warming not above 1.5 – 2 degrees C).

I was most relieved to hear of commitment to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, from 2013 to 2020, and although there are clear loopholes that allow carry over of unused emissions credits from the first period, there will also strict limits to their use. There was also a call for Kyoto Protocol countries to review their emissions reduction targets by 2014 at the latest. While there are no guarantees, this decision gives a moral obligation for these countries to increase their emission reduction targets before 2020 and provides opportunities for them to do so in the climate negotiations.

A second phase of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to cover the period 2013-2020 with reduction targets for European countries and Australia. Unfortunately the reduction targets are not ambitious, e.g. EU only committed to reduce 20% from 1990 by 2020, a target the countries almost have reached today. Another problem is that the countries with reduction targets only emit 1/7 of the global man-made greenhouse gases (if Russia joins it will be more, but still only a small part of global emissions will be included).

So as we say goodbye to 2012, we know the limited reductions committed at Doha will not lead to the reductions required for the rate of decarbonisation demanded by the science. It is therefore vital we rest and get ready to take up the cause afresh in the New Year. There is still hope for improvement as the Doha talks agreed a review of commitments by Kyoto Protocol countries, where they will propose new, hopefully more ambitious emission targets in 2014. The new targets should include much more rapid decarbonisation targets from the long industrialised countries to keep global warming below 2 degrees C.

Much more action is needed, from the countries in the Kyoto protocol, but also from major emitters outside the Kyoto Protocol, including USA, Canada, and China. We hope that during 2013, as we draw together the most recent work from a range of academics, universities, think tanks, NGOs and business and industry into the new report and launch a round of communications we hope the ZCB project will help catalyse a change in how the we think about rapid de-carbonisation, bust myths, highlight hidden benefits, break through misunderstanding, and stimulate urgently-needed economic and political debate around how we think about the future. Leaving it to the ‘powers that be’ is clearly not going to be enough!

Paul Allen

Project Co-ordinator