Bright Green Enterprise

Food Focus


I love this quote. Yes, nature, mother earth, and the abundance of our planet has allowed us humans to survive, thrive and flourish. But we have reached a critical moment in our history where we are using (and wasting) far more than can be provided at a sustainable rate. We, as humans, must learn to control our appetites, and consume only what is necessary to satiate our true needs.

Let’s have a look at some of our most harmful production and consumption practices.

Agriculture is the biggest user of water worldwide, with irrigation claiming close to 70% of freshwater appropriated for human use. We also know that agriculture and intensive farming practices cause the devastating loss of natural habitats and ecosystems, soil degradation, water pollution, and this industry is the largest contributor of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. Whew. Whilst food production is well and good for an ever-growing population, we really need to find ways in which to sustain ourselves, without destroying our only home.

Despite the huge amount of food produced, a staggering amount of it never even makes it into our homes, or our stomachs. One third of the food produced, the equivalent of 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted every single year. This number makes me quite sick to my stomach. 1.3 billion tonnes of food rots away in bins of retailers and consumers, or is spoiled due to poor transportation methods and harvesting practices. This is something that needs to change, now.

 

Even though we clearly have an abundance of food at our fingertips, a vast proportion of the world’s population is not even consuming enough to meet their basic needs. There’s something in this equation that isn’t quite balancing out…

Some other areas of extreme consumption, plus unsustainable production practices, which don’t match up to the status of eco-friendly (not by half), are that of energy – specifically household energy use, and the fashion industry. Let’s light upon household energy for a second. According to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, “When it comes to consumers, households consume 29 per cent of global energy and contribute to 21 per cent of resultant CO2 emissions. However, if people worldwide switched to energy efficient light bulbs the world would save US$120 billion annually.” That doesn’t seem like it’s a particularly difficult switch to make, does it? But look at the possible impact we could all have!

So now, fashion. An industry which has faced backlash for more breaches of environmental and ethical practices than I could possibly go into here, so I will remain focused on just the waste, for today. It is the second largest polluter of clean water, after agriculture. Water pollution comes from the toxic chemicals and pesticides used in cotton farming, the dyeing of fabrics with synthetic dyes, the use (and breakdown) of plastic-based textiles (here’s looking at you, polyester!); all this destruction, for an item of clothing that is worn (on average) only seven times before it is thrown away! I hope this makes as little sense to you as it does to me…surely something so disposable isn’t worth so much harm to the environment?

So these are some of our most harmful consumer practices, and just a few of the reasons why ‘responsible production and consumption’ is goal number 12, for the Sustainable Development Goals. Read about the targets for this goal here.

Whilst I am fully aware that we can only work our way out of this crisis point with massive, industry-scale reform in production practices, I am also aware that industry leaders are not reading this blog. And so, I am directing this to you, our readers, and regular consumers, in the hope and faith that we can keep championing greener, more plant-friendly initiatives (even if only on a small scale).

Today, let’s focus on food.

Sums it up pretty well, no?

Good food. What does that mean? For many, that means unprocessed, responsibly sourced, locally grown, seasonal produce. (I’m not going to start offering dietary advice here). And remember, organic! If you need to remind yourself of why organic farming helps protect our soils, and indeed, why our soils are so important, be sure to pop back and read “Be the Solution to Soil Pollution”.


Community gardens are popping up all over the country, providing hubs of green-space for people to come together, learn new skills, and grow some fresh produce. Gardening also provides a multitude of physical and mental health benefits, so perhaps it’s time to…dig in.

Use websites such as NCVO Know How, for resources on how to set up a community garden, and Farm Garden, to find gardens near you.

School gardens or edible playgrounds are bringing the joys of homegrown to students, and teachers alike, in schools country-wide. Particularly beneficial for inner-city students, edible playgrounds have been studied and proven to bring a host of fantastic learning opportunities, for teaching moments outside of the classroom. Schools are catching on to the idea that gardening provides a safe, green-place, where the students can grow alongside their veggies.

Trees for Cities have a fantastic range of resources, and have worked with schools to create 75 edible playgrounds – benefiting 30,000 students in the UK.

Whilst I know that community gardens aren’t going to suddenly reverse the destructive impacts of current agricultural practices, I want to highlight the small, conscious actions that we can make and engage in. Even if these actions don’t have global consequences, it can mean the world of difference to your local environment. Let’s bring back these community schemes, support local, and encourage hands-on involvement. After all, protecting our planet really comes down to reconnecting with, and maybe re-planting, our roots.

 

 

Author: Rachel Calnan

New Year, New Commitment

Happy New Year to all our Bright Green readers, and most importantly, to this beautiful green planet of ours.

With January, we hear the word ‘resolution’ flying around almost as if it had wings of its own. New diets are started, gym memberships are purchased, alcohol bottles are firmly stored away (for those of you taking part in Dry January – we salute you!). Whilst these new promises are fantastic, and we truly hope you manage to stick to whatever your resolution is throughout the year ahead, what if together, we looked further than who we see in the mirror? What if together, we made some commitments that we can all benefit from?

Like….saving the planet?

Maybe that sounds overly-ambitious. But really, if we did all combine our willpower and resources, we could start making more positive impacts on our natural home. After all, we’re the ones who have led us down this rocky road of climate crisis…

So, last year, 2018, gave us some pretty devastatingly scary headlines. We saw:

“Twelve years to reverse climate change” 
That’s right. According to the sixth report from the International Panel on Climate Change, we have just twelve years to drastically mitigate the current rate of climate change. Twelve years. That is no longer the responsibility of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. That is here and now. That is this generation finally standing up, and making the changes needed to ensure there is a planet left for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.


“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing faster than expected”
Well, yes. Unsurprisingly, if we don’t make any changes to our production and consumption habits, the problem of waste pollution doesn’t appear to change! Funny how that works. Thankfully, this island of trash is being tackled head-on by a brilliant young entrepreneur. We’ve already spoken about The Ocean Cleanup in a previous blog, so check it out if you haven’t yet. We’re also loving following the journey of the Cleanup team, are you keeping an eye on their progress too?

“Humanity have wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970”
This headline knocked me for six when I first read it. 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles lost to this world because of destructive (and selfish?) human activity. Wow. Let’s now save that remaining 40%, before we’re left on a planet completely devoid of… well, anything.


But, enough doom and gloom. I am not wishing to be simply a messenger of misery, but merely summarise the somewhat precarious situation we humans find ourselves (read: have put ourselves) in. Although, I do think it is important that we realise the gravity of our circumstance. For far too long we have simply brushed under the rug any signs of future demise, shrugged our shoulders, and claimed that we’ll be long gone before any serious consequences threaten us. We know now that is no longer the case, and as such, it is time to act accordingly.

Let’s now, for the sake of boosting morale, and firing up our changemaker drive, look at a couple of our favourite planet-savers, environment-champions, Bright Green heroes. (We haven’t decided on an exact name yet).

Ecosia is a search engine with a difference. I mean, a search engine that are making a difference. Instead of paid ads simply filling shareholders’ pockets, their money is helping turn our beautiful planet green, again. Searches conducted through Ecosia directly funds the planting of trees across the world – for the betterment of the environment, the empowerment of communities, and the protection of animals. It takes only 45 searches to plant one tree, and with your own search counter keeping track, it’s easy to see the direct impact you are having.

In 2018, Ecosia users helped them to plant 31 million trees, and in doing so, removed 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These are the kinds of numbers and figures we should be seeing, and celebrating.

Not only is Ecosia’s search partner carbon-neutral, but they also further spread consumer awareness by highlighting green options within your search results. So, why don’t you make your resolution work for the planet, and swap from Google to Ecosia. It’s easy peasy to change to Ecosia on your desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone – just follow this link and read more about them here. 


Another earth-warrior, or group of warriors, are the amazing community who rescue and release orphaned elephants at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, northern Kenya. The first community owned elephant orphanage in Africa, the wildlife landscapes are now restoring themselves, thanks to the transparency of self-governing community conservancies, and the harmonious working of local people, with local wildlife. Elephants are listed as a vulnerable species, and in 2016 it was reported that elephant population had seen its worst decline in 25 years. Let’s not add elephants to the list of animals that we’ve already wiped out, please.

As of February 2018, Reteti had rescued 30 elephants. But not only is the impact directly on the protection of this giant species. Reteti is empowering local villagers to become the first female elephant keepers in Africa. Employment in the sanctuary means parents are able to send children to school. Humans are learning how they can live peacefully alongside elephants in these shared landscapes, and that the health of one does not depend on the demise of the other.

They are an organisation committed to the betterment of the local environment for all its inhabitants, and seem to understand that the building of relationships between species is crucial in ensuring ongoing, mutually beneficial conservation. Follow along with the work and successes of Reteti here, and for your fill of incredible elephant videos, check out their social media!


These examples are obviously just a drop in the big, blue ocean of positive people power, but hopefully highlight to you, readers, the change that is needed, and the change we can make happen, if only we put our mind to it.

I resolve in this new year, to keep sharing via this blog, and via our social media, the work of incredible people, communities, and businesses alike, so that their impact can be felt, and their positivity spread, across a wider audience. I resolve to follow in their footsteps, taking action where I can, and making changes for the greater benefit of all. Will you join me?

 

Author: Rachel Calnan

Be the Solution to Soil Pollution

Land, dirt, dust, terra firma.
Soil.
The very ground beneath our feet, the very foundation of our planet.

But as much as we may tread this surface every day, do we really know, understand, and appreciate all that soil means for life on this planet?

Be the solution to soil pollution. This was the slogan for this year’s World Soil Day, celebrated and promoted around the world on December 5th. Soil pollution has been highlighted as one of the main soil threats which is affecting global soils and the ecosystems which live off them (The Status of the World’s Soil Resources Report).

But before we look at what is affecting the quality of our soils worldwide, let’s have a look at just why soil is so important for us.

Soil supports almost every ecosystem across the planet, maintaining and supporting jungles, wetlands, forests, grasslands and prairies. These ecosystems are all home to an incredible diversity of vegetation – some of which we have not yet discovered. These plants provide us with fuel, animal feed, food, medicine, and raw materials for clothing, household goods and other necessities.

Not only is plant diversity supported by soil, but animal diversity too, both above and below ground level. As mentioned, wildlife and livestock animals are provided with food, but what about the smaller scale animals? Microorganisms are the primary decomposers of organic matter, helping to detoxify harmful toxins, and suppress disease organisms. And let’s not forget, soil microorganisms are the source of most of the antibiotic medicines we use to fight diseases! Scaling up, insects who depend on soil, are also the caretakers; with earthworms maintaining soil quality, providing nutrients, and breaking down toxic elements.



The very structure of soil is also essential in mitigating natural disasters. The ability of soil to absorb, hold, and release water helps to prevent flooding and drought. The way in which soil distributes water plays a key role in the water cycle, impacting rivers, lakes and streams. Soil is made up of both organic, and inorganic matter. The soil organic matter is crucial in our fight against climate change, acting as either a source or a sink of harmful fossil fuels. In fact, soil is our second largest carbon store, after the oceans. So healthy, undisturbed soils mean that carbon can be stabilised, and remain locked away for for thousands of years – helping us to mitigate climate change.

As mentioned above, there are several threats which are degrading the quality of soils around the world. Let’s take a look first at the most prevalent, and the theme of this year’s World Soil Day – soil pollution.

Soil pollution is the out-of-place presence of a chemical or substance, and/or present in a higher concentration than normal, which has adverse effects on any non-targeted organism. Industrial activity has left a slew of harmful, toxic waste, contaminating soil and leaving it unfit for use for years to come. Plus, the use of chemicals in agricultural activity has drastically increased, thanks to modern fertilizers and pesticides. These chemical substances break down organic matter within the soil, which as we know, is crucial for storing carbon, and eliminating toxins. Additionally, this makes soil more susceptible to wind and water erosion, and increases the risk of natural disaster.

Although soil pollution is a main cause for soil degradation, there are several other prominent harmful practices which are negatively affecting soil quality, and leading to devastating consequences. Ploughing of the topsoil buries the rich organic matter deep down, creating a crust which is unable to absorb as much water, or offer sufficient nutrients for healthy crops. Shallow soil means less rainwater is absorbed and run-off is far greater. The movement of humans, animals, and machines compacts the soil, which drastically reduces porosity, again meaning reduced absorption, and greater risk for erosion.



Additionally, overgrazing reduces absorption by removing plant cover, root structure and organic matter. Further, by removing the soil nutrients from the land, and compacting the surface of the soil, the quality quickly deteriorates, leading to reduced absorption and greater run-off.

It’s easy to see the pattern here, of how our modern farming practices, and industrial processes are damaging our soils. But is it as doom and gloom as it sounds? There are many ways in which we can start helping to improve and protect our soils, but due to the extensive damage, solutions needs long-term commitment in order to make a real difference.

Industries have been given regulations for the proper disposal of hazardous waste, to try to minimise the area affected, but we all know that the folk in charge haven’t been particularly bothered about the environment until now (or is that just my cynicism showing?), so these regulations may not enough to ensure ongoing, or any, steps towards improvement.

A champion of bettering agricultural farming practices – Soil Association is a British organisation, which now certifies 70% of organic food in the UK. They  work directly with farmers, on the ground, to test changes in their farming methods that will improve their soil; they lobby the government for soil protection policies so that soil is given the same level of protection as water and air; they encourage farmers to adopt organic farming methods and principles in order to better our soils. Check their website for further ideas on how we can get involved at home.



Good agricultural practices are being strongly recommended in order to start building deep and healthy soils. Practices such as using reduced till farming methods, rotating deep-rooted crops, reducing overgrazing and maintaining forests and grasslands, are all ways in which farmers can begin to protect our soils now, for more nourished soils in the future.

Whilst it is clear that large-scale industry change is needed, with the guidance of regulations and organisational support, we as consumers can make sure to do our bit in supporting healthy soil practices. Supporting and choosing organic where possible shows those farmers that their methods are indeed what we want, and what we need, for the sake of a healthy soil structure, and a healthy planet.

 

Author: Rachel Calnan

Quality Education : Why It Matters

The sustainable development goals are something we talk about quite a lot here at Bright Green Enterprise. They not only feed into all of our programmes, but we encourage all the students that we work with to consider the goals, and how they can work towards them, not only in the process of a BGE day, but perhaps in their daily life too.

We’ve looked at several of the SDGs in the course of this blog, but today we’re focusing on one that’s really pivotal to the success of all (goals and humans, I mean). SDG number 4 is “Quality Education”. Education, really, is the foundation of working towards, and living, sustainable development. By educating all citizens of this lovely planet, we can surely equip minds with all the necessary tools to solve even the most desperate of the world’s problems.

Education can help people to break out of the cycle of poverty, reducing inequalities and working to reach gender equality. People who have received quality education are more likely to live healthy and sustainable lives – so the more children we get into education, the greater possibility of a sustainable future we have, as a global community. Gone are the days (or they should be) of thinking of ourselves as this country versus that country; if we can recognise that quality education, and therefore, quality life, should be experienced by every single soul across the world, we might just be able to achieve real, positive change for our planet.



Targets for this Goal include: completion of primary and secondary education for all girls and boys; increase the number of youths and adults who have relevant skills for decent jobs and entrepreneurship; eliminate gender disparities across all levels of education and training; ensure all learners acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to promote sustainable development; and substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, particularly in the least developed countries and small island developing states.

Phew! Some big aims, right? These targets, and many more, are all set to be achieved by the year 2030 – just 12 years from now. From the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018, we can see the progress that has been made so far in Goal 4, and the areas which are still falling far behind target:

  • At the global level, the participation rate in early childhood and primary education was 70% in 2016, up from 63% in 2010. The lowest rates are found in sub-Saharan Africa (41%) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (52%).
  • An estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age worldwide—58% of that age group—are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics.
  • In 2016, an estimated 85% of primary school teachers worldwide were trained; the proportion was only 71% for Southern Asia and 61% for sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In 2016, only 34% of primary schools in LDCs had electricity and less than 40% were equipped with basic hand-washing facilities.
  • Disparities in education along the lines of gender, urban-rural location and other dimensions still run deep, and more investments in education infrastructure are required, particularly in LDCs.

The fact that one-third of countries in developing regions have not reached gender parity within primary education, means that multitudes of girls are facing barriers to accessing the education they rightly deserve. And this means the world is missing out on the skills and knowledge of half its population.

Lack of education for girls not only means they are less equipped for work, but makes them more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation, and drastically reduces their health outcomes. Economically, family income is decreased, and when this income deficit is scaled up, the economic advancement of entire countries is noticeably limited. As a concise explanation, this recent tweet from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, nicely sums up what I’m trying to say…

 

Food for thought, perhaps.

 

Although I am against the mindset of ignoring those problems which occur further away than our front doorstep, I am aware that for many people, the injustices and struggles of far away countries just don’t register on the radar. So let’s bring the matter of education closer to home. Gender inequality in education doesn’t affect us here in the UK, right? Wrong. Whilst attendance numbers between genders may not be as different as in some developing nations, school performance highlights a concerning imbalance. In early years, boys fall behind in terms of problem solving and reasoning, and emotional and social development. Compared to girls at GSCE level, boys largely underachieve, and they are far more likely to be permanently excluded from school.

Despite all of this, by the time we reach university level, and especially post-graduation working life, the odds are stacked heavily against women. Male graduates receive a 6% income boost on graduating, compared to if they had gone into work straight from school. The impact is far greater for women: nearly 50% more than women who didn’t receive a university education. Wow! I hear you thinking. But wait, didn’t I say women were worse off? 50% compared to 6% seems pretty favourable. Sure, when looking at percentage of wage increase, it seems as though women may be reaping the benefits, but how about if we take into account that base level, non-university educated wage?

Women who do not attend university earn £20,800 on average, whereas men who have GSCEs, but no degree, are earning almost £30,000. So, even with the 50% income boost after receiving a university degree, women graduates at the age of 29 earn just over £30,000 – roughly the same amount as men of the same age, who are not educated to degree level. It appears that underachievement at GCSEs doesn’t affect future earnings, with men still awarded higher income rates than university educated women. [Source: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/13731]

With figures like those above, I think it’s time we put aside the notion that the issue of gender inequality within education is not relevant in the UK. Whilst those statistics represent life after education, surely it is the system of education which feeds into working life, and therefore those inequalities? In recognising these huge differences, our education system can work to improve these outcomes, and minimise the disparities between genders. So whilst the imbalances in education vary across the globe, it is clear to me that the betterment of education can benefit each and every one of us. Quality education? It matters.

Author: Rachel Calnan

Science : a Human Right

At Bright Green Enterprise, we use STEM-based activities in order to talk to students about entrepreneurship, sustainability, and ethical business. That’s why we love celebrating World Science Day for Peace and Development, and reflecting on some the year’s most impactful scientific developments. Celebrated every 10th November, this day brings our attention to the importance of science in our daily lives, and how it plays a role within all aspects of our societies. By highlighting the relevance of science, and encouraging wider public engagement on scientific issues accessible….more people are encouraged to be involved with the world of science.



The theme for this year is “Science, a Human Right”, which celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 27), and the Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers. This theme highlights that everyone has the right to participate in, and benefit from science, and will hopefully open up the historically exclusive scientific world. By involving all members of society in scientific developments, surely it will only bring about greater progress, with stronger promises for the future.

Article 27 states:

 

  • Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. 
  • Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

 


Science may seem irrelevant or inaccessible to many, with various scientific advances seemingly completely disconnected from our daily lives. But, not only does science touch our every day, from the shampoo you use in the morning, to the car you drive to work, it allows us to experience a world with ever-expanding possibilities. Whilst this may seem out-of-reach to a vast proportion of our societies, and truthfully so, the scientific world has not always been accessible to the wider population, this UN day of science celebration aims to broach the disparities and encourage wider general participation.

World Science Day aims to create a stronger link between science and society, bringing new scientific developments to a wider public audience, and ensuring that society are aware of possible discoveries which may directly, or indirectly, affect them. Especially prominent in this year, by linking society and science, we can also see the incredible impact that scientists make, by working to protect our beautiful planet, and helping us to create more sustainable societies.

So let’s have a look at this year in Science – a few top discoveries and analyses which help us to understand and protect our planet, and our people.

  • The “Ledumahadi mafube” was identified by South African researchers from its restored fossil- one of the largest land animals, this dinosaur weighed in at a whopping 26,000 pounds! That’s twice the size of an African elephant! 
  • Also in South Africa – archaeologists discovered what they believe to be the earliest known drawing created by Homo sapiens. At roughly 73,000 years old, this drawing out-dates drawings previously thought to be the oldest, by 30,000 years! This drawing could help us to learn more about how humans used symbols, which led to the development of language, and civilisation itself. 
  • Researchers have learned that the sharing and spreading of information on social media following natural or human disasters could have potentially disastrous impacts on public safety. Whilst information sharing can be extremely useful, it is important to be aware of the dangers of rumours, and falsifying of information, and how this can impact on human behavioural responses. Understanding trends like these can help decisions in evacuation planning, and the actions of emergency services when responding to future disasters. 
  • Scientists at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco managed to erase damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease in a human brain cell. Whilst further research is needed, and the implications of these discoveries is still unknown, this could be the first step towards creating a treatment for a disease which affects millions worldwide. 
  • The Soft Robotic Fish (of SoFi) is an oceanic robotic creation, designed to study and monitor underwater populations. With its fins and tail, SoFi can move inconspicuously among underwater life, allowing scientists to identify ways in which to better protect and conserve our oceans.


With advances and discoveries such as these, I understand it can feel quite apart from anything that may directly impact on our life, or indeed, that we ourselves could possibly dream up. But, from working in schools across the country, I can assure you (and myself) that actually, discoveries like these are not so out-of-reach, especially for those young minds yet unhindered by the doubts and restrictions of societal constructs. We’ve seen apps to help prevent food waste, street lamps powered by the very cars that drive down the streets, solar-powered water pumps for countries which experience minimal rainfall. A never-ending list of inventions addressing global issues. Whilst the science may not always be correct, the enthusiasm, innovation, and determination never fail to impress me. For me, when working with students through our programmes, especially Green Dragons, it excites and inspires me to witness the next generation of thinkers, creators and makers, as they explore, conceive and construct. Those who will step into the world with eager minds, and open eyes, are bound to lead the onward journey towards discovery, and I hope that it is an ever-increasing breadth of people who also learn to reap the benefits of that very exploration.

 

Author: Rachel Calnan

The Lessons of Language

To travel is one of my main passions in life; travelling and all that it encompasses – people, language, culture, food, history, architecture. The world is full of so many wonders, and I for one, can’t seem to get my fill. No matter how, where to, or who with, you travel, this beautiful planet of ours has much to offer, and we have much to learn.

Learning a language for me, was and is one of the greatest pleasures of life. The feeling of being able to communicate in a language different to your native tongue, to express yourself in ways which don’t directly translate from your language, and to learn about people in their own language, is a joy quite unlike any other. I always regretted not taking a language at school; it wasn’t mandatory for GCSE. I think it is a real shame that here in the UK we do not push for language learning, and instead take for granted that in most countries, you are bound to find someone who speaks English. So, when I set off to South America, to an unknown destination, for an unknown length of time, it was number one on my agenda to learn Spanish, to be able to fully immerse myself in South American life.

The way in which I learnt Spanish (and am still learning) was perhaps a little less conventional than for many, but it was by far the most fun, and the most effective. Full immersion. I had taken a very (poor) short Spanish course in Spain, which provided me with some very basic conversation, but I was by no means ‘prepared’ in the language department.

It seems that most people either learn a language at school/university, take an intensive course, or at least use one of the many language-learning apps now available. I decided to challenge myself a little more, and placed myself in situations and environments whereby I had no choice, but to (try to) speak Spanish. I quickly realised that mime was my friend, and instantly became far more… ‘animated’ when trying to converse in Spanish!

Despite South American countries being a popular destination for many backpackers from “Western” countries, I purposefully ensured that I was not surrounded by English-speaking individuals, and often took myself slightly further off-the-beaten-track. There is a very popular “route”through several countries, which most travellers tend to stick to, hitting all the top spots, and ticking off the main attractions from their bucket lists. I wasn’t really aware of this route, until I met a few individuals a couple of months into my travels, who were rather surprised that I had not arrived in the conventional way. By making my way to slightly more out-of-reach destinations, I rarely found people who spoke English, so had little choice but to communicate in my ever-expanding Spanish. As I was travelling solo, this too, was a fantastic way to force me to reach out, integrate, and stumble my way through the many complexities of Spanish.

The very act of travelling, lends itself perfectly to learning a new language. If you’re not on an all-inclusive trip, chances are you’re going to have to ask for directions to the beach, order some (possibly unknown!) food, buy tickets to a museum, book a mountain biking tour… I encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone, in order to ‘create’ more scenarios in which you can use your new language. By expanding your comfort zone, you expose yourself to new vocabulary, new syntax, maybe a different tense, and the more you come across these, and attempt to use them, the more comfortable you grow in developing your understanding of the language.

Even if you’re not engaging in conversation with someone, you can still learn. A couple of my favourites were to listen to music – with the added bonus of exploring new music genres; and to eavesdrop conversations – particularly on public transport. It is amazing how much you can pick up without even really thinking about learning. The brain is a sponge, and just like children, we absorb the information all around us. By understanding how it is spoken, it becomes more familiar, and eventually, easier to use.

Like all new skills, learning a language may come to some people more easily, and to others less so, but as with learning to ride a bike, or doing long division, or making a roast dinner…practice is key. Much like the numerous falls from your first bicycle, language learning is full of mistakes: wrong words, embarrassing errors, miscommunications, but hopefully too, lots of laughter (and no grazed knees in sight!)

To highlight the varied journey that language-learning can be, here are some of my out-of-the-ordinary experiences where I learnt, and made mistakes in, Spanish:

– Building a house in Argentina – including daily vocabulary practice for spade/bucket/pliers/shovel!

– Following instructions to hike 6 km up-river to a ‘home’ in the middle of the Bolivian sub-tropical forest

– Falling ill and being taken care of in a hostel (twice!)

– Negotiating prices for a bus journey at 2 am

– Booking an excursion and finding out at 4 am that I had unwittingly agreed to climb a mountain

– Making friends with the train conductor as I crossed from Bolivia to Brazil

– Being taken swimming…and failing to bring a swimsuit

Thanks to experiences like those above, I have continued my language learning in times when I hadn’t even been consciously trying. Whilst I now may be confident holding a conversation with most people, I still don’t feel happy calling myself ‘fluent’, and know that this learning will continue to grow and change. But let’s keep pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, setting ourselves challenges, and not be afraid to make mistakes. It’s in those places, after all, where we learn the most. I recently read a great quote from Kerstin Hammes, editor of the Fluent Language Blog, and I’ll leave it here to finish,

“Language learning never stops because it’s culture learning, personal growth and endless improvement.”

 

 

Author: Rachel Calnan

The Impact of Travel

September 27th is dedicated annually to World Tourism Day, with a focus on supporting sustainable and responsible growth within the tourism sector. Sustainable tourism encompasses three central pillars, the implementation of which balances impact between protecting the environment, maintaining socio-cultural integrity, and promoting long-term economic benefits.

These three pillars form the basis for sustainability in general, so it makes sense that sustainable tourism takes into account, and practices, these same factors. Tourism is an enormous industry, and an ever-growing popularity of travel is set to only grow this sector further. International tourist arrivals have increased from 25 million in 1950 to 1.32 billion in 2017. That is a huge number of people who are boarding planes, exploring new cultures, and spending hard-earned currency, in countries across the globe. So, that could be 1.32 billion people annually, making responsible choices, and positively impacting the planet through the business of their tourism. But is that just wishful thinking? 

For me, travelling sustainably has become the way in which I travel, automatically seeking the most ethical, responsible options, in order to meet my tourist needs. You don’t have to pay a fortune in order to access the more ethical choices, in fact, I have found it is often the complete opposite. By following a responsible route, I often avoid the overpriced, heavily marketed options which seem to bombard mainstream tourism avenues, and instead opt for the more fairly-priced alternatives, knowing that I am contributing to a more responsible tourism revenue.

When thinking about our beautiful green planet, it is often simple steps that we can take, in order to minimise our impact, much like those we use in our everyday life. From bringing your own water bottle, to disposing of your litter properly, we can all be a little more aware of what we leave behind. As well as leaving behind, I believe it is important to be aware of the impact of the things we may be tempted to take away. Picking up natural items, such as flowers, rocks, coral, may seem insignificant and harmless…until everyone does it. Let’s learn to appreciate natural beauty where it is, in nature. Take a photo, absorb the view visually, but when you leave, leave it behind. As the saying goes: take only memories, leave only footprints.

Following on from not picking up natural items, let’s expand that to the purchase of buying keepsakes made from animal products. Ivory, concha shells, shark teeth – no matter how much you wish it, the fact is that these are not by-products, nor are they sustainably sourced. I’d prefer to see an elephant with its tusks in-tact, than carry the guilt of an illegally sourced trinket. Again, let’s leave those ‘materials’ to the animals that own them.

Whilst exploring South America, I had many a chance to get up close and personal with their abundance of wildlife. However, I did not once pay for an enforced encounter in an unnatural environment. In Bolivia, visiting the rainforest in Rurrenabaque is a highlight of many a traveller’s itinerary. Here, you can “experience guaranteed animal encounters” – swimming with the famous pink river dolphins, native to the Amazon. In reality, these dolphins are herded, corralled, and bribed with food, so that travellers can enjoy this ‘natural’ adventure. No part of that sounds natural to me. Upon researching this, I decided to take myself to another part of the rainforest entirely, a little-visited town called Trinidad. Here I tracked down the only local tour guide, and had one of the most incredible, authentic experiences I could have asked for. An initial sighting of pink dolphins at quite some distance in the boat, left me feeling pretty chuffed. It wasn’t until later, during a spontaneous mud-bath in the river shallows, that I had my real breath-taking experience, as an entire shoal of dolphins swam past, and around me. I have not a single photo to prove my encounter, but I will cherish the memory, knowing that I was a lucky girl, who just happened to witness this natural beauty. That, is how I like my wildlife encounters.

Being socially and culturally aware is a concept which can completely change your experience. I am a firm believer that you get out of an experience what you put in, and this can be greatly affected, both negatively and positively, depending on how you react to and respect the culture around you. With social cues embedded within gesture and language, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on a few basics, before even stepping foot on a plane. In the next blog post, I will explain further how learning a language opened up a totally different side of travelling for me, so be sure to check back in.

Taking photos is a huge part of tourism, and a beautiful way to record and cherish your memories. Of course, capturing the local culture, is a great way to truly reflect on your time, and photographing people encapsulates the real essence of travel. Personally, I am terrible at remembering to take photos, as I often am too wrapped up in the present moment to remember to whip out my camera. But for those of you who do, make sure to always ask permission, and respect individuals if their answer is no. There is no gratification in sneaking a photo of somebody who doesn’t want to be snapped.

I have made a personal choice to not support tours which teeter on the border of ‘poverty porn’, whereby tourists can pay money for a tour of favelas (as in Brazil), or of poor working conditions (as in Potosi, Bolivia), in order to gawp at those less fortunate. For me, I see no benefit of witnessing individuals going about their daily life, with the highlight being ‘look, how bad is this’. I am aware that there are organisations where tour money goes directly into community projects and improvements, or supports local employment. I fully support, and encourage tourists to embrace, these types of organisations, but strongly recommend researching all options, as often the most readily available, are not the most responsible.

With the global travel and tourism industry providing approximately 11% of the world’s employment in 2016, this is a sector which is woven into livelihoods and local economies worldwide. I am not much of a planner when it comes to travelling, but for those of you who do use tour agencies, or holiday companies, try to choose those which employ local people, support small businesses, offset their carbon emissions, and perhaps support local charitable organisations. When finding accommodation, websites which collate hundreds of search results are fantastic, but charge commission fees for those that book via their website. I always book direct, which ensures that small guesthouses or hotels receive 100% of your fee, without having to pay commission. When buying souvenirs, be sure to not fall prey to mass-produced (often imported) items, instead, support local crafts by buying direct from the artisan – bearing in mind the points made above about sustainable materials.

Of course, it is important to remember that tourism doesn’t only happen when you leave the country. Tourism within the UK is an equally substantial industry, and we can implement all the steps above right here, on our doorsteps. While I believe few people set out to intentionally travel irresponsibly, I think for many, there is a lack of awareness of the impact of their actions or decisions. Sometimes, we just need a little perspective, a gentle reminder, and a nudge down the correct path.

Author: Rachel Calnan

Clean Green Construction

As we talked about in the previous blog, eco-friendly building techniques are becoming more popular around the world, with constructions seen in bamboo, mud and stone allowing for breathable, natural looking homes. But are these styles of buildings only suitable for countryside or rural dwelling? Well, as promised, we’ve gathered a selection of sustainable examples, to prove to you, intrepid readers, that green-thinking can be taken to the busiest of urban centres.

Whilst the use of alternative building materials within cities may not be as appropriate, it is not the only option to improve the sustainability of buildings, and there are many other techniques which are contributing to the changing face of construction, within highly developed, and highly populated areas. These techniques consider energy consumption and conservation, waste management efficiency and reduction, air quality, and the improvement of the indoor environment.

The eleventh sustainable development goal is for “Sustainable Cities and Communities”, with a focus on making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. While the UN’s eleventh goal targets the reduction of pollution and poverty, their aim is primarily focused on improving access to affordable housing and accessible public transport for all. But with reduction of pollution and act on climate change a principal factor throughout all of the SDGs, building consciously can also help to achieve these objectives. In fact, as highlighted in this National Geographic article, green buildings can have a positive impact on our health, as well as resulting in increased occupancy rates, simultaneously working towards better health and well-being (Goal 3) and aforementioned Goal 11. Two other sustainable development goals – Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation, Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns – promote the improvement of our construction practices, from the very beginning of material sourcing, through to the sustainability of the final product.

So, what makes a green building? Although standards vary, there are several methods of assessing environmental credentials worldwide. For 20 years, BREEAM dominated the assessment of UK buildings – the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. BREEAM principals spread across the world, with different certifications being developed such as Greenstar in Australia and LEED from the US. With increased usage in the UK, LEED is now the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

LEED principals. Image: Inside Source

 

The principals of LEED target the main areas as demonstrated in the above areas, and may include a number of solutions such as:

  • Building orientation
  • Improved insulation and enhanced ventilation
  • Solar panels
  • Green roofs
  • Water conservation
  • Rainwater utilisation
  • Smart cooling and heating systems
  • Lighting design

Solutions such as those listed above are not only beneficial to the energy efficiency and waste management of buildings, but create more positive indoor environments, which directly impact the health and well-being of individuals. With the majority of regulatory efforts focussing on the improvement of outdoor air conditions, what happens when as a society, we spend a larger proportion of our time inside? Indoors where air quality, lighting and thermal comfort can all impact on our physical and mental well-being, there are far fewer standards in place to encourage optimisation of environments for our benefit. Wouldn’t we all appreciate a little more consciousness in our building design, especially if that consciousness considers the impact on our immediate, and global, environment? Some examples to bear in mind: The maximisation of natural light can improve sleep cycles, while improved ventilation can enhance cognitive function. With a growing awareness of the benefits of a connection to nature, or biophilia, the simple adjustment of ensuring direct eyesight to an outdoor environment can decrease stress and boost creativity.

But why are cities the focus of improved sustainability? Half of the human population (3.5 billion) live in cities, with an expected 5 billion to live in cities by 2030. And although cities account for just 3% of the Earth’s land, they produce 75% of carbon emissions, with 30% of those emissions generated by buildings. So, can you imagine the impact, and the benefits we can reap as a global society, if our cities were planned with a higher regard for the environment?

And of course, a city doesn’t only mean residential buildings, with greener building practices also being adopted across industrial and commercial buildings, schools, libraries, visitor centres, museums, hospitals….

Kingsmead Primary School. Image: White Design

 

Check out Kingsmead Primary School, in Cheshire, which offers a fantastic green learning environment to its pupils, complete with rainwater collection for flushing toilets, and electricity and warm water provided by solar panels. Or how about in East London, the BowZed development of four zero-fossil energy flats, which are so well designed and insulated they require no central heating. Hot water is provided by a wood-pellet powered boiler, and electricity comes from a combination of wind turbine and photovoltaic panels. Sounds green to me!

But, individual green buildings, move aside! How about a development which aims to be the world’s most sustainable eco-city: Masdar City. Located in Abu Dhabi, this city aims to “push the boundaries of sustainable design, construction and operation”. The city is constructed with a combination of ancient Arabic techniques, and modern technology, harnessing power from prevailing winds, and the sun, with one of the largest photovoltaic installations in the Middle East. With passive building design, and a futuristic transport system, Masdar boasts reduced energy and water demands, and excellent resource conservation. The city is home to a science and technology research university, with commitment to finding breakthrough solutions for the global market. Although only in its infancy, Masdar City has impressive growth plans, with the planned addition of businesses, schools and apartments. Head to the website here to explore Masdar, and perhaps even plan your visit!

If we’ve still not convinced you with the idea of green building, or sustainability within construction, keep an eye on our social media over the next few days, where we’ll be sharing some more super green, super cool, environmentally-friendly building innovations!

 

Author: Rachel Calnan

Let’s Build it Better!

We all know and love that famous children’s tale, of the three little pigs and their respective homes. And we all remember the outcome – the strongest, most stable house, that the wolf just couldn’t blow down. (We may also recall the violent demise of the wolf, but that part isn’t particularly relevant to this blog). What is relevant, is the use of the particular materials that the third little pig cleverly built his house with. Bricks! And although I don’t remember this being detailed in the story, we can assume these were held together with mortar. For those that get confused with the intricacies of building materials (myself), mortar is the ‘glue’ that holds other building materials together, and is composed of cement and sand.

Cement is a big enemy of the environment. Enemy number three in fact: it is the third ranking producer of man-made CO2 in the world, after transport and energy generation. The production of this one construction material accounts for 4% of all Greenhouse Gases, when broken down by industry, so imagine the percentage of emissions for the entire Construction Industry. For some perspective, Air Travel accounts for 3% of all Greenhouse Gases. CO2 is produced at two points during the cement making process, all of this even before the mixing for cement clinker and concrete, the transportation…etc. Not only are emissions at a record-breaking high, the extraction of raw material for cement causes landscape degradation, noise and visual pollution, and the usage of potable water throughout the manufacturing process.

The above image shows the complete process of cement production, with the required inputs and resulting waste outputs, highlighting the extreme wastefulness and inefficiency of the system. [Source] Increasingly, we are seeing other options available to substitute cement in building practices. Such materials include by-products such as ‘fly ash’ or silica fume, from coal-burning power stations, the iron and steel industries and silica manufacturing. Other options include lime and limecrete. By using either an industry by-product, or a cement-free product, wastage is reduced, thereby creating a more circular economy for the construction industry.

Obviously, our needs for construction aren’t going to change, but perhaps the way in which we meet these needs can. Step outside of a developed city, and you can begin to see a variation in construction techniques and materials. Travel to another country, and you may be surprised at the prevalence of buildings that are constructed with environmentally-friendly materials. Bye-bye bricks.

Hello earth, rock, plants…

Whilst travelling, I have come across many different building techniques, and I have been lucky enough to help out with a couple of construction projects. My first taste of bio-construction was with a Belgian family living in the south of Spain. They had reclaimed an old shepherd’s cave dwelling and had turned it into a simply beautiful home. I actually slept in a cave separate from the main cave, which had previously housed the carrier pigeons! I stayed for two weeks, during which I worked on drilling out another cave to create more living space. Using a jackhammer to drill out a mixture of limestone and other rock was a sure-fire way to quickly build up my physical strength, but more interestingly for me, allowed for a real up-close and personal experience with the building material (something that you don’t quite get from bricks!). The main cave maintained a constant toasty 22 degrees, due to the natural absorbency of the rock, meaning less heating and insulation requirements!

Another foray into bio-construction saw me assisting the build of a small house in the village of Purmamarca, which lies above 2300m in northern Argentina. Much of the village is constructed with the traditional methods of adobe – a mixture of earth and other organic materials (think hay, cut expertly with a machete by yours truly!) which can be shaped into bricks, or smoothed on to create finished walls. It is the same in principal as cob, or the ‘daub’ of wattle and daub! After machete-swinging, my biggest task was helping to finish the walls, which meant I had to learn the fine art of applying barro (earth mixed with finely chopped hay). This process was explained to me as “con FUERZA, y con amor” [with FORCE, and then with love], meaning throw a lump of mud as hard as you can at the wall so it sticks, and then you smooth it over with your hand. Needless to say, I ended up wearing a fair bit more mud than the wall! Not only were the building materials natural, but the whole construction site felt more…organic. Several times I found myself wobbling up a ladder, which was balanced on a plank, propped up by a couple of rocks, bucket between my knees, stretching to shove mud into a hole half a metre above my head with one hand, bottle of water to wet the walls in the other, with a plasterers’ trowel clenched between my teeth. Health and Safety inspectors from the UK would have had a field day!

By lessening the usage of heavily processed construction materials, emissions are immediately reduced with the removal of the production cycle. Local materials eliminates the need for transport, and working within resource availability means preventing resource depletion and landscape destruction. By constructing with materials from the locality, buildings are less likely to be so visually intrusive, enabling us to maintain our natural planet without physically altering landscapes.

With the global population ever-growing, and the need for housing more and more apparent, perhaps it is time we started looking to alternative building techniques, in order to create more sustainable housing options. Natural materials offer a solution with minimised impact on the environment, whilst also allowing for architecture and design to sit more readily within the surroundings. So, perhaps straw and stick houses won’t hold up to the wolf’s breath, but slap some mud on top and you’ve got the beginnings of an eco-friendly home.

If you think these techniques are only applicable for non-city dwelling, keep an eye out for our upcoming blog on sustainable cities!

Author: Rachel Calnan

Cleaning up our Act

The sudden arrival of summer weather (long may it continue!) has seen the Great British public relishing the outdoors, stoking up those barbecues, and flooding in droves to our beaches. Come the fall of dusk, towels are shaken off, chairs folded up, and beach-goers packed back into cars. And sadly, plenty of litter is left strewn across the sand.

It should go without saying, put your rubbish in the bin! And if there’s not a bin nearby (highly unlikely) take it home with you and dispose of it properly there! (Ideally sorted into the correct recycling bin). So whilst we can all do our bit, by responsibly throwing away our own rubbish, here’s some more ways in which we can all help to clean up our planet.

Beach cleans are becoming more and more widespread across the coastal areas of the UK. World Ocean’s Day especially saw hundreds of events organised, bringing together local communities to do their bit for the local environment. Although heightened, litter isn’t just an issue during the busy summer months, and you should find regular beach clean-ups throughout the year. Check out these websites to find a beach clean-up near you:

https://www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch/

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/beach-cleans

 

You don’t just need to be part of an organised beach clean-up to help out though! If you live locally to a beach, why not take along a (reusable) carrier bag on your next evening stroll, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can fill it! And of course, litter isn’t just found on beaches, so this attitude can be adopted and used wherever you find litter.

Lazy litter louts however, are not our only source of the plastic pollution crisis that is currently scaring us into action and we’ve all read ways in which we can help cut down our plastic usage.  But what about all the plastic that is already polluting our oceans? It’s already been made, so can we make further us of it? You bet! The idea of cleaning up after ourselves is inspiring some pretty exciting technology, and innovative entrepreneurs.

The Ocean Cleanup is a ground-breaking scheme, aiming to reduce the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by up to 50% in just five years. By passively drifting with the ocean currents, the floating barriers are pushed to high density areas, where ocean debris is caught and later collected. Not only is their technology pretty epic, but it was started by eighteen-year-old Boyan Slat, who is now the youngest ever recipient of the UN’s highest environment award – Champion of the Earth! Amazing.
Check out their website for a much more detailed explanation of the technology and project.

And what about The Seabin? Created by two avid surfers, The Seabin Project focusses on cleaning marinas, where debris often collects and easily builds up. The Seabin can catch an estimated 1.5 Kgs of floating debris per day (depending on weather and debris volumes) including microplastics up to 2 mm small [Source]. As well as the product, they are looking to develop a Global Ambassador programme, spreading awareness and education to the next generations, in order to tackle plastic pollution at the source.

But what happens to all of that waste, especially plastic, once it is collected and removed from the oceans and land environments? Well, that’s where innovation is really kicking off, and over the last few years we have seen businesses springing up with brand-new-recycled products, as well as household name brands incorporating recycled fabrics and materials into their current lines.

Here at Bright Green Enterprise we’ve been singing the praises of bamboo for years, because of it’s super-fast growing abilities and no need for fertilisers, plus it makes the cosiest socks! There are many other natural, planet-friendly materials, such as hemp, linen and organic cotton. But material made from plastic bottles? That doesn’t sound particularly skin friendly….

Think again! In a collaboration with Timberland, Thread has removed 765,280 plastic bottles from Haiti’s streets and canals and turned them into an eco-friendly version of the classic boot. Not only are Thread cleaning up our planet, they are tackling poverty by providing jobs, and contributing to cleaner and safer living environments. Talk about stepping up to the challenge!

Then there’s Repreve – a fabric made by Unifi which has recycled more than 10 billion plastic bottles to date! Repreve is used by brands in products from clothing, to swimwear, to car interiors. At this rate, we’ll de dressing ourselves in Coca-Cola, and driving to work in Evian.

Perhaps you’re looking for some new pieces of artwork? Well if sculpture is your thing, then you should definitely become a sole mate. Kenya-based Ocean Sole ‘flip the flop’ and turn our much-loved summer shoe into beautiful, unique sculptures in order to raise awareness and highlight the impact of flip-flop pollution. As well as art-pieces, they have small practical items for sale, all of which contribute to education, support through employment, and of course, waste collection.

So next time you need a new t-shirt, rucksack, or pair of sunglasses, why not swim against the mainstream current, and make a more environmentally friendly purchase? Companies and organisations like those mentioned above are popping up across the planet, all trying to do their bit to reduce our impact on the environment. As consumers, we have the power to make recycled products the norm, and by supporting such ventures with our investment through purchases, we can help, bit by bit, to clean up our act.

Author: Rachel Calnan

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