Comments Off on Bioinspiration in design: What is biomimicry and why should I use it in design education?
This summer, we’ve been working with students across Key Stages 3-5 (UK year groups 7-13) innovating design solutions to the world’s most complex challenges. This is a collective task for every corner of society to get behind, no matter our professional level of skill. Thanks to the buzz around the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ and Sir David Attenborough’s advocacy campaigns, most of us are now alert to our planet friendly (or not so planet friendly) behaviour. We’ve put this blog post together to introduce how Bright Green tackles sustainable design and innovation education.
Biomimicry is a term that learns from and mimics the strategies of design found in nature. Unfortunately however, it’s often far more anecdotally recognised (i.e. the Fibonacci sequence) than it is academically studied in design education. For example, overlooking how nature tackles form and function, misses out on over 3.8 billion years of intensive, highly intelligent and available research and development! We’re surrounded by natural case studies of the most sustainably resilient answers to the design process, yet we continually overlook these hidden non-verbal clues in favour of our own, incredibly limited, human intelligence.
In our Green Dragons programme, we ask students to ideate concepts that are inspired by nature and can be brought into life through a business-like opportunity. We introduce the principles of ‘bioinspiration’, covering methods such as biomimicry and bionics (the study of mechanical systems that function like living organisms, or parts of living organisms – think functioning prosthetic limbs). Some of our favourite case studies include George de Mestral’s invention of Velcro, inspired by the fascinating but infuriating humble Burr plant. Then there’s everything from the design and engineering behind the hull of boats, to trains, planes and automobiles.
Biomimicry is a great way to get design enthusiasts working on sustainable design solutions. It can also help navigate the highly time consuming and resource-heavy process of research and development. By utilising nature’s own R&D process, students can start to visualise and then comprehend how and why something inspired from our natural world might be a feasible solution to a human problem. This is especially useful during our school-based years when we’re simultaneously learning about scientific subjects like biology, physics and chemistry. Once we’re out of school, we’re funnelled off into our respective siloed career paths and our learning opportunities narrow dramatically.
If you’re interested in learning more about biomimicry for your own interest or for teaching in schools, get in touch with us (all our school programmes can be fitted within careers education). We can also sign-post you to resources for professional level development and Executive education.
Comments Off on Bringing mental health to the forefront of our minds
We’re back, and we’re talking about wellbeing. After an unplanned hiatus as I moved to Barcelona and got myself sorted, I’m here to consider mental health, and encourage you to do the same. (Don’t worry, Bright Green Enterprise is still operational in the UK, I’m just sending you the written word from slightly sunnier Spain!)
After a few weeks of wrestling with the Spanish bureaucracy, seemingly endless amounts of paperwork, appointment making, and trips to various offices around the city, I’m ready to send you a little note. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this situation has got me thinking about my wellbeing, and how I am making time to care for my mental health.
But, does it really matter?
Like physical illness, mental ill health can affect anybody and everybody. Taking care of our mental health should, therefore, be as equally important. How many of us really take the time to care for our minds?
What is Wellbeing? Wellbeing is the subjective state of being comfortable, healthy or happy, with mental wellbeing specifically describing your mental state. Good mental wellbeing is demonstrated with high emotional resilience, management of emotions, productive engagement (in society and your own life), the fostering and building of positive relationships, and the ability to cope with uncertainty. Reflecting on these, do you think you have good mental wellbeing? Or maybe you need to show yourself a bit of well deserved tlc?
Mental health has become something of a buzzword over the last couple of years, and with good reason. This isn’t a trend that’s sprung out of the nothingness. There is a very real and pressing need to bring mental health into the spotlight, and create safe spaces for important conversations to be held.
Having personally experienced a difficult journey with mental ill health, I am all for anything that thrusts this issue to the forefront. We’ve seen campaigns springing up all over social media – #InYourCorner and #AskTwice from Time to Change, Heads Together from Mind, to name a couple. Plus, with TV and radio adverts highlighting negative stereotypes, and brands promoting positive mental health, it seems like the ball is really rolling. And I hope it doesn’t stop.
With all these messages now available to us, and encouraging us to be more mentally aware, there can still be some confusion as to how exactly we are supposed to champion our mental health.
Five ways to wellbeing is promoted by mental health charities across the globe, as a means to an easily-digestible approach to caring for our mental wellbeing. These Five Ways have been researched and developed by the New Economics Foundation, and you can read the full breakdown here.
Most people would say they don’t have a clue how to help themselves mentally, but these strategies make you realise that even the most simple of actions in our lives can make a positive difference to our health. And actually, I’m sure most people already use these strategies without realising intentionally what they are doing.
Five simple headings to help you bring some brain-friendly actions into your daily life.
Some of my favourite ways to action these five ways are:
Connect: calling a friend instead of texting them, smiling at passersby (I always get a smile back!)
Be active: getting off the bus/metro one stop early, daily stretching or a walk to the beach, always taking stairs when I can (except at home where I live on the 10th floor!)
Take notice: never using my phone as I walk so I really notice everything around me, mindful eating, getting into some nature to reconnect with the natural world around me.
Keep learning: learning Spanish has made me keen to learn more languages, it’s a great way to engage new bits of your brain, and opens up so many other learning opportunities!
Give: I like to combine this with the Take Notice part, by giving my time without distraction when I am with friends or family, as well as volunteering when I can. OR even just being aware and helping strangers with their bags/buggies when I see them struggling!
As you can see, it’s small actions that can really have a big impact on our overall wellbeing. Nothing needs to be extravagant or showy, or have too much importance attached to it.
The conversation around mental health has been especially pertinent in schools, as higher and higher numbers of young people are struggling. Thank goodness that the conversation is opening up, and allowing young people space to share their struggles and to find the support they need and deserve. I’ve been incredibly moved and delighted to hear of the schools and other educational institutions who are taking the mental health of their students seriously. In fact, at the beginning of this year, the government has for the first time, invested public funds into the study of mindfulness in the classroom. They are acknowledging the importance of mental health education for primary-school age children, and the long-lasting benefits this can have on their wellbeing. 370 schools will take part in a series of trials to learn mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises and relaxation strategies. [Read more here]. We already know that appropriate mental wellbeing strategies can work in a school environment. Especially when they are used as an intervention tool, to replace outdated, ineffective and harmful punishments. (I’m referring to detentions and suspensions here, just so we’re clear).
In the UK, the work of Mindfulness in Schools Project, or MiSP, has been bringing mindfulness to the classroom for 10 years. Their curricula is designed by teachers, for teachers, to bring the very best, practical and accessible mindfulness practices into fruition within class-based environments. Their toolkit ranges from free online webinars, to short in-school taster sessions, to their teaching mindfulness courses. Whatever the needs of the teacher or students, MiSP offer fantastic solutions to bring the benefits directly where they are needed. Mindfulness strategies have been found to be extremely effective for students, children and young people to help manage their thoughts, emotions and impulses. Learning and putting into practice such useful tools from an early age means they are more prepared for challenges in later life, and able to face difficulties with a higher level of emotional resilience. As far as I’m concerned, mental health education, mindfulness, and wellbeing strategies should be a part of standard curriculum, allowing its lessons and learning to be carried on into every adults’ life. I didn’t receive any kind of mental health education when I was in the educational system, and I know it’s a long road until every student has a readily-accessible toolkit at their fingertips. But, even if mental health was a taboo subject whilst you were at school, it’s never too late to start taking steps to improve your wellbeing. As adults, we may be slightly more set in our daily actions and behaviours, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the necessary changes. For me, my wellbeing will never be too much of an inconvenience. After all, I’ve only got one body, which includes my brain, so I’d better do my best to take care of it. Using the five ways to wellbeing, as mentioned above, is a really easy way to lay out the easy ways in which we can be active in our own ongoing health. Why not start today? As I settle into my new home, I’ll be looking out for opportunities where I can connect with my new environment; be active every day to nourish my body; take notice of my surroundings and the people I encounter; keep learning as I adapt to a new lifestyle and culture; and give something back to my new community. I’m making time for my mental health, and I hope you will too.
Following on from our latest blog, and indeed, the recent climate activism we’ve seen spreading internationally, our attentions are turning to the energy industry, and importantly, the growth of renewable solutions.
Energy and emissions is a continually evolving system to measure, which is why we are loving the following imagery. This fantastic animation from Carbon Brief shows the changing rankings of cumulative emissions since the industrial revolution. Cumulative emissions are a crucial factor in global warming and climate change. Whilst some carbon is reabsorbed, a huge 20% lingers on in the atmosphere, for millennia. So those industrial revolution emissions? Still hanging around today.
Animation: The countries with the largest cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750
Ranking as of the start of 2019:
1) US – 397GtCO2
2) CN – 214Gt
3) fmr USSR – 180
4) DE – 90
5) UK – 77
6) JP – 58
7) IN – 51
8) FR – 37
9) CA – 32
10) PL – 27 pic.twitter.com/cKRNKO4O0b
We might well celebrate that we drop down the chart, but let’s not allow that to lead us into complacency! Despite our small geographical size, we would be foolish to forget that we contribute a vastly disproportionate amount of CO2 emissions. Are we doing enough to reverse the impact we have already caused? Are we learning from our past practices, and putting into place preventative measures? Are we pushing the alternative possibilities as much as we should be?
Historically, critics of renewable and sustainable energies have decried these alternatives as more expensive, less reliable, and less efficient. (I obviously won’t entertain the other numerous false claims against them, which are based on little more than fake science and scare-mongering). And up until recently, these critics have been somewhat justified, as renewables have struggled to show their worth against their better-known fossil fuel counterparts. But, with increasingly developed technologies, renewable energy systems are becoming more efficient and more viable.
“Global renewable energy consumption increased more than 5% in 2017 – three times faster than total final energy consumption. In the power sector, renewables accounted for half of annual global electricity generation growth, led by wind, solar PV, and hydropower.” This report from the International Energy Agency shows the steady increase of renewable energy uptake across the globe, and in turn, the moving away from traditional fossil fuels. Whilst Brazil has the greenest energy mix, “China continues to be the largest growth market for all renewable electricity sources except geothermal and marine as it is responsible for over 40% of global capacity expansion in the 2018-23 period.” So with (some) emissions-giants seemingly joining the cause, can we hope for a cleaner future with the energy industry? Ecotricity have written a great roundup of their top seven predictions for renewable energy trends in 2019 – it’s a good read!
Targets have been set, with the bar very low, but are we even meeting those?
Although the science is there, and the scientists are imploring governments to take action now, we just aren’t seeing changes, or commitments, fast enough. I think, as do many concerned about our planet, that the approach from governing powers has been softly-softly, which isn’t giving us the progress we need. So, instead of waiting for the powers-that-be to take their action up a gear, communities across the country are jumping into action, and taking matters into their own hands.
Community schemes are springing up, especially in remote areas, thanks to funding from ethical banks, and support from environmental groups and organisations. Proving to the big guys at the top, that really all we need is some get-up-and-go attitude towards pushing renewables forward.
Take Mendip Renewables, a community benefit society, who own and operate Whitelake Solar Farm in Somerset. The farm has already generated over 10,000,000 kWh of carbon-free solar electricity in its first two years. That’s enough to power the equivalent of around 1,290 homes!
Or what about the Mean Moor wind farm in Cumbria? It’s thought to be the first UK wind farm which has transferred from a commercial developer, to community ownership. Thanks to 400 individuals raising an impressive £2.8 million in just two weeks, the three wind turbines are now 100% community-owned. This demonstrates how communities are entirely able to operate in the commercial world, and proves the appetite for renewables is yet to be sated.
Wind, it seems, is one of our more favourable areas for growth. Really, that should be fairly obvious, it’s pretty darn windy on this little island of ours. Interestingly, the UK actually takes the lead in offshore wind, with the highest installed capacity in the world. And, by 2030, wind will be providing one-third of our country’s energy mix. (Bear in mind, that’s still not a full switch-off from fossil fuels, just percentages here and there). This is according to the World Economic Forum 2019 Insight Report into Fostering Effective Energy Transition.
It all sounds very promising, and obviously, we like to be optimistic here. But 2030 is now only 11 years away. With the IPCC warning us we only have 12 years to sort out our climate crisis (back in September 2018), aren’t we cutting it just a bit fine? I know we all like a race to the finish line, but surely, when it comes to the future of our planet, we’d prefer a clear lead?
For too long, older generations have dismissed the political views of children and young adults, citing “ignorance” or “immaturity” as reasons to exclude them from policy-making, or even discussions surrounding social issues. But, if these are the individuals who will have to inhabit our earth (long after our current politicians have moved on) why shouldn’t they too, have a voice?
For too long, it has been those same individuals, who have passed the majority of their lives, who have continually failed to act and make the changes that we all need to see.
For too long, we have skirted around the issue of climate change (corporate denial of climate change began way back in the 1970s) and taken a softly-softly approach. That hasn’t worked. And it will continue to not work. We think it’s time for a change. Young people know it is time to change.
Climate change is the single greatest threat that we are facing today. No matter your political stance, your religion, your cultural beliefs, gender or sexuality, climate change is the biggest threat to your, and our collective, survival. It is the one threat that truly unites us all. Gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling…no?
Not only does climate change signify a very real cloud of doom hanging over our heads, but it literally means the possible end of our world, as we know it. For those of you who have lived your better years, congratulations. For those of us who have most of our lives to come, good luck. For those generations not yet born….we don’t know what we’ll be leaving you.
As of October 2018, scientists have declared we have a terrifyingly small number of just twelve years in which to act*, if we hope to reverse the changes we have so far brought upon our planet. Twelve years. That’s fewer years than the number of compulsory years in education, by the way.
After those twelve years….well let’s just say, good for you for those who have already started drawing your pension. And therein lies the problem. Our policies, laws, regulations and (in)actions have been ‘decided’ by generations of folks who simply don’t have the personal interest in ensuring our planet continues to be a habitable, healthy, and sustainable place to live. Although, I can’t wrap my head around the ideology that people simply only care about the planet whilst they are living on it. Whatever happened to longevity? Human compassion? Concern for life other than your own?
For too long, these inactions have meant the steady decline of the health of our planet. And now, it isn’t a steady decline, but a rapid race downhill into a ditch from which it is becoming increasingly harder to rise back out of.
So, here at BGE, we have been delighted and inspired by the young people taking a stand for their future, and the future of our planet. Because that’s what climate action will enable. Building and working towards a healthier, more sustainable home for this generation, and for generations to come. This to me, appears to be a major difference. Young people today aren’t considering only their short lives spent on this planet, but ensuring it will remain for their successors too. They know the cost of caring for that future, and are seeking the promises of a future that previous generations were gifted, and did not pass on.
These past few months have seen a new wave of uprising. This wave however, is not of policy-makers finally taking the responsible and active steps away from our inevitable destruction. But it is a wave of students – children, teenagers and young adults, squaring up and demanding “just why are you still not doing anything?” Students who are tired of inaction, frustrated at immobility, and scared of the uncertainty of their future.
Greta Thunberg, aged just 16, galvanised the movement of student protests with her decision to start skipping school, and protesting outside of government buildings in Sweden. Because, as students rightly claim, why bother going to school, to prepare for a future that might not exist? Why bother studying science, when policy makers continually refuse to heed the warnings of our world’s best scientists?
So, we ask:
Why not listen to our young people? Why not take their concerns seriously? Why allow the wealth of a few to put at risk the future of the entire population?
Students and young people have a right to be angry. They have a right to be scared, and to be demanding change. Across this country, and around the world, children are standing up for their voices to be heard. They are walking out of schools and forcing those who have too long feigned blindness, to see them. They are shunning the narrative of “too young to care, too young to make a difference” and shouting at the top of their lungs. Forcing those who have feigned deafness to hear their concerns. They are saying, “go on, we dare you to shut us out”.
No longer can those at the top ignore the cries from those of us below. No longer can the needs of every other individual on this planet, be sacrificed for the greed of a handful. Let’s not shout over our young people, silence them, or place our hands over our ears. We need to hear them, and we need to encourage and support them.
It is time. For all of us, to start demanding these changes, pushing those in charge to act in ways that benefit us all. I am proud to stand beside these young people, not in front. I will follow them in their footsteps, as they lead us towards a more hopeful future. I hope you too, will join them. Read the full report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change here.
On a recent trip to the blustery coast of Cornwall, I explored one of, what I believe should be, our national treasures. The stunning Minack Theatre, perched high on the cliff-edge overlooking the gorgeous Porthcurno Bay. Whilst the Minack Theatre is well-renowned amongst theatre-buffs, I didn’t know much about it’s history. It seems there are many sights we overlook within our own country!
The view is, obviously, breathtaking (even on a rather grey day). But, perhaps even more special, is the fact that the Minack is the realisation of one woman’s dream, and a lifetime of hard physical labour. Whilst recent global celebrations brought to light, and brought to life, the very many achievements of women around the world, for a belated nod to International Women’s Day, I’d like to remember and praise the work of perhaps a lesser-known wonder woman.
Introducing… Rowena Cade.
The story began in 1929, when after a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rowena decided the cliffs below her garden, would make the perfect setting to provide a future theatre space for local performers. In 1931, with the help of her then gardener, Billy Rawlings, Rowena began the unenviable task of excavating tonnes of earth, and moving granite boulders to create the terraced theatre. Today, the lower terraces remain as they were. Rowena worked on the construction of the Minack throughout her life, and up until her eighties she could still be seen lugging driftwood and sand up from the beach below.
Whilst Rowena recruited the help of a few other hands to help bring her ideas to life, she retained the title of “Master Builder”, and dreamt up innovative building techniques to overcome the barriers of cost and material availability. Many of her innovations can still be seen in the theatre today, including the pillars which line the steps.
When Rowena could not afford to purchase stones, she determined that instead, she could construct with cement. But that didn’t mean it had to remain looking like cement. A feature that I particularly admired in the theatre was the decoration of almost every paving slab, and every stone seat. The seat backs were inscribed with the names of plays performed, along with the year, allowing a fascinating look back through the chronology of performances. Walkways and steps are decorated with carved shells, compasses, waves…all lovingly chiselled by Rowena herself, who used a screwdriver to carve out designs whilst the cement was still setting.
The Minack Theatre is now a charitable trust, run and managed by a committed group of steadfast volunteers. It is still a working theatre, and we caught glimpses of a rehearsal of “The Secret Garden” as we clambered around the curved rows of seats. For a full history of the theatre, including how it fared during the Second World War, head over to the website. Better still, take a road-trip and explore it in person!
By pursuing this dream, and following through despite the many obstacles that faced her, Rowena Cade has ensured that the joy of theatre has been brought to this corner of Cornwall. And not only is the Minack enjoyed by the locals; players and audiences alike travel for miles to tread the boards, and delight in theatrical performances.
With ongoing construction and conservation, Rowena’s legacy lives on, her work is continued, and her dream fulfilled. Isn’t that something worth celebrating?
Dedicating the 11th of February to women and girls in science is the UN’s way of promoting gender equality, promoting the access to STEM subjects for women and girls, and recognising their contributions to scientific developments across the world.
The UN say that both science and gender equality are crucial for achieving the development goals, which makes sense really, as women do make up half of this world’s population. It would be foolish of us to exclude that number of intelligent, resourceful, innovative minds from the solving of our planet’s very greatest issues. But, that’s what we are doing. That is what has continually happened, across the ages. And, even when women have been permitted to poke a toe into the waters of science, they have been conveniently ‘forgotten’ when it comes to being acclaimed for their work.
But, let’s today not look at the why this is. Gender imbalance, in all fields and subject matters, can be argued about for days, and cannot be whittled down to one simple reason. There it is, gender inequality, and how we view gender, is due to a myriad of complex, intertwined (archaic) belief systems, that seep into how we behave in every aspect of our lives. So, let’s not unpack that today.
The fact is, there are far less women in science than there are men. The stats are there. This needs no discussion. UNESCO data from 2014 – 2016 shows that only around 30% of all female students select STEM-related subjects in higher education; these numbers decrease even further at doctorate level. Furthermore, only around 30% of all scientific and technological researchers are women. Phew.
The levels of women and girls varies greatly between subjects too, with biology at school being dominated by girls, but physics still a greatly male arena. Even with greater numbers of girls studying these subjects at school-level, across all subjects we see the ‘leaky pipeline’ effect – with numbers gradually dropping the further along the educational and professional pathway.
I spoke to a friend recently who received a first class masters of physics, with honours in astrophysics, and is now going on to study medicine at Oxford. Yes, wow. I asked her about her experiences and perceptions regarding the other women who studied with her, and she told me plainly – there just weren’t very many of them. Only around 10% of the students in her course were women, and the professors, except for a small handful, were all men. Whilst her experience at an all-girls school meant there was no gender disparity in STEM subjects at a secondary level, she heard plenty of stories from fellow students about teachers commenting, ‘girls won’t be interested in this’, and generally creating unsupportive environments.
Thankfully, my friend had parents who were incredibly supportive of her interest in this field, and made sure she could do anything she put her mind to. Her mother worked in medicine, and her father always encouraged the exploration of science – leading to a family intrigued and inspired to follow their enquiring minds into whichever field they so desired. Interestingly, she also commented that she never felt she was treated differently by her teachers or professors, but some of the male students were not so welcoming. Refusing to ask the women for help, or not listening to answers and advice, she felt there was occasionally a ‘vibe’ from some male students of maintaining a gendered divide. Naturally, this lead the women to collaborate amongst themselves, and thankfully didn’t appear to affect their studies.
Whilst I’m sure we can all agree that women nurturing women is a fantastic way to inspire more young minds to follow in their footsteps, it would really be beneficial if men also fought for this. Yes, we need that large number of male leaders to push for greater numbers of girls at secondary levels, but, importantly, maintain that encouragement throughout their journey in STEM careers, so that the number of executive-level, socially recognised, and critically acclaimed women grows, to reach a more balanced playing field.
Some of the women and girls making strides in science…
In 2018, Dr Donna Strickland won the Nobel prize in physics, due to her work in the field of lasers. She is the third woman to win this prize.
Also in 2018, Dr Frances Arnold won the Nobel prize in chemistry, becoming the fifth ever woman to do so.
In August 2018, more than 80 girls from 34 African countries attended the first Coding Camp in Ethiopia. The African Girls Can CODE Initiative is designed to equip girls with coding and personal development skills, and digital literacy – setting them on track to pursue careers in ICT.
Balancing the science-scales Recognising the influence that women and girls can have in scientific and technological advancements is just the first step on the way to creating a more inclusive industry. Achieving gender parity has been highlighted as an absolute necessity for sustainable development, and achieving the global goals.
As Lakshmi Puri proclaimed at the official UN commemoration in 2017,
Comments Off on Women in Business: an Interview with Hanna Pumfrey
Today, I am delighted to bring to you a conversation that I recently had with the founder of Acala, Hanna Pumfrey. Acala is a beautiful online store, offering its customers organic, natural and vegan health and beauty products. All products are packaged responsibly – not a single piece of plastic in sight!
I invited Hanna to tell us about her journey with Acala, what it is like being a ‘woman in business’, and how we can encourage the next generation of future entrepreneurs.
So, Hanna, I have read that you started Acala after a personal ‘wake-up call’, due to the excessive amount of waste in your office which inspired you to begin your own zero-waste lifestyle. Thanks to that journey, Acala now reaches out to a huge audience, making the transition to zero-waste health and beauty more open and more accessible. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the beginnings of Acala, or what inspired you?
You have it totally right, the waste I was seeing everyday through my office job in London was what inspired me to begin making changes in my own life. I found that I was able to find health and beauty products with fancy ingredients that were great for me, but were likely causing environmental damage and human rights infringements, i.e. through using oils that cause deforestation, for example. And, they were all packaged in single-use plastic. So, my goal with Acala is to provide options that are not only good for people, but for the planet too, and that stretches across everything – from the ingredients used, the manufacturing process and the packaging. * * Amazing! Now, sustainability is a word that is important for many eco-friendly businesses, but it is often hard to translate what it means for ordinary people, and everyday life. What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability to me is about only taking from the earth what you really need. We do not need half of the items (well, likely more like 90%) that marketing tells us we do. On a personal level, to me sustainability means being very conscious about my consumption and my actions. I aim to tread as lightly as I can and to always give back to the earth where possible.
I love that definition! I completely agree, we have become so used to being sold, and using, a multitude of products and items, but at what cost? What I really love about your messages, is that not only are you providing customers with packaging-free options, but you actively encourage people to consider their consumption habits, and ideally, use less products. (I especially love the DIY section on the website, and your fantastic homemade recipes!)
* There is encouraging growth in women-owned businesses in the UK, but women still face far greater barriers within leadership and entrepreneurship roles. What are some of the barriers you have faced, and how did you overcome them?
I completely agree with this and see examples of where women still face challenges every day. I have to be honest though and say, through the Acala journey I do not feel that I have faced any challenges purely because of my gender. My approach to everything in both life and business is very much ‘if I want to achieve it, I will achieve it’. It’s about working hard, about presenting yourself as the right person or business for the role. It is about resilience and knowing that there will be lows, but that they make you stronger and improve the way you approach things, leading to greater success in the future.
That is so true. Even if you don’t face barriers directly linked to gender, there are still bound to be highs and lows, in any industry. Resilience is such an important attribute, and helps you to really learn from those challenges, whilst using them to power you forward. * * Whilst we can always hope to grow from such challenges, it is so important to surround yourself with people who support, encourage, and inspire you. Who are the women who inspire you?
There are so many inspirational women in the sustainable and ethical business space.
Emma Ross: Zero Waste Parenting Expert – Mamalina * * We’ll definitely be checking them out, we love supporting women-owned businesses! What do you think is the best way women can support each other?
Through honesty and collaboration. It is one of the biggest benefits of more women-owned businesses; stats show that women are much likely to look for opportunities of collaboration over competition, leading to stronger communities and services. * * Collaboration over competition is a great concept to remember, and not just in working life. More collaborative working can surely only bring about greater success, and more diverse, inclusive outcomes. Speaking of outcomes, what are your hopes for 2019? For Acala and for the planet!
Sssh a secret, at the end of January we will be launching subscription services so that our customers can get all of their essentials when they need them, direct to their door. This means they’ll never run out of shampoo, toothpaste etc and have to run out to buy a non-natural, plastic packaged option from a nearby shop. This is the first step towards us creating a completely waste-free service for our customers, as in the next few months we will launch the options for customers to return their jars and bottles to us, for sanitisation and refill in our reusable packaging. Ultimately though, my hope is that Acala becomes obsolete… that awareness and demand for better options and ways of living continues to grow, so that the big retailers like Boots and Superdrug are forced to make a change for the better.
My hopes for the planet – that we can curb the downward spiral that we are currently on to create a planet that can happily harbour the life of all species, for generations to come.
Wow! This is very exciting, we’ll be keeping our eyes out for those refill options!
* Now, thinking about our younger generations. At Bright Green Enterprise, we highlight the importance of skills such as leadership, critical thinking and public-speaking, for young people and their future. We believe these skills are not only beneficial for employment and business life, but for use in the big, wide world. Can you tell us what skill(s) you have found most valuable in your journey with Acala?
I think this is really important. I think for me there are two key skills that I have found useful through the Acala journey so far; resilience and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Starting a business is a journey. There will be highs and lows and it’s important to embrace these and to remember to enjoy the process, as well as to know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s ok to not be good at everything, the most important thing is recognising this, and then delegating this work to someone who is good at it, so that you can focus on the things that you are strong in. This will help your business move forward much faster. * * Absolutely, recognising where you shine can really help to boost confidence, and broaden your potential choices. We’ve seen some incredible examples of young entrepreneurs, and really believe the next generation are the real change-makers. What do you think young people can do/are doing to help save our planet?
I completely agree with this. Young people are growing up with so much more awareness of environmental issues than older generations, and the desire to make a change. Young people are using tools like social media to campaign for changes to policy and law, and that is really huge and pretty new. I think what young people can do is what we can all do; vote with our wallets and lifestyles. I hear so often people saying ‘well they’re not going to stop making it, so what difference does it make if I buy it or don’t buy it’, or ‘well the (long haul) flight is going anyway, so what difference does it make if I buy a ticket?’ The reality is it makes a huge difference. Yes, one person cannot change the world but our individual actions, coming together as a collective, force our governments and corporations to change; to create the world and products that we demand, as ultimately that’s the only way they too can survive.
We couldn’t agree more. Whilst it is hard to see individual actions having the big impact we might hope for, the unison of collective actions is where change really comes from. We can all join together, by making individual choices, to change the way things work for the benefit of all. * * Thank you so much Hanna, it has been such a pleasure getting to pick your brains, and learn more about the story behind Acala. We look forward to following your journey with Acala, and hope to see your messages spreading even further.
Make sure you head over to the Acala website, and browse all of their lovely products!
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.
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?
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.