Archive for the ‘Eco – Friendly’ Category

Renault Zoe 3

I bought a Toyota Prius back in 2003 when hybrids were still an experiment, and it’s been a great car (it’s still in the family and has done 200,000 as is still going strong).

A couple of weeks ago I took delivery of a fully electric Renault Zoe on trial, to support a campaign called Go Ultra Low. Its aim is quite simply to encourage people to think about whether an ultra low emission vehicle could benefit their lifestyle.

I was happy to find out.

We spend part of the week in London and part in West Sussex. When in London we don’t use a car, and have shied away from buying a fully electric car for our house in West Sussex because of the distances we drive from there to visit family or ferry our youngest son to sports matches. The early fully electric cars had a too limited mileage between charges and were limited in size / boot space to make it work for us.

The Zoe, though, has the proportions of a standard car and we can get about 80 miles between charge, which just about does the job for what we need. You can get the range between charges up to around 100 miles if you drive carefully (the on-board computer helps you see how careful you are being) and an “eco” button which limits you to a max speed of 60 mph helps you to edge the range up further. The challenge of increasing the range by developing good habits, like driving slower and accelerating more mildly, is satisfying and definitely encourages this driver to be safer and more considerate.

Driving a whole journey in a silent car, then coming home and simply attaching the special charging unit from the wall next to our front door and hearing the charge “kick in” does all feel rather modern, and you certainly know that you are doing your bit for the environment; low emissions and energy consumption.

My gut feeling is that if “ultra low “ is going to cross over to the mass market then the cars must fit in with modern cars and not stand out as being too different. The Zoe gets this just about right. The dashboard is nice and minimal, the on-board computer does what you want it do (filming behind the car as you reverse, syncing easily with your phone, helping you to conserve battery power etc). There are nice little streamlining touches to minimise air flow such as the concealed door handles and the overall styling allows it to blend in.

The thing that does feel like “the future” here and now, for someone who thrift is a lifestyle, is the cost of a full charge: £3 to do 80 to 100 miles. Now that is exciting and saves a fair amount of cash. Add to that 4 years of servicing for less than £300, and no road tax to pay (and no Congestion Charge if they are used in London) and it does feel rather good.

Naturally, you have to plan ahead as to where charge points are and wait 30 minutes or so to be “boosted”. Roll on the day when every fuel station has rapid charge points! The days of rapid charge points at every service station are not a million miles off: according to www.goultralow.com it’s within the next year or so. So, the future is here and it feels like I am part of it!


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Planning and planning permissions are important. Free for all’s have created problems in the past. But surely in the case of this story of a creative young couple Charlie Hague and Megan Williams being resourceful and in creating a cost effective sustainable and certainly not ugly home. Common sense must prevail and they be granted retrospective planning permission. Lets make our voices heard. We need more homes, we need more self builds, we need more young people being creative about homesteading, we need sustainable solutions.


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For three decades now I have been know as part of a design team that has been known as questioning, independent, and over the past decade or so, champions of social and sustainable thinking.

Over the last few years we have begun to work with large corporate organisations, not to feed turnover, but because it has become increasingly clear that because of the scale and investment available, bold initiatives can be undertaken.

The likes of Greenpeace and WWF (and the legions of small activists) have done wonderful jobs in hounding and naming and shaming corporations who have failed to take the environment, sustainability and ethical trading seriously. Their tireless campaigning has made a significant section of the public aware and helped to build a business environment where it makes business sense to “care”.

Whatever the tipping point has been, my overwhelming experience is of corporate who now hold sustainability, the environment and ethical thinking at their core. They have set up corporate responsibility departments and whole segments of the business who are dedicated to this thinking. They have employed directors who are zealous and “dedicated to the cause”, directors who have significant budgets at their disposal. They now have the economies of scale to really start to make a difference.

The work we are doing with McDonalds (in collaboration with up cycling and re use  specialists Worn Again)  in terms of working out a system that allows the uniforms of their 88,000 UK staff to eventually be able to be made into new material to make new uniforms ad infinitum is bold, industry leading and takes considerable investment.

The project we have with Coca Cola promoting their move towards plastic bottles that have significant PET content  (in simple terms plastic derived from sugar cane and molasses) is forward thinking , helps to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and ultimately, makes financial sense.

We learnt a decade ago, when we started working with (Taylor) Wimpey Homes that sustainable  projects of scale that resonate far and wide are much easier to deliver by collaborating with those that have most to gain (and to lose).

So it’s time for people to stop raising their eyebrows and look surprised that designers like us are choosing to work with the kind of corporations that the campaigning bodies that we support once hounded. Big Corporations are not The Devil incarnate they have an ability to lever their tremendous resources and some are now leading the way.

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The Dutch and the Danish have “got it” for a long time. Urban areas that are pedestrian and cyclist friendly are happier, healthier, safer, cleaner places to live. But Britain with its powerful pro car lobby and with its sad addiction to bloomin Top Gear has been lagging behind. But we may be reaching the tipping point. Car use in Britain is on the decline and I have a hunch that it’s not just that cash is tight and folk are being careful. (more…)

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I keep reading that there are a million empty homes at the moment in the UK  (and a further 300,000 empty commercial buildings). And we all know how there is a major, growing housing shortage.

I am not suggesting that it is easy to convert all these empty properties into homes but as a nation I don’t think we are doing our best.

Many commentators say that the majority of the empty homes are in the wrong location either in towns where there are no job opportunities or in the “wrong part of town”. But we have a growing creative industries sector (second largest employment sector in the UK), a sector that by its very nature and its early adoption of mobile technologies has made it  more footloose and fancy free than most sectors. Many “creatives” can run their businesses from home using Skype, Microsoft Mobile Office and the like.

What is more, for many of us “creatives” the idea of upcycling an old building is at the forefront of our planning for a home ahead of a new build house.

Could government be taxing empty properties (rather than the present 50% reduction on council tax that is offered to owners of empty properties?)

Could they be encouraging us to bring unloved streets and industrial buildings back to life by reducing (or abolishing) VAT on renovations? In Switzerland VAT on renovations was reduced to 5% and there was a net gain in income as activity rocketed. And doesn’t VAT on renovations bolster a “black economy”.

I have already written about my experience here.

The historic system for salvaging these properties was via the council, but because town halls no longer have money, we need to look at alternatives. We need mortgage companies to really support housing renovation and for the government to back their efforts.

My wife, Gerardine, and I wouldn’t be where we are now without the help we received and the work we put into our first house in Wembley, North London.

We stretched ourselves and got on to the housing ladder. That was back in 1982. That house was also a Victorian terrace and it was practically uninhabitable: it had had no Tender Loving Care since the turn of the century. It didn’t have any lights, the roof was a disaster, it had no heating, the chimneys were all blocked off, there were no proper bathrooms, the plumbing was a nightmare and the electrics were completely unsafe.

But when we bought it, Brent council was giving 90 per cent grants to do that work to kick start these streets back to life. We brought that house back to life. I go past it regularly and it is a thriving, lovely little street. So it worked.

It took us 18 months. We were just normal young couple and there are tens of thousands of normal young couples now like we were then who are willing to put in the effort. They would do exactly what we did if given the chance. But the problem is funding. We’re not talking about vast sums though. The irony is that banks would lend a young couple £100,000 for a new flat, but not £50,000 for an old house and a further £35,000 for renovation. I understand why: there’s a risk the couple would just pocket the £35,000.

So what we need is draw-down mortgages where banks release funds for each stage of repair. Yes, it would be hard work for the banks, but it would be worth it. The same applies to people in the same situation as Gerardine and I almost 30 years ago.

Putting that effort into your own home is part of learning to grow up and settle down in life. Most couples would jump at the chance of giving up a couple of nights out a week to work hard on getting a good home.

Our first house in Wembley

The mess it was in…

Twas great fun doing it up

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We get some uplifting letters and this was one is worth sharing. Many of us like the idea of building homes, many of us like the idea of building low energy homes, not enough of us are brave enough to have a go, this guy was very brave.


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There are a number of good things coming out of this housing led downturn. One of the most interesting for me is the fact that in most cases land values have fallen to an extent so as to make wholesale demolition and a complete rebuild uneconomic. I have been banging on for years about how the housebuilding and RSL industries on the whole are working on a level way below what we need if we are going to create liveable places that never require wasteful regeneration funding again. The CABE National Housing Audit painted a depressing picture of the quality of our new build and it beggars belief that when we have so many great examples of liveable new build developments on the near continent, and a rich history ourselves of creating great places that stand the test of time, that today Britain continues to built slums of the future.


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