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September 2010

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London.  A city of such great commerce, and yet it’s hard not to allow our mental images of this captivating city to be clouded with thoughts of pollution. And with a name like “the big smoke”, it hardly does itself any favours. Whilst incentives such as Boris’ new bicycle scheme look to help reduce London’s carbon footprint, it appears the tourism industry too is trying to “green up”.

A green stay in the capital
A green stay in the capital

I’m sure you probably wouldn’t initially class the words eco, and hotel in the same sentence, but increasingly more and more cities are offering the option of top-notch accommodation with an environmentally low price tag.

Base2stay is an eco-friendly hotel based in Kensington, which offers a 4* hotel environment for its guests, not only at affordable prices, but also with consideration being given to the environment.

On arrival at the hotel, which was set in the beautiful confines of Courtfield Garden’s, it was hard to initially see what was so green about it. However on checking in and being shown to our room, I was able to take the opportunity to ask Amie Conway the Operations Manager, a few questions about the eco credentials of this hotel.

Q.  How does base2stay ensure that it minimises the impact that its operations have on the environment?

The base2stay concept has at its core the concept of sustainability.  Our green hotel policies and procedures includes things such as using energy saving light bulbs throughout the hotel, and fitting all rooms with an electronic key operated power switch to reduce energy usage when rooms are empty. All staff are trained in environmentally friendly initiatives such as switching lights off in rooms not in use and avoiding using water in a wasteful manner, and where possible environmentally friendly cleaning products are used. We even ensure our tea and coffee on offer in the rooms is Fairtrade.

Q.  I notice that there is no restaurant or bar at the hotel, why is this?

As mentioned, base2stay values the concept of sustainability, and we opt not to have a restaurant or bar at our hotel in order to be socially sustainable, and encourage hotel guests to use local business, facilities and service providers. We provide guests with a ‘base directory and guide’, which highlights all the local businesses in the area. Again, by not replicating or creating under-utilised facilities that are better provided locally, we are able to offer economic value to its guests.

Q.  So in a way, as well as being environmentally friendly yourselves, you’re encouraging your guests to be too?

That’s right, but not only in terms of being socially sustainable. We encourage guests to participate in our green policies by re-using their towels, if they wish to do so, having sheets changed less often, and to not use water in a wasteful manner.

On our website and in our directory which can be found in each room, we offer a number of tips on how guests can play a big part in promoting good environmental practices. This includes things like conserving energy by switching off lights, heating, or air conditioning when not in use, avoiding using cars where possible – many of London’s attractions are within a short walk of the hotel, and by being water wise.

On my stay, I noticed that there was a mini kitchenette in the room, comprising of a microwave, kettle, and kitchen utensils. On enquiry, I was impressed to find that this was present in all rooms, and was in fact another way of promoting good environmental practice within the hotel. Guests then have the option of eating at one of the local businesses, or making an adequate meal with the use of the microwave.  I had prepared a pasta dish the night before my stay, so after a quick three minutes in the microwave, we had a dish fit for a king.

I was also curious to find out what the hotel did in terms of recycling, and found that the hotel recycles a staggering 80% of its waste. With all these initiatives in place, it is little wonder that base2stay is one of two hotels in London to have received the prestigious Gold Award under the Green Tourism Business Scheme.

Base2stay is also an accredited member of Hospitable Climes, an energy efficiency agreement between the Institute of Hospitality and the Government.  As if this wasn’t impressive enough, base2stay is an official member of the Considerate Hoteliers Association and iStayGreen.

If you would like more information on base2stay, or to book an eco room, please visit www.base2stay.com or call 020 7244 2255.  Rooms start at £91 and come equipped with mini-kitchen, power shower rooms with complimentary Keji aromatherapy toiletries, 20″ lcd flat screen TV, free regular internet access, air conditioning and hair dyer.

Who said investing for profit has to be devoid of ethics, investing in green energy may in a way accomplish both.

Investing in tomorrow
Investing in tomorrow

Whether you believe in anthropogenic caused global warming or not, oil is not a renewable energy source and many have suggested we have reached or will soon reach peak oil. Peak oil is when half of the oil in the world has been extracted and then the speed of supply slows down. At the same time demand is increasing, especially with the rapid increase of industry in China and India amongst other developing nations. And so the world is looking to produce more of its energy from renewable sources.

While nuclear energy is considered to be a renewable and has low carbon emissions, it’s often not mentioned in same sentence as, green, ethical or environmentally friendly. Nuclear will be the main competitor to other renewable energy sources; China is planning on producing most of its energy this way by 2020. Three advantages it has over more green energy production techniques is that is fairly low cost, and is reliable as it doesn’t require the weather to act a certain way. The disadvantage is that the cost to shut a reactor down is often not factored into the cost of energy and so it’s not as cheap as some estimates suggest, also there does tend to be more cancer in those that live and work near a reactor, and then the obvious one –  if something does go wrong…

Facts and figures

  • Bloomberg predicts green energy expenditure will increase by 67% by 2020
  • Iceland produces 60% of its energy via geothermal, and around 22% via hydro – 82% total
  • Sweden produces 32% off energy with biomass exceeding energy produce from oil
  • Solar PV market is set to grow 100% this year, 2010

It seems both private and public money is being diverted to the renewable sector, which is a very healthy sign. Currently, solar power seems to be most attractive to investors due to recently reduced costs of production and the fact there is less red tape in the form of less planning permission. When investing many argue that developing countries are less interested in the negative environmental impact of their energy production-they are more interested in cheap reliable energy and so may not be a good bet.

As with all investments, it’s important to spread risk, don’t put all your eggs in the same basket.  So it’s a good idea to do some in depth research and look at different areas within the renewable sector, keep an eye on government legislation and look at different continents. An alternative to this is to put your money into a portfolio, this is where expert investors do all the research for you, though they’ll take a cut, and while they may have a proven track record, no one can predict the future so there is always a risk.

The other way to invest is in a carbon exchange market, where carbon credits are traded – this is new and still fairly controversial, and although many companies will suggest huge returns of up to 300% over a couple years, I’d argue this is the most risky of investments.

So if you do have a desire to invest your hard earned currency, check out renewable energy, it may be a sound long term investment, but of course nothing is risk free.

When I boldly announced to my housemates that I would be attending the green festival of “Standon Calling” this year, I got a series of mixed reactions.

Standing calling 2010
Standing calling 2010

Of the five girls I live with, two shyly admitted to having never heard of the festival, whilst the other three began reeling with jealousy over the fact that I would be seeing artists such as Buena Vista Social Club (yep, they were there and yes, they were amazing) and The Magic Numbers.

Despite the tent malfunction on the first night (it leaked, we were drenched, the less said about it the better) the festival got a huge thumbs up from me, as a first time goer.

Set on the spacious grounds of a 16th century manor house just 40 minutes north of London, arrival at the festival is a sight to behold.  The setting is captivating, with the option to camp for the weekend, or swap your tent/campervan for one of the many tipis and yurts on offer.

Equipped with an all-night bar licence, an on-site nightclub, a spectacular array of food, a swimming pool and even an area for the little ones, Standon proves to be a most cultural and innovative festival.

Not to be outdone by the impressive line up and entertainment on offer, the eco credentials of this festival hold their own, and the number of green initiatives being employed by the festival was highly commendable.

Over the weekend I was able to catch up with the festival organiser Alex Trenchard, and get a little more of an insight into Standon Calling.

Q.  How long has Standon been calling?

Standon has been calling since 2001, back when it was a barbecue, a set of decks, 50 friends from university, and a game of kick the can.  We didn’t really plan to make it a festival, but every year we wanted that gathering of the friends to get better and better, and over the years it has become a festival.

Q.  What initiatives have you got in place to make this a greener festival?

We try to encourage public transport, so we’ve got buses running from nearby city centres, we also work really hard for our waste to be streamed correctly and we do that with our compost bins.  We also use reusable cups with a 50p deposit on the cup. Last year one kid got around £50 – that’s 100 glasses! We tried to encourage cycling this year also, and about 50 people cycled up this year.

Q.  So with the compost bins, does that mean everybody’spoo will end up on fields around here?

Yes exactly.  We’re really pleased with the eco loos, as they use absolutely no water.  That really serves as a strong plus for a festival organiser because you’re not wasting water.

Q.  Have you any idea of the number of volunteers you’ve had this year at the festival?

In terms of the litter side of things we have about 40, overall we have maybe around 150 volunteers.

Q.  Are you working with any environmental agencies?

We have a very strong relationship with Greener Festival who help us get greener.

Q.  What’s been the highlight of this year’s festival for you so far?

So far, and that’s before we see Buena Vista, my highlight for just sheer wow factor was Etienne De Crecy’s cube show.  I don’t think I havenever seen anything like that, it was amazing.  My favourite band has been Casiokids, although I thought Metronomy on Friday were really good aswell.

All the artists at the festival were outstanding, right from the bigger acts, to the up-and-coming artists.  If I had to pick a favourite performance, it would have to be between Alice Russell’s powerful performance (read the interview with Alice here), and The Magic Number’s intimate performance at the crooked house stage.

In terms of up-and coming acts however, Fool’s Gold were one band that particularly caught my eye.  They’re infectious Afro-pop beats made it neigh on impossible not to at least bop your head along to their set.

Another new band playing at the festival was quirky, Bristolian band Lulu and the Lampshades.   Comprising of three girls and one guy, this band make cheery, folkish music.  Their recent video for the song “your going to miss me” has had over 412, 000youtube views, and sees two of the girls from the band dressed in their pyjamas, singing and hitting out the beat to the song on empty plastic cartons.  However it is not just plastic cartons that these young musicians incorporate into their act.  Old typewriters, biscuit tins, yoghurt pots, and other household items are used by the band as make shift instruments.  Hey, it’s one way of recycling…plus they’d be able to carry on their set if there was a power cut… one more tick for eco!

*Image courtesy of Charlie O’Beirne

Eco-homes are becoming affordable for the average home-buyer, giving them the opportunity to  save the environment and save money. Eco-communities such as Rackheath in Norwich, BedZED in Surrey and Fairglen in Cornwall have made green living realistic and affordable option for all home buyers.

Greener building for tomorrow
Greener building for tomorrow

The Fairglen project is an eco-community of sustainable homes in Hayle, Cornwall which is now moving into Phase 2 of the build. Percy Williams and Sons, the creators behind Fairglen, have been in business for almost a century and wanted to provide for the families of tomorrow, offering a sustainable, green alternative to new builds elsewhere.

Simon Williams reports: “We have found that the 3 bedroom properties have been the most popular, with many families thinking of the long term benefits of near-zero energy bills”.

Although an eco-home will come in at a few thousand pounds more than its resource hungry equivalent, the savings in heating, electricity and water bills will quickly make up the difference.

Green properties like these achieve a near carbon neutral status, with photovoltaic (solar panel) roof systems, high efficiency heat recovery ventilation systems, rainwater recycling, and superior insulation. Hot water is generated by ground-source heat pumps, and the houses are designed with under-floor heating making use of this free heat.

Eco-homes are far from the basic lodgings you might imagine; in fact a major attraction over the ‘traditional’ house is the superior comfort of the living environment which provides an all-year round stable temperature and excellent air quality. Alongside the under-floor heating, large windows and modern architectural design, you may not even realise how green you are until your bills arrive.

For more information please visit http://www.new-homes-cornwall.com

Modern gyms filled with surround sound speakers blasting dance music, 25 plasma TV’s displaying cellulite free women and Adonis like men, vast amounts of expensive machinery, air conditioning and water coolers. Or the smell of open air, the feel of wind, glistening light on a lake, the sound of your own panting breath, nature at its finest.

One may say that there is no substitute for a gym and that the machinery is state of the art giving you a better and more scientific work out, with machines carefully designed to target every muscle in your body at ever different angle, and treadmills that are so clever they can vary the speed and incline, how can a simple world of land possibly compete with such sophistication?

Well much modern research has suggested the health benefits of outdoor running to be vastly superior to any gym, not to mention substantially cheaper. Firstly, by running in day light you’ll be getting your dose of Vitamin D. Go to the country and breathe clean, un-recycled air, run near water and feel the positive mood caused by OH- ions invigorating your body. Run bare foot on the beach and notice the muscles in your feet develop fully. The mitochondria (power stations) in your calve muscles are proven to be of much higher concentration in athletes that train on uneven ground along with strengthened ligaments and tendons (be careful not to twist an ankle). Practice sprints and acceleration for increased fast twitch muscle power, something you just can’t do on a treadmill.  Every time you turn a corner you are working important core muscles gaining balance and coordination. Running on different surfaces, grass, sand, wood land paths, work your body in slightly different ways giving you balance.

Admittedly, gyms have weights and if your purpose is to build big muscles, then they do have merit. And yes, at this time of year it may get icy and so the gym wins again given the dangers of slipping, however as we see January pass and the weather improve I argue getting outdoors and going for a run will relieve stress and give you health benefits far greater that a trip to the noisy gym.

Exercise at its best is a time to forget the worries of the world and work, to rid yourself of the dreaded stress hormone cortisol and to flood your body with feel good endorphins for a natural high. If you find it boring, encourage a friend to go with you and chat, join a running club or better yet run in beautiful surroundings so the scenery can occupy your mind. If it’s cold or wet, wrap up warm with a water proof. If you’re a beginner, run a few hundred meters then walk a few hundred and gradually reduce the walking and increase the running. Drink plenty fresh water and do some stretching. If Forest Gump can run for a few years, I’m sure everyone can manage 20 minutes.

My mother used to make these when I was a child.  I only tried cooking them fairly recently and can’t help wondering why I waited so long.

scone

They are delicious when eaten straight from the pan, hot and drizzled with butter and home-made strawberry jam.  Their success depends on the quality of the griddle.  I have a cast-iron frying pan that I use but I remember my mother having an iron square made especially for her by my cousin who was a sheet metal worker.  She could rest it over the gas ring and cook the singin’ hinnies.

I would always ask for these scones for my birthday tea as coins, wrapped in greaseproof paper were put inside them.  We would refer to them as ‘money scones’. It was always exciting to see who would end up with the most money.

There are many thoughts about the derivation of the name but I’m sure it is the noise they make as they cook.  Apparently a mother explained to her daughter that they would soon be ready as she could hear them singing.  She then referred to her daughter as ‘hinnie’ – a Northumbrian term of endearment, hence the ‘singin’ hinnie’.

Recipe

  • 225grams (8ozs) plain flour
  • 50grams (2ozs) currants
  • 100grams (4ozs) butter (or margarine)
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • Milk to mix to a dough

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.  Rub in the fat and stir in the currants.  Add enough milk to make a dough.  Roll out onto a floured tray and cut with scone cutter into rounds of chosen size.

Heat pan and lightly grease.  Place scones onto griddle on a very low heat so that the scones can cook very slowly.  Turn once and cook on other side.  To check that they are cooked remove one of the scones and tap it gently – it should sound hollow.

Slice in half , butter and enjoy.

The Prince of Wales garden party
The Prince of Wales garden party

Fancy celebrating the end of summer with a garden party to make a difference? If so, The Prince of Wales and an array of musicians, comedians, environmental experts and some of Britain’s best known companies invite you to a unique festival in the heart of London.

‘A Garden Party To Make A Difference’ also presents a rare opportunity to visit historic gardens at Clarence House, together with gardens at Lancaster House and Marlborough House this September. The party will last 12 days, from 8 to the 19 September 2010, from 10am to 6pm daily.

The festivities are an imaginative part of The Prince of Wales’s ‘Start’ initiative launched in February. The event aims to give people of all ages a fun day out while at the same time, via the exhibits, demonstrating the small steps that can, and are, being taken by all of us, interested in building a more sustainable future.

The Prince of Wales said:

“I am delighted to be able to welcome visitors into my gardens, and those of my immediate neighbours, for this exciting festival. We have a fantastic team of talented curators who are helping us create an event which will, I hope, be both fun and informative. This festival is just one way in which Start can help to demonstrate how we can all make a difference, however big or small the steps we take.”

The 12 day Garden Party, in the heart of London, will be an intriguing blend of exhibitions, interactive displays, fun activities and live performances throughout the day from comedians, musicians and speakers. Each area of the Garden Party will be curated by a celebrity champion.

These include:

  • Musical Programme created by Jools Holland
  • Debate by Jonathan Dimbleby, Sanjeev Bhaskar & Clive Anderson
  • Comedy Programme created by Marcus Brigstocke and Hugh Dennis
  • Growing and Gardens by Alan Titchmarsh
  • Food and The Great Outdoors by Kate Humble
  • Ecocars by Roger Saul and Kevin McCloud
  • Fashion by Dame Vivienne Westwood

Visitors to ‘A Garden Party To Make a Difference’ will be able to:

  • Step into the future with displays and interactive exhibitions about cutting edge green technologies and ideas.
  • Visit three fascinating gardens in the heart of London, including The Prince of Wales’ own vegetable patch and rose garden.
  • Design and sew bags from recycled materials and display them.
  • Taste food and learn cooking tips from some of the country’s top food experts.
  • Listen to comedians, musicians and speakers on a rolling performance programme on two different stages.
  • Visit over 100 displays and exhibitions.

Tickets, priced £15 for adults and £7.50 for children are on sale from 9am today.

Tickets are timed for purposes of entrance only. Full details are available on the

Garden Party website www.startuk.org.