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Sustainability and Development


Jane Durney,  Olympics Leader, BioRegional


I’m going to step back a bit and look at sustainability and the sustainability challenge that BioRegional is promoting globally, here in London, and as individuals. I’ll tell you a little about BioRegional, the organisation I work for, and also about Bedzed which is a pioneering eco-village in south London where Bio Regional are based, and then talk to you about  Living which is a potential solution or framework that can be used to talk about sustainability. 


We work very closely with WWF World Wide Fund for Nature.  Every two years they publish what’s called the Living Planet Report and what this chart shows is our ecological footprint.  We can measure the renewable capacity of the planet in terms of grazing land, croplands, etc - one planet’s-worth of resources. We also measure our global ecological footprint, all global consumption, every single country’s consumption abrogated. And what you can see from this is that at some point in the mid-1980s we exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet.  We are probably overshooting it by something like 20% to 30% now. I’m a qualified chartered accountant so in financial terms we are no longer living off the interest of the earth, we’re actually eating into its capital. 


Another chart from the same report shows the decrease in biodiversity.  There’s been a 70% decrease in species over that period of time. We also see ice caps melting, deforestation, floods, and whether or not they can be directly attributable to climate change there are people making that link. 


In the UK if we take global bio-capacity, which we can measure using remote sensing, and allow 10% for nature, is that enough?  We can divide that by the global population which is 66.5 billion now but predicted to increase to around 90 billion by 2040s/2050s. Currently a fair share of the earth’s resources would be 1.9 hectares per person. The UK’s footprint is 6.3 hectares per person. 


So, in other words, if everybody in the world would were to consume at the same rate as we do in the UK we’d need three planets to support us. And clearly we don’t have those.


We might well wonder what the rate is for the US. They’re at 5.6 planets. China and India are at around about the one planet level. And we can often see how that breaks down as we’re almost leading on work being done on the purchase of footprinting.


For somebody living in the south-east of England we can see how that three planet footprint breaks down; around a quarter of their footprint relates to food.  A lot of people are surprised about that but food is a really big contributor to energy consumption and carbon climate change, both in terms of area of land required to produce food but also the input into implementing that food. 


20% of our footprint relates to transport, 13% to energy and water, 8% to waste and then around a third relates to our share of services and shared infrastructure and roads, railways, hospitals, shops, financial institutions, etc. 


Another way of looking at that is that probably half of our ecological footprint, half of our impact, relates to the built environment, the infrastructure, and about half relates to our lifestyle choices.  The food we eat, how we get about, whether we recycle or not.


This underpins really a lot of the work that BioRegional does.  We are a relatively small, but growing, environmental organisation.  We are a charity with a number of spin off companies, and we try to work with partners to develop bringing local sustainability into the mainstream.  We work across forestry and we supply B&Q, for example, with locally produced charcoal.  We have a network of charcoal burners around the country.  By them fulfilling orders locally in standardised packaging there is an 85% reduction in transport.  So if you are having a barbecue this summer make sure you buy locally produced charcoal from B&Q or Asda or Tesco, etc. because you’ll be helping in terms of the management footprint, the biodiversity and reducing the environmental impact. 


We’ve done well with food, we’ve done well with transport and we’ve done work on housing.  We are best known for the Bedzed development where our approach is very much about making sure that we use local resources to meet the local needs because that way you get away from the ridiculousness of shifting things around that really don’t need to be moved. 


We also look at resource efficiency and closing the loop. If we are trying to get people to recycle paper for example, we also want people to be buying recycled paper. You need to be able to create markets for recycled products, using appropriate scale of technology. The charcoal I just mentioned is an example of network production which achieves that. And where we need international trade we make sure it’s fair. 


So what we’re trying to do is develop working models of sustainable products and services and Bedzed is a really good example of this. It has its detractors. It’s had things that haven’t worked as well as they might, which we’re quite honest about.  But Bedzed stands for Beddington Zero Energy Emissions Development.  It’s around a hundred homes built on a hectare of land in south London in the London Borough of Sutton.


It was developed by the Peabody Trust in association with BioRegional.  It came about because BioRegional were looking for new offices.  We wanted green offices and there weren’t any around. So we worked with Bill Dunster the architect, who built up the design. This site became available, much bigger than we needed just for offices for what was about a dozen people at that time, and we drew up plans for an eco-village which the Peabody Trust financed and Bedzed was built. 


It’s held up as an exemplar of sustainable housing. So what’s there? It’s a hybrid scheme with a range of facilities; there’s a nursery, there’s a club house that’s used by the local community, and sports pitch, there are some mini-allotments and people have been living there now since completion in 2002. It’s designed to be energy efficient with on-site renewable energy, water efficient, treating water on site, and we even focussed on the sort of materials that we used. So it really did well in terms of the local sourcing of materials, using recycled and reclaimed construction materials.  And people who live there have an opportunity to lead a properly greener lifestyle, they can join a car club, there’s a vegetable box scheme, many have a mini-allotment. A lot of these things can be put in place in existing communities as well and I’ll come on and talk about some of the work that was done on retro fit too.  In every single house there are segregated bins so it is really easy for people to separate their waste and recycle. 


What has worked really well is that we’ve massively reduced heating demand, hot water demand, electricity demand, and mains water consumption. These are all things we are going to have to look at applying not just to new homes but to existing homes too if we are going to meet the challenge of reducing our carbon and ecological footprints. 


One of the big savings in carbon terms, and in fact one of the cheapest things to do, was putting in a car club. The people that we surveyed reckoned that through getting rid of their cars and joining the car club they really reduced their fossil fuel mileage because you pay for every journey. I belong to it as well, and you think about every journey you make because you’re paying for every journey you make by the hour you’re hiring the car for and the distance you travel. If you own a car you’re going to use it anyway because it’s costing £1,500 - £2,000 per year perhaps to keep it on the road.  And car clubs just makes it easier for people to get rid of their cars and still have access to them when you need them.


An important resident service is a subscription to a local organic vegetable box scheme.  Some of these schemes were originally set up by BioRegional London when people moved to Bedzed but most of them now are handled by the local residents so a resident coordinates all the vegetable boxes and arranges for delivery and that’s now been extended to more of a food co-op as well.


What hasn’t worked? Some of the innovative technology hasn’t worked that well. We installed a chip that was to produce the electricity and hot water for the housing development and that was probably a bit far advanced at that stage. 


What we did do though was work with the neighbouring borough of Croydon to put all of their trees under a forestry management programme. Croydon actually had the world’s first FSC certified urban forest and we worked with them to establish a tree surgery and take the wood which would otherwise go to landfill, and chip it for renewable energy. You can’t put in some of these technologies without thinking about the fuel supply and whether it is going to be local. 


The green water treatment plant for treating the waste water on site is currently shut down because Thames Water are going to be running it in conjunction with / alongside the alternative technology to test out other technologies.  What we’ve also found as we move into a period of global warming is that we need to be thinking more about year-round temperatures.  Bedzed was designed for year-round heating and what that addresses is really the coldest day in February. There have however been issues with some of the flats with overheating in summer and what we are particularly concerned about is the rise in electricity use that is prompted by that. If you go to B&Q or Homebase and you see air conditioning for £80 a unit, and in a period of global warming people are buying those and as a result we see massive spikes in electricity consumption.  Power cuts in Soho last summer were down to the hot summer, all of the restaurants going out and buying units and the system not being able to supply the electricity those needed. We’re going to begin to see this more and more. So in the plans that you’re making you need to be thinking about how you are going to address this.


One Planet Living is a joint initiative between BioRegional and WWF.  What it aims to do is show how we can make it easy, attractive and affordable to live within a fair share of the earth’s resources and how we can reduce our footprint by two-thirds.  We are creating a network of communities and if you want to know more there is an visitor exhibition centre at Bedzed open Monday to Friday during the week, 9 – 5, and we run tours. 


We promote the One Planet principles, and WWF do more of this, to governmental visitors and individuals from around the world. And DEFRA has adopted this and we’ve been doing work with them. It’s very much about reducing our ecological footprint and it’s underpinned by this set of ten principles:

  • zero carbon

  • zero waste

  • sustainable transport

  • local and sustainable materials

  • local and sustainable food

  • sustainable water

  • natural habitats and wildlife

  • cultural heritage

  • excellent fair trade, and

  • health and happiness


Zero carbon refers to the carbon or energy used in building and we want to massively reduce demand for that.  And when we’ve reduced demand we can then look at how to supply renewable and make sure we supply energy efficiently.


Zero waste is about reduction of waste into landfill. In the UK we currently landfill around 70% of our waste in big holes in the ground and that’s running out really rapidly. When local authorities are introducing recycling schemes it’s because the cost of sending waste to landfill is going up all the time and that cost goes on our council tax.


Sustainable transport is about making sure we are using local transport facilities. Archway has a good selection and we also want to make it easy for people to walk and to cycle. People are going to need to use cars occasionally so we need to provide low impact alternatives for those times through car clubs. There should also be electric parking points so it’s easy for people to have electric vehicles should they want. 


Looking at the materials we’re using, we want to make sure we’re using local materials where possible and that bulky materials aren’t travelling too far.  Reclaimed and recycled materials are good and although in construction a lot of materials do get recycled they often get downgraded so they’re not used in a way that retains the value of the natural resource and the embodied energy employed to produce it - bricks and steel are examples of that.


In terms of sustainable food, you want to make sure that people have access to local sustainable food. Jamie Oliver has done more of this, really promoting foods and interest in foods.  People have lost touch with having to prepare food from scratch. Vegetable box schemes, food parks, edible landscaping through to allotments all help, as does showing people that they can grow food. If you remember the chart I discussed earlier, 25% of our footprint relates to food so this is important. If we’re moving into a period of climate change and peak oil as well that’s going to have impact on the cost of food and where it’s going to come from. In London 80% of our food comes from overseas and a lot of those places are going to be less able to provide food in the same quantities in the future. 


Water has been an increasing issue, and England has a lot of water but there’s increasing seasonable variation in that, with a lot less in the summer, or very intense rain only at intervals. We need to be a lot more efficient about the water we use and look at how we manage it as well.


So the first five principles are really about reducing our footprint and making it easy to live within our fair share.  The other principles look at how we can incorporate our needs into the public realm and into any new development.


In terms of culture and heritage we want to try and avoid clone towns and think about promoting a new culture of sustainability along with retaining some of the history, some of the heritage of our places. An example of this is down in Sutton. We were instrumental in setting up a project which is reviving the local lavender industry there. 


Excellent fair trade is about inclusion, accessibility, affordability and making sure we support local economies, not just abroad but in the UK too. 


For me I think probably the most important principle, and I think the first nine contribute to this, is really health and happiness. You want to create a sense of place, want to create a sense of community.  At Bedzed one of the things people love is the sense of community. They know far more of their neighbours there.  And through setting up the Better Archway Forum you’ve all got to know each other a lot better than when I was living in Tufnell Park.  I did know a few of my neighbours but really not that many.


We can use the 10 living principles in a number of ways. They now underpin a lot of the work we do including consultancy work. We worked on the bid for the Olympics and wrote the sustainability vision around the Olympics and that was really about embedding sustainability into the design of the facilities of the Olympic Park, running the games and in the legacy. A lot more detailed work is being done on that but we are still hopeful that London is going to fulfil its promises to be the greenest games ever and we are really working hard to make sure that they live up to their big commitments. 


We’ve set up a joint venture company because we’ve been frustrated that it’s taken quite a long time for there to be other Bedzed which still gets held up as an exemplar. BioRegional and the property company Quintain build everything to eco-homes excellence standards and have developed a sustained an action plan, showing how each of those 10 principles are addressed, setting targets, looking at the strategies that can be adopted, looking at the monitoring, looking at how they are going to be delivered and implemented.


They’ve had planning permission for a scheme in Brighton which is 170 homes, and for one of the Mayor’s zero carbon schemes in Becton. We’ve also done work looking at retro-fitting, looking at how we can apply these 10 principles to the suburbs and to existing communities.  New housing makes up only a small proportion of the housing stock and most of what is here now will remain so we have to start looking at that and what’s happening in our existing communities. 


We’ve done some work on looking at trying to develop a large scale environment beyond Bedzed with a Living London project in the Thames Gateway and a concept for a 2,000 home community.  You’re not going to be building one of those here but I think that some of the principles that we’re considering could be useful as you move forward because this plan has shops, schools, offices, health facilities and 2,000 homes. 


What we did was look at how much electricity and how much waste, including waste water, would be involved and then how to put in the technology to achieve the zero carbon and zero waste going to landfill. Then we looked how we could future proof it, to make sure that we are planning things not just for now. New technologies come on line all the time such as fuel cells. Who knows what is coming in the future but we have to make sure we can incorporate those things into what we are planning now. District heating is an example of that, with the heat produced centrally.  We’ve got that at Bedzed and it’s common on the Continent but less common in the UK though it’s being incorporated into a lot of new developments. 


And we need to think about climate change. I mentioned overheating. We need to make sure that we are planting trees with shading in the summer, putting in shades and canopies and blinds and those sorts of things, making sure they can be retro-fitted when the time comes that they’re needed. 


What we came up with was providing loads of resources with three flows - energy flow, dry waste flows and wet waste flows which are interlinked. You need to take it as a whole system if you are really going to look at reducing environmental impact.  You need to think about how you are going to manage energy on a collective basis, how you are going to deal with our dry waste and how you will deal with our wet waste.


We set up products for the refurbishment industry, providing access to sustainable building products, and we work with building partners to access discounts for environmentally friendly construction products. 


We have also written a little guide which explains it so you can look at it principle by principle with explanations of what you can do to reduce your environmental impact. 


So, I would say to you, the Better Archway Forum, as you are moving forward, we are at a key point in history. We know we are having a massive impact on the planet and we want to be able to look the future generation in the eye and make sure that whatever we do now better impacts the mind. And we need to make sure when we are setting briefs for development that we are setting frameworks for people to work within Archway and that we are building in sustainability from the outset, embedded into every single decision that is taken. 


One of the things that we’ve found with the work we’ve done with English Partnerships, when we are setting really challenging briefs that people will respond to it.  When there’s a level playing field and the bar is set high, people do respond to it so I urge you to make sure that you do that.

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