Forget About the Price Tag

Anyone thinking that being ‘green and ethical’ is expensive, and only for those who are better off, is kind of missing the point.

It’s really about making better choices, not filling our lives with rubbish, and hopefully being happier as a result. Moving to a ‘greener and more ethical’ lifstyle should cost us all a lot less !



Even if you don’t feel like wearing a jumper at home to keep warm you can save energy. Turn down your hot water thermostat by a degree or two and bleed your radiators so they work efficiently. Reflective panels, or even silver foil behind them will also help radiate heat back into the room. Only run the washing machine and dishwasher when full and get to grips with the economy cycles and settings. For most washes try turning the temperature down to 30 degrees. If you have cheaper electricity at night (Economy 7) consider running your washing machine and dishwasher then to take advantage. If you have central heating room thermostats make sure they are in the right place, and not set too high. Clean the coils at the back of the fridge to keep them efficient and keeping your freezer full also helps. Close doors and windows properly and hunt out draughts and seal or block them. Use curtains and blinds to keep in heat when cold, or shut out sunlight when hot. Consider turning off the heating in some rooms if they’re barely used for periods.

Get free or subsidised loft or cavity wall insulation. If you own your home and have a south facing roof, consider signing-up for free solar panels – the installer takes the government grant (feed in tariff), but you save the electricity. It goes without saying, but turn lights off when not in use, and use efficient lights and bulbs. Consider using a multi-socket on groups of electrical appliances so you can turn them all off/on easily and avoid leaving things on standby – plugging TV recorders and similar items that need to be left on into a different socket. Consider getting a wireless energy monitor to encourage you to save more electricity, or sign-up to trial a smart meter from your energy company, free of charge.



Many of us could do with eating a little less food full stop, but it’s also true that most of us waste a great deal of what we do buy. Minimise waste by using things before they go off, making use of leftovers in soups/stews/casseroles etc, storing things better (not always in the fridge), and controlling portion size to reduce waste off the plate. You might also be able to minimise wastage, save money and make life easier by buying and cooking in bulk and freezing meals – having something ready to go in the freezer will also reduce the temptation to eat out or get a takeaway when you’re tired or rushed. Some people take part in communal cooking clubs -cooking in bulk then swapping dishes with each other.

Knowing the cost of things when shopping for food helps, as does shopping from a list, and the classic ‘not shopping when hungry’ to limit impulse purchases. Keep a range of healthy (and cheaper) snacks at home, in the car, and at work, to avoid so much splurging on snack foods. Making your own lunches in advance also helps. Avoid routinely buying expensive high street coffee by investing in a flask and making your own. Never buy bottled water – take an empty water bottle with you to fill from the tap. While you’re at it give-up buying paper towels, and simply use washable tea towels again.

Meat is generally an expensive item, and it also has a significantly greater environmental impact than non-meat foods, so consider expanding your range of non-meat cooking and eating a little less. Perhaps consider trying meat-free Mondays.

Try to buy locally produced food that’s in season – it’s often cheaper and keeps your money in the local community. Even better, if you have the space and time, grow your own food. If you grow enough you can always barter your excess with your friends.

Try turning the oven off a few minutes before the end of cooking, the heat will remain, and you’ll save a few minutes of electricity. Afterwards opening the oven door will allow the warm inside to vent and help heat the kitchen, and reduce the length of time the oven fan has to run to cool the oven after turning the oven off. When not in use be sure to turn appliances such as the cooker, dishwasher, washing machine and microwave off, rather than leaving on standby. Use hot cooking water from cooking to scald weeds, but avoid letting too much steam escape into the house – as it presents both a damp and mold hazard, humid air also takes more energy to heat than dry air.



Turn mindless shopping into mindful shopping – don’t buy things impulsively, or recreationally. Keep track of what you’re spending, and how much you’ve got left in your budget – credit cards can make us loose touch with the value of money. Consider how many hours you’ve had to work to pay for what you’re spending. Ignore the pressure to overshop – buy one get one free is only good value if you really need two! Allow yourself time for a reflective pause before committing to buying – ask yourself: do I really need this, do I need it now, what if I wait before buying it, where will I put it, can I share someone elses ? If you’re a problem shopper consider self, or group help.

Know the origin of what you’re buying as much as possible. Try to make ethical choices wherever you can, often ethical items are no more expensive than non-ethical items – such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, which is now Fairtrade. Ethical Consumer magazine and many other sources give ethical summaries of various products. Check out smaller ethical providers and retailers, who often have no high street presence, but can be found easily online. Wherever possible buying things that will last, or can be repaired or upgraded, will be both cheaper in the long run, and have a lower environmental footprint.

For some items like books, newspapers and magazines, consider whether you really need to buy at all. All newspapers have online editions, most of them free, as do many magazines. Books can be borrowed free from public libraries, many of which now have their catalogues available for online searching. Borrow from a friend, and pass on books of your own that you’ve finished with. There may be a local book swap club or store, or you could investigate online book swapping.

Buy things second hand where you can – charity shops can be variable, but bargain hunters know which ones are best. Car boot sales, jumble sales, or yard sales are other possibilities. Scan local sources, or use Ebay, Amazon or other online retailers who sell second hand items, like computer game, DVD and electronics retailer CEX. You may even be able to get what you want free from Freecycle. Alternatively consider renting rather than buying – easier than ever in the digital age. Try to sell-on or give away your own items when you no longer need, rather than sending them to landfill.

Consider getting more involved in challenging overconsumption, sign-up with Buy Nothing Day, Commercial Alert , the Christian Reclaim Christmas Group Ready-Steady-Slow, or even the very silly Rev Billy.



Minimise the amount of travelling you need to do by grouping tasks and errands together. Make sure your tyres are at the correct pressure, both for safety and economy, and consider your driving habits – if you do enough mileage you might consider getting some eco-driving lessons. Obviously walk, cycle or use public transport where you can, and it might be practical in some circumstances to car share, either for regular communiting, or simply in giving your friends or neighbours a lift from time to time or offering to pick-up some shopping for them if you’re going into town – we often bemoan both the number of cars on the road, and the lack of social contact in society, but sometimes struggle to do much about it.

It’s often more fuel and cost efficient to get shopping delivered, than making a special trip to the store. All major UK supermarkets now do home delivery, with the cost depending upon distance, demand and time of day. Sometimes delivery can be arranged for free.

If you’re able, consider discussing working from home with your employer – to save you both travel time and fuel costs. It might be that you’re able to do without your car at all, saving road tax, maintenance and servicing and depreciation, as well as fuel. It’s always possible to hire a car for holidays and other specific trips, and in some places car share clubs may be available.

Photo by Chris Parker UK

8 Tips for Buying More Sustainable Fish

Today, June 8th, is World Oceans Day – a good day to think about what we can do to halt the devastating collapse in world fish stocks.

1              Educate Yourself

Improve your understanding of the over-exploitation of the world’s fish stocks, and what must be done to prevent their collapse. Selfridge’s is working with the WWF, Greenpeace and others to champion Project Ocean, which aims to raise awareness of the threat to world fish populations. Watch the film End of the Line and read the accompanying book. Stare at naked celebrities. Look at an infographic of the extent of the decline. Read why Stephen Fry, Richard Branson, Jeremy Paxman and others are supporting Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal’s Fish Fight against EU rules.

2              Consult a Sustainability Guide Before you Buy

Not all fish species are currently under threat. Consult one of the variety of available guides to see whether a particular fish and source is considered sustainable or endangered. Guides include Channel 4′s Fish Inspiration or The Marine Conservation Council’s Good Fish Guide.

3              Look For the MSC’s Certification Mark

The MSC’s certification mark shows the fish is sourced from a sustainable and well-managed fishery, with transparent chain of custody to ensure traceability. Watch the MSC’s explanatory video.

4              Ask Where and How the Fish was Caught

Ask your retailer where the fish is from, and whether it is sustainable. Several UK supermarkets have sustainable aquaculture policies in place, Greenpeace currently consider Waitrose, M&S and the Co-Op the best (Greenpeace report).

5              Avoid At Risk Species

Species under pressure include swordfishsharkskatesplaicetuna (except skipjack), monkfish and marlin.

6              Be Careful with Popular Fish

Salmon, cod and tinned tuna are the most popular fish in the UK, and due to their popularity they are under particular threat and we need to choose carefully.

7              Be Careful with Farmed Fish

Several commentators, including Greenpeace, have some concerns regarding intensive farming of a variety of fish species, due to the use of fish meal foodstuffs, disease and pollution issues. Increasingly herbivorous fish such as tilapia are farmed in the UK, which do not require fish based feedstuffs, and are generally considered to be more sustainable.

8              Be More Adventurous with Fish

There are over 50 species of fish caught within UK waters, most of which are not considered under threat, such as herring, pollock, gurnard, coley and especially mackerel.

Photo by Fiona Wilkinson

It’s NOT the Thought That Counts

A few months ago I caught a programme reviewing the situation in Haiti, twelve months after the earthquake of January 2010. I found one of the statistics they quoted very startling.

The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.0, with an epicentre 16 miles from the capital Port-au-Prince. Haiti is a poor country, and unlike Japan, most buildings were not built to withstand earthquakes. Massive damage was caused, over 250,000 homes destroyed along with over 30,000 other buildings, including the main sea-port, hospitals, workplaces, shops, police and government buildings, as well as the offices of the United Nations and World Bank. Roads were blocked with rubble for days, fuel quickly ran out, sewage systems stopped working and water, electricity and phones were cut-off. Law and order quickly broke down and sporadic looting and violence occurred.

The Haitian government estimates 315,000 people were killed in the initial earthquake and aftershocks, or died of their injuries shortly afterward. A further 300,000 are estimated to have been injured. Between 1.5 and 1.8 million people were made homeless. Health systems were unable to cope, and a cholera epidemic swept the refugee camps during the autumn.

As tragic and shocking as these statistics are they are not the one I found startling.

In the days immediately following the earthquake an amazing estimated 10,000 plus separate relief agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) arrived in Haiti to help. Although this reflected the fantastic outpouring of sympathy and desire to assist, many of these organisations arrived unannounced and with little preparation. There are usually established systems to co-ordinate emergency aid response following disasters, but Haiti’s systems of governance were so badly damaged following the earthquake, that very little control and coordination existed.

Many NGOs are large and experienced international organisations with skilled staff, but many others had very limited experience and resources. A considerable number were comprised of only a handful of individuals who had quickly gone collecting donations following the earthquake, and had simply turned-up expecting they would be able to be of some use. Many of these organisations failed to achieve very much. For some most of the money they collected was spent on travel, accommodation and subsistence costs for their own staff, and, according to the programme, in some cases  actually needed help and support from other relief agencies, when they got lost, ran out of supplies, or simply were unable to cope. In some places several organisations were offering identical help in the same area, while a few miles away no help was being provided at all.

Obviously all these organisations and individuals meant well, but some were far more effective than others.

Do we think about this when we donate to charity ?

Our initial reaction to a request to give is often based on how we feel about the cause, rather than any kind of understanding of how efficiently our donation will be spent, of what good it will actually achieve.

This seems strange, in most other walks of life, especially where money is concerned, we tend to judge by results, not intentions. Evidence based decision making is now standard practice in many organisations, but perhaps we’re simply more inclined to trust charities and believe they will do the very best they can with our money.

There is another less favourable possibility though – perhaps we simply don’t care that much. Having donated we feel we’ve discharged our obligation and having paid to get ourselves off the hook we can get on with our life and leave the rest up to someone else.

If we are serious about wanting to make a difference when donating our hard earned cash then we need to take more of an interest in how it’s spent and examine how effective it is in achieving what we want. One way to think about it might be to see ourselves as investors or clients, with charities working on our behalf to tackle the issues we are concerned about – considered that way it seems unthinkable we wouldn’t ask for progress-reports now and then!

In the UK the Charity Commission regulates the operation of registered charities, checking they are properly run etc. They also offer them advice on enhancing accountability and improving effectiveness. Typing in the name of a charity on their website will show a range of information concerning that charity, including details of their last filed accounts.

Well run is one thing, but does the money make a difference? Several organisations now scrutinise charity performance, and compare effectiveness, including the US site Give Well, New Philanthropy Capital, and Giving What We Can. The new UK website Alive and Giving, also aims to deliver better analysis of charity performance.

In fact it’s not easy to quantify the benefit of a lot of charitable activities, such as awareness raising and campaigning, or providing education, counselling or emotional support. For others though, especially those engaged in global poverty relief, the powerful and disturbing statistic of cost-per-life-saved can be calculated.

Some aid interventions are widely considered to be more effective a saving lives in the developing world than others. Immunisation programmes, maternal health care provision and provision of clean water appear to be the most beneficial areas to focus aid for the purpose of saving lives. Bill Gates, focuses the majority of his humanitarian efforts into vaccination programmes because “we know they work”.

The next time someone rattles a tin at you or pushes a sponsor form under your nose in the office, think carefully if that is really the most benefit you can put your money to.

Do give, but make it count !

Similar articles – Saving Lives, Meet Toby Ord,

Photo by Blatantworld, via Flickr