School Travel Plans have been widely touted for their potential to make children’s journeys safer at the same time as reducing car use (and dependence). Drawing together the various issues and solutions that are emerging, David Hurdle of the Centre for Independent Transport Research in London (CITRL) has another ‘toolkit’ to help local authorities, parents and campaigners to draw up their plans. Published in CITRL’s journal Transitions, it also includes a list of useful contacts.
Custom-built yellow school buses are coming to Britain. A familiar feature of the American scene, their use here is being promoted by the UK’s biggest bus-operating company, FirstGroup, as a way to improve safety and reduce rush-hour congestion. Only one in five of this country’s schoolchildren takes the bus to school, compared with over half of US under-12s. FirstGroup suggests that local authorities could use funds from congestion charges to fund more imaginative school-bus schemes.
The Co-Operative bank has re-entered the UK home loan market with what it calls a "green, low-cost, flexible mortgage". Paul Monaghan, manager of the bank's Ecology Unit, says that the Co-Op knows its customers care "tremendously" about "the twin concerns of climate change and biodiversity loss", which the new ecological mortgage is designed to tackle.
As part of every valuation, the customer will receive an energy report, detailing ways to improve the energy efficiency of the property. And, each year throughout the lifetime of the mortgage, the Co-Op will make a donation to Climate Care to support reforestation schemes, sufficient to offset around a quarter of an average home's carbon dioxide production. The reforestation projects will also be geared to conserve biodiversity. The first is in Uganda, to secure the habitat of the Kibale Forest, which has one of the world's densest concentrations of primates, including the chimpanzee, and is home to around 300 species of birds and 140 species of butterflies.
Those ubiquitous clear plastic triangular sandwich packages could be superseded by something compostible - which itself contains recycled potato starch from the processing of chips and crisps. The US EarthShell Corporation, which first made its mark as supplier of a greener burger container to McDonalds, is using a new composite of limestone and organic materials to make its new hinged lid sandwich container.
The result is the first piece of rigid food service packaging to win a Green Seal certificate as an ‘environmentally preferable product’.
Now that pension schemes are required by law to state whether they have an ethical policy, how strong is the demand for them to use socially responsible investment criteria? When asset managers Friends Ivory & Sime ran a survey recently, they found that three quarters of occupational pension scheme members were in favour. More specifically, 30% told NOP that they would still prefer to be in an ethical scheme even if it adversely affected their pension's financial performance.
These findings are reinforced by research by Imperial College for the UK Social Investment Forum. 171 pension funds with collective assets of over 3 billion pounds responded to a survey, in which 48% said thay they were demanding that fund managers take SRI considerations into account.
What could be simpler than a colour-coded warning system for monitoring pollution? Researchers at the University of Illinois have come up with what they call a ‘smell-seeing’ detector for the presence of different chemical pollutants and poisons. It’s like a kind of litmus paper, with a much wider range of colour changes, so that each type of chemical vapour has a unique colour fingerprint.
Developed by Professor Kenneth Suslick and researcher Neil Rakow, ‘smell-seeing’ should be an inexpensive process. The detector is just a sheet of paper or other inert backing material painted with tiny dots, each dot using a different member of a family of vapour-sensitive dyes known as metalloporphyrins.
An ordinary flatbed scanner can map any colour change, and this can be compared against a library of records of the changes produced by different chemicals, to reveal what compounds have caused it.
Automotive companies are hardly on top of a Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) analyst's watch list, but the sector has caught my eye over the last couple of months as the on-going struggle between the US courts, Firestone, Ford and the safety regulators has been mapped out in full US public view.
The furore focuses on the tyres used on Ford's best selling sports utility vehicle (SUV), the Explorer. The accusation is that Ford and Firestone have been fitting a product liable to 'tread separation', causing the Explorer to flip over and allegedly resulting in a number of fatalities. In response to the crisis, Ford CEO Jac Nasser has been in full voice, defending the Ford brand through an advertising blitz emphasising that Ford "never takes lightly your safety and trust."
The stock market's reaction has been predictable, considering the importance of SUVs to Ford's profitability and the value of the Firestone brand to Bridgestone (the parent company). Each stock fell during August when the story broke and Bridgestone has continued to dramatically underperform.
Polythene bin liners and food packaging can now be made totally biodegradable. Marketed under the brand names SPI-Tek and Tuffy, these and other products are made from a material developed by Hertfordshire-based Symphony Plastic Technologies, and will degrade into carbon dioxide and water “at a controllable rate (taking anything from two months to five years) depending on application requirements”.
WWF believes in working with companies rather than against them. Peter Denton explains how.
Business and sustainability are incompatible. All over the globe resources are being used up faster and faster as the twin engines of consumerism and industry hurl us towards catastrophe. Or so many believe -and they can be forgiven for thinking so.
But business and sustainability are only incompatible up to a point - the point where self-interest comes in. Companies of all sizes want to stay in business: 10, 20 or more years from now they still want to be here. And if they are to do that, they will have to live with the consequences of their actions.
In this globalised age, when transnational corporations often have turnovers bigger than some entire countries, the stakes are all the higher. The consequences of these companies’ actions are potentially so vast that they concern everyone, and the case for sustainability is making itself heard more insistently than ever.
The Danish government is currently looking at a proposal to apply a sliding scale in its taxes on packaging materials, according to the whole-life environmental impact of the materials used. If it adopts the figures put forward by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the packaging tax rate could be 12 times higher for expanded polystyrene or PVC than for the same weight of glass, and 19 times higher for aluminium, but only half as high for paper and even less for wood. The new regime would not apply to fizzy-drink containers, which are taxed by volume.
Refillable PET plastic bottles are the best option for drinks containers, according to the German Environment Agency. In terms of their resource use, and their impact on global warming and acidification throughout their life cycle, metal cans and non-reusable glass bottles come out worst. Refillable glass rates no higher than cartons, given Germany’s high level of carton recycling.
Sainsbury’s is checking out on-site wind power. Roger East looks into the Scottish project that could cause a wider stir in the renewables market.
In East Kilbride something is stirring, up at the Sainsbury’s depot. It would be hard to hide; it’s 40 metres tall with three long arms. And it’s linked to the power supply. But fear not, it is benign. This is no gothic monster coming to life with electricity coursing through its veins, but a state-of-the-art wind turbine, due to start providing non-polluting power next spring?
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