Category Archives: greenwash

Hanham Hall … eco-village

At the weekend I visited the Hanham Hall exhibition, set up to inform local residents of the development. A nice chat with the project lead gave a nice feeling that this is an exciting project, yet I still have a feeling that this is not quite the direction to go…

Focus seems to be on the Code Level 6 – zero carbon homes, rather than on the wider sustainable communities. Where will people shop, where will they send their children to school and how will they get to work, were questions raised by friends.

Although it was accepted this particular design may not be the one we use in 2016 to acheive level 6, and there will be a degree of learning on the project for future projects, the designs are based on the Chorley homes technology – so I hope the comments made by CarbonLimited are taken into account.

I was surprised to hear that carbon footprints are not an issue, with no focus on reducing carbons in the construction or production of the development. So does this mean business as usual for the house builder – other than integrating a different kit of eco -materials and technologies? If so – is this a greenwash sin?

My biggest moan to the Hanham Hall team though – and a pet hate of the internet is … advertised websites that are Continue reading

oh no Darling …

In December 2007 Alistair Darling was quoted as saying:

“Sustainability will be at the heart of the next Budget.
This is not an optional extra. It is essential for all our futures”

So was it? – well hardly, pale green, maybe, at its best – but with the focus on plastic bags – just another greenwash exercise. (I have copied the Friends of the Earth budget comment on green homes below to illustrate)

The Governments Stern Report indicates we should be spending 13billion on environmental issues right now, to avoid higher costs in the future. Environmental commentators estimate our spend to currently be 1billion

This further illustrates the priority sustainability has within this government, which may be a good thing to be aware of, as it may, hopefully, generate more communalist approaches to sustainability, that is a grass roots, do it because its the right thing to do approach. We have seen this in the US – in spite of Bush’s negative stance – the GreenBuild industry has flourished – because it makes sense.

So, time to get on and do it, we cannot afford to wait to be led by government. As Ghandi said – “be the change you want to see in the world”

Not surprising then, as Mark Lynas commented in the Guardian earlier this week (Britain is stealing the US crown of No 1 climate villian)- we are seeing protests trying to enforce government policy against the wishes of the government. A truly shaming moment for the Brown government

Continue reading

isite weekly round up 3rd March

What a week for sustainability related news.

I should try and get to do more weekly round ups – the last couple of weeks have been quiet on the blog posts so here are things that hit my radar last week. (The WordPress linking seems to be broken at the moment – so I will repost with the links later)

Top of the list was probably Eco-Build, which although covered by Building and others, including Phils blog, hasn’t clearly communicated its message (whatever it was) outside of those attending but led to confusion – more thinking and more targets. People I have talked to who attended all volunteered that event itself didn’t feel sustainable and got a lot of carbons to get people there.

Good news then that Building are promoting the (worlds?) first virtual on-line sustainability conference on the 15th and 16th April.

I thought one spark from Eco Build was in the message I picked up in a number of reports that the drive and demand for greener homes, buildings and lifestyles should come from communities, business and individuals, not rely on legislation to led us… (sustainablity2.0 on which more later)

Paul King from the UKGBC did get good coverage (Friday Interview in the Guardian) – a must read article to understand the UKGBC intentions

The most depressing news this week by far was that Isle of White council cannot afford low or zero carbon homes – presumably they can continue to afford the high cost of low price, the on going high cost of wasted energy and the 30% or so wastage in the construction process. What the IoW, along with others, cannot do is align capital budgets with operational and life cycle budgets – the out of date focus on 1, not the 5 or even the 200. Standing in the future, looking back we may see that we fumbling with easy options, a luxury we may not have again – as the Stern report indicates tomorrows cost of in-decision today.

The cost of going low or zero increasingly is perceived as a barrier. In the US as reported here many times it is seen as a commercial opportunity. I fear our green agendas may well be funded by US led green finance arrangements before too long.

Environment Property Codes were launched with a fanfare by IPD and others – but at first glance looked a bit of a damp squid. Hard to see anything new other than (another) standard format – but until the benchmarking gets underway, and the scale of take up known, it may be too early to comment on. What is worrying is the fee to use approach a lot these schemes are adopting – in the face of open source movement elsewhere.

I scanned a copy of the Green Marketing Manifesto in Borders during the week. I thought it was in itself another greenwash book, with advice such as ‘add ECO in front of anything to increase its desirability’ (Eco-Build, Eco Homes, Eco Villages perhaps) until I saw the ‘blurb’ and forward by leading respected thinkers. A closer look revealed this gem – it’s the greening of the business that is important – not the greening of product. Taking this into the built environment – organisations will only be able to deliver low or zero carbon construction, provide environmental fm etc if they themselves are green at heart. A new way of cutting through greenwash perhaps.

Oh and the plastic bag story. Anyone traveling through Europe will know this is not leading edge thinking to ban or reduce plastic bags – we are playing catch up. At its worst it is a blatant retail and government greenwash – focus on the easy carrier bags and smokescreen the bigger issues. Supermarkets need to focus on packaging, open cabinet fridges, the energy inefficient stores (with one or two exceptions) and the travel miles they generate. Salisbury’s advert today tells us they are making it easy for us to reduce, reuse and recycle, nice green wash words when what is needed is rethinking.

And then the interview with James Lovelock who happily tells us we are past the tipping point, to enjoy life while we can (for which he gives us 20 years). But insists this gives us plenty to do – except they will be the things we don’t want to do.

And then I had my eyes opened to Twitter … but more of that later.

Eco … build, homes, villages and towns – pah… greenwash?

James Meikle’s article in yesterdays guardian paints a picture of growing concerns and gaps in the thinking behind the current push towards ‘eco‘ villages and towns.

As a flagship for the huge number of homes to be built and eco towns to be created, Northstowe, if the Guardian report is correct has problems:

As the town takes shape, en route to at least a 20% – and hopefully higher – supply of renewable energy, combined heat and power plants could prove more efficient and cost effective than solar gadgets and micro generation on separate houses.

Sounds great, but the debate is our on micro generation – but only 20% renewable? !!!

More recently, Cooper decided that Northstowe must not be delayed by having to meet zero-carbon standards subsequently imposed for all new houses from 2016.

Ah ha – explains the 20% but if we can do it as an eco-challenge at Hanham Hall in Bristol – why not here?

James too makes the point on the level expected on the homes:

To start with, … private homes will only be at level 3 on the code for sustainable homes, producing 25% lower emissions than legally required so far, but no more revolutionary than homes already being built on some smaller developments. The requirement for affordable homes will be slightly higher at code level 4 – a 44% improvement on minimum standards, but again not as tough as might have been expected, given the experimentation already under way elsewhere.

In my opinion this is not flagship or even eco…

David Bard, a senior councillor on South Cambridgeshire council, which, with the county council, will consider the Northstowe plans in the next few months, says: ” I am not sure that anyone actually knows what is meant by an ‘ecotown’, let alone a ‘prototype ecotown’.

Time to rethink? Time to get back to basics?

Time to recall where Eco comes from – as it is a prefix used in most ‘sustainable ‘ iniatives at the present. Eco-this eco-that and eco-other is indeed the zetigeist of the moment. Eco is of course an abreviation of ecological – and as a prefix used to describe things realted to ecological issues. Except it isnt today, at least in its use for eco homes and villages etc.

Eco villages stem back to 1960’s community living, alternative technologies, living off grid with alternative lifestyles. Are todays eco villages just a clever greenwashing of of that ideal? (A greenwash that probably covers all 6 of the greenwash sins!)

Where is the community, social enterprise, regeneration, ecological diversity protection thinking in these developments?

It would be very interesting to see calculations for the ecological footprint of eco-developments such as Hanham Hall and Northstowe and how they would compare to other or non eco developments. There is much focus on carbon footprints, understandably as its tangible and easy to understand – but if we use the prefix eco – lets focus on the ecological footprint as well.

I have posted on the LEED ND (neighbourhood development) scheme here a few times – it would be fascinating to assess Hanham Hall or Northstowe against this standard. Just looking at the evidence required for submission for this standard would (hopefully) cause a rethink, or dropping of the prefix Eco ! for example:

  • Smart Location and Linkage, (smart location means ecological consideration!)
  • Neighborhood Pattern and Design,
  • Green Construction and Technology and
  • Innovative Design

Any BREEAM assessors, any LEED ND assessors out there looking for a challenge? Anyone out there willing to fund a project to ‘test’ the claims being made? These projects underway now will shape our future housing construction, living, and social well being.

Why do I hear the Pete Seger song when I think of eco-towns

Little boxes on the hill side, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,

So time for a rethink and real innovation – as Henry Ford famously said “If I asked people what they really wanted they would have asked for faster horses” Will we still get little boxes ?

And quietly the transition-towns movement gains pace …. but thats another post !

Code level 6 too easy ? – go to level 7 or beyond

Following on from earlier posts (whats wrong) on this site where I raised the question that Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable homes was seemingly too low a standard – as Barratts and Eddie Shah, and others, already claim they can achieve it , apparently without doing to much different, it is encouraging to see Bill Dunster pushing the goal posts further.

‘Anybody can build to Level Six,’ says Bill

Bill Dunster claims his RuralZED house, which will be shown at the Ecobuild exhibition (26-28 February at Earls Court), meets the unprecedented (and non-existent – he invented the term) Level Seven of the Code for Sustainable Homes, with a wind turbine producing energy to make up for the embodied energy in the materials and construction of the structure. more info at AJ

Level 6 and now Level 7 must remain stretch targets – targets to stretch our rethinking, our innovations and our urgency in addressing sustainability issues. To say we can achieve them today is plain greenwash. (Greenwash sin number 1, 2 3, or 6? )

And, on a similar issue will we see a higher level BREEAM assessment to continue to stretch our sector? After all if BREEAM Excellent doesn’t achieve the targets we need to reach nationally or globally then indeed we do need higher, tougher standards.

As Dr Jo Williams, in the latest edition of Journal of Environmental Planning and Management shows, the current government strategy is unlikely to drive the required increase in technological, infrastructural, service and knowledge capacity needed to deliver zero-carbon homes. If it is going to meet its carbon targets the government should make the current “code 6-star rating” (ie zero-carbon standard) mandatory for all new housing, and invest in the technology, infrastructure and knowledge needed to support its delivery… Without which we will head to an environmental disaster. (Guardian report – where are the green houses)

Or – the will (hearts and minds) and motivation to do so without legislation and standards – ie just getting on and doing it as in the spirit of Contraction and Convergence for example – but thats another post.

Green spires or greenwash?

Universities UK today published Green Spires, a very rosy picture of what academia is doing within the world of becoming green. The report, full of case studies of great activities from around the UK Universities is a must read with many of the innovations related to the built environment.

However, Bibi van der Zee writing in the Guardian Education illustrates the real world of academia – one that should put its own house in order, ‘focus on estate management, universities are huge and wasteful beasts’ and ‘move out of their comfort zone‘.

Learning curve on Radio 4 last night contained interviews on the report – listen again

One of the key priorities laid down today by John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, in his annual grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) was reducing carbon emissions emissions to help the Government achieve a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.

The Government wants universities’ performance in reducing carbon emissions to be a factor in their future capital allocations

Also of note EAUC’s (Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges) conference this year will focus on skills for sustainability – if architects and engineers don’t have the necessary sustainable skills we will never be able to achieve our carbon reduction strategies

Locally in the North West of England, SusBee (Sustainable Education in Built Environment Education) based at UCLAN , a joint academic and industry forum has just formed to address the sustainability content within all regional education. (more details here).

isite 08

For what its worth, here are my top ten themes for the built environment sector in 2008. These are not predications as such but more of an extension of what I have seen emerge in 2007 and will most likely increase their presence on agendas in 2008…and beyond …

1 Carbon supply chain management – with carbon zero and carbon neutral being the buzz for 2008, will we see a re-evaluation of the value that supply chains add from a carbon reduction perspective? Each member of a supply chain will prove its worth to the overall chain through reduction or carbon emissions in the product or service it passes on to its customer. Essential in achieving the targets before us as we move along the route to a low carbon sector

2 Construction (and fm) Carbon footprint – of the construction or maintenance process – we have little understanding of the contribution the construction process itself makes to the life of a building – estimated from 11% to the equivalent of 3 years emissions for a typical home. Not knowing your carbon footprint may well be the equivalent of not knowing your health and safety stats at the end of 2008

3 ouses, ouses, ouses – a recognition of the importance of wilderness, national parks in light of housing expansion, and the importance these areas have – as a contribution to the environmental balance as well as our collective psyche.

4 End of greenwashing – well, at least a move from anecdotal blatant greenwashing to more evidenced based claims – we will still see many guilty of the greenwashing sins though to be caught by bloggers, watchdogs and bloggers alike.

5 Social networking – private facebook type networks such as xing for collaborative working across organisations, projects, supply chains and communities of practice. The use of Web 2.0 technologies to source knowledge and best practice, leading to a re-appraisal of IP perhaps

6 Open source – An increase in the sharing of technology, knowledge on an open source creative commons approach within our industry. Maybe value will come from using technologies and knowledge rather than just ‘owning ‘ it and restricting its real potential

7 From excellence to experience – the world of quality seems to have gotten stuck in excellence mode. Yet organisations are increasingly concerned with the experience – the experience of a journey the customer or end user makes through the facility or with an organisation. Often the level and nature of this experience is determined and shaped by the front of house (or organisation) people – facilities management people!

9 Virtual assets – as more and more organisations move activities and processes on line we see the reduction in need for built physical assets – eg large HQ’s – will the fm sector come to understand the concepts of virtual assets. Will we see FM organisations within Second Life? (we already have a thriving architecture and construction community there)

10 Community based fm – this one has been bubbling around for a while – but with the increase in social responsibility, social enterprises, community owned assets and the regeneration agenda we can see more community based facilities management approaches, some small such as management of village halls, some larger such as Transition Towns

More on these in future posts – your comments and additions are more than welcome

no more greenbuild heros?

The Guardian ran a list of the top  50 heros to save the planet on Saturday.  For an industry or sector that contributes to nearly 50% of the carbon emissions and 75% of energy use – it is really sad to see we have no real heros.

Of note though:

Aubrey Meyer: musician and activist. a 60-year-old South African violinist living in a flat in Willesden, north London,  Aubrey developed the Contraction and Convergence approach that is seriously challenging developing countries.

Oh and the RIBA sustainability strategy endorses C&C and recently made an award to Aubrey.

Meyer still plays the violin every day, but seldom with an orchestra. “I just did not realise that it would take quite so long to change the world,” he says.

Other mentions are Peter Head a director of Arup master planner of the world’s first true eco city”  This you will recall won the Greenwash of 20067 award for the project that isnt. (very confusing )

and, Ken Yeang as the world’s leading green skyscraper architect and Lenardo Decaprio – for amongst others stuff  – building – Eco-Town,  a “model of green living”.

But to include Lomberg reduces the lists credibility – of the Great Warming Swindle school of thought, Lomberg is seen as a distorter of science and doing more harm than good to environmental causes

But where oh where are the green leaders and activists in our sector.  If you can think of anyone  you can join the debate  at The Guardian 

Arup pick up greenwasher of the year award

Arup and the Dongtan project has received much ranting on the Ethical Corporation (EC) website over the year so no surprises that they pick up the EC Greenwasher of the Year award .  This for the ... long announced, but never started, ‘eco-city’ in Dongtan, an island of pristine wetlands just outside the teeming city of Shanghai … more

Another EC award – which I would call the No Giraffes Killed This Year award goes to the Mercedes ….

The company’s “head of motorsport”, which provides engines to the Formula One McLaren team, told various news websites that the sport could be defended on the basis that the millions of people watching Formula One races on television were therefore not using their cars while the race was under way.

Now, looking at the greenwash sins checklist ….. Sins of Vagueness and Irrelevance nicely covered there

Any nominations closer to home?

spot the greenwashing sins

Greenwashing is a common theme on this blog and a topic I keep an igoogle eye on.  Along with carbon offsetting, green-washing can be seen as unnecessary distractors, distracting energy and focus away from the real task in hand of sustainability and ‘greening’ the built environment industries.

It was then good to note a recent report from TerraChoice,  Six Sins of Greenwashing.

The research looked at 1,018 products making 1,753 claims. And although the products studied included a wide range of offerings, from air fresheners to appliances, televisions to toothpaste, the conclusions are typical of all green advertising.  Worryingly of those products, all but one made claims that are either demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences.

The sins provide a good guide to ‘testing’ claims made by companies and or advertisements.

Happy spotting.   In fact isite will start a rogues gallery of greenwash  sins, relevant to the built environment industry – watch this space for a related blog space.  In the meantime if you spot any blatant greenwash – please leave details in the comments below.

The sins:

Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off--(made by 57 percent of all environmental claims examined)  claims that suggest a product or company is “green” based on a single environmental attribute (the recycled content of paper, for example)
Sin of No Proof (26%)–any claim that couldn’t be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information, or by a reliable third-party certification.

Sin of Vagueness (11 %)–any claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the intended consumer, such as “chemical free” or “all natural.”

Sin of Irrelevance (4 %)–claims that may be truthful but are unimportant and unhelpful for consumers, such as CFC-free products, since ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons have been outlawed since the late 1980s.

Sin of Lesser of Two Evils (1%)–environmental claims that may be true, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole, such as organic cigarettes.

Sin of Fibbing (<1%)- claims that are simply false, typically by misusing or misrepresenting certification by an independent authority, when no such certification had been made.

Greenwash Definition: Greenwash  is a term that is used to describe the actions of a company, government, or other organization which advertises positive environmental practices while acting in the opposite way.

The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green , rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product, to give the feeling of nature, for example putting an image of a forest on a bottle of harmful chemicals.Links:


Joel Makower 

Triple Bottom Line