Going green, without groaning

It’s not always easy to care for the environment, with concepts such as ‘carbon footprint’ so abstract that they’re hard to fully understand. An Ipswich writer hopes her guide to going green will blow away some of the fog. Steven Russell walked to her house (naturally) to find out more

“I’d explain to her ‘Could you try not to throw everything in the bin, altogether? Just leave it and I’ll sort it myself into piles for recycling.’ I hope my nagging pays off a little bit! That’s obviously what she does at home, and I find that shocking. And people who leave their mobile phone chargers plugged in and switched on! It just takes a second to press that button. I just don’t understand . . .”

Cora’s not looking for us all to be whiter than white – just a little greener. We don’t have to become angels to save the planet. She accepts that, strictly speaking, she could even dispense with the digital clock on her cooker by switching the appliance off when not in use, but Cora’s philosophy balances responsibility with practicality. If we all made some simple changes, they’d collectively go a long way towards cutting greenhouse gases and rationing the Earth’s resources. Hair-shirts are not required.

To help those needing a bit of a steer in the right direction, she’s written a book called Going Green – The Essential Guide. It’s designed to offer straightforward, easy-to-follow advice that requires minimal effort to put into practice – like fitting a slow-flow head to the shower to cut water use, or whitening teeth naturally with strawberry juice – and looks at steps that can be taken in the home, at work, when travelling and while shopping.

“There are some things that are such a simple change people could make: like filling your kettle with just enough water for what you need. If everyone in the UK did it, the experts say we’d save enough energy to power the UK’s streetlights for seven months. It’s such an easy thing to do, but with big benefits.”

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Her own interest in matters green was sparked about seven years ago, when she spent a couple of years on Natural Health magazine. One thing that struck her was the amount of chemicals in everyday products, particularly beauty care. “Knowing there were natural alternatives available was quite shocking.” Increasingly, she examined her own life through green spectacles and made changes where possible.

“Like I say, I’m not completely, 100%, green, because there are times when I have to take a flight; but I try to make it as environmentally-friendly as possible. For example, I might fly somewhere and then, instead of taking an internal flight, I’ll take buses or trains.

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“Around the home I’ve got recycling boxes in the kitchen and office, and have grown my own vegetables.”

So how is the UK doing?

“Recycling rates are getting better, but they’re creeping up so slowly. Green thinking is more mainstream, and people are more aware, but I think some still have this perception that going green will cost them money, or it’s too fiddly. So they don’t really give it a go. Which is a shame.”

How then do we convert the hard core who, through ignorance or stubbornness, refuse to change their ways – such as the person I know who rushed out to bulk-buy traditional light-bulbs when she heard they were being phased out? She also drives to work despite living less than two miles from the office.

“I think it’s about habit. I think perhaps the older you get, the more unlikely you are to change your ways.” Cora accepts low-energy bulbs do take a while to hit maximum intensity, “but I think you get used to it”.

So we come back again to this ingrained behaviour that’s almost impossible to reverse . . .

“That’s true. I know my mum and dad are not terribly environmental. They don’t believe in it, really. They’re like ‘I’m not going to be around’, and ‘If just I do it, it’s not going to make a big enough difference.’ So it’s the younger generation that maybe has to get behind it.”

At least there are many encouraging signs, with schools doing great work teaching children about caring for the planet.

“That’s right. And I have adapted part of the book into an assembly pack for children: how you can measure your carbon footprint and how you can lower it.”

The 31-year-old’s book sings the praises of organic food. But surely cost is a deterrent for some folk, who have to buy with an eye on their purse, even if they’d love to reform our industrialised food and farming system and so cut emissions?

“I spoke to the Soil Association about this, and they said that if people don’t buy ready-meals, and instead buy the ingredients – fresh – to make the food, it balances out the cost.

“There are certain items that have the most benefit if bought organic (such as flour, potatoes, bread and apples); so you don’t have to do a complete organic ‘shop’. Your meat could be organic, say, and you could grow your own vegetables in the garden.”

Travel is always going to be a bugbear, isn’t it? – particularly in a rural region with far-from-ideal public transport links. If I have to go from Ipswich to west Suffolk, for instance, public transport can’t really compete with the convenience of a car.

“You could cycle to the station and take the train to Bury . . . you’re not looking impressed . . .” Well, I was just imagining having to go to Mildenhall, say. For work. Public transport would take all day . . . and I can’t imagine the editor being too thrilled by my productivity rate.

“It’s not always the case. I used to drive to Colchester for my job and it would take me maybe over an hour some days because of the traffic. But if I took the train it was so much easier, though I was lucky our offices were near the Hythe station. I could walk to Ipswich station, then sit and read my book – or sit and work if I wanted to.

“You have to weigh it up. The roads are getting so much busier. And you see so many cars with just one person. If two or three people teamed up, it would make so much difference. And large companies should have some kind of car-sharing scheme.

“With public transport, I suppose you have to time your journey a little more tightly, if the buses run only at certain times. You could perhaps think ‘I’ll have to use my car, but I’ll make amends by growing my own potatoes or something.’ I don’t think you have to change everything you do. There are very few people who would actually do that.”

Given a magic wand, what would she alter?

“I would say waste, so there is less going into landfill. A lot of people say ‘This is broken’, and it gets dumped, but actually you can often repair something, or give it new life with a lick of paint. I had an old bed sheet and turned it into a pair of curtains.

“If you’re buying compost, get peat-free compost” – made from wood bark, wood fibre or green waste – “because it’s quite shocking the damage done to peat bogs by modern machinery. It can devastate precious wildlife habitats.

“You could gather together with your friends and have a community allotment. I think a lot of people are put off because they’re quite big and you think ‘Am I ever going to eat all this food?’ But with four people, if you all pitched in, you’d share all the benefits but wouldn’t have to put in so much effort.”

The first Green Party MP is now sitting in Parliament, so that’s a landmark for environmentalists to celebrate. What is needed to push us on to the next level?

“I think there will be more legislation to force businesses to make changes. It has to happen, really. If businesses start to get fined, they will soon make changes.

“If I could say one thing, it’s that some people have this idea” – if they want to follow a more environmentally-friendly agenda – “that you can’t go on holiday, or you have to eat rice all the time! You don’t. You just have to do what you can. It’s important people don’t feel overwhelmed by the idea of going green. ‘OK, I’ll stop using new carrier bags and start taking my own bags to the shops.’ That’s a step.

“The way I choose to live is that the right green step is the one that will fit in with my lifestyle, because I’m more likely to keep it up. I live near town, so I’ll walk around and I won’t need to take the car unless I’m going further afield.

“I don’t think people will make a change if it’s going to put them out. It’s finding what works for you – and finding out what your options are. It’s doing what you can, where you can. Every little thing really does help.”

n Going Green – The Essential Guide is published at �9.99 by Need2Know/Forward Press. ISBN 978 1861 440

Quick ideas to try now!

• In the home: Make sure games consoles are turned off. An Xbox consumes about 165W and a PlayStation 3 as much as 380W

• In the kitchen: Cook food in a microwave oven where possible. It uses less energy

Drink tap water rather than buying endless bottles of water. UK mains water is of very high quality and uses about 300 times less energy than is used in creating the bottled variety. And there’s no waste . . .

• At work: Convince your MD to remove the plastic cups by the water cooler and encourage everyone to bring their own mugs

• On the road: As a general rule, (in a traffic jam, say, or waiting at a level crossing) switch off the car engine if it appears you’ll be stationary for three minutes or more

• Grooming: Try making your own beauty treatments. Look for fruits that are rich in natural oils, such as avocado (great for hair) or ingredients with tightening properties (eggs for facemasks)

• With the children: Make your own baby food with good-quality organic ingredients. You can be sure about what goes into it, and avoid chemical pesticides and fertilisers

• From Going Green – The Essential Guide

Green lady

Cora Lydon grew up at Waltham Abbey in Essex

She moved to Ipswich at 18 to study early childhood studies at Suffolk College

Partway through the course she switched focus to English and business management

Her first ‘proper’ job was as an admin assistant/editorial assistant at Ipswich-based magazine Farmers’ Guide

After seven months or so she joined the East Anglian Daily Times, in about 2001/2002, working in its magazine section

After other jobs she took the plunge five years ago and became a freelance writer

She specialises in health and beauty issues but there are some regular contracts: Cora is editor of Executive PA magazine for both the UK and Australia, for instance

She lives on the fringe of Ipswich town centre

Green golly-goshes

• The volume of waste produced by UK residents in just one hour would fill the Albert Hall

• In one day the nation produces enough waste to fill Trafalgar Square up to the top of Nelson’s Column

• Over a year, the UK will fill enough dustbins with waste to stretch from the Earth to the Moon

• The average woman comes into contact with more than 515 chemical compounds every day

• The UK has a total carbon footprint of about 650 million tonnes

• The average footprint of a UK individual is about 11 tonnes annually

• According to Act on CO2, the average UK household emits 10.17 tonnes of carbon a year – enough to fill more than 344,212 party balloons or boil 548,991 cups of tea

• Just 1% of Australia’s untapped geothermal power potential could give enough energy to last 26,000 years

• The average plastic bag takes up to 500 years to decompose – and most people admit using a bag only once

Information drawn from Going Green – The Essential Guide

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