The Growing Market for Green Roofs

If all roofs were green, cities could disappear from a bird’s eye view. Green or living roofs (by which I mean a roof laid to grass or wild flowers) are so more than just a talking point. They have a real purpose; greening city landscapes, providing biodiversity, improving air and water quality and reducing sound transfer. They could also be a way to limit the damage of future floodwaters because green roofs can retain 70-80% of summer rainfall in contrast to traditional drainage systems that are unable to cope with the increasing rain water levels. Green roofs store the rainwater in plants and substrate; releasing the water back into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. I predict we’ll be seeing more green roofs in the future and not just on commercial buildings and garden sheds, but on residential housing too. I’m therefore happy to present Sky Garden – the UK’s leading independent green roof specialist. In the rest of this post they talk about the exciting project’s they’ve worked on (including the roof of a salad factory and Gloucester services) and the different systems they can offer.

All the vegetation in Sky Garden systems are locally grown and use recycled materials where possible. From the organic material and recycled brick in substrate, to the high density recycled polypropylene in our modular trays.

Green Roof Projects

Kanes Foods
Green roof kanes

One of our most exciting projects in recent times is the 6,000m² wildflower green roof on the construction of a new salad factory local to Sky Garden in rural Worcestershire. The building was designed to minimise the impact to the local environment and blend into the surrounding Cotswold Hills. The wildflower meadow on the curved roof contains specifically pre-grown wildflower blanket with species local to the Cotswolds.

British Horse Society
British Horse Society Courtesy of Kier Group copy

The iconic 2200m² sedum blanket system on the roof of the BHS offices just South of Birmingham was for employees to offer guidance on everything you need to know about riding, horse ownership and working in the industry. The ‘doughnut’ shaped building with an ancient oak tree taking centre stage offered many complexities however has since become one of the iconic sedum roofs in Britain.

Gloucester Services
Gloucester-Shoot-04 copy

The service station on the northbound side of the M5 between J11 and J12 was constructed to be different from typical service stations. The 4,000m² state of the art bio-diverse living roof is designed to disguise the new service station as part of rolling Robinswood Hills. The wildflower seed mix was chosen to match the abundant grasses and wildflowers in the area such as the Self Heal, Yellow Rattle and Birdsfoot Trefoil. The roof helps to support and preserve the pollinating insects as well as the heritage of our native British wild flora habitats.

Green Roof Systems

Sky Garden offers a variety of green roof systems to cater for every need. All the vegetation is grown by our experts at our local Gloucestershire nursery. We currently offer four standard green roof systems.

• Sedum Systems – The traditional green roof system can be either a sedum blanket or sedum plug plant green roof system. Sky Garden’s sedum blanket is a pre-grown mat of mature sedum plants compared to the sedum plug plant system being individual sedum plugs planted across the roof.

• Wildflower Systems – Sky Garden’s wildflower system includes a wildflower blanket that is sown with a seed mix of 38 species of wildflowers and grasses to create a vibrant array of colour on your roof.

• Bio-diverse Systems – Sky Garden’s bio-diverse system, also known as a ‘brown roof’ system, mimics the surrounding environment that has been lost due to development in order to reduce the ecological impact as much as possible. Often left to self-seed, the substrate is contoured to allow for a variety of native species to establish.

• Modular Systems – The modular system is made up of pre-formed cells that easily ‘click’ together to create a complete green roof quickly and without fuss. Each recyclable polypropylene tray has build in water retention and includes a filtration layer, growing substrate and sedum plants.

All green roof systems follow a similar template. A protection fleece layer adds an extra layer of defence to the waterproofing layer. Drainage and water retention layers designed specifically for living roofs. This includes a filter fleece layer to prevent blockages to the drainage of excess water. A substrate layer created from recycled brick with organic material allows for nutrient and moisture retentive growing medium. On top of this would be your vegetation layer, whether it’s a pre-grown blanket, seeded or plug planted.

For more info see www.sky-garden.co.uk

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Live Lagom: New Year’s Resolutions for Sustainable Living

wind turbines

For many, Christmas is the epitome of excess. Sitting at my parents surrounded by the last remnants of wrapping paper, overflowing bins and untouched Christmas cake overshadowed by even more delectable boxes of chocolates, I could vouch for that. In contrast, January marks a month of frugality and dieting as we struggle to cling onto the last few pounds in our bank accounts whilst shedding the extra pounds round our middles. Somewhere in-between this though, we can find ‘Lagom är bäst’ – my motto for 2016 and the title of a new project lead by Ikea and Hubbub.

Lagom är bäst’ is Swedish for ‘the right amount is best’, or ‘just enough’. It’s the focus of a large new project I’m participating in – a collaboration between Ikea, the charity Hubbub, and the University of Southampton, to help everyday households live more sustainably. I’m so excited that I can finally talk about it as I was first approached to take part back in the autumn. I’ve since attended a workshop at Ikea and had a home visit by Ikea and Hubbub workers. I have a feeling I might be the smallest household in the project with my studio flat, but across the UK around 150 households are taking part over the next few months.

What does the project involve?

P1030012

If everyone lived as we do in the UK currently we’d need the resources of three planets to support us. We all have a responsibility to cut down on our environmental impact and a huge amount of time and resources are being put into research and policy to help us do this. Yes, business and industry are major perpetrators but this doesn’t take the onus off individuals – together we can make a difference.

Live LAGOM is part experiment, part awareness-building project. The participants (who were selected via an application process through the IKEA Family network or based on current involvement with similar projects) were each given up to £500 to spend on IKEA products, specifically selected to encourage and enable sustainable living at home. Available items included LED light fittings, storage for recycling, water saving taps and heat-saving curtain liners. We had to complete an initial questionnaire about our habits and awareness and will be asked to report our progress throughout the project running until summer 2016.

I was invited to a morning workshop at my local Southampton store with six other participants where we learnt about the project and got to see some of the products IKEA have developed to help sustainable living. I was really impressed with IKEA’s dedication and the knowledge of staff as they gave us a tour of the store, learning as much about their sustainable operations as they products they sold.

All three of the project leaders are directly involved in the sustainability agenda. Even Ikea, whom I’ve long had concerns about for flogging cheap stuff to consumers who have no qualms about chucking it out when they move house or fancy a change of décor, are pioneering both sustainable living and more sustainable production. For example, Ikea are a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative, becoming the first major retailer to use 100% cotton from more sustainable sources in 2015. In addition, the IKEA Group produced renewable energy equivalent to 53% of the total energy consumption in its operations, and is on track for 100% by 2020.

HUBBUB is a new charity with a fresh approach to environmental stewardship. I’m totally on board with their ethos of focusing on the positives of making environmentally friendly choices – having fun and saving money – rather than doom and gloom lecturing. This year they ran upcycling workshops for clothing with many more activities in store for 2016. Finally, the University of Surrey have made sustainable living and sustainable development a focus of their research and engagement efforts with the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group and brand new international Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity. I’ll be very interested to see what they do with the data from the Live LAGAOM project.

My New Year’s Resolutions

vegbasket

So that’s an introduction to the project. I had my IKEA shopping trip in December. It felt odd chucking things in a trolley for free; I couldn’t bring myself to spend my whole £500! It went a long way, even by spending nearly half of it on a massive rug to keep my feet warm. I will collect my shopping this week and will prepare future blog updates around my progress on the resolutions listed below. In general, I think I do alright with my sustainability efforts – I don’t have a tumble drier, I’m careful with water, I recycle, and I love buying second-hand goods. That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement so my resolutions for 2016 are:

1. Zero food waste. I don’t waste much food but I do waste some – the slimy lettuce, stale bread, over abundance of cooked rice, etc. Living alone it’s fairly easy to keep track of but I have a habit of buying a weeks’ worth of veg forgetting that I’m away for a long weekend so my aim for 2016 is to be scrupulously careful with food. I have some great new containers from IKEA to help. They’re glass (so no worries about leaching plastic) but with a secure plastic lid. I love them! One thing that really upsets me is the fact that living in a flat I have nowhere to put my compost waste. There’s not much I can do about this but I do plan to ask the freeholder if they’d consider a composting area outside. I also want to forage for my own food more and have lined up a course I want to take to learn more about it.

2. Stop wasting heat. I have drafty windows with little if no insulation. Being in a top floor flat only one of my four windows has curtains (two are skylights) and even those are incredibly thin. I got new curtains, blackout liners and blinds from IKEA so expect a post on my efforts at fitting those!

3. Achieve 100% recycling. I have good recycling – Southampton City Council take plastic, tins, paper and glass and I’m mostly good with it but occasionally you just can’t be bothered to wash a jar, right? I’m sure I’m not alone with this? I could do more basically – very little needs to go in my bin.

4. Save water. Again, I do think about water consumption but there is more I can do. I’ve started to be innovative already, like filling up my hot water bottle with water used to steam vegetables (beware of spillage) but I can save even more by taking fewer baths and shorter showers, and using the washing up bowl acquired at IKEA rather than filling up the sink.

Some of my IKEA products will help me live more sustainably without changing my habits. I already turn lights off when I’m not in a room, but my new LED light bulbs will save me up to 80% of energy I’m currently using. Similarly, an electric timer attached to the plug will end the need to keep phones charging all night.

Watch this space for future blog updates!

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Shopping for ethical wood flooring

ethicalwoodflooring

When I moved into my flat nearly three years ago the excitement of having my own place to decorate and do up was overshadowed by a lack of time and money to really do what I wanted to it. I got a new kitchen but it was cheap, and now my oven has broken and so has the cupboard door. I’m also still waiting to have it tiled (although I have recently purchased the tiles!). However, I did find ways to put my stamp on the place, and for me that meant a lot of second-hand furniture. Your home should be an extension of yourself, so for me that means trying to live in a healthy and ethical environment, warm but admittedly a little bit shabby. Buying second-hand furniture let me ‘save’ proper solid wood pieces from landfill and give them a new home.

Part of the second-hand magic is not really knowing where that item has come from. Right now I’m sat at my 1950s desk typing this blog. Who else has been sat at this desk? What did they write? Would did they have to say? It’s mindboggling! Of course, the unknown isn’t always desirable. When I buy anything new I want the exact opposite. I want to know where that item has come from and who made it. And often that’s tricky to find out.

What’s FSC wood?

If you’re buying new furniture, wood flooring, decking or kitchen worktops you can sleep soundly at night by choosing FSC certified products. FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting responsible and sustainable forestry. Founded twenty years ago, FSC work with forest owners, businesses and communities to ensure forested areas remain environmentally and socially sustainable. They provide principles for managing forests well, helping communities benefit from the land whilst ensuring that harvested trees are replaced or allowed to rejuvenate naturally.

The FSC audit forests through trusted partners such as the Soil Association, putting their name and logo to wood that meets their ethical principles. The certified chain of custody tracks timber through the supply chain so we, as consumers, can trust wood and paper products with the FSC logo as having been produced in a responsible manner. It is the only forestry scheme endorsed by major charities like WWF and Greenpeace and as such has become a desirable certification for retailers to acquire.

A great one-stop shop for FSC certified wood flooring, decking and wooden kitchen worktops is www.woodandbeyond.com. Sourced straight from the manufacturer, Wood and Beyond are able to offer a wide range of quality, ethical wood flooring at competitive prices. If you need advice on the best wood flooring options for your home, check out this simple guide.

How else can you make your home ‘ethical’?

It’s important to me to live in a healthy, sustainable environment. Another thing I looked into when I redecorated my flat was environmentally friendly and healthy paint. According to the Guardian the constituents of conventional paints may include formaldehyde, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. None of those things are particularly good but luckily there are plenty of alternatives available from the likes of Ecos Organics Paints and earthborn. Plus, if you can’t live without Farrow and Ball, they do eco paint too!

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January Sales on Ethical Fashion, Eco Living and Sustainable Style

Ethical fashion often gets criticized for being too expensive compared to the staple high street stores. Sale season therefore offers a great opportunity to try out a new brand or treat yourself to something you wouldn’t normally buy with many eco brands offering brilliant deals online and in stores.

Over at Ethical High Street I round up some of the sale offers available for womenswear, menswear and kidswear. You can check them all out here.

Other ethical fashion and sustainable clothing brands on sale include:
whomadeyourpants – 30% off pants ethically made in Southampton.
Chinti and Parker – up to 70% off mens and womenswear including 100% cashmere knits.
High-fashion led pieces at COSSAC
Mens and womens casual wear at Howies
Beyond Skin – 30% off vegan shoes
Pure Collection – Up to 70% off cashmere
Mud & Water – up to 50% off womenswear
Liv – sale on clothing and gifts

Classic Arun knit from Liv, produced by British knitters Peregrine. Now £47.40 from £79

Classic Arun knit from Liv, produced by British knitters Peregrine. Now £47.40 from £79

Taking a look at the offers available from Ethical Superstore is a must. The online shop stocks everything from ethical fashion to eco kettles all now on sale. The Christmas clearance includes discounts on ethically produced decorations and Divine chocolate. They have special offers all year round and free delivery on purchases over £50. See for yourself at http://www.ethicalsuperstore.com/
wooden-elephant-block

Finally, what if you received an unwanted gift this year? Or the kids got duplicate presents? You can use the boot sale app Shpock to turn those items into cash by selling them on in your local area. Find out more here. It’s the perfect environmentally-friendly way of selling things on or buying second-hand items locally.

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Organic & Fairtrade Options for Chocolate Week 2013

Chocolate

It’s Chocolate Week, scientifically proven to be the nation’s favourite week! For the entire seven days between 14th to 20th October, you have an excuse to delight in all things chocolaty. There is even an exhibition – Salon du Chocolat London, which takes place from 18th to 20th October at National Hall, Olympia. Not only will there be everything you’d expect from an exhibition of this sort – demonstrations, talks and samples, visitors will also be able to experience a live fashion show showcasing outfits made entirely of . . . chocolate.

I’m a strong believer in everything in moderation and certainly have my fair share of chocolate cravings. That said, I think quality is really important. If you buy good quality chocolate it’s too expensive and rich to overindulge with anyway (in theory). Much like the fashion industry, there is a dark side to the beauty that is chocolate. Fairtrade and organic chocolate is readily available, even the big brands are moving in this direction, but why should we be buying organic or Fairtrade chocolate and which is more important?

For one of my art A-level projects I looked at this very issue. I can’t remember what the theme was now (the exam board always give you a keyword or theme to work with – it would be interesting to know what this one was) but I decided to do something about cocoa supply chains. Hey, it’s modern art! I remember being told by my teacher that my initial idea was too superficial, I needed to dig deeper. Of course, when I came back the following week with lots of conceptual ideas about the exploitation of cocoa farmers by big business – the unseen truth behind the chocolate wrapper – I was told I was overthinking it. Teachers; forever changing their mind.

Fairtrade

In the UK alone, the chocolate market is worth almost £4million. The biggest companies spend up to 10% of their profit margins on marketing to ensure they keep their sales high. The problems faced by cocoa farmers are akin to the problems faced by growers of other crops across the globe. Farmers are paid lowly for their harvest, plus as the market price for cocoa fluctuates the farmers have little security. Slave labour and human trafficking is rife, as is child labour. Essentially, cocoa farmers are being exploited in order for us to have a 4pm treat with our cappuccino.

The good news is that the use of Fairtrade cocoa has grown exponentially in recent years. In 1998, Divine, the first ever Fairtrade chocolate bar aimed at the mass market was launched into the UK confectionery market. Divine drives a whole new business model, a co-operative of cocoa farmers in Ghana own shares in the company. Of the big brands, Cadbury’s now solely uses Fairtrade cocoa beans in their Dairy Milk bars and Mars and Nestle have incorporated it into some of their supply chains. In 2013, Fairtrade certified cocoa makes up 11% of the chocolate sold in the UK.

Organic

Just because chocolate is Fairtrade it doesn’t mean it is organic. Cocoa beans are highly prone to disease so chemical pesticides help to eliminate this risk. Divine chocolate for example, is not certified organic. On their website Divine states:

“As cocoa is vital to the Ghanaian economy, the Ghanaian cocoa board is being cautious about introducing organic production [risk of crop disease would endanger farmers’ livelihoods]. Until enough tests have been done on organically approved pesticides in the Ghanaian context, introducing organic cocoa farming is considered high risk. If and when organic farming is considered safe, Kuapa Kokoo will undoubtedly consider its potential. Until then Divine is not certified organic – but it is worth noting that as pesticides are too expensive for most Kuapa farmers they rely largely on natural crop protection methods already.”

Divine is still a high quality product, so you don’t have to worry about any nasty ingredients but if organic production methods are important to you, for your own health and the planet, then you should look to buy organic chocolate from Green & Blacks, Montezumas, Hotel Chocolat and smaller brands from health shops.

Personally I would recommend prioritising Fairtrade, choose the Fairtrade certified chocolate to support farmers and show the big brands that you are voting with your feet (or taste buds).

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Ecozone Ecoballs a Laundry Revolution!

Ecoballs

If you follow my tweets you might have seen me proclaim how I went around the Lanes in Brighton a few weeks ago and all I bought were a couple of cards and these Ecoballs. I went to Portobello Road Market last weekend and bought nothing – what is happening to me? Years of studying shopping has really taken the fun right out of it. Anyway, it was Ecozone not me who called these balls a laundry revolution but they do have a point. Ecoballs replace regular laundry detergents as an eco-friendly way to do your clothes wash and save money at the same time.

Every time you wash your clothes with normal chemical detergents, the waste water enters the environment. Ecoballs are a natural alternative to detergents, they go straight into your wash drum and their ‘scientifically formulated ingredients work hard to wash dirt clean away’. They don’t contain soap, and are hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial. So far I have found them to be great. I always limited the amount of detergent I used anyway, so my clothes never smelt particularly fragranced post-wash but I know some people would miss the fragranced ‘fresh’ laundry smell you get from chemical detergents. In that instance you can still use fabric softener with the Ecoballs.

The Ecoballs aren’t cheap to buy but once you have them they can do 150 washes if you follow the recommended wash cycle, costing out to around 8p per wash. They also claim to help you save water, but standing in the shop I couldn’t work out why that might be the case. When I asked the shop assistant he explained that it is because as they contain no soap, you do not need to rinse clothes and hence only need a shorter wash. I’ve scanned my washing machine manual though, and can’t find a setting which doesn’t rinse. This means that not only am I not saving water, but my Ecoballs probably won’t last the promised 150 washes which as this promise is based on using their optimum 30 minute wash.

When the pellets inside the casing of the Ecoballs decrease in size significantly, and the balls themselves feel much lighter, I will need to but refill the pellets. I haven’t tried, but I imagine this might be quite tricky because the casing of the balls, by their very nature to withstand the washing drum, has to be tight. I haven’t used them to wash anything well soiled, but they did come with a stain remover just in case. All in all, I’m pretty smug about my Ecoballs.

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