Resource use

We recognise the inequity of our current consumption patterns in which we are using up a greater share of the planet’s resources and that the poor are most vulnerable to climatic change.

The Last Post: Sustainable Bristol website is being archived

by Paul Rainger

26 August 2014

archiveThe various Sustainable Bristol projects set up in 2008 by Forum for the Future have completed, and so this website content will now become archive only.

The “BIG Green Week Festival” project to showcase the best of sustainable Bristol is now carrying on as a stand alone Community Interest Company on their website here.

The aim of the other Sustainable Bristol projects were to help the city become the first in the UK to win the European Green Capital ward. This was successfully achieved and you can follow Bristol 2015 on their website here.

For all other Bristol environmental developments see the on-going Bristol Green Capital Partnership website here.

As a result of archiving this website, the corresponding Sustainable Bristol Facebook and LinkedIn pages will be closed down in September.


Want to take control of your energy costs?

by Paul Rainger

01 May 2014

Solarsense - May Open Day bannerWant to get up close and personal with a full range of renewable technologies? Want to understand all about the Feed-in Tariff and the recently launched Renewable Heat Incentive?

Or just want to try a test drive of the new BMW i3 electric car?!

Solarsense - logoThen the Solarsense Open Day coming up on Saturday May 10th is for you. Plus it is the perfect opportunity to visit their carbon-neutral Technology Park and offices with working demonstrations of all the technologies.

The event will run from 10am – 2pm with refreshments provided.

Solarsense - May Open Day poster

The Business of Fast Fashion

by Paul Rainger

18 March 2014

Business of Fast FashionThe FareFashion 2014 event at Bristol’s BIG Green Week festival this June will again be celebrating the ethical designers who are changing their industry.

Hosted this year by The One Show’s Lucy Siegle, watch the highlights of this sell-out event last year, and then buy your discount early bird tickets for this June’s events on sale now.

This short MBA video below on the throw away Fast Fashion industry generating two million tons of waste a year shows why the campaign for ethical fair fashion is so important.

Well documented social injustice is just one of the skeletons lurking in fashion’s closet. There’s also the industry’s devastating environmental toll to consider, from rivers flowing denim blue, to the uncertain legacy of “Frankenpants” cut from GM cloth! FareFashion 2014 will once again be an event not to be missed.

Created by

Bristol’s Open Energy Data Challenge

by Paul Rainger

07 March 2014

energy challenge logoBristol’s open energy data challenge is on, and you could win £40,000!

But hurry, you need to register your interest in the competition by the 16th March – full details here.

The winners get the cash to use open data to develop services that support communities to buy cheaper energy, use it more efficiently, or potentially to make their own.

The Bristol challenge invites teams including businesses, startups, social enterprises, community groups, academics, students and special interest groups to collaborate and compete with each other to use open data to build these energy services that support communities.

The UK faces huge challenges in the area of energy: the costs of energy in our homes and businesses are increasing, we are struggling to limit our greenhouse gas emissions and we are reliant on energy from abroad which ultimately raises questions about our energy security. At the same time we now have access to more data than before on the nature of our energy consumption and other factors which affect our energy use, much of this being available as open data. In response to this the Open Data Institute and Nesta are running this open data challenge with Bristol City Council around the theme of energy and the environment, to help catalyse new organisations to use the open data available to develop products and services that tackle these issues.

Cameron, our new King Canute

by Paul Rainger

18 February 2014

King CanuteIn case you’ve missed it, Britain is now officially at war. Here’s our news from the home front, published last week in the Bristol Post.

Every Prime Minster needs a good war. Mrs Thatcher had the Falklands. Tony Blair had a dodgy dossier on Iraq. On the 30th January David Cameron called the army into Somerset. Like a modern day King Canute, Cameron has declared war on water.

News from the front so far has not been good. The marines lost the battle of Moorland, their mortars and tanks presumably proving less effective than the high volume water pumps of the Environment Agency and Fire Brigade already deployed.

The Mayor of Bristol was soon in action too, using the City’s emergency flood barrier for the first time, and the Council Reservists held back the storm surge’s high tide.

But a surprise attack by rising sea levels at Dawlish washed away the train line, prompting Boris Johnson to call again on Parliament to declare all trains and tubes ‘national infrastructure’ thereby solving any such future problems by simply making the whole thing illegal!

Of course behind every flooded home and business at the moment is a story of personal heartbreak and tragedy. But when the current storms have abated, we all will be left with serious questions we must address as a nation.

Because in ten or twenty years time we will look back on this as just the start. We will get more and more extremes of weather created by climate change. Last week the Government’s own Chief Scientific Adviser was in Bristol warning us of just this.

But once again our current short-term politicians are showing themselves incapable of grasping these long-term global problems. The Government’s crisis knee-jerk response is to talk of dredging and how much flood defence concrete you can pour.

To hell with the science that shows water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate of soil under grass. We’ll continue to promote intensive farming and pay farmers to cut down the trees and scrub that absorb the water. We’ll ignore the expert advice of river mangers that dredging can speed up flow and increase the risk of flooding downstream. And we will certainly ignore the advice of the Environment Agency not to build housing estates in flood plains.

For now, King Cameron Canute is at war. We shall fight on the eroding beaches. We shall fight on the land where we have removed the natural drainage, and we shall fight in the housing estates we have built on the flood plains.

Although David Cameron might want to take note. Professor Simon Keynes of Cambridge University says everyone gets the Canute story wrong. The king had his chair carried down to the shore and ordered the waves not to break upon his land. When his orders were ignored, he pronounced: “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless”. 

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June.

The Torres or Darren Brent of Insulation? It’s a No Brainer!

by Paul Rainger

09 January 2014

Kendal Town FCIt’s a numbers game. This month’s Sustainable Bristol column in the Bristol Post is a heady mix of football and home insulation…

Christmas is an ideal time of the year to reflect on how so much of our lives is dictated by tradition. We do things because it’s the way it’s always been done. From Football Managers to Home Owners.

So groaning from our traditional over eating of turkey, my brother in law was delighted with his gift of ‘The Numbers Game’. This entertaining book uses statistics to tell you why everything you know about football is wrong.

It reveals gems like why stopping a goal is more valuable than scoring one, and why statistically, rather than spending £50 million on Torres, Chelsea would have been better off paying half that for Darren Brent.

But it’s not just Football Managers who cling to the dogma and tradition, us Home Owners are just as bad. Take the current anger over high energy bills. Worrying about the cost of energy is what we always do.

Of course our politicians are right to challenge the big six energy companies. They seem to display all the arrogance and rip-off attitude of the bankers before them, instantly passing on every energy price increase, but slowly if at all reducing bills when the energy price falls. Fortunately lots of green energy suppliers are rapidly growing and exposing the out of date business practises of the big six.

But here’s the thing if you play the numbers game. The statistics reveal that UK energy prices are actually below the European average. And worse than that, worrying about the cost of energy is like someone on a diet complaining about the number of calories in their food, instead of looking at the amount of food being eaten. It’s dealing with the symptoms not the causes.

If you follow the numbers our politicians would be campaigning for energy efficiency, not for lower prices.

For all the current anger, Government ‘action’ over energy bills will save you on average £53 in 2014. That will soon disappear in the coming years as the cost of generating energy continues to rise. Insulate your home properly instead and you can save around £300 to £600 a year. And that saving gets bigger year on year as energy prices go up.

To put it in context, just getting some draft excluder is likely to save you about the same fifty quid as the Government’s energy bill ‘action’.

Bristol based eco company Sustain Ltd produced some other interesting statistics. They found that 88% of Bristolians are worried about increasing energy prices, but 40% say they do not understand the energy efficiency measures they can take at home to cut their energy bills.

So here’s my suggestion for a New Year’s resolution. Don’t get stuck with Torres when you should have bought Darren Brent, just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Stop worrying about energy bills, and fully insulate your home in 2014 instead. It really is a no brainer.

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June.

Hail the Humble Grit Bin

by Paul Rainger

05 December 2013

Grit BinIn December’s Sustainable Bristol column in The Bristol Post we hail the humble winter grit bin as a harbinger of the city’s future resilience.

It may seem a long way from the news of 100 extra Grit Bins in Bristol, to the on-going Typhoon Haiyan relief effort in the Philippines, but there is a lot the World can learn from the humble grit bin.

It’s all about ‘resilience’. That’s helping people to help themselves recover from difficult situations. And resilient communities are what we are going to need in spades in the coming years, from Bristol to the Philippines, to help people cope with climate change.

It’s a depressing time for environmental scientists at the moment. The cost of climate change is becoming ever clearer. From the cost to taxpayers like you and me for the Council to still be cutting the grass in our parks in December, to international relief efforts, like that in the Philippines, as more and more extreme weather disasters hit us. Yet as these dangers become clearer, our politicians seem perversely less and less able to act. No wonder the Russell Brand generation has given up on politics.

So we are going to need to help ourselves more. To be more resilient. To be prepared as we used to say in the Scouts.

I used to work with a charity that helps countries like the Philippines to be better prepared for disasters. In earlier emergencies, like the Pakistan earthquake or Bangladeshi floods, more people are often at risk from disease and starvation after the disaster has struck, than from the original disaster itself. One solution is a sort of yellow emergency bin, not full of grit, but full of animal feed and veterinary supplies in secure locations above flood zones. Then people can help themselves, not just wait around for outside aid to arrive.

If Bristol was to flood again, should we sit around waiting for help, or would it be better to have community wardens with access to some basic equipment stored in their community, so that neighbours could get together and help each other?

It’s an approach that could even help our cash starved Councils do things differently with less. And Bristol is already leading in a small way on this with its plans to cope with any winter snow and ice.

The City has 100 extra grit bins being installed, and has recruited nearly 100 volunteer community snow wardens equipped with snow shovels to help clear paths.

I was amazed in the past few winters of prolonged cold spells by how few people bothered to clear their own path when the snow first fell, leaving it to turn to crushed ice making it deadly for everyone. In many American cities where snow is common it is illegal not to clear the path outside your house.

So if we have a white Christmas, get out there and help clear your pavement. That big yellow grit bin might just be a glimpse of our more resilient future.

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June.

Working on my green Christmas list for Santa

by Paul Rainger

09 November 2013

Green ChristmasThe clocks have gone back and now there are just six more Saturdays until Christmas – yes, I know!

Definitely time then to start work on my green Christmas list for Santa. I’ve got three things so far…

First up I would actually like to return an unwanted recent gift from HM Government. Namely the billion-pound-a-year taxpayers’ subsidy just agreed to build a new Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

Of course in Orwellian Government speak it isn’t a subsidy. No, the nuclear reactor will be built by French (EDF) and Chinese investors, bizarrely all in the name of UK ‘energy security’ you understand. But we guarantee these investors will make a profit thanks to the taxpayer agreeing to buy the electricity generated for the next 35 years at a fixed price, about double that of the actual price today. That’s a massive billion-pound-a-year subsidy rip-off. Imagine what the British economy could do instead if that £35 billion went into making the UK the manufacturing centre for renewable energy for the world.

Personally I don’t want to create a society that has to live with the disproportionate risks associated with nuclear accidents and the storage of deadly nuclear waste for some centuries to come. Perhaps Father Christmas can deliver us some UK politicians with the courage and vision to copy the German Government’s investment in a 100% clean renewable energy future.

Secondly, I am hoping Santa might get me one of these new 3D Printers which have just started going on general sale.

According to the media hype, these 3D Printers will become a bit like replicators in Star Trek, producing objects out of thin air. But if you’ve seen one actually printing a small plastic widget, you’ve probably wondered like me, what all the fuss is about.

But I thought back to 1983 when my friend Paul got one of the first ever paper printers for his Sinclair Spectrum ZX80. It produced a practically useless shopping till like silver strip of paper. It was state of the art!

If these first 3D Printers improve as fast as paper printers did over the next twenty years then perhaps we are in for a revolution after all. And what excites me is the potential this technology has to spark a revival in repairing things and ending our current throw away culture. Imagine your washing machine door catch breaks, or a knob on your car comes away. No more rip-off by the manufacture, just print your own new bit and repair it yourself.

Finally Santa, a pint in my Christmas stocking from the Hofmuhl Brewery in Germany would go down nicely. Thanks to a combination of solar power and bioenergy, this German beer manufacturer is the first to become 100% self-sufficient. Just part of Germany’s investment in a 100% non-nuclear renewable energy future of course. Now I’ll raise a Christmas pint to that.

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June. This article was first published in The Bristol Post on 29th October 2013.

Facing up to the British Energy Challenge

by Helen Burley

15 October 2013

British Energy ChallengeHow should Britain power its energy future? Our ageing power infrastructure means expensive decisions need to be taken soon – decisions which will not only determine our energy mix for the next 30+ years and how much we pay, but which will also impact our ability to tackle climate change, specifically in terms of meeting the carbon targets, set by the UK Committee on Climate Change.

To help explore the complexities, the UK Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change is currently roadshowing the British Energy Challenge, complete with interactive computer model, allowing you to pick and choose your energy variables. Last week they came to Bristol and put the challenge to a packed Passenger Shed.

Bristol, has already embraced this challenge, as the city’s mayor, George Ferguson, pointed out at the start of the session. The city has already committed to reducing energy demand through energy efficiency measures in homes, and will invest one third of its energy budget in clean energy supplies.

What is more, Bristol will be ideally placed as European Green Capital in 2015 to act as a test-bed for trying out new ideas, he said. The opportunity to become “a laboratory for change”… But he added that cities needed to be given far greater control of their energy supplies so that they could play a bigger role in the providing solutions.

Giving cities more powers to make decisions was one of the few options that DECC’s Energy Challenge did not seem to have considered. The model provides a bewildering array of options from turning down the nation’s thermostats, to putting the brakes on economic growth – with everything from less livestock, zero emission transport and more community-owned power generation between.


DECC's calculator

DECC’s calculator

Sitting on the panel, Grand Designs presenter and building guru Kevin McCloud divided the audience with a call to make greater use of Britain’s tidal energy by building a Severn Barrage; and Beatrice Orchard from the Federation of Master Builders caused a similar split with her proposal to boost growth by building more nuclear power.

There was more overwhelming support for reducing livestock levels by 25% (and eating less meat), increasing solar power fivefold by 2030, building more offshore and onshore wind, And the audience suggested we could go far further than the options given in reducing emissions from aviation (the model assumes passenger numbers will grow), and travelling less, with far less by car (again the model didn’t seem to think we could possibly cut domestic travel to less than the current average 14,000 km a year, or that we could reduce journeys by car to less than 62%).

Options for flying less?

Options for flying less?

Yet despite some radical choices from the Bristol audience, our 2050 carbon emissions were still above target, and with opinion divided on nuclear generation and opposed to cutting energy use by industry, there was also the possibility that the lights might go off.

Sometimes choices proved counter-intuitive – building a barrage across the Severn seemed to need more gas-fired power to cover low points in supply; lowering the temperature of our homes had more of an impact on emissions than investing in extensive domestic energy efficiency measures. Although of course, these choices are not either / or.

The model is open source – and people are invited not only to play with it and explore the options, but also to improve the background data if they can. There is also a simplified version to play with as well. Changing the level of ambition within the government might not be so easy…  but if Bristol’s mayor gets his way, and cities are given more power, maybe Bristol can show them how it’s done.

Happy Birthday Bristol Pound

by Paul Rainger

17 September 2013

One Bristol PoundThis Thursday is the first birthday of Bristol’s local money. It already feels like the Bristol Pound has been in our wallets forever. But no, it was only 12 months ago the city’s local currency launched in a blizzard of international media coverage around the globe.

Today there may be claims the UK is coming out of recession, but the economic case for local currencies remains crystal clear. Every £1 you spend normally supports about 20p of additional local economic activity. Every B£1 you spend in a local currency generates about £4 of additional economic activity as the local money stays in the local supply chain.

So one year later, with over 600 local business across the city trading in Bristol Pounds, and over £200,000 of the local currency in circulation, Bristol’s regional economy has much to celebrate.

Bristol, which will be European Green Capital in 2015, is not only the first city scale local currency in the UK, it also incorporates a cutting edge technology TXT to Pay on your mobile phone.

Now to celebrate its first birthday, from this week, city residents can also use Bristol Pounds on city buses in a world first for a national company supporting a local currency.

So happy birthday Bristol Pound, and here is to many more to come!


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