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How many planets will you need?

Alison Guscott 25 Sep 2015

This week is World Green Building Week. They have a clever little calculator which works out your environmental impacts, and how many planets we would need if everyone lived like you.

Turns out I’m not as good as I hoped! But this living green malarkey is hard. I try not to ramp up the heating, use a shower not a bath, make sure there are no dripping taps, and am thrifty almost to the point of hoarding...but I still scored poorly.

So where am I going wrong? Or what I should really be asking is how can I do better?

There are a few relatively simple things I could do, which may take a bit of effort to break old and make new habits, but in the long term are not hard. I could rethink my eating habits. Having just one meat-free day each week could reduce my impacts and is probably better for my purse and health. I do grow some of my own produce, but I don’t always buy local or organic.

Another easy win is paper. At BAM part of our environmental policy is to procure paper from FSC, PEFC or >70% recycled content sources. But at home, it seems I forget. I make sure I use both sides of my paper, but this has been a reminder to also buy sustainable paper.

I do score points in regards to land use and wildlife. I have an undisturbed area under a tree in the garden where I have left old logs and stones, and have seen all sorts of wildlife including newts and a woodpecker too. Not only is it good for wildlife, but it looks nice and reduces the area of lawn that needs cutting!

My big losers, and probably the two hardest areas to tackle, were home and transport.

I would love to be someone who enjoys cycling, and bikes to and from work. But I don’t. I drive. Could I cycle or take the bus? Technically yes, but with everything going on in our modern, hectic daily lives this is often not a practical option. This is where technology must step in. Living sustainably is not about taking things out of our lives, or lowering our quality of life – it’s about improving it. As green technologies improve, transport becomes more efficient, and green infrastructure is invested in, my options will open up and I will be able to choose realistic alternatives to reduce my footprint.

My home was another big loser. I live in a fairly old, detached house, and although it has had energy efficiency improvements made to it, like extra insulation and double glazing, it will never be an eco-flat. This is again where technology and the industry are stepping in. New houses and developments are being designed with energy efficiency in mind, making homes warmer, brighter, cheaper to run and more comfortable. Although I’m not quite willing to up sticks and move, new house designs and developments will make Britain’s homes better places to live.

This World Green Building Week, don’t feel too bad about not being as green as grass. But also don’t think that to live sustainably you have to live in a wooden shack with no car and say no to technology.

Sustainability is about saying yes – to trying new things and to challenging the status quo. As long as you are aware of your impacts and constantly asking if you could do things differently, you are encompassing sustainability.


Alison Guscott is a Sustainability Advisor at BAM.

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