Macmillan earns its green stripes

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I started working at Macmillan Cancer Support in August this year. I might not be working for the environment lobbyist or think-tank that I was aiming for, but I enjoy every day at this charity and being happy in the work place is totally underrated for such an important thing. Besides, it could well be a case of ‘the grass is greener’…

Speaking of green, Macmillan’s branding, as you may already know, is coloured in a series of greens. But how ‘green’ is Macmillan as an organisation?

I recently joined Macmillan’s Eco Committee, and I was overjoyed to find an outlet for my enviro-energy within the workplace. It’s not the biggest group going, considering the size of the organisation as a whole, but it’s had its successes and I’m keen to see it grow. I started my involvement by going to a Lunch & Learn called ‘Is your pension fuelling climate change?’ back in November. It was hosted by the Eco Committee and Share Action, an NGO dedicated to getting organisations to divest their pensions. What I learnt was that the answer is yes. BOO.

But then it turns out that it’s actually extremely difficult to divest your pension entirely from fossil fuels, unless you have the money to afford a financial advisor….. aaaand most of us don’t. Especially, if like me, you work for a charity. Aaaaaaand, there’s a dilemma here because a lot of charity workers are ethically-minded and would likely divest if they were aware of another available option.

Today, some long-standing members of the Mac Eco Group, ShareAction, and me – went to meet with our pension provider Legal & General at their offices to talk through their proposed ethical option, the Future World Fund. Ed Davey from the Prince’s International Sustainability Unit was there too, as he is on the admirable mission to get the royal household to divest!

So, what I learnt from our meeting with Emma Douglas and Meryam Omi of L&G – who have been fighting from within the company since day one – was that the Future World Fund is far from ideal. But it is a great first step.

“When you choose your fund, you are financing your future – you have a say and a stake in the world” – Meryam Omi, Legal & General

Amongst other things, the feature that sparked the most debate was the fact that the fund would still involve some investment in fossil fuels. It would exclude coal to a large extent, and have increased investment in renewable energy, but it would be far from pure divestment. However, Anne-Marie of ShareAction made the point that it is not currently realistic to divest entirely, as we live in a world still so dependent on fossil fuels. In ShareAction’s view, divestment needs to be a transition coupled with engagement with energy companies to allow a chance for change to come from within the sector. I can see where they’re coming from; it’s a don’t run before you can work scenerio… perhaps? Either way, it’s incredibly frustrating for those who want to see change fast.

We discussed in details the VAST national problem of financial illiteracy. As individuals, we are not seeking knowledge on our pensions. As pension providers, they’re not making this knowledge easily available. And, as employers, they’re not taking any responsibility to teach their employees about the ins and outs of pensions. Even at charities… where you’d think we’d practice ethics?!

The new auto-enrollment laws have not helped with this. Now, every employee is signed up to a pension automatically so there’s no need to actively seek information on pensions… for a lot of people.

One easy way to help reduce financial illiteracy from within the workplace would be to make it mandatory for all employees to read a document or, better still, watch a short video introducing how pensions work and their options for making their investments more ethical. At Macmillan, this would be easy to implement into the ‘New Starter Checklist’ that all new employees have to complete within their first month. And if information on the Future World Fund was made obvious and accessible at that point, I believe that it would be a no-brainer for most.

*The Future World Fund should be ready to roll out to all members of Macmillan staff by April. This will be at an extra cost – but worth it when considering the real issue of future stranded assets!

My New Year’s Resolutions

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As today marks the threshold of yet another year (a pretty challenging and worrying one ahead in many ways, for the environment and otherwise) I thought I would introduce my personal resolutions and goals for 2017, in the hope that putting finger to keyboard and publishing them to cyberspace will help make me stick to them.

ONE: Don’t give up on this blog – in fact, up the ante.

To be honest, around the end of September this year, I had a bit of a crisis of confidence and considered sacking-in Flickthegreen. I had been lacking in energy and inspiration to write, and I felt like nobody was really listening anyway.

Then, as if my mind had been read, I received an email a couple of days later from a man called Dave Wakley:

Hi Felicity,

I came across your website whilst trawling the internet for stuff about Finisterre (clothing). I’m not in the habit of writing to/contacting anyone out of the blue, but I was so inspired and cheered by your blog that I had to tell someone – the best person for that you seem to be you.

I’m so lifted in spirit by your energy and feeling for the planet/people/life, and I like to think that there are many more like you out there. I’m 53, lacking in energy, and probably part of the generations responsible for the way things are now. I have two daughters, Agnes who’s 11 and Freya who’s 9. They can, and will be whatever they want to be in life, but I’d very much like them to be something like you when it comes to principle and action and approach to life. I’m going to show them your blog when they get back from school. You never know – you could be inspirational.

Anyway, if your still reading; keep on doing what you’re doing. I have a good feeling about the future knowing that you and your ilk (is that a word?) are fighting for a more just world.

Kind regards

Dave 

If I hadn’t been at work at the time, I definitely would have had a little cry. It made me so happy to know that I had touched somebody, even just one Dave, with my blog. After all, “you never know – you could be inspirational”. This email came just at the right time and I believe that it was a sign. Hopefully I’ll stand side-by-side with Agnes and Freya at climate marches to come. And yes, Dave, ‘ilk’ is a word.

The Trump travesty has taught us that 2017 is not the year to be slacking in our fight for the environment. I plan to up the ante, not only via my blog, but also through eco-activism. February brings the start of my Non-Violent Direct Action journey with Greenpeace, and it can’t come soon enough.

TWO: Spend less time on social media.

I’m ashamed to admit that I tend to check my phone obsessively. This needs to stop.

THREE: Get out on the bike more – and I don’t mean just for the commute.

I am lucky to have been gifted my Dad’s old road bike and it’s a dream to ride. So I want to take her on some trips worthy of her time. Starting with London to Brighton and back, perhaps the London 100, and then, who knows… Land’s End to John O’Groats?! 

FOUR: Save some money.

A girl can dream.

FIVE: Cook more. And go for recipes that avoid cheese.

I have some great cookbooks that I’ve barely pursued, and James and I becoming vegetarian has left us clinging to meat’s fatty and flavoursome bi-product. I got a slow-cooker for Christmas so black dhal is so on the menu.

SIX: Go bouldering for real.

James and I go indoor bouldering at The Arch in Bermondsey at least once a week, but it’s about time we save up, buy a bouldering mat then hit the actual rock. There are boulders with dozens of routes plonked in a few parks dotted around London, so we’ll probably start there.

SEVEN: See more live music.

This one is off to a good start as we’ve just bought tickets to see BadBadNotGood in May.

All aboard the Esperanza with Greenpeace

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Last Sunday I had the absolute pleasure of being invited amongst other volunteers to board one of Greenpeace’s iconic research boats; the Esperanza.

Launched in February 2002, the Esperanza is the largest vessel in the Greenpeace fleet. And Esperanza – Spanish for “hope” – is the first Greenpeace ship to be named by our supporters.

Everyone was so excited as we boarded the city cruise boat taking us over thames to the Esperanza, which floating near Tower Bridge. Some Greenpeace volunteers had come as far as Durham to take the opportunity to explore the ship.

Firstly, we were taken to the heli hanger and we warmed up with some ‘erbal tea because it was bladdy freezing. Then we were given a presentation on the upcoming plastic pollution campaign by Greenpeace’s anti-plastics champ, Louise Edge. It was pretty terrifying to learn that plastic use is set to double in the next 20 years, and that…

By the time a baby born today reaches its mid-30s, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Louise wanted our opinions on the campaign, what it should involve/focus on, and what issues it might face. Some of the points discussed included:

  • We must be able to clearly explain how plastic ends up in the seas and oceans when talking about countries like the UK where we have fairly well-contained and regulated waste systems.
  • We must push for better knowledge and exposure of what can and cannot be recycled dependent on where you live in the UK, and if not, why not.
  • The idea is to roll this campaign out internationally, so as to set an example for the wider world. SE Asia is the worst for plastic pollution.
  • Biodegradable not the solution because this term just means the plastic breaks down quicker; the materials are still pollutants.
  • We agreed that we should work closely with organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society on this campaign.
  • We must focus on pressurising multinationals to take responsibility and put budget aside for infrastructure in developing countries to ensure that they recycle, manage and contain the volume of plastic in their waste system efficiently.

Secondly, Frank – who was a member of the Arctic 30 and has worked for Greenpeace for 27 years – talked to us about the Esperanza’s work with the Dirty Tuna campaign. It was used for research, but also to expose and act on illegal fishing practices in Asia. Some of Frank’s stories sounded terrifying, involving pirates and gun-wielding fisher criminals. Apparently they discovered that 20 illegal Fishing Aggregation Devices (FADs) are dropped into the oceans per day, and there are approximately 150,000 in the oceans at one time.

Lastly, we were given a tour of the ship’s lower decks, upper decks, engine rooms and helm. Here are some photos of the mighty Esperanza, please excuse the quality not being great…

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Before the Flood: 5 Easy Changes to Make a Big Difference

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As you may well know, Leonardo DiCaprio’s (*swoon*) highly-anticipated climate change documentary – Before the Flood – was released last week and is available to watch for free on the National Geographic’s YouTube channel until midnight tonight… I realise that if this is the first you’ve heard about it, then it is very short notice but DROP ALL YOUR PLANS. This is THE most important film you will watch this year. In fact, it’s possibly THE most important film you will have watched in your life so far.

I believe that anyone who really cares about our planet and the natural environment will feel a pivotal ‘tipping point’ at the end of a film. A realisation that…

Your ignorance means your contribution to the destruction of our planet.

I had that very feeling, that ‘no turning back’ feeling, after I watched 350.org’s Do the Math in July last year. I reached the end of the film, had a gentle sob and a hard think, then I decided to finally make some life changes.

So, if you have just watched Before the Flood and are feeling overwhelmed as to how you can help reverse Climate Change (and trust me, I have felt that feeling of hopelessness many a time!), then have a read of these 5 Easy Changes to Make a Big Difference:

  1. Switch your energy supplier to a renewable one, such as Ecotricity. This might sound like a big palaver but I’ve been through it recently and Ecotricity do all the leg work for you. This is also one of the easiest ways to pull your money away from fossil fuel companies, and you won’t find the bills to be much more expensive.
  2. Do some research into where your money is invested, and make sure it’s invested in green projects. Have you ever thought about where your pension is being spent? It could be being invested in fossil fuels…
  3. Check where your bank invests its money, and take action if need be. Did you know that Barclay’s are funding fracking projects? Well, to be fair, it’s not something they’re going to be shouting about. Move Your Money is a fantastic website, campaigning to stop banks from investing in dodgy dealings. The top 5 worst banks for investment in fossil fuels are HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds Bank, RBS and Santander. Move Your Money makes it easy for you to email the bank directly, threatening to switch banks if they don’t divest.
  4. Reduce your meat consumption. As Before the Flood highlights, around about 10-12% of total US greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of meat. We’re not America, true, but we can help offset their damages. Research led by Oxford Martin School finds widespread adoption of vegetarian diet would cut food-related emissions by 63% and make people healthier too. (The Guardian)
  5. Get active! Join an activist/volunteer group with organisations such as Greenpreace, BP or not BP, or Friends of the Earth. There are all sorts of fun campaigns to get involved with, to suit everyone, all over the country.

 

I do all 5 of the above (practice what you preach and all that) and it makes me feel a lot more positive about the future, and I hope that I’ve inspired some people along the way…

Spider Monkey Sunday at Herne Hill Market

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I spent my Sunday morning campaigning and sweating uncontrollably in a spider monkey costume provided by Greenpeace HQ. Well, that makes it sound like I spent all morning in there… I actually managed just 45 minutes. It was unbearable after a while; it was like a sauna inside!

Herne Hill Market gave us a stall right next to the train station and the cash machine which was a prime position. I think Sunday markets are a fantastic venue for street campaigning if you can get your hands on a stall, because there are guaranteed to be lots of people milling keen to discover things. More importantly, these people are more likely to take the time to listen as it’s Sunday and nobody is in any rush to do their shopping unlike supermarket shoppers.

There were lots of families with small children around, and there were mixed emotions as far as the spider monkey was concerned… One little girl loved the costume so much; she was laughing non-stop, repeatedly gave me high fives and was dancing with me. Another little girl took one look at me, burst into tears and kept saying “scary monkey mummy!” Either way, it got us the attention we wanted. Rule number one of street campaigning: engage the kids = engage the parents!

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Greenpeace Southwark (yes, part of Herne Hill is counted as Southwark!) were stationed there to raise awareness of the Greenpeace: Save the Heart of the Amazon campaign. The heart of the Amazon rainforest is under threat. A series of monster dams could flood a huge area around the Tapajós river, destroying the home of Indigenous People and rare wildlife, including spider monkeys. But one Indigenous community, the Munduruku, are fighting back – and Greenpeace are backing them.

The largest of the planned dams had its permit cancelled back in August after more than a million of us campaigned against it. If we get enough people to join the movement the Brazilian government will have to protect the heart of the Amazon for good. We’re also undermining the foundations of the whole project by putting pressure on Siemens, who are one of the only companies who can provide the turbines for these hydropower dams.

I listened to a recommended Energydesk podcast on my way to the market called Damning the Amazon: The Fight for the Tapajós River where Helle Abelvik-Lawson explains how the Brazilian government are claiming that the hydropower dams will create clean energy with 0% carbon emissions. Great right?! WRONG. This is pure green-washing because in the flooding of huge areas of rainforest, comes the killing of thousands of trees and, as these trees decompose, they emit methane gas which in the short term is actually a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide…

What’s more, the Brazilian government can then sell this ‘clean’ energy twice over as ‘carbon credits’ to ‘balance out’ countries producing high levels of carbon emissions. WHAT?! This has to be stopped.

We had a lot of fun and a really productive session, getting a total of 53 postcards to send to the chief exec of Siemens UK.  It was great to speak to people who had absolutely no idea about the planned dams; it’s always good to come away from a street campaign knowing that you’ve raised awareness.

Eco Interview: Rhys Ellis, fashion designer and recent Birmingham City graduate

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A couple of weeks ago, I attended Graduate Fashion Week to see my hugely-talented sister’s collection in all its glory, for the first time, paraded down the catwalk. It was a hedonistic combination of feminine rose-gold, ethereal tulle and striking black leather strappings. Take a look at her website, her name is Alice Elizabeth Brown and she’s going to be the next big thing in fashion – you heard it here first.

Whilst Alice’s work was obviously the best and without-a-doubt my favourite, I was also blown-away by Rhys Ellis’ collection which was made entirely from recycled Nespresso capsules. Of course, I loved the environmental angle of his collection and wanted to know more about the thought-processes behind the designs – so I asked him a few questions…

Rhys Ellis Fashion Designer Nespresso Capsules

 

I understand that your collection was made out of Nescafe Nespresso capsules… what was the creation process? 

The creation process was extremely repetitive and time consuming. Before the process actually started, I had to collect the used Nespresso capsules from across the UK and Italy and then clean them. Once the capsules were emptied and polished, I could then begin creating the material. The material was created by using the chain mail technique which made it suitable for me to drape around the female form.

Wow, that sounds long… just how long do you think this took? How many hours did you spend on each item?

I think this has been the most popular question asked. The material took on average 144 hours to create per dress. As for creating the garment, I would be taking a wild guess as I am constantly changing and refining each design so the dresses didn’t stop changing until they walked onto the runway.

Did you encounter any extra problems using these materials, as opposed to a generic fabric?

No, as the material was made using the chain mail technique, it made it possible to create shapes and movement which a generic fabric wouldn’t allow.

Rhys Ellis Fashion Designer Nespresso Capsules

How did you manage to source so many used capsules?

I had to network with hotels, bars and small businesses across the UK and Italy. Alongside the businesses helping me, word of mouth had a huge impact on the contribution of used coffee capsules. In the end, around 30 families were sending me their coffee capsules.

What gave you the idea for your collection?

When I was living in Milan, I met a women that used Nespresso capsules to create ear rings. I then decided to develop this idea into a material.

Has this project made you think more about your impact on the environment?

Of course, when you compare the amount of capsules I’ve used within the collection compared to the amount used around the world. It’s a horrible thought to know that these small capsules are going to end up in a landfill, left to damage our environment.

I understand you came across some pretty shocking facts about the waste associated with Nespresso capsules. What did you find out?

Nespresso capsules produce methane, also know as CH4, which is a greenhouse gas with more than 20 times the global warming capacity of carbon dioxide. Also, a quote in The Grocer (supermarket trade magazine) said ‘one in two people in Britain said that they believed “coffee pods are very bad for the environment”, 22% of those asked, said they owned their own machine.

What’s next? What are your plans for the future?

I am currently developing ideas for the Autumn/Winter collection. My plans are to create under my own name, searching for a studio and a platform in which I can showcase my collections.

 

 

More astonishing Nespresso stats (taken from Rhys’ portfolio):

  • Each outfit contains 4,000-5,000 Nespresso capsules with the total collection reaching 30,000 recycled capsules with an estimated value of £870,000 (Rhys is still receiving capsules and he reckons that their total original worth now reaches beyond £1m!)
  • Nespresso states that 12,300 capsules are used per minute globally, which is 6.4 billion a year. Even if half are being recycled, that means that over 3,200 metric tons of aluminium is being sent to landfills annually.
  • 75% of Britons drink coffee, 48% drink coffee pods.
  • In the last year, more than £112 million worth of coffee capsules were sold in the UK, up by a third since 2014.
  • Analysts expect sales to treble 2020, at which point coffee capsule sales could overtake those of tea bags.

 

3 Sustainable and Ethical Clothing Brands to Write Home About

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One of my eco-goals which I mentioned last year when I posted The Ultimate Eco Bucket-List was to only buy clothes from labels with sustainable and ethical practices. A year on and I’m finally making an effort to put this goal into action.

I’ve done a lot of research into clothing brands recently and here I wanted to share with you my favourite 3, which I believe cover 3 very different clothing needs: casual, occasional and outdoor…


People Tree – for casual staples and work wear.

Having not earned a proper salary for 6 months now, I’ve hardly been able to splurge on updating my wardrobe with lots of items – especially as sustainable and ethical clothing is rightfully more expensive. So I recently made one classic purchase from People Tree to see me through work to the weekend. People Tree can be expensive but you should keep an eye out for their sales via their newsletter because they are frequent! I bought these hand-woven, wide-leg trousers when I saw a 20% discount code:

People Tree Side Wrap Trousers

On the website, it tells you exactly where and how the piece was made. For example, my trousers were made by Swallows – a fair trade group working with women in rural Bangladesh – using hand-woven cotton.

When they arrived, I was pleased from the minute I saw the packaging: everything was recyclable and made from recycled materials. The trousers are exactly as advertised and I can tell that the fabric used, and it’s finishes, are of the highest quality. I can’t wait to wear them for the first time on the day of my sister’s Graduate Fashion Week catwalk show!

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Under People Tree’s section entitled ‘Our Story’, the company talks about Sustainability and states the aims of its Eco Policy:

  • to promote natural and organic farming
  • to avoid polluting substances
  • to protect water supplies
  • to use biodegradable substances where possible
  • to recycle materials where possible

 

Mayamiko – for colourful African prints and quirky designs.

Now this brand proves that you don’t need to spend a fortune to be an ethical buyer – with prices from £19 for a top. I love the pieces in the Kukonda Collection, especially this jumpsuit (below left):

Sustainable and ethical clothing Mayamiko

But if you want to go full sustainable the best collection to buy from is the Rebirth Upcycled Collection.

Mayamiko state that they are ‘committed to producing ethically’, and that they ‘adhere to the Ethical Trade Initiative’s principles (ETI)’. Their employment policy includes:

  • No forced labour
  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
  • Safe and hygienic working conditions
  • No child labour
  • Living wages
  • No discrimination
  • No excessive working hours
  • Regular employment to be provided
  • No harsh or inhumane treatment
  • Training and professional development for all employees
  • A nutritious meal every day
  • Life skill sensitization and individual support
  • Support to set up independent businesses and cooperatives when desired
  • Financial education and access to microfinance, loans and grants
  • Pension scheme and gratuity

I also particularly like that the company ‘operates a ‘Zero Waste’ workshop where even the smallest piece of fabric is transformed in value-add items, both for export and for the local community’


 

Páramo – for waterproofs, base-layers, outdoor gear, etc.

My mum is a big fan of Páramo and introduced me to them recently when we were having a mooch around the shops in Betws-Y-Coed.

Páramo was the first company to sign up to the Greenpeace Detox commitment which means that the brand has vowed to exclude hazardous chemicals from their garment production. Unfortunately, most outdoor brands are wedded to PFC-based materials because they are water repellent. But these waterproof fabrics release or break down to form extremely toxic, persistent PFCs (Perfluorinated Compounds) which are now found in even the most pristine environments. Evidence that these chemicals can cause hormone disruption, cancer and immune suppression in children has led Greenpeace to campaign for a ban on PFC use. What is even more scary is that PFCs tend to bioaccumulate and store themselves within the bodies of humans and animals!

Páramo use Nikwax waterproof fabrics and treatments as an alternative, delivering high performance without the use of PFCs.

Paramo Clothing

And if that wasn’t enough to love, this brand also practices fair trade within its factories in Colombia – which make 80% of Páramo’s range – empowering vulnerable women. Colombia has one of the largest numbers of internally displaced people worldwide, with 10% of the population having been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and violence. Displacement makes women and girls vulnerable to violence, prostitution and drug abuse. Having created a partnership with the Miquelina Foundation back in 1992, the brand ensures that 200 women are employed, 400 women are trained, and 200 children attend nursery, each year. The cooperative has also built over 130 houses so far, giving the women an opportunity to buy property at a fair price.

Oh yeah, and they also run a recycling scheme where they take back any item of clothing (except underwear) and either find it a new home or recycle it into new fabric. They offer up to £50 off a new Páramo purchase as a reward too!

Páramo proves the power that clothing brands have to make a difference – if they would just choose to alter their manufacturing processes and their motives.

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