Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

We're not all tilting at windmills
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The Independent Online

The exhibition was full of ingenious money-saving, green energy solutions. Green living can sometimes appear complicated and expensive, but the exhibition revealed the simplicity and economy of sourcing all our energy needs from sun, sea and wind, rather than relying on oil-based systems.

Donnachadh was hoping to track down a windmill supplier. He has done the hard work already - he has planning permission and the support of his neighbours - but, strangely, despite the number of wind farms springing up all over the world, there are no domestic windmills yet on the market.

Every time we go to a green exhibition, his eyes light up in a triumph of hope over experience when we discover a new windmill stand. At this show, yet another energetic windmill salesman handed us glossy leaflets and gave us his windy spiel, but within a minute I could see Donnachadh's shoulders sag as he realised that this was yet another windmill wind-up.

Although windmills are being enthusiastically marketed, it has been impossible to pin anyone down to actually install one. Still, Donnachadh is first in the queue and I have the biodynamic champagne on ice.

However, I got some good news when Alison Hill, of the British Wind Energy Association (www.bwea.com), invited me to become a "wind champion" and generously promised me a free windmill to put on my roof. But as they are not yet available - plus I haven't got planning permission or the support of my neighbours - it is all some way down the line for me. If one arrives, maybe I can suspend it outside my window as a kind of eco-sculpture. If my neighbours complain, I shall tell them I bought it from the Saatchi art collection and that it is a priceless work of art.

I was tempted by a sunpipe (www.sunpipe.co.uk), which cleverly brings natural light into your house even if you live in a windowless basement. Sunpipes were first used 4,000 years ago when the Egyptians used concentrated mirrors to bring daylight down into the centre of the pyramids. They are easy to install and can knock 75 per cent off the average lighting bill.

Next up was a lively Q&A with a host of green luminaries, including this paper's own eco-builder, Will Anderson. Howard Liddell, from the award-winning Gaia Architects, explained that Scotland has the highest rate of asthma in the world, partly attributable to the poisonous cocktail of 50,000 building chemicals routinely used. Although it is a positive step that homes are increasingly well insulated, lack of air circulating means we are trapped in toxic smog, creating huge health problems. However, by using eco-friendly building materials and "breathing" walls, this can be avoided.

Gaia has had great success in transforming the rundown and violent Fairfield council estate, in Perth, where 20 years ago 75 per cent of residents had signed up to be transferred, to a beautiful, airy, tree-filled area that actually has a waiting list of people wanting to move there. Crime has gone down and careful use of natural building materials means that doctors' waiting lists have been reduced, too.

The exhibition revealed many such innovative green initiatives going on elsewhere in the UK. There is a huge pool of talent and environmental know-how in this country waiting to be tapped, and it would be a great shame if the apathy of those who govern us allows it to go to waste.

www.gaiagroup.org showcases green developments and eco-friendly houses