Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

Since starting the eco-renovations on my flat, S and I have become fired up about the latest eco-building methods, slavishly reading recycled leaflets on hemp bricks and cob walls. So, I was looking forward to attending an eco-building show run by the Genesis Project in Taunton. Unfortunately, due to misinformation, we arrived just as the exhibition was packing up, so there was only time for a quick look around before returning to the station.

Fortunately, things looked up at the station buffet. I must admit, I'm not a "peepull" person, so it's just as well that S is. While deliberating over the flapjacks, he got chatting to a chap who had also been at the exhibition. He only happened to be Bill Dunster, one of the most famous eco-architects in the country, responsible for such cutting-edge eco-designs as BedZED (or Beddington Zero Energy Development) in Croydon, the UK's first housing scheme with zero carbon emissions.

BedZED residents are encouraged to use electric cars, powered by solar photo-voltaics fitted unobtrusively on the walls. There are sky gardens and grassy roofs, and homes are fitted with low-energy everything. Sewage is recycled by a reedbed filter system. Green living is often seen as costly, but Bill works with low-income housing associations to Green them up, which he admits is a challenge as many eco-building materials are more expensive than their toxic equivalents (eco-paint is about £37 a tin, Dulux £15). However, by sourcing, negotiating and fixing the price of materials, costs are kept down.

Bill admitted to being a solar guerrilla, having installed his wind turbine without planning permission. He insists that they are easy to install and passed on turbine self-assembly tips to my squeeze (already, this train ride was saving me a fortune).

Fortunately, nobody appears to have noticed his turbine yet as it's unobtrusive and makes barely any noise. Besides, as it has been up for over a year, the council will have a job, legally, to get him to take it down. He's also a bit of a fuel guerrilla, having converted his diesel car to run on vegetable oil.

"Aren't you scared of being arrested?" I asked (it's not legal to run a car on vegetable oil unless you pay duty on it). He said he's happy to make a stand.

What a bizarre world we live in. It's fine to start illegal wars, sell arms to developing countries, test lipstick on animals and lay pipelines in places of natural beauty for oil that we wouldn't need if we ran our cars and factories on vegetable oil, but we can be locked up for doing our bit to reduce global warming. Go figure, as they say.

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk www.genesisproject.com Bill Dunster architects: www.zedfactory.com www.vegoilmotoring.com