The Green Awards: Our experts celebrate those doing most to protect our fragile environment
From britain's bravest supermarket to the planet's most eco-friendly politician...
Saturday 17 April 2010
Best campaigner: Lily Kember
Chosen by John Sauven
The government's disastrous plan for a third runway at Heathrow Airport is on the ropes. And the campaigning of Lily Kember is a major reason why. Just over a year ago, Lily and almost 60 other activists from Plane Stupid brought Stansted Airport to a halt. On a freezing December morning, they used bolt-cutters to enter a secure area and stopped flights from taking off. Still a student at the time, Lily said: "Being arrested is a terrifying prospect, but it is not nearly as terrifying as the threat of climate change."
Lily has also protested against the expansion of Edinburgh airport. SNP leader Alex Salmond backed the climate-wrecking plans, and seemingly decided that his constituents wouldn't mind the extra din as more planes roared over their homes. So Lily woke him up at 3.30am by playing exactly the kind of cacophony to which the people of Edinburgh would be subjected.
And now Lily is actually living at the coal-face of the campaign to prevent airport expansion. She's moved to Sipson – the village that will be demolished if Heathrow's third runway ever gets built. And along with others from Transition Heathrow, Lily has staked a claim on a patch of land that once used to be a thriving market garden and, working together with the residents of the village, they're reviving it to its former glory once again. Both activists and locals are working hard together. They've cleared the scrap that was there and now they're planting fruit and vegetables.
Lily's actions have united people from different backgrounds against the third runway. She's been an important part of vital groups like Plane Stupid and Transition Heathrow. That's why she's my choice for campaigner of the year.
John Sauven is the executive director of Greenpeace
Best supermarket: Marks & Spencer
Chosen by Martin Hickman
Supermarkets claim they are furiously working away to be greener. On the most important issue – climate change – they make a variety of bold claims that often cannot be verified because they involve hidden, unaudited work on things like transportation. In truth, though, almost all have made progress on the environment. They have cut packaging and the distribution of free plastic bags, ended the sale of threatened fish such as North Sea cod and skate, and stock more sustainably produced toilet and kitchen roll. Some are particularly good on certain issues – see Sainsbury's support for less damaging palm oil or Waitrose's policy of buying British meat, for instance. But there are marked differences, even considering that commitment tends to be correlated to the affluence of their customers: the outperforming Co-op, for instance, is strong on the environment and Fairtrade. The greenest supermarket, however, based on its overall performance, is Marks & Spencer.
Since it set out 100 ethical commitments in its "Plan A" three years ago, M&S has been walking the walk on green issues. Last November, Consumer Focus rated it "A" for the environment in a survey which assessed the top nine grocers on areas including climate change, waste and recycling, and sustainable fishing and farming. Since then M&S has announced a further 80 commitments to be hit by 2015 – including slashing carbon emissions by 35 per cent and sending no operation or construction waste to landfill – to make it "the world's most sustainable major retailer".
Sainsbury's also scored an A in the National Consumer Council report and is runner-up here.
Martin Hickman is The Independent's consumer affairs correspondent
Best product: LED lights
Chosen by James Dyson
Over a quarter of carbon emissions come from the home. Rather than just telling people to cut back on what energy they use, it's up to manufacturers, engineers and scientists to make efficient appliances the norm – whether that's heating systems, fridge freezers or, indeed, vacuum cleaners. And then there's the humble lightbulb.
I'm not convinced fluorescent bulbs are the way forward. I've tried. You end up hunched over a book because the quality of light isn't up to scratch. So I've started using LED (or light-emitting diode) bulbs. The principle behind LEDs isn't new. They work because of an effect called electroluminescence, discovered by Joseph Round in 1907. In everyday life, they're most recognisable in traffic lights, and they're also used in packs as car headlights. But it's in the home that I think they'll have the most impact. I've replaced my old lights with LEDs and made my own up-lighters that use clusters of LEDs. They're around 10 times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, and twice as efficient as fluorescent bulbs. They use fewer resources – and unlike fluorescent bulbs, they don't contain harmful mercury.
There are still advances to come. Currently, LEDs aren't as bright as other bulbs, they create more heat and are still quite expensive. But given time, they will become a more popular option in homes and offices. They're more reliable than any other light, they last longer and they use less energy. In short, they're a better kind of bulb.
James Dyson invented the bagless Dyson vacuum cleaner. His hand dryer is the first to be awarded the Carbon Reduction Label from the Carbon Trust. LED lights are widely available from lighting suppliers and specialist shops
Best business: Brompton
Chosen by Mark Constantine
In 'good omens', Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett wrote of a demon called Crowley who has given up getting individuals to blaspheme and has instead spent his time inventing the M25 and other hells. His policy is to create situations where thousands of people will blaspheme at once. But if the demon invented the M25, then surely his counterpart – the angel Aziraphale – invented the Brompton bicycle company.
I think those of us designing products for sale have a responsibility to enable our customers to get a greener lifestyle. In Brompton's case, they have created a practical, folding, small-wheeled bike that has become the badge of green living. Hand-made in Britain, Brompton bicycles are light and easy to fold –and their individual design encourages people to cycle to places they may not normally consider. The Brompton style also means you can take your bike on buses, on trains and into your office to make sure it stays safe. The range of bikes the company provides also shows a lot of thought and consideration – from incredibly light titanium frames for speed-conscious cyclists to slightly heavier (and cheaper) frames and those with more comfortable saddles. There's even the option to get a longer stem for taller cyclists, or bright colours for those wanting to stand out.
The bikes are built in the UK, so they don't have to be flown in. And as Brompton is a private company, freed from the restraints of corporate shareholders, they are able to focus purely on the customer. In short, any company that so successfully encourages people to ditch their cars and take up cycling deserves to be celebrated.
Mark Constantine is MD and co-founder of Lush Cosmetics. For more information, see brompton.co.uk
Best restaurant: Zilli green
Chosen by Tracey MacLeod
TV's ubiquitous Aldo Zilli, veteran of cheeseball shows from This Morning to Celebrity Fit Club, is not, perhaps, the most likely ethical pioneer. But the Italian chef is responsible for a significant milestone in the movement towards meat-free eating. Earlier this year, he bravely converted his Soho flagship, Signor Zilli, into a vegetarian restaurant, Zilli Green.
The new restaurant is busy, buzzy and cramped, and few of the earth's precious resources seem to have been squandered in the refit. But Zilli Green deserves applause, too, because the food is really good. Erstwhile Zilli head chef Enzo di Marino, a vegan for 12 years, has returned from travelling the world with a repertoire of multi-cultural dishes which steers clear of meat-substitute clichés like vegeburgers.
Zilli Green's menu, necessarily seasonal, is closer to the inventive vegetarian cooking of California than the wholemeal sludge we tend to get in the UK. Alongside the expected pasta dishes and risottos, there's a colourful profusion of global ingredients: skewers of plantain, lemongrass and aubergine served with a bean tagine; smokily spiced black bean chilli; courgette "sushi" stuffed with quinoa and wild mushroom. And to Aldo Zilli's relief, his regular customers seem to have taken to the new concept.
When it comes to being more green when we eat out, we can all do our bit, whether it's ordering tap water over bottled, choosing local and seasonal produce, or avoiding over-fished species and intensively reared meat. But the simplest thing we can all do to make a difference is to eat less meat. Zilli Green makes that a bit easier to do.
Tracey MacLeod is The Independent Magazine's restaurant critic. For more information, see zillirestaurants.co.uk
Best film: The End Of The Line
Chosen by Greta Scacchi
It's a low-budget film, but it's made by people who are clearly very well informed. It was conceived by the environmental writer Charles Clover; you can feel, as you watch, that this is someone who's been intrepid in his research. It's a bit like a thriller.
What The End of the Line has raised is that the seas cover two-thirds of the earth, and that a healthy sea is responsible for absorbing 50 per cent of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists are convinced we'll be measuring a decline in the seas' ability to absorb this carbon-dioxide and turn it into healthy oxygen, as to do this the ocean requires an acid balance that is controlled by the living creatures in it. Overfishing is already resulting in the "acid-isation" of parts of the sea, where nothing lives except molluscs and worms. The industry needs to be policed, and countries need to establish "no-fishing" sanctuaries. But with regeneration, we could have a bountiful sea.
The film features professors whose access to authentic research, and clear lack of ulterior motive, paints a very bleak picture of man's destruction of one of our most important resources. We see every stage of the market, from criminal boats on the high seas to the expensive eating houses in Japan and London. It's very courageous and witty – I do like documentaries where there's a sense of the personality behind it.
I started a campaign with some celebrity friends to attract media attention and we held a premiere for the film. The photo of me naked with a fish helped to get interest from some papers who were really interested in whether or not I had pubic hair – but at least we got a mention of tuna in!
Film is absolutely a way to raise awareness. The last episode of the BBC series South Pacific was good, and then there was The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary about the really hideous treatment of dolphins. Even Avatar helped to raise awareness about green issues for younger viewers.
Interview by Holly Williams. 'The End of the Line' is available now on DVD
Best travel organisation: Youth Hostels Association
Chosen by Simon Calder
"Thanks, i'll have an orange juice." I gave this innocuous response when invited to have a drink at the opening ceremony for the Earl's Court youth hostel in London. Little did I know I would come up against a refreshingly direct example of sustainability in tourism. "I'm afraid you can't have one," the hostel manager explained. "Rather than using stuff imported from the tropics, we only serve juices made from British fruit. We've got some lovely organic apple juice from Kent, though." Not many food miles there, then.
The Youth Hostels Association has been at the forefront of environmentally sensitive tourism since its inception 80 years ago. While the typical hosteller has changed dramatically, the YHA's focus on celebrating the great outdoors remains. Many youth hostels intelligently revive existing buildings – such as Idwal Cottage in Snowdonia, which was originally built for the manager of a slate mine but now caters to hikers. At the other end of Wales, Port Eynon in the Gower Peninsula is a former lifeboat station with a shoreline location that the finest hotel would crave.
The YHA has established a string of "Green Beacon" hostels that deploy 21st-century technology to environmental effect – including the former village school in Lockton in the North York Moors, which has everything from solar panels to composting toilets. And the greatest of them all? The monks' quarters adjacent to the ruins of Whitby Abbey, perhaps the only place you will ever stay that boasts original wattle-and-daub features. All yours for £19.95 a night – and so special that the hostel runs tours of the interior for anyone unfortunate enough not to be staying there.
Simon Calder is travel editor of The Independent
Best international politician: Mohamed Nasheed
Chosen by Johann Hari
In a catastrophic year for the climate crisis, were there any heroes? At Copenhagen, world leaders gathered to peer at the swelling evidence that we are close to irreparably trashing the planet's biosphere – and they offered a glib shrug. From the US to the EU to China, nobody offered to cut carbon emissions by the levels scientists say are necessary to stay this side of the climate's Point of No Return. Since then, there has been a regression into denialism across the world. The search for wise leaders in this is difficult, but a handful of politicians will be remembered for trying to do the right thing.
The most inspiring leader was Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives. He has bled and nearly died for his island nation in the Indian Ocean. In his peaceful resistance against the islands' dictatorship, he was jailed and tortured – only to become its first democratic president in 2008. Yet it looked like it could become a sunken victory: the low-lying Maldives are drowning as sea-levels rise. By the end of this century, at current rates, they will be an Atlantis. "We are on the world's front line," he says. "And, in a sense, its only hope." To alert the world, he even staged a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear.
Nasheed has not only offered a warning, however; he has offered an alternative. Within 10 years, his country will become the first ever carbon-free country, running entirely on renewable energy sources. He warns that we all have to make this transition – and fast. "The last generation of humans went to the moon," he says. "This generation of humans needs to decide if it wants to stay alive on planet earth."
Johann Hari is a columnist for The Independent
Best charity: Common Ground
Chosen by Michael McCarthy
People's attachment to the familiar things in their own lives has, down the centuries, never been considered an important emotion or quality or ideal, up there with love and hate, or freedom and justice; it's never formed the basis of a philosophy. It's not only been taken for granted; it's hardly ever even been articulated. Yet it is clear that what we grow up with, our landscapes, our townscapes, our dialects, our customs, our sights, our sounds, our scents, even our foods, play an enormous part in forming us, and exert a powerful pull on our hearts all our lives; which is why, for example, people have hated to see old town centres, even ordinary ones, torn down and replaced with shopping malls, in the name of modernisation. Just under 30 years ago, two environmental activists, Sue Clifford and Angela King, began to rescue this feeling from obscurity; they gave the idea behind it a name, "local distinctiveness", and they formed a charity to celebrate and promote it: Common Ground. Since then, while much of the environmental movement has pursued the special and the rare, they have made thousands of people aware of the value of the local, the ordinary, the commonplace, and the everyday in their lives. They have renewed interest in the English apple and created a feast for it (Apple Day in October); they have started a tradition of nature guides based on folklore as much as science, which has produced Richard Mabey's Flora Britannica, among other ground-breaking works; they have invented the local map based on what is important to you, rather than mere cartography; they have linked landscape to music and art in numerous initiatives. For speaking to a part of our hearts that no one knew how to speak to before, Common Ground is the best green charity in these islands.
Michael McCarthy is The Independent's environment editor
Best car: BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics
Chosen by Sean O'Grady
It isn't electric, it isn't a hybrid, and it doesn't run on bio-fuel. Here we have a perfectly conventional BMW 3-Series, but one that has emissions that rival the most environmentally efficient machines on the market today. For with the BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics you have to make few compromises with the familiar joys of driving – if you want or need to drive your BMW hard it will take you to 60mph in around 8 seconds and on to a top speed of 137mph (though obviously the planet, and your bank balance, will pay a penalty for such self-indulgence). Driven more sensibly it can return an impressive 68.9mpg, and pump out a mere 109 grammes of carbon-dioxide per kilometre travelled. That's around the same as the last generation model of the Toyota Prius, the default green choice for so many, and not very far behind the current model Honda Insight hybrid. Yet with the BMW you don't have to give up any boot space for batteries. You don't have to drive something a little bit awkward-looking. And you don't have to give up your premium badge, if you're bothered about such things. The reason the BMW is so green is because the engineers have concentrated on taking its diesel power plant to yet a further pitch of perfection. Slimmer wheels and tyres and a stop-start function also help. The old internal combustion engine gets an unsympathetic press, but in the right hands it can be green. The Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius are also sound choices, as are small diesels such as the Smart and Citroen C1, and electric vehicles such as the Vauxhall Ampera and Nissan Leaf, when they arrive; but the BMW has the best blend of abilities, if you can afford it. The ultimate green driving machine, you might say. Available to order now for autumn delivery.
Sean O'Grady is The Independent's economics editor
Best UK village: Coleshill
Chosen by Fiona Reynolds
This classically beautiful village on the western borders of Oxfordshire with its village shop, tea room, pub and strong physical and cultural heritage is a hidden jewel of community-led energy efficiency and carbon reduction. Over the last year, the village's 62 households have completed their own energy surveys and worked together to come up with ways to reduce their carbon footprint, with the added incentive of reducing energy bills too. They started simple with basic energy-saving improvements – all houses now have sheep's wool loft insulation, for instance – but have since broadened their scope to include everything from eco-driving lessons to the use of real-time energy monitors. Some residents are learning to become bee-keepers (the honey from the community hives will be sold in the village shop); others are helping set up a new community orchard.
Other measures coming soon include a biomass boiler which will use wood from the local estate to heat and provide hot water for the village shop, which is also to get a green facelift with new lighting and energy-efficient appliances.
The villagers have had terrific support and advice from npower and the National Trust to help them achieve all this. The village buildings are almost all older than the norm (pre-1930s) and many are beautiful vernacular examples; some are listed. This poses a challenge for energy-saving measures and renewable energy schemes. But what the community has shown is that people can think and act beyond the constraints of traditional buildings that often appear to stifle greener living in rural and historic settings. Coleshill has broken the mould and offers a great example to others.
Fiona Reynolds is director general of the National Trust
Best fashion label: Minna
Chosen by Laura Bailey
I nominated Minna Hepburn and her ethical clothing collection because the Finnish-born designer ticks so many boxes, not just ethically but on the style front as well. I've always loved vintage and I like a good "story" in my clothes – and you get that in her use of lace and antique fabrics. She has a transparent production process, and uses organic materials. There's a romantic, old-fashioned feel but also a modern approach to production and sustainability.
Minna's philosophy is inspiring, especially for a young designer. As a model, I know how tough it is to get started in the fashion industry. She's a role model not only for ethical fashion designers but for fashion in general.
The time is coming when clothing can stop being pigeonholed simply as "ethical", as if that was the only thing worth mentioning. Minna's work stands alongside that of more mainstream designers. My favourite piece from her collection is a cream vintage-lace top with a sash. It's an everyday staple, and I wear it over jeans or as a dress. She's got a good eye for shape and cut, and her childrenswear is beautiful too.
I'm an ambassador for the Fairtrade Foundation, and am about to go to Nepal with People Tree to see a Fairtrade fashion project there. I've always promoted ethical fashion in my own love of vintage and recycling, but in the past year or two there's been a connection between what I wear and my politics and beliefs.
Ethical fashion these days is not just about small businesses – and getting the high street on board gives a boost to the whole fashion industry. There is a huge interest in the journey of a garment now. What happened with food is happening with fashion; we have a more conscious interest in where our clothes are from.
Interview by Holly Williams. For more information, see Minna.co.uk
Best UK politician: Caroline Lucas
Chosen by Johann Hari
Since 1997, Britain's emissions of warming gases have actually risen – and if you factor in the emissions from goods now manufactured for us in China, they have risen dramatically. Very few politicians have been honest about the crisis we face, or demanded the swift transition to an economy powered by the power of the sun, the wind and the waves. Working on the inside, the Environment Secretary Ed Miliband has a strong claim to this award, often trying to drag other government departments towards radical low- carbon approaches. But he is, in the end, too tainted by ineffective compromises, and by his sometime promotion of false solutions like the myth of "clean coal", to clinch it.
The politician who has most inspiringly proposed solutions to the climate crisis is in another party and another parliament altogether. Caroline Lucas joined the Green Party 20 years ago when it had a shabby office and almost no full-time staff. She has played a key role in leading it now to the brink of a historic breakthrough – her probable election in Brighton Pavilion next month as the first Green to the British Parliament.
In the European Parliament, without playing down the potential catastrophe of global warming for a second, Lucas has always proposed an optimistic and inspiring vision of how dealing with this crisis can also solve our other sicknesses. She has pioneered policies that can make Britain a more equal and fulfilled society, where instead of maniacally consuming ever more meaningless stuff, we find meaning in each other, and in the common cause of saving the biosphere. In a properly democratic electoral system, this vision could spurt ahead: in France, the Green party beat the Socialist party – the equivalent to Labour – at the last European elections.
If nothing else, there should be one great moment in the 2010 election: were you up for Lucas's win?
Best celebrity: Natalie Portman
Chosen by Harriet Walker
After Lily Allen for New Look and the car crash that was Lindsay Lohan's brief tenure at Emanuel Ungaro, you'd be forgiven for thinking celebrity fashion collaborations were a tasteless marketing technique more in keeping with the days of It-bags and Big Brother than with a more sober, post-Crunch vision of responsible mass consumption. So when 28-year-old Natalie Portman launched a range of vegan shoes (that's to say no leather or other animal products, rather than that they're edible) for green label Te Casan, she too came in for a certain amount of scorn and mockery. But the stylish Mary-Janes and court shoes that she created for the eco-tailor were created with the integrity and drive that marks most of her initiatives – and all profits were donated to environmental charities.
The actress has maintained a level of privacy and normality despite her stardom – she completed a psychology degree at Harvard while filming the Star Wars prequels, and even had two undergraduate papers published in respected journals. A vegetarian since childhood, she turned wholly vegan after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals last year, and is a keen supporter of Peta. In 2007, she travelled to Rwanda to film the documentary Gorillas on the Brink, and has also fought to highlight issues of child malnutrition. Her work with Finca raised money for impoverished women to set up their own businesses, while her endorsement of the OneVoice Movement has brought the potential of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a wider audience. Having announced her resolution to carbon-neutralise all her journeys, it's clear she isn't your average starlet.
Harriet Walker is The Independent's fashion writer
Your chance to vote for your green hero
Do you know of an unsung hero of the British environment? Whether it's someone who works tirelessly to protect our countryside or who selflessly looks after our urban spaces, we'd like to hear from you for a feature to appear in The Independent Magazine. Send your nomination plus a brief explanation of the reason behind your choice to: The Independent Magazine, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your contact phone number or e-mail address
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