The seven ages of green

Once, people with concerns about the environment were written off as busybodying crusties, but times – and eco warriors – have changed. Jonathan Owen talks to the everyday people making a difference
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The Independent Online

What began as a fringe movement among Sixties peace activists and left wing campaigners has become a mainstay of the mainstream, with greenerati encompassing world leaders, eminent scientists and Hollywood film stars.

While the drive to live in an environmentally friendly way has steadily gained ground, fuelled by warnings about global warming by experts, the clear and present danger of climate change has given it a unique impetus.

Added to that, the current economic situation is inadvertently helping the green revolution. It has echoes of the austerity experienced by older generations brought up in post-war Britain, where growing your own vegetables and not wasting food or fuel were the norm – witness the record waiting lists for allotments. No longer defined by small-scale organic stalls selling home-cooked vegetarian food, the green pound is now a multi-billion pound sector, with ethical products proclaiming their credentials on supermarket shelves. Schoolchildren are being taught the dangers of failing to live within our means as a society and, far from mellowing with age, the pressure of the ticking clock on global warming means that many people are becoming increasingly environmentally active as they grow older.

Here we speak to individuals who represent the seven ages of being environmentally aware in Britain today. In contrast to Shakespeare's seven ages of man, which sees a progression from infancy to enlightenment before regression to a childlike state, the green experience now means enlightenment at an early age – our ten-year-old has already written to Gordon Brown about McDonald's – and continuing throughout life, as our radical OAP proves. n

Amy Fletcher, 10

Bedfordshire – schoolgirl

"I care about the world and I don't want it to be destroyed from all the graffiti and litter, and people not looking after it properly. I've been interested in this since I was five, when my teachers started to help me understand how the environment is being treated – I didn't know it was a problem before. Being green means you are very environmentally friendly. I always take the bottles to the bottle bank. I never ever drop any litter and I recycle paper, pens, and plastic. I try to walk to school as much as I can but I sometimes beg my mum to go in the car because I'm always tired in the mornings! I do worry about the environment and the future, but think it will get better as I get older because the way that people are treating the environment is improving."

Emily Cummins, 20

Yorkshire – designer of sustainable products

"I come from a normal family, I'm not a born and bred activist. When I was younger I had this stereotyped opinion of green people living in tree houses and growing their own vegetables, but now I don't see it like that at all. Growing your own produce and being concerned with energy efficiency is just part of everybody's lives now, so I don't see it as being this crazy tree-hugging person any more, it's a way of life which is a great thing and gives hope for the future. I would be prepared to sacrifice things like foreign holidays and things like that. My vision of the future is one of eco-friendly cars being standard, and every house being built or modified so that it has solar panels. We are going to have to have these things as part of our everyday lives."

Emily Cummins is a sustainable designer whose projects include a toothpaste dispenser, a water carrier and a sustainable refrigerator which runs on solar power so can be used in developing countries. In 2008 Emily was shortlisted for Cosmopolitan Magazine's Ultimate Women Of The Year Awards and has been crowned a ‘women of achievement ambassador’, as well as female innovator of the year 2007.

She is championing npower’s search for Britain’s Bright Ideas - a quest for clever energy saving inventions. To find out more go online at

Toby Sawday, 30

London – co-presenter of BBC2's It's Not Easy Being Green

"My dad was deeply involved in the green movement when it was unfashionable, so I grew up in that context. For me being green is common sense. The world has finite resources and if we don't pursue another way of living we'll have bugger all to live on later. Sometimes it's really hard though. A close friend of mine is getting married in Zanzibar later this year and I have decided not to go. If I hopped on a plane to Africa it would blow my carbon footprint and would seriously put into question why I bother doing things like recycling. It's very hard though. I'm the only one of our group of friends that will not be going. The hardest thing is that none of our other friends are weighing it up in this respect."

Chayley Collis, 40

Yorkshire – runs the Green Building Store

"Ben Elton's eco novel Stark was my first introduction to environmental ideas and gave me a 'road to Damascus' moment. The idea that we were seriously endangering the planet made me want to rush up a mountain and breathe in some clean air, and also the idea that everything is connected and so our actions could have a big impact on other people on the other side of the world.

I haven't flown for 15 years. In my mid-20s I lived in Greece for a year and travelled there and back by coach – it took three and a half days. Everyone can make some small change. We do as much as we can as a family but we're certainly not unusual in this. I do not want to bequeath my son a world that is unstable, beset by scarcity wars or, in the worst-case scenario, heading for extinction."

Dr Jane Guise, 50

Wiltshire – chief executive of The Royal Bath & West of England Society

"I come from a big family and my parents were pretty parsimonious, we always had log fires and composted our leftovers and grew things. At the time it was quite common, people knew what it was like to be without. Where we live now we don't have any central heating – it's all home-grown heat, we live in a converted barn and just have an enormous wood burner and a pellet stove.

Green living is becoming more mainstream. Once, solar panels on roofs were considered a bit odd, but nowadays they help to sell houses. I like the idea that you could set yourself to live off the energy grid completely independently. But I live a very long way from work with no public transport, so I drive for miles, which is bad."

Bill Jordan, 60

Norfolk – founder of Jordans cereals

"Being green has to be about sustainability, the whole one-planet syndrome. It's about not trashing what you've got and living within your means. You've just got to try and live the sustainable lifestyle as best you can. Six years ago my wife and I bought Pensthorpe nature reserve in north Norfolk. We want to create biodiversity and I guess we were putting our money where our mouths were by doing this. What is depressing is how long everything takes to change, and I suppose I have a bit more urgency as I stay on the track for the last lap... 30 years go by and you think 'bugger, we haven't really achieved much, we're not just handing on a shit economy but also a pretty buggered planet as well.' I feel even more concerned now than I did before."

John Marjoram, 70

Gloucestershire – deputy mayor of Stroud

"Subconsciously I've always been green. When I was about 11 I had a dog and we used to walk around the fields and one day I saw all these posts in a field where cows should have been. I'd seen a building site before and it immediately dawned on me that they were going to build on 'my' fields! So I pulled all the sticks out and hid them. I don't have a car, a TV, a mobile... but people have got to do what they can. I'm a bit bad in leaving lights on – wasting electricity is probably my biggest sin really. Being green is a lifestyle choice, not an economic one, and the recession is making people reappraise their priorities, which is a good thing. I have become more radicalised as I've got older. Progress isn't being made fast enough and I'm more impassioned, not less."