Will Anderson: The Green House

It's the burning question: why would anyone switch on a coal-effect fire during summer?
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When does enthusiasm for green living turn into obsession? The old stereotypes of bearded blokes in sandals knitting their own muesli are definitely on the wane but if you get caught paying too much attention to environmental details in your day-to-day life you still risk derision.

Witness the elder Mr Kumar at No. 42 whose pernickety attention to energy-saving still raises a laugh. You can of course be as obsessive as you like within your own four walls.

The trouble starts if you interfere with other people's lifestyles. If you keep nagging all your friends to change their light bulbs, you are likely to gain a reputation for yourself. But maybe this is a price worth paying? Although I have always been assiduous in giving advice to friends only when it is sought, I am beginning to wonder if I should change my style and risk becoming a social pariah for the greater good. Social ostracism is not, of course, a necessary outcome of eco-evangelism.

Everything depends on the approach you take. Most people are quite keen to change their ways and make their homes more environmentally friendly but always have something better to do. A little encouragement and advice may be just what is needed to push the issues far enough up personal priority lists to reach the dizzy realm of action.

One of the big obstacles to bringing about change is the proverbial elephant sandwich: the issues can seem so large that any bite seems trivial and hardly worth taking. Combine this with the confusion created by the range of issues on the green agenda and it is no wonder people lack confidence to act.

Hence, every action should be valued, however small. Get your auntie to start somewhere and then keep at it, as even one change a month will look impressive after a couple of years. An alternative approach to change is simply to do it yourself. On a steaming summer's day last week, I found myself with Ford and my mother in, of all places, 221B Baker Street.

While Ford engaged the over-dressed Dr Watson in conversation I busied myself turning off the coal-effect gas fires throughout the rest of the house. Although strictly their purpose was to impart a period charm to the museum rather than to keep it warm, I could not bring myself to pass them by.

No doubt I would have achieved a great deal more if I had persuaded Dr Watson to turn the fires off himself and keep them that way for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, however, behind every Dr Watson lies a Sherlock Holmes (or perhaps a Mrs Hudson), the inaccessible individual with the power to bring about permanent change.

Such inaccessibility - in public, private and commercial institutions alike - is designed to ensure that only the most determined among us, with the most pressing complaints, use up valuable management time. As a result, forever medium-priority environmental concerns rarely get a hearing. This is often true even in workplaces, though at least here you have a sustained opportunity to make an impact even if the person with the power to pick a natural paint is at first hard to identify.

If you are not the type to talk to the hotel manager about installing thermostats in the bedrooms, concentrate on the actions you can take yourself. Think of all the buildings you move through every day and keep your eyes peeled for lights left on, windows left open while radiators burn, fridge doors left ajar, pointless packaging, dripping taps and recyclable resources gone to waste. Back at home, you could do worse than follow Holmes' methods.

Observation is all: watch yourself throughout the day and see how well your energy, water and resource use really matches your ambitions. This might sound elementary (my dear Reader) but if you follow up every clue you may be surpised at the size of the difference you can make.



Go Make A Difference (Think Publishing, £7.99). Hundreds of suggestions for greener living - an ideal gift for anyone who doesn't know where to start.


www.greenchoices.org. A wealth of ideas, information, products and links on all aspects of green living.