Will Anderson: The Green House

'Vinyl floor tiles are a fraction of the price of cumbrian slate - but they won't last as long'
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The Independent Online

I've just Had the weirdest dream. I was stranded in a dim, unbounded space, walking down row after row of shelving stacked high with mysterious chemicals. Strange signs appeared before me, warning signs: crosses, dead fish, dying trees. Looking closer, there were messages, too: keep away from children and pets... seek medical assistance... do not pour into drains or water courses. Then I heard a voice, an angelic voice - yes, Bill Oddie's voice - beckoning me, encouraging me to buy the products, to delight in their secrets. This was too much, even for me, and I awoke, only to find myself in the middle of West Norwood B&Q.

Poor B&Q. Few major retailers can match its efforts to improve environmental performance yet here I am picking holes. I really ought to be more generous and focus on its highly commendable use of sustainably sourced wood, much of which bears the logo of the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), or its commitment to removing peat from its garden products.

The trouble is that DIY remains an overwhelmingly toxic business. I bought a paint roller with a wooden handle bearing an FSC label but there was not a single pot of natural paint on the shelves, just endless varieties of cracked petrochemicals. Although there were eco options elsewhere in the store, they took some finding. For example, in the wallpaper aisle I was surrounded by rolls of vinyl (not paper at all) but then came across B&Q's own brand of paper - yes, really, paper - with its FSC label and cheaper price tag.

In the lighting aisle, halogens and tungsten bulbs pressed upon me from all sides but I did find a few energy-saving compact fluorescents (CFLs), not just the familiar egg whisks but also properly bulbous bulbs and even a CFL candle bulb. Yet there could be so much more, especially as ceiling-recessed halogens now have CFL alternatives (see Great Buy).

Among the garden tools the humble rake could not compete with a stack of 2500W garden vacuum cleaners. A little further on, the dominance of poison became inescapable on the garden "care" shelves. Here, toxicity was something to be celebrated rather than discreetly kept to the back of the tin. Round-up those bugs and slugs, get your guns and killer powders out and destroy everything in (or on) your path. Biological controls were absent.

In among the flooring there was plenty of FSC laminate on offer but vinyl is again inescapable. Of course, vinyl mock-slate floor tiles are a fraction of the price of Cumbrian or Cambrian slate but they will only last a fraction of the time. As is so often the case with the eco option, the long-term savings of durability demand a long-term view at the cash desk. Which reminds me: the cash desk was buffered by a rack of toxic use-once-and-throw-away batteries without a single rechargeable in sight.

If you have a DIY spring in your step, take the time to compare the options in your local retail shed. There may be lots of eco choices lurking in the gloom, if you can take the time to find them without falling asleep in the aisles.


Alongside its miniaturised CFL downlighters, Megaman now produces dimmable CFL bulbs that can be used in ordinary dimming circuits (0845 408 4625; www.megamanuk.com).


Buy eco-products online at www.thegreenshop.co.uk, www.ecomerchant.co.uk and www.greenbuildingstore.co.uk.