Is small the next big?

E F Schumacher has played a serendipitous role in my career. Back in 2003 while trying to work on my MSc dissertation, a Schumacher Society Briefing: Bioregional Solutions by Sue Riddlestone and Pooran Desai caught my eye. Visiting Bioregional’s website, I discovered they were recruiting. In October that year I joined them as a programme manager to lead development of a concept design taking the lessons learned from BedZED and applying them to a large-scale mixed use community. I digress.

Schumacher was a visionary economist, if that’s not a contradiction. He recognised the problems associated with our addiction to growth and wrote ‘Small is Beautiful’: economics as if people mattered.

The BBC Radio 4 programme by Leo Johnson (yes, Boris’s brother) takes us on a tour of organisations he helped to found and supported during his lifetime, such as the Soil Association and Practical Action, and others that have been inspired by his thinking, such as Transition Network. Its messages of small, decentralised, local, community are an antidote to economics as usual.

You can listen to it here.

Equity and local economy (part 2)

A2Dominion is developing the eco-town at NW Bicester. Elmsbrook, the first phase, is an endorsed One Planet Community, which means it has a One Planet Action Plan that has been reviewed and approved by environmental charity Bioregional. For the Equity and local economy principle, the One Planet Action Plan states:

” 30% of housing to be affordable. Creation of 430 jobs on-site over five years and a further 100 jobs in easy walking/cyclcing distance, 13 apprenticeships including ten in  construction. Create vibrant local economy. Eco Business Centre to act as hub for start-up businesses. Training and volunteering opportunities linking with local colleges and groups. Local Management Organisation to be created with a democratic constitution.”

The One Planet Action Plan lists the aims that support equity and local economy:

“On-Site job creation
o 430 new jobs to be created on-site over five years
o 50 new construction jobs, 20% will be local labour
o 100 additional new jobs off-site, in walking or cycling distance

Key jobs to be created on and around the development
o On-site retail, construction and a variety of retrofit jobs created town-wide as a result of the Exemplar (Elmsbrook)
o Community services including; nursery, teaching and related jobs in new primary school to be created and promoted to local residents via the Job Club and Job Centre Plus
o Home working encouraged with fibre-optic broadband. The Eco Business Centre to offer hot-desking, meeting rooms, business support and conference facilities
o Aspiration to create a new role for a ‘Community and Environment Officer’ and 10 ‘Green Champions’
o An estimated 60 new jobs in Bicester as a result of business growth and inward investment, all within walking / cycling distance

Emphasising the provision of high quality jobs and training opportunities
o Deliver an employment and training management plan to support apprenticeships and work placement opportunities to local residents in partnership with existing providers
o Ten construction apprenticeships, at least three others in landscape management, security and catering
o Work with local institutions to develop courses relating to eco-construction

Working with local plans and key stakeholders
o A2Dominion are working closely with Cherwell District Council and Bicester Town Council to respond to the One Shared Vision
o A ‘local business portal’ to encourage supply of products and services from local businesses has been established, working with the Chamber of Commerce and Bicester Vision
o Partnerships to be built with voluntary sector, training providers, local schools to deliver education and training
o Partnership with the Midcounties Co-op is under development

Developing the green economy
o Environmental goods and services to be available on site
o Support offered to incubate start-up green businesses
o Provision of up to 1,110 square metres of high quality, small office space in the Village Centre
o Promoting purchase of fair trade goods in local shops

Financial inclusion
o 30% of all dwellings to be Affordable Homes
o A2Dominion to support delivery of workshops on budgeting and myth-busting; demonstrating health and well-being benefits of low impact lifestyle choices
o Shared ownership schemes to be made available
o 11 self-finish units will offer the opportunity for home buyers to train in a trade and complete their home”

Equity and local economy (part 1)

Next up in the One Planet Living principles is ‘Equity and Local Economy‘. Bioregional defines this as:

Creating bioregional economies that support equity and diverse local employment and international fair trade

Over its ~20 years, Bioregional has set up a range of local and closed-loop businesses from Bioregional Charcoal Company, The Laundry (office paper collection and recycling), One Planet Products. Some of these have morphed into different businesses, while  some have since closed (their job done).

Two great resources that support local economies are:

  • New Economics Foundation: NEF is the UK’s leading think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice. Their aim is to transform the economy so that it works for people and the planet. Their strapline is ‘economics as if people and the planet mattered.’ NEF is behind the Local Multiplier tool (or LM3) which measures how effectively different parts of a local economy work.
  • Transition Network‘s REconomy Project: Transition Network is a global grassroots’ movement of communities seeking to strengthen their resilience to problems including climate change, rising energy prices, economic uncertainty and inequality.A number of Transition groups or initiatives (TIs) are creating new livelihoods and enterprises, and expanding their area of influence deep into their local economic system. The REconomy Project has resources and examples in three broad categories:
    • Inspiring enterprises: new Transition-oriented enterprises and livelihoods
    • Economic enablers: projects that provide support or infrastructure for new or existing businesses
    • Leadership projects: strategic, partnered activity that plans and co-ordinates a range of activities

Not everything can be produced locally. There are a range of labels that support fairer international trade, of which the Fairtrade Mark is probably the best known. Most of us are familiar with Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate, but did you know that you can get Fairtrade cotton, beauty products and even gold? When I got married, we got our wedding rings from CRED, one of the first ethical and Fairtrade jewellers. There are over 4,500 Fairtrade products: see the Fairtrade Foundation’s guide for more information.

For me, Equity is linked to Inclusion. I’ll come back to this in a future blog post.

Health and happiness (part 2)

A bit more about Action for Happiness’s keys to happiness:

  1. Giving: Do things for others
  2. Relating: Connect with people
  3. Exercising: Take care of your body
  4. Appreciating: Notice the world around you
  5. Trying out: Keep learning new things
  6. Direction: Have goals to look forward to
  7. Resilience: Find ways to bounce back
  8. Emotion: Try to take a positive approach
  9. Acceptance: Learn to be comfortable with yourself
  10. Find meaning: Become a part of something bigger

Their website has numerous suggestions of how to take action for happiness and details of groups and events. I particularly like the posters and have used them at work. The resilience poster resonates with me: “If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it”.

Nationally, the UK Office for National Statistics has been collecting data on personal wellbeing since 2012. A summary of the most recent findings (2015) can be found in the wellbeing section of the ONS website. These found that reported personal wellbeing has been increasing year on year between 2012 and 2015, though there is some debate about how subjective this might be.

At a local level, at NW Bicester, the first phase of the eco-town being built to the original PPS1 eco-town standards is also an endorsed One Planet Community. This means that it has a One Planet Action Plan setting out targets and actions for each One Planet Living Principle.  This OPAP has been reviewed and approved by Bioregional.

A2Dominion is the lead developer for the first phase, Elmsbrook (previously known as the Exemplar) and later phases. The first residents are due to move in in 2016.

For the Health and happiness principle at Elmsbrook, the 2013 One Planet Action Plan for NW Bicester states:

” The Exemplar makes commitments to foster happier, stronger communities where residents can have more time for friends and family, exercising and being outdoors, getting to know their neighbours, feeling safer and more connected to where they live and the surrounding environment.”

This will be achieved by:

  • “Building a healthy community which supports convenient eco-lifestyles
    • Building exercise into people’s lives by making ‘active transport’ the norm
    • Providing information on and access to healthy eating
    • All homes to meet Lifetime homes standards and ‘Building for Life’ Silver, determined principles of ‘Secure by Design’ and ‘Community Streets’
    • All homes to have excellent levels of daylighting; with an ADF factor between 2 and 5 in all habitable areas
    • Excellent air quality and ventilation via natural ventilation in summer, MVHR in winter
    • Use of non-toxic finishes and minimal VOC eco-paints
    • Super-insulated buildings that stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer
  • Creating a ‘Community Development Strategy’
    • A2Dominion to work with all partners to build a strong sense of community at NW Bicester
    • Achieved through welcome events and activity days
    • Encouraging street parties and ‘get to know your neighbour’ evenings
    • Facilitating the formation of new Community Action Groups through Shimmy
    • Establish annual community events such as green Olympics
    • Work with the skills, knowledge and interests of residents to build a unique identity for the site
  • Feeling connected; promoting accessibility and inclusion
    • Via the in-home Shimmy device residents will feel connected to all the activities, events, services and support available
    • A2Dominion will deliver an ex-servicemen social enterprise project
    • Diversity amongst community groups in the area to be promoted
    • Links with existing organisations in Bicester town to be built
  • Building for the future: ensuring climate change adaptation
    • Site planning to mitigate against flood risks
    • Innovative research and modelling as part of a TSB project undertaken in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University investigated a range of adaptation measures to be applied to buildings, for a range of scenarios up to 2080
    • Energy strategy makes possible 100% generation on site ensuring future energy security”

There will be regular monitoring and reporting at NW Bicester to inform later phases of the development and other projects.

Health and happiness (part 1)

One Planet Living is a vision of a world in which people enjoy happy, healthy lives within their fair share of the earth’s resources, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness.

The first One Planet Living principle is ‘Health and happiness’:

“Encouraging active, sociable, meaningful lives to promote good health and well being”.

For me, first and foremost, this means getting enough sleep. Without it, life is just that bit harder. It means doing work that stretches me and that I feel makes a difference. It means eating and drinking right and getting enough exercise; spending time outdoors and with the people I love. I don’t manage to do these all all the time, but when I do, I feel so much better.

There are numerous websites, books and other resources promoting ways to boost happiness. Googling the word ‘happiness’ yields about 318 million results!

I particularly like Gretchen Rubin‘s writing. She chronicles her experiments in happiness and good habits on her blog. She wrote the books: ‘The Happiness Project’ and ‘Happier at Home’, testing out and finding strategies and activities that worked to boost her own happiness. In her most recent book ‘Better than before’, she  writes about forming helpful habits. She identifies four areas that do the most to boost us: sleep, move, eat and drink right and unclutter (or declutter), and different ways to develop and maintain habits to support these. What I like about her writing is that she starts out quite bossy, but eventually comes to the realisation that what works for her doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. There are four tendencies that we all fall into that support or sabotage our efforts to maintain good habits: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, Rebel. I’ll probably come back to these at some point later.

In the UK, Action for Happiness (Patron: the Dalai Lama) helps people take action for a happier and more caring world. Their vision is a happier world, with fewer people suffering with mental health problems and more people feeling good, functioning well and helping others. Based on research, they’ve identified ten keys to ‘happier living‘:

On their website, you can find information, questions, resources and suggested actions to help apply the keys in your daily life.

About this blog

I took an unusual route into sustainability: I started out with a maths degree and qualified as a chartered accountant. Increasingly concerned about the state of our planet and interested in environmental issues, I returned to university to study environmental change and management at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. Since 2003 I’ve worked for a range of organisations and myself covering all aspects of sustainability. I worked for Bioregional in the early 2000s and again last year, working on NW Bicester eco-town and related projects. I led the sustainability assurance programme for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012. I was Chief Executive of Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust for three years. Early in 2016, I featured in Friends of the Earth’s members’ magazine where I talked about my new years resolution. I planned to follow Bioregional’s One Planet Living Principles through the year. These are:

  • Health and happiness
  • Equity and local economy
  • Culture and community
  • Land use and wildlife
  • Sustainable water
  • Local and sustainable food
  • Sustainable materials
  • Sustainable transport
  • Zero waste
  • Zero carbon

For various reasons, it’s taken me until May 2016 to get started blogging about this. I plan to use this blog to share information about sustainable solutions and the things that interest me. More to follow soon.