Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

CSR London and Contentism Manifesto

Last night I told a colleague who is a fantastic Corporate Social Responsibility consultant that most of the CSR managers I'd encountered had no real budget to speak of, no authority within the company to change behaviour and business practices, and they were bundled into the marketing/PR department so their main function was to find green aspects of the business they could use to promote the companies image.

He said, that was "old school CSR", and modern thinking is to have the role at the top of the managerial chain, directing business practices. That sounds much better but I'd like to see how it works in practice?

CEO We're going to build our new widget in the 3rd world where they can do it for a 10th of the price.
CSR No, because there are no reliably enforced standards for preventing child labour, pollution and energy inefficiency.
CEO Oh, OK well then we can't afford to make the new widget. We can all go home early today.

(Incidentally Old School CSR would have said Great, I'll issue a press release on how we are stimulating the developing world's economy.)

The thinking behind CSR is historically marketing driven. The idea is that people like to do business with companies whose values they admire and respect. And the role of of CSR is to communicate those values, so fundamentally it's packaging, rather than improving business practices.

There is a fundamental dis-juncture between the corporate world whose purpose is to make money, and the CSR objective of making the world a better place.

Sure there are some ways to do both, but most of the time these two objectives require actions in polar opposite directions.

This Green Economy I keep hearing about from Boris, Gordon and Barak (Mayor of London, Prime Minister of the UK, and goal keeper for planet earth's soccer team) sounds so far like old school CSR, putting green "look at me" stickers on existing policies that have an element of greenery to them. There isn't yet a coherent "everything we do must be sustainable" ethos, informing every policy.

I've always fancied my self as a Marx-like figure, inventing radical new political ideology, which is at first ridiculed and misunderstood, then adopted through revolution, and corrupted so that in 100 years from now I'm remembered as the architect of a completely failed ideology. But I'm more of a hippy than a communist, so I've come up with a manifesto for happiness which will remove our dependence on capitalist structures, and lift us into sustainability.

"Contributing to society" is a phrase which is synonymous with being economically productive, and code for having a job which contributes to your own personal wealth, and consequently to the wealth of society. Wealth, of course as we all know, leads directly to happiness.

But the Contentism approach is to take the direct route to happiness, so the role of government under the Contentism Manifesto is to make people (not wealthy but) happy. With policies that stimulate the Happiness Index, rather than the economy.

Actually the Contentism Manifesto is for individuals, not political parties. It's about downsizing consumption, aspiring to work less, rather than earning more on a personal level. Freedom by cutting domestic overheads, rather than earning more. It's admittedly a bit of a slackers charter, but it's not about smashing the system or defying the capitalist machine, it's about working just enough, and valuing free time or happiness rather than money as the measure of wealth.

OK so I am confusing my radical new ideology with anti-consumerism a bit, and the hippy mantra that you can only find happiness when you throw of the shackles of your possessions is a load of budhist fundamentalist crap, maaahhn.

Driving a sports car at 100mph down the motorway is an experience that makes a lot of people happy, and films look great on a 52" plasma. But owning a sports car, worring it's going to get keyed by a drunk eco-vandal or stolen, writing the check for the insurance, paying for the fuel, and getting points on your license for speeding, these are all things that make most people unhappy.

The worst of it though is that the guy next door has a bigger plasma, and he's miserable cos his neighbour has a faster car. There's never a ceiling where you think, that's it, I've made it. I don't need any more stuff, or any more promotion, or any more pay, which is a pity because reaching that point feels fantastic.

Maybe retired people get it. Suddenly you aren't allowed to work any more, you know there is no chance you are going to get any richer, and you think, this is my lot now, and when you look at it you think "Its alright, I'm off to play golf".

Pity it takes 65 years to get to that mindset. Contentism says bring it on now, lets all take an early retirement attitude. It doesn't require an extreme commitment, because fortunately Contentism is scalable, it doesn't need a critical mass to become effective. A bit of Contentism is a bit good. Try it.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


In honour of the newest sponsor of the Mission:Emission expedition, Separett ( I am writing this blog whilst perched on the toilet.

Ever since reading the Humanure Handbook ( I've been really interested in the concept of waterless toilets. Historically it was Thomas Crapper that came up with the idea of a water based flushing toilet during the Victorian era, and thanks to the British Empire it spread around the world. But before that we were quite happily crapping into dry toilets.

There's a massive amount of water used to flush our faeces down the drain, and like so many waste products excrement can be a useful resource for making compost, or as a source of sustainable energy when put through biodigester.

For a while I even joined a yahoo group about composting toilets. It's amazing how much traffic there was on the group, and the powerful emotional attachments people form with their composting toilets.

Put simply, if you subject your dung to a combination of warmth and aeration for about 12 months, all the pathogens in it die, and then you can use it to fertilise food crops. If you can't wait that long, then you can use it fertilise plants that wont re-enter the food chain after a few months.

The Separett toilet we'll be fitting to the bus works by separating the solids from liquids, thanks to a cleverly designed seat. It's then much easier to deal with each separately.

The urine is sterile and can be disposed of by diluting and spraying on soil. Whereas the solid waste (I love how many euphemisms there are for faecal matter) is dried by a continuous stream of air, which also takes the smell away.

Apparently composting toilets don't smell! And in my limited experience of them they really don't. I had a considerable movement at last years annual meeting of the forum, near Beaconsfield, and subsequently spent quite a long time examining the longdrop design of that one.

Certainly the smell was better than traditional cassette or chemical toilets used in campers, which reek of the blue chemical they use to break down the excreta mix.

Building one in a vehicle is more of a challenge because of the space they take up. There are plenty of people that have put them in canal boats, were the "liquid waste" can be pumped overboard, but they are a relatively rare thing in camper vehicles.

In a true composting toilet you add a bit of carbon after each use. Something like shredded paper or sawdust for instance. This prevents the nitrogen in the caca reacting to form ammonia which smells, and it also allows the pile to trap oxygen.

The Separett system is slightly different, in that the stool dried rather than composted in the toilet, and when it's full you dump the contents into a compost heap, or into a sewage system. By the time you empty it, the contents are predominantly toilet paper, as the bio-matter dramatically decreases in volume as it dries.

I'll need to install a grey water tank for the waste liquid from the sink and shower, and mix the peepee in there, but in practice we'll probably only use it for number ones if we're also doing a number two too.

Now I have to perch the laptop on the sink while I clean up. Excuse me.