What is green energy and can it save the planet?

There are lots of ways we can reduce our impact on the environment, from cutting out meat and fish to moving our money to an ethical bank to using less fossil fuel. However, when it comes to changing energy provider to live a little greener, the whole industry can be a minefield!

A Which? survey in early 2014 found that energy tariffs are too confusing, despite the reforms brought in earlier that year. For me, changing energy company appeared complicated, not least because of the myriad of tariffs and providers available (known to confuse the consumer into paying more than they have to), and the fact that some providers don’t provide to certain locations. However, I recently switched from Shell to Bulb and it took me all of 2 minutes (via a short online form, since they only have one tariff) – it’s not as complicated as it seems if you choose the right provider!

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I plan to help with each of these aspects! (From 2000+ respondents to a MoneySuperMarket survey)

As most Brits turn their heating on around this time of year, it’s the perfect time to look for a cheaper way to get your energy – and there’s no reason you can’t make it friendlier on the planet, as well as your pocket.

 

What makes energy green?

Traditional energy suppliers rely primarily on non-renewable resources, such as oil, coal and gas, which are major contributors to climate change through the release of CO2. Ninety-seven percent (or more) of scientists are certain the climate has been warming over the past century and that the pace of warming is accelerating due to human activities — particularly the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. As such, the reduction in our use of fossil fuels is of utmost importance.

Green energy uses renewable resources (e.g. wind power (big in the UK), wave, solar (esp US), hydroelectric, etc.). The amount of renewable electricity used by UK households has increased to overtake fossil fuels this year for the first time, partially because of growing concerns over fossil fuels, and partially because green energy has become much more efficient to produce. In addition to slowing climate change, switching to a green energy provider can help fight harmful levels of pollution, meaning we can all live longer (and healthier). However, we still have a long way to go to make a significant change.

“Renewables are already the world’s second-largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“As costs continue to fall, we have a growing incentive to ramp up the deployment of solar PV.”

It is important to remember that when you switch to a green energy company, a certain amount of energy sourced from non-renewables is used to fill gaps in supply of renewable energy. However, a proportion of what you pay will be matched by the equivalent amount of energy being fed into the national grid from renewable sources, with the result being a much cleaner way to get energy.

Conversely, whilst many major energy companies can sell ‘green’ energy tariffs, these are not necessarily helping the problem. Big companies are able to buy green energy from smaller companies and sell it on to the customer, without actually having any renewable sources of their own. This article explains it much better than I can – just don’t be fooled when a big company tries to sell you ‘100% renewable energy’.

It is clear that we all need to be making a switch to cleaner, greener energy companies – companies that care about the environment at least as much as their own profits.

To make it easier for you to change over, I’ve compiled some of the most popular providers on the market. All of these companies supply 100% renewable electricity, so you can rest assured that whichever you choose, you’ll be doing plenty of good!

 

The suppliers

Bulb

Bulb energy was one of the most popular energy providers with my followers when I was doing research for this piece. It’s a fast-growing company that promises to make energy ‘simpler, cheaper and greener’. It rates higher than any of the Big 6 energy companies and 95% of customers have joined in the last 2 years, showing its increasing popularity. It’s also a B Corp (a very highly-regarded certification of sustainability)!

Best for: All round customer satisfaction, referral credit (mine is www.bulb.me/florab5433 if you’d like to use it!).

Octopus

The only company that fared better than Bulb on customer complaints was Octopus. This innovative company invests in sustainable tech, including tariffs that allow customers to run their homes off their electric car’s power during peak energy times, removing some pressure off the national grid. Unlike Bulb, Octopus offers a variety of tariffs, which are some of the cheapest in the UK.

Best for: Innovation and cheap tariffs

Ovo energy

OVO energy has recently published its first sustainability strategy, including plans to reach net-zero by 2030 (10 years ahead of the government deadline). This, partnered with the ambition to halve customers’ total carbon footprint by 2030 make it an appealing option for anyone interested in the environment.

OVO currently has 1.5 million consumers across the UK and is looking to expand (in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory, of course). However, OVO has recently come under fire for not producing its own green energy, and instead purchasing it from other providers.

Best for: Making a political statement

Good Energy

Good energy was the first dedicated 100% renewable electricity supplier, with all of its energy being sourced from solar, wind, hydro power and biofuel from British energy generators. Reviews online appear to be middling, although still better than the Big 6 energy providers. All the above companies provide renewable electricity, but Good Energy was the first to also supply carbon neutral gas, and also owns its own sources of renewable energy.

Best for: Clean gas and ethics

TL;DR

As fossil fuels become more and more scarce, we will have to find new, more efficient ways of getting energy. Already however, the excessive use of fossil fuels is harming the planet and our health. Divesting in your own home as much as possible will help reduce your impact.

Hopefully this shortlist will help you find a way to lower your environmental impact, and your bills too! It is clear that there need to be more transparency about companies’ energy sources, but switching to any of the above companies will be beneficial to the environment.

If you enjoyed this article please do share and tag me on Instagram or Twitter.

This article is an edited version of one I wrote for Eco-Age

 

Sustainability in the running community

There’s no reason that running should be an unsustainable sport – powered by your own legs to places that no car could go, running should be about being at one with nature. However, with the increasing popularity of large races and the rise of trail races across national parks and remote locations, it’s hard to see how the increased footfall could not affect the environment.

Here are some of my top tips of how to train and race more sustainably. I would love to hear yours too! Come and find me over on Instagram, YouTube or Twitter.

Prioritise races in your country

One of the perks of running is that you can do it anywhere, which makes it tempting to travel to other countries to explore and attend races. However, frequently flying can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint and isn’t necessary to find some awesome races. I say this as someone who has flown twice this year for races, but I would love to use the excellent rail system more here in the UK – there will be plenty of races in your own country, and these are a great way of discovering new towns, cities and national parks closer to home! If you do travel for races, consider offsetting your carbon from the flight.

Use a hydration pack

One of the major problems in road races (also trail races but less so), is the significant use of plastic at water station. In the London marathon alone, 47,000 plastic bottles were collected from the streets in 2018, many of which cannot be recycled as they are not empty. Using a hydration pack or belt is a simple measure that means you do not have to pick up as much single use plastic during your race. The added weight can be frustrating for some runners, but I always use one for longer races and rarely struggle.

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Hydration packs are a game changer on longer runs! And no plastic bottles in sight

Avoid discarding clothes at the start of a race

Carrying waterproof or warm clothes during a race can be frustrating, but with the right gear shouldn’t be a massive hindrance. Throwing out clothes, even where they are recycled, is a huge waste of the resources used to make them. Thankfully many of these clothes are donated to local charities, but where possible, hold onto the clothes you have.

Buy sustainable activewear

When you must buy new gear, ensure it is from a more sustainable activewear brand. There is no longer a compromise between sustainability and performance – check out this article for some of my favourite brands. But remember – the most sustainable option is to wear the clothes you already have!

Use a guppy bag

Much high-performance activewear is made from synthetic fibres that may shed into waterways during washing. Using a guppy bag reduces the impact your clothes have, freeing your water from microfibres and helping the ecosystem along the way.

Use your commute

One of the great things about being able to run is to use it to travel. If you live within running distance of work, use this as some of your training runs. It doesn’t have to be everyday – even just 2 days a week can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Alternatively, run to your nearest carpool or train station if you live further away – avoid driving alone at all costs!

Don’t chuck gels/wrappers

If you can’t make your own energy supplies (gels, bars etc), pre-packaged food is sometimes necessary on a long run. However, avoid throwing packaging, even in races – it’s lazy, harmful and bad-form.

Recycle your shoes

If you’re a runner, you’re probably no stranger to having to chuck out old shoes. If they’re good enough to reuse, consider donating to refugees, charities or give to a friend. If they’re totally broken, there are several ways you can recycle. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe programme down-cycles shoes into athletic surfaces and, until the 24th November, Runner’s Need stores are accepting old trainers in return for a £20 voucher for use in-store.

Buy powdered sports drinks

You may be tempted to invest in energy, protein and/or electrolyte drinks regularly, but each of these come with disposable (usually plastic) packaging that is harmful to the environment. Instead, purchase glucose, electrolyte and protein powders or tablets. Not only are these better for the environment, they are also far cheaper and take up less space!

 

I hope you found this helpful! What are some of your favourite tips for reducing your environmental impact when running? 

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Seasonal produce – worth the hype?

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about the best diet for the planet – is flexitarian better than vegan? Can you eat meat sustainably? Is fish OK? – but within each of these diets is so much variability that it’s hard to determine one diet that could save the day whilst keeping people happy. Eating seasonally is another ‘lifestyle choice’ that has been touted as potentially being the answer to our sustainability questions, with people singing its virtues and even willing to pay more for it, but does it stand up to scrutiny?

Seasonal eating is not a new idea – in fact, before we had well established trade connections across the world, it was the only way people ate. Foods were restricted to certain times of year, and were almost always locally produced. Nowadays, there’s always something in season somewhere, so it’s hard to know what’s available in the UK (or wherever you live) at the time of purchase.

In fact, a survey by the BBC suggested that whilst 78% of Brits claim to shop seasonally, only 5% could name when blackberries ripen in the UK. In addition, it seems not all of us are even aware what ‘seasonal’ and ‘local’ means anymore, so where do we begin?

Seasonal produce tends to be foods grown ‘locally’ at the time of year that they have traditionally been abundant, without the aid of poly tunnels or artificial heating etc. Typically, there is a glut of this produce at a certain time of year when it is ‘seasonal’, thus driving prices down in that area.

So, is it important that we eat seasonally? There are a number of arguments, not all of which stand up to scrutiny, but let’s take a look at them all.

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Local/seasonal veg boxes are now very much the mainstream

It tastes better. One of the main arguments for seasonal, locally produced foods is that it tastes better, since it is growing in conditions that it has evolved to grow optimally in. Local food should, in theory, also be fresher, as it has less far to travel to get to our plates. It’s hard to determine whether on a blind taste test any of us could truly tell the difference between a local and foreign tomato, for example, especially when cooked into a meal, but when in salads or eaten without too much flavouring, local/seasonal produce may well have more depth of flavour.

It is more nutritious.It is thought that locally produced foods have more nutrients in them, since there is a shorter time between them being picked and arriving on your table. Locally produced foods are also given more time to ripen, increasing nutrient levels further. However, this is not the case with all produce – anything that is frozen tends to preserve more nutrients than fresh counterparts, as they are frozen immediately after being picked. Similarly, more ‘hearty’foods such as apples, oranges, grapefruit and carrots are able to retain their nutrients even if they travel long distances.

Purchasing locally produced food helps support the local economy. Since much seasonal produce is also grown locally, buying seasonal helps support local farmers and aids the local economy. If you are also buying from small farms, you’re likely to get a variety of produce you might not find at your local supermarket. Buying from local farms may help boost the economy in the area.

It’s more sustainable. Or is it? It is true that if you were to grow your own vegetables in season, they would be about as sustainable as you could get (growing veg at home is historically very important too!). Thankfully, the energy demand for UK grown vegetables is generally lower than their imported equivalents, aside from a few notable exceptions. Aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes in the UK are often grown in heated greenhouses, which are extremely energy intensive. In these cases, transporting the produce from Europe over long distances consumes less primary energy than cultivating them in the UK, provided they are sourced from Europe and transported by road and sea, not air. Cabbage, celery and Brussel sprouts are environmentally the most sustainable veg we can eat in the UK, and asparagus the least.

It’s cheaper. Whilst ‘locally produced’ produce doesn’t have the same ‘premium’ price point of organic produce, people are still willing to pay more for it, despite the fact that intuitively it should be cheaper. Because of this, although intuitively it should cost less this is not always the case.

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Historically, local produce has been very important!

So when is it best to eat seasonally?

When eating raw/fresh produce, local and seasonal vegetables may taste noticeably better and may even be more nutritious. Foods that are able to be picked when fully ripened (as opposed to harvested early so they can be transported further) may be higher in nutrients, and thus have a better flavour. If you are eating a lot of foods raw or unflavoured, this difference in flavour may mean it is worth picking up local produce over imports.

Cabbage, celery and Brussel sprouts are the most sustainable UK produce you can eat, and should always be consumed in season if possible. Aside from that, importing vegetables grown in unheated greenhouses in Europe has a lower impact than UK vegetables cultivated in heated greenhouses (e.g. aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes), despite the transportation.

Air freighted vegetables have around a five times higher impact than domestic produce, so in the case of a choice between locally produced vegetables and those air freighted, always choose local produce.

It is important to bear in mind that despite all this information, eating vegetables is always more environmentally friendly than eating red meat, and the confusing nature of food labels should not put you off eating a plant-based or plant-heavy diet. Despite any complications, plant-based diets are the best suited to fight climate change.

In addition, food waste is one of the worst culprits for increasing food impact on our environment. Reducing food waste overall, rather than focussing on purely buying local produce, may have more of a beneficial impact on our environment. 4.2 million tonnes of avoidable food and drink is wasted each year in UK households, worth £12.5 billion.

Wasting food and drink hits our wallets and is a financial drain on local authorities who have to pay for food waste collection and treatment. It has a detrimental impact on the environment, wasting the materials, water and energy used in its production. Rather than spending more on local produce, try wasting less of the produce you already have.

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How various vegetables impact the environment looking at different factors 

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The overall energy consumption of various vegetables (PED MJ/kg)

TL;DR

  • Local/seasonal produce is generally seen as superior in multiple ways, from taste to sustainability to economically.
  • When choosing produce, buy British except in the case where heated greenhouses are used.
  • Avoid air-freighted vegetables always. Opt for sea and land-freighted vegetables when imported.
  • Plants are generally better than meat, especially red meat.
  • Reduce food waste. If you do one thing to eat more sustainably, stop throwing out so much food.
  • Want to know the best seasonal veg boxes to get in more greens? Check out this article I wrote for Bustle.

 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any thoughts on locally/seasonally produced foods. It’s not nearly as simple as I was expecting!