Big Ideas

OK, I said weeks ago that I was going to blog on the whole environment thing. I haven’t, but then I haven’t seriously blogged about anything in recent weeks… How remiss of me.

So, making some vain hope to stay true to my word, here are a few brief outlines of some ‘big ideas’ on the green front. These are all potential, radical, initiatives the government could take a lead with:

Reform the building code
In the UK we are particularly good at building leaky, shoddy buildings with dire thermal efficiencies. One of the biggest things the government could do to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions is to draw up a strong building code. A high thermal efficiency building standard such as the German passivhaus standard would massively reduce the amount of energy we use heating (and cooling) our buildings. If that were coupled with standards encouraging (or even requiring!) microgeneration, we wouldn’t need to worry about the fact that our nuclear power plants are all about to require replacing…
High standards would need to be applied to commercial as well as residential buildings, and accompanied with a strong system of assessment (by people with teeth). One of the most anti-green things this Labour government has done is privatise the building inspectors, so they are now employed by the construction industry. Mmmm… conflict of interest there, perhaps?

Stricter Product Standards
We’ve all heard about the standby button issue, and it really is about time the government moved on that, but there are lots of similar bits of legislation that could be passed. Like a standard for portable device chargers so that they didn’t draw current when disconnected from the device (but still connected to the mains). [You could even use the opportunity to standardise such items by using standards like USB, so people didn’t need 4 different types of charger for their mobile devices]. Stricter energy efficiency requirements for electrical and electronic items would make a vast difference over time.

Change the tax code.
This is my favourite one (but admittedly the harder to implement). Abolish VAT, and instead create a ‘Carbon Footprint’ tax for all products (including food). Use the ISO 9001 process standard as a basis for insisting on a record of a products environmental impact, from production to packaging to distribution. Then tax that item based on its ‘greenness’.
Here’s an example: Crisps. The carbon footprint of a product like crisps (potato chips) would depend on the impact of growing the potatoes; transporting them from farm to factory; cleaning, chipping, frying them etc; packaging them; and then distributing them to the shop. The ‘tax’ added (as a % of the price) would depend on how environmentally friendly that whole process was. A company like Tyrrells, that grows the potatoes and makes the crisps on the same farm, may well be charged less tax than a large producer like Walkers.
This is a big, involved idea; it would take a lot of work. The audit process would have to be firm, and open to inspection. The assessment criteria would have to be agreed and independent (not open to the ‘influence’ of large producers or distributors). The end results would need to be clearly displayed and the detail available to consumers…
But imagine, you would know whether the apple from Herefordshire or South Africa was the more environmentally friendly (you may be surprised!). The relative merits of long distance transportation and intensive UK farming would be independently calculated and easily visible. And, best of all, it would be a huge boon for small cooperatives of UK producers, grouping together to grow, clean, package and distribute in small localities. It might even revive the whole UK farming industry…

OK, that’s enough for now. If you have any comment, I’d be interested to know them. I haven’t written much detail here, so I don’t expect you all to be convinced by my arguments on first hearing! More another time…

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