If you were hoping for an environmental twist on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, I would move on now. But if you’re interested in how communities living in the cloud forests of Peru and Bolivia are beginning to experience the fifty shades of green forest that their ancestors once enjoyed, then read on.
For many years, settlers have lived in areas of the forests also inhabited by the Awajun, the indigenous communities. Renting land from the Awajun, the settlers’ preferred method of farming was to clear away the forest and plant seasonal crops to feed their families until the quality of the soil was so depleted that it was no longer productive. The families then had to move on. This was clearly not sustainable and led to conflict with the Awajun, whose land no longer had any value.
Working with the Awajun and settlers, Practical Action researched how the forests used to look, using local knowledge to identify the diversity of plants and trees (hence the fifty shades of green) that once grew naturally in the area. Using this knowledge, we worked with the communities to find ways of recreating the cloud forests while still providing them with a realistic living. An agro-forestry system was devised, which ensures that areas of indigenous forest are conserved for future generations, while at the same time communities are able diversify their crops, for eating and selling. I love the diagram below, illustrating simply how by working together, the Awajun and the settlers really can bring ‘fifty shades of green’ back into their lives now, and for future generations. It’s also a partnership beyond the cloud forest communities – we have been able to achieve this because of the partnership with three great Foundations: Innocent foundation, Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation.
No Comments » | Add your comment
I had the honour of being at Rio+20 and spent time on our stand, which was part of the UNEP and Bosch and Siemens pavilion called “technology in action”.
I really felt like home over there walking through big models of wind generators, solar panels, improved stoves. It was great to share the space with a lot of NGOs and enterprises that share the vision of technology being central to fight poverty. Projects in Centro America, Asia, Africa and Latin America on renewable energies, access to water and sanitation, climate change.
Our stand showed the power of a “healthy smoke hood” – a very simple technology Practical Action have developed with Bosch and Siemens that can solve the problem of millions of poor families who suffer from the effects of smoke in their homes. Just in Peru, for example, 6 million families still cook with wood or animal dung.
With the support of Bosch and Siemens could avoid the 2 million annual deaths caused by smoke in the kitchen. Valued at $60, and managed by small cooperatives, families can access this technology with $10 dollars and pay the rest in two years.
It was interesting to verify that we all share the vision that technology is only part of the solution. The real challenge is to deal with sustainability, meaning for example, the management of an energy system, the strengthening of local human resources, the promotion of productive uses of energy.
There is a lot to be solved to call many technology solutions really sustainable, but it was great to share some ideas that are really working. We need to engage with national education systems to introduce new technical careers on energy for rural areas, community managed enterprises and generation of small business using energy.
In Peru, we have just received the great news that after two years of concerted effort the Agriculture Ministry will recognize our peasant trainers as legal national providers of technical assistance and integrate them to the National Institute of Agriculture Innovation (INIA). We will now work to get the same opportunity for our energy promoters.No Comments » | Add your comment
The death of lonesome George probably the last Pinta giant tortoise in the Galapagos, was announced today.
His demise, days after the world fudged the opportunity for a plan to safeguard the future of the planet and its species at Rio+20, is a timely reminder that time is running out. And without major lifestyle changes, the future of the planet and the human race are also threatened. World leaders seem paralysed by financial chaos. Inaction and procrastination seem to be the default settings.
It was the Archbishop of Canterbury who articulated the big question that politicians chose not to answer:
“What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? And that’s not just a question about what kind of material environment we want to leave – the answers to that, in a way, are quite simple: we want a world that’s free of pollution, a world where everyone has access to clean water, a world where food supplies are secure, a world where people have learned sustainable methods of agriculture and development.
“But just as importantly, it’s a question of what kind of habits and what kind of lifestyle we want to leave to our children – what sort of skills we want to see them developing in living sustainably in this world.”
Has sustainable development now been marginalised so that it is subject matter for religion rather than politics?
At Practical Action we know that sustainability is the key to success. We know that communities thrive when they are empowered to create their own wealth and given the tools and knowledge to do this. A realistic, achievable set of sustainable development goals may be agreed by the world one day, but it will be too late for George.No Comments » | Add your comment
The Rio+20 process is sustainability, and water and sanitation are among the key issues on the agenda.
So what does sustainability mean for water and sanitation? It could mean all kinds of things – and often it’s rightly interpreted as being about how we can take care of, and preserve our scarce water resources.
But as was pointed out by one of the participant’s at today’s Parliamentary meeting on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), a huge issue in water and sanitation is maintenance and repairs. It’s something Practical Action has been aware of for a long time, and is a key part of what makes any kind of technology or infrastructure ‘appropriate’. Examples of what we’ve been doing include:
- Work in Zimbabwe to repair rural water points where we found that 60% of those already installed were broken down, and that repairing them was far cheaper than building a new one. We’ve also addressed some of the reasons they lay unrepaired for so long by training village pump minders and pump mechanics, and linking them with the district water officers who can help where there are issues the village level mechanic cannot fix.
- Work on sanitation in urban areas where a toilet can no sooner be built than it fills up, or becomes so filthy it is a health hazard in itself. Without adequate thought to how it will be cleaned and emptied, or what will be done with the contents, you might as well not bother! The right designs, clarity about the arrangements for how it will be kept clean and safe, can all make sure these vital services are actually useful for years to come.
Let’s hope the leaders involved in Rio+20 debates pay sufficient attention to these somewhat less glamorous, but ultimately vital aspects of what it will take to truly achieve Sanitation and Water for All.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Yesterday’s launch of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2012 began with Stephen O’Brien, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, briefly describing his journey to Ghana. He explained that when the sun went down, “everything was in the dark”.
His objective is clear; we need to ‘help the poor in developing countries work their way out of poverty’. What Practical Action’s report will do is deepen our understanding of how energy access can do this. His statement that the UK government will be held accountable if progression does not materialise, should be sufficient in believing this campaign will make things happen.
When Mr. O’Brien left, Grace Mukasa, East Africa Regional Director for Practical Action, detailed the importance of energy access. This proved to me just how important some of the projects Philips Lighting have been involved in which have brought lighting to otherwise ‘dark’ places. The effect this has on the community and enterprise and profound.
Simon Trace, CEO of Practical Action, then explained that the definitions and models we have today regarding energy access are not good enough and far from realistic. And this is also what the report hopes to achieve.
‘When there’s a will there’s a way’.
Finally, the ongoing Malawi project was illustrated, which is examining exactly how we can supply an energy access eco system at national level and help move from a project approach to a system basis. And this is where sustainability is really achieved. But first, we need to fully understand a countries policies & regulations, the flows of finance and the gaps and opportunities. From there we can progress.No Comments » | Add your comment
The Ellen Macarthur foundation has been set up with one goal in mind – to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design and build a positive future.
They propose the idea of a circular economy where products and processes are designed to work in a way that mimics natural biological processes. Nothing is wasted. A system where products we no longer need such as old washing machines are collected and components recycled. And they haven’t’ forgotten about energy consumption, far from it, they advocate the use of renewable energy systems.
Please watch their latest video and see what you think. Go to our design and technology page on the schools website for a range of activities to help you integrate sustainability into your teaching.No Comments » | Add your comment
…..and think about how closely you agree with the statement ‘I should only eat food grown in my country ’ was something the President of the West African Farmers Federation ( ROPPA) was asked to do at the kick off meeting for a new EC project on African Agriculture called EuropeAfrica2.
Along with about 20 other attendees he took part in an activity called a belief circle. Designed by Practical Action Education it will be one of a number of educational activities to raise awareness of how food choices we make in Europe affect farmers in Africa. It’s a three year project and Practical Action will be working with partners from Belgium (VECO) and Italy (Terra Nova) to produce material for schools which can be adapted to fit the needs of a number of European countries.
A belief circle can be used to stimulate discussion on a number of issues related to international development including sustainability in engineering. Looking at the enthusiastic response of the president of ROPPA it certainly stimulates engagement!No Comments » | Add your comment
Ellen MacArthur is best known for breaking the record for sailing single-handed around the world non-stop in 2005. Five years on Ellen has embarked upon a new challenge, to encourage young people and businesses think about how to use and design products more sustainably.
Ellen launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in September this year and last week the foundation hosted its first conference, Ten +One. Ten guest lectures speaking about one issue.
At the conference Ellen explained how the inspiration for a sustainable way of living came from her experience of sailing round the world.
“When you are at sea you have to be incredibly careful with what you have because what you have on board is finite. If you drop your only screwdriver over the side, it’s gone forever. When I returned from my last sailing trip I had time to reflect on my experiences at sea and how they compared to the way we live day to day. I began to understand the fact that the resources we have in the world are also finite, and the more I started to look into it the more concerned I became and the more I wanted to do something about it’
Other speakers included Michael Braungart co-author of Cradle to Cradle, and Matt Sexton Director of Social Responsibility at B & Q. Braungart’s ideas on how products should be designed so they can be disassembled at the end of their life and incorporated into something else so there is no waste are very at the heart of the foundation’s core theory of closed loop design.
Sexton outlined how B & Q will be leading the way in terms of re-thinking both the design of their products and the way their stores will operate in the future. We’re not just taking about a bit of recycling here but a more eco -efficient way of working which could lead to a major change in the way they work with their customers. For example, B & Q have found a way of compacting polystyrene used in packaging and turning it into garden decking and are currently working on a way of taking paint left over in pots and repackaging it for sale. To produce products like these successfully they need to set up a system so used items ranging from paint and polystyrene to carpet and kitchen units can be recovered form customers. These can then be reused in some way by being incorporated into a new product rather than going into landfill. A major challenge but they are up for it.
Interesting fact: the average household has 17 partially filled tins of paint somewhere in their garage!
A recurring theme throughout the conference was the importance of education. We need the next generation to go beyond recycling and to create a world where we don’t have to consume less, but just re-use more, with material going round and round in a loop being used again and again with little or no waste. We want the next generation of designers and scientists to consider this as an essential part of product design, and an essential part of life. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation includes a highly talented, committed educational team with some great ideas of how to go about this. We look forward to following the progress of their work.No Comments » | Add your comment
Daniel Sambell is! Daniel is a 14 year old boy from Harris High School in the UK. He recently achieved first place in our Inspired by sustainability? award. One of Primary Engineer’s Special Awards it is given to students who, like Daniel, can demonstrate a commitment to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)and an in depth understanding of sustainability.
As part of his application Daniel interviewed two employees from his local county council. He gave them quite a grilling on what they were doing to improve their level of recycling; how they were encouraging he community to reduce waste, and what systems were in place to support companies in designing more sustainable products.
Daniel was clearly thrilled with his certificate and his prize, a solar powered MP4 Player.
For more details of the award go to our websiteNo Comments » | Add your comment