Wednesday, 16 January 2008


There I was thinking that my year had got off to a slow start and was beating myself up about it.... Why? Well, it seems an age since the Christmas festivities, which seemed to go on and on, or is that just me? We had my Dad's funeral and all that goes with that. And then New Year, and everyone, myself included, was ill with one form of lurgy or another and here I am in the middle of January and only just sitting down to write my blog when there is so much green stuff to whinge on about in my little corner of cyberspace... Sometimes I feel like I will never quite catch up with it all...

So why exactly was I at the House of Commons last night? Well it would have been rude not to go, Love...

Last year I made a video for The Big Ask for Friends of the Earth. They invited all who had participated to the public meeting on the Climate Change Bill at the House of Commons. The thrust of the invitation being that the more people there are on the night, the more the Government will listen.
I noticed a lot of celebrities had contributed, including my old friend of the Earth, Jude Law, but I was surprised not to see any of them there...

But, y'know, they may not have got in!

Big Ben struck 6pm as I passed through security and I walked through galleries of breathtaking Victorian Gothic architecture to Committee Room number 10.
I had no idea what to expect as I have never been to the House of Commons. I got such a buzz just from walking through that amazing and iconic building that I have only ever seen from the outside.

A lady spotted my dropped jaw as we walked along to the meeting and said.
'Amazing isn't it?'
OK. Design/Architecture Anorak Moment over...

Karen Buck, the MP for Regent's Park and North Kensington had invited all her constituents and many supporters from Friends of the Earth were there. Too many. The meeting room was so packed they had to split the meeting into two parts. I was lucky enough to get into the first sitting.

The speakers included Joan Ruddock MP, who has been a tireless campaigner for the environment in her long career and is now the Minister for Climate Change. Martyn Williams, who is Friends of the Earth's Senior Parliamentary Campaigner was also there.

We listened to Joan Ruddock speak (unfortunately it was only a curtailed version of what she wanted to say as she intended to repeat it for the second group). She spoke about the contents of the intended Climate Change Bill and how the government recognised the need to impose law on big business to lower carbon emissions as well as educate the public. She said the they intended the UK to become the world's leader in showing that a democracy can lower it's levels of carbon significantly and be an example to the rest of the world (i.e China, USA, Brazil, India) and get them to come on board.

The questions after she spoke came thick and fast and covered topics from who would be appointed to the committee to aviation standards. Why are we building more runways and roads was a big one too. Might there be penalties for businesses who don't meet the lower emissions targets (the target is lower carbon output by 60% by 2010. Oy!) and would that force big businesses to move abroad. There were questions about nuclear power (ouch!), growing biofuels that will take up valuable food producing land and what was the British government doing to help the victims of climate change disasters like the recent cyclone in Bangladesh.

Joan answered as best she could and offered many positive solutions, but in some cases it was clear that there are points that are still being hashed out for the bill.

So, Eco Warrioress hadn't intended to ask a question, had she?

NO! I had only gone to support Friends of the Earth and show a bit of solidarity. I mean the room was full of scientist-type climate change experts and local environmental groups who had far more pressing things to talk about than me - or so I thought!

I found myself putting my hand up and being given the chance to speak!
My question was about the buildings we live and work in. It is well known that they pollute the environment far more than the cars we drive. I asked if there was provision in the bill for regulations for new build and renovations. Was there going to be a law that every homeowner and contractor would need follow certain guidlines for insulation and low energy installations before they would get an inspector to sign off on the project. At least for starters

I often face resistance from clients (and builders) against some renewable, low energy, sustainable design elements because they think it will be more expensive. Sometimes they are. I want to know if there are there going to be subsidies for the eco building materials and low energy white goods, for instance, and possibly, higher taxation for those with less green credentials.

Joan Ruddock was very aware of the point I raised as it tied into her mention about educating the public who create 42% of the emissions she was talking about.
(That's all of us!) She said she would love to talk to me more about what I do. She knows that designers can be very important (and powerful) when it comes to specifying eco products. I would love the opportunity to speak more with her. You loyal blog readers all know how I love to rant on about all those little things we can do in our everyday lives that can have an enormous accumulative effect.

My American designer and architect friends are becoming LEED Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). This gives them a raised credibility in the green building world as it gives a completed project a gold silver or bronze rating depending on their carbon footprint. That's another great idea to get designers and architects and builders on board. It is becoming clear that many businesses want to raise their green profiles and this could be another way to aide the consumer in choosing their eco supplier, designer or builder.

I walked out through Westminster Hall chatting with a lady who wants to green her rented flat and two others who had a question about their mansion flats: How could they get their board to opt for a low energy heating system and other green choices for the building and an eco painter and decorator (ec decor) and an architect and environmental consultant who campaigns against the illegal timber industry. (Global Timber).

Joan said that she was so sorry she hadn't booked a bigger room for the meeting. When she started out campaigning about making changes for the environment 20 years ago, she couldn't get 6 people in the room, let alone 600!

I walked out into the dark rainy night completely energised and inspired by the experience.

I have emailed Joan Ruddock and offered to speak to her more about my experiences in the green design and building world.
Her Parliamentary assistant, Michael Smith, has passed it on to her Defra office.
I look forward to hearing from them and will be reporting on her response in this very space.


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