Archive for March, 2014

ecobuildA guest post for Camden Green Party by Elizabeth Block.

In the first week of March I took off on the DLR for my third successive visit to Ecobuild, the mega environmental fiesta of exhibition stands and seminars, now in its 10th year. I trekked across to London’s ExCel Centre, dreading it as usual only because it is so big, to be among more than 44,000 “sustainable environment professionals”. It was up three per cent from last year.

For me Ecobuild answers the technological “what’s possible” question and also the political “how can we make it happen” question. To me the answers to the former were great, inventive and exciting. On the second unfortunately there was little to inspire.

By way of exhibitors, you got hundreds of huge companies, excuse me, “solutions providers”, with huge and no doubt hugely expensive stands. Examples include Skanska, Balfour Beatty, Saint-Gobain, Baxi, Worcester Bosch, Mitsubishi and Travis Perkins, all pushing their green sides. But the event also makes space for a number of new “Green Shoot” companies. Most of these had much smaller stands and my favourite was HE Hydrogen which features “green hydrogen”. This means you feed in water and solar PV for electricity to get H2 out of your electrolyser. As you know, critics of H2 always stress the amount of energy required to make it, but if it’s renewable, hey, no worries. And the CEO, Dr Amit Roy, is experimenting with ambient pressure H2 storage to cut costs. Could this be a game-changer? Could this fuel all our cars? I hope so.

And amid all the roofing, plumbing, and building materials companies on the floor, it was nice to visit the Biodiversity Pavilion with its bat boxes and living roofs.

Paul King, Chief Executive, UK-Green Building Council, Ecobuild’s lead partner said: “Ecobuild has become the Crystal Palace of its day, the great exhibition where new products can be found and sold, and fortunes can be made in the name of green building.” This is a bit excessive, but not that much. And it’s nice to know that Ecobuild is expanding to other countries.

On the political side we had Ed Davey MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who took the opportunity to launch the government’s consultation on the future of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). He also claimed to “have built a market” for energy efficiency in terms of technology and expertise. His deputy, Greg Barker MP, minister for climate change, turned up to announce a £19 million boost for the Green Deal by way of funding for six community based retrofit programmes. He also sought to reinvigorate the Green Deal, which we all know has not been a roaring success, by linking it to the new domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), due to start this spring. Actual achievements seemed thin on the ground. Let’s hope the RHI at least is a real success and helps join up technological potential with the incentives needed to make things happen!

But my feeling is that until we have the political determination to make things change, we won’t have as much progress as we need. For the Climate Week’s award which took place in parallel, Jeremy Leggatt of Solar Century won. But next time I’d like to see a politician take the award for setting up a scheme that works and has the big impact that’s needed.


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Ben at Camden Collective

by Ben Van der Velde

Last week the Green Party organised a meeting for me with Simon Pitkeathley, the Chief Executive of an amazing organisation called Camden Collective.  Meeting him and being invited around the various properties run by his initiative was one of the most cheering experiences I’ve had in a long time.  The mainstream news and parties in government seem to be stuck on a narrative of austerity and a lack of imagination or innovation within the country.  What Simon showed me suggests something quite different.

Anyone who lives in Camden Town will know that the centre part of it has a very divided feel.  To the right of the station you have the colourful carnival of markets, global food stalls, tourist tat and genuinely creative independent artist stalls.  To the left it is a more dreary affair: with the odd exception the strip between Camden Town station and Mornington Crescent is an identikit British high street of uniformity and drabness.  Chain stores, betting shops and, most upsettingly, empty shop fronts.  But that might be about to change.  In a previously empty property next to Pret A Manger Simon has opened up The Camden Collective – a multi-purpose shop floor where he allows small businesses to trade for two weeks at a time to find out if their idea has legs and to gain all sorts of useful experiences and contacts that can help them grow.  The inside is made almost entirely from reclaimed material and even when I visited it at 10:30am it at an atmosphere of quiet industry pervaded, amongst the cake-sellers, dress makers and pottery-moulders. 

Even more excitingly, this isn’t the Collective’s only property.  As well as using the top floor space above 159 Camden High Street as office space for various new companies specialising in a hugely diverse range of fields, they also use a property further down the high street. Down an anonymous back lane and above a gallery is one of Camden Collective’s Hubs. A place where innovators in software for Google Glasses rub shoulders with designers sat at sowing machines.  Yet again, this is a place where Simon’s organisation offers space to young businessmen and women for free, in order for them to focus all their energies on their ideas, rather than worrying about high rent and rates costs that could hamstring a potentially brilliant concept at an early stage.  More importantly, this idea of shared workspace and giving people room to fail and learn from their mistakes is key.  Anyone working in creative industries will tell you that the best ideas often come when they’re having a chat in the kitchen of a friend working in a completely different sphere and the Collective’s hubs are designed so that these sort of happily accidental pieces of cross-pollination will occur.

Read Ben’s full blog here

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