Monthly challenge: water we to do?

4th May 2012 by

Splish splash!

We’ve just seen ourselves through the rainiest April in 100 years and still there’s a drought on. Over at Otesha, we’re all sploshing around in our wellies and try to wrap our heads around just how the soil can still be parched) when there’s so much wet stuff falling from the sky.

Here in the UK, we use a lot of water. Especially when you consider how little of the world’s water is available for drinking.

So this month we’re challenging you to dry out – cut your water footprint.

Your personal water footprint is made up of everything you use directly for washing, bathing, doing laundry and drinking, but more importantly it also includes all the water that’s needed to grow & process your food, manufacture your clothes and create all the other goods you consume. In sustainability jargon, this stuff is called virtual water.

By far, the biggest virtual water culprit is agriculture. So if you want to get serious about reducing your water footprint, check out this list ranking the water intensity of certain foods and see where you can tweak your habits.

You can also calculate your personal water footprint, though you’ll need to figure out how many kilos of different foods you eat each week to fill it out.

Or if you’ve got a smartphone, this app will help you calculate the virtual water embedded in all sorts of products.

Thirsty for more? Download the water chapter of the Otesha Handbook or read some tips on reducing water use at home.

Water Wars

21st November 2011 by

Item number one on the Science Museum’s snazzy website* says “New Exhibition. Water Wars: fight the food crisis”. It takes a huge amount of fresh water to grow food. Supplies are dwindling because of poor water management, increasing demand and our changing climate. As the world’s population explodes, we have to ask… do we fight for fresh water now or wait for a global food crisis?”

This sounds pretty interesting, no?  My first attempt to visit the exhibition was thwarted when the trip was vetoed in favour of the the Natural History Museum, fair play.  Take two, I was more successful (vetoing a trip to the V&A).

We wandered in with high hopes.  We asked where the water exhibition was and were motioned towards the back of a seemingly never-ending hall. Having walked past countless types of transport machinery (from the lovely bicycle, to the snowmobile,  to the spaceship) we finally reached the back of the hall. I looked around bewildered, there must be more, the exhibition can’t just be 10m long? Oh no, I’d lured my friends away from dressing up at the V&A under false pretences of scientific interest.

The exhibition apparently wanted to tackle a really important issue, but besides a brief video beginning to explore the problem at hand, the entire (albeit very small) display was limited to technological innovations to desalinise water that currently only work on an incredibly minute scale.

The video does make mention of virtual/embedded water in the context of food production. (This is a good website if you want to know more about water footprints.)  But the video essentially makes an argument along these lines: it rains loads in the UK, so lots of people can’t see the problem with water issues — other countries have droughts — lots of our food comes from other countries — oh no! they might keep all the food they grow for themselves and what will we eat?

There are so many issues with the argument itself, but one thing I find particularly damaging is what they leave out.  The video only talks about the water usage in food, it doesn’t consider the vast quantities of water that go into producing some raw materials like cotton, and certainly doesn’t look at any manufactured products.  Taking just the outlook on food, there is no exploration of the injustice involved – take a look at this little map of the UK’s external agricultural water footprint to see why questions of justice in resource use should be addressed.

A few little projects about desalinisation might grow and be useful in the future – but right now there are a million things we could all do to have a positive impact.  The issue is global, but the water companies are already predicting droughts in the UK for next year, so there’s plenty of local action we can take too: from thinking about re-using grey water in the home (this link’s good too!), to consuming less new stuff, to choosing less water-intensive foods that are more locally grown.

*It’s no longer item 1…it’s slipped down to about number 4!

Shampoo insight

27th October 2011 by

When I shaved my head 3 years ago as part of a personal journey to challenge beauty stereotypes I discovered a world of less water & personal care product consumption. My motivation had been more social than environmental but I guess that after a while I just realised how these two are inevitably intertwined.

With more time in my hands due to shorter showers and experiencing the positive environmental impact of a hairless head I started looking in detail at the products in my bathroom. I felt relieved I wasn’t a parent or a health and safety inspector because I could have freaked out by the amount of nasty chemicals I came across. And by nasty I mean linked to neurological disorders, endocrine disruption, biochemical or cellular changes as well as various cancers.

I also found out that “when you put shampoo or conditioner onto your scalp, the 20 blood vessels, 650 sweat glands, and 1,000 nerve endings soak in the toxins”*.

So there I was, surrounded by cocktails of toxic chemicals nicely packed and wondering why a reasonably environmentally conscious person had no idea of such an issue.  I’ve had a similar feeling reading “In defence of food” by Michael Pollan and learning about the chronic diseases linked to the Western diet, the nutritionism scam and the highly processed food-like products. But that’s part of another story.

What’s the alternative then? I tried olive oil soap bar, Dr’s Bronners’ liquid soap, castile soap, baking soda and watered down vinegar. There are lots of recipes online here, and here. You’ll have to try a few before you find the one that suits you better – just like with the “normal toxic based” shampoos.

I stopped shaving my hair a year later and tried sticking to natural ingredients until I started rescuing things. I’ve gone back to natural stuff again this summer after spending quite a lot of time talking about our environmental impact at Tartan Trail’s cycle tour training week.

If you were wondering, my hair doesn’t look like the photoshopped models’ hair from the magazines but neither do I (and 99.9% of the female population) so who cares. My hair will take its time to adjust itself to a toxic chemical free life (if we don’t take into account air pollution). Nevertheless I feel better and my personal journey to challenge beauty stereotypes continues.

Smiles and positive vibes



The butt of the matter

28th March 2011 by

Bring on the April showers! The sun has only just emerged so it may seem a bit early to be calling for rain already, butt…

This month we challenge you to collect the drips from your downpipe, the water from your washing up and the rain from your roof. Get a grasp of your greywater and beat the inevitable hosepipe ban.

Chances are that your local water operator will sell you a subsidised water butt. Or do it yourself.

Other ways to water it down in the garden:

  • use a watering can instead of a hose
  • water early morning or in the evening (less water will be lost to evaporation)
  • leave the grass to grow longer (it help keep moisture in the soil)
  • go for infrequent soaks rather than frequent sprinkling (they will encourage roots to search for water deeper in the ground)
  • use your greywater (the washing up water) on non edible plants

Let it rain, then we will make gardens when the sun shines.

It's all a bit fishy round here

1st March 2011 by

I’ve lived in the UK for over 3 years now and I gotta say – I’m a huge fan of a good plate o’ fish and chips. That said, the whole experience is making me squirm as I learn more about the issues around sustainable fish. It seems to be all the rage with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s program on Channel 4 “Hugh’s Fish Fight” and his personal campaign, Greenpeace and WWF getting in on it.  The City of London has even been challenged to become the first ever Sustainable Fish City by an alliance of  not-for-profit organisations already working on sustainable seafood issues.  But it’s obvious that the fish fight campaign is huge and is calling attention to a massive problem.

After signing up for the campaigns, I wondered what more I could do in my every day life:

1. I will do my absolute best to only purchase and consume sustainable fish for example, products which are MSC certified.

2. Be on top of what fish to eat and what to avoid.

3. Keep my ears and eyes open to local supermarkets and how they fare in the sustainable fish fight.

4. Speak to my local fish and chip shop and see if they would be willing to change their policies.

It feels like this is only the beginning to a long fight but there seems to be some movement from all the pressure.

So keep on fighting and join the fish fight!


25th August 2010 by

Environmentally speaking, August has been an especially turbulent month. Just as BP’s Gulf of Mexico fiasco moves slowly out of the headlines, hundreds of Muscovites died from the heat as wildfires swept across Russia, China experienced its worst landslide in decades, and an estimated 20million people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan. Meanwhile, a 100 square mile of ice departed Greenland, and we are told by scientists at the Met Office that the first 6 months in 2010 indicate that we are facing the hottest year on global record.

Wowzer! What a bleak apocalyptic picture to brighten up your day! As always though, Otesha is full of innovative ideas for you to confront this doom and gloom. This month’s challenge exposes the bottled water industry’s perfect con: bottled water (watch the story of bottled water for more info). Whilst the ‘Bottled Water Information’ website informs us that ‘bottled waters offer the ultimate in traceability, health, convenience and choice, as well as providing reassurance that they come from fully sustainable sources,’ the site’s run by the British Soft Drinks Association (a lobbying group representing the soft drinks industry) suggesting that your health, convenience and the apparent sustainability of bottled water isn’t exactly their main priority.

Despite the fact that access to clean drinking water constitutes a basic human right, over 1 million deaths are caused by waterborne diseases every year. 1.1 billion people are without access to clean drinking water, and yet the bottled water industry represents an estimated market of US $22 billion: enough to supply the world with clean drinking water.

When we waste our money on this unnecessary commodity (marked up by a whopping 2000%), we not only create the demand for the production of plastic bottles in an energy and oil intensive process, but for them to then be transported to our shops. Your challenge this month is to drink tap water.

The best green TED talks

21st June 2010 by

Planet Green published a list of the best green TED talks. It’s such a great list that I’m re-sharing it here, along with the vids:

Pete Stamets: Six ways mushrooms can change the world

Paul Stamets is a mycologist and an entrepreneur.  After listening to him explain how mushrooms can clean soil, make antibiotics and invented the internet first, I am a complete fan. Mushrooms aren’t just delicious – they’re soil magicians! They hold together soil over 30,000 times their weight, transfer nutrients from one tree to another and have been around for 1.3 billion years.  Also, did you know that people are more closely related  to fungi than any other kingdom? And that the world’s largest organism (22,000 acres!) is a fungi? Watch and be amazed:

Read the rest of this entry »

Waste not water not

1st March 2010 by
Without water we ain’t got nothing and although this planet is full of it, only a tiny proportion is fresh water. Then bear in mind that every drop of the wet stuff that passed through our pipes, taps, drains and cisterns has been cleaned to drinking standard, using more than a bucketful of energy in the process.

This month we challenge you not to waste a drop of it:

But whatever you do, let us know (email We’ll put your drops of good advice up here and our favourite answer will receive a Fairtrade chocolate bar.

Our favourite water-saving stories

We have it on good authority that the hard-working hosts over at the Hub Islington have fixed their leaky tap. Way to go!

On top of this, we learned through twitter that the Adnam’s brewery harvests their rainwater & uses it to flush their loos and wash their lorries.  This is great news – we love an ethical pint.

Revolutionary Resolutions

1st February 2010 by

According to some clever bloke on the Internet people have been making new years resolutions since 153BC. This month we challenge you to carry on the tradition and commit yourself to a green resolution.

We’ve resolved to:

  • Go to more swishing parties (that’s clothes swapping to us lay men)
  • Stop buying new clothes
  • Mend old clothes
  • Reuse water bottles and stop buying mineral water
  • Take showers inside of baths
  • Vegan it up two meals a day
  • Write more letters (to friends and MPs)
  • Protest more
  • Brave the weather and the traffic and cycle to work everyday.

And remember, if you break yours you can always start again on the Chinese or Iranian new years.

Martha sent us this resolution:

Mine is to grow my own sweet potatoes, as it is apparently quite easy and I never see any for sale from anywhere closer than Spain.

For anyone who wants to try this first buy a couple of sweet potatoes now since you need to start them nowish. Put them in an airing cupboard or somewhere else nice and warm. Leave them till about April by which time they should have produced some lovely shoots. Take these shoots off and plant them in a nice peat free seed compost, and keep them somewhere fairly warm, definitely frost free in sunlight and don’t forget to water them.

In June either plant them in a reasonable bit of soil or, as I will, in a big tub- old plastic dustbin I used last year for strawberries in my case. Peat free compost and regular feeding with some seaweed product should work fine. If you can add some home made compost all the better. Make sure the tub is well drained. Leave to grow, making sure they are weed free- if you plant them in the ground it’s good to plant them through something, maybe old carpet.

I think they are ready in August-September. When you dig them up be sure to dig deep as they grow downwards or you’ll miss a load of them, one of my reasons for planting in a big tub; I should make sure to get them all.

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