Thursday, November 01, 2007

How sustainable are the sustainable suppliers?

It occurred to me the other day that my local builder’s merchant is selling a range of sustainable and eco-friendlier materials in an entirely unsustainable and non-eco friendly shed. At first this seems a bit of an anomaly. If he is going to pretend to be eco-friendly then he should at least make some effort to make the shed LOOK eco-friendly. If we are to be completely right-on then everything up to and including the gas that was used to cook the breakfast for the driver of the lorry that delivers our sheep wool insulation should be from a sustainable source. If not it just adds to the carbon footprint and negates the whole point of trying to build sustainably.

But life ain’t like that. The builder’s merchant operates from a building that was erected some years ago and he is not going to change that. Should I bleat about the building not being sustainable or be grateful that the scales have fallen and he is seeing that there is a market for sustainable materials?

Take my own case. As a sustainability consultant it might be expected that everything about me is ecologically sound. The truth is that I run a oil-fired boiler to heat my house. It is fast approaching the end of its useful life and that will be the time to switch to something more sustainable – possibly wood pellet or a log-burning stove with back boiler I have just found at less than £1,500.

Changing before now would mean throwing away a perfectly good machine with life still in it and adding to the carbon overhead with a new piece of kit.

Similarly, I drive a beat-up old car. Some say it is because I am too mean to buy a new one. I say it is because the carbon overhead of a new car is too big to think about and an old car has no embodied CO2 left in it.

So maybe the answer is - all we can do is what we can do. There is a clear and growing movement to building sustainably. It may still be slow movement, but if we do what we can it will get quicker.

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If not it just adds to the carbon footprint and negates the whole point of trying to build sustainably.
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