Monday, June 02, 2008

Doing something for the Environment

Thanks to my blog reader for submitting this.

This is a good article on environment.

Quoting fully from NST
Spotlight: Saying yes to a greener lifestyle

Everything we do puts more earth-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So this year, on World Environment Day, people are being asked to change the way they live and give earth a break. One amazing family shows just how, writes ELIZABETH JOHN

BELOW: The wonder washing ball which Chen bought online. — Pictures by L. Manimaran

THEY have no air-conditioning. In fact, they chose to remove it.

"We've only ever used it twice anyway," explained the petite mother-of-one, not a bead of sweat anywhere on her smiling face.

The patched-up holes which held the air-con units are the only signs that the cosy Ampang apartment ever had those coolers that most city folk have clung onto for that sweet relief from the heat.

Now there's just more space for pictures on the wall, the windy pleasures of softly whirring fans and monthly electricity bills that hover around RM50, says Cindy Chen.

But that's not the end of the green-at-heart, former banker's story.

Chen also has no TV at home. She's possibly one of very few 29-year-olds who can afford a set but chooses to just live without one.

Chen's family has switched to energy-saver light bulbs where possible and researched electrical equipment online before buying only the ones with low-energy use.

These are the kind of lifestyle changes the United Nations Environment Programme hopes people will take up to reduce their carbon footprint.

Habits they will kick to reduce the tonnes of earth-warming carbon dioxide put out by people depending solely on cars, leaving the computer on standby mode and turning on the kettle dozens of times a day, every time a fresh cuppa is brewed.

That's the theme for World Environment Day 2008 which celebrates folk like Cindy and her family.

It's a family that recycles, uses very little detergent and has switched to baking soda and vinegar from the usual multi-coloured household cleaning chemicals.

The family does not spray insecticide in the house. There is mosquito netting that's checked and maintained.

"It's just better for the environment and also for our health," says Chen.

"And after a while, you find that you've also really simplified your life."

Chen not only carts her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Cerys around everywhere she goes but also her own shopping bag.

And education has started early for the young one.

Cerys' life has been one of the most comfortable cotton diapers and pretty handkerchiefs -- not disposable nappies and tissue.

Low-carbon, respect for the environment and low-waste? How does Chen manage?

"Huh!" she sighs and shakes her head.

"Using cotton diapers was one of the most difficult and tiring choices that I've ever made but it gets easier with time.

"Of course, there were times when I used disposable nappies. Sometimes when you're out of the house and there's little choice, you have to use one.

"But other times, it's just a lot of washing and kids can go through 20 diapers a day!"

At the end of the day, she says, it's all about making a decision about what kind of a life you want and a commitment to make it happen.

"Everything we do is linked to the environment. What we use, how much and what we put out there all comes back to affect us. So you have to make this choice."

This is what Chen and her husband, Lim Teck Wyn, did just over two years ago when they decided to set up an environmental consultancy -- Resource Stewardship Consultancy -- and work from home.

It afforded them the time to spend with the family and build the kind of life they had chosen.

Chen trawls the Net researching ideas for a lower carbon, greener lifestyle and discusses ideas with Lim before the couple try something.

A lot of it is trial and error, says Chen, and sometimes things don't work as expected -- like the wonder washing ball she saw marketed online.

It's a small rubber ball that's dropped into the washing machine and it's supposed to do away with the need for all those water-fouling detergents.

But after one detergent-free year, Chen found that dirt was building up.

So the persistent lady had to go back to soap -- but only half the recommended dose -- and together with the wonder washing ball, achieved a happy balance of clean clothes and not so much pollution.

"Sometimes it's hard to say no," says Chen.

The one concession the couple do make is the small, low-fuel consumption Kelisa, which they share.

And that's only because their suburb isn't serviced by public transport.

"But after you've made the change, you find that life's not so different," says Chen.

"It's as if you never had those things at all."

Govt must take the lead in de-carbonising

AROUND the world, countries are struggling to change their carbon dioxide-spewing, fossil fuel-driven economies.

Current wisdom says a low-carbon economy's the only way to reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions that's heating up the Earth, melting the ice and whipping up frightful storms.

How far down that road has Malaysia gone?

"Malaysia hasn't even started de-carbonising the economy," says environmentalist Gurmit Singh.

De-carbonising means promoting economic activities and investments that will have low carbon emissions, like renewable energy projects.

Aside from Pusat Tenaga Malaysia's solar photovoltaic systems for homes and its low energy buildings, Gurmit says he hasn't seen much action.

He also wonders what's happened to the prime minister's call to government offices to cut energy consumption by 10 per cent.

"It would be interesting to call any government agency at random and ask if they've even reduced energy consumption by five per cent.

"Do they even know how much they consume?" asks Gurmit, who chairs the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia.

Gurmit cites the example of the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur which recently asked for an assessment of their premises.

The assessment showed some 90 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent was emitted per month -- the result of electricity consumption in the office and the running of five official vehicles.

Fuel accounted for only two per cent of this, the gas used for air-cons accounted for 50 per cent and the rest, electricity, mostly for driving the air-con systems.

Gurmit says companies and offices need to start with such an assessment if they are really interested in reducing their carbon footprint

If, as in the case of the high commission, the air-cons are the biggest users of electricity, offices can begin by cutting down the number of hours it is turned on.

And shut down other energy guzzlers like computers, instead of leaving them on standby. If an office or business is interested in taking further steps, they could replace old systems with new, more efficient ones

More firms joining the green wave

FROM using less paper to buying more energy efficient machinery, businesses in the region are warming up to being green.

A survey of over 100 global companies in Asia-Pacific shows that two-thirds of companies based in Malaysia have been engaged in environmental conservation activities.

Region-wide, the figure was slightly higher, at 67 per cent.

Being "engaged" meant a range of things, according to Spire Research and Consulting.

For some companies, it was the simple act of reducing wastage, for others, cutting carbon emissions and producing eco-friendly goods.

In Malaysia, more than half surveyed have made efforts to save power, water and paper.

Others have tried bringing down noise pollution and discarding e-waste properly.

And they've been doing this as part of their internal policies over the last decade, says Spire's country manager Andy Djiwandono.

The companies represented 13 industries, from manufacturing to financial services.

"There's a high level of awareness about the environment among these companies," says Djiwandono.

Eight even had environmental management standard certification -- ISO 14000. Three were Malaysian.

"Even among the third that didn't have any specific green policy, 66 per cent said they would start some form of environmental accounting in the coming five years."

Djiwandono says palm oil companies are the pioneers, starting clean development mechanism projects that turn waste from oil palm into energy.

Many have also turned palm oil waste into eco-friendly materials and products.

"Across the region, it's the energy, industrial and automotive companies that lead on environmental policies.

"This is probably because they are the most aware of the impact their products will have on the environment," says Djiwandono.

While more than 60 per cent of companies surveyed had some sort of green guidelines, only about four per cent had a specific policy, for instance on reducing waste.

Companies that don't consider such policies important, do so because they think going green entails more cost or the use of more expensive materials and machinery.

Even the companies that are engaged in environment conservation have trouble measuring just how well they're doing, adds Djiwandono.

The main driver isn't the goodness of one's heart.

For most companies, it's about cutting cost by cutting waste, says Djiwandono.

For some, like the oil palm industry, environmental policies and practices develop in part because of consumer and NGO pressure.

For companies with headquarters in Japan or Europe, it's a matter of toeing the line.

And for all, there's always the need to follow government regulations.

The good news though, says Djiwandono, is that once the companies see benefits, they begin to change their views.

One company surveyed was planning to relocate to avoid further impacting the environmentally sensitive area it was in.

"It's a slow move but there is a lot of potential."

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Would encourage any of my blog readers to share with me any event that you come across. As long as the event/activity/initiative is education/charity/youth oriented and is not-for-profit, I would be more than happy to post it to share!

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