Green Shoots

A journey in optimism, ethics and enterprise

Top Ten Eco-Products for your summer holiday

I’m about to leave the office to travel to watch my first gig of 2011 (OK yes I am being  badly ribbed by the team for going to see the Glee tour). Packing my stuff reminded me of how many cool eco-products are now important whether you’re off to a festival, a weekend camping or just visiting friends. Windup torches, solar chargers and bio-degradeable tent pegs are now among the first things I pack when setting off on a trip away. Here are my top ten must-haves for the eco-conscious traveller.

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Presentation at ECHO Digital Conference June 2011

Gave a presentation at the European Concert Hall Organisations conference at the Sage in Gateshead. You can view it online below or E-Commerce and Concert Venue (4Mb download).

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Book review: Equations of life by Simon Morden

I remember going to see Usual Suspects at the cinema. I had no idea of what the film was about before I went in. Looking at the poster, it looked like a poor comedy of some description – a police lineup with 5 misfits staring out at the camera. The only saving grace was that Pete Postlewaite was in it. However, the film was amazing and firmly in my top 10 films of all time. Yet I have often wondered how much of the positive feeling was in part due to the low expectations I went in with. Equations of Life by Simon Morden was a similar experience for me.

Equations of Life book cover

Equations of Life

I should confess before I say any more that I know Simon Morden, the author of Metrozone Trilogy. He’s the bloke I talk to when our kids are at the same youth event. We often have a coffee at the back of church on a Sunday morning. In my world he was in a little box marked `teaching assistant` at the school where two of my boys went when they were younger. There was no room in that box for author of science fiction and cyber punk novels. Until now.

With expectations as low as the Saturday night when I went I first asked the question “So who is Keyser Soze?”, I picked up Equations of Life and quickly became a Morden, Metrozone and Petrovitch fan.

Equations of Life is the first in Simon Morden’s Metrozone trilogy. The novel is set in 2025 and the world as we know it is still reeling from an almost Armageddon some 20 years before. We meet Petrovitch as he enters the world of the Metrozone – a city of 25 million that has fence around it that keeps the Outies at bay. Petrovitch has been hiding in the Metrozone for several years since he freed himself from the Russian mafia in St Petersburg. He has a plan and that plan involves keeping his head down.

Like the best of plans things go badly wrong when he rescues the daughter of a Japanese mafia baron from the clutches of his enemies. Suddenly he is no longer anonymous and enters centre stage of the various tribal battles at the heart of the Metrozones illicit economy. He also becomes a person of interest to the Metrozone police force.

The central character Samueil Petrovitch increasingly becomes a lovable, Russian wideboy as the story develops. He is blessed with foul mouth (always in Russian `chyort!`) and an amazing brain (he works as a researcher at a Metrozone university specialising in developing the unified field theory). Around him an array interesting, damaged charachters enter the scene. Each is neatly penned as the story unfolds.

Metrozone image on Orbit Website

Welcome to the Metrozone - the stark reality of what London has become in 2025 - not quite the 2012 legacy everyone is for....

For me there are always three questions that test whether a book was worth reading. Was the narrative believable and compelling as it unfolds? Did I feel empathy for the main protagonists? Did I actually enjoy reading it? Morden does well on all three counts.

The narrative is fast paced and decisive taking the reader on a complex journey through the under belly of Metrozone life. He works in a few film references from The Untouchables and the Italian Job to show he doesn’t take himself too seriously. There are few “leaps of faith” with each step in the plot following logically from the last. The science fiction element of the book is neatly worked in with ideas like “hat-nav” (personal sat-nav for pedestrinians) just crying out for someone to invent right now!

What about empathy with Petrovitch? At first he seems a just another complex, damaged, selfish “end times” hero. All steel and no heart as he cusses his way around the Metrozone and yet we quickly see a vulnerable man with a brain size of a planet. He has a heart (although not in very good working order!) and cannot help but take decisions that actually reveal his humanity. His snap-decision to help Sonya Oshicora shows that his instinct is to help not harm and as the book develops we are drawn into his mission to make the Metrozone a better place.

So did I enjoy it? Wholeheartedly a big yes. So much so that I immediately ordered books two and three of Metrozone trilogy – the third of which was at the time still to be published.

 

The low down

Title: Equations of Life
Author: Simon Morden
ISBN: 978-1841499482
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 346
Published: 7 April 2011
Where can I get it? All good book shops including Amazon

Related books:

Theories of Flight (Metrozone) – second book in the Metrozone Trilogy

Degrees of Freedom (Metrozone) third book in the Metrozone Trilogy

 

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David Clelland MP – your chance to reply?

Dear David Clelland,

I thought I would just drop you a note to enquire whether you are planning at any stage to give your side of the story when it comes to your expenses for your duties as my local MP. As an aside, it seems quite quaint to send a real letter in this modern era but you have no email address on your website and even the excellent http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ website doesn’t have one for you. Odd in this modern era of social networking and instant communication that you don’t want people to get in touch by the easiest methods.

As you’re no doubt well aware the Telegraph has made some mischief by revealing your expenses in relation to your second home (David Clelland: Home buy-out costs taxpayer thousands on MP’s expenses). I would be interested to hear your side of the story as the evidence as presented seems a little a damning. A number of MPs have decided to publish their expenses themselves including the much respected Labour MP Frank Field (see the Guardian – Growing number of MPs putting their expenses online) but your name seems to be missing from the list of those volunteering the information (when I check on Tuesday 19th May).

Of course your voting record on Transparency of Parliament is not great – you were either absent or voted against every positive amendment to the Freedom of Information Act and as recently as April 30th 2009 you were voting against having to provide receipts for all your reimbersed expenditure as an MP. A little unfair given the lengths small businesses have to go to in this country to meet HMRC regulations. As a retailer I have to keep VAT records on every transaction – no matter how small – for seven years.

Anyway, the matter seems to be that you, at the tax-payers expense, bought out your partner from your London flat. Perhaps you were going your separate ways? It then is turns out that you went on to marry your partner a year later. Unless you have a pre-nuptial agreement of some description this surely means that your partner now effectively owns 50% of the flat again. But we the taxpayers in this country are now footing the whole bill. Now it may be that all of that is mischief from the Telegraph – I’d love to hear your side of the story so do feel free to reply and let me know.

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Yours sincerely

Andy Redfern

PS In effort to be transparent I have posted a copy of this letter on my blogs.

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Thinking Digital

The Thinking Digital conference has been another great North East success for Herb Kim and the team at Codeworks who organised it. Although I was only able to be at a couple of sessions – it was all pretty inspirational stuff. Tara Hunt was a delight and have added the Whuffie Factor to the top of my must read books. She finally convinced me that Social Media can actually be a genuine force for good because they create a “new currency” that is actually about doing good, building reputation and sharing the love. All very cool and definitely a way to build a better world order.

Had a couple of requests for my presentations so here they are:

Practical Wisdom session on Wednesday 13th May 2009  ethical-superstore-practical-wisdom-think-digital-may-2009

Post-digital session on Friday 15th May 2009 ethical-superstore-open-business-think-digital-may-2009

Hopefully see you all in 2010.

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Can businesses benefit from Twitter and Facebook?

I guess you’ve probably figured I’m a bit of geek. I love tinkering to see what I can make technology do for me now.  Perhaps for that reason social media is at the sweet spot of geekness and fun for me. Making connections and enjoying the random serendipity of link following and  “meeting” people online.

Of course there is potentially a business benefit of Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and the rest of social media tools. But I am not convinced that simply paying for a wonking great banner ad on a social media site will achieve much more than burn your marketing budget very fast. Social media is about engagement, involvement, transparency and a little honesty too.

Ooops - that's not the way win friends on social media

Ooops - that's not the way win friends on social media

If you’re a business leader, key decision maker or marketing director thinking about using Twitter or Facebook for business then take a deep breath before you jump in. In fact my advice is do nothing official for a few weeks. Open your own account, post a few entries and seek to understand what social media is actually about. As George Colony of Forrester research put it in his personal blogSocial [technology] is like sex. It’s fun to talk about and read about, but you can’t truly comprehend unless you do it.” Have some fun – see who you meet and then think more carefully about exactly if and how you want to use it to meet your business needs.

Of course, there are some (unwritten) rules to figure out if you want to be successful. Be interesting, be honest, be transparent and don’t seek to plug your own cause at every opportunity. People soon get bored of a perpetual advert no matter how differently you think it is being spun.

There are some examples of people who have got it right – Tony Hsieh has built up an almost cult level following 575,000 followers.

There are also some examples of people who have got it wrong – although they are much harder to find. Amazing how quickly the errors of judgment disappear from the social media space (even when mere mortals usually have no power to delete things). There was a good example this week. Randi Zuckerberg a senior marketer at Facebook and sister of Mark Zuckerberg founder of Facebook posted a message on Twitter “Worst bar ever = apothecary in NYC. Worst bouncer ever = james. It would be a huge bummer if their facebook pages “accidentally” went down.” You don’t have to be good in PR to know that threatening to take down someones Facebook page out of spite when you work for Facebook isn’t smart. In fact this Tweet disappeared very quickly – although not quickly enough to stop Google from spidering and cacheing it as shown in the picture above. Doesn’t breed a sense of trust and honesty in social media if go around making threats that one can only assume you can actually deliver on!

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The world of fair trade – a Twitter’s Eye view

Today is World Fair Trade day. Due to child care and household duties my celebration has been mainly eating and drinking fair trade food with the family. However Twitter has been keeping me up to date with what’s going on in the world of fair and ethical trade. Been interesting to see who tweets on fair trade issues and what the world of fair trade looks like on Twitter.

So this is my (very incomplete) guide to who is tweeting on fair and ethical trade from an organisational perspective. If you or someone you know is missing then you can tweet me at @andyredfern or add a comment to this post and I’ll update this list later. Now 45 on the list!

UK Fair Trade Brands

Cafedirect – @cafedirect_hq

Divine Chocolate –@divinechocolate, dubblehq

Fairtrade Foundation – @fairtradeUK

Fairplay Condoms – @Fairplaycondoms

Frank and Faith @AnyaEcoChic

Pachacuti – @Carrysomers

Pants to Poverty – @pantstopoverty

People Tree @PeopleTree – also People Tree founder @SafiaMinney

Shared Interest – @SharedInterest plus several staffers who tweet including @sallyreith, @fair_ruth, @stealthescene and @pgs73

Traidcraft – @traidcraft plus staff member @annewitton

UK Ethical and Fair Trade Retailers

Adili – no official account but Adam Smith (CEO) is @ecoadvocate and Mark Swire (FD) is @geekowarrior

Ethical Superstore – @ethicalstore plus @Ethical_News news feed. You can also follow staff @andyredfern, @vicmorgan, @JoannaGlover, @BenMawhinney, @johnordeal

Fair Cake @FairCakeLondon

Ethics Girls – @ethicsgirls

Henry and Jayne – @henryandjayne

Love Eco – @Loveeco

MondoMundi @fairtradephil

Natural Collection @NatCol (not currently updated ) best to follow marketing man @altepper

Nigel’s Eco Store – @Nigels_EcoStore

Peros @Peros_Fairtrade

US Fair Trade Brands

Equal Exchange – @Ashley_at_EqEx

Fair Trade Federation @FTFederation

US Fair Trade Retailers

Blue People @bluepeople

Irish Fair Trade Retailers

Wish4fairtrade – @wish4fairtrade

Dutch fair trade brands

Max Havellaar @FairtradeNL

International bodies

World Fair Trade Organisation @WFTO

Bloggers, Campaigners and Directories

Ethical Junction @ethicaljunction

Ooffoo – @ooffoo

The Green Familia – @thegreenfamilia

Big Green Switch @BigGreenSwitch

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Twittering Magistrate forced to resign

The British legal system is clouded in mystery to most people. Archaic clothes, funny wigs and seemingly outdated practices. Various organisations have tried to bring it up to date and make it more accessible especially for victims of crime. Locally in Newcastle you can get notification by email of the verdict of a case where you are the victim of a crime. Nice idea to try and make things a little more accountable.

All the more reason why it’s a shame that Steve Molyneux (twitter.com/ProfOnTheProwl) felt the need to resign from being a magistrate when a complaint was made that he was twittering the verdicts from trials that he was presiding over. Twittering the verdicts of cases held in public, sometimes with journalists in the room writing stories for their local papers hardly seems controversial.

Now I’ve no idea who made the complaint or why @ProfOnTheProwl felt the need to resign, but my guess is that someone didn’t want their details being twittered round the web. And I guess when you get caught doing something wrong you don’t want anyone to know. However, I believe that there is a greater degree of accountability that comes from people knowing when we break the rules. The Tyne and Wear metro has run a successful campaign of naming fair dodgers in the paper. I know of one regular fair dodger who now buys a ticket solely because they don’t want their name in the paper.

Of course, we can point to examples where it doesn’t work. Plastering pictures of kids with ASBOs on the back of buses (another North East experiment) just made the kids heroes to their friends! However, we should not be put off – mutual accountability is important glue in our society that reminds us of the consequences of being “anti-social” in the broadest sense.

So should @ProfOnTheProwl and other magistrates be allowed to Twitter? Of course – in fact I would like to see far more transparency in the legal system. Let’s make court transcripts available on the web as matter of right. Let’s make sure that the local press report details of all cases – not just ones that involve sex or violence. We have a public justice system – designed to allow communities to know what was going on. In today’s world where our sense of community is as often online than not, let’s make sure the justice system is there too.

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Channel Islands – tax haven for the masses and no chance of being carbon neutral

There was once a time when only the rich could own sports cars, holiday in St Tropez and save on personal tax by using tax havens. However in our modern age of seemingly believing that everyone has a right to everything, you use credit to own your sports car, Easy Jet will get you to the South of France and most High St online retailers can help you benefit from a tax haven. On the last point even the most financially challenged can benefit from the independent tax arrangements of the Bailiwick of Jersey.

Not convinced? Try buying a CD or DVD online. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself trading with a company based in the Channel Islands. A small piece of tax legislation called low-value consignment relief (LVCR) was designed to save people who are buying low value items across borders in the EU from the differences in intra-EU VAT rates. Generally orders must below £18 to qualify.

So how does it work when you want to buy a DVD? You place the order, the goods are shipped from Jersey or Guernsey and usually delivered by Royal Mail – who run a heavily subsidized postal service to and from the Channel Islands. You the consumer end up saving 15% on the price of the goods and no one really loses out.

Well I don’t believe that’s true and here my reasons why.

First, the whole scheme is a deliberate piece of tax avoidance. There is no reason why the Channel Islands should be at the heart of this trade for any other reason that avoiding tax. The distribution costs of sending good via the Channel Islands are higher. The goods are not manufactured on the islands. Developing schemes to avoid tax is not very ethical is my view.

Second, I believe that as well as avoiding tax, I am convinced that we, the UK tax payer, are actually subsidizing the trade. The Royal Mail runs a flat rate service across the whole of the United Kingdom including the Highlands, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, the Sciliy Isles and the Channel Islands. If I post a letter from Gateshead to Newcastle first class, it would cost the same to send it to Jersey. The costs to the Royal Mail are hugely different. As citizens in our nation, we have decided that sharing the cost of the mail across the whole country is something we are happy with. Why should Auntie Mabel pay more to send birthday cards around the country? However, subsidizing Tescos to send out DVDs from the Channel Islands just to avoid paying VAT really isn’t a fair use of the system. The nation misses out on the tax revenue and makes a further subsidy to the delivery cost too!

More important than both of these points is the environmental impact of the trade. The DVD you are buying is likely to be making a several hundred mile round trip for no purpose other than to avoid UK VAT. Of course, DVDs being light the impact seems small but the volume of trade is increasing significantly. The following retailers all use Jersey or Guernsey to help you avoid UK tax – Play, HMV, Tesco, Asda, Zavvi, WHSmith, Amazon and Argos. That is a big percentage of online sales and the impacts seem a little more obvious. Hundreds of tonnes of products being shipped needlessly on a roundtrip has a big environmental impact.

On top of the shipping cost there is also lots of needless packaging wasted. Because of the £18 limit, orders for multiple DVDs are split into multiple shipments so as to still qualify for the LVCR. Order 10 DVDs at £15 each and you are likely to get 10 deliveries and 10 Jiffy bags. Even more wasted resources.

Of course the two-faced hypocrisy of the High Street retailers is astonishing. I get made to feel guilty in the extreme at the checkout if I ask for plastic bag because I have forgotten my jute bag. And yet these green-wash retailers are deliberately burning fuel and wasting resources simply to allow their online customers to avoid VAT. I think it is safe to assert that what good Tescos does by putting a wind turbine outside a store, it undoes through its Channel Islands selling.

In March the relative poor islanders of the Maldives took a brave step – they decided to commit themselves to turning their islands carbon neutral. An amazing commitment for a disadvantaged group of people. I would contend that the good folk of the Channel Islands could much more easily afford to go carbon neutral and they could take a good first step by stopping this trade.
So Mr Darling I know you are looking for a little more than £40million a year (my estimate of what the trade costs the UK payer in lost revenue and postal subsidy) but as Tescos are always reminding us “every little helps”.

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Mapping a better world? Not this week.

One of my favourite TV programmes is the West Wing. In one great episode all the White House staffers have to go meet various lobby groups. CJ gets to meet the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality. She hears about how the Mercator projection so often used for world maps distorts the world so that the developed countries far from the equator look much bigger than the often equatorially-based developing nations. She becomes convinced that the world should be seen through a different mapping projection.

A positive world view

A positive world view

In the programme we see her looking at the Peters projection of the world. For lobby group, social activists and aid organisations there has been a great deal of pressure to make the Peters projection the map of choice. However, traditionalists are quick to say it distorts the world making the countries outlines look very different from what we normally imagine they look like. The activists retort that in the Mercator projection Greenland looks twice the size of Australia while in practice, it is actually 3.5 times smaller. So while it may please our eye aesthetically, Peters at least makes things look about the right size across the world. For the poor of Africa living on a continent that is made to look insignificant, the Peters projection is a small change that can help later much deeper perceptions.

Yesterday my favourite daily newspaper published a map of world as a free giveaway. Cool I thought -one to put on the wall to help the kids understand where the news is taking place. I was surprised that far from using one of the smarter projections like Hammer or the more politically correct (in the truest sense of the phrase) Peters, they had chosen the Mercator projection.

The rationale offered by the Guardian was “it is the standard map used in most schoolbooks and newspapers; it arguably has the clearest depiction of the countries…” I almost choked on my cornflakes. Now I can imagine the Telegraph running that argument, but surely the Guardian’s position as a self appointed change-maker in society should be reacting against that kind of “old world” view. The Guardian prides itself on using inclusive language – if a picture is worth a thousand words I would argue it is therefore a 1000 times more important to get the maps right.

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