How to decide what to buy this Christmas

Christmas is fast approaching, but there’s still time to think about what you’re buying, and if possible, to try to avoid buying ‘stuff’

Buy Nothing Day

It was Buy Nothing Day a couple of weekends ago… did you notice?

It was the day after ‘Black Friday’, when in contrast £810m was spent online in the UK this year.

At this time of year it’s quite hard to buy nothing at all, so for me, more than anything Buy Nothing Day is a reminder to think about what I buy, and whether I’m just adding to more ‘stuff’, and things that I don’t really need.

If this resonates, as you make your Christmas purchases, you could do a quick audit of the things you’re about to buy:

  • What materials are they made from?
  • Where are they produced? Are you buying it for the smile it puts on someone’s face, or for its usefulness?
  • Or is it just ‘stuff’?

In a world of shiny plastic and metal, it can be the most unglamorous of things that get the most use, and the most appreciation.

A few years ago, a friend’s two-year-old spent 4 hours on Christmas Day playing inside the cardboard Rocket playhouse he’d given her, as it was the first time she’d had her own dedicated space. She managed to cram twenty teddies in there, and drew all over it.

It costs £29.99, but to his daughter it was as if someone had given her a house.

rocket playhouse

The space to play in was the real gift, not the Rocket itself.

A successful and low impact gift, a Rocket can be folded away when done and brought out again when wanted.

There’s a whole range of cardboard playhouses, they’re all strong and durable enough to be passed on to younger siblings.

It’s Christmas, but it’s worth investing a minute in thinking about how you can make your presents more useful, and give something that’s more than the sum of its parts.

What are you going to give this year?

Download our FREE guide to a having a good Christmas Here

10 ways you can help save bees

Bees matter. Most fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as food crops for farmed animals, depend on bees. But bees are in crisis. Their numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate.

The problem of declining numbers of bees is not so apparent in urban gardens, but in the countryside, where bees are under attack from viruses, pesticides and mites.

Pic courtesy of

Here’s 10 things you can do to help save bees:

1 Stop using pesticides, especially when plants are in flower
There is growing scientific evidence that pesticides are playing a significant role in causing the decline in bee populations. More information is available from the Pesticide Action Network. Read their factsheets here.

2 Grow plants that attract bees
The RHS have put together two downloadable plant lists to help gardeners identify plants that will provide nectar and pollen for bees and many other types of pollinating insects.

3 Create a natural habitat garden
British wildflowers can be an attractive addition to planting schemes and may help support a wider range of pollinating insects. Bees adore wild and native flowers, but they also delight in a whole range of cultivated garden plants that are readily available at garden centres. There’s an interesting article about that here.

4 Find out more about bees
There are lots of different types of bee in the UK – around 250 species. There are 24 species of bumblebees, around 225 species of solitary bee and just a single honeybee species. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is a great resource for bee information and identifcation.

5 Support your local beekeepers
The British Beekeepers Association was set up in 1874 to promote the craft of beekeeping. It is the UK’s leading organisation representing beekeepers. Find a local association close to you here.

Adopt a Beehive
Invest in a new beehive and help start a new bee colony

6 Adopt a Beehive
Adopt a beehive and help start a new bee colony, it’s a practical way to solve a real problem. The bees are kept in five separate apiaries in Shropshire. This ensures that there is enough forage all the year round to support the colonies. A one-twelfth annual share in a hive (as many as you like) – costs just £29.99.

7 Become a beekeeper
Encourage bees by keeping honeybees yourself or allowing a beekeeper to place hives in your garden. Nest boxes containing cardboard tubes or hollow plant stems, or holes drilled in blocks of wood will provide nest sites for some species of solitary bees. The British Beekeepers Association have lots of information and resources on how to do it.

8 Lobby your MP, local council and MEP
Write to your politicians, local or national for free, here.

9 Sign petitions banning pesticides
There are several organisations campaigning to convince Governments to ban the pesticides that are suspected of killing bees. Have a look at Friends of the Earth’s Bee Action Plan and also 38 Degrees.

10 Make your own bee home
You’ll be helping Britain’s bumblebees to survive if you put out a home for them. Bumblebees need a box the same size as a small bird box. Here’s some ways to build a bee home.

For innovative and inspiring eco products, visit Nigel’s Eco Store.

Earth Hour: together we can make a difference

One of the hardest things about having concern for the environment is the feeling of impotence, the thought that whatever changes we make, however many others we inspire to take action, it’s never enough. Earth Hour changes that.

It’s a tough question. How can what we do have any influence on the changing climate, species extinction, biodiversity decline, the pollution of the oceans… the list goes on?

Some days you feel like you are bobbing around on a tiny boat all alone in the middle of a massive sea.

Even though I run an eco store and get to meet interesting people doing inspiring things almost every day, occasionally I feel dispirited. Am I really making the sort of difference I thought I would when I set up Nigel’s Eco Store?

That’s the beauty of WWF’s Earth Hour (tonight, March 29th, 8.30-9.30pm in the UK, currently underway around other parts of the world).

From its humble beginnings in Australia in 2007, Earth Hour has evolved to become the world’s largest environmental event. Last year, more than 7,000 towns and cities took part across 154 countries.

Its success is down to the idea that those individual actions we take are part of a wider, global movement, that while we think we have been bobbing along alone, just over the crest of the wave there’s actually been a whole flotilla of boats all sailing in the same direction.

I am not alone! That’s an intoxicating realisation.

So what are you doing this Earth Hour? The main event involves switching off lights all over the world between 8.30-9.30pm GMT – Nigel’s Eco Store did it last year.

Lights are going off in office buildings, parliaments, homes – all sorts of places, saving millions of tonnes of carbon in the process.

Earth Hour is about more than flicking a switch, of course.

This year, WWF is launching Earth Hour Blue, which harnesses the power of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing to raise money for a range of environmental causes including a scheme that teaches fisherman in the Philippines how to build fishing boats without using wood from the local forests to a solar-lighting project to help people and nature live in harmony in India.

If that’s not enough to restore your faith in the environmental cause, you can be cheered by a further bit of news. A recent WWF-UK survey found that 47% of the 2,000 respondents would be willing to switch allegiance to a different political party based on the strength of their environmental policies.

Good news that we still care; just a pity that the mainstream parties don’t actually have any environmental policies worth switching allegiance for.

If your passion for protecting the environment ever wavers, if you ever get dispirited or uninspired, remember across the world there are millions of people who care just as much as you do.

As WWF says on its website: “Earth Hour is a movement using the power of the crowd to protect the planet.”

Together we can make a difference.

Three ways to save the planet (and not get annoyed)

I’ve just come back from Ambiente, a huge homewares, lifestyle and gifts trade show in Frankfurt to make sure Nigel’s Eco Store has some of the newest, best-designed, and greenest products available.

Ambiente showcased the latest product designs

Well, that was the plan at least.

Despite that fact there were 4,500 exhibitors at Ambiente from across Europe and Asia, I really struggled to find products that were either made from sustainable materials or had a sustainable purpose, or both.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the designs were really eye-catching and there was a lot of cool stuff there, but environmentally friendly or sustainable products were few and far between.

After traipsing around for several hours, I got more and more annoyed about this, so I started challenging exhibitors on why their products weren’t designed with sustainability in mind.

One exhibitor summed it up for me: “You’re the only person who’s asked,” she said. (More than 140,000 people went to the show.)

In other words, here at least, there’s little or no demand for sustainable products for the mass market.

Why on earth not?

We know we are using up the planet’s natural resources faster than it can replenish them; that we throw out millions of tonnes of perfectly reusable goods/materials; that the majority of manufacturing and production pollute and damage the environment and human lives all over the world.

We know all this and yet we continue to repeat the same old patterns.

Designers, companies and consumers all go along with the same old ‘take-make-dispose’ system that we’ve been using since the Industrial Revolution.

Time for a change
I don’t think business-as-usual is acceptable any more. We owe it to future generations to come up with a better way, one in that doesn’t let profit steamroller environmental and social concerns.

Change has to happen all along the supply chain, starting at the beginning of the process with design. About 80 per cent of the environmental impact of a product is determined at the design stage (1).

There are new schools of thought coming to the fore, such as emotionally durable design. This movement, led by Professor Jon Chapman at the University of Brighton, tries to create a deeper bond between people and the stuff they own by including hidden designs in products that only reveal themselves as the items age. This makes it more likely for consumers to keep products than replace them once they get old.

The idea is that if you can increase the length of time someone keeps a product from, say 12 to 18 months, you are delaying the need for the manufacturer to make a new one. This reduces the waste, materials and energy associated by making the product, by half.

These striking tea cups made by Laura Bethan Wood, one of Jon’s students, which reveal a pattern as the tea gradually stains the unglazed parts of the china, are a great example of emotionally durable design.

Unfortunately, new thinking such as this is by no means the norm in the design and commercial worlds. There needs to be more of it.

The way we produce and manufacture stuff needs to change too — the way we do it at the moment is massively inefficient.

Some forward-thinking companies have realised this and are adopting circular economy business models, ­which are built around the aim of producing no waste at all.

More companies need to adopt these sorts of approaches.

Power to the people
The final piece in the puzzle is us the consumer (retail buyers like Nigel’s Eco Store included). It may not feel like it at times, but collectively we hold the balance of power. Even over massive companies like Nike or Apple.

If we make it clear that the environmental and social impacts of the products are important to us and are very, or even the most important factors in our decisions to buy certain things and not others, businesses will soon get the message.

They already have in some cases.

Twenty-five years ago, Fair Trade goods such as Café Direct coffee were seen as niche, economically insignificant products in a vast global market. But thanks to steadily increasing sales, driven by consumers who thought environmental and social principles were worth paying for (and still do), Cadbury, Starbucks and loads of other big brands noticed and realised they needed to get in on the act. Many now sell their own Fair Trade products.

Consumer power works because money talks. More of us must use it.

We also need to ask ourselves whether we really need new stuff all the time. Can “broken” stuff be repaired? Could your current smart phone last another six months before you upgrade it? Do we need to buy, buy, buy, all the time? It’s this insatiable appetite for new things that drives the whole system.

Break this habit, and companies will have to think of different ways to earn money – more service-based business models, perhaps, where they maintain, mend and upgrade the products you’ve bought from them instead of selling you new ones.

Back at the show, I did eventually find some great new things to add to the Nigel’s Eco Store range. You can see what I discovered here.

But at these trade shows, sustainable products need to be the rule rather than the exception. Designers, producers, consumers – wherever we are along the supply chain – it’s down to all of us to bring this about.

If we could pull it off, it would be a legacy to be proud of.

Vektra Vacuum Kettle
An energy saving Kettle I found at Ambiente


Deposit with an ethical bank and claim a £40 voucher for Nigel’s Eco Store

In the five years since the start of the banking crisis of 2008 when UK and global banks needed bailing out to the tune of £billions, and the financial scandals of last year, it’s been clear that changes to the current banking system are sorely needed.

With this June marking the one year anniversary of the LIBOR scandal, has anything really changed?

Despite all these crises, top bankers still draw huge salaries and bonuses, but unfortunately very little money has gone to businesses outside of the financial sector, or to infrastructure, or had any ethical, moral or social considerations.

According to Positive Money, before the financial crisis around 40% of banks’ money went to property, which pushed up house prices. Around 37% went to financial markets – that eventually imploded during the financial crisis. Just 13% of all the money that banks created in this time went into businesses. And 10% went into credit cards and personal loans.

The Bank of England is trying to get banks to lend to businesses again, but what is clearly needed is more control on the way money is created, and new kinds of banks that operate in a less greedy, more ethical, sustainable and responsible way, that make social considerations as important as profits. And are transparent so that you can find out exactly who your bank lends your money to. Most simply won’t tell you.

Which is why we’re pleased to have teamed up with Triodos Bank.

Founded in the Netherlands in 1980, Triodos has operated in Britain since 1995, and are probably the most ethical bank around. And they’re successful. They believe that profit doesn’t need to be at the expense of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.

Triodos only lend out savers’ money to people and organisations who are working to make a positive impact: culturally, socially and environmentally. From organic food and farming businesses and pioneering renewable energy enterprises, to recycling companies and nature conservation projects.

And they don’t create money out of nothing: they only lend money deposited with them by savers, and not a penny more. As they say:

We’ll only lend your money to people and organisations that work to make the world a better place. And we promise you’ll always know where your money goes.

So if you care about where your money goes, and what banks do with it: check them out.

In fact if you open an account and deposit £100 with Triodos bank through this link, they’ll give you a £40 voucher to spend on anything at Nigel’s Eco Store, like an energy saving gadget.

Which can’t be bad.

*See for the offer, terms and conditions.



How to buy books and e-readers without supporting Amazon

Boycott Amazon

I just read that MPs and tax campaigners in the UK have been up in arms again this week as more of Amazon’s tax avoidance comes to light.

Amazon’s US bosses are telling investors that they took sales from UK customers last year of £4.2bn, yet they only paid £3.2m in tax (less than 0.1%).

If this makes you angry and you’d like to boycott Amazon, join the campaign here.

And if you’re wondering how to buy books without supporting Amazon, there are several alternatives:

Ethical Consumer’s latest product guide has everything you need to know about buying books and e-readers without supporting Amazon.

Ethical Consumer editor Rob Harrison says: “Many people are angry about the scale of Amazon’s tax dodges. The good news though is that you don’t have to get mad, you can get even by boycotting Amazon. Boycotting a company hits a company where it hurts, in their profits and makes them sit up and take notice.”

“As consumers we’ve got the power to force companies to change the way they operate now. This why we’re calling on shoppers to stop shopping online at Amazon.”

Other online bookshops:

Or even better, buy second-hand books, or support your local bookshop. Find one near to you at

E-readers: if you already have an e-reader or a Kindle, make use of free websites such as and

For more information visit the Ethical Consumer website.

To find products from a more ethical company: Shop here


Save £00s on your energy bills


I was reading the Independent over lunch today, and noticed this advert about saving money on energy bills.

It struck me that the main focus of energy saving still seems to be on how much you can save by switching to a different tariff or supplier, instead of how and where you can save energy in your home.

Is it because that’s where all the money can be made?

Switching services like Money Supermarket and Uswitch make millions from helping us to switch, but nothing if we actually use less energy… And of course the more energy we use, the more the utility companies make.

There’s an uneasy relationship between companies that make money from selling energy, and our need to save energy, and until these big companies see a way to make money out of energy saving, I can’t see how it’s going to change.

Green Deal anyone?

Is recycling at risk from Brands?

Letter from Kellogg’s

The other day we received the above letter from Kellogg’s threatening ‘further steps’ if we continued to sell a recycled milk bottle jug with their logo on it.

The milk jug in question is a rather lovely retro-style item. Recycled from milk bottles, the designs on the jug – the original batch we had included Typhoo and Nescafe, as well as Kellogg’s – are original adverts that dairies in Devon had put on the side of their bottles in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

A small Devon based glass recycling company collected the milk bottles and with a bit of creative thinking, turned them into milk jugs – using less energy to do that than completely recycling the glass would have consumed, making dinky and fun jugs, and preserving a little bit of English history into the bargain.

We all know about brands wanting to control the use of their image – and currently we’ve stopped selling the jugs while we work out what to do (we’ve got a couple left if anyone wants to bid for one) – but there’s a wider big issue here for the future, namely if brands are so concerned about their image that they stop their products being re-used and recycled, that can’t be good for the planet. Especially when there’s so much branded stuff in circulation.

You’d have thought that Kellogg’s would have weighed it up and decided that they like the extra brand visibility, and goodwill that these jugs would generate. Gosh, they could even have bought some for giveaways and promotions, or for their boardroom.

According to Kellogg’s website, they ‘say’ they’re looking out for the planet:

We are committed to operating a sustainable business that… ensures a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. Sustainability has always been an integral part of Kellogg’s recipe for success and it will continue to be in the years to come.

But how does stopping a logo from being re-used on a re-made product sit with being committed to sustainability, and does this mean their statement is just more greenwash?

Send in your answers, preferably on the back of a cereal packet.

Let them eat cake… 86,000 tonnes of it


A friend who lives in Wales is telling me about Freeganism, which involves salvaging discarded, unspoiled food from supermarket bins. It reminds me of the time I visited a different friend who used to live on a houseboat on the Thames. One of her neighbours, ‘Mad’ Pierre, who rumour had it, had been hit by an electro magnet, would tromp the canal path with food he had found in the bin of the local supermarket, distributing it to the local houseboat community.

At the time I thought this was quite odd, but the food was perfectly fine, and edible, albeit slightly past its sell by date and my friend said it supplemented her supper pretty well. It was only when I was told by my Welsh friend of how he raided the bins of his local supermarket that I thought back to Mad Pierre. Was he, electro magnets aside, a bit of a visionary? A forerunner of a growing trend of Freeganism?

The important thing to note about Freeganism is that it is not a last resort, forced by desperate measures, but a considered means of rescuing discarded food and products that would otherwise just end up in landfill. It does not only provide the seemingly impossible free lunch but has a moral and ethical slant to it. It’s a political act. A choice by educated professional types who’re making a statement about having a non-consumerist lifestyle.

And you can see their point. As an example of how crazy this world we live in can be, a huge amount of fresh, edible, food (not to mention other items) is discarded by all the supermarket chains every day. Bread alone accounts for 505,000 tonnes of it a year, whilst the cakes and puddings they throw out account for 86,000 tonnes.

In a time of famine relief, the credit crunch, food miles and carbon reductions it seems total madness that such a huge amount of usable and edible produce should just end up in the bin. Items are thrown out for a variety of reasons – many of them questionable: they can be soiled, past sell by dates, a shop return, in damaged packing, or a promotional offer that has simply ended. Some supermarkets even make it difficult to take their rubbish by pouring blue dye or bleach over the bin, or by erecting razor wire fencing, securing padlocks and employing security men. So much for ‘helping us to spend less every day’, as one nameless supermarket likes to tell us.

For more information on Freeganism and to find a group in your area see If you feel like having a go, Bin Appetit!

Recipe for a successful Copenhagen

Just found this great little video and info on Do The Green Thing

Here Are Five Copenhagen Campaigns You Can Get Involved With…
1) Join Tck Tck Tck – 2) Take the 350 pledge – 3) Make the wave – 4) Seal the deal – 5) Help Avaaz global action – And for a round-up of the rest:

Climate Clinic: fringe event or main event?

Climate Clinic

Last night I went to the Climate Clinic at the Friends Meeting House in Brighton – as part of the Labour Party Conference. Green Party candidates Caroline Lucas and Tony Juniper, and Peak Oil guru Jeremy Leggett, were on the panel in a green Have-I-Got-News-for-You style quiz.

The Climate Clinic is usually a bit more serious, bringing together party leaders, ministers, renowned scientists, opinion formers, environmentalists, low-carbon associations, business leaders and the public, in a programme packed with lively debates, talks and analysis, to debate the issues, spotlight the solutions and press for urgent action and vigorous political leadership.

This year (it’s fourth), the aim is to set the road to the climate change conference in Copenhagen (COP15) in December. Key discussions this week cover coal and energy policy, deforestation, creating a low-carbon economy, party manifestos, transport, biodiversity, sustainability, education, civil society and justice.

Keep an eye out for The Independent Climate Clinic supplement for daily updates.

The Brighton Climate Clinic runs from the 27th September to the 1st October, other clinics are held at annual Political Party Conferences in Bournemouth (Liberal Democrat 19 –23 Sept), and Manchester (Conservative 5 – 8 Oct).

See for this week’s full itinerary. It’s worth going to listen to the debates as they are informative and inspiring. They’re also free!

You can also treat yourself a spot of Fair Trade coffee and sit under a tree in the Meeting House Gardens.

Merry Christmas and a Happy Eco New Year

free gift

It’s hard to believe it’s that time of year again. It’s all Christmas trees and turkeys outside and before we know it, we’ll be chiming in the new year. 2008 has been an exciting, fascinating whirlwind of a year, with the Climate Change Bill becoming the Climate Change Act, making it legal and binding, committing the UK government to reducing the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050, and in the US, president-elect Barack Obama raising hopes of reversing some of the environmentally destructive policies of the old administration.

If any of us are honest, when we get time to reflect the whole situation can seem daunting and scary. But right now, writing this and looking back on the year, I feel so positive, almost elated at how far we’ve all come. I think this new year, before I rush in to making all the usual rounds of resolutions, I’m going to take a moment to say well done to all the people I know who work hard to make a difference to the world. We know now that even little things can add up and that with enough time, energy and pressure in the right places, we really can make a massive difference. So three cheers to us. We are all brilliant.

It just remains for me to say: Thank you for shopping at Nigel’s Eco Store, and have a brilliant Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year… as a final thank you, for as long as stocks last, spend £25 with us and you’ll get a free eco gift!

Busting some eco myths

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about environmental issues, and I think most people at some point probably find it hard to sort out the greenwash from the green. As long as it suits, I expect some companies will always claim to be greener than they actually are.

Thankfully there are people around exposing them, like Fred Pearce over at the Guardian with his greenwash column.

But then there is another kind of misinformation that I have become aware of, and while it is less harmful than a giant company posing as green, it is still something to be wary of, and that is the eco myth. You know the kind of thing, like when people say because of power surges it takes more energy to turn a computer off and on again than it does to leave it running overnight. It’s plausible enough, but is it actually true? And with our busy lives, is anyone likely to take the time to find out?

Thankfully, New Scientist have done just that for us with their brilliant article Dumb Eco Questions You Were Afraid To Ask, which explains all kinds of excellent things about carbon offsetting, eco driving, recycling window envelopes and washing at 30 degrees C.

Definitely worth a read, and if there are any questions it didn’t answer, why not post them in the comments below and I’ll see if I can find out for you.

Image courtesy of Shasta’s Humor

A way out of global meltdown

Peak Oil

It’s turning out to be a busy week. If the global financial crisis isn’t enough, last night I went to a talk about climate change and peak oil at the local Transition Town meeting.

I haven’t been following the stories in the FT, that oil production around the world is slowing down, but speaker Jeremy Leggett, previously an oil scientist, now author of several books on energy, and CEO of Solar Century says whistleblowers in the oil industry are saying that oil is running out much faster than we think.

For an oil based world, we need a plan. Global demand is a staggering 100m barrels a day, and is set to increase, but supply is declining, nuclear energy may take too long to get up and running, gas can’t pick up the shortfall, and coal based solutions are a big problem for climate change – which is also approaching a tipping point.

I’d heard about Transition Towns, but hadn’t been along to any meetings before. It’s a movement that’s spreading – as the oil industry, and governments appear to be in denial, and have no obvious contingency plan, local communities are trying to come up with ways that we can do something. Or at least feel that we’re doing something.

Perhaps it’s time, as the other speaker Dr Jim Watson argued, for us to shift our dependence on big energy generation plants and bring more down to the community and household level – ie get solar panels and wind turbines on our rooves, and on the rooves of community buildings. It’s a bit pricey at the moment, but that’ll change, and of course there’s a load of other stuff to be done too, but then who knows, we might actually have a chance.

Pic thanks to

Mapping climate change

Map of Carbon Emissions, by Worldmapper

I just came across this world map by Worldmapper on the new BBC Green website. The map looks pretty distorted, because each country has been resized to show the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it is responsible for.

The map factors in emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which account for 98% of the greenhouse effect.

The countries that emit the most greenhouse gases are the United States, China, the Russian Federation and Japan. No surprises there. The UK doesn’t come off too well either. However, the most emissions per person are in Qatar: equivalent to 86 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Qatar has significant oil and gas reserves, and in 2002 was populated by 600,000 people. (In case you’re wondering Qatar is in the green section between a very skinny Africa, and India.)

Here’s how the world looks by land area, so you have a comparison:

Map of the World

What the BBC site doesn’t show, is another Worldmapper map – this one shows the world by carbon emissions decreases – an altogether different picture! Here the fatter the country, the bigger the decrease.

Map of carbon emission decreases, by Worldmapper