Welcome to the blog of the Broad Curriculum course Living Sustainably: A complete guide to surviving a changing planet. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Pint of Nature for St Patrick's Day

This St Patrick's Day, make yours a pint of nature. 

The Irish Forum on Natural Capital (IFNC) has created this infographic to illustrate just how important natural processes are in making a pint of beer, but the same logic applies to every commodity in our lives: from staples like bread and milk to luxuries like lipstick and laptops, nature is at the root of everything. 

So let's make it count!

Check out their website and find out what the IFNC are all about:

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Friday, December 5, 2014

World Soil Day - December 5

Land as a Finite Resource

Land is now considered to be a finite resource under significant threat from farming, industry and development.  The basis of land is of course soil which provides us with our food, fodder for livestock, fuel, fibre, building materials, and much more.  It is key to all ecosystem services and to human wellbeing.  Soil also harbours a significant portion of global biodiversity and is a key component in the carbon cycle and the storage and sequestration of carbon dioxide. World soil day has been celebrated each year since 2002 to raise awareness and to support action to protect and enhance soil quality.  The FAO are now the key organizers of events all around the world to celebrate World Soil Day.

Here is a message from FAO Land & Water Division Director, Moujahed Achouri

For more information about FAO World Soil Day contact Professor Nick Gray (nfgray@tcd.ie)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Strange Weather Exhibition at the Dublin Science Gallery

The latest exhibition at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin is STRANGE WEATHER.

The exhibition runs from the 18th July until the 5th September and  is curated by Catherine Kramer and Zack Denfeld of CoClimate; Lynn Scarff, Director of the Science gallery and Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met √Čireann.  Like all these wonderful exhibitions at the Gallery it is most informative and very much hands on. So you can have a try at forecasting the weather yourself, create your own micro-climates and learn just how predictable the future of weather is.

Nick Gray

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A new approach – Friendly Fashion and ‘Ecotoure’ !

A load of Rubbish!
Since a young age, I have adored fashion. Seeing models promote beautifully structured, eye catching clothing both captivates and excites me. So of course when I was asked to take part in the “Junk Kouture fashion show”, I was instantly overwhelmed with a flurry of ideas on how to dress these models in fabulous recycled material! The aim of this annual event is to ignite a passion for sustainable fashion in second level students across Ireland, while simultaneously educating them about the importance of recycling and reusing. Essentially the idea is to turn garbage into glamour!

 I began by meeting with art students of a local secondary school. We sat down and discussed materials that would be appropriate to use to create an outfit suitable for a runway show. By the next day the students had already gathered their “junk” and had started work on their designs. The materials ranged from plastic bottles, electric cables, wire tubing, tinfoil, newspaper, broken glass, wine corks, bin bags and the list goes on! Together we set to work and after weeks of hard work we had successfully assembled some terrific examples of Eco Fashion. Three of the outfits have made it into the final rounds of the competition which everyone is extremely proud of, but we could also have the winner for 2014 so keep those fingers crossed!
Here are some pictures of contestants from both this year and previous years, taking part in the fashion show. Visit the website http://www.junkkouture.com to learn more about this innovative idea and get inspired and excited about sustainable fashion!

Friendly fibres and fabrics
Although I promote this fantastic competition, I am not completely unaware that it is completely unreasonable to expect people to stroll about town wearing clothes made out of their old Chinese food containers! There is in fact, a more subtle approach to sustainable fashion.                
Recycled or reclaimed fibres are those that are made from scraps of fabrics collected from clothing factories, which are processed back into short fibres for spinning into a new yarn. There are only a few facilities globally that are able to process the clippings, and  variations range from a blend of recycled cotton fibres for strength to recycled cotton fibres/virgin acrylic fibres which are added for colour, consistency and strength.
The good news is that designers say that they are trying to incorporate these sustainable practices into modern clothing, rather than producing "hippie clothes."  In particular, designer Stella McCartney has recently drawn attention to socially conscious and environmentally friendly fashion, by promoting "Portland Fashion Week", which annually showcases sustainable apparel. It has also attracted international press for its efforts to sustainably produce a fashion
week that showcases 100% eco-friendly designs.
However here is the bad news, due to the efforts taken to minimize harm in the growth, manufacturing, and shipping of these products, sustainable fashion is typically more expensive than clothing produced by conventional methods! Let us not be disheartened, there are still plenty of ways we can improve the sustainability of our wardrobes!

Here are the main factors to bear in mind when considering the sustainability of a material:

·         The renewability and source of a fibre
·          The process of how a raw fibre is turned into a textile
·         The working conditions of the people producing the materials
·         The material's total carbon footprint    
When shopping, look at the clothes labels and keep an eye out for fabrics like organic cotton, naturally coloured cotton or those made from soy, hemp or bamboo fibres.   These are all examples of excellent sustainable fabrics.

They may still be a little bit hard to come by in our local shopping centres but I have included a link to one of my favourite online shopping websites “Reformation”. They are an environmentally sustainable fashion brand that repurposes vintage and surplus materials to create a chic, limited edition collection.

So start your fashion revolution now!   http://thereformation.com/

Fiona Molloy

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Glaring signs of active desertification and the hopeful yet strategic words of a wise man

A recent report entitled UN report: one-third of worlds food wasted annually, at great economic, environmental cost sparked in me a concern over land usage and destruction caused by our very own food wastage. Our wasted food accounts for a staggering 28% of the worlds agricultural area or 1.4billion hectares.  All of which ends up in our bin. The article discusses a recent report published by the FAO on our Food Wastage Footprint. With the drastic spreading of desertification, we simply cannot afford to allow 28% of our fertile land produce to be thrown in the garbage. As the diagram below indicates, areas surrounding now desert land (marked in red) are at high risk of desertification, these areas often belong to small countries who are highly dependent on their agricultural use and whose desertification will only cause a ripple effect of increased dependence and indebtedness on agricultural land belonging to more economically wealthy countries.
Copyright: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Desertification_map.png

The results of a study undertaken by A. Challinor in 2010 suggests that for China, climate change will result in increasing spring wheat crop failure in northeast China due to increasing extremes of both heat and water stress. Now according to this quotation, that study correlates with the image above, where North-east China is at high risk of desertification. There has also been a lot of coverage on rice crop failures in China and the millions of tonnes of GHGs released as a result of this. Although there are ideas being developed to create heat-resistant and drought-resistant crops, the real answer is right in front of us and within reach. Following the FAO report cited earlier, the FAO provided a free toolkit on reducing our food wastage footprint.

Copyright: http://www.rmaf.org.ph/userfiles/

Another view of desertification which I would like to touch on is that of Masanobu Fukuoka. I recently read a book of his, One Straw Revolution which spoke of his system of natural farming where crops could be grown without plowing his fields, using no prepared fertilisers or agricultural chemicals and did not flood his rice fields as farmers in Asia continue to do. A method which he himself developed and lived by for over 65years and in fact yielded greater quantities of crops than the most productive farms in Japan. This book is highly relevant to the individual and although delves into some technicality, Fukuokas book serves a far greater purpose than farming methods. However it is his second and last book which I find so relevant to this topic of desertification, called Sowing Seeds in the Desert. Although Fukuokas influence has been only marginal so far, the increased rate of desertification begs us to look at alternative possibilities, which include a return to simple but effective methods of farming. Fukuoka reminds us that the present state of our land is not natural but rather a result of our own destructive actions, his silver-longing however, is it can be remedied and perhaps eventually reversed. HIs aspiration was to achieve global food security by natural farming which he practiced and preached in Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States.  Fukuoka offers us an opportunity to put aside our guilt as we face this earths degradation and take a step forward in the right direction.

Una Quinn

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ecotourism...creating a positive change

Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." (TIES, 1990)  The International Ecotourism Society is a non-profit organisation with members in over 120 countries. They promote awareness of sustainable practice in the tourism sector, and provide guidelines on standards, training, technical assistance and educational resources. In the decade between the Earth Summit in 1992 and the International Year of Ecotourism in 2002, a web of over 100 certification and award programs appeared, (most of which are of varying quality).

The World Ecotourism Summit (WES) is organized by UNEP and the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) aiming to strengthen ecotourism as a tool for sustainable development and conservation. Separately, the World Ecotourism Conference aims to provide a networking platform for businesses and policy makers, but with little apparent impact. The European Ecotourism Network (EEN) and the European Ecotourism Labeling Standard (EETLS), which is co-funded by the European Commission, has been recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and in comparison with WEC and WES, there is more focus on certification and standardization. However, there is no single ruling body for global ecotourism certification, and this has inevitably led to considerable controversy and uncertainty. As it stands, the GSTC appears to be the most credible.
The Green Globe Standard was one of the leading certification bodies to come out of the Earth Summit in 1992 and is based on the following international standards and agreements: GSTC, Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism Criteria (STC Partnership), Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas, The ISO 9001/14001/19011 (International Standard Organization) and Agenda 21. EcoAustralia, in conjunction with Green Globe, has proven to be a successful international standard and has also employed in India.

Basic ecotourism principles:
  • Sustainable management e.g. design and construction, health and safety and communications.
  • Socio-economics e.g. supporting local community initiatives such as education, fairly traded goods and securely integrated local employment.
  • Cultural heritage e.g. protection of historical, archaeological and spiritual sites and respectful incorporation of local culture.  
  •  Environmental e.g. sustainable management of water, energy, waste and protection and awareness of biodiversity.

Case Study – Lapa Rios Eco-lodge, Costa Rica
In 1993, a professional couple from Minnesota liquidated their assets and bought 930 acres of rainforest in the south west of the country. In 2013, they signed an agreement endorsed by The Nature Conservancy and CEDARENA that perpetually protects the land as a primary forest. It neighbors a National Park, which is home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and acts as a migration corridor.

Although Lapa Rios eco-lodge is a leading example of ecotourism, it has not been certified by organisations such as Green Globe. Instead, they are certified by the Costa Rican tourism board agency known as the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST), following similar principles outlined above. The CST has been recognized and approved by the tourism ministries in every country in Central America, as well as Mexico, Belize and many countries in South America have expressed interest in developing similar programs. Learn more about Lapa Rios here.

It is evident that ecotourism can and does create real positive change, even when it operates outside of well-intentioned conferences, however, many resorts will often use it as a buzzword to attract gullible travellers, so beware!
Conor Dolan