Posts Tagged ‘ethical’


A few months ago I talked about meat. I decided I’d eat less, better meat. From animals that had led a decent and natural life and that had been farmed in a non-intensive and sustainable way.

I also made the decision that, because of its huge environmental impact, I’d restrict beef, the biggest meaty environmental offender, to a once-a-month treat.

Well, I reckon I’ve just about managed it. But there’s nothing like a bit of red meat every now and again. So I’m also pleased to say that I’ve found an excellent beef-alternative that I’ve started to buy more of.


So, a quick reminder why we should eat less meat, beef in particular.

If you live in the UK and eat meat regularly, the chances are that this makes up at least 10% of your carbon footprint. Once you add in methane (or cow fart), a greenhouse gas 25-times more potent than CO2, farming cattle accounts for nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than transport does.

Meat is really inefficient to produce. You feed the animal a lot more calories than you get out. Beef is the most inefficient by far, needing 10 kilos of feed to produce 1 kilo of beef.

Intensively farmed cows don’t often get the opportunity to eat grass as a cow should and instead are fed maize, corn and other grains. Three quarters of agricultural land in the EU is now used to grow animal feed. And the huge demand for it means that we now import feed from far-flung places such as Brazil where the pressure for land leads to deforestation and the destruction of the Amazon.

OK, so we know all this.

What about the venison?

Well, deer are wild. Even when they’re farmed, they resist domestication. This means they’re always free-range and are not intensively produced.

Although most of the venison you find in Supermarkets will be farmed, a lot of wild venison is also sold in the UK.

In Scotland and the south of England the deer population has been booming over recent years and deer have been becoming a bit of a pest. Because they cause a lot of damage to woodlands and trees, deer are often culled. This meat is usually sold, perhaps at your local butchers. So if you eat wild venison, not only has your meat had as natural a life as it possibly could, but you’re also helping to stop a small bit of deer-related deforestation and making sure that good meat doesn’t go to waste.

Even farmed deer mainly eat grass and not grain. They can be farmed on marginal land like sheep. Land that’s only good for growing grass, such as the Scottish highlands.

Cleverly, deer naturally reduce their appetite in winter, when grass is more scare and go into semi hibernation. Farmed deer are often given hay and reject root vegetables in winter. These can easily be produced locally and makes good use of second-rate veg that us humans might turn our noses up at.

Unlike cows, deer haven’t been selectively bred over centuries and so they don’t suffer from many of the diseases that traditional farm animals do. This means that they don’t need to be given antibiotics, hormones and other drugs that are commonly given to intensively farmed, non-organic cows, which also can end up in your beef.

The most humane way to kill a deer is to shoot it in its natural habitat, which is still legal for game. This means that, unlike a cow, it is spared a distressing final journey to the abattoir (which, unless the cow walks there, also creates carbon emissions). The deer is instantly killed and suffers no distress. Other deer are apparently unconcerned by one of their number suddenly dropping dead as this doesn’t happen in the wild.

And there are some very good health reasons to eat venison.

Venison is very low in fat and cholesterol and is much better for you than beef. It’s often recommended as part of a low-fat diet. It also contains more iron than any other red meat.

It’s cheaper than similar quality cuts of beef. A couple of good steaks will be around £6 and steak patties are only a couple of quid for two.

You can use it to make burgers, sausages, Bolognese, stews, casseroles or simply cook it as a steak. Pretty much anything you do with beef you can do with venison. You may need to add some fatty bacon or pork belly fat to it though as it is so lean.

Half a million years ago, when we were hunters, half our diet was venison (the word venison originally meant meat that was hunted). In medieval times, it was highly regarded meat and poaching venison from the king’s forest could cost you your hand.

Although it is now wildly farmed – there 300 deer parks producing 5 thousand deer every year in the UK – and therefore much wildly available, we still tend to treat it as exotic and something that you might only eat as an occasional indulgence. My mother delights in cooking a venison stew or “Rudolf Casserole” every Christmas Eve and includes a single whole cherry tomato – his nose. We consider it a festive (if slightly disturbing) treat.

But given that it’s better for you, cheaper and less damaging for the planet than similar meat, I think we should eat more. So next time you’re buying some beef for your tea, stop. Try buying venison instead.

Just don’t call it Rudolf.


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Ethical banking

windowI changed my bank today. Why? Well, I bank with HSBC one of the UK’s big four banks. The others are Lloyds TSB, Barclays and Royal Bank Of Scotland/Nat West. Two-thirds of people in the UK bank with one of them. And none of these banks has an ethical investment policy.

Why does this matter? Because it means that you don’t know that they’re not investing money into something that you wouldn’t.

The big four

Ethically speaking, none of them appear to have a particularly good track record. In recent years they have received criticism for funding deforestation by investing in business illegally logging in Indonesia. They’ve also been accused of investing in businesses that export arms to oppressive regimes and business that extract natural materials in environmentally unsound ways. I don’t want to be complicit in any of these things and I doubt you do either.

Just recently HSBC, RBS and Barclays been in the press because they are investing into the new controversial coal-fire powerstation at Kingsnorth with my bank, HSBC investing £10 billion.

Currency speculation

Apart from what your bank invests in, the other big problem is currency speculation. Everyday a lot of money is gambled on currency markets. It’s estimated that between £1 trillion and £2 trillion in currency is traded everyday. I’m not even sure how much a trillion is, but it sounds like more than I can possibly imagine.

Most of this trading is banks and investment funds hoping to make money from short-term changes in exchange rates. The problem is that when lots of people buy or sell a particular currency, it can seriously destabilise that country’s economy – especially if it’s a developing country. This can lead to problems like collapsed banks and devalued currency.

Many people are campaigning for ways to curb this practice including taxing transactions. But as yet currency speculation continues.

So who did I change my bank to?

I switched to Smile, the internet bank owned by The Co-operative Bank.

The Co-op is the only UK bank to have an ethical investment policy, something they have had since 1992. The policy is helped determined by the bank’s customers. In 2005 they claim to have turned away £10 million worth of business that conflicts with their customers concerns.

Some of the things the policy says they won’t invest in:
•    Governments or businesses that fail to uphold basic human rights
•    Businesses selling arms to oppressive regimes or selling torture equipment
•    Genetically modified food
•    Intensive farming like battery eggs
•    The extraction or production of fossil fuels
•    Unsustainable harvesting of natural resources including timber and fish
•    Manufacture of chemicals that are linked to long-term health concerns

They also don’t support currency speculation.

I find it deeply troubling that a bank that I have used for twenty years may have been investing my money in any of the above. I’m not saying they necessarily have but the fact they don’t categorically say they haven’t, is worrying. And it’s because they don’t have such a policy that says they don’t do any of these things that I have decided to switch.

Co-op’s policy also includes good things they actively look to invest in.

Things like:
•    Fair trade businesses
•    Charities and social enterprise businesses
•    Renewable energy
•    Recycling and sustainable waste management
•    Sustainable natural products and organic produce

So not only do I know that my money isn’t supporting anything dodgy, I know that it is quite possibly being invested in things that can make the world a better place. Which is nice.

Other benefits

And not only is it ethical, their current account performs pretty well too. My HSBC account offered me a slightly insulting 0.1% interest (AER). With Smile I get 2.27% – pretty good for a current account. They also only charge me 15.9% interest (EAR) on the overdraft compared to HSBC’s 18.8%. They also rate very highly (and higher than HSBC) in customer satisfaction surveys.

And if you switch, they sort out all the faff of moving direct debits and so on. So far, it seems quite painless.

So if you’re with one of the big four and you’d like your money to be doing something useful and more importantly not being invested in anything untoward, then have a look a Smile. It’s called Smile too, which makes me do just that.

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specialists in socksOver the past few months I’ve been trying to buy my clothes in a more eco-conscious way.

There’s obviously a lot of factors to consider here but a big one is what it’s made of. So here’s what I’ve found out.

If it’s cotton, buy organic cotton

Cotton production accounts for over 20% of the world’s insecticide use and over 10% of pesticides. Many of them are classified ‘extremely hazardous’ by the World Health Organisation. Some were even developed as toxic nerve agents during the second world war. Nasty stuff.

It’s estimated that over 20,000 people in developing countries die from poisoning by agricultural pesticides every year. A further 3 million suffer from respiratory problems. Some of which is caused while farming cotton for our clothes. I’m not sure I want that on my conscience. And frankly I’m not sure I like the thought of putting material containing those kind of nasties close to my skin on a daily basis either.

Cotton also consumes a gigantic amount of water. Around 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce 1 kilogram of raw cotton. If you drink an average amount of water, it would take you about 27 years to drink that. That’s a hell of a lot of water.

Organic cotton generally uses less water because it is a rotation crop. Rotating crops mean the soil maintains its nutrients and hold its water better. Pesticides use reduces soil fertility and therefore regular cotton crops require even more irrigation.

Organic cotton is softer because the fibres are not broken down by the chemicals used in the farming process. Having bought a couple of organic cotton shirts recently, I can report back that it is far more comfortable than normal cotton. Worth a couple of extra quid in itself.

Hemp and bamboo are good alternatives

Hemp feels a bit like linen. It uses considerably less water than cotton to grow and, unlike cotton, can be grown in the UK which means less CO2 is created transporting it from sunnier climbs. It’s also four-times stronger than cotton, so doesn’t weaken when you wash it. It can also be mixed with cotton if you like.

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet – 18 metres of bamboo only takes two months to grow. And it can grow anywhere. It doesn’t need insecticides or pesticides. And the only water it needs is rain-fall. So it’s very sustainable. It also grows a lot of roots, which helps stop soil erosion. Despite the fact it is a wood, clothes made of bamboo feel a bit like silk or cashmere. It feels cooler next to your skin than cotton and is warmer in cold weather.

Beyond second-hand

A number of places are now selling clothes made from recycled materials. Stuff like recycled polyester. Polyester isn’t biodegradable, so recycling it is far better than chucking it away. And there’s also the entertaining thought that your jacket used to be something else.

Some ideas of places to buy them

There seems to be an increasing number of clothing manufactures trading on eco values. Here are just three, picked only because I have bought stuff I like from them recently. I’d love to hear about more, if you have suggestions.


Howies is my new favourite shop. They only stock organic cotton, along with hemp, bamboo and recycled polyester. And they seem to have a very healthy approach to business. Their catalogues are well worth reading too, stuffed with loads of info to make you think. And they invest 10% of their profits in environmental and social projects. They’ve got a shop on Carnaby Street in London complete with a button outside so you can turn the lights on in the window at night for a short time before they go out again. They also have a very good website.


Nudie Jeans

Nudie Jeans use either pure organic cotton or a blend. They also have an eco approach to the dying process not using chemicals but using stuff like potato starch instead. You can tell they’re organic cotton just by the feel. They made in Italy and seem pretty good on working conditions for their employees. They come in various cuts and seem to be available in various shops in London and also online.


Curious Tales

I stumbled across this clothing designer when Googling the name of my blog. Their range of T-shirts feature a range of characters, each with their own curious tale, which they encourage you to complete. They are made from organic cotton and manufactured solely using renewable energy. The inks are also certified organic by the soil association. The label is even designed so that you can reuse it as a bookmark. I love the attention to detail. And they come posted with a hand written note from their creator Julie-Anne, wrapped in tissue paper stuck down with a fake ‘tache. It made me smile a lot.


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