September 12, 2008

The BA Festival of Science 2008: Going Green With the Strawbridges

The BA Festival of Science 2008: Going Green With the Strawbridges

Event type: Conference

Date: 2008-09-09

On Sunday afternoon we happened to arrive at the Albert Dock (we were out for a wander round the city) at the same time as Dick Strawbridge and his son, of It's Not Easy Being Green fame. After the obligatory is-it-isn't-it and what-should-we-say dithering, we went over and introduced ourselves. I'm really glad that we did, because we found out that they were in town to give a talk at the Science Festival that evening.

We left them to head to a radio interview to promote the festival, and at just before 6pm wandered round the corner from our flat to the Eleanor Rathbone Theatre.

The talk was a gentle and relaxed discussion about how their family decided to go green, the BBC TV series, and comments and ideas about how anyone else could live in a more sustainable manner. I think they did a good job in their aim, stated at the start of the talk, that they didn't want to come across as "preachy".

They began with some background on themselves (and the family as a whole).

Contrary to the impression you get from seeing him on Scrapheap Challenge, Dick hasn't always been a mechanically-minded tinkerer. In fact he got his first lessons in fixing things from his wife, Brigit, after he bought an old car from her that kept breaking down. He also isn't your typical life-long environmentalist - after leaving the army he went into industry and ended up as a CEO. His journey to go green has come more through a financial prudence angle, although he has long been influenced by John Seymour's book, the Complete Guide to Self-sufficiency.

James has had a more traditional journey into being green, as he's always had an interest in, and love for, nature and the environment. However, his technical abilities were non-existent before the family decided to go green properly and move to a farm in Cornwall. These days he still struggles with electrical stuff, but stressed that if he can get to grips with the sorts of projects that they've built then so can anyone.

Moving to Cornwall, into a farmhouse with only half a roof and no heating or running water was a big step and so something that they had to decide as a family. An even harder decision was whether or not they should let the BBC film their adventure. In the end they agreed, but with two (very sensible) conditions:

  1. Dick would do the voiceover himself, to limit the possibility of the BBC making a drama out of their lives
  2. The crew all had to live with them on the farm. It took them a while to find enough crew willing to do it, but resulted in them getting a much better feel for what the family were doing.

Next they discussed some of the green projects that they've undertaken, and that others could follow. I didn't make notes about all of them, but here's what I did jot down...

Composting Toilets

The big problem with existing toilet systems is the amount of laboriously cleaned and treated water that they waste. Fitting a dual-flush, or putting a Hippo (or a brick even) into the cistern of your existing toilet is a start, but composting toilets don't use any water and will give you plenty of good compost to use on the garden.

Although you'd assume that they'd be a smelly and rather disgusting affair, as long as you separate the urine from the poo you avoid the smell problem, and ongoing maintenance is fairly minimal. These days you can get self-contained units that hardly look any different to a standard toilet and are a perfect solution if you want a toilet somewhere where you don't have water or sewage pipework.

Wind Turbines

Don't buy a wind turbine as your first step into becoming green. They're very cool gadgets, but the payback isn't that great if you don't have it on a separate mast. They've got a couple, but they're generally away from the buildings.


"If you haven't wasted your loft you're wasting your time."

I see that the Government is proposing free insulation for pensioners and the poor, and half-price insulation for everyone else as part of their fuel measures. Spookily, Dick suggested just such an approach over handing out a one-off payment towards paying the bills... maybe he has more influence than he lets on...

Local, Organic Meat

They aren't happy eating meat that hasn't had a decent life, and even raise their own pigs.

One oft-missed point that they raised was that if you decide to only eat free-range, local, or organic meat then you should follow through the action everywhere. That means asking about the meat when you eat out and considering what goes into the sandwiches or pies when you buy them ready made.

Herb Spirals

Herb spirals were something that James mentioned as one of his current favourite gardening ideas, taken from the permaculture movement.

They're basically a way to pack lots of different herbs into a small space. Because the spiral has some height, it creates a variety of environments - so mediterranean herbs that like sun go where they'll get plenty; herbs that like plenty of drainage go at the top; herbs that prefer damper conditions go at the bottom; and herbs that do well in the shade can live on the side of the spiral away from the sun.

Can We Be Greener?

Their overall philosophy was that it makes sense to go green, but that everyone should decide for themselves how much they can achieve. It's difficult to go completely green when you've got bills to pay. And they're also passionate believers in the DIY mentality - everyone can build stuff that works, and more of us should try.

  • Tags: green ba science festival strawbridge liverpool

    Posted by Adrian at September 12, 2008 06:24 PM | TrackBack

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