Saturday, January 29, 2005

Put everyone to work on creating a sustainable standard of living for all.

Done some research on my standard of living image stream. My problem with STANDARD OF LIVING as a sustainability tool is that is often measured in terms of financial health: the quantity – in financial terms - of consumption by the members of that population. The sites posting definitions like this include the drawbacks of this definition. It does not take into account factors like crime rates and environmental damage.

The United Nations regards standard of living in another light: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being for themselves and their family.

To me, it seems too simple almost. Each country defines for itself what it means by a standard of living and the degree to which inhabitants should achieve it. Then they set about a way to produce that standard within the boundaries set by the ecological footprint capacity of that country. Let’s explore a few scenarios:

a) “Tough luck” attitude. No goals for the percentage population to achieve that standard and no priority given to using footprint-consuming fossil fuels etc on producing the standard. No priority given to keeping emissions equivalent to capacity of country area.

b) “Political attitude”. Goals for everyone to reach the minimum standard. Priority given to using footprint-consuming fossil fuels to produce that standard, and keeping within capacity or buying “rights”.

c) “Green approach”. Standard of living determined in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy. First two needs (security and physiological needs) as basis of prioritizing use of footprint-consuming fossil fuels etc. Keeps within limits.

d) “Full sustainable” combination of green and political. Standard produced for everyone, with focus on doing it cheaply, effectively with minimum emissions.

But (d) would mean in practice that a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being for people and their families could be easily available for everyone - even the lazy and nasty. I can imagine many would be up in arms; the attitude that we must work hard, all our lives, slave away etc is ingrained in our society. Missionaries in Tahiti chopped down all the breadfuit trees because they thought the natives had it too good, and therefore would never convert to Christianity. In fact the idea of being able to produce a standard of living effectively (read reduced working week) for all is downright DECANDANT!

But this is already being done. Studies of the Amish and others show they work a lot less than a 40 hour week. If everyone on the planet could achieve a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being for themselves and their family that only required, say, a ten hour week, GREAT!

I know many who are royally fed up with going to work and slaving away and being so stressed it is harming their health and life quality. And after paying basic bills they have little money left over for "Luxury" consumption.

I say, it must be possible .. let’s go set it up!

Save me in a Humvee but visit me on an electric scooter

People rail about fuel- consuming unnecessarily big SUVs. I don’t.

I rail against the USE of them. Example. If I were lost in a desert and needed rescuing I would be so happy for a gas-guzzling Humvee – safe, well-equipped, powerful, etc to get me out of there. Regardless of my green-ness I would not like a guy on an electric powered scooter to be coming out for me.

On the other hand, if I am at a café down-town and want to meet a friend the scooter is OK. Not the Humvee. The difference is not in the technology but in its USE.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Move around more and get slim - NEAT!

Researchers have shown that those who move around more in their daily lives also stay slimmer.

In a way this goes against popular ideas that leanness requires a higher metabolism or hours at the gym. Not so it seems.

Comparing groups of obese people with those of slim, the obese group tended to spend two hours more a day sitting. The everyday activities displayed more by the slimmer group are described as non-exercise activity thermogenesis — or NEAT.

The results, they say, will guide physicians in advising their overweight patients towards more activity during the day.

IFTSP comments: we encourage everyone to work towards creating a more physical activity oriented culture in the West. That requires looking at everything from our architecture to job design to what we choose to motorise and what we choose to people power. designing our cities and towns so we can walk everywhere is a good start.

Two examples from our website of ways forward: Radiality in city planning, and Get Walking! maps. The city built for walking is described in the book

I'm throwing away my cappucino whisp today .....

LINKS TO ARTICLES IN BRITISH NEWSPAPER - click before they expire...



Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Producing a standard of living sustainably

In my quest to find out how a standard of living could be produced for all sustainably, that is efficiently and with minimum impact on the environment and health, I visited PORENA again. The country of PORENA abolished work as we know it some time ago after they realized paid work was actually fueling the development of a non-sustainable society. The whole system was threatening the environment, people’s health and creating a society that was not pleasant to live in. Many people were actually “out of work” which was draining resources.

On the one hand setting up strict rules for emissions of all kinds into the environment on the other they made housing, education, food etc free. They also focused on producing a standard of living for all cheaply, environmentally and in a socially sound way. Removing the stress on the individual – meeting physiological needs – is at the heart of the PORENA way. How they managed this is still unclear to me, but to make a start I was invited to meet the management of the city of PORENA for an Interview.

Hustled into a meeting room I was introduced to Aaron Heathcliffe and his team. Aaron is in his late 50’s bearded, wearing a dark grey suit. He introduces me to the management team, who all work through a series of networks, I am given to understand.

Everyone here is a volunteer on this a management team that looks after the overall running of affairs in the city. “None of us have to do this; we do it because we love it! We feel it is important, that we are OK at it and we want to do it,” says Heathcliffe.

Accommodation is produced on a voluntary basis as well. Those who are on the housing production and maintenance network design build houses as they are needed.
“Remember, a house built to be energy efficient and built to last is highly cost effective. We use local techniques, local materials and design to suit local needs; - there is nothing radical about that.”
Heathcliffe also means that there are no secrets to clothing production either: “Clothing is the same as for shelter- local material, local fashions, local production – you make do with what you have locally.”

The people of the city grow food everywhere. When they were looking into banishing paid work many had said “I have to go to work to put food on the table for my family”. So they decided to remove this particular stress by building greenhouse extensions to living accommodation and grow food in public places.
Says Heathcliffe; “You have to grow food everywhere. Transportation costs are kept to a minimum. Another benefit of growing close to use is that you harvest just what you need and it keeps longer and waste is at a minimum.”

One real revolution can perhaps be seen in PORENA’s social system. Often described as “the just go along place,” removing paid jobs means anyone can go along and help out to their own abilities and interests. One factor, again related to removing stress, is that people need to feel a part of society. Obviously, when there are things to be done people like to pitch in together and help.

Another factor was that of health. By limiting the functions powered by fossil fuels to the ones that either saved lives or replaced damagingly heavy, monotonous or dangerous work, a lot of activities required muscle power. These provide an opportunity for useful, social exercise and promote health.

Says Heathcliffe: “your network marketing is good as it does not exclude everyone. That is really important for the way human beings function. This has been known throughout time, that inclusion is a powerful part of society, yet you use it and develop it far too little.”

Heathcliffe defends the PORENA model as being extremely efficient: “It is so easy to do anything we want- we have endless numbers of people available. Say we wanted to build another canal – we could do it tomorrow. Just put the word out we want to build a canal people would say `that’s cool´ `when can we come? ´ You would have volunteers for everything from planning, designing, engineering and those who did the planning would be well into pitching into the physical digging as well.”

He often asks people to think about the kind of society they would like to live in:” Do you want a society that has to write complicated contracts, that says `we can only afford this number of people you can’t help out we don’t have the money to employ you we’ll do it on the cheap´. No –one wants to live in a society like that. Everyone wants to live in a society that says “We need a canal” and everyone goes “OK! We’re in” and then “Fine! What can you do? Where do you want to help out?”

They also take great pains to ensure the city is a great place to live in from other aspects. Very aware that the society I come from is addicted to short-term hits of happiness they are quick to point out that PORENA functions in more of natural rhythm. Says one of Heathcliffe’s managers; “Do you understand why we like this place? Life here is so cool!.” We have such a good time. We are pointing out that the city breathes -awakens, projects happen, sleeps -depending on the time of year in a yearly cycle. As food is grown everywhere people are close to natural rhythms. People know when to sign up for activities as they come every year,”

Focus in PORENA is also on health, although I got some funny looks when I asked about health care.
I get the explanation that they treat health more like a veterinarian would. People who work with health - it is their job to keep healthy people healthy. That means infrastructure, nutrition, shelter, security not getting hurt and people not getting sick rather than actually “caring”. Health promotion and maintenance is what they work with. And I understand that this is a big part of standard of life production. It is far cheaper and easier to keep healthy people healthy than to treat sick people.

A set of people work with health in a network. You can have a health check anytime you like. And there are clinics available for all kinds of treatments.

The whole fabric of society is intended to be heath promoting: people walk everywhere and use people power wherever feasible for tasks like digging and working on the fields and marshes and harvesting. That is physical work that is not too strenuous and it is muscle building and heath promoting. And if you do not feel like doing it you do not have to. It is good to strain the muscles as a complement to walking. Muscles need to be challenged by pushing and pulling things. But it has to be done right. People need to learn how to do that.

And for carrying and transporting goods there is an array of carts to do the jobs.

My conclusions:

by starting simply from local conditions you can create a standard of living for all by:

  • Removing stress from people – providing basic shelter, food and inclusion
  • Including everyone in the production process.
  • Limiting the need for fossil fuel to dangerous or life-saving tasks.
  • Focusing on health promotion
  • Following the natural rhythm of the day, season and year
  • Removing money and all the costs associated with its handling

    What can we take away from this meeting?
    Is this feasible for our world? One thing quick research turns up is the lack of an agreed, sustainability oriented definition of standard of living. It may be that climatic and other conditions make it difficult to find a global comparison, although here again the UN have made a good start. One simple measure that could be done right away is for each country to define what it means by a basic standard of living. They could then measure what percentage of the population was living at it, what it was costing, its environmental impact etc.

    But perhaps what is on many people’s minds as they read about PORENA is how did they manage to get everyone on board? How did they get the whole society pulling in the same direction, and learned to let everyone into the various tasks and functions needed to run the place? That is a subject for later visits.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Baselining 10,000 steps to health

Being one to practice what I preach, and having been looking into creating a 10,000 steps (a day) culture in organizations I started to find out my baseline.
I have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 27, weigh 93 kilos and used a pedometer for a week to see how many steps I normally take.

I also took a picture of myself without a shirt to show the starting point.

Conclusions: The picture is too awful to show. A healthy BMI is less than 25 so I have a ways to go. And my average number of steps is around 7,000 a day.

A lot of Americans do 2,000 to 3,000 a day, as they use their cars a lot. They say 6,000 will keep you at the level you are. 10,000 is what your body “is built” for.

My 7,000 explains why I do not go up in weight, but also that I am not doing enough to loose any. I am now experimenting to find ways to walk that little extra. For example, returning from a meeting I took the commuter train to the stop nearest my house. Gives a 25 minute walk.

I found a bus line that goes from my house and stops 4km from my friend, So I took that and walked instead of going station to station on the underground.

Noted: it is not easy to see all the paths to walk and connections to public transport, even in Sweden. Must be even harder in the US where they don’t even have sidewalks!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Sustainability tidbits from England #3 Green Gym

Gym and sports centres don't appeal to everyone as a way of keeping fit. The UK organization BTCV, founded in 1959 and the UK’s largest practical conservation charity, brings us the marvellous social invention of the Green Gym.

The gym gets people from all ages and walks of life out working on conservation - planting hedges, creating and maintaining community gardens, improving footpaths etc.

You can join for an hour or more a week on a weekly or twice-weekly basis. Experienced leaders guide you in practical skills and encourage you to work to your own capabilities.

Health professionals recommend the gym to their patients as a way of reducing the risk of heart disease.

Link to Green Gym

The initiative is run by BTCV. Founded in 1959 it is the UK’s largest practical conservation charity. 130,000 volunteers take hands-on action each year to improve the rural and urban environment.

BTCV also offers a global programme of Conservation Holidays which offer a rewarding experience working with communities and local volunteers in marvellous locations from the Broads to the Shetlands, the Ulster Way to the Cotswolds and internationally to places as diverse as Nepal, Ecuador, Australia and the Gambia.

Click the link to find out more.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

10,000 steps a day for health

Get walking!

It is well known that intervention in nutrition and exercise produces positive results in adults at risk of high BMI (Body mass index, a measure of overweight.)

It has also been demonstrated that this is possible to achieve with simple methods like increasing the number of steps the sedentary individual takes to a level of something like 10,000 a day, equivalent to 30 minutes walking at a pace where conversation is possible.
Sedentary people in the USA generally move only 2000-3000 steps a day. Previous studies have shown that moving 6000 steps a day significantly reduces risk of death, and 8000-10,000 a day promotes weight loss.

The idea was invented by the Japanese who call it Manpo-kei, meaning literally ?10,000 steps meter?.

We are currently looking into ways of stimulating a 10.000 step a day culture in both local communities and companies.

In Sweden we are producing "get out and walk" maps for local communities. These maps show local walking paths and routes for everyday and recreational use. On the reverse side they give addresses, advice and tables for use with step counters.

One idea: on the underground walking between lines instead of changing at an intersecting station. A brief survey of Stockholm underground shows there are a number for different combinations for all lines less than 3km (18 minutes) apart!

We recommend the book Manpo-kei

Click to learn more about Manpo-Kei: The Art and Science of...

Click on the link for our contact details if you want to explore further!

Or why not just get out and explore your neighbourhood further?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Sustainability trends 2005

Predictions and hopes for the coming year…

SLEEP. Yes, that time honoured thing we all try to get away without and end up paying a non-sustainable price will be a lot bigger in 2005. Look for companies increasingly selling a good nights’ sleep in their products, unions demanding working hours to allow for good sleep, and more investigations into negative effects of poor sleeping patterns. Youth will be particularly affected by the “ever on” society during the year, possibly producing lower academic results.
I hope to see and end to all “SLEEP LATER” adds targeted at youth.

NEW WAYS OF WORKING. People are wising up to the fact that work does not always produce what it promises and will be demanding more flexible hours to be with their families and hobbies instead of putting all their personal development effort into their job. Again, look for union intervention, flexible office solutions, focus on job design etc.

MORE WALKING. The cheapest and simplest way to burn fat and get around. We hope to see city planners get wise to the fact that fossil-burning vehicles have their limitations and we actually like to spend half and hour day doing what comes most naturally.

POVERTY Attention will be turning to poverty as a major non-sustainable aspect of life on this planet at present and about time too. Look for poverty turning up in media both in reportage and fiction and comedy. Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown is calling for an all-out effort to end poverty, and is calling for a kind of Marshall Plan similar to that implemented after WW2. More on the Marshall plan later.

Extreme Weather We are sure it's going to happen and be more in the news. It's going to cost businesses more than they bargain for. The year started "well" with the worst storm in Sweden for 100 years with economic damage, loss of life and 3 years of timber growth lost. For some it could be economically advantageous for others it will bring unexpected losses. Get ready!


CLIMATE CHANGE Look for a big hoo-haa around “it IS a problem No it ISN’T”. In case you missed it State of Fear , Michael Crichton’s new book is about, as he sees it, the non-problem of climate change and governmental information manipulation. Publicity around his book will hit the media and create a debate. Click for more info on the book.

CAN’T GET HAPPY- PEOPLE FALLING INTO ADDICTIONS More and more during 2005 debate will rage around gambling addiction, workaholism, sex and relationship abuse, food abuse, computer game addiction etc. Western lifestyle unfortunately makes it easy for people to develop these addictions because consumerism gets people looking for short hits of happiness, giving ever decreasing returns.

AVBP. Meeting the sustainability challenge is not easy, but essential for the coming years. We at AVBP would be pleased to work with new clients, private and public sector to help you meet this challenge. Find out more about what we can do for you on our website .

For books see our website.

Sustainable Tidbits from England #2 Designated walks

Canal side walk in Lincoln, England
Many times during my visit to England I was struck by the number of signposted, arranged, designated walks. From short city walk by canals and railway lines to longer walks in the national Parks.

AVBP comments, designated walks are a great way to get people walking more, both in spare time and on their way to walk. See our walking route map concept “Ut och Gå” on our Swedish website (Only in Swedish just now, sorry.)

Sustainable Tidbits from England #1 Wensleydale Railway

At end station high up in dales

Wensleydale Railway plc is not only one of Britain’s newest train operating companies but also the only one run entirely by members of the local community. Locals assembled volunteers, started the company and raised more than £1M.

The service runs 7 days a week and provides a lifeline for locals and an environmentally prudent way into the Dales for tourists.

“We’re not trying to do anything that’s not been done before but we’re trying to pick the best examples of what we’ve found overseas and implement them here.” says chief executive Scott Handley.

AVBP comments: it just shows you the power of community action, the value of using old infrastructure (the railway started mid 19th century) and existing knowledge.
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