Wednesday, 28 January 2009

water - carbon cost

While working out my carbon footprint earlier this month I also mentioned my annual water consumption, and started pondering the carbon cost of water. I emailed South West Water, the water company for Cornwall and Devon, and fairly soon after received a reply from their Carbon Manager David Rose (impressive they have a dedicated Carbon Manager but apparently many similar companies do now).

Clean water delivered: 173 grams CO2e per cubic metre of water delivered to your tap.
Waste water returned: 870 grams CO2e per cubic metre of waste water returned to sewer.

(CO2e = carbon dioxide equivalent)

This equates to 1043 grams CO2e per 1000 litres for combined clean and waste water supply - I have to admit to surprise for the low delivery figure for fresh water. But then, water arrives freely from the skies. It doesn't (here anyway) need to be pumped up from the ground.

If there is a message to be read from these figures it's that the less 'contaminants' we put into the waste/sewer the lower their clean-up costs, and this might help lower emissions. David explained that the waste figure includes methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the recycling of waste water sludge to land. Or muck spreading as I've always known it.

My household carbon contribution from water use then is:

34,527 litres
= 34.527 cubic metres x 1043 grams
= 36011.661 grams CO2e
= 36 kg CO2e pa

Thirty-six kilograms, or 0.036 tonnes, sounds not very much in comparison to other emission costs, such as heating water or travel. So it seems best to retain focus on reducing quantity of water due to its eminent predicted global shortage.

So, over the next year I should aim to reduce consumption, and consider what gets disposed down the mains that needn't and other options for disposing of it (or do away with it altogether?).

Emission levels from all UK water companies are shown in Figure 4 on page 12 in Water UK's Sustainability Indicators 2007-08 Report.

United Utilities have a user friendly (figure-phobic) water use/carbon calculator here but be aware the final figure includes not just the carbon cost of water supplied/taken away but the carbon cost of heating it.

Update 14 February 2009
South West Water have announced plans to trial a rising block tariff. There will be three blocks, the first low rate 'essential use', the second standard rate 'safety net' and third premium 'non-essential use', with the first block charged at 27% less than the standard rate.

For a one person household the essential band is 1-8 cubic metres/quarter, the standard 9-13, and premium 14 and over. So I'm thrilled to see that my existing quarterly use only just flips over the essential use level!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

UN international year of natural fibres

The UN's International Year of Natural Fibres is launched today. Its objectives are to:

- Raise awareness and stimulate demand for natural fibres;
- Promote the efficiency and sustainability of the natural fibres industries;
- Encourage appropriate policy responses from governments to the problems faced by natural fibre industries;
- Foster an effective and enduring international partnership among the various natural fibres industries.

Lots of events around the world are planned for this year, including in Britain an International Conference in London in December (though it seems more directed to industry than artistry) and an international textile conference in Leeds in September.

Another exciting conference:

Making Futures - the crafts in the context of emerging global sustainability agendas.

Organised by Plymouth College of Art and Design (PCAD), it is taking place in September 2009 at Mount Edgcumbe House, near Saltash in Cornwall. I hope to be there!

And, because some things come in threes, the next issue of Selvedge magazine is themes around 'Frugal'. I was asked if I'd like to advertise but as well as not knowing what I'd be advertising I feel it goes against the essence of what I'm trying to do. The magazine is beautifully produced with gorgeous photography, and even the adverts are a pleasure to look at, but it has a large readership and global circulation. Being just a humble artist I want to get on with things quietly and minimally and appropriately and... frugally. Self-promotion there seems arrogant and loud and wrong, for me, in this context. But I am looking forward to seeing the next issue.

Monday, 5 January 2009

2008 carbon footprint

8.57 tonnes CO2 -
7.60 tonnes CO2 - Resurgence
5.49 tonnes CO2 - Energy Saving Trust
5.27 tonnes CO2 - ActOnCO2 (UK government's)

Back in June 2007 I wrote about my carbon footprint, as worked out on a range of calculators. Last summer I intended to re-measure and compare, but felt such an activity was better suited to dark and cold winter evenings. So my new footprint is for the calendar year - January to December 2008.

Depending on calculator used the carbon footprint ranges from 5.27 to 8.57 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Resurgence and's calculators endeavour to include lifestyle and industrial share as well as the energy and travel factors. When taking energy and travel alone these footprints fall into the same range as the other two, at 5.1 and 5.57 tonnes.

Two major changes from last time are using the car and having double/secondary glazing fitted. It's been interesting to see what changes they have brought.


2.46 tonnes CO2 - Resurgence
2.29 tonnes CO2 -
2.01 tonnes CO2 - Energy Saving Trust
1.99 tonnes CO2 - ActOnCO2

Last year my footprint was 6.3 to 7.5 tonnes CO2 annually depending on the calculator used. But when my average driving mileage of 10,000 miles pa was factored in it rose to around 9.5 tonnes!

So one plan for 2008 was to restrict mileage to 6000 pa, roughly 500 miles a month or a tankful of fuel each month. Five hundred miles sounds a lot and is a lot and in general wasn't too hard to stick to. But two long-distance trips – to Norfolk in the spring and recently to visit family in Shropshire - were all it took to push me over by 831 miles. So I failed. Or failed to stay below my target, but I did learn that lower mileage is achievable. Several times I told others or myself I couldn't afford (meaning 'spare') the petrol that month, or consciously decided I didn't really need to go/do where/whatever. Some people seemed incredulous that I was rationing my fuel use... until fuel prices went over the pound/litre rate mid summer. All future long distance travel must be managed better. Or differently. I will have to think about this.

I also have attempted being a better driver – maxing at 60 mph on dual carriageways and slower on main roads. I've tried smoother gear changes and check the car tyres monthly. I keep records of mileage done when filling the tank. All the stuff they bang on at us to do.

My 2008 travel footprint ranged between 1.99 and 2.46 tonnes for the 6831 miles. Because it's an older car (R reg), each calculation was based on a generic 1.4 litre petrol car. However the smttCO2 website calculates emissions from every model and age of car. My Peugeot 306 hatchback emits 176g CO2 per kilometre and so, for my mileage, 1.93 tonnes for the year – less but in the same range as the calculators. Probably they also incorporate factors like oil changes and service materials - fair enough.

Two years ago I signed up to TargetNeutral, a carbon offsetting project initiated by BP. I was and am sceptical about the merits and morals of offsetting carbon but then as now feel that showing willing and concern is the important point (to oil companies and politicians!). Hence, despite having paid around ten quid to 'offset' my 2+ tonnes of CO2 (shockingly cheap, carbon, innit!) I am not subtracting 2+ tonnes from my footprint. Why not? Because although TargetNeutral purchases carbon credits from projects that sound worthwhile I have no idea if their carbon figures are also being used elsewhere, ie multiple accounting.

For instance, if a wind farm was installed here in Cornwall thus removing x tonnes of CO2 pa and TargetNeutral bought these emission reductions as carbon credits, that's one thing. But should, for example, the local authorities then be able to incorporate these reductions into Cornwall's renewable energy figures? In some ways, yes, but not when an overall (eg national) picture of emissions reduction is wanted as the figure could be counted twice. Unless I've missed something! So, for now, I'll continue offsetting but not including the figure in my own footprint. The most viable current option to reduce carbon remains to reduce mileage not buy your way out.

(A few catches about TargetNeutral – you have to buy BP fuel and use a Nectar loyalty card (so your purchases are logged). And then go online once a year to confirm details and pay up. BP fuel seems to cost a little more than elsewhere but that's fine as I seem to get more mileage per tank on it.)


3.48 tonnes CO2 - Energy Saving Trust (of which 3.22 heat/0.26 appliances)
3.28 tonnes CO2 - ActOnCO2 (of which 3.06 heat/0.22 appliances)
3.28 tonnes CO2 -
2.63 tonnes CO2 - Resurgence

I've spent an hour getting my head around the variation in these energy footprints from different calculators. Surely all should be the same, considering the same 6113 kwh annual figure was used? Resurgence uses a conversion figure of 0.43, same as I used last time and understood to be the industry standard conversion figure.

But on a National Energy Foundation page it says that 0.537 should be used when calculating carbon footprints and is "based on a 5 year rolling average UK electricity generation mix of coal, nuclear and gas turbines, as well as renewables". And, no surprise here, 0.537 x 6113 kwh = 3.28 tonnes CO2. (Why EST's is a bit higher can remain a mystery for now! Either they add some for energy loss during transmission (sensibly) or they hadn't updated their rolling 5 year figure.)

The lower figure of 0.43 apparently is appropriate if estimating "emissions in line with Climate Change Agreements (CCAs)... or when estimating energy savings". This lower figure is "based on marginal emissions (which are usually those from high efficiency Combined Cycle Gas Turbines)". Aaah. I see. Sort of.

I thought that when I last calculated my footprint, 0.43 was seen as the conversion figure representing the average UK mix of electricity generation. But in 2008, according to, the average UK mix comprised coal 33%, natural gas 43.5%, nuclear 16.1%, renewables 5.5% and other 1.9% with CO2 emissions at 0.48 kg/kwh.

Ecotricity's mix includes renewables at 37.4% (up from 26% in 2007), and its CO2 emissions were 0.267 kg/kwh. I think this means I could get away with using a conversion factor of 0.267 for my annual energy use... but won't. The national availability of renewables is limited, at 5.5% (also shockingly low, innit?), and so the national share must be used however irksome it is being forced to use a rolling 5 year figure when one for 2008 is available.

So, my energy related emissions were 3.28-3.48 tonnes of which 3.06-3.22 was from hot water, heating and lighting, and 0.22-0.26 from appliances. Both figures are down from last time (3.48 and 0.38 in 2007, respectively). Quarterly usage to end December also was lower than a year ago. The double and secondary glazing were fitted in late November and early December – it will be fantastic if they are responsible for this small reduction on the heating side!

Appliance related emissions dropped more markedly – this might be because I have made every effort to switch off and unplug everything not in use – though tend to have forgetful phases with the kettle, and very unremembering with the cooker. An old anglepoise lamp also remains plugged in and switched on but that's due to its temperamentality. Otherwise all is off as much as possible. I never would have believed it could make this much difference. But all the official advice suggests doing it, so it was worth trying!

Industrial Share, Lifestyle and Other Extras

3.0 tonnes
2.5 tonnes Resurgence

Only Resurgence and's calculators included an industrial and lifestyle section.

Resurgence invites you to analyse your life by, amongst other things, income. It suggests for every £5000 of income you add a tonne of carbon, reducible only if you endeavour to buy second hand, locally made, craftsman made, repair etc. They also allocate everyone a tonne from the national share of common and public amenities. I made my lifestyle emissions 2.5 tonnes last time, and arrived at the same figure this year.'s worked from lifestyle questions with multiple choice answers. For example it asked whether you 'always', 'sometimes' or 'never' bought organic food. With this question and a few others I found the range of answers limiting – there was no 'mostly' to choose, and 'always' would have been a lie on my part. So after running the test again with 'fully' answers where I needed an alternative, I worked out what I believe to be my truer position – 3.0 rather than 3.14 tonnes.

Both calculations are subjective and only a guide. In time as more goods and services become carbon costed we all will start to know our true lifestyle carbon cost.

How soon will the time come that I can give a carbon cost for a batik? Not this coming year, I expect. But it remains an aim.


The carbon cost of water and water industry related services isn't included in the calculators (though may be incorporated in the lifestyle sections). I haven't found a source online giving a conversion figure but have emailed South West Water to ask them.

Water carries its own cost of course – the planet is running dry from over consumption and waste of fresh water. My household water use for the year to 5 November 2008 was 34,527 litres or 94.59 litres a day. Although year on year it's down nearly 7000 litres, or 9 litres a day, when I think of it as 47 two-litre bottles full of water and lined up every day inside my house I struggle to comprehend how – where - I could be using so much!

But just as with the carbon calculators, there's also water use from lifestyle to consider. have a calculator that gives a per capita average depending on the country you live in. Mine comes out at 694 cubic metres a year... or in litres, 694,000. Scarey! Way, way higher than household use! Their website also has a more detailed water use calculator but I need to weigh my average food intake before I can do that.

Thinking about it all

My footprint has come down since last time – sort of. Last time around I'd had to stop driving for a year, and that made it considerably lower than now. But it is near on impossible to earn a living and 'live' here without a car (mine or a friend's) because of the lack of public transport and distances from certain facilities, including train stations. So until I move, a reality of life is running a car. After 15 years I have given up trying to get the authorities to supply a bus service that extends beyond the few daily shopper buses to the local town (8 miles away), or a cycle path that will take cyclists off the dual carriageway. When I move, accessibility to public transport will feature!

At 5.27 my footprint also remains below the UK national average of 9.96 tonnes but above the government's current target footprint of 4.22 tonnes (ActOnCO2).

Residents of the South-West apparently have slightly lower Ecological footprints than the national average – 5.23 compared to 5.36 global hectares, and citizens of three local cities Plymouth, Truro and Exeter ranked 1st (ie lowest footprint), 9th and 14th respectively out of 60 British cities for their ecological footprint. So regional lifestyle is assisting me. On the personal calculator here my ecological footprint came in at 2.33 global hectares - or rather 23.3 gha (don't understand why ten times higher) but still equivalent to 1.48 planets. Down from last year's 1.9 planets... but still obviously an unsustainable amount of planet.

So, my aims for 2009 are to keep lowering usage. Keep mileage below 6000 pa, and better use of trains and buses for long distance travel. With electrical consumption I'll check what difference the double/secondary glazing has made in three months time, when the coldest of weather has passed, and then consider future options for improvement. I'll also continue measuring energy use of equipment used for batik - this is the ultimate aim of course, to give batik a carbon footprint. Water... I must figure out where those 47 bottles worth are being used!