Tuesday, May 1, 2007

London State of Mind

I have been offline because I spent a week in London exploring the state of “greenness” in the design community here. And I’m pleased to report that, in typical British style, they are doing an amazing job of catching up and will, no doubt, surpass the U.S. in embracing sustainability. While it is true that America is at its best when we really invest and focus on innovation. But, sadly, we are not so adept at changing our lifestyles or thinking beyond our own borders.

Global warming is an undisputed reality, despite what holdouts like Rush Limbaugh and fringe, Exxon-Mobil supported “experts” from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (see article in May "green" issue of Vanity Fair).

Happily, a quick survey of the British papers (from the Guardian to the Daily Telegraph) all seem to be equally concerned about what British citizens and the government need to do to stem the inevitable consequences of the destructive tide that we are facing if we don’t act as a global community now.

The U.S. seems, as is often the case, to be debating the various merits of options. As a result, the debate is stifling real progress. This crisis calls for more of a concerted effort than Americans are generally comfortable with. That doesn’t seem to be the case for the Brits. In spite of this enthusiasm I have for the emerging UK focus, they still have to play catch-up but I am very confident that they will get on with what needs to be done.

An interesting time to be in the UK on a quest for eco-friendly activities:

•The London marathon was held and it was one of the hottest on records. The newspaper headlines reported how difficult it was for the runners and predicted that the continued “unseasonable” heat is going to be difficult for the country, citing the expected steamy underground environments and preparing for passengers who are likely to be overcome by very “sweltering” temps.

Expectation: 117 plus degrees and stockpiling of water for travelers

•Designer Anya Hindmarch and Saintsbury experienced unexpected enthusiasm for limited edition reusable grocery bags that sported a motto, “I’m not a plastic bag” and sold for 5 pounds. Consumers lined up at 3:00 a.m. to get one of the 20,000 limited edition bags and were reported to already be selling on e-bay for 175 pounds.

Result: Saintsbury announces a monthly “make a difference day” in which similar PR stunts will be revealed. Communities and stores around the country announce the banning of plastic bags and consumers will now have to pay for carrier bags.

•Ineffective recycling efforts are being reviewed. Currently the concern for terrorists has resulted in the removal of bins for trash and recycling in tube stations and in many public areas. As a result, recycling has taken a back seat. However, the press seemed to be reporting on ways to return a focus on making recycling easier and more available. I have no doubt that they will have solutions by summer’s end.

Observation: Unlike the US, where we have plenty of land to “dump our trash,” all of London’s, for example, is put on barges and send down the Thames to Essex where available land mass is limited. So it’s imperative that England get serious about the amount of trash they produce. It’s not an option for them as they don’t have the land that we do in the U.S.

•Attitudes seem to be more open to eco-solutions than I’ve noticed in the U.S. In my informal and very unscientific interviews of various shop owners and residents, I encountered less skepticism and more interest in my eco ideas than I’ve experienced in the U.S. outside of California. Maybe because this is a citizenry that has gotten used to taxes and mandates (such as the congestion tax for cars that enter London and is now being proposed for NYC) and rather than rail against them, they seem to almost accept it as a way of life. Libertarianism is not as deeply entrenched in the UK as in the U.S.

•Organic food is finally catching on in London. For the first time, I found evidence that England is making note of healthy eating. I was delighted by a visit to the Borough market on a Saturday that made me feel as if I was back at Ferry Plaza in San Francisco. Organic purveyors of meats, produce, breads, and juices were everywhere. As I wondered around Notting Hill, Chelsea, and even East Aldgate, I found wonderful little organic eating establishments. I happened on a Whole Foods and several British knock-offs, like Planet Organic and One Stop Fresh (www.onestopfresh.com)

Next Post: More on green design in the UK


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