Posts Tagged 'Green'

Christmas gifts


Christmas is rapidly approaching so we thought it would be a good idea to give you some green inspiration for presents this year.

So we’ll start with “that” person. Every family has one – the relative who is almost impossible to buy for at Christmas.

This year, instead of trudging the high street hoping for inspiration, why not give them a gift from Oxfam Unwrapped?  It’s a great idea which involves buying a gift for those who really need it.

Your friend or relative receives a gift card and magnet, telling them how their “gift” has been used and there’s a huge range of ideas to choose from.  

According to Oxfam, 967 million people in the world are hungry, and a child dies every five seconds of hunger-related causes. A gift of just £10 can feed a hungry family for a month – or you can choose from other options such as the planting of 25 trees (£8), tools for farming (£30) or school books (£8).

If your Unwrapped gift costs more than £50, your relative also receives a free gift box and celebrity DVD.

There are gifts in the range to suit people of all tastes from bookworms or animal lovers to DIY fans or eco-warriors.  You can see the full range here.

Oxfam also has a range of “real” gifts for family and friends, including fairtrade items, energy saving gifts or gifts from sustainable sources. For example, you could buy a solar battery charger for £12.71 or a wind-up torch at £19.56.


There’s a good range of food gifts from Fairtrade luxury chocolates to Christmas puddings and stocking fillers such as Fairtrade chocolate coins (£1.95).

Children’s gifts include the top-selling cardboard rocket, made from recycled cardboard (£29.35) and the Doll’s House (£26.42) which has an eco-friendly twist for a favourite toy.


Before the dolls move in, the whole thing needs to be decorated so it’s great for those who love paint and crayons.  It’s made from at least 75% recycled cardboard and can be folded away for easy storage.


Or how about buying a child the Best Eco Book Ever – an activity book which explores topics like recycling, ecology and the environment in a fun way. (£4.95)

If you are buying for people who aren’t averse to charity shop finds, then the Oxfam site is brimming with second-hand ideas.  Items from Oxfam shops all over the UK are available online and you can pick up anything from pre-owned Playstation games to Spiderman toys.

For example, a keen stamp collector would love a First Day Cover envelope with stamps – some are available from as far back as the World Cup in 1966.

People interested in living a greener lifestyle would probably appreciate a copy of one of the Green Guide range of books.  You can browse the titles here, including the Green Guide for Christmas (£4.99) and the Green Guide for Home and Household which is available at a special offer price of  £7.49 for Christmas.

 Green Guide - the directory for planet-friendly l

The range also includes Pocket Green Guides to England, Scotland and Wales for only £1.49 and EcoEscape UK (with free cyclometer) which includes green places to stay, eco days out and local food and drink (£8.99).

Staying with the green bookworm theme, I’m hoping someone will buy me Tamsin Blanchard’s book, ‘Green Is the New Black’. It’s a must-have and is available brand new from Amazon at £6.74, although personally, I’d rather be given a pre-owned copy. These start from only £1.07 – and it’s much more planet friendly to extend the life of someone’s discarded book 🙂


Many online retailers now have a range of eco-gifts, including top retailer, I Want One of  (IWOOT)

Their wind-up phone charger (£4.99) provides up to 8 minutes of talk time from a 3 minute wind – a lifesaver when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and your phone has died.  

I also love their Sun Jar – an ingenious and pretty lighting concept from designer Tobias Wong. Instead of storing  traditional jam, this jam jar stores sunshine – and automatically turns itself on when it gets dark.  You just sit it on your windowsill to soak up the sun and its solar charging panel and low voltage bulb do the rest! 


IWOOT is also stocking a Mini Kin green power generator for Christmas. It costs £30 but sounds great. A wind-powered battery charger, it straps to your arm or your bike (or pretty much anything really!) and its propeller powers a turbine which creates enough energy to power up a variety of gadgets. You can plug the battery unit into your iPod, mobile phone or PDA. It also has a back up battery pack with USB connector – but cycling in the wind is so much more planet friendly 🙂

IWOOT has a wide range of unusual gifts for the friend who has everything. I think the keyring featuring “permanent” bubble wrap sounds great – an ideal stocking filler for someone who just loves to pop bubble wrap. (It’s highly addictive as all true-poppers know only too well!)

The Friends of the Earth website has a range of eco books, including bargain basement books which start from just £1.99.  (I’ve already put their How to Grow Organic Vegetables and Herbs (£8.99) on my wishlist.)

Or how about buying someone the Friends of the Earth fundraising calendar, which features images from around the world (£7.50).

And when it comes to wrapping up all your gifts, remember to use alternatives to traditional gift wrap whenever you can. For example, the glossy pages of an unwanted magazine are great (you can use car magazines or fashion magazines for adults and old comics for children’s gifts.)

Some gifts look lovely without any wrapping at all – or you could recycle gift bags from previous pressies. (We have a couple of bottle bags in our family that have been doing the rounds for at least three years :))

And, when thinking green, remember that you need to go beyond the gift-giving. I love outdoor Christmas lights but we ditched ours a couple of years ago because of the energy they wasted. 

This year, we’re switching on again – but we’re using outdoor solar lights. The Eco-Savers lights (a string of 50) are £19.25 from Amazon and you won’t need to feel guilty about lighting up your house.

Special note – I’m excited about a new environmental website that I’m involved in called The Big Green Guide. Eventually, we hope The Big Green will be a one-stop shop for everything eco – from advice on renewable energy and greening your home to news on inspiring projects from around the globe.

It’s early days at the moment and we’re just starting to add content but we’ve started things off with a Cut the Christmas Carbon Campaign, which includes lots of ideas on making your Christmas greener this year, so we’d love you to join in. 🙂




New rules are being introduced to make it easier for consumers to choose “green” electricity tariffs that deliver extra benefits.

According to the government, some suppliers don’t offer many benefits other than satisfying their legal obligation to use renewable energy sources – whereas others also make a contribution to environmental projects or the fight against climate change.

So it is planning a new ratings system that will distinguish between the potential benefits of different green tariffs. That way, you’ll know whether you are paying more just because it’s renewable energy or whether the cost includes extra environmental actions by your supplier such as planting trees.

Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, says: “I want to make sure that the green tariff market is clear for consumers.” 

He has now written to energy companies asking them to provide “the clearest possible information” about the environmental benefits of their green power and has asked energy regulator, Ofgem, to help collect information for the proposed ratings system.  

He said electricity is like any other product – people want to know what they are paying for – and this applies especially to a green tariff because it often costs more than traditional electricity.

The Carbon Trust says it supports the move because the green tariffs market is unclear and some tariffs deliver minimal extra carbon savings.

It says the sector suffers from significant double counting problems – and it’s essential that the benefits of renewables can be accurately reported by businesses towards their carbon reduction targets.

• The government has also just  announced a new round of biomass grants for  farmers and producers.

Grants of up to £200,000 will be available to support the biomass industry in England which ministers say has the potential to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and cut our carbon emissions.

The grants will apply to a range of crops  including willow, poplar, alder, ash, hazel, lime, grass and straw.



Amid the Welsh Mountains, serene lakes and dramatic landscapes – at the edge of the picturesque Snowdonia Park you will find the Electric Mountain Visitors’ Centre.

Once you enter the Visitors’ Centre you will be in a different world.

Firstly, you will be shown a video that will give you an idea of what you are going to see and experience

You will then be introduced to an Underground tour deep into Eliden Mountain, where you will be able to see, feel and hear Europe’s largest man made cavern in operation with some of the largest and most powerful hydro -generators in the world.

A bus will take you from Electric Mountain into the centre of the Dinorwig Power Station. You will pass through many tunnels – stopping every so often to get off the bus and see the magnificent generators close up. And learn how they can go from zero output to full power within seconds.

The pump storage system that produces electricity at Dinorwig relies on falling water to turn the turbines.

The whole generating system buried deep in Eliden Mountain is in a cavern that is large enough to house St Paul’s Cathedral.

While in action – as much water passes through the tunnels at Dinorwig as London uses in a whole day.

There are tour guides who are very knowledgeable and will patiently answer all questions you throw at them.

Once you have returned from a tour, you may enjoy a meal or snack at the Connections Café / Bistro. Or a browse around the shop may take your fancy. For sale are souvenirs and gifts.

What Are The Opening Times?

Daily from April to September 9.30 am – 5.30 pm
Rest of the year 10.30 am – 4.30 pm  (Thursday to Sundays only)
Closed December 23rd – January 4th.

What Are The Prices?

Free admission to Electric Mountain.

Tickets for the Underground Tour:

Adults £5
Children £2.50
Senior Citizens £3.75

Advance booking for the Tour is advisable.

What Are The Contact Details?

Electric Mountain
LL55 4UR
Tel: 01286 870636
Fax: 01286 873002
Email: info[at]

How To Get There?

From the North A55 (coast road) Llanberis is clearly signposted and approximately 15 minutes drive via the A5, B4366 and the B454.

From the South (Betsy-y-Coed, Capel Curig and Bethesda) use the A498 and then the A4086 to Llanberis.




For those of us a little wary of electricity, “ZAP” may not be the best name for an electric appliance of any kind.

In this case, however, ZAP stands for Zero Air Pollution, and is the name of the automotive designers behind the “Alias” electric car, which might be available sometime in 2009.


It’s striking to look at – I rather like it from the front. Most electric vehicles seem to be the design equivalent of government supplied medical prosthetics, so anything that looks remotely sporty has a market edge straight away. I did say I liked it from the front – it was more difficult to find a rear view in my searches, and I can see why it’s not the main publicity shot. It does look a bit as though you’ve driven off and left the rear wheel behind.

Rear wheel – singular – brings me to something else interesting about the Alias’s design. It’s a three-wheeler, which has interesting issues in the UK, and maybe elsewhere. Another ZAP design, the Xebra-2 has already passed the VOSA tests, required before any vehicle is allowed to be driven on public roads, and is also a three-wheeler. This one has two rear and one front wheel, and looks a little like a modern rendering of the Reliant Robin, whereas the Alias has two front and one rear wheel, as did the now highly collectable Isetta.


The Isetta did not become very popular in the UK until this three-wheeled version was introduced – previous models had four wheels, with two small wheels at the back close together. UK motorists took to the tricycle version because it could be driven on a motorcycle licence, and attracted a much lower rate of road tax, which is determined in part by the number of wheels.

ZAP, based in California, have been designing and selling their electric vehicles since 1994, and have a good range of vehicles for different needs. What makes them different from other makes is partly this proven track record, and partly that the cars are rather well designed. Their range includes an the stylish Obvio, and an impressive collaboration with Lotus, to create the ZAP-X.


Their website has all the technical details, and a pre-order form, but there’s an excellent synopsis of the company’s current and new ranges at Fuel-Efficient-Vehicles.




Brian Sexton an Eco Expert working for the Manchester City Council – along with his team has won a Council Award for Excellence. A 1900’s house has been renovated into an Eco friendly one.

The Eco House opened as a show house in Miles Platting in May 2006. It was renovated to show how it’s possible to live economically and how any ordinary house can be converted to a sustainable home.

From the outside the house looks like any other house in the street, but once you step inside, it’s a different world.

Visitors are welcome to take a tour of the house. Firstly, there’s a two-minute DVD that shows what harmful greenhouse gases would look like if we could see them. The DVD also shows how this causes global warming.

The message is that if we could see greenhouse gases we wouldn’t allow it, but with them being invisible it’s probably a case of out of sight out of mind.

So this Eco House with all its wonderful innovations shows us what can be done – how we can help save our planet – that’s top priority, and it’s possible to save money too.

In the house there’s a rubbish bin with its front cut away to show various layers of household refuse, each layer is labelled to show how many years it would take to decompose if just dumped.

There are many ways of making your home eco friendly but one of the easiest is to insulate. But if you can’t afford it – the Government awards grants for this purpose.

Below are 15 ways you can make your home warmer greener and more economical to run.

1. Use energy saving light bulbs.
2. Insulate the loft.
3. Have cavity wall insulation.
4. Put a jacket on your hot water cylinder.
5. Stop the draughts with draught proofing at doors and windows.
6. If you have gaps in your floorboards, stuff them.
7. Have a clock fitted so you can control your heating.
8. Put silver foil behind the radiators – this will reflect the heat back into the room.
9. Fit a condensing boiler.
10. When using your washing machine, only do a wash when you have a full load and then do the wash at 30 degrees.
11. Don’t fill the kettle for one cup of tea.
12. If you are not using a room turn off the lights.
13. Collect rainwater for watering the garden.
14. Recycle and compost as much as possible.
15. Fit Double Glazed Windows

Remember if you want to do your bit to help save our planet, don’t throw it away but think of the 3 R’s. Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle.

If you’d like more advice on saving energy you can contact the Energy Efficiency Advice Centre on 0800 512 012 (it’s a free number).




If you are still looking for last minute gifts, you could check out the Big Green Market in Reading (December 14-16) or in Oxford (December 21 & 23).

It claims to be “a street market with a conscience” and shoppers can expect a range of  eco-friendly, ethically traded and organic products. 

And if you’re gift shopping for a bookworm, you might like to visit the Amnesty book sale on December 17 at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London. Books will include second hand stock and warehouse clearance items, as well as brand new remainders, plus there will be giftwrap, diaries and calendars.

(As always, check online before setting out since events can change or be cancelled.)




Well, a couple of weeks in, I’m still pressing in with the weekly challenges on Tread Lightly, The Guardian newspaper’s on-line initiative based on making, and hopefully fulfilling, simple pledges to make small life changes that reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This week they focus on the energy that many of us will use in lighting our Christmas trees.


Since I only have a very tiny tree, the only promise I was able to make was to “switch on the few lights on my small Christmas tree for just seven hours a day for 15 days over Christmas (saving 770 g of CO2 next week)” – rather easy actually, as I probably would not have thought to put the lights on until after dark anyway. Consequently, I’m probably credited with rather more carbon dioxide saving than my effort really represents. With this and my previous completed pledges, my savings have amounted to an amazing 14.21kg! More incredibly, though, is the total saving from lots of people doing it – a staggering 3.51 tonnes on this task alone!


What is always interesting on Tread Lightly is reading the comments of other subscribers – in this case there are several people who point out that this is quite a non-challenging challenge, as many people are happy to go without electric lights on their tree altogether, and others suggesting that changing from ordinary lights to LEDs would be a bigger step. Last week’s challenge was to do all your washing at 30 degrees Celsius, which was also quite easy, but I was interested in the comments of others. I gave up ironing years ago, deciding that it was a chore that produced negligible benefit. I was surprised to find others saying they had done the same. I had never thought of it in energy saving terms before, though, other than my own!


As someone who adores Christmas, and all the accompanying kitsch, I couldn’t possibly not illuminate my little tree, but I have found that there are some really good LED alternatives. There are some lovely blue snowflake lights at Environmental Lights, as well as many other designs. Amazon has a particularly good range – I’m particularly enamoured of this cute little tabletop Christmas tree, already decorated and with lights in three different, gorgeous colours. How can you not be tempted by such reward for so little effort?