City Hippy

The diary of our struggle to live a green and fair life.

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CityHippy has posted its last post now (I now work for EMP plc, run At Home magazine online and more and personally blog over at Why? Click here to find out. We might be back. Keep our RSS feeds, keep us bookmarked, sign up for the news alert on the right. You never know...

We are dedicated to exploring how to live a greener and more ethical life. City Hippy is a growing collective of writers bringing you two types of content:

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

NEWS: Five juicy bits of green

OK five things on my radar today worth mentioning.

First up, Planet Earth, BBC1, 9pm Sunday 5th March. Oh this looks good!

This episode: From Pole to Pole
Documentary series which celebrates our planet in all its glory, both its spectacular scenery and its captivating natural history. This episode journeys across the planet, following the influence of the sun and discovering how its seasonal journey affects the lives of all who live on earth. As spring arrives in the Arctic, a mother polar bear emerges from her den with two tiny cubs. At the other end of the planet winter arrives and Emperor penguins are plunged into darkness for four months.

Next up we have a great ethical fish guide in the Evening Standard. Sadly they do not have the article online but it tells you what fish to buy i.e. which are most endangered and which are healthiest. Nice! Summary for you: Go for the Atlantic Hake and Salmon. As organic and local as possible of course.

Looming delightfully on my radar is this story about how McDonalds are closing stores (ahhh) in the UK. Perhaps they will now invest even more in ethical fast food ie Pret.

Another great story today in the unbelievably offline Evening Standard about the Environmental Business Oscars, The Livable City awards, here in the UK. Overall winner was the Carbon Disclosure Project. These guys are amazing. Check out what they have achieved. Basically they represent investors and get the largest companies in the world to disclose their emissions and reduction plans. They claim to now represent 211 investors and over £31 trillion - over a third of all global wealth. WOW! Round of applause please!

And last but not least the Carnival of the Green steams onwards with even more carnies signing up. Give it up for:

September 11th - Worsted Witch
September 18th - Karavans
October 2nd - Greener Miami

If you have hosted/are scheduled to host and would like to host again or if you would like to host for the first time then click here for more info...although we are booked way into October 2006 now...



p.s. got a massive bit of news tomorrow for you all...hee hee

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EVENT: Fancy a Fair Trade Experience?

Originally posted on

If the answer is yes then I recommend that you check out the New Consumer Fair Trade Experience this March. Held over two days (11th & 12th) during Fairtrade Fortnight at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall this event looks set to broaden many a horizon. Experience music, great kids stuff, plenty of stalls with fashion, crafts, foods and the like. Plus you can actually meet some real Fair Trade farmers and producers and find out what it really means to them when you buy their stuff. Entry is £1 and all kids go free! More info available from Tani @



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Monday, February 27, 2006

NEWS: Carnival of the Green #16

Carnival of the GreenThis weeks carnival takes us to the The Naked Vegetarian. Loving the image they created for the carnival. So loving the way each bloggers individuality is coming out in each carnival. This carnival is the first one to make me laugh out the little segues.

My pick of the carnival this week is from the Evangelical Ecologist blog where Don reviews Saving God’s Green Earth, a fascinating review of a Christian Ecology masterpiece by the sound of it.

I love this review not because I am a Christian (or am I? hmmmmm) but because I really think the Christian Ecology movement is starting to awaken and presents a startling force for positive change.

More info about the Carnival of the Green re hosting and posting available here.



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Friday, February 24, 2006

NEWS: Blogathon & Carnies

Two bits of news:

1) A great green blogathon is taking place today across a few green blogs. Organised by Shea 'Windpower' Gunther's Musings of an eco-entrepreneur blog and Jeff 'Recovering Academic' McIntire-Strasburg's Sustainablog the blogathon is going to see posts flying in on various blogs at rates previously unheard of. The goal is to raise money and each participating blogger has nominated their own charity. Should be fun.

Check out the list of bloggers giving up their time to entertain and raise money for some seriously good green causes. Tell them Al sent you.

2) Some new Carnival of the Green hosts have signed up...will mention them as they come on board from now on.
Welcome folks. YEEHAA!!!

Ever wanted to be a carny? Well now you can. If you run a site/blog that has anything remotely to do with being green i.e. ethical, organic, sustainable etc then you too can sign up to be a host. Click here for more info. It is easy and it is fun.



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Thursday, February 23, 2006

FEATURE: The Ramsay Home Project (part 4)

Here in part 4 (1 2 3) of our regular updates from RamsayHome we hear how a house has a history and also how this project is starting to attract interest at a local level. Next stop perhaps they will get their own radio show on Canada's CBC, then maybe a move to TV awaits? I wonder who will play them in the Holywood movie that is bound to follow he he he.

History in the making

Progress is slow at the Ramsay house as we reorganize our contracts and
settle into working with a new team. Meanwhile, the project itself is
getting some local attention.

The inner-city site we are building on is narrow and slopes down a steep
bluff. The back lane is named Bison Path, reflecting the area's history as
a buffalo jump site. Many homes in Ramsay were constructed over a hundred years ago, which in Alberta, a province that celebrated its centennial last year, means they are as old as the hills.

The lot had a little prairie-sky blue cottage on it, which I lived in for four years before getting married. Built in 1911, the wind blew right through it. Every spring ladybugs and bumblebees hatched indoors despite repeated efforts to eliminate their entry. We looked into retro-fitting, but the expense was going to be far too high for the benefit.

During demolition, we tore up the hardwood floor to salvage the wood. It was insulated underneath with newsprint, and we found pieces dated 1910. We kept these to frame and hang in the new house. We also discovered buried underground wood frame windows, which explained the ghostly drafts as well as the insects. The foundations were crumbling, and despite our nostalgia, we knew we had done the right thing.

We are building the new house to last another hundred years – at least. We're keeping the footprint small and the exterior design will reflect a 1910 aesthetic. We hope to xeriscape as much as possible with native grasses and shrubs, and I am dreaming already of a small kitchen garden with heirloom tomatoes.

We've been invited to share our story with local students as part of a grade 12 DVD project on the history of Ramsay and the changing face of our neighbourhood. The interview is taking place this week. The new house is going to be much different than its windy predecessor, but will also carry its spirit forward. And, we are going to paint the exterior a true prairie-sky blue.

M from the RamsayHome project

Houses are such a part of the furniture but when we stop to look at them we find a home. History makes the house but people make the home. The house my wife and I now live in was built after WWII and we are only the third family to live in it. Wow! That always humbles me. We respect our house and we love our home. It is easy to see that the Ramsays feel the same way too.



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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

REVIEW: River Nene Box Scheme

Cross-posted from Hippyshopper and updated.

Mrs Hippy & I are going to be checking out and reviewing local box schemes over the next few months.

We know we will pay above supermarket prices with box schemes but we figure that we will get better organic produce and it sustains local ethical farmers.

We intend to try as many as possible over the coming months and then pick the one that suits us best for a long-term relationship.

First up was River Nene. The online ordering process could not have been easier. The order arrived last week as promised.

The boxes looked superb and we were very excited by their arrival.

We scored them based on price, produce quality (lovely looking avocados and extra points for genuine mud), variety (even got ginger beer mmm), packaging (lost points for carrots in a plastic bag), service (ordering online could not have been easier and they give you a free seasonal produce guide) and extra points for the nice friendly delivery guy.

River Nene scores 8/10 9/10 (turns out the plastic bags are biodegradable).

Have been enjoying loads of local organic fruit and veg all week long.



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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

SPECIAL: Acorns into mighty Oaks


It is hard to believe that it was one year ago this day that I posted the first post on this blog. So much has happened.

I feel honoured to be a part of the Green blogosphere and in the company of some really cool passionate people.

What did I promise back then?
  • To create a space for people to post about their search for a greener and ethical urban life.
  • To focus on living a green and fair life in the UK but to encourage debate across our planet.
  • To struggle to live a greener and a fairer life in my own life and home.
  • To not stick to posting schedules but to try and keep it flowing naturally.
  • To avoid becoming an ego-bigot who makes people feel inferior for not being green enough.
  • To focus on positive action.
Have I delivered on those promises?
Well only you can judge but in my heart I believe that I have delivered. You ain't seen nothing yet ;)

Favourite moments?
Apart from my first son Coby being born (Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles!) launching the Carnival of the Green with Nick from Triple Pundit (a great guy) and the Starbucks Challenge with Siel from GreenLAGirl (a great girl) are my proudest achievements thus far. Of course being mentioned in the UK's Guardian newspaper was nice too. I have a feeling the next year is gonna be bigger and better.

Where do I go from here?
Well first off I keep going and growing.

I intend to clean the site up with a better bespoke template and a real logo.

I might even move from blogger...but probably not.

I have some new cool functionality to add in.

I have some great content ideas lined up.

I would love to take this blog full time but that would require me to either win the lottery or figure out how to make a living from this blog without compromising it. Hmmmm...any ideas?

Any rich angels out there who wanna salary me (trust me that ain't much) for a whole year and see just what I can do with this blog if it had my full attention?

Finally...he shuts up...nearly...
Ghandi Gandhi (thanks for the correction Joe he he he) said one must be the change and so you should feel good about yourself for trying your hardest. Even just visiting this blog is a good start. Ignore those who say that whatever you do is not good enough. Tell them I told them they are wrong. Send them my way. I will have them singing peace songs within minutes. Hahahahaha! And most importantly of all...just keep going!

I just got to the end of this post and serendipitously my wife handed me a poem. It just fits so well and is a wonderful ending to probably my favourite post. Enjoy.
Acorns into mighty Oaks
When I leave this world I hope
I leave a better place
where deeds I've done
and paths I've trod

have helped the human race;
where seeds I've sown will blossom still
and trees I've planted grow
from acorns into mighty oaks,
I hope I've made it so.

For to leave the world
without a trace,
no footprints in the sand,
no memory in a loved one's heart,
no mark upon the land,
no legacy to show you cared,
no promises to keep,
must surely make it hard to face
an eternity of sleep.
SBW (taken from Living Heritage - The Woodland Trust Legacy newsletter No 7 Spring 2006)
Very well said SBW.

And so finally to end this first year I leave you with a question to which I hope I have an answer this time next year:

What do you think is the single biggest problem the world faces and how do we solve it?

I very much look forward to your answers.

Namaste to you all and thanks from the depths of my soul.


UPDATE: I am so touched by all the comments and emails I have received. Thanks to all of you. You make the hard work I put into this blog so worthwhile. Namaste.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

NEWS: Carnival of the Green #15

Carnival of the GreenThis weeks carnival takes us to the Hip & Zen Pen.

Was always gonna be hard to top last weeks carnival but the folks over at Hip & Zen have done a great job. Loving the narrative style.

My pick of the carnival is this Greener Side post pointing us to a new movement in San Francisco who want to turn Buy Nothing Day into Buy Nothing Year. You go folks! We will be watching and enjoying!

There is so much I love about these folks especially the fact that they call themselves Compactwegians - hahaha!

More info about the Carnival of the Green re hosting and posting available here.



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NEWS: A streetcar made for Gaia

Cross-posted from Hippyshopper and updated.

If you live in the center of a city then you probably find driving and parking a nightmare. Plus if you are a bit green then chances are you do not even bother with a car. However sometimes a car would be nice to have around wouldn't it but being green and owning a car does rather chaffe at ones morals. Well help is at hand thanks to people like They offer a self-service pay-as-you-go car service using unleaded Volkswagen Golfs. Their cars are available on demand in London, Brighton, Southampton, Bristol & Oxford (with plans for more naturally) and you can rent by the hour, day (for as little as £35), week or month. Va va voom anyone?

If you live in the US then check out Zipcars which do the same thing.



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Saturday, February 18, 2006

NEWS: Computers against Climate Change

Climate Change causes many of us immense concern. Staying positive often seems hard. But with the future unwritten yet looking more watery and cold every day what can we do to stem the tide?

Well besides greening your life there is at least one other massive thing you can do right now, for free, using just your mouse.

You can become part of the biggest climate change experiment and join the attempt to find out what the future really is likely to hold.

The BBC has joined forces with, the massive distributed computing project created to harness the planets home computing power. The project is designed to model as many Climate Change scenarios as quickly as possible.

The results? So far the BBC's campaign has seen 61,009 computers join in from 138 countries. WOW! They plan to create a tv programme to discuss the conclusions etc. Awesome!

So if you leave your PC (or MAC for that matter) on a lot then at least give it something to do in the background.

Check out the BBC Climate Change Hot Topic for more info.

I have signed up (have been doing it for ages actually but it switched to this version).



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Friday, February 17, 2006

NEWS: Ethical Awards

City Hippy is all about positive reinforcement as you all know. We don't do bitching, moaning, groaning or judgemental ego-bigotry. Plenty of that around to turn folks off of caring about people and planet and trying to make a change or two.

So I was filled with joy to learn (via Treehugger I might add) of the Observer Ethical Awards.

There are lots of good people out there doing lots of good things for the greening of the planet and occasionally we need to stop and realise how well we all do and how far we have come.

City Hippy salutes all the nominees but we have some favs. Please do go vote and support the Awards and especially Ecover for backing them in such a massive way.



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FEATURE: Loving the Moon

Welcome to Helen (not pictured) from Edinburgh, a new member of the City Hippy crew. In her first post (and we hope there will be more) she tells us about an eco alternative for Feminine hygiene.
Used feminine hygiene products fill a lot of landfill but Mooncups offer an eco-friendly solution. They are better for the environmental health of the planet as well as better for your personal health.

Mooncups are made from medical grade non-allergenic Silicon and use no bleaches, deodorisers or absorbency gels.

They are usually about two inches long and they collect, rather than absorb, thus requiring far less attention than other products. Mooncups also help avoid fibres being deposited on the vaginal wall which may increase your chances of suffering with cervical cancer.

Mooncups do not interfere with your sex life (Yippee!) and also makes you less likely to suffer from Toxic Shock Syndrome. This makes it especially valuable for those not yet sexually active as Toxic Shock Syndrome is most commonly a problem between the ages of fifteen and nineteen.

I can highly recommend Mooncups from personal experience. Despite it taking me a while to get the hang of it it was well worth the extra effort.

I have now had the same Mooncup for two years and can expect to keep it for another six or so.

They cost about £18 to buy but after six months having not had to buy any disposable alternatives I have easily covered my costs.

Mooncups are available at or in many branches of Boots.
This sounds like a great idea obviously although being a guy and never having had to deal with the reality of menstruation I have no frame of reference. There seem to be a lot of reusable pad alternatives out there like Wemoon Menstrual Pads available from Plushpants and PleasurePuss reusable sanitary pads from Anyone got any other ideas? Let us know.



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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

REVIEW: Battle of the eco BO busters

Cross-posted from Hippyshopper and updated.

Being green doesn't mean smelling like a yak. I travel on the tube to work every day and BO in a cramped carriage is torture. Not only that but BO at work is hardly a good career move and, as for your love-life, well, Napoleon might have been a stinky pit fan, but in general it works against you.

I recently decided to road-test two green alternatives to the chemical norm: Holland & Barrett's very own
Earthly Elements 'Herbal Magic' Unscented Deodorant (standard roll-on for £4) and Crystal Spring's Natural Body Deodorant (a crystal stick for £5). Both were purchased at Holland & Barrett's.

The winner was clear all the way through the testing. One worked and the other... well let's just say that on those days I found myself in acres of space.

The winner, by a nose (groan), was Earthly Elements. Plus, despite using it loads of times, for a good month or so, it seems I have hardly used any so it should last for a few more months. Bargain!

Today I bought a natural deodorant (T'eo, pictured to right) from Lush for £3.15 and will let you know how it fares against the champ.



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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

FEATURE: The Ramsay Home Project (part 3)

Here in part 3 (1 2) of our regular updates from the RamsayHome Project we hear about a slight glitch but how overall the dream is becoming reality.

“Let there be love...and construction”
This week saw many changes at the Ramsay house. Our first floor is framed, so we are able to stand and look out onto our future view. It is breathtaking. The house faces north on a steep hill, on a bluff between two river valleys. While modest in size, the living area feels majestic in scope. The Warmboard is installed, and the thought of sitting cosily in our earth-heated home looking out over the valley and prairie is almost painfully tangible.

This perspective is a touchstone, yet there is still a long way to go. Unfortunately we can now count ourselves among the estimated 5% of homeowners who have to switch contractors mid-project. Our contractor brought expertise and enthusiasm, and we wish him the best. Now we turn to a long-time family collaborator who has far more resources in Calgary's current cut-throat building boom, and we hope will be able to complete the house by fall.

Another new perspective: we are not alone! Thank-you to the good folks at React Energy who passed our URL on to like-minded builders over at They have an excellent blog that describes a process parallel to ours in many ways, especially the New Year's entry.

We celebrated our first wedding anniversary this week. This time last year, our house project was only a dream. It is just amazing the new friends, new challenges and new views that one year can bring. It has been a year to remember – here's to many more to come!

M from the RamsayHome project

We are so inspired by the Ramsay's...going green at any level is not always easy, although using energy efficient lightbulbs and turning off taps is dead easy. They have clearly travelled a long journey over their last year but with the house, just like their marriage, they have arrived at the end of year one with a dream delivered, a foundation laid and a structure clearly visible. Like any good relationship...building it is not an overnight experience eh?



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Monday, February 13, 2006

NEWS: Carnival of the Green #14

Carnival of the GreenThis weeks carnival takes us to the serene Groovy Green Blog! Amazing carnival this much work has gone into gotta check it out! Good job Michael!!!

Other than the awesome rhyming style used this week my pick of the carnival is the Baby Steps post from Powering Down.

More info about the Carnival of the Green re hosting and posting available here.



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Thursday, February 09, 2006

NEWS: My Touchwood ring

OK so the ultimate Hallmark holiday is fast approaching and the pressure is on to prove to your loved ones that you do, in fact, love them. Sigh!

It never hurts to love and if you intend to buy your loved one something special this Valentines Day then why not show them you really care and buy them something green.

I recommend checking out the Treehugger Valentine special: 50 ways to please your lover.


However, my vote on how best to show someone you care is to buy them a sustainable hand-crafted wooden ring from Touchwood Rings.

I will be writing more about them soon but let me just say that I got my ring (see above) a couple of days ago and it is amazing...can't stop staring at it! I asked them for something with a hint of yin-yang and they found the perfect piece of wood and turned it into my ring. Very yiny and yangy! Great job Nicola & David! Thanks so much! It feels so completely unique and me!

This is what they say about the wood they use:
Much of the wood we use is from blow down and bug killed trees on our 50 acres. We take the stewardship of our land very seriously.

We've collected our birch bark from the ground around stands of birch trees in the bush. Our juniper heart wood, cherry & olive wood come to us from a family orchard in the Similkameen Valley of British Columbia. Some of the other woods that do not come from our land are surplus and scrap woods from wood shops and factories where it would otherwise be trash. Additionally, we use a such a tiny bit of wood to create a ring that we couldn't use up a tree in a lifetime of making wooden rings. We are always striving to lighten the load on our planet.
Could it get any better? Nope. Visit Touchwood Rings and trust me, your loved one will love you for it.



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INTERVIEW: Craig Sams (part 5)

Things are starting to get really interesting now and in this installment, the fifth ( 1 2 3 4 ) of our Craig Sams interview series, we find out what Craig's vision of the future is.

CityHippy: After all the Fairtrade talk Craig we have a nice gentle one for you now...what is your vision of the future?

Craig Sams: Transparency is a wonderful thing. When everyone understands what’s behind everything they buy and do then it’s easier for them to judge which way to go. I think that in the future you will have to do good to do well, there will be no hiding place for bad practice. There are a lot of rich people on this planet and a lot of poor, the poor need to be richer and trade justice will bring that to them, without depriving the rich of their wealth. But everything, energy, clothes, food, is going to cost more once the rules of trade become just and that means that we in the rich West are going to have to be less wasteful, greedy and extravagant.

Great stuff. Key word for me is Transparency. Hidden costs are now being revealed. We have been enjoying a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of people and planet. Economists refer to these hidden costs as 'externalities' aka 'someone else's problem' (want more on that? Watch the great movie: The Corporation).

When trapped on a lifeboat you tend to ration drinking water and if someone is caught stealing water then they tend to get tossed over the side.

Given the fact that we are all in the same boat we have to get away from a ME culture and replace it with a WE culture.

That is what the Triple Bottom Line is all about. Business can make money without screwing people and planet. Plenty of good folks are proving it by using less chemicals and better labour and growing practices. Find them. Support them. Encourage them. Change the world. Vote with your cash!

Join us for part 6 when Craig explains what the biggest obstacle to his vision is (and boy does he feel passionate about it) and how we get past it.



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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

DEBATE: Ethical Fast Food?

I have started posting some small tidbits over at Hippyshopper but fear not, for they will all make it onto the City Hippy pages too. I recently posted this review of Pret the sandwich shop.
Working in any city means that food choices are limited. Other than bringing in a mung bean salad every day, what’s a City Hippy to do? Turns out that Pret a Manger offer a healthier and hippier choice. Why: you can get wholemeal bread, light or even no mayo, less plastic/more card packaging, wooden spoons, organic milk, fairtrade coffee and sandwiches made in the stores with fresh, GM-free ingredients delivered daily. They even give all leftovers to charity. I don't know why I haven't been to Pret for ages but if the mung bean salad doesn't survive the journey then Pret is where I will be from now on. The perfect answer to healthy food on the move.
A few interesting comments followed along a general theme of: How can you advocate supporting a company a third owned by MacDonalds?

Of course, not for one moment, do I advocate supporting MacDonalds via MacDonalds but the question is:
Is an ethical company still an ethical company when it is owned, in part or whole, by an "unethical" company?
On the one hand Pret makes profit in quite a sustainable way. To be applauded. On the other hand those profits feedback to MacDonalds who then in turn might use that profit to fund behaviour I would not support. Not good!

Is it better that MacDonalds fail to make profit from an ethical (ish) investment? Perhaps you advocate a boycott of Pret for selling a stake to MacDonalds?

Would it make for a more ethical world if I used a non-organic, non-sustainable, non-chain owned, unethical local sandwich shop rather than an ethical (ish) sandwich shop owned by MacDonalds?

I don't think so. I think business can be a force for good. I can think of many examples where that is true. But this it tricky grey area stuff.

At the end of the debate though I stand on the side of using Pret if there is not a more ethical option on the basis that at least it makes MacDonalds see that the triple bottom line can work.




UPDATE: Just wanted to let you know that fellow green blogger Organic Researcher has posted on this debate and that you should check his contribution (and my commented reply) out and add your own thoughts.

Whilst I do not really agree with his take on the situation I understand that some/many will and I totally value his contribution...namaste! Al

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I have received a reply from Craig and have updated the part 4 post - did not want to split it into a new post as it all fits together. Have also written to Fairtrade and await their reply. Will keep you, well, posted.



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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

FEATURE: The Ramsay Home Project (part 2)

Here in part 2 (1) of our regular updates from the RamsayHome Project we find out all about their adventure with framers.

“We have framers!”

This week brought a major development to the construction site – framers! Alberta is experiencing a labour shortage – unique in Canada, and Calgary is in the midst of a construction boom, which means that framing crews are few and far between.

Our project is small and our green contractor is not doing the volume of work that would draw loyalty from trades and crews. Framing crews can pick their work, and the smart foreman goes to projects with big developers building "starter castles" in the suburbs with as much stick framing per square metre as possible.

Our contractor is green in years as well. There has not been a surfeit of demand for energy-conserving technologies and homes in Calgary, and our contractor does not have the same depth of industry contacts as traditional builders do. That is starting to change, though I suspect that most of it is pocket-book driven. The local CBC radio recently ran a story on geothermal heating that focused on how much cash one could save in monthly bills.

We finally got a framing crew on site, and our 900 square foot first floor is almost framed in; it took 4 men one day of work. Our home will eventually boast 2700 square feet of living space, using cantilevers, a developed basement and a developed attic to accomplish this within a 900 square foot imprint. That 2700 square feet will house three generations, but that is another weeks' entry. In the meantime, join us in raising a glass in celebration of the beautiful sight of a framed first floor on the Ramsay House Project!

M from the RamsayHome project

Sounds great...can feel it coming together. Sourcing materials and people for Green builds is clearly a major issue for many green home builders. Bound to get easier as time goes on. Check out our bookmarks for our collected green building links. Have we missed some? Let us know at cityhippy[at]gmail[dot]com

Be sure to check out the Ramsay's site for the latest pics. I almost wish they had a site webcam...hmmm...Ramsay's? What about it? How about a site webcam? Hmmm...



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Monday, February 06, 2006

NEWS: Carnival of the Green #13

Carnival of the GreenThis weeks carnival takes us to the fabulous Eco Street Blog!

The post that caught my eye this week was Camden Lady's Decentralising Electricity Supply. Lateral thinking...I like!

More info about the Carnival of the Green re hosting and posting available here.



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Saturday, February 04, 2006

INTERVIEW: Craig Sams (part 4)

I feel so lucky to have had this interview with Craig...he seems like such a great guy really tuned into a similar reality to me.

In this installment, the fourth ( 1 2 3 ) of our Craig Sams interview series, we find out why Green & Blacks only ever had one product certified as Fairtrade which is something a lot of people have emailed me to ask about.

WARNING: this is heavy stuff and reads a bit like a political thriller.

CityHippy: Following on from my question about Green & Blacks I have wondered why only one of the Green & Blacks products was ever Fairtrade certified?

Craig Sams: We have never changed the way we do business. We always pay fair prices, deal with democratic cooperatives, support our growers with long term contracts, give them cash up front if they need it to pay the cooperative members, help them on maintaining organic standards. So when Fairtrade asked us if we’d go for their symbol on Maya Gold, we said we would. We didn’t have to change a thing to get their symbol and it was their first product ever, so we helped put them on the map. We believe that the way we do business is the way everyone should do business and that all businesses will realise that it’s best in the long run.

Interesting. Did not know that Maya Gold was the first ever Fairtrade certified product? Cool. Wonder why G&B did not certify their other products then? Have emailed Craig and asked him about that.

This is what he replied. Unedited. Powerful stuff and gives a great insight into what the reality is in green business.

Craig Sams: The simple answer is that the FT Mark costs 2% of turnover if you are a standard organisation, although Traidcraft, Café Direct and Equal Exchange only pay 1% as they are perceived to be ‘giving something back.’ Over the past decade we’ve paid over £300,000 in FT fees, none of which has gone back to the Maya producers in Belize. We’ve secured a £250,000 DfID grant for them to build capacity and matched it with £250,000 of our own money but the FT sends its money to a central fund at FLO (Fair Trade Labelling Organisation) in Bonn where it is dispensed as FLO thinks best. When the cacao producers , who also grow oranges and whose cooperative squeeze and bottle frozen orange juice, asked if we could get Fairtrade status for their orange juice we were told that there was already a fair trade project that a German company was doing in Brazil and they didn’t want to flood the market with fair trade orange juice.

The Fairtrade Foundation also used to oppose the idea that one customer would take all the production of one supplier – our contract with the Maya, which predates the FT Mark, was very specific that we would buy everything they could produce and that in exchange they would sell us everything they produced. The Fairtrade Foundation went along with this because of the lack of other contenders at the time to purchase their cacao, but we wanted a secure relationship because we had committed ourselves, in our advertising and in naming the product Maya Gold, to sourcing our cacao from the Maya region of Belize.

All the above was several years ago and I think that things have changed and are changing but our view was that we had started doing things ethically years before we became the first company to take the Fairtrade Mark and that we and our suppliers would do best if we continued to do so. So, no, it’s not going to happen [I asked if other G&B products were going to go Fairtrade], there doesn’t seem to be a significant marketing need and there was a problem with the FT people that predated the arrival of Harriet Lamb, who is more flexible and understands the issues more clearly, but by then the die was cast.

[Mouth open!] WOW! Fairtrade reality is clearly much more complex than most of us consumers imagine. I have many questions but I have emailed Craig the following follow-up question:

When you say you pay FT 2% of that meant to represent the extra money that goes to the growers or did the cacao farmers get more money directly from you?

Will let you know what he replies as soon as I hear back from him.

I am starting to believe that product certification is nearing its natural shelf-life. Personally I am much more interested in the company itself as opposed to one product or another. No matter how much Fairtrade coffee Nestle offer me I will not buy it...Nestle's general business practices and history disturbs me. Know what I mean? It is not about the product is about the company behind the product. I want to support those companies that have a strong ethical core. I hope Nestle sells lots of Fairtrade coffee too existing customers though. Good luck to them. The more ethical they get the better.

Join us for part 5 when Craig tells us about his vision for the future.



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Have heard back from Craig. Check this out. Updated closing comments follow:

UPDATE from Craig - an answer to the above question:
The FT require that a $200 ton premium over and above the Fairtrade price for cacao is paid to the farmers. So we pay $1925 – non organic cacao (grown with chemicals and the consequent risk of exposure) has a Fairtrade price of $1725. The world market price fluctuates, usually from $1100 to $1500. We pay higher prices anyway for organic cacao, but I’m not sure I agree that the organic grower should be penalised with a higher price hurdle; it encourages fair trade non-organic, which is a bit of a contradiction in terms.

The 2% is paid on our sales turnover, the growers get a separate premium. A 100g bar of Maya Gold chocolate contains 60g of raw cocoa bean ingredient, or .06 x $1.925 per kg or 12 cents. This represents a fair trade premium to the grower of about 3 cents. The 2% is paid on the cost of chocolate that has been shipped, processed, had sugar and spices added and wrapped and cartonned and shipped to the UK and had our profit margin added. So 2% on a bar that is sold for about $1.35 is about 3 cents. The value added tax is about 40 cents, by the way – no rebate for being fair trade, which shows the depth of the government’s support. So the Fairtrade Foundation make about 3 cents a bar for enabling the growers to make, separately, about 3 cents a bar. The Fairtrade Foundation use their 3 cents to promote the concept of fair trade and cover their administration and development activities. They do a good job and we’re happy to support them, but we are investing heavily in direct support to our growers, something that we cannot do through the medium of the Fairtrade Foundation.

This just keeps getting more and more interesting.

Clearly Green & Blacks are paying a Fairtrade price. Plus they are certified organic. Surely getting larger ethical producers on board, especially certified organic ones, makes good marketing sense for Fairtrade?

So why do Green & Blacks feel that they can do more good for growers outside of the Fairtrade system, so much more good that not being Fairtrade even outweighs the positive benefits Green & Blacks could gain from being Fairtrade? Isn't that a failure for Fairtrade? Something that needs to be fixed? Why are Fairtrade not busy getting Green & Blacks on board whatever it takes?

Surely the FT system needs to encompass those being ethical WHILST encouraging others to be ethical? Or is that naive? Is it just about getting companies to be ethical? But then doesn't that add to the confusion for the ethical consumer?

As a typical lazy consumer trying to be ethical I just want to know what is and isn't ethical in a shop. I have assumed in the past that no Fairtrade cetificate means the product is not ethical. Clearly that assumption is wrong.

How can that be good for Fairtrade?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

FEATURE: Anyone for Toxins?

Everyday most of us apply various products to our bodies and hair. We should know what we are putting on our skin and hair even if we are buying organically. More often than not we don't.

Some of the questions I wish I could answer include:
  • How much of these chemicals, if any, makes it past my skin and into my body?
  • What is the impact of that long-term exposure?
  • What is the impact of these chemicals on my skin in the long-term?
  • Are there any negative interactions with other chemicals I should be aware of?
Whilst I wait to find out all answers to the above there is at least one alternative. ONE Group (Organic Natural Enterprises) produce an excellent range of certified organic skin, body, hair, oral and health care products. Crucially the ingredients all seem to be substances I already know and trust.

ONE Group claims to be the world's FIRST extensive range of certified organic skin, body, hair, oral & health care products - certified by Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the highest international food standards.

Their products aim to assist your body in restoring natural harmony and balance to your skin.

ONE Group products are not available in shops and are only sold online or via resellers.

All sounds intriguing so I looked up one of their products to find out what was in them and see just how transparent there ingredients really are:

ONE Group Shaving Gel
Organic rose (rosa damascena) hydrosol, purified water (aqua), d-panthenol (pro-vitamin B5), honeysuckle (lonicera japonica) extract, organic rose (rosa damascena) essential oil, natural gum (sclerotium rolfsii).

Nothing too strange in there. All seems english to me more or less.

I also got the chance to review their Sunflower Body Wash - this is what I thought:
I love suds. Very important to me to have a good lather. After all what is the point of soap if it ain't, well, soapy. I tried the ONE Group Sunflower Body Wash and was pleasantly surprised. Very orangey and very creamy. Lathers well using either your hands or a sponge but worked best with a sponge for sure. Plus it contains safflower oil (cold-pressed organic I might add) and so moisturises at the same time. Lovely. Costs more than normal soap but I guess you get what you pay for.
Organic aloe vera (aloe barbadensis) leaf juice, coco polyglucose, organic safflower (carthamus tinctorius) seed oil, non-gmo xanthan gum, organic sweet orange (citrus dulcis) essential oil, organic lemon (citrus limonum) essential oil, organic lime (citrus aurantifolia) essential oil, honeysuckle (lonicera japonica) extract, citric acid. 74% Organic Product.
Now contrast those ingredients with the ingredients of a mainstream brand. I found these on the The Ecologist magazines' Behind the Label series.
Radox Herbal Bath with Juniper:
Aqua, sodium laureth sulphate, sodium chloride, cocamidopropyl betaine, parfum, Juniperus communis, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, tetrasodium EDTA, ethoxydiglycol, dipropylene glycol, citric acid, sodium lactate, butylene glycol, butylphenyl methylpropional, alphaisomethyl ionone, benzyl salicylate, coumarin, limonene, linalool, sodium benzoate, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, CI 47005, CI 42090, CI 15985
Mmmm...sounds lovely! Don't you just wanna cover yourself all over in Methylchloroisothiazolinone which according to the Ecologist bind quickly to the skin, remaining there long after use with potential adverse effects listed as nerve damage; potential mutagen; a suspected carcinogen due to its corrosive action on the skin.

Nice. Thanks Radox! Gee which one do you reckon I would buy?

One of our wee writing collective also happens to be a reseller for ONE Group (she wrote the recent Loving the Ladbybirds post) and she offered to give out some freebies.

To get your soon-to-be soapy hands on a Rejuvenating Mineral Mask or some refreshing Rose Monsoon Mist simply email us and answer the following simple question.

First 3 random entries will win goodies. Closing date is Midnight GMT 8th Feb 2006.

Question: What is the most important issue for you when buying cosmetics?

Not only did we get freebies from our ONE Group friend but I am pleased to say that she has also offered 10% off any order.

Simply decide what you want via the ONE Group site and then email your order (do not place it via the website first) to Rebecca at

To find out more about any of these products please visit, call Rebecca on 020 8346 2790 (UK number) or email her at

Happy soaping!



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