The last eight weeks have been an interesting experience for us as a family. Although we consider ourselves conscientious, I was always aware that there were issues that I could look into that would make us better consumers.
Each time I have looked at an issue, energy, water, recycling etc. I have become more aware that beneath the surface there are many questions that need answering. As a family we have reached the conclusion that small steps are important and that the best solutions for us need not be ones we cannot afford. For example, a simple homemade draft excluder will retain the heat in the winter, curtains over the doors will similarly retain heat.
There is a lot more we need to do, but I am a firm believer that knowledge is power and the 360 project has ensured that I have looked again at the issues I believed I knew about, only to learn that there is more to each issue than the news headline solutions.
The community garden is coming along, some bad weather meant that crops were late, and it’s only now that we can buy our vegetables from there, they currently have some great strawberries and we are busy consuming as many as possible.
I have also learned a lot about the Island that I now call home. I have looked at projects on the Island, both large and small that are designed to create green energy or save water, and they have inspired me to think about what I would eventually like for my own home.
Today was a good example: I went to see the owner of The Islay Hotel in Port Ellen. The building is still under construction (the first brand-new purpose built hotel on the Island for 100 years), and it was a great opportunity to look at the bare bones of a visionary project.
The hotel owner has taken a plot of land within the biggest village on the Island, where many types of green energy would be inappropriate and has, using imagination, not too much money and some great green technology, built a quirky and stylish hotel (green does not mean boring) that will heat its water and its rooms using geothermal energy.
If you were to sit in the sunny garden (picture on the left) of the hotel, you would be sitting on 7 bore holes 120 metres deep that provide the thermal energy, which will mean that the hotel is effectively a carbon neutral building. I suspect this is first for a Scottish hotel. As well as that, the building will also harvest all its rainwater (see the picture at the top of the page) into two large tanks which will provide the water for the toilets (40% of all water used in a hotel is flushed down the toilet!)
There are other projects; the local swimming baths are located in an old warehouse of Bowmore Distillery, a gift to the Island. The heat for the pool is waste heat from the nearby distilling process, a green project using innovative technology and one that has provided a small island with a great facility.
There are other innovative distilleries. Bruichladdich has a green energy project to generate the entire distillery’s power from whisky waste using anaerobic digestion to digest the waste material from distilling known as pot ale. This is now up and running, and so far so good.
There are inspiring individuals like Jeremy and Tink Hastings at Wildwood Wisdom, who practice what they preach and are quite happy to teach wood skills to young children (my seven-year-old with a knife and a piece of wood), who promote skills like Scything and woodland management that might be lost in the haste to modernise the Island, or an eco-house architect, Rachel MacNiell, who takes tourists out cutting peat and offers them stays in an eco-friendly Tepee (and was the one who suggested that I do this diet).
There are those who design their homes to be eco-friendly, putting in small wind turbines or geo thermal systems, there are numerous examples of small scale rain harvesting. On two islands, joint population somewhere around 3,500, we have wave energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, small-scale hydro and at Port Ellen Primary School; a solar panel – we are working as a community towards a sustainable future.
In terms of some of the things we set out to change on the diet, we have stopped collecting bags from the co-op (that’s the only supermarket on Islay) and we are now down to a few that we are using for garbage that can not be recycled. Water was a problem, as we do not have a meter — in the end we decided that the most important thing was that we did not buy bottled water and that we concentrated on not wasting water, using the economy setting on the washing machine. At school, which finished here two weeks ago, students did quite well at monitoring me. I am pretty good at switching off the lights and improved in my not leaving the computer on when not in the room! Numbers are difficult when you do not have a meter, so we measured success by an increase in personal knowledge.
I am not prepared to give up all my comforts and I don’t like hair shirts, but as someone said to me this week, “Everyone can do something small,” and we can’t rely on governments to do it for us. I am a great believer in a bright green future; technologies exist. We need to get governments to invest in them and we need to make the small changes that will give the next generation a bright green future.