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Saturday, 5 April 2014

Bird Behaviour

One morning last week I looked out of my bedroom window to see a wood pigeon and a magpie squabbling over possession of the cup of fat and breadcrumbs that I regularly hang in a cherry tree in my garden.

I try to avoid using plastic cups, but when I'm given one, then I make use of it again this way.  This cup is now a bit battered, as it has done several refills.  I often find the cup has gone from the tree and I have to look for it in the bushes.  Now I know how they get there and why they get battered.

As children, my sister and I used to look after ponies and one of the things I learnt then was that when putting out piles of hay for them, you always put out one more pile than there are ponies, so that if one pony is trying to nose in on another pony's hay, that pony can go to the spare pile.  It avoids the arguments.

Maybe I should put out more than one cup in my cherry tree?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Could you run a Zero Waste Week in your company?

I'm always on the lookout for Zero Waste action. I like to hear about new ideas that might help me and help others in the mission to live more and waste less.

A few weeks ago I heard that Ferrier Pearce Creative Group, an independent group of creative and marketing consultancies,were planning to hold a company Zero Waste Week.   I sent them a copy of my book, for them to leave strategically placed by the kettle, and eagerly followed their progress on their blog and Twitter.

At the end of the week I was keen to know how it all went, so I spoke to Rachel and Debbie to find out just that.  Here's what they had to say...

What inspired you to run your Zero Waste Week?

We’ve always prided ourselves on being environmentally friendly, and we were one of the first CarbonNeutral companies. We also have an ISO140001 accreditation under our belt.

We were inspired by a few key individuals in the company who thought this would be a good idea to really get everyone involved in our efforts.

How did it go down within the company?

It was a great success. We held ‘Waste Hacks’ in the weeks running up to our Zero Waste Week so that we could educate and discuss issues regarding waste at work. The ‘Waste Hacks’ were made up of groups of eight, and run by one of our ‘Zero Waste Ambassadors’ who were already very keen and very green! The hacks helped us to work out where we wasted items, and what we could do as a company to improve them. Lots of ideas from the ‘Waste Hacks’ were incorporated into the week. 

Throughout the week itself we had great involvement from the teams. With offices based around the UK we communicated with everyone daily by sharing photos and tips.

What were the highlights of the week?

There were lots. It was great to see how creative the team were at trying to reduce waste in the first place. It was great to see the interaction we got from other companies and individuals, which spurred us on even more.

Were there any low points? We wouldn’t call them low points, but there were times when we had to remind people that this wasn’t just about recycling. It was about reducing the waste in the first place! What was the wackiest Zero Waste idea? The wackiest idea was probably turning the heating off and coming into work in lots of layers, woolly hats and gloves! It was freezing but we made it through the day without any frostbite in sight.

What ideas had the best take up?

Definitely the ‘Souper Group.’ It was a great opportunity for us to all come together at lunch time and share food that we had all contributed to making. Everyone was given different jobs – such as the soup maker, the bread baker, the vegetable collector. We’ll definitely be repeating that through the year, and coming up with some summer time alternatives.

Did you have a significant reduction in physical waste?

We definitely saw a huge reduction in packaging and paper waste, as well as food waste. This was helped by sharing lunches and by our ‘Souper Groups,’ where individuals brought in left over vegetables. These were turned into a tasty soup for all to enjoy. Our bins were practically empty! We also educated ourselves on using the compost bins in the office, and gave any vegetable scraps to Debbie’s chickens!

Was anyone inspired to make a long-term change? There are certainly a few people who will continue making changes in their everyday lives to reduce waste, and for the rest of them, we hope we have educated them to make conscious decisions regarding waste. We haven’t allowed any plastic bags through the door of our Cambridgeshire office and have still kept the fine tin, just in case anyone breaks the rules! Do you plan to run another Zero Waste Week in the future? Yes! We’ll be running our second Zero Waste Week of the year from 01 – 08 September, and will continue to run two Zero Waste Weeks each year. We will be inviting our suppliers and clients to take part in the challenge.

So…do you think your company could give Zero Waste Week a whirl?  You can read more about Ferrier Pearce Creative Group's Zero Waste experience on their blog. Please do let me know if you're going to join the Zero Heroes by tweeting me @AnnaPitt or dropping me an email for a free copy of my book and a few tips to get you started if you feel you need a little help.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Greener Gym

It's almost a year now since I gave up my gym membership.

It was a difficult decision. Several years ago I joined a private gym on the edge of the town where my children attended dance classes.  It was very lovely - particularly the swimming pool, and I do love swimming.

My main reason for joining the gym was because my children had a dance class or two or three or four most weekday evenings. Although we lift shared with three other families to make the most of the journey, and so we didn't have to spend every evening driving, on the evenings I did my part of the lifts I'd often spend quite a bit of time reading/ lesson planning / going through students' work in the cold in my car.

I sometimes used to take a flask of tea to try to keep me warm, but frozen fingers were a frequent occurrence.   And so I investigated the local gyms.  I wasn't really keen on the idea of exercise machines, but, as I said, I love swimming.  So, gulping at the joining fee, but taking the plunge anyway, I signed up.

It was so nice to be warm and getting some exercise while my children were getting theirs.

But 18 months ago, while on holiday in the Vendee region of France, the daughters - anxious about losing their amazing fitness that comes from 10 hours a week of dancing during term time - suggested we go on 'a nice little family run'.

"Go on, mum!  Give it a try."

So, hearing them promise me that it would only be a little circuit of about 2km and would involve passing the bakery for croissant I hear myself say:

"Go on then.  I'll give it a go."

Boy, was it hard!  I thought I was reasonably fit - I was swimming and walking regularly. But I felt every step of those two kilometres and only the thought of my lovely warm croissant and raspberry jam kept me going.

On balance, though, I felt I'd enjoyed the experience - the running as well as the croissant that is!  And so we did two more  two-kilometer-via-the-boulangerie-back-along-the-sea-front forays.  But then…

In our second week, daughters decided that they needed to up the stakes.  They'd been out and about and noticed a "nice little circuit jogging" that was 5km and still passed the bakery.

Off we set along the sand dunes, with me trying not to get left behind.  Not even half way round my legs felt like lead and I had to stop for a stretch before I could drag myself any further.  I carried on bravely through the forest, up and over the hill until we reached the road.  At that point, I thought,

"Enough's enough.  There are people.  I'm not panting my way past all those people.  I'll catch you up at the bakery." And I did.  And then I ran again the rest of the way along the sea front back to our sunny little terrace for breakfast.  I was secretly quite pleased with myself, even though it had been a struggle (the run not the breakfast) and I'd had to walk part of the way.

Before the week was out, of course, they wanted a second stab at the circuit jogging.  This time I needed tactics!  It was basically a rectangle.  I planned my attack.  I was going to stop at each corner and stretch and hoped that would mean my legs might make the whole 5km. And they did!  It worked.

But then it was time for home.  Our two weeks were over and the return journey awaited us :(

Not, however, without the seeds of a plan being sown.  Back at the gym, I investigated the treadmill and set myself the task of being able to run 5km easily by Christmas.  I did it! By October in fact.

I could run 5km in just over half an hour and I didn't feel like I'd been run over by a bus by the time I'd finished. Result!

Thing is though, although I had a target and a determination to improve at the new game they call running, I wasn't really enjoying it like I'd enjoyed running on the road, like we had on holiday.  And I wasn't going very often.  So Mr Pitt and I started to experiment with running outside instead of on the treadmill.

Now here's the strange bit… It was January.   It was freezing.  On the good days it was -1.  On the bad days it was -4.  With ice and snow all around us, rather than running from home on icy roads we'd run from the ballet studio in town where the increased traffic and footfall cleared the ice.  Gloves and hats kept the cold at bay and we were away!

With the gym membership up for renewal we wanted to prove to ourselves we wouldn't miss it during the winter months.  Now having been running outdoors for a whole year and in to the second winter I can honestly say I enjoy running in winter as much as in summer and running in the rain - well, I admit that it is hard to set out when it is pelting down, but once you are out there, rain just comes as a welcome coolant.  We've had a couple of occasions when we got so wet we had to peel off clothes in the hall, yet it still felt fab.  All those endorphins working their magic.

Gym membership, sorry to say, I don't miss you ;)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

New Year, new you?

Do you do that thing of making New Year's Resolutions?  If so, what is your resolution for 2014?

Last year, I embarked on a year of "Swishing".  My new year's resolution was this:

  • to give away 2 items of clothing to charity each month, and
  • to not buy any new clothes, but instead buy from charity shops or reuse/recycling shops or websites

Like many people, I often find that within a few weeks I've forgotten all about my new plans and resolution, but not last year.  I cleared out my wardrobe, sorted out plenty to give to charity and not only that, my daughters both cleared out their wardrobes too.   So as far as the first resolution is concerned I smashed that target.

As for the second, not only did I manage to keep to the resolution, I loved doing it too.  I bought quite a few new clothes, but spent less than £100 in the whole year.

I found that both the giving aspect and the buying aspect, spread too.  During the summer holidays, with the assistance of my two daughters, we decided to embark on a big sort out.  We set ourselves the target of reducing the amount of stuff we have around the house.  We have lots of storage space, so it is easy to think that we can just keep everything - just in case it might be useful.  But we were getting to the stage where every bit of storage was full up - every shelf, every cupboard crammed full of stuff, that might be useful to someone, someday.  Time for a clear out!

We decided to go for the 'One Room at a Time' approach, giving everything a good clean as we went and mending anything that needed mending as we came across it.  But it was slow going and frustrating because we still seemed to have packed shelves at the end of the process.  I just wasn't being ruthless enough!

My perusal of charity shops on various occasions throughout the year, though, had definitely sparked a shift in thinking.  I started to tell myself that if ever I needed something again I could just borrow it, or buy it second hand.  And that got me thinking...I needed a target!

So, that's when we set ourselves the aim of parting with 80 bags of stuff to take to the charity shop.

It took me two months to go through each room, fishing out toys, games, books, clothes, bags, rags, buttons, jewellery, shoes, belts, boots, hats, art and craft stuff, CDs and DVDs.  I managed to fill 80 carrier bags to give away.

Here are 3 principles that helped us fill our 80 bags:

  • We didn't want to part with all our games, as we do use some of them when we have younger visitors.  How to decide which to keep?  We decided that if all the parts were there and the box was perfect, then it went to the charity shop.  But, if there were bits missing, or it was a bit tatty, we kept it.  Why?  It was fairly easy to see that the games in perfect condition were the ones that had been played less.  The ones that we'd used over and over again, seemed to be the sensible ones to keep.  The better the condition of a game, I thought, would mean it more likely to bring in revenue for charity.  We often found that the tattier games had makeshift pieces, so we'd clearly played them despite their condition, so we'd be more likely to play them again.
  • We set up boxes for each person, so that I wasn't making a decision to give away something that wasn't mine, but could still feel like an area had been cleared and finished with. Each person was then able to go through their box as and when they had time.  I'm sure much of what was given away, would have been kept if it had just been left where it was out of sight out of mind!
  • If it didn't fit, it had to go.  This helped, for instance, with DVDs and books, where we had stuff double stacked.  It made us go through them and part with a few that we thought we wouldn't watch/read again.
If it didn't fit, it had to go!

So, is my house minimalist and organised now?  Far from it!  Despite our clear-out we still have a lot of stuff.  It did fire a desire to free up more space, to acquire less and to clear out more.  I had a big clear out in my office, when I decided to minimise the paperwork I had stored over the years.  I recycled more than my body weight of paper by setting myself a twelve week clear out programme.  But there's lots more that could go, so the summer sort out might be repeated in 2014.

And New Year's Resolution for this year?

I plan to continue my efforts at reducing food waste, reducing packaging, buying from charity shops or choosing considerately up-cycled goodies.   But my big giveaway this year will be…


Here's the rules if you want to play the game too!
  • 10 books per month to be given away
  • No new purchases of print books unless for work
  • Borrow from the library whenever possible.   

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Paperless Office - Week 12

Now I've recycled my tree's worth of paper, the last week of my paper challenge is going to be about reducing the amount of paper that comes into my office next year.

So, by looking back over the last eleven weeks, I've put together a list of habits that I'm going to try to change.  Here goes:

Envelopes - I will stop using new envelopes altogether.

Books -  I will limit my purchase of print books to those I buy for my work as I'll be using them again and again.  All other books I will get from the library or on Kindle.  I am also going to aim to give away ten books every month to charity, as I still have way too many for my bookshelves.

Business Cards - I will stop hoarding business cards and instead use my phone to connect to people I meet via social media, either on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Bills - I will keep up my household bills spreadsheet and once entered onto that the bills will be recycled.  Where paperless billing options become available I will sign up for that option.  I'm sure more and more companies will start to offer this.

Notes - I will aim to type up notes straight into my blog, but where that doesn't happen I will transfer them from my notebook or from the scraps of paper I often use, into the blog on a weekly basis. This will be a good way to ensure that I've acted on everything I've taken notes about and it will mean a clearer desk, and I hope, a clearer head!

Every year, when I finish my year end accounts, I will dispose of the oldest set of company accounts so that I am only keeping six years of paperwork.

Manuals and Instruction Booklets - From now on, when a gadget goes, so does its instruction booklet!

I'm no longer going to keep the boxes from any new gadgets or appliances.

That's my New Year's Resolutions sorted.  I hope I can stick to it!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Making the most of the Christmas Turkey

I do love turkey - and not just for Christmas dinner...

Boxing day had to be the classic cold meat and bubble and squeak favourite.  Then on Friday we had a choice of pies - Turkey and gammon with a white sauce and turkey and pork with gravy, both with a home made short crust pastry top.

Turkey and gammon awaiting its white sauce and shortcrust pastry top

For Saturday, something a little spicy ... a turkey tagine with couscous.
We have some turkey stock in the fridge to make into parsnip soup for New Year's Day and I've just put two more pots of turkey stock in the freezer to remind us of our lovely Christmas dinner on some frosty night of 2014.  I think we've made the most of our lovely turkey.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Paperless Office - Week 11

Today I've collected up all the envelopes that have been hidden away in drawers into one basket.  I've got sticky labels  at the ready and I'm going to go through and make them ready for use.  All the tatty ones will make their way to the recycling.

The last time I bought envelopes was about four years ago.  I think this lot is ample supply for the next four years!