Smarter shopping this Christmas

The Christmas decorations are up in shopping centres and town centres and the rush to buy gifts is well underway.  While  many of us are cutting down on extravagant purchases this year there will, as always, be huge amounts of waste: pointless electronic goods, large plastic toys that are played with a handful of times, crackers with throwaway novelty gifts. Anyway, you know the score…

While some might argue that it is best not to exchange gifts at Christmas, showing your appreciation of family and friends is important for many of us. With a little thought you can demonstrate your environmental values with gifts that are more respectful of the natural world. Consider battery-free devices, like solar-powered chargers or watches, gadgets that help reduce electricity consumption (and save money), and locally-made crafts and foods.

Your recipients are sure to appreciate the extra thought and, with any luck, will consider their own gift purchasing habits. Positive gestures and word-of-mouth endorsements really can influence people’s values.

There are some environmentally-conscious Christmas gift ideas on the Smarter Greener Living website, from wind-up novelty torches to stand-by energy saving kits.


Have you checked your TV’s settings?

Before buying a plug-in electricity monitor (the Energenie Power Meter) I have to admit being  dubious about how much I could learn from checking the electricity consumption of appliances and gadgets around the home. After all, I thought, you can simply check the wattage on the label or read up on other people’s experience using these devices. And with my environmental concerns I have always been keen to minimise my possessions, electrical goods especially.

But I bought the Energenie Power Meter mainly because I had question marks over some of the appliances in my home, especially those that have different setting levels.

My first test was on a 18 month old 37inch Samsung LCD TV. Ok so a large flat screen TV is not necessarily an environmentally sound choice but I chose the model for the maximum wattage of 140 watts compared to over 200 watts for some models (and much more for some of those older plasma screens). On standby, despite a red light showing at the bottom of the TV, it was registering 0.0 watts – very impressive when you hear about the stand-by consumption of some appliances. After turning it on, the power surged up to 60 to 70watts before settling down at a consistent 45 watts. That was certainly a pleasant surprise – I had expected well over 100 watts.

Being a keen energy saver I had already set the TV to one of its built-in energy-saving settings. So I thought I’d check what, if any, different it made changing the setting. I found the energy saving mode was set to ‘medium’,  with other options of ‘low’, ‘high’ and ‘auto’. On high I was amazed that the TV was taking in just 30 watts of electricity but I have to admit not being able to live with the gloomier picture. ‘Low’ drew in just over 50 watts and ‘Auto’ (which certainly doesn’t sound like the worst) was using around 65 watts. I certainly felt content with the ‘medium’ setting and 45 watts felt like reasonably frugal energy use.

I also looked at the difference made by changing other settings. Colour, brightness and picture type made little difference but the ‘mode’ was quite astounding. My TV has been set to ‘movie’ setting since it was bought (I’m not sure about anyone else but it’s just not one of those things I think of changing…). It turns out it is the most energy efficient. The power consumption  of the ‘dynamic’ was around 60 watts but combining ‘dynamic’ with ‘auto’ energy saving threw the power reading all over the scale, from a low of around 85 to a high of over 130 watts depending on the images on screen*

So by changing a few of the settings I was able to change the electricity usage of the TV from around 30 to 130 watts, the difference of 10 energy saving lightbulbs. The average person watches over 4 hours of TV per day (source: BARB, 2010) and at a typical 13.2p per unit this works out at a difference of over £19 in the electricity running costs per year. And this is a very conservative calculation as in the average household, with a number of potential viewers, the main TV will be switched on for much longer. All in all the message has to be to use a device like the Energenie Power Meter to check the power consumption of the various settings on your TV and make sure you’re not wasting a large amount of energy or money.

So I now own another gadget but I already know this one will pay for itself many times over, both financially and environmentally.

*Before you ask, I couldn’t see much of an improvement in the quality of the picture. In fact the colours were quite garish. Huw Edwards, the BBC newsreader, was on screen looking as if he had applied one too many layers of fake tan!


Looking for an energy saving kettle?

I was checking out some product reviews on Which? the other day. An interesting stat caught my eye: It takes, according to the people at the independent consumer review organisation, the same amount of energy to boil a litre of water in a kettle as it takes to run an average fridge for seven hours. And given that fridges are not exactly known for their low power consumption, and electric jug kettles are the most efficient way to make a cup of tea, that is some statistic.

The technical spec of your kettle also gives you a guide to its heavy power consumption. Most of the latest kettle models use 3,000 watts* of electricity, that is the equivalent of 300 (10 watt) energy saving light bulbs, to boil a kettle. It’s no wonder the national grid has such a headache planning for the surge during half time in the FA Cup Final when thousands of kettles around the country are flicked on.

So, with the kettle being one of the most energy intensive appliances in our homes it is worth exploring the energy saving kettle options available.

The bad news is that the term “Eco Kettle” is unfortunately a bit of a misnomer. There’s no getting away from the basic physics involved in boiling water: it takes an intensive burst of energy and the more water you boil the more energy you use. But, the good news is that you can cut the electricity you use by being careful to only boil the water you need and by choosing one of the cleverly designed kettles available that help you do just that.

Energy saving kettles tend to have one important feature in common: they allow you to boil from as little as one cup (250ml) of water, compared with a minimum of 2 cups in most kettles.  Ideal for those times when it’s just you.

I use the Philips HD4644/00 at home. It is by far and away the best kettle I’ve ever used or owned – not just in terms of energy saving but in its styling, easy-pour engineering and features. Filling the kettle to the most suitable level does require a little more discipline but, if you are a keen energy and water saver, I don’t see this as an issue. If you prefer the kettle to do the work and only boil the water you require in a separate chamber, the Eco Kettle** is an excellent alternative, albeit a more expensive one.

For a review of the Smarter Greener Living top energy saving kettle recommendations see Energy Saving Kettle Best Buys

*There are kettles that use around 2,000 watts but because they take longer to boil, and often don’t switch themselves promptly at boiling point, they don’t necessarily use less electricity

**ok, so as you might guess, I’m not a huge fan of the name

Climate wars: On the UN agenda

It was reported last week that the UN Security Council debated the issue of the environment for the first time in 4 years.

A UN Environment Programme official has warned of an increase in the frequency of natural disasters due to climate change with Germany pressing for a first-ever council statement linking the issue of climate change to global security (

It is clear that climate change has the potential to drive wedges between nations and trigger conflict. If the worse predictions come true then large areas of the world will become uninhabitable, leading to huge number of ‘climate change refugees’. There will, of course, be a limit to the number of people that countries will be willing, or physically able, to accept. To say the least this is sure to put a strain on international relations.

Conflict over natural resources is also inevitable as rivers like the Indus in Pakistan and India are predicted to suffer from reduced flow and large areas of land become unsuitable for food production.

An excellent book by Gwynne Dyer called Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats gives a number of possible scenarios for international relations in the coming decades if climate change intensifies. From nuclear wars to machine-gun border controls to the complete disappearance of nations.

You can buy the book cheaply via this link:

Feeling lucky? Enter these green/ energy saving competitions..

If you need a break from following the latest developments in the phone hacking scandal there are some great energy saving/ green competitions out there at the moment.

There’s always, it seems, a company with an energy saving monitor to give away. Global Cool currently has an Onzo energy saving kit competition. The closing date is 8th August 2011. 

If you’re into the festival scene and got a kick out of performances by the likes of Janelle Monáe, Pulp and Warpaint at Glastonbury how about checking out the Big Chill Festival this August. Big Chill has signed up to the 10:10 carbon reduction pledge and to promote its involvement has 2 tickets for the early August festival (featuring The Chemical Brothers and Jessie J). The closing date is 28th July 2011.

The Energy Saving Trust has 2 Heating Save House & Home systems, worth £500, to give away. The system replaces your timeclock and thermostat to take control of your system, saving you energy and ultimately money. The closing date is 23rd July – hurry! 

And don’t forget, for more energy saving information and advice please visit Many thanks!


Environmental lessons from the phone hacking scandal

It’s been hard to avoid coverage of the dramatic events in the News of the World phone hacking scandal over the last two weeks. Until now it would have been hard to imagine a 150+ year old newspaper being brought to its knees by the activities of a small number of its journalists.

Like a tidal wave, public outrage has swept away not only the UK’s best selling Sunday newspaper but its parent company’s bid for Sky TV and the tenability of its CEO.

It is a defining moment and shows just how pressure from both the public and Government really can change the policy of powerful organisations.

I wonder if the environmental movement can take heart and learn from these events. Can public anger be harnessed to tackle companies currently plundering the natural environment or Governments not signing up to tough emissions cuts?

Well, the tools are certainly there. For one, we’ve seen the power of social networking this year as revolutions swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

But there are some big barriers to overcome:

Can environmental issues stir up the same emotional impact on the public?

Just how tangible is climate change when most of us can’t see a visible change in our weather?

Certain practices just become the norm. We expect oil companies to seek and exploit new oil fields. We expect palm oil producers to continue to clear rainforest to increase production. And we don’t question why gas guzzling Formula 1 hurtle round tracks for nothing more than entertainment.

But the way old barriers are now being broken should give us some hope.


Welcome to the Smarter Greener Living blog. We’ll be sharing our thoughts on the big environmental news and energy saving tips for the home (and away). You can also find more information at Follow on Twitter (@smartgreenliv)