Mar 26 2015

Life as a Green Impact Project Assistant

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Estates GIPAs32 LSE students volunteered with our Green Impact programme this year as Project Assistants, helping staff to ‘green’ their  office environment, working on projects including designing posters and conducting environmental audits.  Here 2 students- Benoit Spiess  and Kelly DeVore – take a look at why they chose to get involved in the project and what they’ve enjoyed about being the GIPAs for Estates Division.

What is a Green Impact Project Assistant? 


Estates Green Impact team showing off their exchanged Christmas goodies as part of their reuse project.

Green Impact Project Assistants (GIPAs) are LSE students who have shown interest in improving the environment and have completed training about the Green Impact Project.  They’re helpful for departments who want to get involved in the Green Impact Project for various reasons.  The GIPAs are convenient, versatile, and provide support for LSE departments who want to improve sustainability.  The GIPAs are also easy to reach and available whenever they are needed to help with the projects’ tasks. On top of that, they are an intrinsically motivated and dedicated workforce who want to help: They voluntarily signed up to get involved in Green Impact. The fact that they are young students with diverse backgrounds makes them a valuable source of new ideas for any department.  Some of the skills they will bring  include thinking ‘outside of the box’, providing support and reminders for various projects, and bringing a positive attitude.  Last but not least, they will bring in new skills that could be potentially useful for any department, including languages, social networks, and software skills.  All in all, a Green Impact Project Assistant is a necessity for any department, because they bring in fresh ideas, enthusiasm, and diverse abilities.

Becoming a GIPA

Becoming a GIPA is a great opportunity to have a significant positive impact on the environment by engaging in green projects under a flexible program. It allows students to get to work within various departments and meet people who work at LSE.  This results in various people from different backgrounds and countries bringing perspectives together to come up with fresh ideas, work on projects, and accomplish goals.  Also, it allows students to learn about available resources and opportunities, such as the rooftop gardens and beekeeping.  Seeing the department’s commitment and enthusiasm towards the Green Impact Project is truly inspiring.

The workload for the Project Assistant’s is flexible, and doesn’t interfere with the students’ studies or other obligations. There’s a lot of freedom in how the student can fulfil the diverse, assigned tasks and the departments are very flexible regarding deadlines.  For example, the assigned department might request help with creative tasks, such as creating posters for a green action, writing an article, or thinking of new ways to complete the Green Impact tasks.

Overall, being a Green Impact Project assistant is a creative, flexible, and enjoyable job, which preserves the environment by increasing awareness and completing projects.  More importantly, it’s a rewarding position that brings different perspectives together and makes LSE more sustainable.



Posted by: Posted on by Vyvyan Evans Tagged with: , ,

Mar 4 2015

Salad Party: Salad at a party?!

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SCloots - smallWhat’s a salad party?  How do you host one?  And is there ever such a thing as too much hummous?  [No, there isn’t. Ed.]  Stephanie Cloots, Projects Support Officer in the LSE Management Department, explains all.

While many sceptics balked at the idea of a party and salad in the same phrase, we have had great success with our series of Salad Parties hosted by the Department of Management’s Green Impact team.

So, what is a Salad Party? It’s a potluck-style lunch where all attendees bring a salad ingredient (or two) to share with the group. One member of the team coordinates the menu, by managing a spreadsheet with various potential items to bring and compiling RSVPs with what would be contributed. We have typically had between twelve and fifteen people attend, creating a vast buffet of over twenty healthy choices for each individual’s personal salad.

Photo source:

Photo source:

We purposefully focused on sustainable vegetarian ingredients. Our team shared information on the positive impacts of eating sustainably, as well as timely information on what is currently in season.

We timed our first salad party with National Vegetarian Week highlighting the benefits of eating less meat both for the environment and for health reasons. According to data from the Vegetarian Society, on average, people living in developed countries eat their own weight in meat every year.  Livestock farming is arguably responsible for 20% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and uses precious limited water resources.  The salad party served as a great introduction for people on how much variety a vegetarian diet can have, as well as the strong environmental impact of each food decision.

Our second salad party was held just after the New Year, benefitting from the typical health-related New Year’s Resolutions.  This provided an easy route for people to try to alter their eating habits in a fun and supportive work environment.  Our “Meat-free Monday” Salad Party also encouraged people to look for small ways, even if only once per week, to reduce their meat consumption.

While other social gatherings of the Department typically revolve around happy hours or alcoholic beverages, participants praised these events for providing an opportunity to meet with other co-workers in a relaxed context and support healthy eating habits.  Our Green Impact’s future vision is to organise one salad party each month with more education about buying local foods and sharing healthy and sustainable recipes.

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Feb 24 2015

LSE Green Week 2015

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Vyvyan EvansVyvyan Evans, LSE Sustainability Assistant, looks back at an action-packed Green Week, featuring Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, cycling lessons, beehive signing and more…

We did it again!  Another wonderful Green Week at LSE. The annual event, which this year took place in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, invited us to share some love with our planet and raised awareness of climate action in schools, colleges and universities across the country.

Seb Bruhn and Nadia Raslan from LSESU launch Green Week

Nadia Raslan and Seb Bruhn from LSESU launch Green Week

Dr Bike

Dr Bike

This year’s highlights include cycle training throughout the week, to improve cyclists’ confidence on the London roads, Feel Good Food days run by LSE Catering, and a Dr Bike maintenance session to mend those creaks and squeaks. There was also a lecture on ‘Environmentalism through the lens of faith’, and a debate on divestment from fossil fuels.

Students were invited to make their own Green Pledge.  There were film screenings of Cowspiracy, a critical look at the global meat industry, and Trashed, a provocative documentary that highlights the throw-away nature of today’s society and investigates the ecological effects of our

Pledging to recycle... properly

Pledging to recycle… properly

waste.  The film examines a fundamental element of modern culture, the disposal of what our society defines as ‘waste’. It is a problem influenced by nearly every person on this planet, most of whom never consider the consequences or the implications to our biosphere.

The topic of how much waste we produce was made very clear on Wednesday when we saw a morning’s worth of waste displayed on Houghton Street.  (In fact, this huge quantity of refuse was just four hours’ worth of waste from only half of the buildings on campus!)   This visual display allowed staff and students to really reflect on the quantity of waste each of us produces, whilst thinking of the alternatives and small things that can be adjusted in your daily routine to cut down your trash.  For example using a reusable water bottle (and filling up at one of our 64 water fountains on campus of course), only printing what you need, donating books to friends or giving them to the Sustainability team to distribute to charities.

One morning's waste!

One morning’s waste!



Cycling for smoothies

Cycling for smoothies

LSE Food Cycle Society had a stand highlighting food waste, which was also accompanied by our famous Smoothie Bike, where many staff and students created pedal-powered fruity delights.  Two gardening workshops took place, one at Passfield hall of Residence and one on Connaught House, to plant some bee-friendly nectar-filled plants.  Following our competition to paint our new beehive, students and staff were invited to sign the hive, with many signing – including LSE Director Craig Calhoun.

LSE Director Craig Calhoun signing the new beehive

LSE Director Craig Calhoun signing the new beehive

Amelia Sharman of the LSE Beekeeping Society

Amelia Sharman of the LSE Beekeeping Society









Students were able to get involved in recycled textile fashion workshops, and create masterpieces to be shown off at the Ethical Fashion Show.

The week of eclectic events came to a brilliant climax with a talk from the leader of The Green Party Natalie Bennett, who gave an overview of green ideals and goals, and took many questions from the floor, sparking some exhilarating discussion.

The importance of initiatives such as Green Week cannot be overstated.  Although there are many ongoing sustainability projects and initiatives at LSE on campus and in Halls, shining a spotlight on such issues as recycling, carbon emissions and biodiversity for the whole week re-engages and reinvigorates staff and students, it sparks debate and encourages change.  So whether you’re all loved up this Valentine’s Day or still seeking your perfect match, I hope you don’t forget to love your planet.

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Feb 18 2015

4 things I learnt during Green Week

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  By Mary Leong, MSc Media and Communications student at LSE.

1. Bees!

Someone (commonly mis-attributed to Einstein) famously said that humans wouldn’t survive for much longer if bees died out.


Thankfully, LSE Bees is doing its part with four small colonies of European honeybees living on the rooftops of Connaught House and Passfield Hall, with a new one to be introduced soon. They provide a great learning opportunity and also produce some delicious local honey!

2. We generate an awful lot of waste.

30 million tonnes of household waste in the UK annually, to be specific. Here’s a pretty staggering photo of rubbish collected from three buildings in three hours at LSE.


Some of it is recycled and composted, but most of it ends up in landfills. I’m making a conscious effort to be better about composting, as mucky as it can get in our halls kitchens!

3. It takes over 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt!

Most of it comes from the water needed to sustain “thirsty crops” such as cotton. While there are industry initiatives to reduce the amount of water used in the growing of cotton, you can reduce your environmental footprint (and save money!) by buying second-hand clothes, donating your old clothes, and air-drying your clothes instead of putting them in the dryer.


4. Rooftop gardening

Despite our central location in the city, there are several rooftop gardens on various buildings across campus. During the summer, these gardens are home to tomatoes, plums, peas, courgettes, lettuce, and lots of other fresh fruits, veggies, and bee-friendly crops. Delicious!



This article originally appeared on the LSESU blog on 16th February 2015. 

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Jan 28 2015

U.S. Bees

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J.Fry - profileJohn Fry is an LSE alumnus (MSc International Relations, Politics of the World Economy, 1994), and now keeps bees in Washington DC.  Here he shares his experiences of beekeeping in the US, including laws that banned beekeeping, and a nifty trick to control varroa mites…

People around the world think of Washington, DC as little more than the location of the White House and the US Federal government. But socially conscious citizens engage in a wide range of activities that make the DC Capital Region a great place to live. One of those activities is beekeeping.  From 1981 until 2012, it was illegal to keep bees in the District because of a misguided law that forbade bee hives within 500 feet (150 meters) of a home. Beekeepers risked fines and confiscation of their colonies. But a 2012 law focusing on sustainability now permits legal beekeeping and brought backyard hives out of the shadows. Bee hives are now on the roofs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and colonial row houses in Georgetown. Even the British Embassy has one.

Either legally or illegally, hundreds have taken up beekeeping over the past few years. Since 2011, 200 spots have filled quickly for beekeeping classes taught by the DC Beekeepers Alliance and the Northern Virginia Beekeeping Teaching Consortium. Dozens of “newbees” are also on waiting lists.  The eight-week course teaches sustainable beekeeping with either Langstroth or Kenyan top bar hives, using a minimum of chemicals or antibiotics. Instructors provide practical tips for building hives, acquiring bees, and keeping them alive.  Mentors answer questions for new beekeepers after the colonies are set up in beeyards. Langstroth hives are more common because bees in Kenyan top bar hives have trouble surviving the cold winter months. Top bar hives are built horizontally rather than vertically; vertical hives seem to retain heat better as it rises from the cluster.

John Fry and son tending the hives.

John Fry and son tending the beehives.

Because of its population density, Washington, DC has no commercial farms so bees are unlikely to encounter pesticides such as neonicotinoids.  Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a rare occurrence among urban beekeepers in the DC Capital Region because we are not exposed to pesticides and the bees are not trucked around the country for pollination. Occasionally, a beekeeper will lose a colony because a neighbor sprayed for mosquitos, but summer spraying has declined significantly over the last few years. The public is more aware of the negative impact on pollinators such as native bumble bees and honey bees.

Honey bees in the DC Capital Region suffer most from varroa mites and small hive beetles. Beekeepers who are reluctant to use chemicals to lower their mite loads try natural remedies such as shaking powdered sugar through the hives to encourage cleaning behavior among the bees.  But these methods have a limited effect.  More recently, beekeepers have started removing queens from the hives once a year during a period of heavy nectar flow, normally 15 April through 15 May locally. By halting the brood cycle of the colony, varroa mites stop breeding as well.  Removing the queens also discourages swarming, leaves more room in hives for honey production, and allows for the creation of nucleus colonies, known as “nucs”.   A nuc is very popular as a reliable starter colony and sells for up to $150 (£100).

John Fry with his beehives

John Fry with his beehives.

Small hive beetles are an emerging pest for local beekeepers, and we are still working through solutions to the problem.  Strong colonies can drive small hive beetles to the top and bottom of the hives, where they are caged in propolis enclosures or dropped through steel mesh to the ground. But weak colonies need additional assistance.  Beekeepers typically use beetle traps between hive frames which are filled with vegetable oil.  Bees drive the beetles into the traps and they drown.

The demand for local honey has never been greater, with direct to consumer sales topping $11 per pound (£16 per kilogram). Consumers are keen to use local honey to lessen the effects of pollen allergies. Honey types include acacia, sourwood (a delightful honey with an anise aftertaste), and tulip poplar (an amber honey with a slight molasses taste). Many beekeepers also use beeswax and propolis to make candles, lip balm, lotion bars, and propolis throat sprays. The community of beekeepers warmly welcomes new members, and we help each other through mentoring programs. Even with ongoing challenges, the future of urban beekeeping in Washington, DC is very bright indeed.

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Jan 16 2015

My experience as a Green Impact Project Assistant at the Peacock Theatre

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Diana Martinez-TorresDiana Martínez, LSE MSc student in City Design and Social Science, gives the lowdown on her work as a Green Impact Project Assistant, helping to make the Peacock Theatre at LSE more sustainable.  She has discovered a building that is energy-efficient, and which is cutting its water consumption with some unusual toilets… 

I am interested in issues related to sustainability. For this reason, last term I decided to explore the different projects related to sustainability at LSE and to support one of them.

One of the projects that caught my attention was Green Impact. Green Impact is an environmental accreditation and award scheme run by the National Union of Students in more than 60 universities and colleges and 100 student unions across the UK, as well as a growing range of other public sector organisations including local authorities and NHS trusts. The aim is that staff and students are working to embed sustainable behaviour in their departments.

How does it work?

Green Impact focusing on supporting people to take simple actions to make small environmental changes in their workplace, and rewarding them for their efforts. Teams from departments across the organisation compete against each other.  It follows an annual cycle, and at the end of each year, they are audited to receive awards for their efforts and their performance and might achieve a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum standard.  At LSE, each team has a student Green Impact Project Assistant (‘GIPA’)to provide support with coordinating and completing the tasks.  I am supporting this project and was assigned as a GIPA to the Peacock Theatre team.

Some tasks of the Green Impact Project Assistant

My tasks as a project assistant include:

  • Motivating Green Impact team members.
  • Helping write a departmental ‘green newsletter’.
  • Putting up posters.
  • Conducting online research on issues and initiatives that arose from team meetings.
  • Uploading evidence to the online workbook.

At the beginning of December 2014 I was visiting and talking with the Green Impact team leader at the Peacock Theatre about the activities of the project.  I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the job that the team had already done to make the theatre more sustainable. Looking at some information about the building, one can see its capacity is enormous, with a hall that can host nearly 1000 people.  Despite being a rather old building (built in 1960), the theatre scores well on energy use, and is fairly energy-efficient when compared with other buildings of a similar age in London.  Its energy efficiency certificate gives it a ‘B’ rating, which is above average for buildings of this type. The theatre achieved this level after some tremendous improvements over the last couple of years.

Reducing water use at the Peacock Theatre

One of the questions that I asked the project leader was about the measures to save water.  The theatre is in daily use for plays and other performances, lectures, conferences, LSE open days and more.  This constant use implies very high water consumption, especially in toilets.

The Peacock Theatre refurbished its toilets in 2013 in order to be more sustainable.

Toilet at Peacock Theatre

Toilet at Peacock Theatre

LSE worked together with Propelair.  This is a British company that has revolutionised the toilet with a 1.5 litre flush, using 84% less water than a standard toilet.  Moreover, it uses 80% less carbon. The main benefit of the new toilet according to the company is its water saving capacity.

An average household with a nine-litre toilet flushes around 110 litres of water down the pan every day. Toilets in offices, schools and public conveniences account for an ever-greater proportion of total water use. Despite these water usage levels there has been little innovation in toilet functionality for many years.

In addition to superior performance and significant environmental benefits, replacing an old toilet by an air-flushed toilet makes economic sense as water bills can be reduced by several hundred pounds per year, depending on usage. Moreover, as the air-flushed toilet is recharged faster than a classical toilet, it can be used more frequently, which implies a saving in toilet space in commercial buildings.  This is particularly significant in buildings that are used by large crowds in short intense periods, such as the Peacock Theatre .

The table below shows the annual savings which could be achieved based on the type of property, the number of flushes per day and the region of the country:

  Commercial Residential
Litres per flush saved 7.5 7.5 7.5 7.5
Flushes per day 50 95 10 20
Days 260 260 330 330
Litres of water saved per annum 97,500 185,250 24,750 49,500
Cost savings
Thames Water area £194 £368 £49 £98
South West Water area £511 £971 £130 £259


How does an air-flushed toilet work?

The diagram below shows how Propelair toilets work. Propelair patented a new method using displaced air, called POWA™ technology, Propelair®, that produces a powerful, high-performance flush. The mechanism uses a small amount of flush water, which is forced out of the bowl using air pressure.  This is similar to the kind of toilets one encounters on aeroplanes.

toilet mechanism


This term at the Peacock Theatre

I am very excited and motivated to continue supporting the Green Impact Team at the Peacock Theatre, to help them achieve their goals in the coming term.  I am sure I will learn a lot from the innovative approaches they have taken so far.  And I hope we can further reduce the impact of the LSE infrastructure on our environment.


About the author

Diana Martínez Torres is an LSE Masters student in City Design and Social Science. She is convinced that sustainable mobility influences the quality of life of people, and transforms cities into more human, equitable and liveable places.  Diana’s website is, and she can be found on twitter:  @CitiesForUs.

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Dec 12 2014

LSE’s sustainability journey

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It’s not enough to have a general idea.  You must also know how to put it into practice.

These were the words of William Beveridge (LSE Director, 1919-1937) in a speech to LSE students in 1931, where he argued that rigorous study of the social sciences should be brought to bear upon the key challenges of our society.

Dr Victoria Hands, 2009

Dr Victoria Hands, 2009

Fast forward to 2004, and LSE’s ongoing mission to ‘walk the talk’ of its research and teaching led the School to employ its first Environmental Coordinator to improve its environmental footprint. Dr Victoria Hands, who had recently completed a PhD at LSE on sustainability in urban planning, took on the challenge. She demonstrated that major environmental and financial benefits could be achieved through better management of the School’s energy and waste.

Laying the foundations

In 2005, LSE Director Howard Davies (himself a keen cyclist), launched LSE’s Environmental Sustainability Policy.  This was the first time LSE formally recognised the environmental impacts on its own doorstep, and committed to creating positive change – not just by continuing to produce excellent environmental research, but through reducing its carbon footprint, producing less waste and communicating about these issues. The LSE Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment was founded in 2008, as was the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy – both chaired by Professor Lord Nicolas Stern, just two years after the publication of the famous Stern Review of the economics of climate change, which continues to have global resonance.

LSE's Sustainability team in 2009

LSE’s Sustainability team in 2009

By this time, Dr Hands had already established LSE as a sustainability leader among universities, spearheading groundbreaking projects that have by now become standard practice in the Higher Education sector. Projects like our halls re-use scheme ‘Relove’ – where students moving out halls at the end of each year donate items that they would otherwise discard, saving them from waste and offering them to new students. Dr Hands also built up the Sustainability Team, taking on two dedicated Sustainability Officers. The existing Waste Officer role was also brought in and likewise all utilities were now dealt with by a dedicated Carbon Reduction Manager, ensuring that energy-saving opportunities would be embedded.

Enhancing the campus

LSE emits 19% less CO2 per area of campus floorspace in 2014 compared with 2005. Initiatives like 2011′s new recycling system increased recycling rates from 37% to 58% and resulted in the School sending zero waste to landfill.

LSE waste sent to landfill

LSE waste sent to landfill

Julian Robinson oversaw the major renovation of the New Academic Building in 2008, which achieved BREEAM ‘Excellent’, a high standard of sustainable design. He became Director of Estates in 2009 and sustainability became a key element of the continual improvement of LSE’s campus and residences.

The Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, 2014

The Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, 2014

Five years on, when the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre opened its doors in 2014, it was only the 17thbuilding in the world to achieve BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ – the highest available mark of sustainable design. The building is only one of a growing number of LSE buildings to be kitted out with energy saving (and energy-generating) measures including solar PV panels, LED lighting (automated with motion sensors), CHP boilers, and improved building management controls. Water-saving fittings are being rolled out across the LSE estate, such as dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, taps activated by infrared sensors – and most recently a vacuum-powered toilet that uses 85% less water per flush than standard toilets. LSE’s teaching also features a strong sustainability streak, popping up in all manner of courses and climate change has been part of LSE 100 since it launched in 2009. It situates climate change as one of the key challenges of our times, and includes a lecture from Nicholas Stern on how to manage the economic and policy dilemmas it has brought.

LSE sustainability awards cabinet

LSE sustainability awards cabinet

2009 also saw LSE recognised as the second most sustainable university in the UK by the annual People and Planet Green League. LSE has now received a ‘first class’ degree for the last five years in a row, and we’re looking forward to the results of this year’s League. Our environmental work has also won a raft of other awards – as seen in this photo! One award LSE is particularly proud is ISO 14001 certification – an international standard demonstrating that we have robust systems to continually improve our environmental impacts – which we have held since 2012.


Working together

LSE is a complex place, and a big part of School’s sustainability story has been our ongoing work to make better connections between departments. A big part of this has been ‘Green Impact’ – a competition for LSE departments to take the most actions to ‘green’ their offices, which has enjoyed several hundred participants since it started in 2010.

LSE rooftop gardening harvest

LSE rooftop gardening harvest

The LSE bees have also captured people’s imaginations. Since beehives were first welcomed to Passfield Hall in 2010, the LSESU Beekeeping Society has established more hives there and on the roof of Connaught House; 200 jars of honey were harvested in autumn 2014. (Yum!) The bees are well nourished by various greenery that has been introduced on campus over the last few years, including five roof gardens as well as a green wall, brown and green sedum roofs, and window boxes. LSE installed bike maintenance stands on campus in 2013, with tools for cyclists fix their own bikes. This was made possible by the LSE Sustainable Projects Fund, which was begun in 2011 to support student and staff projects to improve sustainability on campus each year, and is funded by a 10p ‘tax’ on bottled water sold at catering outlets. From the micro-level to the global – LSE’s unique public lecture programme has hosted some of the world’s leading voices on sustainability issues, including Mary Robinson, Dr James Hansen, and many more.

The future…

Returning to William Beveridge, he said in 1930 that “The life of the School has always been a life of adventure, the breaking into new fields of study and the attacking of old problems by new methods.”  Perhaps in the case of sustainability and climate change, we’re dealing with some new problems as well as old ones. But we’ll have a go at dealing with them just the same. Back in the present day (2014), we’re proud to be able to look back at a decade of sustainability at LSE and see how far we’ve come.  We look forward to seeing what the next 10 years will bring.

By Jon Emmett, LSE Sustainability Projects Officer

This post originally appeared on the LSE History Blog on 10th December 2014.

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Nov 24 2014

From Crisis to Creation: building a sustainable financial system

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Nick RobinsNick Robins, Co-director of the UNEP Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, makes the case for a set of policy measures that he argues would make the global finance system more efficient, more environmentally and socially sustainable, and better at managing risks and instability.  

Hesitantly at first, but now gathering momentum, governments across the world have started to add a new suite of policy instruments to the sustainable development toolbox.  Whether it’s banking, insurance or investment, the message is clear:  reforming the financial system is a necessary part of the transition to a green and inclusive economy.

Six years on from the first tremors of the 2008 crisis, we are entering a new phase in financial reform.  Collapse has been averted and stability strengthened.  Now the task is to rethink the rules that govern the financial system so that it’s ‘fit for purpose’.  And what is that purpose?  For Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the answer is clear:  “We can identify the true purpose of finance.  Its goal is to put resources to productive use, to transform maturity, thereby contributing to the good of economic stability and full employment – and ultimately, to the well-being of people, in other words to enrich society”.

In our century defined by mounting resource stress, hazardous levels of local air and water pollution along with global climate disruption, these aspirational goals cannot be realised without factoring in the environmental and social dimensions.  Hitherto, the twin agendas of financial reform and sustainable development have been kept largely separate.

This year a new initiative was established to bridge the gap.  Launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in January at Davos, the Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System aims to “advance policy options that would deliver a step change in the financial system’s effectiveness in mobilising capital towards a green and inclusive economy”.  The Inquiry will present its final report at the end of 2015, and its work programme involves research and engagement across the world including in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, the USA and the UK.

Highlights of what we have found so far include new measures to strengthen environmental risk management.  China’s Banking Regulatory Commission introduced its ‘green credit guidelines’ in 2012 with the goal of encouraging banks to “increase the support to a green, low-carbon and recycling economy, fend off environmental and social risks, and improve their own environmental and social performance”.

The latest addition to this ‘green banking’ trend came in April 2014, when the Central Bank of Brazil introduced a new resolution requiring the banks it regulates to implement environmental and social risk policies.  South Africa has also been in the vanguard of updating its pension policy to make it clear to institutional investors that prudence now means incorporating critical environmental, social and governance factors.

And in the UK, the Prudential Regulatory Authority, part of the Bank of England, is exploring the implications of climate change for its core regulatory duty of ensuring the safety and soundness of insurance companies.

Beyond the question of de-risking the financial system lies the critical challenge of re-balancing capital allocation towards investments in clean energy, efficient housing, sustainable agriculture, smart urban transportation as well as water and waste infrastructure.  A potential pillar of this is the fast-growing ‘green bond’ market which raises ring-fenced financing for investments in clean energy and resource efficiency continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  This has reached issuance of USD34bn so far in 2014, compared with USD11bn for the whole of 2013.  To take this market further, critical policy issues include common standards to ensure market integrity, providing tax incentives to encourage inflows and offering credit enhancement to enable institutional allocations.

Heading into 2015, a series of international policy processes will place the spotlight on what financial architecture is needed to respond to strategic environmental and social challenges: the Hyogo framework for disaster risk reduction, the Financing for Development summit, the new Sustainable Development Goals, and the finalisation of a new climate change agreement.

What is striking is that banking and investment leaders are recognising that reforms are needed within the financial system to complement traditional environmental and sustainability policies.  For example, Mark Wilson, CEO of Aviva, global insurance company with investment assets of over USD350bn has written in the first of the Inquiry’s Financial Leadership Series:

 “We see the primary failure of the capital markets in relation to sustainable development as one of a misallocation of capital.  One of the main sources of market inefficiency is the misaligned incentives that produce an excessively short-term view.  I believe that the financial sector as a whole has a generational opportunity to build sustainable capital markets.”

The prize is a framework of rules that shift real incentives and change actual behaviour so that markets are more resilient in the face of sustainability risks, and capital is more efficiently allocated to the clean industries of the future.

For more information:

Nick Robins spoke at an LSE panel debate on ‘How finance is tackling sustainability:  a roadmap to the future’, on 17th November 2014.  A podcast of the talk is now available online.  

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Nov 5 2014

Dirty Old London


leemjackson - smallRecycling in London isn’t new – we’ve been doing it for around two hundred years.  But it hasn’t always been for environmental reasons;  and it hasn’t always been pretty…  Lee Jackson, Web Development Officer for LSE Law and author of Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth, explains.


The modern enthusiasm for recycling household waste dates back to the environmental movement of the 1970s.  The capital, however, has a long history of recycling its domestic rubbish – although not necessarily for the good of the plaDirty Old London book cover - smallnet.

At the start of the nineteenth century, rubbish collection was the responsibility of London’s local authorities – parish vestries.  They, in turn, contracted with businessmen, who employed teams of labourers to clean the streets and empty bins.  There was money in accumulating muck.  Rotten food, offal and bones could be sold for manure; linen rags used in the manufacture of paper; ‘hard-ware’ or ‘hard-core’, consisting of broken pots, crockery and oyster shells, could be crushed and used as a foundation for roads. Even dead cats were a valuable commodity, sold to furriers “Sixpence for a white cat, fourpence for a coloured cat, and for a black one according to her quality” 1.

All the above, however, played second fiddle to ashes and cinders – the great bulk of household refuse (hence dustman etc.) – which could make the recycling of rubbish a potential goldmine.  Ashes had always had some value to farmers as fertilizer, and could be profitably mixed with the dung of road sweepings, but the great market in the early nineteenth century was amongst the brickmakers, whose works ringed the ever-expanding capital.

Fine ash was mixed with clay in the manufacture of bricks, and the larger cinders or ‘breeze’ – coal that was incompletely burnt in household fires – was used as slow-burning fuel.  As London grew at an unprecedented rate, the construction industry’s demand for bricks became insatiable.  The profits for the dust contractor, in turn, were commensurate. Wags joked that London was a phoenix, rising again from its own ashes.  In fact, this was doubly true. It was common to use hard-core not only as a foundation for roads, but new houses.

The demand for ashes amongst brickmakers was so great that dust contractors paid local authorities for the privilege of collecting waste (as well as cleaning the streets for free, or at a discount).  ‘Flying dustmen’ stole ashes from domestic bins, before contractors could reach it.  In 1822, two men were arrested in Downing Street, described as “in the constant habit of creeping down into the area, and removing by stealth ashes from the dirt-hole”. They confessed that they “sold the cinders for 4d. or 5d. a bushel, and disposed of the small dust to the brick-makers”.

dustheap1 - small

Workers in a dust yard.

The vast wealth of certain contractors would become notorious. Mr. Boffin of Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (1865) is Victorian literature’s famous dust contractor (the ‘Golden Dustman’) having inherited Mr. Harmon’s King Cross dust-heap, together with a hundred thousand pounds (earned from the dust business).  Boffin was most likely based on Henry Dodd, a successful contractor from Islington, whom the great author met whilst both were involved in an attempt to set up a charity for retired actors.  Dodd reputedly began his working life as a farmhand.  When he died in 1881, he left a thriving business in London and a renovated Jacobean manor house in Essex, with his personal estate worth an astonishing £111,000 (in comparison, Dickens’s estate, in 1870, was worth £93,000 – both men would have been millionaires by modern standards).

The business did entail some financial risk.  In particular, contractors were extremely vulnerable to changes in the demand for ashes and cinders.  The price paid by brickmakers for ashes was volatile, mirroring fluctuations in the building trade.  Contractors’ finances, in turn, could swiftly become very precarious.  Records from the ‘Day Book’ of a contractor in the early 1800s shows prices dropping from 16s. per chaldron (waggon-load) to 9s. within the space of two months, and down to 6s. within a year.  The annual accounts of individual parishes, likewise, show how prices rose and fell.  In St. Clement Danes, Westminster, the dust contractor paid £1,100 for the privilege of collecting dust in 1824/25; but only £900 guineas in the following year.

In 1826/27, when it was clear the metropolitan economy had fallen into a spectacular slump, after a stock market bubble collapsed, ‘he would give nothing, nor would he have it at all’.  All this had predictable consequences for the general public – dustmen and street cleaners disappeared; complaints about unemptied bins were legion (“Bribes offered to the dustmen, complaints lodged at the Court-house, and appeal to Hobbs, the dust contractor, have all alike been utterly futile”2).

The use of contractors, nonetheless, continued. In part, this was because many contractors were closely connected to local authorities – rumours of bribery were rife.  But there was also an assumption that contractors would ultimately return to paying handsomely for the privilege of collecting refuse – perhaps not this year, but the next year, or the one after that – and the parish would reap the rewards.

dustheap2 - small

This actually held true until the 1860s.  But London began to grow too big.  The supply of cinders and ashes from the burgeoning metropolis began to exceed any possible demand.  Likewise, the transport costs involved in shipping breeze to ever more distant brickfields increased proportionately.  The price paid for dust by brick-makers dropped and – unlike in the past – did not recover.  The railways also brought more and more factory-made bricks from the provinces, not cut from London clay.

Local authorities looked for new ways to make rubbish pay.  Some dismissed their contractors and attempted to replace them with their own municipal endeavours.  In the 1870s, for example, St. Mary Newington developed an extensive business selling ‘Newington Mixture’, an artificial manure conjured up from street sweepings and dust,shipped by rail from its dust depot to purpose built storage facilities at Meopham and Longfield in Kent, whence it was sold to farmers.  In the 1890s, Shoreditch experimented with new incinerators – ‘dust destructors’ – which could power steam engines to produce electricity for local businesses.

But the halcyon days when rubbish collection generated great profits were over.  Without the profit from ashes and cinders, recycling in general became less economically attractive, and local authorities increasingly switched to landfill as the principal method of disposing of metropolitan refuse – setting the pattern for the following century.  Indeed to this day, landfill still accounts for almost fifty percent of London’s rubbish.

However, the latest strategy document from the Mayor of London notes that the relevant local authorities in the home counties “are increasingly reluctant to accept London’s waste”.  Meanwhile, “Many waste authorities have not yet capitalised on the growing markets for recycled materials or on the demand for the energy that can be produced from waste”.  The report blames “long-term, inflexible contracts” with private firms and a “preference to outsource risk”, and concludes that “waste authorities have not actively pursued the opportunity to generate income from their waste management activities”.

The nineteenth century’s alchemical dream of extracting gold from dust is alive and well, and living in City Hall.


1.  Horne, Richard H:  ‘Dust; or Ugliness Redeemed’ Household Words, (July 1850), p.380

2.  Letter to The Times, 27th May 1885

Lee Jackson works part-time as Web Development Officer for LSE Law. A novelist and historian, he is fascinated by the social history of Victorian London, runs the website, and can be found on twitter @victorianlondon. His latest book Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth has just been published by Yale University Press.  A public talk to launch Dirty Old London is being held on Wednesday 19 November at 6.30pm in the Wolfson Theatre – all welcome.





Posted by: Posted on by Jon Emmett Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Sep 26 2014

Urban greening in the City of London

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MW - profile photoMichelle Warbis, LSE Environment and Development student, proposes an amendment to the  City of London’s  ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ that could promote the growth of urban green space in the Capital – despite a policy landscape that has previously hampered greening by prioritising revenue-generating building developments. 

‘Greening’ is considered a policy priority both locally and nationally.  Though outlined in England’s National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) and the London Plan, it has become increasingly difficult as an era of high growth, spurred by increasing urban land exchange values at the cost of use values takes hold.  London perhaps epitomises this transition, as new developments for business, entertainment, retail, housing and public services pop up more rapidly, and at higher cost – economically and otherwise – than ever before.

At present the London Plan and the NPPF have placed increased emphasis on both quantity and quality of green space, though the provision of such space is still not a statutory requirement in the country.  The City of London – one of the capital’s 32 boroughs – provides an interesting case study in the problems and possibilities of urban greening as a result of its truly unique governance structure, its position as a global leading financial centre, and of course its unusually small size.

Currently at less than 5% green space, the area falls well below London average, problematic for both environmental and social ills.  A major issue for the City of London is the requirement for floor space for business.  Adverse to the recommendations in the NPPF and the London Plan, the City’s Core Strategy highlights the need to increase floor space stock for business by 1,150,000m2 by 2026.  As such, the likelihood of increasing the borough’s green space above 5% under current plans is unlikely – to say the most.

City land-use

Figure 1: Charts showing current land-use in the City of London. Statistics taken from City of London Core Strategy.


Problematizing the City’s greening further is its governance structure:  it’s highly complex and fragmented, decision making is littered with private-public partnerships, and the interdependence of international global businesses and finance allows the City to operate outside of common regulation.  Additionally, the City’s Lord Mayor, removing the borough from wider London mayoral activities, grants the City the right to run its own affairs.  This is arguably best demonstrated by allocation of ballot papers to City workers and businesses, in numbers of which dwarf the tiny 8,000-person residency.

City green map

Figure 2: Map showing location of green spaces in the City of London (not to scale).    Source: City of London Core Strategy


Clearly, a full circle is in action:  businesses operating in the City of London exert disproportionate control over floor space stock decisions, in a context where there is a lack of statutory requirement for green space, and where the City has a high degree of autonomy.  These conditions point towards a continued decline in green space and urban greening as the built environment of the City of London continues to grow outwards and – increasingly – upwards.

It is this upwards growth, however, that may provide a feasible solution to the City’s urban greening dilemma.  In July 2014, The City of London Corporation introduced a Community Infrastructure Levy on all development within the borough.  Under this policy, housing developments and business, retail or leisure developments must each pay a levy, or tax, per square metre of net additional floorspace.  This rate varies depending on the type and location of development.  The Corporation then uses this money for community benefits, which may range from public leisure facilities to care for the elderly.

So why may this enable an increasing upwards flurry of green space?  Research undertaken in April and May 2014 indicated the potential to include voluntary urban greening in new developments through this levy.  It is proposed that the levy’s baseline per square metre should be increased and then proportionally reduced where plans include urban greening in the form of green roofs and walls.  This reduction of per square metre levy would be proportional per square metre of urban greening provided.

The higher quality and more equitable (e.g. accessible) the proposed greening, the higher the rate of increase, eventually taking the levy back to its original per square metre rate.  Where developments still choose to opt out of greening, the finance derived from the increased levy should be ring-fenced by the Corporation for their own green projects which may include road-widening for tree planting, altering existing buildings with greening or expanding or improving existing open green space.

A win-win seems to appear:  urban greening takes place privately, at the hands of developers by way of avoiding an unnecessary tax, or alternatively, ring-fenced revenue from an enforced tax will enable publicly funded greening.  Of course tax levels must be set efficiently to avoid moral hazard and ensure cost-of-greening to cost-of-tax equity, but following this, the simplicity of an existing levy alteration has the power to be incredibly effective:  earlier research pointed towards upwards urban greening has the potential to grow the City’s green space to 8% (up from 5%  – ie a conservative estimate of a 67% increase) by 2031.

Community levy outcomes

Figure 3:   System diagram showing likely outcomes of an altered Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Implementing alteration leads to growth and urban greening.


Indeed, new urban life presents challenges to sustainability, and the ‘sustainable city’, though currently in vogue, may seem little more than a buzzword. However the potential for the tiny, densely packed City of London, as discussed here should give us hope for simple yet pioneering, low-cost yet effective, win-win solutions to problems of the increasing demise in urban green space, metropolitan open land or ‘natural’ environment in an urban setting. However, for such policy alterations to truly take effect there will need to be a proactive and innovative attitude exhibited by businesses and development agencies concerned.

Though the City of London can lead by example through the levy, at the core of such contemporary urban challenges is the need for cohesion between local authorities, businesses, residents – and indeed all those with a stake in the future of urban space.  Without shared goals and a wide understanding of the benefits of urban greening, a voluntary mechanism, though desirable, may not cut it.


This article was corrected on 29 September 2014:  It originally stated that the CIL applies per m2 of land – in fact it applies per m2 of net additional floorspace. 

Posted by: Posted on by Jon Emmett Tagged with: , , , ,