Resources for OE Subscribers

Environment Friendly Action

There is so much information on the web about environment-friendly actions that can be applied in a New Zealand context. With a bit of Googling will find all you can read and more on each topic.

I’ve done some Googling myself to bring you some links to get you started.

How do we conserve energy?

Through the website Sustainability.govt.nz you can learn how to reduce your impact on the environment and save money. The website provides lots of info on saving electricity in your home, reducing your water usage, recycling, rubbish disposal and more.

Another website where you can learn about sustainable living, news, events and information is at  www.ecobob.co.nz

How do we reduce oil/gas carbon emissions?

In addition to metrics like ecological footprint, each of us (and each of the products and services we use and consume every day) has a carbon footprint; it's a way to measure the relative impact of our actions -- as individuals, as businesses, communities and countries, as we eat, work, travel, play, etc. -- in terms of the contribution made to global climate change. Measured in carbon emissions (usually in pounds, tons or kilograms), it's become an increasingly useful and popular tool to help contextualize global warming in our daily routines and lives.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full life cycle of a product or service, and everything has one, from the computer you used to find this article to the next meal you eat (and the one after that, and after that, and so on...) to the shoe that will leave a physical footprint on the ground the next time you walk outside.
Find out more here: www.treehugger.com/files/2008/02/carbon-footprint-green-basics.php

"Celsias" is another website all about doing practical things to combat climate change. The website has lots of Action plans you can commit to, and you can connect with some interesting people.

What are Alternative energy sources?

Solar power, wind power and micro-hydro are all effective, renewable energy sources that may cost a bit to install but will pay off in the long term and be kinder to the environment. If you are building from new, then consider implementing the simple but profound systems of passive solar design.

Wind power
Individual householders can use wind power in ‘stand alone’ systems, saving you money, reducing your dependence on power suppliers, and helping the environment. One of the most expensive aspects of wind-power is the need to store electricity from the time it is generated (when the wind is blowing) until the time it is used. This involves buying expensive batteries that require continual maintenance. There are hopes that the Government will introduce buy-back systems that link individual homeowner’s wind systems to the national grid, so that you can sell electricity back to the generation companies and buy it back when you need it. This would be a big step in encouraging people to invest in small-scale wind-generation systems.


Micro-hydro powers individual houses or small groups of houses with access to a suitable stream. Micro-hydro has the advantage of continuous operation, which means you spend less on batteries. The water is piped from a stream and run through a small in-line generator before being returned downstream to its source. It is clean, not too expensive and non-invasive. Be sure to check that the source is sustainable year-round.

Solar panels
Solar panels (also known as photovoltaic systems) make use of the sun’s energy. Fitting solar panels to your home can reduce the cost of your power bills and lessen your greenhouse gases emissions. They convert the sun’s rays into electrical current, but like wind generators, they require a battery storage medium for when the sun is not shining. They are often used in combination with other alternative energy sources (wind, hydro etc.) In this form they are called hybrid systems.

Passive Solar Space Heating
An energy audit of most houses will show that the bulk of energy use revolves around water-heating and space heating. The intermittent use of appliances consumes considerable energy, but in the winter months, heating a home is an ongoing and serious drain on energy resources. With the move away from fossil fuels (oil, gas, wood, coal etc) the common New Zealand option of heating space with a wood-burning stove or woodchip burner is becoming less sustainable. By far the most effective system of space heating is passive solar, in which the sun’s warming rays are allowed into the space during the day and the heat is stored and trapped inside for when the temperature drops. There are two kinds of passive solar systems: those that rely on direct-gain (where the sun’s energy is captured and stored where it will later be used eg. in a well-insulated tile and concrete floor) and indirect gain (where the sun’s energy is captured and stored in a place remote from that where it will eventually be used and is pumped in to that space later when needed). The latter is often used in passive-solar retrofitted systems.

In Aotearoa-New Zealand direct gain systems require that the Northern face of the house have lots of windows (to let in the heat) and careful design of roof overhangs (to prevent overheating in summer) together with the design of thermal mass and insulation inside the house to trap and store the heat. IT also often means that windows and openings on the South suide of a house be minimised in number and size.

The design of passive solar heating systems is not difficult, but includes a lot of variables depending on location, exposure etc. It is possible to ‘retrofit’ existing buildings to incorporate passive solar systems.

There is no point in going to the expense of generating or capturing energy to warm space if you just let it escape again. Key to an efficient space-heating system is heavy insulation – as much as you can afford. It will pay for itself over time. On some existing properties, it can be quite difficult to ‘retrofit’ insulation – requiring the removal of exterior cladding, although some systems allow for the injection of foam into the wall cavity through holes drilled in the cladding. The toxicity and environmental sustainability of these foam systems is questionable. If you are going to the expense of insulating walls then it makes sense to also insulate the windows with double-glazing. If this is not affordable then consider the use of heavy drapes or internal insulated shutters for keeping the warm air inside when the outside temperature drops.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_solar_building_design


Tony has a long experience as an architect designing passive solar buildings and teaching sustainable building technology. As a trial, he has agreed to freely answer questions from listing clients to help them achieve greater sustainability in their building operations. If the demand becomes too difficult to address we may have to initiate a modest charge for this service.
Contact Tony on : tonyward.transform@xtra.co.nz

Carbon Emissions/Trading
All of these methods and systems will allow you to reduce the carbon footprint of your operation and built environment. In addition, you might consider adding other environmental elements (tree-planting programmes, eco-friendly pest eradication programmes, grey-water treatment, composting toilets, wetland developments, and home-grown fruit and vegetable gardening etc) which will further reduce your environmental impact. Although the Government’s proposed Carbon trading system does not yet include small-scale businesses, nevertheless it is important to recognise that the environmental impact of these is significant and that collectively, we can make a significant difference to the energy (and fossil fuel) consumption of New Zealand. It may eventually be possible to form sustainable energy collectives that can combine carbon credits for the mutual economic benefit of their members.

More info at http://www.sustainability.govt.nz/energy/alternative.html

Alternative energy New Zealand blog

For a list of Alternative Energy manufacturers, suppliers and other contacts in NZ.

What is sustainable toilet/grey water waste disposal?

Water Conservation
Domestic water usage in the typical suburban house varies with location. Those who live in an urban setting must usually pay for the amount of metered water that they use. Typically the consumption of a house with a metered supply is about 200 litres a day, compared to more two or three times that for properties that are un-metered. The production of new sources of water is expensive and metering is seen by Government and many Local Authorities as an economical way of reducing demand. Increasingly they are moving towards more metering. In anticipation of this, it makes good sense to think about reducing the amount used – it is simply good economics, both nationally and personally.

Water closets themselves use a significant amount of water, and water is destined to become one of the most valuable household commodities in the coming years. You can reduce the amount of water consumed by the toilet quite simply by a number of simple measures. The most obvious ways of saving water is to cut consumption at the personal level–– not running the tap while brushing your teeth, not running the water cold before drinking, taking showers rather than baths, taking shorter showers, not using water to wash paths etc. Other, more systematic ways include fixing leaky inserting a brick inside and (most effective of all) making use of water that normally goes to “waste” by storing rainwater for garden or toilet use, or by recycling “grey water”. Installing rainwater storage tanks is quite easy and not too expensive, and they need not be located directly adjacent to the down-pipes. Saving water makes economic sense not only at the personal level, but at the municipal level also. Each litre of water used has to be filtered, purified, treated and pumped to its disposal point – savings at home flow on (no pun intended) to the macro level.

Grey water (the water from all sources except the toilet) can also be recycled, although few local authorities are willing to sanction it even when it is well-conceived and executed. However, the quality of greywater varies considerably. Often, the wastewater from kitchen sinks and laundry sources is laden with fats, food particles and chemicals that make it difficult to reuse - especially in the garden. Bathroom waste – from the hand-basin and shower has been shown to be less difficult to reuse and modifying the waste plumbing from these sources is not too difficult. There are systems available on the market for recycling greywater.
See, for instance: http://www.watersmart.co.nz/

Toilet Waste
Apart from using a great deal of water, the normal water closet also requires a significant cost of infrastructure “downstream”. Sewage treatment is not cheap and the costs are passed on to the users in Rates. Composting toilets are becoming increasingly accepted by some Local Authorities – particularly in rural areas where septic systems have proven over time to be problematic. There is no reason why composting toilets cannot also become more commonplace in an urban setting, where the non-odorous composted waste can be used as fertiliser for ornamental plants and gardens.

Tell me about using bio-degradable cleaning agents?

The ecostore stocks a complete range of ecostore laundry, cleaning, body-care and baby-care products. ecostore staff are passionate and knowledgeable about eco/health issues and can help you to choose the best products to meet your needs.
1 Scotland Street, Freemans Bay, Auckland Tel: (0)9 360 8577 

Kiwi Green is a NZ company that offers a range of eco-friendly cleaning and health products for use both at home and at work. They offer a "Kiwi Green Certification" logo to their members who use bio-degradable cleaning agents. You can use the logo to inform your tourism guests you are using natural products.

What are Recycled Building Components/Materials?

The use of reclaimed (“demolition”) building materials can not only save money, but is a useful means of conserving energy (the energy used in manufacturing and transporting new building components) They are useful also in conserving historical building details and character that is otherwise lost in wholesale redevelopments. Recycled building components can add character, texture and interest to building designs that is otherwise difficult to achieve.

What are Embodied Energy Building Components?

Besides the energy that a building component or material can save or reduce, attention is turning increasingly toi what has been called the “embodied energy” of building components – that is, the total amount of energy used to produce, transport and construct any building component. It is no use building with a building material that saves energy if its production and transportation has been at a huge energy or environmental cost.

The UK Code for Sustainable Homes and USA Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) are standards in which the embodied energy of a product or material is rated, along with other factors, to assess a buildings environmental impact. Embodied energy is a new concept for which scientists have not yet agreed absolute universal values because there are many variables to take into account, but most agree that products can be compared to each other to see which has more and which has less embodied energy. Comparative lists (for an example, see the Bath University Embodied Energy & Carbon Material Inventory- http://www.bath.ac.uk/mech-eng/sert/embodied/) contain average absolute values, and explain the factors which have been taken into account when compiling the lists. A downloadable PDF file is available for free download here.
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_energy

Do you have a Sustainability Policy?

Develop your own Sustainability Policy that you can publish on your website and display to visiting guests. Here are examples from two Organic Explorer accommodation providers:
Ruth Buss of The Green House B&B in Napier: www.the-green-house.co.nz/green.policy.html
Sue Sweetman of Braemar on Parliament B&B in Auckland: www.aucklandbedandbreakfast.com/sustainability.html

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecologies. It was first developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications. The word permaculture is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, as well as permanent culture.

Permaculture design principles extend from the position that "The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children" (Mollison, 1990). The intent was that, by rapidly training individuals in a core set of design principles, those individuals could design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones that reduce society's reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution that Mollison identified as fundamentally and systematically destroying Earth's ecosystems.

While originating as an agro-ecological design theory, permaculture has developed a large international following of individuals who have received training through intensive two week long 'permaculture design courses'. This 'permaculture community' continues to expand on the original ideas, integrating a range of ideas of alternative culture, through a network of training, publications, permaculture gardens, and internet forums. In this way, permaculture has become both a design system and a loosely defined philosophy or lifestyle ethic.

What are the Principles of Permaculture?

Observe and Interact
Catch and Store Energy
Obtain a Yield
Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Produce No Waste
Design From Patterns To Details
Integrate Rather Than Segregate
Use Small and Slow Solutions
Use and Value Diversity
Use Edges and Value The Marginal
Creatively Use and Respond To Change
See: www.permaculture.org.nz

What is the Biodynamic method of farming?

Biodynamic agriculture conceives of the farm as an organism, a self-contained entity with its own individuality. "Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, maintenance of soil, and the health and well being of crops and animals; the farmer too is part of the whole. Cover crops, green manures and crop rotations are used extensively. The approach also attempts to consider celestial (i.e., astrological) influences on soil and plant development and to revitalize the farm, its products, and its inhabitants. Seeds are planted at certain lunar phases.

Biodynamic agriculture has focused on open pollination of seeds (permitting farmers to grow their own seed) and the development of locally adapted varieties. The seed stock is not controlled by large, multinational seed companies.

The term Biodynamic is a trademark held by the Demeter association of biodynamic farmers for the purpose of maintaining production standards used both in farming and processing foodstuffs.(This is not a trademark held privately in New Zealand) The trademark is intended to protect both the consumer and the producers of biodynamic produce. Demeter International is an organization of member countries; each country has its own Demeter organization which is required to meet international production standards.
See: www.biodynamic.org.nz