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Cool ideas - November 21

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage.


Come together: Could communal living be the solution to our housing crisis?

Sarah Morrison, the Independent
With home ownership in decline, rents rising rapidly and social-housing waiting lists at a record high, it's time to face up to the fact that we have a totally dysfunctional housing market," said David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, earlier this year. With warnings of an "unprecedented crisis" in housing to follow and a predicted downturn in ownership to a level not seen since the 1980s, the long-held belief in bricks and mortar has slowly started to crumble.

Details of the slump tell their own story: roughly 4.5 million people are on social-housing waiting lists in England and it is estimated that private-sector rents will increase by almost 20 per cent over the next five years. The proportion of people owning their own homes, meanwhile, is expected to fall from a high of 72.5 per cent in 2001 to 63.8 per cent in 2021. Is this the beginning of the end of our love affair with owning property?

If it is, there are groups of people all over the country who are proposing a myriad of alternatives. Co-operatives, co-housing models, or "intentional communities", might sound like buzzphrases better associated with 1960s California than 21st-century Britain, but an interest in communal-living projects is growing. As recent graduates, young families and older people find themselves priced out of the housing sector, the idea of harnessing a community's resources and buying power no longer seems like a hippie dream, but an increasingly urgent imperative.

Over the past few weeks, The Independent on Sunday has visited some of this country's most unique homes, from a self-defined, intentional, rural commune committed to sustainable living and a low-carbon lifestyle, to looser communities in which a shared kitchen, cooking rota and monthly work day are the extent of their communal living. Their inhabitants represent a wide range of society: from members of radical collectives who eschew all forms of property ownership to developers and middle-class families who simply yearn for the community dynamic of years past.

For Joe Dunthorne, the 29-year-old author who decided to spend five weeks living in a range of communities around the UK in preparation for his second novel Wild Abandon, the desire to live communally is commonly misunderstood. "I think one of the main battles is that people have a fully formed cliché of what that lifestyle is like and it is a cliché k that hasn't changed for 30 years. They are probably thinking of long-haired tie-dyers running around naked, taking mushrooms. This is just not the truth. The truth is a lot more pragmatic and possibly a little more boring," he says....

....Rodgers cites the co-operative movement as the "solution" to the future, and points to another Scandinavian country, Sweden, as inspiration. "If they were as common here as over there, given the relative population sizes, there would be six million co-operative homes in Britain," he says. In reality, there are currently approximately 92,000 co-operative homes in the UK and 686 housing co-operatives, up just 34 since 2008. "We are way behind the pace in comparison to the contribution it could make to our affordable housing supply," acknowledges Rodgers.

But there has been a move in recent years for housing associations to work with communities in creating co-operative spaces where tenants democratically manage their own homes. Rodgers has also worked with groups of friends who have come together to a set up a co-operative in order to buy a property, which they would be unable to purchase alone....
(13 November 2011)




US millionaires say 'raise our taxes'

Staff, al Jazeera
Nearly 140 millionaires have asked a divided US congress to increase their taxes for the sake of the nation.

"Please do the right thing, raise our taxes," the entrepreneurs and business leaders wrote to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders on Wednesday, noting that they benefited from a sound economy and now want others to do so.

The letter was signed by 138 members of "Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength".

The group was created a year ago during a failed bid to persuade congress to end tax cuts for millionaires enacted under Obama's predecessor, the Republican George Bush.

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington DC, said the group is now making the same request of a 12-member congressional "super committee", which is struggling to reach a bipartisan deal to cut the deficit by at least $1.2tn over the next decade in order to help put the nation on sound financial footing...
(20 November 2011)




Brightfarms reduce supply chain … to about 10 vertical metres!

Sustaination blog
BrightFarms is a brilliantly innovative company which operates hydroponic greenhouses right on the roofs of food retailers, eliminating time, distance and cost from the food supply chain.

The video they have produced is well worth a watch – it is an accurate and alarming assessment of the anachronistic food network we find ourselves with today.

The Story Of Lettuce from BrightFarms on Vimeo.

(20 October 2011)




Can a Clothing Factory Stay Competitive While Paying Workers a Living Wage?

Staff, Good Magazine
Joe Bozich, the CEO of Knight’s Apparel—the largest provider of branded apparel to colleges and universities—got to know the Workers Rights Consortium when the labor organization’s director called him five years ago to tell him about a human rights problem at his factory in the Philippines.

“I don’t have a factory in the Philipines,” Bozich replied, before learning that a recent acquisition had brought that factory under his control. The company has stringent labor rights code of conduct, which includes twice-yearly surprise inspections by independent organizations. Bozich’s company worked with the WRC to resolve the problem.

A few years later, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Bozich began thinking about giving back. He wondered if his company could do more than just meet fair labor standards. He wanted to succeed while paying workers a living wage that would support their families. That idea grew into Alta Gracia, a division of Knight’s Apparel that provides socially responsible garments to over 400 colleges and universities.

The idea, Bozich says, depends on the observation that consumers want to make purchasing choices based on more than just quality and price; they also want to know their purchases are socially responsible. That’s doubly true on college campuses, where student activists provide added pressure for universities to make sure their goods are fairly produced.

In the summer of 2010, Alta Gracia set up a factory in the Dominican Republic that employs 125 unionized employees making t-shirts and hoodies for Georgetown, NYU and the like. Employees are paid $510 a month (roughly 340 percent of the country’s minimum wage), an amount verified by the WRC to provide for a household’s basic needs and allow for modest savings...
(16 November 2011)
Related: To Die For, is fashion wearing out the world? by Lucy Siegle.

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