A-Z of green living in London

From A for Allotment to Z for ZWIN, our guide to going green in London. Don't know what ZWIN is? Read on to find out

  • A-Z of green living in London

    Recycling in Hackney (© Belinda Lawley)

  • A

    is for Allotment

    A little bit of turf is a precious commodity in London – but if you can manage to get your hands on one, an allotment is surprisingly cheap to rent (from £6 a year). In a central borough like Islington or Camden, you’ll probably need to put your name down now for your grandchildren to gain access, but some of the outer boroughs, including Hillingdon, Barnet and Newham, currently have open lists with allotments ripe for the digging, and the allotments are, surprisingly, open to all comers – you don’t have to be local to lay claim to your own miniature kingdom.If you do one thing… Browse the official and very easy-to-use allotment website at www.london.gov.uk/allotments, pick your plot, then get your hands dirty!

    B is for Boris

    We’ve all seen photos of the blond mop bobbing through Westminster on a bike, but what else is Boris doing to bring us up to speed with our infinitely greener European neighbours?Election manifesto Tough on grime, tough on the causes of grime, with zero tolerance on littering and graffiti and pledges to keep streets clean and keep open spaces ‘pristine’. He also committed to a public bike-hire system like the Vélib in Paris (though Ken got there first) and to planting thousands of trees.

    Progress Boris made a good start by scrapping The Londoner, the mayor’s ‘propaganda paper’ and passing on £1 million of the funds saved to plant 10,000 trees. He has announced a ban on bottled water and internal flights for the GLA. He has agreed to chair the new London Waste and Recycling Board and pledged to ‘massively boost recycling and reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill’. But Friends of the Earth has pointed out that he has done little to outline how he plans to fulfil certain ambitions: pushing use of renewable energy in the capital, encouraging use of microgeneration and decentralised energy technologies and getting more Londoners cycling. His plans to re-phase the capital’s traffic lights have divided ecologists: while keeping motorists at the lights for less time will mean less emissions, it may also make motoring less irritating, encouraging people to get back in their cars. Equally divisive is his refusal to extend the congestion charge zone west: some say an extension is essential to keep emissions down; Boris says it just gives Chelsea-tractor drivers a pass to get into central London free every day. It’s early days, but while Boris has learned to talk the eco talk (having resisted a low-emissions zone, he is now in support), he hasn’t quite learned to walk the walk. Or cycle it.
    If you do one thing… Send Boris a polite email urging him to take action on an eco-issue of your choice. Lobby him at mayor@london.gov.uk.

    C is for Compost

    Well over a third of what Londoners throw in the bin would be equally at home on the compost heap, steaming its way towards a new life as fodder for your plants. Nearly all of London’s boroughs now offer subsidised (or for residents of Sutton, free) composters, and there is an abundance of info on the web on how to go about it. Wigglywigglers (www.wigglywigglers.co.uk) sells smart, painted ‘beehive’ composters for the garden, as well as the odour-free okashi composter for indoors. For the very enthusiastic, The London CRN (www.lcrn.org.uk) trains up impressively titled Master Composters, to advise neighbours on everything from the best bins to what to do with your compost once you have it. If you find yourself with a surfeit, you can easily sell it on to other gardeners – try www.gumtree.com. To buy it yourself, try local stables and councils such as Ridgway Stables in Wimbledon (www.ridgwaystables.co.uk).If you do one thing… Visit www.wasteonline.org.uk and follow the simple steps to turn your bin into a worm composter.

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    Green Tomato cars (© Belinda Lawley)

    D is for Driving

    You’ve been hit with a whopping congestion charge, the roads are at a standstill and petrol prices are at bankrupting levels. Still want to drive in the city? If so, there are options: the Green Car Site (www.greencarsite.co.uk) has an extensive guide, while www.biodieselfillingstations.co.uk is a directory of places to fill your car with eco-fuel or arrange a delivery. If you have a gas-guzzler and don’t want rid of it, assuage your guilt with Ecoinsurance (www.ecoinsurance.co.uk). They will calculate and offset your emissions, as will ETA (www.eta.co.uk), the first carbon-neutral motoring organisation.If you only require a car for short journeys, sign up to a car pool: Zipcars (www.zipcar.com) and Streetcar (www.streetcar.co.uk) both offer very cheap short-term car rental to members, who can simply check online where their nearest vehicle is and use a membership pass or code to pick it up. Hourly rates are around £3-£4, with limited fuel, insurance and congestion charge included. These companies estimate that for every car in the fleet, six cars have been taken off the road.If you do one thing… Next time you order a cab, make it a Prius taxi from Green Tomato (020 8568 0022/www.greentomatocars.com).

    E is for Energy

    With fuel prices soaring, it makes increasing economic as well as ecological sense to make energy savings wherever possible. Get in touch with the Energy Saving Trust London (0800 512012/www.energysavingtrust.org.uk), which will visit your home for free and calculate which green measures will make you the greatest savings at an affordable price – so even if you’re not in the market for solar-heated hot water, you might be able to stretch to a spot of loft insulation. They will also let you know about grants and offers, and direct you to good installers. To kickstart your efforts, www.DIYKyoto.com sells an ingenious wireless gadget called the Wattson, which monitors your energy usage and changes colour accordingly – a great visual impetus to turn off the tumble drier. www.greenelectricity.com will find your nearest eco suppliers when you enter your postcode, while Energy Saving Trust (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk) allows you to compare the efficiency of white goods before you invest. And get the Green Concierge team (www.greenhomesconcierge.co.uk) round to give you a full analysis of carbon footprint and devise a programme for improvements. At £199, this is a bit of an investment, but you should recoup the sum through the reduction in your energy bills. If you do one thing… Calculate the cost of converting your home to a green energy supply at www.globalactionplan.org.uk or www.carboncalculator.com.

    F is for Freecycle

    This Arizona-born organisation now hosts a swap and gifting community in most cities. Londoners have embraced the idea of Freecycle (www.freecycle.org), with each borough represented, but other groups have taken the idea and run with it: www.reuze.co.uk A similar premise, but without the compulsory AOL Group mechanism. www.computeraid.org Donate old or unwanted computers to schools in deprived areas.www.fonebak.com Send your phone in and this company will sell components to clients like Orange and pass the proceeds on to a charitable cause. They have a no-landfill policy.www.respondbank.co.uk This charity will collect and restore electronic goods and furniture, for the benifit of the homeless. www.re-cycle.org Re-Cycle’s mission is to collect secondhand bicycles and ship them to Africa, allowing health workers to reach remote villages. It even provides an ambulance service. www.readitswapit.co.uk An online community of readers who swap their books. If you do one thing… With your next handset upgrade, let www.fonebak.com cannibalise your old mobile.

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    Muscle growth: get fit with the Green gym (© Elisabeth Blanchet)

    G is for Green Gym

    Why fatten up your carbon footprint while shedding the pounds at power-hungry gyms? Green Gym (www.greengym.org.uk) is a community-spirited enterprise which gets you to work up a sweat planting trees and digging up dirt. You’ll stretch muscles you didn’t know you had – while improving the green space you’re stretching them in. If you do one thing… Drop London’s Green Gym an email at mjw1@onetel.com and burn calories without burning fossil fuels.

    H is for H2O

    While our abundance of rain might make you think shortages will never be a problem, experts believe drought is in the, er, pipeline. www.doctorenergy.co.uk sells a range of gadgets to prevent wastage, starting from just £3 for a device to slow water output from taps. For more advanced solutions, Inspirations Bathrooms (0845 262 4677/ www.inspirationsbathrooms.com) sells a range of showers which save around 27 litres of water per shower and start from just £34. Finally, stick to tap water when you eat out: it’s practically free and doesn’t come in a nasty plastic bottle.If you do one thing… Get a ‘Hippo’ for your cistern, which saves 3 litres of water per flush; though you don’t have to be flush – they’re only £1.65 from www.doctorenergy.co.uk.

    I is for Insulation

    Up to a third of energy loss from our homes could be prevented with insulation; that amounts to around a ton of carbon waste per household a year. Loft insulation is a great start, while specialist double-glazing can reduce heat loss dramatically. The London Sash Window Company specialises in sealing and restoring London’s draughty windows (020 8355 3421/www.tlswc.co.uk). It can also double-glaze them without rubbing off any of their Victorian charm.If you do one thing… Many homes qualify for a government grant of around 30 per cent. See if yours is one at www.energysavingtrust.org.uk.

    J is for Junk mail

    Unsolicited post is no longer necessary or ecologically responsible, but the steady drip of paper through the letterbox can seem unavoidable. But actually, delivery against your wishes is illegal. If you are being deluged, check out the advice on www.stopjunkmail.org.uk. It’ll tell you to register at www.mpsonline.org.uk and optout@royalmail.com.If you do one thing… Just say ‘no’: you may be surprised how effective a deterrent a small sticker on your letterbox can be.

    K is for Kids

    A wealth of organisations have sprung up intent on converting youth to green living while they’re still impressionable. These include the Woodcraft gang (www.woodcraft.org.uk), which has groups all over London that encourage children from six to 16 to earn badges for recycling, gardening and similar. Many councils, including Hackney, Camden and Islington, are now offering financial incentives to mums who opt to use washable nappies – and those mums can take advantage of www.nappyeverafter.co.uk, a not-for-profit social enterprise that will collect your dirty nappies (on electric vans and bikes) and exchange them for clean ones for around £8 a week. If you do one thing… When having a knees-up for little ones, avoid a houseful of plastic tat with www.littlecherry.co.uk, which sells party supplies that are recycled, sustainable, fair-trade, reusable, organic or biodegradable.

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    Reduce your carbon footprint by opting for local produce (© Kate Peters)

    L is for Local food

    You could be forgiven for thinking local produce in London is a contradiction, but restaurants like Konstam, Acorn House and Water House prove that attempting menus as locally sourced as possible needn’t be a recipe for disaster. A typical meal at Acorn House might include Kentish wine, Ginger Pig meat and London honey. At home, if you don’t have a veg patch, look to growing communities like the one in Hackney which claims to have been the first organic-box provider in the country. To cut down on fuel use, locals are encouraged to pick up boxes from points across the borough.Prices are reasonable, from £6 for a small mixed box (020 7502 7588/www.growingcommunities.org). If you do one thing… Get a delivery from www.farmaround.co.uk, which scatters its local organic boxes all over London from £8-£13.

    M is for Make-up

    This year saw the opening of Content in Marylebone, an emporium which sells only brands that offer beauty without ugly side-effects, and a shop created using recycled, certified and second-life objects. If you do one thing… Visit the store at 14 Bulstrode St, W1 (020 3075 1006/www.beingcontent.com), and treat yourself to some green eyeliner.

    N is for Natural death

    That’s right, even the newly dead can be green. The recently opened Natural Death Centre in north London offers information on a range of environmentally friendly funeral choices, from bamboo coffins to natural burial grounds. 12a Blackstock Mews, Blackstock Road, N4 (0871 288 2098/ www.naturaldeath.org.uk).If you do one thing… Have a precautionary flick through the NDC’s manual, ‘The Natural Death Handbook’, a guide to a green passing.

    O is for Onya bags

    On average, Londoners use 167 plastic bags each every year: about 1¼ billion in total. Since each one takes around 500 years to decay in landfill, this is an embarrassment. Avoid smug arm-candy advertising your good intentions and plump instead for an Onya (www.onyabags.co.uk). It’s a squash-to-nothing bag which clips in your handbag or coat pocket till needed. Watch carrying woes decompose considerably faster than a plastic bag.If you do one thing… Corral all your home’s rogue carriers, and cart them down to your local bag-recycling point.

    P is for Premises

    Old Shoreditch faces might remember the riotous parties the Premises studios used to host before they were smartened up five years ago. Out went the suspect cider and in came the first solar-powered studio in Europe, with 100 per cent of its energy piped in from photovoltaic panels on the roof. For musicians like Klaxons and Lily Allen who career across the globe, playing here is a good way to earn back carbon credits.Premises Studios, 201-209 Hackney Road, E2 (020 7729 7593/www.premisesstudios.com). If you do one thing… Hang out at the studio café, clocking big names as you eat a fry-up.

    Q is for Quick Cup

    Each time you boil a kettle for a single cuppa you waste enough energy to power a fridge for a day. Quick Cup is an ingenious water filter that heats water as it’s dispensed, saving up to 65 per cent of the energy a standard kettle uses. Which saves on bills, too. Cheers.If you do one thing… Pick up a Quick Cup for £59.99 from Currys (www.currys.co.uk).

    R is for the 3 Rs

    And they are: reduce, reuse, recycle. Each year Londoners produce 3.4 million tons of rubbish, enough to fill Canary Wharf tower every ten days. Cheap retailers like Primark aren’t helping, nor are the supermarkets and their love of over-packaging. Even the carbon-offset system has been accused of allowing us to buy with abandon, assuaging our guilt at the tills. Swap your clothes (at www.whatsmineisyours.com or www.swapshop.co.uk), furnish your house with other people’s cast-offs (see ‘F is for FreeCycle’) and buy quality rather than quantity. If you do one thing… Purge your wardrobe of items you haven’t worn in a year, and find the clothes a new home at www.whatsmineisyours.com.

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    Animal waster: Eco-Age shop, Chiswick (© Ed Marshall)

    S is for Shopping

    London offers some of the best eco-shopping in Europe. Buy sustainably sourced designer homewares from Eco-Age in Chiswick, (Eco, 213 Chiswick High Road, W4, 020 8995 7611/www.eco-age.com); fair-trade groceries in your own containers at Unpackaged (42 Amwell Street EC1, 020 7713 8368/www.beunpackaged.com); cures and lotions at the Organic Pharmacy (396 Kings Road, SW10, 020 7351 2232/www.theorganicpharmacy.com); and fair-trade fashion at Equa (Equa, 28 Camden Passage, N1, 020 7359 0955/www.equaclothing.com). If you do one thing… Visit Howies at 42 Carnaby Street (020 7287 2345/www.howies.co.uk) – it’s a green pioneer, with e-receipts, a window display which lights up for only a few seconds at a time and bottles of tap water at the till. See more ethical shopping in London

    T is for Toxin-free cleaning

    According to the fantastic non-toxic cleaning brand Method, our homes are on average two and a half times more polluted on the inside than on the outside. As we’ve developed ways of taking the hard graft out of cleaning with chemicals, so asthma rates have soared, along with allergies and sensitivities to a range of chemicals. Catherine Conway of Unpackaged points out that the vast majority of day-to-day household grime can be cleared up with bicarbonate of soda, lemon juice and vinegar, plus a bit of elbow grease. If you do one thing… If that sounds too much like hard work, call in the domestic sanitation professionals: Starlet Cleaning covers all Central London areas, (020 7821 9732/www.starletcleaning.co.uk), while Eco Express Cleaning covers the whole of London, and will supply all materials for a 38-step green clean (0800 177 065/www.ecoexpresscleaning.co.uk).

    U is for Undies

    Believe it or not, green living now extends to your nether regions: new underwear lines come in peculiar yet environmentally friendly yarns such as bamboo and soya. Don’t fret that you won’t know whether to put them on your bottom or in your mouth: these are indistinguishable from their pesticide-ridden cousins (cotton crops account for around 25 per cent of the world’s pesticide use) in appearance, but come without that most persistent of stains: a carbon footprint.If you do one thing… Make your unseens green with a purchase or two from www.figleaves.com.

    V is for Volunteering

    At the heart of London’s steady progression towards becoming a more eco-friendly city is its army of dedicated eco-warriors, who have been championing cleaner, greener living since the likes of Livingstone and Johnson were in disposable nappies. Sign up with the urban reforestation collective Trees for Cities, manning stalls and digging at their planting days (020 7587 1320/ www.treesforcities.org); help Thames 21 clear London’s rubbish-clogged canals (020 7248 7171/www.thames21.org.uk); clean up the grubby nooks and crannies in the capital’s public spaces (www.csv.org.uk); or maintain and protect our city’s green spaces with the Waterloo Green Trust (www.waterloogreen.org.uk). And if you’re especially brave, take up the cause and become a Green Champion yourself: one of the volunteers who campaigns in Hackney to encourage the inhabitants to be greener (020 8356 6688/recycling@hackney.gov.uk). If you do one thing… Make a one-off donation towards a leafier capital at www.treesforcities.org.

    W is for Weddings

    If a wedding ceremony is about securing your emotional future, then it makes sense to prejudice that future as little as possible. The Penrhos Court Hotel, just outside of London, specialises in the burgeoning trend for eco-weddings: the hotel will organise organic, local catering, locally grown flowers, petal confetti and the composting of all the nuptial leftovers (for more information see www.penrhos.co.uk/weddings). Alternatively, you can get some help planning your London ceremony from Theme Traders in north London. They will arrange anything from a natural silk gown to a fair-trade chocolate fountain ‘sheltered by a soft hemp awning’ (www.themetraders.com). If you do one thing… At the next wedding of family or friends you attend, offer your services as official ‘wedding recycler’ (and bring a mini-Hoover for the confetti).

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    Be beside the seaside on one of Britain's beautiful beaches (© Heloise Bergman)

    X is for crossing air travel off your wishlist

    You can take onboard every green suggestion on this list so far, from A to W, you can insist on Ecover washing powder, you can line your street with conifers and you can cycle to work every day – but jet off to the sun in the summer and you can wipe out a year’s worth of good deeds with one single budget flight. Languishing in the south east of England we may not be blessed with guaranteed sun, but why not make use of what we do have: beautiful, sandy beaches, incredible scenery and picturesque villages, all of which are supremely reachable by public transport. For an affordable coastal holiday that’s within shouting distance of home, have a look through the ‘Time Out Seaside Guide’ (£16.99 in good bookshops, or £13.60 from www.timeout.com/shop). Or, if you simply must have a fortnight of blazing sunshine to make it through the rest of the year, pick up the new Time Out ‘Flight-free Europe’ guidebook, available in bookshops for £14.99.If you do one thing… Take a flight-free trip and ensure that this year's holiday is a breather for the planet as well as for you.

    Y is for Yogo

    Offering one of the more enjoyable ways to consume conscientiously, this is the first Los Angeles-style frozen-yoghurt house to set up stall in the capital. The earth-friendly folk at Yogo use 100 per cent biodegradable packaging and cutlery, fair-trade and organic teas, employee uniforms that are supplied by clothing companies approved by WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) and eco-friendly cleaning products. In addition to all that, Yogo donates one per cent of its takings to various eco-charities – meaning it’s only right, and indeed essential, to ask for an extra scoop.If you do one thing… Visit them for a frozen-dairy fix at 8 Apple Market, Kingston KT1 1JE (www.yogoswirl.co.uk).

    Z is for ZWIN

    The Zero Waste Initiative aims to reduce waste in businesses. As part of its London-wide campaign, it trains up volunteers to carry out eco-audits of firms, then dispenses detailed advice on how they can improve their eco-credentials. If you do one thing… Volunteer or book an audit at www.zwin.org.uk and take the zero-tolerance approach to waste..

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