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A New Year’s Message from the Sustainability Genie



Disclaimer-This is the independent Spotlight view. It does not necessarily represent the views of Origin management.

Greetings from Spotlight’s Climate Change Group. Spotlight is the group of Origin Housing residents who keep an eye on our housing association’s performance from a resident point of view. And the Climate Change Group pays particular attention to residents’ needs and interests as guardians of the environments in which we live.
Lately it seems that our environments are increasingly out to make us feel miserable – and powerless. For example:

  • The cost of energy has rocketed, thanks to scarcity of fossil fuels, yet the carbon from fossil fuels is still heavily polluting our planet
  • Food has become much more expensive, due to scarcities of many kinds
  • Damp and mould in quite a few of our homes are affecting the health of those who live there
  • More generally, the air quality and the plastics and other pollutants in our water are creating risks to our health, in our homes and neighbourhoods
  • Many of our neighbourhoods are unsightly, because rubbish and waste are scattered everywhere, sometimes attracting rodents
  • Greenery in our communities is being removed without any apparent thought for the impact on our local environments.

Is there really nothing we can do about any of this? Acting on our own often seems ridiculous – after all, what can one person possibly do on their own to have even a noticeable impact?

The Sustainability Genie appears . . .
On New Year’s Eve, some Climate Change Group supporters were sitting, and looking in despair, at their Christmas Tree...  Then, without warning, from behind that Tree, a Spirit suddenly appeared! And the Spirit announced “I’m the Sustainability Genie, and I’ve heard you. I’ve come to help you find your way.”
“Show me” the Spirit said “There must be some examples of progress within the Origin estate. After all, there are at least 6,500 homes.”
And, after much scratching of heads, the tales started to emerge:         

  1. The neighbourhood where residents started transferring their gas and electricity accounts to a “green energy” supplier, and then began to get together regularly to compare ways to cut the costs of their bills. Result: less carbon emissions and lower bills.

Increasing recycling

  1. The block of flats where residents wanted to improve collection of waste and recyclables. They formed a group. Residents were consulted about what needed to improve, and what was getting in the way. Each flat was then supplied with two different bags – one type for waste and the other for recyclables. And there would be two different types of bins. Also, there would be opportunities to learn what should go into each bag. Plus, the group members would regularly check what was in a sample of bags, and they would talk to new residents about how the new method worked. Result: much higher collection of recyclables.

Making the most of food

  1. Local charities offer ways of donating and distributing food, preparing food, bringing people together to eat and chat, offering allotments and other gardening opportunities. They can bring people together who share a common interest in food, but don’t necessarily know each other. These opportunities have become widespread among communities in London and the South East. Result: residents who get involved save money, eat better, make new friends, learn new ways to prepare food and look after their local natural environment.

Getting rid of single-use plastics and saving money

  1. A block of flats had a tradition of holding parties on special occasions. Traditionally, residents would all buy food and drink, plus disposable paper plates, plastic straws, and paper/plastic cups. One time the ‘party group’ decided to instead use non-plastic plates, glasses, cutlery and non-plastic/paper straws. They found really cheap supplies of these plates etc. and told their neighbours that this called for a one-off extra payment. After that there would be no cost. Then they shared out the washing-up. Result: less cost and no plastic used at parties.  

Preparing to discuss with housing management

  1. Because Camden Council had a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change in 2019, some residents in a Camden neighbourhood met together to see how relevant the Camden conclusions would be for them. But they identified several features of their building that did not seem to have been included in the Camden Assembly discussions, e.g., overheating in summer heatwaves, and ‘green’ roofing or solar panels on their roofs. Result: a note to Origin directors BUT the response was that Origin Housing wasn’t able yet to respond to these conclusions.

Improving recycling and composting with tea bags

  1. Many Origin residents use teabags when they drink tea. Most teabags have plastic in them and so shouldn’t be sent for recycling. One Origin resident has set up a service for neighbours, to collect used teabags, empty and compost their contents, and then put the bags in with ordinary waste. Result: 100s more teabags have been kept from polluting items intended for recycling, and a lot more tea has been composted.

 And then the Sustainability Genie spoke . . .
“Surely” the Spirit finally said. “What we’ve heard sounds impressive. Origin residents have done all this off their own bat. And it’s happened because residents, or some at least, can see how to take small steps that can not only make a difference, but also enable people to feel positive because they have actually achieved something that’s good, both for them and their wider community.”
How did they do that?

  • They were aware of bad effects locally, and their causes
  • They knew their neighbours
  • They took an initiative
  • They knew what difference they wanted to make
  • They slowed down, and changed tack, when management weren’t able to share their interests
  • They turned their feelings of powerlessness into constructive action.

Best wishes to all for 2023!
The Climate Change Group, Spotlight