BBC TwoNewsnight
Page last updated at 14:29 GMT, Wednesday, 22 February 2006

I am the ethical man

By Justin Rowlatt
BBC Newsnight

I want to be clear about one thing right from the start - it wasn't my idea to become Newsnight's "ethical man".

Justin Rowlatt

I'm new to the programme. I started full time at the beginning of February, and on my first day the editor, Peter Barron, called me into his office.

What did I think about the idea of a journalist trying to live as ethical a lifestyle as possible over the course of a year, he wanted to know.

What did I think? It was my first day; I thought it was a great idea!

That's why, with the help and guidance of one of the programme's finest producers, Sara Afshar, I am about to embark on a new life. But first I've got a question: what on earth is an "ethical lifestyle"?

Lifestyle check

I reckon my family already tick a few "ethical boxes" - admittedly, largely thanks to the influence of my wife, Bee.

Clearly this is going to be a bigger project than I first thought, but I am not about to plough up the lawn for potatoes and start breeding pigs

We get organic fruit and vegetables delivered each week (by an LPG powered vehicle, the company assures us). The same company supplies us with locally sourced eggs, bacon and milk. Other food and household supplies we get from the supermarket and I'll pick up a few extras from a convenience store on the way home from work. By the end of the week our council recycling box is usually full.

We do have a car - a two litre petrol estate - but we hardly ever use it; just for shopping and trips on the weekend with our two young daughters, Eva and Zola.

My wife and I take public transport to work and the girls walk to school. We usually have two foreign holidays a year but, since the girls were born, more often than not these will be in Europe.

Ethical guru

Not bad, I think, perhaps a little smugly - and then I meet Leo Hickman.

Leo knows a thing or two about ethical living - he's written a couple of books on the subject - and I'm hoping he'll become something of an "ethical guru".

A paper recycling bin
Are you already leading an ethical life?

Ethical living, he tells me, means thinking through every single aspect of my life and considering the impact all my actions and decisions have on the environment and on other people.

Clearly this is going to be a bigger project than I first thought. But I am not about to plough up the lawn for potatoes and start breeding pigs. This "experiment" is not about running off to the country to live the Good Life.

What we want to explore is what a pretty ordinary family can do to reduce their impact on the environment without - in my case - moving out of my terraced house in central London.

Oh, and one other thing. I'm told that I have to pick up the tab for any changes I need to make to my lifestyle in the course of this project. Well, in that case Peter, that wind turbine will probably have to wait.

Carbon footprint

So where to start? Obviously I can't change everything at once so here's the deal - every month I will take a different area of my life and try and give it a complete ethical overhaul. And I'm hoping that you - Newsnight's viewers - will help me.

The first area of my life to get an ethical audit is going to be my home. How much of a so-called "carbon footprint" does our house stamp upon the earth?

View "My carbon footprint"

I want to hear from anyone who can help me. Do you have any advice for me as I take my first tentative steps towards a more ethical life? Do you live in a low energy home, for example?

Perhaps you have devised some novel way of heating or powering your home. Maybe you know someone who has come up with a revolutionary way of saving energy? Or - and this is my producer Sara's favourite - perhaps you would like to see me undertake some devilishly tough ethical task.

If so we want to hear from you. Quite possibly we'll also want to visit you, and maybe even feature your ethical lifestyle on Newsnight.

Send you advice, suggestions and - yes, Sara - tasks to us via the form below. You can also write to:

The ethical man
BBC Newsnight
Room G680
Television Centre
Wood Lane
London W12 7RJ

Please tell us if you do not wish us to publish your e-mail.

Your e-mail address

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Join the climate experiment
14 Feb 06 |  Newsnight


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