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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Friday, 24 February 2006, 10:20 GMT
Ethical man's ethical sister
Ethical man Justin Rowlatt has received an open letter from his sister with some advice on where to start...

Justin Rowlatt with his sister Cordelia

Dear Justin,

A few thoughts on your Newsnight project.

I believe that the damage to the environment caused by people could be reduced very quickly. All it would take is for everyone to concentrate on changing their own behaviour.

Justin Rowlatt is Ethical Man
Imagine how quickly the world would change if everyone started trying their best to live a "green" lifestyle tomorrow. The more people who make an effort, the closer we are to that happening. Moreover, this is probably the only way to change things. If we wait for someone else (the government) to act, we will be waiting a long time, possibly for ever.

To me, trying to live sustainably does not feel like a chore. I like walking and cycling and travelling by public transport. It gives me quality time with my kids or by myself and I feel more part of the community. I also like eating food I have grown and using local shops.

My advice to you is to try to become aware of the impact anything you do could have on the environment.


A basic principle for buying anything (services, goods, banking, etc) is that any time you pay anyone for anything you are paying them to keep doing what they are doing.

Steer clear of supermarkets and grow as much of your own food as you can - if you have no space, grow sprouts
Ask yourself how was this produced, who produced it and how did it get here?

Do you want to pay someone to transport apples in from New Zealand in the English apple season or corned beef from the ex-rainforests of Brazil?

Local shop keepers are a fantastic resource of information on where their goods come from and you can explain to them why you make the decisions you do, which could influence their purchasing decisions. Steer clear of supermarkets and grow as much of your own food as you can. If you have no space, grow sprouts.

Cordelia Rowlatt's shopping trolley
How to shop without a car

Shop local and find a way to carry stuff. I use my trolley. This is a sack truck to which I attach boxes of shopping, one on top of the other.

I can get an enormous amount of stuff on the trolley, and it has pneumatic wheels, so it can go up and down steps reasonably easily.

It is also a talking point with other shoppers. I have had older women comment that they would have loved to have had one like it when they were shopping for a family, and people often joke about it.

But this is an opportunity for me to tease them a little and tell them to trade in their car and get a trolley instead.

In a gentle and fun way it opens up the question, "Do you really need your car?"

Getting around

Get to know your local public transport system. This takes a bit of time and effort, but it is worth it. If you don't like it - tell the company and the local council, or, if you are in a position to, make a TV programme about it.

Car sharing, car hire and taxis

It is far better to use taxis occasionally, hire a car, or join a car sharing group
One of the hardest problems to solve if you don't have a car is making occasional trips at awkward times and to awkward places.

You may be able to cut those down, but often they are to visit people you really want to see. Remember that a lot of the greenhouse gases given off by cars are those given off in the manufacturing process.

It is far better to use taxis occasionally, hire a car, or join a car sharing group than to own your own private family car.


Don't go by air!


Use a supplier who buys from only sustainable sources. Turn things off when you're not using them, don't leave things on stand-by, don't boil more water than you need in the kettle.

Use energy efficient light bulbs - I choose on the basis of light quality, which varies enormously from company to company.

Keep fridges and freezers in cool places, they will have to work less hard to keep cool.

Don't use a tumble drier.


Get a solar water heating panel. As gas prices rise they become more and more worthwhile financially, and should reduce your gas bill by about 70% over a year and plant some trees to help make up for the other 30%.

Water conservation

Get a water butt. Share bath water or use it to water the garden. Fix dripping taps. Have showers (not power showers) instead of baths. Put a brick in your toilet cistern to reduce the water used when you flush. Flush less often. Get a composting toilet. OK, maybe you could leave that 'till next year.


Get a rat-proof compost bin and compost everything you can; all food scraps, cardboard, etc. Remember that if it ever lived it can be composted, although things like oil are best left to experts.

Waste disposal

Look for things that are not over-packaged. Find homes for things you don't want: take them to charity shops, furniture reuse projects; sell or give things away through ebay or your local FreeAds newspaper or the notice board in your local shop. Recycle, (of course).

Oh, and definitely don't have too many kids.

Good luck!

Your Ethical Sister

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