Back to Newsroom

Press release 25th Apr 2022

The Times – Show Off Your Green Credentials

These are mysterious times. Not only is it cool to care, but it’s also the only game in town. Famously, unless we cut emissions now and stop pillaging the Earth, we are toast as a species.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate report, published last week, makes for bleak reading. But it does contain a few shafts of light. One being that we can at least get our bloated world-ending personal consumption footprints under control; consumer behaviour is factored into the IPCC’s plan for the first time. Indeed, sustainable living needs to be seen as a “status symbol”, the UN body said. Of course, status consumption is normally viewed as eco-hooliganism — traditionally we don’t just want to keep up with the Joneses but to roar past them at 100mph in a gas-guzzling vehicle. However, this report suggests we could flip this habit to our advantage. If the status symbols we lust after are green (ie reduce emissions) then our footprints will fall.

In fact, green status symbols are already a thing. Just look at the cachet now associated with rented fashion (worn by Carrie Johnson, the TV presenter Laura Whitmore and the actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas among others). This year, for the first time the Oscar goody bags reportedly included “natural capital” — a plot of land in Scotland to be rewilded. And it’s probably easier to count the number of A-listers who don’t drive an electric vehicle (EV) than those who do. It’s not just them. In the UK drivers bought more electric cars in March than in the whole of 2019: 39,315 new battery electric vehicle registrations in one month versus 37,850, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The Sussexes left Windsor Castle in May 2018 in an E-Type Jaguar that had been converted to electric power
NOAM GALAI/GC IMAGES
This is not traditional conspicuous consumption — a display of wealth — but more about conscious consumption; it can be equally conspicuous, but it’s also a display of values. A green status symbol disrupts old-world systems, which are based on fossil fuels as much as possible.

How to choose one that matters? We don’t want anything that’s a little bit less awful: we want as close to zero as possible, carbon-neutral and completely circular (not semi-circular, ie recycled once). Instead of “made in Italy” we want B Corporation, or B Corp, certification, which is only given to companies that have had their entire supply chain evaluated by the B Lab organisation and meet high levels of environmental and social transparency. It’s a difficult accreditation to get, separating the wheat from the chaff in the process. Look out for the logo and consume accordingly. Here are some to consider:

Ground-source heat pump
Who would have predicted that the eco-equivalent of a boiler could become a consumer crush? But here we are: the ground-source heat pump (GSHP) is the hottest gadget in town, severing your heating needs from Putin-funding, climate-destroying fossil fuels (space and water heating needs to drop by 95 per cent in UK households to reach net-zero targets). The GSHP is probably best explained as a reverse fridge. Instead of burning fossil fuel for heat, it uses fluid (water and antifreeze) to absorb heat from the ground. The fluid is pumped around a network of ground pipes (you need a big garden) passing through a heat exchange, where the heat is transferred to your heating system (and excess is stored in your hot water tank).

For urban properties, there’s an air-source version (taking in heat from the air). Those lucky householders who have a ground-source system sometimes report that it raises the temperature of the location where the pipes are by a couple of degrees. If so, you might find you can grow some more exotic vegetables in your veg patch (also a status symbol) all year round, or keep llamas, which don’t like frosty feet. Finally, heat pumps work best in well-insulated homes, and while insulation might not be conspicuous, it’s definitely a hot green buy — particularly if it’s from UK wool, a by-product of sheep farming that struggles to find a market.

Tesla
Leonardo DiCaprio, a longstanding environmental campaigner, was an early Tesla adopter and visited a Tesla factory for his documentary Before the Flood. Be prepared for competition (waiting lists are the hallmark of a status symbol). It may seem counterintuitive, but the real status Tesla is the “affordable” (deeply subjective, I know), more sensible Model 3 version, as opposed to the ethical midlife crisis sports car.

That’s because this is the model described by Top Gear as “one of the most important big deals of the 21st century so far”. It’s a four-door hatchback and has a claimed 278-mile range, but its true power is that it is designed to displace all other old-style cars. Wave bye-bye to your old BMW.

EV rapid home charger
You’ll need a charger to go with that, of course. The government’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme is still open to homeowners who live in flats and people in rental accommodation and offers discounts of up to £350 on home-charging installation. Even if you don’t qualify for help, they are a worthwhile investment if you have the means.

Some home chargers look like plastic hosepipe holders, but the Andersen A2 is a stylish Scandi-style cabinet and you can get different finishes to coordinate with your walls. It hides all the cables, is smart-controlled with the Konnect+ app and is Tesla-friendly. For extra status, build a carport with solar panels and you can integrate them into the charging system, taking your EV off-grid. Official: you will be the envy of your neighbours.

Upcycle your Bentley
In the past, when you recycled something it lost value. This is known as downcycling. In this new era, we’re looking to make the material more valuable by upcycling. The hottest upcycled thing on the market is the classic car. The old car you turn electric is also the most sustainable. This is because the carbon footprint of manufacturing a new car is huge, running from six tonnes of CO2e for a basic Citroën to 35 tonnes for a top-of-the-range Land Rover Discovery. The engineer David Lorenz founded Lunaz and now does a roaring trade in upcycling gas-guzzling vintage cars, turning them into EVs. Like all great luxury products, there’s no rate card for this — it depends on the make and model, but converting an Aston Martin DB6 costs at least £733,000. Last year David Beckham became an investor.

B Corp shoes
Many famous high-rollers have displayed their wealth in their footwear. But now it’s time to walk the eco-talk with shoes from Prota Fiori (which means “protect the flowers”). These are made from premium “circular materials”, including bio-based leather alternatives, and crafted in Italian artisan workshops. The brand founder Jennifer Stucko has worked for Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren, but hankered after conscious rather than conspicuous consumption and has gone to the trouble to get her business certified as a B Corp.

Rewilding has grown in popularity recently
GETTY IMAGES

Rewild a patch of upland
As the contents of the Oscar goody bags showed, the eco-smart thing to buy or rent now is land: not to build on or bank, but to turn back to nature in as authentic and dramatic a way as possible. Rewilding is about enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repairing damaged ecosystems and restoring degraded soils so that wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats and are able to function as nature intended, locking in carbon and nutrients. Or, as estate agency Savills put it with marginally less poetry in its rewilding brochure, “Rewilding is at one end of a land-use intensity spectrum.” According to letsrewild.org, it takes £8 a month to rent a football-field-sized plot of upland (the marginal land that’s not suitable for agriculture) in the UK and rewild it. As the same organisation points out, collectively we spend £200 million a year on bird food, which could pay to rewild land equivalent to the size of Shropshire.

Flower meadows at home
If you’re expecting any kudos for an Astroturf lawn (even one with a plughole to mitigate flooding), I have bad news: the highest-status lawns are the ones that have gone to seed and are nourishing the bees. Even ride-on mowers are verboten — no fossil-fuel-powered lawn care, please. There is nothing chicer than a wildflower meadow. To do this right, you’ll want professional help: the landscape gardener Sarah Price, who became famous for the naturalised prairies at the Olympic Park in London, and won a gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, is one of the leading proponents of wildflower meadows, while Garry Holter from Demeter Grassland Management is a leading consultant on grazing for natural horsemanship but is also an expert on wildflower meadows.

A certificate in business sustainability management
It’s no good to be a follower of climate science these days: you need to be a leader, especially if you’re in business. But who has time for a PhD when they are trying to steer their company towards carbon neutrality? The hottest sustainability education right now (according to everyone on LinkedIn, apparently) is more of a professional planetary pause: an eight-week course in business sustainability management at the University of Cambridge, designed to give businesspeople the “tools to pioneer meaningful change throughout” their organisations. Whether this leads to the scale and pace of change that’s needed to avert disaster remains to be seen, but we admire the effort and the framed certificate.

An eco-anxiety counsellor
Emissions are the highest they’ve been, the window to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is about to slam shut, the Arctic is melting and wildfires raging . . . I could go on. It’s not surprising that climate anxiety, described by the American Psychological Association as a “chronic fear of environmental doom”, is mainstream. Recent studies have shown climate or eco-anxiety is being felt by a significant number of young people and adults across the world. The therapeutic world is stepping in to help this very specific form of anxiety, which is based in fact and entirely understandable; for example, climatepsychologists.com runs programmes that aim to turn anxiety into action. Or if you’re not in the market for dedicated counselling sessions, invest in the book Turn the Tide on Climate Anxiety by Megan Kennedy-Woodard and Dr Patrick Kennedy-Williams, with a foreword by the model Arizona Muse. Carry your copy in public with the cover facing outwards. There is no stigma here, we’re in this together.

The actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas has been associated with the rented-fashion trend
MIKE COPPOLA/GETTY IMAGES

Deluxe fashion-rental subscription
Given the size of our environmental footprints in industrialised nations, it’s not a good look to consume anything new. Fortunately, fashion rental platforms have made recirculating clothes and accessories much cooler than acquisition. At Cocoon (cocoonclub.co.uk, named for the Chanel bag) you can take out a subscription for an upscale handbag library that gives you monthly access to traditional fashion status symbols — eye-wateringly expensive handbags from Chanel, Balenciaga, Prada et al. The higher the tier of your subscription membership, the higher the status of the bags you can access. Top membership gives you access to two bags from the Deluxe collection, valued between £1,500 and £3,500, for £99 a month.

Circular beauty
When it comes to global recycling, the scales have fallen from our eyes. It turns out that plastic, for example, is pretty difficult to recycle, and we’ve all had our fill of exposés, seeing our plastic empties dumped abroad. Consequently, popping a few tubs and tubes of indeterminate plastic in the recycling won’t win you any plaudits. Circular systems, however, are the way forward. This is when all the apparatus of packaging is in refillable containers and any refill pouches are returnable to the brand, leaving you waste-free. Cosmetics come with a lot of clutter, but the New Zealand brand Emma Lewisham, available through Net-a-Porter, is a thing of beauty. From moisturisers, toners, serums and scrubs to face washes, it is a certified circular packaging system and the refill pouches are collected and recycled. Of course, it’s a B Corp.