Sustainable Backyards

Why grow our own food?

We always hear that we should be growing our own food – but why? Here are some of the ideas gathered from permaculture students who were given 4 minutes to think:

Earth Care

  • attracts beneficial insects
  • gets people outside … leading to increased appreciation of nature
  • knowing inputs and processes of the food system (including energy and chemicals used)

People Care

  • good for mental health
  • superior taste and nutrition
  • know the history of the food, include how it has been grown (e.g. if/which chemicals have been added)
  • gets people outside … leading to increased appreciation of nature

Fair Share

  • greater self-sufficiency in the case of disasters and in general
  • sharing food with neighbours contributes to greater sense of community and community resilience


Using our space well

To get the most out of the garden/space we have (whether that is in terms of productivity, beauty, or any other function and/or use), there are some things to consider.

  1. Start by drawing a plan of the garden/space you have, including any existing features you do not plan on changing (e.g. buildings, trees, etc.).
  2. Identify north. This helps identify the path of the Sun, and also the direction of prevailing wind(s).
  3. Identify any areas that are very dry or wet.
  4. Identify any wind paths or corridors, and any sheltered areas.
  5. Consider the path of the Sun (including seasonal variations) and shade.  The Andrew Marsh 3D Sun Path shows sun paths for around the world and across the year.
  6. Identify frosty spots (they are good for killing some bugs, but also good for killing some plants!)
  7. Identify slopes and other topographical features.
  8. Understand soil type and fertility.
  9. Identify zones. Here are some useful links to understanding zones from a permaculture perspective: Zones and Sectors by Deep Green Permaculture, and Zones from

Whatever the weather

Understanding and knowing what to expect (kind of, at least) from local weather can be helpful when designing your garden/space.

Some useful websites include:

  • – said to be very accurate
  • Ventusky – app for interactive maps of real-time weather systems
  • MetService – New Zealand specific and probably most well known
  • MetVUW – New Zealand specific, lots of detailed information
  • – mesmerising maps of real-time winds and currents

So, for example, in the Waikato Region there is highly changeable weather, high humidity, frequent frosts during winter (because we are in a basin), and not a lot of wind (leading to a lot of fog).

Wherever you are, it is worth considering your local weather and climate conditions. It is also important for us to start considering how different climate change scenarios might affect our local climate and weather.

Planning and designing a garden 

Tania Ashman (gardener, permaculturalist, inspirational friend, and more) has come up with some ‘top tips’ for creating a productive, biodiverse, resource-efficient, ecologically considerate garden:

Keep a diary so you can organise, observe and interact. You can look back on what you did when and learn from successes and failures. A gardening calendar can be useful so you know when to sow and when to harvest different plants.

20161002_134819Choose plants that complement each other. Different plants have different needs, so planting those that have similar needs together. For example, planting ones with similar watering needs together means you avoid over- or under-watering.

You can plant in guilds to help promote the health and productivity of the different species.

Practice crop rotation. Try not to keep growing the same thing in the same year season after season, as this is not good for the soil (upon which your whole garden depends). Check this page for really easy-to-follow information on how to crop rotate.

We are wanting to create ecological systems, so letting some plants go to seed means they can self sow for next season. Also, even if there are ‘weeds’ growing… unless you are going to put something else where they are, consider just leaving them there because anything is better than bare soil.

Don’t leave soil bare, as it strips it of nutrients and life. The only time soil is bare in nature is after an ecological disaster… we don’t want this in our gardens.

Tania Ashman

If you want to start actually loving ‘weeds’, you might want to check out this post by Tenth Acre Farm. Or if you would still like to get rid of weeds, but without dangerous chemicals, try salt, vinegar, or boiling water.

Closing the loop

Nature is amazing in that it naturally composts everything biodegradable for us. By having a compost heap/bin/system in our garden it means we can actually collect the compost and obtain a yield. It is a great way of managing our kitchen and organic waste so that it does not end up in landfill, where it causes many environmental problems.

Animals in the garden – why and how?

Bees are a keystone species. Our food systems, environment, and life as we know it is directly dependent on bees. So keeping bees is great for the Earth. And you get honey and more! In fact, read 16 Reasons Why Beekeeping is Awesome for a comprehensive and highly convincing article about why beekeeping is amazing.

Or if you prefer melodic creations by Flo and Jean (with some adult language)…

Chickens and ducks, on the other hand, offer weeding and waste management services, as well as giving eggs and making (sometimes) very loving pets.

Tania says that no matter how we design our gardens, it is good to remember that they aren’t just for us. Gardens provide nature spaces for us but also other species. So when we are creating these spaces, how can we encourage other species to enjoy them?

Here are some ideas:

How are permaculture principles expressed in your garden?




Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet

Energy bills seem to be designed to be difficult to understand. That way, we just pay the bill and don’t ask too many questions! Understanding our energy bills are the first step to reducing them, and ringing your provider to ask them to talk you through it can be helpful. For New Zealand, Canstar Blue has prepared a resource to understanding energy tariffs and Powerswitch helps Kiwis find the energy provider that will be most cost effective for their household.

Below is a diagram from EECA that offers some useful first steps to reducing energy use.

Infographic with tips on saving energy in your home

Approximately a third of the energy a household uses is on heating (and/or cooling). To reduce your need to heat or cool your home, this post about Passive Solar Design and this post about making warm and dry homes can help.

Another third of our energy goes to providing us with hot water. To reduce this component of our energy use, check out Cool Ways To Save On Hot Water.

The final third of our energy use is associated with lighting and appliances.

The Lighting section of the EECA website offers great support for all things relating to lighting, including choosing the right bulbs, looking at down lights, and making the most of natural light.

EECA also have a brilliant section on Appliances, which looks at how to effectively use different appliances, and how to learn about how energy efficient they are.

Each programmable appliance (dishwasher, microwave, computer, etc) or appliance that uses a remote control (TV, stereo, etc) uses approximately $20 NZD a year in standby mode. That is for each appliance. Conducting a simple appliance audit (i.e. walk around your home and note how many electrical appliances you have, and also how many of those are on standby) can help identify sources of electricity inefficiency and wastage.

Tip: Stand up and walk around to do the audit, rather than sitting in one place and trying to do it from memory – it will be much more accurate this way!

And finally, if you want to learn how to monitor the electricity consumption of different appliances or your home in general, check out this video:

Remember: increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste is often about taking a lot of small steps, rather than a few larger ones. But the small steps accumulate into big effects!



Your Home: Cold and Damp, or Warm and Dry?

As someone who was raised in Germany and now lives in New Zealand, I’ve got to say I love this videoclip!

Most of New Zealand’s houses have poor thermal performance. In winter, most of them are cold and damp. The remainder are warm but expensive to run. Ian Mayes says the problem is most Kiwis have not lived in warm, dry homes; poor quality homes have been normalised. It is so common, that  parts of the Census is dedicated to asking whether your home is cold and whether these is mould growing in it.

Thermo-Hygrometer: Modell HM 16We should all have thermo hygrometers in our homes. If everyone had one, there would be riots as people realise they are paying so much for cold, damp, poorly performing homes.

Ian Mayes, 2018

Making our homes warmer

Our homes can be made warmer by heating them well and reducing heat loss.


There are different ways we can heat out homes, and EECA has created a great resource to compare the options, depending on the size and use of the space you want to heat.

Reducing Heat Loss

Tips on insulating and reducing heat loss can be found in this blog post but here’s a little bit of extra info about my favourite topic – windows!

A single pane of glass only has an R-value of between 0.15 and 0.19. Standard double glazing is around R 0.26 and the fanciest double glazing might reach R 0.6.

Because even the best double glazed windows still have low insulating abilities, curtaining is very important.

The 4 rules for good curtaining are:

  • Cover ALL glass. Windows. Doors. Funny glazed spots. The lot.
  • Always 2+ layers. It is the air around and between layers that insulates, rather than the material itself. A single layer doesn’t trap nearly as much heat as a double layer.
  • Energy saving curtains should close off airflow over the window glass
    Image from

    Stop reverse convection currents. By having curtains touching the floor, or  pelmets, or both!

  • Good behaviour. Close curtains in the afternoon, to stop daytime heat escaping. Open curtains in the morning to allow heat in during the day.

Making our homes drier

Ventilation and moisture control can help us make homes drier.

Note: Ventilation is different to draughts in that the former is a chosen air exchange, while draughts are uncontrolled air exchanges and heat leakages.

We want less moisture in our homes because it makes them healthier and less prone to mould. Good ventilation combined with other moisture control practices can reduce relative humidity.

Once again, EECA have created a great resource for tackling dampness and reducing indoor moisture, which can be found here:


Three Waters

In Aotearoa New Zealand we like to divide water into three types:

  • Supply water (which can be potable or non-potable)
  • Storm water
  • Waste water

At least 60 million litres of water are abstracted from the Waikato River every day. This is treated to drinking water standard – at great financial cost. Approximately 500,000l will be drunk, so 59,500,000 litres of water made drinkable will not be consumed. One must ask whether this is a good use of resources and money!

rain harvest

What’s more, most homes have a water collection device on them: a roof and pipes! But we do not harvest it; we just send it straight to stormwater.

Stan Abbott is very knowledgeable about rainwater harvesting. His published materials can be useful for people wishing to learn more about rainwater harvesting. Some links to his work include:

Checklist for a good rainwater collecting system:

  • Clean roof (would you lick it?).
  • Clean and clear gutters.
  • Have slopes on the gutters, to avoid water stagnation.
  • Good tank (Plastic can leach. Concrete is self-healing, maintains a good pH and regulates temperature).
  • Minimise bends and curves in the piping if possible.
  • Have a ‘first flush diverter’, which diverts the first 200 (or so) litres of water, as these will contain the most impurities and sludge.
  • Put the tank out of the way, e.g. under garage or drive.
  • Try to get the water as clean as possible before it enters the tank, as then there is less you have to process afterwards.
  • Have a calming inlet (e.g. at the bottom of the tank) so that it does not splash and disturb water/sediment when it enters.
  • Have tap part the way up the tank, so as to avoid sediment. A 1 micron filter should be sufficient.
  • Install overflow at the bottom, as it will self-clean the water by sucking up sediment.


Managing stormwater

  • If you are harvesting rainwater, you are already storing/managing a lot of it
  • Avoid concrete and impenetrable surfaces, as these result in surface run off and erosion.
  • Only gather the water you will use – let the rest go into the ground.
  • Keep it on land as long as possible. Our modern stormwater management systems try to get stormwater into rivers as quickly as possible, leading to flooding and erosion. If we can slow the rate it enters waterways, the results are less extreme.
waikato river
Waikato River (image from Pixabay)

Managing ‘Waste’ water (‘waste’, because we should reconceptualise it to ‘nutrient-inriched-water)

It can be useful to separate black and grey water.

  • Grey water has high volumes and low toxicity
  • Black water has low volume and high levels of BODs and suspended solids

Blackwater can be sent to a worm farm for processing, before being sent to a reed bed. Grey water can go straight to reed bed.

waste water

Passive Solar Design – Building an Eco Home

Bigger Picture

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the majority of homes perform to a very poor standard. They are cold, damp, expensive to run, and making us sick. Each year there are 1600 deaths caused or contributed to by poor housing conditions.

New homes are usually also poorly designed; constructed to minimum Building Code standards.

‘The worst house you are legally allowed to build’

In addition, we are building these poor quality homes on some of the world’s best farming land. And not with diverse people and households in mind:

BRANZ is an independent and impartial research, testing, consulting and information company providing services and resources for the building industry – They have created a resource ‘Measuring our sustainability progress: Benchmarking New Zealand’s New Detached Residential Housing Stock’.

According to the World Health Organisation, the following temperatures lead to health implications:

  • Less than 16oC affects respiratory system
  • Less than 12oC affects cardiovascular system

(These values are for healthy adults. Children, elderly and people with illness or disabilities require at least 2 degrees warmer than these values.)

Living areas should not fall below 18 degrees and bedrooms should not fall below 16 degrees. Yet in New Zealand, 17.9% of living rooms are colder than 18 degrees during winter months (despite active heating), and 13.6% of bedrooms are colder than 12 degrees. In addition, 55% of our homes have visible mould.


This is making people sick, but we can do a lot to avoid it.

For example, it has been calculated that for every $1 you invest into insulating your home, you save $6-10 through direct cost savings (e.g. power bill) and indirect savings (e.g. lower medical bills, better school attendance and education, etc.).

When designing or retrofitting a home, it is important to consider the three factors:


If you try to cut on one, you will end up cutting on the others as well. We spend 55% of our lives in our home, so it is important to make sure we make it good.

pexels-photo-280221.jpegPassive Solar Design


There are 5 key principles to Passive Solar Design:

* Orientation

* Insulation

* Thermal Mass

* Airtightness

* Shading and venting

Orientation (inverse North and South if you are in the Northern Hemisphere!)

By getting the shape and size of the building right, and by facing it to Solar North, we are able to harvest ‘free heat’. This is because windows are energy loss and gain points. Some windows lose more than they gain. Too much glazing leads to too much heat loss. Most glazing should be to the North, with moderate amounts to the East and West. There should be as little glazing as possible to the South.


Surface area is also a factor to consider. The greater the surface area, the greater the heat loss; the more compact the shape, the less heat will be lost. We can think about this in terms of volume: perimeter ratio.

surface area

It is also important to be aware of corners, as they are difficult to insulate. Every external corner is a weak point in the structure, and the more corners, the greater the thermal weakness of the building.


energy use

There are 3 sources of heat in the home:

  1. Solar heat that is harvested
  2. Occupant load (heat generated through people living, e.g. bodies, appliances, etc.)
  3. Added heat (e.g. heat pump, etc.)

In New Zealand, our main aim (for most of the year) is to keep warm air inside. To do this, we need to insulate.

In an uninsulated house, heat can be expected to be lost in roughly the following ways:


Insulating different places (e.g. ceiling, underfloor, etc.), reduces the overall heat loss speed. However, it is important to think about the whole thermal envelope of the house. It does not make sense to just insulate one area of the house as the heat will then just escape somewhere else. It can be likened to being naked in the cold: it helps if you put on a jacket, but to get truly warm you will also need trousers, socks, hat, etc. 3 jackets but no trousers/socks/hat is not as useful as one of each.

When insulating, another important factor to consider are thermal bridges. Thermal bridges are materials that connect from the inside to the outside of the house. It is very easy to lose heat through thermal bridges. As with house design, edges are often the weak point of insulation, as well.

Curtaining windows is important because windows allow a lot of heat loss. There are 4 rules to good curtaining:

  • Curtain all glass (or cover it in some way if it is not possible to put a curtain on)
  • Have 2 (or more) layers
  • Stop convection currents through pelmets and having curtains to the floor
  • Good curtain behaviour – close curtains before heat is lost, around 4pm.

The diagram below illustrates the difference between a well and poorly performing curtain:


Shading and Venting (inverse North and South if you are in the Northern Hemisphere!)

shadingNorth facing side needs to have shading that is moveable and non-permanent, because it has to be able to let sun in in winter and shade from sun in summer à otherwise it will be too cold in winter and too hot in summer.

Deciduous trees are not the answer to shading in this climate, as even with no leaves they still shade at least 50% of light and heat.

The ways to keep the home cool in summer are:

  • Insulation (keeps home cool in summer, as well as warm in winter)
  • Shading
  • Ventilation


Generally, we over ventilate New Zealand homes, plus many homes are draughty. Draughts are uncontrolled air exchanges, while ventilation is when it is controlled (i.e. we have taken control over when and how the air change takes place).

We need to change air in the house every day to ensure good health. We want to do it quickly, not trickling (e.g. through draughts and by leaving a window open a little bit). By opening a window in one part of the house and another on the other side, we can create a path of air movement so that the air exchange is quick. This is especially good in winter, as fast air exchange means thermal mass will not cool down, and so the home will remain warm.

Thermal Mass


Further Resources

“Remember, we don’t have to do everything; we just need to do as much as we can. And if more of us do more, that will be enough; we don’t all have to do it all.” – Ian Mayes

Enough is Enough (2): Complementary and Alternative Economies

(Based on workshop by Dr Anna Casey-Cox, Dr Kyro Selket, and Dr Rose Black)

The Economy as an Iceberg 

With so much focus on the financial economy, it is easy to forget there is a diversity of economies, trade and exchange relationships operating in our communities.

The visible part of the iceberg (from Community Economics) represents the capitalist market-based economy, but there is so much of the iceberg we cannot see; so many other relationships and exchanges happening.

Here are some of the alternative economies and complementary economies that exist:



Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

In cultural anthropology, reciprocity refers to the non-market exchange of goods or labour ranging from direct barter (immediate exchange) to forms of gift exchange where a return is eventually expected (delayed exchange) as in the exchange of birthday gifts.


Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward is an economy/interaction where if one is the recipient of a good or service, instead of ‘returning the favour’, a good or service is repaid to someone else.

There are many ways to get involved in local, national and international Pay If Forward initiatives.


Timebanking is similar to Pay It Forward economics in that you receive a good or service from someone without the exchange of money, but you do not necessarily return the exchange with them. Timebanking is an example of a complementary currency, where the currency is time instead of money.

Local Currency

Another example of complementary currency is a local currency, which is currency that can be spent in a particular geographical locality or at participating organisations.

A local currency acts as a complementary currency to a national currency, rather than replacing it, and aims to encourage spending within a local community, especially with locally owned businesses.


There are a growing number of local currencies. Some that are receiving a lot of attention for their success are the Brixton Pound and the Totnes Pound, though there are many, many more.

Collaborative Consumption and the Sharing Economy

Also known as shareconomy,collaborative economy, or peer economy, a common academic definition of the term refers to a hybrid market model (in between renting and gift giving) of peer-to-peer exchange.


Collaborative consumption is an arrangement where participants share access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership.


Cooperatives are enterprises owned and governed by people that have voluntarily united to meet their needs and aspirations. CO-OP offers useful information to understanding what cooperatives are and how they work.


Improving The Current System

As well as incorporating alternative economies into our current system (and recognising where they are already incorporated), there are also ways that we can improve on the business-as-usual approach: even if we want to operate in the capitalist, conventional system, we can improve on it by embedding our values in the way we do business.

Some examples of how we can do this are by being committed to the welfare of the people we work with (e.g. by paying a Living Wage or ensuring Fair Trade standards are upheld), the communities we work in, and the local and global environment.

Social Enterprises are an emerging type of business that work towards social value (like traditional charities) and financial value (like traditional businesses): they are the place where not-for-profit meets for-profit to for not-just-for-profit organisations.

social enterprise.png
Image from Ākina Foundation, who support social enterprises across Aotearoa New Zealand


Urban Biodiversity – Fairfield Project

Urban areas are not only the living areas of humans, but flora and fauna, as well.

Bruce Clarkson, University of Waikato

No automatic alt text available.
The Fairfield Project

Urban design is not just about designing for humans, but for all species. For us, green spaces provide areas for recreation, physical and spiritual well-being, mental health, and more. For other species, they can provide food, safety, and temporary or permanent shelter.

The Fairfield Project is an amazing project taking place in one of Hamilton’s suburbs.

With a population that is youthful, ethnically diverse, and sometimes financially constrained, the Fairfield and Enderley communities decided that there needed to be a local area that encouraged people -especially young people- to be out in nature and involved in their neighbourhood. And so The Fairfield Project came about.

Situated behind Fairfield college was a large, under-used grass paddock, bordered by a neglected gully filled with some native plants and all the invasive weed species one could think of.

fairfield project
Urban green spaces are the lungs of a city

In an effort to stop it being sold to private developers who would build houses on it, the community came together to transform the area into a hub of learning, ecological restoration, and community capacity building.

Now, work has begun to restore the gully, and replant some of the grassy areas so it can return to native bush. An organic community garden has also been established in the north east corner; with 6-8 small allotment plots, and a large kumara area maintained by the local Tongan community. There are plans to develop a living classroom, a plant nursery, an edible orchard, a rongoā garden, and more.

School and other education groups visit, care for and learn in the space, and it is hoped that as the project continues, more an more community groups will use and enjoy the space.

Lynette Rogers, co-ordinator of The Fairfield Project, says the decision-making is always a participatory process and council is sought from mana whenua and local kaumātua.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, tree, plant, child, outdoor and nature
Image from

Further resources:

Gifts that Don’t Cost the Earth

At this time of year, a lot of people (myself included) do a lot of present giving. I love giving gifts, it is definitely one of my strongest love language.

However I also believe our high-consumption lifestyles, with fast turn around and disposal of products, is one of the main drivers of the devastating environmental and social issues we face today.

For a while I wasn’t sure how to manage these seemingly conflicting ideas, but I have found some ways to reconcile them, and to give gifts that still uphold my social and environmental values. They aren’t fool-proof, but they are a start

1a) Make your own gifts

1b) Support others who make stuff

Left: handmade apron by my friend Surrayya. Right top: handmade candle by my friend Gemma who started the social enterprise Betley.  Right bottom: homemade reusable facial wipes – a gift for me from my mother-in-law 🙂

2) Op-shopping and second-hand gifts. Just before Christmas is probably not the best time to score bargains, but the post-Christmas season makes up for it! I think there is sometimes the thought that it is ‘cheap’ to give second hand shop items as gifts, but I have to disagree – you can find some really great gifts there!

Plus, the environmental and social impacts of purchasing items second-hand, rather that new, are considerably lower. The article Why Thrift gives a good introduction to these ideas.

Second hand shop finds: brand new DVD for my daughter, and a beautiful dress from my mum.

3) Find shops, brands, and companies that have values that align with yours. A fair proportion of the gifts I give are trying-to-be-more-ethical/sustainable variations of conventional gifts (chocolate, alcohol, candles, shower/bath sets, etc) or other items that I know someone might like.

non conventional
Left to right: wine from growers that have won sustainability awards, Fair Trade chocolate from Trade Aid, and Ethique plastic-free bathroom products.
Less conventional gifts that are doing good things for the planet: plastic free and synthetic chemical free deodorant, bamboo toothbrush, reusable drinking straws.

4) Gifting experiences. Like all the ideas mentioned above, this option is not necessarily more socially or environmentally ethical (I am thinking of when I went on a jet boat which was an experience… but the experience was essentially burn-as-much-fuel-as-possible-in-20-minutes-while-scaring-local-wildlife), but nevertheless giving experiences is not giving STUFF.

5) Pay It Forward Gifting

This can be done informally, through your own neighbourhoods or community, or through organisations that do this work internationally.

Oxfam is able to do amazing work around the world, thanks to money it receives by people purchasing Oxfam Unwrapped gifts.

But perhaps the thing that I have to remember most…

6) I am giving to others, not myself. Sometimes, for some people, the thing they will love most, or the things that will be most useful, or most appreciated, does not fit my criteria.

At this point I remind myself that throughout the year I try to engage in low and conscious consumerism, and so maybe once in a while it is OK to buy something that would not usually be on my shopping list.

I mean, I am not going to buy a novelty item that will just be discarded. I am not going to buy something that completely conflicts with my values (toy gun, fois gras, McDonalds vouchers, etc). But, well, if something someone will really appreciate comes in a bit of plastic packaging, or if it isn’t Fair Trade, or the brand doesn’t have any environmental accreditation…. oh well!

To end this post, I am going to finish with George Monbiot’s article from 2012, which -sadly- has ever-growing relevance: The Gift Of Death

Image result
For great, thought-provoking reading, visit

Energy and Technology Solutions (for a More Sustainable Future)

Most of the systems we rely on every day are energy intensive and require large resource inputs; whether it be our food, health, transport or other commodities. We are producing, consuming and discarding resources at an alarming rate, and our current energy generation and consumption behaviours are unsustainable. With ecological and social problems occurring on a global scale, it is important to consider alternative technology and energy options for a more sustainable future.


Energy is the ability to do work and is required or present in pretty much everything at all times. Understanding this, and understanding the different types of energy that exist can help us create energy and technology solutions to different problems and challenges we face. Doing this in a way that considers people and planet helps create technology and energy use options that are more appropriate.

Our modern societies are heavily reliant on fossil carbon energy (let’s stop calling it a fossil fuel, as that means we see it as an energy resource we want to burn), and while access to this energy has transformed our lives in previously unimaginable ways, it does pose some major concerns.

Once concern is that fossil carbons are a non-renewable energy source, and because we will not be accessible indefinitely, the lifestyles and resource use patterns we have become accustomed to are not sustainable.

Another concern is the huge environmental impacts the combustion of fossil carbons is having, because this process releases large volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.

Humans are creative and resourceful, and we are continually developing and changing our ways of doing things. Here are some interesting things we are doing to try and address our energy and technology challenges…

Renewable Energy

Technology to harvest and store renewable energy is continuously improving. Renewable energy can be harvested on small and large scales.


Image may contain: 5 people, people standing
When we had our domestic solar system installed.


Giant solar system in Japan (

This video offers an introduction to renewable energy sources:

Geoengineering ‘Solutions’ (please note the inverted commas!)

Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change.

Oxford Geoengineering Programme 2017

There are many different geoengineering techniques, which are usually divided into one of two categories:

  1. Solar Radiation Management, which aim to reflect sunlight back into space before they have a warming effect on the atmosphere. Examples include cloud seeding, space mirrors, and pumping aerosols into the stratosphere.
  2. Carbon Dioxide Removal, which aim to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Examples include ocean fertilisation, creating biochar as a carbon sink, and carbon dioxide scrubbers (such as mechanical trees).

Appropriate Technology


Appropriate technology is an ideological movement that involves small-scale, labor-intensive, energy efficient, environmentally sound, people-centered, and locally controlled projects.

Pachamama Alliance

This video by Urban Farmer Curtis Stone asks viewers to consider the purposes of technology, and the differences between Hi-Tech and Appropriate Tech.

Further reading:

Appropriate Technology – understanding what it is, with examples (Pachamama Alliance)

10 Cases of Appropriate Technology (ListVerse)

Creating a Culture with a Backbone

I was recently asked to talk about ‘creating a culture with a backbone’ at an even run by Seed Waikato, an organisation that connects young people with their city (Hamilton, New Zealand).

Initially, I wasn’t sure I was the right person to talk: my mum is from the Carribbean, my dad is from Belgium, I was born in the UK, and raised mainly in Germany. Quite frankly, I don’t feel allegiance to any particular country, and can barely scrape together a cultural identity. I actually only moved here, to Aotearoa and to Hamilton, about 4 and a half years ago, knowing no-one except my partner and his immediate family.

So what could I possibly contribute to a conversation about culture in New Zealand, and in Hamilton? 

Well, I decided I could offer a story of creating a community for oneself. Communities create culture, and by far the strongest community I have ever had in my life is the one I have here, in Kirikiriroa Hamilton.

As I just mentioned, I came to this city knowing no-one except my partner, and his family that I had met once before. I also happened to be very pregnant and was pretty daunted by the whole parenting thing. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I had no village; I didn’t know where to find support, I didn’t have friends, I was in this new country, with people I barely knew, it was pretty dire for a little while.

And so out of sheer necessity, I went and ‘put myself out there’, and here I am today with more social capital that I have ever had in my life, surrounded by aroha (love), manaakitanga (caring), people that have got my back, and groups that will be there when things get tough. That is an awesome community to be part of; that is an awesome culture to be part of.

So how does one do it? How can we create a strong, resilient, caring community; a culture of compassion, respect, and love. A culture with a backbone? Well, I have 5 ideas that I believe are key. (I should make it cleat: I am not trying to suggest this is a step-by-step plan or anything, it’s not ‘follow these steps and thou shalt find your community’, I guess these are maybe… things to look out for, factors to consider, opportunities to seize, or something like that.)

So, in no particular order, here are 5 ways I believe we can create strong communities:

Number 1: Value diversity

This one is important because it is easy for us to find our comfortable circle of friends: the ones we hang out with because we share interests, political views, religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds, or experiences of life. It is great to talk to people that think the same way as we do; we get our ideas confirmed, we know what we are supposed to do and how to act, we feel supported, validated, that is all great.

It is also important that we get tested sometimes, that sometimes our beliefs about the world get challenged, and that sometimes we are put outside out comfort zone. When we hang out with people whose language, or socio-economic background, or lived experience of the world is different to our own, our perspective gets widened. And it is through this I believe we get a better understanding of the world, and of people. And that in turn helps foster more compassion, less misunderstanding, less fear, and more peaceful, mutually-respectful relationships in our lives, and in wider society.

1) value diversity.png
For me, two organisations I have been involved with that have helped me diversify my social groups is IHC (who work with people living with intellectual disabilities and have a brilliant befriending programme through which I met my friend Gail, in the top-right photo), and also the Red Cross Refugee Resettlement Programme (who link volunteers with refugee families new to the country, and your role is to welcome them and help them settle in their new home). 
Through both these organisations you start off as a volunteer, but you may find yourself building long-lasting friendships with people that, let’s face it, you might otherwise never have the opportunity to meet and hang out with.

Number two: Be inclusive


This photo was taken at The Serve, which is a community meal that takes place every night in town. I love this photo because my daughter, right at the back, started off by saying ‘mum can you take a photo of me with my new friend’ (the guy that’s holding her). Then someone else joined in, then more and more people started photobombing… I had to zoom out and step back to get everyone in, it was brilliant; she was just taken in to, and embraced by, this community.

And I feel the photo epitomises the purpose of this community meal; because anyone and everyone can come. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, it’s not divided into the people that receive food and the people that provide food; there’s just people that come and cook and serve food, and people that come and eat food, and people do a bit of both.

It’s free, it’s 365 days a year, no strings attached, just people coming for a kai and korero (food and chat) from all walks of life; poor and rich, all genders, all ethnicities, all ages, people working, people unemployed, all of us just together as people. Thing like that makes a strong foundation for a society in which we can all thrive.

Number three: Use your talents (or just your interests, if you don’t feel you’ve got many talents)

3) Use your talents

I suppose I see this as finding something you enjoy and doing something with it. I don’t really mean “find your passion and live every minute doing it” (by all means try, but even if you can’t make your passion your career or spend all you time following your dreams… that doesn’t mean you can’t do it at all!).

I am a bit passionate about looking after the planet and I am lucky enough to work doing the thing I love; I work at Go Eco, the local Environment Centre, and basically I get to spend my days talking to people about nature and caring for the Earth. But it isn’t full time work, and, like many millennials, I have accepted a lower income and less hours in order to have employment that I feel is meaningful.

But, you know, even if you still are in a grinding job you don’t like, that doesn’t mean you can’t find your niche and a community that supports you doing the things you love. And when we spend time doing things we love (or things we enjoy) -whether it is an hour a week or 50 hours a week- and we find people that enjoy doing it with us, well those relationships build you up; they build your community.

Number four: Educate yourself

4) educate yourself
Graduating from my first Maori language course, at the Kirikiriroa Marae.

Ignorance breeds distrust, and distrust breaks communities. I believe we need to understand our local community if we want to be a part of it.

When I came to New Zealand and to Hamilton I had no knowledge at all of any local or national history; I knew nothing about the customs and culture of Aotearoa. But, once I started learning the story of this place, once I began to understand a bit more about the history and culture of the people here… it’s like you access a whole new level in this place we call home.

For example, for my first year here I didn’t know anything about the strange and beautiful building that was just around the corner from where I live. Turns out, it is pretty darn spectacular! I am talking about the Kirikiriroa Marae; a Matawaka marae, which means they welcome all people, from all iwi, ethnicities and nationalities. It has a kohanga reo (total immersion Maori early learning centre), which my daughter attended for a few years, they have emergency accommodation, a rehabilitation centre, a centre for people living with disabilities, and a health clinic where you only pay $10 to see your doctor. They also grow food, make carvings, and have a meeting space… all these things that make for a strong community: right there, and accessible as soon as we take time to look and learn about what’s happening around us. So, I’d like to challenge anyone who doesn’t know their neighbourhood that well to take a walk tomorrow, or in the next few days, and see what you find.

Number five: Give, generously

5) give generously.pngThis photo is of me still at the Kirikiriroa Marae. I go there every week to sort their rubbish and rescue things that can be recycled. It isn’t very glamorous, but the reason I do it is because I get a lot from the Marae services and community, and so it is important to give, too. Because it is not fair to get, and get, and get, but not give back.

I got to send my daughter to daycare there for two years and I didn’t pay a cent. I go to the doctors there, and pay a fraction of what I would pay in other places nearby. They have a table there with free stuff; where you can get clothes and food and all sorts of things. I could pay money for these services in other places but here I don’t have to, so I repay in time instead.

I think reciprocity, and not taking things/services/people for granted is definitely the backbone to a strong community, and a strong culture that has caring for people at its heart. And to be honest I think it doesn’t really matter what people give to their community: giving can be money, time, resources, anything… anything we have in surplus.

We currently have a culture that is very much dominated by the idea of the accumulation of material wealth, and getting as much as we can for as little as possible. I don’t think that helps create strong communities. In fact I think it does the opposite. I personally feel if we have our needs met, why not use the rest, that surplus, to help others meet their needs?

So those are my 5 ideas for creating strong, loving communities. I think if we want to create a culture that cares for people (and for the environment) it is important to start with ourselves, and by being welcoming of diversity, being inclusive, doing our part, continuing to learn, and being generous… well that’s a great place to start!

And I am just going to end with a call to action: your community needs you just as much as you need them, and I have found that when volunteering you receive just as much as (if not more than) what you give. So please, if you are not already volunteering your time in your community… join something! 🙂

Arohanui (huge love) ❤


Other speakers:

Kylee Black

Kylee is a social entrepreneur who is committed to cultivating community and enabling the best in others. In 2009, Kylee founded the not-for-profit Spirit Sparkplugs in order to mobilise community awareness and support of young people with rare disease. Volunteers made items for over 1200 care and encouragement packages, which were sent to nine different countries. Kylee identified a need in this area through her own journey with rare disease and, in 2011, she received an International Heart of Gold award for her contributions. In 2016, Kylee shared her own story in a video for Enabling Good Lives, which became a catalyst for building the platform she has today. Kylee takes every opportunity to use this platform to speak out about important issues facing our society.

Kylee now runs her own speaking and consultancy business and is currently involved in projects with MyCare, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Social Development. As an established public speaker, Kylee has addressed a variety of people within different settings, including parliament, national and international conferences, and a range of local events. Kylee’s goal is to see young people encouraged and supported in redefining their own circumstances, challenging perceptions of how we view others and ourselves, and enabled to live the best life that they can.

Parekawhia McLean

Parekawhia has been with the Transport Agency since September 2016 after five and a half years as the Chief Executive Officer of Waikato-Tainui. Parekawhia has more than 15 years of public policy and public sector management experience including being an advisor to three Prime Ministers whilst at DPMC. Additionally for 7 years she was director of her own company dedicated to advancing the creative potential of Māori knowledge, people and resources.

She brings significant stakeholder management and governance experience to the Transport Agency. Parekawhia is a member of the Waikato Means Business forum, a Director of Sports Waikato, the National Science Resilience Challenge and a Trustee of the Momentum Philanthropic Foundation. Parekawhia has Masters’ degrees in Social Sciences from the University of Waikato and in Public Administration and Development Policy from the University of Wisconsin. In 2014, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Waikato for public policy and business.