Now for the Good News

Here are some green pioneers whose work is worth celebrating.

By Christine Ottery and George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website 10th September 2010.

Faced with the mind-numbing bad news about the environment over recent months, a couple of us at the Guardian decided to try to cheer ourselves up by finding examples of the right kind of environmental change. We set out to find 50 green pioneers, people who are making a practical difference but whose work is not yet widely known.

Here’s a small selection of the projects that remind us that all is not yet lost – the first 10 are people whose initiatives we find particularly inspiring. There are bound to be plenty of interesting people we have missed, so please add your own suggestions.

Alison Skeat

Alison is the founder of Dirty Hands, a food-growing community project in Newham, east London. She obtained a derelict, concreted site from the council on the social housing estate where she lives. She started mobilising the community to grow food there in builders’ bags. People on the estate grow seedlings in propagators on their windowsills, then transplant them into the bags and the raised beds they have built. The project teaches growing skills and helps to create a stronger sense of community.

Barbara Jones

Barbara brought straw-bale building to the UK in 1994. She is the founder of Amazonails, which has been involved in the construction of over 100 straw buildings and has pioneered a wide range of techniques to simplify construction, save energy and reduce other environmental impacts. Amazonails also teaches green building techniques, with an emphasis on getting women involved in construction.

Andrew King and Jamie Hartzell

Andrew and Jamie founded the Ethical Property Company in the 1980s. They buy buildings, improve their environmental performance and turn them into centres which house charities, social enterprises, community and campaign groups. They offer affordable rents and places where different groups can share skills and ideas. They have raised millions of pounds from investors, and have set up centres all over Britain (and one in Brussels).

John and Mark Gapper

John has worked for or with the Brighton & Hove city parks department since the 1960s. Noticing that wild flower species were declining, he set up a seed bank. As there was nowhere suitable for storage, he planted and harvested the seeds every year to keep the stocks replenished. His seed bank has been used to restore local ecosystems, greatly boosting their diversity and encouraging the return of rare species of butterflies and other insects. His son Mark is helping him to boost his production of wildflowers and create new flowering meadows.

David Bowser

David converted a contaminated former sewage works near Rotherham into a beautiful nature therapy park for the elderly and disabled. The restoration involved moving 18 tonnes of scrap metal and fly-tipped rubbish and 26 tonnes of contaminated soil and rubble. It now has free public access and is cited as a world-class example of bio-diversity restoration and nature therapy.

Tim Helweg-Larsen

Tim is director of the Public Interest Research Centre. PIRC turns technical research about climate change, energy and economics into engaging material that laypeople can immediately grasp. Among its recent work is the Offshore Valuation report, showing how much offshore renewable energy the UK can tap into, and Climate Safety, which updates climate science since the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Damian Grounds

Damian set up the Help Save Bees campaign to raise awareness about the disappearance of native British bees and explain the small but important steps people can take to help reverse their decline, such as cutting out insecticides, sponsoring meadows, installing bee shelters and creating bee-friendly gardens. He managed to organise a meeting about the issue at 10 Downing Street while Gordon Brown was prime minister.

Robert Matthams

Robert set up his company,, with the aim of reducing the amount of haulage on the roads. His customers describe what they need moved, where to and from and when, and freight companies which are already making similar trips bid for their business. The point is to ensure that lorries which would otherwise be mostly empty top up their loads, reducing unnecessary trips.

Brian Hartley and Peter Ingledew

Brian and Peter are the inventor and developer of the Eco Kettle. According to independent trials, it saves 30% of the energy people normally use in boiling water. By pressing a button on the top of the kettle you can specify the exact amount of water you want to boil. You can also programme it to heat water to below boiling point. 200,000 have been sold so far in the UK, and have saved an estimated 1000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Mark Shearer and Nick Gardner

Mark and Nick set up Project Dirt to encourage different green initiatives to collaborate and share their expertise and experience, and to help people who want to be greener learn from existing schemes. They have created a community of almost 400 projects with shared interests, exchanging news and ideas and ensuring that people don’t keep inventing the wheel.

Dave Miller and Jim Blackthorne

Dave and Jim founded Bikeworks, which refurbishes and recycles old bikes, trains homeless people and helps people to start cycling.

Bruce MacLennan

Bruce has provided much of the energy behind the Inverness Green Gym (which restores local habitats) and has done a great deal to encourage people like himself – people with learning difficulties – to participate.

Polly Higgins

Polly is a barrister who has formulated the declaration of planetary rights, which seeks to invest ecosystems with similar legal safeguards to those won by humans after the second world war.

Barbara Hilton

Barbara is a lichen specialist who works with Opal – Open Air Laboratories – helping laypeople to conduct scientific research on the environment.

Ben Todd

Ben is the executive director of Arcola Theatre in Hackney, London, which uses performance to promote sustainability and aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral theatre.

Joanna Bellingham

Joanna has set up a managed allotment system near Godalming in Surrey, using pigs to clear the land and helping people who don’t have time to do everything themselves to grow their own vegetables.

Darren Taylor

Darren is the founder of, which recycles and refurbishes computers and uses them to train unemployed and low-paid people.

Colin Crooks

Colin is CEO of Green-works, which employs disadvantaged people to recycle and rebuild office furniture, then donates much of it to the developing world.

Pam Farley

Pam, who is in her 80s, is the Woodland Trust volunteer of the year, and the driving force behind the creation of its Heartwood forest in Hertfordshire.

John Williamson

John is the UK’s first certified Passivhaus architect (qualified to design buildings with minimal energy use) and builder of the country’s first non-domestic Passivhaus project.

Shawn Streeter

Shawn, who is 15, has inspired many other young people to join conservation efforts in Southwater, East Sussex, and leads Health Walks through the countryside there.

Martin Cake

Martin runs the Christmas Tree Man, the UK’s only environmentally friendly Christmas tree service, which delivers living trees in pots and returns them to the ground after Christmas.

Sarah Lucy Smith and Rose Cleary-Southwood

Sarah and Rose founded Green Knickers, which makes fairtrade pants out of organic cotton, bamboo and hemp.

Matthew Prescott

Matthew is the founder of E-day and E-Meters, which encourages people to reduce their energy consumption.

Richard Mehmed

Richard founded the Brighton and Hove wood recycling project, which collects, salvages and re-uses waste wood.

Ben Moss and Nicola Padden

Ben and Nicola, inspired by Richard (above) started a similar project in Bristol.

John Booth

John is the director of Eigg Electric, which has helped the Eigg islanders to cut their home energy use by 47% and produce 90% of their electricity from renewables.

Lucy Pedler

Lucy founded and runs the Green Register, which promotes sustainable practices in the UK’s construction industry.

Nigel Lowthrop

Nigel started the Hill Holt Wood project, which teaches disadvantaged young people sustainable woodland forestry and other skills such as maths.

James Wallace

James is the founder of Walkit, which maps walking routes around UK cities.

Amelia Gregory

Amelia edits Amelia’s magazine which brings together environmental issues with art, music and fashion to find creative solutions.

Jane Lucy

Jane worked with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to set up the Landshare project, which puts people who want to grow food in touch with those who have spare land.

Rachel DuBois and Malcom Handoll

Rachel and Malcolm founded the Touchwood Project in the Orkney Islands, which seeks to improve the local environment and teach people outdoor skills.

Rosemary Randall

Rosemary is the founder and director of Cambridge Carbon Footprint, which uses innovative techniques to overcome psychological barriers to acting on climate change.

Jenny Holden

Jenny is field officer for the Scottish Beaver Trial, the first ever official reintroduction of a native mammal in the UK.

Julie Brown

Julie farms previously disused land in Hackney, London, producing organic fruit and vegetables.

John Doggart

John is the chairman of the Sustainable Energy Academy, Milton Keynes, which teaches and demonstrates energy saving in homes.

Esther Boyd

Esther set up Sustainable Moseley, which seeks to make Moseley in Birmingham a greener and pleasanter place in which to live.

Mark Curr and Adam Bell

Mark and Adam run Active in Ashington, which encourages people in their part of Northumberland to walk and cycle more.

Ed Bulmer

Ed co-founded Seed homes, which are built quickly and cheaply from eco-friendly materials.

Adam Kennerly

Adam is chief executive of Household Energy Services, which helps people reduce their home energy consumption.

Julian Atkinson

Julian is managing director of Atkinson, which makes sustainable coffins.

Carolyn Hassan

Carolyn runs the Knowle West Media Centre in Bristol that helps train young people and develop local environmental projects.

Graham Wiles

Graham is project manager of the Green Business Network, which helps to promote schemes that combine social inclusion and environmental protection.

Robert O’Dowd

Robert is executive producer of Dott Cornwall, which tackles environmental and community issues through better design.

Joe Turner

Joe is the founder of Freedom Clothing Project, which seeks to get the fashion industry to take environmental issues seriously.

Jamie Burdett

Jamie co-runs Worn Again, an upcycling scheme which turns discarded textiles into designer products.

Mary Evelyn Wilson

Mary helped set up a community group called Park View 4U, which has transformed semi-derelict playing fields in Lytham, Lancashire, into a much-loved community space.

Chris Sherlock

Chris is a bat conservationist who trains people in Birmingham and the Black Country to identify and record bats and help protect them.

Jonathon Robinson

Jonathon founded The Hub, which has set up places across four continents where people can come together to tackle social and environmental challenges.