Tuesday, 31 March 2009

quote of the day

‘Such essays cannot await the permanence of
the book. They do not belong in the learned
journal. They resist packaging in periodicals.’
Ivan Illich

Monday, 30 March 2009

Brown accused of poor green show

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been accused by a think tank of failing to harness his economic stimulus for the benefit of the environment.
The New Economics Foundation says that among rich nations, the UK has invested the least in clean technology.
It called UK performance pathetic, but the Treasury said the fiscal stimulus could not be looked at in isolation.
It said it expected to drive over £50bn of investment in the low-carbon sector between 2008 and 2011.
Meanwhile, three other reports out on Monday call for world leaders to use the financial crisis to create a new economy that benefits the environment.
They say the world financial stimulus package can improve security for energy, food and water supplies if it is invested wisely.
The analysis by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) criticises the UK for spending just over £100m - 0.0083% of its national wealth (GDP) - on genuinely new and additional measures to benefit the environment.
Andrew Sims, the report's author, said: "This is a fraction of the amount given to RBS staff in bonuses. The prime minister says he is creating green jobs but this is a fantasy. The government's performance is pathetic."
'Comprehensive framework'
A Treasury spokesman said it was unfair to look at the green element of the fiscal stimulus in isolation.
He said: "The UK already has a comprehensive policy framework in place, expected to drive over £50bn of investment in the low-carbon sector between 2008 and 2011, including supporting renewable energy, upgrading grid infrastructure, enhancing energy efficiency and improving public transport.
"This must be considered when comparing different countries' approaches to low-carbon investment and the development of a low-carbon economy."
Meanwhile Lord Stern, a former UK Treasury chief economic adviser, is launching a report commissioned by the German government.
It calls for massive investment by the G20 nations in energy efficiency and new electricity grids; supporting markets for clean technology; pushing up the price of emitting carbon; and initiating large-scale demonstration projects for carbon capture and storage and concentrated solar and energy storage.
His study expresses confidence that G20 leaders can build a low-carbon economy which brings the world back on track for growth and prosperity.
In the UK, a report by Greenpeace, the Federation of Master Builders and the Liberal Democrats accuses the government of missing an open goal by creating jobs through new roads and subsidies to car firms when the cash could have been spent on more insulation.
They say this creates more jobs for the money, while also cutting energy demand and emissions.
'More work needed'
The report says the government's new green measures will delay the growth of UK carbon emissions by five-and-a-half-hours by the end of 2011.
Another report, this time by HSBC, suggests that South Korea and China have spent more than 1% of their GDP on green growth.
Pavan Sukhdev, the banker who heads the UN's green economy drive, told BBC News: "The UK needs to recognise this is a competitive situation.
"They need to compete into the future where there will be a cost for carbon, there will be low-carbon development models in rich and poor nations, and the UK will do itself and its entrepreneurial community an injustice if it does not provide them with at least the same competitive position that the rest of the world has.
"I think a bit more work is needed with Prime Minister Brown."

quote of the day

“Saving civilization is not
a spectator sport.”
Lester R. Brown
President, Earth Policy Institute

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Friday, 27 March 2009

earth hour 09

On Saturday 28 March 2009 at 8.30pm, people around the world will turn off their lights for one hour as part of WWF's Earth Hour, to show their support for global action to tackle climate change.
WWF has organised the event as a chance for people to vote for more international action to be taken to tackle global warming. Switching off lights is a vote for Earth, while leaving them on is a vote for global warming.
WWF is urging the world to vote Earth and reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year.
For more information, log onto www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour


Wednesday, 25 March 2009

check out this! http://growireland.net/

The Latest News from this great site...

GrowIreland.net updated
Updated Blogs
The Abandoned Garden
Grow Ireland
Cork Guerrilla Gardening
Proposed Allotments in Kells
Organic Growing Pains
Ightermurragh Allotments
Hydro Farm Allotments
Quality Time Allotments
Growing Indoors
Martin Apiaries
Grow Ireland Blog News
The Limerick GreenAcre Allotments
Christendom Active Gardens & Allotments (CAGA)

a response from Merrick to earlier post

the critical few words which disguise the real issue - why are world food prices rising so quickly and dramatically when our technologies are so advanced.....the fact is that they are not advanced, our technologies are not sustainable because they are totally reliant on oil and natural gas. The entire agricultural system is designed to eradicate the natural characteristics of our soils at the same time the industrialisation of agriculture has meant that we are almost totally disconnected from food growing. When the internal memo from van de Veer (CEO of Shell) was leaked it was, to my knowledge, the first time the commercial sector admitted where we are with oil and natural gas....he said that the world will not be able to meet the demands for oil and natural gas beyond 2015, we had a paper to the Board of Natural England that came from the Government and gave a worse picture for oil....2014 but a better one for gas. The fact is that technology for finding oil has advanced hugely over a period when new finds are in free fall.

So where are we, world food reserves are at there lowest driven by three factors, failing world crops because of climate change, India and China eating more meat ( 8 tons of corn to produce 1 ton of meat ) and America providing subsidies thinking that they can grow the contents of fuel tanks ( to grow bio fuels enough to sustain the current road transport would require a change from the 70% of land currently growing food ). The political focus is on the economy, energy security and, just about, on climate change. The real crisis for the world, more serious for the UK, is that our entire food supply systems are not sustainable. Look at the signs - nitrate cost rose from £130 per ton to £320 a ton in a year ( made from natural gas ) and Triple Super Phosphate from £180 a ton to £600 in the same period. Food growing is the second largest consumer of oil to transport and all the technological emphasis is on finding alternatives for energy and transport....comparatively nothing is being done on the scale that is needed to find alternative forms of growing food. Our fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, cultivation, transportation, processing, storage and all the other processes in agriculture will become increasingly more difficult. The situation is about to become very serious but we can do something about it, we need to harness both the green and wet mantle that covers the earth, 'relying on today's sunshine and give up on relying on yesterdays' ( who said that?).

planting in playgrounds

Planting in playgrounds is gaining interest and

Needs a school / group of schools

We have a design based on five p's

Method - do - design - do -develop - do - describe - do - design etc

Include kids at all stages and parents grannies business ( for sponsored planting beds etc) and teachers in shaping the emerging learning

Sunday, 22 March 2009

gardeners world has some good things this week on planting

edible walls
balcony planting
communal space planting
roadside veggy patches
community herbs

going vertical as well as horizontal is a really interesting way of using space

Friday, 20 March 2009

revised version of earlier text - the failure of leadership

Surprising as it is, most schools, colleges and universities are doing remarkably little with regard to educating their communities about the ecological crisis. Instead we seem to be turning out vast numbers of students who have little or no sense of the interrelatedness of us humans to the rest of the planet. Noel Perrin - the Dartmouth College Professor who died in 2004 once said 'neither the trustees nor the administration seems to believe that a crisis is coming.' He argued that they comprehend the situation intellectually, but they have no capability to act, to actually do anything directly to attend to the problem. 
I don’t think that much has changed in the subsequent years.

Thinking about this further it is perhaps the greatest example of what Otto Scharmer (2008) at MIT calls leadership ‘blindspots’ - a manifest failure of leadership across our entire education system to attend to the most pressing issue that faces us – be we student, teacher, parent, business or whatever. It is not a simple add on component of the existing operational approach, it is a profound realignment - I feel that the world beyond education is getting this much, much quicker, than the world within education. 

What I think we need to do is to build a new constituency for the future - a means to an end that will ensure the centrality of eco-literacy in all educational activity from building design, to curriculum, to training.

To achieve this I think we need to push on a number of interconnected fronts, there are many ways forward, but here is one route, what I call the five ‘p’s.

Principles: What guides educational practice if we take seriously the idea that all education is environmental education? We can have a dialogue in all schools and school communities on the values, principles, knowledge and perspective that illuminates the point that the crisis is of education, not in education.

Purpose: Why are we doing this? We can pursue the idea that all education is a preparation for life, and an understanding of ecology and environment is a vitally important thing for all of us to learn – and not simply geared to the pursuit of an ever expanding economy, continuous growth in wealth and the creation of the next generation of passive consumers, but for quality of life. We need young people to understand how human systems interrelate to natural systems, how we can build ecologically resilient communities and ecologically literate economies. These can be financially viable, but they need to be symbiotic with nature, not exploitative of it.

Priorities: What do we focus out limited time upon to get best effect? Leadership is about making choices, and those choices can be profoundly influential upon organisation. Margaret Wheatley (2005) reminds us that the type of leadership style we adopt can have immense effect upon the organization that is created. From developing relationships with a shared sense of purpose, exchanging and creating information, learning constantly, paying attention to the results of our efforts, coadapting, coevolving, developing wisdom as we learn, staying clear about our purpose, being alert to changes from all directions, we fashion a particular type of operational culture, and we choose to work in this way it is not an accident. Living systems provide us with the insight that whilst we might give some form to our organization through the relationships we choose to prioritise as important, it is highly predictable that the organization will evolve from these ways of working and forms into something new, because of exquisite capacities to create meaning together, to communicate, and to notice what’s going on in the moment we can adapt and grow from this approach to learning and leading together. These are capacities that give any organization a sense of energy and possibility, it derives from a choice to work in particular ways, ways that support self-organisation. This approach to knowledge construction and use, focuses leaders attention on the centrality of their role in creating the conditions for others to consider, design and generate novel solutions.
Practice: What do we do? We can have a renaissance of practical, simple ideas that focus on creating the connection for all people - from things like designing the edible school playground (1) as a place of direct ecological education as a connection from self to soil, to a review of how all elements of the curriculum are focused on making connections and seeing the interrelatedness of all things, to the fundamental pedagogic approaches we adopt to inform out work which can adopt the lessons of living systems and apply these insights into real life challenges.

Presence: How do we sustain and manage what we do for future benefit? Presence is an intimate way of looking at profound change and learning developed from an original idea from Peter Senge (2006) and colleagues.
In this case we can use nature as a guide and teacher, rather than something to be exploited. We can learn that sustainability is a community practice - it challenges us to learn how to connect and work collectively to solve problems together, we can learn that the real world is our optimal learning environment, it offers us a vast array of ways of learning by doing, we can learn that sustainable living is rooted into a profound knowledge of place - knowing ourselves in our environment teaches us how we can see others and see how we influence the lives of others. 

Our current educational leadership discourse fails, completely, to make this simple set of connections - it is time to begin to learn and apply these lessons.

Scharmer, O. (2008) Theory U: Learning from the future as it emerges. Cambridge, MA SOL
Senge, P. (206) Presence – Human purpose and the field of the future. Cambridge, MA SOL
Wheatley, M. (2005) Finding our way: leadership in uncertain times. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. San Francisco

(1) contact me for more information at paul.clarke@iqea.com

Thursday, 19 March 2009


You learn an awful lot about nature when you keep bees. In our valley this year we have lost nearly 60% of the bee colonies over winter. I was thinking about this over a cup of tea and wondering about knowledge transfer. Bee keeping is a fascinating, learned craft. Why can't we do what many village schools do in Moldova and teach children how to care for bees?
I know...health and safety, etc etc...but there is something to explore and take seriously here, we are losing our collective knowledge about bees as the older generation who have kept them all their lives move on and less and less people are coming forward. Seems a no brainer to me...

quote of the day

At the Mumbai International Airport there is a quote written across the wall of the main waiting area from Ghandi - ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.
I was thinking about this in relation to values - how to explain the values part of the creating community concept - it goes a bit like this - change is possible through small, meaningful actions at a local level. It is only by changing
our immediate environment that we can pave the way for change on a larger scale. In other words, we
can make the world a better place, but it will only happen when large numbers of people join together and
practise what they believe in.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

failure of leadership

Surprising as it is, most schools, colleges and universities are doing remarkably little with regard to educating their communities about the ecological crisis. Instead we seem to be turning out vast numbers of students who have little or no sense of the interrelatedness of us to the planet. Noel Perrin - the Dartmouth Professor who died in 2004 once said 'neither the trustees nor the administration seems to believe that a crisis is coming.' He argued that they comprehend the situation intellectually, but they have no capability to act, to actually do anything directly to attend to the problem.
Thinking about this further it is perhaps the greatest example of what Otto Scharmer at MIT calls leadership blindspots - a manifest failure of leadership across our entire education system to attend to the most pressing issue that faces us - be we student, teacher, parent, business or whatever. It is not a simple add on component of the existing operational approach, it is a profound realignment - I feel that the world beyond education is getting this much, much quicker, than the world within education.
What I think we need to do is to build a new constituency for the future - a means to an end that will ensure the centrality of ecoliteracy in all educational activity from building design, to curriculum, to training. It needs to focus on values, principles, knowledge and perspective that illuminates the crisis is of education, not in education - we urgently need to educate along the lines of ecology - how human systems interrelate to natural systems, how we can build ecologically resilient communities and ecologically literate economies, we need to have a renaissance of ideas that focus on creating the connection - from simple things like designing the school playground as a place of direct ecological education as an edible connection from self to soil, through to a review of how all elements of the curriculum we educate our students through is focused on making connections, learning the lessons of living systems - we use nature as a guide and teacher, rather than something to be exploited, we learn that sustainability is a community practice - it challenges us to learn how to connect and work collectively to solve problems together, we learn that the real world is our optimal learning environment, it offers us a vast array of ways of learning by doing, we learn that sustainable living is rooted into a profound knowledge of place - knowing ourselves in our environment teaches us how we can see others and see how we influence the lives of others.
Our current educational leadership discourse fails, completely, to make this simple set of connections - it is time to learn these lessons.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

quote of the day

Richard Heinberg at the Post Carbon Institute:
We have waited too long to develop alternative energy sources and there is also the likelihood that these alternative energy sources won't be able to power industrial societies in the way that fossil fuels have. People have to understand that we have created a way of life that is fundamentally unsustainable and that doesn't mean that it's just ecologically irresponsible, it means that it can't continue.

From bbc 13, 03, 09 @ 20.00 hours bbc iplayer

100th post

so I made the century! Thanks to all who read, comment and have helped me to slowly fashion the book which is coming along pretty well - your ideas are inspiring and delightful - new chapters to come in the net fortnight all being well.
Spending this weekend putting up a poly-tunnel - never think that simple jobs will go easily. It is starting to look like it should but following instructions, connecting brain to hand to saw etc is not my best thing. It was a good day though, cold wind this morning but warmed up as the day progressed. I am now sitting doing the blog and drinking a beer and listening to the Pixies - the meaning of life.
with love P x

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

rainwater catchment systems

Rainwater Catchment Systems are really simple - think of a huge tub, a way for water to run into the big tub, and, depending on what you want to do with it - a filter system and perhaps a pump.
If you look at something like a 6,000 gallon capacity then for every inch of rain, it is possible to harvest and store 200 gallons of water.
I was thinking about it for school playgrounds, building on the edible play area idea - it gives people (old and young) a simple, living educational tool illustrating issues of rain and stormwater runoff, experiments with water pollution and purity, measure and capture over time can illustrate drought and change in local weather, erosion, and providing a real world application of core mathematical concepts.
Tanks are widely available, and I guess someone somewhere will soon produce a recycled polypropylene version.

don't forget to keep looking at this incredible site!!!!!


dialogue - space - shaping ideas together

on the road as ever and thinking about a conversation earlier in the day with my good friend Michael Fielding who I don't see often enough.

Michael is currently exploring the idea of creating space - space for people to meet and talk, have the space to indulge in real conversation and not just exchange information. It seems to me that this allies closely with some of David Bohms work - the difference between dialogue and conversation. My particular interest comes in two ways - we will shortly be inviting people together through incredible ed. to the latest of our fundraiser / gatherings and we want to know something of their stories that they bring to the event. We have two questions to explore - what does IET mean to you? And, why does a focus on food matter? This focus will hopefully generate material for us in two areas of the metric - one related to observation, the other related to maintenance. Observation - because we are going to encourage people to report their learning journeys with IET - both personal and collective and we hope to think through these observations to establish some pointers for motives, commitments and understandings and values that bring them to the project - Maintenance - because we hope that the material will also generate some guidance for us in the form of things which people would like to achieve next, as well as some guidance towards what matters to them. We will see.

What we can do is consider carefully the space we create for the dialogue to occur, conducive to opening up, supportive but probing, purposeful for them individually and for us as a collective so it helps us to move the thinking forward into the next phase.

Monday, 9 March 2009

myth busting

Some notes with additional quotes etc form recent re-reading of Earth in Mind by David Orr

Ignorance is solvable: it is an inescapable part of the human condition

Science and technology can ‘manage planet earth’ (Scientific American 1989)

Knowledge is increasing: information is increasing

Education can restore what we have dismantled: modern curriculum is fragmented - most people graduate with little or no sense of unity of things

Purpose of education to give students upward mobility and success: (Merton, T. 1985) ‘Mass production of people literally unfit for anything except an elaborate and completely artificial charade’ - ‘be anything you like, be madmen, drunks and bastards of any shape or form, but at all costs avoid one thing - success.’

The planet does not need more successful people, it needs peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, connectors, lovers of every kind. Orr p12

Our culture represents a pinnacle of human existence: cultural arogance, misread of history and anthropology, we live in a disintegrating culture, one that is home to feckless wealth and Calcutta poverty

thoughts of the day

When we emphasise theories instead of values - we refrain from taking action

When we prefer concepts rather than life - we can remain detached and disconnected from the consequences of our decisions

When we seek abstraction rather than consciousness - we miss the sensitivity of another persons challenging views

When we promote Ideology and efficiency rather than conscience - we lose the potency of choice and consequence nurtured in a desire for truth

quote of the day

We have the intelligence to begin to expand our minds to understand life, the universe and ourselves; we can communicate and exchange our deep thoughts and keep them outside our minds as a permanent record. We have all this but are quite unable to live with one another or with our living planet. Our inherited urge to be fruitful and multiply, and to ensure that our own tribe rules the earth thwarts our best intentions.
James Lovelock (2009) p156

Sunday, 8 March 2009

came across this in the Independent

50 great ideas for the 21st century
Google, satellite navigation, Equitrade, screw-top wine... these inventions and concepts will change our lives forever. But what inspires their creators? To introduce our round-up of 50 great ideas for the 21st century, Stephen Bayley examines the history and theory of how sparks of genius are formed

What were the great ideas of the last century? A random list might include abstract art, behaviourism, corporate identity, automation, digital theory, futurism, the uncertainty principle, Gestalt psychology, industrial design, jet engines, fast food, television, the marginal productivity theory of wages, the hit parade, best-sellers, miniskirts, consumerism, modernism, cassette tapes, nudism, VAT, pop and linguistics.

These ideas grew in a world with fundamental economic convictions, namely the mass-production and mass-consumption of goods. But these assumptions are fast changing. Those goods are now coming from China and the great legacy manufacturing corporations of the West are mostly in a parlous state. In manufacturing, the rates of change are themselves changing. Once companies which owned important patents (Pilkington, Xerox or Kodak) could dominate their markets, but now anything can be reverse engineered (ie, copied) in a Guangzhou sweatshop.

Things happen quickly and, with ideas, speed is a virtuous circle. Hewlett-Packard makes the majority of its earnings from products that didn't exist last year. Once the simple ability to manufacture guaranteed competitive advantage. That's no longer so. Anything can be made anywhere; the world is flat. Instead, the ability to generate ideas has replaced manufacturing as the engine of the economy.

As a result, our flattened world is dematerialising. Production lines have been replaced by a satellite uplink; experiences are better than possessions. Once making cars and computers guaranteed the West's economic dominance, now all we have to sell is ideas.

But this is no bad thing since the value of manufactured goods is falling and the value of ideas is rising. The big question has become where do ideas come from and how can we get more of them? Absurdity seems to be dematerialisation's bedfellow. The two most successful business books of recent years - Jonas Ridderstrale's and Kjell Nordstrom's Funky Business and Robert Sutton's Weird Ideas That Work - have acknowledged this, in their idiosyncratic ways. A pair of Nordic hipsters and a button-down Stanford professor may make an incongruous coupling, but there really is no escaping the zeitgeist.

To have any value, a new idea must be disconcerting. Banker J Pierpoint Morgan said to Alexander Graham Bell: "My colleagues and I have seen and discussed your invention, but we have determined there is no commercial future for it." He was referring to the telephone. In Pierpoint Morgan's day, when you were making so much money out of steel or railroads, why take a punt on a wacky creative idea?

The British, of course, have been specially resistant to new ideas, except in areas where native eccentrics proposed extraordinary innovations in answer to questions no one had asked. Christopher Cockerell's hovercraft or James Dyson's vacuum cleaners would be examples. Cockerell in particular demonstrates, if demonstration were needed, the British knack for doing an unlikely thing rather well... and then losing money on it. Dyson is, of course, quite the opposite.

People with new ideas tend to be both illogical and contradictory. Explaining his discovery of relativity, Einstein said: "I just ignored an axiom." Nothing defines creativity better than the ability to defeat habit by originality. There seems to be a physiological source for new ideas. We have 10 billion brain cells, each one capable of making 5,000 connections, but it is making unusual connections that's a basis for new ideas. But mostly we are very conservative: as far as food is concerned, we eat only about 600 of the planet's hundreds of thousands of edible plants.

The absurd element in the quest for a new idea was brilliantly described by Miles Davies as "don't play what's there, play what's not there". This is what Akio Morita meant when he said Sony's contrarian company philosophy was "doing what others did not". Morita was a businessman capable of extraordinary creative leaps. While Western Electric said in 1947 there were no commercial applications for the semi-conductor, by 1955 Morita had realised such wisdom was wrong and Sony built the world's first transistor radio. His best idea, however, was not to be the father of the tranny, but to see that Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo was a bit of a mouthful for dumb Westerners so he changed it to Sony - a word inspired by the Latin for sound and a misunderstanding of the affectionate English word for a male child. An unusual connection.

New ideas are sometimes at odds with the stern disciplines of management. The 3M engineer responsible for the Post-it note absurdly recalled: "If I knew what I was doing, it would not be research."

The ICA (Institute of Chartered Accountants) publishes a Guide to Professional Ethics, but many of its requirements positively inhibit new ideas. For instance, the ICA insists on integrity by which it means actions uncorrupted by self interest or truth. But, as Picasso - one of the truly turbulent ideas men - said, great artists don't borrow, they steal. The ICA insists on objectivity, defined as: "The state of mind which has regard to all considerations relevant to the task in hand, but no other." That seems to exclude the possibility of uninhibited free-thinking. The ICA insists on competence: "A member should undertake professional work only where he has the necessary competence required." This inhibits daring innovation. Risk-taking, tolerance of error, are all necessary to creativity. Picasso said of competence: "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." And we have Ludwig Wittgenstein versus the accountancy profession when he said, "If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would happen."

Here's a list of here-today gone-tomorrow ideas ruefully intended to revive moribund industries: just-in-time manufacturing, total quality management, supply-chain management, management by objectives, business process re-engineering, management by walking around, benchmarking, outsourcing, what if, gateway, downsizing, flattening, evaluation, strategic alliances and the fearfully significant brainstorming.

Brainstorming never works because ideas are not generated systematically, but absurdly; ideas do not respect or follow the dynamics of a formal meeting. Brainstorming was invented by adman Alex Osborn in his 1950s business bestseller Applied Imagination. But creative people tend to be more solitary: support of others not needed. Indeed, one test (although not an infallible one) for authentic creativity is that support is rejected and criticism not even considered. Beethoven once told a grumbling violinist to shut up and get on with it because he didn't care what the musician thought and, in any case, God had helped him write that particular unplayable line.

Is it ever going to be possible to quantify the value of ideas? There is an interesting precedent here. In 1948, Claude Shannon published his " Mathematical Theory of Communications" in the Bell Systems Technical Journal. Here Shannon laid the practical basis for our digital revolution. He popularised the word "entropy" (adapted from thermodynamics). He defined the difference between signal and noise. And he made the important distinction between mere data (measurements) and information (data with value which affects behaviour). Then, not taking a breath, Shannon established the binary maths that moved us from analogue to digital systems. The separation of the medium and the message was another of his proprietary insights. This distinction between form and content allowed engineers to concentrate on technology, freeing the rest of us. In one academic paper, Shannon established the general rules of information theory and predicted the convergence of computers and phones. Shannon had more new ideas than most and to demonstrate his resistance to convention he said: "I had to invent any maths that was needed."

When it comes to generating ideas, the distinction between visionary genius and aberrant behaviour is not always clear. Cultures which encourage ideas must learn to tolerate error. Mistakes, James Joyce said, are the " portals of discovery". According to IBM's Thomas Watson, "If you want to succeed, double your failure rate." Soichiro Honda believed, "Success represents the one per cent of your work which results from the 99 per cent that is called failure." Henry Ford said, "Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently."

Where then do ideas come from? Porsche's chief designer once explained what inspired him. He said modern sculpture and animal forms, getting a high while running, basketball shoes, running shoes, ski boots, sports gear in general, the Peak Tram in Hong Kong, the plastic smell from car seat covers, elevators, escalators and Pat Metheny's album As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls. The creative personality who is likely to get a new idea also approves of intellectual theft, enjoys separation, benefits from isolation and encourages dissent. All these apparently anti-social factors help the imagination to grow (although history suggests that drink and drugs have also played a part). Misunderstanding is a definition of a genuinely new idea. Only one thing is certain about new ideas: their patterns cannot be accurately predicted.

As soon as Thackeray had written something that pleased him, he asked himself (bemused), "How did I think of that?" Johannes Brahms explained that when he had a new musical idea he would leave it alone for a while and then when he returned to it, the idea would have developed all by itself. Creativity is the last legitimate means of securing an unfair advantage. And creative intelligence prefers unknown territory: Bob Dylan once said "I follow no one". Music supplies many other affecting examples of the creative personality. From Beethoven to John Lennon, great innovators have been cussed, uncooperative and frankly unconcerned with their immediate audience.

The generation of ideas is now the most important economic objective. But unfortunately for conventional businesses, the people best able to generate them are unpredictable, quixotic and generally unsuited to a formal business environment. Someone asked Miles Davies what he was going to do. He said: "I'll play it first and tell you what it's about later." And then he had a new idea. It is all about unconventional wisdom.

1. Bilibo

Every Christmas we're told there will be a return to the simpler toys of yesteryear - as if pre-teens will rise up as one and switch off their PlayStations - but this year, it might just happen. The Bilibo comes with no instructions, batteries, rules or bits to plug in.

"It's a shell-shaped, hard-wearing piece of plastic, and that's it," admits a spokesperson for Treasure Trove, the award-winning toy's UK distributors. "But when you give it [to kids], the possibilities are endless." Using the power of imagination, it can be turned it into almost anything - and at least it's one toy that won't be broken by Boxing Day. Johnny Davis

2. Happiness

D'uh? Isn't this idea as old as death and taxes? Well, yes and no. What's new is positive psychology, a school of thought suggesting there are formulae that can quantitively increase our happiness and outlined in books such as 'The Happiness Hypothesis'. Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, "the father of positive psychology", suggests that the formulae can be boiled down to: pleasure + engagement + meaning = happiness. Pleasure's inbuilt flaw is that it's fleeting, so to it is added a sense of engrossment and of meaning. Of course, the formula is not definitive - for instance, too much "engagement" leads to workaholism, but Seligman suggests you can be happier if you're willing to engage in exercises such as disputation, which involves challenging negative thoughts, playing to your strengths, and counting your blessings. Happier now? Stuart Husband

3. Screw-top wine

In recent years, winemakers have made huge leaps forward by figuring out how to make wines that unfailingly preserve the intrinsic qualities of their constituent grapes. The techniques used are as far removed from the old-fashioned romantic image of winemaking (grizzled French guy with beret and Gitanes) as Donald Rumsfeld is from Johnny Depp, but they are wonderful advances. Temperature control, pneumatic presses, stainless-steel fermenting tanks - it scores zero out of 100 for romance, but attains perfect marks for quality.

The screwcap, almost always referred to in the wine world as the Stelvin (after the leading manufacturer), is the equivalent of those technologies for keeping the finished product in tiptop condition. If a wine possesses rapturous depths of fruit flavour and wonderful acidity to keep it fresh, the screwcap will make sure it stays like that for as long as the wine is likely to be stored.

It was not always thus: early screwcaps had technical faults that could allow too much air in (disaster) or let the wine come into contact with the paper between the cap's plastic seal and the metal cap (disaster). But now that the technology has been perfected, the 21st-century wine industry has met its perfect closure. In years to come, we will see it more and more, and on ever-more-expensive wines. Richard Ehrlich

4. Blockbuster television

The film and television industries have long enjoyed a close relationship but, until recently, there was no doubt which one was the dominant partner. Sure, movie stars may have made guest appearances on television but, generally, it was the ambition of every small-screen actor, writer and director to, one day, graduate to cinema. But no more.

When '24' exploded on to our screens in 2001, a subtle, but fundamental shift took place in the balance of power. Starring Hollywood veteran Kiefer Sutherland, it looked like a slick blockbuster film, but was stretched over 18 hours of frantic suspense.

Meanwhile, the Second World War miniseries 'Band of Brothers', which came out in the same year and was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, cost a huge $125m to make, dwarfing even the then-impressive $35m first-season budget of '24' and compounding the feeling that television was now being taken as seriously as film.

Ever since, numerous sophisticated, entertaining programmes - such as 'The Sopranos', 'West Wing' and 'Lost' - have proved television can do things the ideas-bankrupt, CGI-reliant, sequel-riven dream factory could only, er, dream about. Keith Laidlaw

5. www.pandora.com

Want to be introduced to some new music? Just tell this internet radio station what you like, and it will play you similar tracks you may not have heard of, like having a personal DJ perfectly tuned to your personal tastes.

6. Pigeon spikes

Anti-roosting pigeon spikes were designed as a humane deterrent not, as some of us might prefer, as a lethal skewer. The concept is to prevent pigeons landing, nesting and defecating on property, but also allowing them to fly away. Sounds simple. But it's taken a few thousand years of the building-pigeon conundrum for someone to come up with a solution. David Jones, Managing Director of Jones & Son, the original pigeon-spike company, had the idea when working on pest control in London. Complex systems didn't seem to work and netting often trapped birds. Such measures were also costly and difficult to affix. Pigeon spikes can be attached, almost anywhere, with silicon adhesive, screws, nails, cable ties or clips. Their precise dimensions mean they are inoffensive to small birds but repellent to pigeons. David Baskerville, of Jones & Son, says sales are booming: "We now export them to Australia, Thailand and China," he says. "Fortunately for us, there are pigeons everywhere." Jennifer Stuart-Smith

For more information, go to www.pigeonoff.co.uk

7. Book swapping

As a nation, we bought nearly 8 million new books last year, and it's a fair bet most of those were read just once (if at all) before being dumped on a shelf. Many homes own hundreds of books that will never be read again. You could donate unwanted books to a charity shop, of course, or try shifting them on eBay, but the resale value is likely to be low. So why not try www.readitswapit.com? The idea behind the website is that you exchange the books you are unlikely to read again for ones you just might. Users provide a list of their unwanted books. They can then browse around to see what other swappers are offering. If you find a book you want, you email its owner, asking them to check out your list and, if they see a title they like, all each of you pays is the cost of posting your book second-class. At the moment, the site is a bit dominated by the likes of The Da Vinci Code but, with 49,000 books available at the time of writing, you're bound to find something to interest you. Helen Davies

8. Decentralised energy

The UK's current energy system is based on the centralised model, using large-scale coal, oil, gas and nuclear power stations, located far from the point of use. This way, more than 60 per cent of the original energy input is lost in the form of waste heat at the power station. More losses occur transporting electricity over distances to its point of use, and through our inefficient homes and appliances, meaning we typically utilise only 22 per cent of the energy that originally went into power stations. Wasted energy means less energy security and more carbon dioxide emissions.

With a decentralised model, energy is produced close to the point of use. Using CHP (combined heat and power) units, which can vary in scale from supplying a single home to a city district, heat produced by electricity generation is channelled through underground networks to heat buildings and provide hot water; minimal energy is lost as waste heat, or in electricity transmission. This system can integrate renewable technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines. Individual buildings and districts stop being just consumers of energy and start generating it. It's a system that is more secure, more efficient and it opens the way for a greater range of technologies and innovation that would help cleaner fuels and renewables take off.

Sound unrealistic? Actually, 50 per cent of Denmark's electricity is generated in a decentralised system, and Copenhagen has heat networks travelling over 40km. In Finland, 98 per cent of Helsinki is heated by community heat networks. So when Tony Blair says we need new centralised nuclear power to fight climate change, he is clearly stuck in the 20th century. What we need is an energy revolution for the 21st century that delivers a new efficient system for the future in the form of decentralised energy; a system that is cheaper, cleaner and more secure. Simon Reddy Policy and solutions director, Greenpeace UK

For more information, go to www.greenpeace.org.uk

9. www.ebay.com

As well as letting you buy or sell almost anything (handy), eBay has shifted power away from chain stores and back towards individuals (revolutionary). Now anyone can be a retailer.

10. Venture philanthropy

When renowned investor Warren Buffett decided to donate most of his multi-billion fortune to charity earlier this year, there was a good reason why he picked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rather than, say, a local cat rescue centre. Buffett and Gates represent a new breed of philanthropist - one who is not content to simply write out cheques but who wants to use their business skills to help solve the world's problems.

These so-called "venture philanthropists" increasingly want to monitor the organisations they have invested in as well as to provide key management support. They take business practices and apply them to social sector companies, making sure their structures are right, encouraging them to take managed risks, develop tools to track effectiveness, and generate measurable returns.

Permira, one of the world's largest private equity firms, recently announced a €1million partnership with us at Community Action Network to help social enterprises (organisations with the aim of creating social good) to scale up. The scheme, Breakthrough, will help "social entrepreneurs" overcome barriers to growth by offering hands-on mentoring, financial and operational support.

Venture philanthropy is about more than providing finance; it reflects a growing understanding that the most valuable way the commercial sector can offer its support is thought the transfer of skills. The expertise of companies such as Permira in growing and transforming commercial firms is of huge value to a social entrepreneur struggling to break out regionally or nationally. Adele Blakebrough MBE co-founder of Community Action Network, which helps social entrepreneurs

11. www.upmystreet.com

As well as providing local information such as house prices or crime statistics for any area in the UK, this site's 'find my nearest' feature allows you to find the businesses, shops and services closest to your home at the touch of a button.

12. Light-up lipstick

How many former Spice Girls does it take to have a good idea? Just one - Miss Emma Bunton. On a night out, she and make-up designer (and creator of Eyeko cosmetics) Nina Leykind decided that they were fed up with trying to do their make-up in the back of a darkened limo.

And lo, the Liparazzi was born. It's a lipstick with a light. Click the button on the base of the shaft, and your mouth is cast in a bright spotlight. (This feature also comes in handy if you ever find yourself scrabbling in a dim corner for your keys, or if you are stuck in the dark and have important business documents to read, or, for that matter, 40 pages of 'The Female Eunuch'.) The Liparazzi case is mirrored, too, so it basically works like a small portable dressing table.

These are features, surely, that lipsticks should have as a matter of course. Bravo, Baby Spice. Perhaps Ginger will now invent the self-cleaning flannel. Hermione Eyre

For more information, go to www.liparazzi.com

13. De Young Museum

The copper-clad sheath and tower of the De Young Museum in San Francisco, perforated and embossed with collages mapped from photographs of light dappling through trees in Golden Gate Park, is less interested in portraying physical and intellectual chaos than in doing what its co-architect Jacques Herzog calls "the maximum thing". This is a building as an agent of heightened perception, right on the edge of sensual overload.

The Swiss practice Herzog & de Meuron has entered the third millennium determined to prove that architecture's material and formal beauty can be resonant, rather than ephemeral - and the De Young is a superb demonstration of sensuality, mystery and a physical narrative that owes as much to cinematic panning shots and jump-cuts as it does to architectural precedent.

The De Young is kryptonite architecture: it disables cheaply ironic or slackerish responses; it is beyond cool; its overall form, and its tiniest details, are about rigour. The building is an essay in emotional and physical extremity - and even, as Herzog suggests, a kind of fear. And though it may look weirdly unreal, its electrifying physicality is the dominant vibe.

The De Young is also beautifully crafted, a trademark of the obsessive perfectionism of the Basel-based practice - and a polemical declaration that architecture can have a meaningful, rather than merely entertaining, future. Jay Merrick

For more information, visit www.thinker.org/deyoung/

14. Sky Plus

I recently went to the Maldives for 10 days to do a spot of scuba-diving. On my return, I was able to watch the endless hours of Big Brother my Sky Plus hard-drive had recorded for me. I could also save time by fast-forwarding through the adverts and the bits when Aisleyne was crying in the diary room. I love Sky Plus. If I was still single, I would marry it. It never lets me down, recording my favourite programmes even when I'm too drunk to remember them. I love coming home late and discovering what treats it can find for me. It's especially good for me as I tend to like odd documentaries on BBC Four at 3am and I'm too old to stay up that late now. I once met the man who claimed to have invented Sky Plus. I bought him an evening of free drinks. Recently it has also solved my tricky problem as to whether to give up Big Brother for Love Island - now I can just watch them both and never go out socially again. And just when I think things couldn't get better, a leaflet arrives telling me I can use the internet or my mobile phone to order my machine to record stuff when I'm away from home. Happy days. Sky Plus - God bless her and all that sail in her. Dom Joly TV presenter, writer and comedian

15. Tooth whitening

The concept of tooth whitening is nothing new - the ancient Romans tried using urine to remove stains, and, until the 18th century, barbers would offer to lighten the teeth of their clients by filing them down, then painting what remained with nitric acid. Safer and more effective techniques which use hydrogen peroxide to bleach dentine - the layer underneath the enamel - have been around for about 50 years, but require you to wear a mouthguard filled with whitening gel for at least two hours each day for a fortnight. Which is why BriteSmile is such a brilliant idea. This technique, invented by Dr John Warner, a former NASA scientist, involves a dentist applying whitening gel to the teeth, then using a special lamp to shine high-intensity light on to the teeth to accelerate the bleaching process. The treatment costs around £500 and the result, after one hour, is teeth that are permanently lightened by up to nine shades - the difference between a manky British mouth and a gleaming Hollywood smile. It's thanks to BriteSmile that, now, for any D-list celebrity, revealing teeth any less than blinding white is a sin. But there is a catch: if you want to keep the whitened appearance, you'll need to avoid red wine, tea, coffee and cigarettes. So, unless you're willing to live a life as pure as your smile, you may have to stick with non-Hollywood teeth after all. HD

16. Time together

Time Together is a scheme running in 24 locations across the UK that aims to break down some of the barriers that can prevent refugees establishing themselves here, by bringing them together with existing members of their new communities. These volunteers become a "mentor" to the refugee, helping them to integrate into life in this country, learn more about British culture and find work .

I became a mentor last year, and was chosen by Asha, a remarkable woman who escaped the horrors of Somalia and now lives in London, struggling to bring up three children on her own. All her life she has struggled, first against her father to stay at school and train to be a doctor, then to escape war in Somalian, and now to learn good enough English to find medical-related work. None of her children spoke English when they arrived; now her eldest daughter has made it to medical school, studying with utter determination, perched on a bed in their two-room flat.

We meet and talk, sometimes with her children. We go to public places such as the British Museum and the South Bank, and I asked their MP to arrange a tour of the House of Commons - all places they hadn't seen before but now known they are free to visit. Soon they will get British nationality, and we will be all the better for new citizens so determined to make the most of every opportunity.

The scheme is run by a charity called TimeBank, and so far more than 1,000 refugees have been found mentors. I couldn't recommend it more highly: I probably get more out of it than I have been able to offer Asha. Polly Toynbee writer and 'volunteer mentor'

17. www.myspace.com

The current online phenomenon combines the best functions of more specialised sites (blogging, MP3 swapping, networking) to great effect, and now accounts for an incredible 80 per cent of all traffic to social networking sites.

18. Hypoallergenic pets

Recent research by scientists at biotechnology company, Allerca, in the US, discovered that babies may be at a 50 per cent greater risk of developing eczema if their family has a cat.

Apparently many cat allergies are caused by a protein contained in the cat's skin flakes and saliva deposited on the fur when the animal grooms itself. It can trigger an allergic reaction in minutes if breathed in by an asthma sufferer.

This is bad news for moggies you might think. But before you ditch the idea of buying one of the most affectionate and entertaining of pets completely, Allerca has managed to breed the world's first scientifically-proven hypoallergenic cats.

With the pets now on sale in the UK (albeit for the rather princely sum of £7,500 each), people who have lived without the companionship of a cat because of their allergies can now have one of their own without the costs of allergy treatments and their associated health risks. Sweet relief indeed for the 2.6m UK asthma sufferers whose attacks are triggered by their animals, and far better than buying one of the ugly and hairless Sphynx breeds any day of the week. Tom Greatrex

For more information, go to www.allerca.com

19. CCTV Building

The first great architectural icon of the third millennium - and a powerful blow against established notions of skyscraper verticality - will be the CCTV Building in Beijing, designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas's OMA practice and currently under construction. The word "icon" suggests certainty and virtuosity; the CCTV Building's power lies in its twisting of one Modernist icon, the skyscraper, into a vast glass and steel fortune cookie - corporate complexity, rather than vertical bling.

Its graphic punch demonstrates the doubt created by what Koolhaas refers to as "the violent surf of information". The architect has Utopian instincts, but admits that architects are now reduced to playing catch-up with the slews of imagery, information and corporate forces that increasingly dominate thought and behaviour.

"That belief in manifestos, and that confidence that we knew what to do, have now completely collapsed," he says. "Nowadays, we no longer write manifestos; at most, we write portraits of particular cities, in the hope, not of developing a theory of what to do with them, but of understanding how cities exist currently. We're just trying to understand what's happening."

The CCTV Building invokes the Tatlin Tower, a Constructivist model structure that helped to jolt the architectural world into Modernism in 1919. Koolhaas's fortune cookie, both icon and anti-icon, is beyond "-isms"; it's a brilliant pan-cultural special effect. JM

20. Satellite navigation

One of the greatest ideas of recent times is the satellite navigation system, of which GPS (Global Positioning System) is perhaps the best known. Since I installed one given to me by one of my sponsors, RS Components, in my E-type Jaguar, the instructions - spoken to me by a lady I call Talula - prevent me from getting lost en route to exhibitions.

The original motivation for satellite navigation was for military applications, both in the delivery of weapons and the strategic tracking of troops. However, numerous civilian uses have emerged over the past few years, with applications ranging from vast improvements in life-saving services, such as search and rescue operations, to the tracking of both people and wildlife.

Satellite-based global surveying systems and geophysical sciences are benefiting all. It is rare these days to meet an explorer, pilot, sailor or even a taxi driver who, in their line of work, is not equipped with satellite navigation. But principally, I like the progress being made in finding and negating the activities of terrorists wherever they may be. Trevor Bayliss inventor of the wind-up radio


21. Green roofs

A hi-tech 21st-century version of the traditional turf roofs still found in parts of Scandinavia, a green roof is one covered with a thin layer of growing material which, in turn, supports a range of low-maintenance plants such as stonecrop and moss - all ready-grown on a kind of net matting which can be cut to fit. The results may be pretty, but it's not so much the aesthetics as the ecological and, to a lesser extent, economic benefits that really count. They're good for insects and birds, they soak up between 50 and 80 per cent of the rainwater that falls on them, and they provide natural insulation. Provided your roof is strong enough and not too steep (you can plant on slopes of up to 30 degrees), a green roof is now the perfect eco-friendly architectural accessory. Christopher Stocks

For more information, see www.livingroofs.org or pick up a copy of 'Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls' by Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury (Timber Press, £25)

22. www.internationalcheckout.com

Ever tried to buy something from a US-based website, only to discover that it can't be delivered to the UK? International Checkout can order it for you, have it delivered to its warehouse, then send it anywhere in the world

23. LED bulbs

The light bulb hasn't changed very much since it was patented by Briton Joseph Swan in 1878, one year before the somewhat better-known Thomas Edison laid claim to it. Flip a switch, it will give you light. It is fragile and - fzzzt - it doesn't last very long.

But electronic LEDs - light-emitting diodes - are set to change that, with a low-power, long-life alternative just a few years away. Previously only available in red, yellow or green, the first white LED was developed in the early 1990s, and, since then, its use has spread in flashlights and miners-style headbands. White LEDs light up almost instantly and, given their solid construction, can take much more of a knock than traditional bulbs.

As with other electronic devices, the cost of LEDs is falling. Their use in homes is sparse so far, but a US Department of Energy report found that converting to LED lighting would reduce the country's energy consumption by 29 per cent by 2025, cutting energy bills by $125bn and reduce carbon emissions.

The real problem so far has been their unnerving blue-white colour, a side-effect of the chemical used in their manufacture. That has now been solved to give a warm, yellow light from a device that will last for decades, never break and slash your power bill. Mark White

24. Shazam

Have you ever gone into a record shop and confessed: "I'm trying to get hold of this CD but I don't really know who the artist is, or the name of the song, but it goes a bit like this..."? Well now you and record shop staff can breathe a sigh of relief, thanks to Shazam.

This amazingly handy service allows users to identify a song using only a mobile phone. Just dial 2580, hold your handset up to the speaker for 10-15 seconds, and you will magically receive the elusive track's full details via a text message. It works like this: a computer scans the "mathematical" makeup of the song and then matches it to one of the entries in Shazam's database of around 3 million tracks.

This revolutionary technology has led to more than 20 million calls being made to the company worldwide, and it is widely recognised as the fastest and most accurate music-recognition service. There is one drawback: the song must be played quite loud, so be prepared to make some noise. Rhiannon Mee

25. Hourly car hire

Streetcar is a brilliant new company that turns the concept of hiring a car on its head. The best bit is that, instead of paying for a whole day, you pay by the hour. After signing up, you get a swipe card which will be your key. When you want to hire a car you go online and it tells you the nearest location where one is parked - so you don't even have to go to an office. The cynical will see plenty of flaws in the idea - the main one being that it runs on trust and sharing (my God, a company treating its customers like responsible adults). So far, the service is only available in London and costs £4.95 with 30 miles of free petrol. Johnny Dee


26. The $100 laptop

If, as the old proverb says, teaching a man to catch fish will feed him for a lifetime, then what could you achieve by giving his children a laptop? Quite a lot, according to the One Laptop per Child group, which is on course to deliver millions of stripped-down PCs by the middle of 2007. It is the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, the co-founder of MIT's Media Lab, who announced the project in January, 2005, at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. "It's an education project, not a laptop project, " he says.

The plan is for governments to buy and distribute the laptops. The machines in question will come with low-power see-in-the-sun displays, open-source web browsers and easily customisable word processors, and power supplies rechargeable by hand cranks, foot pumps, or pulleys that can be harnessed to the family cattle. They will also be equipped with wireless broadband. Costs have been kept low by limiting memory to 500MB of flash storage, about the same as the smallest iPod Shuffle.

Initial target countries are Brazil, Nigeria, Thailand and Argentina, followed by China, India, Egypt and Mexico, though two US states also want to buy them for poor students. Governments have to order in units of one million, and it's hoped the cost will fall to $50 (£27) in a virtuous race to the bottom.

There are critics, however. Bill Gates derides the hand-crank notion, and others have pointed to the problems of imposing a top-down solution; that computers could be sold for food; that computers need to be maintained; that developing countries need food and clean water before iTunes. This all may be true. But what if it works? MW

For more information, go to www.laptop.org

27. I ' My Dog Poop Scoops

While picking up their dog's poop, many people think only of the short-term benefits of keeping parks clean or dodging a fine. Few consider the problem of millions of tons of dog waste and plastic sitting in landfill. Thankfully, Terry Barton did, when he developed I ' My Dog Poop Scoops.

They're made from recycled card, paper and water-based inks and come with two cardboard spatulas which flip the offending object into a brown paper holder. You can kiss goodbye to that squishy sensation and, once done, you're left holding just a brown paper bag. Plus, it biodegrades fully and without a negative environmental effect.

According to Barton, the bags, which were initially seen as a joke, are taking off: "We've solved a nasty problem, very sweetly," he says. In short, he's made a successful business of dog's business. JSS

For more information, go to www.poopscoop.biz

28. Equitrade

Move over Fairtrade, Equitrade's the latest economic model for helping to end poverty through sustainable commercial international trade. Fairtrade aims to help the globe's marginalised food growers, working through cooperatives guaranteeing environmental and social standards. But Equitrade tries to ensure that, not only does a product's raw materials originate from a poor community, it also tries to ensure it is manufactured, packaged and even marketed from there too.

Malagasy, the first Equitrade firm in the world, says it "will not sell cash crops from Madagascar at pence per kilogram, so that other companies can sell them at pounds per kilogram in international markets". Malagasy's (meaning from Madagascar) chocolate is classed as "equitably traded" and this means it shares the income it receives from selling its finished product abroad equally with its various suppliers at home in Madagascar.

Neil Kelsall, a director at Malagasy says: "Probably only about 5p of the £1.70 cost of an average fairly traded chocolate bar goes back to the country. The difference with Malagasy equitrade is that 40 per cent of the income from a bar of Malagasy chocolate stays in Madagascar, and the country further benefits because 11 per cent tax is paid to the government."

This commendable approach to fair trade also enables the people of Madagascar to preserve the unique eco-systems, habitat and wildlife of the island. Other companies should sign up and get involved immediately and help take on the buying power of the big supermarket chains. TG

For more information, go to www.equitrade.org

29. Sheep's-wool insulation

Sheep can adapt to many different environments as their wool protects them through hot, cold, damp and dry seasons. Man has also used wool for its protective properties and for the many other benefits offered by the material. Wool's unique advantage, though, is its ability to absorb moisture from the surrounding air, without itself becoming wet to touch, and then releasing it again when the atmosphere dries out.

Organisations such as Sheep Wool Insulation and Thermafleece are capitalising on this natural and sustainable source of insulation by turning it into an energy-efficient insulating material. Not only is it flame-retardant and self-extinguishing, wool's "green" appeal is obvious - vital for the latest generation of ethical consumers avidly buying into anything with an environmentally conscious stamp. Reducing the flow of heat into a home by up to 7C during the summer, increasing the temperature by 4C in the winter, sheep's wool also uses only 14 per cent of the energy it takes to make glass-fibre insulation, thus paying the consumer back its energy-saving costs almost seven times faster. Oh yes, it's even halting the rapid decline of hill farming in the UK and Ireland. TG

For more information, go to www.sheepwoolinsulation.ie and www.secondnatureuk.com

30. www.amazon.com

Amazon was the first company to fully realise the potential for selling goods over the internet. Without the overheads and storage issues faced by high-street stores, it offers customers a huge diversity of goods at low prices.

31. Internet campaigning

In the 2004 US presidential contest, Howard Dean was the Democratic challenger with a difference. He bypassed the traditional fundraising routes by mobilising small donations via the internet, until his campaign kinnocked (from the verb "to kinnock", to destroy a promising career with a display of slightly alarming exuberance), with his famous "scream" at a rally in Iowa.

But you can see the attraction here. Party membership numbers have declined, and all three main parties are increasingly dependent on a small number of rich men for most of their funds. The web, meanwhile, is where a lot of the fiercest political action is, and anyone can join in. The Labour Party is trying to set up an internet community of "registered supporters". As for the Conservatives, their plans to organise US-style primary election to choose the Tory candidate for London mayor next year will give an advantage to a well-organised internet campaign.

The problem with the idea of mass parties is that they depended on thousands of unpaid people collecting tiny sums of money at front doors, club doors or the workplace. Now the internet makes that possible in cyberspace. Who will exploit it first? John Rentoul

32. The long tail

If the old entertainment economy was about blockbusters, argues Chris Anderson in his book, The Long Tail: Why The Future of Business is Selling Less of More, the new era is all about niches. The smash'n'grab model, where everyone rushes to the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel or snaps up the new Dan Brown novel is the "short head". Behind this is the "long tail" curve, where ostensibly less-popular products have a healthy afterlife of their own, thanks to new-tech delivery methods - cheap computer hardware, broadband - and filters such as blogs and online reviews which help to match supply and demand.

At Amazon.com, around a quarter of all book sales come from outside the site's top-100,000 bestsellers. Online music retailer Rhapsody, which has a library of 1.5 million songs, reported that, while its top 1,000 tracks are downloaded more than 10,000 times a month each, these represent less than 0.01 per cent of its catalogue, and everything up to its top 1,000,000th track is streamed at least once a month.

"What's truly amazing about the long tail is its sheer size," Anderson writes. "If you combine enough of the non-hits, you've actually established a market that rivals the hits." And in the best-case scenario, this means a heterogeneous marketplace. "The filters help people move from the world they know (hits) to the world they don't (niches)," says Anderson. "They drive demand down the tail by revealing goods and services that appeal more than the lowest common denominator fare that crowd the channels of traditional mass-market distribution." Wagging the dog, indeed. SH

33. Change the World 9 to 5

'Change the World 9 to 5' is a sequel to another book, called 'Change the World for a Fiver'. Both contain 50 simple, practical tips that you can integrate into your life to help improve things. It ranges from small-scale stuff such as a reminder to say "thank you" to people or bigger ideas such as encouraging people in your office to turn the lights off at night. No one thing is very big in its own right, but all those individual actions add up to a big effect if everyone's doing them.

The first book is an amazing success stories: the organisation behind it, We Are What We Do, initially printed just 5,000 copies and ended up selling 600,000. With this one, because it's based on things you can do at work, they've realised they can get companies to buy it to give out to team members. I'm going to give everyone at Innocent a copy for Christmas, while Sainsbury's has ordered 20,000 copies, which is about what most books sell in total. Richard Reed co-founder of Innocent drinks

For more information, go to www.wearewhatwedo.org

34. Hub working

Many of us have fantasies of working from home, imagining afternoons off down the park, recreational shopping or a round of golf when we should be filing a report or chasing customers. The reality is you will be spending most of you time on your laptop, listening to Radio Five Live, struggling to meet deadlines and not talking to anyone for weeks.

Now there appears to be an alternative, somewhere self-employed freelance types can toil but fool themselves that they are simultaneously working and relaxing. Hundreds of work hubs are springing up throughout the world to service this need, offering the self-employed all the joys of having both a pretend office for meetings and work areas that are really pretend cafés. Not only that but, while you are in these hubs, you will be among other human beings with whom you can enjoy crap conversations about last night's telly just like those regular office drones who are jealous of you working from home. JDee

For more information, go to www.hubworking.net

35. Oyster cards

These pre-pay plastic travelcards provide light-blue relief for 5 million Londoners facing the daily bedevilment of a decrepit transport system. Introduced in 2003, the Oyster is a contactless smartcard used to pay bus and tube fares without the need to fumble for cash. Commuters in Hong Kong have used a similar "Octopus" card for a decade. Unlike Hong Kong, however, Londoners are thus far unable to also use their cards as " emoney" to buy newspapers, sweets etc en route. That proposed scheme collapsed in 2005 after failing to find a backer, although it may be revived at some point. Regardless, aided by some vigorous advertising by Mayor Ken Livingstone, the Oyster has "Got London Moving" and become part of its visual language along the way. And the name? It was chosen because " the oyster protects a pearl in much the same way the card protects the cardholder's money". Nice. JD

36. Magic plasters

It's the first hot day of the year and you decide to wear sandals to work. You are enjoying the sense of freedom and endless possibility presented by exposing your toes in public. You take a dozen or so steps and gradually become aware of a rubbing sensation. Within two more steps, you have a blister. You will spend the next few days debating whether to burst it or not but, whatever you decide, the outcome will be the same: you'll be left with a patch of hard skin, followed by an ugly purple mark, which may or may not have faded a year later when you will begin the whole charade again. Not any more. New blister plasters employ hydrocolloid technology, which is a fancy way of saying that they absorb moisture to form a gel which stops the skin over the blister from drying out and going hard. Leave the plaster on for a couple of days and the blister disappears as if by magic. HD

37. Flavoured straws

While the idea of the Sipahh milk-flavouring straw is simple - welded filters at the ends of the straw hold flavoured beads in place to suck milk past - it took more than seven years to develop. With the current fuss about children's diets, the fact the straw uses no artificial colours or preservatives, has no fat, contains just half a teaspoon of sugar, and encourages the drinking of milk has seen it licenced to 65 countries including most of Europe, the Caribbean, parts of Africa, and even Iran and Iraq. But milk is just the start, as anything could be put into the beads. They could be used with vitamins and minerals, or to improve water quality. They could deliver drugs to children, the elderly and people who have trouble swallowing pills. The straws are also light, portable and can be recycled. Oh, and they taste delicious with milk. As the name suggests, say "aah". MW

38. Sudoku

Though apparently an overnight sensation when the entire world went Sudoko potty in the summer of 2005, its roots actually go back far further (a version called Latin Squares kept Arabic numerologists entertained on long journeys back in AD 990). Modern Sudoko was finalised in 1979 by Howard Garns, a 74-year-old freelance puzzle constructor from Indianapolis, who invented the current 9x9 grid. A hit in Japan in the 1980s after being published in a magazine as the game Number Place, the tipping point came when the magazine was reprinted last year and newspapers the world over caught on. Sudoku is a short version of a longer Japanese phrase, which roughly translates as "the digits must remain single" and its democratic popularity is down to the fact that, while the basic rules are simple, the level of difficulty can be varied. In the age of the PlayStation, it's gratifying to see so much pleasure being derived from pen, paper and, yes indeed, your brain. JD

39. Deal or No Deal

"A quarter of a million pounds. Twenty-two identical, sealed boxes. And no questions. Except one: deal or no deal?" This is a format so simple it can be explained in 20 words. A game show so riveting it could turn even the "cursed" Noel Edmonds into one of the highest-paid personalities on UK television in less than a year. A cultural phenomenon so versatile there are already 26 versions around the world - from Bulgaria to Brazil, from Thailand to Tunisia. It started life in 2001 as one strand in a Dutch lottery programme. Created by John de Mol - co-founder of Endemol, the company behind 'Big Brother' - by the time it hit UK screens in October 2005, the format had been whittled down to its core concept: 22 boxes, containing amounts from 1p to £250,000, which a contestant opens at random. At intervals, The Banker will offer the contestant an amount of money for the box in front of them. The contestant has to decide whether to sell their box based on which amounts have been revealed. For economists, the programme is a repeated exercise in decision theory, risk aversion and the law of diminishing returns; for viewers, it is an opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of the contestant: what would you decide? Edmonds believes the show's popularity is entirely down to its simplicity. "Anyone can play and anyone can win. In that regard I think it is the perfect television format." Simmy Richman

'Deal or No Deal' returns to Channel 4 on 28 August

40. www.wikipedia.org

It's a simple idea: a free, online encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to. With almost five million entries in 200 different languages, complaints about the odd inaccuracy miss the point: the amazing thing is how often it is correct.

41. Meat growing

As the smell from thousands of barbecues stretches across the land, think - if only for a moment - about where that sausage, steak or chicken wing came from. Industrial food production is widely acknowledged as inhumane and creates health problems and pollution.

Well, more than a dozen labs in Holland and America are currently working out how to grow meat. The benefits of a safer and healthier meat are considerable: lower coronary heart disease, for example, and zero risk of a species-jumping flu. Meat can already be grown; take cells from an animal, soak them in nutrients, attach to a scaffold (a kind of artificial skeleton), stretch the scaffold to exercise the cells and, once ready, harvest the cells and process to form sausages, hamburgers or chicken nuggets (all only marginally less unappetising than the way chicken nuggets are currently put together). No one has tasted the results yet, and unprocessed meat such as steaks and pork chops could be a decade or more away as researchers are having trouble giving the meat texture. But one cell could produce the world's entire meat supply. Pumping animals full of antibiotics to counter the appalling conditions under which they're raised would end. It's not much less natural than coralling animals in vast, dark barns, and feeding them a diet of growth hormones and animal waste and remains. And it raises interesting ethical questions for vegetarians. According to scientists, the economics will make it unviable for between five and 10 years. They're studying cheaper growth mediums - something like soyabeans would see the prices approach mass-market levels, according to one researcher. And, just think: it's not that long since DVD players cost £500. MW

42. Parasitic architecture

With housing in demand as never before and green belt-style planning laws making the business of constructing new buildings an increasingly tricky business, we are seeing "parasitic architecture" - a self-contained new building that is attached to an existing structure - becoming an increasingly viable option for homebuyers in the 21st century.

Architectural practices such as Spacebox in Holland, Werner Aisslinger in Germany and Mae in the UK have all designed cube, pod and even cantilevered units that can be lifted by crane up on to existing rooftops or even bolted on to the side of a building.

Mae's recent Lift-up House - which is a two-bedroom apartment on the roof of an industrial building in the heart of London's Hoxton - exemplifies this growing trend in architecture. The building is a contemporary interpretation of the traditional weavers' lofts found in the area, and the design plays with ideas of light and transparency by using translucent walls and sliding screens that can close for privacy while still allowing light to filter through.

Spacebox's modular apartment buildings, pictured above, come pre-assembled, so all you need is a crane (and some help from your neighbours, perhaps) to lift it on to your building of choice within minutes.

Werner Aisslinger, meanwhile, has developed the Loft Cube, a temporary, minimalist domicile to suit people who stay in cities for short periods of time, but want the kind of sanctuary never really found in big, international hotel chains. The 40 square metres of space can be divided into rooms to your own specification in order to create the ultimate modernist rooftop dream. Tom Greatrex

For more information, go to www.mae-llp.co.uk, www.spacebox.info and www.aisslinger.de

43. The Freecycle Network

Like a sort of hippy eBay, www.freecycle.org takes that auction house's notion that one man's trash is another man's treasure, and simply removes the auction bit from the equation. TFN (The Freecycle Network) is a global set of city and town-specific online noticeboards, each one offering unwanted items for free. No money ever changes hands, and it's up to the giver to decide who receives the gift and set a time for the "winner" to collect their booty. There's only one rule: that everything posted must be free, legal and appropriate for all ages. A further feelgood factor comes from an option to give unwanted stuff to a non-profit organisation - hence the "free cycle of giving". TFN was started in May 2003 in Arizona to promote waste reduction and reduce landfills. Today, it comprises over 2.5million members in 3,700 groups all over the world - there are 326 groups in the UK alone. Long may it run. JD

44. Friendly security

The trouble with most home security systems is they are downright ugly, but Matthias Megyeri is trying to change that. When he came to Britain from his native Germany, he was struck by the seeming contradiction between tower blocks fortified with alarms, surveillance cameras and security railings, but also decorated with kitsch plastic garden ornaments and lace curtains. Megyeri decided to embody this contradiction within a collection of security products, which would be functional while also embracing their owners' taste for the cute. His Sweet Dreams Security range features surveillance cameras topped with cartoon character hoods; the barbs in razor wire are shaped like butterfly wings; iron railings are topped by beaming cartoon faces. His take on traditional net curtains will especially appeal to members of Neighbourhood Watch schemes everywhere. Soft and welcoming on the inside, they are woven to look like a metal security shutter and thus appear cold and harsh-looking from the outside - the ideal design to keep the burglars at bay, without making you feel imprisoned in your own home. TG

For more info, go to www.sweetdreamssecurity.com

45. Flatpack coffins

EveryBody coffins are made from flat, modular pieces, that are easy to transport and fit together without the need for glue or nails. They were invented to offer a humane and uniform method of dealing with bodies in disaster situations, but the Dutch company that makes them has been surprised by the amount of orders it receives from people looking for cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional mahogany coffins. The EveryBody also lends itself to creativity as the boxes can be easily decorated and painted. JDee


46. Hi-tech interiors

With the arrival of ever-more-sophisticated projection systems and display screens, our homes are set to become places that respond to our mood and sense of creativity. According to boffins at Anterior:Insight, the clash between art and technology is fast moving from desktops and on to the walls of living rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms. For example, it will allow people to have themed rooms that can be changed to reflect a chosen mood (a romantic meal for two, perhaps) or time of day. It will also move beyond the home and into public spaces for socialising such as Starbucks coffee shops, style bars or arts venues.

One company, loop.pH has developed DigitalDawn, a reactive window blind with a surface that is in constant flux, growing in luminosity in response to its surroundings. It digitally emulates the process of photosynthesis using printed electroluminescent technology. The darker a space becomes, the brighter the blind will glow - thus maintaining a balance in luminosity. A natural, botanical environment appears to grow and evolve on the window lamp.

Meanwhile, digital artist Daniel Brown's "Software As Furniture" uses projectors and plasma screens to investigate the use of PC technology as wallpaper. His Flowers series "On Growth and Form" - regenerative floral imagery merging maths and design, pictured right - will set the benchmark for how the walls of our homes could be forever changing as technology allows all surfaces to have a visual function. TG

For more info, go to www.danielbrowns.com; www.loop.ph

47. Guilty Pleasures

It started, as these things often do, by accident. Fed up with playing cutting-edge records on his BBC Radio London show, DJ Sean Rowley gave " Oh Lori" - a 1977 hit by the Alessi Brothers - a spin. The response was overwhelming and, soon, listeners were requesting their own "guilty pleasures" - records that had been unfairly dubbed "uncool". Within two years, there were compilation CDs, club nights in New York, Singapore and Sydney and London.

Rowley explains the thinking behind the Guilty Pleasures phenomenon thus: "You've gone to someone's house and you're flicking through their record collection. There are all the usual suspects: The Clash, Marvin Gaye, Revolver... And then you see a Barbra Streisand album, you put it on and you're dumb-founded as to how great that record is."

The effect on current pop tastes has been profound: Scissor Sisters, the Darkness and The Feeling are all clearly familiar with the records in Rowley's collection. As Huey Lewis & the News predicted in their 1986 hit, suddenly, it really is hip to be square. Time to go and fetch all those old 10cc and ELO records from the attic... SR


48. Tipping points

The term "tipping point" was coined by New York writer Malcolm Gladwell to define the moment when "social epidemics" - trends such as the crime rate dropping in New York in the 1990s or the vogue for wearing trainers without laces - reach critical mass. "It's the moment on the graph when the line shoots straight upwards," explains Gladwell. The term is borrowed from epidemiology, because, says Gladwell, "I'm convinced behaviours, ideas and products move through a population like a disease does, and even the smallest change - the original Patient Zero - can get them started." In other words, it only takes one person (a " connector") to show off his new laceless trainer look to an influential contact (a "maven") whose adoption of the look is co-opted by opinion-formers such as model or pop stars ("salesmen"), only to replace it with another when the original is too commonplace. According to Gladwell, you can detect the tipping point in everything from business to advertising to social policy, and, given the tools, even start "positive " epidemics of your own. SH

49. www.hotmail.com

The launch of Hotmail in 1995 transformed the world of email by providing free access for all. Sold to computing giants Microsoft in 1997, it is now the largest web-based email service in the world, with 200 million active users.

50. Millau Viaduct

Lord Foster's Millennium Bridge may have wobbled, but his Millau Viaduct across the Tarn gorge in France has quantum-jumped civil architecture and engineering into a new paradigm of scale and infrastructural ambition. The bridge connects two plateaux and spans 2.46km. Each motorway section is 342m, and its central "masts" reach up 245m. The way the columns are tapered above road level, and split below it, has minimised its sense of mass.

In design terms, the Millau Bridge is minimal in an age where total licence is given in terms of form and drama. While Santiago Calatrava's bridges took Modernism into neo-baroque forms and the forthcoming bridge by Cecil Balmond at Coimbra, Portugal, is so refined its mid-section seems to vanish, Foster's can-do grandiosity is almost Victorian in its belief in sheer gigantism. JM

what else can you do with a great idea?

What else can you do with a great idea?

Tear it apart · Brush off the dust · Advance the rate · Transform the grip · Vary the form · Protect it with glass · Keep your humor · Swap a single part · Force it together · Modify the front, back, sides, top, bottom · Smooth the rough edges · Analyze the errors · Improve the harmony · Make it helpful · Gild it with gold · Make it smaller · Make it jump · Attach different instruments to it · Make some parts bigger · Ask the experts · Get your facts straight · Play with it · Divide it up in different ways · Ice it down · Find something good about it · List other uses · Lift it up · Judge alternatives · Expand the limits · Make an example of it · Correct the level · Strengthen it with iron · Tool it in leather · Join parts in new ways · Keep it simple · Understate · Laugh about it · Does it look like rain today? · Make it smarter · Raise it higher · Adjust the rhythm · Add time · Electrify · Move a mountain · Change the lettering · Reverse motion · Vary the apparatus · Make it lighter · Put it together in a different way · Replace the middle · Give it a kick · Translate to another language · Mold it in metal · Increase memory · Pour liquids into it · Reduce the tempo · Put it on a shelf · Fold it up · Make it shorter · Change the measure · Meet with others · How does it grow? · How's the market doing? · Exaggerate · Make it friendly · Machine the parts · Develop a detailed enumeration · Vary the units · Another viewpoint · Modify the mass · Attract attention with it · Find another way · Find other uses · Build a bread board · Carve it into wood · Ask a child · Survey the industry · Swap tops · Consider solid, liquid, gas phases · Make it better · Bulk up the weight · Twist it · Increase quality · Add textures · Automate · Wave it around · Take the path less traveled · Bridge the gap · Weather-proof it · Make it work · Sharpen the edges · Wash it · Write a guide for it · Polish the buttons · Turn it around · Chain it together · Make it more distinctive · Discuss it with others · Another angle · Clock the speed · Make it fly · Add examples · Slice it up · Make it narrower · Make it fail safe · Go for a swim · Switch windows · Vary the content · Drain it to the bilge · Go for a walk · Make it wider · Mold it in wax · Ask how high? · Make it ring · Upgrade the wiring · Add a door · Create a working model · Make it last a long time · Add a brake · Put a cork in it · Make it more streamlined · Box it up · Cushion the shock · Exchange cores · How does it help the nation? · Replace the frame · Bottle it · Miniaturize · Make it bigger · Add sound · Overhaul the engine · Roll the dice · Add sound effects · Knit it in wool · Sand the rough spots · Pick a number · Write about it · Dig a mole hole · Oil the parts · Make it more durable · Try something new · Observe closely · Tweak the process · Convert power · Exchange parts · Write copious notes · Flavor to taste · Reverse action and reaction · Think "Barbecue" · Make it lower · Rub it · Get a second opinion · Occupy less space · Make it use less room · Make it three dimensional · Paint it · How does it smell? · Sleep on it · Make it stronger · How is society affected? · Roll it around · Organize the process · Give it a name · Make it simpler · Transform the operation · Correct how it runs · Change the order · Follow a different set of rules · Replace the bulbs · Play it to music · Switch purposes · Write a paper · Spindle it · Make it easy · Illustrate it · Substitute people · Alter the size · Make it brighter · Exchange relationships · Replace the siding · Enrich it with silver · Trade places · Make it more effective · Bake it · Record your results · Polish the surface · Re-position · Pull, don't push · Adjust the adjustability · Read · Smooth it with silk · Add functions · Sharpen a point · Shake it · Choose something else · Lighten it · Ask questions · Run by land, by sea, by air · Alter the seating · What's the science? · Make less noise · Think "Hamburger" · Expand the dimensions · Change the temperature · Expand the range · Zoom in/out · Make it more natural · Make it louder · Substitute a different scale · Chisel it in stone · Teach others about it · Test it thoroughly · Color it · Connect another system · Revise something · Put theory into practice · Switch supports · A different thought · Add other parts · Think inside, outside, beneath, above, beside the box · Other times · Try it in summer, fall, winter, spring · Issue a statement · Stretch it out · Make it more efficient · Go deeper · Can it with tin · Roughen the surface · Restructure · Make it transportable · Talk about it · Go backwards and forward · Make it economical · Push, don't pull · Other ways to stop · Entertain suggestions · Add new ingredients · Ring it with brass · Reverse cause and effect · Change the way it's built · Get it dirty · Does it burn safely? · Concentrate it · Would it look better in steel? · Vary a stitch · Boil it · Exchange the canvas · Balance it · Change the behavior · Make it more understandable · Convert a step · Make it more comfortable · Other ways to start · Full steam ahead · Compare it to the competition · Increase current · Lengthen it · Shuffle and resort the parts · Transform the base · Change the focus · How did you discover it? · Trade stages · Augment the controller · Add aroma · Experiment · Look at the layers · Alter the action · Make it more flexible · Curve the straight lines · Clad it with copper · Make a decision with it · Have it make copies · Alter its direction · Utilize another development · Make it faster · Elaborate the design · Scour history for priors · Put a cover on it · How are you going to distribute it? · Amend the authority · Add motion · Educate yourself in theory · Revise the body · Switch the connections · Make it amusing · Identify significant events · How does it sound? · Compress it · Keep it clean · Drill a hole into it · Modify the amount · Make it more maintainable · Do something on impulse · Vary conditions · Enrich with art · Substitute color schemes · Add more to it · Change the focus · Look at it from a distance · Heat it up · Try it night and day · Swap substances · Group things together · Rise higher · Reason things out · Smooth it out in linen · Save your senses · Compose narrative · Try something else



An idea can be created out of nothing except an inspired imagination.
An idea weighs nothing.
It can be transferred across the world at the speed of light for virtually zero cost.
And yet an idea, when received by a prepared mind, can have extraordinary impact.
It can reshape that mind's view of the world.
It can dramatically alter the behavior of the mind's owner.
It can cause the mind to pass on the idea to others.

new social movement?

for a while now I have been thinking that the locally grown food initiatives that are taking place across the country and beyond are perhaps indicative of something of a shift in people's consciousness.
There are some difficulties with the developments, for example, do they cross common social and economic boundaries, does the pursuit of locally defined economy mean that people down the road are pushed out of work, does it simply represent a desperate attempt to cling on to some degree of connection to the world in an economic and social environment where commercialism rules? I think we have some serious challenges and questions to respond to when we argue for the food initiatives. My recent reading of James Lovelock's new book caused me to reflect on the issue of scale and significance of the recent research on climate warming. Whilst I recognise and take his point that perhaps it is simply too late for the vast numbers of human beings who will be caught in catastrophic rise in temperature, I feel that we need an intelligent form of response - informed yes, we can be aware of the likely futility of action geared against climate change, but it doesn't need to mean we go down without a fight.
I guess with this in mind, it is fascinating to see the diaspora of projects that are emerging - I am not interested in the 'green' ness of them, more to the point I am interested in the connectivity of them, bringing people closer in tune with their community, the land, and deepening their awareness of their world.
Here is the latest from Independent.

The city-dwellers who are becoming front garden farmers
From windswept balconies to the tiniest of backyards, a new generation of city-dwellers are growing their own vegetables wherever they can. Meg Carter digs in from the Independent newspaper:

It all started with a failed attempt to secure a plot on a local allotment. "After four years, I was still only 22nd on the waiting list," says Sebastian Mayfield, co-founder of Food Up Front. "So I began looking for an alternative closer to home. And then it dawned on me while lying in the bath one day, why don't we make better use of the space we already have?"

Mayfield's Eureka moment led him to petition a small group of locals living in the streets neighbouring his home in Balham, south London, to join him growing vegetables in front gardens or on their window sills, balconies and roofs. The idea was simple: by pooling resources and sharing expertise, participants could eat local by growing their own.

Twelve months on and Food Up Front is now signing up people for year two. It has a network of more than 30 street rep co-ordinators, and has attracted the interest of would-be urban farmers from neighbouring boroughs and beyond.

For a contribution of just £20 towards running costs, each will receive a starter pack including growing containers, locally-produced organic compost, a selection of seeds and a basic planting and harvesting guide.

"We wanted to reconnect people living in cities with food," explains Mayfield, a support worker for disabled and dyslexic children. "You don't have to own acres of countryside in Essex like Jamie Oliver to grow your own vegetables – anyone can do it using pretty much any old space."

Food Up Front co-founder Zoe Lujic, an admin worker who met Mayfield on a course on permaculture – an approach to agriculture that works with, rather than against, the natural environment – goes further. She believes front gardens can be a force for good as a defence against the worst effects of climactic extremes.

"It's about protecting the urban environment," Lujic explains. "All too often front gardens are concreted over for convenience with no thought for the important role they play. Ealing, for example, suffered flooding a few years back because so few homes had gardens which would have helped the water to drain away. Then, not long after, with limited open ground for water to be naturally stored, the hose pipe ban that followed hit hard."

Confidence rather than skill is the key for any would-be urban farmer. "The seeds we recommend people start with are simple salads – rocket, spinach – and herbs," Mayfield says. "The important thing is not to try too much too quickly. That way even the least experienced and busiest worker can get themselves up and running before graduating on to larger city-grown produce like broccoli or runner beans."

Mayfield himself did just that – from growing spinach, rocket and coriander on his balcony to tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. Lujic, meanwhile, says she successfully harvested large quantities of chillies throughout last year, despite having just one sunny window sill. In the future she hopes to encourage Food Up Front participants to find space for planting a selection of dwarf varieties of traditional English fruit.

"It's shocking how many wonderful, traditional local varieties of apples, for example, are under threat because of lack of interest from Britain's supermarkets," she observes.

The grass-roots movement Mayfield and Lujic are part of is not limited to south London. Throughout the country, a variety of local community initiatives are now being launched to encourage urban farming. Meanwhile, a range of financial support is now available to get them off the ground, including a new £50m National Lottery local food fund which opened for applications last month.

In Bristol, for example, a project called GroFun turns local gardens into growing spaces by providing expertise and volunteers. "A group of us go from garden to garden preparing beds for growing, sharing labour and tools," GroFun founder Nadia Hillman explains. "Some of the spaces we work in have been used as dumping grounds, others are forgotten urban jungles. We get owners set up and provide on-going support, including watering crops while people are on holiday."

When harvested, produce grown in this way is equally shared between all GroFun participants – garden owners and volunteers alike. A plan for the longer term, Hillman says, is setting up a local urban-grown vegetable box scheme.

Middlesbrough, meanwhile, is backing inner-city food production on a larger scale following the success of an urban farming project launched last year. The scheme is part of Designs of the Time 2007, a regional programme of sustainability-themed community projects and events.

Throughout last summer at least 1,000 people grew produce in window boxes, balconies, roundabouts and even skips. Crops were planted in June then harvested in September and cooked for a "Meal for Middlesbrough" which was eaten by 2,500 local residents. And the project looks set to go from strength to strength this year with full backing from Middlesbrough's local council and 280 growing sites across the city already confirmed.

"European funding has been secured to launch an NVQ1 level training course in urban growing," regeneration consultant Ian Collingwood explains. "Money has also been secured to set up a restaurant inspired by Jamie Oliver's Fifteen that will cook with local produce. A local food policy is being introduced with local businesses being invited to commit to using only food produced within a radius of 50 miles. And a campaign to free land locked in the middle of council estates for community growing clubs has also been approved."

Council support is one thing, but only commercial viability will secure urban farming's future, says Julie Brown, co-ordinator of north London project Growing Communities. "We grow salad leaves on our own sites because they make the best use of the small, urban spaces available in Hackney and because green salad is worth quite a lot," she explains. "The economics of urban growing are very important. Once you cultivate plots in the suburbs, it becomes viable to grow crops such as potatoes and onions on a field scale."

As well as co-ordinating and training volunteers to grow crops on three small sites in the borough, Growing Communities also runs a local farmers market and organic vegetable box scheme selling both its own produce and crops from farms on the outskirts of London. For the past two years, this has generated enough money to cover the cost of 17 part-time employees and the launch last year of an urban farm apprentice scheme. Now it is exploring ways to increase its own production and extend the model into other parts of the UK.

"Urban farming has to be seen not just as something warm and friendly but an activity that is viable within the economy to meet our ultimate aim of bringing about economic change," says Brown.

The return of the community food growers


Communities growing food together is nothing new, but the practice declined from the late Fifties onwards – in built up areas, especially – with the spread of urban development and the rise of the supermarket. Despite this, city farms, community gardens and allotments have remained popular and provide the basis on which today's grassroots urban growing schemes are being built.


The first city farm was established in London's Kentish Town in 1972. Today, city farms are well-established in many parts of the UK, offering people living in built up areas – school children, especially – invaluable access, understanding and hands-on experience of farm animals and indigenous crops. There are more than 60 city farms and a further 60 school farms in the UK.


Like city farms, community gardens are projects created in built-up areas in response to a lack of access to green space. Most involve food-growing activities, training, school visits and some form of community business. There are now about 1,000 community gardens in Britain and a further 200 city farms and community gardens currently in development. (For more information visit: www.farmgarden.org.uk)


Growing interest in allotments has been fuelled in recent years by rising interest in healthy eating, organic food and exercise as well as environmental concerns (www.nsalg.org.uk)


Community-based Urban growing schemes are being set up in towns and cities across the UK. Recent additions include south London's urban food growing network Food Up Front network (www.foodupfront.org); GroFun in Bristol, which stands for GROwing Food in Urban Neighbourhoods (contact: nadiahillman@yahoo.ca). More established schemes include north London's Growing Communities (www.growingcommunities.org.uk).