15 October 2010

Water, water, everywhere...

One of the more memorable water factoids that crossed my monitor in the last week is that more people in the world have access to a mobile phone than to a flushing toilet.

Saving water is the theme of this year's Blog Action Day when bloggers throughout the world join in a mass-post of blogs about water shortage.

Access to water - or rather the lack of access to an essential everyday commodity we in the west take for granted - has been uppermost in my mind these last few days in the run-up to today's Global Handwashing Day.

Handwashing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrhoeal and acute respiratory infections, which take the lives of millions of children in developing countries every year. Together, they are responsible for the majority of all child deaths.

Those of us lucky to live in countries where water is available quite literally on tap should be doing all we can to raise awareness of how important it is for us to use water wisely so that there is enough to go around for everyone. Unlike electricity, we cannot produce extra water to make up a world shortfall.

Saving water is one of the regular environmental issues that are discussed and normally I  hang my head in shame at how little my fellow UK citizens seem to care about adopting a 'greener' lifestyle. Apparently we in Britain are bottom of the list in Europe for prioritising environmentally friendlier features when it comes to buying new kitchen and bathroom appliances.

However, what I am proud of is how some of the companies I frequently write about as an interiors journalist are doing all they can to produce products that have less impact on the world's resources.

The Whirlpool Corporation is the world's largest manufacturer of domestic appliances and it has just released a whole family of products in Europe that are environmentally friendlier than the products they replace.

One that caught my attention was the Whirlpool ADP 7955 WH dishwasher pictured above. A dishwasher may strike some people as a luxury because many consumers still don’t recognise how efficient a dishwasher can be, particularly when it comes to water consumption.

A study published by the University of Bonn in 2003 measured the amount of water used when washing dishes by hand. In the UK this figure came out at 63 litres (to wash 12 place settings).

The average UK dishwasher uses just 15 litres to do the same amount. The Green Generation Dishwasher from Whirlpool uses just 11 litres for a full cycle, however, with the use of Whirlpool's patented 6th Sense appliance management technology, this could be as low as 7 litres - a staggering 56 litre saving vs. hand washing and even an 8 litre saving vs. the UK average dishwasher!

I cannot think of many appliances that provide so many winning solutions. The user enjoys the benefits of having their dishes cleaned much more efficiently than they can possibly do by hand, if their water supply is on a water meter, the reduced water consumption will help to offset the cost of the dishwasher, and the water saved can be put to better use.

29 September 2010

October deadline looming for tax returns

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has issued an alert to anyone filing their Self Assessment tax return on paper – get it in by 31 October, or you could face a £100 penalty.

If you normally file on paper, you could also file your return online instead. It’s simple to file your return electronically – three quarters of Self Assessment filers already do it – and you get three months longer to file.

Online filing has other advantages too: your tax is calculated automatically; you get an immediate online acknowledgement once you’ve filed; and it’s processed faster, so any money you’re owed is repaid more quickly.

Registering for online filing is simple – visit the HMRC website at www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa and click “Register for Self Assessment Online”.

Help and advice is available from the HMRC website at www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa or from the Self Assessment helpline on 0845 9000 444.

20 September 2010

A bridge too far for KBB folk?

After 25-odd years of reporting on the UK's kitchen industry - and there has been some pretty odd years amongst them - it was good to be in on the ground floor of what looks like an event with legs.

The kbbreview kitchen industry conference got off to a great start - not perfect by any means but with a lot more that was right about it than was wrong - and next year's event will be even better I am sure.

But as I drove off into the sunset to take my rightful place in the car park that is the M25 orbital road at 6:00 pm on any weekday, I left asking myself a few questions.

The first debate in the afternoon at the kbbreview conference was: "Who Speaks For Us?" and this asked: "Why are there no significant bodies representing the needs of the kitchen industry as a whole?".

The answer is because the kitchen industry does not do anything as a whole.

Even the question itself acknowledges the diverse beast that is the UK kitchen industry when it says "no significant bodies" rather than "body".

Perhaps it is not possible to have one organisation at retail level that represents all strands of kitchen retailing. The gap between how a high-end, bespoke furniture manufacturer goes about its kitchen business and how B&Q flogs its kitchens is not just wide, it makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the pavement.

But at manufacturers' level, the gap between the top and the bottom of the market is much smaller and in some areas almost disappears completely.

Thirty years ago, a group of kitchen showroom owners, concerned about the inroads direct sellers were making into "their" business area, got together and formed what is now The Kitchen Bedroom and Bathroom Specialists Association (KBSA). Its role then and now was to look after its members' interests.

Only in relatively recent times has the KBSA added a consumer focus and that is mainly there to promote its members. Quite right too, they foot the bills.

The question now is do suppliers to the kitchen industry need an association or trade body? If they do, then they will have to make a break from any one sector of kitchen retailing. Short term, this would give the KBSA a cashflow problem as several manufacturers join it as corporate members.

But the KBSA is a retailers' association and its single-minded focus should not prevent suppliers to the kitchen sector as a whole from forming a worthwhile association of its own.

16 September 2010

The unavoidable impacts of climate change

Britain must prepare for the ‘unavoidable’ impacts of climate change as well as continuing to cut carbon emissions, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman will say today.

The Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) will publish today the first national assessment of how well the prepared the UK is for climate change. The report concludes that, with the impacts of climate change already being felt in the UK, people must start preparing now.

With UK Climate Projections predicting significantly warmer summers, wetter winters and more frequent extreme weather events over the coming years, Caroline Spelman will use a speech to the ASC to issue a ‘wake-up call’ to British society that urgent action is needed to protect our economy, our infrastructure and our way of life.

Caroline Spelman will say:

“Today’s report provides a wake- up call. It recognises that there is no part of our society which is immune from the effects of climate change. Which means that every part of our society must think about its resilience.

“While it is vital that we continue the task of drastically cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, we know that we are already facing levels of unavoidable climate change.

“Britain’s economy will only be as resilient and prepared as British firms, communities and infrastructure.

“Adapting to climate change may also offer some of its biggest opportunities. The transition to a low carbon, well-adapted global economy could create hundreds of thousands of sustainable green jobs. But we must – all of us – take steps now to recognise the problem, analyse the risk and plan ahead.”

The ASC report found that while progress is being made by Government in raising awareness, more action needs to be taken on the ground in five priority areas – land use planning, infrastructure, buildings, natural resources and emergency planning. Defra has responded to the report by publishing a strategic statement outlining the way forward to adapt the UK to climate change risks and opportunities.

9 September 2010

DEFRA to consult public on water supplies

Members of the public can have their say on how the country’s water supplies are managed in the future.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has today launched an online survey, asking people to give their ideas ahead of the Water White Paper.

The Water White Paper, due to be published early next summer, will set out the Government’s plans for the water industry. It will address challenges such as future resource needs, charging and affordability.

Water issues recently hit national headlines with a drought and hosepipe ban in the North West, just six months after severe flooding, prompting discussions about water conservation and availability. Concerns have also been raised about the cost of water bills.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said:

“There’s a growing population and a changing climate putting more pressure on our water supplies.

“Recent events have shown just how fragile our water supplies are and how we need to manage them properly in the future. It’s an issue that affects all of us, so we want to give everyone the chance to get involved in drawing up solutions.”

The Water White Paper will look at:

1. Securing water resources for the future;

2. Increasing choice and competitive opportunities, driving innovation, improving customer service and value;

3. Creating a modern regulatory system that protects customers and minimises regulatory burdens;

4. Ensuring fair and affordable water charges; and

5. Incentivising water conservation.

The launch of the online survey comes during World Water Week (5-11 September), an annual event for the planet’s most urgent water-related issues. The online survey can be found on the new DEFRA website.