Tag Archives: sustainable development

Stacking toilets across the seasons: providing sustainable sanitation for all?

By Amita Bhakta, University Loughborough

pit latrine Rod Shaw WEDC

Where do you go to pee? Is it hygienic? Can you access it all year round? These questions don’t often cross the minds of those of us using clean toilets in the comfort of our homes, schools, workplaces, and the other public places we visit. However, in  2015, 2.3 billion people across the world did not have access to a private toilet that safely takes away their… well, poo. This risks the spread of disease and ill-health as people have no choice but to go to the toilet outside in a field or a street.

The current Sustainable Development Agenda via the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has given us, as a global population, a target to provide sanitation which meets everyone’s needs by 2030 (see SDG6, to provide clean water and sanitation for all). At the same time, we’re also working towards combating climate change and take ‘climate action’ (SDG13), ensuring gender equality (SDG5), providing a quality education for all (SDG4 ), and, importantly, ensuring good health and wellbeing for everybody (SDG3). Access to safe, improved toilets that reduce disease spread all year round is a vital part of meeting these goals. Whilst global efforts are underway to provide sustainable sanitation for all, climate change brings with it an array of risks and threats to our ability to take care of our health (Batty, 2018) through access to toilets.

In their paper in The Geographical Journal, Jewitt et al (2018) discuss how despite the fact that communities in India are gaining improved ‘pukka’ latrines, ‘stacking’ different latrine systems is not sustainable in the long term. Climate change raises the need to consider seasonality in sanitation design more carefully to adapt to risks of seasonal flooding. Whilst we can design and build man-made structures such as toilets, they are still vulnerable to the forces of nature, which can ultimately dictate whether a toilet maintains its ‘improved’ status, and leads to ‘stacking’ where different types of sanitation are used in the absence of good infrastructure.

Sustainable sanitation for all needs to be able to withstand the seasons of the year, but it also needs to consider who it is there to cater for. In recent years, the water and sanitation sector has explored the needs of women and adolescent girls for menstrual hygiene, disabled people, incontinence sufferers, and, recently, women who are going through the menopause. Individuals have different needs for sanitation, and this needs to be carefully considered in the design of each facility in the longer term. Women and girls will always need good menstrual hygiene management in toilets that are safe and dignified. Disabled people will always need a toilet that they can use easily without barriers. And, ultimately, we will all always need to pee. Sanitation for all means for all – no matter what the weather.

About the author: Amita Bhakta is a PhD candidate at the Water, Engineering, and Development Centre (WEDC) at the University of Loughborough. 

Batty, M 2018 ‘Ways to step up the fight against global antimicrobial resistance’ The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/29/ways-to-step-up-the-fight-against-global-antimicrobial-resistance  29 March 2018 [accessed 24 April 2018]

Jewitt S, Mahanta A, Gaur K. Sanitation sustainability, seasonality and stacking: Improved facilities for how long, where and whom?Geogr J2018;00:1–14. https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12258.

‘UNDP Goal 3 Good health and wellbeing’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-3-good-health-and-well-being.html [accessed 24 April 2018]

‘UNDP Goal 4 Quality education’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-4-quality-education.html [accessed 24 April 2018]

‘UNDP Goal 5 Gender equality’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-5-gender-equality.html [accessed 24 April 2018]

‘UNDP Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-6-clean-water-and-sanitation.html [accessed 24 April 2018]

‘UNDP Goal 13 Climate action’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-13-climate-action.html

Moving towards a living wage in the UK

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

4.9 million people in the UK earn less than the living wage (image credit: By George Hodan, via Wikimedia Commons)

On 18th October 2014, thousands of people took to the streets of London for a mass demonstration, arguing that “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” (BBC News, 2014). In their 2008 report for the Institute for Public Policy Research, Working out of Poverty, Lawton and Cooke found that, for the first time, more people in work are below the poverty line than those out of work. A report by The Resolution Foundation, Low Pay Britain 2014, states that as many as 1 in 5 workers or 5.2 million people earn less than than £7.70 an hour. Last year, the number of people in low-paid work (defined as less than two thirds of median hourly pay) rose by 250,000.

Wills and Linneker, writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers in 2014,  describe a living wage as one that reflects the local cost of living and the real cost of life. It is an instrument of pre-distribution, rather than using the state’s mechanisms to re-distribute wealth as a way of alleviating in-work poverty. Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) argue that Governments would be better advised to minimise the production of inequality to start with, rather than spending billions of pounds in welfare initiatives to ‘mop-up’ after the party.

Wills and Linneker write that in the UK, the living wage campaign has targeted both private and public sector employers, and the campaign is gaining pace. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has applied the living wage across its own supply chain to include the Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Fire Brigade and Transport for London. The Living Wage Foundation has been pivotal in deepening the impact and spreading the demand of the campaign through the participation of a wide coalition of champions, including Trust for London, Save the Children, Queen Mary, University of London, KPMG and Linklaters.  Flint et al. (2014), writing in the Journal of Public Health, find significant differences in psychological wellbeing between those who did, and didn’t, work for London Living Wage employers.  Recent figures show that the campaign has a long way to go.

Wills and Linneker argue that, “in the context of a Conservative-led coalition government, along with on-going economic malaise and a weak trade union movement, the demand for a living wage probably represents the best route to reducing the extent and impact of in-work poverty, and ultimately, the degree of inequality within the UK” (2014: 187-188).  By taking on a geographical perspective, the authors find that the living wage is a spatial intervention, which attempts to set a new moral minimum for wages across a labour market in a particular locality. They highlight how the impact of the living wage at one scale is very different to that experienced at other dimensions, and this shapes the arguments to be used in its defence. The living wage also raises important questions for geographers seeking to understand poverty and its potential solutions, as it can “put the scourge of economic injustice and inequality at the heart of political campaigning at all spatial scales” (2014: 192).

60-world2Low paid Britons now number five million, think tank concludes BBC News, September 27

60-world2A. Corlett and M. Whittaker 2014. Low Pay Britain 2014. The Resolution Foundation

books_iconE. Flint, S. Cummins and J. Wills 2012. Investigating the effect of the London living wage on the psychological wellbeing of low-wage service sector employees: a feasibility study. Journal of Public Health. 36 (2):187-193. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt093

60-world2K. Lawton and G. Cooke 2008. Working Out of Poverty: A study of the low-paid and the ‘working poor.’ Institute for Public Policy Research.


R. Wilkinson and K. Pickett K 2010. The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone Penguin, London

books_iconJ. Wills and B. Linneker 2014. In-work poverty and the living wage in the United Kingdom: a geographical perspective. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers39 (2): 182–194. doi: 10.1111/tran.12020. 


September 24, 2014

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

People’s Climate March, New York City March 2014 (image credit: South Bend Voice Flickr)

On the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, the city saw an estimated 400,000 people take to the streets in the largest climate change march in history. Marchers gathered in cities across the world to call for ambitious action on climate change policy: 40,000 in London, and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Tanzania, the Maasai marched across their traditional lands to draw attention to the protection of their homelands in the Serengeti from climate change impacts.

These marches indicated the public’s frustration of political failure to reach, and implement, effective climate deals, and this anxiety is compounded by stark warnings from the academic community.  In Nature Geoscience, Friedlingstein et al. (2014) write that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have, on average, grown by 2.5% per year over the past decade. Two thirds of the CO2 emission quota consistent with a 2°C temperature limit has already been used, and it is predicted that the total quota will likely be exhausted 30 years from now, using 2014 emissions rates. Friedlingstein et al. find that carbon intensity improvements of emerging economies have been lower than anticipated, and warn that without more strict mitigation measures, these trends will continue.  Therefore, they stress, a break in current emission trends is urgently needed in the short term, to keep within the 2°C temperature limit.

The Global Carbon Budget 2014 found the top five CO2 emitters to be China, USA, EU, India and the Russian Federation. In a BBC article, Professor Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia stated that a significant proportion of China’s emissions were driven by demand from consumers in Europe and the USA: “In China, about 20% of their emissions are for producing clothes, furniture even solar panels that are shipped to Europe and America.”  Writing in Geography Compass in 2008, Kaplinsky stated that the distribution of income in China moved from being one of the world’s most equal to one of the world’s most unequal economies in a couple of decades. Kaplinsky argued that China and other Asian emerging economies must be included in discussions of global governance.  Six years later, during this week’s Climate Summit, China for first time pledged to take action on climate, with the aim for reducing its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45% by 2020.

Given the impacts of globalization on climate, poverty, and inequality, and considering the scale of the impacts of climate change, the report New Climate Economy: Better Growth, Better Climate puts forward areas in which international co-operation has the potential to make a significant impact on the prospects for low-carbon and climate-resilient growth, as well as a ten-point action plan. The report states that national economic policies will need to be significantly revised in the next 15 years, when the global economy is expected to grow by more than half. On the day of the report’s release, President Obama tweeted, “This study concludes that no one has to choose between fighting climate change and growing the economy”.

Writing for The Guardian Sustainable Business, Professor Tim Jackson argues that the report is framed around the “dubious claim that we can have our cake and eat it,” and highlights how improving our prosperity might not be at all synonymous with growing the economy. Lord Stern, one of the authors of the New Climate Economy report states that in order to prevent runaway climate change, we need to develop broader measures of success, widen our vision of prosperity and return to core values, but it is critical that growth is included as an objective. The two defining challenges of this century are poverty and climate change, and “if we fail on one, we fail on the other.”


60-world2P. FriedlingsteinR. M. AndrewJ. RogeljG. P. PetersJ. G. CanadellR. KnuttiG. LudererM. R. RaupachM. SchaefferD. P. van Vuuren and C. Le Quéré 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targetsNature Geoscience. Advance online publication doi:10.1038/ngeo2248 

books_iconR. Kaplinsky 2008. Globalisation, Inequality and Climate Change: What Difference Does China Make? Geography Compass 2(1): 67–78.

60-world2C. Le Quéré, R. Moriarty, R. M. Andrew, G. P. Peters, P. Ciais, P. Friedlingstein, S. D. Jones, S. Sitch, P. Tans et al. 2014. Global carbon budget 2014 Earth Systems Science Data. Discussion Paper, 7: 521-610.

60-world2The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2014. Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report

60-world2China’s per capita carbon emissions overtake EU’s BBC News, September 21

60-world2Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action Time, September 23

60-world2Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2The dilemma of growth: prosperity v economic expansion Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action BBC News, September 24

Bricks, Mortar and Bricolage: an Economic Geographer’s Take on the Stumbling Blocks of Knowledge Transfer in the Built Environment Industry

by Briony Turner

Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tree of Knowledge

If you can get past the academic jargon, there’s an interesting article on knowledge transfer of green building design by James Faulconbridge in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  Perhaps the reason it’s interesting in a practitioner sense, is that it is based on actual professional practice –it draws not only upon other academic reflections, but also on those of 25 current British/Australian industry professionals.

The paper says it aims to suggest a framework for geographical analysis of attempts at mobilising green design knowledge.  However, it misses a trick, in that it raises some salient and relevant points for industry with regard to the stumbling blocks of transferring innovative design and best practice into action.  For those in the built environment industry it will come as no surprise that application of this framework, i.e.. the paper’s conclusion, reveals that knowledge is situated and place-specific and that solutions need to incorporate bricolage within knowledge assembly and transfer.

The author makes reference to blockage of attempts to reduce environmental impact being in part due to the lack of recognition of the “benefits of collective learning and the sharing of green design knowledges” -whilst this paper is not country specific, for the UK this is not necessarily the case.  The stumbling block quite often, as pointed out later in the paper, is the institutional context, particularly time, importance and resource allocated to the processes of knowledge mobility.  Much new knowledge, often termed within industry ‘best practice’ (even when its more-often-than-not actually innovative practice), is freely available, but hearing about it, knowing where to find it and having time to digest it and work out how to adapt current practice to incorporate it, are part of the daily struggle of most bought-in, already interested practitioners.  For those that aren’t (the greater challenge when it comes to step-change within professional practice) other/additional knowledge mobility tactics may well be required.

Many professionals use conferences as a means of staying up to date, the odd lucky few get to go on study tours as mentioned in the paper.  However, in these austere times, ability, both in terms of time away from the desk and cost, for the majority, is hampered.  Cracking how to enable effective knowledge transfer within current regime constraints is certainly a challenge worthy of uptake here in the UK.

The paper also suggests that economic geographers can contribute to debates about transitions to sustainability and building design via institutional analyses of knowledge mobility.  Hopefully they will, but perhaps in more accessible language, to ensure their own knowledge contributions aren’t rendered ‘situated’ within academia.  It would be wonderful to see the recommendations within this paper in plain English, in trade press such as the RIBA Journal, Inside Housing, Building, Eco Building, Green Building etc.

Now, a brief, but I hope the reader will agree, salient semantic foray into a few of the terms being used.  Focus of academic and industry efforts must not get tied to purely a focus on ‘green design’ as commonly perceived and, in fact, as reflected in this paper’s definition, as “negative environmental impact mitigating” design, but instead should ensure that focus includes the social aspect, i.e. not simply the wider community/society, but the people, the inhabitant(s), aspect of homes.  Homes should be fit for habitation now and in the future, i.e. resilient/enable their inhabitants to be resilient to current and future climatic projections.

Along these same lines, industry needs to assign more importance on the incorporation of domestic function as well as to form and fabric into thinking on green/sustainable design.  Whilst at present there is increasing focus on energy efficiency behaviour of inhabitants (pause here for a wry smile on reading the title of the National Housing Federation’s recent launch event of their “Count us in” report on this, aptly named Don’t forget the people”), the internal environment of homes and health of inhabitants receive less attention, yet are, as, if not more, important – certainly important for those landlords aware of the housing health and safety rating system

Furthermore, sustainable design/green design that tackles both mitigation of carbon emissions from residential stock and adaptation of stock to projected changes in climate is not confined to new build.  These are design issues as relevant to new build as to existing housing stock.  For more information on this, take a look at the useful, clearly set out, easy to read “Design for Future Climate” report produced by the Technology Strategy Board, and for those wanting facts and figures on overheating in particular, take a look at the Department for Communities and Local Government’s recent gap analysis and literature review, which formed part of their investigation into the overheating of homes – their recommendations are also worth a read.

If you’re struggling to connect why excessively cold and overheating homes are design problems, take a look at the Heatwave Plan and the Cold Weather Plan for England 2012, short documents both published by the NHS whose recommendations include factors relating to the built environment.  The NHS picks up the pieces of this current neglect of thinking about the internal environment and domestic life within homes.  Its staff know all too well the contribution of poor housing stock to the medical and death toll during periods of climatic extremes, projected to become increasingly more frequent over the coming years.  Speaking of the NHS, there is an intriguing piece of research underway called SHOCK (not) HORROR which is capturing the highly refined and evolved efficient knowledge transfer processes within A&E wards for help in improving infrastructure resilience. Watch this space…

books_iconJames Faulconbridge, 2012, Mobile ‘green’ design knowledge: institutions, bricolage and the relational production of embedded sustainable building designs, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00523.x

globe42Count us in”, National Housing Federation

globe42Cold Weather Plan for England 2012, National Health Service

globe42Design for Future Climate, Technology Strategy Board

globe42Heatwave Plan for England 2012, National Health Service

globe42Investigation into overheating in homes: analysis of gaps and recommendations, Department for  Communities and Local Government

globe42Investigation into overheating in homes: literature review, Department for Communities and Local Government

Opportunities for sustainability

I-Hsien Porter

Recycling bins

Recycling bins: sustainability in action?

From the 2012 Olympics to doorstep recycling collections, one issue that geographers are repeatedly confronted with is ‘sustainability.’ For example, in a recent photography project, the photographer Andy Spain imagines how London’s architecture would look in a more sustainable and ‘greener’ future.

One of the most widely used definitions of sustainable development is that of the UN’s Brundtland Report, published in the 1980s: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

A paper by Colin Williams and Andrew Millington, in The Geographical Journal, explores two possible responses to sustainable development, either (1) increasing the amount of resources available or, (2) reducing the amount of resources we need.

Many of our responses to the sustainability challenge have focused on the first option. Developing renewable resources, finding substitutes or making more effective use of resources are all ways in which we can meet present and future needs.

But long term planning must also look at ways of reducing the demands we place on the Earth (e.g. by consuming less), so that we need fewer resources to meet our needs in the first place.

In practice, the boundaries between these two approaches are rather more blurred, and sustainable development usually involves some combination of both. This, argue Williams and Millington, generates new opportunities to unite different aspects of geography to generate new ideas about our planet’s future.

‘Ecocities’, a photography project by Andy Spain

Williams, C. and Millington, A. (2004) ‘The Diverse and Contested Meanings of Sustainable Development’, The Geographical Journal 170 (2): 99-104