Sustainablog

This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.

5.8.06

Energy 101: How Blackouts Work


[Useful background for those of us talking about Decentralised Generation (DG), and alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and fuel cells]


How Blackouts Work
by Marshall Brain

The blackout on August 14, 2003 was the biggest in U.S. history. And just like every major blackout, it raised a lot of questions about how our power distribution system works.

At a high level, the power grid is a very simple thing. It consists of a set of large power plants (hydropower plants, nuclear power plants, etc.) all connected together by wires. One grid can be as big as half of the United States. (See How Power Distribution Grids Work to learn about the different pieces of the grid.)




Photo courtesy
U.S. Department of Energy
A breakdown of the major power plants in
the United States, by type


A grid works very well as a power distribution system because it allows a lot of sharing. If a power company needs to take a power plant or a transmission tower off line for maintenance, the other parts of the grid can pick up the slack.

The thing that is so amazing about the power grid is that it cannot store any power anywhere in the system. At any moment, you have millions of customers consuming megawatts of power. At that same moment you have dozens of power plants producing exactly the right amount of power to satisfy all of that demand. And you have all the transmission and distribution lines sending the power from the power plants to the consumers.




Photo courtesy
U.S. Department of Energy
A map of U.S. electric control area operators (CAO). Computerized systems at each CAO monitor the power grid activity and balance power generation (supply) with power consumption (demand).

This system works great, and it can be highly reliable for years at a time. However, there can be times, particularly when there is high demand, that the interconnected nature of the grid makes the entire system vulnerable to collapse. Here's how that happens:

Let's say that the grid is running pretty close to its maximum capacity. Something causes a power plant to suddenly trip off line. The "something" might be anything from a serious lightning strike to a bearing failure and subsequent fire in a generator. When that plant disconnects from the grid, the other plants connected to it have to spin up to meet the demand. If they are all near their maximum capacity, then they cannot handle the extra load. To prevent themselves from overloading and failing, they will disconnect from the grid as well. That only makes the problem worse, and dozens of plants eventually disconnect. That leaves millions of people without power.

The same thing can happen if a big transmission line fails. In 1996 there was a major blackout in the western U.S. and Canada because the wires of a major transmission line sagged into some trees and shorted out. When that transmission line failed, all of its load shifted to neighboring transmission lines. They then overloaded and failed, and the overload cascaded through the grid.

In nearly every major blackout, the situation is the same. One piece of the system fails, then the pieces near it cannot handle the increased load caused by the failure, so they fail. The multiple failures make the problem worse and worse and a large area ends up in the dark.

One solution to the problem would be to build significant amounts of excess capacity -- extra power plants, extra transmission lines, etc. By having extra capacity, it would be able to pick up the load at the moment that something else failed. That approach would work, but it would increase our power bills. At this moment we have made the choice as a society to save the money and live with the risk of blackouts. Once we get tired of blackouts and the disruption they cause, we will make a different choice.



Big Blackouts in U.S. History
  • The Great Northeast Blackout of 1965: After a relay failure, more than 80,000 square miles of the northeastern United States and parts of Canada lost power, turning the lights out on 30 million people.
  • The New York Blackout of 1977: One hot night in July, multiple lightning strikes knocked out power to the entire city of New York, leaving 8 million people without light or air conditioning. The blackout triggered mass looting and arson across much of the city.
  • The Northwestern Blackout of 1996: Transmission lines sagged into some trees, causing an electrical short that knocked out power to more than 4 million people in Oregon, California and other western states.
  • The Blackout of 2003:Cities across the midwestern United States, northeastern United States and southern Canada lost power, apparently due to a problem with a series of transmission lines known as "The Lake Eerie Loop." Roughly 50 million people lost power.


1.8.06

Ricoh to Ask Suppliers to Reduce CO2 Emissions


Ricoh to Ask Suppliers to Reduce CO2 Emissions
Source:
Japan for Sustainability
TOKYO, July 12, 2006 - Ricoh Co., a major Japanese manufacturer of office equipment and supplies, will ask its suppliers of parts and other materials to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions as part of its green procurement activities. The company will officially make the request to its 700 suppliers starting in 2008.

Presently, the company's green procurement policy aimed at environmental conservation requires suppliers to obtain environmental management system (EMS) certifications under ISO14001, Ricoh's company guidelines, and Eco Action 21 (EA21) and Chemical Substances Management System (CSMS) certification. The CO2 emission reduction requirement will constitute another concrete case of environmental impact reduction resulting from green procurement.

Among Ricoh group's corporate activities, resource material input processes account for about one half of total CO2 emissions. Consequently, since 2005 the group has worked on formulating standards for CO2 calculations, compiling know-how for CO2 reduction, and systematizing calculation tools in relation to parts and material procurement. The company has also developed strategies for reducing environmental impacts by providing suppliers with know-how and tools. The request for CO2 emission reduction is expected to extend these activities.

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31.7.06

Small businesses 'not ready for age bias laws'


Small businesses 'not ready for age bias laws'

By John Willman, Business Editor

Published: July 4 2006 03:00 | Last updated: July 4 2006 03:00

Small businesses are largely unprepared for age discrimination legislation three months before it comes into effect, according to a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce and the Employers' Forum on Ageing.

While most knew that new employment regulations were due to come into force in October, less than a quarter knew they included rules against age discrimination.

Very few could recallseeing information packs sent out by the government that set out their new responsibilities and warned them that failure to observe the rules could lead to legal challenges.

Sam Mercer, director of the EFA, said: "Small businesses cannot afford to ignore these laws. People of all ages will be protected and this could lead to a huge increase in discrimination claims."

The new legislation comes into force on October 1, carrying the same weight as earlier laws on gender, race, disability and sexual orientation. It requires employers to change policies and practices in recruitment, selection, training, appraisal, redundancy and retirement.

Victims of age discrimination can take their complaints to employment tribunals, making it essential for employers to have acceptable procedures and proper documentation to defend their practices.

One of the most contentious parts of the legislation is the removal of the upper age limits on dismissal and redundancy. Employers will still be allowed to retire staff at 65 but employees will have the right to ask to work on.

While almost two-thirds of the employers in the survey knew employees would be able to work on after 65, barely a third knew they would be able to retire them at 65.

"Retirement will be a big issue for small businesses," said the EFA. "They can retire people at 65 but they must have the processes in place to follow the rules."

The need to avoid age discrimination in recruitment was also expected to raise difficulties for small businesses, said Lewis Sidnick of the BCC, because they did not have human resources departments to handle discrimination issues.

"They have been swamped by employment legislation, and they recruit people very infrequently. They are going to find that things they have taken for granted have to be revised - even if they are in a hurry to fill a vacancy."

Yesterday, Heyday, the retirement issues organisation backed by Age Concern, filed a challenge in London's High Court against the fact that the regulations will still permit a mandatory retirement age of 65 and that employers will also be able to refuse to recruit anyone over that age.

The organisation said it believed unless mandatory retirement ages were scrap-ped, the directive would not stop older people who wanted to keep working from being forced out.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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Labour abuses claim in Mexican electronics industry


Labour abuses claim in Mexican electronics industry

By Alison Maitland in London

Published: July 14 2006 03:00 | Last updated: July 14 2006 03:00

Workers assembling electronic equipment in Mexico for multinationals such as Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sony are suffering discrimination and humiliating treatment despite a drive by these companies to stamp out labour abuses, a new study says.

Cases include workers being exposed to toxic materials; job applicants having to reveal their religious beliefs, sexual preferences and union affiliation as well as being forced to agree to submit to degrading tests; and temporary rolling contracts as short as 15 days that deny workers holidays and severance pay.

Many of the problems lie with employment agencies that hire workers for contract manufacturers, such as Celestica, Flextronics, Jabil and Solectron, which supply the multinationals, says the study by Mexico's Centre for Reflection and Action on Labour Rights (Cereal).

Cereal is a partner of Cafod, the Catholic development agency, whose exposé of labour abuses in the technology industry's global supply chain was reported first in the FT in January 2004. In October of that year, Dell, HP, IBM and five of their suppliers launched the electronics industry code of conduct (EICC), to which 15 companies have now signed up.

"We welcome the fact that companies such as HP and IBM are now listening to our concerns about the difficult conditions workers experience in factories in their supply chains," said Jorge Barajas, author of the study.

"But the report shows that despite the progress already made by the companies, problems such as discrimination, sexual harassment, low wages, employment instability and lack of trade union freedom are still widespread within the electronics industry in Mexico."

The study covers 77 cases. In one, in March, more than 600 workers were contaminated with e.coli through polluted drinking water at a Jabil plant, it says.

"We were told it wasn't anything serious," one worker is quoted as saying. "I have headaches as a result of the accident and I can't eat because I get nausea. We are afraid we will get sacked while we are still unwell and they won't give us anything."

Maria, an operator at Kemet, a contractor making capacitors for companies such as Motorola and Delphi, reports working with toxic materials including lead, flux and epoxy. "I get spots because of the soldering," she is quoted as saying. "Some of my colleagues get nausea and headaches because of the smell."

Cereal alleges that companies sign collective employment contracts with unrepresentative trade unions in secret for a fee to prevent workers from organising freely. Mexican law states that only a union can negotiate with a company on work issues, it says.

Most workers do not know they "belong" to the unrepresentative union. "This is a serious attempt against freedom of association," said Mr Barajas. "

Cereal invited companies to investigate the cases and includes their comments in the report. In a few cases, they dispute the allegations. In most, they document corrective action.

HP, which is praised for having recently included collective bargaining in its supplier requirements, told the FT it was committed to dealing with supply chain violations. But this could not be done by "quick fixes".

Brad Bennett of Intel, who chairs the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct, said: "The technology industry recognises there will always be opportunity for improvement. However, one of the virtues of having a consistent set of expectations will be the ability to identify and address issues quickly."

Anne Lindsay, private- sector policy analyst at Cafod, said there was growing interest from campaign groups in the electronics industry. "A broader range of companies is going to be coming under scrutiny."

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Cadbury's bug may be in 30 more products: Food watchdog testing all sweets containing contaminated ingredient


Cadbury's bug may be in 30 more products

Food watchdog testing all sweets containing contaminated ingredient

Felicity Lawrence
Saturday July 1, 2006

The Guardian

Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar. Photograph: Dan Chung/Guardian
 


The salmonella strain that led to the recalling of one million bars of Cadbury's chocolate may have contaminated many more of the company's brands, the Food Standards Agency has told the Guardian.

Fears have been raised because the mix used in the seven products that were taken off the shelves was also the base ingredient in other brands.

Thirty others are now being tested and the FSA has not ruled out the possible withdrawal of others. "There may be contamination in other Cadbury products," said spokesman Justin Everard.


"We have discussed it with them. They are testing all their finished products and the local authority is testing as well. If more products come up positive we will expect them to recall them too."

Cadbury first detected a rare strain of salmonella in samples of its chocolate crumb - a sugar, milk and cocoa mix - in January. The company told the FSA of the contamination on June 19. The crumb, made at its Herefordshire factory, is used as the base for products made at the Cadbury factories near Birmingham and Bath.

The FSA said it understood that the crumb from which the salmonella-positive samples came went into a large number of Cadbury products. Tests on the final products found samples from seven brands positive for Salmonella Montevideo, and so those seven brands were recalled. Although the FSA believes that the crumb was contaminated over a period, there has been no recall of other products.

Birmingham council's food safety team confirmed it was currently testing about 30 Cadbury brands other than those recalled already that had been made from crumb stored in the silo into which the contaminated product had been put.

"The crumb goes into a very large number of Cadbury products. There is the inevitable question, is there a danger it is in other things. They've tested all their final products and we believe the recall is proportionate," Mr Everard said. Although Cadbury says it is confident that the source of the contamination has been removed, the FSA said it was not certain where the salmonella came from.

Cadbury's director of communications Andrea Dawson-Shepherd said the contaminated crumb was "only detected in the products recalled". "We are testing product lines four times a day, and environmental health are checking so they can feel as confident as we do about our testing regime. We have tested all products and we've found no salmonella." she said. Cadbury said it had traced the salmonella source to a leaking waste pipe at the Herefordshire factory which had been fixed.

The contamination was uncovered when the health protection agency noticed an increase in reported cases of salmonella Montevideo. A private laboratory used by Cadbury had separately sent nine anonymous samples of the bacteria to the HPA for identification and the HPA noticed a possible link. Since the laboratory declined to identify its client, the HPA informed the FSA on June 16 of its concerns. The FSA then contacted the lab, and on July 19 Cadbury admitted the salmonella Montevideo samples were from its chocolate products. The company said the salmonella had been detected at such low levels it had decided it was not a risk and had therefore not notified the FSA. The FSA said it was surprised by the delay.

Kath Dalmeny, policy expert at the campaign group The Food Commission said: "It seems Cadbury has been arrogant enough to rely on its reputation to get it through a crisis rather than taking immediate action."

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Cadbury's safety checks 'unreliable'

Felicity Lawrence, consumer affairs correspondent
Tuesday July 4, 2006

The Guardian

Cadbury's system for checking the safety of its products is unreliable, out of date and underestimates the level and likelihood of salmonella contamination, the Food Standards Agency's expert advisory committee said yesterday.

Cadbury has been forced to recall more than 1m bars of chocolate because the base ingredient used in their manufacture was contaminated with salmonella at its Herefordshire factory. Only seven brands have been recalled even though contaminated chocolate crumb was fed over a three week period into silos used to make about 30 other Cadbury brands.

At an emergency meeting on Friday, the FSA's microbiological safety committee said "the presence of salmonella in ready to eat foods such as chocolate is unacceptable at any level". Where contaminated crumb was used in the manufacture of products other than those recalled, there could be a cause for concern, it said.

Tests on samples of finished products have found salmonella in the seven brands recalled but not in others. Only a small proportion of the final products have been tested, according to an official checking the Cadbury's factory near Birmingham. "It is possible salmonella is out in those products and that tests won't find it. What we and Cadbury are doing with testing is just at needle in haystack level," said Birmingham city council's food safety team leader, Nick Lowe.

Cadbury said last night it was aware of the report to the FSA. "At all times we have acted in good faith and we do not challenge the views of the expert committee or the environmental health officers. We will be changing our procedures in the light of their advice."

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Salmonella outbreaks kept secret by Cadbury in 2002

Felicity Lawrence
Wednesday July 5, 2006

The Guardian

Salmonella food poisoning bacteria were found in Cadbury's Dairy Milk and Brazil Caramel as long ago as 2002, but the company has kept the information from the authorities until now. The Food Standards Agency revealed yesterday that records just extracted from Cadbury show that its factories suffered outbreaks of the same rare Salmonella Montevideo strain in April and November that year.

Cadbury has told the food watchdog it destroyed its contaminated products at the time but failures identified by the FSA in the manufacturers' safety regime call into question how effective previous testing would have been. The FSA said it had still not received full details about the contamination. Cadbury told the Guardian it had been unable to identify the source of the salmonella four years ago.

Article continues



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Cadbury was forced to recall seven brands of chocolate 10 days ago after admitting that in January it found salmonella contamination in the crumb, or base ingredient, that goes into their manufacture. The company delayed six months before informing the FSA of its latest problem. The same contaminated crumb was delivered into silos at two Cadbury factories that make 30 of its other brands. The authorities and Cadbury are now testing samples from stocks of the other brands and of new products for salmonella.

The heads of food safety at Herefordshire and Birmingham councils, who are investigating the contamination, are focusing on why Cadbury's testing regime let tankers of contaminated crumb continue to be delivered when tests had come back positive for salmonella, and on what advice the company decided that a low level of salmonella was acceptable contamination. More than 30 people have become ill with the same rare strain of salmonella food poisoning since March.

The Guardian has learned that several tankers of crumb from Herefordshire tested positive for Salmonella Montevideo in a three-week period this year. However, Cadbury's just-in-time system of production meant tankers were dispatched and their contents mixed at other factories before test results were seen. Andrew Tector, Herefordshire's head of environmental health, said: "We are looking at why their testing [procedures] were such that results come too late. A tanker leaves every hour. Tests for faecal coliforms and salmonella come back after 27-29 hours. [It] renders the test meaningless."

A spokeswoman for Cadbury said: "Under the legislation, it is left to the manufacturer to determine their testing protocols. We did this based on sound independent science. At all times we have acted in good faith."



Special reports

What's wrong with our food?
The BSE crisis
The GM food debate
Foot and mouth disease

Case studies

10.05.2003:
The Tullbergs
10.05.2003:
The McRaes
10.05.2003:
The Braithwaites
10.05.2003:
The Bowers
10.05.2003:
Sabeena Uttam
10.05.2003:
Joan Harris

Useful links

Food Standards Agency
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Slow Food movement
Sustain - alliance for better food and farming
Which?
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Fears over impact of global warming on China's rivers; China's chance to save our overheated planet


China's chance to save our overheated planet

By Victor Mallet

Published: July 6 2006 03:00 | Last updated: July 6 2006 03:00

When I moved to Hong Kong from Europe three years ago, one of the first things I did was look out the office window and comment on the filthy smog. I thought it was stating the obvious, but it earned me a reputation among colleagues as a slightly deranged environmentalist.

Hong Kong's inhabitants were afflicted not only by winter smog from mainland China but also by what is known in the US as "creeping normalcy": because the air pollution had worsened steadily over three decades, they forgot there had ever been crystal-clear days and accepted the city's leaden pall as normal. Three years on, the political atmosphere has changed. Barely a week goes by without a foreign chamber of commerce or a local politician expressing concern about the city's air quality. Some business executives have moved to Singapore for the sake of their families.

There is public bemusement that Hong Kong investors, who own 70,000 of the factories in neighbouring Guangdong province, are prepared to contribute to the poisoning of their own children for the sake of a few cents saved on pollution-control measures. Nor can anyone understand why a government in Beijing that has nearly $1,000bn (£545bn) in foreign exchange reserves and suppresses dissent by monitoring millions of e-mails a day with high-tech efficiency is unwilling to tackle the toxic smoke belching from factories and power stations.

Air pollution in the Pearl River Delta is a local problem but it is also a visible part of the challenge facing the entire global environment as a result of China's economic rise. This challenge is so daunting that it is tempting - even for deranged environmentalists -- to pretend it is not there at all, just as nuclear conflict was such a horrifying prospect during the cold war that many people preferred to ignore it. But face it we must.

Jared Diamond concluded in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking) that achieving China's goal of first-world living standards would roughly double humanity's use of natural resources and its environmental impact. "That is the strongest reason why China's problems automatically become the world's problems," he wrote.

China's fast-rising contribution to global warming is one example. The US is currently the largest emitter of greenhouse gases but industrialising China is already in second place and will soon lead unless there is a drastic change in policy and practice. Few in Beijing envisage such a change. As in Washington, the emphasis remains on maintaining economic growth.

Because climate change, however severe, typically happens over decades or centuries, we succumb to the phenomenon of "creeping normalcy" when we debate it. For once, the media can be accused of underplaying a big story. "The wider security implications of climate change have been largely ignored and seriously underestimated in public policy, academia and the media," say Alan Dupont and Graeme Pearman in a new study* of the implications of climate change for the Asia-Pacific.

So far, so gloomy. Yet there are ways in which China can and perhaps will limit its global environmental impact and its contribution to climate change, just as there are ways in which it can reduce air pollution in the Pearl River Delta if it wants to. China has recently adopted some of the world's most ambitious policies on energy efficiency, renewable energy and vehicle emissions, including taxes and targets far more stringent than those in America. It is reasonable, however, to ask whether China's communist leaders are as determined to implement their green policies as they are to announce them.

China, after all, is motivated by fears about energy security and public anger over pollution scandals, not by a desire to save the planet. But if Beijing can simultaneously save us from global warming and clean up Hong Kong's air, so much the better. As Deng Xiaoping said of economics, "It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice."

*Heating up the planet, Lowy Institute for International Policy, www.lowyinstitute.org

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Fears over impact of global warming on China's rivers

AFP, 8 July 2006 - Experts voiced fears Saturday that a build-up of greenhouse gases from global warming could significantly reduce the amount of rain ending up in China's rivers, a vital source of water for the country.

If greenhouse gases continue to rise as they have been, rain and snowfall in China's Huaihe, Liaohe and Haihe river regions could decline by 30 percent by 2040, Xinhua news agency quoted a leading Chinese meteorologist saying.

Areas that feed China's second largest river, the Yellow River, could also be affected, said Dong Wenjie, director general of the National Climate Center with the China Meteorological Administration.

The phenomenon is caused by an unnatural concentration of green house gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide -- formed by energy generation from coal-fired power plants and deforestation activities -- as well as vehicle emissions.

China relies on coal for about 70 percent of its energy needs. If China can effectively control greenhouse gas emissions, precipitation will increase in its major river valleys over the next 60 years, Dong said at a forum sponsored by "Sino-Italian Green Week", which concluded Friday.

China has a relatively high emission volume of carbon dioxide per unit of gross domestic production.

In 2002, China's carbon dioxide emission totaled 4.08 billion tons, ranking second in the world after the United States.

Experts said it was imperative for China to enhance energy efficiency and further develop low-carbon energy resources.

But many experts say China will rely on coal for most of its energy for years to come as it is the most readily available and cheapest source of energy.

China made "effective control of greenhouse gases" one of the goals of its 11th Five Year Plan, a blueprint for the booming economic giant's development until 2010.

The country is investing in alternative sources of energy, includinghydropower plants, and promoting low-emission vehicles.

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Boom in green holidays as ethical travel takes off


Boom in green holidays as ethical travel takes off

Gas-guzzling industry is belatedly catching up with growing market

Esther Addley
Monday July 17, 2006

The Guardian


It was the cockroaches, in the end, that turned Paul Leonard into an ethical traveller. A disastrous package trip to Spain, involving collapsing roofs and a beetle infestation, convinced him there had to be another way. He did not have much in the way of green convictions at that stage, he admitted, but, encouraged by his vegetarian girlfriend, he was persuaded to try a holiday through a "responsible" travel operator.

After two weeks in a Malaysian mountainside lodge, bathing in the warm feeling of doing good, the 31-year-old electrical project engineer was a convert. "They explained that they used environmentally friendly products, ensured that money got paid back into the local economy, employed local people - which we liked. I was surprised that a holiday could be so different."


The pair now take their holidays at organic farms and B&Bs, and pay to offset air travel carbon emissions. They have taken their ethics home with them, too, recycling as much as they can.

Mr Leonard is not alone. While there have always been travellers who have sought to minimise the negative impact of their journey, the travel industry at large has long been more associated with thirsty golf courses and gas-guzzling air miles than a desire to do good. But as mainstream consumers become increasingly accustomed to recycling their household rubbish and going easy on the gas heaters, they are also looking for more ethical ways of taking a break - prompting a striking surge in demand for a greener type of travel.

"In the past 10 to 12 months we have seen a 10-fold increase in sales," said David Wellington, of climatecare.org, a website that calculates carbon emissions and invests in projects to offset them. He added that 85% of the growth was in "online sales for offsetting flight emissions". In 2006 that would be equivalent to 220,000 return flights to Paris.

Justin Francis, managing director of the firm responsibletravel.com, said: "Our bookings are double what they were this time last year. We have had this consumer demand [for ethical products] in food and fair trade for 15 years, but not in travel."

Five years ago, when the company started, he says, they could find only five travel firms in the UK supplying holidays they were happy to recommend. "Now we have over 160 tour companies ... Tourism is one of the world's biggest industries, some say the biggest [for] employment. This is an industry that until the last two or three years has been untouched by a strong consumer ethical dimension, though other global giants, like oil and mining, have had to show a commitment ... We have the world's biggest industry belatedly in catch-up."

Holidays sold as "responsible" or "sustainable" still make up perhaps just 1% of trips overseas, equating to 450,000 holidays from Britain a year. But as the ethical consumer market grows - Fairtrade food and drink sales increased by 52% in 2005, while ethical investments were up by 31% - the ripples reach the travel industry. According to consumer research firm Mintel, by 2010 the outgoing "ethical" holiday market from the UK will have swollen to 2.5m trips a year.

Jane Ashton, head of corporate social responsibility at the holiday giant First Choice, said: "The product we sell is the people and environment - so we have an obvious interest in protecting them." First Choice, she said, would be working on diverse projects, including environmental and educational schemes. She added: "We're not experiencing a huge demand from the average consumer, but we do believe that awareness is increasing, and in a few years' time we will have needed to have integrated these principles into our supply chain."

Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern, accepted that talking in terms of an "ethical" holiday when flights were one of the main contributors to carbon emissions was "a very difficult issue", but argued that even mass tourism, when fair to local communities, could do more good than harm: "If people stop travelling then the benefits wouldn't get to the people at all." Travellers, she said, should ask to see operators' policies and choose a travel firm that respects the environment and pays fair wages to local staff. "We joined the Make Poverty History coalition, because we see tourism as an opportunity for people to come out of poverty."

As for Mr Leonard, so enamoured was he with one Malaysian ethical holiday he proposed to his girlfriend there, on the island of Tioman. They are planning a highly responsible honeymoon.

How to be a responsible tourist:

Offset your flights

The travel industry is eager to point out that flights account for just 3-5% of carbon emissions, but they are still a significant contributor to global warming. Sites such as www.climatecare.org will calculate the equivalent cost of your emissions and invest in a carbon reduction project, such as planting trees, to offset them. Offsetting return flights for two to Marrakech, for instance, would cost just £7.56.

Find out as much as possible about your destination

Tourism Concern is running a campaign about the Maldives, a luxury destination where 30% of under-fives suffer from malnutrition and more than half the population live on just over $1 a day. Rather than calling for a boycott it is urging concerned travellers to join its campaign. For more information visit tourismconcern.org.uk or see The Ethical Travel Guide by Polly Pattullo, available from www.earthscan.co.uk

Choose a responsible operator

Ask your operator if they have an ethical policy. Are they committed to reducing waste and water use, and to minimising damage to wildlife and marine environments? Do they use local staff and, wherever possible, locally sourced produce? Do they pay fair wages to their local staff?

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