Eco-cities: Ideas to make our cities greener

More cycling and walking infrastructure. More greenery. Less cars. Commitment to sourcing renewable energy. There is a plethora of activities a city can undertake to create a green haven, increasing public health and quality of life. Deeply Good takes a look at some of the cities and some of the good ideas that can turn a city from being polluted to being green.

GREENERY

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The featured image of this article depicts the inside of the Cloud Forest, part of Singapore’s 250 acre nature park, Gardens By The Bay, created in 2012. The park aims at enhancing the quality of life within the city by increasing the amount of flora and fauna. It is a resounding success. Awe-inspiringly beautiful and ecologically marvellous, Gardens By The Bay represents just one way in which a city can increase their green footprint.

In Paris, the local government recently passed a law which allows citizens to plant their very own urban gardens in public spaces. Permits allow them to grow anything from plant-filled walls, to trees, to planters along the roads. Also, the city will provide the topsoil and seeds upon any request, though plots are required to be maintained by those who proposed them.

In Shenzhen, China, a crowded city of 12 million that is vulnerable to flooding, has begun a project of turning it’s rooftops into gardens. The gardens themselves can help to retain 65% of rainwater and reduce pollution through carbon dioxide intake. The project is part of China’s sponge cities initiative, which is helping poorer communities become more resilient to extreme weather.

Ideas for greenery can come in even quirkier forms. For example, the Dutch designer/artist Daan Roosegaarde has come up with an idea which could revolutionise not only the way our cities look and how we keep them green, but how we keep them lit at night.  Through biomimicry-inspired technology, Daan has come up with the idea for a ‘bioluminescent plant’, through splicing the DNA from luminescent bacteria with the chloroplast genome of plants to create a jellyfish-type glow. Roosegaarde hopes that one day it could replace our conventional street lighting, allowing us to plant more trees and save on the electricity bill.

And who said a garden had to be on a horizontal surface? Wall gardens have become more prevalent and more important in the fight to keep our cities green. Drawing on the advances in hydroponic growing, the free space on a number of buildings can now be taken up by plantlife. In London, the Edgware Road Tube Station, among other locations, has a vertical garden incorporated into its structure, created by UK-based firm Biotecture.

Adding greenery to cities improves air quality, the mood of passersby, and can also create more resilience to hotter summer temperature. It stimulates evapotranspiration, in which evaporating water from plants leaves reduces the surrounding air temperature.

TIME FOR REFLECTION

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We’ve been experiencing hotter and hotter consecutive summers within the last decade, with heatwaves lasting weeks. Cities are particularly susceptible to these, as pollution and the trapping effect of architecture can create heat pools that keep temperatures up.

We all know that the best reflective colour is white. As the Sun beats down upon our planet, the white snowy areas do their part to reflect that light and heat back out into space, but as those white areas are melting under the strain of climate breakdown, we need to take matters into our own hands. If cities are to be made to be more eco-friendly, and cooler in the long run, the materials used to build with must be changed.

Urban areas are filled with, almost-oppressively, with dark materials – your concrete, asphalt, brick, metal painted black. These dark colours absorb heat from the Sun, growing hotter and hotter throughout the day. In Australia, conventional paving can reach temperatures of up to 67C and conventional roofs up to 50-90C on a hot day. This heat is then leached back in to the streets during the night, not allowing for any respite from it during summer months.

Research done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has shown that living on the top floor of a building with a dark roof poses a health risk, after having identifying a risk factor of mortality in the 1995 heatwave in Chicago. The best way to avoid this is to use cool-coloured coatings.

White-coloured coatings or materials applied, not only to roofs, but to walls and even roads, can reflect more solar energy away from a building. In New York, the Cool Roofs Initiative, has seen more than 500,000m² of roof space covered in white reflective coating, reducing the amount of CO2 produced by 2,282 tonnes per year. Research done by NASA suggested that a white roof could be anywhere up to 23C cooler than a normal black roof on the hottest day of the year.

In Los Angeles, a city known as an urban heat island, the local government has begun to paint roads in white coloured sealant that has a high reflective value. This could, as suggestions proclaim, reduce temperatures in the road by 10-15ºF.

INTERACTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

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As our cities and populations grow, we need to adapt our technologies so that they fit both our current and our future needs. The picture above is the definition of this. These impressive structures make up the Supertree Grove at the previously mentioned Gardens By The Bay in Singapore.

The 18 Supertrees stretch up to 50 metres high, their steel frames housing a whopping 162,900 plants of over 200 species. It is fairly evident that a large part of their function is to serve an aesthetic function, one which they carry out with rare beauty and grace for pieces of architecture, but they also serve environmental purposes. Each Supertree is equipped to harvest rainwater, and some are replete with photovoltaic cells, which mimic the chlorophyll of real trees and capture solar energy. Others are integrated with the conservatories that make up Gardens By The Bay, and serve as air exhaust receptacles, ventilating them.

In London, they have taken interactive technologies to a much ‘lower’ level. In West Ham there is an elevated pedestrian walkway close to the underground, and built into this walkway is an intentional underfoot ‘springiness’. This springiness can be attributed to the five millimetre thick smart tiles that capture the kinetic energy produced by a pedestrian’s footfall, powering the streetlights above, an innovation which was created by Pavegen, and has also been installed in London’s Heathrow.

Another Good Idea in turning cities ‘green’ is something that has been capturing the attention of many people – solar roads. In the Netherlands, a solar energy-harvesting bike path made waves when it produced 3,000kWh – enough to power a small household for a year. Public interest has also been focused on the US company, Solar Roadways, which aims at covering every highway in the US with thick, durable LED-lit solar panels.

It has been theorised that if their plan were to succeed, the solar roadway network would produce more electricity than America uses. The residual heat stored in them melts ice and snow, they are able to store underground cables, and are effectively resistant to potholing. What this could mean for cities would be a vast network of solar roads which powered the adjacent buildings and public transport links.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

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The World Health Organisation estimates that around 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution. This pollution can be found at it’s worst in cities, where high buildings and high vehicle generates and traps a lot of polluted air. In England, around 40,000 premature deaths and even more health conditions are linked to poor air quality. So what can we do about it?

Initially, we can petition local governments to invest in the infrastructure of public transport, making it more reliable. If we can rely on public transport, more people will readily use it than resorting to taking their cars. In Helsinki, there are plans to offer ‘mobility on demand’ by the year 2025. The plans are based around integrating all public transport services; buses, taxis, bikes, and ferries, into one smartphone app. This app would act as both route planner and payment platform, allowing residents and tourist the ease of cheap and convenient travel options.

Some cities around the world are taking other action, banning cars in certain areas or on certain days. Paris bans cars in historic central districts at weekends and during major events where pollution will be high, makes public transport free. Similarly, in Madrid there is a new incentive to encourage the use of public transport. When air quality levels are breached, 50% of cars will be banned, and public transport will be made free.

In Copenhagen, the bike is prioritised over the car, and is widely known as the city with more bicycles than it has people, having 26 ‘cycling superhighways’  . Large parts of the capital have been closed for decades, and the city is currently planning to become carbon neutral by 2025. The car-free movement can be seen in a large amount of cities around the globe, such as Helsinki, Olso, Zurich, Bangalore, and Delhi.

A GREEN CITY

There are effectively an impressive amount of ideas that a city can undertake to make itself more environmentally friendly, but one we have not yet mentioned is very important – it is the ability to invest in renewable energy. A sustainable eco-friendly energy source, if invested in properly, could provide jobs and energy indefinitely. All these technologies and ideas, if integrated properly, could turn a humble city into a bastion of green energy and policy, leading the way for other cities to join in preparation for the future.

 

 

Air pollution worsens as UK government’s policies labeled ‘shambolic’

ClientEarth, an organisation of lawyers using the law to take governments to court over climate breakdown, state that the UK government’s plan to reduce the levels of air pollution in affected cities has become a “shambolic and piecemeal mess”. It comes as the air quality in large cities continues to deteriorate, with two of the first five organisations tasked with reducing the amount of poisonous air in cities missed their targets.

In 2015, five authorities that represented areas with some of the worst pollution outside of London – Southampton, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds, and Derby, were ordered to produce proposals on tackling air pollution by September 15th, air pollution which kills roughly 40,000 people prematurely every year.

It later became apparent that Derby and Nottingham would miss their targets, with Katie Neild, a ClientEarth lawyer, had this to say on Derby’s actions: “Their preferred option does not seem to be based on any kind of assessment of the possible impacts on air pollution in the city … from our point of view that is totally inadequate and seems to be creating more space for more cars and little else.”

As this is a national issue, it is imperative that the UK government occupied a stronger position in the enforcement of a more coordinated plan. If not, this crisis will continue. Previous attempts to cut air pollution were so poor as to be effectively illegal.

“What we are concerned about is a lack of government leadership on this. Things are coming out in a piecemeal fashion, different schemes being put forward by different authorities of different quality, with different charging levels with different exemptions. It is creating a very confusing picture and it is coming across as pretty shambolic.” said Neild.

It has been documented that not only does poor air quality produce respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchiectasis, it can also affect, if not directly cause developmental problems for the lungs of children, making them more vulnerable to the aforementioned conditions as they come into adulthood. Air pollution has also been linked to cancer, strokes, dementia, reduced cognitive ability, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Although other cities throughout the globe have been taking their air quality and environmental footprints more seriously, the UK government has been warned by the UN that, in effectively denying their right to clean air they are knowingly endangering people’s health.

Last month, David Boyd, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, said that the government had to take a lead in introducing new legislation on reducing air pollution and improving overall air quality, inferring that air pollution and climate breakdown were causally linked, and in tackling one, you had to tackle the other.

“The interesting thing about the UK is that the London smog of 1952 was the galvanising event that led to the world’s first Clean Air Act,” said Boyd. “I really feel like we have reached the point again where it is time for the UK to step up and show some leadership.”

 

 

EU members demand increased action on 2020 UN deforestation goal

An action plan on the alarming rates of global deforestation from the EU, which has previously been delayed, has been demanded to be brought forward “as soon as possible”, by the Amsterdam Declaration, a declaration proposed and sign by a number of EU countries, in a letter sent to the European commission.

The letter states that “despite progress in recent years, deforestation and forest degradation continue at alarming rates, in particular in tropical and subtropical regions, with as much as 80 % of global forest loss being driven by expansion of agricultural land, according to FAO estimates.”

The UN has a goal of halting deforestation by 2020, part of their Sustainable Development Goals, with goal 15 referencing the target of halting deforestation, and similarly goal 12, which works towards ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, notably of palm oil.

The Amsterdam Declaration group letter states that “as a major importer and consumer of many commodities which include embodied deforestation, the EU is both part of the problem and can be part of the solution by stepping up its efforts to address the impacts of the consumption and adopt a more coherent and comprehensive EU approach to the problem of deforestation.”

The Amsterdam Declaration itself aims at promoting “sustainable economic development” as it’s main tenet, but also focuses on an “inter-sectoral and holistic agenda” for poverty reduction, food security, gender equality, water and sanitation, sustainable consumption and production, climate action, and the halting of land degradation and biodiversity loss.

“The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) states: “total anthropogenic Green House Gas (GHG) emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period (high confidence)”. In 2010, 24% (12 GtCO2eq) of total net emission was associated to Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses – AFOLU – (IPCC AR5). Moreover, according to the FAO (2014) AFOLU emissions may still increase by up to 30% if the status quo remains unchanged.” states the Declaration.

As stated above, agribusiness is responsible for 80% of the current amount of global forest loss. The forests that stretch around the planet are not only responsible for maintaining biodiversity, but for land reclamation and an incredible amount of carbon sequestration. Better forest management and natural climate solutions could possibly provide more than a third of climate breakdown mitigation needed by 2030 if acted upon, which makes this letter from the Amsterdam Declaration group all the more important.

This move comes as tensions and concerns continue to increase over the election of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro as President-elect of Brazil, whose campaign was funded in large by powerful agribusiness interests’ promising to construct a highway through the Amazon rainforest, an act with the potential to spread deforestation to an area of rainforest larger than Germany.

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Rainforest in Brazil.

Stronger regulations and laws within the EU could be put in place to lower the ecological footprint of our societies within all levels of the economy, from demand to production to consumption. According to Greenpeace, it is the production of soy, beef, and palm oil which drives deforestation in Brazil today.

Over the last decade, production of palm oil has doubled. This is expected to double again by 2050. Palm oil itself accounted for 65% of all vegetable oils traded internationally in 2006.

Recently an advert from Iceland and Greenpeace went viral, depicting a cartoon orangutan telling the story of the destruction of its home for the production of palm oil. While noble in it’s message, it misses out on the fact that it is not the issue with outright consumption, it is an issue of land management.

It has been claimed that to produce as much oil from a substitute in ‘palm oil free’ products, the amount of land needed increases to as much as 40x for coconut oil and 25x for soya. Soya production has been linked to massive deforestation in the South Americas, and yet is not covered in the mainstream media.

This could be attributed to the lack of coverage for environmental issues caused by the animal agriculture business, with around 90% of soybean production used for animal feed. It is similar in focus to the recent proposed ban on plastic straws across the UK, in an effort to reduce plastic waste in our oceans, when a large majority of plastic waste in our seas comes from discarded fishing gear, and yet the focus falls on plastic straws.

It is possible that for deforestation to become more manageable, it is not simply our consumption that needs to be reduced, but that actual way that we farm these products. These ‘Natural Climate Solutions’, can be read about here.

The full letter from the Amsterdam Declaration can be read here.

The taxation of red meat is a needed measure to save lives, states new research

New research published in the journal Plos One, a peer-reviewed Open Access journal that publishes ‘scientifically rigorous research’, has stated that a taxation on red meat would save many lives and also raise large amounts of money for use in healthcare. The research found that ‘Including the social health cost of red and processed meat consumption in the price of red and processed meat could lead to significant health and environmental benefits, in particular in high and middle-income countries.

This new research, headed up by Dr Marco Springmann, who currently works on the Future of Food project at the Oxford Martin School, uses a standard economic approach, named ‘optimal taxation, to calculate tax rates. The healthcare costs incurred by eating one additional portion of red meat is used to set the tax rate, in contrast to using the total healthcare costs that come about through red meat consumption.

While factually correct, it is still relatively unheard of that processed red meat had been classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation in 2015, and yet despite this announcement, the consumption of red meat is on an upward trend, especially in western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom of 1961, the amount of meat consumption was 69.8kg. In 2002 it was 79.6kg. In the US of 1961, meat consumption per capita was 89.2kg, and in 2002 it was 124.8kg, and increase in 40 years of 35.6kg of meat.

The findings stated that, based on current trends, the health-related costs to society ‘attributable to red and processed meat consumption in 2020 amount to USD 285 billion… three quarters of which were due to processed meat consumption’.

As the prices of processed meat increased by 25% on average under optimal taxation, and prices for red meat increased by 4% on average, the number of deaths attributable to these two foodstuffs decreased by 9% annually, with health costs decreased by 14%, valued at USD 41 billion.

These taxes were created relative to the amount of meat consumed and do not represent a flat global rate. The US would be one of the countries with the highest rates, for example, there would be a 163% levy on ham. Australian meat prices would be met with a 109% tax on processed, and a 18% tax on unprocessed meats. UK rates would 79% and 14% for those food-groups respectively.

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‘Change in the price of red meat (a) and processed meat (b) under cost-compensating taxation in relation to attributable health costs (%), change in deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption (%)’. Image: Springmann, Mason-D’Croz, Robinson, Weibe, Godfray, Rayner, Scarborough.

“Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” Springmann said. “It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds. It is not about taking something away from people, it is about being fair.”

The intensive method and global scale of meat demand and subsequent production is also an incredibly damaging industry to the living planet. In a critical report from a group at the University of Oxford published in May, it was stated that reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, is the single biggest way as an individual to reduce your environmental impact. In a similar report, also published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories are essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

More than 80% of arable farmland is used for livestock, in both intensive and organic farms, but it produces just 18% of global food calories. We see this a drastic misuse of land, resulting in not only the willing destruction of native habitats, but the production of large amounts of greenhouse gases. Per 100g of beef produced, a further 105kg of greenhouse gases are created. It is possible that the recommended drop in red meat consumption is a conservative figure, and a route more beneficial to the environment would be to give up the foodstuff altogether, replacing it with plant-based alternatives.

These taxes proposed by Springmann et all, would mean a 16% reduction in the processed meat consumed globally, and would result in the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock to reduce by 110m tonnes annually.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

George Monbiot proposes new language for environmental protection

Last Thursday political and environmental activist, writer, and columnist George Monbiot took to Twitter to showcase what he suggests should be new terms for general use in the fight against climate breakdown.

The environmentalist, who recently spoke at an Extinction Rebellion event outside Parliament, wrote; ‘Here are my suggestions on how to talk about the living world with words that engage people, reveal rather than disguise realities, and honour what we seek to protect.’

We’ve put the old and proposed new terms in a table below.

Old Terms New Terms
The environment The living planet / the natural world
Climate change Climate breakdown
Global warming Global heating
Biodiversity Wildlife
Fish stocks Fish populations (they don’t exist to be exploited)
Natural resources Living systems / The fabric of the Earth (ditto)
Natural capital Nature / living systems
Ecosystem services Life support systems
Nature reserves Wildlife refuges (reserve suggests distance)
Extinction Ecocide / annihilation (these suggest agency)
The planet The living planet
Save the planet Defending the living planet
Climate sceptic Climate science denier (exact opposite of sceptic)
Freemarket thinktank Opaquely-funded lobby group

Monbiot recently published Out Of The Wreckage, a work concerning what he calls ‘the politics of belonging’ – ways in which we can take we can take back control of social, democratic, and economic life, through radical reorganisation, against forces who would seek to thwart the ambitions for a better, fairer society.

The writer is incredibly vocal on environmental activism through his twitter page, also using it to criticise the right-wing media and the presidency of Donald Trump.

The new language itself paints the world of environmental protection as both an imminent, urgent, and also, solvable, situation. In a previous tweet, explaining his use of ‘climate breakdown, over ‘climate change’ Monbiot wrote: ‘1. It better conveys the extent of the problem. 2. People don’t say “So what? The climate’s always breaking down” 3. It makes an implicit connection with the impact on our minds. 4. It suggests that we can fix it.’

What Monbiot is implicitly proposing is that to deal with climate breakdown and all ensuing related issues, we need to drastically rethink the way we perceive the living planet and our relationship to it, and this involves changing our very language to re-orientate those perspectives.

What are your thoughts on Monbiot’s new terms?

UN warns of extinction threat over biodiversity loss

Cristiana Pașca Palmer, the United Nation’s Biodiversity Chief, (or more accurately, the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity), has stated in the run up towards an important international conference that pressure needs to be put on governments for them to create new and ambitious universal targets by the year 2020, protecting the various levels of global biodiversity.

It has been warned that without new legislation the human race could be the first authors of their own extinction, if the destruction of biodiversity is not either slowed or stopped altogether.

Talking to The Guardian, Pașca Palmer stated that the loss of biodiversity is a ‘silent killer’. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”

Global biodiversity is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Varying degrees of biodiversity affects everything from clean water production, global food production, and the sequestration of carbon in the atmosphere.

This all comes with the results of the Living Planet Report, published by the WWF last week. The report, involving both the WWF and 59 scientists from around the globe, stated that humanity has eradicated 60% of animal populations between 1970 and 2014. “What is clear is that without a dramatic move beyond ‘business as usual’ the current severe decline of the natural systems that support modern societies will continue.” narrates the report in it’s preliminary pages.

Both our food services, health, and security all depend on biodiversity. It has been estimated that, globally, the natural world provides services worth around US$125 trillion a year, although we feel it pertinent to point out that this should not be the major factor in determining whether it is something of value.

The key driving threats to global biodiversity are over-exploitation and agricultural activity. For example, In 2016 the FAO published their biannual report about the state of fish population depletion, with monitored fish stocks being ‘52% are fully exploited, 17% are overexploited, 7% are depleted, 1% are recovering from depletion’. It is mostly with the increase in global demand for animal products such as red meat that we lose critical environments.

Land degradation, another key issue, has a detrimental impact on 75% of terrestrial ecosystems. This in turn reduces the welfare of more than 3 billion people globally.

In 2017, there was warning of an ‘ecological armageddon’, after research done in Germany stated that ‘More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas.

A meeting will take place in Sharm El Sheikh this month between the 196 member states of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, to hopefully ignite conversations and ideas on new legislation for protecting the world’s crucial ecosystems. The next conference is set for 2020 in Beijing, where Pașca Palmer hopes a global deal can be implemented.

The state of biodiversity loss has been hailed as the ‘sixth mass extinction’, otherwise known as the ‘holocene extinction’, and unfortunately a lot of this loss goes undocumented, as the vast majority of species to exist and to go extinct are rumoured to be undiscovered.

This issue is unfortunately low on the global political agendas. It’s more popular, media-infamous cousin, climate breakdown, receives much more attention. Few heads of state attend conferences and talks about biodiversity. The US government, who have been systematic in their denial of climate breakdown and open about their wish to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, refused to ratify the Aichi Protocol of eight years ago, which saw nations promise to at least halve the loss of natural habitats. The Vatican chose not to send a participate.

As human populations grow and climate breakdown continues, rates of habitat destruction, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species will accelerate. It is estimated that by 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its mammals and birds. What is even more harrowing is the conclusion that the loss of land plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s overall ability to absorb and store carbon. This, along with the burning of fossil fuels will contribute to feedback mechanisms that could, if left unchecked, create an unstoppable cycle of global heating.

It is worth noting that the problems are biodiversity loss and climate breakdown are both very important issues that need solving. They are simultaneously separate issues and also are intrinsically linked to one another.

There is hope though. The UN’s top climate and biodiversity institutions held their first joint meeting, finding that solutions that were focused on nature and the living planet, solutions such as the protection of forests, planting trees, restoring land, and effective soil management, could provide up to one third of carbon absorption needed to keep global warming with the parameters set by the Paris Agreement. Some world leaders are opening their minds to the issue, such as French president, Emmanuel Macron, who recently agreed that the issue of climate breakdown cannot be solved as a single issue, and must be looked at in part with the mission to stem the loss of biodiversity.

In the Living Planet Report, the WWF states: “We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and our impact on it. We may be the last that can take action to reverse this trend. From now until 2020 will be a decisive moment in history.”

 

Welcome To Deeply Good

Welcome to Deeply Good Magazine.

We’re a fully-independent ecological and cultural journal, hoping to develop into a published quarterly magazine at some point in the future.

Deeply Good Magazine is written, designed, and contributed to by a diverse bunch of thinkers, writers, and creators. We believe in the majesty and fragility of the ecological world, and through our work, want to help to preserve that world.

We align ourselves with the concept of ‘least-impact’, in that the best way for us to live in the 21st century with the amount of environmental strain our societies place upon the Earth, is to produce the least impact, if not no impact at all.

Hopefully what we create, what we share, and what we contribute can help and inspire our audiences towards a greener way of living, one that doesn’t compromise on creativity, self-expression, and autonomy.

Deeply Good was first conceived in early 2018. Our initial idea was a pipe dream, a good ‘feeling’ combining a love of creativity and the need for environmental protection and sustainability. We are still figuring out what that dream is, but for every new thing we write or create, the image becomes a little more clear.

You can find out more about our ethos on our About page.

We hope you enjoy and resonate with what we have to say.

Stay eco x

Jack Andrew Cribb
Deeply Good Founder & Editor

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