Sprouts to light up your Christmas

27 Nov 2013

Brussels sprout christmas tree

Wheeled out by the truckload at Christmas, they cause groans from the dinner table, or worse, post-lunch flatulence that makes watching the zygons in the Doctor Who Christmas special an unexpectedly interactive experience.

It is a little known fact that Edwin Starr's pacifist 1970 hit War (what is it good for?) originally targeted the humble Brussels sprout. Written in his childhood when he was banned from leaving the table unless he finished every last one, the lyrics were later changed to reflect the politics of the day. Ok, it wasn't really, but perhaps it should have been.

However, now a team of scientists and engineers have finally found a use for the miniature cabbage that could keep the dreaded vegetable off dinner plates entirely, by turning them into a power source.

The so-called "sprout battery" was launched on London's South Bank this week, producing 63 volts from 1,000 Brussels sprouts cased in five cells. According to the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Young Engineers Fair, each sprout combines with copper and zinc electrodes to create a chemical reaction, generating a current which can be stored and used to power the LEDs on an adjacent Christmas tree.

Of course, the project is bound to raise fresh concerns that crops are being used to create power rather than food, but the engineers rightly claim that when it comes to sprouts nobody really wants to eat them anyway.

Ben & Jerry's moo-ved to give cows a helping hand

25 Oct 2013

Woody the Cow hands giant piece of bovine artwork to the European Commission

Bear with the Tank. Outside it seems the very air is shaking as the drills of gold-liveried monsters pummel and pound the lot opposite to clear the way for high end flats and retail opportunities.

It's enough to make even the most fervent city mouse long for the sounds of the countryside - well, at least that part of the countryside not directly in the path of HS2 or Nick Boles.

So not for the first time, we say thank cripes for Ben and Jerry's, for the purveyors of comedy ice cream flavours to suit your each and every heartbreak have taken it upon themselves to stand up for cow health.

Shockingly to anyone who hasn't read Animal Farm, there are currently no rules in place to protect the specific welfare needs of the EU's 23 million dairy cows. Other farm animals have got themselves covered by rules and regulations, but not the humble dairy cow apparently.

Now this came as a surprise to the Tank, because cows are very much like us homo sapiens. They have small friendship groups they spend most of their time with, they hold grudges for years, and choose their leaders wisely based on intelligence, inquisitiveness, confidence, and experience. Actually, they're probably well ahead of us on that last one.

Anyway, it seems 10 million cows are currently suffering from issues such as cramped living conditions, a poor diet, health problems, and inadequate care and would benefit from the protection of an EU Directive.

Ben and Jerry's response? A 1.3 metre high by 12 metre wide work of art featuring contented cows with access to pasture and the signatures of over 293,000 cow campaigners from partner organisations Compassion in World Farming (Compassion) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). Honestly, don't count - you'll just have to trust us on this.

Anyway, each signatory's name has been used to create the background of the painting: the sky, the clouds and every one of the 28 European flags. The artwork was handed to the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday sparking, we imagine, hissed comments as bureaucrats struggle to find somewhere to stash it where it can be quickly fished out whenever Ben or Jerry pop by unexpectedly display it prominently.

So what's their moo-tivation, we hear you ask? (sorry).

Well, apart from general compassion for your fellow beast, something even greater is at stake. Just listen to Jerry Greenfield himself: "As ice cream experts, we understand that happy cows and happy farmers means better tasting ice cream."

So unless you want your Chunky Monkey to turn all kinds of funky, you'd better get on board with a campaign that is anything but Half Baked.

A truly rubbish boat trip

04 Oct 2013

New York

Now we've all got hobbies, assuming the definition extends to cover activities that get you through the day without screaming. The Tank, for example, took up stamp collection recently, albeit only to be able to tell people "philately will get you nowhere". From what we hear, that gag is pretty much the password to the Stanley Gibbons office.

But clearly the chaps and chapesses at Mother have loftier ambitions for their spare time.

"Creative agency Mother is making a boat out of rubbish. And then sailing it on the Hudson," a startling company email commences.

Fresh from encouraging London's women to have their nether regions photographed in the name of feminism, Mother's Hudson River Project promises to build the boat out of Manhattan's rubbish and sail it down the length of the Hudson back to New York.

This "environmental and social allegory" will be captured on film for a documentary sound-tracked by Mogwai - fresh from scaring the pants off French villagers - and executive produced by Bart Layton and Dimitri Doganis, makers of BAFTA winning film The Imposter.

"Our primary aim in producing Hudson River Project is to make a connection between a modern mega-city like New York and the wilderness far, far away, without which the city would not exist," Mother says on the project's tumblr site. "The river is the connecting rod between the two; the boat and [film-maker James Bowthorpe] take us on the journey."

Stirring stuff - but all this can only happen with your help, dear reader, as the film is being crowd-funded. The team is hoping to raise £100,000 through selling £500 debentures to cover the filming and editing and a further £300,000 to complete the project, which it hopes to show at the Sundance festival in 2015.

So here's your chance to kick it to the litter louts while pretty accurately acting out a Deacon Blue classic. It's got to be better than stamp collecting.

The green solution to more energetic meetings?

23 Aug 2013

QHotels Pedal Power

Some people define a good meeting as one where problems are calmly discussed, intelligent solutions put forward, and tasks are equitably assigned, so whatever project they happen to be working on can sail smoothly onwards towards success.

For the Tank, however, a good meeting is one with donuts. Or, in special circumstances, those maple pecan Danishes. Ooh, or even cinnamon raisin swirls! In retrospect, we probably shouldn't have been writing this so close to lunch.

But we can probably all agree a good meeting is not one of those endless bore-fests where all that goes through your head is: "what kind of skin care regime is Phil from marketing using - that guy's face is like alabaster".

So, anyway, here's a neat method for keeping those time waster in check while helping the environment - pedalling to keep the lights on.

Gyms have already wised up to the idea of generating power from the people and now the smart cookies at QHotels have followed suit and put exercise bikes in meeting rooms at their Forest Pines Hotel and Golf Resort in Lincolnshire. Pedalling continuously should produce 100W - enough to charge a laptop - while replicating the experience of cycling up a gentle hill.

The wheeze is that the "Pedal Power" initiative helps QHotels to reach its own energy reduction target and meet client demands - an internal survey found 55 per cent of its customers thought environmental credentials were important for hotels.

Philip King, QHotels' director of property, chortled: "At QHotels we are committed to saving energy and providing an environmentally-friendly setting for guests and delegates. We have listened to delegates' feedback and, given that environmental issues are high on the agenda for our delegates, we ensure we try new initiatives and find ways to support their aims as well as our own."

If it sounds a little like the treadmills at Victorian prisons, only this time you're paying for it, QHotels' insists Pedal Power is part of environmental strategy that has also seen the company sign up to food and packaging waste initiatives and install electric car charge points at six of its 21 hotels.

To the Tank's mind, it's probably worth a try. After all, what could be better than watching pompous windbags run out of steam before collapsing as the lights go out? Especially if there are donuts for the rest of us.

Check in to your hotel, check out a new bag

09 Aug 2013

Marriott tote bag made from recycled linen

Right, the Tank doesn't have much time for this one, so here's what you need to know: the world is being overrun by six foot tall tyrannical lizards bent on enslaving all mankind hotels throw out a lot of bed linen.

Seriously - think a number, double it, times it by a million and even then you're not even close. Probably because this whole calculation has no relevance except to eat up space on a threateningly blank page. It's a technique we learnt from Jeffrey Archer while at Wellington.

Ok, so you don't believe us. Well, here's an expert, in the form of Andy Marks, founder and chief executive of SleepingBags,who says: "If laid end-to-end, bed linen condemned by the world's leading hotel chains in one year would go around the world more than twice."

Leaving aside the fact that such a futile exercise would leave many of the dirty sheets getting rather wet as they attempt to cross the Pacific, SleepingBags thinks it has the answer to this particular environmental problem. 

The social enterprise has teamed up with Marriott Hotels to take its old bed linen and turn it into useful things like tote bags.

The partnership will now see the launch of 1,000 limited edition bags made from 100 per cent recycled bed linen, each sporting an exclusive print by British luxury accessories brand, Lily and Lionel, famed for their iconic printed scarf designs - or at least that is what it says on this here press release.

Marriott adds that the "evocative" birds in flight print "helps to communicate the campaign's message of sleeping that little bit more soundly by offering support to this environmental cause". Although frankly, we've generally found the contents of the mini-bar much more conducive to some decent shuteye.

The company reckons it is the first major hotel to partner with SleepingBags and it has already introduced hairdryer bags, newspaper bags, and laundry bags made from retired bed linen into their guestrooms.

Anyway, here's Andy Marks again: "Reimagining Marriott's wonderfully soft bed linen to create this tote bag is an enchanting way of making people re-think what waste is. The bag looks great, feels great and has a story to tell."

The bag is on sale for £20, half of which will go to The Prince's Trust. Quite a bargain when you think what Tracy Emin's bedsheets went for.


The Sceptic Tank blog provides a unique take on all the latest weird, wonderful, and downright infuriating green stories from around the world

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