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Greening my office: can't we all just go camping instead of jetting off overseas?

Sylvia Sunshine

17th August, 2010

As her colleagues jet off to sunnier climes, Sylvia tackles the thorny issue of eco holidays - but will she pluck up the courage to confront her boss over his second home?

With the August Bank Holiday fast approaching there is much talk of holidays in the office. Everyone is at it. John (the company boss) is away for a fortnight, Jill comes back on Tuesday, Jane is off on Monday, so is the new intern, and I'm due for a break the week after next.
 
Most people relish the prospect of their annual vacation. In fact, for some it’s as if the child locked inside is just too excitable to be contained, bursting out at regular intervals with highly inappropriate zest, causing workloads to plummet.
 
Rightly so, however, a week’s break means leaving workloads behind - people have earned the right to leave their jobs at the door. But a holiday is not an excuse for people to leave their environmental consciences behind too.
 
Holiday chat
 
'There are so many different things on offer in the world of environmentally friendly holidaying,' I protest to my co-workers, not for the first time this week. 'A quick internet search will easily lead you to a load of ideas.'
 
Five faces stare back as they wait for me to reel off a dozen pages by heart. (It always seems to be like this: Sylvia the performing enviro-chimp.)
 
'Train travel to your destination, for example. Or eco-hotels,' I say desperately.
 
Neal pipes up, saving me from stumbling over my soapbox. He swivels in his Sweden-made chair and turns to Jane: 'Where are you going this summer?'
 
'Spain,' she mumbles.
 
'Have you ever thought about an ethical tourism trip? Or why don’t you car-pool your way to the Mediterranean? Share your emissions with someone else? I hear that it’s a great cheap way to see Europe, as well as being a lot better for the environment.'
 
Neal can see there’s no take-up. He, just like me, has come to understand the crippling rejection of this office. 'Where are you going next week, Sylvia?' he enquires.
 
'Devon, to camp by the river with my boyfriend.'
 
I see no reason not to go on at this point. I’m proud of my holiday choice and even though I’m utterly convinced that my tale of holidaying in Devon will fall on deaf ears, I embrace the crowds with an open mind. It’s approaching lunchtime anyway; no one will be doing any work anytime soon.
 
'We're getting the train to Totnes then cycling on from there. Our tent and cooking equipment will be precariously balanced on our panniers. We’re really looking forward to the adventure of being away without a car.'

Second homeowners

Predictably, other people around the office have very different holiday plans. Both John and Jill are currently residing in their second homes, on the Suffolk coast and in Cumbria respectively. Jane will be ignoring Neal’s requests and is flying to Spain, where her parents have lived for the past few years, and Mandeep (who is currently interning with us) is jetting further afield: quite literally to a field in Malaysia somewhere, where he also has a family home.
 
'I guess it’s just you and I who aren’t able to use the phrase "multiple home-ownership" then?' Neal quips.
 
According to the Office of National Statistics there are 151,000 second homes in England and Wales, with some local authorities claiming that as much as 26 per cent of their houses are unoccupied for the majority of the year.
 
With such high numbers of second dwellings, the ethical and economic implications are visible and often exponentially exacerbated: seasonal ghost towns, the pricing-out of the locals and the proliferation of new housing developments perilously balancing on our great cliffs (white or not). But what of the environmental impacts?
 
An environmental perspective
 
To be honest, although my granddad has had a second home in Wales for several years (something that still tears at my soul every day), I have never really considered the environmental impacts. But after a well-deserved lunch break of contemplation I conclude that there are several key points.
 
The following is a fantasised email drafted to John, my boss, currently on vacation at his second home in Aldeburgh (oh how I wish I could send this):
 
Dear John,
 
I hope you are having a lovely holiday. Please pass on my regards to Anne and the two boys. 
 
I have been thinking about your second home in Suffolk. I guess, more specifically, I’ve been thinking about the environmental credentials of your multiple home-ownership (I’m sure you are nothing but unsurprised by this).
 
My main qualm revolves around energy consumption. If you have two houses then you have to heat two houses. But your second home is only heated when occupied, I assume (six weeks a year, according to Jane). And the less you heat your home, the higher the energy costs are per unit. This means in relative terms your energy consumption is incredibly high, especially when you consider how much you are living there.
 
Then there is the travel. Second homeowners such as yourself fly and drive in and out of second homes willy-nilly, often travelling exceedingly long distances to reach your honey pot. Have you considered offsetting this? Maybe you should only take trips as and when needed? And for longer stays, not shorter than a week?
 
One of the most interesting environmental facts of second home-ownership, however, is the impact of shoreline and riverside development. Did you know that the demand for land for development in rural areas has doubled over the past 20 years and is still increasing? This has resulted in collateral environmental damage by the construction industry alone.
 
Of course I would not ask you to sell your second home (though I am sure if you were to lower the asking price then a local rural farmer would be keen), but I wanted to provide this FYI.
 
I look forward to discussing this further on your return.
 
Yours sincerely,

Sylvia Sunshine

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