Today, we have a very important guest in our blog corner - Julia Hailes. She is a famous British Author and Environmentalist, having written or co-written 9 books, including the famous “Green Consumer Guide '' which sold over 1 million copies. She makes speeches at many different events and campaigns to raise awareness about environmental issues. We had a very nice interview with her about how she started her career, her clean-energy-related actions and projects, how she came across TESUP, and how we can collaborate with her. Let’s begin!
Hi Julia, we’re really happy to have this interview with you. Thanks for joining us. Let’s start with our first question: We’re curious about how you started your environmental career. What made you move in this direction and how did your journey start?
There was a pivotal moment that made me think that I really needed to do something. In the early 1980s, I went to South America and found myself in the West of Brazil, in the Mato Grosso. It’s a wonderful part of the world with forests and wetlands - and teaming with wildlife.
But as I stood looking at the rainforests stretching into the distance, I heard the sound of chainsaws and realised that the Spanish family I was staying with was cutting the forest down. This was the catalyst for me in becoming an environmentalist - and in particular, prompted my mission to save the rainforests.
That was in the early 80s - we’re now in 2023 and we’re still doing it. Even on a recent trip, I had to Indonesia, I could see people burning the vegetation and it breaks my heart. The destruction is huge and it has immense impacts on climate change and biodiversity.
It’s horrendous indeed, and it’s so important to have as many passionate environmentalists as possible like you to turn the tide. In today's world, there are many famous terms such as sustainable living and being environmentally friendly. In your own words, can you please explain what sustainable living means and how people should act to have a sustainable lifestyle?
Today, sustainability has become a really common word, but when I first started as an environmentalist in 1986 it wasn’t widely understood. In simple terms, it’s about being able to live without consuming more resources than the planet can produce and continue to produce forever. Unfortunately, we haven’t been doing that for a long time.
We need to put stuff back. Today, it’s not so much about sustainability but the focus is on regeneration - how we can not only stop destroying what we have but most importantly put back what we’ve lost.
When people are asked about what environmental actions they’re taking, they often mention recycling. But, if we’re going to tackle the issues relating to our wasteful society we have to reduce the amount of waste we produce, use recycled products, replace products with services and a whole lot more. This is often described as the ‘circular economy’ copying nature where there is no waste.
I fully agree with you, we shouldn’t only focus on sustainability, but we should also focus on regeneration. Can you tell us about the actions you’re taking at home?
I’d like to mention a few things that you might not be familiar with rather than some obvious things that many other people do.
But before that, one important thing to understand is the importance of what we do in sending a message to the government and businesses about our priorities - and what we want to change. This was a very key part of our original Green Consumer Guide Book - rallying the general public and getting them to push companies to change what they were doing. In that respect, it was incredibly successful.
In 1987, when I first called the supermarkets to ask about their green policies, they didn’t know what I was talking about. Only a year later, after the publication of The Green Consumer Guide, I called them again to ask what they were doing - and they had all employed someone to take a lead on sustainability issues. Wow. That was a clear sign that they knew that ‘green consumers’ were their customers and they were listening to them.
OK, so here are some of the things that I do. For a start, I’ve become a very campaigning tourist. I don't have a completely relaxing time on holiday because I challenge the hotels on what happens to their sewage and what they're doing in terms of conservation or where they're putting their rubbish.
I use LED light bulbs, I recycle anything that I can recycle, and try to use recycled products as much as I can. I give a lot of things away on Facebook Marketplace or to local charity shops, everytime I chuck something out I always think about any possible way for someone else to use it. We have an electric car and use electric bikes. And, we give our pet food that is made with insects, which has a much lower carbon footprint than meat-based foods.
So there are a few things we’re doing as a family, but the last one I’d like to talk about is the investment and charitable giving. My youngest son has taken over managing my pension with a focus on what’s called ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) investing. On the charitable front, I’ve signed up for the Global Returns Project, which is an excellent initiative encouraging people to donate a very small percentage of their total investments to ‘best-in-class’ climate organisations. One that I particularly enjoy supporting is Client Earth, which supports lawyers enforcing environmental laws and helping governments develop effective environmental policies.
I’ve also signed up for an organisation called ‘Give as You Live’. It means that for most purchases I do online I can donate to a charity of my choice. It’s one of those things that once you’ve set it up requires no further action but adds to what you can contribute. I think I should write a blog about all the different ways you can invest or donate to support the planet. 🙂
You’re an amazing environmental pioneer, Julia, there are tons of things that all of us should learn from you. You told us about your sustainability and environmental-related actions. What about your renewable energy system at home? What is its current status and how would you like to expand it further?
We had nine years of building work at our home in Dorset, which included the complete renovation of some old farm buildings and the creation of a complex. In the process of doing that, we installed 3 lots of solar panels, an air source heat pump, and two different types of thermostatic controls.
The real challenge with the technology around renewables is that they’re always improving and it’s quite difficult to know when to take the leap and put them up because next year there will probably be new ones giving you more power at less cost. But we took the risk and put 10kW solar panels and an air source heat pump for the heating of our new big building through the underfloor heating. The air source heat pump has been a mixed success because it wasn’t set up properly and we’re still trying to fix it.
A key part of the challenge with these things is building a system that is truly integrated. Even though I’m quite knowledgeable about these things I still face a lot of technical challenges. Different companies will recommend their products, but it’s not easy to bring all the different components together and make them work seamlessly. Even when you’ve got the technology installed you have to make decisions relating to which energy supplier, which tariff you want to be on, how to be energy efficient and what you can do to avoid using electricity at peak times.
In our previous talk, you mentioned that you’re planning to expand your energy system further and add more solar panels and wind turbines. Can you please tell us a bit more about your expansion plan?
We’re planning to put in more solar panels and a TESUP wind turbine. I’ve always thought what a lovely idea to have a little wind turbine spinning away on the roof. But the previous options I considered were not viable and would not have generated enough power. However, I feel like TESUP wind turbines are different, so I’d like to give one a try and see how it works.
At the same time, we’re also planning to add more solar panels on our roof and also something called a “diverter” to be able to use some of the renewable energy to heat up our water through electricity, which means we will then be using less oil (we have an oil boiler).
When we installed the solar panels we did investigate putting in a battery for storage, but it was very expensive and stored relatively little power. They’re still expensive, but I think they are much more efficient, so that’s in our plans too.
Moving to wind turbines, I was first approached by TESUP about their wind turbines, so I looked them up and was really impressed with the simplicity of their designs. Currently, we’re waiting to get a licence from the Council to add on extra renewables - we hope to get it soon though and will continue with the installation of both the TESUP Wind Turbine and additional solar panels.
Your case will set a good example for anyone who would like to build a home-scale, renewable energy system. Once you install your TESUP wind turbine and make the next part of your system work, I’d love to visit you, and see your hybrid system in place and we can do a second interview with you.
I would really like that. I’d also like to set up a dashboard. I’d like to go to a website and see all the data for our electricity and oil consumption, as well as how much we’re generating from wind and solar. By connecting all the information in one place, I’ll be able to get a clear idea of my carbon footprint and be able to work out how to reduce it further.
This will also help me raise awareness about clean energy and give advice on the best approach. It's also important to communicate it to other people for their awareness and involvement in the clean energy movement.
Let’s change a little direction while still being on the renewable energy topic. The UK and some European countries are quite advanced in terms of renewable energy systems applications and setting aggressive targets to generate all the electricity from clean energy sources as early as possible. From your point of view, what are the things that governments are doing right, and what should they change or improve?
There’s a big discussion about onshore wind. Government legislations make it incredibly hard to install more onshore wind turbines. Also, a lot of people have been quite averse to the idea of having wind turbines close to them. The good news is that this mindset is beginning to change as people realise that this is such an easy-win solution.
Another issue is that wind turbines don’t have to be installed only in beautiful rural spots - why not put them along the sides of our motorways? Equally, if you look at solar panels, why doesn’t government policy encourage all warehouses to put solar panels on their roofs?
In the past, I worked for a very large company that had a lot of warehouses. They were putting some solar panels on their roofs, but only enough to supply their own energy needs. This comes down to the issue of export. At the moment, if you produce more solar power than you need, it’s difficult to get any reasonable return on what you’re exporting. This means that far less renewable energy is installed than there should be. We need to change this dynamic and start selling to others - and this should be supported by the government.
The other negative thing that the government is still doing is putting a lot of money into subsidising fossil fuels. The idea of supporting the new coal mine in the North of England is absolutely shocking. I have to admit that I’m not very impressed with the government today - there’s a lot more that they could and should be doing. And, they need to be far more creative as well as take a more holistic approach.
We’ve already talked about many initiatives you’ve been tackling in the clean energy area, but since you’re an important ambassador in this area, are there any other activities that you’d like to mention?
When I started thinking about renewables over 30 years ago, the advice was to go for solar thermal for water heating rather than to install solar photovoltaics to produce electricity. Now, the tables have turned and solar photovoltaics are the recommended option - even for water heating. The great thing is that once your water is hot, the electricity can be used for anything else. Along with our next lot of solar panels, we’ll install a diverter which will use the power to heat our water and hopefully significantly reduce our use of oil.
The final and most important thing that everyone needs to do is zoning. This is done with smart thermostat controls, which can be set to heat different rooms to different temperatures at different times. Most people have a heating system that is either on or off which is not very efficient.
Are there any projects that you think TESUP can collaborate on with you?
What would be absolutely brilliant is if you were able to help with the Dashboard project. The idea is to measure and monitor energy generation, and consumption using a single platform. I think that people who have moved to renewables are struggling to check how much energy they are producing and to optimise their use to the times of day when it will have the lowest environmental impact. If TESUP was able to initiate this dashboard project, it would be brilliant.
It’s a very good idea and it would be the next step of one of the R&D projects we’re currently working on which is the cloud monitoring project. In our next-generation wind turbines, we’re targeting to have this cloud system where customers will be able to see the energy generation data depending on the wind speeds at different times of the day. They’ll also be able to manage and send commands to start and stop their wind turbines. Adding the consumption data is also a very good idea and could be our next step after we finalise the initial version of the project.
I think that that is a really good first step. The more data you can have in this monitoring platform, the more helpful it is for people to manage their energy production and consumption.
Thank you Julia for this idea. Last but not least, since you’ve been an environmentalist for many years and we really value your opinion; how do you think things have changed since you first started in the environmental movement and are you optimistic about the future?
Well, I’ll start with the positive. It’s fantastic how much more awareness there is today than there was when I first started. In the past, it was not on people’s radar at all. Businesses felt rather disengaged because they didn’t feel there was anything they really could do. But today, the concept of really engaging with businesses and motivating them to do things is fantastic.
Something that is not quite good is that most businesses are still looking at doing less bad than they were doing before. They’re trying to reduce their emissions and use less energy. But what we really want is for companies to look at how they can do more good. This means not just looking at what they do within their own operations, but looking at their whole business model. They should have a vision of the sort of world they want to live in and then work out how as a business they’re going to create that world and make a positive difference to the planet.
This is a much more visionary approach and we need more of that. As you said in your introduction, I do a lot of speeches to the corporate and sometimes I get so frustrated when they say that we’re obliged to do it because of legislation or we’re going to try and get to net zero by 2050. But they need more creativity and holistic thinking about the business itself, what they’re doing, and how they can change the world for the better. We’re all part of that process and we’ve got to apply this thinking in our own lifestyles and our businesses.
Unfortunately, most companies are not doing this sincerely yet. They’re doing it because of their yearly targets for the shareholders. There should be a complete mindset shift.
You asked me how optimistic I was. I’m generally a very optimistic person but in the last few years, I’ve begun to feel quite pessimistic about what’s happening to our planet. I went up to COP 26 in Glasgow and it was just a reminder of how much damage we’re doing, how quickly it’s all happening, and how little progress we’re making as a world in terms of what we need to do.
However, it’s really lovely to be able to feed my thoughts to you and encourage TESUP - A company that is looking at a visionary way forward. I’m delighted that you’re making domestic wind turbines a viable option - and I really hope that you will be able to help many of us make a difference and significantly reduce our carbon footprint.
Thank you, Julia, it’s been a pleasure to have an interview with you. Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’m very keen to keep you posted on my progress with the home energy system expansion. Thank you for finding me and look forward to hearing about TESUP and its network.
We’ll definitely do that, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us in full honesty. Looking forward to our follow-up interview towards Summer.
Big thanks to our valuable customers and blog readers for reading our conversation with Julia. We hope that it helps you and others to get inspired and take more positive actions for our planet. Keep following us for our future interviews with important environmentalists from around the world.