All entries for Thursday 05 September 2013

September 05, 2013

Getting Communal

Big day today. Went to the Upcycling* workshop that was being put on, and learnt an awful lot about what Portsmouth does as green initiatives.

The workshop itself was part of Green Neighbours. It's a scheme that makes champions out of residents in the city. There are a little over twenty people signed up who take part in (and occasionally run) workshops on various topics, while living an exemplary lifestyle to spread the green message.

They’re heroes of sorts for the council, volunteering and helping out with things in ways that make much of the scheme essentially free to run or join in with. Manning a stall at a large festival recently, they talked to more than a thousand people about sustainable living ideas. They're also amazing to talk to, properly keen about everything sustainable. I can heartily recommend , a blog by one of the Green Neighbours.

I got hold of some facts and figures about recycling in Portsmouth today, and they make some odd contrasts with themselves. Just hold the following three facts in your head:

  • Portsmouth has the 3rd lowest proportion of waste going to landfill in the UK
  • Portsmouth recycles the lowest percentage of waste of any city in the UK
  • Portsmouth has the highest participation rate in recycling schemes in the UK

So everybody is recycling, but nothing is being recycled, but nothing is going to landfill either? Huh?

The explanations for these are simple, that people recycle but are bad at it, and Portsmouth has an awesome waste to energy facility, but they're a fun set of things to get your head round. Solving Portsmouth's waste problems is quite the puzzle.

*Upcycling: Considered a higher tier than Recycling, probably on a par with Reuse. Turn something you would discard (consider recycling discarding for now) into something vaguely useful. Tin lids become coasters, plastic bags become crocheted animals, empty bottles become "vintage" "shabby chic" flowerpots…

It's nothing new, we did it throughout WW2, but some of the results are pretty cool.

4th September: Making Progress

Scheduling is difficult. So is contacting people.

I think it's the university attitude that you're supposed to finish your work, submit it, get marks and not much else as feedback. I'm coming to realise that I can email people for advice surprisingly frequently, and send them what I've done so far at any convenient point. It's tremendously useful, keeps me on the right track when I may have veered off it.

It also keeps me accountable, which is something I didn't realise the importance of. As of today I'm keeping a note of all actions I take so that I can explain when I've been doing things. It's surprisingly good for motivation. If you think you haven't achieved anything, look at all the time you spent doing various things and suddenly you realise where all the work was.

I mentioned scheduling. As happy as co-workers are to offer feedback, they're often too busy to actually meet up and discuss things. Finding things to do while at an apparent roadblock before such a meeting is a useful skill, saves time in the long run.

Well, that was an exciting post!

3rd September: Into the swing of things

Today featured less supervision and more independence, which was new and different.

Everyone who had introduced me to things yesterday had these things called jobs that they were getting on with, and so did I, so I got on with it as best I could. Comments from people around me included "You're going to take a lunch break, right?" and "Don't stay here too late, we do flexi-time here and you really don't need to." Hmm.

One of the reasons I stayed a bit later today was because I didn't feel like I'd got much done. Admittedly I've written a spreadsheet that estimates viability of environmentally friendly building upgrades, along with a beginner's guide to audits and a nice form for people to fill in, all the while learning the basics of lighting design and an awful lot about LEDs. But the stuff I've actually produced so far is relatively short and simple by design (in order to be easily understood). This makes it hard to quantify the work put in and keep motivation up.

I'm starting to realise that my defence against this apparent lack of progress is to plan everything. I write lots of planning notes, concept ideas, content structures, about every conceivable thing; they make me feel productive, but they slow me down. Just getting stuck into work is sometimes the best way to move forward. Generally I find that all the planning goes out of the window anyway. I need to strike a balance.

On the other hand, co-workers seem pleased with my progress and keen to offer advice. I'm learning most of their names, thanks to the fact we have nowhere to put the new in/out board yet so it's balanced against the filing trays on my desk.


Did you know that Portsmouth City Council is a Unitary Authority? It means it has sole authority over a certain area, namely Portsmouth. In a particularly exciting fashion, the boundary of PCC jurisdiction is defined by WASTE COLLECTION. Apparently that's how all authorities know where their influence lies, across the UK. If they empty your bins, you're under their control. Well, it had to be defined somehow.

2nd September: First day

So today I started my internship at Portsmouth City Council, or "PCC" as all the cool kids call it.

Didn't really know what to expect, or where I was going, or what the work environment would be like - (or whether my clothing was appropriate, how and when I would eat lunch, and a myriad other questions) - but these were all quickly answered.

I went to the fourth floor of the civic offices (got a bus pass sorted last week to get into the city which helped with the nerves) to find an open plan office space with maps of the city and a giant stuffed-toy turkey that had been retrieved from a skip.

My clothing was fine, smart enough for an intern with the carbon reduction team (lucky really, departments varied in style from jumpers to suits, though never jeans) and lunch could be eaten at my desk, in the canteen upstairs, or outside anywhere really. There was even a fridge I could use if I wanted to.

Questions sorted, my morning and early afternoon were full of first day things. I:

  • Completed assorted bits of health and safety training
  • Got added to the IT system
  • Found out where to get my pass into the building
  • Learned the structure of my internship
  • Met a variety of people from relevant departments

…and I failed a test on information security (by being too strict about it.)

My first project snuck up on me somewhat as I shadowed a meeting about a larger project. We'd been chatting productively about different energy saving lighting options and sources of government funding for sustainable initiatives, when I realised I was now set something to do.

My first task, which I started before the day was over, should help people in public buildings do a simple audit by themselves so the council can work out where best to enact sustainable change. Given that Green Steps taught me to go out and do energy audits and the like myself, enabling other people to do so is wonderfully meta.

Oh, and I got invited to an Upcycling workshop this Thursday that's being run by the department as part of the Portsmouth Big Recycle initiative. If you're about, it looks like it's going to be fun!

September 2013

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