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Outside Brussels with P&G (Mar07)

An early start to Bristol airport – dawn arrived as we drove through the outer environs of Cheddar gorge. But weather – I assume fog – delayed my flight to Brussels. Whilst sitting on the floor playing with my upgraded mobile phone (it even has a pedometer), I was greeted by Archie Montgomerie, who I’ve been talking to recently about the potential for biogas and greening the Bath & West Show.

Shared the car sent by Procter & Gamble with Martin Charter from the Centre for Sustainable Design. We also shared thoughts about the substantial briefing papers we’d been sent in advance of this first meeting of the Expert Advisory Panel, set up by P&G’s Fabric & Homecare division.

The Groenhoven Estate, near Brussels describes itself as a high tech mansion with a 20 hectare garden, set in the midst of 1000 hectares of nature. Although only 25 minutes from the airport the taxi driver regularly consulted his map and still managed to get lost. But it was a splendid building – 500 years old and clad in an ultra modern glass exterior, with mirrors and solar panels. There was also a large and original Rubens hanging in the stairway.

As well as Martin Charter, the other panel members were Richard Holland from WWF International; Dr Torben Madsen, Director of Centre for Environment and Toxicology in Denmark; Christina Garcia-Orcoyen Tormo from the Fundacion Entorno & Business in Spain; and Dr Philippe Ossett, from Ecobilan in France. The rest of the dozen or so people around the table were from different parts of P&G. Our day included several presentations and a lot of discussion.

The food was delicious but beef on the menu for both lunch and dinner prompted a discussion about the inefficiency of meat production – 54 calories of fuel for just one calorie of protein for beef, compared with 2 calories of fuel for one calorie of protein from soya. Richard Holland, a fish eating vegetarian (a pescarian?), pointed out that when I’m asked if there is one thing you can do to save the world, I should say ‘avoid eating beef’. I think he’s right but I haven’t cut meat from my diet yet – just restrict myself to good quality stuff and try not to eat it too often!

Whereas most guests stayed at Groenhoven, Richard and I were sent off to a truly delightful B&B nearby – but it wasn’t like any B&B I’ve ever stayed in before. Called Oase , which is Dutch for ‘oasis’, it had a water theme. My room had a huge water bed, the loos were filled with rainwater and at least some of the hot water was heated by solar. Despite these eco-measures, the Jacuzzi and sauna would have meant this mini spa was a high energy and water user! Nancy, who was part of the husband and wife team who run it, told me they also collect bottled water from all over the world. I was sorry I didn’t manage to photograph this unusual collection but by then I was en route to Brussels Nord and a train to Luxembourg.

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