Monday, 21 July 2008

Freecyclette

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Recycling is everywhere in Poitou Charente. On the whole, I think the French are ahead of us in this regard. (No surprise seeing as they've been driving us mad with their lack of free carrier bags at supermarche checkouts for years.... now we get it!!!).

Anyway, these are roadside collection bins are in a car park in Saumur. Room for bottles, magazines, and embellage (polythene bags, etc). I even saw a bucket for collecting used batteries in the Super U.
Interesting Freegan stuff in today's Telegraph.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

En Vacances

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We stayed here for a couple of days. It's called Huttopia. It's a chain of green/ethical campsites throughout France. We stayed at the one in Rambouillet and used it as a base to get into Paris on the train for the tourist trail.

At Huttopia, the focus is very strongly on the environment, with all sorts of optional activities planned, plus huts and other facilities made from reclaimed materials. There's even a fresh-water swimming pool which looks great and completely different to your usual holiday poolside scene.


Also, this is good on what comes after green.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Papa's got a brand new bag...again!

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It struck me the other day as I bought yet another reusable bag at Sainsbury's because, yet again, I'd left mine at home, that we could all be damaging the environment even more than previously as demand for these hefty thick plastic bags outstrips that for the old thin ones.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Let The Sun Shine!

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Of course solar panels have been around for years. As the price falls, we see them reaching ubiquity in garden centres everywhere, as they are used to power outdoor nick-nacks from the essential to the completely unnecessary. However, innovation in this area continues to surge forward and provide betters answers for our more serious future domestic and industrial energy needs.

Perhaps surprisingly, it's through the treatment of ordinary windows with transparent dyes that can readily convert them into effective solar panels. This technology could revolutionise solar power and, from a cost perspective, begin to challenge the national grid. Why? Well instead of coating the whole panel with expensive solar cells, the units can just be attached to the sides. The special dyes which coat the surface of the glass automatically route the energy to the edges of the frame where it can be harnessed. This means 100 times less photovoltaic (PV) cells at 100 less cost!

Don't panic if you've just gone solar and can see the solar equivalent of Moore's Law catching you up! It's not just windows that can be converted. Existing solar panels and arrays can also be upgraded.

This breakthrough has been made by teams at MIT and widely welcomed by the likes of Greenpeace.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Weekend Update

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Nearly missed this green innovation!

I love this letter in this week's New Scientist.

Getting closer to getting paid to be green.

The Age of Stupid:


Friday, 11 July 2008

Scream if you want to go slower!

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My wife and I have a got a new game. (No it's not that kind of blog!)

We're having a race to see who can drive the most economically. Everyone's doing it. Even Jeremy Clarkson. I promise I'm only doing it on the days when public transport just isn't viable, but hey, yesterday I improved my average from 31.6 to 42.1 on a 50 mile round trip. Admittedly, I couldn't see where I was going, because I'd steamed up without air-con. Plus, I had to whistle without the radio on, but still.

Have a go! It's the new speeding!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Cornerhouse Rules

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Went to see Peter Saville talk to a smallish crowd at the Cornerhouse earlier.

He referred to his artwork for New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies as his career high, but I asked him about his biggest mistake.

Head in hands he offered an unexpected insight into the concepts of reuse and waste management and their application in the adjacent but quarrelsome fields of art and design. Invited to show at an Art Fair for the first time in his career ('a designer at an art fair is like a pop star in a movie... they've accepted the invitation to fuck up in public'), he and his team had spent some time experimenting with the digital transformation of rejected design projects. In other words, waste projects were pulled out of the scrap and given a deluxe 'photoshop' treatment, via the Wave filter, and re-presented as art.

A version of a Maurice Lewis painting was given this treatment by Saville and selected as his showpiece at the Frieze Art Fair. So far so good. Then on preview night Saville wandered on past his own piece and down the aisle only to pass a Maurice Lewis original hanging only feet away. Both were presented as art. Saville was embarrassed... for four long days.

Moving on, there were plenty of Factory anecdotes, but I was keen to hear what he might have to say about his role as Manchester's Creative Director.

Like Ray Hammond and James Bellini at the Visions of the Future event a couple of weeks ago, Saville is interested in work... what it is, what it isn't any more and what it might be in the future. In particular, he's keen to understand just how people will live and work in a future version of Manchester which, right now, is probably best summed up as mostly about 'Universities and Football'! In short, Saville suggested that 'the world will know about Manchester when Manchester is doing things that the world is interested in'. Yank a random boy off the streets of, say, Sao Paulo or Beijing and he'll know all about Manchester. United! This isn't a bad thing of course, but, for Saville, Manchester clearly needs to work up a more rounded global personality.

Before rushing for the train back to London, Saville suggested that Manchester needs to keep hold of a few more of those visionary and ambitious people who come to the city to study... and then leave.

Nocturnal Emissions

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I was only telling someone last week, who'd come up with the idea of capturing the kinetic energy emitted by the hundreds and thousands of footsteps taken by employees as they pad around the office every day that there was a nightclub in Rotterdam which does exactly that... i.e. capture the energy from all those dancing feet via a specially sprung dancefloor and convert it into electricity to help power the club and its all important sound and light show.

It was, therefore, a bit surprising to hear an item on this morning's Today programme on Radio 4 about tonight's opening of the Surya nightclub in the King's Cross area of London and its claim to be the world's first eco-nightclub, with its own piezo-electric dancefloor and other green gadgetry. Well, it's not quite the first as clubbers in Rotterdam and, apparently, San Francisco will attest, but let's not nit-pick because it's a good story and a useful initiative. As the club grows in popularity, they hope to share some of their excess N-R-G with the neighbours. On tonight's guest list, it will be the politicians who'll be voting with their feet.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Spray it with bombers.

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Sadly, and rather annoyingly, I'm going to miss the Guardian Climate Change Summit 2008 due to an unfortunately timed but still welcome holiday. (No long haul flights this year... it's a lengthy drive and ferry to the Poitou Charente region of France... maybe a staycation next year?)

Nevertheless, it will be shame to miss the summit, especially with it coming so hot on the heels of the G8 summit which is flooding our news bulletins, papers, websites, blogs and tweets for some of the right reasons and quite a few of the wrong ones.

Elsewhere, Chris Mooney writes about a radical route to a cooler earth... spraying a million tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere from military jet! Would it work?

My quest for the perfect man-bag may be over.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Can't do right for doing wrong!

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Found this on WorldChanging (and if you haven't got the book yet, why not?). It dates back to June but relates directly to my earlier post and some of onegreenerday's overall thoughts around doing the right thing.

It's worth a read... particularly as it suggests that the small steps which individuals and organisations are beginning to take to be greener might actually have an adverse effect as consumers do their bit and then relax...
"I've changed my lightbulbs now, so now I'm off to the shops in my new 4x4 to pick up my new plasma tv!"

Monday, 7 July 2008

What's the big idea?

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Solving the climate crisis isn't rocket science. Well, actually, some of it is a bit like rocket science but, in the main, it's the small incremental changes that we can all make, which will make a big difference, whilst we wait for the REALLY BIG IDEAS to come along.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when you ask a group of people for green ideas, a number of common themes begin to emerge. Lots of thoughts about better transport, about home-working, about better lighting, less wasteful printing, etc.

This tells us that the real killer apps and ideas are harder to come by, but it also suggests that there is still a huge amount to be done to address the more everyday themes on people's minds.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties

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The world population explosion, driving up demand for food, clashes with the West's desire to reduce its dependency on the world's major oil producers by growing biofuels. Biofuels seemed to be a brilliant response to declining fossil fuel energy reserves, but are they just adding to the chaos? So it seems according to a leaked World Bank Report which estimates that the drive to biofuels has driven up world food prices by a massive 75%.

Doh! Gotta think of something else! In our rush to address the multiple interlinked crises we are beginning to face by seizing the latest innovation, we usually find it is too good to be true. It's usually only as we alter our behaviour and begin to relax that the true implications of the gear shift become clear. Biofuels is one example, carbon offsetting is another as people and organisations continue to burn through fuel whilst outsourcing their conscience to some corporate-accounting jiggery-pokery.

Still, it's hard. I even felt myself exhale calmly, at last week's New Scientist event, as Ray Hammond hinted that artificial intelligence may soon come to our rescue by solving all of the problems that currently reside in homo sapiens' 'too hard' box. It might, but we can't stop trying to solve our problems in the meantime just because we think that the world's greatest agony aunt might be a few technological iterations away. We are continually challenged with seeking out, adopting and quite often rejecting new technologies, tools, techniques and behaviours as we try to keep the plates spinning until the 'singularity' event, when our computers' intelligence eclipses our own, occurs.

As markets transform themselves in the face of technical, cultural and commercial changes, will their new identities pass the green test? Take the music industry for example. Always one for predicting its own untimely demise, it is in fact a multi-billion dollar industry which has proved itself more than adept at coping with the demise of vinyl, the rise and fall of the CD, the spectre of Napster and the rise of legimate and illegitimate downloads. Its current response is to shift its emphasis away from making the bulk of its money on the music itself and diverting its attention to the huge revenues which can be generated from mammoth tours and festivals, with all of the merchandising and spin-off activities that come with them.

So whilst we all take a greener route to accessing our media, through downloading music or video, those savings get trounced as the entertainment industry ramps up its spend on ever more expensive energy-sapping tours, events and festivals which, the the UK, US and Europe, fill up almost every weekend from Easter to autumn. No doubt there's some convenient carbon offsetting going on... so that's OK.

Festivals. I'm rarely drawn to them. I usually skim across the vast line-ups sprawling over multiple stages and several days and circle those acts I'd like to see. I generally come up with less than a handful... enough to fill a couple of hours really. However, this week saw the line-up revealed for September's "All Tomorrow's Parties" festival. Unusually, I found that I was circling more acts than I was striking out. I'd love to go, but even if I could afford it, how could I justify flying to New York's Catskill Mountains for the weekend.

Where will we look for experiences to rival the live gig/festival experience? Probably to technology again as the avatars we create in our Second Lives become more closely integrated with our most closely-felt perceptions and experiences. In the meantime, I suppose that I'll just have to wait for another opportunity to see Bob Mould, Dinosaur Jr, Tortoise and Mogwai on the same bill. What are the odds?
UPDATE:
Here's a useful perspective on this stuff from today's Sunday Times.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Your survival is not mandatory.

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I went along to last week's Visions of the Future event at London's Science Museum as organised by the New Scientist. The aim of the event was to present awards to those who had won a competition to decide which technology would have the biggest impact on our working lives in 50 years’ time. However, shoring up the awards ceremony were futurologists James Bellini and Ray Hammond and I was keen to hear what they had to say about how our lives are going to change over the the remainder of this century.

My trick back meant that I took a seat towards the back of the 500 or so guests as they milled about quaffing wine and eating canapes. So whilst I saw very little of the speakers, I had the opportunity to sit and think about what they had to say instead of shuffling from foot to foot.

Bellini kicked off with some definitions. Most importantly he makes a differentation between digital natives and digital immigrants. Those who've grown up with the internet and mobile phones are without doubt digital natives, whereas those who've begun to adopt and adapt tend to form the digital immigrant community. The main point though is, when over 50% of the world's population has yet to make a phone-call, most of us are still digital immigrants!

A lot of the commentary which followed focused on work and its shift from being somewhere we go to, to something we do. This, combined with our ongoing immersion in an always-on, always-connected, networked world introduces wider concepts such as the wisdom of the crowd and the worldwide conversation. By 2020, Bellini suggests that 80% of all workers will be free-workers or teleworkers. Yes people will still meet up. The hotdesking trend of the '90s continues, but human nature still intervenes as regular staff get in earlier and earlier to bag the same hotdesk every day!

Hammond followed on from Bellini with a number of clear themes which he feels are going to shape our future. Firstly, the world population explosion actually underpins a number of the subsequent themes, particularly the energy and food crisis, as we seek to find enough water for a global population set to almost double in our lifetimes.

Unsurprisingly, the climate crisis was up next. Hammond refuses to use the term climate change, which sounds more like a lifestyle choice or global warming which almost hints at being a good thing.

In discussing the looming energy crisis Hammond reassured his audience that oil will never ever run out. This is simply because it will become far too expensive to burn.

Globalisation is a theme which can probably contribute the most as a force for goodness and peace across the planet, as it lifts millions out of poverty.

A revolution in medicine will see us shifting towards the prevention of the disease and extending life. Nano medicines and stem cell technologies may see us regrowing and replacing organs within 15 years!

The exponential accleration in technological development is a critical theme, as it just might contain some of the answers to the challenges set by the others. As the Moore's Law curve reaches the near vertical we will draw closer to what Hammond describes as a singularity event between 2028 and 2035.

If this sounds like science fiction, that's because it has been to date, but around that time computers will become as clever as humans. In the years to follow, they will carry on along that same curve. So after a year they'll be twice as clever as we are, after two years, they'll be four times as smart, and so on. Scary stuff for Terminator fans. However, we simply don't know what lies beyond the singularity and just how technology will be brought to bear on the other challenges we face.

Will this super-human intelligence be able to deliver renewable energy sources quickly enough to enable us to reduce the density of carbon in our atmosphere in sufficient time to avert disaster. Will it enable us develop new crops and food technologies to meet the needs of the world's burgeoning population.

Of course, we simply don't know, but it just might be too soon to give up hope for Lent.

On the other hand, something reminded Hammond of a final theme, just before the close of the event. The others... the bottom billion people on the world who don't form part of the developing 2.2 billion. If we don't do something for them, the revolution in cheap and ubiquitous communications means that they will see our lifestyles and they will come and take it for themselves by whatever means necessary. What's more, we may not notice this final theme until it is too late.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Having the idea is the easy part!

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Most organisations are keen to hear new ideas from their business partners and suppliers, whether innovation is 'baked into the deal' or not! Even if they like the ideas, the business case stacks up and the return on investment is incredibly attractive, many companies stall at this point. Why? Well it's often to do with the fact that the very things which the organisation would benefit from the most are often the hardest things to do.

For example, most companies would be responsive to a proposition which would see them saving costs by reducing duplication across their business, streamlining processes, and sharing and collaborating across divisions and subsidiaries. In fact, central to the drive towards true Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is the sharing of common services across often complex business and channels to market. SOA aims to break down the business silos which many organisations shape themselves around in order to strip out inefficiencies, heighten competitiveness and accelerate their speed to market. The trouble is, most companies like their silos. In most cases, their whole organisational structure, culture and ethos is based around these silos, as autonomous divisions take responsibility for their own P&L, strategy and behaviours, sometimes in direct competition with group colleagues in other divisions and subsidiaries.

All of this brings us back to why it's often so hard for companies genuinely looking for new ideas and innovations to simply do the right thing. It's even more difficult to do the green thing!

Many large organisations are beginning to appreciate the compelling case made by energy saving software which ensures that everybody's PCs and monitors are switched off automatically when not in use and which tells you just how much energy (and cash) you are saving to boot.

However, in any organisation of size, several business areas would normally need to come together to fund a pilot and then a rollout of such software... a corporate dance requiring quite elaborate choreography. However, and here's the kicker, even if you could get everyone round a table signing up to co-sponsor this, when will they see the promised ROI of, say, six months?

Well, possibly never, because energy savings are picked up by central facilities and not by the individual departments occupying the floorspace across the corporate office estate. These meetings often end abruptly as stakeholders rush off to spend their limited budgets on projects where the benefits are realised within their own empires. This further compounds the silo problem, sends SOA further into the future and inhibits an organisation which so desparately wants to do the right thing from actually doing it.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Just tell me what to do.

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On the face of it it's encouraging to read the report in today's Guardian that, based on an ICM survey, voters now believe that taking positive action to address the climate crisis is more important than tackling the recession. This news is particularly welcome after last week's Ipsos Mori poll which suggested that people's interest in the green agenda is waning in the face of the economic downturn.

There are, however, some caveats to the more upbeat ICM findings which hint that people don't really want the responsibility of tackling climate issues and are instead, looking to the government to take the lead.

This reinforces the need for regulation and intervention and mirrors many attitudes in the corporate world where businesses and their subdivisions clamour to be seen to do something green (and don't get me wrong, the small steps are important) but large scale energy savings, recycling and reuse benefits will only ever be derived when the CEO or the Board mandate it.

When companies suddenly find their carbon performance taxed and their senior executives find themselves having to deliver on green targets, this will all of a sudden ripple down organisational hierarchies which will leap from 'greenwashing' PR activities into true green action programmes.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

What do we want? We don't know. When do we want it? Now!

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"We've got Innovation baked into the deal!" sounds great in the board-room and, in fact, innovation features in the vast majority of all new contracts between private and public sector businesses and their technology and business oursourcing partners, but do those businesses really know what they're asking for and would they recognise it if they got it?

In fact, innovation is often quite high on the list of 'must haves' when organisations set out on a lengthy procurement process to find a new business partner, but ask them what they are really looking for and you'll often be met with a 'dazzled in the headlights' stare.

Why is it so hard? Well, it's not really. It's usually a matter of definitions. A quick trawl around Google throws up a huge selection of wide and varied definitions of 'innovation' from as many wide and varied sources. However, the one thing that the clear majority seem to agree on is the word 'new'. By and large, an innovative idea should be about something new but, and here's the easy part, it doesn't actually have to be brand new!

Don't worry if you are full of whizzy, blue sky ideas that no-one could ever create other than you, those ideas will do fine thanks very much. Often, however, an idea based upon something you are already doing for a client in another industry or in a different geography can be just as innovative and fresh to your new customer. In fact, these ideas can often blend a mix of new thinking with a degree of referenceability which, daring and dynamic as your new customers think they are, will often give them the reassurance they will really need if they are going to fund your new ideas and adopt them for their business.

So really, it's not just about the ideas, it's also about how you come up with, develop and communicate those ideas. It's not too hard to create some structure around how you attract both brand new ideas and tweaks to existing products and services, especially if you use the most important resources already at your disposal... your colleagues, staff, customers and business partners. People love being asked for their input. Plus, if there's a chance of their idea becoming a reality, people suddenly become incredibly creative!

Be happy to start small. Organise a competition amongst the teams within your organisation. Offer some prizes to get people moving but, other than that, don't set too many ground rules as they can put people off. Also, don't tell people that they will have an opportunity to pitch their idea straight to the Board! They'll stay away in droves. Instead offer simple templates (problem/solution/benefits) to those that want them. Otherwise accept all ideas in good faith... from two lines on a Post-It to a detailed white paper.

The best ideas are often the simplest and easiest ones to explain!