Azeem Azhar brought to my attention a very interesting project that he’s been working on with Indian farmers that exemplifies the best of leapfrog technology. It’s a system to provide accurate weather forecasts, as well as pricing data for their crops, sent to their mobile phones. The pilot project, detailed in the London Times, is being implemented by Reuters. Among the benefits are better preparedness for monsoon rains as well as better data about where and when to take crops to market. Currently, an astonishing 1/3 of vegetables grown in India fail to reach market before they rot – a result of a myriad of inefficiencies. This sounds like a great business opportunity for eveyone involved, particularily the poor and hungry.
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San Francisco, given its density and supposedly progressive attitude ought to have a world class transportation system. Sadly, it does not. A ride on the city’s most popular bus line, the 38-Geary, takes an astonishing 60 minutes (or more) to cross the 6 mile route from beach to bay. I could rant about it well outside the scope of this blog, but I’ll get to the point.
The San Francisco transit organization, MUNI, is begining to turn itself around and wants to replace the clunky ’38’ with a top-of-the-line system knows as “bus rapid transit’. BRT is cheaper than a rail system, but almost as effective – the buses are extra big & they have their own exclusive right-of-way. They switch red lights to green and people pay at attractive station platforms before they get on, thus avoidng bottlenecks at the door. In other words, it will make life much easier for residents and business people alike.
Naturally, there are people who are resistant to change for one reason or another. It so happens that most of them are self-described “Geary St. merchants”, who, frankly, give more thoughtful businesses a bad name. Are they just afraid of change? Or are their concerns more grounded?
Since announceing a very ‘green’ environmentlal policy last year, Goldman Sachs has invested $1.5 Billion in clean energy projects and appears to be only getting started. This article on Greenwire, via WBCSD, breaks down some of the specifics that Goldman has accomplished and their plans for the future. It’s especially interesting to note that the profitability of their investments in renewables and efficiency, much of Wall Street continues to scratch their heads. For how long? We’ll see.
(read the article here)
Plenty Mag’s excellent blog alerted me to this very cool population projection map that was produced by Population Action International. (See the full size here)
The first thing you notice when you look at that map is that some parts of the world, most notably Europe and Japan are in fact expected to *decline* in population while the usual showcases of overcrowding like China and India will continue their upward trend for some time. There’s no question that *more* population growth in a place like Bangledesh is a major problem that needs to be addresed, but what about that new phenomenon of population decline? Should we care?
In the case of the former USSR, unfortunately, the blue on the map is probably due to economic problems and resulting migration But In the case of the rest of Europe and Japan, I’m inclined to think of a slowly declining (or at least stable) population as a very good thing. It goes hand-in-hand with prosperity, women’s freedom, and the availability of family planning. It means there’s a little more space in an overcrowded world and more wealth to spread around.
Furthermore, most people can clearly see the problems that are associated with population growth. So why do so many people react with fear at the idea of a population drop?
You many have heard the news a month ago about the creation of the nation’s largest national monument stretching from Hawaii to Midway Island. You may also have been surprised to hear that it was created via executive order from none other than George W. Bush. But the best story to come out of it is the story of how Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of Jaques) convinced the president that the sanctuary was worth creating. Here’s the whole story. Regardless of your political inclinations, it’s an incredible story of effective communication. To quote the SB Independant interview:
I don’t pretend to have a secret solution. But the method of confrontation has to be left behind. That was the ’60s and ’70s. We can’t do that anymore. That was okay then, but not now. In terms of dealing with decision-makers — whether industry or government — we have to establish dialogue; we have to behave as human beings talking to other human beings. Those people have a family, they have children, they have obligations, they are the same as you and I. If you approach them in a non-confrontational way, chances are that you will have some success. And if your arguments are convincing enough, it’s going to work. You might not get exactly what you want, but at least you will be heard.
Good customer service gives businesses a good name and most definitely improves their success. Bad customer service is bound to start causing problems and is very much something we want to avoid when we talk about the ‘big picture’ of sustainability.
A great classic moment in bad customer service happened last month to Vincent Ferrari (watch the amazing tape here) when he tried to cancel his AOL account. And the ensuing press prompted AOL to utter a reasonably authentic-sounding apology.
But when the Consumerist got their hands on this fascinating “Retention Manual” the real depth of AOL’s policies started to emerge. The manual specifically refers to cancelation calls as sales leads and reads (allegedly):
If you stop and think about it, every Member that calls in to cancel their account is a hot lead. Most other sales jobs require you to create your own leads, but in the Retention Queue the leads come to you! Be eager to take more calls, get more leads and close more sales. More leads means more selling opportunities for you and cost savings for AOL.
(See Consumerist for the rest)
Now, obviously, any company can be forgiven for making a little effort to try to keep customers from canceling, but if you watch that video, refer to the 2005 case in which AOL was fined $1.25 Million for overly aggressive retention practices, and inspect this amazing document, you see a corporate culture that clearly refuses to learn.
I hardly ever launch into a negative diatribe about anyone, but somtimes you have to hold things up as an example. AOL is probably the worst way possible to access the internet, but manages to sign up millions of subscribers who don’t know any better, or who buy new PCs with the virus-like AOL software pre-installed (Not to mention those mililions of CDs that everyone just throws into the trash). They’ve been losing market share for years, and it’s painfully obvious why.
When you have some time today, hop on over to TreeHugger to read the interview Collin did with DriveNeutral CEO Jason Smith. I like promoting DN partly beacuse Jason is a friend of mine, but also because I’m very keen on the Chicago Climate Exchange‘s (CCX) concept of carbon credit trading as opposed to what are known as “renewable energy credits” – typically earned by planting trees and investing in wind farms etc…
Still, I don’t know as much about the issue as Jason, nor do I know as much as TerraPass‘s Adam Stein who comments at length after the interview that RECs are not as unreliable as Jason suggests. There is a great deal of information in their discussion and I highly recommend reading it to the end. The bottom line is that neither method is really “better” than the other, and it will be very interesting to see where CCX winds up in a couple years. DriveNeutral remains committed to CCX, whereas TerraPass takes a more blended approach. Variety is the spice of life, and this looks like a perfect example of cooperation and competition happening at the same time. Dare I use the word “coopetition” ?
I’ve never been fond of society’s craving for gold. It seems like a serious waste of time for some shiny metal and stories like this one (BBC) only make me feel worse about it. Still, it’s probably not going to stop being popular for a very long time. Therefore, we’d best come up with better ways of getting our hands on it.
Check out this Fast Company article. It’s about the concept of “Peak Metals” – the idea being that not only oil, but various metals, gold among them, are also reaching a level of demand that is ultimately unsustainable. On the one hand, this means a lot more destructive mining, but on the other hand it means more creativity. Turns out that a ton of dead computers has more gold in it than 17 tons of ore. As a result, “landfill mining” may start becoming a common practice. I can imagine it being practical for other things besides gold too.
I don’t know what it would take to make such a practice cost effective, nor how long it might last. Also, in the future, better manufacturing and dissasembly practices will mean that most valuable material will be recoved from the computers long before they reach a landfill. Nontheless, it’s a cool idea and one that might pay the costs of needed landfill cleanup!
Check out this article on UW-Milwaukee’s campus and Whitney Gould’s suggestion to do away with surface parking in favor of an “emerald necklace” around the campus. It’s inspired. It’s also extremely practical. Imagine what a typical suburban office/retail area might look like with this kind of thoughtfulness. Imagine a neighborhood.
Granted, it’s not cheap to rip up existing infrastructure and replace it with new, better landscaped alternatives. But if one plans this sort of thing from the begining then direct savings and other less tangible payoffs are a lot more realistic. Consider the now legendary Village Homes in Davis, CA. The developers behind this attractive suburban subdivision took out unusual risks in the early 80’s to create a fantastic, green, highly livable community with none of the drawbacks of typical suburban sprawl – and they enjoyed a 30% per year ROI plus some very satisfied homebuyers. Read all about it on RMI’s site.
An article in today’s SFGate talks about the 11 Million more people coming to California in coming years and the inevitable strain this will put on water use. One of the main culprits will be the “traditional” green lawn which is especially popular in the hotter, drier, central valley – which has a little more space and is therefore the site of most of the growth.
People in Arizona have finally begun to accept that lawns are rather ridiculous in their part of the world and indeed, entirely new fashions of landscaping have resulted that are generally much more appropriate. California clearly needs to learn the same lesson. The article points out that legislation is currently pending that will put various restrictions on residential lawns and force additional metering. Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to just raise the price of water? At the same time the government could be providing people with information about other ways to landscape, as well as ways to store rainwater and greywater for use on lawns and gardens instead of coming straight from the tap.
Eventually, this type of thinking will enter the mainstream and you’ll have people boasting about their rainwater collection systems instead of the lushness of their lawns, and no one will be any poorer.
Hitachi has a bold goal to be “emissions neutral” by 2015. The so-called “Environmental Vision 2015″ plan aims to reduce CO2 emissions from both production and product use to a level that can be easily offset. The plan also calls for a higher level of recycling in general, and a corporate community “in harmony” with nature. I’m not sure what the “harmony” part really means, but a little lip service is generally good if it’s at least backed up by a plan as good as the one they seem to be implementing. Article here.