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Putting People First

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Posts in category 'Sustainability'

3 September 2014

How do consumers use and respond to energy monitors?

energypolicy

Feeding back about eco-feedback: How do consumers use and respond to energy monitors?
Kathryn Buchanan (a), Riccardo Russo (a) and Ben Anderson (b)
a Department of Psychology, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK
b Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton, UK
Energy Policy
Volume 73, October 2014, Pages 138–146

Abstract
To date, a multitude of studies have examined the empirical effect of feedback on energy consumption yet very few have examined how feedback might work and the processes it involves. Moreover, it remains to be seen if the theoretical claims made concerning how feedback works can be substantiated using empirical data. To start to address this knowledge gap, the present research used qualitative data analysis to examine how consumers use and respond to energy monitors. The findings suggest feedback may increase both the physical and conscious visibility of consumption as well as knowledge about consumption. Accordingly, support was evident for the theoretical assertions that feedback transforms energy from invisible to visible, prompts motivated users to learn about their energy habits, and helps address information deficits about energy usage. We conclude by evaluating the feasibility of feedback to substantially reduce consumption and discuss ways in which feedback could be improved to aid its effectiveness in the long term before discussing the implication our findings may have for government policy.

28 May 2014

Renting isn’t lending: the ‘sharing economy’ fallacy

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The sharing economy is a harmful misnomer, writes John Harvey, a researcher at the University of Nottigham. It conflates people who actually share with those who make money through collaborative consumption.

“It is true that much of the work within the broad gamut of the sharing economy is important in terms of sustainability and worthy of further advocacy. But the disparate values that resource sharing brings to the economy should not be clumsily lumped together. Sharing in the presence of money and sharing in its absence are two entirely different forms of economic morality.”

24 April 2014

My digital shadow

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The surveillance program PRISM by the US secret service NSA has reminded us that all of our activities online may be monitored without giving us the chance to understand whether we really are targeted or what the purpose of this monitoring is. Information is being collected about us all but we have little understanding about how it is being used.

We do though have some means of learning what information we are giving away and this can allow us to make conscious decisions about how we want to continue to use the internet. Some traces are difficult to avoid, but there are also many things we can do to reduce our digital shadows.

This website is created by the Tactical Technology Collective (and is in stable-Beta mode) to help you see which digital shadows you cast and how to make them smaller.

24 April 2014

Smart cities need smart citizens

smartip

The idea of the SMARTiP project is to take the experience developed by a wide range of existing user-driven, open innovation initiatives in Europe, particularly those developed through Living Labs, and to apply this experience to the challenge of transforming public services by empowering ‘smart citizens’ who are able to use and co-produce innovative Internet-enabled services within emerging ‘smart’ cities. The aim is to enable to adoption of open platforms for the co-production of citizen-centric Internet-enabled services in five test-bed sites, Manchester, Gent, Cologne, Bologna and Oulu. The objective is to enhance the ability of the cities to grow and sustain a ‘smart city’ ecosystem which can support new opportunities emerging for a dynamic co-production process resulting in more inclusive, higher quality and efficient public services which can then be made replicable and scalable for cross-border deployment on a larger scale.

This will focus on a series of pilot projects, as outlined ‘Technical Pilots’, covering three thematic areas:Smart engagement; Smart environments; and Smart mobility.

The pilots aim to act as a catalyst to stimulate citizen engagement in becoming active generators of content and applications development, as well as being more informed and involved users of the developing Internet-enabled services in ‘smart’ cities. ‘Smart cities’ require ‘smart citizens’ if they are to be truly inclusive, innovative and sustainable. The promise of the information society, to create new ways of empowering people to play a fuller and more equal role in emerging governance systems through their access to dynamic Internet-enabled services, is also proving to be its biggest challenge, as not everyone is getting equal access to the skills and opportunities that are supposed to be there.

> Project brochure

17 March 2014

Six ways to design humanity and localism into Smart Cities

frederiksberg

A long post by Rick Robinson, Executive Architect at IBM specialising in emerging technologies and Smarter Cities, admonishes Smart Cities planners and designers not to overlook the social needs of cities and communities. After all, he says, the full purpose of cities is: to enable a huge number of individual citizens to live not just safe, but rewarding lives with their families.

His well thought-through and experience based reasoning is very much worth a read and ends with an in-depth discussion of six practical steps:

  1. Make institutions accessible
  2. Make infrastructure and technology accessible
  3. Support collaborative innovation
  4. Promote open systems
  5. Provide common services
  6. Establish governance of the information economy
16 March 2014

Why smart cities need an urgent reality check

Cities: smart 3, boston

Responsive urban technology sounds enticing but citizens must not be disconnected from plans drawn up on their behalf, argues Gary Graham in The Guardian.

“It’s not clear at the moment whether future cities are strategic experiments for [large companies such as IBM, Samsung, Cisco and Intel], or if they are genuinely catalysing the regeneration of inner cities. To investigate some of these visions, I went to MIT in Boston for three months last year. The aim was to find out how people would get their goods and services in the city of the future, and how we we get everyone to engage with city plans.

We decided to test out some ideas with the inner-city communities of Boston in a series of workshops. We essentially combined science fact and science fiction by presenting them with a Boston set in 2037, based on current technological trends projected forward through several imagined scenarios.

We combined the traditional science fiction ideas of utopia and dystopia with realistic technological trends such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing and big data and asked Bostonians to come up with fictional stories about their life in these environments.”

And the answers were quite to the point:

“Workshop participants felt smart cities were rather utopian concepts growing from a vision put forward by one group of businesses. There was general agreement that there were often many visions for the city, but “at the moment it’s the rich and powerful who determine that future vision.”

Many were troubled by the notion that people would live in a city purely because of its technology capabilities and thought there were lots of other important social and cultural reasons influencing people’s decisions to live or work somewhere. Just because these urban centres could offer us new ways of living in the future does not negate the importance of the natural environment, history and legacy.”

13 February 2014

A case study on inclusive design: ethnography and energy use

owlmeter

Energy usage and conservation can be a seemingly mundane part of an individual’s daily life on one hand, but a politically, ecologically, and economically critical issue on the other. Despite its importance, there is a startling lack of insight into what guides and influences behaviors surrounding energy.

With conventional quantitative analyses of properties and income explaining less than 40% of variations in households’ consumption, Dr Dan Lockton (senior associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design) and Flora Bowden set out to unpack some of the behavioral nuances and contextual insights around energy use within the daily lives of British households, from the perspective of design researchers.

Their interviews had them meeting everyone from “quantified self” enthusiasts to low-income residents of public housing, and involving them in the design process.

What they discovered bears significant implications for design which seeks to influence behaviors around energy, for example, where policy makers and utility companies see households as “using energy”, household members see their own behavior as solving problems and making their homes more comfortable, such as by running a bath to unwind after a trying day, or preparing a meal for their family.

EthnographyMatters reports on what Dan and Flora learned in their ethnographic research, and how understanding “folk models” of energy – what energy “looks like” – may hold the key to curtailing energy usage.

19 January 2014

[Book] Junkyard Planet

junkyardplanet

Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade
by Adam Minter
Bloomsbury Publishing
2013, 304 pages
[Amazon link - video]

Abstract

When you drop your Diet Coke can or yesterday’s newspaper in the recycling bin, where does it go? Probably halfway around the world, to people and places that clean up what you don’t want and turn it into something you can’t wait to buy. In Junkyard Planet, Adam Minter — veteran journalist and son of an American junkyard owner — travels deeply into a vast, often hidden, multibillion-dollar industry that’s transforming our economy and environment.

Minter takes us from back-alley Chinese computer recycling operations to high-tech facilities capable of processing a jumbo jet’s worth of recyclable trash every day. Along the way, we meet an unforgettable cast of characters who’ve figured out how to build fortunes from what we throw away: Leonard Fritz, a young boy “grubbing” in Detroit’s city dumps in the 1930s; Johnson Zeng, a former plastics engineer roaming America in search of scrap; and Homer Lai, an unassuming barber turned scrap titan in Qingyuan, China. Junkyard Planet reveals how “going green” usually means making money—and why that’s often the most sustainable choice, even when the recycling methods aren’t pretty.

With unmatched access to and insight on the junk trade, and the explanatory gifts and an eye for detail worthy of a John McPhee or William Langewiesche, Minter traces the export of America’s recyclables and the massive profits that China and other rising nations earn from it. What emerges is an engaging, colorful, and sometimes troubling tale of consumption, innovation, and the ascent of a developing world that recognizes value where Americans don’t. Junkyard Planet reveals that we might need to learn a smarter way to take out the trash.

Reviews

“Having made the reasonable observation that consumption causes waste even more surely than it causes recycling, Mr. Minter’s pragmatism reasserts itself. “If the goal is a realistic sustainable future,” he writes, “then it’s necessary to take a look at what we can do to lengthen the lives of the products we’re going to buy anyway.” He cites several products that could be made more easily reusable or recyclable. Apple’s MacBook Air, for example, is so meticulously compressed that taking it apart and sorting out its component raw materials is bound to be dauntingly inefficient. Consumers should, Mr. Minter says, object to this kind of planned obsolescence.”
Erica Grieder, Wall Street Journal – Dec 20, 2013

“By 2017, according to the Solving the E-Waste Problem (Step) initiative, a UN-supported project, each person on the planet will discard a third more electronic waste than in 2012, a grand total by then of 64.4m tonnes. Much of it will be shipped from the affluent world to developing countries for cheap reprocessing, a pattern of trade that Step defines as a problem. Adam Minter, a journalist and son of a US scrapyard entrepreneur, would disagree. Minter does not see the global scrap trade as a morality tale of villain and victim, but a vibrant and eco-friendly business, a core component of the world economy.”
Isabel Hilton, The Guardian – 18 January 2014

“As Junkyard Planet shows, the commercial recycling industry does put others’ trash to the most productive use possible. But recycling is no “get out of jail free card” for those who, as Minter puts it, find consuming “more fun than conserving”.”
Sarah Mishkin, Financial Times – January 3, 2014

12 January 2014

[Book] Design Transitions

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Design Transitions – Inspiring Stories. Global Viewpoints. How design is changing.
By Joyce Yee, Emma Jefferies and Lauren Tan
BIS Publishers
[Book site - Amazon link - selected pages]

Abstract

Design Transitions presents 42 unique and insightful stories of how design is changing around the world. Twelve countries are represented from the perspectives of three different communities: design agencies, organizations embedding design; and design academics.

Design Transitions takes you across the globe in search of the most innovative design practitioners, and their answers to the question ‘How are design practices changing?’ From small practices to vast corporations, the renowned to the lesser known: these are the stories of people working at the fringes of the traditional disciplines of design. They have opened up their design worlds to reveal the methods, tools and thinking behind their inspirational work. Some of the organizations and individuals featured includes: Droog, BERG, Fjord, thinkpublic, FutureGov, Hakuhodo Innovation Lab, DesignThinkers Group, INSITUM, Optimal Usability, frog Asia, Ziba, Banny Banerjee, Ezio Manzini, Carlos Teixeira and Adam Greenfield.

Design Transitions is divided into three sections:

  • Section I: Changing Practices features 25 stories from design practices in a range of disciplines.
  • Section II: New Territories features five organizations introducing and embedding design approaches into their core practice and operations.
  • Section III: Viewpoints features 12 interviews with leading design academics, offering additional insights and a critical perspective on the key themes that have emerged from our case studies and interviews.

Authors

Joyce Yee, PhD is a senior lecturer at UK’s Northumbria University’s Design School, teaching interaction, service and design methodologies across undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Emma Jefferies, PhD is an independent design consultant and founder of Design Doctors.

Lauren Tan, PhD has worked as a designer in various capacities in graphic design, management consulting, service design and social design.

19 November 2013

Bringing sharing to Korea

aside-logo

Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth, gave the keynote address at the ‘Seoul Youth Hub Conference 2013, Reshaping the Way We Live’, held in Seoul, Korea from 6 to 8 November 2013.

The conference was co-hosted with 8 youth-led organizations working for transforming our lives into more sustainable way in various sectors.

The Seoul Youth Hub is a project of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and its mandate is to help young people “design a future society” by providing a place where they can share and resolve their problems, experiment with a sharing economy, and “discuss specific policies regarding various agendas such as work-labor, housing, life safety net, business creation, youth politics,” and more. The Hub is also intended as a model and a networking center for similar projects throughout Asia.

Richard was quite impressed about it all, and wrote a report on his experience on Shareable.

Very funny was his meeting with the Mayor of Seoul:

“On the evening of the first day of the conference I met Mayor Park at his offices in City Hall, a twisty new steel-and-glass structure whose ground floor is devoted to citizen-led social innovation projects.

Copies of The End of Growth were on the mayor’s meeting room table. Using an interpreter, we got right to it: He had clearly read the book and asked intelligent questions about it. What would I recommend that he and the City of Seoul do to prepare for the end of economic growth? It was a stunning question, given the circumstances, and he appeared eager to consider whatever suggestions I might offer. I started rattling off a laundry list of ideas — supporting farmers’ markets, community gardens, and other staples of a local food system; discouraging cars while encouraging bicycling and public transport; raising energy building standards to the Passive House level; staging more cultural events to increase the happiness quotient among citizens. When I finished, he recited examples of how he and the city have already begun doing nearly every one of these things. He was saying, in effect, “Check, check, check. Come on, what else have you got? Please tell me, and I’ll see if we can do it!” I suggested he find a way for the city to help bring Transition to Seoul. (There are currently two official Transition Initiatives in Japan, none in Korea.) He promised to do just that.”

11 November 2013

Two new reports by ARUP

 

Designing with Data
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and ARUP have released Designing with Data: Shaping Our Future Cities, a new report that explores the massive potential role that data could have in the planning and design of our buildings and cities, reports Dexigner.
The report identifies the main approaches to working with data for those involved in designing and planning cities. Better data can offer a deep insight into people’s needs and has the potential to transform the way architects and urban planners design our built environments. This could result in cheaper experimentation and testing of designs before construction begins. It also promises the chance for greater consultation with potential users – speeding up the process, saving time and money and resulting in better and more affordable design.

Museums in the Digital Age
Museums of the future may be filled with 3D-printed replicas, green walls and sensory surfaces, according to a report by Arup (writes Wired UK).
Arup, the London engineering firm behind Japan’s planned Giant Observation Wheel, the world’s first algae-powered building and Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge, compiled the report Museums in the Digital Age with help from Central Saint Martins’ students on the MA Practice for Narrative Environments course.
The report recognises that museums now have to cater for increasingly disparate visitor groups from an aging population through to the Facebook generation, as well as an expanding global middle class which will give rise to a mass cultural boom. Through investigating the experiential requirements of each, the report suggests a number of changes to future museum design and investments.

9 November 2013

All technology is assistive technology

lariat

All technology is assistive technology, argues Sara Hendren in a long and very insightful article.

“Honestly – what technology are you using that’s not assistive? Your smartphone? Your eyeglasses? Headphones? And those three examples alone are assisting you in multiple registers: They’re enabling or augmenting a sensory experience, say, or providing navigational information. But they’re also allowing you to decide whether to be available for approach in public, or not; to check out or in on a conversation or meeting in a bunch of subtle ways; to identify, by your choice of brand or look, with one culture group and not another.” [...]

“Undoing the distinctions between design for disability and design in general yields a couple of goods: It brings new attention to technologies that are profound in their use and impact on physical and political accessibility. The advanced replacement limbs, all-terrain wheelchairs, and exoskeletons you can find now are evidence of this new attention.

It also brings a productive uncertainty and a powerful friction to the task of designing technologies of all kinds. Whether you’re designing for an established need or seeking an application for a technical novelty, you might take more time before confidently assigning it to a user, or to over-determining its modes of deployment—it might be for practical ends, or for play, or for something else you’ve not yet imagined.”

The author then goes on to suggest some possible dispositions for designers and artists taking a look at ability and disability:
1. Question invisibility as the assumed goal.
2. Rethink the default bodily experience.
3. Consider fine gradations of qualitative change.
4. Uncouple medical technologies from their diagnostic contexts.
5. Design for one.
6. Let the tools you make ask questions, not just solve problems.

9 November 2013

How do you build an electricity bill for the 21st century?

infographicinspired

The more confusing the bill, the more likely it is to be disputed, the less likely it is to be paid. So, from not only an image perspective, but a practical, financial one as well, Illinois-based electric company ComEd realized their bills needed better design. They decided to give that power to the people–who knows better, after all, than civilians who regularly decipher the bills?–and teamed up with Crowdspring, with the main challenge “How do you build an electricity bill for the 21st century?“.

25 October 2013

Sustainable living and behavioral change

A bedroom with a light on

Below a selection of pieces from The Guardian’s sustainable living hub:

The power of behavioural design: looking beyond nudging
Christoph Burmester – 10 September 2013
Beyond nudging lies the world of applied behavioural science or, alternatively, the domain of behavioural design. Combining behavioural science with sustainable design could be a powerful game changer in shifting consumer behaviour.

Beyond farmers markets: can food entrepreneurs boost buying local?
Sarah Shemkus – 11 September 2013
Startups and nonprofits are working to better connect smaller farms with consumers – beyond the farmers market – to give local produce a boost.

Do businesses care about sustainable behaviour change?
John Drummond – 18 September 2013
New survey shows majority of businesses are taking behaviour change seriously but there are still misaligned priorities and a lack of top level engagement.

Prosperity with less: what would a responsible economy look like?
Yvon Chouinard – 4 October 2013
The founder of Patagonia Inc discusses the value of the simple life, and growing an economy based on buying less, not more.

Using innovation to shift behavior from consumption to conservation
Anna M. Clark – 14 October 2013
Brands have the potential to generate consumer movements that could progress sustainable living. But are they using their power and can they really turn consumers into collaborators?

22 October 2013

Book: Status Update by Alice E. Marwick

statusupdate

Last year, I posted about the very interesting PhD dissertation by Alice E. Marwick (downloadable here). Based on ethnographic research of the San Francisco technology scene, she explains how social media’s technologies are based on status-seeking techniques that encourage people to apply free-market principles to the organization of social life. She has now rewritten the material – and added new interviews, new material and an extra chapter – for a book that was just published:

Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age
by Alice E. Marwick
Yale University Press
2013, 368 pages
[Amazon link]

Social media technologies such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook promised a new participatory online culture. Yet, technology insider Alice Marwick contends in this insightful book, “Web 2.0” only encouraged a preoccupation with status and attention. Her original research—which includes conversations with entrepreneurs, Internet celebrities, and Silicon Valley journalists—explores the culture and ideology of San Francisco’s tech community in the period between the dot com boom and the App store, when the city was the world’s center of social media development. Marwick argues that early revolutionary goals have failed to materialize: while many continue to view social media as democratic, these technologies instead turn users into marketers and self-promoters, and leave technology companies poised to violate privacy and to prioritize profits over participation. Marwick analyzes status-building techniques—such as self-branding, micro-celebrity, and life-streaming—to show that Web 2.0 did not provide a cultural revolution, but only furthered inequality and reinforced traditional social stratification, demarcated by race, class, and gender.

Alice E. Marwick is assistant professor, communication and media studies, Fordham University, and an academic affiliate at the Center on Law and Information Policy, Fordham Law School. Previously a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, she regularly speaks to the press on various social media topics and has written for the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and the Guardian. She lives in New York City.

24 September 2013

Can Smarter Cities improve our quality of life?

goldengate

Can information and technology improve the quality of life in cities?

That seems a pretty fundamental question for the Smarter Cities movement to address. There is little point in us expending time and money on the application of technology to city systems unless we can answer it positively.

Rick Robinson, Executive Architect at IBM specialising in emerging technologies and Smarter Cities, argues that the answer is yes in a long post on his blog, that is structured around Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”.

6 September 2013

Thoughts on clever cities

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The multiplexed metropolis
Enthusiasts think that data services can change cities in this century as much as electricity did in the last one. The Economist – in a piece written by Ludwig Siegele, online business and finance editor, argues that they are a long way from proving their case.

The role of the citizen in the smart city
Technology has changed how we look at city infrastructure, raising the possibility of smart cities. Could it now change how city governments and citizens interact?
(With contributions by Dan Hill, Saskia Sassen, Usman Haque, William Perrin and Rick Robinson)

“Against the smart city” teaser
The smart city pretends to an objectivity, a unity and a perfect knowledge that are nowhere achievable, even in principle, argues Adam Greenfield.

6 September 2013

Rebecca Solnit on the downside of social and mobile technology

 

Rebecca Solnit writes – in an excellent piece – that she feels as though she is in a bad science fiction movie where everyone takes orders from tiny boxes that link them to alien overlords. Which is what corporations are anyway.

“Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it. The eloquence of letters has turned into the unnuanced spareness of texts; the intimacy of phone conversations has turned into the missed signals of mobile phone chat. I think of that lost world, the way we lived before these new networking technologies, as having two poles: solitude and communion. The new chatter puts us somewhere in between, assuaging fears of being alone without risking real connection. It is a shallow between two deep zones, a safe spot between the dangers of contact with ourselves, with others.” [...]

Getting out of it is about slowness, and about finding alternatives to the alienation that accompanies a sweater knitted by a machine in a sweatshop in a country you know nothing about, or jam made by a giant corporation that has terrible environmental and labour practices and might be tied to the death of honeybees or the poisoning of farmworkers. It’s an attempt to put the world back together again, in its materials but also its time and labour. It’s both laughably small and heroically ambitious.

Rebecca Solnit is the author of Motion Studies: Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge, about technological change in the 19th century. She lives on the edge of Silicon Valley.

23 August 2013

The UK’s Behavioural Design Lab

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The UK’s Behavioural Design Lab is a new collaboration between Warwick Business School and the Design Council, uniting behavioural science with design-thinking. They help organisations transform a better understanding of people into innovative solutions that improve society.

Our Belief
The biggest issues in society, from obesity to climate change, are due to behavioural and lifestyle factors people embrace on a daily basis.
Most attempts to change behaviour rely on the outdated assumption that people are governed by a rational self-interest. The result is a range of programmes with a firm rationale but minimal impact.
We believe the best way to solve these issues is to not only research how and why people actually make decisions, but use the design of products, services and places to help us all make better decisions.

Our Approach
Innovation requires two things. The ability to generate creative ideas and a way of testing them.
Our approach uses design-thinking and behavioural insights to reframe problems as an opportunity for enterprise, providing a platform for creative ideas.
We then use our network to bring teams together to tackle the briefs, supporting them through development. As ideas become real, they are tested and refined using experiments.

17 August 2013

Lessons from monks about designing the technologies of the future

distractionaddiction

Our technologies are designed to maximize shareholder profit, and if that means distracting, confusing or aggregating the end-user, then so be it.

But another path is possible, argues Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his new book The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul (Amazon link).

Pang calls the idea “contemplative computing,” and Techcrunch’s Klint Finley reflects on his book:

“Pang’s notion of mindful, or contemplative, computing is useful, but ultimately it’s just a way of coping with a world of applications designed without our best interests at heart. Just as meditation, prayer and weekend retreats can help us cope with the harsh realities of the modern world, so too can it help us cope with flame wars, feral inboxes and the non-stop rush of social media. But just as citizens can demand safer cities, more humane governments and even economic reform, we can demand a new class of technologies.”