Thursday, 31 July 2008

The governments in Denmark and UK both have green IT strategies now

Interesting to see how the world is moving toward a perspective when IT is seen as an opportunity. Denmark has an action plan and UK have a Green IT strategy to encourage more sustainable use of IT. Denmark even encourage export of low carbon IT solutions to countries like China and India.

Would be good to do a quick survey around the world to see who is doing what. Japan is leading the work in many ways, but there might be other countries with interesting work going on. I wrote a suggestion for the Swedish Government together with Ewa Thorslund from the Swedish confederation of IT companies three years ago I think, still valid and the Danish Action Plan actually include a few of the key recommendations we had. The recommendations are quite obvious so might just have done that without looking at the work we did.

As the work continues on an EU level it would be interesting to see how the commission could get its act together and show some leadership.

Here in India Tata Communication “announced the launch of its Telepresence services, the first ever offering to deliver both private and public Cisco TelePresence rooms to businesses across the world. This groundbreaking service will enable a broader ecosystem of connected rooms for enterprises and their partners” earlier this month. Would be interesting to calculate the potential CO2 savings from this initiative. Here is the link to the press release on Tata's homepage.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Futurecast 2020 by Robert Shapiro

The subtitle of the book is “a global vision of tomorrow”, but this is really a boring book when it comes to visions. A more correct subtitle would be “a mainstream presentation of business as usual slightly more progressive, but not much, than George W Bush”… but maybe that subtitle was too long…

The reason I read to book, and many with me I guess, is that Shapiro claim to have been the advisor to many of the significant Democrats lately. My thought when I read this was that I hope Obama will keep Shapiro very far from any role where he can influence the US policy if he becomes president. Maybe the reason for Al Gore’s poor performance as a vice president was partly due to advisors like this?

It is so US centric and free market simplistic that is hard not to laugh in many places. I would not recommend this book as I think all the things Shapiro tries to do have been done much better in other book.

Two things could make a quick read of this book useful:
1. It is interesting to see the global consensus that is emerging in certain areas and where we most certainly will see discussions and changes in the years to come. Two examples:
- The very poor shape of the US economy and what will happen with the deficit, the demographic challenge [but ignore his suggestions for ways forward as they are more of the same and just create more problem further ahead].
- The need to approach the energy issue from a political perspective, not a simple supply and demand that many economists still do.

2. To understand how certain people cling to a worldview that does not work any longer, but instead of changing the worldview they want to change the world (or turn it back) so it fits with how they think it should be.

Affluenza by Oliver James

Affluenza by Oliver James is not really a book, it more like a collection of short stories and emotional outbursts (that are structured in a good way). The format is not my favorite and I think the book could have been 50 pages instead of 500 pages (but I know that people love reading about other people in a ‘gossip format’ and if this tabloid strategy make more people read this is might be worth the prize). Among the 500 pages there are enough interesting observations and concrete suggestions to make it a worthwhile reading exercise. To have concrete suggestions is very rare and something that makes the book more interesting than 95% of the books out there “only observing” the state of society.

The main argument in the book is that we now have a society, that is spreading globally, that only wants “simple satisfaction”. This global hunt for more is not only destroying the planet it is making many of us feel bad. It is not just the occasional day when people feel “down”, but something much deeper that is going on. James travels around the world to meet different people and use their stories to discuss different aspects of “Affluenza”.

The end result is not too far from Kalle Lasn and Adbusters, but James also add a little conservative touch by promoting more traditional family value.

The four root causes Oliver identifies are however structural and something that I think will be increasingly discussed the coming years.

1. Companies only looking at the share price
2. Privatization of public utilities
3. The belief that business need as little regulation as possible and that the rich don’t need to pay tax
4. The conviction that consumption and market forces can meet human needs of almost every kind.

To highlight these as (at least possible) fundamental challenges to our wellbeing, and at the same time also give concrete suggestions forward, is something more authors should try.

Virgin Virtual, a make or Break for Richard Branson engagement with climate change

Just read the new edition of Richard Branson’s “Screw it, let’s do it” with (as written on the cover) "new chapters on environmentally friendly business". The new chapters are actually quite interesting, but beside the fact that Branson state that climate change is real and that we need to do something about it, few innovative and concrete ways forward are suggested. The big money that Branson have put in so far (or promised to put in) is almost exclusively more of same, but a little better.

Branson seem to think very linear in the field of solutions to natural resources, climate change and the environment. His first reaction was to build more refineries when oil prices started to climb. Then he got information about climate change and started to think about bio fuels (that ended with the $3bn pledge). Realizing that we have bigger challenges than this he initiated a price for the person who could figure out a way to suck a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

These things are not necessarily bad, they are much better than 90% of what CEOs are doing out there, but they are also a sign of the linear thinking that the reactive parts of the industry are spending their time on (one of the most sad and destructive cases is probably Vattenfall and their “all-eggs-in-one-basket-approach” to coal power pollution by dreaming of a CCS solution that will solve all the world’s problems). I’m sure Branson is more progressive than Josefsson from Vattenfall, but he must do something a bit more innovative than promoting incremental improvements that are wiped out by an increased consumption.

Actually most of Branson’s business ideas over the decades are not very innovative, he is doing what others have done, but a little better. Nothing wrong with that, but Branson seem to aim higher. The one thing that is really innovative is Virgin Galactic and putting people in space. This might not be the most resource friendly activity, but it is new and I think Branson must find something similar (but sustainable) to be really engaged.

With Branson’s portfolio (mobile communication, trains and airplanes) it is one really obvious way forward that would put Branson in the history book and make a significant contribution to climate change, a launch of “Virgin Virtual”.

By creating Virgin Virtual Branson would have a portfolio that covers enough parts of a sustainable transport system, i.e. trains, mobile communication, airplanes and virtual meetings in order to be credible.

Establishing Virgin Virtual in the world’s largest and fastest growing metropolises would allow a new generation of entrepreneurs to collaborate in new ways and it would help governments to collaborate more, not just negotiate. The technology already exist but needs to move from exclusive small scale systems like the systems HP and Cisco have today, to a system that can benefit from an economy of scale and ensure that a critical mass is created so a virtual meeting can be the default option for people that fly a lot today in their work.

By setting up Virgin virtual he could also be the first one how created a “frequent meeting” bonus system that people who use these new sustainable innovations could enjoy. Ensuring that people and companies that take the lead towards a low carbon society are rewarded and acknowledged would be one important part that could open up for other ideas.

Virgin Virtual would be the first global network of high quality virtual meeting facilities, think video conferencing but full wall high-resolutions quality that make you feel as if you are in the same room as the other person. This could dramatically reduce the need for business flight (leaving more room for holiday trips and important flights). It would also be an important contribution to a shift in thinking from products and incremental improvements to services and transformative change.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The WEEE man and a global campaign

The WEEE man is a brilliant communication tool that is standing in the Eden Project. It is made from electrical and electronic waste, such as washing machines, TVs, microwaves, vacuum cleaners and mobile phones. It represents the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) the average British person throws away in their lifetime – over 3 tonnes per person.

69% of Household WEEE arising by weight in the UK comes from Large Household Appliances – cookers, washing machines etc. Therefore the predominant weight of WEEE in the WEEE Man is large household appliances. Consumer Equipment (i.e. Hi Fi ) accounts for 13%, 8% Small Household appliances such as vacuum cleaners, 7% IT & telecommunications (mobile phones) and so on.

The statistics is interesting in a time where IT get a lot of criticism for the e-waste. It is obviously a serious issue, especially as a lot of chemicals and rare metals are used, still collaborations between those producing large household appliances and consumer electronics would be a very good way forward looking at the numbers..

Why not have one WEEE man in every major city then it would be easy to see what countries that are the most wasteful? Each year the WEEE man could be “updated” depending on the waste trends in the different countries. Maybe even flags could be attached to the WEEE man to indicate where the waste ends up in order for people in OECD to see where their waste often ends up.

Important would be to indicate how much that are being recycled and how much that is sent to poor countries and/or to landfills. IT could help clean up the dirty side of IT...

The Eden Project – book, place and idea

A visit to the Eden Project and reading the book Eden by Tim Smit is very inspiring. I really recommend this book to everyone who wants to become campaigner for a better planet. As with all interesting projects that become reality this is not a black and white story.

The book is both a good overview of many of the challenges that you must face when you want to move from idea to reality, but it is also about the need to keep the dream alive and not compromise the basic vision that made the

I like Tim’s approach to getting things done:
"you can only achieve the impossible by asking the young, because they don't know it can't be done"

and having a chapter named:
"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space"

But even more his approach to the project:
“This [The Eden Project] was never a product, and one sentence can never do it justice. You see, Eden may be a destination, but you can only reach it with your heart”.

If you are close to Cornwall, pay a visit to the Eden project, if not read the book.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Climate Change – What’s your business strategy by A. Hoffman and J. Woody

Mainstream thinking is moving forward. The short book “Climate Change – What’s your business strategy” is something that I hope all CEOs will read this summer.

The three steps they propose are straight forward even if number two will make most realise how far they are from serious climate work and the the last probably will provoke a discussion in more conservative business circles.

1. Know your Carbon Exposure
This is the obvious first step and not that hard, even if few companies actually understand much beyond their direct emissions and have little understanding of the situation in their supply chain.

2. Take action to reduce your carbon footprint and assess business opportunities.
This is a significant step forward compared with most initiatives. Even if the book is pretty weak regarding low-carbon products and services (the book is VERY short so I should not really complain). For more information about these areas please see the following project/report/draft:
Project: Winners in a low carbon economy
Report: First global low carbon IT strategy
Draft: Becoming carbon positive – the case of a retailer (will soon the posted)

I also hope to post result from our joint work with CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) with the working name “Sustainability as a driver for profit and innovation”.

3. Influence the policy development
This is probably one of the most controversial and where companies still are doing a very bad job, probably linked to the fact that few have any ideas and strategies for increased sales of low-carbon products and services. Almost all lobbying is to protect the old ways of doing business. Pushing for a low carbon future is still mainly done as a PR exercise and done through business associations without and serious follow-up. Together with Simon Mingay at Gartner I’m working on a report about the leading IT companies in the world that will discuss this.

All in all this book is a step in the right direction and if this could turn into mainstream the work I do would be easier as it would not be so far ahead. If nothing else because it makes it very clear that CEOs needs to be engaged and that the people that deal with environmental issues in companies are not the right people for this issue...

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

A very well written book by Mohsin Hamid that put the readers in many different places (physical and mental) by following one person’s journey. A journey from the global entrepreneur without history or values to a reflecting person that do not want to live in a capitalist world where everything that is solid melts into air...

"it is not always possible to restore one's boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by relationship: try as we might, we cannot reconstitute ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of the outside is now within us"

By using the current cracks in the global village Mohsin Hamid captures something urgent (the way the west have dealt with the "Arab world" after 9-11), but also a much bigger issue regarding identity and the western systems inability to provide significant gratifications beyond the material.

Jeanette Winterson - the stone gods

A good summer book. With its classic approach it almost feels like the perfect bedtime story for children in the 21st century. The fact that the challenges we face are not a matter of technology or economy, but ethics, is well captured when she in a few sentences describe many of the "visions" that mainstream thinkers propose today:

"the West will race ahead - we are the new clean green machine, and the developing worlds will stay the way we wanted it to stay - raw materials and cheap labour"

"take a Buy-me-Buy-me world and turn it into a Rent-me-Rent-me world. I rent the apartment and the furniture in it. Carbon-rationing means that all of my household appliances - fridge, washing machine, etc. - must be state-of-the-art or, rather, sate-of-the-tech, which changes roughly every six months.... Consumerism looks ugly, these days. Renting is genius: we still pay, but we don't own."

For many CEOs and politicians this book could be a helpful reminder that behind all the rhetoric we face some very interesting challenges. Instead of only thinking about the most immediate challenges and needs we should also discuss the kind of society we need. Many who will waste their time reading “The necessary revolution” by Peter Sage looking for any new ideas would be better of reading this book… (more about The necessary revolution in a separate blog).

The idea of a silicon life form taking over after our carbon based is a thought that I think many of us encountered in Asimov's different stories, a few of my favorites can be found in X stands for Unknown. A sign of the rimes that "Spike" (the "Robo sapiens") in the stone gods is the character that provide some hope?

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Invitation to Sustainable Innovation 08

Here is an invitation to “sustainable innovation 08” in Sweden Malmö. Please see the webpage for further information. I’m on the jury/advisory board.

The conference could be very interesting (it all depends on the participants), as the timing is very good I have high expectations.

Hopefully we will ideas that mix pragmatic approaches with visionary goals for a sustainable 21st century development.

Too fast for prizes

I “sort of” got a ”Social Capitalist Award” by a Swedish Newspaper (Veckans Affärer, no English webpage) together with Lars Kristoferson and Lasse Gustavsson (x-CEO and current CEO of WWF Sweden). I “Sort of” got it, because I only got to know it when I saw the diploma in WWFs car when I came to Almedalen… I know that some people think I’m constantly moving, not even knowing that I got a prize might be a sign that they are right ;).

The motivation that the jury provided was that WWF Sweden’s focus on export of sustainable solutions and work in new constellations have been successful. Not sure why I was mentioned though. Lars and I discussed it and shaped the framework for a new kind of climate work over the last three years, but it was not until Stefan Henningsson (now the head of the climate work in Sweden) and Barbara Evaeus (in charge of climate communication) started to work that something actually happened here in Sweden. From an entrepreneur perspective Arne Forstenberg and Jakob Rutqvist who was instrumental in getting GlobalFOCUS and the whole climate innovation of the ground (before WWF Sweden got a climate team in place) might be even more interesting.

The really innovative work for me is obviously the work that is not visible in media. The results can be seen in places like China and India, delivered by networks looking beyond incremental results. Some of it I have already described briefly in this Blog, more will come soon and the rest of 2008 will be really fun.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Proven Reserves and a Possible Crisis in November

There are many similarities between the climate change issue and peak oil. Today there is a wide spread agreement that climate change is real and that we need to reduce our CO2 emissions. The interesting thing is that for climate change the scientific agreement existed for about 10-20 years before it became politically correct to accept it.

The mechanisms behind this lag have been discussed elsewhere and this post is just to signal that we might see an “IPCC 4AR” (when climate change became a mainstream issue) happening this November with regards to peak oil.

In November IEA (can be seen as the same credible/media accepted body for oil as IPCC is for climate change) will release WEO 2008 (could become a similar report for peak oil that the fourth Assessment Report, 4AR, was for climate change). The similarity is that both can say something that everyone working with the issue already knows, but for the world it is not until these bodies say something that it becomes "real".

The World Energy Outlook 2008 (WEO 2008) will look into the sensitive issue of proven reserves. IEA is basically the last major institution that still produces reports that are based on assumptions that there are huge oil reserves that will allow us to continue to burn oil for another 200 years (IEA do not really look into the climate aspect even if they lately have begun to add new scenarios for low carbon development.)

Now the world is changing and the technical discussion is no longer the interesting (how much oil does exist), but more the economic (how will supply and demand develop).

A great interview with Biril from WEO is available here.

About the three pictures.

The one above is from the last WEO, where I have added the actual price development. The two below should be seen from this perspective. If we for the first time have seen proved reserves shrink, 2008 might be the year when politicians start getting really serious about the issue (I will come back to the danger with this as right now the increase in oil prices is mainly resulting in actual or planned investments in really destructive areas such as CCS, Coal to Liquid, Arctic Oilfields, etc)

Global proved reserves 1993-2007 (From BP)

Proved reserves in the Middle East 1993-2007 (from BP)

For those who want to be inspired there is a CNN short movie called “we were warned”.