Sunday, February 28, 2010

The power of presence....

Today was a good day, beautiful weather, I am only coughing up one lung instead of two, unlike the rest of last week. So I decided to chance it and continue what's become a tradition for me. The local sports store's Fun Run 5K. For me it's been a personal benchmark to see how the winter holidays took a toll on my conditioning. (I have another fitness challenge in the form of a one mile timed swim I did last week and probably took out both my lungs for the rest of the week. Details). Since I did the first three races, hell or bad health I had to the fourth running. I wont' bore you with the details, as sadly my streak of continuous improvement was broken.

But this is an eco-blog, not a fitness blog. Now the Sports Basement is an incredibly example of local commerce. It is not just a store, but a center of activity for the local fitness community. They collect old shoes for recycling, they have recycling bins all over the store. But one place they did not have it was at the race end. There were lots of donated goodies, drinks from different vendors and all kinds of nourishment post race. But for all those plastic bottles they didn't have a recycling bin. Now someone asked the organizer about it and he said they'd separate it later. I had no doubt someone on his staff would. They are those kind of people. But it still bugged me. The issue is not so much whether it would be separated, but whether there was a reminder that we need to separate.

There is a conventional argument that recycling should be single stream disposal, this way you don't put the onus of recycling on the consumer hence inconveniencing them. With single stream, all garbage goes into one receptacle and it's sorted later. And even when you have multistream recycling with recyclables and non-recyclables. The truth is you still have to sort of the recyclables since someone is going to toss non-recyclables in the recyclables. So it's redundant so might as well go to single stream.

Yes this makes sense if the point is the recycling, but no the point of recycle bins is ultimately behavior change. Seeing a recycling bin and others recycling makes a conscious imprint that there is a norm, that recycling matters. Aside from the few jerks who antagonize the system, most people will try to adhere to the norm. It's how we are. Well most of us.

The goal of our systems is not to outsource activities so that we don't have to consciously recycle. No the goal of our systems is to have us recycle without consciously thinking about it. So the presence of bins and recycling markers makes a difference, not in the end result but in the pre-result.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Killed my last template.


If you are looking for your favorite links on the side. I accidentally edited them out of existence since I thought I was editing a different blog.

Don't be too satisfied...

You know, the olympic games usually make me a cheery person, but a pair of articles that have been making the rounds of the intertubes have been making me a little cranky.

The first is an article in the Wall Street Journal about the trials and tribulations that the city of Boulder, Colorado is going through to reduce it's carbon footprint through incentives. The carrot isn't working even in the most self identified liberal places. The truth is that whether on the right or the left, people are people. Self sacrifice is hard. I was amazed by the success of Arduous gave up buying anything new for a year, but even Arduous will admit that it was not easy.

In full disclosure, I spent part of my childhood in Boulder, grew up outside of Boulder. The results don't surprise me since one does not know if one holds a value until it is seriously challenged and one has to act on that value. And Boulder is just too comfortable to be challenged in any meaningful way. That leads me to ...

The other article that is making the rounds is the TED Talk by Jamie Oliver on encouraging food education to every child in America. In this talk he spoke about the obesity and his efforts to educate the residents of Huntington, West Virginia how to cook and live within their means. He identifies the usual, and correct culprits in his talk. My sense is the people in the audience felt very self congratulatory. Yes, we know that obesity is bad. We need to do something comes out of the spirit of the talk. And then we all fall into the trap that afflicts those that know better.

Knowledge is Power

No, hate to tell you this, knowledge is not power, knowledge is a tool. It allows you to change your actions, but it does not in and of itself have any power. It's very easy to look at others and go they should do something. But it't hard to do that when you live in a bubble. Take a look at the following chart from the article:

Now Boulder is above the national average, and I can almost guarantee that Huntington is below the national average in these same categories. And it is easy to go to TED and intellectualize the problem, and I for some reason I have a feeling that more people from Boulder have gone to TED than from Huntington. Credit goes to Oliver that he actually went and lived in Huntington to experience the challenges that are out there for regular people. So the danger of the affluent left, is to think that their normality is normal, that it is not privileged and that knowing about the problem is enough. That self-satisfaction is dangerous, especially when you have the mechanisms to choose. That ultimately is what Jamie Oliver is trying to do is say that people should be educated and choose. But what happens when you are educated and you still choose poorly.

I'll close this blog post out with another link, and that is to the blog of the website OKCupid and their analysis of people's behavior when they think people are not looking. Most people I think will not identify themselves or their friends as racists. And if not being racist is not judging people by their race. (slightly more restrictive than judging people exclusively by their race) than the data is disconcerting. Again, the knowledge is racism is bad, but not bad when when it applies to our personal decisions. Cognitive dissonance is rampant and until we face and act on that knowledge it'll be difficult to make changes. This is why I am for architectural changes so that people act. If there is a corner you can cut, you will. Make it so you can't.

Knowledge is a tool, it is a catalyst. But it's not power in and of itself.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Cool product for real time monitoring.

I won't expound or talk about this product, but if you have a moment, this blog post about WattVision's Energy Monitor is a nice tie in to my EcoDrive post of a few days ago.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Living by the numbers: Fiat Eco Drive

If you talk to any management guru, sit in any MBA class, listen to a coach, they all share a common belief. The power of feedback and the power of measuring. For some reason human beings need some measurement in order to improve, in order to know where they stand in the pecking order. This is the idea behind the Fiat Eco Drive which is a software package for your car, yes your car, that tracks the efficiency of your driving style and offers ways you can improve it. Basically the way it works is that in featured cars, you plug a USB Flash Drive into your car and use it to collect data about your driving. When you get home, you plug the USB Flash Drive into your computer and it uploads it for analysis and community!

Nike has figured this out a long time ago with the Nike+ system as described in this WIred Magazine article. Prius drivers know this well, often trying to game their driving for maximum efficiency. There is something about making things a game that motivates people.

I think that's one of the challenges of reducing one's carbon footprint in that there is no clear visible trace of one's carbon footprint. No easy way to visualize to understand your impact. It's not enough to be aware of your own footprint but others do as well. For instance if a car's exhaust is invisible we tend to discount it, but if it's sooty we tend to want to reduce it. We all know that exhaust is bad, that's why we expel is AWAY from us, but we don't see it. Most of our Waste is sent AWAY so it's out of sight out of mind. That's what makes home composting so interesting is that it causes you to be conscious of your waste.

I'm curious to see if Fiat's Eco Drive changes driving behavior, but I like a game that games our own impulses. It scares me in some ways (since those same buttons are pushed to get us to buy stuff) but I think it's an interesting approach.

What personal games can we do to make us aware of our carbon footprint?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Go Go Gadget.....

The New York Times has an article about the increasing popularity of electric assisted bicycles. Originally from China, these bikes are finding an audience here in the U.S. The article talks about the pros and cons of these new "hybrids". Are they powered vehicles and hence have to be licensed for the road or are they bicycles eligible for bicycle paths. In a world of legal definitions, resolving what these vehicles are classified is are key to their adoption.

There are a lot of concerns that the larger versions of these bikes are safety hazards, going at speeds of 30 miles per hour. These are legitimate concerns, and it makes sense to pass legislation that permits their use on the roads under the same conditions are regular bicycles (which with effort can reach such speed).

The reason for supporting such bikes is that they address the major issues of both bicycles and cars for the mass market. Pedaling a bicycle with effort can make you sweaty, and we as a society don't permit such odiferous side effects. This reduces the exertion that individuals have to make. The other dilemma is that most people drive more car than they need. I know I do. My car can hold five passengers, but mostly drives just myself. A electric bicycle is an inexpensive alternative to provide transport for individuals at an individual scale. It also serves to address that most errands are less than five miles in distance.

So while the article talks about the weaknesses of electric bicycles, they serve as the perfect additional vehicle for the family. Anything that can offset the use of large cars will net positive and who knows some might even "upgrade" to a completely people powered experience later.