Earth Day can bring out the best and worst in many people – and I’ll admit to frowning on occasion at anyone wishing a happy Earth Day. There are debates around the hypocrisy or perhaps ignorance in celebrating such a day with numerous flyers and special offers to consume more green products. But despite these very valid criticisms, Earth Day does matter if only that we all need a day to stop and take stock of our life. It is a time to celebrate our accomplishments because let’s face it change is hard. We need to figure out what comes next and this may require we look at some of our less appetizing behaviors, which we often do such an excellent job of avoiding on a day to day basis.
With that said, Earth day shouldn’t be a giant guilt-fest. We need to use it to recognize our weaknesses and figure out how to move forward constructively. What are for example, the innovations needed to address issues around toxicity, resource scarcity and geographical constraints to name just a few. Or when do we rethink our current norms – like heating our houses to 80º in the winter donning short sleeved shirts and cooling them to 65º in the summer while sporting long pants? How do we find a solution that meets the cloth diaper user’s concerns around limited landfill space and the disposable user’s concerns around energy usage?
This year, I’ve had the pleasure of working on the PopTech Ecomaterials Innovation Lab, whose goal is to foster breakthroughs in next generation ecological materials, industrial processes and critically, beginning to identify the steps, from effecting a change in consumer behavior to governmental policy, necessary to accelerate their adoption. The Lab is kicking off this summer with a three day working session. In my hunt for participants, I’ve had the opportunity to interview an incredible cross section of experts in relevant fields from green chemists and materials experts to industrial ecologists, designers and behavioral scientists to name just a few.
A couple of random yet staggering facts I gleaned from my conversations and research:
- If you were to close Sweden’s borders to any new shipments of clothing, their current stock would clothe the population for approximately15 years.
- The world consumes 67 million tons of natural and synthetic fibers annually.
- 75-80% of your clothing’s lifecycle impact comes from laundering.
And here I thought I was doing so well with my ongoing moratorium on new outfits while I was chucking clothes into the wash that were essentially barely worn.
These discussions have not only taught me a tremendous amount, they have helped me think differently about the challenges at hand such as defining what is truly green, splendidly illustrated by the fact that one industrial ecologist opted for cloth diapers while the other chose disposable. They made me realize I need to reconsider what is deemed acceptable behavior and initiate these conversations with others.
We at PopTech are incredibly excited to embark on this journey and hope you will join us. To be kept informed about the Lab and its progress, please email us at labs [at] poptech [dot] org.
As I reflect on another year gone by, what I am realizing now is that Earth Day is not just about caring for the planet but those who inhabit it. The choices we make have far reaching impacts over space, time and species. As I mentioned earlier, change is one of the hardest things and personally, putting a face to who is and will be impacted is a big help. So here are a few faces worth changing for:
CC image from Flickr user randomwire.
CC image by Flickr user Mishimoto
CC image from Flickr user prolix6x.
Image courtesy of the author.
Beyond the events listed on EarthDay.org, here are a few more ways to research climate change, environmental policy news, greenwashing, and personal energy auditing:
- The new Climate Desk is a collaborative journalistic effort on green reporting from The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS’s new program Need To Know.
In 2008, Saul Griffith presented at PopTech on ways he learned to audit his personal energy usage:
Saul developed WattzOn, a free tool that you can use to track and monitor your own consumption.
What online sources do you use for environmental ideas and updates? Let us know in the comments.
A few days ago a friend emailed me a picture of a sign that read, “Design won’t save the world. (Go volunteer at a soup kitchen, you pretentious **ck.)” I smiled at the snark, but was frustrated with the sentiment.
As designers, we are saddled with many images of the aloof artist: the hip urban designer, beebopping from office to art opening to downtown loft; the starving artist who wastes away, as their art does the same in a mildewy basement; or the desktop publisher, banging out lifeless brochures as they sneak away to the supply closet to pull out their hair. None of these stereotypes suggests design can alter habits or behaviors.
Last Tuesday, as part of the New York SVA Dot Dot Dot lecture series, The Entrepreneurs of social design presented a few possible ways designers might save the world. A few of my favorite moments happened in talks by previous PopTech speakers Robert Fabricant and Dr. Jay Parkinson:
Three of the five designers featured at the event framed their role as designers in the medical field:
Doug Powell – Designer and Brand Strategist, Schwartz Powell
When his seven year-old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Doug and his family were thrown into the painfully undersigned, over-textual world of pediatric medicine. Once they got their head above water, Doug and his wife created the Health Simple product line, focused on delivering easily-palatable information to get the patients and their families through one event at a time. Doug created a balance with these fun products, taking into consideration the educational and emotional needs of all involved.
Robert Fabricant – VP of Creative, frog design and Speaker at PopTech 2009
Robert laid out some humbling guidelines for designers, and touched on some of the health and wellness behavioral projects that frog is undertaking. Robert’s work on the PopTech Accelerator’s Project Masilueleke has helped change the face of mobile healthcare for HIV and tuberculosis patients in South Africa.
Jay outlined the need for the redesign of the entire health care process in America, taking into consideration the prevalence of the internet in everyday life, the importance of the patient/doctor/community when administering healthcare, and the changing intersection of the insurance, healthcare and online worlds.
With their teams, these three are part of the growing movement to redesign how individuals receive healthcare—and who would argue that isn’t going to save the world?
Photographer Chris Jordan specializes in large-scale works that depict the magnitude of our consumerism and its impact on our environment. [To get a sense of the magnitude of the trash produced by discarded consumer goods that statistics alone can’t reveal, watch Chris’s PopTech 2007 presentation on his project, Running the Numbers.]
For the past several years, Chris has been photographing the “garden patch,” an estimated several million tons of plastic floating in the remote open ocean. Powerful ocean currents concentrate floating debris into subtropical gyres and, in the process, break it down into tiny pieces that are easily ingested by animals.
At PopTech 2009, Chris shared images from his recent trip to the remote Midway Islands, where he photographed the carcasses of ocean-dwelling birds who live near the Pacific garbage zone.
Relying on the data from thousands of drifter buoy monitoring our oceans as well as oceanic expeditions, researchers affiliated with Five Gyres have been mapping the extent of plastic pollution around the world. They recently discovered what has been long suspected, that more garbage patches exist in other oceans.
Image courtesy of 5 Gyres.org
As with any number of critical environmental issues, addressing these challenges requires a commitment to reduce our consumption but also to visionary innovation. Recently, a group of Dutch architects have envisioned recycling the Pacific’s floating debris into a floating island.
What do you suggest might be done about the millions of tons of marine pollution?
We celebrate thoughtful stewardship of natural resources and new ways to tackle issues of conservation and regrowth throughout the year, but as part of Earth Week, we would like to highlight a few PopTech speakers on these themes:
2007 Speaker Stefano Merlin on renewable bamboo, coconut waste and sawdust to power factories in Brazil.
2009 PopTech Fellow Jason Aramburu’s re:char converts agricultural waste into biochar—sequestering atmospheric carbon and improving soil quality. (Congratulations to Jason for recently appointing Dr. James Lovelock to the re:char Advisory Board.)
2007 Speaker Sarah Otterstrom uses partnerships and employment generation to rebuild Nicaraguan forests.
2009 Fellow Paula Kahumbu builds community through blogs in WildlifeDirect, as Executive Director, aiming to halt the loss of endangered animal populations in Africa (and globally) with awareness and donations (you can select a region and a species to protect on the site).
2008 Speaker Carl Safina shows how simple solutions can help ensure we only catch what we are fishing with long lines.
2007 Speaker Enric Sala talks about perception, the lack of memory (he takes us back to a pristine remote archipelago 500 years ago), explaining why 99.9% of the world’s coral reef research is flawed.
2004 Speaker Ben Saunders was the youngest person to ski to the North Pole at 26; find out why, when the ice wasn’t flat, he “didn’t have a hope in hell.”
2008 Speaker John Priscu and his robots show what’s happening miles below the Antarctic ice, beyond the blue and the green of the planet.
Who are your favorite environmental speakers?
It’s spring here in California, and there is a lot blooming at ISIS:
ISIS made it to the second round of the Social Impact Exchange Business Plan Competition. We were one of 14 organizations out of 42 applicants invited to continue, and we have applied for Mezzanine Stage Growth—for organizations that have successful service adoption, demonstrated positive outcomes, and defined strategies for scaling.
Also, the upcoming mHealth conference Mobile Health 2010 on May 24th and 25th at Stanford University is the third of its kind hosted by BJ Fogg. 2010 has a special emphasis on what’s working to change behavior today in the mHealth field, and in my talk, I am looking forward to highlighting our partnerships in this sphere. In preparation for my talk, I realized that ISIS has over 20 mobile health projects under our belt to date! (Other PopTechers involved with the conference include Robert Fabricant, of frog design, one of the mentors for PopTech Fellows, is speaking, and another 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow, Josh Nesbit of FrontlineSMS: Medic, is on the Program Committee.)
ISIS staff will also be attending the 2010 Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup. This is an important meeting for sexual health professionals, because as I’m wont to say; “Only those in the field can manage to make an interesting topic (sex) oh, so boring.” I learned quite a bit from the corporate marketers at the last two meetings about how to engage youth in an authentic and meaningful way – all the more important in our case because we’re not selling commercial products, but lifelong sexual health…
I will be moderating a panel at the Mashup pre-conference on May 24th about “Youth, Health and Social Media Marketing.” Jason Rzepka, PopTech Board Member, will be a keynote speaker at the pre-conference. The panel I’m moderating will feature:
Tom Subak, VP for Online Services, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Jose Villa, Founder and President, Sensis
Whitney Smith, Founder and CEO, Girls For A Change
Chris Youngblood, Director of New Media, To Write Love on Her Arms
(Use the code “SEXTECH” for 10% off the conference registration.)
I’ll keep you posted on ISIS events, and I look forward to hearing what others in the PopTech community are up to this spring.
On Wednesday night, the inaugural “FAILfaire” hosted by MobileActive and The Open Planning Project offices in NYC brought together a crowd of about seventy to hear four refreshingly candid presentations about what they learned working on mobile projects around the world. Some highlights in this video:
PopTech 2010: Brilliant Accidents, Necessary Failures, and Improbable Breakthroughs includes the failure theme (request a registration), so we were delighted to note the warmth of the crowd, the honesty of the speakers, and the quality of the questions at the Wednesday event.
A few things we think contribute to a successful event on failure (and congratulations to Katrin and the MobileActive team):
- From the presenters, self-deprecating humor is both appropriate and appreciated.
- Offering reflections on the work during the presentations helps keep the Q&A productive.
- Timelines work particularly well for offering context and for narrative purposes.
- Presentations with multiple team members help highlight different aspects of the project.
- Sensitivity to partners on collaborative projects (especially those not in the room) is key; moderator must announce ground rules and presenters should preface any sensitive remarks as for the room only (not to be blogged, tweeted, or recorded in any way).
- Frankness and epic quality of the fail should be rewarded (at this event, funny prizes of an analog tablet, a shirt, and a thematically-related book) and ideally, the atmosphere of convivial learning continues after the presentations end.
The Landscapes of Quarantine exhibition at Manhattan’s Storefront for Art and Architecture, curated from the fall workshop series of the same name by FuturePlural’s Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh, held two dinner events this past weekend on the theme of quarantine.
Six courses from food collective A Razor, A Shiny Knife, led by Michael Cirino,
made up a banquet exploring containment, separation, and gastronomic manipulation,
with effervescent spirits,
petri dishes of roe, juniper, and Meyer lemon,
smoked fish jarringly served with visible smoke,
a ravioli with packets of sauce and an herb,
fruit, bread, and cheese enrobed in wax,
and dessert of cocktail drinks solidified into spheres and spongy cake.
Dinner events like these help us examine how we incorporate food thoughtfully into our lives, disorienting our notions of proper and fine dining in order to redefine how we feed ourselves and others with experiences, new utensils, and a playful relationship with all things edible.
For the full menu and more images, please see this post; for more on PopTech and food, watch the PopTech 2009 stage presentations from noted food systems theorist Michael Pollan, hydroponic urban farmer Will Allen, and especially food designer Marije Vogelzang (who creates similarly themed food installations) as well as the video of The New York Times’s Perfume Critic Chandler Burr on his October 2009 PopTech “Scent Dinner.”
A few updates from the PopTech network in the past week:
Read the great comment thread and watch video from the post:
Mayor John Fetterman, who spoke at PopTech 2009 about the challenges of leading his town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, appeared on PBS’s NOW last Friday.
Ken Banks, a British entrepreneur who works in Africa and developed FrontlineSMS, a text-messaging service for aid groups, put it this way: “There’s often a tendency in the West to approach things the wrong way round, so we end up with solutions looking for a problem, or we build things just because we can.”
The Santa Clara University Global Social Benefit Incubator 2010 Cohort includes three PopTech Fellows: Jason Aramburu of re:char, Nigel Waller of Movirtu, and Tevis Howard of Komaza—neat group of projects and people that will meet for a few weeks this August.
Three wild chimpanzee babies have been born in six months, cause for hope at Wildlife Direct, an organization directed by PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Paula Kahumbu.
A few days are left before the April 16th deadline for an Open Framework workshop in Breda with PopTech speaker Zach Lieberman (“Artistic practice is a form of R&D for humanity,” he told PopTech 2009).
And we find these folded solar panels interesting.
Assaf Biderman, associate director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab spoke at PopTech 2009 about a number of the lab’s projects that explore how technology is transforming urban spaces. One project traced flows of garbage in Seattle in order to better understand the waste removal process in cities disposal. Another illustrates the global exchange of data between New York and other cities around the world.
Last week, PopTech caught up with Assaf to learn more about the lab’s latest initiative, “The Copenhagen Wheel,” that aims to help cities and individuals combat climate change, and about the value of combining real-time data with other kinds of information.