Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The End of Publishing

After our recent post about Gen Y and their attitudes about sustainability I was really struck by this recent video from Zoe Uffindell from Khaki Films. It says a lot about what older generations think about younger generations and how younger generations see themselves. Listen until to end.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gen Y Wants to See a Green Workplace

A rather long survey report just came out from Johnson Controls and Haworth, "Generation Y and the Workplace: Annual Report 2010," discusses the unique perspectives of the workplace by generation. Now a survey like this, sorting through generalizations by age group, is nothing new, but some of the questions asked are. Some of the more interesting findings about Gen Y (now 26 to 35 years old) and their feelings about sustinability are the following:

  • 98% aspire to work in a greener office

  • 67% want their workplace to be environmentally friendly

  • 70% want to have recycling bins

  • 47% want solar panels on site
With regard to sustainability, this study claims that those in Gen Y actually care slightly more concerned about a green workplace than the following generation, (Gen Z). This makes sense to me as Gen Yers are now in the workforce and are concious of the impact of business and government on the environment. I can only assume that Generation Z will feel just as strongly once they graduate from college and get their first dose of how things really work. And given Gen Z's parents have had some serious economic struggles, their likely more frugal behavior may just cause the cultural shift we need to reduce our addiction to consumption and take the next step to an evironmentally-friendly economy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Future of Work in Newsweek

This week Newsweek online published an interactive article called "The Future of Work," asking three architectural design firms to share their vision for the future of work and life 10 or 20 years from now. The setting is Manhattan, but only for illustration purposes. According to the reporter they plan to launch this concept in other cities as well. The three firms, HOK, Cooper Robertson and Richard Meier, all illustrated and spoke about what they think the future might look like.

I'm of course a little biased as I was on the HOK team, but all of the illustrations and stories are compelling and thought provoking.

HOK's vision is of course that the world is much, much, more environmentally concious in the future and our buildings and public spaces reflect that. Slightly optimistic, but why not?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Vertical Farms: Good, Bad, or TBD?

One of those topics that’s pretty hot right now is urban agriculture, particularly vertical farms. We’ve talked a little bit about some vertical farm plans for Dubai (how 2009!) and also about vertical gardening and green walls, but haven't spent much time on the pros and cons.

In case you’re not familiar, the concept of the vertical farm is based on the idea of growing food where the people are, in the city. Essentially, vertical farms are large-scale high rise buildings (“farmscrapers”) that function as greenhouses.

Widely held thoughts on the advantages of vertical farming include:

  • Reduced transportation costs (food is where the people are already)
  • No need for new farmland (with the growing population of the world, it is predicted that significantly more land will be required to grow enough food using traditional farming techniques)
  • Increased production (indoor farming means that some crops can be grown locally year-round)
  • Protection from weather-related problems (no more floods or droughts)
  • Conservation of resources (no more deforestation, easy-ish to recycle/reuse water)

Most of the articles I read expound on the virtues of vertical farming – but very few hit on the potential drawbacks and obstacles. I ran across an article today via Planetizen: Why Planting Farms in Skyscrapers Won't Solve Our Food Problems. This article offers plenty of criticism for the concept:

  • Not enough exposed horizontal surfaces to provide enough food for the urban population
  • Too much dependence on industrial inputs for success (denies plants sunlight in lieu of electric/artificial light)
  • Amount of energy required to provide artificial light and climate control is enormous
  • Hauling materials up and down a skyscraper will be burdensome
  • Pests and pathogens cannot be truly eliminated in a vertical farm
  • And, of course, my favorite, that proponents of vertical farming have failed to consider Murphy’s law (which does tend to govern my life)

Some resources if you’re interested in learning more:

Image Source: World Changing Seattle

Monday, May 3, 2010

Leveraging "The Human Factor"

I'm reading this great book called The Human Factor, by Kim Vicente recommended by a colleague. Vicente covers hundreds of issues related to modern technology mostly due to ignoring the "human factor." Some technology works just find technically if you only look at it from a "mechanistic" point of view, but when you add the human factor into the picture - physical constraints of the body, people's ability to juggle information, their psychological reaction to various stimuli, the technology can be a disaster.

I highly recommend this book if you're in the technology or design field. But what I personally found most compelling for the green movement were some of his examples on how to leverage human behavior to help the environment.
One great example was from a few of his grad students, Dave Kuk, Jon Cowley and Fred Beserve. They decided to create a technology that would encourage people to reduce energy, in particular, to turn off their laptop. Before they started on building their technology solution they looked carefully at WHY people don't turn off their computers on a regular basis, and came up with four reasons:
  1. People are impatient and don't want to wait while their computer boots up every time they use it
  2. They just forget to turn it off when they leave work
  3. Some people think it is bad for the computer to turn it off (this is wrong... turning off your computers on nights and weekends will give it three times the useful life vs. leaving it on all the time)
  4. Some people believe that screen savers conserve energy when not in use (this is not true, screens savers just keep the monitor picture tube from being damaged)
So Kul, et al decided to create what they called a "Power Pig." The Power Pig was basically a computer display that "equates electricity with overeating" - a powerful tool in the U.S. given our obsession with dieting. This tool is all about convincing people that consuming less energy equates to being trim and slim and attractive.

The top of their display was a pig that is fat or slim depending on individual energy use. The pig is fat if individual energy use is high compared to a baseline and slim if individual use is low. Power Pig does not let people see a slimmer pig until they actually change their behavior. The second part of the display is a horizontal bar that compares the individual user with the best energy conserver in the company, John Doe. John is the role model and the idea is to beat him. The third part of the display is another horizontal bar showing the general direction of company's energy efficiency as a whole - moving to the right equals an improvement, moving to the left means energy use per person is going up. The students felt this was important to illustrate because it demonstrates that if everyone changes their behavior, it can have an impact on the company performance of the whole. The final function at the bottom shows the person's daily efficiency level... basically a person's energy "grade."

What I love about this tool is that it's more than just a feedback "prompt" - it takes into consideration our specific biases and preconcieved notions about individual energy use, and addresses them one by one through technology and psychological tricks.

In case you're interested in reading more, go here.

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