xrematon

January 28, 2012

Additional nugget on older generations as eco-warriors

Filed under: Demographics,Sustainability — by xrematon @ 9:42 pm
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I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how it seems that old folk are naturally ‘green folk’. My thought were based on personal experience and observation so I was gratified to come across an article in The Economist which supports this idea. The article was about a new paper which showed that carbon footprints vary by age.

As one might expect, emissions rise as people get older, reflecting the fact consumption increases, for example, someone gets a car, they buy more clothes, they start a family, they get a bigger house, they get another car and so on. However, the analysis showed that reductions start to appear when people are in their mid-60s – giving us a reason to be positive (for once) about the implications of an ageing population.

A final observation – the research was based on looking at the lifestyle of the average American. I expect the angle of the line in the graph might look a little different for consumers from the other side of the Atlantic.

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January 10, 2012

Older generations – the unsuspecting eco-warriors

Filed under: Demographics,Sustainability — by xrematon @ 11:24 am
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We live in a world where resources are scarce, and we cannot keep stealing [them] from our children and grandchildren.

Thus speaks Paul Polman, the current Unilever CEO. He is thinking about his responsibilities as the man in charge of a huge multinational company with the potential to have massive direct and indirect environmental impacts. As he observes,

In our own factories, we’re responsible for around three million tonnes of CO2. But if we add in suppliers and consumers, it’s around 300 million.

However, I would like to take the perspective of the ‘truffle hunter’ as oppose to thinking big and wide. Over the holidays, I was in conversation with an acquaintance who was despairing of the behaviour of a mutual friend – Des. Des is a retired gentleman, in his seventies, who in common with a number of his generation, has accumulated a fair amount of property assets over his lifetime, including a small holiday flat in the southern France. However, Des lives a distinctingly parsimonious life which, unwittingly, is likely to have a very low carbon footprint.

What are the details? Well, he doesn’t really heat his house much as he goes out for a walk and to the cafe in the morning and then visits a friend in the afternoon and early evening. He doesn’t put hot water heating on as he goes to the swimming pool for both exercise and to make use of the showers. He buys only second hand (and thus recycled) clothing. He doesn’t really eat much meat, often the biggest environmental blackspot when it comes to food, or if he does, it tends to be in cheap pies, where the actual meat content is generally pretty low and the animals may have been more intensively but also efficiently reared. And what about the holiday flat in France? He gets there by train of course!

I don’t think Des is a rare occurence. How he lives his life reminds me of my uncle – who similarly does not travel, eats tiny quantities of meat and is an extremely modest consumer of material goods. His particular forte is living in permanent semi-darkness as he does not like to waste electricity on lights. I admit this is rather unnecessary given the rise of energy efficient lightbulbs!

I am not proposing that we all follow this lifestyle – it would be pretty miserable – but it is useful counterpoint to the Abel and Cole veg boxes, free-range chickens, water pebbles in your shower, hybrid vehicles, going on holiday to African villages powered by solar panels and so forth.

Go for it Des!

November 17, 2011

Electronic media can be toxic?!

Filed under: Demographics,Technology — by xrematon @ 9:25 pm
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‘Electronic media are not only an inferior means for children to experience and learn about their world, they can be toxic.’

‘On a more serious note, its just a toy not the work of the devil.’

Well, what to make of those two comments? Which side of the argument do I find myself on?

It was recently my son’s birthday, and I decided I wanted to get him something that would last and not be added to the pile of very much loved, but very annoying-to-tidy-up-every-night pieces of plastics. So I thought it would be good to get an ‘educational’ item, but despite my earlier thoughts, I decided to cop out and get a LeapPad Explorer. If you haven’t come across it before, there’s a picture below. Some call it the iPad for kids, but to me, it’s more like a glorified PDA (remember when they were all the rage, before we had Blackberries and smart phones?)

As you can probably tell, I have mixed feelings about the device, and as is my wont when I am not sure about something, I thought I would check out other opinions online. Hence the identification of the above two quotes. The second one is from Mumsnet, where there were a wide range of views, some more relaxed, and others deadset against the whole idea. One of the latter group included a link to the article from which the first quote came.

So what do I think? My views are very boring – I am neither a fervent techie, nor a tech prohibitionist. It’s just about finding the right balance. But I do get fed up with simplistic assumptions that using ‘tech toys’ (for the want of a better word to describe the likes of LeapPads, Wiis, Nintendos etc) are not creative experiences. My own thoughts echo those captured by a friend in a recent post on a similar topic for her company blog at LadyGeek. I was struck by one of her sentences.

‘We have entered a new era where my children’s imaginations are augmented by technology.’

That’s right – technology can add to what’s there. Otherwise, we might as well as only allow black and white crayons in the fear that it would mean children couldn’t imagine colours themselves. (Ok – that’s a bit extreme!)

My final observation: any fears I might have had that my son was going to become a pale-faced, digit-twitching geek proved to be quickly unfounded. The first night he received the LeapPad, he did play with it obsessively, mainly to use the camera, but on the next day, we were onto the next thing.

So now should I be worrying that he has too many toys? It is true that we  British parents buy an average of 41 toys per year, which is almost a toy per week, creating the biggest toy market in Europe.

Or maybe I should be worrying about the fact that my son will be a luddite after all!

October 25, 2011

For richer, for poorer – which consumers are the best bet?

Filed under: Demographics,Innovation — by xrematon @ 11:11 pm
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I have been doing some research into the changing dynamics of consumer culture and got side-tracked looking into the growing impact of emerging markets. One facet that is particularly intriguing is ‘reverse innovation’, or as it was dramatically first known, ‘innovation blowback’.

It’s something everyone gets excited about – it allows us to talk about new ideas from new sources; rethinking the obvious; challenges to status quo; design paradigm shifts etc. It can take different forms. There are the ’emerging giants’ who make life difficult for established multinationals, as is the case with Brazil’s Embraer making regional jets to challenge Canada’s Bombardier, whilst Cemex from Mexio is proving to be a worthy competitor for the French Lafarge. The established global corporations are also learning new tricks. A leader in this area is GE, which has its very own Professor-in-Residence, Vijay Govindarajan, who acts as Chief Innovation Consultant. One of example of GE’s successes is with ultra-sound machines. In the US, the ultrasound machine is huge and bulky, costing anywhere from $100,000 to $350,000. GE created a portable low-cost ultrasound machine, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $15,000 that has opened up a huge market in China and India.

But what is there beyond the hype of this bubble? It is certainly true that the principles and approach behind creating these products are inspirational, but their application often has limited relevance. Here, in the UK, I don’t need a water filter that uses rice husks, nor am I interested in a little fridge (as in Godrej’s Chotukool). So what if it can run on batteries – I want something that is 50% bigger, not one that offers me a quarter of my usual storage space.  Amanda Jones, the co-founder of social enterprise Red Button, makes some interesting observations about why frivolous Western consumers like me will struggle.

‘Frugal innovation is about getting people to buy into reality, but [Westerners] don’t want to do that. Why? Because perceived benefit sells. Customers want those 25 apps that they’ll never use because they like to think they are the kind of person who will. For frugal to spread to developed nations, consumers will have to “give up that alternate reality version” of themselves in which they really are “efficient enough to work out what all the bells and whistles do.’

As a twist in the tale, if we look beyond products and devices to the FMCG sector, this is where frugality is perhaps starting to look more relevant. Consumers in Europe are facing continued economic uncertainty – in this environment, value offerings in day to day purchases appeal. One company that has noticed this is Nestle, which develops Popularly Positioned Products (PPPs) for emerging markets. It has recently brought some of these innovations back to developed markets, for example in Spain, where it has altered packaging and quantities to reduce prices.

The final twist: a recent article in The Economist talks of the limits to frugality and finds evidence of the challenge to be profitable serving low income consumers.

‘In the 2010 auctions for 3G telecoms licences, operators bid ten times more for a slice of the airwaves in affluent Delhi, with 18m people, than in east Uttar Pradesh, with 120m people…. That is not to say that selling to the poor masses, and inventing ways to cut prices in order to appeal to them, is not vital. It is, both from a moral standpoint and because India’s stability depends on it. But the big profits lie elsewhere.’

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