Humanizing the automobile

Humanizing the automobile etech — Humanizing the automobile

Plain text version:

Motor vehicle manufacturing has changed beyond recognition in the last few decades. Consumers once bought a simple chassis with four wheels and an engine attached; now they purchase a highly sophisticated motoring solution which has several computer systems working together to make the driving experience more reactive, productive and efficient. At the same time, cars have become an everyday necessity for households and the estimated number of vehicles on the roads worldwide is set to quadruple by 2050. (more…)

Written by Chris in: e-tech | Tags: , , ,

The Operator Start-up Connection

(no online version available)

(co-authored with Audrey Mandala — distributed at Mobile World Congress 2012)

Plain text version:

It’s no secret that Europe’s largest mobile
operators — Vodafone, Telefónica,
Orange, and T-Mobile — have long been
keen investors in some of the telecom
sector’s hottest start-ups.
Deutsche Telekom’s venture capital
subsidiary T-Venture, for example, has
been active since 1997, and is one of the
most significant corporate venture capital
companies in the world. Innovacom,
France Telecom-Orange’s venture arm,
started investing in early-stage startups
in 1994. It currently manages a fund
worth 400 million euros, and has supported
innovative telecom and information
technology start-ups such as Business
Objects, Gemplus, Infovista, Intershop,
Kelkoo, and Vodafone
Ventures has been on the scene since
2000, specializing in investments in seed/
start-up, early-stage, and mid-stage in
wireless and Internet sectors. (See table.)
But recently these mobile operators
have started to look beyond traditional
venture investing to find new ways to get
closer to the innovators that are creating
new services and new markets, and
in some cases disrupting the operators’
core businesses.
Take Telefónica Digital, a relative newcomer
in this space. The Digital business
unit was set up in September 2011; its
mission is “to seize the opportunities
within the digital world and deliver new
growth for Telefónica through R & D,
venture capital, global partnerships and
digital services.” In November 2011, Matthew
Key, Chairman & CEO of Telefónica
Digital, told a London conference crowd:
“…we’re not going to be able to keep, own
and build all of that capability internally,
so we have to partner with people to do
joint ventures and equity investments
with different companies that have different
capabilities….We have to move into
the future rather than protect the past.”
Over the holidays, Telefonica Digital
agreed to take a stake in U.S.-based cloud
computer experts Joyent, which counts
LinkedIn, THQ, Gilt Groupe and Kabam
among its customers. “We all felt pumped
at the prospect of moving forward with
our global domination strategy,” says David
Young, the company’s CEO.
Telefónica was not the lead investor in
the round, though; it terms its investment
in Joyent as “strategic: the operator will
use Joyent’s technology expertise in cloud
computing to help Telefónica enhance
its own product offering. The relationship
will also help Joyent with its “global
domination” plans, given Telefónica’s
multinational reach.
Telefónica also recently launched a
seed capital fund for Latin America with
co-investors, called Amerigo. The most
interesting move Telefónica has made in
the start-up arena, however, was the creation
of the Wayra incubator/accelerator.
Wayra, which means “wind” in Quechua,
started in Latin America, as a way
to help local start-ups establish and grow
their businesses in their home markets.
Wayra provides financing of between
$30,000 and $70,000 in exchange for a
small stake, depending on a start-up’s
level of maturity and need. Wayra then
works with these small players, mentoring
their leaders in business and technical
skills, providing co-working space, and
helping them access further financing
when required.
Wayra supported more than 6,000 startups
in Latin America in 2011.. The initiative
was considered so successful that hubs will
be rolled out across Europe in 2012 from
Spain to the UK and Germany.
The benefits for start-ups in partnering
with mobile operators are amply demonstrated
by a T-Ventures success story,
6wunderkinder. This German-based
company produces productivity tools that
reside in the cloud and are accessed from
smart phones, tablets and computers, allowing
distributed teams to stay in sync.
After the company’s first nine months of
operation, 6wunderkinder had produced
a free-to-use task manager and garnered
nearly one million users. It then partnered
with T-Venture and in less than a
year its app had been downloaded more
than 5 million times. The T-Venture funding
also helped 6wunderkinder develop
its second product, a pro version of the
task manager that incorporates private
workspaces and social networking tools.
“We are looking for companies who are
scaling up and going global, because that’s
when we can help them the most,” says
Heikki Makijarvi, Deutsche Telekom’s
Senior Vice President of Business Development.
“[When we find them] we will
work very closely together with them.”
Vodafone is another mobile operator
that recently took its start-up activities
up a notch. In September 2011, the
mobile operator created Xone, a Silicon
Valley-based R&D center that will help to
identify and assess potential investments
for the Vodafone Ventures group. Xone
will also provide incubator services for
roughly 25 companies at a time. Start-ups
in the Xone will be able to test their services
on the Vodafone network, and work
closely with Vodafone’s own engineers
and R&D team to roll their solutions out
to the market more quickly.
Another Vodafone innovation is the
Vodafone Mobile Clicks contest. One
of the biggest start-up competitions in
Europe, the initiative is designed to accelerate
innovation in the mobile Internet
sector across Europe.
Last year was a very busy investment
year for all four of the mobile operators,
and 2012 is starting to look the same.
Vodafone kicked off the year by participating
in the second phase of the Series
C private equity fundinground in VOSS
Solutions, a cloud fulfillment technology
company. T-Venture also started 2012
strongly, with an investment in the online
video content provider, clipkit.
Some carriers are even launching
new funds to give them better access to
the next big thing. In November 2011,
for example, France Telecom-Orange
announced plans to launch a new venture
capital fund focused on the digital
economy. FT-Orange and Publicis Groupe
have committed to jointly investing 150
million euros in the new fund, and have
invited other investors to join them, to
reach a target of 300 million euros. This
activity is in addition to France Telecom’s
18-year-old Innovacom VC fund, and the
fairly recent Orange Ventures Investment
Fund, which seeks to invest across
the wireless value chain, from network
infrastructure, hardware, and equipment
through to middleware, devices, software,
applications, and services.
European mobile operators’ venture
investments, accelerators, and contests
will undoubtedly help mobile-focused
start-ups around the world develop more
quickly and efficiently. For the operators,
the start-ups could help them find new
revenue streams, run their own businesses
more efficiently, and, perhaps,
avoid being blind-sided by the disruptive
innovation generated by start-ups.


Preparing businesses for electricity market reform

Preparing businesses for electricity market reform The Guardian — Preparing businesses for electricity market reform

Plain text version:

Earlier this year the government published its proposals for decarbonising the economy through electricity market reform (EMR). These proposals will affect all businesses in the UK. The first, and most significant, is due to come into force in less than 18 months.

EMR’s overall goal is to ensure at least 15% of the UK’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. However, because this means lifting the price of carbon emissions the combined effect of the proposals means that energy unit costs could double in the same timeframe.

UK energy consultancy Ener-G believes this is the right time for businesses to start planning for EMR’s impact. They have released a report, A Quick Guide to the Energy Market Reform, which describes how EMR is intended to work and gives businesses advice on the measures they can put in place to both mitigate its effects and take advantage of them.

Key areas of the report include the following:

Understand the reforms

The carbon floor price (CFP) is the first EMR proposal to come into force, in April 2013. This is intended to work as an escalator tax, pushing the price of carbon emissions up from £16 a tonne in 2013 to £30a tonne in 2020. These prices currently represent a significant premium on the EU’s emissions trading scheme price, meaning the cost of carbon-based power generation is likely to jump when CFP takes effect.

Another EMR proposal, which also comes into force in 2013, is the emissions performance standard (EPS). This specifies a maximum amount of carbon that new power stations can emit for every kWh of energy produced. One effect of this is that new coal and gas power stations will be more expensive to build and some believe this too will lead to energy prices rising.

Strategic business planning

Businesses should recognise that EMR is predicted to cause energy unit costs to rise by at least 15% a year until 2020 and quite possibly beyond. Consequently, as a significant and rising cost to the business, EMR should be drawn to the board’s attention and strategic measures put in place to manage it.

These measures include: ensuring rising energy prices are part of both short and long-term financial planning; developing a robust procurement strategy to select the best energy provider and contract for the business; and implementing energy efficiency plans to limit the energy use of the business.

Understand your energy consumption

The development of energy efficiency plans will demand that a company gains a detailed understanding of what parts of its business consume the most power and when.

Smart meters and their associated energy management software are the best way of arriving at this understanding. These allow a business to keep a real time track of their energy consumption and identify areas where further energy efficiencies can be achieved through either new equipment or business processes.

In addition, some software packages, such as Ener-G’s E-magine, also help businesses comply with regulations such as the CRC energy efficiency scheme.

Generate your own power

Another major concern surrounding EMR is the potential volatility in energy supplies and prices as the transition to a low carbon economy is made. In order to try and minimise their exposure to these issues many companies are looking at generating their own energy.

Onsite energy generation has the additional advantage that any surplus could take advantage of EMR’s feed-in tariffs. These will start to be available from 2014 and will provide an index-linked tax free payment for the next 20 years. Furthermore any heat generated (for example, from combined heat and power generators) could also be eligible for support under the renewable heat incentive.

Ronan O’Regan, director of renewable and clean technology at PwC, said: “The carbon price floor will have a great impact from 1 April 2013 … quick wins will be all about implementing energy efficiency measures and enhancing business processes.

“However there is also movement towards hedging against prices with onsite energy provision and some organisations are seeing this as a way of increasing their overall sustainability.”


Increasing workplace efficiency and cutting carbon emissions

Increasing workplace efficiency and cutting carbon emissions The Guardian – Increasing workplace efficiency and cutting carbon emissions

Plain text version:

When businesses address their workplace carbon emissions they often look at expensive projects, such as replacement heating and air conditioning systems or improving insulation.

What is often overlooked is the company’s day to day occupancy of the building and how efficiently they’re using the space, which is what drives their eventual use of the HVAC systems.

Low Carbon Workplace (LCW), part of the Carbon Trust and the UK’s only carbon based landlord, has developed a unique method to create a Whole Building Carbon Regime. A recent report – cutting workplace carbon, not competitiveness – outlines measures for the carbon regime. (more…)


Clean your plate

Clean your plate Earth Island Journal – Clean your plate

A startling new report from the UK has demonstrated the impact food waste can have upon a country’s carbon emissions and water footprint.

The report, published by WWF-UK and the UK government’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), says that potentially avoidable food waste represents up to 64 gallons of water per person per day and 727.5 pounds of CO2 per person per year.

This means that around 6 percent of the UK’s water footprint and 3 percent of its carbon emissions come from food waste. That’s roughly equal to adding 25 percent more cars on the road!

The amount of food we waste is shameful. It’s among the most unsustainable aspects of our high-consumption lifestyle. Curbing it will have a significant impact in improving our overall environmental impact.

How do these figures stack up against the rest of the world?  To answer that question I’ve looked at the US and China.

There are no directly comparable figures, mainly because the UK study is the first of its kind in the world.  However we can extrapolate some figures using published food and waste figures and water footprint and carbon emissions datasets.

United States

A commonly quoted figure is that 40 percent of US food is wasted.  That, by anyone’s measure, is a staggering amount.

The EPA has published a comprehensive set of figures for 2009 showing the CO2 emissions of each sector, including embedded energy use. These show that 206 million tons of CO2 come directly from agriculture, plus an additional 53 million tons from food waste in landfill (which is 20 percent of the total). Food waste in the US therefore produces a total of 260 million tonnes of CO2 emissions ‑ 4.4 percent of the country’s overall carbon footprint.  This is equivalent 2,044 pounds of CO2 per person per year, or a 41 percent increase in the number of cars on the road.

Only 58 percent of the US’ 696 billion cubic meters/year water footprint comes from agriculture, a relatively low proportion compared to other countries.  However because the rate of food waste is so high, 163 billion cubic meters of water, or 23 percent of the country’s total usage, is consumed unnecessarily every year. In terms of per person use, that amounts to a whopping 420 gallons per person per day.


According to figures published by the Laboratory of Organic Geochemistry (PDF), in 2009 around 62 million tons of food waste went to landfill in China.  Further figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (PDF) indicate total food consumption in 2004 was 905 million tons. Which means China wastes about 7 percent of the total food it produces.

A report prepared for the US Congress (PDF) in 2008 estimates that 14 percent of China’s overall carbon emissions come from agriculture. Combining these figures means that only 66 million tonnes CO2, or 1 percent of its overall emissions is generated each year from China’s food waste.  However, this does not include energy emissions from agriculture or from food waste in landfill, which is a comparatively lower 115 pounds of CO2 emissions per person per year. Agriculture accounts for over 85 percent of China’s 883 billion cubic meters/year water use, but because the rate of food waste is much lower than the US the amount of water wasted is also low: only 54 billion cubic meters of water, or 6 percent of the total. In human usage terms, that’s about 30 gallons per person per day.

I must emphasise these calculations are my own and don’t have any of the subtleties a proper scientific study will contain. In addition, the UK report differentiates between avoidable and unavoidable food waste but only total food waste figures are available for the US and China.

That said, it’s obvious that food waste has a significant impact upon a country’s carbon emissions and water footprint.  By taking greater care with the food we produce and consume, our environmental impact would be lessened much more than many of the industrial and energy solutions currently being proposed.

Written by Chris in: Earth Island Journal | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Africa’s Green Revolution 2.0: rejecting agribusiness, pesticides and GM greenwash

Africa's Green Revolution The Ecologist – Africa’s Green Revolution 2.0: rejecting agribusiness, pesticides and GM greenwash

Plain Text version:

A revolutionary new initiative in African farming was launched earlier this year as part of the annual International Fair of Animal Resources (FIARA) in Dakar, Senegal. It draws together twelve rural women’s networks from across the west African countries of Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Ghana into a campaign entitled ‘Nous Sommes La Solution! Célébrons l’agriculture familiale’ – ‘We Are The Solution! A celebration of family farming.’

The campaign’s aims include gathering together the best in African farming knowledge and technology, acting as a bulwark against the needless industrialisation of the continent’s agriculture and facilitating the empowerment of women within rural communities.

It will run for three years during which it will focus on building capacity at grass roots level in both traditional agricultural knowledge and the ability of women to shoulder the responsibilities they’ve had to in recent years as effective leaders.

The need for a women-led agricultural campaign in Africa was first discussed during 2007 and plans for a west African organisation were formally laid out during a 2009 meeting of the Network of West African Peasant Producers (ROPPA).

Networks similar to ROPPA have been springing up across Africa recently, creating what Tanya Kerssen, Research Fellow at Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy and a major international supporter of We Are The Solution!, describes as ‘a broad constellation of political alliances that form the growing African food sovereignty movement.’ (more…)


Energy-saving: dramatic savings without huge capital outlay

Energy saving: dramatic savings without huge capital outlay The Guardian – Energy saving: dramatic savings without huge capital outlay

Plain text version:

One of the biggest problems for businesses looking to increase their energy efficiency is the large, upfront spend initiatives can require. Typically, these focus on projects such as large-scale building refurbishments or replacing equipment across the board.

A new report from the sustainability consultancy Verisae, entitled Ten Ways to Slash Energy Cost & Reduce Budget Uncertainty, has highlighted several techniques companies can implement without making a large capital commitment.

Although the report is focused upon the retail sector and North American grocery stores in particular, its discussion of low-cost solutions is useful for any business with one or more moderately sized premises. (more…)


How to source sustainably

How to source sustainably The Guardian – How to source sustainably

In 2011 companies’ supply chains will gain greater importance, irrespective of the size of businesses involved.

The primary driver of this trend is taking recognised measurements for water consumption, waste and greenhouse gas emissions and applying them to a company’s supply chain.

But many businesses are finding this tricky for their overseas suppliers as the practical implementation of responsibility can vary from country to country.

Shirahime, a UK based ethical fashion consultancy, has published a guide to responsibly sourcing textiles and clothes from India.

Despite its narrow country and industry focus, the guide is packed with advice for any business looking to find responsible goods or services suppliers from overseas. (more…)


England puts off selling public woodland

England puts off selling public woodlands Earth Island Journal – England puts off selling public woodlands

A huge argument over the future of forestry in the UK came to a dramatic end last week when the Prime Minister, David Cameron, publically backed down and admitted he was unhappy with his government’s policy.

But what was the fuss about in the first place and why was a government with a clear parliamentary majority forced into such a humiliating retreat?

The UK has embarked upon a round of severe public service cuts to try and reduce the country’s debts as quickly as possible. The government did its sums and discovered it could make up to $8 billion from selling publically owned forests.

These represent 44 percent of the forests to which the public has free access in England (Scotland and Wales are not involved).

In addition, and unlike many privately owned monoculture forests, they are managed in a sustainable manner where timber production sits alongside long term biodiversity planning and the preservation of ancient woodlands.



Sustainable Stock Exchanges : a new choice for investors

Sustainable Stock Exchanges: a new choice for investors The Ecologist – Sustainable Stock Exchanges : a new choice for investors

Plain Text Version:

In November 2009, in a small room at the United Nations in New York, a group of the world’s most powerful financiers gathered to discuss something close to their hearts: stock markets.

However rather than talking about capital driven considerations, such as cash flows and profit maximisation, their focus was on promoting environmental and social considerations as criteria for sound investments.

This is because the meeting was hosted by the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) and most of the meeting’s attendees were signatories to the scheme. Its focus was how signatories could fulfil the third of PRI’s six principles: to seek environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure from the companies in which they invest. ESG is the twin of the more widely known Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). While CSR is the disclosure of information by a company, ESG is the criteria against which investment decisions should be made. The two do not correlate exactly, but they certainly work hand in hand. (more…)

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