Presenting “If You Want to” at the Rushlight Show 2017

This is the text of the talk I gave to the Sustainability Solutions Market Panel at the Rushlight Show 2017, on January 25th, 2017. The slides are available here or here. I didn’t know then that we were going to receive the Rushlight 2017 Sustainability Initiative Award!

Rushlight 2017. Sustainability Solutions Market Panel

I’m Francesco Cara, co-founder with my partner Stefana Broadbent, of Cleanweb Ltd, a company we have incorporated in London 18 months ago to invest in and build green digital services.

Stefana and I were very much involved in the first internet revolution of the second half of the 90’s and part of the formidable social and economical transformation driven by digital innovation. Through Cleanweb Ltd we want to harness the transformative power of digital to accelerate behavioural change towards more sustainable lifestyles.

I’m here today to present to you our first product, the web app “If You Want to”, that you can experience directly on your smartphones at iywto.com.

To set the context of my talk, I choose an image of a beautiful piece of contemporary architecture, the Bosco Verticale by Boeri Studio in Milan (2014), a project that has won multiple international architectural prizes and, apart from being gorgeous, is a model for resource efficiency and environmental impact. It is also the expression of what we are seeing emerging today: an active search for new, sustainable everyday practices that lead to healthier, more affordable and environmentally friendly lifestyles.

Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), Boeri Studio, Milan 2014

In our own research, we have observed the rapid growth of sustainable practices in mobility, trending to carless living; eating, trending to meatless diets; housing, trending to co-living, energy efficiency and renewables; ownership of goods, trending towards a circular economy of repair, reuse, repurpose, recycle; and so on.

Stefana Broadbent, TedX Lake Como, November 2016

At the same time, we are seeing a very rapid innovation in the digital space with new apps, IoT devices, web tools being launched across the world that simplify massively the transition to green living. Think of all the innovation that is happening in the urban food space with kitchens, balconies and rooftops being transformed in vegetable gardens. Or in the bike sharing space with the transition from docking station to docking station bike rides to smart bikes one can leave and pick up anywhere in the city.

In this slide I have selected a few examples of two key transitions: the switch to electric mobility and the switch to renewable energy. In both cases, digital services are available that empower people to explore these new modes of living and take action.

Green services cards from iywto.com (23 January 2017)

There is a problem however. The demand for green living and the offer of digital green services do not meet. Few people are aware of the wonderful opportunities that these innovations offer. They are presented in specialised reviews, programs and events. They are buried in the back pages of Google results.

To address the issue of visibility, awareness and engagement with green services, we have built “If you want to” where we are creating the largest directory of green services available globally, browsable and searchable through a very simple interface. I will quickly take you through the web app main features.

iywto.com landing page header (23 January 2017)
There are so many smart green services around that the only way to know about them and build a directory is through collaboration. In the space of 10 months, our directory contains nearly 4,000 urls, geolocalised and briefly described. Over 600 of these 4,000 services have been analysed in detail and curated to publish dedicated pages on each service. Enough information, we hope, for people to be interested and keen to engage further with the service.
Number of green services urls collected in the directory and service pages curated on iywto.com (23 January 2017)

Since we are based in the UK, our research has primarily focused on services built and available in the UK. But the process being open, we have identified over 1,000 services available in the US, and many hundreds available across Canada, Australia, Europe and South-East Asia.

Geographical distribution of green services in the iywto.com directory  (23 January 2017)

 

We were not expecting to find so many services, so the first feedback we got from users was to show only services they could use where they lived. We have immediately introduced geolocalisation so that only services available where one access iywto.com are presented. There is always the possibility to manually change geolocalisation for the curious minds. And initially, we thought that a semantic engine for people who knew what they were looking for and a browsing space for those who wanted to see what was available were enough. Again, feedback proved us wrong. Many users explore the web the Google way, so we added a text based search. People can add to the directory here, we have also developed browser extension for the frequent contributors so that they can contribute a service to the directory with a right click on a service’s page. At the bottom of the page, one can see what’s new: the latest projects added to iywto.com

iywto.com landing page (23 January 2017)

With this one/two steps navigation, you get to the project page which is a very condensed version of what the project is about, its main features and who’s behind the project. We have embedded videos when they are available. Apps publishers have also asked us to add direct links to the App Store and Google Play, so that you can download the app directly there without having to go through the publishers’ websites. On this page, you can also rate the service and post a comment or a review that will create social proof. Finally, at the bottom of the page, we present services similar to the one being viewed.

iywto.com service page (23 January 2017)

Now, where are we? We are promoting iywto.com intensely — we were so excited when the Guardian’s The eco guide to taking action in 2017 featured us — with University green groups and we are here to offer you to add iywto.com to the resources that your organisation uses to promote sustainability or to research what is on the market. iywto.com is free to users, but it relies on their contributions in content. Our operations are instead financed, or I should say, will be financed by the quality leads we take to the services, using an affiliate model.

iywto.com operations and business model 

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Sustainable lifestyle search engine

This is the text of the presentation I gave to Eco16, the first edition of Ecosummit to take place in Amsterdam, on July 7th, 2016. Ecosummit brings together smart, green start ups, greentech investors and corporations in a high-energy day packed with presentations, round tables and conversations.

Screenshot 2016-07-09 14.11.46

1. Introduction

I’m Francesco Cara, co-Founder with Stefana Broadbent, of Cleanweb Ltd, a start-up formed 11 months ago in London to invest in, build and bring to market digital products and services for climate action. With Cleanweb Ltd, we want to unleash the transformative power of the web, a power that has been fully demonstrated over the past 20 years as it drove a rapid and profound transformation of the societies we live in. We want to apply this power to accelerate the transition to sustainable lifestyles across society.

Today, I will present to you IYWTo, our first product that, with your support, we aim to make available across Europe first, and then globally.

2. The problem: the gap between demand for smarter ways of living and offer of solutions

There is a missing link in the world of green innovation: a meeting point where people who actively look for new ways to live more smartly and more sustainably, connect with all the great apps, products and services that innovators, like us at Ecosummit, imagine, build and take to market.

Certainly there is Google, but many of these great innovations end up beyond the attention span, that is the first few results and the first page.

In the example below, Enostra, the innovative renewable energy cooperative based in Milan, came up in 10th position when we searched “renewable and sustainable energy”.

Result page for search “renewable sustainable energy” (05.07.2016, Milan)

There are also many excellent online green lifestyle magazines, but articles on digital products are rare and fleeting.

As the examples below show, it took us a couple of hours to find three articles on the same day. In the Guardian we found an article on electric mobility that mentioned the car sharing app ZIPCAR and the VW Golf-e it has added to its fleet; the renewable energy company ECOTRICITY and its network of renewable energy charging points; the apps EVHIGHWAYSTATUS and ZAPMAP to find EV charging points nearby. In the sustainable living online magazine Collectively we found an article on the app Copia to reduce food waste in catering. And on the food innovation, waste and security blog Hazel Blog, the reference to the app Gebni to reduce restaurants’ food waste.

    Guardian, Collectively, Hazel Blog, screenshots taken on 05.07.2016

There are also several brilliant initiatives like Climate KIC, Sustainable 100,Ecosummit TV that present plenty of innovative solutions. They are however mainly talking to innovators, investors and corporations, rather than the general public.

This multiplicity of sources and channels lead inevitably to fragmentation, complexity and an extra investment of time and energy for those who are looking to find the right solutions for their needs.

So we decided to invest in IYWTo to fill this gap and create a dedicated marketplace where the people who care meet green innovation.

3. The solution: IYWTo, a search engine of data collected and analysed collaboratively

What is IYWTo? First of all it’s a community of people who are acting on climate change and are passionate about digital.

Secondly, IYWTo is the largest single database of digital projects for climate action. Over the past 3 months, the community has identified over 2,300 projects that enable a more efficient use of resources, reduction of waste, recycling and reusing; projects that help the transition to renewable energy and low-carbon transport; projects that empower joint action to adapt and respond to climate change.

Geographical distribution of green digital projects in IYWTo directory

IYWTo is also a semantic engine to make this database searchable in an intuitive, familiar way, so that people can easily find projects that best fulfil their goals.

IYWTo landing page

IYWTo is also a guide that suggests new actions that one can take to reduce one’s environmental footprint and at the same time be more efficient, live more healthily, be proactive in responding to climate change and even challenge the status quo.

What makes all of this possible is a collaborative open platform that offers tools to submit solutions, which people discover on the web, to the directory.

IYWTo directory

Start-ups and users can create project pages in a simple four-step process, post reviews and comments on each project. And we will soon make our APIs public so that other people’s apps will be able to connect with ours and offer new and richer experiences.

4. The next iteration: IYWTo becomes a local search engine

This rich data has been both an asset (people love the diversity and range of projects) and a liability (there are too many projects to search through and cannot be used where one lives).

We are now developing the next version of IYWTo that will deliver much more value to users: a geo-localised search engine whereby people can search the best digital projects that are available where they live. As we speak we are working on Greater London and Metropolitan Milan, and once the platform and processes are proven, we will localise the search to Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen and Paris, to start with.

The search engine will geolocalise the visitor and return only the actions and the projects available locally, e.g. in Amsterdam. The guide will give visibility to the types of climate actions that are supported in Amserdam with digital projects, e.g. take part in an electronics repair workshop. Recommendations will point out a selection of the newest and best cleanweb projects for climate action in Amsterdam.

5. The pitch to start-ups, corporations and investors

We are here at Eco16 to ask for your support to take this initiative forward:

To start-ups, we offer a dedicated marketplace where to gain visibility and build engagement with people who are actively looking for green solutions. In exchange, we ask start-ups to add your url, name, short description and availability to the directory, if they are not there already. We ask to create your own project page; and to recognize financially the leads that come to your properties via IYWTo, so that we can continue to grow the community

To corporations, we offer to associate your brand with a dynamic, engaged community. In exchange, we invite you to be sponsor of the project in the markets that are most relevant to you. This will help us expand to new geographies and give visibility to new projects.

To Investors, we offer a powerful tool for competitive intelligence and market insights. In exchange, we invite you to make a financial contribution so that we can operate and develop the platform more swiftly and effectively.

If you are interested, we can talk of the practical ways you can support us over coffee. Thank you for listening!

The deck is available here

Failures: a point of view

 

Screenshot 2016-04-24 12.20.08

Our project IYWTo was part of the Ventures section of the Failures: process beyond success exhibition at the Cascina Cuccagna during Milan Design Week 2016. Raumplan Studio, the curators of the exhibition, asked us to offer a point of view on the nature of Failures. The point of view I put forward in the text below looks at Failures as essential moments of experimentation and adaptation as design opens up to a plurality of changing perspectives. I also look at systemic Failures that have deeper and far reaching consequences on what is and can be designed.  

In English

In the liquid world in which we live, there are only two main kinds of failures. The first are failures of adaptation caused by denial or inability to see the change, and therefore to adapt to ever changing circumstances. To live in a fluid world requires constant attention to innovation and continuous experimentation, with all the tests, trials, errors and inventions this entails. It also requires creating the conditions for experiencing and discussing collectively new ideas, policies, products or services so as to capture, as quickly as possible, the thoughts, reactions and concerns that they generate (e.g. through prototyping and co-development). The second are failures of structure caused by attempts to keep unchanged, as long as possible, a frame of reference, be it a political system, an institution, a business model or an operational system, regardless of clear indications that that frame of reference, in fact, creates more problems than solutions. This is the type of Failures that we experienced at Nokia when decisions on engines and software platforms hindered the design of web services and  experiences fully integrated to mobile devices. 

In Italian

Nel mondo liquido in cui viviamo, ci sono solo due tipi di fallimento. Il primo è il fallimento, chiamiamolo adattativo, che risulta dall’incapacità di leggere il cambiamento, e quindi di conseguenza di adattarsi alle nuove circostanze. Vivere in un mondo fluido richiede un’attenzione costante all’innovazione ed una sperimentazione continua, con il suo inevitabile bagaglio di prove, tentativi, errori e scoperte. E richiede anche un dialogo intenso tra chi porta avanti la nuova idea, politica, prodotto o servizio e la comunità in modo da cogliere  tutti gli aspetti e significati della trasformazione. Il secondo è il fallimento, chiamiamolo strutturale, che risulta dal tentativo di mantenere inalterato il più a lungo possibile un quadro di riferimento, che sia un sistema politico, un’istituzione, un modello di business o un sistema operativo, a fronte di chiare indicazioni che quel quadro crea, in realtà, più problemi che soluzioni. Questo è il tipo di Failures che, per esempio, abbiamo vissuto in Nokia quando le scelte fatte a livello di processori e piattaforme software, impedivano di progettare servizi ed esperienze web totalmente integrate al dispositivi mobili.

 

 

Does it make sense to use my rooftop to generate solar power?

Six months ago, we started mapping the emerging world of digital innovations to act on climate change. Our goal is to make these innovations more visible and more accessible to people looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment. To map and promote these innovations we have built IYWTo: an open, collaborative platform where we collect, organise, present and discuss digital projects that help to live more sustainably. This article is the first in a series where we look at how key transitions to low-carbon behaviours can be supported and facilitated by digital applications. As part of the transition to low-carbon energy sources, we look at applications that help to do an initial, quick assessment of  whether it is worth installing solar panels on residential, commercial and public buildings. The article was first published on IYWTo blog

Solar conversion has a key role to play in the transition to 100% clean, renewable sources of heat and power. It is expected to contribute about one fifth of the global electric power supply (corresponding to between 14 and 22% of total power generated, IEA 2015) by 2050, as more efficient and competitive technologies become available.

Today, we are a long way away from that target. Solar power covered a little under 1% of global energy demand in 2014 (REN 21). The distribution obviously varies considerably from country to country as a function of local climate and level of investment. In the UK, for instance, the Sandbag appindicates that solar contribution to the UK energy production at the time of writing (February 13, 2016 at 3pm) is 3.9%. Even though higher than the global figure, this contribution is still far below the 11.4% that the Solutions Project expects from solar energy in the UK 2050 energy mix.

The Solutions Project, 100% United Kingdom

A new generation of free, web applications makes it extremely easy to do an initial assessment of financial and environmental benefits that come from generating solar energy from rooftops. They enable anyone to create a business case for putting solar panels on residential, commercial or public buildings, and start planning how to do it.

                 IYWTo, projects to plan solar units

All the tools we have reviewed start the journey from the property’s address: the rooftop is visualised on a map. From the rooftop’s area, slope and orientation, the tools calculate the number of solar panels needed and their capacity. Some implementations, like Solarcentury, require the area to be drawn and roof’s orientation and angle to be manually entered, while the most advanced systems, like Project Sunroof and Mapdwell, do all of that automatically.

From the number of solar panels, the tools estimate the cost of the solar system’s components and installation. All the tools then evaluate the benefits that a solar energy system would generate in terms of savings and revenue. This is done by comparing the solar energy capacity with the property’s average electricity consumption and bills, and by calculating corresponding renewable energy incentives, such as feed-in- or export tariffs.

Finally, the tools calculate the financial break-even point as well as the CO2 emissions reduction contribution. The whole process, which takes only a couple of minutes, tells whether it is worth exploring this opportunity further, from both financial and environmental perspectives.

A second type of, more advanced, solar energy calculators exists to support the design, modelling and costing of complete solar systems. These are mostly B2B applications targeted to construction and energy professionals. Three of these tools stood out: Helioscope, Quick Solar, Energy Toolbase.

Because solar energy regulations and incentives are at the national, state and regional level, all these tools are highly localised. Most of the tools we have mapped and reviewed originate in the USA and apply to some states. Solarcentury and Helioscope instead are designed for the UK B2C and B2B markets respectively.

This article is therefore just the beginning of the mapping of innovative digital tools to plan solar systems on rooftop. If you use or know of other similar applications in your region, please let us know or add it directly to our growing project directory here.

How the cultural transition from extractive to regenerative redraws the boundaries between Thing Nothing

Eindhoven Design Academy. Design Symposium: the Design Paradox

This talk was presented at the Eindhoven Design Academy Symposium: The Design Paradox, the 29th October 2015.

Abstract

After a short introduction, I will present the cleanweb and the research and design work I’m doing in the area. I will then outline the perspective I have taken to understand the tension between Thing and Nothing: a psychological perspective where attention plays a key role in constructing Thing, the foreground, against Nothing, the background. In the third part, I will look at the challenge of transitioning a society that is fundamentally based on an exploitative, extractive relationship with nature to a society that is more respectful and has a two-way “giving and taking” relationship with nature – what I like to think of as a regenerative relationship. I will argue that design has a fundamental role to play in exploring and proposing new meanings that redefine the frontier between what is being attended to and what is not: between Thing and Nothing. I will illustrate my argument with a few examples drawn from the cleanweb discovery platform we are building: IYWTo, now in beta at beta.iywto.com.

Talk

Thank you for the invitation to provide some food for thought to the Design Symposium. I am a great admirer of yours and was very keen to visit the Eindhoven Design Academy and feel the spirit. My proxy is every year in April in Milan where one of my favourite visits is to your space, even now that it is at the far end of the Ventura area in Lambrate. A long walk always rewarded by very good discoveries, provocations and conversations with the designers.

In my work, I’m exploring the cleanweb: “as a way of creating new connections between the community and the environment through the web”. My objective is to harness these connections so as to accelerate the emergence across society of new attitudes and behaviours that are more respectful of the environment, that is, they reduce direct and indirect greenhouse gases emissions, primarily CO2, and resource depletion.

beta.iywto.com - landing page on 30.10.15

The approach I have taken is through making. We are building a web app, called iywto, that works as a discovery platform and a hub where people, actively engaged in the transition, exchange innovations, experiences and ideas. Working with a lean team, we have structured the problem space into six core areas (Energy, Food, Habitat, Mobility, Things, Water); built a database of over 300 digital products and services that help to live more sustainably; and a very simple interface to discover, try out, share, review and comment. After six months of very intense work, we are now opening the platform up to more start-ups, more groups and associations, schools and universities.

The purpose of what we are doing is to accelerate innovation and adoption by offering a platform where people who are looking for ways to live more sustainably can easily discover new products and services to do so; where start-ups can present their products and services and engage into a productive dialogue with citizens to make their products and services better; and finally cities and local councils can learn about, assess and compare solutions for the local problems they want to solve, going beyond what their traditional suppliers offer.

Let’s now turn to the second topic and frame the tension between Thing and Nothing. The perspective I’ve taken to discuss the tension is psychological – from the perspective of an individual – and is essentially grounded on attention. I take that Thing is what is attended to and Nothing is where attention wanders freely. Let’s take a simple example to explain this movement:

Think of a beautiful night, in the summer, it’s the first week of August, you are sitting outside and the stars are glowing, your attention keeps drifting from embracing as much of the starry sky as possible and focusing on stars, planets, satellites, dots traveling through the sky. You ask: Is this Venus? Is that moving dot an airplane? Or is it a satellite?.… But what you really want to see is a comet and its meteor shower; and make a wish…).

When looking at the way we interact and construe the world around us, we are inevitably at the intersection between perception, action, language and culture. From a perceptual angle, seeing a thing is about closing a shape by shifting attention between focus on the closed shape in the foreground and the background around it, while attending to the surroundings intermittently to detect early signals of new candidate things emerging and events happening. But giving substance to a Thing, is also embedding it into a course of action in relation to one’s goals, what the thing affords

Remember how many ATMs you came across on your way to the Academy today; tomorrow morning leaving your house give yourself the goal of getting some money and arrived at the Academy, do the same exercise. You are likely to recall many more ATMs

It is also embedding the Thing into the culture one inhabits. Giving a name to a thing is framing it in a particular language

Think of the 65 words Hawaiians have for describing fishing nets

with all the associated meanings that each of these words carries. From a cultural perspective, it is about classification of things according to shared categories and pre-defined conventions. But most importantly seeing, touching, naming generate narratives, memories, emotions and conversations:

Think of the often quoted example from the pragmatic literature. At a dinner party, a guest asks: “Can I have the pepper?” but nobody answers “Yes, you can”. As an answer, someone will pass the pepper

Within any cultural system, we are constrained by frameworks of interpretation and meanings that set the boundaries of what is Thing and what is Nothing. The problem with the transition to a low-carbon, regenerative society is that we need to transform quite fundamentally our reference system, to redesign the boundaries of what is Thing and what is Nothing. Here are some examples of how the cleanweb enables this transformation. 

Out of sight, out of mind. In our urban affluent society, waste is a kind of Nothing. We tend to ignore it, we tend to hide it. Services like Streetbank, eReuse and many others put the focus of attention back to waste and help to make it available to others, individuals or communities: electronic devices tools, clothes we are not using anymore and have stored in some cupboard. Services like FareShare collect surplus food from restaurants, hotels or canteens and deliver it to charities that transform it into warm meals for people in need. Winnow transforms restaurants’ waste bin into a food waste tracking and management device.

Out of the blue. There is a Thing in our surroundings, but what comes before is a kind of Nothing. We don’t know what materials go into the production of artefacts we use in everyday life. Fairphone, the sustainable smartphone organisation, is a journey that starts with setting the conditions in which the metals necessary to manufacture the smartphone are mined, continues with the sourcing of recycled plastics and components, then moves to China and sets the labour conditions where the assembly takes place, managing along the way the environmental and human impact of logistics and transport. The journey end with delivering a product that is modular and that customers can easily upgrade, repair, repurpose and recycle. Apps like the Virtualwater,  or Metro Pro Trace, give visibility on the water, materials and energy used to manufacture products. Services like Farmdrop connect directly with the farmer and the fruits, vegetables and groceries available at that time of year.

Materiality is taken for granted. Thing is not what is attended to. Service is. Here the focus of attention moves away from Thing and ownership  and goes to the benefit it delivers. Rent luggage is a service that delivers luggage, like suitcases, ski cases or other special containers for the duration of a vacation or a trip. Blablacar is a ride sharing service where people who are going from A to B offer, for a fee, the seats they have spare. Things, like the pieces of luggage or the car are transient. The benefit that they deliver – carrying my stuff or myself from A to B – is what matters.

Materiality is rediscovered. Utilities, such as electricity or water, are taken for granted, apart during exceptional circumstances. They are Nothing in the sense of things we do not attend do. But now with solar energy and water shortage they become Things: solar panels, inverters, home batteries, water tanks.  There are many cleanweb services dedicated to solar energy: evaluating, planning, financing, managing, distributing. Fewer are dedicated to water, but most have the same structure.

I hope I have convinced you of two things: 1. that the change our society needs to go through to transition to a regenerative way of living is a massive cultural challenge, that need a radical redefinition of our frames of reference; 2. that the movement from material to immaterial; from product to service is by-directional: Thing becomes Nothing and Nothing becomes Thing.

The age of collaborative innovation on Medium

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Old&New Seoul by Young Doo M.Carey on Flickr

Old&New Seoul by Young Doo M.Carey on Flickr

I have just published my first article on Medium, a piece I had written a few months ago with my friend and colleague Daniel Gonzalez, at a time when we were helping a media and telco client to reenter the mobile market.

During the project, we realised how quickly the market was moving especially as people used wifi as their primary radio; and how difficult it had become for smartphone manufacturers to differentiate.

These considerations led me to speculate about whether we are entering another period of change and disruption – nothing new in the still young mobile industry really –  to the market dominated by the Apple/Samsung duopoly. Looking at the way the Chinese start-up xiaomi operates, I saw the emergence of a new collaborative way of managing products that involves customers in ideation and prioritisation, and developers in weekly release cycles. While ensuring open innovation and continuous product improvements, this mode of operation breaks the boundaries between customers and the brand and makes the relationship with the brand so much stronger.

For those interested, here is the link to The age of collaborative innovation.

STRATEGIES TO HARNESS IOT AND THE WEB FOR SUSTAINABILITY

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This is the text of the short talk “Strategies to harness IoT and the web for sustainability” I gave to UXStrat Europe in Amsterdam, on June 5th, 2015.

In the talk, starting from the call for urgent action to tackle climate change, I argue for complementing global climate policy making with grassroots innovation fuelled by the internet to elicit the kind of fast and wide social and cultural transformation required. As evidence, I use the 26 years of radical change in nearly all aspects of social life since Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the world wide web. Referring to examples from the cleanweb movement, I show how web platforms, apps and IoT enable the redefinition of our everyday interactions with the environment: from food to mobility; from energy to water. I close by claiming that digital innovation will play a key role in our transition, in the words of Naomi Klein, from our current extractive “Take” mindset to a new regenerative “Take, give back, take care” mindset.


Title UXStrat Europe

Thank you Paul (i.e. Paul Bryant, the producer of UXStrat) for the opportunity to present what is for me a new line of strategic enquiry to UX Strat Europe, and, in the spirit of Lean UX, test my thinking as early as possible with the right audience.

After many years of primarily business-driven design and design strategy work, I felt I had honed skills I could apply more broadly. So I started a new project to research a topic that I, like many others, consider to be priority number 1: tackle climate change. <2°C (i.e. less than 2 degrees Celsius) is the code name of the project I’m running in connection to the cleanweb community. <2°C refers to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change target for the max average surface temperature increase (over the pre-industrial average) that will limit the effects of climate change on the planet.

The strategic question I have been exploring is about mindset shift. Can the cultural and behavioural change required to reduce emissions, waste and demand on natural resources be accelerated? And how?

Shortly I will address the reasons why an acceleration is so important and why grassroots movements are key alongside institutional policy making. But first, let’s have a brief look at the current state.

Looking at the demand side first, there are very encouraging signals of significant cultural shifts happening as more and more people adopt new forms of consumption, such as making, exchanging, reconditioning, recycling, that extend products’ life, reuse materials and reduce waste; of mobility, with a growing preference for electric vehicles, public transports and bicycles; a shrinking car owners’ population in many regions that reduce CO2 emissions; of shifting energy generation to renewable energies. A trend that had come to a quite abrupt halt in 2008 with the financial crisis and the recession that followed.

Looking at the offer side, we see extremely dynamic technological innovation happening in the area of cleantechthat is, all those technologies that improve productivity and efficiency over conventional technologies, while using less natural resources, emitting less pollutants and producing less waste. And also social innovation in the area, that some call collaborative consumption and others sharing economy, that offers alternative solutions to ownership: lending, borrowing, renting, swapping of nearly everything, from vehicles to accomodations, from clothing to power tools; from land to skills…

What is cleanweb, MIT Technology Review, 2012

What is cleanweb, MIT Technology Review, 2012

But what I will focus on today is a particular type of innovations that goes under the name of cleanweb and uses the web to create a bridge between society and cleantech.

Sunil Paul, the founder of Sidecar (a San Francisco-based ride sharing service) and Nick Allen, his partner at Spring Ventures, introduced the term cleanweb in a MIT Review article in 2012. 

As an illustration, let’s take crowdfunding, that is “the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet (Oxford Dictionary)”, hence a fundamentally web-enabled behaviour; and apply it to finance a renewable energy project. This cleanweb solution empowers communities and individuals to engage directly in driving the transition to renewable energy by planning, funding, building and operating low-carbon energy systems. So what cleanweb does is use the strengths of the web in terms of reach, interaction, trust-building and control to make new forms of action possible.

Let’s go back to the key question of Why do we need to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon way of living?

The discourse on climate change has been around for a number of years. But there is a new urgency growing with compelling cases being put forward by world experts, like Lord Nicholas Stern, and critical thinkers, like Naomi Klein. 

Geoffrey Sachs, Common Wealth 2008

Geoffrey Sachs, Common Wealth (2008)

One of the most thorough analysis of the consequences of climate change I have read comes from Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and Special Advisor to UN General Secretaries Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon on the Millenium Development Goals.

Two graphs help to understand the world’s evolution if we continued with “business as usual”.

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The World Population situation in 2014, UN (left) and IPSS Climate Change, Synthesis Report 2014 (right)

In 2050, that is in 35 years time, the world population will grow significantly increasing exponentially the demands for food, water and energy, and at the same time generate more emissions. The graph on the left describes three projections of total world population based on three fertility models. The medium is based on the current adjusted fertility rate and estimates over 9.2 billion people in 2050. The high-fertility model estimates a population of 11 billion, while the low model estimates a population nearing 8.2 billion people. 

At the same time, if we assume that greenhouse gas emissions will continue unchanged, the global average surface temperature in 2050 will be between 0.5 – 1.5°C warmer than it is today (to set a reference, average surface temperatures were 13.7°C in 1860 and 14.5°C in 2014), leading to more frequent and intense heat waves (think of the heat wave that has struck India these past weeks, with temperatures of up to 50°C and over 2300 victims), extreme precipitations in many regions (think of the storms and floods that have hit Texas also during these past weeks), with continued acidification and warming of the ocean, and a rising global mean sea level. The graph on the right presents the latest projections of greenhouse gases to the end of the century as four trajectories. The RCP2.6 scenario at the centre assumes a rsufficient eduction of emissions to keep the global average surface temperature below a 2°C increase above pre-industrial temperature.

So in 35 years time, without quick and decisive actions, we will be in a situation where we will need to feed many more people on a more inhospitable planet.

But agreeing on quick and decisive actions on a global scale and implementing them is an extremely complex, lengthy process.

UN negotiations

The International Community has been very active in developing policies to tackle the challenge of climate change. But global negotiation processes take time, and implementation even longer. It was 1992 at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit that the issue of man-made Climate Change was first recognized and a framework to negotiate specific International treaties able to set binding limits on greenhouse gases (GHG) emission was agreed. Back in 1992, the main objective the International Community was pursuing was to stabilise GHG concentration in the atmosphere. But we had to wait 13 years, for the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding contract to reduce GHG, to be signed, even though it had been drawn in 1997. It took another 5 years to take another step forward towards reducing emissions with the Cancun agreement. The agreement sets a new target, that future global warming should be limited to below 2 degree Celsius relative to the pre-industrial level and at the end of this year, the Paris Conference will hopefully fulfill its aim “to reach, for the first time, a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.”

If everything goes well in Paris, it will have taken the International Community 23 years to reach universal legally binding agreements to respond to climate change, and it will take five more years to start implementing them. 

To accelerate our response, it is therefore necessary that global climate change policies be complemented with grassroots initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and the stress on the planet’s resources. Having all been part of the digital revolution, we know that social change can happen quickly when innovation, collaboration and resources are open and plentiful. 

The web-driven social transformation timeline

The evolution of the internet society

The “too-small to read” timeline retraces some of the major steps in the evolution of the internet society. It starts with Sir Tim Berners-Lee “Information Management: a proposal” in 1989 where the principle of “a networked hypertext system to manage all that knowledge” was set out, followed by the release of the first popular graphic browser Mosaic, in 1993.

From that moment on, a social and cultural transformation of unprecedented speed and breath unfolded. Consumption became participative (1994). Communication and socialization grew in intensity, variety and expressiveness (1998-99). Learning opened up in terms of both availability of knowledge, collaboration and participation in creating new knowledge (1997, 2001, 2012). Everyday activites were disinter-mediated, giving direct control to individuals and groups. Direct political participation brought profound changes across the world (2008, 2011, 2013). 

Cultural drivers behind the internet revolution

Cultural drivers of transformation

Some of the key values that have made the success of the web as an enabler of change can be equally effective in driving the exploration of new ways of living that are more sustainable: don’t take anything for granted – everything can be reinvented; no need to ask for permission to innovate; no need to reivent the wheel, build on the knowledge, tools, expertise available, extend it and share it back; exchange experiences, ask questions, work out solutions in the open – you are part of a collective intelligence; make, test, improve and new meanings and new forms of value exchange will emerge.

The cleanweb

A classification of cleanweb solutions

The cleanweb space is very broad and heterogeneous. Some solutions have been on the market for a while and are mature. Some have been launched recently. Some are in pre-production and some are functional prototypes or even early concept. Together they are a demonstration of human ingenuity. I find it useful to group innovations in six main categories, each corresponding to a life cycle:

1. Food encompasses solutions to help to grow food to solutions to reduce food waste

2. Energy covers the cycle from power generation to storage

3. Mobility corresponds to solutions that help to plan, drive, share and repair

4. Things covers the cycle from making and ownership of goods, to lending/borrowing, selling, repairing, recycling and disposal

5. Water captures the cycle from collecting to using, managing and reusing water

6. Environment corresponds to the solutions designed to measure and learn about properties of our habitat, like water level, air quality.

Building on existing analysis of the Cleanweb space by Jack Townsend and Sonny Masero, we have identified over five hundred solutions mainly focused in the Energy, Mobility and Things space. Solutions range from services that connects small farmers, customers through local facilitators (e.g. Farmdrop) to a crowdfunding platform to finance the rehabilitation of old Dutch windmills into energy generators (de Windcentrale); from IoT solutions to measure air quality (e.g. Air Quality Egg) to IoT solutions to measure CO2 emissions while driving (e.g. envirocar). 

The challenge ahead of us is massive. It requires a radical mind shift. Since the industrial revolution, and the steam engine, we have grown into a one-directional mindset of taking from nature: wood, coal, oil, minerals, land, fish, water….It is difficult to imagine that we can have a different relationship with nature, one where we take and give back; we take and take care. In this talk, I have shown that we are capable of rapid cultural and social trasnformations and we have one resource, the internet, that enables the level of experimentation, collaboration and diffusion needed to drive the transition from an extractive to a regenerative mindset. And each of the Cleanweb solutions is a proposal to explore new, more respectiful, ways of interacting with nature, and with each other.


The full presentation is available here, together with the other excellent presentations from the first UXStrat Europe conference.

When digital trust systems fail

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The Bell System technical journal. AT&T, 1922 (flickr)

The Bell System technical journal. AT&T, 1922 (flickr)

For the past few months I have been studying and experimenting with IoT. ebay has been my main source of components and books. And feedback on sellers one of the main criteria driving my decision to buy, even though feedback was always very positive: rarely going below 99% and often standing at 100%.

Once the transaction completed, and prompted by ebay, I diligently give my overall feedback on the seller and specific ratings for the quality of the product description, communication, delivery and postage charges. Acting as a reinforcer, the fact of being part of the feedback system clearly strengthened my trust in the sellers’ ratings I was relying on in my purchase decision.

Then, one of the product I bought from a 99.8% positive feedback seller – a 4.5-inch solar panel charger I intended to use to power my IoT prototype – was delivered several days later and is not charging as effectively as its description indicated. Not surprisingly, I gave an overall negative feedback to the seller. But as I selected the negative rating, a pop-up appeared that said:

Before you leave this feedback, please contact the seller to see if anything else can be done to make your experience positive. Sellers want you to be happy – and so do we.

Together with an OK button as the only option available to move on, I found the message intimidating and wrong, as it invited to take a conversation about negative feedback from the public arena to the private space. Even more worrisome, the same message was displayed after selecting a neutral feedback.

It is most likely that, by simply adding this intimidating message and by diverting negative feedback away from the public space, ebay manages to keep sellers’ rates artificially high and to reduce the delta between really good, average and bad sellers. This experience has certainly changed my attitude towards the ebay platform and other collaborative consumption platforms that use feedback to build trust. And since, I have started to systematically test each platform’s feedback processes.

Finds from Milan Fuorisalone 2015: NLXL wallpaper by Paola Navone and Daniel Rozensztroch

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Advances in printing technology have made possible the creation of wallpapers with a three-dimensional quality that generates new perceptual effects and give depth to walls.

Two examples from the NLXL collection. The giant fish that floats over a background of blue dots by Paola Navone

Fish wallpaper by Paola Navone (source)

Fish wallpaper by Paola Navone (source)

In the words of Paola Navone: “wallpaper is usually done as a repeat, but I made my fish wallpaper three meters high; a one-off in the middle of the wall. I love things to be big! Big is beautiful!”

The collection of spoons by Daniel Rozensztroch who writes: “These objects are the results of anonymous work, an artisan, and they also reflect a development of society. They are a part of our culture and everyday life”.

Spoon collection wallpaper by Daniel Rozensztroch (source)

Spoon collection wallpaper by Daniel Rozensztroch (source)

Finds from Milan Fuorisalone 2015: lighting from Viabizzuno and Transnatural

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Lighting innovation is as always one of the stars of the event.

Solis silos, to feed on light. Viabizzuno (source)

Solis silos, to feed on light. Viabizzuno (source)

Viabizzuno‘s Solis silos, to feed on light  installation in Via S. Marco, Brera is quite spectacular. Seven connected raw steel silos, one submarine-like entrance and one exit at the end of the tunnel, across seven different worlds. A floor of multi-colour transparent glass spice containers interspersed with lights. A starfield of bulbs of different size, shape, type against a dark background. A waterfall of water and light reflections. A red hot oven…..More pics here.

Thanks for the planet by Arnout Meijer

Thanks for the planet by Arnout Meijergorgeous (source)

At the Transnatural Label in Ventura Lambrate, the gorgeous Thanks for the Sun Lamp collection “celebrates circadian rhythms that let you control colour temperature, tailoring the character of the light to suit the time of day and connecting to your biorhythms”.