Sunday, 2 December 2012

Compelling & Inclusive vision: seed to sustainable business

Why do we need a vision?

From a startup to a large corporation, any enterprise needs a vision.  We engage on a path for a reason, for a motivation, and it drives our quest. Expressing that reason in a simple and clear vision is formidable asset to arm oneself with in order to progress on our chosen path.  Any enterprise is frought with obstacles and cross-roads.  The danger lies in loosing our way and wasting our energy. A vision allows us to refer back to it in moments of doubt, in times when an important decision is required, by asking the simple question "is it aligned with my vision?"

How do I determine my vision?

An inspired article by Erika Andersen, New York based business thinker and author, beautifully illustrates the importance of leading with a vision in any enterprise.  She stresses on two key words to define a vision that will drive an enterprise: compelling and inclusive.  Such a vision is the seed to a sustainable venture, for it encapsulates the DNA required for growth that includes all its stakeholders. Recall this post on sustainable and inclusive enterprise.

A Compelling & Inclusive Vision

The author describes this as one that offers an alternate, plausible and enviable future that requires the participation of the stakeholders (leaders, managers, actors, viewers, and to a certain degree society at large).  In Enrika's words, a far-sighted vision, but more importantly a vision that inspires its stakeholders to aspire.  That is very important, for not only it becomes you in that it drives your own determination and passion, but it is infectious and people will naturally follow and contribute to this enterprise.  It is also important to realise that a vision belongs to all its stakeholders, not just yourself.  This last point draws a fine line between success and decadence.

Some guidelines to determine your vision:
1. On a blank sheet of paper start jotting down ideas and words that you feel passionate about when you evoke your enterprise/path.
2. On a second sheet of paper, extract keywords from the first sheet, words that are the essence of your ideas and notes.
3. On a third sheet of paper retain a handful of these keywords, maybe 5 or 6.
4. Finally, draw up a sentence which captures the reality of these handful of words.  The sentence does not necessarily include the retained words.
5. Review the first, second and third sheet at regular intervals, when you have a moment of quiet time, and let your inspiration flow.  Do not force yourself to think about it, rather let it spawn day-dreams.  Eventually, your vision will emerge as a single sentence.  Cherish it!

Examples of inspiring visions:
"Henry Ford’s vision of a nation where every family would have an automobile seemed laughable, impossible, and even dangerous. Only the clarity of his vision and his consistency in moving toward it brought the support from others that he needed to make his vision a reality."
"When Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple Computers in 1976, the personal computer was still new and untested. Moreover, the idea that almost everyone would one day have a computer and that computers would be as accessible and easy-to-use as televisions or telephones seemed like craziness. "
There are visionaries all over the world, and today more so than ever, we need inspired and  visionary leaders in India to awaken the tremendous potential of our nation.  Here is an Indian visionary in both the literary and actual sense:
"If Coca-Cola can sell billions of sodas and McDonald's can sell billions of burgers," asks Dr. V., "why can't Aravind sell millions of sight-restoring operations, and, eventually, the belief in human perfection? With sight, people could be freed from hunger, fear, and poverty. You could perfect the body, then perfect the mind and the soul, and raise people's level of thinking and acting."
Dr. Venkataswamy set up the Arvind eye hospital in "... 1976, facing the prospect of social shelving at age 57, he opened a 12-bed eye hospital in his brother's home in Madurai, India. Today, he runs five hospitals that perform more than 180,000 operations each year. Seventy percent of his patients are charity cases; the remaining 30% seek him out and pay for his services because the quality of his work is world-class. He is a doctor to the eyes and a leader to the soul." (extract from The Perfect Vision of Dr.V. by Harriet Rubin, senior write at the Fast Company).  At the bottom of Harriet's article is a set of guidelines that should inspire all of us to build India's future.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Towards a more sustainable education system

Learning by wrote seems to be the only way for our nation of aspiring youth.  Our schools since our British heritage have thought the vast majority of our children to learn their lessons by heart, to copy and regurgitate during exam time.  Our entire educational system is founded on the principle that success at exam is the only yardstick of achievement.  Prestigious colleges and higher education institutions perpetuate this notion with the requirement of passing ever more demanding entrance examinations, favouring and biasing the selection process towards the ability to learn by heart, to have a good memory and regurgitate that knowledge into a exam format answer.
Unfortunately, skills that demand innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, problem solving and intuition are not best served by wrote learning.  The very skills that are in short supply in an increasingly competitive world, and which are needed to power our growing economy.  Furthermore, our educational system, in favouring memory skills is side-lining a whole range of rich resources that our country desperately needs.

  Inspiration from age old teaching

A recent article in the New Indian Express, by Sumati Mehrishi highlight an age old tradition of Guru-Shishya.  It is a format of teaching and learning that has its root in the Vedic traditions, imparting a wide spectrum of experience-learning with a holistic approach that encompasses the body mind and soul.  It is also based on a learning by wrote principle, but the goal isn't that of exam results but rather the learning in itself, the path that is threaded   The techniques involves repetitive practice of techniques to achieve perfection, but in doing so it encourages the shishya (student-disciple) to discover his own inner aspiration.  This journey of self-discovery, perpetual and with no end, is a labour of growth and evolution, whereby perfection of the art (knowledge) is not a question of technical exactness, but rather of expression through the technique.  The technique becomes a tool for expression of what is inside.  Perfection can be thus redefined as the eloquent use of the technique to give a voice to the soul.   It is ever evolving for the practitioner.  However, it becomes apparent that without mastery of the technique, the language spoken is a poor expression of the inner reality.

Towards a sustainable education

At the heart of the Guru-Shishya is a quest for knowledge, a thirst for comprehension.  The Guru disciplines the student into observing their own reality, and guides them to get an understanding through their own experience.
The teaching techniques employed in our schools is a corrupted version of this ancient tradition.  Our children are no longer guided to understand the world but rather to succeed at exams.  This is partly the fault of the system and partly the lack of inspiration shown by a new generation of teachers that are themselves products of this corrupted system of education.  There is a lot of unlearning to be done.  However, is it possible to source a new direction, can we find renewed inspiration in our ancient tradition?
Our schools need to teach technique rather than facts by wrote.  Learn how to learn so to speak, but unvail your own truths from your path.
Taking a page out of our Guru-Shishya tradiation, we can explore a sustainable education with the following ingredients:
  • Teachers need to inspire students
  • students should have a deep, heartfelt respect for the source of knowledge
  • emphasis on learning rather than facts
  • students should be encouraged to develop a sense of curiosity, self-sustained learning ability
  • encourage questioning and debating.
  • encourage synthesis of knowledge, so that the student expresses their understanding in their own words
  • emphasis on continuous assessment rather than final examination
In the words of the Shishya:
“Any intense, integrated and spiritual sadhana awakens and expands consciousness. The energy from such a practice suffuses the art. The guru gives the vision and the eye to performance and art.”

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New discoveries from Chernobyl disaster

An article in The Hindu paper reports on an amazing research done of soya beans farmed within the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  Although the consequences from the radioactive fall out from the damaged reactor have been gruesome, ongoing studies on nature's adaptation to the unique environment on earth reveals that plants have adopted unique mechanisms to repair and retain its genetic make up.  The article points out to studies of soya beans and how the plant concentrates radioactive metals found in the soil into its shoots, leaving the beans (in this case the seeds of the plant) with relatively lower levels of damaging radioactive material.  In effect the plant shields its seeds' genetic heritage from stored exposure of radiation therefore allowing the seed to preserve the genetic make of the plant and the next generation a fighting chance to retain the original make-up of the species.  The scientist are at a loss as to what are the mechanisms operating this miracle.  It shows that Nature is a lot more intelligent than we previously thought.

It will be interesting to see our level of awareness in a few generation when further analysis of affected nature from the Fukushima disaster in Japan reveal its secrets.  I can foresee interesting applications from such studies in the search for adapting plants for growing food in similar hostile conditions such as in outer space, the surface of the moon and possibly other planets where shielding from the solar radiation is not as effective as the magnetic field of the earth.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Zero waste at home

An interesting article in the Hindu property plus supplement last w.e. caught my eye.

Bangalore based Daily Dump offer a range of composting solutions to recycle your bio-degradable waste at home and use it as manure for your garden or roof-top plants.

Over 60% of home waste can be recycles this way, a small step towards alleviating the garbage problem with landfills filling up with a mix of non-biodegradable waste such as metals and plastics which reduces the efficiency of degrading organic waste.  Segregating our waste is a must for a sustainable future.  Here is an easy way to start.  If you live in Chennai, Kuppa Thotti offers an interesting service to pick up your recyclable trash such as metals, plastics and paper.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Socially Sustainable Business

There is much talk of the environment when business leaders talk about sustainability, dismissing the topic entirely as a fad, such as the green movement last year or the fair-trade one in the years gone by. Yes, we use solar energy, we have replaced all our incandescent light bulbs, we have a CSR program that plants trees and so on. These are all in all good actions, but they do not strike at the heart of the matter. Businesses need to ask what does sustainability means to their business. A manufacturing business has inevitably environmental obligations in order to follow a path of sustainable manufacturing, but what about a service provider? Sourcing solar power to run their computers isn't really addressing the issue, the one that is addressing the sustainable question is its power supplier, not the service business. Beyond environmental sustainability are two other aspects, economic and social sustainability. The first is ensuring that there is no economic exploitation of its human and social resources, in fact long term sustainability can only really be achieved if the resources in question perceive the sharing of economic gain as being fair... else the worst case scenario being the recent violence erupt at the Maruti car plant in north India. However, it is the social sustainability I wish to address in this post. How can a business be socially sustainable and moreover what are the incentives for being so.

What is social sustainability anyway?

The wikipedia definition is social development that retains equal access to social resources for future generations. It addresses labour laws, human rights and the likes. This is all well, but what does it means effectively? Of course, employees have rights, and many businesses do give them those rights, but yet there is something missing. The fundamental essence of social sustainability for a business is ensuring that society's perception of that business remains positive. CSR actions, efficient energy use, green energy sourcing is all in vain if society (your current and future employees/suppliers/clients) has a perception of being robbed by the product/service your business offers. This is a very subtle concept. It is one that is at best marginal on the short term and at worst catastrophic on the long term! Why should businesses sit up and pay attention? A recent survey in the US shows that 78% of internet users and a growing trend, research products online before making a purchase. The internet connectivity provided by social media is quickly tipping the balance in favour of a more and more pro-active consumer giving little scope for old-tactic marketing campaigns in order to sell a product. This gives raise to two evidences: (i) the need for sustainable marketing (see my previous post on this); and (ii) the need for social sustainability. Businesses cannot hid in the age of the internet. They have to adapt and revisit their strategy for long term success.

How does one achieve social sustainability?

Having established that social sustainability can only be achieved by ensuring society's positive perception and moreover, having understood that it is not possible to hide in today's internet age, it is self-evident that one needs to be sincere in giving fair adage to your stakeholders. How so? The general trend in the last decade has been to find the most competitive suppliers in order to maintain and in most cases maximise profits. In simple economics, buy at the cheapest rate and sell at the highest. Business need to revise this strategy, for it is leading invariably to catastrophic results in the long term. This strategy has been so well executed in China, that their own consumer market has suffered catastrophic negative social perceptions on a global scale in the last few years, re-evaluating many businesses' plans to set up shop in that country. (See the contaminated milk story, the poisoned toys, the Apple sweatshop... and many more). This is the fundamental weakness of capitalism today, and unsustainable in the long term. Businesses need to focus long term by adopting an old and mostly forgotten raison d'ĂȘtre for any business. Traditionally, business artisans in ancient times engaged themselves in their chosen trade because they were good at it and because they actually enjoyed it. The most successful among them where those that had the best skills, producing the best quality. They did not strive to find the cheapest manufacturing process, but rather they strived to improve the quality at the most competitive price. That, in my knowledge, is the way to be socially sustainable.

Adding value at no extra cost.  Businesses aspiring to be socially sustainable need to adopt a new thinking process which is to strive to add value to their product/services while retaining competitive pricing. The rest will happen automatically. From this single goal flows all other socially sustainable actions. Let me explore the repercussions on the various stake-holders. -- The employees first, to add value in any form and yet retain cost margins, a business needs empowered employees, employees ennobled to the goal.... the whole gamut of socially responsible management can be explored to achieve this symbiosis. -- The suppliers need to follow suit, poor service/material from their end will only result in loosing business, however they can also be encouraged by engaging and valuing their contribution to the business' product/service value. Empowering them and especially giving them credit for their contribution is the surest way to achieve sustainability on the long term. -- The client/consumer is the slowest to react, positive perception is a slow maturing tree, but once fully grown is not easily uprooted. Communication is key, and it is ever so important to be impartial and sincere. Blog and social media are best suited for this, and the communication should strive to educate and uplift the awareness of the reader, ie to empower the client. The bottom line is that in order for a business to achieve social sustainability it is imperative that it aspires to achieve the best quality at the most competitive price as an end in itself rather than a means to profits. This should not be confused with the natural requirement for a business to strive for financial stability, for any business that is not achieving reasonable profits isn't economically sustainable.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Quick-gains development for Chennai

This is a continuation of my previous post "What is ailing India?", more specifically looking at Chennai where I am currently settled.  Here are a few examples of where Chennai can make quick gains in development with a change of mindset, 

The garbage collection and recycling, as highlighted in this article, is the need of the hour, and visiting other cities like Singapore and Shanghai is good, but only talking about it does not convert into solutions.  A few years ago, a Singapore based company, ONYX, managed to do a decent job of city garbage collection, but they where replaced by a cheaper local company. Today the bins originally placed on the streets by ONYX are either broken or stolen, and overflowing due to lack of regular collection.

The corporation seems to be waking up, as show in this article and this one

Monday, 22 October 2012

Syllogic in the News

Syllogic Consultants have been featured in an onilne interview on the Chilibreeze writer's portal.  The focus of the interview is highlighting the work on sustainable development that Syllogic champions.
A small extract from the interview...
Humanity is exposed to many dangers, not just environmental ones. We have engrained within ourselves a strong desire to survive. Unsustainable practices have a very short life-time, and I believe humanity will survive along with our planet. The solution is adopting more sustainable lifestyles, establishing equilibriums where imbalances are present, and most importantly striving for unity in diversity, India’s most potent contribution to the world.
You can read the full interview over here.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tiger Tiger!

A few months ago, a Supreme Court ruling declared all tourist activities within Indian tiger reserves illegal and with it put into question a very large number of jobs that depend directly on the tiger wildlife tourism.  The big cats have recovered from the brink of extinction a few decades ago to an endangered species today.  However, the ruling by the SC failed to make a case for banning wildlife tourism.  It is of course a fine point to argue, and I would not venture out to argue either side of the debate.  Nevertheless, this article in the New Indian Express, championing the need for wildlife tourism as a tool to fight poaching is quite convincing and worth the read.  The author, Navin M Raheja, argues that tourist often play the role of the whistle-blower, sighting a number of cases in the past where unnatural tiger deaths in the jungle where only investigated after much pressure from tourist who where witness to the incident.  I think the argument is a valid one, The tiger and the its habitats are natural resources of our country and it is fair to ensure that these are used in a way that benefits the local population by encouraging them to preserve that habitat and ensuring the mutual and reciprocal livelihood.  Mr Raheja, does make the point that wildlife tourism must be reserved for the serious nature lovers and not the Sunday picnickers.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Is the Earth warming past the point of no return?

An interesting article that ought to get us to think and be a little more conscious of our daily footprint on our resources.   A group of biologist and climatologist, led by Stanford scientist Anthony Barnosky, has published the results of two years of research in Nature, and their conclusion are grim.  The earth could be heading towards a tipping-point in a few decades to a century, past which the effects of global warming, overpopulation by the human race and over utilisation of land and oceanic resources would become irreversible, leading to global catastrophe and possible extinction of many species including possibly us....
Barnosky has argued in the past that the earth has now entered its 6th mass extinction period as the number of species disappearing from our eco-system is picking up pace.

A sub-story tells the tale of the archipelago of Kiribati in the pacific.  This island-nation is only a few inches above the sea level and would be the first to disappear in rising sea-level scenario over the next couple of decades.  So the people of Kiribati are actively looking for a solution, here is quote from the article:
Fearing that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago, the leaders of Kiribati are considering an unusual backup plan: moving the populace to Fiji. Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Associated Press on Friday, March 9, 2012 that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could provide an insurance policy for Kiribati's entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave.

 An alternative solution for the people of Kiribati is to build a floating city nation, such as one conceived in this image.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Business networking for the future?

Today I attended one of Bangalore's BNI chapters, BNI Royale on the invitation of Sundeep Kamath, a business owner in Koramangala (an area in south Bangalore).  To my surprise I found the whole concept very interesting.  Unlike many business networking organisation this one was truly efficient in that it promotes sustainable business relations with each of its members.

The concept is rather straight forward, each BNI chapter has a select number of business owners, each representing one aspect of local business within its area of operation.  No chapters accepts new members if that line of business is already represented within itself, so that there is no competition, only collaboration.  Members meet every Fridays and pass on business referrals to one anther based on their own network of clients.  Each business lead that converts into a sale is recognised with a thank you note, no commissions.  The whole process becomes alive when the members play along to the rules of the game.  Members are allowed to bring visitors to these meetings in order to introduce new businesses to the group.

The beauty of this system is that it encourages a network of businesses to look after one another, promoting each other and thus ensuring sustainable growth.  Active and sincere members stick around and see their business grow in parallel to their peers and chances are these same people will still be promoting one another  throughout their career.  Now that is what I call sustainability.  I find it a robust system that promotes local networks and encourages people to look out for one another.

What is ailing India?

I have been involved in a project proposal for the corporation of Chennai city to refurbish the street-food carts in view of cleaning up the image of the city but as well as providing hygienic and affordable food for the labourers. The proposal hinged on having the administration sponsor part of the development of the carts in order to bring in a range of facilities, as well as a centralised kitchen system in order reduce the cost of meals.
Our model integrated concept of sustainable development in order to build a self-dependent eco-system that would allow the movement to grow based on the revenues generated by the community of cart owners. Unfortunately our proposal was rejected without even due consideration for its details, simply on the basis that our quote per cart was too high. Unfortunately, our Nehru-socialism heritage has bread a generation of bureaucrats and politicians that seek the lowest cost of development. We are a nation that have the cheapest roads, the cheapest trains, the cheapest public toilets, and this cheapest-is-best mentality is what is keeping us from stepping into the 21st century.
Comparing to China which started its economic growth around the same time as India, it has today achieved a 10 to 15 year advance due to a development policy that has accelerated its growth. In the past ten years it has built a network of super trains, super highways, super airports, super ports and gradually super cities.

What have we got to show for in the last ten years? We have two cities with operational metros, 1 city with a super sealink highway that is still only half built, and a few private airports that are world class.... but we still ride trains from the 20th century with 3rd class toilets and drive our cars on pot-holed roads, unfinished highways and derelict infrastructure. A cheap mindset only leads us to cheap quality.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Anyone for a salary and fresh water?

This morning I come across this neat little oven that converts salt water into fresh water.  It can convert up to 5 litres of water a day along with a bonus of fresh salt.  Believing the Romans of yester-millennia that should be equivalent to a salary :)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Sustainable Health Care for all?

Over the last decade a number of governments of developed economies have questioned their health care model.  In the US, President Obama has gone out on a limb to set up a much needed Medicare service to ensure access to health care services for those that most need it.  In many European countries as well as Japan, the generous health care benefits that were a universal right where being questioned in the face of growing economic uncertainties.  On the one hand, the American system championing a free economy and private medical insurance that has left many of the poorer members of  its society without access to basic health service, while on the other the European model, which although long praised for its compassionate stance, turns out to be wholly unsustainable.

Can we evolve towards a more humane and sustainable health care model?  I believe a small experiment started off by an enterprising eye surgeon in Madurai (South India) which has grown into a world wide success may shed some light on the question.

I recall some 25 years back, Arvind eye hospital was already renown in the country for its service as my mother used to drag me all the way to Madurai for her annual check up on Glaucoma. Since, the hospital started by Dr. G. Venkataswamy, has grown into a network of several hospitals within India but also expanded its business model through out the world.  It is today recognised as the largest eye care hospital in the world!

If you have never heard of Aravind eye hospital, watch this video, it's well worth it!

The Aravind health care model

So what is so sustainable about this model?  Well it's very simple, if you can afford to, you pay for the service.  If you can't afford it, it's free!  The model started off in South India to save needless blindness which is rampant in the form of cataracts and such.  The hospital even had to set up free bus trips to surrounding villages as the poorer of the poor could not even afford to go to the service centres.

Aravind eye-care hospital is a for-profit business.  2/3rd of all its operations are done for free.  They have eye camps in villages that sort out patients, ferry them to the hospital for the operation, accommodate them and feed them during their time there and eventually bring them back to their village.  Everything is free.

People come from abroad to get treated in these hospitals.  The Aravind business model is now a case study in a large number of business schools and universities.

The McDonald of Eye-care

Dr. V kept talking about the need to organise a system that could reproduce the success of McDonald worldwide: enable the same quality of product and service irrespective of location.  He set off with his vision to enable his eye-care success to be reproduced anywhere in the world.  How does one enable such a vision with a such a complicated product and service as eye surgery?  This is what a recent study by Ninad knowledge architects set out to do.   Ninad is a research and consulting network that ideates Knowledge Management strategies to help entrepreneurs and organizations to become nimble and dynamic.   The case study has highlighted issues such as how to translate and communicate online teachings from Indian doctors to students from totally different cultural background such as in African countries? Through this work, the spirit and success of the Aravind will spread beyond India.

Sustainable Care?

Can the Aravind model serve as an inspiration for a more general approach to the problem of health care for everyone?  It is of course a long shot, Aravind has been successful because of the compassionate spirit that permeated the entire project.  A sustainable health care model based on a similar approach requires vision from both the decision makers as well as the corporates that supply the medical world.  Still, a roadmap exists and has proven to work!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Farm Mela @ Chennai

The Farm is a multi-acre farm located among the new office jungle of the Chennai IT corridor.  It set off to offer family-fun experiences based on farm activities.  They do a brunch on w.e. and this coming w.e. (18th and 19th August) they are promoting a Mela for local artisans to promote their wares.  Do come and visit, the Farm is counting on this kind of activity to promote its offer and allow it to sustain its existence.  There is tremendous pressure from land developers to sell the farm and make way for more office buildings.

Poor roads cause fuel overconsumption, a report.

Various sources report (here and here) report on an interesting study by the IIM university of Calcutta on the rise in fuel consumption contributed from our poor road conditions.  The report estimates a whopping 87,500 crore INR (about 15 billion USD) is lost annually in fuel bills and at toll gate queues.

Estimating the various average speeds on our countries highways and the number of times vehicles have to stop at plazas, compared to an ideal road without stops, the study reveals a dire picture.

In view of recent price hikes on petrol throughout India, this news is not good for the current government.  The report argues that the fuel subsidies cost to the government is 60,000 crore INR, which would be largely compensated by having quality roads.

Another article throws further light on the recent increase in petrol prices, demonstrating that the government isn't actually loosing money on the subsidies.  In fact Indian has one of largest taxes on fuel in the world, on par with European nations and thus the government's increase in fuel price is yet another way to increase their revenues.  Probably to fuel yet more loss making projects or should I say scams?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The need for creative design!

A couple of weeks ago I came across an interesting article that was talking about the rise in popularity of a Creative Design course at MIT in the US.  There is a good need for this right here in Chennai.  A few months back the Souther Railways set up new automated vending machines to sell tickets to commuters.  The city's station is scene to long queues of commuters at ticket counters as there are much demand and few open counters.  Apparently the new vending machine required a smart card to operate, which means one has to buy the card in the first place.  One assumes this was meant to solve the issue to machines issuing change and thus not having to empty them of cash each day.  However, given our propensity to neglect schemes for deposit credit, the new venture is a big flop.  Regular, pass carrying commuters are buying their monthly or quarterly tickets as before, while daily commuters do not want to part with the deposit money required to obtain a smart card.  The result is that queues are still forming and the Railways have spent bad money on machines that are going idle.

To remedy this, they are now proposing to have the machines manned with retired railway personnel who will have their own smart card and accept change from the commuters ???? Clearly a problem that has not been well understood and a solution that lacks creative design.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Sustainable marketing?

Carton image link from

I came across this article through a tweet, it reinforces other readings I have had around the net about the new forms of marketing that are being adopted.  Mainly, these are:

  1. Build a web-site:  this is important to show case your ware, services and other offers you have.
  2. Get your web-site to link to relevant page within itself, ie lots of cross linking to connect the site, this is useful for search engine rank.
  3. Get other site to link to your site: this is very important in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and for certain key word searches your site should come up more prominently.
  4. Start a blog to promote your knowledge:  this is not to market your services, it is to market your knowledge.  Blog about any important information that is relevant to what you sell or do, and this blog reflects your expertise in that domain, as well as being a repository to all things connected to what you do, like a single place to look for that information.
  5. Be social: connect on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and various other social sites that may be of use to make contacts, promote your blog and knowledge.

However, there is one added piece of interesting information this article adds which is the reason for this post, and that is that it reports on the a recent survey in the US that 78% of internet users conduct online product research before making a purchase, stressing the the shift towards active participation of the consumer.  That is a very interesting results because it highlights the shift in awareness of consumers and the application of mind to the process of purchase.

Therefore there is one more point I think should be added to the above list:

       6. Be truthful and sincere:  there is no room for marketing gimmicks, the old school of marketing by insinuating half-truths in order to leverage consumer trends and aspirations is loosing grounds and one cannot hide behind false pretence.  We can still see so many product advertisement jumping on the sustainable and green bandwagon when clearly a little research online demonstrates the fallacy of these marketing campaigns.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

India getting professional plumbers!

A nice little article on the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), India, which is offering a 120 hours course to aspiring plumbers.  This is good news for quality construction, and a real need too as many constructions sites have very poor plumbing work, mainly in terms of aesthetics and poorly installed plumbing leading to breaks, rust and loss of heat in poorly insulated plumbing.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Energy consumption world map

I found this interesting interactive workbook that display energy consumption trends worldwide in 2010 and 2011.  It makes for a fascinating discovery.  All data is expressed in terms of equivalent oil consumption.  In other words, weather the energy source is Natural gas, nuclear, coal, oil, hydro electricity or renewable energy (solar and wind presumably), they are all expressed as oil quantities in equivalent energy unit.

Here are a couple of screen captures I have taken,
Coal : You will notice at the top 3 drop down menus that allow you to select the energy source.  Also note that these graphs are per capita consumption figures, ie the amount of that energy source consumed in the entire country divided by the population.  Of course no one burns coal nowadays or very few households, but a lot of coal is used to produce electricity, and this is then consumed by the industry, households, offices and that not.
The biggest consumers of coal energy are the US, Australia, Kazakhstan, China, South Korea, Czech Republic, South Africa and Poland.

 Note however, that the consumption ranking are relative to the overall consumption.  Australia, which tops the list consumed a little of 2 tonnes of oil equivalent of coal in 2011.
Oil : This the highest contribution of energy source in the world in 2011.  However, surprisingly Singapore tops the list of per capita consumer followed by Kuwait and, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  In other words they burn a lot of oil for their energy use (may it electricity or transport needs).  The US which is often singled out as a oil guzzler only comes 9th in the list.

Actual oil consumed by Singapore in 2011 was a little over 11 tonnes per person.

Natural Gas : The natural gas is another product of the oil industry and shows again an unexpected statistic.  The two countries that peak the trend are Qatar and Trinidad & Tobago!!  Of all nations I was surprised... but then again we all need electricity to run our ACs in the summer! 

The energy consumed in 2011 by Trinidad was a little over 14 tonnes of oil energy equivalent.

Nuclear Energy : Here, no surprises, France is the biggest consumer of nuclear energy in the world followed closely by ..... Sweden, not a nation traditionally associated with nuclear energy, but nonetheless, because of its lower population, its energy consumption per person is high. The top 5 consumers are all in Europe.

The nuclear energy consumed in 2011 by France was a little over 1.5 tonnes of oil energy equivalent.

Hydro Electricity :  Norway is the staggering leader in this field, with a 30% of all worlwide hydro energy per person consumption.  Again, do note that this is not total energy, only per person.  For example the biggest producer of hydro energy is Russia, while the biggest consumer of such energy is China (presumably it imports its excess consumption from Russia).  Hoever, per capita consumption is very low due to its large population.

Norway consumed an equivalent of a  little over 5 tonnes of oil energy in 2011.

Renewable energies : Denmark is the leader in this field, they are very active with various schemes of wind and biomass production. Apart from second placed New Zealand, the biggest consumption of renewable energy from comes Europe, where countries like Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Spain have active wind and solar energy policies.

Denmark consumed an equivalent of 0.6 tonnes of oil energy from renewable sources.

To make the study a little more complete, I downloaded the data from which these plots where compiled and did a few more of my own...

Energy source distribution and total consumption per country
The plot show the total energy consumption by each country and the source of that energy.  Interestingly the most energy hungry people on earth are not the usual culprit.... (the units are in tonnes of equivalent oil energy)

Green credentials
In this plot I worked out and ranked the percentage contribution from each energy source for the country's per capita consumption.  The rank is from highest green source of energy to the most polluting source.  So for example, Norway which is at the top of this list sources in excess of 60% of its per capita energy from green renewable and hydro power source. The 11 lowest countries of this list all depend on fossil fuel for their energy needs.

Sustainable credentials:
Of course, the picture is not quite complete without also looking at the total consumption of a country.  Poorer country may not be able to afford fancy sources of energy, but nonetheless leave a  smaller footprint on the planet as their energy consumption are more frugal.  Here is one last plot that has a double ranking.  Ranked for frugality as well as green energy consumption.  What I would classify as a sustainable energy consumption rank.  The lower the energy consumption the higher on the list, but if a country consumes a lot of energy  but obtains it from from green sources, then it too should be higher up on this list.  This is the case with Brazil in 10th place on this list, it has a higher energy consumption per capita than the next 3 countries below it but its ranking is due to the fact that it obtains large part of this energy need from green sources.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

A new organic farmer in Chennai!

We were pleasantly surprised to see the news of a new local organic farmer in Chennai.  Nalla Keerai (Good Greens or Good Spinach) was started by s group of IT professionals wanting to make a difference for the plight of farmers who see their cost rise and their income drop.  Applying their minds to the problem, they have stepped forward to set up a model farm with practices that optimize cost and cut out the expenses of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.  Furthermore, they are experimenting with local vegetables and for now attempting to grow green leaves such as spinach.

They have 20 varieties of spinach being sold at 15 Rs a bunch.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Are women 'greener' than men?

According to this article, recent studies go to show that women care more for the environment then men.  This would be one more reason to empower our women, especially in rural communities where it also shown that women tend to be more responsible when handling finances.  Hopefully this article will go some way to promote more women in decision making roles that impact the environment.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Is Science Fundamentalist?

An opinion posted on the Hindu paper labelled The curse of science fundamentalism paints the woes of man made cataclysms as the rotten fruits of scientific fundamentalism. There paper sites Chernobyl & Fukushima nuclear disasters as well as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs along with a number of quotes from Arundati Roy's book, The Greater Common Good. I cannot fully agree with the author of this article for I feel that there are a certain number of Non sequitur statements.

For starter, are we talking about the same science that has created the Internet, the telephone, the solar panel, the aeroplane, peniciline, the polio vaccine, and million other technological innovations sprouting on a daily basis from the meticulous research of academic scientist? If so, we have a dilema, and if not then what science are we talking about.
Cell imaging of mitosis
(cell reproduction) in progress.

AIDS virus through an electron microscope

Nano carbon-tubes will one day
replace steel cables and open the way
for a space elevator to be built
First picture of an extra-solar planet
taken by the ESO VLT telescope.

Merger of two galaxies as seen
by the Hubble space telescope
The nuclear bombs were a culmination of a race between Nazi Germany and the USA, the later won that race and we know the conclusion of it, however bitter the taste of it I fear to think of what would have happened had the Rakshasa Hitler crossed the line first.

The nuclear tragedies of Fukushima and Chernobyl are a direct consequence of human error and deceit, not of scientific blindness. Humanity's growth and thirst of energy combined with the greed of corporations have lead to these accidents. The lessons learnt are precisely that these technologies cannot be entrusted into the hands of business corporations controled by capitalistic market demands. in fact I would advocate the need for such nuclear stations to be under the control of independent scientific bodies, devoid of financial and political pressures. However, the real solution will only come when we are able to master sustainable sources of energy such as solar, wind, tidal, bio-fuels and even fusion reaction. Again, all these coming out of the realm of scientific research.

Finally, to respond to the article's example of the Bhopal gas tragedy, it is again a direct consequence of corporate greed and our own governmental agencies incompetence for letting such a dangerous plant operate without the required safety norms (see the report in the link)

A good point

Science does not have all the solutions, we need to learn from our inheritance.

However, Mr Sukumaran (author of the Hindu article) makes a very valid point, and that is that as a collective human race we fail to learn the lessons of our ancestors. For this he quote the very pertinent words of an Americna-Indian chief 160 years ago, and I quote:
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of a pony, and man, all belong to the same family. The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Chief Seattle, 160 years ago when his people were asked to leave their land now called Seattle
Mr Sukumaran makes the point that We have to learn precious lessons from tribal people on an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle. But we have only displaced them, damming their rivers in the name of the greater common good. He goes on to argue that in the name of the Greater Good, many of our leaders have done wrong to the country. This is a very interesting debate, one that I would not like to take a categoric stand, for I feel that there it is all a question of balance between the pressures for the need of progress and the importance of preserving our heritage, cultural, artistic, social, economic, and environmental.

The bottom line I feel, and I think is also one of the points made in the article, is that our actions and decisions needs to be made in the name of sustainability. Should the introspection of the proposed actions reveal to be measures unsustainable for the future, then we should abandon or plan a programmed phase out of the process.

But one thing is for sure, Science is fundamental in our quest for understanding but not an exclusive path.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Online organic food from Rajasthan

I came across this website from one of the comments left on our blog, it sells organic food products online and delivers anywhere within India.  I feel the prices are on the expensive side, especially when you compare with Nilgiris organic range of products, but I have not gone through the entire range of products they sell, so if anyone has bought items from them, please give us your feedback in the comments section.

The website is very well designed, and you can feel that whomever is behind this initiative has put their heart in it.