Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Green Innovation Hits the Showers

Practically speaking, saving water is one of the key tenets of sustainability.  However, many of us...and you know who you are...love that long shower.  Especially on a cold, pre-dawn morning when a 9 plus hour day awaits us.  And trying to instill a sense of water conservation in a 16 year old is like trying to get a zebra to change its stripes.  However, during the recent GreenGov symposium, I believe I've seen a solution and it's called iMShowerSmartTM.
This little device takes the door banging enforcement of shower control away from parents, roommates, spouses, and landlords and moves it to the source.  The highly intuitive device has what I believe are the three components of successful innovation...
1.  Capitalizes on an unmet need that is not readily identified (think iPod)
2.  Employs current or slightly advanced technology in new and unique ways
3.  Is extremely user friendly and easy to learn how to use
ShowerSmart_edited-1The iMShowerSmart fits this bill exactly and drives energy and water savings without a lot of extra thought on behalf of the user.  The unit has a battery free graphical user interface (uses water power to drive the miniature power generation needs) that has been designed to meet the 80% rule of product usability.
In the march to introduce products that will allow individuals and institutions to become more energy and conservation minded, few products that I have seen come close to the elegance of design and practicality of this product.  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks it's "faantahstic".
Now, this post isn't meant to be a plug for the company or the product (though it's doing a bit of that for sure).  Instead, it is meant to hone in on the concept of simple product innovation with dramatic results that provide sustainability benefits without a great deal of effort around compliance.  In my opinion, products like this (along with the LED light bulb, solar power device charger, and Dyson hand dryer) will be how business and government ultimately achieve their sustainability goals...in small incremental steps that don't rely necessarily on large, disruptive product development (think Electric Vehicle).  Instead, products driven by science (both physical and social) and research, rather than relying mainly on policy driven quick fixes, will create the necessary ethos that will become the tipping point for making sustainability mainstream.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Creating New "Recipes" for Smarter Cities

Creativity with food has come a long way since Auguste Escoffier wrote his seminal work on cooking and recipes "Le Guide Culinaire", however the foundation for all modern menus and dishes has been constant for over a century. I am a believer that the foundational ingredients for Smarter Cities already similarly exist and that it really will take new ways of looking at these ingredients to bring them together differently to develop the new “recipe” for a Smarter City.

From traditional "mother" sauces to the correct method for making Coq au Vin, "Le Guide imageCulinaire" has identified the ingredients for some of the most delicious and complex dishes ever created.  And while the presentation and experimentation around some of these recipes has occurred over time, the ingredients for them have remained the same [Note: assume that butter and rendered animal fat are synonymous here for my point] since the book's initial publication in 1903.

However, culinary innovation comes when chefs seek to deconstruct traditional recipes to understand how the dish works and recreate it using the same  ingredients but in different ways.  Recently, for example, I had a simple Avocado salad but instead of using lemon to keep the Avocado from turning brown, the salad was presented with slices of pink grapefruit on top.  Not only did it accomplish the same effect but it actually improved the taste of the salad over versions I've had in the past. Similarly I believe that the foundational ingredients of the "recipe" for Smarter Cities are there, they just need to be put together in new and exciting ways.

The chefs that will be the constructors of the new wave of culinary accomplishment will be those that have a vision and understanding of the ingredients (traditional and new) and the principles behind traditional recipes.  But if it's true that recipes haven't really change a lot since the time of Escoffier, what innovations are possible for these chefs to discover?  Innovation trends in the culinary arena have been driven lately by the push for locally produced organic foods and non-traditional food use, focusing on freshness, sustainability, safety, reductions in transportation costs and distances, and the benefits to the environment.  Some ingredients improve or experience innovation over time to make new dishes possible. Examples here include the growing development of different micro-greens; heirloom tomato varieties; and hybrid vegetables. Non-traditional sources of ingredients are also becoming in vogue, though they’ve always been there. Foods such as ostrich, tilapia fish, cardoons (artichoke-like plant), and insects have fed people for hundreds or even thousands of years but creative use of these foods recently have created high demand for them in regions not familiar with them.

image For Smarter Cities to become reality then, what will the “chefs” of the new recipes of city growth have to focus on to drive innovation? And as in the food world, Smarter City innovation needs to rely on a balance of existing and new technology and ideas that can be improved upon to make better tasting solutions. For example, the introduction of newly networked devices in street signs, parking meters, manhole covers, and sewer pipes can make existing city "ingredients" more sustainable without having to put brand new infrastructure in place. Also, re-evaluating the mix of technologies and ideas that have always been there can reintroduce them as part of the new recipes for Smarter Cities. In many cities now, for example, new toll and parking technologies combined with data analysis is becoming part of a renewed focus in cities to improve collection and management of these essential revenue streams while allowing for advanced modeling of traffic patterns creating a new "recipe" of new technologies to change citizen behavior and meet sustainability goals.

Finally, to close with a complete integration of my chosen metaphor, can the foodie movement around favoring locally produced foods influence how Smarter Cities might rely on local rural and suburban communities to achieve a “healthier diet” as they become smarter?   My belief is that as city populations continue to grow dramatically over the next two decades, both technology AND closer economic development partnerships with outlying rural/suburban communities have the potential to meet the needs of both communities.  With many cities facing geographic saturation, Smarter Cities will have to find ways of including local communities to help sustain their growth and keep them attractive places for living, working, and playing.  The recipes for these partnerships will be the focus of future posts.