Posts Tagged ‘europe’

One (last) word: Plastics

A UN report issued on World Environment day  showed dozens of nations acting to cut plastic, including a ban on plastic bags in Kenya, on styrofoam in Sri Lanka and the use of biodegradable bags in China. via

There’s a backlash against plastics that is ongoing in many not so noticed parts of the world today. So called ‘weak’ signals from three major economies stand out for the impact in the near and emerging future of their policy shifts towards the material use of plastics.

The first is India, where a recent waste audit in Bengaluru showed that over 60% of the waste littering the streets was from non recyclable consumer product packaging by both international and domestic brands. By 2020, India will abolish all single-use plastics, and introduce a campaign against marine litter, among other things.

The EU has also moved to ban the same, and the proposal also requires EU countries to collect 90 percent of single-use plastic drink bottles by 2025 and producers to help cover costs of waste management and clean-up.

China, on the other hand, has caused consternation among nations who relied on shipping their plastics off for recycling. They’ve banned imports of contaminated waste plastic, leaving questions hanging such as “And how do you get manufacturers to design a product that is more easily recyclable.” Though I find this conversation interesting for its consistent and tone deaf externalization of the problem – waste management is certainly a developing country problem, but materials technology and consumer packaging innovation is a developed country design challenge.

With more than 50 countries waking up to the plastics problem, there’s a deeper shift occurring in the air, beyond our critical need to protect wildlife and the oceans. That of dependency on oil – in case you didn’t know, the bulk of plastic is made from oil.

Here’s a quick round up of something of things happening in these major economies with significant chunks of the world’s population.

India has just approved a massive new 5000 megawatt solar farm, and as the map shows, there’s many more out there in the desert wastes. The Chinese and Indian solar farms are 10x the size of those in North America.

The number of electric cars on the road has more than doubled over the last three years, and of the global sales of electric vehicles (EVs) last year, China contributed more than half. And there’s a shift now from blind growth towards more strategic product development, with greater impact. Numerous European marques are opening factories and R&D centers in China. And India’s doing its best to keep up.

What is going to be the impact of these moves, combined, from these three major economies on the planet? The head of Shell’s Scenarios* team has already developed a scenario called Sky “which shows that changing the ways we transport people and goods is one of the crucial steps toward the world meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement — keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels.”

On a planetary scale, these trends are the future, and products and business models that do not adapt to them are going to be increasingly obsolete, or suitable only for walled gardens. The use of Fahrenheit is but one example. Conserving humanity’s collective home is far more important for all our emerging futures.

 

*Shell originally developed the concept and tools for scenario planning

Ecodesign, Ecolabels and the Environment: How Europe is redesigning our footprint on earth

What do chopped fresh green beans have in common with high definition flat screen TV’s? And how does this relate to design? In Europe, they’re both considered consumer products whose journey from raw material to shopwindow requires energy to process—emitting greenhouse gases that can have an adverse impact on the environment—and are considered to possess a ‘carbon footprint.’ In other words, they are products of a larger global industrial ecosystem.

When the postal service is setting down guidelines on the creativity and production of direct mailers so that their customers can better recycle them, it signals that graphic design needs to evolve the way its practiced entirely.

 

Acronyms and Initiatives
The European Union’s chosen approach to address the issue of environmental degradation and climate change is a combination of regulations, directives and voluntary activities. Industrial designers and engineers around the world are familiar with many of many of these already in effect—the EU Directive on the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and the EU Directive on the Waste from Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) are top of mind in the field of consumer electronics and other energy consuming products (EUPs)—the first sector to be addressed by these rules.

Just ratified is the new European law on chemicals, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), which covers the toxicity and hazards of chemical substances, touching the nascent field of green chemistry. Also to be enforced is the EU Directive on the Ecodesign of EUPs – this will directly regulate the negative contribution to the environment across the entire lifecycle of the product, not just the use phase.

Supporting activities include the Ecolabel—a voluntary certification for a wider range of products beyond those that merely consume energy during their use—helping consumers identify products that have considered all aspects of environmental impact toward minimum ecological footprint, compared to other products in the same category. This includes the chopped green beans, as their total carbon footprint assessed across the supply chain would take into account the energy expended to grow them, process them, package them and deliver them to the neighbourhood supermarket.

All of these and more come under the holistic approach of the Integrated Product Policy (IPP), which can be considered the foundation for such decision-making and the design of the various directives, programs and certifications. The IPP is a systemic look at the environmental impact of the entire supply chain and life cycle of any given product, taking all aspects of the global industrial ecosystem into account: raw materials, manufacture, transportation, distribution, marketing, sales, delivery and waste treatment at the end of life.

 

The Power of Design
While design has been picking up speed in addressing issues of sustainable development, a quick purview of the larger ecosystem helps in understanding the long-term consequences of the decisions made in the studio. It is recognized that a significant proportion (ranging from 70% to 90%) of any given product’s ecological footprint can be addressed at the design stage. But the considerations mentioned above take into account factors all along the product chain that can directly or indirectly contribute to environmental degradation; decisions made at the design stage now become crucial in ensuring the best outcome throughout the entire system.

Carbon Trust UK‘s simplified diagram of the lifecycle of a typical can of cola, for example, enables us to visualize and correlate the relationship between product design choices and energy consumption at every stage of the supply chain.

Read On…

Book Review: And The Weak Suffer What They Must? by Yanis Varoufakis

Source: http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/

Ten years ago, I read and reviewed Making Globalization Work by Joseph Stiglitz – my first Big Econ tome iirc – and my attention was immediately engaged by the eminently readable style of writing. Reading Stiglitz not only raised the bar for my expectations from nonfiction writing but lowered the barriers to my resistance to the subject of economics. I went on to devour everyone from the immortal words of The Argumentative Indians to the White Man’s Burden and it’s early hints of design thinking in development.

Today however I have a smile on my lips as I sit down to write this review of Yanis Varoufakis’ And The Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe, Austerity and the Threat to Global Stability – a search for his bio turned up a piece of trivia, we’re both born on the 24th of March in the 1960s. It seemed to validate my enjoyment of his narrative style, and my daily hour of reading pleasure over the past couple of weeks.

Varoufakis’ words breathe life into what could have been a dull and dry narrative, full of mindnumbing statistics and incomprehensible GDP growth rates. He humanizes the political economy of Europe, imbuing the German Bundesbank with nefarious motives and a schoolmaster’s strict discipline, and engagingly explains the social and political motives that shape the decisions that influence and impact the whole world.

No other economist that I’ve read has managed to dramatize the stage and the actors in such a way, crafting a gripping narrative of the sweeping changes that took place in the post war era.

The FT’s Martin Sandbu merely calls it an opinionated history, but isn’t that what ultimately history is? A well-balanced review worth reading:

His intellectual rebellion (in many ways justified) against the eurozone’s consensus view of what needed to be done with his country often seemed an end in itself rather than a policy in the service of changing the world for the better.
[…]
The book is nonetheless highly readable. It is also important, outlining a perspective on global economics that influences policy thinking in broader circles than the radical left.

What I personally found amusing when digging up the book reviews that I like to use interspersed with my own opinions in my reviews, was the The Guardian’s blatantly biased put-down of the man and his writing:

Yet while this book reflects a giant ego, and will not win prizes for its ponderous style, it is not entirely without merit for those with strength to plough through the pages.

But reading the review all the way through, one sees hints of a resemblance to the outline of points made by Sandbu in the FT. My own opinion is that if you’re looking to understand the politics of economics then there isn’t a better book yet that I’ve come across.

Highly recommend; eminently readable.

Innovations in transport business models across Europe

Spotted outside the Zuid Park Business Center in Amsterdam, this is a taxi stand cum charging station for electric vehicles. And its not the only one, as I saw the same taxis waiting at Schiphol airport. They were asking half the price of a regular taxi for the trip to the center of town.

In the same parking lot, I also noticed these Smart cars from the Car2Go service, a pay for use rental car service. A similar service is also becoming popular in Tallinn, Estonia where you can access the vehicle directly via your mobile phone. Rent instead of purchase business models are popping up all over. Below is the line of bicycles waiting for customers in Barcelona – the only downside here is that registration for this service is limited only to ID holding residents of the city.

Mind you, the urban pay as you use bicycle concept is not new, though ubiquitious but the cafe/bar below is certainly different even though it won’t get you anywhere ;p

Reflecting on my work here in rural Holland

Wageningen is not your average small town of pop. 30,000 in rural Holland. It has a very well known research university in the Biological Sciences, particularly the needs of agriculture and food.

This changes the character of the town’s thinking, being far more aware of the world and what chaos’ butterfly wing in another part of the globe means in the local and personal level.

The overemphasis in the English language internet on the Eurocrisis in Europe overlooks the reality that Europe is also a continent, not a country. Just like there are rotten parts to India’s growing economy, there are similar challenges in parts of the Eurozone, but is it really the end of the world as the media makes it sound?

Not really. Nowhere even close.

Like any other social network, the countries that choose to use the eurodollar as their primary currency of choice, now have a higher barrier to switching away from the euro or reverting back to dimly recalled national currencies.

Transacting in the euro is so easy across cultural and regional barriers that it makes the effort worth while. I myself am already banking on it.

Europe could stop fighting it and see if informal economy has lessons to teach

Wastepickers in Athens, Greece 2012

Scanning recent writing on the informal economic activity in the wake of the Great Global Recession brings to light the ongoing struggle to deal with it.  Is it good or is it bad? Will it help or is it hindering? Don’t forget the taxes being left unpaid by the economically challenged citizens trying to feed their children. The contradictory articles seem to imply that its perfectly alright for the unemployed in the third world to seek ways and means to earn a dollar but its evil and unthinkable for the same response to occur in the first.

Hoist by their own petard is the cliche that comes to mind, yet it seems as though the conflict is more due to the long established demonization of this natural behaviour, one that has documented benefits such as resilience and cooperation, thus few attempts are being made to bridge the chasm between the formal and informal or pause to understand if there may be some value for the future.

John Sullivan asks What Does the Informal Sector Mean for Global Economic Growth? where he offers insights from the situation in North Africa:

Most of the countries involved in the Arab Spring do not yet have the resources available to create the jobs that they promised. They lack the money to simply build new factories, and government sector employment is no longer the solution it was during the strongman days. Governments must mobilize the informal sector and give them a voice. […] The street vendors of Cairo have already spoken out by partnering with the Federation of Economic Development Associations to develop a draft law and begin working toward its implementation.

But from Europe comes writing whose word choices imply that the neighbourhood kid out to make some pocket money is as much of a tax dodging criminal as more shadowy members of society:

This informal economy is spreading almost to everywhere in the world. It does not only affect developing countries but it is also part of the everyday life of high-income countries, such as the EU member states. Entrepreneurs operate in the unofficial economy because they want to get free from the taxes and regulations that make official transactions unprofitable or unfeasible. Thus, the farmer who sets up a roadside stall selling produce is a participant, so is a construction company that does not report its income to the government in order to avoid meeting legal standards such as minimum wage. Parts of this informal economy also include the children who sell homemade lemonade outside their houses in summer, or their private French classes paid for by adults under the table.

Its a terrible virus, apparently, and its infecting our kids. In Greece – hardest hit of the eurozone nations – Prof Friedrich Schneider, who has researched the Shadow Economy, as he calls it, shares his point of view:

Schneider said that the greater the difference between gross and net income of citizens the more likely it is for the informal economy to deepen.  High social security deductions and taxes predispose individuals to seek ways of avoiding these costs. “No one is hiding taxes in order to save money. All who evade taxes want to gain something in the short term.”

A major prerequisite for the development of informal economy is the complex and complicated legal system. European countries are hyper-regulated by default and the more severe cases are on the periphery of the euro area and in the countries of the Eastern bloc. Corruption there is particularly strong. Schneider explained that the system should be simplified and facilitated.

The quality of services in the public sector can also affect the deepening or reduction of the informal economy. The more severe the procedures in the public sector, the greater the risk of avoiding the implementation of established procedures.

The European version is all about the formal structures, laws and regulations, taxes and services – sounds like a bureaucracy, while the very nature of the informal is the flexible and adaptable. Is it any wonder that its sprouting up in response to the perceived collapse of the global formal economy, as we saw in Spain last week?

I wrote the following 3 years ago, after reviewing the writing on the informal economy, then focusing primarily on the lower income demographic in the developing world:

Because as long as you lump together the activities of the people like selling hotdogs door to door (although buying it from a wholesaler informally), distilling wine for the village, keeping small shops within walking distance when towns are far away or even urban services ranging from garbage disposal to dishwashing to repairing shoes – with the “firms that are hiding from formal regulations and don’t want to pay taxes etc” any formal programs or activities, whether from the social and economic development angle or the corporate profitability angle are going to act at cross purposes.

Martha Alter Chen writes in “Rethinking the Informal Economy” that India stands out as an example where the informal economy has been accepted, acknowledged and now slowly being addressed by government policy. Not in order to dissolve it or remove it but to work with it simply because the incomes of far too many people are dependent on it and no formal systems can be put into place to take care of each and every corner of the country nor her billion citizens.

One can then take what seems to be working, called “creative, resilient and efficient” by Hart, quoted by Chen, and enable systems that support it further, fostering development and increasing success rates at the touchpoints where the informal and formal meet.

Perhaps there is a lesson here about flexibility and adaptability for formal, structured Europe and her economy, hurting as it is right now? After all, as the Jamaica Gleaner puts it, people have to spend all that money somewhere:

Everton McFarlane, deputy director general, said informal activity is being reflected in the formal economy via consumption and investment.

“If there was this informal sector that somehow was not being captured, then where are these people spending their money?” asked McFarlane.

“Are they not spending their money on agricultural goods? Would you not see that in the GCT sales? Are they not spending on electricity consumption? Are they not spending on housing?

In other words, the intersection of the formal and informal economy is not an island by itself that is divorced from the formal sector.  Whatever is taking place, people must consume.