Archive for the ‘Express 183’ Category

Millions Still Live in Poverty in Spite of Sustainable Development Goals

Posted by Ken on January 22, 2013
Posted under Express 183

The global outlook for sustainable development is rather bleak – greenhouse gases emissions continue to grow, while millions still live in poverty. Although gains have been made in lifting large segments of the population out of poverty through economic development, this has been done with adverse effects on the climate, especially in the fastest growing economies of China and India. Conflicts in developmental goals and methodologies have also seen gains wiped out. Read more


Most fail to end poverty while cutting emissions


by Paul Brown in Climate News Network (21 January 2013):


The world’s attempts to achieve sustainable development – tackling poverty and simultaneously curbing greenhouse gases – seem condemned to widespread failure unless politicians change course, a study claims.


World leaders have so far failed to raise people out of poverty by economic development while at the same time avoiding the worst effects of climate change, Swedish researchers say.


A study of 134 countries published by TCO, a confederation of 15 Swedish trade unions (based on data from the TCO RioRank database), shows that sustainable development is not yet close to being achieved, despite it being the stated aim of many politicians.


Yet it remains the official policy of the United Nations, the aim of climate negotiations, Earth summits and many international economic forums.


The theory is that countries can develop and at the same time reduce carbon dioxide emissions by combining energy efficiency and the greater use of renewable sources of power.


About 40 countries have managed to do this, but the vast majority have not – and among those that have failed, the study says, are the fastest-growing economies and the most polluting: China, the US and India.


Efforts nullified


The starkest example is China, whose development has been monitored since the first Earth Summit in 1972 in Stockholm. There the economy and the environment were for the first time discussed together in a United Nations setting, giving rise to the idea of sustainable development.


In an extraordinary period of growth, in which it has lifted many millions out of poverty, China has also topped the league in energy efficiency measures. It became 77% more fuel-efficient per unit of GDP between 1972 and 2007, saving billions of tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.


At the same time the country’s economy has grown so dramatically, more than 10 times, that it has wiped out all these gains. That means that despite these efficiencies China also leads the world as the country that has increased CO2 emissions by the largest amount, to six times more than in 1972.


The world’s other large polluter, the US, has done the same. It has become more efficient, producing 27% more with the same amount of energy. But because the economy has grown, although much more slowly than in China, pollution levels have continued to rise – only 22% since 1972, but still adding to the overall atmospheric CO2 load.


One important point in the report, by the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees, is that energy efficiency makes countries and companies more competitive. The report says it is very bad news for countries engaged in world trade if they are less energy-efficient than their competitors while the price of energy continues to rise.


This is especially bad news for India. Unlike China, with its 77% increase in energy efficiency, India has managed only 3%, while using 500% more energy. This makes it a major polluter saddled with inefficient industries that will not be able to compete in world markets.


Across the world it is the European Union countries that do best overall, although for different reasons. The eastern European countries now in the EU, formerly part of the Soviet bloc, suffered economic collapse after 1991 and as a result emissions went down hugely.


They are now rising again as economies grow, but these countries have new fuel-efficient industries so emissions overall are still well below 1991 levels.


Conflicting pressures


Of the larger economies Germany, the United Kingdom and France have all managed to reduce their emissions over a 40-year period while their economies have continued to grow, albeit well below the pace of the tiger economies of Asia. Germany has reduced total emissions by 22%, France by 20% and the UK 18%.


One point the report underlines is that all 134 countries studied have different resources and politicians prone to making different decisions. Some produce most of their energy from renewable sources, like Iceland and Zambia.


China’s example is especially instructive. Thirty years ago it produced 40% of its electrical power from renewables: since then, to keep pace with development, it has invested heavily in fossil fuels. China’s renewable industry has grown dramatically, but it now accounts for only 14% of overall electricity supply.


The report shows how difficult sustainable development is to achieve, as governments are pulled in opposite directions, and also how agreement on a fair way to cut emissions becomes almost impossible. Because resources, growth rates and stages of development differ, so do priorities and policies.


And because politicians have already made strategic decisions on building power plants, it is very difficult to see how they can settle on another agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that will involve the entire world and seem fair to everyone.



Hackathon in Singapore Focuses on Easing Environmental Impact

Posted by Ken on January 22, 2013
Posted under Express 183

UP Singapore was established in June 2012 as a platform for creating enterprises aimed at addressing social and environmental challenges, and will be hosting the Reducing our Environmental Impact Hackathon from the 25 to the 27 of January in collaboration with private and public agencies. The hackathon aims to bring together individuals and organisations to create real ways help people better protect our environment and save energy.  Read more


From Newtown Circus


Inspiring ground-up innovation to improve our urban environments through the creative use of technology and data



UP was created by Newton Circus as a platform for creating technology and data enabled enterprises that tackle a wide range of social and environmental challenges.  We crowdsource groundbreaking innovations by bringing together individuals and organizations from the people, private and public sectors and providing them access to new technologies and big, real-time data. The result is meaningful prototypes of enterprise solutions (for companies and government agencies), as well as social, mobile and web consumer applications.


Established in June 2012, UP has participated in over 20 leading events and organised two highly successful weekend Hackathons focused on Urban Solutions and Marginalized Women. The UP community now includes 1,500 Singapore based professionals and the Hackathons have involved over 500 participants contributing 13,000 working hours towards building more than 40 working prototypes. A select few continued on through the UP incubation process and are receiving both corporate and government funding.

See:  and watch the video at:



Through the work of UP, organisations from both the private and public sector contribute to building the “UP Data Sandbox” (a unique and unprecedented testing environment with over 30 and growing private and public datasets to be used for prototyping during a hackathon). See:

We continue to extend the scope of the Data Sandbox by broadening the datasets and including access to realtime data streams. UP will also be adding a Technology Sandbox where participants will be given access to the latest technologies developed by our private and academic sector partners.



At the end of January, UP with the support of the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour, National University of Singapore Research Labs, National Environment Agency, Infocomm Development Authority and Economic Development Board will host the Reducing our Environmental Impact Hackathon. Tackling the issue of Energy Conservation and Efficiency, the Hackathon will bring together a broad spectrum of scientists, architects, sustainability experts, economists, government researchers, policy makers, design thinkers, developers, programmers, and creatives who want to create real ways to help people better protect our environment. The central themes are:


I WILL, WILL YOU? – Solutions to drive behaviour change and quantify the impact of individual actions, with the potential to be adopted as Earth Hour’s flagship application.


SMART CHOICES – Test out the latest technology to help individuals and businesses optimise energy usage and reduce their environmental impact.


CITY SOLUTIONS – Tackle environmental challenges with creative solutions that help Singapore become ‘A City in a Garden’.



UP provides a unique opportunity to engage with diverse communities in Singapore. Partner organizations have the chance to build connections with startups and specialist enterprises, researchers, creatives, data scientists and technology developers, multi-national corporations, government agencies, NGOs, social enterprises, and community organizations in Singapore. Technology and Data providers gain a fresh perspectives on the value and potential of their technology and data via thousands of hours of creative innovation. Finally, everyone involved will have a fantastic experience and benefit from the growing media coverage of UP – we have already been featured on television (Channel5 ,Channel News Asia), radio (93.8 Live), print (Straits Times) and numerous other leading print and digital media outlets.


We are inviting organizations to be a part of this growing platform by supporting UP in a few ways:


FUNDING & AWARDS – Funding UP puts an organization in the center of the innovation and media buzz that each Hackathon generates. Organizations that give in-kind services and monetary support to short-listed Prototypes can also help shape the focus and challenges for the Hackathon.


DATA SHARING – Detailed, relevant data not usually publicy available is a critical driver of the UP prototypes. Access is strictly controlled and can be customized to suit each organization’s needs.


PARTICIPATION & MENTORING – Each Hackathon and workshop features industry experts that act as mentors and coaches to the competiting teams and, of course, we hope that all interested organizations will encourage their employees and partners to participate.


We invite you to join us as pioneers in ground-up innovation.

For more information contact: or




At Newton Circus, we believe “doing good is good business.” We are a sustainability-inspired business incubator with a wealth of experience and expertise spanning all areas of business. We establish our own communities and ventures, working in partnership with multi-national corporations and government agencies to create new products, services and applications that are good for People, Planet and Profit. Newton Circus was the driving force behind the hugely successful UP Singapore in June 2012; and is at the forefront of open citizen innovation and harnessing data for value creation.

Last Word: Can We Design a Cooler Planet?

Posted by Ken on January 22, 2013
Posted under Express 183

In our effort to meet the challenges of climate change, the solutions have been mainly through technological or political means. Often overlooked is the role played by design in mitigating climate change. Design? Doesn’t design lie in the realm of aesthetics or something superfluous? What kind of effect can design have on the climate? Surprisingly much, as it turns out. A well designed product utilises sustainable materials without wasting valuable resources, and is made for durability and a lasting appeal – all leading to reduced consumption and sustainable development. Read more


Ken Friedman in The Conversation (17 January 2013):


Many of us get frustrated with the slow pace of international action on climate change. But powerless as we feel, we can still make a difference by rethinking the way we design our lives.

Design is rarely considered when talking about climate change, yet is a significant factor in the economic activities and political decisions that are driving emissions higher.


The World Bank’s ‘Turn Down the Heat’ report warns of the consequences of global temperatures rising by an average of four degrees Celcius by the end of this century.


Let us be clear about one thing – the prospect of a four-degree rise is a conservative prediction.

Many equally reasonable scientists believe it is likely we will face more dangerous changes than that, sooner than we think.


This is where designers and their employers, as well as consumers, have to share responsibility for dealing with climate change.


From handmade to mass production


For most of the past two centuries, design has been the handmaiden to industry.

Whether design has been framed as an applied art, an artisan craft guild tradition, or an industrial art, the purpose of design in an industrial context has been to encourage consumer choice and purchasing.


Public policy and education policy embraced this tradition in 1837 in the United Kingdom, when what is now the Royal College of Art was established as the Government School of Design.

This concept entered the public mind with the Great Exhibition of 1851. In Germany, the birth of the Bauhaus in 1919 was a key moment. In the United States, industrial design education began at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in the 1930s.


In all these places, the role of design was to encourage better-designed products for increased sales.


More people wanting more


Between 1900 and 1950, world population grew from just over one and a half billion people to nearly two and a half billion. In the next half century the population more than doubled, and today it stands at nearly seven billion.


Along the way, something else happened: the world’s wealthy economies shifted from production to consumption, and much of the world’s productive capacity shifted to meet demand.


The design profession had a key role in making products desirable.


At a time when production was the key to prosperity and growth – and while economic growth was seen as the road out of poverty, this made sense.


Back then, the world had enough environmental resources, or “carrying capacity”, to cope with our extra demand to permit growth.


In 1950, 70 per cent of the world’s people lived in rural areas, and it wasn’t until 2008 that more people lived in cities than in rural areas.


A wealthy and growing middle class in North America and Europe powered global economic growth, while much of the world got by on far less.


Growing pains


Today, the problem is that the world economy is growing, and many of the seven billion people now alive want the lifestyle that was possible for half a billion in 1950.


By the 1960s, a handful of future-oriented designers understood the problem.


Buckminster Fuller studied the balance between global resources, population and opportunities. He came to the view that the world could support the full population of the time at a high level of comfort, based on comprehensive recycling and reuse of materials in an economy oriented toward values other than consumption.


At the same time, Victor Papanek began to ask why designers were making so many shabby products, focusing on style while wasting resources.


Designers such as Ezio Manzini, Anna Meroni, Tony Fry, and Jurgen Faust now continue the tradition, with encouragement from economists such as Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Lab, while economists such as Jeffrey Sachs look for solutions to sustainable development.


Built to last


The answer is simple. While we live in a world that requires economic growth, we do not recognise that economic growth requires sustainable development.


Rather than sell new products repeatedly to the same few wealthy consumers, we could achieve a different kind of growth by selling better and more durable products to larger groups of people.

The world requires a return to a productive ethos for economic growth linked to the reduced resource consumption that will make the world sustainable.


This may be a challenge, but designers can play their part in change by accepting their responsibilities for ethical engagement.


If the World Bank predictions are correct, we have less than half a century left and every year remaining in this half century counts.


I would like to believe that designers are prepared to move from consumption to sustainable development. The alternative is unimaginably worse.


Ken Friedman is University Distinguished Professor and Distinguished Professor of Design at Swinburne University of Technology.