Category Archives: Sustainable Transport

Native Advertising and Online Retail – Green or Greedy?

You’re standing at the bus stop, waiting for the 5.20pm 209 to take you home.  Busses now all run on solar electric (they top up at each stop when they stop over the wireless charging plates in the road, themselves networked back to the district grid) and you’re happy to catch them on your 3 days at the city office, especially since you sold off your 2nd car and are hiring out the remaining one during work hours to earn some credit.

Bus stop shelters all carry dynamic advertising boards that update products based on the people standing at the stop at the time. The hyper-connectivity of your hand-held and wearable tech with the city network means that the retailer’s advertising algorithms can flash up products that they know you favour, based on past spending activity. Bread, milk, a curry and some greenery for dinner.. oh yeah, and a selection of fresh-cut flowers and cards given that it’s your partner’s birthday tomorrow.


Image from JCDecaux, York St, Sydney (now I feel like Tim Tams!)

You take the bait and wave your phone over each selected image, confirming the purchase and immediate delivery. The items will be dispatched by drone and arrive home within 40 minutes.

What’s just taken place is known as ‘native advertising’, and most of what you just read is already real and happening out there.

Native advertising is an online advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which they are placed (Wikipedia)

This is an emerging dimension of online shopping, which is the fastest growing mode of retail in the developed world. We can already make purchases through our computer, tablet device or hand-held… in many cases without even visiting a store.

And the current mode of native advertising is only the beginning. We’re already on the way towards what I’d call ‘ambush native advertising’; you’re sitting on the bus and are feeling like you have a cold coming on. Your clothing has enough sensors built in that it can measure your increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and it knows you’re getting a cold. This information then triggers a push advertisement onto your handheld right before your eyes… ‘Feeling Flat? Try Mr Trippy’s Blue Pill. Select Enter to make your purchase and activate delivery’.

Will native advertising break down our already weak guard and convince us to spend more, or will it simply prompt us to make more targeted and useful purchases as we need them? Whichever way it goes, it’s likely that the push of retailing into our devices is going to reduce the need for physical shops.


I actually look forward to some aspects of this connected future, but seeing images like the one above, when ‘fresh food’ becomes nothing more than an image on a wall, fills me with a touch of sadness (but a dose of resolve). We are already too disconnected from nature, and much of this trend threatens to cut us off altogether – a dystopian future? As with all things – appropriate technology is the way.


Green Retail – There’s a Drone at Your door

For some of us the entire process of heading out to the shops can be a chore that gives us that Sunday-afternoon-before-work feeling in the stomach. But those days could soon be gone.

Here we look at another futures trend around ‘green retail’ that could fundamentally change the face of the shop;

Green Retail Trend #2 – Delivery Drones

You’ve probably already heard of Amazon’s ventures into delivery drones, with their service called ‘Prime Air’, aiming to get packages delivered into customers’ hands within 30 minutes of the online purchase. Only last month the US FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) ruled out the use of these drones, however most would be inclined to write this off as an expected red-tape hitch that will eventually be overcome.

prime air

Once this technology reaches commercial scale it’s difficult to imagine much that couldn’t be delivered by drone, even large things in smaller parts… again the environmental benefits could be extensive, particularly through cutting out the majority of the transport logistics and road-based travel. Drones will be battery powered, fuelled by clean solar energy. No need for shops to carry as much inventory – an online purchase will often bypass retail outlets altogether, with most orders going direct to the distribution centre then into the drone.

If we can simply order goods via drone, or even send our own drone out to collect an online purchase, it’s highly likely we’ll fall into a habit of on-demand purchasing. Give the drone a fresh groceries order for tonight’s dinner, and 30 minutes later it returns with its kill : )

santa drones

Whether or not delivery drones are set to undermine the high street remains to be seen though… the drones may simply become another delivery channel for retailers. I’d expect the make-up of the retail shops to change but the main street itself will likely survive – after all, the main street has been around for a few thousand years. Robo-copter is unlikely to be the thing that puts an end to it.

What Electric Vehicle Sales are Missing…

I’ve been told that if you buy an electric vehicle (EV) and plug it into the grid to charge it you’re only reducing your vehicle emissions by about 5%. The problem being that most of our grid energy still comes from coal. If you really want your EV to mean something you either need to purchase Green Power or charge it with solar panels.

nissan leaf

The Nissan Leaf. No exhaust pipe – now that’s cool.

I’m currently in the market for a solar system for home, so I’m keen to know what I should do if I also want to charge an EV? I know I can either buy the additional panels with the original installation, or size the inverter / micro-inverters to allow plug-ons later. But what size should I get and how long will it take to pay back?

By my table-cloth calculations I should allow for a 1.5kW solar system which, when running my EV from the solar energy, will pay itself off in 2.5 years and give me surplus energy. Nice. [I’ve included my calcs below in case you’re curious].


Solar Blanket concept – one day, but for now we’ve got roof-top solar

So, what we really need to see when buying an electric vehicle is a packaged deal including solar panels and charging kit for the home and even for the office. The road price of EVs in Australia is still high but also still falling, and I’d hope the $2,500 cost of a PV system is something the car dealer could even throw in as a sweetener… that’s what I’ll be asking for : )

Calculations [I didn’t fail maths at school, but I didn’t top the charts either, so feel free to check]

  • A Nissan Leaf runs at roughly 18kWh/100km – equivalent to approx. 1.8-2.3L/100km
  • Current electricity cost daytime =25.0c/kWh [I’m saying daytime because I want to charge the car directly from my solar panels a couple of days a week]
  • I currently drive about 150km/week in total and spend around $30/week on fuel
  • So to run the Leaf I need 27kWh of electricity to charge [18kWh/100 x 150]; let’s say 30kWh. 30kWh costs me $7.50/week to run the car [30kWh x $0.25].
  • This saves me $23/week or $1196/annum on petrol, based on today’s petrol price of $1.49/L. do you think that will rise or fall in the future?!
  • My solar panel/s need to give the car around 4.28kWh/day [30kWh/7]. To deliver 4.28kWh/day I’ll need say a 1.1kW system, but typical packages come in 1.0kW or 1.5kW.
  • A 1.5kW system is currently averaging around $2,500 installed [good quality and warranties], including RECs. If I’m simply upsizing the system I’m buying for the house then the return for the EV panels is even better, given that the inverter and install costs are shared.


Which has the Best Sound: Formula E or Formula 1? Judge for Yourself…

I can still recall a ‘discussion’ I had 20 years ago with someone who insisted that F1 car racing was good for the environment ‘because the advances in technology make all cars more efficient’. To me that was a bit like telling the Neanderthals that perhaps if they just ate a little bit less they might not go extinct so quickly.

Jump to the present day and we are finally in the midst of a step change – Formula E racing… ‘E’ = Electric.

I got drawn into a conversation last week about some new electric McLaren model that was being tested – and believe me it’s a challenge to draw me into discussions about cars. But I thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if there was a global Grand Prix circuit for Electric F1?’. Would be great to promote innovation in zero emissions vehicles.

So like all of my good ideas I Googled it and discovered that someone’s already thought of it, and indeed the inaugural Formula E starts this year in Beijing, touring 10 of the world’s cities. Sadly Australia isn’t on the circuit (lost opportunity?).


And like all good innovations in technology there comes a time when our culture is tested. For this one it’s the ‘grunt’, the sheer thrilling sound of an F1 engine. How could a Formula-e possibly equate and will it sell tickets? Well, apparently the rules for F1 engines changed this year, making them quieter [hybrid petrol-electric engine]. And from recent test drives of the F-e cars the power is still there and the torque even better. But the sound… well, difficult to describe but I came across a quote from Gizmodo that fits;

The combination of tyre road noise, electric motor whine and aerodynamics package produces a sound that’s definitely futuristic — it’s somewhere between a jet aircraft, Star Wars podracer and supercharged hair dryer. We love it.

But don’t let me try to convince you… check out this test drive video from the FIA Formula-e site: I think it rocks and can imagine the sound of a race being something else again. This is the start of a new wave of innovation, and this time the racing tech really will transfer into something useful for other cars. Judge for yourself – click on the car to make it go : )


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Green Wave for Cyclists – Would it Work in Your City?

Does it  make your blood boil when you’re driving and you see cyclists running red lights? This topic is a terrific conversation starter and friendship-ender and not many people sit on the fence.

Whilst I can see things from both points of view, the issue of ‘safety’ makes it a bit of a no-brainer – running red lights in any mode just isn’t safe. But having to stop at up to a dozen or more red lights when cycling through the city also defeats the purpose somewhat. So, what’s the solution? [because there always is one]

The Danes, being such a suave and design-focussed lot, have come up with a way to get rid of red lights for cyclists. And it hardly cost them a cent. They simply re-programmed the traffic lights to create a ‘green wave’ during peak periods.


If cyclists are happy to cruise along at 20km/hr they’ll get a continuous run of green lights all the way into town. Throw in a bit of signage, road markings and driver awareness communications, and you’ve got an elegant solution to an inflammatory problem. Check out the official Danish web site for other cool stuff they’re doing in the ‘World’s first Bike City’. Also fun to watch this video from someone riding into Copenhagen – astounding to see how many people cycle!

copenhagen cycling 01

So right now  you’re probably saying ‘but that’s too slow for cars!’… well, the average driving speed in metropolitan Sydney [i.e. all of Sydney, not just the CBD] is around 32km/hr during peak periods. I couldn’t find CBD-specific data but from experience it’s even less than this.

Amsterdam has them. San Diego has followed suit. New York City is working on it for Prince St. Perhaps even major urban developments could be brokering this re-programming as part of improving the value  of their project?

Do you think Green Waves would work in your city?

Front Yard Blitz #03 – Enter The Woonerf

Count up how many streets you know of where parents would let their kids play without supervision – and I mean play ON the street. How many did you get?

I got zero. The street where I live has about 30 houses in it, most of which have small children – there are about 20 kids under 12 in the street, yet they never play in the street simply because it isn’t safe. Despite our street being a poor connector and therefore having low traffic, motorists still hit 50km/h and don’t slow down even when there are pedestrians present or children riding their bikes on the footpaths.

This instalment of the Front Yard Blitz aims to reclaim the neighbourhood street as a shared space. The sheer amount of land area devoted purely to the car is obscene – research shows (this is a good paper – worth a read) that roughly 20%-25% of total urban land area is devoted to roads, and that doesn’t include car parks, car-related retail and facilities etc.

The Woonerf (Dutch translation as ‘living yard’) is a shared street designed to allow cars and pedestrians to co-exist. This is a ‘living street’ where pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over motorists. In the UK they’re called ‘home zones’ and the US ‘complete streets’.


The concept is simple; a combination of street narrowing, traffic calming, landscaping, surface treatments, signage and place making all combine to make the street a ‘pedestrian zone where cars are permitted’, and for most of our suburban streets this can be easily achieved within the existing carriageway widths. And motorists must drive at walking speed.


The slowing down of cars is the key enabler – from this we open up huge tracts of area that can be put to better use. The US Federal Highway Administration has a good primer on Traffic Calming – this plan gives ideas on how a reduced street might be activated;

woonerf plan

If you’re dubious about the speed limit thing – check out a previous post that might put things in perspective.

By reconfiguring our streets we open up a number of opportunities, such as

  • reduced paved area and runoff, requiring less stormwater management and reducing heat island impacts
  • increased habitat
  • improved street appearance with more trees and gardens
  • increased socialisation and re-activated streets where children can play and families can congregate (also leading to improved passive surveillance and reduced crime)
  • reduced traffic noise
  • increased safety for pedestrians

The Woonerf only works for lower traffic streets, but amongst the various design elements and approaches lie solutions for all streets – it’s a matter of appropriate interventions to suit the street. A good case study is the Borderline Neighbourhood Living Street project – the 6 year $2.1M project was a big task but the multiple benefits extend all the way into a tighter and happier community.

So, we’ve managed to get the power lines underground, reduce most of our stormwater outflow, and now we’ve dealt with street widths and traffic which creates the maximum opportunities for what comes next.

Stay tuned.

New Urbanism Vs New Pedestrianism

Once upon a time I believed that ‘New Urbanism’ was just a developer’s clever way of cramming more residential Lots into an estate, creating residential sub-divisions defined by over-bearing garaged streetscapes, abundant paving and almost non-existent landscape.

From Wikipedia;

New Urbanism is an urban design movement which promotes walkable neighbourhoods containing a range of housing and job types.

To date one of the flaws with this approach has been that whilst the ‘walkable’ bit is achieved, there is often nowhere to walk to… no mixed use retail-commercial village centres, no local stores or services etc. One still has to get into a car to reach anywhere meaningful. What has been missing is the whole macro-economic design stage. The New Urbanism approach only seems to have real potential when done at significant scale, for example when a new village or town is being created. Otherwise it really can be just a way to cram more into less.

The even newer kid on the block is ‘New Pedestrianism’ [NP][coined by Michael E. Arth in the US]. This takes the concept of new urbanism but seeks to fix some of the main flaws, being car-centric streets and hard alleys. NP makes the front ‘street’ pedestrian only, with all vehicle servicing via the rear streets. The concept below is by Michael E.Arth;


New Pedestrianism, showing comparison with typical suburban design and New Urbanism. Drawing by Michael E. Arth

Out of sheer curiosity I thought I’d try to compare these with each other from a developer perspective to try to see what some of the drivers might be. The New Urbanism and Pedestrianism models have a range of sustainability virtues but I’ll visit these another day – some at least are revealed in this comparison (Lot sizes are indicative only for comparison – will vary between countries);

lot design comparison

So why, despite the perverse incentives for both the developer and local Council to adopt the traditional suburban development [developer has the most land to sell, local Council has the least land to maintain], are we seeing a growing number of developments that are focussing on all the good stuff that New Urbanism/Pedestrianism might enable?

I’m a big believer in good aesthetics being a strong selling point for real estate, and I suspect this may be at the root of why more developers (and purchasers) are placing real value in street trees, more greenery, community space (commons) and less dominance by the automobile. Our lifestyles are also of course swaying us towards smaller lower maintenance Lots. As a by-product there are a raft of great sustainability / resilience outcomes that actually reduce running costs for all concerned.

Keep an eye on the ‘Front Yard Blitz’ series as I explore many of the elements found in both New Urbanism and New Pedestrianism – as to which one is ‘best’?

Well, I’m sure it won’t be as clear-cut as that… ; )