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.

The Top 5 Trends Towards Greener Retail

When it comes to shopping are you a hunter or gatherer…? Do you only go to a shop when you’ve decided, of your own volition, that you need something, then proceed to said shop to obtain the thing and only that thing? Or do you start at the shop and see how many things you suddenly realise you simply can’t live without? ; )

Always a topic that tends to galvanise opinions at a dinner party, the notion of ‘sustainable retail’ could be a complete oxymoron or a new term that signifies some paradigm shifts in how we procure goods in the 21stC.

I wanted to focus on some emerging trends that will change the retail outlet itself – not only the way in which we procure goods but the way we design the shops themselves, the size of the spaces being leased, and the very nature of what constitutes a ‘shop’.

I’ve got 5 hot tips. Here’s the first;

3D printing

As recently as the 80s, 3D printing was just a dream. A mere 30 years later we’re now printing car parts, pharmaceuticals, parts for jet engines, homes, prosthetic limbs and even replacement organs.

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An illustration of an artificial 3D-printed human heart. Check out ’10 Ways 3-D Printing Could Change the World’ at HowStuffWorks. Click above.

A 3D printer is, to keep things simple, a printer that sprays layer upon layer of a selection of raw materials (e.g. ceramic, plastic, metals) to make something solid and three-dimensional, or ‘real’. We can already buy a 3D printer for our homes and offices, and it’s still early days.

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‘…we’ve kind of put the factory into a little box. The factory can be one person at home again’. (Bre Pettis, CEO Makerbot Industries)

Within only a few years we’ll be able to 3D scan our own bodies, transmit the details to the 3D printer and watch as our new shirt (which we designed and customised on a free tablet app) is created in our very own home. Ray Kurzweil (Google head of engineering) puts it at 5 years away (good article here on 3D printed fashion).

Sound enticing? At face value this could wipe out the majority of the manufacturing chain, transport & shipping, and even the retail outlets… extensive environmental savings… but I’ll be fascinated to see if it’s enough to overcome our deepest urges for ‘retail therapy’ and the very experience of going out to reward ourselves in an outlet that will by necessity become hyper experiential in itself?

Only time will tell. Stay tuned.

Is This the Future of City Design?

Now THIS is something interesting… an online platform that is allowing the community to help plan the future of New York City, through a combination of online gaming, social media and research. Whilst this system is in Beta mode, it shows some extraordinary potential in how city planners might better engage with their communities, generating some usable outputs in the process.

 nyc manahatta

The M2409 (Mannahatta 2409) project is an online platform a little like ‘Sim City’ [don’t pretend you don’t know what that is] that allows us to create an account then start designing our own future section of New York City using a palette of materials and attributes.

M2409 allows you to create your own vision for a piece of the city, making it private or ‘public’ meaning anyone in the world can log in and see your idea. One key element of this system is that it provides us with a number of future climate change scenarios to work with, e.g. ‘future climate in 2050’ or ‘severe storm in 2080’, so the very premise of this scheme is that we’re designing for future city resilience. If we choose to we can also recognise the original pre-European condition of Mannahatta (if we choose to).

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Eric Sanderson’s scheme for 14th St.

The more I consider this one the more potential I can see… a new avenue for improving city resilience by ‘design from the people’? A new channel to see what voters and rate payers want for their neighbourhood? Might ‘big data’ eventually connect with a platform like this to give us real-time data to design from?

I came across this via the Nature of Cities web site – great write-up on this by Eric Sanderson. Check it out here.

Want one of these for your own city? Personally I’m thinking ‘no’ for mine… I can see myself becoming completely absorbed in this at the expense of all else: it’s got city resilience, design, urban planning, place making, maps… far too many distractions!

Is it Time to Dig Up the Golf Course?

You’ve probably played on one or visited at least one in your lifetime. A select few will even own a house on one. Some know I’ve thrown a few clubs on one. Golf course estates – privately held or strata-held housing surrounding a manicured golf course. But a new model is emerging that offers something quite different (and arguably less frustrating)…

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Golf Course estates are typically devoid of ecological or productive value, lock up valuable topsoil and land, and alienate the rest of us.

Enter the Development Supported Agriculture (DSA) model. You could effectively picture the golf course being replaced with a highly diverse and productive farm, accessible to residents and neighbours. The residential development then includes shared community facilities based around food production and education.

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East Lake Commons, Decatur, Georgia US

Development Supported Agriculture is where the initial developer provides all of the farm infrastructure along with their residential estate products, and a ‘real’ farmer then works the farm, selling produce to the resident market – without the normal transport impacts or costs etc.

There are 5 core principles of DSA (from Wieler) :

  1. Preservation of farmland through limited development and continuity of previous farming uses.
  2. Agreements between developers and farmers (development provides farm infrastructure, farmers provide farm products to residents and the local community).
  3. Low-impact development techniques, sustainable architecture, and careful ecological/environmental planning.
  4. Establishment of wildlife corridors and animal habitats, promotion of native plant species, and protection of water quality.
  5. Utilization of an open-source development model that provides a framework for master-planned farm communities and integrated local food systems.

Residents are able to either work their own share of the land or lease it to the farmer in exchange for produce. Most of the DSA developments around the world are also all or mostly organic farms, feeding our growing demand for clean, safe, organic food that is locally produced.

Lots of good resources around on this topic; check this one out for planning code inserts that have been prepared for local Councils, to facilitate Community Supported Agriculture developments during the planning stages.

CSA

This is a really exciting model of value-added residential community design with enhanced food security and resilience. There are at least 1,000 of these registered in the US alone, and I’m excited to see where the first of these will arise (or have arisen) in Australia.

Give me this over a golf course in my neighbourhood any day.

Sustainable Vs Resilient: The Supermarket Test

So what’s the difference between ‘sustainability’ and this new-fangled word ‘resilience’? I get hooked on words because they carry so much meaning, even when we don’t mean them to, so here’s an example of how different ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’ can be.

I’m going to use a supermarket as an example. I don’t have anything specifically against supermarkets – I loathe any type of retail environment in equal measure… but the typical mega-chain supermarket [and I’m specifically not naming names here] has, over time, stealthily burdened us with a swathe of community ‘fails’ that have significantly undermined our community resilience.

panda sup

A supermarket could be labelled as highly ‘sustainable’ because it has some attributes that are recognised as ‘green building’ elements. Let’s take some of those sustainability attributes and see what we can tweak in order to make them more resilient;

  • Solar panels on roof: becomes solar panels owned or leased by the local community, with income stream for the supermarket and reduced energy costs and improved reliability for the local residents;
  • Organic waste diverted from landfill: becomes on-site or local composting of green waste, with by-product used for local soil conditioning and urban agriculture;
  • Organic produce: becomes locally grown organic seasonal produce from multiple small scale growers, home owners and community gardens, providing better food security and local economy – in reality the supermarket no longer plays a role in fresh food production, but let’s be nice;
  • Reduced or even neutral carbon footprint through energy efficiency, renewables and offsets; becomes locally redeemed offsets through community street planting, home and business energy renovations and community renewables schemes;
  • Energy efficient refrigeration; becomes reduced refrigeration thanks to increased local food growing and ‘field-to-table’ supply chain, meaning the need for refrigerating fresh produce is vastly reduced;
  • Biodegradable or Recyclable packaging; becomes reduced packaging, again thanks to local food production and the removal of the need for freight transport of goods;

Of course the list can go on. The point is, Resilience is something like Sustainability but with community wellbeing, health and prosperity included. In some senses a supermarket might be ‘sustainable’ but a local farmer’s market is more resilient – and in my opinion much more fun : )

If you know of any supermarket chains anywhere in the world where they are trending back towards community resilience I’d love to hear about 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.

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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].

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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.

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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?).

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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 : )

formula_e_720

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