Tag Archives: carbon reduction

Is Retail Under Threat From the Sharing Economy?

Are you an e-bay addict? Been to a garage sale? Picked up something cool from the kerb? Simply swapped something or given it away?

There is a growing sub-culture of ‘sharing’ that may threaten to undermine the traditional retail outlet and drive down shop sizes, if by no other mechanism than by reducing the demand for new goods. In instalment #3 of our look at ‘Green Retail Trends‘ we explore the culture of ‘collaborative consumption’.

green retail

I first got connected with this idea of ‘collaborative consumption’ when I heard Rachel Botsman present in Sydney a few years ago. Collaborative consumption is the notion of sharing, borrowing, swapping, leasing etc. as distinct from buying something wholly then keeping it forever. At least theoretically the growth of this approach to procuring goods (and services) would be reducing the demand for new goods via traditional retail.

And this approach to temporary ownership seems to be gathering pace – it seems that wherever we look now we can find channels for sharing. Here are just a few;

Car Sharing (e.g. GoGets] – if you live in Australia you might have already seen these around. Rather than own a car, you join up with the scheme and just borrow the car when you need it, based on a booking system and user-pays rates. This scheme has taken off like crazy over the past few years [now Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney]. Other brands have set up also.


Car sharing – Car Next Door: With this scheme, you put your own car up for loan, and when a neighbour borrows it you get a little cash in return. You can also borrow a neighbour’s car and pay them. Think of this one as a community version of GoGets. Many of us have cars sitting idle in the driveway during the working day – this one’s a good way to get a little more value out of them.

car next door

Food sharing; Grow It Local: I’ve posted about this movement before – people sharing their back yards to grow food, and food swapping in the neighbourhood – all using web-based platforms. These sharing schemes have sprung up all around Australia.

Adelaide SA: RipeNearMe

ripe near me

Sydney: Grow It Local:

grow it local

Even Google is in on the act with Urban Food Maps – showing where you can find food growing on public land or hanging over fences. Obviously only as good as the info people put in, but a great idea nonetheless.

Tushare – an Australian start-up that facilitates the giving away of stuff we no longer want. Old bike for example? Post it on Tushare, and someone else can simply claim it and organise collection or pickup. This is not selling and buying – it’s simply giving away. Deal done. I love this one – have told my wife about this one in the hope that it dampens the household’s e-bay costs : )


This notion of exchanging, sharing, borrowing, leasing or even simply giving away is gaining traction.. we’re becoming more comfortable with the idea that we don’t necessarily have to own everything.

Have fun exploring these instead of heading to the shops : )




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.


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.


‘…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.

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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Solar Seed Funding – Will Your Next Client Pay it Forward?

Have you seen the movie Pay it Forward? I bet you’ve always wondered how we could do that and help drive economies of scale in our rooftop solar industry, right?

I wrote about this one over a year ago and re-visited recently thanks to a now constant flow of queries around solar leasing options in Australia. This particular model works like this;

  1. The original investor [think of them as ‘your project or client’] installs a solar system on a recipient’s roof;
  2. The recipient leases the solar panels on their roof from the investor;
  3. The recipient enjoys reduced energy costs overall, compared to grid-price electricity, so they start saving money;
  4. The investor, rather than paying down their original investment as quickly as they can, reinvests the income back into the seed fund, helping to set up the next recipient with another solar system.

Check out http://www.solarseedfund.org for more detail on how it works

So the investor has put up the cost of the first system. Sound unfair? Well, clients are already willing to pay for Green Power [a renewable energy product in Australia], carbon offset credits or other ‘licence to operate’ costs. So if they’re committed to spending the money, why not spend it where it creates the most community uplift?

It’s not too difficult to visualise a way in which development projects could roll out extensive community solar schemes using a version of this model. Even if the lease payments help in part to pay down the install costs, it’s still a great way to make solar energy more accessible to entire neighbourhoods.

Anyone interested in setting up a crowd fund to kick-start one of these in a needy community?

Remember, if you’d like to help me get the message out there, vote for Green Futures this month. Thanks!



Lights On or Off – What Should We Really Do?

‘It uses more energy to keep turning the lights off and on, so just leave them on’. We probably all grew up with this one, but is it really true? Well, naturally the issue is a lot more complex than you might think – but leaving all of the world’s lights turned on based on this logic would clearly be idiotic, so I’ve dug around and found a collection of research-based conclusions that bust this myth.

lights off

To put things in context;

  • The studies compare incandescent globes with Compact Fluorescent Light-globes [CFLs];
  • A globe’s [or ‘lamp’] lifespan [rated hours] depends on both how durable the design is, how often it’s turned on and off [uses], and the operating cycle [how long it’s left on for]
  • CFLs are rated at around 8,000-10,000 hours life span [let’s say, to keep things easy], based on a typical operation of 3 hours on then 20 minutes off;

One of the best facts I found was from the US Dept. of Energy site: when we switch on a CFL it has an ‘inrush’ phase where it does use more energy, but only for 1/120th of a second, equivalent to 5 seconds of operation. So unless you’re a little kid standing there flicking the lights on and off fifty times a second and going ‘whooohooooo’ then don’t stress – just turn them off.

For some further detail, this Rocky Mountain Institute study conducted in 2008 has some great findings and write-up (i.e. easy for me to understand). It found that no matter what, a CFL still trumps an incandescent globe. Increasing the uses and/or decreasing the operation time, e.g. switching it off and on many times a day and only running the light for 5 minutes at a time will significantly reduce the lamp’s lifespan, however even then a CFL will still;

  1. pay itself off with the energy savings;
  2. last longer than an incandescent globe;
  3. emit less greenhouse gases [by a long way];
  4. emit less mercury [by a long way].

In the office the story is pretty much the same. Lights such as T5s are rated for 10,000 or more hours and will typically stay on all day. Switching them off at the end of the day is part of what the lamps are designed for – at least 6,000 cycles and rising as the lamp technology improves – so don’t fret, just turn them off when you’re done, even in the smaller rooms that you might visit a few times a day.

Hopefully this leaves you feeling illuminated for the week : )

“Imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time.”

A beautiful piece around the psychology of hope…

It’s easy at present to succumb to the temptation of criticising the intentions of Australia’s government – they want to repeal our carbon pricing scheme, lower our emissions reduction targets and generally commit to being a bench-warmer in global affairs.

But if you’ve read this blog you’ll likely know that Newton is a mate of mine, and I often refer to his Third Law – the one about ‘equal and opposite reactions’. So for all the head-in-the-sand hyperbole that we’re seeing at the moment, there must be (by definition) an equal measure of positivity and vision and hope out there somewhere.

And I know where it is.

It’s you.

Hope is that feathered thing perched on your soul (Emily Dickinson)

When doing some reading about place-making I came across this short but intense piece about the psychology of hope, about ordinary dreamers dreaming big and acting on that lump in the throat or tear in the eye… about acting now.


Shared on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova

This is a moving piece about the decisions we make in life, about living with compromises and their long term effects, and about course corrections. I have a lot of friends who are around the 20-year mark in their careers, and I know at least some who might be feeling exactly this way right now.

If you do want a prosperous future, if you do want a clean future for us and our kids, if you do want to be an Aussie and keep punching above your weight in the global ring, then let that feathered thing take flight. Dare to ‘imagine immensities’ and set about making them come true… you are surrounded by like minds, those who are creating the equal but opposite force.

Have a read of this short piece about hope, then get to work. Now.