Tag Archives: collaborative consumption

Weekend Warrior #19 – Making the Jevons Paradox Work For Us

How often have you caught yourself buying 2 of something when they’re on special? Or more of something simply because it’s in season and cheaper? No doubt we all have because to us it’s good micro-economics. And this is the Jevons Paradox at work.

William Jevons was an economist who in 1865 suggested that when we make a process or resource more efficient we’ll simply use more of it, rather than less. For example, when coal becomes cheaper due to improved mining efficiencies we’ll just use more, or when energy becomes cheaper we won’t be as vigilant in managing our consumption.

Jevons Paradox is often used to argue against the drive for more efficient buildings and cleaner energy, i.e. ‘why bother when we’re just going to consume more as a result’. I wan to turn this around.

Having spent my career in the sustainable development game it’s obvious that the Paradox isn’t always true. The owner of a newly energy-efficient building is not going ignore good energy management just because the building is leaner – that owner is going to pocket the returns instead.


Depends how far you drive them. Good article on Jevons Paradox via the image [Joseph Tainter, Our Energy Futures]

And the Paradox can work for us rather than against us; data has shown that as the cost of rooftop solar systems has dropped around the world, home owners buy more, i.e. they’re spending the same on a system that they always were, but getting more for their buck.

So in effect we can help amplify the benefits of Jevons Paradox towards our cleaner future;

  1. Continue to drive efficiencies in energy performance in cities – the pure economics are making this a relatively easy path to travel; and
  2. Support the resources and materials that we want to become cheaper – sustainable timber, clean tech, healthy materials, clean transport and so forth.

It’s the second one that’s the challenge. It’s a question of us helping the desirable industries reach commercial scale, as we are witnessing right now with solar. So we need to continue to ask for the products, order them and invest in them, even if at times it means some short-term pain for a long-term gain. And many of these industries are keen, lean and green – they are hungry for success. The natural economic process of demand and supply will take care of the rest.

So this weekend’s challenge, should you choose to accept it, is [on the assumption that you buy anything at all] to purchase one clean, organic, ethical or renewable product [hopefully all of the above!] that you wouldn’t normally because of the price.

Give it a go – the way we spend our money shapes our world.

[good Wiki background on Jevons Paradox here]


Snowflake Knowledge – The New Economy

What will be the office design trend after Activity Based Working (ABW) has had its run? The home office writ large? Bouncy castles and tyre swings? Slippery slides and trapeze chairs?

What if the ‘trend’ is that the office itself finally disappears? Completely gone.

Are we already seeing the first signs of a new collaborative knowledge economy that will eventually see the demise of not only the office but also of most ’employer-employee’ relationships?


Crowd-sourced knowledge economy. Image from Forbes. If you want me click me.

Ok, I just used my weekly quota of question marks, so consider this: the ABW approach is continuing to trend towards remote and flexible working – we can work from anywhere with internet connection; Collaborative Consumption is teaching us about online collaboration and sharing; Outsourcing, freelancing and work sharing is teaching us that work can be done remotely 24/7, by strangers. In short, we are re-building the information-age version of sharing.

Already we are seeing worker Hubs pop up, where a collection of un-connected workers share a collaborative space, mostly in the interests of pooling resources but also to network, share tasks and target larger jobs together.

Put all of this together and we get a ‘snowflake’ knowledge economy – a ‘dynamic pay-per-task network’ of individual workers, all with unique yet complimentary skill sets and experiences, combining their convergent, divergent and creative minds towards a specific task, paid for by a customer. Upon completion they disperse and take other forms to suit their next commissions. More volatile and less reliable, but also potential to provide ‘best-in-class’, flexible, agile and crowd-sourced solutions that can pack some serious punch.


Sound a bit far-fetched? Well, I have friends who’s children are already working this way. They’re plugged in (but wireless), connected (but ‘officeless’), employable (but not salaried) and employed (engaged). So what sort of work environments will we be designing for in the near future? Cities full of artificial beaches perhaps – or might we see a boom in food & beverage outlets that cater for the café worker?

This could be the most sustainable and energy efficient direction the office has ever taken.

The Car Hive – Autogeddon or Autotopia?

Imagine our city streets without the sound of traffic, without traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, line markings, bollards and signs, car-related advertising, kerbs and parking meters. Imagine if we stripped away every single thing related to the automobile except for one tight efficient ribbon of hard surface.

rollerhaus, architecture, living cities, eco, sustainable, concept, illustration, virtual, futuristic

Well, it’s all on the way, and sooner than we think.

For 100 years we have had a love affair with the car [or is it a love-hate relationship?]. We have designed our neighbourhoods, our towns and our cities around the needs of the car.

We are now entering an unprecedented phase of the automobile which will completely transform the way we plan cities. A short while ago I posted some thoughts about the ‘autonomous car’ and how that might change street design. Since then that thought ricocheted around inside my head to the point where I’ve followed the trend through to a scaled-up impact on city design.

The Car Hive

  • The autonomous car drives itself, and will be networked with all other cars. They’ll communicate with each other. They’ll swap music and share data on us [their customers];
  • When we need to get from A to B, we’ll summon a car through an App, and the nearest available car will be tasked for our journey and come to pick us up. All driverless. We’ll simply pay-for-service based on the amount of energy we use. No more designated driver.
  • These cars will have their own culture and economy where they will source their own energy from the grid [all renewable juice] through discreet recharge points, and even trade with each other. When we use the car it will debit from our account.
  • Because the cars all have crash-avoidance tech, they’ll drive nose to tail at speed, they won’t need any street signage, speed limit signs, speed humps or parking signs, won’t even need headlights or indicators… all gone. They’ll just self organise and cooperate. No more white-knuckle cycling in the city.
  • Private car ownership will eventually disappear. Today we have ‘collaborative consumption’ schemes like GoGets… Tomorrow we’ll simply have a ‘utility’ that is transport and we’ll pay based on usage.
  • Eventually [I give it only 12-18 months] we’ll see electricity utilities, who are right now waking up to the death spiral of rooftop solar, branching out into EV [Electric Vehicle] fleets which run off the utility’s renewable energy… they’ll add value back to their network and remain viable.

Sound speculative? Not really, at least, all the technology is out there now. Masdar City for example is tinkering with some of the above components.

The real thing to watch will be when the realisation hits that the bottom will fall out of so many automobile-related industries and businesses – the scale of this economic shift will be ‘autogeddon’ for many companies.

The Car Hive itself will make possible a type of ‘autotopia’ where city design is de-coupled from the needs of the car, and we will re-focus on pedestrianism, active lifestyles and the compounding benefits to our health [not to mention our overloaded health systems]. If we want this near-future to evolve in the right direction we need to be planning appropriately right now.

This future might sound daunting and even a little socialist, but I don’t think we need to read anything into it. It’s just economics at work, and it excites me that our advances in technology will enable us to re-focus on great place-making, safe and green streets, and a multitude of new industries.

How to Give Away Furniture, Even the Sticky Couch

If you’re like me you may have offloaded the odd furniture item via the ‘kerbside recycling system’ in your city. In other words, you’ve taken the old couch outside after dark and left it on the side of the road, trusting that someone with poor eyesight and no sense of smell comes along…

Recently I started thinking about how we might take the model of a ‘furniture recycling room’ which we might design into a residential or retail building for example, and scale it up for a neighbourhood or city.

Initially I was assuming a linear solution, thinking I’d be able to find a large ‘leave-your-old-furniture-here-and-we’ll-pass-it-along’ centre. But as usual my research took me to a different solution – in effect a ‘distributed system’ where there is no centre; the internet.

So rather than leave your unwanted stuff on the kerb, there have emerged a number of cooler ways to move things on…  rather than just focus on ‘getting rid of’, we can now focus on giving to someone else, particularly through local charities. And let me be clear, the old sticky couch won’t be acceptable to these avenues – that would require new upholstery, a pair of rubber gloves and steely determination. Or you could give it to Uni students.

Here are two portals for the Australian readers  [I was a bit nervous about providing local links for readers in the US, South Africa and Singapore etc. without some local knowledge – you might use some of the following key words to search in your own region];


Givit is a national charity with a great online portal – connecting furniture items with hundreds of charities. You simply register, upload your furniture details and the charity does the rest, often also picking up. Make sure you read the Ts&Cs to see what they do and don’t accept.


GiveNow is a broader giving charity, which includes a portal to give away furniture and goods. The site includes links to Givit, plus links to the Salvos, Vinnies, Lifeline and Youth Off The Streets. Most of these groups will pick up from your place… but don’t give them junk. Give them what you’d be willing to receive.

ziilch final

Ziilch is another portal where you can post unwanted items or details of something you might need. Also has options for giving to charities.

If none of these guys like the squishy sound of your couch, your next step is furniture salvage shops where they might be keen enough to re-upholster, re-life and on-sell.

Given the amount of stuff I see out for hard rubbish collection in my own neighbourhood [and assuming there’s nothing extraordinary about where I live], I’m thinking it would be awesome for each local Council to go around and pick out the things that could be useful to someone else, and send it on to one of the above charities, or even store it at their own depot and liaise with the charities?

Hmmm, sounds like an opportunity for greatness.

And there really was a couch in my life… I can still picture the last time I saw it on the kerb that night… the next morning it was gone. *sniff*

Community Solar #01 – Community Empowerment Through Collective Bargaining

Are you one of the 1 million Aussie households with solar panels on the roof? Or have you hesitated due to uncertainty about the costs, value and processes or simply because you dont’ have a roof? (I’m sure you can work that one out…)

If you’re not confident of going it alone, there is another community-based avenue which, when combined with the emerging ‘collaborative consumption’ movement, might appeal.

Two avenues in fact:

  • Collective Bargaining – where a large number of community households convene what is effectively a ‘purchasing cartel’ to unlock bulk-purchasing power; and
  • Community Solar – where a community group pools resources to invest in a large consolidated solar installation, and receives dividends.

The Portland Sustainability Institute directed me to a great collective bargaining benchmark in Solarize Portland, a solar panel volume-purchasing program set up by local neighbourhood associations.

The approach is pretty simple – a large number of neighbourhood residents pool their bargaining power and strike up the best deal possible on a bulk purchase and installation. This approach gives the vendor and installer economies of scale and surety of sales, so they can drop their prices… often by a lot. It puts the power (sorry) back in the hands of the community, whilst avoiding more complex community ownership structures and legalities… it’s basically group purchase and install, then the group is disbanded.

The Solarize Guidebook from Solarize Portland has a number of good examples of community solar purchasing schemes in the US, plus a simple graphic showing a timeline template of how to go about setting one up. (click on the image below)

solarize timeline

This community option, like all such ideas, needs a catalyst in the form of someone with enough energy (sorry again) and time to get things set up.

I’ll let you know how I go.