Tag Archives: waste avoidance

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.

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.

Cross Laminated Timber – The Basics

Commonly referred to as ‘CLT’, this type of timber construction is making waves in the property industry for all the right reasons.

From timber.net.au:

CLT is fabricated by bonding together timber boards with structural adhesives to produce a solid timber panel with each layer of the panel alternating between longitudinal and transverse lamellae.

clt house

Couldn’t locate the ultimate source of this, but props to the architect anyway.

There are two attributes of CLT that I find most appealing;

  1. The ability to use small timber dimensions to build up large components, meaning we can more quickly turn over timber plantings and capture more carbon, and
  2. The ability to pre-fabricate entire building components up to some significant dimensions.

There are a range of advantages with CLT that are making it increasingly attractive to mainstream developers, such as;

  • Integrated structure and fabric, allowing dematerialisation and significantly faster construction;
  • Off-site pre-fabrication of elements, allowing high quality control, educed site time and minimised wastage [and watch how automated pre-fabrication will evolve with BIM and robots], and increased safety;
  • High thermal and sound insulation – the fibrous nature of timber combined with the cross lamination contribute to good insulation values;
  • Good fire resistance – contrary to intuition solid timber performs well in fire; once it’s charred it takes some time to burn, doesn’t deform in heat and often retains structural integrity after a fire;
  • Sustainably sourced timber and carbon sequestration.

Hermann Kaufmann’s Olpererhütte in the Austrian Alps. Remote sites helped stimulate the development of CLT technology in Austria. Nice view.

A good site to visit is Lend Lease’s CLT site [and I’m not plugging them – it’s just credit where credit is due], which provides an overview of CLT, additional benefits from a developer-builder’s perspective, and some good links to more sites related to CLT.

forte herald

Lend Lease’s Forte apartments, tallest timber living in the world. .

I’m curious now as to the uptake of CLT in residential construction. Maybe the greatest challenge is for us to make timber homes more desirable than brick veneer – arguably the worst possible construction choice for the Australian climate.

Keep an eye on this CLT construction: given its high carbon sequestration and displacement of other high-emissions materials such as concrete and steel, it might be the surest pathway to zero carbon buildings.

Weekend Warrior #18 – Bring Back The Stars

How often do you look up at the stars? Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with them, and it still boggles my mind to think that some stars are in fact planets or galaxies. And my own kids are the same – they’ll take every opportunity to gaze out the window or their skylight before they hit the pillow.

nasa image

US east cost. Thanks NASA.

According to the Sydney Observatory, from the light-polluted centre of Sydney or Melbourne we might be able to spot around 125 stars, but from a dark country site maybe 2400. If you’ve ever experienced the wonder of the Milky Way from the Australian outback you’ll be thinking ‘2400 doesn’t even come close’.

It’s a simple fact that we can’t see many stars from our cities due to the light pollution. The NASA image above, one of thousands of similar views, looks beautiful at first sight, but then one has to ask ‘what is all that light doing in orbit?’. Aside from the wasted energy it’s washing out the stars.

And they’re our stars. Don’t we deserve to be able to see the stars at night from wherever we live? Do we necessarily have to accept the fact that living in a city means ‘no stars’? I think not. I’d like my kids [and theirs] to be able to stand wrapt in awe anywhere, including in the city.

This is an idea that’s been doing the rounds in my mind for years, so I’m unlikely to let it go. I want to bring back the stars.

So this weekend’s challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to spend a little time looking up, and also do a walk around your block and count how many lights you think don’t really need to be on. What would it take to turn them off, re-globe them, change the fitting, add hoods etc.?

If you’re lucky enough you’ll even spot the first star of the night, which is in fact usually one of the planets. Do you know which one?

MM#16 – What We Could Learn at the Grocery Checkout

I find the supermarket checkout the most stressful part of the whole shopping experience. Hungry and bored kids hanging off me demanding more of the as-yet-unpaid-for food (this week we had a detergent leak and a biscuit spillage at the checkout), other shoppers trying to jump the queue, the constant fear that I’ll choose the slowest line. I’m feeling clammy just writing about it.

But the end is also the most fascinating. At the moment my point of interest is how efficiently (or not) the checkout person packs our re-usable bags. I’m sure I’m a bit off the bell curve because I linger a bit before I choose which checkout to go to – I’m surveying the speed at which each operator works, and watching how well they pack the bags. Sometimes I get it horribly wrong and watch as the line next to me moves at twice the speed, and I freeze as my optimism battles it out with my urge to switch. But I’m getting better with practice.


And here’s where the learning opportunity comes in. The good operators seem to have the following qualities [you can apply this to shopping bags or planning a building]; they

  • survey the ingredients and items first, before packing;
  • lay out the bags before they start on the detail;
  • pause a little to mentally plan their game, before moving;
  • pack the bags with the utmost space efficiency – you can barely wedge in whatever my kids have half devoured let alone more items;
  • their packing is neat, to the point of being artistic – it has a 3-dimensional logic to it.

I wondered if the checkout would be a good recruiting ground for architects and planners, or indeed even for sustainability consultants. Efficient, tight and then meaningful planning and arrangement of materials is in my experience a rare skill, and it relies heavily on a good three-dimensional understanding of the brief. I review around 60 building designs every year, and sadly many of those have inefficient planning that just hasn’t been packed well. They are excessive, and in this game that means wasted materials and money.

When we can ‘pack tightly’ we achieve one of the most effective sustainability measures – we use less stuff.

So this week, put a little time into stopping before you start – ask yourself ‘how can I do this more efficiently?’, ‘how can I use less stuff to get the job done?’ Imagine that you have a constrained volume to work within and you have to be checkout-operator clever with optimising how you use it.

Will Allen – An Urban Farmer Growing Resilience [by the tonne]

6 foot 7, ex-NBA player, 63 years old – and building a local thriving economy, education service, healthcare service, community resilience movement through growing food in the middle of Wisconsin. Will Allen is one of the movers and shakers in the urban agriculture movement [also referred to as urban farming or street farming] and for years has been focussing on one of the ‘indicator’ elements of building community resilience.

Will loves worms – he’s got millions of them. He makes compost using city waste, uses some in the gardens and sells the rest. He uses aquaponics to grow fish, then sells them too. He’s getting something like quadruple the productivity of our industrialised agricultural system. And whilst he’s doing all this he’s building local capacity in skills, in food growing, in community connectedness.

will allen

There are many articles and write-ups on Will Allen, but the one from the New York Times 2009 by Elizabeth Royte is the one that drew me in. I only intended to read the intro but found myself at the end about 5 minutes later – a great article that teaches us about the systems Will’s built but also conveys the passion and enthusiasm of a guy who wants to make a difference, and is.

“Will Allen, a farmer of Bunyonesque proportions, ascended a berm of wood chips and brewer’s mash and gently probed it with a pitchfork. “Look at this,” he said, pleased with the treasure he unearthed. A writhing mass of red worms dangled from his tines. He bent over, raked another section with his fingers and palmed a few beauties.”

A few key ways in which urban farming can build community resilience;

  • Improves food security – the community is not solely reliant on the food production system owned by corporations;
  • Makes fresh and organic food available at low prices – boosting community health and financial wellbeing;
  • Provides food locally – circumventing poorly planned neighbourhoods that force reliance on cars to get to the fresh food store;
  • Teaches self reliance – empowering the community to take care of themselves, to work as a community and build mutual support… like it always used to be but now transferred to the urban context;
  • Significantly reduces environmental impacts – avoids petro-chemical fertilisers, restores soil health, vastly reduces fresh water consumption, turns waste into resource.

This was just one of those stories that makes me want to go out and do the same thing. Every city contains vacant or unproductive land that could be producing our food and building our communities.

One other site that’s worth a visit is City Farmer News [click image] – a current and up-to-date site that shares urban farming happenings from around the world… certainly gives the sense that this is a global movement and fascinating to read how people are responding to their own contexts in the world’s major cities. Warning; if you’re even vaguely interested in this topic [if you’ve made it this far you probably are] this site will draw you in. Make some time allowance.


No matter how small a space we have available, it’s clear that we can be growing at least some of our own food. Personally my challenge is ‘finding the time’ but methinks this is more a question of re-organising my priorities rather than a real time issue. I now know what I’ll be doing this weekend.