Posts Tagged ‘Ethical business’

Seven things you need to know about sustainable smart technology

April 21st, 2015

Powered by article titled “Seven things you need to know about sustainable smart technology” was written by Marcus Alexander Thompson, for on Friday 17th April 2015 11.41 UTC

1. What is a smart machine?

It’s a cognitive, contextually aware computing system capable of making decisions without human intervention. Smart machines use machine learning and data catchments to perform work traditionally conducted by humans. They are supposed to boost efficiency and productivity, and are being pegged as a major component in building a sustainable future.

2. The range of possibility for sustainability applications of smart machines is endless …

But, like all burgeoning technologies, the limits of sustainability within this future are not yet clear. Much will be based on which smart technologies society adopts. What we do know is the smart tech revolution is the first industrial movement that holds sustainability at the forefront of its development, and that’s a good thing.

3. We don’t need to kill the forest to save a tree

Replacing manual services with smart tech is expected to significantly reduce energy consumption. But the energy required to develop, build, run and service smart technology products must be considered. This video about two men cutting grass demonstrates the redundancy of overcapitalising on technology and the dangers of manufacturing a dependancy on regressive technology.

“While I believe, in general, that we’ll save energy by incorporating these machines into our lives, we have to be mindful that they themselves consume energy”, says Marshall Cox, founder and CEO of Radiator Labs.

4. Will smart technology make us stupid?

The successful integration of smart technology will see the enhancement of creative thought. The workforce will need an increasing skill level as more and more mundane work is overtaken. There are concerns that through automation and algorithm technology, human development could be stunted and lulled into complacency. It’s important to be aware of this threat. That said, there were similar fears heading into the industrial revolution and we work harder now than ever.

Philip van Allen, interaction designer, educator and creative technologist says: “There’s a lot of potential here, smart doesn’t always mean super intelligent. If our systems can understand our context, and have access to a lot of relevant information, they can present us with interesting options.”

5. They took our jobs! What are the implications of smart machines in work?

Reducing the human workforce to subservient drones isn’t in anyone’s interest, but it’s unlikely that progress will spiral out of human control. The aspirational focus is for smart machines to enable us to be more productive and flexible. By using them we can make more efficient, sustainable use of our resources.

“From a workforce point of view, smarter machines make us more productive and this allows us to focus on value-added activities”, says Maria Hernandez from Cisco Systems.

6. Technology makes errors, but so do humans

Performance failure is raised as a frequent concern whenever smart tech is involved, especially when we are looking at self-driving vehicles and other sectors where human life could be directly affected by smart machines. There is an argument that the systems should be intelligent enough to work out areas of poor performance and correct themselves. But nothing is fail-proof and it would be naive to think smart tech will be. There will be bugs in the beginning, but hopefully the collateral eggs in this omelette are minimal.

In the best-case scenario, we’ll combine smart technology with the agility of human decision-making to make sustainable and safe decisions. For example, says Chris Bilton, director of research and technology at BT, “The machine provides you with real-time information and you have the choice as to what action to take. This makes you think actively about your behaviours”.

7. It’s coming. Evolve or move aside

Hate it or love it, be prepared for smart technology to become a much bigger part of your life. It offers unbounded potential to improve our lives and enhance sustainability from all angles – home, health, manufacturing, work, transport, energy and leisure. But we also need to address issues such as IT security, skills and labour market problems. At the forefront we need to ensure that smart machines are enabling devices and not controlling mechanisms.

“The intelligence needs to be implemented in a way that augments our creative thinking rather than replaces it, and we need to consider where those boundaries lie,” says Stephen Barker, head of energy and environmental care at Siemens.

In the end, human capital must always remain dominant. “One might say that our humanity is found in what lies between a 1 and a 0,” says Jeff Wilson, dean of Huston-Tillotson University and “professor dumpster”. “That ‘in between’ is not within a machine’s capability. To me that ‘in between’ space will be ours”.

The technology and innovation hub is funded by BT. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled “brought to you by”. Find out more here.

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Alpine ski resorts gain boost from going green

February 16th, 2015


Powered by article titled “Alpine ski resorts gain boost from going green” was written by Simon Birch, for on Monday 16th February 2015 07.15 UTC

Tourism manager Dominique Geissberger is looking out from her office in the small Swiss alpine ski resort of Villars at forests dusted with fresh snow and spectacular mountains dazzling in the winter sunshine. “This pristine landscape is what we all depend on,” says Geissberger. “It’s what tourists expect to find when they come here.”

In an effort to protect the environment upon which the village’s tourist trade relies, Villars has embarked on a comprehensive programme of sustainability initiatives ranging from introducing a fleet of hybrid buses that ferry skiers about, to low-energy snow-making systems.

In recognition of its pioneering environmental work, Villars has become the first ski resort in Switzerland and one of three resorts in the Alps to be awarded the Flocon Vert – the green snowflake – a sustainable certifying label run by Mountain Riders, a French group that campaigns for a more sustainable winter sports industry.

Exploring the use of labels as a way of encouraging and implementing sustainable development in mountain regions is a key goal for the Sustainable Mountain Tourism Alliance (SMTA), a global network of groups and organisations working for sustainability in alpine tourism that has recently been launched in Switzerland.

“Climate change is the number one environmental concern now facing mountain communities,” says Dr Tobias Luthe, professor of sustainability science from the SMTA, speaking at its launch conference which was attended by representatives from the mountain-based tourism industry.

“Last year was the warmest on record and already this winter many alpine ski resorts have had an unusual lack of snow, leading to major economic losses. We urgently need new sustainable business models and labelling systems have an important role to play in promoting sustainable development in these mountain communities,” says Luthe. “By quantifying different criteria such as energy use, transport and waste, labels can be used to communicate sustainability to a range of different markets and, crucially, encourage best practice in the sector.”

The economic case for ensuring sustainable development in the Alps is compelling: about 80 million tourists visit the Alps every year, generating close to €50bn Euros, providing an estimated 10% of all jobs in the region.

There are more than 50 different labels available for mountain-based resorts and hotels across Europe and they vary enormously in what they measure and the scale and scope of qualifying businesses. For example, with 42 different environmental and social criteria, the Flocon Vert is one of the most rigorous labelling schemes and applies to the whole operation of a ski resort, from its transport infrastructure to its use of renewable energy.

The Swiss-based Ibex Fairstay scheme meanwhile only certifies individual hotels and is a more entry-level scheme requiring relatively few environmental initiatives for businesses to qualify.

So what are the benefits of these labels? “The key benefit is that many labels require businesses to reduce their energy and water use which in turn can save them money,” says Herbert Hamele, who chairs Ecotrans, the European network for sustainable tourism development. “The other key benefit is that businesses which have been awarded a label also have a marketing edge over their competition.”

Anne Dorte Carlson, who manages the Sustainable Destination Norway label, agrees with Hamele: “We’ve surveyed tour operators and 62% say that they would more likely be interested in a destination if it carries a sustainable or environmental label,” says Carlson. “We believe that in the future this will give us a competitive advantage.”

The commercial benefits of an environmental label have been confirmed by Trip Advisor, a colossus in the global tourist industry which is now rolling out its Green Leaders programme in Europe, having launched the scheme in North America in 2013.

“The Green Leaders programme is designed to help travellers book a greener trip by recognising hotels and B&Bs that engage in environmentally friendly practices ranging from recycling to energy use,” says Trip Advisor’s Tom Breckwoldt, speaking at the SMTA’s launch conference. “Qualifying properties are then marked with a badge on their Trip Advisor home page.”

Significantly, Breckwoldt revealed that Trip Advisor’s own research has found that Green Leader businesses are 20% more likely to be booked compared with those that haven’t signed up to the free scheme.

With more than 300 million people using Trip Advisor every month, many believe that this new initiative has the potential to be a game-changer in the push for more sustainable development in mountain regions. “Small groups such as Mountain Riders are doing great work but they don’t reach the majority of people,” says Luthe.

“Trip Advisor is a very powerful way of reaching a massive audience and if they implemented a combination of tools recommended by the SMTA then this could be really exciting.”

Back in Villars, Geissberger is in no doubt about the importance of ensuring that the village heads in a more sustainable direction. “The environment is our future, it’s how we earn our living,” says Geissberger. “If we lose it, we’ll lose our tourism and then we’ll lose everything.”

The sustainable living hub is funded by Unilever. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled brought to you by. Find out more

Join the community of sustainability professionals and experts. Become a GSB member to get more stories like this direct to your inbox. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.