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Cities and the new climate economy

On February 24, 2015, in Project Management, by Joe Nyangon
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To overcome market, policy and institutional barriers to low-carbon growth, cities should harness three fundamental drivers of change, notably raise resource efficiency, invest in infrastructure and stimulate innovation in new business models, technologies, business models and social-technical innovations and practices to advance both growth and emissions reduction.

The New Climate Economy (NCE), a flagship project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has released a report documenting how urbanization drives of productivity and growth in the global economy. The report titled, ‘Better Growth, Better Climate,’ observes that as the global economy undergoes a deep structural transformation the next 15 years will be marked by: (i) rapid global economic expansion by more than half, (ii) rapid technological advancement that will have profound impact on both businesses and lives, (iii) migration of a billion more people into cities, and (iv) investment of nearly US$90 trillion in infrastructure in asset intensive sectors mainly in urban, land use and energy systems.

To overcome market, policy and institutional barriers to low-carbon growth, the report recommends harnessing three key “drivers of change,” notably: raising resource efficiency, investing in infrastructure and stimulating innovation in new business models, technologies, business models and social-technical innovations and practices to stimulate both growth and emissions reduction.

 

Speaking at the launch of the report, Philipp Rode, the Executive Director of LSE Cities and Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science said that:

dispersed peripheralized development of many developing world cities in particular leads to a very regressive form of urban development replicating income and wealth inequalities by limiting access to common goods such as healthcare, better schools, and public transport.

The report identifies better urbanization, better development, and better coordination of critical economic systems as vital drivers of change in cities.

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The report recommends a 10-point global action plan, including:

  • integrating climate into core economic decision-making processes to accelerate low-carbon transformation;
  • phasing out subsidies for hydrocarbon fuels, and incentives for urban sprawl;
  • introduce strong, predictable carbon prices;
  • pursue a strong, lasting and equitable international climate treaty;
  • strengthen incentives for long-term investment in forestry and forest protection;
  • reduce capital costs for low-carbon infrastructure investments;
  • scale up innovation in key low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies;
  • emphasize on developing a connected and compact cities paradigm;
  • accelerate fuel switching away from polluting coal-fired power generation to low carbon fuels; and
  • restore lost or degraded forests and agricultural lands by 2030.

Simple ideas that lead to great discoveries

On March 18, 2012, in Risk Management, Sustainable Finance, by Joe Nyangon
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Adam Savage, speaks at a TED-ED event on fascinating examples of profound scientific discoveries that essentially came from simple yet creative methods. Adam has co-hosted MythBusters, a Discovery Channel show. Adam’s talk reminded me of Steven Johnson’s book, ‘Where Good Ideas Come From‘. What is apparent is that ideas come from everywhere; no group of people or […]

Adam Savage, speaks at a TED-ED event on fascinating examples of profound scientific discoveries that essentially came from simple yet creative methods. Adam has co-hosted MythBusters, a Discovery Channel show.

Adam’s talk reminded me of Steven Johnson’s book, ‘Where Good Ideas Come From‘. What is apparent is that ideas come from everywhere; no group of people or institution can claim absolute monopoly of good ideas!

Here is Steve’s TED Talks:

“A good idea is a network. A specific constellation of neurons–thousands of them–fire in sync with each other for the first time in your brain, and in idea pops into your consciousness. A new idea is a network of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make…an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm.” Steven Johnson

 

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Adventures in the margin of error?

On May 15, 2011, in Sustainable Finance, by Joe Nyangon
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Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, speaks to TED, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Ideas worth spreading,” on why being wrong is good.  Schulz is a journalist, author, and public speaker, writes The Wrong Stuff, and her work has appeared in several publications

Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, speaks to TED, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Ideas worth spreading,” on why being wrong is good.  Schulz is a journalist, author, and public speaker, writes The Wrong Stuff, and her work has appeared in several publications

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Sustainability’s self-organizing shoots

On April 16, 2011, in Economic Logic & Value, Renewable Energy Markets, by Joe Nyangon
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We all remember the notable story that opens Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Harrow, a psychology professor, and two colleagues gather eight rhesus monkeys for a two-week experiment on learning. They’re surprised to see the primates—without any urging or coercion—begin to play with their specially devised puzzle with focus, […]

We all remember the notable story that opens Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Harrow, a psychology professor, and two colleagues gather eight rhesus monkeys for a two-week experiment on learning. They’re surprised to see the primates—without any urging or coercion—begin to play with their specially devised puzzle with focus, determination, and enjoyment. The shock deepens when the experimenters observe the monkeys crack a code on how to remove a pin, slide a hook, and open the cover of the mechanical puzzle, each time, even without a food reward, affection, or applause. Conversely, when the primates are rewarded with raisins for solving the puzzle they make more errors and less frequently solve the puzzle. The reason, Pink concluded, was that the monkeys solved the puzzle repeatedly because it was gratifying to do so. That is, the intrinsic benefits of solving the puzzle outweighed the extrinsic rewards.

In view of Harrow’s dilemma, I find the description of what motivates us presented in Pink’s book to be an apt description of global sustainability today. And the example that perfectly fits this description is the self-organizing aspect of sustainable initiatives. I find that many people still see sustainability as a carrot or stick dilemma; they are pretty convinced their choices are the best and it’s other people who aren’t doing the right thing. Their reasoning takes this line: “Nature has a unique way of maintaining equilibrium and regenerating itself. Our company is not a big polluter like other big companies and if it means that we have to give up our current production processes, we probably won’t do it.”

We sometimes think of sustainability practices as bootstrapping themselves into existence. We fail to connect the dots between our lifestyle choices and the resulting macrobehavior. One Wall Street Journal article documents why, despite government efforts to encourage consumers to adopt zero-emissions vehicles, electric cars are not yet creating much spark. As one researcher observed, “Until battery technology improves and people can drive further, I don’t see significant growth in electric vehicles.” Other consumers have expressed interest in electric cars, but acknowledge that it is going to take time before an effective solution to the range anxiety problem is resolved. How about if government paid new electric car owners? Try to nudge car owners to buy zero-emission cars by paying them for each unit bought—and they’ll become more diligent in the short term and lose interest in the long term.

But those who drive electric cars, or use energy saving bulbs, or incorporate ISO 14000 standards into projects, or weatherize their homes, for instance, aren’t setting out to solve global sustainability challenges; they are solving personal or business—and indeed local—problems, such as how to drive to their workplaces, or what to use in lighting their homes, or how to set a framework for continual improvement of environmental performance of their business, or how to maintain a certain in-house temperature. And yet those personal and local decisions combine—and self-organize—to form the macrobehavior of their homes, companies, businesses, states and nations. As a result of this self-organization, new pockets of successes emerge: home energy bills are reduced, corporate image among regulators, customers and the public is improved, clean air is restored, cases of chronic pulmonary diseases are reduced, and the equilibrium is restored.

“It takes a village” is a cliché. And yet I see its dynamics are at play everywhere in addressing sustainability. The correlation reinforces the notion that global sustainability requires a trade-off driven by intrinsic rewards: we all have a role to play in improving the environment and we will have to sacrifice something (e.g., our backyard for wind farms, preference for mass transit, or inexpensive transportation). And while some people are willing to make this trade-off, many others are not. As a result, the notion of global sustainability may need some nudges, including peer pressure.

The interaction is two-way: the project manager who incorporates ISO 14000 standards into the project influences other project staff in his or her team, and vice versa; the new homeowner who buys, retrofits and weatherizes his or her home next to an existing homeowner influences the behavior of that homeowner, which in turn influences the behavior of the new comer; the quality assurance specialist who applies exactitudes rather than generalities in project cost, project quality, and project time trade-offs, and educates, trains, and holds project staff responsible for sustainability, influences the behavior of those staff, who in turn influence the behavior of the project manager. In other words, the relationships are mutual: you influence your peers and your peers influence you, and a ‘flow,’ which enhances intrinsic benefits, is maintained and enhanced.

More prosaically, Pink addresses the complexity of these interactions, both in personal decisions and corporate environments, and advises those who prefer a reward-and-punishment route that: “Building our businesses in sync with these truths won’t be easy. Unlearning old ideas is difficult, undoing old habits even harder. And I’d be less sanguine about the prospects of closing the motivation gap anytime soon, if it weren’t for this: The science confirms what we already know in our hearts.” That is his swanky way of saying that decisions on global sustainability will come down to our deep-seated desire to direct own lives, expand our abilities, and to continue to live a life of purpose.

I will admit that, in that sense, Pink’s work gives us hope. And to make progress with global sustainability we will have to come to terms with the fact that real headway will only be realized when we adopt sustainability practices because it is gratifying to do so. Success will be possible when the collective action to create more profitable, healthy, and sustainable businesses, communities, and nations, is bottom-up, and enjoyable. That is, when the intrinsic benefits outweigh the extrinsic rewards.

Harrow’s primates have cracked the code and solved the puzzle without any raisins, and the ball has now been tossed to the bigger-brained, less hairy human beings. I will bet on intrinsic motivation and kaizen—continuous improvement—to get us there.

This article first appeared in the Project Management Global Sustainability Community of Practice (CoP).

Innovation tournament seeks new ideas

On February 5, 2011, in Energy and Environmental Policy, Sustainable Finance, by Joe Nyangon
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The Innovation Tournament 2011 is now open. The tournament which is now in its second year seeks ideas in sustainability innovation or customer-centric innovation, from an individual or as part of a team, for a solution that can be implemented in businesses worldwide. The deadline for submissions to the Innovation Tournament is March 7, 2011, and the winner […]

The Innovation Tournament 2011 is now open. The tournament which is now in its second year seeks ideas in sustainability innovation or customer-centric innovation, from an individual or as part of a team, for a solution that can be implemented in businesses worldwide. The deadline for submissions to the Innovation Tournament is March 7, 2011, and the winner will receive a cash prize of up to $20,000.

The tournament is organized by Wipro Technologies, a software services firm headquartered in Bangalore, India, and Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania. Read more

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