Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Future Planet - From Villages to Smart Communes

By Pramod Sidhagangaiah

Co-Authored by Mo Polamar

The popular discourse on climate change is that it is a result of human domination and human’s cruelty. But when you scratch the surface of this argument you get to a deeper, more psychological and genetic reality.

Survival establishes; Habit pattern forms.

Human beings, perhaps due to their intelligence, accepted the challenge of survival by Nature. Humans were not fighting for mere existence; they wanted to settle the score once and for all. It is tempting to bring in the human ‘ego’, but then it will lead to a realm that we are not dealing with in this presentation of thought.

Lets explore further the nature of the human. In the race to secure herself and her loved ones, she started to combat the forces of our ecosystem to eradicate hunger and diseases. Nature responded and forced her to improvise, resulting in the invention of tools. She continued to develop - art, sports, music, and literature. This eventually distanced her from the rest of the animal species.

The central and recurring theme in genetic science is survival and human learnt soon that in order to survive she must live in packs or large groups. Almost simultaneously, division of labor occurred. Human developed skills to produce food, clothing and shelter, and started living in groups or villages. They shared the resources and responsibility, which paved the way for concepts of equity and justice. Skills developed into technologies: knitting is skill and so handloom is technology. The groups got larger as a result of more and more people joining the commune from the forests and coupled with decrease in morality rate. Technology exploded to give rise to the Industrial revolution. The redundant luxury the industrial revolution created erased the primordial survival skills that were coded in our genetic makeup and the human lost touch with Nature.

Cities Form.

Meanwhile division of labor got further fragmented. Managing the expanding kaleidoscope of labor became more lucrative than the actual labor. Economy was the corner stone of this shift; economy replaced survival. Economic tools created by the intelligent few took control of survival skills of the majority of people; the mind defeated the body.

This centralised expansion of economy continues to homogenise our language, culture, existence and desire. This cauldron where the shape shifting of Nature occurs are called Cities.

Centralization is double edge sword; It helped us to survive and grow beyond all threats, but has now led to great inequality where now 2% of the world population consumes 60% of the world’s resources.

History repeats, habit pattern will re-establish:

The fight for survival has into an ugly fight against Nature that has turned the human against herself. Will Nature wreak revenge on humans? Will Nature have the last laugh?

We lean heavily on genetic makeup when we argue that humans will survive and survive well. The genetics within all of us will find an alternate living model, a model whose central theme again is survival. We say that our primary vehicle of preservation will be Smart Communes.

Smart Communes are similar to villages but they do not carry the prejudices that the word “village” evokes. Smart Communes do not advocate the Amish way of life (Amish are an American Protestant group with around 200,000 members descended from European Anabaptists who came to the USA more than two centuries ago to escape persecution. They are best known for their 19th century way of life that was portrayed in the 1985 Harrison Ford film Witness, in which violent crime clashed with their peaceful existence). Nor do they intend to industrialise villages. Instead, they make possible an organic process of decentralization. The evolving technologies like solar, windmill, biofuels and others as energy resources do not support centralisation models and enable people to live comfortably without relying on city-centric or centralized infrastructure. Smart Communes are really evolving, knowingly or unknowingly. More than 3 million households have started producing their own electricity with solar PV, says Eurelectric, while 133 “bio-villages” have emerged in Germany since 2000, generating more than 50 percent of their electricity and heat from bio-energy resources. Community-owned wind farms are also common in Denmark and other markets. Gradually people living anywhere in the geography are being enabled with energy to produce their own food, clothing, and other amenities needed for survival. People living in self sufficient communes/villages/hamlets, will eventually stop a trouser, a cigarette pack, pack of biscuit, a match stick to travel thousand of miles to reach its consumers.

Characteristics of Smart Communes:

At the danger of being termed reductionist the following are some of the changes that will inevitably occur when a smart village becomes a widely practiced reality.

1. Food: The Smart Commune model will stall the disastrous development called mono-cropping. Since communities do not need to export, and since they need diversified food inputs, they will move away from monocropping. This will also result in reduction of consumption of chemical fertilizer and preservation of water. It will safeguard the soil quality.

2. Transportation: Magnitude of logistics comes down, resulting in reduction of fossil fuel consumption; gradually trucks density will come down in state highways and national highways and finally in international goods exchange. This will result in lesser GHG emissions and slow down the process of global heating.

Smart Communes model discourages the culture of importing, be it exotic flowers, clothes and food. This really is a blessing in disguise. Ecosystems have evolved to be geography-specific; the barriers between various ecosystems are the ocean, desert, and mountains. These natural barriers serve to keeping geographies safe from invasive resources, be it living or non-living. The many decades of centralisation has damaged these barriers resulting in large-scale disturbance of the ecosystems. A very common example of this is the Lantana, a flower species brought to India from American tropics as an ornamental species, which is creating devastating effect on Indian flora.

As a broader discourse, the decentralised economy ushered in by these Smart Communes will mitigate at least some of the gross inequity of our current economic system.

Smart Communes are a certain occurrence in the near future. Will it happen in time to save majority of human race from perishing? We continue to speculate.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Sustainability Maturity Model Part I – Establishing a Need and a Survey of the Terrain

By Joe Kent and Jaya Chakravarty

The practice of environmental sustainability in businesses is an emerging discipline.  Driven by impending climate change and scarcity of vital resources, it has made its way into the lexicon of the modern business. We’ve seen a rapid adoption of sustainable business practices over the past 10 years, and leading companies, NGO’s, the government, and sustainability consultants have been helping shape new environmental standards for businesses to operate by. Until the standards, frameworks, tools and processes are established, there is room for vagueness, misinformation and misunderstandings. In the case of the sustainability practice, there is confusion around what a robust sustainability practice should look like. Most companies have not had the experience of conscious sustainable operations and cannot envision what they are missing, and they don’t know the difference between bad and good sustainability practice. As a result, we have seen companies struggle to advance their sustainability practices, while others are reluctant to begin any initiative at all.

In this scenario, the Sustainability Maturity Model, can help create a vision of what a robust sustainability practice looks like, and how sustainability should be integrated into a business model. The sustainability maturity model characterizes a continuum of sustainability maturity levels, from low maturity to high. Managers can benchmark their company’s performance against the model to see where they currently stand, and envision how they can progress further to achieve high maturity. It can be considered a roadmap to sustainability integration.

While many different frameworks exist, they generally follow the same basic format. Low maturity businesses are characterized by having none or just few isolated sustainability projects, whereas high maturity companies fully integrate sustainability into each aspect of their business strategy, from product design to energy sourcing. Usually the model will also characterize 2 – 3 intermediate levels as well. A comparison of the models published by PREST University of Manchester, FairRidge Group, and Terra Infirma, BAE Systems, and Industrial Research Institute illustrates this point nicely.

Sustainability Maturity Model Comparison Chart

Maturity Model Comparison Chart

While being generally called Sustainability Maturity Model, most of these frameworks are focused on environmental sustainability (Once exception is the Industrial Research Institute's, which includes one small social element as well).  This is perhaps justified since the very critical scenarios of depleting and degrading natural resources, and a rapidly heating Earth has brought Environment centre-stage amongst the three pillars of sustainability.

Most of the frameworks are based on subjective data, so are useful primarily for internal analysis of a company and only loose comparisons to other companies. Only insiders will truly know how well sustainability has been integrated into the business model. Some organizations have attempted to make their models more objective to make more concrete comparisons between companies. The Industrial Research Institute, for example, has created an Excel-based survey which a manager can download and fill in. The survey then automatically maps their sustainability maturity in 14 different categories. They can e-mail the completed survey back to IRI and receive a copy of the overall results from their industry.

The model we created at Climate Miles learns from these existing models, but is based on more objective indicators and only information that is available in the public domain. This allows us to objectively rank a company’s maturity level without the need for internal information, and to make unbiased comparisons of the maturity level of many companies within a sector. We’ll explain our model more in upcoming blogs.