Category Archives: Sustainability

When Distance Learning was a mule-drawn wagon!

I have always been interested in Distance Learning, but as I like to tell young people many of our modern business and education models existed before the Internet.

For instance, about 50 years before eBooks made it possible to have the library accessible from home, we had the ‘mobile’ bicycle-drawn lending library.

But this ‘school on wheels’ known as the Jesup Wagon beats that! It was developed by George Washington Carver, a former slave.

A scientist, better known for the innovation we call ‘crop rotation’ and also peanuts, he loaded a wagon with seeds in this His ‘horse-drawn classroom’ and laboratory. His students were former slaves who had become sharecroppers.

The Movable Classroom program began in 1906. The wagon cost $674.

We could all use this to get some perspective, especially when we think we need fancy technology to connect knowledge with students.


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For Robotics this year we’re re-imagining ‘Trash’

We just kicked off our new Robotics season in my school –my 5th year as coach!

With 26 students signing up, that’s more than twice the number of applications from last year. It’s a ‘good problem’ to have, to see kids become so excited about doing the hard stuff – the building, programming, doing the requisite research, and finally running those complicated missions.

On first glance, this year’s theme, Trash Trek,‘ is much less abstract than last year’s ‘World Class’ (around global education). Lots of big ideas to get our minds around the three R’s that could become a cliche unless we re-interpret RE-ducing, RE-using and RE-cycling . For instance, how about RE-imagining:

  • How far does the trash that gets into our bins has to travel? Could we calculate this (the ‘M’ in STEM) and display it somewhere? Perhaps in our communities — as some sort of a dashboard? If so, who would build the app? What would that display look like?
  • Who decides on the packaging that gets into the products we buy? How much cost will it save if we RE-fuse to ‘pay’ for this (with our landfills?)
  • Could our trash bins earn us money – a la Recyclebank?

I’m talking to all kinds of people – entrepreneurs, engineers,, designers etc who could come in and inspire my students. If you know someone, please call me, email me or send me a tweet at @heyangelo.

Some examples we might use for inspiration this week.






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When you can’t broadcast, why not podcast?

A funny thing happened on the way to the radio station this week.

We had a great guest lined up, but were informed a day before that that time slot –7 PM Arizona time — was being preempted because the station, KFNX, had a prior commitment to carry the University of Arizona basketball game.

Rather than take a hiatus, I decided to pull out my trusty Zoom H4N and record a podcast with my co-host Derrick Mains. It happened to be a fitting week to talk of the launch of a baseline study by his company, GreenNurture and Miller Consultants. (More details here at the show web site.) This podcast also includes a report from Heather Clancy, our second on-the-ground correspondent.

The irony of this is, the radio show grew out of a weekly podcast! So, using social media-based format to broadcast a ‘show’  is more than a fall back. It’s an integral part of what I’m doing in radio in the digital era.


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Crowd-sourcing as internal communication tool

Smart mobs, crowd-sourcing, citizen journalism –have you noticed how these waves of outside influence keep crashing on our shores?

Howard Rheingold, in Smart Mobs, uses a powerful analogy of human intelligence and computers. If you consider thousands of computers in a building as heaters running at full capacity, he says, only a small part of the heat generated is being used to warm the building. The rest of the energy leaks outside. It could easily be distriuted to other parts of the enterprise.

Now consider the ‘leakage’ of intellectual capital in your office every day. Employees arrive at the workplace, power-up, and are left to run, but vast amounts of  knowledge and ideas are untapped. The occasional survey, the large meetings where no one wants to raise their hand only scratch the surface.

Crowd-sourcing (despite books like this on the future of business) as a driver of big ideas, or as an  internal communications / HR function has not taken off. When it has been attempted –in a controlled environment such as focus groups — the costs and time involved make it a very expensive nice-to-have.

So how do you connect the internal circuits of your human resource that occupy the building? I’ve come across voting tools, idea-generation apps and feedback systems. Here are a three:

  • IdeaScale – for community-level conversation tracking
  • ConceptShare – for teams of designers and Creatives to collaborate and generate ideas
  • GetSatisfaction -a tool for customers and employees to gather ‘social knowledge’

Feedback widgets are here –and coming soon to a mobile device near you. Many of them only go so far. Some experts even warn of getting entangled in intellectual property problems. But the big hurdle to consider is motivation. Engagement goes hand in hand with incentives -the old WIFM concept.

My client, Arizona-based GreenNurture has takes the concept of feedback and employee engagement further. Deeper! 

Here’s how it works: In a company that wants to deploy a sustainability program, employees login to a social media-like app, come up with ideas, start comment or conversation threads, make pledges and vote on each others ideas. When hundreds of them start talking to each other, some idea gets refined, tossed out or voted up. The cream rises to the top, so to speak. There’s more granular information, including an assessment tool, deep reports etc –making sure no ‘heat’ is lost.

If you are interested, check the demo here!


Quotes for the week, ending 6 Feb, 2010

“People always clap for the wrong things.”

J.D  Salinger’s character, Holden Caulfield. Salinger died last week. He last appeared on this TIME magazine cover in Sept, 1961.

“Salinger never swallowed this capitalize-on-your-fame command that Simon Cowell and YouTube have turned into an American birthright.”

Author, and syndicated columnist, Mitch Albom, on Salinger’s attempt to not be famous.

“I might go to the bathroom during that ad,or make popcorn.”

Susan Estritch, commenting on the controversial ad at this year’s Super Bowl, about abortion and choice that will air among the predictable ones about job sites and Clysedales.

“The secular religion of global warming has all the elements of a religious faith: original sin (we are polluting the planet), ritual (separate your waste for recycling), redemption (renounce economic growth) and the sale of indulgences (carbon offsets).”

Michael Barone, on How Climate-Change Fanatics Corrupted Science

“It’s too early to tell if this round of Facebook changes will create a backlash, but at the time of this writing there were almost 3700 mostly negative comments on the company’s blog post detailing the new homepage design.”

PC World, on Facebook’s latest round of layout changes.


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Microsites tilted toward sustainability get clever

When talking about social media to a group, I often step back to get them to pay attention to how to design for interactivity. After all, social media is all about interactions, right?

I like to note how wicked a wiki could be (though no one ever talks of wikis anymore, with all the tools around Facebook and Twitter). I mention how Microsites can do a lot of things their POW –that’s Plain Old Web sites, in my book) can never do. All this thanks to social media elements that are almost invisible.

So I want to comment on two microsites that came on my radar this week. Toyota and Timberland.

The Toyota site works like a cross-section between an ad and a social network. Timberland is more complex. I’ll take that first here:

Timberland’s Earthkeepers is so complex it could easily be a mistaken for a grass roots movement, or a cause-marketing campaign such as Hopenhagen. Indeed, it has a cause-driven section called ‘Don’t Tell Us It Can Be Done’ (launched this week), aligned with the Copenhagen summit. As the press release states, it is “a movement that encourages citizens of the world to challenge government leaders attending the United Nation’s Conference…”

It has definitive calls to action – Take Steps, Make Pledges, Shop Responsibly etc.  The Twitter site is actually set up to track 12 students on a bus tour supporting the cause, rather than the typical corporate tweets. Their ‘Heroes’ are doing more than sporting Timberland attire. They are doing things like this.

There is a lot more, and it points to how web sites are getting built up so much around engagement, that very soon these microsites will be the template for the macro-sites. You know: the  standard corporate sites with dated, static information.

Toyota’s Beyond Cars, is a different animal: Dynamic content on steroids. Almost too much information. It’s an ever-changing grid of visitor-generated content (a term I like to use because it is more appropriate in this case than User-Generated). You could sort through four categories of content – innovation, environment, community, economy, with a floating navigation bar. It asks for story submissions using text, video or photos. Not sure if these go through content moderation, but it has a real-time feeling about it.

Unlike Timberland Beyond Cars is not connected to a specific cause other than to make a positive impact on the economy and environment –which is somewhat of a cliche if it ends there. But the very intent, to tap into ideas from the crowd, is bold and inspiring –yes, and visually very appealing. I wish they had thought it through into not just Twitter and Facebook, but beyond cars, literally –into activities not involving wheels. As someone who has two Toyotas in the garage, I have vested interest in this brand, obviously. I could think of a dozen, inexpensive things they could do.

What do you think?

  1. If you have some ideas, jot them down here as a comment. I will add to it next week.
  2. Which microsite do you prefer, and why?
  3. What do you think of a site like Timberland’s that stays behind the scene, as opposed to Toyota’s which is very much a branding exercise, with a cause tacked on?


Hopenhagen: inspiring creative, but no offline visibility?

I’ve seen a lot cause marketing campaigns, so perhaps my expectations are high for this one, particularly.

The presentation by Ogilvy Earth (yes they did set up a group with this name for sustainability-related clients) is eye opening,.

It hinges on the word ‘Hopenhagen‘ which initially struck me as yet another clever pun. But it’s been well thought out, to focus on this city less as a destination for activists and tree huggers, and more as a symbol, a buzz word, a starting point for conversations, individual and collective actions…

Two things going for it:

  • An impressive media-backing. Speaking of media, those donating TV, print, radio, online and ‘out-of-home’ media include The Economist, EuroNews, The Financial Times, GOOD Magazine, Google, Harvard Business Review, International Herald Tribune, Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, Newsweek, Scientific American, Business India, Time Warner Cable, and a host of others. JFK and Los Angeles International airports, the Thomson Reuters building in Times Square, and even The Wall Street Journal, typically not supportive of such global warming attention, is also in this group.
  • The campaign is bristling with social media elements –with the usual suspects – Twitter, Facebook, a YouTube channel. There’s an interesting ‘passport’ to be obtained. I like how someone has setup a simple way to use the campaign as a Twitter background, at  The flash mob, that was also part of the campaign, and turned intio a video,  ‘sunbathing’ is very funny, though it’s not gone quite viral. Watch this:

But while all this is impressive and works well in the digital world, I was hoping to see more real world events, local visibility, community calls to action. Passports and online petitions can go so far.

The city of Copenhagen itself has adopted the campaign. Why stop with that?

  • Why shouldn’t citizens of other cities adopt the idea as well? Or claim ‘sister city’ status with Hopenhagen?
  • Where are the meet ups, the walks, the school programs, the spontaneous –copycat flash-mobs events, even– the engagement of utility companies, art venues, universities, churches and temples etc?

We get so focused on digital media, with its global reach, we often forget to communicate, through local channels, and our human networks. If people can change their Twitter background, they will be ready to change some aspects of their analog life as well, if only for a few weeks.

It’s not too late. If only Ogilvy Earth could get slightly more down to earth …


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