Toyota as a case study in complexity. Is prius just a greenwash halo?

Great piece today at movementdesign’s re*move blog about Toyota. It tells us a lot about bright green, and the danger of kneejerk reactions. There are plenty of lessons for any industry there.

Right now there’s a petition going on in the States, calling for Toyota to support a proposed bill requiring ‘CAFE’ fleet average ‘gas mileage’ for cars and small trucks, to rise to 35mpg by 2020.  Toyota is doing its green image absolutely no good by trying to derail this bill, and supporting an alternative, which calls for the average to rise to 32mpg. Could it be that the self-styled green giant Toyota, is not as green as it likes everyone to think it is?

It seems its all about the trucks, with Prius as nothing more than window dressing.

Sadly, like everyone else auto-wise when it comes to the United States market, Toyota is actually rather keen on truck sales – specifically its big Tundra truck – which it recently launched a new version of. While Ford and GM have been taken to the cleaners by greens and press alike over their poor gas mileage, and reliance on selling inefficient trucks and their lack of hybrids, Toyota has sailed merrily on, positioning itself as the big green giant, basking in the halo effect of the Prius.

Joe though avoids knee-jerk conclusions. Its not either, or.

So although this fuel economy episode is unlikely to do Toyota’s green image much good – and although it indeed seems rather hypocritical of them to oppose the tougher gas-mileage bill, I wouldn’t kick Toyota too hard. They are ahead of the game – in terms of alternative power plants, advanced research and future mobility ideas. Just because they oppose the regulations now, doesn’t mean they won’t hit, or even exceed the legislation come 2020.

Toyota is of course undoubtedly a leader in green automotive technology, and green automotive sales, but we have to remember the company’s job is to sell as many vehicles as possible. Until it becomes deeply embarrassing to drive one of those huge trucks in environments where they aren’t absolutely necessary people will keep buying them. Toyota it seems to me is a company we should be encouraging to do better. But then signing the petition is perhaps a way to do just that.

Somehow I can’t see a computer company lobbying to reduce energy consumption targets on servers, but stranger things have happened. Environmental leadership is complex and only going to get more so.


Turn Servers Off When You Don’t Need Them Part 2

I recently blogged about the fact its common in Japan to turn servers off at night, so I found it interesting that Cassatt, the data center automation vendor launched by BEA founder Bill Coleman , has just announced a power management play- claiming “customers have experienced up to 50 percent reduction in their power usage, simply by allowing Active Power Management to turn off servers when idle, and then confirm a successful power-up when they’re needed again.”

According to the release the The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported last month that data centers are consuming up to 1.5 percent of all the electricity generated in the U.S.

But Europe is actually ahead of the US in some areas of efficiency and greening. BT, a leader in the field, now looks for always available, rather than always on in its equipment purchasing. One of the strangest arguments of the last ten years came from the Washington lobbyists and politicians claiming efficiency initiatives harm the economy. I am glad this argument is being won by the other side – green power can save money whether you’re a small or large business. As this Computerworld story says vendors such as Sun and Fujitsu are now showcasing their own initiatives. It doesn’t matter whether you turn electricity off to save money or save the planet.

Why do I find the Cassatt pitch interesting? Partly because it answers a key counterpoint to “turn you server off” thinking. Thus Mike Gunderloy, in comments to my earlier blog post, asked:

Has anyone looked at the labor costs of this? I know that even on my tiny little dozen-machine network, I am reluctant to power everything off at night simply because it takes so bloody long waiting for the damn things to boot up in the morning. Seems like actual working fast-boot technologies would go a long way to sell this initiative.

IT labor costs of course will kill energy efficiency initiatives every time, if they are too high. That’s where automation software comes in. We can expect automation vendors of all stripes to pursue similar power management strategies, which is a good thing.

Power off.

picture courtesy of r3wind‘s creative commons attribution license.


Green From The Ground Up: On your Bike

Some people argue that we can’t make a difference, that only corporations or governments have the muscle to work on the huge ecological problems we’re all facing, that carbon emissions are someone else’s problem. So its refreshing to see someone that sees things differently and acts on the difference. Credit to 21st Century Citizen for writing about someone worthy of the name: Steve Loo.

We’re all part of the problem, so therefore we must be part of the change.

Pedal power – that’s roots. Here are Steve’s trails to sustainability:

1. Using my bike as my main form of transportation including winter time (I still drive once a week through carsharing)

2. Using less paper (in fact, I haven’t bought any new paper in 3 years);

3. Having not just shorter showers but also having staggered and fewer showers; recently we bought a dual flush toilet. Woohoo!

4. Creating my own artistic notebooks reusing old materials

5. Becoming more integrated with my local economy – not just local foods but also locally made products and services (yay Calgary Dollars)

6. Organizing and promoting documentary screenings focusing on social justice and environmental issues, and showcasing local activists working on local causes

7. Gardening (with mixed success but still trying)

8. Questioning and challenging our politicians, journalists, teachers and other “professionals” (along with fellow students) regarding government policy and media portrayal of all the issues

9. Encouraging my friends to take up more sustainable lifestyles while emphasizing that this is progression rather than perfection.

Just because the world is speeding up doesn’t mean you have to.

Photo courtesy of sandcastlematt. This post is nigh on perfect for the car obsessives over at Re*Move.


The end of America’s CO2 affair?

Getting any kind of G8 deal on climate change has been quite an achievement, based on conversations with people on the ground in Germany. And having the United States make the right noises is a true development. Fiona Harvey, in her new FT blog that will examine energy and environmental issues, sensed a shift yesterday.

“We have to wait and see what happens in Bali in December before we can make a final judgement. But progress it certainly is. George W Bush has repeatedly scorned the UN and its climate change talks in the past. This time, he says he wants the US to be “actively involved, if not taking the lead, in a post-Kyoto framework, post-Kyoto agreement”.

Of course, that could also mean the US wants to participate in order to stall agreement on a binding commitment to cut emissions, as some green groups suspect.

But even if that is the case, it still means the talks can start this year. In 2009, there will be a different president who may take the US participation in a different direction. At least the process will have begun, rather than having to be started from scratch by a new president in 2009.”

We spend a lot of time trying to sense whether America really is changing its attitudes towards climate change and the ways action can be taken. And while Bush’s policy making is one thing, it’s what the doers on the ground are up to that counts for the long term.

Dante’s Peak: Would Pierce have got everyone out in a Prius?
America’s renewed lust for the environment goes much wider than the Silicon Valley clean boom. For example, an amazing number of people you talk to in the US are now very interested in finding ways to reduce their dependency on oil, for starters. And they won’t sacrifice mobility to do it. I call the latter the ‘Dante’s Peak’ trait – a hard-wired desire to have the immediate ability at any time to put your entire family into a truck that can speed you away from exploding volcanos, or whatever else might come along. Such traits just aren’t part of the European psyche, and this difference needs to be understood. Conversely, European angst over aviation emissions, a constant and major factor here, is just not on the US radar. Americans in the street can’t believe Europeans worry about aircraft emissions being a bad thing. In a vast country with completely different patterns of population density and transport infrastructure to Europe it seems hard to imagine Americans starting to wonder whether they ought to fly. Hell, they didn’t transform the world with 707s and DC-8s, only to give up the mass-scale, iconic marvel and convenience of jet travel.

The contradiction is that while we are all shocked that Bush is now facing into the environmental wind – and that the detail on what this means for citizens is bound to differ between continents – today in the United States there are examples of extraordinary state or city-level leadership on the environment, with things moving very fast. City mayors and governors far away from the Arnie-induced Californian green-boom are developing exciting policies. Take Austin in, of all places Texas. It’s becoming one of the US’s top hotspots for environmental startups. Americans understand that new markets create new energy, if you excuse the irony – energetic campuses, energetic startup firms, flows of venture funds and more.

Read more at Re*Move

Mark Charmer is director of The Movement Design Bureau, a global think tank.