Green Numbers round-up 12/18/2009

Green Numbers

Photo credit MildlyDiverting

Welcome to this Friday’s Green numbers round-up!

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


(Lack of) Sustainability in the Mobile industry

I realised recently that although I have referred to the talk I gave in Barcelona on Mobile Sustainability (for the Mobile 2.0 conference) in a couple of posts I never talked about the talk directly here, so now it is time to redress that.

I have posted the slide deck above so you can follow along with the slides above and my explanation below.

Slides 1-3 are simply my introducing the topic and myself (along with my contact details).

I started off with a bit of a background:

  • Slides 4-6 I start to talk about some of the reasons why sustainability is important. Climate change, for example, is real and is recognised as real. Even that last hold-out, the US government, has now admitted it is real and have set up the United States Global Change Research program to study the effects of Climate Change on the US.
  • Slide 7 – New studies show that the impacts of climate change are likely to be worse than we anticipated
  • Slide 8 – The polar ice caps are shrinking far faster than anyone predicted
  • Slide 9 – Climate change is affecting animal populations today
  • Slide 10 – Climate change is affecting the world’s river systems, and thus access to water for many people globally today
  • Slide 11-13 – This is having devastating effects on people in South America, the Middle East, and Asia (and agriculture in Australia and California)
  • Slide 14 – NGO’s are warning that the humanitarian systems, already stretched thin, will be overwhelmed

Then I went on to discuss the business case for sustainability today:

Having set the stage (we need to be more sustainable, and look, there is a strong consensus that there is a business case for it too), I started to bring the talk around to the subject of the Mobile industry:

  • Slide 24 – Quote from Smart 2020 report saying ICTs could deliver emissions reductions of at least 15% by 2020
  • Slide 25 – While there are 1 billion PCs in the world today, and 1.4 billion Internet users, there are 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions
  • Slides 26-29 – Examples of Green handsets from Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson. I made the point here that in many cases the ‘Green handsets’ being produced by manufacturers are simply so they can ‘tick that box’ in the annual report. Sony had 57 handsets on their website. 1 was green. Green handsets should be the rule, not the exception.
  • Slides 30-33 – I checked out the websites some of the main mobile operators. 3 have no mention whatsoever (that I could find) of sustainability on their corporate website; the websites of Telefonica and O2 had Sustainability sites but they could both stand a lot of work, while Vodafone’s Sustainability site was the best of the mobile operators which I examined (that’s not to say it couldn’t stand some improvement too!)
  • Slides 34-36 A quick look at some of the Sustainability apps which have been developed for the mobile platform – slim pickings, tbh!

So having shown how poorly this industry is doing in terms of sustainability, I posited a few what-if’s:

  • Slide 38
    What if manufacturers made phones which lasted 6 yrs not 6 months? Rent, not buy?
    What if manufacturers made non-toxic handsets?
    What if manufacturers standardised to usb chargers?
    What if mobile operators switched to e-billing?
  • Slide 39
    What if carriers avoided unnecessary duplication in mobile networks, (would lead to a savings of 300gWh pa in UK alone)
    What if everyone pushed sustainability down supply chain?
    What if developers used mobile platform to build apps which ‘made a difference’?
    What if grid computing client apps were created for mobiles?

Under the “Other” heading go ideas like creating Augmented Reality applications for handsets with sustainability related information, or what if the phone makers included pollution sensors (for example) in handsets. With the ubiquity of handsets and with most handsets having inbuilt Internet access, it wouldn’t be long before realtime information on air quality worldwide would be available. Combine that with an Augmented Reality app so people can visualize live their air quality and you would very quickly see changes in people’s behaviour.

Finally, I concluded with two quotes to show why this is critical:

  • Slide 40 – From the 2007 IPCC Climate Change Synthesis Report [PDF Warning]
    As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5 degrees C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.
  • Slide 41 – From the Chair of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri
    If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.

The thing to remember here is that Rajendra Pachauri is a George Bush appointee. He was appointed Chair of the IPCC because his predecessor, Dr. Robert Watson was deemed by the American fossil fuel industry (and in particular ExxonMobil) to be too outspoken.

Rajendra Pachauri and the IPCC’s quotes are the conservative point of view.

Mobile phones are ubiquitous. There are in excess of 4 billion of them. They are now for all intents and purposes hand-held computers, increasingly with an Internet connection. Shame on us all if we don’t leverage this incredible resource in the battle to mitigate the effects of climate change.

UPDATE: After I gave this talk, Vodafone, in conjunction with Accenture, issued a report called Carbon connections: quantifying mobile’s role in tackling climate change [PDF Warning]. In this report Vodafone claim that:

mobile technology could cut Europe’s annual energy bill by at least €43 billion and effect a reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 113Mt CO2e by 2020. This represents 18% of the UK’s annual CO2e output in 2008 and approximately 2.4% of expected EU emissions in 2020.

The report goes on to say that the opportunities for carbon savings come from two main areas – Smart machine-to-machine (M2M) services (Smart Grids, Smart Logistics, Smart Manufacturing and Smart Cities) and Dematerialisation (i.e. video-conferencing, online shopping, etc.).


Mobile phones – distributed air quality sensor network?

Since giving my talk on sustainability in the mobile phone sector at Mobile 2.0 in Barcelona a few weeks back and writing my post about how Augmented Reality on mobiles could be transformative for Green tech I have been thinking a lot about how mobiles could make a significant positive contribution to the planet.

The context behind this is that while there are 1 billion PCs in the world and 1.4 billion internet users, there are 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions and climbing. One possibility I posited at Mobile 2.0 was that mobiles could become clients for grid computing projects like IBM’s World Community Grid. This would add significantly to the compute power of the grid (but for now battery life considerations probably means this is still a few years out).

The other thought rattling around in my head was probably sparked off by my discussions with IBM execs around their Smarter Planet initiative. It occurs to me that if mobile phones had built-in air quality monitors, you could very quickly build up a real-time map of pollution hotspots. Current municipal pollution monitors are static and far too few in number to give a meaningful picture of air quality but if mobile phones had this capability, the combining of the air quality information with the GPS data from the phone would allow for pinpointing of pollution trouble spots very quickly.

Obviously for this to be effective, the data would need to be anonymized and uploaded to a central server. Also, the pollution information would need to be made freely available for everyone’s consumption. There may even be a business model there for someone to pay mobile phone users to sample air and upload the information.

A quick bit of research around this thought and I found the video above showing that not alone is it feasible but it wasn’t a hugely original idea on my part 😉

With the recent news of urban pollution being responsible for lower IQ in children and being implicated in premature births of infants and preeclampsia, there is a definite health imperative for something like this. Especially in China, where air pollution is causing massive health problems. Imagine if the Chinese authorities mandated this the way they mandated that all mobile phone chargers use usb back in 2006! Very quickly economies of scale would drive costs down and competition amongst manufacturers would mean smaller chipsets to do this.

Original Rockwell GPS receiver - image from

Original Rockwell GPS receiver - image from

For anyone who thinks that air quality monitors would be too bulky for mobile phones, just have a look at what the original GPS receivers looked like (large backpacks) and now they are embedded in most smart phones!

One final thought harking back to my post on Augmented Reality, with air quality data from mobile phones uploaded to the cloud (unintentional pun, sorry!) it would be very straightforward to create an Augmented Reality view of air quality allowing mobile phone owners to ‘see’ pollution in their immediate environment – imagine how quickly that would drive home to people the seriousness of their air quality situation.