Smart Cities for a society of longer lives

“We are currently in a society where people live longer. Smart cities are a response to this.” said Laurent Abadie, CEO of Panasonic Europe. His words are clear, smart cities are not only about technology and the environment but also about people’ well-being, about which services we can offer to people and make their lives better. In other words, we do not need to forget to reconcile all the three pillars of sustainability.

This speech came out after the commissioning of the self-sufficient city in Fujisawa, Japan, by the  multinational enterprise Panasonic. The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town is a big neighbourhood with 1000 households, green areas and solar panels everywhere. They are not developing a town only based on advanced-technology but, in their own words, “based on actual lifestyles”. Electric cars and a rational use of energy (it has amazing street lamps! LED lights that only turn on during the pedestrians’ tour) have helped to reduce 70% of CO2 emissions. Also with water reuse installations they have achieved to lessen 30% of water consumption, and residents interact, bond and exchange ideas and objectives for achieving better lifestyles in mobility, security and well-being.

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This utopian city but is actually a high-functionality reality. However, it is located in Japan, and this country has the advantage of having “a culture very used to manage their own resources because the land is very scarce” said the Spanish architect Pich-Aguilera. Plus very dense. Have other countries the possibility to replicate this example and become a success, as well? Pich-Aguilera thinks that it is possible, and about his country, Spain, he believes that however nowadays the law is against the renewable energy, Spanish people are close to a great change. The reason is because this country has a great potential in energy-terms. First, because the climate, obviously, and second because the great potential in attaining a good and efficient energy management in cities.

The path is steered but we still need to work in better deals between the public administration and private initiatives for inversions. So come on, multinational corporations, follow the Panasonic and Apple example (they are working together in a second residential sustainable area in Japan) and the planet and people will thank you. It’s hip to be green!

If you would like to know more about the Fujisawa project, here you go! There are very good schemes and infographics about the sustainable ideas performance. http://fujisawasst.com/EN/

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Smart Cities for a society of longer lives

A Summer in Green Myanmar

I have been back home for some days now and I can not still forget this last summer in Myanmar. It has been an unique experience. I was not prepared for the different way of travelling I encountered, but after the initial shock I have had the time of my life. Experienced people said me that for a first-timer traveller in Asia, Myanmar is probably the most difficult country to cope with. Tourism and infrastructure are just beginning and a lot of patience and energy are necessary. However, it is worth it because we saw a beautiful and very much untouched country. Getting to know how local people live has been a very rewarding experience. I know it will sound like a cliché, but it is true: It has been a very rewarding experience specially for a person who is aware of the importance of adopting a sustainable lifestyle. Here, I have seen the value of going sometimes back to the basics. I am of course not saying that they need to be at a standhill. They have the right to develop, be more productive and have a better quality of life. However, not ignoring their own green daily lifestyle and own efforts is basic to achieve a balanced and sustainable development.

After this little opening about my Myanmar impression, I would like to remark the great use of a material, so called sustainable, in this country and Asia, in general. Yes, you have probably guessed it: bamboo. bamboo plantationsI have to admit that I have a weakness for bamboo, and I have written sometimes about it (Bamboo bicycles>>Riding towards Sustainability). Bamboo is defined as a Rapidly Renewable Material. These materials are those which can be self-regenerated by the end of their product life and from here comes one of the reasons for it being called green and sustainable. And better if it is removed from plantations responsibly managed.

In Myanmar, bamboo is the top construction material. It has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel. Therefore, in this country, bamboo offers excellent earthquake resistant structures.bamboo houses

On the other hand, it is also the top utensils material. I love all craft, artisan and DIY stuff so looking at all the beautiful things they create with bamboo was truly amazing.bamboo baskets
Specially, I fall in love with the baskets they use to work in the country fields. We bought some in a village from a Shan family we spent one night with. Looking them making the baskets was beautiful. And looking them looking at us so happy after we decided to buy some, has no price. They are truly kind people and they value the things nature provide them, they are not selfish and they try their best to be happy with what they have. It is vital, and I hope that in their development journey they will carry on knowing that it’s hip to be green!

A Summer in Green Myanmar

Too good to throw away: The adaptive reuse.

Nowadays, with the climate change and sustainable development being at the spotlight, I would like to write about the adaptive reuse. You may quickly grasp the concept only reading these words but, just in case, I will answer the following question for you: What does adaptive reuse is? In general, we understand that it “is a process that changes a disused or ineffective item into a new item that can be used for a different purpose”. Here the concept of circular economy is now being heard. The main point in this economic sustainable view is the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycling). We can get off it to find new life in everything from bottles, clothes, boxes, vehicles, buildings and so on. I can see that this can be greatly translated to the “adaptive reuse” concept. As I said, we can try to adapt almost everything, but today I would like to focus in the last that comes to mind here: the building sector1635eb21dcdbf11dd81c38193a7c1080

We live and spend the majority of our time inside, so without sustainable buildings it is difficult to achieve a sustainable development. Buildings will have to be adaptable to the changing needs of the users. Flexibility in design, materials and thorough planning is the key. However, what happens if it is a building that already exists and was not planned according to these new needs? Then it is necessary to pursue a way which is sympathetic to give it a new purpose. All over the world, we find buildings which are abandoned, left unattended and unmaintained, causing a rapid deterioration and space misuse. Therefore, when a building can no longer function with its original use, a new use through adaptation may be the only way to take advantage and preserve it. We could say that the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle concept is applied here, because we consider that we preserve the building and there is no need for demolition and to build a new one. As a result, bypassing the wasteful process of demolition and deconstruction we alone see the benefits that this adaptation has for the environment. However, we could go further and prove that adaptive reuse is an essential component of sustainable development because it provides social and economic benefits as well. Let’s present it: In the social side, the recycling and adaptation of a building can restore the heritage significance of it as well as new housing or commercial or cultural opportunities to the community. Finally, in the economic side we have obvious savings for not having to acquire all the resources, materials and machinery to build a complete new building along with the embodied energy savings from not demolishing it. Is it good, isn’t it? It is like reinventing recycling.

To end, one great example (and a favourite of mine!) of adaptive reuse in buildings could be the transformation of the former Bankside Power Station in London to the art gallery Tate Modern. In a short span of time, Tate Modern has changed London and revitalised a previously underdeveloped area helping give the city a new image. It has become a key landmark for London skyline, while its concept and architecture have won international acclaim.

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As Viollet-Le-Duc said, “the best of all ways of preserving a building is to find a use for it, and then to”.

Too good to throw away: The adaptive reuse.

The Magic Washing Machine

If you have never seen or listened to any TED Talks, you should think about doing it. TED talks are amazing ways to learn about a myriad of topics such as global issues, science, politics, culture, business, innovation, technology, art and design, education and so on. As their motto says they are actually “ideas worth spreading”.

Hans_Rosling_1Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and professor in the Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, has participated some times in TED conferences giving fantastic and very motivational talks. One of his most popular, and my favourite one, is The Magic Washing Machine. It points out the benefits that industrialisation and technology have brought. Rosling gives us the example of the washing machine’s effectiveness for our lives. Washing machines freed up a lot of time and energy that people would have otherwise spent hand-washing their clothes. Check something. Ask to any senior person living in developed countries when was the last time they washed their clothes or sheets by hand. They might say you that it was a long long time ago, when there weren’t washing machines at home. In the case of young people, the answer will most likely be never. However, if you ask this question in sub developed countries their answer will be totally different.

Rosling roughly separates the world population by people who doesn’t have access to electricity (poor line), people who has washing machines (wash line), and people who has any normal technology gadget which can be found in a lot of homes in developed countries (air line). For most of us, our families’ generations crossed the “wash line” long ago. Therefore, it is difficult to realise the significant impact that such a simple machine can make in the lives of the less fortunate. The talker then states “if you have democracy, people will vote for washing machines”.  A woman from a Brazilian’ favelas neighbourhood will surely vote for it. Therefore, in a few years, because of population and economic growth, people will be able to cross the mentioned division lines. This growth and more technology adoption will mean more energy consumption. Most people would think that it’s not plausible, “not every one in the world can have cars and washing machines” if we want to preserve the planet! However, do we have the right to deprive people of innovation and better standard of living? I believe the answer it’s no.
Mali_-_Women_at_workRosling’s mother said to his son the first day they got it “ ‘Now Hans, we have loaded the laundry, the machine will make the work, and now we can go to the library.’ This is the magic, we loaded the laundry. And what do you get out of the machine? You get books.” His point it’s very clear here. Is it no better to have time for education and reading instead of doing manual labour such as has to go to collect water many kilometres away every day? After agreeing about this, we can start arguing about who and what should and should not consume energy

Balancing and adopting energy efficiency and producing more green energy are the main solutions here. There’s no need to deprive people of development and quality of life. Sustainable development is the key. It’s hip to be green! Modern technology has brought many benefits to our world and we can carry on innovating provided the technology operates within balanced limits. I consider myself an advocate of green policies but I believe that we need to recall Rosling’s closing statement: “Thank you industrialization, thank you steel mill, thank you power station, and thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”

If you have time I totally recommend you watching the talk. Enjoy!

The Magic Washing Machine

Sustainable Happiness. “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

What is happiness? What makes you happy? A new car, a bigger house, winning the lottery, a higher-paying job, power, fame, more friends, peace, less poverty, health, less body fat? The options are endless and everybody, of course, has the right to be happy. However, the way we define our happiness drives what we do and how we spend our time and money.  The problem is that nowadays our society has become inclined to short-term contentment. Advertisers spend billions spreading that purchasing more stuff and consuming more will bring us happiness. Consequently, other problems have started to rise, especially in terms of greatest natural resources’ use and environmental footprint. In a time of changing climate and economic divisions, the challenge is to create the conditions that encourage us “to turn to each other, not on each other” (Jesse Jackson). It is more likely to carry out that in a more equitable world, and be happy about things that don’t cost the planet and other people or our future generations. As one day, the father of the Earth’s day, Gaylord Nelson, said: “There is a great need for the introduction of new values in our society, where bigger is not necessarily better, where slower can be faster, and where less can be more”. Therefore, don’t you think it should be better to start thinking about: What makes a life worth living?

A long-term happiness or well-being translated to a sustainable lifestyle could be the answer. In socioeconomic terms, we need to start not judging ourselves by what others do or have. On the other hand, environmentally, if we protect our planet’s ecosystems, it will mean clean water, healthy foods, a stable climate, and an equal happiness and opportunities for generations to come. Hence, sustainable happiness is compatible with a healthy environment, an equitable world, and our own fulfilment.

How can we measure whether this sustainable happiness is fulfilled? The New Economics Foundation has created the Happy Planet Index. It ranks countries based on their level of health, of well-being and ecological footprint (or rate of resource consumption). In other words, it tells us how effectively a country converts resources into human well-being. Importantly, it shows us that good, long and happy lives aren’t correlated with higher resources’ consumption or large ecological footprints!

hpiWith a quick glance, the countries closest to achieving happier and greener lives are in South and Central America. Basically, the high income countries’ low overall score is due to a large ecological footprint. For example, the happiest country, Costa Rica, has a consumption footprint which is less a quarter than those in the United States of America. Besides, people in Costa Rica have higher average life expectancy, satisfaction and well-being levels. In one interview I recently watched, I liked what one Costa Rican guy studying in the U.S. said: “I think Costa-Ricans put more emphasis on, you know, having a good, standard living and being more relaxed and enjoying”. Wouldn’t you like to live like this? It’s truly appealing.

Oppositely, I agree with some experts who believe that culture can bias the results. Especially within some Latin America’s cultures which people tend to respond to any type of question in a more positive way. So, I’m truly in to adopt and assess indexes such as the Happy Planet Index or the recent Better Life Index (by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) but always keeping in mind that governments shouldn’t use the positive perceptions as an excuse to ignore other problems.

green worldWe deserve to be happy and satisfied with our only one life but, at the same time, your neighbours and all the people and future generations do, too. There’s no need to be selfish. Therefore, in these times when sustainability and greener lives are needed, we can learn much from other countries about living happier and healthier with less consumption.

Well said: “There is a difference between saying that change is hard to achieve and saying that the average person will never do anything. One is a challenge, and the other is a cause for despair – Unknown”.

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* Title quote: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” by William James.

Sustainable Happiness. “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

Back to basics. Waste-free shopping.

Imagine yourself entering to a supermarket where no endless, distracting bright colourful and packed shelves are found. Instead, imagine a relaxed, neutral space with a pleasant atmosphere that allows you to enjoy the shopping experience. Have you succeeded? If it’s difficult, pictures of Original unverpackt grocery store can help you. It opened in Berlin one year ago and it’s Germany’s first waste-free supermarket.

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Original-Unverpackt

“It’s about learning to buy in a different way, ending with full endless shelves of products that promise salvation, shopping without waste. We are in search of slow food and zero waste, contrary to those other buzzwords on ecological awareness some brands use to mislead” said Milena Glimbovski and Sara Wolf, the project’s founders.

We have to know that tonnes of waste packaging come from the food and household industry. Although recycling and more efficient ways to address packaging waste are in the order of the day, the great amount of waste going to landfills is unsustainable. It is not just the packaging that requires attention but also our lifestyles and habits of consumption.

Therefore, the shopping Capture 2concept which is practiced in Original unverpackt is great, the customer only buy what they really need and there’s no need to worry about expiration dates. It works like this: The food is stored in bulk containers and customers serve themselves as they wish in their own containers that they have brought from home. If you don’t have or have forgotten them, there’s no problem. The shop can provide you reusable containers or any recycled paper bag (no plastic bags, of course!). After the shopping, you get to the till and the weight of the containers is subtracted, you only pay for the net weight of your groceries.

It is not a new idea of course, is more the concept of going back to the basics. Or how our grandfathers, great grandfathers usually bought. Or how some developing countries actually do it. Moreover, this practice allows making organic food cheaper for everyone as the packaging is being removed. People on lower income can start affording it and more social equality can be achieved, as well.

We know that nowadays more people are aware about the importance of sustainability, equality and green living. There’s a rising demand for products and services that deal with it and people demand alternatives to the expensive handling of our resources. We have to start thinking more about it and try to learn for good. We continue to exploit resources and extend our development into the Earth’s limited fields. A sustainable path is the answer to live in a better world and to secure a place to our future generations.

Again, come on, it’s hip to be green!

Back to basics. Waste-free shopping.