Category Archives: environment

Earth Emergency Procedures Safety Card

Want to promote your next book? Try gut-wrenching fear.

Author Eli Kintisch is about to release Hack the Planet, which proposes that our human desire to control things could get us into trouble as we try to solve big problems. Take global warming: Sure, you may not buy it if you watch Fox News, but imagine what would happen if a rogue nation decided to try and fix the atmosphere by flying a few planes around seeding chemicals for geoengineering … and got the formula wrong? Kintisch is promoting his upcoming missive with a blog and juicy interactive Earth Emergency Procedures Safety Card, you know, if the planet melts, please head for the nearest exit.

This is really not news. Our Planet Earth, a strapping young adult about 4 billion years through our sun’s 10 billion-year lifespan, has gone through five major extinction events in which almost all life died. Yup; not only the dinosaurs, they were just the last to get hit. Today, scientists warn we could be approaching another extinction whack — not just a random asteroid (like the one that punched a 180-kilometer crater in the Yucatan Peninsula) or global warming, but massive methane leaks from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, nuclear holocaust (we’re still pointing bombs at each other), robotic advances that might replace people, or nanotechnology that if unleashed without care could turn our planet into mush.

Good promotion. Sweet dreams.

Shocking polar bears

In 1961 Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram began a series of “obedience to authority” experiments to see if people would set aside personal ethics if an authority figure told them to do something. As in, if I tell you to shock someone, would you do it? Milgram rigged a “shock box” and told volunteers that they had to gradually crank up a dial to shock another participant, hidden from view, if the second participant made a mistake on a test. The second participant was really an actor … and was never shocked at all — but as he screamed in mock pain, 65% of the test subjects continued to administer shocks, all the way to a maximum 450 volts.

The study had several goals: to explain the behavior of Nazis in WWII, for instance, and to see if most humans will override personal ethics if compelled to take immoral action by a leader. Religious wars, nationalism, urban gangs, corporate malfeasance and family feuds are all explained by our willingness to obey others more than ourselves.

But we also think Milgram gave a second lesson: how people feel they must try harder and harder to get your attention if moderate shocks fail. This explains children stamping their feet, or Hollywood movies with explicit sex and violence, or advertising campaigns that attempt to startle.

All of which reminds us of this ad campaign to convince you that flying via commercial airlines is bad for polar bears. It’s shocking, perhaps too much.

IDEO crowdsources the future of climate change

If you’ve read of prediction markets you know the minds of masses can be remarkably accurate in forecasting the future, say, U.S. elections or Wall Street’s reaction to congressional failure. Now the innovative consultancy IDEO is inviting minds to game out the future of climate change on the new blog Anyone can submit ideas here and the most provoking posts make it to the site — like this one, The Commute, by Martin Zabaleta and Jonah Houston. The site also could be a recruitment screener by IDEO itself for the bright dreamers of the future. Innovators, game on.

GE’s $15 billion market gap: The slippery promise of solar

Jeff Immelt deserves heaps o’ praise for dragging General Electric into the environmental age. The CEO’s Ecomagination campaign is timely, stirring, and spins the vast energy and finance systems of GE into a BP-like clean fusion.

Except it’s damned hard for consumers to buy any of it.

Take solar power, perhaps the most glaring market gap in our energy-starved, high-fuel-cost society. You’d think consumers would be lining up at GE in droves to slap solar panels on roofs to slash home utility costs … but search online and you find engineering gibberish. The GE site has links to the latest ads or brochures hinting at tax credits for solar energy. But no costs, no lead forms, no easy answers. It’s good to know that the size solar system you need (in kW) to power your home simply requires you to multiply your average daily electrical demand (in kWh) by 0.25, but if you don’t know your kW from your kWh, well, no solar for you.

There’s a hint that these panels are expensive. GE notes its BrillianceTM solar electrical power system can supply 100 percent of your energy needs, but cutting your electricity by 40 or 50 percent is typically the most cost-effective approach. If we do the math, that means it must cost tens of thousands of dollars if we can’t achieve payback in just a few years. The ad has no phone number, no offer, no tickler to the nearest retail store. Where do you go for this future? The ad points to the web, which has links to a brochure, which on page 5 finally has the listing for a call center.

To be fair, it’s probably unreasonable to expect GE to tout in ads you need to spend more on your roof than a BMW to really get off the grid. The technology isn’t there yet. Elsewhere online, solar panel wholesalers provide scant help, with charts comparing Watts to Amps and Volts. Word is Ikea sniffs the market opportunity and has low-cost solar panels on the horizon.

Eventually someone will pick up the solar potential. There are 89.7 million homes in the U.S. with central heating and 60.1 million with central air; if only 5 million homes converted a year and dropped $3k each on solar panels — about what early adopters spend on flat-screen TVs — you’ve got a $15 billion industry. Until then, enjoy the sight of a rare open market niche beaming down at you from the clear blue sky.

Philips’ latest design makes room for humanity

Philips continues its series of design probes, which previously featured electronic tattoos embedded in human skin and mood-changing dresses, onward to how electronics can save the environment. “Off the grid: Sustainable Habitat 2020” notes that the rapid growth of human population doesn’t need to destroy our living spaces.

In the next 20 years 200 new megacities will rise up. How to respond? Minimize the space and energy needs of each single family. Philips is working on designs that change how light, air and water move through buildings, turning “dumb” materials into “functional skins” that collect and distribute energy. It’s all a bit trippy, suggesting our human waste can be converted to power that heats the food in our kitchen. But with all of us eventually running out of space, Philips takes the long view of cutting edge.

(Note to Philips: You’re scoring points with this green-guy stuff. So when will we Yanks get your cool colored bulbs in the U.S.?)

The Think electric car: Less is the new more

Driving in this morning we realized that small cars were suddenly looking sweet. Take The Ox, a concept design by Norwegian car maker Think. The size of a Toyota Prius, this baby is pure electric, goes 0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds, and can run more than 120 miles on a single charge. The car is slated for release in two years for about $25k.

Which is curious. Why do we respond to this design and suddenly crave smaller curves of sheet metal? Does our subconscious realize that resources are scarce? Perhaps it’s the vibe we get before a hot summer, when everyone wants to disrobe, go on a diet, and work on the six-pack … because heavy consumption in times of heat just doesn’t feel right.

We bet this type of efficient design will embed itself in other products, as the combined weights of recession, high energy costs, environmental guilt and consumer conversion to a very visible product — small cars you see every morning — make little the new big. Designers, time to go on a diet.

Honey, call home and set the light bulbs to blue

We’ll miss you, Mr. Edison.

Old light bulbs are going out, because they use way too much juice. Home lighting eats up about 20-25% of a typical home’s electric bill, and environmental advocates and Wal-Mart are pushing new, more efficient lighting.

Yet you know those new energy-efficient fluorescents Al Gore wants you to buy are, well, a little cold. Kind of like having a mini-operating table lamp casting sterile blue-white rays over your kitchen. Sometimes the new fluorescents flicker and shudder. Ouch.

Now, NYT says the next generation of home lighting is coming, L.E.D.’s that — like a TV screen — can emit any color of the rainbow. They’re digital, they’re wired, and you can call home to reset the colors.

Imagine turning up the mood-blue lighting, or switching to yellow for sunlight warmth, or kicking back in a dark-red glow for the glass of wine on a Friday night. The future is coming. The bulbs use just a trickle of electricity. Too bad the bulbs still cost about $90 and you have to fly to Europe to get the coolest, but we hear the price and supplies are moving our way.

Philips shows off the possibilities here.

Discovery launches Planet Green with $100 million muscle

Discovery launches Planet Green tonight at 6 p.m., the first cable network devoted entirely to eco-friendly messaging. Big advertisers such as GM have jumped aboard, and the 250 hours of original programming will have a decidedly popcorn-friendly twist. No Love Your Mother fluff here: instead, monster trucks compete with each other (showcasing big rigs with hybrid engines), investors flip property for profit (showcasing green redesign), and homeowners compete to see who can wring the most juice out of the sun (showcasing solar tech).

Discovery is betting huge, putting $100 million into the idea that consumers will want to be entertained with a green vibe. We sense a hit. With Prius sales over 1 million and consumers reluctantly walking away from Ford F-150s, Discovery combines Americans’ concerns over the environment with our lust for power and aggression.

Program details here, channel finder here.

(Photo: Dark Patator)

Global warming and the politics of advertising

Ever wonder if Obama or McCain would be better at selling your product?

In 2008 it’s worth considering politics in your advertising strategy. For example, a recent Pew study found that there is a huge split among Americans who believe in global warming, right down party lines: 84% of Democrats think the planet is cooking vs. 74% of independents and 49% of Republicans.

We’re not saying who’s right or wrong (after all, what do 649,000 years of carbon dioxide-temperature correlations really tell you?). The point for marketers is your own product or service may create splits among party lines, especially if your brand is divisive among liberals and conservatives.

Do you sell oil? Energy? Meat? Automobiles? Education? Theater? Adjusting your ad media not only for demographics, but for political views within those demos and the geographic locations of the most receptive, may make sense.

Graph: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Are Larry David and Segway ahead of your marketing plan?

Tomorrow your customers are going to want something different, and you probably are not ready.

The thought is sparked by Darryl at Plaid, who recently met with the founding brains of Segway to learn how and why they created a new concept for human transportation. Segway, as you know, is the funky self-balancing two-wheeled gizmo that rolls itself magically using gyroscopes and small elves inside. Segway is a perfect example of an innovation technology that is ahead of its time — meaning the masses of humanity are simply not ready to adopt it.

Hybrid cars, though, are further along the adoption curve. We all once laughed at the streamlined tin boxes; then, Larry David made the Prius look cool; now, damn, 40 MPG is looking fine. People are starting to wince at the gas pump, and we recently checked in to Honda to find that its part-electric Civic models are nearly sold out in the United States. After hybrids, American driveways are starting to fill with large but slightly efficient “crossover” vehicles, and some of us are still stuck with bloated SUVs.

The point is marketers need to anticipate adoption curves. Customers are not a static target; they are a moving, rolling mass, and the plans you begin today need to touch customers in the right position 1, 2 or 3 years from now. MP3 players are hot but may decline. Traditional theater audiences are aging and young moms are the next ticket sale. $1,000-a-month heating bills will revolutionize home efficiency. The internet has devastated traditional in-home tutoring materials. Consumers are using Google, not physician referrals, to research their own specialists.

Glance over at Segway and you’ll see it’s carefully working up the adoption curve. Marketing in the past few years focused on police and government workers. The recent social media site has an enviro-vibe, and Segway has also begun touching the mainstream with a sweet golfing model.

So: Is your marketing team thinking this way? Or do you spend your planning meetings looking in the rear-view mirror, at what once worked in the 1990s or 1980s? If you don’t look ahead at where customers are moving, you’re going to be left behind.