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May 22 2013

19:31

Want an Affordable Infrared Camera? Give to Public Lab's 'Infragram' Project on Kickstarter

This post was co-written by Public Lab organizer Don Blair.

Public Lab is pleased to announce the launch of our fourth Kickstarter today, "Infragram: the Infrared Photography Project." The idea for the Infragram was originally conceptualized during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and as a tool for monitoring wetland damages. Since then, the concept has been refined to offer an affordable and powerful tool for farmers, gardeners, artists, naturalists, teachers and makers for as little as $35 -- whereas near-infrared cameras typically cost $500-$1,200.

Technologies such as the Infragram have similar roles as photography during the rise of credible print journalism -- these new technologies democratize and improve reporting about environmental impacts. The Infragram in particular will allow regular people to monitor their environment through verifiable, quantifiable, citizen-generated data. You can now participate in a growing community of practitioners who are experimenting and developing low-cost near-infrared technology by backing the Infragram Project and joining the Public Lab infrared listserve.

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some Background

Infrared imagery has a long history of use by organizations like NASA to assess the health and productivity of vegetation via sophisticated satellite imaging systems like Landsat. It has also been applied on-the-ground in recent years by large farming operations. By mounting an infrared imaging system on a plane, helicopter, or tractor, or carrying around a handheld device, farmers can collect information about the health of crops, allowing them to make better decisions about how much fertilizer to add, and where. But satellites, planes, and helicopters are very expensive platforms; and even the tractor-based and handheld devices for generating such imagery typically cost thousands of dollars. Further, the analysis software that accompanies many of these devices is "closed source"; the precise algorithms used -- which researchers would often like to tweak, and improve upon -- are often not disclosed.

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Public Lab's approach

So, members of the Public Lab community set out to see whether it was possible to make a low-cost, accessible, fully open platform for capturing infrared imagery useful for vegetation analysis. Using the insights and experience of a wide array of community members -- from farmers and computer geeks to NASA-affiliated researchers -- a set of working prototypes for infrared image capture started to emerge. By now, the Public lab mailing lists and website contain hundreds of messages, research notes, and wikis detailing various tools and techniques for infrared photography, ranging from detailed guides to DIY infrared retrofitting of digital SLRs, to extremely simple and low-cost off-the-shelf filters, selected through a collective testing-and-reporting back to the community process.

All of the related discussions, how-to guides, image examples, and hardware designs are freely available, published under Creative Commons and CERN Open Hardware licensing. There are already some great examples of beautiful NDVI/near-infrared photography by Public Lab members -- including timelapses of flowers blooming, and balloon-based infrared imagery that quickly reveals which low-till methods are better at facilitating crop growth.

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What's next

By now, the level of interest and experience around DIY infrared photography in the Public Lab community has reached a tipping point, and Public Lab has decided to use a Kickstarter as a way of disseminating the ideas and techniques around this tool to a wider audience, expanding the community of users/hackers/developers/practitioners. It's also a way of generating support for the development of a sophisticated, online, open-source infrared image analysis service, allowing anyone who has captured infrared images to "develop" them and analyze them according to various useful metrics, as well as easily tag them and share them with the wider community. The hope is that by raising awareness (and by garnering supporting funds), Public Lab can really push the "Infrared Photography Project" forward at a rapid pace.

Accordingly, we've set ourselves a Kickstarter goal of 5,000 "backers" -- we're very excited about the new applications and ideas that this large number of new community members would bring! And, equally exciting: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has offered to provide a matching $10,000 of support to the Public Lab non-profit if we reach 1,000 backers.

With this growing, diverse community of infrared photography researchers and practitioners -- from professional scientists, to citizen scientists, to geek gardeners -- we're planning on developing Public Lab's "Infrared Photography Project" in many new and exciting directions, including:

  • The creation of a community of practitioners interested in infrared technology, similar to the community that has been created and continues to grow around open-source spectrometry.
  • The development of an archive for the Infrared Photography Project -- a platform that will allow people to contribute images and collaborate on projects while sharing data online.
  • Encouragement of agricultural imagery tinkering and the development and use of inexpensive, widely available near-infrared technologies.
  • Development of standards and protocols that are appropriate to the needs, uses and practices of a grassroots science community.
  • Providing communities and individuals with the ability to assess their own neighborhoods through projects that are of local importance.
  • The continued development of a set of tools that will overlap and add to the larger toolkit of community-based environmental monitoring tools such as what SpectralWorkbench.org and MapKnitter.org provide.

We hope you'll join us by contributing to the Kickstarter campaign and help grow a community of open-source infrared enthusiasts and practitioners!

A co-founder of Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, Shannon is based in New Orleans as the Director of Outreach and Partnerships. With a background in community organizing, prior to working with Public Lab, Shannon held a position with the Anthropology and Geography Department at Louisiana State University as a Community Researcher and Ethnographer on a study about the social impacts of the spill in coastal Louisiana communities. She was also the Oil Spill Response Director at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, conducting projects such as the first on-the-ground health and economic impact surveying in Louisiana post-spill. Shannon has an MS in Anthropology and Nonprofit Management, a BFA in Photography and Anthropology and has worked with nonprofits for over thirteen years.

Don Blair is a doctoral candidate in the Physics Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a local organizer for The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, a Fellow at the National Center for Digital Government, and a co-founder of Pioneer Valley Open Science. He is committed to establishing strong and effective collaborations among citizen / civic and academic / industrial scientific communities through joint research and educational projects. Contact him at http://dwblair.github.io, or via Twitter: @donwblair

December 21 2011

15:20

September 02 2011

16:54

Sourcemap Crowdsources Product Supply Chains, Carbon Footprints

This post was authored by Matthew Hockenberry, who co-created Sourcemap as a visiting scientist with the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Knowing where things come from is a fundamental part of humanity. Things are very different when they come from different places. The provenance of a work tells us the importance of not only where something has come from, but when it was created and who it was that fashioned it. Ancient vessels in Pompeii bear the eternal mark of Vesuvinum, and shelves of China are still identified by their geographic namesake.

With supply chains we talk about traceability, or being able to follow the source through every link on the chain. Environmental impact, climate change, conflict minerals and human rights abuses -- these are problems underpinning global trade. Defining our relationships with things as relationships with places and with people brings a renewed sense of humanity to our purchasing practices.

Sourcemap is an initiative to make information on the source of products and their supply chains public, so that we can make informed choices about their social and environmental impact. Developed by the MIT Center for Civic Media and the MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group, Sourcemap has grown over the past few years.

SOURCEMAP: WHERE WE'VE COME FROM

We created Sourcemap to allow anyone -- businesses, consumers, journalists and researchers -- to share the stories of global supply chains and their impacts on the world. Since our site became publicly accessible, we've been fortunate enough to have some wonderful individuals and organizations contribute to our work. We have more than 3,000 published maps and over 6,000 mapmakers, some of which you can see at the new Sourcemap.com.

Each day, the site features new items contributed by entrepreneurs, brand enthusiasts, students and researchers. Some are carefully researched case studies of unique and unfamiliar products. Some are personal explorations of where someone is traveling, or an investigation into what he or she bought at the store that day. Each of them is a testament to the curiosity about the things that occupy our lives and where they came from before they got to us.

There are sourcemaps of everything from an electric car to a detonator for blasting oil wells, from supplier networks of airplanes to carbon accounting for teleconferencing, from the industrial food on your plate to the small supply chains of local cuisine.

Bringing consumers and producers into the same dialogue has become a cornerstone of the work. We not only have the "right to know" where something comes from, we want producers to have the "freedom to say." These two groups -- those who consume and those who produce -- have been separate too long. They have grown apart not only in our minds, but in their placement in the world. To bring them together is to tie together communities from opposite sides of the world, to untangle the knots that have bound our understanding of global production and global supply chains.

PROVENANCE

Housed in the MIT Media Lab, Sourcemap began its life surrounded by people in the midst of making things -- things with blinking lights and beeping sounds. We began to ask questions about these things. What is the impact of a modern product? If we wanted to make it more sustainable, what material would we use? Should it be local, renewable or recycled?

We built something to answer these questions for product designers at the Media Lab, but we soon realized that everyone makes design choices: planning a trip, stocking a shelf, or putting a meal together. All of these decisions bring together disparate components from around the globe. And if we're all designers, then we should all be informed about our choices and the impact they can have on the world.

The growth of the local food movement brought together individuals deeply concerned with the sourcing of ingredients in their own communities. Our earliest collaboration involved a local food chef and caterer, Robert Harris, who was interested in sharing his sourcing practices with his customers. Sourcemap allowed him to create a menu that showed customers exactly where their food comes came from. In the summer months, when the majority of Robert's food is sourced locally, this practice connects customers with not only the ingredients in their food, but with the local community of New England farmers who grow it.

Through early fieldwork in the remote Highlands and islands of Scotland, we met people sensitive to the beauty of the land around them and the fragile community it supports. It's a community in search of a place in the larger world -- looking to continue a specific way of life and sustain the people who practice it. We met a hotel owner who wanted to offset her guests' carbon footprint, reinvesting it in the preservation of the forests they had come to see. We met a local butcher who wanted to understand the carbon footprint of his business. He discovered that the transportation of his native cattle, sheep and pork is only a minor part of the life cycle impact compared to the practices his suppliers adopt in raising the animals.

Sam Faircliff, who runs the Cairngorn Brewery, saw that her local industry relies on a bottling plant in central England. Building a plant at her facility drops the distance a bottle of beer travels by two-thirds, and improves competitiveness, creates jobs, and strengthens the region. There is more than one kind of sustainability, and this experience in the Highlands revealed that it was just as much about people as it was about things.

USING SOURCEMAP TO TELL NEW STORIES

Sourcemap provides information about where things come from, and in doing so, it presents a particular narrative of the trip products make before they get to us. Educators and journalists can use this information to develop research, synthesize it with other perspectives, and tell new stories that situate a product's place in our world.

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Leo Bonanni, CEO of Sourcemap, held a "Futurecraft" class at MIT, which was an important developmental force for Sourcemap, and its role has continued with classes at NYU and Parsons. Parsons master's student Jennifer Sharpe mapped and filmed a video documentary revealing the supply chain behind a line of organic clothing. At the show, "Organic by John Patrick," clothing was shown alongside maps and videos detailing the larger process of manufacture and sourcing. One side of the gallery was filled with the flash of cameras as the clothing was modeled. On the other side, a film showed the sheep farm were the wool comes and the shops and craftspeople responsible for making it into finished garments. In cases like this one, food and clothing connect us to not only each other, but to the natural world that provides the possibility for their production.

Less close to home, we've seen instructors use Sourcemap with their students in numerous locations including Boston, New York, California, Montana, France, Slovakia, New Zealand and Australia. We've traveled to see the social impact of cotton farming in India and gotten a firsthand perspective on fair trade.

A collaboration with the University of Montana helped students understand food production issues that are a critical factor in Montana's future sustainability. These journalism students were able to map the fragile state of their food economy, as the raw materials necessary to produce beef and grain products must leave the state to be processed into finished foods. In each of these classrooms, Sourcemap is mobilized by communities that are displaced by the disjunctures of global supply chains and local economic, cultural and social forces.

FOOTPRINTS

This project comes from an appreciation for the role of the material world in our daily lives. It has, from the beginning, been about understanding how we can have more respect and appreciation for material culture. Things cannot speak, but if they could, what would they say? There's no easy answer for the role of objects in our lives. It's not about passing universal judgment on which things are "local," "organic," "green" or "good." As we saw in the Highlands, communities have unique needs, and they need to understand the supply chains that involve them to make choices that are sustainable over the long-term.

Things mean different things to different people, and the solution is to let the things do the talking.

Sourcemap has evolved significantly since the first few days when we scratched out a design for a "map of where things come from." The team has grown. We have begun architecting the next generation of Sourcemap. We've formed an initiative to unravel the mysteries of footprints and impacts. We've taken trips around the world on a mission to connect communities of consumers with communities of producers. Volunteers from digital media, business, design and journalism have offered their time and effort to make the project more effective and inclusive. Each map begins when someone asks -- just as we did when we began our work -- "Where does this come from?"

As part of this evolution, we recently announced a complete new release of Sourcemap, built with the efforts of our growing team and Chief Architect Reed Underwood. There are also a few changes in the way we do things. Sourcemap is now Sourcemap.com, the "crowd-sourced directory of product supply chains and carbon footprints." Under Bonanni's guidance, and through work with companies, non-profit organizations, experts, and everyday people, we hope that one day Sourcemap.com will allow us to make sustainable choices about the products and services we encounter.

At the same time, I will focus on Sourcemap Foundation, a non-profit research organization dedicated to understanding the fundamental issues at stake in global logistics.

The Brundtland commissioned defined sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations." Nothing is sustainable universally -- some things will be sustainable for some communities, and some will be for others. For us, sustainability gives us a connection with the past as we look to the future. It's the opportunity to learn from our mistakes while appreciating the legacy that has been handed down to us.

To understand our community and culture we must act like archaeologists, but what we practice is an archaeology of the present. It is possible to know where things come from. Instead of waiting to position the everyday objects of our lives from a future a hundred years from now, we must begin to unravel the origins of their people and places today.

March 04 2011

19:57

Office Depot: Using Sourcemap to sell more recycled paper

Congratulations to Center-founded project Sourcemap -- a free way to track and view component parts of consumer goods -- which has just announced its first big get: Office Depot and New Leaf Paper.

As Marc Gunter reported on his blog, Sourcemap will be the tool of choice for Office Depot and New Leaf Paper to visualize the sourcing of their recycled paper:

Beginning later this year, shoppers who buy Office Depot’s 100% Forest Stewardship Council-certified recycled paper will be able to use their mobile phones to read a QR code (a kind of barcode) on the package. They’ll then see a movie, like this one, that traces their paper back to its source. This paper was tracked from the GreenBiz’s State of Green Business Forum 2011 in Washington, D.C., back to the streets of Milwaukee. Please take a look:


February 17 2011

18:47

Video: From Cities, Code, and Civics, "Customizing tools from city to city?"

Nick Grossman of OpenPlans, Nigel Jacob of the City of Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Max Ogden of Code for America respond to questions about how civic tools do (or need to) vary from city to city.

From "Cities, Code, and Civics", a Civic Media Session of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media.

Download!

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February 11 2011

18:08

Steve Williams, Director, Corporate Social Responsbility, SAP

Hi everyone,

As part of the global SAP Corporate Social Responsibility team, I am responsible for managing our worldwide Technology Donation program that provides free reporting and data visualizaton tools to over 900 non-profts each year in 15 countries. We have been partnering with TechSoup for quite a while now and am excited about the many possibilites to engage.

I am most interested in building capacity in the non-profit sector through technology. At SAP we can bring a wide experience in business management along with the skills of 60,000 employees aroud the world that want to contribute. We also have a large developer ecosystem part of the SAP Community Network. We have also been supporting interesting work around impact measurement for non-profits and social enterprises through the Demonstrating Value Project

What I am most interested in from collaborators is understanding how the different pieces of technology (hardware, networking, different software systems) can be integrated and easily consumed by non-profits. I'm also interested in going beyond traditional training on specific applications to helping organizations create strategies and build operational systems that can deliver better results. Finally I want to learn from, and share with, colleagues best practices on engaging employees with technology donations and how to embed these practices into the business so that CSR programs are not "off to the side" but a core part of operations.

You can find me on twitter @constructive and my (infrequently updated) blog at http://www.constructive.net

January 12 2011

20:10

How Green is Facebook, Microsoft Push into Cloud Computing?

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

Like many people this holiday season, the couple in the Microsoft ad below was stranded in an airport. With their plane delayed, the man has an idea. "To the cloud," he says to his confused partner. He then uses his laptop to stream TV shows the couple had stored in Microsoft's "cloud" of data centers.

The virtual cloud he referred to is made up of information stored in physical warehouses of high-powered servers. The commercial is intended to show that Windows 7 users can manage their pictures, videos, and documents from anywhere there is Internet access. Microsoft is spending hundreds of millions on similar spots to convince other consumers to follow the fictional couple's lead into cloud computing.

"Yay cloud," says the woman in the ad, engrossed in an episode of "Celebrity Probation."

But is the growing cloud something everyone should cheer? Information and communication technology (ICT) companies already account for up to three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions -- a figure projected to increase as more data centers are built to store the shift of information to the web. During interviews with MediaShift, executives at Microsoft and Facebook said cloud computing could have positive environmental impacts. But analysts and activists have expressed serious doubts about the implications of the coming data-center building boom.

Big Business, Big Emissions

One issue that all sides agree on is the tremendous growth potential for cloud computing. The cloud encompasses a wide variety of new media applications, ranging from established offerings such as email and e-commerce to rapidly expanding services like shared documents and social networking.

Already, the size of the worldwide cloud computing market is an estimated $37.8 billion according to MarketsandMarkets, a global research and consulting company. As broadband speeds, WiFi, and mobile Internet devices continue to improve, M&M predicts the value of the cloud will nearly quadruple to $121.1 billion by 2015.

Environmentalists fear that the carbon footprint of the data centers powering the cloud could grow at the same breakneck pace. Data centers consume vast quantities of energy to both operate and cool the cloud servers.

"The world's 44 million servers consume 0.5 percent of all electricity, with data center emissions now approaching those of countries such as Argentina or the Netherlands," the McKinsey Quarterly reported in 2009. "Without efforts to curb demand, current projections show worldwide carbon emissions from data centers will quadruple by 2020."

Surprisingly, there could be positive environmental side effects to this rapid expansion of the cloud. Although the influential SMART 2020 report from the Climate Group and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative had similar projections for the growing carbon footprint of data centers, it saw reason for cautious optimism: "ICT's unique ability to monitor and maximize energy efficiency both within and outside of its own sector could cut [carbon dioxide] emissions by up to five times this amount" in the next decade, it said.

How would the ICT sector prevent these future emissions? One way is by sharing the advances in infrastructure and software design that the industry is using to reduce emissions from its data centers with building engineers and tech developers outside of the ICT sector. By way of perspective, the report notes that the potential CO2 savings from this information transfer could be "greater than the current annual emissions of either the U.S. or China" -- the world's second and first largest greenhouse gas polluters, respectively.

Positive Potential

Industry spokespeople interviewed for this story were understandably eager to play up the potentially positive effects of the data center boom. All the companies spoke of their innovations in efficient data center design as well as the additional environmental benefits provided by their particular business model.

Executives at Facebook pointed to the emissions prevented by their popular photo sharing platform. In July, the dominant social network announced that its 500 million users were uploading more than 100 million photos every day. That massive influx of pixels has led the company to construct two new data centers, one in Washington State and another in North Carolina. Facebook policy communications director Barry Schnitt told me that storing the images in these new data centers -- coupled with a new virtual storage infrastructure referred to as Haystack -- prevents hundreds of tons of CO2 emissions that would be required to mail printed photographs.

Microsoft, which is trying to take Windows from the desktop to the data center, has been promoting a study it commissioned on the increased efficiency of cloud computing. The resulting research, from consulting firm Accenture, found that if companies switch from on-site servers to Microsoft's data centers, they can reduce data storage emissions by between 30 and 90 percent.

Industry analysts are not very impressed by these claims.

Ansimonheadshot.jpg"There is a lot more proof that needs to be put in place to show that the cloud can be green," said Simon Mingay, Gartner's vice president of research.

In collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, his firm recently released a study examining the carbon footprint of the ICT industry. "Whilst we all recognize the potential of it, I haven't seen anything yet that convinces me that that's a reality today," Mingay said.

Speaking from his London office, Mingay criticized Microsoft's Accenture study, in particular.

"There's a distinct lack of real data there," Mingay said. It would have been more useful had the study revealed the used raw kilowatt hours of energy saved instead of making assumptions about emissions factors, which can be used for "fudging issues," he said. "I mean, it was interesting but it was in no way conclusive."

The same paucity of information gives reason to doubt the CO2 reduction claims Facebook makes in association with its digital photo platform. While the company's communications director said its Haystack storage system had produced big efficiency gains, he was unable to provide specific research to support the benefits of its massive photo library.

"How online activities replace carbon-intensive offline activities," Schnitt wrote in email, "is something we're interested in exploring."

Microsoft defended its study, saying it couldn't release more details for competitive reasons.

profile-photos-josh_jpg.jpg"A lot of the data that is associated with our data centers is proprietary and confidential," said Josh Henretig, a senior environmental field manager at Microsoft. "And for a peer organization that is also operating in this space, you could pretty easily back into some of the margins that we have, the services that we provide, and things that we just consider competitive in nature. It may be frustrating that we didn't reveal more within the study but we were really excited about the direction that the report exposed around the efficiency gains that can be achieved through that shared infrastructure model."

h2. Green Questions

Environmentalists are concerned about the industry's apparent confusion with the difference between efficiency and sustainability. Companies "need to recognize that energy efficient is not 'green' on its own, and is no longer enough. NGOs, and increasingly customers will demand more," Mingay wrote in a post on Gartner's blog.

Greenpeace blogger Jodie Van Horn explained why her NGO is so concerned about this confusion: "A highly efficient data center powered by coal destroys the planet, it just does so more slowly than one lacking in state-of-the-art efficiencies."

Jonathan Heiliger, the vice president of technical operations at Facebook and a Silicon Valley veteran, told me that tech companies traditionally treated "data centers like 'Fight Club' -- the thing everyone does but doesn't talk about."

Environmental groups feel that, given the threat of catastrophic climate change, tech firms can no longer continue with business as usual and risk forgoing the type of innovation the SMART 2020 report said is necessary to reduce global warming.

The loudest voice calling to change the ICT industry has been Greenpeace. The environmental advocacy group launched the Cool IT campaign in 2009 and published its fourth biennial leaderboard at the Cancun climate conference in December. In addition to publicizing and ranking the environmental efforts of IT firms, Greenpeace stepped up its pressure on the industry early last year by focusing on the data centers of a particularly public target: Facebook. The social network attracted Greenpeace's ire after it chose to locate two new, high-efficiency data centers in states that are heavily reliant on coal for power.

The decision to make Facebook the face of its IT campaign struck some industry analysts as an odd choice.

"There are certainly much 'dirtier' data centers out there and in the pipeline that Greenpeace could have attacked," according to a note by Tier 1 Research in September.

While that is certainly true, Greenpeace IT analyst Gary Cook explained that, because the company is young, high profile, and expanding rapidly, there's more scope for activists to exert influence. This strategy was most cleverly elaborated in a video Greenpeace made that was loosely related to the hit film "The Social Network":

In turn, Greenpeace wants Facebook to have its "friends" in Washington push for clean energy.

"Ultimately, they can't change the grids themselves and that's why we need to get them involved in the policy debate and demand cleaner sources of energy," Cook said. "If we're stuck with the same sources of energy 10 years from now, they're going to be a much, much bigger problem -- and they're already a significant problem. [ICT firms] like to talk about efficiency -- and that's great -- but when you're growing that much you have to look at the fuel source for the electricity."

Google -- whose popular Google Docs are in part responsible for Microsoft's focus on getting its Office Suite into the cloud -- is one tech firm that gets high marks for its clean energy advocacy and investment. In the last election cycle, the search giant came out strongly against Proposition 23, which would have suspended implementation of California's global warming law (commonly referred to as AB32) until unemployment in the state fell below 5.5 percent. The failed ballot initiative could have cost California $10 billion in private investments in clean energy businesses and 500,000 jobs, according to an analysis from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

Google also backed up its clean energy talk with a $5 billion investment in Atlantic Wind Connection. If it's approved by regulators, this massive project will create an underwater transmission network capable of adding to the grid 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy. According to its developers, that's "enough power to eventually serve approximately 1.9 million households" -- or a lot of clean energy-powered data centers.

Sustainable Policy

So what exactly would green groups like to see from ICT firms that could alleviate their concerns about the cloud?

In the case of Facebook, Schnitt, the communications director, said he had met behind the scenes with Greenpeace before the holidays.

"We had a good conversation and they expressed their desire for us to reduce load and/or increase renewable capacity in the areas where we have increased load," Schnitt said in an email. "I asked them for specific proposals, which they sent earlier this week. We're reviewing those and hope to have them here in the coming weeks to discuss them and other issues."

More generally, environmentalists want to encourage ICT companies' continued shift towards greater transparency -- an area where even Google is in need of improvement, according to Greenpeace -- as well as more technical and political cooperation on clean energy issues. Collaborating on data center design is only a start. Green groups are asking for more sharing of both energy usage data and efficient data storage software as well as help in climate change policy advocacy.

That's not too much to ask, says Mingay. "That is a perfectly legitimate role for any commercial organization to play. And at the end of the day, the ICT sector will be a winner in a low carbon, more sustainable economy."

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of The New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at The Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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October 15 2010

10:21

Last chance to VOTE for Tole-rants connect for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge

Today is the final day of community voting for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge. We need your support so please come VOTE. Let us start by saying a huge thank you to all the people who have already voted for the 60 seconds of Hope campaign, your support has been fantastic. 

VOTING requires a couple of minutes of your time. We wish it was easier, so here are some short directions to help make it as quick as possible:

1. Follow our link - Click VOTE and be redirected to another window where you will need to quickly register.

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October 13 2010

15:43

Karen Armstrong Tole-rants about compassion. Vote for Tole-rants Connect for the 2010 FACT social justice challenge

Voting is still open for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge and Tole-rants Connect needs your help. Please spare a few moments and VOTE for 60 seconds of Hope.

The Tole-rants movement has garnered tremendous support in its inaugural year from partners such as The Council of Europe, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Search for Common Ground, Odyssey Networks, Youth Leader Magazine, and many other inspirational organizations.

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October 08 2010

17:00

How Climate Activists Are Warming to Social Media

American environmentalists recently suffered a pair of devastating defeats in their decades-long effort to halt global warming. Progress stalled on domestic legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions prior to a key UN summit in Copenhagen. Lack of leadership from America, the world's second largest climate polluter, made it impossible to produce and binding international agreement at the conference. Then, a few months later, the U.S. climate bill died in the Senate.

Their diplomatic and legislative maneuvers having fallen short, U.S. climate campaigners are hoping a renewed focus on activism and grassroots organizing can provide the push needed to produce carbon emission controls. As a result, the Internet and digital media are playing a growing role in efforts of progressive organizations ranging from new climate activists like 350.org to longtime environmental agitators such as Greenpeace.

Birth of 350.org

Screen shot 2010-10-07 at 10.45.42 PM.pngBy using the same name and web address, 350.org announced to the world in 2008 that it was a new kind of environmental advocacy organization. In choosing the odd name, the founders of 350.org wanted to communicate that their group was a science-based, single issue organization. The number comes from research, which shows that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most the atmosphere can safely absorb without triggering catastrophic climate change.

The group emerged after author Bill McKibben and a group of recent Middlebury College graduates organized the 2007 Step It Up campaign. They collaborated with existing environmental organizations like Greenpeace, as well as other groups and governments interested in climate protection. The upstart activists described it as the "first open source, web-based day of action dedicated to stopping climate change."

It was a surprising success. On April 14, 2007, tens of thousands of Americans held simultaneous rallies in some 1,400 places across the country telling Congress to "step it up" and reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. Their grassroots pressure likely helped convince presidential-hopeful Barack Obama to co-sponsor an ultimately doomed bill in the Senate.

After a second successful Step It Up event, McKibben and the Middlebury graduates created 350.org. Co-founder Phil Aroneanu told me that leading up to the 2009 UN climate convention in Copenhagen, "we realized there was this space to have a public show of force and show that folks really care about this issue when most of the leaders didn't really feel that."

Using a handful of foreign contacts they'd made at previous UN climate conventions, the team began planning the "International Day of Climate Action" on October 24th, little more than a month before delegates were due to meet in Denmark.

Organizing via Skype, chat, and text messaging, and via activist social networks like Change.org, the 350.org team mobilized over 5,200 actions in 181 countries, as you can see in this video:

Solar Challenge

"There might have been one person from Malawi," Aroneanu said, "and as long as we kept communicating with them and showed them how this could be a great way to build up networks in their own countries, they did the hard work of organizing and reaching out to people who didn't have access to the Internet."

In one recent initiative, 350.org set up an online petition encouraging world leaders to install solar power on the roofs of their official state residences. It has been signed by tens of thousands of people. This was combined with blog support from Change.org and others, as well as a high-profile road trip from Maine to the capital with the first White House solar panel, a relic from the Carter administration.

Although McKibben and other 350.org members were initially rebuffed in their meetings with Obama administration officials, earlier this week Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that new solar panels would be installed, making the White House "a symbol of America's commitment to a clean energy future." So far, leaders in India and the Maldives have also agreed to take up 350.org's solar challenge.

In an article calling McKibben one of the world's top global thinkers, Foreign Policy magazine described the 2009 Day of Climate Action as "the largest ever coordinated global rally of any kind." Yet, despite the unprecedented organizing success of 350.org and behind the scenes pressure from countless other environmental organizations, diplomats in Copenhagen failed to agree to a plan that would reduce CO2 to that magic number. A half-year later, a much discussed climate bill also died in the U.S., the world's largest historic greenhouse gas polluter.

10/10/10

With international negotiations at a standstill and U.S. legislation at a stalemate, 350.org, Greenpeace and others in the environmental community are using every new media tool available to them to share their climate protection message and recruit new organizers.

The most visible display of this renewed focus on digital organizing will be this Sunday's "Global Work Party," where activists from around the globe will "pressure our leaders to Get To Work themselves by passing strong climate policies promoting clean energy and reducing emissions," as 350.org's website explains.

With two days remaining until 10/10/10, the group has registered nearly 7,000 events in 188 countries. Coordinated online outreach by 350.org and its partner organizations has made the immense scale of the Global Work Party possible. Jess Leber, editor of the environment blog at Change.org, has worked with 350.org to feature a Get To Work series guest posts from its organizers around the world. Chris Eaton, an online community organizer for Greenpeace, spent all of last Friday calling and emailing people in the climate movement to get them involved in one big social media push ten days before the 10/10/10 event, which like previous 350.org events his group is co-sponsoring.

"I've found that's really effective," Eaton said. "If you get everyone to do the same thing at once online it's like a wave that gets a lot of attention."

Greenpeace Gets Digital

Greenpeace certainly knows how to attract attention. For nearly 40 years, this confrontational environmental group has been adept at building what co-founder Robert Hunter referred to as "Media Mind Bombs": "reaching the public consciousness through dramatic, camera-ready opposition to environmental crimes."

As the media have fragmented and cameras have proliferated, the activist group has had to expand the scope of its non-violent direct-action campaigns. Sure, British Greenpeace members will still scale Westminster Palace to protest what it perceives as Parliament's weak climate efforts. But increasingly its activists are downloading online toolkits for decentralized events like a Bake Sale to Save the Whales or using the power of social media to push for greater climate protection.

Screen shot 2010-10-07 at 10.48.14 PM.png

In one campaign, Greenpeace's online organizers drew attention to deforestation, a major contributor to global warming, by targeting Nestle. The confections company was making chocolate with unsustainably-sourced palm oil, a fact Greenpeace pointed out in a graphic video depicting an office worker eating a bloody Kit-Kat made of an orangutan finger that was viewed 350,000 times the first day it was posted. After Nestle made YouTube remove the grisly campaign ad, the environmentalists protested at its headquarters, jammed its phone lines with complaints, and plastered its Facebook wall with negative comments until the company announced a "zero deforestation policy."

One of Greenpeace's ongoing campaigns is protesting against Facebook, one of the social media tools it used in its battle against Nestle. The environmental group singled out the Internet giant earlier this year as a part of its Cool IT campaign to encourage tech companies to use clean power. Facebook attracted the ire of Greenpeace in February when it announced plans to build a server farm powered by dirty coal-fired energy. To protest, Greenpeace started a Facebook group, We want Facebook to use 100% renewable energy, that currently has nearly 300,000 members. They also encouraged online activists to send a message directly to CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook account.

When the company announced in September that it planned to double the size of the dirty data center, Greenpeace stepped up its online campaign with the charmingly inflammatory video posted below. The crudely animated short mocks Zuckerberg and tells him to "unfriend coal." It has already attracted more views than the Facebook protest group has members. You can watch it here:

The campaign has not yet succeeded in getting Facebook to switch entirely to clean energy, but Zuckerberg responded to one message saying, "We're moving in the right direction here." Whether he and his company get there fast enough to ward off further action from Greenpeace remains to be seen.

What's Next?

Maintaining their new media momentum in a changing technological landscape will be a challenge for the climate movement. While Change.org's Leber told me how her site is aiming to become the "YouTube of social change," Greenpeace and 350.org have both deployed new media tools experimentally rather than tactically. This makes sense to some extent, but their better financed opponents in the fossil fuel industries are not leaving the development of social networks to chance. (For example, read this remarkable New Yorker article about the Koch Industries-fueled Tea Party movement.)

The climate movement is seeking low cost, easily accessible online tools. 350.org is interested in "boot-strap solutions that we can use extremely cheaply and scale up," Aroneanu said. His organization recently ditched their iPhone app in favor of a simple mobile website.

"We're not looking for things that we have to own, we're looking for things that our organizers can use effectively," Aroneanu said.

Greenpeace's online organizer Eaton said his number one rule is "organize where people are at" and he pointed out that there simply aren't a critical mass of activists on Foursquare yet.

Regardless of the precise new media mix, the climate movement is committed to continuing the push for climate protection with what Aroneanu called "open source" activism. Social activism sites like Change.org feature blog content about environmental challenges and online petitions that can recruit activists for 350.org and Greenpeace. The organizers at those groups can then mobilize high-impact online climate campaigns or on-the-ground distributed actions across the nation and around the globe. The big, one-day march on Washington has been done so many times, no one notices anymore.

"We really focus on developing grassroots leaders," Aroneanu explained. "And we feel like that grassroots leadership is what's going to lead this movement to a place where we actually are able to pass the kind of legislation we need to pass."

Legislative deal-making is worthless without deep pockets or a broad base of public support.The failure of the recent climate bill proved that environmental groups cannot outspend or outmaneuver the fossil fuel industry.

"Everybody understands that we need to build a movement beyond just this piece of legislation," 350.org's Aroneanu said.

The successes his organization, Greenpeace and others have had organizing in the expanding digital space has made activists realize that savvy use of new media is required to construct a lasting climate constituency.

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based editorial assistant at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of the New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at the Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

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August 23 2010

17:35

Smartphone, HDTV Boom Begets Gargantuan E-Waste Problem

The digital media revolution promises to improve the quality of our lives though an expanded capacity to communicate, collaborate, learn and make informed decisions. Yet our seemingly insatiable demand for digital media is driving a proliferation of consumer electronic devices and IT infrastructure, which are significantly contributing to a tsunami of toxic electronic waste.

This week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson announced that promoting citizen engagement and increasing government accountability on enforcement to improve the design, production, handling, reuse, recycling, exporting and disposal of electronics is of the EPA's top six international priorities. In light of this, publishers, device manufacturers, bandwidth providers and other players in the digital media supply chain should rethink their marketing narratives and redouble their efforts to identify, quantify, disclose and manage the toxic e-waste impacts associated with digital media -- before regulation or catastrophe require them to do so.

The issues and dilemmas related to digital media and e-waste can be complex and confusing, but if they are ignored or only paid lip service to they will be sure to wash up on the shores of our lives... and in our politics, in short order. If you want a quick take on some of the key issues associated with e-waste, take a few minutes to watch this short animated Public Service Announcement co-produced for Good Magazine by Ian Lynam and Morgan Currie:

To learn more, read on. In the weeks ahead we look forward to your questions, comments and suggestions about how issues associated with the environmental impacts of the digital media revolution's e-waste detritus can best be addressed. Here are some thought starters to get the conversation rolling.

FAQ

How much toxic e-waste is being created and what are some of its environmental and social impacts?

According to market analyst firm ABI Research, approximately 53 million tons of electronic waste were generated worldwide in 2009, and only about 13% of it was recycled. The Electronics Take Back Coalition (ETBC) estimates that 14 to 20 million PCs are thrown out every year in the U.S. alone. There has been a recent surge in e-waste created by aggressive marketing encouraging consumers to "upgrade" basic voice-only mobile devices to 3G and 4G smartphones and mobile game consoles. There has also been an enormous surge in CRT monitors and TV sets set into motion by the switch to large flat screen displays and DVRs.

The EPA estimates that over 99 million TV sets, each containing four to eight pounds of lead, cadmium, beryllium and other heavy metals, were stockpiled or stored in the U.S. in 2007, and 26.9 million TVs were disposed of in 2007 -- either by trashing or recycling them. While it's not a large part of the waste stream, e-waste shows a higher growth rate than any other category of municipal waste.

Overall, between 2005 and 2006, total volumes of municipal waste increased by only 1.2 percent, compared to 8.6 percent for e-waste. Particularly troubling are the mountains of hazardous waste from electronic products growing exponentially in developing countries. The United Nations report Recycling - from E-Waste to Resources predicts that e-waste from old computers will jump by 500 percent from 2007 levels in India by 2020 and by 200 percent to 400 percent in South Africa and China. E-waste from old mobile phones is expected to be seven times higher in China and 18 times higher in India. China already produces about 2.3 million ton of e-waste domestically, second only to the United States, which produces about 3 million tons each year.

According to the Electronics Take Back Coalition, e-waste contains over 1,000 toxic materials harmful to humans and our environment, including chlorinated solvents, brominated flame retardants, plasticizers, PVC, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, plastics and gases used to make electronic products and their components such as semiconductor chips, batteries, capacitors, circuit boards, and disk drives. E-waste can also contain tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, of which Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act requires reporting if they originated in Congo or a neighboring country.

Not all e-waste is exported to China, India or Africa. The Electronics Take Back Coalition reports that some recyclers and many federal agencies in the U.S. send their e-waste to recycling plants operating in federal prisons operated by UNICOR, a wholly owned subsidiary of the federal Department of Justice. One criticism of UNICOR is that by paying prison workers as little as 23 cents per hour, they undercut private commercial recyclers. Another criticism is that reliance on high tech chain gangs may frustrate development of the free market infrastructure necessary to safely manage the tsunami of e-waste that the digital revolution is intensifying.

How much e-waste does the consumption and production of digital media generate?

Digital media doesn't grow on trees. Its creation, distribution and use requires massive quantities of energy, minerals, metals, petrochemicals and labor. Rather than relying on proprietary estimates of product lifecycles or limited forensic evidence we need reliable standards-based lifecycle inventories of the energy and material flows that make our broadband connectivity and digital media experiences possible. Proponents of digital media often tout the benefits of the digital media shift in terms of the number of trees that will be saved, but shifting to digital media has an environmental footprint and toxic impact that bear greater scrutiny.

The digital media industry has a long way to go before it can declare itself sustainable, or justify its environmental footprint based on cherry-picked data, anecdotal evidence and unfilled promises. Companies like Apple and HP that tout their commitments to sustainability fail to make a even a "greenish" grade in the most recent Greenpeace Greener Electronics Scorecard..

Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics

Until media companies, device manufacturers and service providers are inspired to make standards-based environmental product declarations through market pressure or regulation, it will be impossible for consumers to make informed decisions or compare the climate change or e-waste impacts associated with specific products or services. A look at the overall growth trends in a few key categories is enough to justify more serious attention to the issues at hand and to the toxic tragedies that loom over the horizon.

A shift in preference from traditional media to digital media is one key trend. According to the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report, Global Media and Entertainment 2010-2014, digital media's share of consumer spending is growing at double digit rates and is expected to reach 33 percent of their entertainment and media spending by 2014.

Growth in the number of broadband mobile connections and wireless devices is also a determining factor. Smartphone manufacturer Ericsson estimates that the world will reach 50 billion mobile connections within this decade with 80 percent of all people accessing the Internet using their mobile devices. Ericsson estimates there are over 500 million 3G subscriptions worldwide with more than 2 million mobile subscriptions being added per day.

At current rates of growth some pundits believe we may soon face a zettaflood of data, and the number of broadband wireless connections, smartphones, e-books, tablets, game consoles and "wireless devices with IP addresses will outnumber humans on our planet by an order of magnitude. The World Wireless Research Forum predicts 7 trillion devices for 7 billion people by 2017 - a thousand devices for every man, woman and child on the planet.

In short we are rapidly becoming a world of digital media hyper-consumers that need to develop a better understanding of the connections between our rabid digital media appetites and their lifecycle environmental impacts before they become our undoing.

Unfortunately, at present there is no reliable way to determine and compare the greenhouse gas emission or e-waste impacts associated with digital media consumption. While the impact of an individual decision or transaction may be negligible, the aggregate impact of billions of connections and trillions of transactions cannot be left unexamined and unmanaged.

What laws and sources of international, federal, state and local government support for e-waste management are in place and on the horizon?

The U.S. lags behind the EU, which has recently created two new policies on ways to deal with e-waste: the Restriction on the Use of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. At present the U.S. is also the only member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that has not ratified the Basel Convention, which is intended to regulate the movement of hazardous waste across international borders.

In addition the U.S. does not have a comprehensive national approach for the reuse and recycling of used electronics, despite efforts to introduce federal legislation such as Senate Bill 1397 - Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act. However, electronics manufacturer take-back laws have gained traction at the state level.

An important report on e-waste recently issued by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) titled Electronic Waste: Considerations for Promoting Environmentally Sound Reuse and Recycling states that 23 states have passed legislation mandating statewide e-waste recycling, including several states that introduced legislation in 2010 (in yellow below).

States Passing E-Waste Legislation

All of these laws except California use the Producer Responsibility approach, where the manufacturers must pay for recycling. A guide to current and pending e-waste legislation is available on the Electronics Take Back Coalition website.

The Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona recently published an award-winning paper titled E-wasted Time: The Hazardous Lag in

Comprehensive Regulation of the Electronics Recycling Industry in the United States
that addresses the status of electronics recycling regulation in the U.S., as well as how the regulatory climate influences industry practice.

How can consumers and manufacturers of digital electronic devices, providers of broadband connectivity and data center services address digital media/e-waste dilemmas through voluntary initiatives and coalitions?

The EPA provides a guide to locations where electronics can be donated for reuse or recycling through the Plug-In To eCycling Partnership, Responsible Recycling and Recycling Industry Operating Standard RIOS certification initiatives. The Electronics Take Back Coalition and the Basel Action Network (BAN) have developed a competing voluntary program called e-Stewards that identifies recyclers they deem to be environmentally and socially responsible.

Both the Electronics Take Back Coalition and Greenpeace have developed scorecards that rate companies on their policies and the actions they are taking to address e-waste issues. Such sites are far from perfect, but can help can you sort through the confusing combination of apathy, indifference, marketing spin and unfulfilled green promises that predominate in today's consumer electronics marketplace. Before you buy or dispose of a cell phone, e-reader, tablet, PC, display, DVR, set-top box, game console, charger, plug strip, batteries, printers, or other electronic devices ask the manufacturer if there is a standards-based Environmental Product Declaration or Lifecycle Analysis for the product and check if the brand and the product is rated by Greenpeace and EPEAT.

Over the next five years our challenge is to stem the tide of e-waste being exported from the U.S. to the developing world, and develop a legal framework that will support mining and managing the mountains of toxic e-waste in the U.S. and in the developed world. According to Interpol the illegal trafficking of electronic waste (e-waste) is a serious crime and a growing international problem, posing an unacceptable environmental and health risk, in particular in developing countries in Africa and Asia. According to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson: "It's time for us to stop making our trash someone else's problem, start taking responsibility and setting a good example."

Going forward our greater challenge will be to change the prevailing business models and digital media marketing narratives that ignore the toxic tide and rethink the design of next generation digital media devices, media products, data networks and data centers so that they are greener by design, eliminate conflict minerals, use less energy, last longer and can be disassembled, upgraded and recycled responsibly.

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Please use the comments area below to share your questions and suggestions. More importantly, use your social networks to engage the marketing and product development executives of digital media companies, device manufacturers, carriers and other key stakeholders -- including elected officials and EPA regulators. Engage them in an informed dialogue on how we can communicate sustainably and decouple the production and consumption of digital media from the scourge of e-waste in a timely and effective manner.

MediaShift environmental correspondent Don Carli is senior research fellow with the non-profit Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) where he is director of The Sustainable Advertising Partnership and other corporate responsibility and sustainability programs addressing the economic, environmental and social impacts of advertising, marketing, publishing and enterprise communication supply chains. Don is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Industry Studies Program affiliate scholar and is also sustainability editor of Aktuell Grafisk Information Magazine based in Sweden. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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August 03 2010

17:51

The Climate Desk: Time-Intensive Collaboration Pays Off

When I first heard about The Climate Desk back in April, I was impressed by its ambitious mission:

The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact -- human, environmental, economic, political -- of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS's new public affairs show "Need To Know."

As someone who's managed several large-scale journalistic partnerships, I was curious to peek under the proverbial hood and see how the project was going several months in. Were the partners achieving their goals? What could other journalists interested in cross-organization collaboration learn from their experiences? I checked in with one of Climate Desk's de facto managers, Monika Bauerlein, co-editor at Mother Jones; a transcript of our email conversation follows.

Q&A

Please describe how Climate Desk is structured and staffed.

Monika Bauerlein: The Climate Desk is designed to produce a few major projects per year, with ad-hoc collaborations, content exchange, and link love continuing in between. Our first major project was a series exploring how business is adapting to climate change. We have several projects planned for the coming year. At the moment, we are focusing on collaboratively covering and exchanging content on the BP oil disaster.

It's a very flat structure, basically a consortium of peers -- there are one or two editors who serve as the main contacts at each of the partner organizations. We have met in person twice and talk via conference call regularly.

Among the group of editors involved, Clara (Jeffery, co-editor, Mother Jones) and I have thus far taken on most of the coordination and cat-herding (which can be quite time-consuming -- at key moments it's probably taken more than 50 percent of our time, but most of the time it's quite a bit less). All decisions are made collaboratively.

There was not really another project similar enough for us to model this collaboration on -- most of the ones we're aware of have been one-shot reporting projects (e.g. The Arizona Project and the Chauncey Bailey Project, both focused on the killing of reporters), whereas this is more of a soup-to-nuts, brainstorm-to-publication-to-"tweetstream":http://twitter.com/theclimatedesk collaboration.

But we certainly got ideas from a range of other projects and hope to in turn make our experience available to others.

How are project participants defining "collaboration" for the purposes of this project? How did you arrive at that definition?

bauerlein.jpg

Bauerlein: We started out with a very simple thought: How cool would it be if some of the smartest editors we know got in a room together? A cross between imaginary dinner party and dream-team edit meeting, if you will. We wanted to share three things: ideas, content, and audiences. We hoped that the resulting cross-pollination would produce a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. That's proven true -- we've all really enjoyed the exchange of ideas, we've all gotten great content out of it, and we've been able to introduce some of our users to each other's work.

In practice, here's what we did: We brainstormed how the collaboration should work and, for our first big project, settled on doing a distributed package of stories as a pilot project. As our topic, we chose an exploration of how business is adapting to climate change. Several of the main feature stories were conceived and assigned by the group; in addition, each partner organization produced stories that were made available to the group as part of the package. Some partners also produced stories that were not shared, but were linked to from other partner sites.

During the publication phase of this series (the two weeks surrounding Earth Day 2010), the stories ran on all the partner sites, and we used a collaborative widget from Publish2 to give users a running feed of the entire package. We also built theclimatedesk.org as a repository for our FAQ and story feed; it continues to be updated with reporting from the partner organizations.

What has been the project's biggest success so far, and why? What success metrics are you using?

Bauerlein: Honestly, for this many journalists from fairly different organizations to play well together and enjoy themselves felt like a big success. Demonstrating to ourselves that it could be done, and be fun, was great.

Beyond that, we produced a lot of really good content that got widely seen and commented on, as well as buzz in the trade press and great feedback from the rest of the journalism community. And, perhaps most importantly, through the pilot project we created both a framework for working together and a great deal of trust among the group, which has already helped us seize opportunities for further collaboration.

For example, we were in the planning stages for our next project when news of the BP oil spill hit; at that point, we shifted gears to focus on this major story, with an ongoing content exchange and ad-hoc collaborations among individual members of the group. In the past few weeks, "Need to Know" has teamed up with the Atlantic, Mother Jones, and Grist to produce segments for its show. All the partners have exchanged content about the spill. In the meantime, we have started a podcast and are continuing to work on our next big project.

What has been harder than you expected? What would it take to ease this difficulty?

Bauerlein: It¹s really all about time and bandwidth, but we've managed to find both because the rewards are great. What we'd love to do is raise enough money to have a dedicated project manager as well as technology/interactive design and user participation talent. This would allow us to really pull in the best ideas from each of the partners and develop the collaboration to its full potential.

If a genie appeared and could grant you three wishes to make Climate Desk succeed beyond your wildest dreams -- what would your three wishes be?

Bauerlein: 1. Major celebrity and massive funder falls in love with this project.

2. We create cutting-edge projects that engage a broad audience -- even beyond our existing 27 million users -- and fundamentally change the conversation about climate. It's a very abstract concept for many people; what we want to do is make it tangible and intellectually engaging.

3. Is this where we ask the genie for three more wishes?

The former editorial director of PBS.org, Amanda Hirsch is a digital media consultant who recently managed the EconomyStory collaboration, a journalistic partnership between 12 public media organizations. Learn more about Amanda's background at amandahirsch.com and follow her on Twitter at @publicmediagirl.

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June 28 2010

14:16

Interview: Kedar Iyer, PickyPolly

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Kedar to learn about a new project to help users measure and manage their consumption, in effect encouraging them to control their environmental impact.  I found the project so interesting that I wanted to share it with you here in an interview, covering some key questions from Kedar.  There's also a chance for you to provide your feedback, ideas, and even contribute!

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June 17 2010

10:58

June 01 2010

21:02

The Mediavore's Dilemma: Making Sustainable Media Choices

The media business is becoming a complex game. A major study recently conducted by the Knight Commission concluded that the Internet and the proliferation of mobile media have unleashed a tsunami of innovation in the creation and distribution of information, a torrent teeming with hundreds of thousands of media channels and millions of media product choices. Yet we also live in a world being confronted by an unprecedented array of environmental threats caused by human activities like agriculture, coal mining, oil extraction, industrial production, electricity use, transportation and deforestation -- all of which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

A factor making the media game even more complex is the carbon footprint created by media brands and their supply chains as they compete for advertising dollars and vie for consumer attention. However, despite growing investor and corporate concern about the greenhouse gas emissions, or "carbon intensity," of consumer products and their supply chains, limited consideration has been given to the carbon footprint of media products and their supply chains.

Can advertisers afford to ignore the environmental threats associated with their media supply chain choices? Can consumers afford to ignore the carbon footprint of their media choices...even if their individual impacts may appear to be small?

This article doesn't have all of the answers, but hopefully it will open your eyes to some of the issues and begin a broader discussion about what may be at stake. It is my hope that this and subsequent posts will lead to a better understanding of the carbon footprint of media products so that advertisers, media companies and consumers can resolve what I call "The Mediavore's Dilemma" -- how to enjoy the media bounty before us while minimizing the climate change risks and environmental threats associated with our advertising and media choices.

(You can read my earlier report for MediaShift: Is Digital Media Worse for the Environment Than Print?)

As concern about the environment and consumer awareness about issues like climate change rise, publishers are likely to respond with a bumper crop of "green" media products. Brands will probably pump out ads chock-a-block with green messages to run on the pages and pixels of those products. The jury is still out on whether changing consumer, investor and/or regulatory pressure could change the game and move them to make comparable efforts to identify, measure, improve and communicate the environmental impacts associated with their media products and media supply chains. In the meantime, concern about climate change and carbon footprints continues to grow among global leaders and many high growth companies.

In a recent Ernst & Young survey of global organizations with greater than $25 billion in market capitalization, 73 percent had made commitments to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Interestingly, 43 percent of respondents believe that equity analysts are including climate change factors in their valuations and 30 percent anticipate climate change factors will find their way into these analyses in the next five years.

The report, Action Amid Uncertainty -- The business response to climate change, probed 300 global executives from corporations with annual revenue of $1 billion or more on how they are responding to climate challenges. According to Mark Foster, group chief executive of management consulting and global markets at Accenture, "Effective carbon disclosure helps corporations mitigate investment risk and achieve more sustainable performance."

Nonetheless, comprehensive carbon disclosure has not been a significant priority among major advertisers or media companies.

Game Change?

The recent BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has spurred a game-changing shift in Americans' environmental attitudes. For the last few years, Americans' environmental concerns declined as the public placed a higher priority on pocketbook concerns like the economy and energy, likely due to the poor U.S. economy. However, a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll indicates that trend has reversed in just two months' time and the pro-environment position has regained the strength it showed for most of the last decade. Given the sensitivity of marketers to public opinion, it is highly likely that this change in public opinion could change the priorities of advertisers and media companies to carbon disclosure.

Oil Spill Alters Views on Environmental Protection

Another factor that could change the priorities of advertisers and media companies is regulation and/or fear of litigation.

"The question arises as to what legal structure will be able to cope with this coming explosion of green advertising and green media marketing claims," said John Lichtenberger, publisher of GreenAdvertisingLaw.com. "Advertisers need to know what is required for such ads before they prepare them and consumers increasingly want to know the environmental backstory of the media products they consume...it's sort of like 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' for media."

How Do You Choose Your Media Menu?

Just as we must increasingly give thought to how we grow, process and distribute the food that feeds our families, we must also step up our efforts to consider and disclose the flows of energy, materials and waste associated with the media products that feed our minds. Uninformed media choices are not an option. For advertisers and media companies they carry brand and regulatory risks. For the public they carry zero sum risks that may constrain or curtail freedom to communicate and result in other unintended consequences. Informed choices can increase the possibilities for a vibrant economy and effective government, as well as a sustainable and civil society.

One of the key obstacles to making effective comparisons and informed choices is the lack of standardized media product descriptions and category rules for the myriad of different media devices and media products that advertisers and consumers have to choose from. Media category definitions and product rules for lifecycle inventory data accounting and disclosure of carbon footprint data are needed. Without these, the best one can do is to use checklists or rely on guidelines like The Living Principles. While using rules of thumb is better than doing nothing at all, they are blunt instruments being used where more accurate and effective lifecycle analysis and carbon footprinting tools for media products are required.

Can We Afford Unsustainable Media Choices?

The Mediavore's Dilemma is selecting media products and choosing patterns of media use that meet our needs for entertainment, education and communication, while minimizing the negative environmental impacts and carbon footprints associated with them. Ideally our media choices should lead to outcomes that are sustainable i.e. environmentally restorative, socially constructive and economically beneficial.

A template for much of what needs to be done exists in the collaborative efforts of the Carbon Disclosure Project and The Sustainability Consortium, as well as in the individual efforts of major brands like Ford, IKEA, Levi Strauss, and others. Those companies call on providers in their supply chains to disclose the environmental lifecycle impacts, climate change risks and "carbon footprints" associated with the goods and services they sell. These requests coupled with the specifications, standards and data that they develop are the keys to making informed supply chain decisions. By focusing and adapting their work to advertising and media devices, products and supply chains it is possible that the challenge of making informed media choices will be less of a challenge than a clean-sheet exercise.

Another factor to be considered is the issue of "materiality" i.e. when carbon disclosure is deemed to be significant to investors. Several large investor groups representing more than $8 trillion in assets under management recently requested the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to issue guidance on the disclosure of climate-related information on the basis that it is material to their investment decisions even to companies whose carbon footprints are relatively small -- and thus whose climate change risks are not likely to be material.

While these calls for carbon disclosure have continued to grow, so far little attention has been paid to the carbon footprint of advertising or to the environmental impacts and climate risks associated with the creation, production, distribution and use of communication and entertainment media. However, last week the Ford Motor Company, one of the world's largest advertisers, announced plans to survey 35 of top global suppliers on their energy use and estimated greenhouse gas emissions. And while it does not currently address the carbon footprint of advertising or media suppliers, it may in the future.

John Viera, Ford Motor Company's VP of sustainability and environmental policy responded to my request for insight about this trend with a statement that suggests a broader set of requests that might include advertising and media suppliers is a possibility:

Currently advertising suppliers are not explicitly included in our supplier survey associated with Ford's efforts to better understand the carbon footprint of its supply chain. At this time Ford's initial efforts are focused on direct first tier suppliers providing higher carbon intensity commodities for vehicle production. However, beyond resources required for supplier engagement, we are not presently aware of any particular or unique barriers to measuring and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of advertising suppliers.

While some may find this statement encouraging, one must be realistic about the prospects that Ford or any other advertiser will be able to address this issue alone or to build a quorum of like minded brands to join them. A recent Accenture report on supply chain carbon reports that only 10 percent of companies actively model their supply chain carbon footprints or have implemented successful sustainability initiatives.

Why Lifecycle Analysis and Carbon Footprinting Matter

When the June 1996 issue of Life magazine ran a story about child labor in Pakistan that showed a 12-year-old surrounded by the pieces of a Nike soccer ball, activists across the U.S. were soon marching in protest outside of Nike stores holding up the photos. Nike quickly found how brands can be held accountable for the social and environmental transgressions of their extended supply chains. Shortly after the story was published, Nike stepped up its efforts in supply chain scrutiny and joined a coalition of companies, labor organizations and human rights groups to draft an industry-wide code of conduct that would eliminate child labor from their back story.

http://cbae.nmsu.edu/~dboje/nike/pakistan.html

Today, there is growing pressure for major brands to call upon companies in their supply chains to disclose environmental lifecycle impact data. They are also called upon to work with suppliers to innovate the carbon and climate-change risk out of their product and packaging supply chains.

Until recently, those studying media focused on the social and economic effects of advertising and media content to determine their impacts on our opinions and behaviors. However, the size, scope, dynamics and growth rate of today's media consumption patterns are making it increasingly important that we also consider the environmental lifecycle aspects of media devices as well as the carbon footprint of their supply chains, when we make media choices.

If there is greater awareness of just how big the media industry is, and of how big its carbon footprint is likely to be, significant calls for carbon disclosure are more likely to be extended to advertising and media supply chains. The media game is a big business with a carbon footprint to match.

How Big is the Media's Carbon Footprint?

Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a private equity firm, reported that the media industry rose from the 10th largest sector of the economy in 1975 to the 5th largest in 2009. According to the 2009 Deloitte Media and Entertainment Industry Outlook, media and entertainment is one of the largest sectors in the U.S. economy: About $950 billion was spent on products and services provided by media and entertainment companies in 2006. That spending is expected to grow by 38 percent to $1.3 trillion by 2011.

Another key aspect of the media game that can be measured is advertising spend. A major source of revenue to media companies is the purchase of advertising by brands who spend in excess of $125 billion in the U.S. each year to sponsor media products. Close to $500 billion is spent each year worldwide. According to research firm Kantar Media, while advertising expenditures fell 12.3 percent in 2009 due to the recession, advertising expenditures in the first quarter of 2010 rose 5.1 percent from 2009 to $31.3 billion.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that approximately 360,000 tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions are associated with each billion dollars of economic activity, which would mean the carbon footprint of the media industry could be as much as 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gas. That would be equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 130 coal-fired power plants burning 2.6 million railcars of coal; or the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 95 million four passenger vehicles burning 56 billion gallons of gasoline. The DOE also reported that in 2008 the United States consumed about 138 billion gallons (or 3.3 billion barrels) of gasoline and emitted approximately 6.9 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas.

Is Size All That Matters?

In addition to measuring economic activity, there are other aspects of media's carbon footprint -- such as time spent consuming media -- that can be used to estimate emissions. This is particularly important in the case of digital media in that, unlike printed media, digital media devices consume energy when being used and when they are in standby mode.

Veronis Suhler Stevenson estimated that overall per capita consumption of media in the U.S. has increased by almost 30 percent over the last 35 years, from 2,843 hours per year in 1975 to 3,532 hours in 2009, and about half of those hours are spent on videogames, Internet, and mobile services. Also, a recent Gamer Segmentation Report 2010 by research firm NPD found that U.S. gamers are spending 13 hours per week playing energy intensive games, up from 12.3 hours in 2009, with "extreme gamers" representing 4 percent of the sample surveyed averaging 48.5 hours of game play per week.

Multi-Tasking Mania

American consumers also appear to be adding more media channels to the menu as well as doing more media multitasking. According to the Thee Screen Report from research firm Nielsen Media, as of 2Q 2009 the 290 million people in the U.S. with TVs spend on average 141 hours each month tuning into television. Mobile video viewing continues its upward trend, with over 15 million Americans reporting watching mobile video in Q2 2009. This is an increase of 70 percent versus last year -- the largest annual growth to date.

In addition to adding more digital media channels and products to the menu, Nielsen reports that American households are also adding more digital media devices... devices which can have significant "embodied energy" carbon footprints in addition to the energy they consume during use or in "sleep mode." While the media industry lags other business sectors such as the building products industry in categorizing and documenting the embodied energy and carbon intensity of its products, the precedent nonetheless exists in development of lifecycle data repositories such as the U.S. Life-Cycle Inventory (LCI) Database.

Fifty-four percent of Americans have three or more TV sets in the home, and more than half of Americans (57 percent) who have Internet access at home, use television and the Internet simultaneously at least once a month. NPD reports that portable navigation devices have found their way into nearly 40 percent of U.S. households, up from 30 percent in 2009 and e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, are increasing in penetration and are now in 5 percent of U.S. households. Also, the recent State of Media Democracy survey by Deloitte indicates that nearly 60 percent of U.S. homes now own a videogame console, a dramatic increase from 44 percent three years ago.

It is unlikely that such growth can be managed for sustainability without the identification, measurement and disclosure of carbon footprint and lifecycle inventory data.

Houston, We Have a Wicked Problem

Make no mistake, the Mediavore's Dilemma is what Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel called a "Wicked Problem" i.e. one that cannot be solved by a single individual or any one company using conventional thinking. Creating the tools and knowledge required to resolve the Mediavore's Dilemma will require data, collaboration, informed dialogue and systems thinking that could take years.

There are several reasons why solving the Mediavore's Dilemma is a wicked problem that has so far failed to reach a tipping point in support from advertising and media companies:

  • Awareness of what is at stake is low and there has been little explicit investor, regulatory, consumer or activist demand for disclosure of advertising and media supply chain carbon footprints.
  • Advertisers are two to three steps removed from the majority of media supply chain emissions, resulting in inadequate visibility across all tiers and levels of their media supply chains.
  • No brand purchases more than 10 percent of the $150 billion spent on advertising in the U.S. annually, and a myriad of media products results in a highly fragmented market that limits the control of even the largest of advertisers.
  • Functional silos and limited subject matter expertise in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) are obstacles to deployment of media supply chain scorecards or standards-based scoring systems.
  • The lack of meaningful LCA product category definitions for existing media products is an obstacle to standards-based disclosure and comparison of media product carbon risks.
  • Media industry turmoil and changing media industry business models have made it difficult to make a coherent business case for the allocation of costs and benefits that would result from tackling the problem.

The fact that the Mediavore's Dilemma is a wicked problem doesn't mean we shouldn't try to solve it, and it doesn't mean that we must wait for it to be solved in order to take steps in the right direction. To raise awareness and spur action addressing these issues the Institute for Sustainable Communication (where I am a senior fellow) has been making slow but steady progress working with groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Carbon Trust and Ad-ID to draw attention to the issue and reach out to advertisers and their supply chain partners through ISC's Sustainable Advertising Partnership initiative.

Ultimately the Mediavore's Dilemma is a problem that may best be solved as a "serious game" that engages our collective curiosity and expands our collective wisdom. In the meantime, it is my hope that your questions, comments, suggestions and support in response to this article will help raise awareness of our efforts and assist us in developing better solutions for all of the stakeholders that business, government and world at large depend upon.

MediaShift environmental correspondent Don Carli is senior research fellow with the non-profit Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) where he is director of The Sustainable Advertising Partnership and other corporate responsibility and sustainability programs addressing the economic, environmental and social impacts of advertising, marketing, publishing and enterprise communication supply chains. Don is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Industry Studies Program affiliate scholar and is also sustainability editor of Aktuell Grafisk Information Magazine based in Sweden. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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May 28 2010

08:35

Newsweek: Is BP restricting journalists’ access to oil spill?

More than a month into the disaster, a host of anecdotal evidence is emerging from reporters, photographers, and TV crews in which BP and Coast Guard officials explicitly target members of the media, restricting and denying them access to oil-covered beaches, staging areas for clean-up efforts, and even flyovers.

Journalists from CBS, Mother Jones and the Times Picayune have been denied access to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, according to reports, raising concerns that the disaster will not be properly documented for the public.

Full story at this link…

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May 05 2010

22:37

NYT Data Journalist Walks Through ‘Toxic Waters’


The New York Times investigation into national water quality and pollution regulation required a tremendous effort in reporting and data analysis. The project, titled “Toxic Waters,” was enhanced by the painstaking efforts of many in the newsroom, including journalist-developer Derek Willis, a member of NYT’s Interactive News Technology team.

He described how the Times produced its award-winning series to members of the Online News Association and Hacks & Hackers in Washington yesterday. Above is the recording of his presentation.

(Note: I’m an active member of both organizations.)

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March 31 2010

19:10

Is Digital Media Worse for the Environment Than Print?

Public opinion polls show that concern about the environment rises and falls based on the state of the economy and other factors, but concern about the negative impacts associated with using paper and printing continues to rise. Nothing captures the essence of these feelings more vividly than the signature line appearing at the foot of more and more emails: "Please consider the environment before printing this email."

This seemingly well-intentioned call to action, as well as others like "Sign up for paperless billing, help the environment and save trees" confront consumers with a false dilemma and present a forced choice that may have unintended consequences. The false dilemma is: "By using paper to print your email or by receiving paper bills you are knowingly degrading the environment, destroying forests and/or killing trees." The forced choice is: "Eliminate your use of paper or feel like a guilty hypocrite."

paper mill in wash.jpg

What's implied is that digital media is the environmentally preferable choice and that print media is the environmentally destructive choice. But is it possible that digital media could be more destructive to the environment and a greater threat to trees, bees, rivers and forests in the United States than paper-making or printing?

A heightened sense of awareness about the environment has developed in recent years. In particular, feelings of guilt and concern are on the rise about the use of paper and its alleged impact on the fate of our trees, forests and the environment. Are these feelings justified?

The story of sustainable media is a "bad news/good news" story. The bad news is that the public's concern about our forests and the environment is justified. The good news is that seeing beyond the green rhetoric and rethinking the lifecycle impacts of both print and digital media will play a major role in allowing us to enjoy forests and conserve our environment.

Digital Deforestation

There is growing recognition that digital media technology uses significant amounts of energy from coal fired power plants which are making a significant contribution to global warming. Greenpeace estimates that by 2020 data centers will demand more electricity than is currently demanded by France, Brazil, Canada, and Germany combined. What is less widely known is that mountaintop-removal coal mining is also a major cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the pollution of over 1,200 miles of headwater streams in the United States.

If your goal is to save trees or do something good for the environment, the choice to go paperless may not be as green or simple as some would like you to think.

Digital media doesn't grow on trees, but increased use of digital media is having a profoundly negative impact on our forests and the health of our rivers. Computers, cellular networks and data centers are connected to the destruction of over 600 square miles of forest in the U.S. One of the more significant direct causes of deforestation in the United States is mountaintop-removal coal mining in the states of West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina.

America's adoption of networked broadband digital media and "cloud-based" alternatives to print are driving record levels of energy consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the electricity consumed by data centers in the United Stats doubled from 2000 to 2006, reaching more than 60 billion kilowatt hours per year, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 559,608 homes in one year. According to the EPA that number could double again by 2011.

Chances are that the electricity flowing through your digital media devices and their servers is linked to mountaintop-removal coal from the Appalachian Mountains. The Southern Appalachian forest region of the U.S. is responsible for 23% of all coal production in the United States and 57% of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal -- including the rapidly growing power consumed by many U.S. data centers, networks and consumer electronic devices.

How Green is Your Digital Media?

To find out how much of the energy you use comes from mountaintop coal you can visit What's My Connection to Mountaintop Removal? an interactive tool built by the non-profit organization Appalachian Voices. By entering your ZIP code it allows you to see if the electricity you are buying came from a coal mine employing mountaintop removal. This map shows how electricity used in San Francisco through PG&E comes from mountaintop-removal coal in West Virginia:

ilove mountains map.jpg

If you thought you were saving forests and protecting the environment by going paperless...think again. The real dilemma you face is that you may be doing more to cause environmental degradation and deforestation by going paperless than you think, and making responsible choices requires informed decisions and rational tradeoffs.

Coal-powered digital media is destructive to the environment in many ways beyond deforestation. Coal fired power plants are responsible for 93% of the sulfur dioxide and 80% of the nitrogen oxide emissions generated by the electric utility industry. These emissions cause acid rain that is destroying red spruce forests in the Northeast and Appalachia, and killing brook trout and other fish species in the Adirondacks, upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains.

According to a paper published in the journal Science, researchers found that recent scientific studies showed mountaintop coal mining does irreparable environmental harm. The researchers said their analysis of the latest data found that such mining destroys extensive tracts of deciduous forests while also hurting fish and plant life.

The widespread practice of mountaintop removal has been described as "strip mining on steroids" in which forests are clear-cut and topsoil is scraped away. Next, explosives up to 100 times as strong as ones that tore open the Oklahoma City Federal building blast up to 800 feet off the mountaintops and then dump tons of "overburden" -- the former mountaintops -- into the narrow adjacent valleys, thereby creating "valley fills."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that mountaintop removal's destruction of West Virginia's forests buried over 1,500 miles of biologically crucial Appalachian headwaters streams, disrupted key nesting habitat for migrant bird populations and decreased migratory bird populations throughout the northeast United States. The Office of Surface Mining reports that more than 1 million acres of land in northern and central Appalachia were undergoing active mining operations as of 2004. In some areas of West Virginia, more than 25% of the land surface is under permit for current or future mountaintop removal.

Go Tell It On The Mountain

It's somewhat ironic that print media and the paper-making industry are so often targeted for "killing" trees while digital media is so often characterized as the greener "environmentally friendly" alternative. While its record is by no means perfect, the North American forest products industry has made great strides in the adoption of sustainable forestry and environmental performance certification practices. In addition, the majority of the U.S. paper industry's power and electricity needs are derived from renewable biomass that is sourced from sustainably managed forests. On the other hand, digital information technology's dependence on coal-powered electricity that is derived from mountaintop removal goes largely unreported.

If you care about the environment and the health of forests you should become more informed about the energy sources used by both digital and print media. Research recently published by Bell Labs concluded that today's Information and Communication Technology (ICT) networks have the potential to be 10,000 times more efficient than they are today. In fact, they can also be powered by forest bio-refineries that sustainably produce energy, biofuels, polymers, and paper with renewable forest biomass.

Forest biomass can provide valuable baseload capacity for more intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. When you purchase paper, you should consider if the brands you buy are investing in the development of renewable energy projects that employ sustainable forest biomass and close-loop water recovery processes that protect the quality of water in our rivers. This resource guide from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development can help you in choosing paper products.

The Unseen Impacts of Digital Media

Just because we cannot see something doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. While paper mills emit visible plumes of steam and waste paper can pile up visibly in our homes and businesses, the invisible embodied energy or "grey energy" used to manufacture digital technologies and the toxic e-waste associated with electronics are largely out of sight and out of mind, but their impacts can be profound.

ewaste.jpg

According to MIT researcher Timothy Gutowski (as quoted in Low-Tech Magazine), manufacturing a one kilogram plastic or metal part requires as much electricity as operating a flat screen television for 1 to 10 hours. And the energy requirements of semiconductor manufacturing techniques are much higher than that, up to 6 orders of magnitude (that's 10 raised to the 6th power) above those of conventional manufacturing processes. In addition to considering the way digital media can create new possibilities for a better world we also need to consider the less obvious impacts of the purchased energy, embodied energy, dark content and e-waste associated with the growing use of digital media.

Informed Choices Save Trees

Centuries ago the widespread adoption of paper and printing resulted in a spread of literacy that ended the dark ages, spawned a renaissance and changed our world for the better. Despite these advances, our environment now faces challenges on many fronts that call for a new literacy about the state of the environment and the "hidden" lifecycle impacts of the media choices we make. The widespread adoption of sustainable print and digital media supply chains can change our world again and help us to restore our environment. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to be misled by false dilemmas or deceived into making unsustainable choices, distal concerns about destruction of the environment and the decline our forests will soon become a harsh and uncomfortable reality.

See also:

Environmental Impact of Newspapers, Books, E-Waste

Web Leads, Print Pubs Improve Environmental Impact

Image of e-waste by Jason Schlachet via Flickr; image of paper mill by Vincent Louis via Flickr.

MediaShift environmental correspondent Don Carli is senior research fellow with the non-profit Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) where he is director of The Sustainable Advertising Partnership and other corporate responsibility and sustainability programs addressing the economic, environmental and social impacts of advertising, marketing, publishing and enterprise communication supply chains. Don is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Industry Studies Program affiliate scholar and is also sustainability editor of Aktuell Grafisk Information Magazine based in Sweden. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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10:30

The Scary Truth About Your iPhone

IT'S A CELL PHONE, a camera, a media player, and a handheld computer all in one. But what makes the iPhone such a great tech toy also makes it a perfect example of the often murky, sometimes downright sketchy origins of our electronics. Here's a glimpse of what's really in an iPhone 3GS—and any number of other gadgets, from laptops to game consoles:

We've loaded this iPhone up with 10 apps you won't find on a real smart phone. Click on an app to learn where your phone's electronic components really came from.

Supply Side Bad Apples Miner Threat Tantalized Negative Charge Tin Soldiers Screen Slaver MicroPolluter BadVibes Locked In Reset iPhone    

Supply Side

Apple spends an estimated $100 on the iPhone's 1,000-plus parts. It keeps a tight lid on where in the world they come from. If you deconstruct the gadget, you'll find fewer than 130 parts with a brand name or "made in" label on them.

Bad Apples

iPhones are made in Shenzhen, China, by the Taiwanese company Foxconn, which has been criticized for its working conditions, including long hours and harsh discipline. Apple's own review found that more than half its audited manufacturers did not meet its labor standards for things such as child labor.

Miner Threat

A 16GB iPhone 3GS contains 12 gold-plated parts. Producing 1 ounce of gold creates 80 tons of waste. Layers of middlemen make it difficult to trace the source of the gold (or any other metal) in an iPhone, making it easy for minerals from conflict zones to slip into the supply chain.

Tantalized

The iPhone includes a tantalum capacitor. After a United Nations report linked its manufacturer, Kemet, to the illegal mineral trade in eastern Congo, the company vaguely announced it "supports avoiding" tantalum from the region.

Negative Charge

Rechargeable batteries have energized demand for lithium. Getting more will mean digging up 3,000 square miles of pristine Bolivian salt flats, home to one-half of the world's lithium reserves.

Tin Soldiers

Tin is used to solder circuit boards. Some 27,000 tons are extracted from Congo annually, earning armed groups an estimated $93 million or more.

Screen Slaver

The 3.5-inch LCD screen is reportedly made in Taiwan and China by Wintek, which faces allegations of low wages, forced overtime, and ripping off migrant workers.

BadVibes

High-density tungsten is used to make cell phones vibrate. Three-quarters of the world's supply comes from China—not known for its mining safety record—and 1,400 tons are dug up annually in Congo.

MicroPolluter

Making a 0.07-ounce microchip uses 66 pounds of materials, including water and toxic chemicals such as flame retardants and chlorinated solvents. Greenpeace gives Apple a 5.1 out of 10 for its efforts to eliminate hazardous chemicals and minimize e-waste.

Locked In

The list price for a 16GB iPhone 3GS is $599. It's yours for $199 thanks to a subsidy from monopoly provider AT&T—which proceeds to fleece you with a two-year contract.

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March 25 2010

10:21

Complaint to PCC raises further criticism of Sunday Times’ environment coverage

According to a report in the Guardian yesterday, Simon Lewis, an expert on tropical on forests at the University of Leeds, has filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about an article in the Sunday Times.

The article published on 31 January, which alleged that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had made mistakes in a report on global warming, was “inaccurate, misleading and distorted”, according to Lewis, who says he contacted the newspaper before the story was published and has since written letters and tried to leave comments on the website.

Questions have been raised by several bloggers over the Sunday Times’ environmental coverage – particularly following reports that the title had been banned from receive pre-publication releases from some scientific journals for breaking embargoes.

The article at the heart of Lewis’ complaint and those that resulted in bans for the Sunday Times from PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) and JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) were written by Jonathan Leake, who recently responded on blog Embargo Watch, saying he was unconcerned about the bans:

As you can see, these press officers have claimed they have banned us from their embargo system but this is rather misleading because we have a policy of not signing up to these embargo systems. Since we are not part of them we can hardly be banned. The press officers in question do know our position and I would suggest their statements are knowingly misleading.

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