Saturday, June 24, 2006

An example of technosphere thinking

(please see earlier article to explain what Technosphere is, and follow up article on characteristics)

Instead of owning bicycles they are leased. At regular service they are repaired, parts replaced are recycled. Unreparable parts go into a nutrient recycle process. New bicycle parts are made or the recycled raw materials go to other processes, This system is characterised by; interchangeable parts, easily disassembled into basic materials.

Service Provided
  • availability of bicycle
Systems involved
  • distribution and repair
Nutrients input
  • Ready made bicycles, spare parts
Nutrients Output
  • Scrapped parts
Main critical techno - biosystem interfaces and mitigation
Weather incursion on bicycle
  • Provision of storage
  • Weather-proofing of bicycle
Release of grease, etc to biosphere
  • Use of biodegradeable lubrication
  • No-flake paint
how these are managed
  • Interface managed through maintenance crew supervision
Living standard service provided
  • Mobility
  • Enjoyment of cycle riding
  • Exercise
  • Transport of smaller goods and parcels
Performance (eg m3 per dollar, per employee)
  • Availability per capita
  • Cost per capita
Triple bottom line Performance over time
  • Exercise
  • Trade enabled by cycle transport of goods
  • Replacement of fossil-fuel driven transport

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Describing technosphere part 2

Applying Technosphere thinking
(click on the link to go to first essay)
A typical description of a section of the Technosphere (or technome as an analogy with biome which is part of the biosphere) contains the following categories;
  • Service Provided
  • Systems involved
  • Man-hours input
  • Nutrients input
  • Nutrients Output
  • Main critical techno - biosystem interfaces
  • How these are managed
  • Living standard service provided
  • Performance (eg m3 per dollar, per employee)
  • Triple bottom line Performance over time

Monday, June 12, 2006

Introduction to Technosphere

Economic growth is widely accepted as the best way to create an acceptable living standard. The World is seeing economic growth and living standards. Average world economic growth is happening at a rate of about 4% per year, in some places like China growth is exceeding 9%. Creating this growth requires an increasing spiral of extraction and commerce in the form of production of products and services and their sales, distribution and end of life handling.

This technological, commercial and economic activity uses a lot of energy and natural resources as well as vast inputs of human activity. For example, the average American uses 600 litres of water a day, the equivalent of 25 barrels of oil a year, produces many kilograms of garbage. Metals and other elements essential for this system are brought in and out of the country by the shipload.

The end of life of each cycle of activity outputs substances categorized as garbage, waste, emissions and refuse. This categorisation denotes they are no longer deemed useful for the technological activities and are deposited, burnt or otherwise disposed of. Although some recycling occurs, where the substances are reclassed as useful resources, a lot end up back in the Earths crust in landfills, or are released into our water or air systems.

One reason these resources are waste is that they are combined with other substances and so difficult to separate they cannot usefully be put back into the technical and commercial system.

Loss of valuable materials means reduced capital for coming generations
These resources include metals, trace elements, elements of organic systems like nitrogen and phosphor, fossil energy. Whilst all were once seen as a resource, at the end of life of a product or service end up as waste, and are treated in such a way as to be virtually unrecoverable for re-use.

Apart from this. these substances can cause problems as they journey through the biological system. In some cases substances enter the biosphere and cause problems with the workings of the climate systems (greenhouse gasses) and eco systems (persistent herbicides). In some cases, these substances act as an extra inflow of nutrients to cause imbalance in population growth, for example algal blooming.

This linear flow of material from mine to waste disposal presents several challenges;
The first is destruction of natural capital. You could say a nation is endowed with resources like metals, fuels, organic resources and these are used once, never to be available again to future generations. For example, babies being born in Kuwait and other Arab states are being born into a country whose oil supplies are on the decline, by 8% a year.

This is in a situation where the population is growing. In real terms, there are less recoverable natural resources per capita now than there were say 30 years ago.

This could maybe be justified if these resources had been used for the benefit of these coming generations to invest in renewable energy generation, education, large scale projects which will last generations. But they have not. For the coming generations, creating a standard of living will be harder.

The second area of challenge is the work needed to keep the linear flows running. This work is the input of working hours and energy. This work input itself depletes natural resources, especially fossil fuel.
The third challenge lies in the effect of all this activity on the surroundings. Mining, manufacturing and commercial activity all burden the environment and impact health, agricultural land and thereby the capacity of the area to carry future generations.

Finally, setting up the linear systems and infrastructure is an investment which creates a dependence on its contnued use.

Finding ways to redress the imbalance
Let us leave the discussion of ”how did we get here?” fcr another time. We need to be looking at how to change the way we run our societies to reverse this sorry trend. The linear way of thinking is so ingrained in the way we do things that it controls our actions and decisions almost invisibly. A conscious effort to rethink is required.

Which is why we should talk Technosphere. Technosphere modelling shows how living arrangements could be set up to satisfy needs of current generations and actually improve living standard opportunities for coming generations. Technosphere thinking can help redress imbalances in today’s systems.

Principles of technosphere
Technosphere approach sees a combination of technical systems existing within the biosphere. The biosphere is the natural layer above the underlying rocks that accomodates all living organisms and includes the hydrosphere and atmosphere. Materials of non biosphere origin (i.e. originating from the geosphere.) entering the system are idcntlified as technical nutrients.

The end of the service production cycle technical nutrients retun to the start of another cycle, in the one just left or a new one. Although the Technosphere exists within the bio and geosphere, they are in principle separate. This means there is no or at least restricted exchange of nutrient between the two systems. Where they do meet, special conditions apply.

Characteristics of the Technosphere approach include:
  • Technical nutrients: Anything coming out of the Earth’s crust is seen as a technical nutrient. This means it should go into the society’s technical systems and be recycled indefinately.
  • Separation of spheres: The biosphere should be kept away from the Technosphere, and visa versa. For example, fossil fuel has no place in the air or water. And water and microorganisms have no place in fossil fuel. However, the Technosphere can augment the ecological systems they interface with, by providing for example biological nutrients to improve agriculture or improve raw water for drinking water production.
  • Design for recycling. All components of the Technosphere are designed to function within the systems of the sphere through manufacture, assembly, use, repair and reuse and recycling. The components are re-introduced after end of life into new components.
  • Design for enrichment: Components and systems are designed to improve the resources in the Technosphere. For example, we could imagine a vehicle that captured nitrogen from the air and released it as fertilizer.
  • System interfaces. Where the biosphere meets Technosphere the exchange of nutrients is carefully controlled to ensure that
  • No technical nutrients enter the biosphere to upset ecological systems or to deplete the resource pool
  • No biosphere components enter the Technosphere to upset the workings of the systems.
  • Clarity of purpose. The purpose of the Technosphere is to provide a standard of living for the inhabitants in the area the technical systems operate. This is important as crating a Technosphere system merely to make money so someone can buy Technosphere services makes little sense. Apart from this Technosphere does not specify how monetary systems would work. Possibly the creation of an econosphere model would illuminate a distribution of bio/techno system services.
Coming soon: how to describe a setion of the technosphere, with examples. watch this space!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sustainable investing - Units of trust - Session 2

The background to these sessions is my interest in investing in sustainability. In earlier sessions I visited one place that has been successful using a system called Unit Trusts. These can be placed in organizations providing for a standard of living in a sustainable way.
Please read session one before proceeding if you have not yet read it. Click on the link in the title above or here.

By sustainable investment, I mean putting money into activities and organizations that create and operate infrastructure that produces living standard. After construction they should require very little input of fossil fuel.

Last time, I met the system and the scheme in an introduction exhibition stand and acquainted myself with the trust organization and the organizations it supported.

Questions raised from that include:
How is an organization that has something to offer supported by the Unit trust scheme?

THE QUEST: To revisit the place to find out more about how an organization with a sustainable concept can be supported by the fund.

TAPESCRIPT: On a bench in the departure lounge, I watch people dropping into the stand. A young man in a grey suit comes out and offers to tell me more.
I accept and follow him out of the waiting area up an escalator to their offices in a skyscraper similar to the LETS building in an earlier stream.

The lift takes us to the fourth floor.
He shows me into a rather ornate wood paneled conference room,
He offers me a mineral water.

I explain I have an organisation that fits their profile but I need the finance, could he tell me what the trust provides?

One main activity is the yearly marketing system, where they go out and raise money by selling units. This increases the total number of units. Directly after this activity they have a higher proportion of unplaced units.

Unplaced units create a demand for sustainable products and services. Every unit that is purchased removes demand from counter sustainable operations and
switches to sustainable investment.

The unit trust organizes these exhibitions and different kinds of activities which participating organizations get the right to use . That is, they can attend as exhibitors.

Interested organizations can sign up on the trust's website.
Some rules:
You must be a registered company or cooperative.
Energy intensive organisations are not allowed.

He also explains you must make your own profile of what you are offering.
I see graphs with investment, maintenance costs etc. and professionally written descriptive texts.

So how do I learn all that?

“Maybe I should get your help.
” I ask
“Once you have placed with us. you can go on courses,“ he replies.
I feel anxious about understanding the point system too, which does not seem accessible.
“It is part of the course.“ he reassures me,

How can you start up with the same number of units you end up with? It is as if the money is used and not used. Or are there systems with points. 10,000 points or 1000 points?

(I feel agitated trying to get everything at the same time)
I calm down and ask;“Perhaps you could explain to me the benefits of joining the trust scheme.“
His reply contains two unarguable essentials.
1) Capital
2) Customers

The scheme plugs entrepreneurs into the system and it only requires one unit to get going.

Furthermore, if it does not work out I can move the unit over to the sustainable development section.

I remark.: “It seems like a good idea. I get my marketing done, get my customers and get my capital.“

“Exactly! You have to provide the activities and set the infrastructure and organization up. Along these lines.“

I just commit to a unit and at any time I can take it back.
About the prices of units; Nominal value is 10,000 Swedish crowns.

This can go up and down. depending on the economic climate in general.
But that is not to do with what you get from you investment. Everything is relative to units and points. Even if the value of units go down, they still generate the same services. This is essentially how the scheme decouples production of living standard from economic climate.
If you buy a house and house prices go up then you can get more for your house. then you have made money. If you sell your unit placed in housing when prices have fallen then you will get less for it. But through the rise and fall of the economy you get the same housing service.

“So how do you work the unit price out?”
“We make an aggregate that follows the consumer price index “

The cost of units goes up and down with the economy.*
“Can I buy more units? “ I ask.

More units give more exposure in more local areas.

One unit is enough to get a small organisation started.

I wonder: “Can a company earn points?“

“Yes if it does activities that earn points with other companies in the scheme. Otherwise they can’t.“

“It seems organizations can take this at different speeds. Once I have placed a unit with the trust I can go on courses and be developing for ever, can’t I?”

“That’s true.” Some things take time. Some things go fast. Business plans and stuff are required, you need to describe what you will do in terms of what your organization is going to give unit holders. Then you get a team of people who will help you create a sustainable business plan.

My question then is - what’s the best way to start so I can use the Trust's services most effectively.
He explains. If you just got an idea, then you need to describe it in terms of contribution to sustainable development and use the same description methods they use. This is so people can understand what it is they are going to invest in.

He senses I am very wary of this sort of thing. I explain I lost some money in investments before.

He says I can let it take its own time, in small steps. He points out that 10,000 is a small investment risk.

I ask if I can get stuck in the scheme and then can’t get out of it.

“You already are.“ he says. You are always in a scheme. You need to choose which one. “We are giving you a chance to choose.“

I agree.

.I sigh “I need to do all that work – not so appealing.“
“Look. It’s fun once you get into it.“

I sort of feel uncomfortable and ask for the next step.

He suggests I attend an exhibition of the point system and go through the materials explaining how it all works.
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