lördag 21 januari 2012

CESC workshop

I participated in a 24-hour workshop that was organized by the Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC) just as I did (and wrote about) last year. We hopped on a chartered bus and left for a conference facility where we had lunch and headed back for Stockholm a day later. There were perhaps around 40 participants and the majority were researchers from KTH. A minority of the participants represented center "partners" (representing commercial companies or other institutions such as the city of Stockholm etc.)

CESC is a "Center of Excellence" and has been awarded 10 years of funding from Vinnova, the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems. Those 10 years are divided into three periods and the center is evaluated after each period. The evaluation of the second period will happen during the end of this spring, and continued financing for the third period hinges on the evaluation. The coming evaluations was a topic at the workshop, but much more emphasis was placed on generating ideas and ramping up discussions about new projects for the third period in relation to some or all of the four CESC four strategic areas; people, cities, impacts and methods and tools:

- People - people, practices and behaviors in a sustainable ICT society
- Cities - sustainable solutions for ICT in cities
- Impacts - Sustainability impacts of ICT and media
- Methods and Tools - Methods and ICT tools for sustainability assessments

It is easy for groups of people who already know each other and have similar interests (or who already work in the same project) to cluster and work together. The organizers did not want that to happen so the workshop participants were instead divided into groups more or less randomly and then worked in those same groups during all four sessions (corresponding to the four strategic areas above). This was both good and bad. Good for the reasons stated above (breaking up established groups, "forcing" people to get to know and work with other, new acquaintances). Mixing people with different backgrounds and interests on the other hand makes it difficult for groups to form coherent visions rather than "patchwork" lists (a little bit of this and a little bit of that).

I was happy with the work of my group and two of the "proposals" (suggestions/ideas) we worked on were of great interest to me:

Personal carbon emissions for better city living
- Identify top 3 (or 4 or 5) CO2/energy hogs in our daily lives
- Study examples of bonus point systems ("alternative currencies"). Create a system for collecting data about (personal) CO2 emissions (which becomes an alternative CO2 currency).
- Reward low spenders with cultural experiences.

Personal carbon emission schemes are reminiscent of rationing schemes (of for example food and fuel during war or times of crises). The addition of a market for buying and selling unused emission rights does away with the black market by economically "punishing" high spenders and "rewarding" low spenders through the exchange of money for emissions rights. This inherently makes such schemes unappealing for the rich and powerful (high spenders).

Our suggestion was to instead reward low spenders by giving away something that is relatively inexpensive to provide, but that potentially is very valuable for the person receiving it - cultural experiences. This could encompass wavering the costs for an "environmental hero" entering any public swimming pool or giving away theatre tickets or tickets to sports events (otherwise empty seats?) for free. What is ingenious about this idea is that people who refrain from vacationing in Thailand for environmental/CO2 reasons are exactly those who instead would probably very much appreciate the consumption of cultural experiences right where he/she lives.

Much more was said about this proposal, including how to make the scheme "social" (without compromising the integrity of participants), e.g. competing against average, or introducing intangible rewards that would add prestige to lifestyles that decrease CO2 emissions. I have previously written up some ideas in my master's thesis proposal about creating a CO2 currency (written in Swedish).

The second proposal that I find exciting has much to do with the master's thesis proposal that I and my colleague Jorge wrote during the autumn, "Green distance work in Sweden". It is an "anti-city" proposal (in relation to the CESC strategic area of "cities"). How does/can ICT allow people to settle and work from the countryside and outside of the larger cities? We would be especially interested in people who do this because of personal convictions and a "green agenda" (lowering their CO2 emissions, growing some of their own food etc. but still relying on ICT as an enabler of a modern "Green wave 2.0" lifestyle.

After writing up and handing over our notes, I have no idea how these and other proposals will be utilized. I guess (hope) I will find out during the spring.

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