You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘sustainability’ category.

I think its been forever now that I have been saying to drop our internal systems and engage with the real stuff… I wonder if I could stretch the message in this research pointed to by SD. Corporate Social Networks a Waste of Money, Study Finds. Guess I better read it…

It was a morning of sustainability information and design in Second Life this morning.

First up, I attended the opening of the Future Green Chatham Home. I was greeted by the very helpful Jojogirl Bailey who I think manages the Etopia sim that hosts the home. Interestingly the model is 1.5 times a 1:1 scale. It is a well detailed design with all features including information notes to help people interpret the design.

Our active solar (photovoltaic) array provides up to 6KWH and, with the wind turbine, reduces electricity consumption from the power grid, making it virtually a net zero user. Instant-on tankless heaters ensure boundless domestic hot water, and they are a backup to the geothermal domestic hot water system. We recycle grey water to use in the rain garden, lessening soil runoff and preserving water. Clerestory windows and skylights allow for maximum daylighting; and, by using Compact Flourescent fixtures throughout, energy usage is negligible.

While waiting for the official opening of the High Performance Home, another Etopia manager named Willie (I think) gave me a Second Life URL to Choose your energy path at Commonwealth (SLURL). It is quite a project! many examples of homes built around solar energies in one space, and then another space built around nuclear, wind, hydro and waste management. There is another space developed to represent issues of global warming and its apparent impacts on polar ice packs. The solar space is presented as the only viable option for a sustainable future and the designs within that space are interesting.

And finally, the good old Big Green Switch (SLURL) where you can obtain dozens of free things for your own SL modeling, such as a wind turbine, solar panels, compost bins, and whole buildings! Its a wonderful resource and innovative project to get information out there to the users of SL. Oh, and you can offset your SL carbon footprint through BGS.

Jon Brouchoud runs an inspiring blog pointing to various architectural projects using Second Life to render concepts. Jon announced that there will be an opening and tour of the Future Green Chatham home project this weekend (NZST). Note the geothermal heatpump! I plan to get along to this SL event and feel out the vibes of their architects network.

SLRL. Opening in NZ time is Sat 19th at 11am.

Sunshine and I moved to New Zealand to be a part of what we saw from Australia as a progressive society that has continuously lead the world in things like Treaties, decolonisation efforts, sustainable energy use, banning Nuclear warships into its harbors, applying political pressure on countries testing Nuclear weapons in the Pacific, not sending troops to Iraq, signing the Kyoto protocol, big time adoption of Moodle, and leaders in the development of Open Educational Resources. Of course now that we live here there are hidden details not easily seen from afar, but generally speaking this is a place where progressive action is possible.

Our local news paper reports that Warrington Primary School, not more that 20 kms North of Dunedin, have been quietly chipping away at the idea to migrate all their computers to GNU/Linux and then ask the Ministry of Education to pay their school the savings afforded by not using Apple or Microsoft software in the school. Even better still is that the Ministry are supportive of their action, and the Commonwealth of Learning, upon hearing the news, is extending them support too.

“It’s not just the financial savings. It’s the philosophy behind ‘freeware’, and reducing ‘e-waste’. If a laptop crashed now, it would have to be sent to the North Island for software to be reinstalled. But we can repair systems at the school with a disk, and we aren’t especially savvy.”

I can only hope that the tertiary sector around here will take notice of what this little school is setting out to achieve, and start asking itself why it is not also rebuilding old computers and giving them to people in need; why it is not saving some of the copious amounts of money spent in software licensing and using it to train locals how to be self sufficient and more sustainable; and why it is not teaching business and community how to access and operate free software that might save people and business hundreds if not thousands of dollars, not to mention to reduce computing waste and create new business opportunities in system support and hardware service and sales.Oh, and did I mention that all this helps market ourselves as progressive, which attracts unforeseeable support and resources?

At the very least the tertiary sector should be offering some educational support for free software alternatives, and to my mind it should be of a positively discriminate type to counter the cornered market we have allowed oursleves to become.

There are a couple of articles on Wikieducator that nicely capture what it is we have been doing with our educational development over the past 12 months:

  1. Featured Institution: Otago Polytechnic
  2. Featured Institution: An IP Policy for the times

I’m making steady progress in building my ideal learning space in Second Life. Konrad and Jo have been wonderful in teaching me building skills, and very patient with my insistence to use real life proportions and limitations. Although it has been 2 weeks, I have only been able to give 5 hours to the project so far.

As I said I would do in my initial post about this project, I have applied permaculture design processes and principles to this project, and thought of the space in Second Life as though it was a real space in real life. I very much enjoy the permaculture design process for its holistic, even universal design ethic – and given its focus on sustainability and self sufficiency it is also very timely in todays world.

My first step in this process was to produce base and sector analysis maps to determin what I am working with in terms of the available space, and what resources are on hand. Here is one of my drawings for that first step:

Then I decided to focus on the building design, and for this I’m using discarded 20′ shipping containers as the basis of the building. Shipping containers are great to work with. They are readily available for reuse, reasonably cheap, structurally sound, transportable (obviously), durable, and come in remarkably good dimensions for proportioning an efficient living and working space.

Using containers in this way is certainly not a new idea, and I’ve been tagging all the websites I find that contain information about other people’s building with containers. From what I can tell though, my design is (or will be) unique in that it aims to retain the functional qualities of the containers. I am trying to work out how to make it so that all the materials and objects that are used in the build can be packed inside the containers, and that any modifications I make to the containers will not compromise their structural integrity, or ability to be transported.

So here’s where I’m up to:

Ideally i wouldn’t have used so many and such high piles as they are expensive and make quite an impact on the environment, but given the proximity to tidal waters, I really don’t have much choice.

Konrad and I had a long discussion this morning about my emphasis on sustainable and self sufficient design and how it relates to the idea of an ideal learning space.

To my mind, nothing these days should be built or developed without careful consideration of these sustainability issues. Nothing ever should have been actually! But regarding the challenges of designing a learning space, I am thinking to use these primary sustainability considerations within a frame of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Its obvious that if people’s basic survival needs are not being met, then they are not in a very good position to be learning things beyond what it takes to survive. If they are stressed, hungry, or uncomfortable, then we are hardly in an ideal space for learning about abstract concepts or developing new skills. Or if the learning space itself is struggling to pay out money for energy, food, or waste management, then it too is in less of a position to commit to learning. And so it is with a real world sustainability and self sufficiency approach that I’m considering these needs.

Also, I don’t believe that institutions are the ideal place for learning. Actually, I think it could be proven so… Instead, I’m going for a family home.. but one that can accommodate up to 15 people if need be.

I’ve been thinking about Pacific Island, Maori and Aboriginal people and their strong family and community values. In Australia and New Zealand, State housing has been criticised for using the 3 bedroom nuclear family idea as a basis for its developments. They failed to appreciate the extended family values of some of the people who would be using those houses, and arguably contributed to the breakdown of important forms of social support for those people. Actually, I don’t think it is only Pacific, Maori and Aboriginal people that have suffered this disruption through architecture and institutionalisation. I’d say all cultures have at some stage had strong community and family values, its just that the dominant culture at the moment has institutionalised itself out of these values (and is suffering for it I believe). Ivan Illich has written extensively on this idea, so I’ll leave it with a link to the memory of his vastly superior work.

So, my design is for a family house that is large enough to host 15 or so people from time to time, but practical as a family home; that is fully self sufficient in providing for its own energy, water and food needs; that is a system that produces no waste; and that uses building materials and structures that are reused, portable and make minimal impact on the area being occupied.

There will be an open meeting on location in Second Life this Saturday and Sunday morning at 11:30am NZ time (11:30pm Friday and Saturday nights UTC).

SLurl for the Virtual Classroom parcel on jokaydia II

New Zealand’s collective student debt is approaching NZ$10 billion!!

Lets take a look at the cost of living for a student in Dunedin per week and get an idea of how crappy this situation is.

Weekly cost of living

Rent = $100 p/w

Energy, Internet and telephone = $75 p/w

Health = $20 p/w

Food = $100 p/w

Car = $80 p/w

Furnishings = $20 p/w

Clothing = $20 p/w

Social = $50 p/w

3 trips home per year = $30 p/w

Savings = $50 p/w

Stationary, computing and text books = $30 p/w

Student fees = $50 p/w + 40 hours p/w

TOTAL COST OF LIVING PER WEEK = $625 per week

Weekly income

Student allowance (if eligible) = $150 p/w

20 hours casual work @ $12 minimum per hour (resulting in a 60 hour week when combined with study time) = $240 p/w

TOTAL INCOME PER WEEK = $390 p/w (Gross!)

Weekly short fall of $235 per week. Totaling $12220 annually!!

So, let’s drop the car and savings… weekly short fall now = $105. Totaling $5460 short fall annually.

I guess we could keep chipping away at some of those weekly expenses.. who needs a social life, or trips home (or away), or health… and I guess they could work harder than 60 hours per week, or sacrifice some of that study time to work more, or find a job during the semester breaks to pay back some of that short fall (provided your landlord, food market, and all the others can stomach giving you credit until then. What about student fees? Let’s take a look at that…

Looking at student fee in relation to cost of course

A 3 year course at $12000.. what is the cost of running a course for 16 people per year? (Class sizes are one of the big reasons you would study at a Polytechnic btw.. imagine 350 people or more in a class, I struggle to see the value in university fees..)

Teacher @ $60 p/hr x 20 hrs p/w x 40 weeks = $48000 per year

Classroom and amenities = $4000 p/y

Internet and 16 computers = $32000 p/y

Other specialist learning resource fittings = $6000 p/y

Administration = $4000 p/y

Library = $6000 p/y

SUBTOTAL ANNUAL COURSE COSTS = $100 000

Less Government subsidy of around 70 – 80% = $30 000

Divided between 16 students = $1875 That’s less than half their fee!
(that subsidy figure needs checking.. it is really had to find)

Now, if we consider that in the breakdown of weekly student living costs – included in that is a computer and Internet. That might suggest that we could scale back our provision of such things (ignoring for now the fact that most students probably choose to forgo that cost in their struggle to survive here) and reduce the cost of the course considerably further (especially if I am out with that subsidy and course cost estimate).

But students would still be being forced into debt.

So what could we do in the way of free learning, fee education to afford more flexibility – save another $40 per week? And what could we do with other Government grant money to provide computers and Internet at affordable prices for students – save another $50 p/w? And what could we do with Open Educational Resources to reduce text books and library costs – save another $20 p/w? And what could we do with distance education so as to offer options for avoiding Dunedin costs of living – save another $100 p/w?

I don’t think we are thinking hard enough on what we can be doing to help address this serious social problem affecting the quality of learning in NZ. We have students who have little choice but to study and work 60 hour weeks, racking up and worrying about debt, and/or reducing their standard of living well below what I would call acceptable. I dare anyone to take a tour of rental properties in Dunedin.

No sooner than Konrad Glogowski has finished his PHD (that I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of) and his into another really interesting project, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it!

Jo Kay has provided a space for the Virtual Classroom Project on Jokaydia in Second Life, and Konrad will mentor me in building and programming graphics and media so that I may attempt to build my ideal learning environment.. in 1 month!

I admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea.. where do I start? do I have any ideas? what if my ideas suck? but Konrad has a nack for no fuss, getting it into dialog that helps me just forget all that and give it a go.

Here’s an audio recording I took of Konrad explaining his idea to me when we met in Second Life today – on location. Just from those few words, my mind was racing with ideas and potential.

Here’s Konrad’s official blog post that launches the project. More ideas from that to! I really enjoyed Konrad’s idea to use a hot air balloon for small group discussions. I have been on that balloon too, and I agree, it is great to watch the virtual world go by while you have a general banter with the person in the basket with you.

But personally, I am most inspired by the chance to explore ideas for building in real life. I’m aware of some criticism of using Second Life to mimic real life, mainly around the idea that Second Life can offer so much more than the physical limitations of real life.. and while that is certainly true, its precisely that limitlessness that makes me want more real life limitation.

We’ve all heard the typical response from first time critics of Second Life, “Second Life! who needs a second life!? I have a hard enough time dealing with real life!” and while that response can be frustrating to people who try to encourage people to use the platform for things, there is an element of truth in its over all dismissal.

Real life needs so much work, it is so wanting of good ideas implemented, and almost impossible to get new ideas tested! So, my design will focus mainly on innovations for real life, that include room for Second Life too.

The first thing I am going to do is deploy as much of my newly learned permaculture design methods to build a solid base for testing some ideas for sustainability.

Using a classic permaculture design process, my first step will be to draw up a base map. This outlines what is already in the space. It can be easily covered by a simple aerial photograph – such as the one we already have of the project space. As well as what the space already contains, it also include diagrams of what hidden things are present too, such as services and existing resources etc.

Second is a Sector Analysis. What are the people movement patterns on or near the space? What is the tract of the sun and other energy forms? What are the temperatures? Are there any pests and diseases or similar problems to keep in mind? Where are potential energy and resources coming from?.. things like that.. all of this can be perceived in Second Life – believe it or not.

And thirdly, the design. Based around zoning and elements. Elements being the buildings and objects in the space (also designed in a permacultural way), and zoning bing the interrelation of elements, resources, people and the inputs and outputs. Zone 0 is the living space, 1 is the first line or production and needing the most amount of tending, 2 is the second line and needing a little less, and so on.

Now, Permaculture design is typically applied to practices of subsistence and market gardening and farming, but I’m interested in exploring its application in all production processes and living spaces. So here goes with applying it to a learning process and space that will include production and living of course.

As for a learning space, I want to put some thought into what would be feasible in a local community today.. I’m not sure if it will be a space for an Institution yet. But I’m looking for efficient use of space and resources; space design that is conducive to inquiry learning and skills training; and with every single aspect serving some form of opportunity for learning.

In the next 3 days, I am aiming to have at least the first 2 drawings done, and possibly some of the design. I will draw up the base map and sector  analysis, and possibly make a start on design ideas. I will then load the drawings into the space as giant blue prints to walk over and talk about with Konrad. Konrad will help me locate or build the resources I need and help to document the process.

I’m really looking forward to this, and is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Many thanks to Konrad for offering me the mentorship, and to Jo Kay for the use of Jokaydia and no doubt a lot of her time too.

Samuel Mann was in the local paper recently announcing the Living Campus project we are starting up here. We’re aiming to be developing sustainable production systems and living/working spaces with community education value. There will be produce gardens for medicinal purposes, fibers pigments and other materials, eatables, natives, functional.. all designed with sustainability and educational value in mind, hopefully following permaculture design principles as closely as possible.

While the project IS very exciting, and I love the fact that I am working in an organisation that is at last taking bold steps in this direction, a few things in the article sit a bit off for me. “First for Australasia” comes across as a bit of an arrogant/ignorant statement in my view (I know Sam is not, and the reporter probably quoted a bit out of context), but there are many projects in the region that are very significant, such as the CERES project I visited in Melbourne recently, not to mention some significant efforts in New Zealand. I think it will be a stronger statement if in future we acknowledged the efforts going on around us, especially those that we can say are inspiring our own efforts, and thus make ourselves well grounded.

It also concerns me a little that the CEO was quoted as saying that WITH national funding we can have this project up within a year, or WITHOUT national funding in 2 years. [correction. The quote is: “Government funding would enable the Polytech to “break the back” of the project more quickly, meaning it could be completed in 2 years. Without the funding it was likely to take 5-7 years…] Its great that we are going ahead with this with or without external funding, and the CEO was probably referring to just the set up time, but I reckon we should be talking big[ger] time lines when setting expectations for our sustainability projects. The CERES project, which from what I can tell is Australia’s flagship in terms of environmental and sustainability education, has taken 25 years to get to where it is today.

I think if we hope to get our project right, then we are going to have to spend 2 years just strengthening our engagement with the community and projects around us, drawing in the many experienced people in Dunedin to participate and inform our plans. I’m sure we are doing this, but we probably should mention our connections and references more in things like this newspaper report.

In terms of the importance of genuine community involvement, there were a lot of messages for this in the video interview I recorded with Noel Blencowe, one of the CERES governers.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=678037&dest=-1]

I haven’t had any feedback on my plan to build connections through events in our community, but I plan to represent the proposal to the managers myself and see if I can’t get resources and approval to lead it, as I think it could compliment the Living Campus project quite a lot.

But the main thing is, its great to see our Living Campus project getting big bold committing statements behind it. That’s what we need.

So I’ve been going along to the Sunday sessions for the Permaculture Design course, where we now have 11 face to face participants and 5 online participants.

In the face to face sessions we have been focusing a lot of time on the principles and ethics of permaculture. I agree that these need a lot of time and they are quite inspiring ideas that could be applied to just about everything we do (even organisationally), but I get a sense that the face to face participants might be feeling that the course is moving too slowly and that they would like to start getting into more tangible activities.

I’m really glad though that the online group is there with us. Their emails and blogs have given me a lot of motivation to research and maintain the course wiki and related resources, which in turn has kept me feeling as though the course is very active. However, because the face to face participants seem to be not participating online, they may be feeling that the Sunday sessions aren’t moving along quickly enough. Today Kim and I spent a few minutes showing the face to face groups around the online work being done, so I hope some of them will come on and start putting more into the course so that they may get more out of it, but I suspect that that is not what they expected when they enrolled in the course.

So far we have the course wiki that includes the course schedule and links to any media recordings we capture throughout the course, as well as a discussion page that captures the latest from the online participant blogs (we’re still waiting on 3 more). We have also started a Permaculture Design textbook over at Wikibooks that would at first appear to be all by me, but I’ve simply been copy and pasting the handouts, and some of the notes from the participant blogs as a process of my own study in the course. The text will hopefully evolve into a self sustaining resource for many others to use once it reaches that critical wiki point. And there’s an email forum running for people to keep in close contact if they struggle with anything other than email.

What has surprised me is the level of interest that was quickly expressed by people from Portugal to Vermont, and how web savvy they all are 🙂 It turns out that international interest in permaculture is quite high, which is easily verified by the extensive network of websites and media over the Net for it. With the the online participants helping us to use this pilot course to develop online communication channels and information, we will hopefully have a certificate level course soon, with an online study option, that will help enhance and sustain the face to face course.