Category Archives: Green Ecological Economics

Is Netnography the Greener Marketing Research?

Revelation, Inc., a Portland, Oregon online marketing research company, has a big name that sets some big expectations.  I somehow got on their email list, and they asked if I wanted to see their latest report. It is called “Avoided Carbon Emissions from Online Immersive Research.

Hmmmm. That’s an interesting angle on online research-that it is good for the environment. They take the positioning pretty far, too. They have commissioned a scientific, math and formula filled paper that was prepared by “Fluid Market Strategies” that looks at the question. Fluid  is a Portland based consulting firm that specializes in energy services and sustainability consulting. You can receive it, too, just by inserting your email address into the appropriate box on their site.

Intriguing. The report compares using traditional in-person focus groups and their own online “immersive” research, which sounds like an online panel, similar to the setup that CommuniSpace has. (Revelation, please reveal the correct answer to me if I am wrong).

They went to some trouble to rigorously estimate the greenhouse gas (or GHG) emissions of the in-person focus group and subtract those from the same research  conducted using their immersive online software approach.

In person, you have things like transporting participants and researchers, using hotel space, using up food and energy moving around. Researcher and client travel accounted for the lion’s share of GHG emissions, 68 percent. With the online method, you have the use of the computer, the servers, the researchers, and participant’s use of energy. A whopping 98 percent of emissions came from the researchers’ use of servers. You can already see the difference.

They found that, with a large focus group (N= 20 participants), the in-person groups create almost 2.5 times as much GHG emissions than the online ones. Per project, they work it out to about one half of a metric ton of CO2 emissions per research project.

 How much is that? It is like:

  • canceling two typical plane trips; 
  • shutting down a typical 10,000 square foot office for one day;
  • or avoiding nine typical business trips (1,100 miles) by car.

Pretty interesting. That is per research project

I see no reason why netnography would be at least as efficient as this, when compared with in-person techniques such as ethnography (researcher travel), surveys (paper use, mail, energy in transportation), or focus groups.

Now, some negations. Of course, picking the number 20 for a focus group is way off. We’re usually talking 8-12 participants in a focus group. And moderators and business people do not always have to travel by air to get where they are going. And some applications (such as using virtual worlds) are very, even ridiculously energy-intensive. So there are some it-depends aspects to the conclusion that online always produces less carbon than offline research. But it is compelling nonetheless.

Think about it-run a major netnography instead of a bank of 20 focus group and you save yourself the carbon of forty plane trips. And, I think, in many cases you probably will end up with different and deeper insights.

Yet another great reason to consider netnography. It’s Green! Or, maybe (cynics, arise….), yet another great excuse for greenwashing…you be the judge.

 

Why Utopia Got a Reboot: Reflecting on the New Star Trek Movie

startrek_movie_poster.jpg

There is a point towards the end of the successful new Star Trek movie where the Enterprise is stuck in a black hole’s gravity well and can’t escape, and Captain Kirk gives the order to jettison the ship’s warp core, its main source of fuel.

It is a climactic moment in a movie full of cliff-hanging intensities. And it’s also symbolic of what has been done with the Star Trek franchise.

By God, Jim, they jettisoned the Warp Core.

I’ve waited long enough to comment on J.J. Abram’s long-awaited adaptation of the Star Trek, intended to revive the flagging and much-loved franchise. I waited so that I can include all the spoilers I want. So if you don’t want me ruining the movie for you, and you haven’t see it, then Stop Reading Now.

I’m not going to offer a detailed review. I will say that I thought the move was very entertaining. The key thing I like about this reboot is that the script and the director really capture the essence of each of the main characters. I loved the casting, and really enjoyed the acting and the script. For the first time in a long time, a lot of fans feel like the franchise is in good hands.

But I’m writing here not so much to praise J.J. as to wonder about what was lost. And I don’t actually mean LOST. I mean lost.

Overall, I think the utopian future message of Star Trek, which many fans would claim to be at the heart of Trek’s appeal, appears in only very faded out fashion. Like a pair of faded old dungarees, tried on for size at the very end of the show, with Nimoy’s sonorous voicing over the retro old Star Trek soundtrack. For the old timers, who made it to the end.

I know, I’m old school, but I was disappointed. With so much going on in the world today, the film doesn’t really offer any sort of vision of a future where we can actually see a united Earth, with people actually united together. A guy with a Russian accent on the bridge doesn’t for Diversity make. And lots, and lots of white people everywhere. Turbans? Burkas? Nah. The occasional alien appears, just as the occasional non-white person appears. But the basic canvas, the mass, the average, is lily white.

And how about that 23rd century environment? Am I supposed to believe that we are still driving cars down dirt roads in the 23rd century? No public transportation?

The idea of a para-military force that unite the Earth? Nah, not really. Star Trek looks a lot like Starship Troopers. “Join Star Fleet, see the Stars.”

Ditto with the idea of “credits” and Star Trek’s veiled socialist utopia, where people only work by choice. The economics of the future escape me entirely. They’re just kind of irrelevant. This is entertainment, not philosophy. Yes, Star Trek’sgrand messages could sometime get a little annoying. But they also were inspiring. Especially, I think, to kids.
If there is any big message here that Gene Roddenberry would have put his stamp on, I don’t see it. In fact, I’d venture to say this isn’t the same Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry created. It is “loosely based upon” some of the ideas in Star Trek. It lacks the authentic Star Trek cred. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me. But I don’t see it. Casting Leonard Nimoy to deliver a few old lines about his friendship with Kirk doesn’t make this “real” Star Trek. Then again, maybe “real” Star Trek died along with Gene Roddenberry.

This is a gutted Star Trek movie, a Star Trek without ideology. It isn’t about technological utopianism. It isn’t about a united earth. It isn’t about an optimistic, hopeful, guiding vision of the future. This is all about relationships, special effects, suspense, entertainment, humor, and adventure. That’s what J.J. Abrams does well with Lost. That’s what he does well in this movie. But it’s not really all that Star Trek is about. This is Star Trek as space opera. Star Trek as Star Wars without the mysticism.

Compare that with my favorite Star Trek movie, the 4th one, called The Voyage Home. Aka, “the whales” Star Trek movie. Although its fashion and references are dated, the message in that movie is just as current as it was when Leonard Nimoy directed it. In our time of environmental crisis and culture clash, I was thinking that a new Star Trek movie had an opportunity to make a statement about a positive future. Maybe even insert some insight into the difficult relationship between the environment and technology–something that the original series avoided.

But, clearly, Gene, that’s what got jettisoned. The hope. The long speeches. The worn-on-the-sleeve optimism. The difficult, ever-imperfect struggle to work through a troubled past to an idealistic future.

And it’s interesting to wonder both how and why this happened.

How does one universe shift into the other? Well, through a weird kind of reboot. We are told that this movie is set in an alternate universe. So it’s not really the “real” Star Trek that we all know and love, but something new.

An alternative reality explanation basically gives the producers the latitude for lots of riffing: “Shut up, fanboy, it’s an alternative universe. We can do what we want here”

But that doesn’t really account for major disjunctures like personal cars and motorcycles in use.

What is amazing to me is how many little a-ha, nice, compact, meaningful, character-laden explanations for original series mysteries manage to get stuck into the film, even though it’s supposed to be an alternative universe. Kirk as a bar-brawler makes sense in light of the original series. It explains why there are so many fist fights in that series. Maybe it even explains why Kirk is always part of the landing party. Because he’s the best fighter on the ship, dammit.

Bones as a desperate, divorced alcoholic also makes sense. Actually, Kiwi actor Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dr. McCoy was among my favorites. It was a worthy tribute to DeForest Kelly. Spock’s schooling is also very right. I also really liked how young and bright they made Checkov, and how they made Sulu an expert sword-fighter–that explains his swordplay in series’ episodes. The new, hot, purring Uhura is also a great extension of the original character. Huge plusses for these characters. There’s a new authenticity to them, their accents, their demeanor, their backgrounds.

Kirk and Spock hating each other at first also makes great sense, and although fans seem to dislike it, I loved the confrontation scene where Kirk makes Spock break down. How many times has he done something like that in the original series. Jeez, what are friends for?

So there are these interesting intersections of this Star Trek 2 universe–which are fun and explanatory–and the old Star Trek that we all know. Why are they there? If Kirk’s dad dies, and changes the whole universe and the way that this story progresses in the process, then we don’t actually need those connections.

That leave the Why question. Why don’t we have Gene’s utopian vision in this movie?

  • Because talk is boring? Who needs another set of big long speeches, the kind that Star Trek became infamous for? Because action leaves no time for reflection? Because we don’t need Hope and Change anymore?
  • Because you can’t have everything in a sequel?
  • Because the producers and director decided to make a big, clean break from the fan base in order to wider the franchise’s appeal and aim for a young, hip, target that doesn’t worry about the future like those Boomer and Gen X kids of the past did?

Maybe Star Trek the Franchise was stuck in its own gravity well, its own black hole. That’s probably true.

But I keep wondering if the optimistic utopian vision of Gene Roddenberry was what really needed to be jettisoned for the series to get unstuck? It seems to me that, like the 60s, we are entering a time of crisis where we crave powerful myths and visions of the future.

Or maybe not. Maybe we’re just living in the moment. Enjoying the relationships. Willing to jettison whatever to get wherever. And to me, that’s a very scary thought.

Deep Thinking about Deep Recession, Part VII: Turning towards Deep Economics

Remember what your Mother taught you….

In the last few postings, I’ve been analyzing the economic crisis we all face. And I’ve been wondering why we are trying to stimulate a flagging, failing, flawed economy, without making significant changes in it–while we have a window of opportunity open to us. This is the final section.

These questions are fodder for thinkers and scholars around the world. I’ve long been a fan of Bill McKibben and his work on this front, and his new book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future is a useful start to this dialog.

I hope that McKibben’s book, and the work of others, can help to inspire a field of Deep Economics, based on a blending of the ideas of the Deep Ecologists who consider the non-human world to be valuable in and of itself.

Deep Ecology is “deep” because it brings a philosophical, and even spiritual sense to the endeavor of science, avoiding utilitarianism and consequentialist ethics in favor of a type of appreciation and even reverence for Life.

Deep ecology see Life as sacred, not only because it is useful, but because there is place deep within our psyches that knows that it is special, that as living beings we are all connected.

earth economy so deep?What would happen if we were to bring that sort of thinking fully into our lives? What would happen if we had a Deep Society, a Deep Economics, a Deep Marketing (could we?). What would change about:

  • Our work?
  • Our economy?
  • Our businesses?
  • Our academic studies and education system?
  • Our daily lives?
  • Our government?

It’s going to require all that we know. Anthropology, sociology, psychology, network analysis, environmental analysis, and economics.

What will happen when we bring it all together into something greater than what we are thinking, than what we know today, greater than what we are currently doing? What will happen when we envision and fully apprehend a Deep Society based upon Deep Principles, and implement it, act on it. Our challenge today is to build a truly different approach, to make a truly deep approach to our existence as social human beings, and sharers of a planet, real.

What will it be like? I’m hoping that we find out. And soon.

Deep Thinking about Deep Recession VI: Questioning “Growth” and “One Big Number”

Relative Size of Nation’s GDP

Globalization. Digitization. Green Consumerism. All of them, as we’ve read in the last few posts, reducing economic growth, as measured by our most popular measures. Driving us deeper and deeper into this deep recession.

What’s the problem? What’s the problem with the current solutions being offered by world governments like the G20 alliance? What’s the problem with stoking the economy, with massive Keynesian spending projects matched by huge debt and enormous deficits? With building the IMF into the overfunded, legitimizing cavalry?

The problem is we’re working with the same flawed system. We’re legitimizing it and patching it with bandaids while we pump it full of borrowed-from-our-future resources. We’re measuring growth in the same flawed ways. We’re reifying expenditures and consumption levels far, far, over their sustainable, or even long-term workable, levels. We’re using GNP and GDP as the One Big Number. One Number to Rule them all. One Number to Bind Them to a system.

There’s a big problem with that. And it requires us to look at the One Big Number and question it. And question it again.

“The world has changed and we must change with it.” Isn’t that what President Obama said in his inauguration speech? Well, I think that real change has to start with changes in what we’re measuring, with how we are keeping score.

Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product just aren’t doing the job anymore. Maybe we don’t need replace them entirely. But maybe we can supplement them, bring in something different. Or make them more subtle, less universal and totalized. Bring a little postmodern reflexive doubt into the economic realm, for once.

One of the best books I’ve read on this topic is by my York University colleague Peter Victor. Peter’s book is called “Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster (Advances in Ecological Economics).”

Prof. Victor talks about how we have gotten into this mindframe where “economic” “growth,” measured and defined in certain very rigid ways (what I’m calling the “One Big Number” problem) by those with entrenched interests (One Big Number is easier to Rule With, remember), has become the over-arching policy objective of countries around the world, the way that governments, corporations, teams, and individuals are assessed, and the way that resources become allocated. Economic Growth is actually a fairly new ideology, emerging only about a half century ago, and Peter shows how it has become rooted to the loaded ideology of the notion of ‘progress.’

Peter argues three points convincingly.

  1. First, that economic growth the way we’ve been doing it just isn’t sustainable in the long term. Period.
  2. Secondly, he repeats the established finding that economic growth and income growth doesn’t seem to lead to happiness. There’s an inverted U-relationship. If you’re destitute, increases in income increase happiness, to some point. After that point, happiness tails off. In my observations of people, I’d say this works fairly well on an individual level, too.
  3. Finally, he shows that economic growth doesn’t and probably won’t ever, eliminate poverty. It does, however, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and has lots of related consequences for the natural environment.

His work is related to the work by the Club of Rome, recent updated in The Limits to growth: A report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind, where we see that, eventually, growth stalls out, flattens, declines, and then major disruptions in the biosphere begin to play havoc with human life.

This thinking raises some extremely important questions. These are the kinds of ideological, paradigmatic questions that the recent G20 activism, that the cracks in the global financial accord should draw us towards.

These are “Second Chance” questions to try to get out system on a better path.

These questions show us how accounting (well, at least measurement) is a critical component of making the world a better place. They ask us:

  • What should we be focusing on?
  • What should we be measuring as well as financial growth?
  • How can we develop qualitatively as a society? What would that look like?
  • Can we measure global equality and opportunity, instead of residual measures like GDP?
  • Can we measure human happiness and welfare? Can we maximize it, while minimizing the impact on the environment?
  • Can we measure the health and stability of our communities?
  • What would a carbon-neutral economic measure look like?
  • What would a zero-impact on habitat destruction look like?
  • What would a sustainability measure, or set of measures, look like?
  • What are the contributions of mental health, optimism, joyfulness, and spirituality to these other measures? How would we factor them in?
  • What would business look like in such a world? What would marketing become?

We need thoughtful answers. And we need them soon.