“I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.” These words, uttered just over a year ago, became one of the powerful pieces of corporate communication of recent times. They were delivered by the Chief Executive of Nokia in a memo to staff as his business crumbled under the weight of rapid-fire product innovation from likes of Apple and Samsung.
But over a year on, there’s already another smoking platform that the ICT sector needs to find a route out of – and this one is even more of a game-changer. It’s in danger of becoming irrelevant as the sustainable revolution takes place around us. This won’t be avoided by creating the next best smartphone, tablet, or coolest new interface (though they may play a role). It’ll be tackled by taking on the role of working with people to shift to a sustainable society. And there’s a huge opportunity in it – $667 billion according to JP Morgan’s analysis.
So that’s why we took sustainability to the recent Digital Shoreditch festival, and ran a session with one of our partners, O2, and their digital entrepreneurship academy – Wayra Academy UK. We attracted a multidisciplinary group of digital peeps (coders, entrepreneurs, designers) and mixed them up with people from the sustainability side of the fence (and a few who straddle both camps). Through a creative, ideas-generation session (and a few beers) we set them a very real and present challenge we are trying to tackle in our food system work: ‘How can we use digital to help Londoners make healthier, more sustainable food choices?’
Despite the cracking heat (complete with broken-down aircon) we got some great ideas, which we asked our panel of experts to judge. Our panel were: Simon Devonshire, Director of Wayra UK, Iris Lapinski, CEO of Apps for Good, andJames Taplin, Forum’s ICT specialist. The ideas were:
This was all about connecting you with leftover/unwanted food in your neighbours’ homes. The experience was a map overlaid with augmented reality. You plug in what you need for your recipe, and the application shows you where you might find it in your neighbourhood. Given that we waste around 30% of the food in our homes, this is a neat and neighbourly way of connecting the dots. You could find yourself dropping by a few houses to pick up some spare spuds, a cup of flour, or a couple of eggs. (It made me wonder what else it could lead to, with Nescafe’s sugar ad springing to mind, and lending a whole new dimension to the phrase ‘Love food, hate waste’!) Our judges questioned how easy this would be, as you’d have to make sure your ‘offerer’ was in when you wanted to cook etc.
Shit hot meals (excuse the terminology!)
“Starving! feel like fish – thank god for @sh_hotmeals wow. Gaydar for food #hungry” is the brilliant description of this idea in a tweet. You know the feeling: it’s late, you’ve had a few beers, and you’re hungry. There seems to be only one option: a takeaway shop which sells food of unknown and dubious provenance. Wouldn’t it be great if you could tap into a mobile app that will point you to a sustainable food option (and get rewarded for it)? This was all about making sustainable food easy to find and buy – when we’re not at our most motivated. What the judges were worried about with this idea was the question of who decided what was ‘sustainable’ or not in terms of food.
“Gr8 asparagus harvest next week – who’s up 4 group order? #foodmatch” This enables community food buying in bulk, with a focus on fresh and healthy food. It means reduced costs for buyers, thus getting over the hurdle that sustainable food often means pricier food. And because it allows smaller producers to forecast sales, it gives them more stability and support, allowing them to invest and plan ahead.
A peer-to-peer food sharing service – “share your fridge and cut down waste”. Like Freecycle for food, but you scan the barcode of the stuff you don’t want, and upload it to the site/app. Others can have a shopping list set up or some preferences based on calories, attitudes to sell-by dates, distance from their home etc, and choose what they want (“I like chicken, willing to walk 10mins for it”). Brilliantly, the team thought this could eventually link up with smart fridges too. Interestingly, this one won the public vote, but the judges felt it suffered from the same challenge as Community Market – namely, the issues around getting food from one person to the other at a convenient time.
What a great name! A Groupon for food, with the focus very much on the buyer. People buy together in groups, creating huge price drops. It was the judges’ winning idea because it was the one with the clearest immediate opportunity to get it started – we have the tools already, and it didn’t rely on tricky additional steps or logistics (like the food sharing options) to make it work. The sustainability credentials were less clearly articulated than for some of the others, but it clearly has huge potential if aimed at buying sustainable food as well (rather than just at group buying of any fresh food). And if we could combine ideas, it would be even more powerful if it combined the producer support options of foodmatch.com as well.
So, of course, this was a fast and furious creative session, and with only 1.5hrs these ideas were very much first sketches. But it was testament to the creativity of the people we had that they were such interesting starting points. There’s a huge amount of innovation happening in the digital space – you only had to spent 10 minutes at the Digital Shoreditch to pick up on that. We’re interested in how we can channel some of that energy, creativity and innovation into creating a sustainable society.
We’d love to hear your views on the ideas above, or digital services that are helping the shift to a sustainable society. We’re putting together a list that we’ll share on our website soon.
This article originally appeared on the website of independent sustainability experts Forum for the Future.