Using the sun to charge a mobile phone

I’m not sure if I was more excited to have a beautiful sunny weekend in London because of the opportunity to be outside or because it meant I could test out the Freeloader, solar charger I was lent!? Made by Solar Technology International, the charger looks very cool – small, sleek with brushed aluminium finish which I, as a designer find appealing. It is also very easy to use; you pull sides apart and push the solar panels into the sides of the main body, place it in the sunshine and watch the flashing display show that the charger is charging.

http://www.solartechnology.co.uk/freeloader-solar-charger.htm

The website makes the device look like a gadget everyone should have but does it work? After excitedly putting a message on Twitter saying I was going to test the charger out for the weekend, I received a number of negative reactions all implying the device didn’t work. Not wanting to believe that solar power charging isn’t effective, I set myself the challenge of charging my iPhone 4 (purely using solar energy) over the weekend and this is what I discovered!

The device is very convenient to carry around (it weighs hardly anything which is a real plus point) so I took the charger out for brunch and left it on the table to charge, took it to the park and left it in the bright sunlight and finally left it for another hour on my balcony in direct access to plenty of sunlight.

Freeloader in direct sunlight

I realised that after a day of charging (probably about 4 hours on and off) I only had 2 bars of power displaying on the charger screen. Slightly disappointed, I decided to try charging my phone anyway and I literally managed about 15minutes of charging before the solar charger ran out of charge!

Freeloader charging phone

I realised I should probably read the user manual and look at the specification to see if I was doing something wrong. Surely for the cost of £32 and for the wide range of electronic products it charges, the device must be worth having and I must be doing something wrong.

I downloaded the specifications from the pdf booklet:

Electrical Characteristics / Performance
1. Solar Panel (mono/multi crystalline): 5.5V 150mA
2. Rechargeable Lithium Battery:
3.7V 1200mAh 3. USB charging cable: 5V 500mA
4. DC Output: 5.5V+/– 0.5% 500mA
5. Time required to deliver power from Freeloader Classic: 30 minutes to 2 hours
6. Time required to charge the FreeLoader Classic internal battery using the USB charge cable: 3 to 4 hours
7. Time required to charge the FreeLoader Classic internal battery in sunny conditions using the solar panels: 5 to 10 hours
Note – light quality plays a key role in determining the speed of charge. Cloudy days or the Freeloader Classic being positioned behind a glass window will all increase the time needed to charge its battery.

It’s clear that I needed to charge the Freeloader for between 5-10 hours (when in the UK do you ever get 5-10 hours of bright sunlight?) which is rather annoying. If you thenread on to the FAQ this is written:

If Freeloader Classic is connected to a device that has a near full battery (if for example you were testing Freeloader Classic from new), Freeloader Classic would, potentially, not deliver power because if the battery in the device has more or equal power than the Freeloader Classic, Freeloader Classic will not be able to deliver power. Wait until the device to be charged is 50% to 60% full

and

After 1 day in full sun (9am to 6pm) the Freeloader Classic hub will be pretty much fully charged. When connected to your device it will deliver power for 30minutes to 2hours depending on the device.

I feel that 30 minutes – 2 hours is a large time frame and I wonder if 2 hours would really charge my iPhone to full power anyway? Check out Justin Horn’s charging time test of the iPhone.

As much as I LOVE the idea of using the sun to power my telephone, I do wonder if I could successful use the Freeloader to charge my phone on a regular basis. I do also have to question the actual energy used to manufacter the Freeloader in the first place. Does anyone know what the carbon footprint of the device is?

Considering devices like the iPhone (the Freeloader is suggested for use with iPads, Blackberrys and iPods) use very little energy to be charged, I think I will stick to my iPhone charger as the cable and plug are small, light weight, come with the phone and using that bit of kit it only takes just over an hour to charge my phone from the mains supply.

Sorry but the Freeloader is going back to where it came from. If, however you have a different experience, I’d love to hear from you!

I’m not saying I won’t ever try and make my own one though! The instructablesMightyMintyBoosh‘ looks amazing!

‘Art with a message’ at the Vintage Festival 2011

WWF @ Vintage Festival

The panda made me do it‘… was a vivid message I took away from this year’s Vintage Festival on the SouthBank. Have you thought about what pledge you might make to help preserve the natural world we live in?

I was really pleased to be able to help WWF at the Vintage Festival 2011 with their artwork collaboration.
Wayne Hemingway
, fashion designer, found of ‘Red or Dead‘ and co-founder of the Vintage Festival curated the WWF event to create a collaborative artwork to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

WWF @ Vintage Festival

It was a fantastic way to encourage the public to express their love, hopes or fears for the natural world (or how it’s inspired them) and be creative in how they presented it. The tables were full of material donated by the likes of Cath Kidson and paints, stencils and pens to create a fabulous art installation that can be shown around the country. The pieces of art were attached to a fishing net so that over the three days a wealth of love, happiness and stories could be collected.

WWF @ Vintage Festival
WWF @ Vintage Festival

Not only were people able to share their thoughts and messages on the natural world and living in a sustainable environment but they all appeared to have a great deal of fun! I was, as ever, amazed by the creativity that came out.

To show just how collaborative the event was, a video was produced made up of still photos taken over the weekend.

I hope that the messages left behind will really make people stop and think about the world we live in. Conserving the amount of water we use, being conscious of the decisions we make in everyday life, helping preserve our environment and being considerate with our actions are often talked about but not often embedded in our lives.

The WWF are running a number of events for their 50th Anniversary – ‘Lots of people are doing fantastic things to help us protect the natural world – buying sustainable seafood or forest-friendly wood, adopting an animal or saving energy at home or at work… ‘- If you weren’t able to join them at Vintage, take a look at their website to see how you could can take part.

Ecoinomy launches new website

For those that aren’t familiar with Ecoinomy, they are a behaviour company whose aim is to motivate employees to be less wasteful in the workplace.  Their online system encourages behaviour change by creating communities of employees who are rewarded for saving money.

Ecoinomy home page www.ecoinomy.com

Ecoinomy home page http://www.ecoinomy.com

Creating behaviour change takes time. It is not a matter of telling people to do something different or about removing items that encourages bad habits. It is about empowering people to feel they are making a difference that they benefit from.  Making changes alone often feels pointless and goes unrecognised but making changes as a group where you can see a tangible difference can be incredibly motivating and rewarding especially if there is an element of competition involved. This is what Ecoinomy does!

Ecoinomy has two offerings – the eco.system which is aimed at organisations who have more than 250 people who would use the system and eco.logic which is aimed at departments, project teams or companies with less than 250 people who would use it.  Both work in a similar way – a cause (charity, community group, event etc) to save money for is agreed, people join the system and enter their cost savings into the system.  A carbon calculator estimates the amount of CO2 saved and the money calculator adds up the money saved.  A percentage of this money goes to the chosen cause.

It’s a win, win, win situation – the company saves money by the employees consciously changing their habits (whether it’s reducing their printing, cycling to a meeting or not ordering biscuits for the next meeting), the employee sees a reason to think sustainably and feels motivated in the workplace and the environment wins because the CO2 emissions are reduced. Once momentum builds on the system and people see new ways to save money, the system becomes invaluable.

There is also a free e.Book ‘Ecoinomics’ on the website which can be downloaded for tips on how to operate in a less wasteful way. The fun illustrations and novel examples are not only thought provoking but also obvious and easy to carry out!

The fantastic thing about innovation like the Ecoinomy systems is that it creates interaction within the workplace and encourages employees to think further than the workplace.  If workplaces can become less wasteful and attitudes changed by employees seeing how much money they can save for their company and cause, then the hope is that those messages will go back to the home and we can live on a happier planet.

 

 

Insightful South Africa

Visiting South Africa blew me away – its beauty is undescrible, its vast landscapes are unimagineable and the ‘african skies’ are magnificant. It’s a real shame though that it’s sustainable issues are, in my eyes, desparate.

I had heard about people talking about crime in South Africa and had been told numerous times to lock car doors, not walk around at night and not to go near the Townships but no one had mentioned the environmental or social issues I’d see.

Here are a few of the insights I picked up on my 2 week travels.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Banner in Knysna - Water Stressed Area

Banner in Knysna – Water Stressed Area

It was interesting coming into Knysna on the Garden Route to see a large banner saying ‘this is a water stressed area’ – the countryside was incredibly lush and it had rained all day!

The banners were also posted on rubbish bins and on lamp posts helping them to stand out to people walking or driving by.

Although it was good to see someone being environmentally conscious and keen to get the message across but the campaign didn’t appear to be carried out futher. There were no messages to explain how they suggested the locals to cut back on their water use. And, if i wasn’t educated on water use and the environmental problems we face regarding water, I would see this sign as ‘not my problem’.

While watching tv that evening, a large star burst flash came up on the screen saying ‘save energy – turn off your television when you are not watching it’.  It was definitely eye catching and possibly a message we, in the UK should be adopting. Do the locals take note?

'eco diesel'

‘eco diesel’

Apart from the new buses that had been introduced in Cape Town after the Football World Cup and the local mini bus style taxis (who will change their route to suit customers!) everyone appears to drive.  No one commutes by bicycle and trains are hardly used (or seen!).  I saw this sign at a petrol station saying ‘eco diesel. good for your car, even better for your world’.  You could argue that eco diesel (whatever that really is!) is more environmentally friendly than using unleaded petrol but wouldn’t it better for people to learn how to ‘eco drive‘, car share or encourage better public transport?

I found it hard to find many recycling points around Cape Town and the surrounding towns.  We did, however go to a farmers market style happening in the Woodstock area of Cape Town and there people appeared to be more environmentally conscious.  There was a recycling notice stating that the neighbourgoods market was recycling and that there were separate bins to put recycling into.  Although the sign was clear, easy to read and placed in a prominent place, I didn’t see the recycling bins and am sure all the rubbish went into one bin….

Recycling notice board

Recycling notice board

There is clearly an educational element needed in the city to help people understand the necessity of how to recycle!

There was a story on the news one evening about the problem with travelling between Johanesberg and Durban.  The train currently takes a large amount of time as does driving, therefore the taxi company have decided to set up a local cost ‘taxi’ airline to fly people between the two towns. Designed to work like a taxi rank, people will line up and get on the next available plane.  When people were interviewed to ask their opinion of the new service, there were comments along the lines of ‘the local taxi service is terrible so this won’t work’ rather than ‘we should not be harming the environment by flying’.  South Africa, please build a high speed train line before encouraging cheap flights!

WESTERN INFLUENCES

'eco' reuseable coffee cup

‘eco’ reuseable coffee cup

In Western countries, especially London as I see it everyday, the ‘to go’ coffee culture is bigger than ever.  Whether it’s a fashionable thing or a convenience thing, people are buying coffees on their way to work or when they are out and about. The good thing is that people are being more environmentally conscious and buying reusable coffee cups (the KeepCup is a popular brand).

Recent research (see Lucy Siegel’s article ‘Are Single Use Paper Cups Evil?‘ in the Guardian) does show however that the energy used to produce and then wash a cup each time does not necessarily challenge the energy used to produce paper cups and recycle them….

My point here is that there is not the same ‘to go’ coffee culture, that I noticed, in South Africa but clearly the coffee shops either feel they should be selling ‘eco cups to help the environment’ or that it is a good way to make money!  Western trends are definitely strong in South Africa.

INNOVATION & COMMUNITY

Beer can display at Cape Town airport

Beer can display at Cape Town airport

The only place that I saw any type of local art work to do with sustainability was at the airport as I was leaving Cape Town.

I couldn’t find any information on what the installation was for but someone had clearly designed a fantastic looking tree with leaves/flowers made out of recycled beer cans.

Maybe it was a simple way to promote the beer drunk in South Africa….? I’d love to know who produced it.

We visited the Cape Wine region close to Cape Town and were really impressed with the Solms-Delta wine estate.  I had been to an event the week before travelling to South Africa where Mark Delta (director) had explained the importance of providing a sustainable future for the estate and those working on the estate. He had over come a social problem where the people working on the farm felt they owned the farm but weren’t being heard, by mortagaging his land to buy the plot of land next door for the farmers to own. This way, both the Delta estate and the local workers could work in collaboration with empowered workers for a sustainable future.  The estate runs various events through out the year to promote community projects, fundraising and encouraging local collaboration.  They also produce a fantastic range of wines (which should not be over looked)!

Solms-Delta wine estate

Solms-Delta wine estate

SOCIAL ISSUES

I was shocked at the number of social issues in and around Cape Town.  Ignoring theft, muggings etc, the general urban issues that cause everyday annoyance or problems was pretty sad.  I was surprised to hear that even though there is a postal service, you are hardly likely to receive any post (unless it is a plain, thin envelope) as it gets stolen before it reaches your letter box!  Apparently Amazon do deliver to South Africa now but the service is not regularly used due to the unlikely event of actually receiving the items purchased!

Message on a PostBox in Cape Town
Message on a PostBox in Cape Town

Maybe it’s also a problem in the UK but I noticed a letter box in Cape Town with a sign on it asking people not to put their rubbish in the box.  It is clearly a problem which means a notice was necessary.

To sum up my trip, South Africa is well worth a visit. I was pleasantly surprised that it is a self sufficient country in terms of produce yet the social issues seriously need some help.  The racist attitude and urban poverty were hard to stomach which really need to be overcome for the country to flourish.

Environmental education, better communication and western knowledge could really benefit the country and make it even more amazing than it currently is.

Have you been to South Africa? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Guest blog post: Consumerism vs Sustainability

The following blog post was written by Carlos, an MA Design for Development student for a CSR module. It is a topic that really interests me, especially when theories are applied to the subject matter. I wanted to share his executive summary here but please note that any comments will be passed straight onto Carlos.

Consumerism vs Sustainability

Debate on Consumer Ethics & Innovative Practices Promoting Sustainable Business,

by Carlos Fierro, Industrial Designer,
MA Design for Development KU

Research shows that consumerism includes not only individuals, but also organizations and governments and all agents that participate in production and consumption. The ethical debate surrounding consumerism is framed by applying the perspectives of the theory of ethics and duties, stakeholder theory and from the egoist perspective. A theoretical analysis illustrates that all the agents that participate in production and consumption have the duty to make ethical decisions supporting the preservation of the environment and social responsibility. To empower the decision makers to make ethical decisions, it is fundamental that organizations and governments provide and reinforce the decision-making process with the necessary information. The Stakeholder analysis shows that consumers should be considered the most important stakeholders in any business, and maintains that marketing plays an important role in that matter. Marketing communications is one area that has the power to build relationships of exchange, to understand needs, and generate fair communicational strategies. From the utilitarian perspective, consumer behavior based on an egotistic ethical approach to production and consumption might be unethical since the decisions made based on short-term outcomes can harm the environment and be socially irresponsible.

It is important that companies are aware of the conventions and laws that have evolved over time to protect consumers and the environment and that they adjust their business practices accordingly. Moreover, the development of green marketing and other alternatives of ethical consumption might assist consumers in making better informed decisions to choose more sustainable products and services. To embrace this challenge it is essential to educate the public about the social and environmental impact of consumption while considering cultural differences in the delivery and acquisition of knowledge.

The full report recommends that businesses consider new innovative modalities of collaborative trading and that they should endeavour to learn more about consumer needs and desires, and consider how the consumer organically participates in patterns of exchange. The rapid development of new technologies and consumer dynamics makes this recommendation possible and cost effective for businesses. Moreover, companies should consider new value systems in trading and consumption for the development of more sustainable businesses and products; considering for example the durability, exchange, cooperation, recycling and the evolving life of products.

Finally, an exciting employee engagement scheme!


Ecoinomy, the web start up founded by sustainability guru, John Grant has launched! Using employee engagement, service design and exciting innovation, Ecoinomy’s ‘eco.system’ rewards employees for actions they haven’t taken. The employees are then financially rewarded, communities are formed, employees gain a sense of achievement and motivation and the company saves money by saving energy.

You have to love win, win situations – the environment wins, the employee wins and the company wins!

I could write about this for hours but instead I recommend watching the launch video. It is great to see a famous dragon on board too to help spread the word!

For more information, go to the corporate website www.ecoinomy.com

Inspired by children

The Design Council’s Water Design Challenge has given me the opportunity to work with pupils at a secondary school to help them understand how design can be used to reduce their water consumption.

Today was a kick off session with the pupils to discuss the findings they had discovered from doing an audit on the school’s water consumption. Maybe I was a little naive as to what they would have discovered or maybe I am not used to working with eleven year old girls but I came away really impressed and inspired.

We discussed water consumption in general to get them thinking more broadly than water use at the school and when showing them the virtual water chart, one girl boldy told me that ‘we should not worry about the amount of water in meat production as animals are treated badly, not given enough water to live on and are injected with antibiotics!’ I only had a two hour session to inspire and guide the pupils and had not prepared myself for answering comments like this!

Using the Design Council’s ‘double diamond‘ design process we were able to throw all their ideas onto the table, let the range of ideas be very broad and then see how they could be used to define the brief. I love the fact that the girls had really explored the school, noticed every single dripping tap, are concerned with families in Africa not having enough water to live and feel that this year’s school fund raiser should not be throwing wet sponges at the teachers as it is bad for the environment.

I felt so happy that girls who haven’t chosen their preferred subject route at school yet can be this passionate and knowledgeable about environmental issues. I was expecting to need to really tease ideas out of them but instead had to really work hard to make sure their ideas were captured properly.

The pupils have two weeks now to define their idea and come up with a brief that they want to develop. I’m so excited to see what update they email me on Monday so I can see how best to guide them down an effective, engaging and creative route.

Taking part in this challenge has really made me understand the power of empowering the younger generation. Give them a subject that they can relate to (I asked the pupils to list the moments when they use water in their day and one of the first ones was ‘when I go swimming’ – I hadn’t thought of that one!), add some creativity, tell some stories and they will run with it. Guideance, of course is essential to keep the ideas flowing in the right direction but the fresh minds and active brains are priceless!

My thoughts are now looking at how we can get children involved in other environmental problem solving. Has anyone considered an OpenIDEO platform for children?


Since writing this blog post I’ve read a great article about how ‘children are among the world’s most important innovators’ in Knowledge Wharton Today – worth a read!