I recently saw a speech given by Richard Sears, a visiting scientist at MIT who was formerly a geophysicist and executive at Shell Oil Company. He said something that is important to understand regarding the environment, environmental laws and sustainability. To paraphrase Mr. Sears:
We didn’t come out of the Stone Age because we ran out of stones: we didn’t come out of the Iron Age because we ran out of iron; and we’re not going to come out of the Oil Age because we’ll run out of oil. Rather, we’ve come out of each of the Ages because of ideas, innovation and technology.
Mr. Sears pointed out that we have plenty of oil and we will have plenty of oil for a long time to come but, as has occurred in the past, we will find a new way to create energy because the history of mankind is to come up with new ideas and innovations and to create new technology to solve our problems.
I think he’s right and I think it’s worth watching. The trick will be to support the innovators and we can't do that unless we know about them. For that reason, I am going to periodically post about new ideas and new technologies that affect the environment. Some of the ideas will be simple and others a bit far out, but hopefully they will make you think about where we might be going.
Let me start with one that plays off of one of the great methods of motivating behavorial change: competition. More particularly, if you make a game out of anything, people tend to want to play. That is a large part of the reason for the success of the Prius effect. Along that same line, welcome the Flower Lamp.
Many people have heard of smart meters, which monitor how much electricity the appliances in your home are using. For example, you can keep track of how much you’re using (and therefore paying) for air conditioning, the refrigerator and the real energy hog, the digital picture frame.
The Flower Lamp takes the smart meter one step further. It visually represents the use of electricity in your home. When you are being very good, it unfolds and the bulb shines bright. When your children have left every light on in the house and the air condition is running with most of the windows open, the Flower Lamp shuts as tight as a clam.
We all know that we should be shutting off lights and appliances that we aren't using. We know that, but does it change us? It doesn't appear to. But when you add a visual element -- something you can actually look at and alter based on your actions -- it changes everything. People start wanting to beat the game. It's almost incidental that it saves money and energy. It is behavior modification at its finest.
Is this a big innovation? I don't know, but I think it (and other similar devices) could be. Like so many great inventions, it's the multiplier effect that makes it worthwhile. One or two Flower Lamps won't save the world, but put one in even 10% of the 115,000,000 U.S. homes, and it will make a dent. And that is innovation.