Here Comes the Sun

For people used to live closer to the equator, the Swedish habit of turing their faces towards the sun must seem very strange. Even if we who live in the southern part of Sweden do not experience midnight sun, the difference between summer and winter is significant. We keep a close look at the time for the sunrise and sunset.
From Varnhem Autumn 2015
This difference, although providing us with the nice aspect of having real seasons, poses difficulties when it comes to solar power. Some cities such as Gothenburg provide information about to what extent it's a good idea to put solar panels on your roof (no, The Google Project Sunroof has not reached Sweden yet). In addition we also have a national programme focusing on solar power, led by the Swedish Energy Agency, and the Svensk solenergi association for both industry and academia.

Sometimes you also need some extra light why it's good to have all these nifty solar powered lamps. Many years ago I bought a lovely sun jar to use when I go camping (which unfortunately does not happen very often, but it looks nice in the window as well).

In 2014, I went to Berlin on a business trip with several of my colleagues. It was rainy and windy the day we spent inspecting the commercial innovation system, why we focused our efforts to contribute to EU GDP by visiting KaDeWe. There I bought the more mobile The Little Sun device that looks like a sunflower. Not only does it run on solar power, but for every little sun you buy the company gives one away to people in low-income countries. Little Sun is a social business and a certified B corporation.
From Gunnebo Autumn 2015
Another social and sun-oriented business is Trine from Gothenburg. They are providing an innovative crowd-lending business model. No, not crowdfunding, crowd-lending. In their words they close "the gap between private capital in developed countries and local solar partners in emerging markets". As always, there are competitors on the rise why it will be interesting to see how they develop.

The true Swedish cleantech company HiNation is another social business. It works with renewable energy to empower people in developing countries. They started out with lamps, but now they have a whole range of products and are no longer targeting low-income countries.

There's a whole range of metaphors associated with the sun. Plato, for one example, presented his analogy of the sun in the sixth book of the Republic. One of the best fables in my opinion is The North Wind and the Sun. We often find it in lyrics such as "You are the sunshine of my life" or one of my favourite Elton John songs "Don't let the sun go down on me".
From Orust June 2014
I'm very glad there are so many researchers focusing on solar power, but I'm equally grateful for companies like IKEA who help promote and sell solar panels. They put them on their own roofs and are now evaluating the results from selling solar panels in the UK, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Of course, it makes more sense from a business perspective to perhaps introduce it to other markets before Sweden but we sure would like them here now!

Together with UNHCR, IKEA has funded a special building for refugees called Better Shelter including solar panels for light and energy. Maybe in the future, we'll see solar panels included in the BoKlok concept as well! Perhaps when solar windows have become more efficient and cheaper. Or, if we're unlucky, in the future we all will live in Better Shelters.


Citizen Science

Recently the following sign was put up in Mölnlycke where I live: "Barnmarknad lördag 9 april i Furuhällskolan"

It's kind of tricky to translate, due to how easily we can create new nouns in Sweden by putting to words together. The sign advertise a fair where items to be used by children are sold. Barn=child or children and Marknad=market.

However, for me with my strange imagination and inclination to play with words, there are other possible (although not very likely) interpretations. It could be a market where they sell children, like a slave market. Or it could be a market where the market stands are managed by children, similar to a farmers' market. Or it could be a market where everything is adjusted to children as a customer group.

I see the same dilemma in the concept of Citizen Science where the debate is still on-going regarding the definition. Should it be science for the citizens, or science conducted by citizens and to what extent?
From Vandalorum 2013
At the 2nd General Assembly of the European Citizen Science Association in 2014, Lucy Robinson and Jade Cawthray made an attempt to present ten principles of citizen science and a lively debate followed. According to to this blogpost, more effort appears to be needed to define citizen science, as well as “citizen” and ”scientist”.

Even the Wikipedia includes a number of possible definitions for example
  • The participation of nonscientists in the process of gathering data according to specific scientific protocols and in the process of using and interpreting that data.
  • The engagement of nonscientists in true decision-making about policy issues that have technical or scientific components.
  • The engagement of research scientists in the democratic and policy process.
I think what is often missing is the reason why citizens should be involved. Sometimes they are used as cheap labour, as we described in our report "Open Innovation - A Handbook for Researchers" although perhaps not so bluntly. In his book "Engaged Scholarship" Andrew van de Ven argues for making strategic decisions regarding what partners to include in a research project during its various phases in order to increase the quality: Research Design, Theory Building, Problem Formulation, and Problem Solving. Other reasons can be to create transparency for the tax payers or to provide a foundation for research utilisation.
From New England 2012
I'm definitely for involving citizens for all the reasons above. However, I think we as researchers should also engage in defining and to some extent defending our profession. In Sweden, pre-school teachers tell the kids that they do scientific research when they go out in the woods counting ants unrelated to any scientific research project. I'm not really comfortable with that usage, although it might of course make more kids interested in science. Let's hope it makes them good citizens as well.


Moral Fibre

My friend Else-Marie Malmek is right now on a really exciting journey in more than one sense. She's a social entrepreneur and together with Christina Östergren she started the company Juteborg.
Juteborg is an intersectional, industrial idea and development partner of Jute fibre-based products. We believe that the combination of the sectors of Textile, Automotive and Construction will give a synergetic effect gaining all three to meet the market’s need of more sustainable materials to re-place old bulk-fibres, such as oil-based plastics, wood, metals and other environmentally hazardous materials.
Right now they are on a tour in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to stir up interest in their business and their idea to create an open innovation platform where people can collaborate on various jute project.

Already they have started the JuteLight project together with the research institute Swerea SICOM, Chalmers, Volvo Cars and the University of Borås. Here they explore how to use jute fibre in composites for the automotive industry. So far the results looks very promising!

Their Jute Ambassador Magnus Rosén, one of the world’s top ten rock bass players in the world, accompanies them on their tour. According to his blog, a news item with him and Juteborg has been shown on the three major TV channels in Bangladesh. Great work!

This is not the first trip for Juteborg to Bangladesh and they also have strong connections there. In their video from their last visit, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus explains the history of jute and why it's a good idea to use it:

Yunus from Kanvassfilm on Vimeo.

Apparently the technical properties of the jute fibre contains many useful characteristics that probably makes it the most sustainable alternative in many different application fields. It's 10-30% lighter than for example glass fibre, the tensile strength is comparable to steel, it absorbs humidity, odour and UV-rays, and it's less costly than other natural fibres. No wonder they call it "The Golden Fibre"!

I wish them all the best of luck and will definitely continue to follow their progress on Facebook!


Russian Invasion

Before going back to my job at Chalmers after working at Region Västra Götaland for some months, I spent a weekend at the quaint village Tällberg in Dalecarlia. Much of the time I soaked in the spa and visited the many craft shops, but I also had time for some lovely walks.

During one of the longer strolls I saw and heard a woodpecker high up in a tree at the Lake Siljan. I was impossible for me to spot what species it was (partly because it was far away but mainly due to lack of knowledge...). According to the latest number of the journal Sveriges Natur it just might have been a white-backed woodpecker due to a large "invasion" probably from Russian Karelia. Since they are very rare in Sweden, this is an appreciated addition.
From Tällberg 2016
The white-backed woodpecker is a so called umbrella species. This means that if you protect it's habitat you will automatically also protect a great number of other animals. Another metaphor related to nature preservation is keystone species. Although often very few in a specific area, they have a disproportionately large effect on the environment relative to its abundance. Sea stars, jaguars, beavers, elephants and sea otters are just a few examples. The flagship species on the other hand help biodiversity conservation by becoming the focus of attention, where the giant panda perhaps is the best known in the world, being the symbol of WWF.

The use of metaphors in nature conservation should not be taken lightly. In the article "Mobilizing metaphors: the popular use of keystone, flagship and umbrella species concepts" from 2011 Dr Maan Barua, University of Oxford, presents results from investigating popular use of conservation terminology. According to Barua, everyday language plays a vital role in the interpretation of concepts, and metaphors influence peoples’ actions and understanding.

"The metaphors underpinning words allow people to interpret conservation terminology in undesirable and unforeseen ways. Better reporting and conservation literacy amongst reporters will no doubt be enabled by sustained inputs and closedialogues with conservation biologists, but it is important to keep in mind that someamount of misrepresentation is perhaps inevitable."

"For instance, the rootmetaphor of structure underpinning keystones endows species with special values of maintaining ecosystem stability and balance, and loss of keystones gets interpreted in termsof ecological collapse. Similarly, the flagship and umbrella metaphors value representationand protection. These metaphors build crucial links between scientific knowledge, con-servation action and public acceptance of such action. Their systematicity allows arguments to hold even though ecological complexities get overridden."

Barua draws the attention to Goodhart’s law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

"Species depicted as keystone, flagship or umbrellas (in most cases large, threatened and charismatic mammals), gain preference over their ultimate goal of enabling ecosystem or biodiversity conservation. Metaphors reinforce the value of surrogates, shape peoples’ preferences and opinions. In turn, metaphors are further strengthened through popular usage. Hence, a problem of conservation also becomes a problem associated with language."

The article ends with this sentence: "As language shapes the way we think, act or intervene, conservation biology could equally benefit from strong metaphors that resonate with the public as much as be hindered by them."

Of course Barua refers to the works of George Lakoff, but oddly enough not to his book "Don't Think of an Elephant" ;-)
From Uganda 2013


Sin City

A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in a project about future urban transport called SEVS (Safe Efficient Vehicle Solutions). One of the findings was that the car has three guardian angels in Sweden, i.e. needs people claim they need a car for. It is (1) driving small children to day-care, (2) taking waste to the recycling facility and (c) managing your vacation home. Commuting however, was not so high on the list and the number of car-pools is raising in Sweden.

One of the main features of the project was a scenario planning exercise using two dimensions: proactive political control vs passive politicians and radical change among consumers regarding transportation patterns and lifestyle vs no changes from today. This resulted in four scenarios: Eco Political, Incremental Development, Eco Individual and Radicalism in Harmony. My guess is what we see right now is more of Incremental Development, since the political focus right now in Europe is on managing the migrant situation rather than thinking about the environment and how to create a competitive advantage through sustainable technology. One dark horse is of course the low prices for oil and gas, while renewable energy solutions are really catching up especially after the support from politicians who want to get rid of our dependence on carbon-based import.
From Tällberg 2016
I'm ashamed to admit that I have a luxury car. It's a small KIA and I don't use it very often, especially not to work since the bus service is excellent. However, it provides me freedom from having to plan when to rent a car when I need to transport bulky items for the garden or going on a spontaneous trip somewhere nice. Although I'm very fond of my little car, I would very much like to have a Tesla instead. Or in addition. Even though I'm not totally convinced that all Elon Musks plans are good or possible, I think he's onto something really nifty: making sustainability fashionable and cool.

In the IT industry there is a saying "turning a bug into a feature". I think a similar spin is the foundation for Sin Cars, since I'm not sure that their mission statement "To make unique sport and racing car according to the latest technologies of the motorsport industry" is focusing that much on sustainability issues. But I can't deny that their cars look really hot.

In 2008, polluting was included in the new list of deadly sins by the Vatican  (although it seems like the old one is kept, and the new one being an addition, bummer).  One of Musks predictions is that we'll see more of self-driving cars (getting him into trouble with his best customers who really love to drive rather than focus on mere transport). Recently, Volvo Cars presented their plans for the
Drive Me pilot program aiming at putting 100 self-driving XC90 crossovers on Swedish streets by 2017. The Volvo Group is a step ahead, since the first truck platoon left Gothenburg already left Gothenburg on its way to Rotterdam as part of the European Truck Platooning Challenge.
From Laem Mae Phim 2012
In order to sin, you must have both intent and also be aware of that you are sinning. In spite of all the hype around artificial intelligence (again), I don't claim that cars can sin, even if they are autonomous. Perhaps it's a question best left to the insurance companies' legal departments. However, it is clear to me that some manufacturers make cars that afford sin, at least the human kind. If everyone could afford (in the monetary sense) a Tesla, would we end up with a Sin City? Perhaps that is a scenario worth exploring.