Friday, November 29, 2013

Please Don't Put Your Phone In a Blender

Throw away your phones

It is black friday, a day where consumerism and spending is mushed and kicked onward by the media and corporate entities. Everyone wants us to buy more, spend more and keep our economy going. All this at breakneck speeds. For our current model of the economy to be considered a “success” by those who apparently decide those things, we have to have continuous high scaled growth. This means a lot of buying. . Recently, an add device has resurfaced across products trying to convince consumers to purposefully lose, destroy and replace their older phone models or computers with the latest shiny toy to hit the shelves.

This advertisement hits to the center of this consumer-driving dialogue and is trying to be cute and clever about it. From an environmental perspective, this commercial’s message, and a similar version they held last year, is disgusting. It makes sense, companies want money and to make money you have to buy their newer models, but that doesn’t make it any less repugnant. We are all aware that it takes work, material and energy to create the products we use and love. We all recognize, to some small degree, that when we dispose of our products they either turn into waste or emissions and take a toll on our environment or cost significant energy to recycle and I am not even going to get into the impacts of us all using these things the way we do.

The problem

The problem is that we are far too separated from these elements to recognize that our consumer habits are destroying lives and our planet. Commercials, like the one shown, that use this marketing gimmick of “just destroy your old one so you can get a new one” ignore all of the facts we know about the ills of consumption and waste. They throw that all away and refocus the attention on the “new, shiny” product that you just have to buy.

These commercials would have us forget that the factories where these machines are made are still having problems with suicides even though they have been working on countermeasures for at least 3 years. They would have us ignore the fact that these factories, the energy used to produce these products and the chemicals used in their production destroy the air and the local environment of countries like China.

We must remember that each phone we throw away and the production of each new one both have incredibly devastating impacts, especially if one starts thinking in the scale of global use and production. To make smartphones work, the current technology is reliant on rare earth metals. They aren’t as rare as their name would imply but currently China has cornered the market. When countries find them at the bottom of the ocean they race to exploit the resources, trying to compete with China. Many times destroying the fragile eco-system.

When these metals are mined and processed, they have huge environmental effects and can lead to some scary things if disposed of improperly.

It is disgusting that a commercial would promote the practices they show in these commercials. It don’t matter that there is a disclaimer at the bottom, the practice is presented and encourages a concept of obsolescence. When dealing with a company that has already been known to pre-program obsolescence just to make more money off of their customers, this is all very shady and frightening.

Some may point out that, in the current system, if you want a properly working phone that you can use to get a foot up on the competition out there, you better get one with the best bells and whistles. That may be true in the current system where you can only purchase prepackaged phones, but on the horizon of the new economy is a new vision.

A phone worth keeping 

Modular phones exist on the premise of being able to personalize the components on your own phone. Want a better camera? Better Video-Card? simply switch it out. It is a method that is hoping to answer the question of how to lower the costs of phones for the consumer while upping their value. It also might hold the answer to more sustainable future for consumer electronics.

They are a response to obsolescence through modular upgrading, allowing the consumer to keep up with the trends without having to toss a whole phone in order to do it. Phonebloks, Motorola's modular and open source phone project, was the brainchild of Google's Motorola and created by created by Dave Hakkens to forge a "phone worth keeping."

An interesting development with "homebuilt" parts recently arose. The concept has the potential to become even more individualized the more that personal 3D printers continue to gain in popularity. Once the sustainability of 3D material egg is cracked, the process will get even greener and advances in plastics are making that fast approach.

This black friday, keep in mind three things; 
  1. You don't HAVE to go out and shop.
  2. Doing your research on what your impacts are helps you pick the best product. 
  3. Don't let your behaviors be affected by commercials that teach you to act like mindless animals.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Vilification of the Green Market - The Experiment

This is part 1 of an ongoing series covering an experiment I have done for the past year in building a sustainable portfolio and the lessons learned as a result. 

The Experiment

For the past year I have been running an experiment. It is an attempt to build a real green portfolio, one where one could find Solar and sustainable tech. Off of my meager funds, I attempted to create such a fund that would actually make money. I wasn't investing heavily, honestly I didn't have much to invest so my experiment couldn't be pricey.

My stepfather and father are both intimately familiar with the workings of the stock market, one of my uncles works on the building, selling and saving of businesses and another uncle who made six figures at 45. I have spoken with each of them in-depth about my goal and each had a different opinion. After thinking about it for far too long, a particularly interesting holiday family gathering conversation made me take the plunge and I bought my first piece of stock.

I had made myself a couple of rules:

Only invest in companies that you think would build a better future. 
This concept is fairly straight forward for the humanitarian but a little contrary to most investment strategies on the stock market. The floor cares about profits, growth and value. As I have learned from really concentrating on the stock market for the past year, those that decide the price and affect the price are very quick to judge and jump to wild conclusions.

Try to think in the long term. 
Many market strategies for investment go from quarter to quarter or sooner. I wanted to avoid that so I decided to try and find companies that followed my first rule but would not only make a profit but possibly become pivotal to the economy of the future.

This can have many definitions. To me it includes markets such as solar, geothermal, wind and ocean in the energy production sector and companies that solved energy storage problems.

Research the market. 
From watching the Daily Show and reading Blogs, I decided to avoid any and all financial advisers and researched the market with my own intuition. Once learning as much as I could about the company, its customers and the market, I would make a rational decision to buy or watch it.

Right around my birthday in November, I had heard about this company on NPR who had an interesting business model for Solar panelling. I found Solar City so interesting that not only did my research set me off on my appreciation of Elon Musk.

This led me a few months later, at the encouragement of a dear friend of mine, to purchase Tesla (TSLA) since it was on the rise and in the news at the time. I started picking up a few shares over the next months till I had a Bio-Med company doing cancer research, a fuel-cell producer and supplier, a green energy REIT and a few others.

As of this morning, my portfolio has gone up by 119.47%. Of all of my investments, only one has a negative movement worth a total of $6.20.

I know that this was unusual, and based on a lot of luck in my access to information but it opens the concept of making money by buying the stocks of the companies you want to be around in the future and either selling or not purchasing those that may rise in price, but have a net loss to society. I see oil and coal based companies in this queue unless they make a serious lateral movement into serious green production and an almost total abandonment of business as usual. The future of our economy and our relationship to it needs to be realigned to be more efficient and more sustainable.

To extend the experiment I also put together a fake portfolio of stocks that grab my eye who do work in the Green space. Through out this series I will be posting updates to that list and eventually having a link that all can view.

This experiment and what I have learned in the process reinforced my belief that there is an alternative to how we are currently running things. Through out the past year of paying closer attention to the stock market and the news surrounding it, I have also learned some very interesting things. Including the fact that pretty much no one who is writing about the market, knows what they are talking about.

But more on that in part 2.