It’s Not Easy Being Green

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One of the problems of, ah, maturing, is that you recognize your own contradictions. I’m good at the “vision thing” but not as good with building and maintaining. That’s not to say that I haven’t planned, implemented and maintained complex technology systems but I’m satisfied with the big picture and leaving the other stuff in more capable hands.

This is where my conflict about the digital future of Haiti surfaces again. I see clearly that the immediate need of feeding, sheltering, providing medical attention and protecting the people of Haiti is paramount and needs to be done now. But I can’t help looking down the road and around the bend to what’s there or, at least, what should be there. The question I raised in Haiti’s Digital Future was who makes the decisions?

At the recent Greener Gadgets conference, I distilled the question a little further to the members of the Green Living Begins at Home panel. How would you rebuild Haiti? Jay McLellan, President and CEO of Home Automation, Inc (HAI), took a deep breath and asked, “Do we have all day?” He then went on to say that the key is the infrastructure. “Make sure you have electrical, water and communications,” he continued. He felt that designing the infrastructure for renewal and sustainability was an obvious necessity. He also told me in an interview later that the system has to be modular so that it could scale up to make neighborhoods, villages and regions self sustaining if knocked off the main grid.

“It’s an obvious place for solar,” added Kimberly Lancaster, of Green Life Smart Life. “That energy alone can power everything from refrigeration to cooling” she said. Lancaster said she would also be looking for the basic resources of water and energy and the durability of materials used in the rebuilding.

”Sarah Krasley, Manager of Sustainability at Autodesk, spotlighted missing link we, in the developed nations, continue to make when offering aid and comfort. “I think that a key is to invite the people of Haiti into the conversation around design. Find out what they need and what wasn’t working before. It’s very simple, but I think that would make a huge impact.”

Everyone on the panel nodded in agreement.

One of the first lessons I learned about planning or upgrading a system was to do a needs assessment. Why do we often forget, when doing long term good works, to follow that simple rule?

Just a remainder of how it still looks as of March 4, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Matthew Bigg

Steve Miller
Stephen C. Miller is an editor, reporter and technology consultant. He writes the blog, The Future Was Yesterday: Technology in the Real World. He has spent nearly 30 years training African journalists throughout the continent in investigative techniques.

Formerly he was Assistant to the Technology Editor at The New York Times. He retired in 2008 after a 20 year career there. While at The Times he supervised the training of reporters and editors in the use of new technologies. Miller started his career in broadcasting, spending 12 years at CBS News in a variety of positions, including Night News Manager.

He is on the Board of Directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors and is past President of the New York Association of Black Journalists. He speaks frequently on how technology is affecting journalism.
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