December, 2011

Posts
  • The Carbon Report – broadening measurement and the sustainable journey

    Guest Post by Tim James 
    Director, sustainableIT - Microsoft Partner

    After attending some of the events around COP17, it has become abundantly clear that the dialogue of business and society at large has been around the desire to embrace the systemic change required to solve the issues we face as a result of global warming and associated climate change.

    The overwhelming feeling I get is one that is positive and receptive to change. This sounds fantastic at face value and is certainly a step in the right direction. The reality however, is that when one translates this into the African and more specifically the South African business landscape, this willingness to embrace sustainability on a broad level within all spheres of business has been sorely lacking.

    What makes this even more concerning is that the ravages of climate change will be realised more significantly on the African continent, than anywhere else in the world. My hope is that as Africans, we can show leadership and demonstrate to the rest of the world that a green economy is our only future. This aspiration is something that I hope we can achieve against a backdrop of flagging negotiations and protectionist political agendas.

    As developing economies we may not have realised the benefits that coal has brought to the industrialised world. Using an analogy from my childhood however, “two wrongs do not make a right” and if we insist on a coal based future, future generations will bear the brunt of our folly. We need access to significant funding from the west in the form of a Green Fund, but we need to use this investment wisely in transforming our economies and leapfrogging many traditional economies in the process.

    Fortunately the majority of people I have engaged with at COP17 have been the converts. Sustainability managers, consultants, energy managers and policy makers,  all of whom understand the issues and know that we have to adapt our business strategies to ensure a sustainable future. The challenge we face, is how to we extend the converts and create change agents at all levels of society?

    So where am I going with all of this and how can we help broaden the base and act as a catalyst for change? A sustainable business is really a journey, not something that should be taken lightly in terms of strategy and certainly should not be ignored if one wants to remain competitive in a low carbon future. The start of this journey for the majority of organisations is an understanding of their environmental impact and in particular, their carbon footprint. The simple maxim, “you cannot manage what you don’t measure” applies.

    With the development of The Carbon Report, sustainableIT, a Microsoft partner, has endeavoured to make the process of measuring and reporting carbon emissions simpler, more intuitive and much more cost effective than a traditional consulting lead approach. This achieves a number of objectives but in the main, an objective to broaden the opportunity for companies of every size and in every geography to initiate the process of reporting on their emissions.

    How did we go about doing this? In two ways really. In the first instance, being an African company based in Cape Town we are able to utilise world class skills at a fraction of the cost of our Western counterparts. Secondly and more importantly we chose a solution partner in the form of Microsoft.  

    The Microsoft development framework was chosen by us for its speed in delivering a solution, largely as a result of the availability of best practice patterns and reusable business logic. Not only has this allowed us to develop a solution rapidly, but it also provides us with agility when launching new functionality through the platform.

    The other area where we have leveraged Microsoft is the Azure cloud based computing platform, which allows us to publish our solution to the world on a best of breed computing platform, ensuring the security and integrity of our clients data at all times. This also allows us to market the solution to a broad range of companies across the continent as the solution is driven entirely through a web based user interface developed using Microsoft Silverlight.

    Any business, whether they are a sole proprietor or a large corporate can, now use the solution to build and report a greenhouse gas inventory, fully compliant with the requirements of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the most globally recognised standard for accounting and reporting carbon emissions.

    So where does this lead us to? At the start of this journey we had a number of design goals but two of the key criteria were accessibility and cost effectiveness and our relationship with Microsoft has certainly allowed us to achieve these goals.

    Will the positive sentiments coming out of COP17 translate to demonstrable actions at all levels of society? There is now doubt that we live in both exciting and troubling times, to coin a phrase, we are at a tipping point, certainly in more ways than one when we consider the financial markets against the backdrop of COP17 and climate change.

    It remains to be seen whether our governments hear our collective voices and deliver a binding deal or at least a meaningful framework that provides us with hope for the generations to come.

  • The benefits of buying ‘genuine’ get sweeter for consumers in Africa

    Posted by Werner Wilders
    OEM / Retail and Consumer Director for Microsoft West, East Central Africa

    When it comes to technology, standing still is falling behind. The rate at which technology changes is so fast and its implications for business so enormous that any lag behind the latest updates and functionality can directly equate to lost potential. That’s why we continue to urge our customers to install the latest updates and why we provide a range of free tools to enhance the performance of their software. 

    Making ‘free’ really mean free

    Consumers can download the latest security solutions, media tools, themes, Internet Explorer 9 and service updates for Windows 7 at Microsoft.com, for free. But for many consumers in Africa, just because something is ‘free’ online, doesn’t mean obtaining it is necessarily affordable or convenient. The high cost of bandwidth on the continent means that to download antivirus software in West, East and Central African countries for example, you’ll pay anything from $25 to $40; add this to limited and unreliable internet accessibility and it is understandable why so many consumers don’t download ‘free’ tools made available online. 

    To address this, we’ve developed the ‘Africa Pack’ – a suite of popular Microsoft technologies and locally-relevant content in DVD format. It’s free to consumers across Africa who purchase or currently run a genuine version of Windows 7, and is available to Microsoft partners to distribute with new PCs that are preinstalled with, or bundled with locally attached copies of genuine Windows. We hope that by making this content available offline, we’ll save our customers time and money, and ensure the very latest Microsoft technologies are easily accessible to them.

    One of the key technologies included in the Africa Pack offering is Security Essentials. Having the latest security technology is becoming critical amid the ever-increasing plethora of malicious software that can harm your PC or target private information. We don’t want our consumers to put themselves or their families at risk by delaying security updates because of slow download speeds or cost. Now, with Africa Pack, we are ensuring that every user who has a genuine copy of Windows 7 will have access to free antivirus software to protect their computer.

    (Locally relevant) Content is King

    We’ve often spoken about our commitment to our Local Language Program. We believe in the benefit of learning in one’s first language as well as the importance of keeping local languages alive by ensuring they remain relevant and continue to evolve. So our Africa Pack, available in English and French, also contains local language interface (LIP) packs for the most widely spoken languages in Africa: KiSwahili, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and Amharic. The first edition of the Microsoft Africa Pack includes: Microsoft Security Essentials; Windows Live Essentials; Africa Theme Pack (desktop wallpapers and themes to customize your PC); Local Language Interface Packs (LIPs); Internet Explorer 9 and Windows 7 Service Pack 1.  

  • Wonderbag at COP17: A Simple … Real Impact Idea

    Posted by Sarah Collins
    CEO, Wonderbag

    As the CEO of Wonderbag I have spent the last several days with my partner Microsoft at COP17. 20,000 attendees, representing 191 countries and 12 heads of state, all descended on Durban, South Africa, where I live and run my business. We experienced some very busy days and long nights as we spent time meeting with government leaders, NGOs and the private sector to promote what started as a simple idea and is now starting to have a real impact in South Africa and beyond.

    Heat retention cooking is nothing new. For centuries people have covered cooking utensils to retain heat and cook food, a Second World War haybox is just one example. With Wonderbag, what is new is both the innovative design of the cooking bag and the business model behind the initiative. The bag itself consists of two recycled polystyrene filled cushions. The bottom bigger cushion creating a nest for the pot and a smaller top cushion that acts as a lid to ensure optimal insulation. They are easy to wash, easy to transport and more importantly easy to produce at a local level.

    Acting locally has been a pillar of our strategy from the beginning. The business model not only prioritizes sustainability but also job creation. Each Wonderbag is hand-sewn in communities around South Africa. To fulfill our next order from Unilever of five million bags in South Africa we will employ more than 8,000 people over the next five years.

    Households can save up to a third of their monthly expenditure by using a Wonderbag three to four times a week; every woman who cooks using a Wonderbag saves time by not having to source fuel or stay near the kitchen during the cooking process. In addition, food does not burn; the kitchen is a safer place for children and less time around open fires means a healthier environment.

    Ensuring the sustainability of all these advantages is the carbon funding business model. If a Wonderbag is used three to four times a week, 500 kilograms of carbon is saved every year, we have had this verified and audited by the UNFCC. This allows us to trade half a ton of carbon per bag per year, which subsidizes the Wonderbag and allows us to scale.

    So how does Microsoft fit into all of this? We are in the business of Wonderbags “being used”, however for the process to work, Wonderbag needs to keep track of every single Wonderbag and that’s where technology and Microsoft come in.

    We first started working with Microsoft South Africa in 2010 when we approached them to help us to develop a solution that would enable field workers to register new Wonderbag users via a mobile phone. Working together with innovation firm frog, Microsoft was able to provide us with the technology we needed. And over the last few days here at COP17 we have agreed to take this to the next level.

    I was surprised to learn about a geospatial mapping solution called Eye on Earth that Microsoft announced at COP17 with the European Environment Agency and their technology partner Esri. Eye on Earth is a cloud based application development platform and online community for environmental data sharing. We’ve determined that this same technology can be used to host an online application to graphically map information on where Wonderbags are in use and how much carbon they save. We have even been discussing the addition of a heat sensor, in the bottom of every Wonderbag, to automatically track its use and map that back to the carbon algorithms. This is still early days, but a developer has already mocked up the first version of the application for us.

    At Wonderbag we believe that we have the wind behind us with this project because of the times that we live in. Climate change awareness is at an all-time high, the value of energy is appreciated like never before and there are now mechanisms that award and support those who are trying to do the right thing. When technology and environmental solutions join forces we can make a difference in every household.

    Just as Bill Gates was driven the by goal of a PC on every desktop, we will achieve a Wonderbag in every kitchen.