Week 3.

The themes for today’s lessons are Technology and Industrial Environment, and Technology and Innovation Management. We began the lesson with a quote by Prof Shahi,

Sustainability requires shift from linear to circular thinking.

Old Industrial Model: Economic Development vs. Environmental well-being
Sensible Industrial Model: Economic Development AND Environmental well-being

Circular thinking in this sense refers to the enlightened self interest approach. That means, one takes into account  and tries to minimize the impact of one’s actions on the environment. The linear system on a finite planet proves to be a flawed model as it is non-sustainable and Earth’s natural resources are gradually being depleted at the expense of our future generation. While watching the video Material’s Economy, it was pretty alarming how developed countries such as US are using up far more resources than they can afford. For example, an average person is using 60 times more energy than he ought to, and if this continues, 5 planets are required to sustain our current planet’s activities! This situation is indeed shocking and thought provoking. Are we able to save ourselves in time before the detrimental effects of global degradation get to us humankind? Or is it already too late?

Readings 2 and 3 centre on the possibility of  achieving economic well-being via alternative routes apart from industrialization. It is apparent that until today, most business models are still unsustainable. However in recent years, steps have been taken by firms to create value for all its stakeholders, besides the basic objective of profit maximization. Examples of such firms include Bodyshop and Starbucks, which believes in profit for good and are eco-conscious. In our local context, Singapore has moved on from a manufacturing based economy to a value added service oriented economy so as to maximize her competitive edge in the global rat race. A shift away from manufacturing activities would mean that the harmful effects of industrial production and waste is less prominent in our country. As mentioned by Prof Shahi, there is a disproportional relationship between environmental degradation and economic well-being in Singapore, as seen in the graph below:

Even so, in many other parts of the world especially in developing countries, industrialization remains the engine of growth for the economy. However, with heightened awareness about environmental degradation due to industrialization and manufacturing, there is more effort is in creating sustainable business models these days.

The lesson proceeded on to the presentations, “Urban Aquaponics” by Bernadette and “Clean Tech in Israel” by Yuhui. The presentation on “Urban Aquaponics” was pretty interesting, it’s a innovative idea that is a viable option in land scarce Singapore. However, how receptive are the locals towards urban aquaponics? Hydroponics generates only a small portion of our GDP, furthermore urban aquaponics is even more costly. Given Singapore’s economic situation, we may not be able to sustain such an industry. Thus a common consensus that the class came to after some discussion was that local companies should patent this idea and venture abroad where resources are cheaper.

Yuhui’s presentation on “Clean Tech in Israel” highlighted one of the issues that I mentioned earlier in this post, is newly developed clean technology sufficient for sustainability with the rapid depletion of natural resources today? My personal take is that consumers demand are increasing at an increasing rate, with the emerging Asian economies (China and India), thus the focus of firms are still cost efficiency and productivity. Though clean technology is gradually being embraced by more firms nowadays, it usually incurs higher costs than normal industrial practices, thus there is insufficient incentive for most firms to pursue clean technology.

The second part of the lesson was on “Technology and Innovation Management”. Addressing the question on whether innovation should be technology or market driven, I believe that a good balance of both would benefit a firm most. A new firm would tend to focus on market driven strategies to build up its reputation, and once it earns sufficient capital it would then leverage on its resources to research and develop new products to introduce to the market. I also found the quote by Tom Peters rather interesting, and it taught me that one has to be prepared to fail if one wants to succeed. It’s a tough fact of life that is very true, and I believe this will put me in good stead when I meet future challenges.

We were also shown a video of an advertisement for Andes beer, about the Andes teletransponder. I thought it was really creative and interesting, and it reminds me of those quirky inventions in the Japanese product market. Honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear in Japan!

We wrapped up the class with the last presentation of the day by Leon, “How Google Grows… and Grows… and Grows.”  I like how visually attractive it was, with the minimal use of words in each slide and the focus on the imagery instead.

An article in today’s Sunday Times caught my eye: F1 has a green rival: S’pore G1. This event is one of the ways Singapore Environment Council (SEC) has pitched to introduce electric vehicles and greener technology in the local market. This is evidence to show how Singapore is taking steps towards sustainable development, and what caught my attention from this article is something that SEC executive director Howard Shaw mentioned, that there is a need for “matching infrastructure to serve the potential demand”. Thus in order to expand green technology in Singapore, companies would also have to consider the complementary demand for its products, here in this case, convenient venues for people to charge their electric cars.

I would rate the lesson a 7.5 out of 10, as we had sufficient discussion time and the topics raised on sustainability are of great importance in today’s rapidly changing global landscape.

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