Monday, December 29, 2008

Power of One

In the winter of 1991, Nora Gross, a 4 yr old and her father were walking down the street in their neighborhood when we passed a homeless man. For some reason, this man struck her differently from all the other homeless people she had seen on the streets of her neighborhood. Perhaps it was the way he shivered in the cold winter air, or the friendly smile he gave her as they passed. Whatever it was, she felt particularly compelled to help him–to do more than put the dollar her dad would normally pass to her to put into his cup. As they walked by, she asked her dad, “Can we take him home dad?”

The story goes that later on; she went on to collect over $1000 in the form of pennies with her father’s help which she donated to various organizations. She also along with her father, Teddy Gross, founded the nonprofit organization Penny Harvest. She and her dad came on Oprah show and her story inspired Oprah to launch her own charity organization in 1997.

There are lots of problems in this world that need attention, but we all think that we are powerless and wonder what we can do when big governments are not able to do much. But we forget about the power of ONE. No, I am not talking about Bryce Courtney's novel, "The Power of One", I am talking about the power that lies within each one of us. There are many examples in the world where one person or a group of people did not wait for the government or the appropriate organization to change things. They took it upon themselves to take actions and drive a change which then turned into a huge movement making a paramount difference to the society. I would like illustrate my message through few stories

Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai is an environmental and political activist who became first African woman to receive the 2004, Nobel Peace Prize for "her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement which organizes poor rural women in Kenya to plant trees which combats deforestation. In Africa by the way, trees are their main source of fuel for cooking. So this process not only sustains that source but also prevents soil erosion Since Maathai started the movement in 1977, over 30 million trees have been planted. Over 30,000 women have been trained in forestry, food processing, bee-keeping, and other trades that help them earn income, while preserving their lands and resources. She has come to be affectionately called "Tree Woman" or "The Tree Mother of Africa."

I have another story on power of one. Now few individuals choose to walk away at the height of their corporate career to dedicate their life to a social cause. At age 35, John Wood did just that - quitting his position as Microsoft's Director of Business Development in order to found an organization called Room to Read.

His story goes this way…In 1998, John took a vacation that would changed his life. Trekking through a remote Himalayan village, he struck up conversation with a school teacher, who invited John to visit his school. There, John discovered that the school had 450 students and there were fewer than 20 books available which were considered so precious that they were kept under lock and key - to protect them from the children!

What started with a simple email requesting friends to donate used books has grown into an award winning non-profit organization called “Room to Read”, that over the past 8 years has established over 5,100 libraries, done several other things like publishing millions of books, build schools, fund thousands scholarships for girls, impacting the lives of over 1.7 million students worldwide. Again all this, because one person decided that he is going to change something that struck a chord with his heart.

So there are lots of problems in the world like I said. To throw out some statistics…there are over 800 million people who are starving, 1 billion people who lack clean drinking water, 2 billion with lack of sanitation, 2 million dying from AIDS each year, 940 million illiterate adults and several billion people who will be affected by global warming.

I know 2009 is going to be tough year from an economy perspective, but I still consider many of us who live in the developed and the developing world as very fortunate beings. Life has provided us with the opportunities to make a good life for ourselves, but there are vast majority of others who never got that chance. So you need to think among the various tough challenges that this world faces, which one, whether it is climate change or communicable diseases, conflicts or hunger, education or sanitation and drinking water, is close to your heart to use your power of one to contribute and make a change.

Oprah Winfrey wrote on her website, after hearing about Nora Gross, she started thinking, if a 4 year old girl could do that, she wondered what she could do? So a little girl’s deeds inspired a very influential person in this world to start her own charity organization. And Oprah is doing so much good in America as well as in Africa.

You could be doing something that you think is small, but never doubt the power of one. Even a small difference is a change and who knows your deeds might inspire a hundred more to do the same. Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist once said: "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." So I urge, all of you who are reading this to use the power of one which is in you to make a difference in this greater world that we live in.

PS: I would like dedicate this posting of "Power of One" to Guy Kawasaki who has been constant inspiration and encouragement to me. You can check out his blog at

Update 12/30/08: Guy Kawasaki tweeted this blog post on twitter!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cool and Useful Eco gadgets

There is an explosion of eco gadgets in the market. I have been tracking few them of which I would like to share. While there is plethora of gadgets out there, the ones that I mention here can be pricey but really useful.

Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid

Lawns are great but, for all the freedom to roam they grant you, maintaining them can become a pain. Thanks to this Automower Solar Hybrid robot lawn mower you may never actually have to get involved with mowing your lawn ever again. Husqvarna makes battery powered robotic lawn mower called the Automower. The Automower Hybrid charges itself using a charging base which combines electricity from a home power outlet and solar power to keep the mowers batteries full of juice. This model of the Automower is not only good for the environment by putting off zero emissions while mowing your yard it also practices a green method of improving your yard by not collecting the grass clippings. This allows the grass clipping to decompose and turn to mulch which makes your yard more lush and healthy. This hybrid version of the Automower itself is made of 90% recyclable material so no more rusty lawn mowers tossed into the landfills full of oil and gas. It is definitely a cool but very pricey gadget!
Price range: $3000-$3500

Voltaic Solar Backpack

No matter where in the world you are, cell phone, PDA, handheld GPS, mp3 and similar devices will always be charged with this solar backpack (not intended for laptop charging). The Voltaic solar backpack is large enough to use for business trips, camping and as an overnight bag. Embedded in the outside of the bags are lightweight, tough, waterproof solar panels. Though the new Voltaic Generator (not the one in the picture above) produces up to 14.7 watts, powerful enough to fully charge a typical laptop from a day of direct sunlight and is the priciest one at $499. There are pockets and wire channels for multiple electronic devices like cell phones, pda's and GPA's. All Voltaic bags come with a custom battery pack which stores any surplus power generated, so it is available when you need it - not just when the sun is up. Take this Voltaic Solar Backpack anywhere!
Price range: $199-$499

SolarGorilla Solar Charger

Have all of your audio-visual and computer devices running on renewable energy. Solargorilla's 24 volt and 5 volt USB socket make it the ultimate renewable power station for your laptop, mobile phone, iPod and many more devices. Solar gorilla works via two PV (photovoltaic) solar panels, which generate electric current when they are exposed to light. Clam shell design keeps your solar panels safe when traveling and the device comes with a bunch of adapters and a neoprene case. There are many such audio-visual and computer device chargers now in the market. I am using Solargorilla as an example.
Price range: $250-280

Energizer is releasing its solar powered battery charger for standard rechargeable AA and AAA batteries in CES 2009. It is primarily powered by an AC jack that’s assisted by a flip-out
solar panel. The USB port can power your connected gadget and the Solar Charger will act as an extended battery for almost any USB-powered device, like your iPod for instance. You can use this device to charge AA or AAA batteries that you still use in children's toys and other devices.
Price range: $40-50

Eton Solar, Hand Crank Radio, Flashlight and Cell Phone Charger

The Eton-American Red Cross FR-150 Microlink is a Solar-Powered, Self-Powered AM/FM/Weatherband Portable Radio with Flashlight and Cell Phone Charger. It is designed to keep you in touch with the rest of the world, even when you are miles away from civilization. It has a high-quality AM/FM tuner, providing you with news, entertainment and public service announcements. It also integrates a NOAA Weather Band receiver that brings you weather forecasts, alerts and other emergency messages–information vital to backpackers and travelers. It has reliable flashlight and can also charge your cell phone. Cell phone charger supports over 2,000 different cell phone models. This can be a very good gift idea for Father's day or some other special occasion.
Price range: $25-$30 (2008)

Citizen Eco-Drive

I have to make an honorable mention of Eco-Drive which is the series name of a line of mainly light powered watches manufactured by the Citizen Watch Co., Ltd. They pioneered this technology back in 1995 so it is really not new technology. Most Eco-Drive watches are equipped with a special titanium lithium-ion secondary battery that is charged by an amorphous silicon solar cell located behind the dial. The titanium lithium-ion composition precludes it from being affected from the regular charge/discharge cycle of other types of rechargeable batteries. Light passes through the covering crystal and dial before it reaches the solar cell. They claim that if your Eco-Drive watch is put away where no light is available to it while in a fully charged state, depending on the model, it will run for from 45 days to 5 years!

Price range: $195 onwards



Wednesday, December 17, 2008

“Triple-A Supply Chain”: How far have we come?

General opinion is that the holy grails of supply chain management are high speed and low cost. Though necessary, Hau L. Lee in his highly circulated 2004 article, “The Triple-A Supply Chain” in Harvard Business Review pointed out that they aren't sufficient to give companies a sustainable competitive advantage over rivals. He demonstrated this through a distribution statistics that though U.S. supply chains became significantly faster and cheaper between 1980 and 2000, product markdowns owing to excess inventory jumped from 10% to 30% of total units sold and the customer satisfaction with product availability plummeted.

So one wonders what’s going on here and how some companies like Wal-Mart,, Dell Computer, Apple and Cisco bucked these trends and continue to do that. Their supply chains aren't just fast and cost-effective. They're also: Agile, Adaptable and Aligned. This is the concept of “The Triple-A Supply Chain”. To achieve sustainable competitive advantage, your supply chain needs all three of these qualities. So what do these mean?

Agile: Agile supply chains respond quickly to sudden changes in supply or demand. They handle unexpected external disruptions smoothly and cost-efficiently. And they recover promptly from shocks such as natural disasters, epidemics, and computer viruses.

Adaptable: Adaptable supply chains evolve over time as economic progress, political shifts, demographic trends, and technological advances reshape markets.

Aligned: Aligned supply chains align the interests of all participating firms in the supply chain with their own. As each player maximizes its own interests, it optimizes the chain's performance as well.

After 4 years since this article was written, I feel there is still a lot of work to be done in each category for most of the companies out there. Apart from handful of the names mentioned above and few dozen others, I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on design of the supply chain. For example, not many companies pay attention to their evolving target markets and rationalize sourcing, assembly and distribution and tailor it to the nature, travel distances and location of their markets. Cost is still more than often the primary driver for the location of manufacturing. Total landed cost calculations do not include all the factors like logistics cost from distribution centers to the end customer, intangibles like customer satisfaction and time-to-market.

Vast majority don’t have any redundancy or dual sourcing built into their supply chain because it is expensive but then it limits the manufacturing and distribution capabilities. I wonder how many firms have a dependable disaster recovery plan if there is natural disaster at the internal or outsourced manufacturing site. I don’t believe there is any flexibility built in to kick-start another production site if one site goes down.

Many OEMs still treat their contract manufacturing vendors as second rate citizens instead of treating them as their collaborative partners. Demand forecast trickles down to the contract manufacturing partners as a one way communication from the OEMs without an adequate forum to openly discuss or question the demand being fed to them. The result is sometimes large amount of excess inventory build up. Due to lack of trust, commitment and fair sharing agreements on cost savings, there is no incentive for the vendors to come to the table with any proactive cost saving opportunities. As everyone in the chain tries to maximize their own interests it is hard to create alignment in supply chain.

Hau L. Lee's article gives an example of how Lucent lost its leadership position when it failed to adapt to the changing market conditions in 1990s and did not build manufacturing sites in Asia to serve the growing Asian market. Similarly only those companies that build agile, adaptable, and aligned supply chains will get ahead of the competition. Others will continue to lose market share to the companies who pay attention. Supply chain efficiency is necessary, but it isn’t enough to ensure that firms will do better than their rivals in the long run.


Hau L. Lee, “The Triple-A Supply Chain”, Harvard Business Review, October 2004, pps.102-112.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Greener Electronics

Green peace, the environmental watchdog last month published 10th iteration (Guide to Greener Electronics) of their measurements of some of the famous electronics firms which make personal computers, mobile phones, TV's and games consoles. Greenpeace scored the electronics brands on tightened sets of chemicals and electronic waste (e-waste) criteria and on new energy criteria. Some of the details on the criteria are as follows: i) commitment to eliminating use of toxic chemicals like polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC) , brominated flame retardants (BFR) & few others with timeline b) re-use or recycle of e-waste generated by their products & report on the use of recycled plastic content across all products and provide timelines for increasing content c) support for global mandatory reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions & disclosure of the company's own GHG emissions plus emissions from two stages of the supply chain.

Nokia was ranked number 1 on the latest rankings as well as in the last iteration of this ranking system. Nokia scored maximum points for its comprehensive voluntary take-back program, which spans 124 countries providing almost 5000 collection points for end-of-life mobile phones. I would say that is really impressive. I wonder Nokia being a European based company and EU's lead on RoHS compliance and green intiatives has anything to do with them being on the fore-front of these rankings. Apple is till lagging in their rankings although Apple's latest iPods are now free of both PVC and BFRs and the MacBooks, MacBook Pro and MacBook are almost free of these substances. They scored poorly on most e-waste criteria, except for reporting a recycling rate in 2006 of 18% as a percentage of sales 7 years ago.

Skimming through their past rankings what I found interesting was that Lenovo (China's largest and the world's fourth largest personal computer manufacturer), was ranked no 1 among the 14 global manufacturers just 21 months ago (March, 2007, version: 3). Back then Greenpeace cited that improvements in Lenovo's position on environmentally conscious principles and responsibilities, as well as providing recycling or return services wherever its products are sold, as main factors for the company's performance. This time around Lenovo dropped to 16th position primarily faltering on the e-waste criteria which they scored very well just 21 months ago. I wonder what happened there! You can click on the various versions of the ranking graphic above and see how the rankings have changed for these players over the period of 2 years.

Overall interesting stuff, although I am would not put too much stock on the company rankings since they seem to be moving all over the map in the past 2 years. At the same time, this could be telling us a story that probably some of these companies are having false starts on their green initiatives and losing steam afterwards. It is also possible that Greenpeace having tightened their standards and added new criteria since they first started scoring shifted the rankings around. Another thing to keep in mind is that just because some of the companies did not provide data or publish it to Greenpeace does not mean they don't have effective green initiatives.

I think these scoring systems provide visibility and awareness to general masses and they generate enough propaganda so that these big firms (for example Nintendo who came last in the rankings) start taking notice. These rankings would also create some competition among these players to release and share more data, launch more green initiatives to demonstrate that they indeed are environmentally conscious and save their brand image. Nevertheless it is all a step in the positive direction...


1) Courtesy:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Future of solar power

I think we are close to the "tipping point" where solar energy will become economically viable for the general masses. Experts used to say couple of years ago that the "tipping point" will arrive when the capital cost of solar power falls below $1 per watt, roughly the cost of carbon power. The best options today vary from $1.5 to $3.5 per watt - down from $100 in the late 1970s. Cell conversion efficiency and economies of scale are surging ahead so fast that the cost has been predicted to be less than a dollar by 2010, with a target of 30 or 40 cents in a decade.

EPT (energy payback time) is the measure of how many years of operation is required to generate the energy used in the manufacturing stage, and if this value is smaller than the lifespan of the system it is profitable in terms of energy. Based on current manufacturing processes solar cell systems can recoup the energy required for their manufacture in 1 to 3years after their installation, and thereafter they add value by becoming net energy producers and enabling lower consumption of fossil fuels. There are lots of innovations happening in this field which will further shrink the consumption of fossil fuels during manufacturing process of solar cells by another 30-50%. That means the EPT will be less than a year which is great when the expected lifespan for solar cell systems is about 20 years.

There are governments of different countries who stepped in and realized the need to move away from the dependency on oil as well as to curb greenhouse gas emission per the Kyoto protocol, established in 1997. Currently, Germany, Japan and the US (mainly California) are the key proponents of solar energy. New initiatives are starting to pick up in China, Southern European countries and rest of the US. There was report that was released by UC Berkeley economic study very recently which stated that the
green efforts in California will boost household incomes by $48 billion and create as many as 403,000 jobs in the next 12 years. All this will lead to more talent entering the solar field which will accelerate the innovations on efficiency and cost.

But the sector is still in its infancy. Even if all of the forecast growth occurs, solar energy will represent only about 3 to 6 percent of installed electricity generation capacity or 1.5 to 3 percent of output in 2020. While solar power can certainly help to satisfy the desire for more electricity and lower carbon emissions, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Some of the challenges that proliferation of solar power is going to face is not all economical but issues like lack of public awareness, lack of governmental involvement (which probably will change in US with Obama) and just people waiting on the fence (nothing wrong about it) to see where the technology is heading in terms of efficiency, cost & aesthetics.

Obviously there are going to be early adopters and enthusiasts like the people who stood in the line when the first generation iPhone was released. There are also going to be certain group of people who will adopt it for the "image" factor where it is the right thing to do and it makes a statement, 'Look at me, I'm environmentally conscious.' While the others will wait till it really becomes cheaper, efficient and commoditized.


1) Asia Pacific Equity Research, JP Morgan, Jan 2008
2) The economics of solar power, Mckinsey Quarterly, June 2008
3 ) Image courtesy: