Can The iPad Revolutionize Rural Agriculture?

The high-tech gadget is finding fans in an unlikely place: rural farms, where it can be used for everything from training to creating a connection between the farmers and customers in the developed world.

The iPad is a luxury toy. It’s also a powerful, adaptable tool. That much has become obvious over the past two years as the device has made its way into classrooms, cockpits, and hospitals.

The iPad’s fairly steep price, however, has kept it firmly entrenched in the developed world. That’s starting to change, as evidenced by efforts from Exprima Media and coffee importer Sustainable Harvest to bring the iPad to coffee co-ops and farmers in East Africa, Mexico, and South America.

Over the past two years, Exprima and Sustainable Harvest have unveiled a suite of efficiency and traceability iPad apps–the Relationship Information Tracking System (RITS) suite–for coffee farmers in the developing world. The companies don’t market directly to farmers; instead, they sell to coffee co-ops, which either purchase the iPads themselves or seek out third-party-funded grants.

The RITS Ed app, piloted this year, features over two hours of training videos in a variety of languages related to everything from agronomy best practices to growing protein-rich mushrooms out of coffee production waste. “The people we work with have limited infrastructure, and dialing up YouTube is not a reality,” says Debra Rosenthal, Director of Technology Development for Sustainable Harvest. “The training videos featuring industry experts, so we’re putting experts in the hands of trainers that work for those co-ops.” In 2011, seven Tanzanian farmers used the app to train their fellow local farmers. They were able to train an incredible 106 farmers in a month.

The RITS Producer app, a supply chain management program that has been used in Tanzania since 2010, allows producers to track the coffee they process–how much is produced, how it’s milled, payments received, and where its final destination is located. This past year, Sustainable Harvest sold some raw coffee beans to Allegro Coffee (the Whole Foods coffee brand) for sampling. The company stuck a QR code on the back, so that when the quality control manager at Allegro received it, he could see scan the bag and see all the coffee roasters involved, the ratings of various coffees that came from the co-op, and more. “It’s an unprecedented level of transparency in what has historically been an opaque supply chain,” says Rosenthal.

This replaces what used to be a suitcase of papers on the back of an agronomist’s motorcycle.”

Finally, the RITS Metrics app, first piloted in Tanzania this year, allows agronomists or other coffee co-op leaders to speed up the third-party certification process by storing surveys from members offline. When the farmers return to a place that has an Internet connection (the coffee co-op headquarters, for example) the information is uploaded to a cloud server. “This replaces what used to be a suitcase of papers on the back of an agronomist’s motorcycle,” explains Rosenthal.

There’s a reason that these apps haven’t been customized for cheaper netbooks instead of the pricey iPad: The learning curve to master the iPad is much shorter than that of traditional computers because the device is so intuitive. It’s also proving to be an attractive tool to keep the younger generation interested in farming–the iPad is easy to use as a training tool and it’s hard to deny the “cool” factor. “We went to Peru and introduced the RITS app to co-op employees. The president of the co-op got emotional and started talking about how he saw this as way of engaging children and women to keep them in agriculture,” says Corey Pressman, president of Exprima Media. Score another point for the iPad: the gadget that’s preserving agricultural traditions.

This article was written by Ariel Schwartz and published in Sustainable Life Media. She is an Assistant Editor at FastCompany.com.  She has also contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD …plus many more.

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Green Mountain Coffee To Test Waste-To-Energy Technology


Green Mountain Coffee Roasters – known for its Keurig brand of individual coffee cups – may soon be able to turn its waste stream into a source of power for its Vermont operations.

The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota is working with Wynntryst, LLC, an energy solutions company based in South Burlington, Vermont, to develop a gasification power system for the company.

The project specifically focuses on converting Green Mountain’s coffee residues, plastic packaging, paper, cloth or burlap, and plastic cups into an energy source.

“This project is an extension of work performed by the EERC for NASA, which explored the conversion of waste from a space station and future Martian and lunar bases into heat and power,” says EERC Deputy Associate Director for Research Chris Zygarlicke. “This project will similarly utilize a mostly renewable and bio-based waste and convert it into electricity for the coffee industry.”

“The first step of the project is to demonstrate that we can gasify the complex mixture of waste and produce clean synthetic gas, or syngas, by utilizing the EERC’s novel advanced fixed-bed gasifier (AFBG) system on the biomass–residue mixture,” says Project Manager and Research Scientist, Nikhil Patel.

The syngas will then either be utilized in an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell for efficient production of electricity and heat or be converted to high-value biofuels or chemicals. The pilot-scale tests will evaluate the quality of syngas that can be produced from the Green Mountain waste.

“Over the years, the EERC has developed and tested numerous small gasifier systems like this on a variety of biomass feedstocks,” Zygarlicke said. “The EERC system has already produced power by gasifying forest residues, railroad tie chips, turkey litter, and other biomass feedstocks and burning the produced syngas in an on-site engine generator. The coffee industry residues will be similarly tested.”

The EERC will use the outcome of the pilot-scale efforts to propose a full-scale commercial demonstration system for installation at various Green Mountain sites.


Bart King is a PR consultant and principal at Cleantech Communications, and a regular contributor to Sustainable Life Media.

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New Brand Partnerships by Coke/Pepsi Link Plastic Bottles With Sustainable Fabrics


Soft-drink companies Coke and Pepsi both have new brand partnerships focused on the recycling of plastic bottles into sustainable fabrics for clothing and apparel.

Last week, PepsiCo brand Mountain Dew announced a partnership with Burton Snowboards, and released a line of t-shirts made from 50% recycled plastic bottles and 50% organic cotton. Three different shirts in the line feature eco-themed graphic designs ranging from a drawing of Rube Goldberg-inspired machine that recycles bottles to a snowflake.

Burton and Mountain Dew say the t-shirts are just a taste of what is planned for sustainable fabrics (and the partnership) in Burton’s 2012-2013 product seasons. New outerwear is planned to hit store shelves in fall 2012.

Similarly, Coca-Cola has partnered its bottled-water brand Dasani with New Balance’s recently released newSKY sneakers, which have an upper made from 95% recycled PET plastic bottles.

Together the brands are working to encourage increased recycling, stressing the fact that eight recycled bottles are all that is needed to make the fabric for one new pair of shoes.

New Balance illustrates the process in the video below:


Bart King is a PR consultant and principal of Cleantech Communications, and a regular contributor to Sustainable Life Media



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GE Makes Electric Vehicle Push Through New Partnerships

As the adoption of electric vehicles becomes more widespread and automakers roll out new models, GE continues to lead the development of the critical infrastructure technology needed to connect all of those EVs to the grid. Last month, GE and Nissan announced a joint R&D effort to speed the creation of the charging infrastructure necessary for widespread EV adoption. And just recently, GE announced a partnership with Inovateus Solar to build solar-powered electric vehicle-charging carports, marrying two sustainable technologies. And now Spanish airports are getting in on the action: last week GE Energy Industrial Solutions teamed with Spanish energy supplier Endesa to supply and operate the EV-charging infrastructure for airport vehicles at four airports in Spain: in Madrid, Barcelona, Palma and Lanzarote.

Spanish airport operator AENA is just the sort of natural customer for switching to electric fleets: it will incorporate the EVs into the airports’ existing energy management infrastructure and the vehicles will be charged on off-peak overnight electricity tariffs. For now, the EVs are part of a three-year pilot program to assess the feasibility of switching the entire airport fleet to electric. GE will provide 53 of its DuraStation* electric vehicle chargers, which enable faster charging by integrating higher voltages and currents that require specialized equipment. In addition to charging systems like DuraStation and the Yves Behar-designed WattStation, GE Energy provides the full range of electrical systems and smart grid tech needed to build and manage a complete EV infrastructure.

The agreement with AENA follows a partnership announced last month between GE and automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen to develop reliable business models for EVs. GE has shown interest in buying 1,000 electric vehicles from PSA Peugeot Citroen in Europe by the end of 2015. GE first showed its support for EVs by incorporating them into its own fleet last fall in the U.S., where the company announced plans to buy 25,000 EVs for use as company cars and to lease to corporate customers through its Fleet Services business.

An excerpt from a GE EcoImagination News Story October 17, 2011.

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Virgin Atlantic Plans to Use Jet Fuel Made From Waste Gas


October 11, 2011—Virgin Atlantic Airways announced that within three years it will power commercial flights with a low-carbon aviation fuel made from recycled waste gas. Partnering company LanzaTech will produce the fuel by capturing waste gases from industrial steel production and converting it into jet fuel through a fermentation technology developed by Swedish Biofuels.

Virgin Atlantic says the resulting fuel will have half the carbon footprint of standard jet fuel. Furthermore, the waste gases would otherwise be burned off at the point of production, releasing carbon dioxide, if not converted into jet fuel.

Currently the technology is being piloted in New Zealand. However, Virgin Atlantic intends to use the fuel on flights from Shanghai and Delhi to London Heathrow to take advantage of production facilities planned in China and India. A demonstration facility will be commissioned in Shanghai this year, and the first commercial operation is expected to be in place in China by 2014.

If implementation is successful, a wider rollout could include operations in the UK and the rest of the world, the airline says.

LanzaTech estimates that its process can apply to 65 percent of the world’s steel mills, which would overcome the complex land use issues associated with some earlier generation biofuels.

LanzaTech also believes the conversion process can be applied to metals processing and chemical industries, growing its potential considerably further.

“With oil running out, it is important that new fuel solutions are sustainable, and with the steel industry alone able to deliver over 15 billion gallons of jet fuel annually, the potential is very exciting,” says Virgin Atlantic President Richard Branson. “This new technology is scalable, sustainable and can be commercially produced at a cost comparable to conventional jet fuel.”

Virgin Atlantic will be the first airline to use this fuel and will work with LanzaTech, Boeing and Swedish Biofuels towards achieving the technical approval required for using new fuel types in commercial aircraft. A ‘demo’ flight with the new fuel is planned in 12-18 months.

Virgin Atlantic says the new fuel will take the airline well beyond its pledge of a 30% carbon reduction per passenger-kilometer by 2020.

Article written by Bart King for Sustainable Life Media

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India launches “world’s cheapest” tablet computer

October 5, 2011 – New Delhi

(Reuters) – India launched what it dubbed the world’s cheapest tablet computer Wednesday, to be sold to students at the subsidized price of $35 and later in shops for about $60.

Most of India’s 1.2 billion people are poor and products such as Apple Inc’s  iPad are beyond the reach even of many in the fast-growing middle class.

“The rich have access to the digital world, the poor and ordinary have been  excluded. Aakash will end that digital divide,” Telecoms and Education Minister Kapil Sibal said. The government is buying the first units of the lightweight touch-screen  device, called Aakash, or “sky” in Hindi, for $50 each from a British company which is assembling the web-enabled devices in India.

A pilot run of 100,000 units will be given to students for free, with the first 500 handed out at the launch to a mixed response. It supports video  conferencing, has two USB ports and a three-hour battery life but some users said it was slow.

India has a reputation for creating affordable products that are easy to use and sturdy enough to handle its rugged environment — from Tata Motors’ $2,000 Nano car to generic versions of pharmaceuticals.

Two years in development, the paperback book-sized Aakash may help the government’s goal of incorporating information technology in education, although  critics were doubtful of its mass appeal.

Despite being a leader in software and IT services, India trails fellow BRIC  nations Brazil, Russia and China in the drive to get the masses connected to the Internet and mobile phones, a report by risk analysis firm Maplecroft said this year.

The number of Internet users grew 15-fold between 2000 and 2010 in India, according to another recent report. Still, just 8 percent of Indians have access. That compares with nearly 40 percent in China.

The Aakash is aimed at university students for digital learning via a government platform that distributes electronic books and courses.

Testing included running video for two hours in temperatures of 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit) to mimic a northern Indian summer, said  DataWind, the small London-based company that developed the tablet with the Indian Institute of Technology.

Rajat Agrawal, executive editor of gadget reviewers BGR India, said the 660 mhz processor from U.S. company Conexant Systems was “decent” for the price, but warned the machine seemed slow and the touch screen not very agile. “Because of the price there is a lot of excitement,” he said. “People might use it initially but if it is not user friendly they will give up within a week.”

After first giving them out for free, the government aims to sell them to students for $35 next year. A retail version will be sold in Indian shops for about $60.

The device uses resistive LCD displays rather than a full touch screen and connects via wireless broadband. DataWind CEO Suneet Singh said future versions would include a mobile phone connection, making it more useful in rural areas.

The launch last week of Amazon’s Kindle Fire shook up the global tablet market, with its $199 price tag and slick browser a serious threat to Apple’s iPad.

Like the Kindle Fire, the Aakash uses the Google Android operating system.

Some of the mainly middle-class technology department students at the event said it needed refinement but was a good option for the poor.”It could be better,” said Nikant Vohra, an electrical engineering student. “If you see it from the price only, it’s okay, but we have laptops and have used iPads, so we know the difference.”

Some 19 million people subscribe to mobile phones every month, making India the world’s fastest growing market, but most are from the wealthier segment of the population in towns.


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New Resource Bank’s Sustainability Scorecard Quantifies Customers’ Commitment and Progress

October 3, 2011

New Resource Bank has a radical (for a bank) proposition: attract values-aligned deposits and use those funds to
make loans exclusively to improve sustainability. The challenge: How do we measure borrower sustainability? And where do we draw the line between who qualifies and who doesn’t? A related concern for us is maximizing our impact—we don’t want to be merely “preaching to the choir.”

We’ve addressed the challenge by developing a client sustainability assessment (try out the bank’s free sustainability scorecard – https://www.newresourcebank.com/ ) and using the score on that assessment to place our customers on a sustainability continuum.
We decided that the minimum standard we require is a genuine commitment to managing and operating more sustainably. That meant we needed to measure not just initial sustainability, but also progress over time.

The bank started testing the assessment tool in July 2010. After working with a trial group of existing customers for several months, the assessment team revised the tool based on that group’s responses and suggestions. All new commercial lending customers began taking the assessment in November 2010; existing customers participate when their loans are renewed.

Here’s how the process works: Every prospective client completes the New Resource Bank ClientSustainability Assessment, which asks a total of 42 questions about their practices related to :

  • General Sustainability,
  • Waste Management and Pollution Prevention,
  • Energy and Water Conservation,
  • Community Involvement, and
  • Employee Practices

Points are awarded based on how advanced the company’s practices are.

We then use the summary scores to sort our clients into four levels of sustainability:

  1. Learner
  2. Achiever
  3. Leader and
  4. Champion

Within those levels, clients fall into Silver and Gold rankings. Clients receive a toolkit based on their assessment that provides resources,
suggestions, and initiatives that can help them improve their sustainability. The bank’s goal is to have customers advance to the next level—or higher—with each successive assessment. We will re-assess existing customers annually to track the impact we are having and evaluate the trends across our market segments. The initial round of reassessments will happen at the end of 2011.

To date, 50 New Resource clients have completed the assessment. NRB has:

  • 1 Silver Learner (2% of total)
  • 20 Gold Learners (40%)
  • 15 Silver Achievers (30%)
  • 8 Gold Achievers (16%)
  • 6 Silver Leaders (12%)
  • No Gold Leaders – yet
  • No Champions – yet

Once the bank has a large enough pool of participants, they plan to use the collected information to compare markets, sector by sector, to determine whether certain types of businesses are scoring higher than others on the sustainability scale and what their challenges are.
We could then use that information to devise industry-specific solutions –possibly in clean-technology, water management or health care.

As a bank, their goal is to ensure that depositors’ money is invested in companies, projects and organizations committed to

As a trusted advisor, NRB’s mission is to help businesses unlock the economic value of sustainability.
By aggregating the individual data we collect, the assessment provides a means to evaluate both of these objectives.


New Resource clients take the assessment by using an interactive online tool that quantifiesthe results automatically and sends the score directly to the clients’ loan officers. The assessment is available for anyone to view on our website, sothat our stakeholders can see for themselves how we are evaluating our loan portfolio. http://newresourcebank.com

Article written by Bill Peterson, NRB for Sustainable Life Media

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