In recent years, a variety of forces (economic, environmental, and social) have quickly given rise to “shared mobility,” a collective of entrepreneurs and consumers leveraging technology to share transportation resources, save money, and generate capital. Bikesharing services, such as BCycle, and business-to-consumer carsharing services, such as Zipcar, have become part of a sociodemographic trend that has pushed shared mobility from the fringe to the mainstream. The role of shared mobility in the broader landscape of urban mobility has become a frequent topic of discussion. Shared transportation modes—such as bikesharing, carsharing, ridesharing, ridesourcing/transportation network companies (TNCs), and microtransit—are changing how people travel and are having a transformative effect on smart cities.
Are Convenience and Sustainability Mutually Exclusive?
The world we live in is increasingly busy. So much so that our occupations can even get in the way of living our lives the way we would like to. Many people are working longer and longer hours and commuting farther and farther. Others are be expected to be available online or to work from home at nearly all times.
But what sacrifices do we make as a result of constantly being pressed for time? What choices do we make out of convenience that conflict with our true beliefs or values? Recently I have found myself wondering: if only there were more hours in a day, in what ways would our world become more sustainable?
It is not difficult to imagine how we would be healthier and happier as both individuals and communities if we had time to do everything to we really wanted. Maybe we would be more active and get outside more, or maybe we would sleep another hour each night. Perhaps we would volunteer with a local non-profit or at our children’s school. Or perhaps we would simply be able to spend more quality time with our loved ones.
But enough daydreaming- this is the real world and the clock never stops. The average work week isn’t shortening any time soon, and the cost of living isn’t going down either. Most of us can’t afford to slow down.
There is no better example of how our demand for convenience has shaped our habits than that of food. Think about what you have eaten in the past week. Was everything that you ate something you truly wanted and enjoyed, or were some things because they were quick and easy? If you had the time, would you prepare more home-cooked meals rather than grabbing take-out or pre-packaged dinners?
Interestingly, the act of cooking may be more significant for our collective well-being than you think. Take a look at obesity rates or healthcare costs in the United States in the past few decades and you can’t ignore how troubling the trends are. Furthermore, the way we feed ourselves helps gives shape to both our physical environment and the economy. It determines how the land is used, how energy is spent, and where waste is created. The choice to cook or not may seem trivial on the surface, but in reality it creates ripples across the entire food and agricultural system.
Speaking to the repercussions of becoming more and more dependent on processed and prepared foods, author Michael Pollan comments:
“As long as we let corporations do most of our cooking for us, our agriculture will continue to be dominated by giant monocultures of grain and animal factories. Big companies only know how to buy from big farms. That means the movement to build a more diversified and local agriculture can develop only so far unless people are willing to buy from those farms—and they will only buy from those farms if they’re cooking. In many ways, reforming American agriculture depends on rebuilding a culture of routine home cooking. I’ve come to think that cooking is a political act, with large consequences not only for ourselves but for the environment and agriculture as well. The decline of everyday home cooking doesn’t only damage the health of our bodies and our land but also our families, our communities, and our sense of how our eating connects us to the world.“
But how do we balance the importance of home cooking with the need for convenient options in our busy lives? Fortunately, several companies are working to ease this tension- one of which I have been fortunate enough to work with this past year: Tomato Sherpa. By guiding people how to cook a wide variety of healthy and interesting recipes, and by providing fresh ingredients in exact amounts, the Tomato Sherpa empowers busy Bay Area folks to cook at home by simplifying and saving time. Founder and CEO Stacey Waldspurger came up with the idea in part to help alleviate the stress of putting wholesome meals on the table that she herself faced as both an MBA student and working mother of two young children. She is also passionate about reducing the distance from farm to fork.
One important way that Tomato Sherpa differs from other companies (those on the East Coast may be familiar with Plated or Blue Apron) is by focusing on corporate relationships, offering free office delivery to working professionals. Another way that Tomato Sherpa differentiates itself is by adhering to superior sourcing standards. As Sourcing Manager, I am dedicated to supporting a local food system that is healthy both for people and the soil. This means that in addition to finding high quality ingredients, I look to trusted producers that use the most sustainable practices.
Please check out Tomato Sherpa’s Indiegogo campaign to see how you can help build a culture of cooking that supports local communities, economies and ecology- all without giving up the element of convenience.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
A study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 2008 found that the impact of routine weather events on the US economy equates annually to about 3.4% of the country’s GDP (about $485 billion). This excludes the impact of extreme weather events that cause damage and disruption – after all, even “ordinary” weather affects supply of and demand for many items, and the propensity of businesses and consumers to buy them. NCAR found that mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with utilities and retail not far behind.
Many of these, disaster management included, are the focus of smart city innovations. Not surprisingly, therefore, as they seek to improve and optimize these systems, smart cities are beginning to understand the connection between weather and many of their goals. A number of vendors (for example, IBM, Schneider Electric, and others) now offer weather data-driven services focused specifically on smart city interests.
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