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Green technologies are often seen as solutions to save our environment. But have you ever heard of their rebound effects?
Imagine an entire country enacts a law that requires the use of a more energy-efficient LED lightbulbs. Sounds good right? But what if I told you that in every country this law has been passed energy consumption went up?
The reason why could be a bit of a mystery, but it's exactly why using green technology to solve problems can be incredibly difficult. It all boils down to two main reasons: The first is that a lot of what we consider to be the sustainable option, is only sustainable if a product is used in a certain way. The second is that people's behavioral changes that come from introducing new technology are hard to predict. That's what we call "rebound effects". But what does that mean?
Like many people today, you might feel guilty about going to your favorite café because every time you buy a coffee, it comes in a disposable plastic cup that you know will somehow, someway, end up in a landfill and slowly make its way into the ocean where it may sit for decades or even centuries. What do you do? The easy answer for many of us is to purchase a reusable coffee mug that we take with us every day to fill up our coffee. Voila! You've circumvented the need for a single-use paper cup with a plastic lid. The purchase feels good knowing that we've done our small part to help save the planet. Problem solved… right?
A Woman Holding A Takeout Coffee Getty Images
But is any of this really true- that a reusable mug is "greener" than a disposable cup? As it turns out, it depends on how you use your reusable coffee container. This is because, in part, it requires more CO2 emissions to produce than a disposable cup. Just to make up for emissions, it might need to be used up to 100 times in order to balance the emissions of a disposable cup. And it gets even trickier: "Sustainability" doesn't just mean reducing CO2 emissions, right?
All the materials that combined make up everything we buy come at an environmental cost. If we take into account the materials used in a reusable coffee mug, the water it takes to wash it after each use, the soap and more - it may take over a thousand uses compared to a disposable mug to balance the overall environmental impacts. If you're anything like me and you tend to lose reusable mugs every now and then, this really calls into question whether it's an environmentally friendly purchase.
Nowadays, this is why researchers are trying to understand the lifecycle of products - the environmental impacts starting from the extraction of materials from the Earth, through manufacturing, to the transportation to stores - all for increased understanding of the conditions under which a product might actually be considered "sustainable".
The second, even more tricky issue, is that day-to-day human behavior may change when we exposed people to a new piece of technology. Going back to the coffee mug, for example, a consumer may drink 50% more coffee, simply because the volume of the mug is larger compared to a single-use cup. At first, it may seem like a small change, but on a large scale, an increase in coffee demand, simply from using a bigger mug, could easily lead to a huge number of unintended consequences: Increased coffee demand, for example, has long been linked to deforestation and economic inequality. These types of changes are known as direct rebound effects.
On the other side of that same coin are indirect rebound effects. Indirect rebound effects are even more difficult to quantify, and there can be many of them associated with a single new product or technology. In our coffee cup scenario, it could be that with your new purchase you start drinking more milk with your coffee - another driver of deforestation. It might mean you make more frequent trips to a café and increase your time driving which increases your annual CO2 emissions. You might start purchasing more snacks alongside each new coffee, increasing your net consumption of goods that were likely imported from all over the world. As you can imagine, those indirect rebound effects are extremely hard to track and basically impossible to predict in advance.
It's amazing that even the example of the reusable coffee mug above can have so many unintended consequences on a global scale. It's also important to note that these may be particularly prevalent in technological products that are individually owned, rather than something that is publicly owned. This is exactly why the problem gets even more precarious with initiatives like promoting an entire rehaul of the transportation system by electric vehicles (EV). Other options like making public transit and biking more accessible is more likely to have a net positive effect since both are options that are less materially intensive than an EV.
Electric car charging. Getty Images
The lifecycle of electric vehicles already requires rare earth metals that are more environmentally destructive than a comparable fossil-fuel-powered vehicle when being mined. In many places, they also have thin margins in terms of how much they actually reduce emissions compared to fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. This gets tricky because when people buy an EV, their behavior may change. In their excitement of driving a new, "sustainable" vehicle, they may end up driving it more often and actually emitting more carbon dioxide than the average diesel-powered vehicle - a direct rebound effect commonly associated with electric cars. Electric vehicle owners may also make other decisions differently: to use less public transport, car share less with others, or to use the tax rebate issued to promote electric cars (such as in California) to buy other products that, in the end, all contribute to increased emissions and environmental destruction. Of course, none of this means we should keep using huge amounts of fossil fuels in the face of climate change- it just means that the solutions to these problems may be even more difficult than we initially expected.
Pollution Getty Images
While the idea of rebound effects applies most commonly to topics related to energy use, it's conceptual framework can apply to almost any new integrated technology or product. As of now, all that researchers and policy-makers can do is monitor the impacts in the aftermath of introducing new "green" technology. In the face of these rebound effects, more and more people have been asking themselves whether or not the current technological solutions to climate change are the way to go, especially for individually owned products. Given the urgency of climate change mitigation, the environmental destruction many types of green technology causes because of their lifecycle is precarious. Added is the uncertainty of how rebound effects might actually reduce emissions benefits of EVs in the real world compared to theory. And, in the end, it's why we can mysteriously advocate for energy-efficient lightbulbs and see energy consumption go up. Sometimes, "green" energy may be anything but.
Do you have what it takes to lead a tech start-up?
Feeling like you're back to the same-old, job? It's frustrating when your ideas at work go unrecognized, for reasons outside of your control. What if you were making all the decisions? Do you have what it takes to lead your own tech start-up?
Here are six qualities that make a successful tech entrepreneur, coming from those who've broken the mold of what it means to be one.
1. You embrace diversity and don't let your gender hold you back<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUxMzkwOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODk1ODE5N30.jg7Bkw8n0XuzrplK4QKbrLdWA6vmZqrw0pMACBIsbYc/img.jpg?width=980" id="15281" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a49b04421925ef22c9fa90b54541eebb" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3875" data-height="2580" />
Christina Morillo - Pexels.com<p>The tech industry benefits from diversity. But there are still perceived barriers for women, like lack of role models, stereotypes and inflexible working hours. The good news? Change is underway. A new <a href="https://kas.pr/wit2021" target="_blank">Kaspersky study</a> shows over half of women working in tech feel women are represented in leadership roles, and 7 in 10 feel confident and respected at work. </p><p>There's some way to go to having gender-balanced tech teams: only 1 in 10 work in female-majority teams, while 1 in 2 work in male-majority teams. Let's be the change we want to see – don't place limits on what you want to achieve in your career. </p>
2. Uncertainty doesn't faze you<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e279b9b5cf175f28af1deb8f11f2d528"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OSE6Ja_vup8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Starting a tech business is riddled with uncertainty. You need to be able to make a plan when the goalposts, and the ground beneath your feet, are moving. And you'll need to be able to adapt to change fast. You'll never have all the answers, but you'll still be able to see ways to move forward. Did you know that Tesla and SpaceX, both flagship companies of Elon Musk, came close to failing? The first electric car created by <a href="https://www.roadandtrack.com/new-cars/news/a29378/elon-musk-admits-to-shareholders-that-the-tesla-roadster-was-a-disaster/" target="_blank">Tesla, the Roadster, had big production problems</a> and <a href="https://timeline.com/spacex-musk-rocket-failures-c22975218fbe" target="_blank">SpaceX had many launch failures</a> before its final effort was a success.</p>
3. You're willing to develop, improve and even throw out your ideas<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="44880f393043d8c33c5dd6a095874418"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6s2nzg2wxUw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Tech entrepreneurs don't decide their 'baby' is the right solution and doggedly cling to it. Stories like that of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Holmes" target="_blank">Elizabeth Holmes – inventor of the blood-test biochip that never existed</a> – show just how destructive hanging onto a dud idea can be.</p><p>Great tech entrepreneurs want to solve the problem more than they want to be right about how it's best solved. They're more interested in being useful than in being popular.</p>
4. You can be persuasive, but you're more substance than style<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3406bbc59ae87c317b61874c3d06ec90"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ofz3iwX_x-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>When you run a start-up, you need to win people over to your idea, time and again. From securing funding to motivating your team, you need to be tireless in inspiring people to give you their best. And you're not just selling your product, you're selling yourself.</p><p>Contrary to popular belief, leaders don't need star quality – <a href="https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/lindred-greer-great-leaders-understand-fundamentals" target="_blank">experience and skills predict success better than charisma</a>. But you do need to make people believe in what you can do. </p><p>The famous author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."</p>
5. You're happy to do whatever needs doing<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="34991cff9a653726279b601b5342c050"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dN2JIp6u4r0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Early in the life of your start-up, you'll need to turn your hand to all kinds of tasks that won't feel like what you were born to do. If you're the kind of person who tends to think, 'that's not my job,' or you've developed advanced skills in avoiding tasks you don't like, tech entrepreneurship may not be for you.</p><p>Did you know that the search engine and company we know as Google today, <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/04/8-surprising-facts-you-might-not-know-about-googles-early-days.html" target="_blank">has started as a PHD project</a>? At the beginning, the world wide web wasn't that big. As a matter of fact Larry Page, one of the founders of google collected the links on the web by hand. He didn't know exactly what to do with it but it seemed to be a good idea, because no one had ever collected the links before. This seems inconceivable today!</p>
6. You can cope with imperfection, and you're willing to put your ideas to the test<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQxODY2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODEzNDg4N30.a6hft0WkTI5jrPrYxRpJcoojp8HMd2n2nCq_oxKSZIU/img.jpg?width=980" id="8a97d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ac67d2d45957c27d9971c6709b1505c5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1280" data-height="959" />
Free Creative Stuff - Pexels.com<p>Gone are the days when entrepreneurs jealously guarded their ideas up until the moment of a giant, glitzy launch. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_is_the_enemy_of_good" target="_blank">Perfect is the enemy of good</a>. And in tech, it's usually much easier to get a prototype or beta version out to gauge the response than it is with other kinds of products.</p><p>As anyone who's done <a href="https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/user-research-what-it-is-and-why-you-should-do-it" target="_blank">user research</a> will tell you, the biggest shortcomings of products often aren't what the team thinks they are. Testing with real people isn't a luxury; it saves time and money.</p><p>Leading your own start-up almost always means working long hours and testing your skills to their limit. <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilpatel/2015/01/16/90-of-startups-will-fail-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-10/#7f685a416679" target="_blank">Few succeed</a>, but if you have these six qualities, you have a great chance of being among those who do.</p>