Sep 09

Cradle-to-Cradle Design

Kürzlich habe ich das Buch “Cradle-to-Cradle” gelesen, das international ein Bestseller ist. Brad Pitt wurde zitiert mit “eines der drei wichtigsten Bücher, die ich gelesen habe”.

Michael Braungart tritt engagiert gegen die Verzichtsethik der deutschen Nachhaltigkeitsbewegung auf. Er setzt gegen das existierende Paradigma der Öko-Effizienz (“weniger Schadstoffe, weniger Ressourcen, weniger Menschen”) ein völlig neues Paradigma, das der Öko-Effektivität: Gebraucht, produziert, aber die richtigen Dinge!

Braungart tritt laufend öffentlich auf, provoziert gern.

Michael Braungart: Why Less Bad Isn’t Better? from The DO Lectures on Vimeo.

Mir scheint, Michael Braungart ist international deutlich bekannter als in Deutschland. Mich beeindruckt besonders: Er tut was und redet nicht nur darüber. Und er weiss viel. Er hat Philips,Trigema, Unilever und Henry Miller beraten und mit ihnen Produkte entwickelt, die nicht nur weniger, sondern keine Schadstoffe enthalten. Flugzeugsitze, die man essen könnte, theoretisch zumindest. T-Shirts, die wirklich kompostierbar sind.

In der Taz findet sich ein sehr guter Beitrag über Braungart. Hier kommen auch Kritiker zu Wort.

Man kann die Diskussion so zusammenfassen:

Weniger Schadstoffe sind besser als viele Schadstoffe, sagen die Nachhaltigkeits-Vertreter. Das geht Braungart nicht weit genug – ich finde “weniger Schadstoffe” dennoch einen richtigen Schritt auf dem Weg.

Braungart setzt dagegen: Mit etwas mehr Nachdenken gar keine Schadstoffe zu produzieren, sondern wirklich in Kreisläufen zu denken, und das ist meines Erachtens mehr als ein Utopie, sondern das einzig sinnvolle Ziel.

Feb 09

Business ideas that excite me.

Finally getting to talk to people again. Discussing ideas, market developments, the underlying trends, barriers to entry, business areas worth disrupting and all these things just plain fun for me.

I will get bored eventually as I prefer to do things instead of talking about doing things, but for the moment I enjoy the conversation. Most of it, at least. People have been trying to drag me into their ventures and ideas and a surprising number of people, even good friends, have pitched business ideas and concepts that are just not for me.

So, here is what I find interesting:

(1) Businesses that make life easier for everyone

When I started working on  TravelChannel in 1998, I wanted to make it easier to book flights. We build the first engine that could compare flights in two totally different pricing mechanisms – the official IATA tarrifs and the so called grey market in one go, enabling people to find the cheapest flight.
Qype was started from  a similar starting point: If everyone starts telling everyone about their experience in restaurants, butcher shops or dentists, then there will be less bad experiences.

Bigger examples that fit this category. Google, Flickr, Facebook, you name it.

(2) Business that make markets more efficient and disrupt the status quo
The fun being involved in DocMorris, Europe’s largest mail oder pharmacy that delivers prescription drugs and allowes people to save was that it worked against the existing distribution structure with it’s extremely high cost to the public.
Qype also is ideally positioned to challenge existing near-monopolies like the yellow pages in each market to give local businesses more efficient advertising.
Other examples that make markets more efficient: Ebay, of course. But also craigslist, hitflip , nestoria and many others.

(3) Businesses that help us to reduce emissions
Together most other people on this planet, I am convinced that we are in a massive climate crises ,  and that mainly our carbon emissions are at a suicidal level.
I am therefore  – like many other entrepreneurs I know – particularly interested in businesses that help us reduce our carbon emissions. This is where I do most my research at the moment.
So I will try to combine my background – a degree as mechanical engineer –  with my experience in business-to-consumer internet and starting up companies.
Here I am not alone. Look at people like John Doerr, Shai Agassi, the Google guys with google.org – lot’s of inspiring examples.

In summary: Useful, disruptive, saving the environment. These are the discussions I enjoy and the businesses I will get involved in.

Oct 07


Just received a nasty comment (anonymous) about unnecessary air travel to conferences. This exactly the point. I have not yet been to great conferences like reboot, SIME, leWeb, Picnic. But the few successful conferences I have attended just demonstrate the point that you can not replicate the experience via video conferencing. In fact, I need to attend more conferences. Meeting great people is too important.

As I have said before in this blog: I do not drive an SUV, we are not using much energy at home. But I will stop feeling guilty about travelling to meet great people.

Oct 07

Nearly forgotten: Turboprop planes

Even the smallest regional commuter planes now come as jet. I recently had the pleasure to fly with a Dash 8 Q300. Did you know that the fuel consumption per passenger kilometer is considerably lower than on a comparable jet plane?
Also, as these planes cruise at a lower altitude, I assume that the additional effect of emissions at high altitude will be lower.
Propeller planes have two disadvantages: Their maximum speed is only about 500 km /hr as opposed to 900 km / hr for jets. However, for anything under a distance of 1,5 hrs this amounts to only about 10% more travel time. The other disadvantage is the higher level of cabin noise. Guess what: with the latest in Noise cancelling headphones, this does not matter.

Oct 07

Feeling Guilty?

I just arrived in Greece for a conference. There is a saying that all religions are based on guilt, just with different holidays. Maybe this whole CO2 discussion is a new religion. The more you think about it, the more guilty you feel.

And while I am very serious about sustainability, trying to reduce my negative impact, I have decided to stop feeling guilty.
I will continue to drive cars. And I will continue to fly. And enjoy it.

There are plenty of things that I can improve. And I will focus on these.

Sep 07

Cars versus Homes…

If you spend a lot talking to people from other countries, you discover how odd certain things are in your own country.

Statistics always show that fewer Germans live in their own home, as in comparable nations. However, many visitors are amazed by the number of shiny new cars in front of rental appartment buildings.

Now this all may come from German’s inexplicable love of cars and a disintirest in owning the place they live in. This is what I thought until recently. That was when I thought about way the consecutive German governments have handled subsidies and taxes on cars and homes.

The reader from abroad may be excused for believing that governments should not discourage home ownership, and car ownership should at least not be subsidised as we all know about their external costs, that is the negative impact on others, be it noise, traffic or emissions.

However, in Germany things are different:

If you want to buy a home, you have to pay 3,5% tax on the value of the property, this will soon rise to 4,5%. You need to add another (in other markets unheard of) 1,5 % for notarisation and public registry. This 5-6 % cost for every transaction dramatically increases the switching cost. If an employee needs to move for a better job, she can easily lose a year’s salary on these costs. (So much for the often cited lack of flexibility of labour). In costs for maintaining a flat, it is well accepted practise, that if you buy a flat to let, it is much more tax efficient than buying it for yourself.

In cars however, everyone who gets a car as part of his salary package, will need to pay monthly income tax on 1% of it’s list price, so maybe 0,4%. This is usually way less as running your car costs you. In particular, as an employee, your monthly burden is totally independent from the price of gas. One of my friends recently bought a Cayenne with the small gas guzzling engine, because it would have been more expensive for him to pay the higher price of a more efficient diesel car.

The tax is on the list price and will always remain the same, no matter how old the car. You are therefore discouraged to drive a company car for longer than 3 years.
We can therefore call this tax break the German New Car Subsidy. I have several entrepreneur friends, who say that their tax adviser advised them to buy company cars in order to not have to give too much of their profit to the tax man.

In conclusion, it might be that the average German might behave in a totally rational way living in a rented flat and driving a huge car.

Aug 07

How green is your startup?

Although I am part of the web 2.0 startup circus, I have never really come across a discussion on the ethical implications of business. In Germany, there has been B.A.U.M (German Environmental Management Association) for a long time, but not sure where this has made an impact on startups.

Of course, in a startup, you are first and foremost concerned with a very different sustainability: financial sustainability.

But on the way, why not do a quick check. Here is my take on Qype, my company.

I. The good

Our product
Qype enables people to discover what is good in their area, and to connect with people who share similar interests. We do not ship anything, we do not require that you upgrade your hardware every year. it is a service, not a product, therefore we consider ourselves lucky in this aspect. Furthermore, you could say that we do not need to create articifal demand for our service, that we potentially could reduce the need to travel as Qype is a great help to navigate your environment. And, hopefully, we do our share help the local community to reconnect.

Location and style of our office:
We are located in walking distance to Jungfernstieg in Hamburg, which is the cities main hub for public transport. We deliberately chose an office in an old office, which stays cool in the summer without any form of air conditioning. This may mean a bit less insulated in the winter, but I am not even sure about that.

II. Some things we can influence:

  • We now separate paper in our office from the rest of our rubbish
  • In process of switching our electricity provider to a green provider
  • In our kitchen, we changed the lightbulbs to energy saving ones
  • Our fruit (Bananas, the staple for web development) is now being bought from the organic corner of the super market. Drinks have always come in return bottles, which is no special achievement in Germany.
  • We will probably switch our coffee to fair trade, but I still need to ask our local provider about it. At least, providing our own cappucino to our people dramatically reduces the need for paper cups from Coffee shops.
  • Standby Power: This is still an issue with all of us, but maybe blogging about it helps.
  • Office lighting. I need to publish some fotos of this. Here we have the classic dilemma: We have very ugly neon lamps on the ceiling and in an attempt to improve this, we bought uplights last year, which obviously consume much more energy and I suspect the dimmers do so as well. At least we changed the light bulbs in our kitchen to energy saving ones.

III. The ugly

Air Travel
Trying to establish a website with a European footprint, our biggest eco-sin is travel. Air travel between London and Hamburg, mostly. When you want to recruit people and set up business relationships, there is no other way.

Also, our specialist for web concept and design travels from Munich every week.

In both cases, we are trying to reduce air miles by extending the lenght of stay and reducing the frequency.

Our investors insist on monthly board meetings. Having had very frustrating attempts in phone conferences this will to remain issue.

Does any one know of a decent and affordable web based video conference solution? – Should be able to handle 5 participants.