February 27, 2010

The World’s First Bio-Sourced SIM Cards

Gemalto, a digital security company, announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, the launching of a pilot of bio-sourced SIM (subscriber identity module) cards for SFR, a French mobile phone company with 20 million clients. Gemalto’s press release dated February 16, 2010, explains, “The bio-sourced SIM card is made from a new renewable material derived from corn, sugarcane or potato starch. This material is easily recyclable and compostable through small scale industrial units and reduces the global ecological footprint of the production process.”

The recyclable and compostable card body is made from plant-based bioplastics, which can be incinerated without emission of toxic fumes. The Amsterdam-based company says it also supplied SFR with packaging made from recycled paper and plant-based inks and SFR will begin distribution of the bio-sourced SIM cards to its customers this spring. This program is the first trial of bio-sourced cards in the world.

Worth noting is Gemalto’s effective tactics of incorporating environmental sustainability into the product’s value proposition. From the company’s website, here is a list of the product’s Operator Benefits and End-User Value:

Operator Benefits
  • Security: Ensuring SIM card safety
  • Eco-friendly: Fully committed to environmental protection
  • Brand: the perfect company brand and image booster
  • Competitive: Improving cost saving packaging solutions
  • Peace of mind: Gemalto manages complex logistic processes
End-User Value
  • Security guaranteed to the access of the PIN and PUK code
  • Simplified end user access and understanding to maximize the use of mobile services
  • 2nd life for your product with re-usable packaging and card body: the gift concept!

February 23, 2010

E-Waste: A Small Component of the 2010 Olympic Medals

Like many of you, I am enjoying watching the 2010 Olympic Winter Games that are taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia. There are reports about the unique design of the medals awarded at the 2010 Winter Games, but a sustainable component to these reports is worth discussing on this blog. Making Olympic and Paralympic history, the medals will be the first to contain metals recovered from end-of-life electronics (e-waste) otherwise destined for the landfill. The medals are comprised of metals provided by Teck Resources Limited (Teck). (Photo: VANOC)

In describing the process of making the metal into medals, Teck says, “Historically, metal for the medals has been sourced only from mineral deposits that are mined from the earth and refined for commercial use. Teck has created a recycling process to recover metal from end-of-life electronics (e-waste) such as TVs, computers and keyboards. This process provides a practical solution to the challenge of reducing the amount of e-waste material destined for landfills and is part of the company’s pursuit of sustainability—a core value that drives its approach to business.”

Furthermore, according to the Vancouver-based mining, mineral processing and metallurgical company, “Metal can be sourced from many manufactured metal products, including household appliances, electronics or cables. Teck’s process involves recovering metals contained in cathode ray tube glass, computer parts and circuit boards through smelting. The process involves shredding, separating, and heating of the various electronic components to recover a variety of metals.”

The gold, silver and copper used in the medals were recovered from e-waste and then combined with the metal from other sources for the medal production. The content of recovered metal from the e-waste material in the specific metals is: Gold: 1.52%; Silver: 0.122%; Copper: 1.11%. While the percentages of reused metals are minimal, manufacturing the medals with recycled metals creates an inspiring initiative to reducing the Olympic Games' carbon footprint.

In addition to providing the metals, Teck worked with Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) and the Royal Canadian Mint in the development and production of the medals. Click here to watch a video, “The Making of the Vancouver 2010 Medals.”

February 20, 2010

EatWell: Building a Community through Mobile Phones to Live a Healthier Lifestyle

A researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology has created a system that allows community members to build a support system and live a healthier lifestyle by using mobile phones. According to news release dated February 17, 2010, “The system, known as EatWell, uses mobile phones to record and share audio stories with other members from their community. The idea is that people working together can encourage each other with their stories of how they’ve successfully overcome temptation in an effort to live a healthier lifestyle.” (Photo of Andrea Grimes courtesy of Rob Felt/Georgia Tech)

Presenting her research at the Conference on Computer Supported Work in Savannah, Georgia, Andrea Grimes, Ph.D. candidate in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, said, “I wanted to make a system that was able to harness the community-held expertise, not just bringing in outside expertise. With mobile phones, I saw an opportunity to use technology to make that information even more visible.” Ms. Grimes conducted her pilot study with 12 participants from a working class background in Southwest Atlanta.

Georgia Tech’s announcement explains that Ms. Grimes “decided to create the system on a mobile platform because she knew it was a pervasive device that is owned by people from all income levels. She also knew that people could leave messages much faster than typing into a desktop computer or into the mobile phone would allow.”

“People talk about being engaged with the content in EatWell because they actually hear the emotion in people’s stories,” Ms. Grimes said. “They could hear the pride and excitement people felt when they tried a new smoothie recipe, or when this guy talks about trying out the veggie burger at Burger King and coming back later that day bringing his girlfriend.”

Ms. Grimes’ research produced some surprising results. One result is people reported feeling a connection with others in the study, although though they did not know the other participants. Another result is the transcriptions contained very little in the way of statements of encouragement or talk of collective action. Ms. Grimes explains, “Most of the research says that for you to have a strong thriving community there needs to be a lot of interaction between the community members. But from our study, we saw that people felt a sense of community even though there wasn’t a lot of interaction.”

February 9, 2010

Free Mobile Health Service for Pregnant Women, New Mothers Launches in U.S.

Pregnant women and new mothers in the United States are now able to receive health information delivered to their mobile phones by text message at no charge through a public service program by a coalition of mobile phone service providers, health professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) press release explains, “The new program, called text4baby, is a free mobile information service that provides timely health information to women from early pregnancy through their babies’ first year. The service sends important health tips that are timed to the mother’s stage of pregnancy or the baby’s age.”

One of the primary objectives of text4baby is to improve prenatal and infant care by providing pertinent information to pregnant women and new mothers. OSTP says that “in the United States more than 500,000 babies – 1 in every 8 – are born prematurely and an estimated 28,000 children die before their first birthday, a rate among the highest in the industrialized world. Premature babies can face lifelong health and intellectual development problems.”

Providing women with information about prenatal care through text messages will, hopefully, reduce the risk of delivering premature babies. OSTP says that “medical expenses for babies born prematurely average about ten times those for babies born after a full-term pregnancy. All told, premature births cost the Nation tens of billions of dollars—at least $26.2 billion in 2005, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

How does text4baby work? Women who sign up for the service online or by texting BABY to 511411 (or BEBE for Spanish) receive three free SMS text messages each week timed to their due date or baby’s date of birth. The messages focus on topics critical to the health of moms and babies, which include: immunization, nutrition, seasonal flu, prenatal care, emotional well being, drugs and alcohol, labor and delivery, smoking cessation, breastfeeding, mental health, birth defects prevention, oral health, car seat safety, exercise and fitness, developmental milestones, safe sleep, family violence, and more. Text4baby messages also connect women to public clinics and support services for prenatal and infant care.

The OSTP announcement notes that several “U.S. government agencies are involved in the design, outreach, and evaluation of text4baby, and will serve women and babies who learn about their services through the program. These include the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense Military Health System, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Participating carriers include: Alltel, Assurance Wireless, AT&T, Boost Mobile, Cellular South, Cellcom, Centennial Cellular, Cincinnati Bell, Metro PCS, N-Telos, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile USA.” This represents a majority but not all mobile operators in the United States. Approximately 90 percent of all mobile subscribers in the United States are able are to receive the free text4baby messages.

The text messages were developed by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Following message development, they underwent a vigorous review process by several government organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources and Services Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office on Women’s Health and the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Text4baby is an educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), made possible through a public-private partnership that includes more than 100 entities.

The Gates Foundation claims that 10 million kids under the age of five died in 2005 and the United Nations International Telecommunications Union reported that the number of mobile cellular subscribers worldwide reached the four billion mark by the end of 2008, which represented over 60 percent of the global population. Given these statistics, I see great value in implementing a similar text message system to reduce the global infant mortality rate.

February 4, 2010

People in Burkina Faso to Receive Food Vouchers via Text Message

On November 5, 2009, I wrote about United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) launching a pilot project that allows Iraqi refugees in Syria to receive food vouchers electronically via mobile phone text messages. Another example of using information and communications technology in delivering sustainable solutions to underserved populations may be found in a report by Voice of America’s Kate Thomas. Ms. Thomas writes about a joint project between the WFP and The Vodafone Foundation, which is the charitable division of the UK-based mobile telecommunications company “that will allow shopkeepers in” two towns “in Burkina Faso to manage food vouchers by text message.” (Photo: WFP/Eva Stoffels)

Approximately 30,000 people receive food vouchers in Burkina Faso. “Until now,” explains Ms. Thomas, “the hologram-imprinted vouchers were distributed to families who need them. They are then exchanged for goods in shops and shopkeepers are reimbursed in cash by the World Food Program once a month. If the pilot is successful,” she added, “shopkeepers will be able to validate the vouchers by cell phone on the spot. In theory the World Food Program would then be able to reimburse them the next day, either by bank transfer or by check.”

It would be useful to know how much money the WFP will save in using text messages for food vouchers rather than traditional paper vouchers. Shopkeepers having the ability to instantly validate vouchers via mobile phones will see a reduction of fraud and misuse of the vouchers. Furthermore, shopkeepers, getting reimbursed more quickly by the WFP, will be able to manage their inventory and control costs more effectively. Click here to listen to Ms. Thomas’ report.

February 2, 2010

Decade of Vaccines: Gates Foundation Pledges $10 Billion to Fight Childhood Diseases

At the 40th annual World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, the Bill and Melinda Gates announced “that their foundation will commit $10 billion over the next 10 years to help research, develop and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries,” according to a Gates Foundation press release. “The Gateses said that increased investment in vaccines by governments and the private sector could help developing countries dramatically reduce child mortality by the end of the decade, and they called for others to help fill critical financing gaps in both research funding and childhood immunization programs.”

The Seattle, Washington-based philanthropic organization said that it “used a model developed by a consortium led by the Institute of International Programs at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to project the potential impact of vaccines on childhood deaths over the next 10 years. By significantly scaling up the delivery of life-saving vaccines in developing countries to 90 percent coverage—including new vaccines to prevent severe diarrhea and pneumonia—the model suggests that we could prevent the deaths of some 7.6 million children under 5 from 2010-2019. The foundation also estimates that an additional 1.1 million children could be saved with the rapid introduction of a malaria vaccine beginning in 2014, bringing the total number of potential lives saved to 8.7 million.”

An article by Seattle Times writers Sandi Doughton and Kristi Heim says that the Gateses’ pledge “ranks as the biggest philanthropic pledge ever to a single cause….The $10 billion pledge represents a doubling of Gates Foundation spending on vaccines. The Chronicle of Philanthropy said the amount is more than the entire assets of the Ford Foundation, America's second wealthiest foundation — after Gates.”

The foundation’s announcement notes that the new funding “is in addition to the $4.5 billion that the Gates Foundation has already committed to vaccine research, development and delivery to date across its entire disease portfolio since its inception.” The foundation's initial vaccine investments created an organization called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, or GAVI, which was launched at the World Economic Forum ten years ago.

The GAVI Alliance, the Gates Foundation explained, “has reached 257 million additional children with new and underused vaccines, and prevented 5 million future deaths. In the coming years, GAVI will focus on rapidly introducing vaccines to tackle diarrhea and pneumonia.” Billions more are needed, however, “from other donors to achieve the goal of 90 percent coverage of childhood immunization. Critical funding gaps exist at GAVI and in the global polio and measles programs, and more support is needed for the research and development necessary to produce new vaccines.”

The Gates Foundation occasionally receives criticism for not doing enough to help impoverished adults in the developing world. Responding to this issue during the January 29, 2010 press conference, Melinda Gates said that the foundation, with the help of Warren Buffet’s financial support, contributed to the “Green Revolution” in Africa that increases the productivity of small farms, moving tens of millions of people out of extreme poverty and significantly reducing hunger. In addition, said Mrs. Gates, the foundation is supporting innovative microsavings programs to help those who do not have access to traditional financial services to deposit funds in safe and secure bank accounts. For additional information about the foundation’s support of microsavings, please read “Gates Foundation to Help Poor People Save Money.” The press conference may be viewed in its entirety in the video below: