The home, household goods & services

It’s so chic to be eco friendly

With ‘carbon offsetting’ the latest buzzword, more and more companies have begun compensating for their impact on the environment and becoming carbon neutral. This trend is particularly evident in Britain, with many image-conscious companies making the move. Banking giant HSBC and broadcaster BSkyB went carbon-neutral last year, and Marks & Spencer plan to do the same within the next five years by reducing its energy usage, its airfreight and by cutting down CO2 emissions. This awareness of environmental impact has begun to trickle down from the larger corporations to the consumer level. There are numerous programs in place to help people compensate for what their lifestyle choices are doing to the planet. Simply by paying a fee to any of these ‘carbon offset providers’ they can neutralise the effect of an international flight or their ownership of a fuel-guzzling vehicle. New business airline Silverjet has taken the choice out of the hands of the consumer, by including a mandatory carbon offset charge in the price of each ticket. Customers can, however, choose which program receives the money. Environmentalists are somewhat sceptical, questioning the motives of both companies and consumers. Are they just jumping on the band-wagon of the latest feel-good fad? There are concerns that this quick-fix attitude will make people less motivated to cut down on carbon emissions in the first place. One also needs to take into account the credibility of any of these carbon offsetting schemes. Along with the problems associated with calculating carbon usage (which makes charges vary from program to program), many of these companies go unaudited. This lack of standards and audits may ultimately create consumer cynicism and a lack of confidence in such schemes. Moreover, it's all very well and good for those customers that want to do a good deed to have the idea forced upon them, but how willing are people to do it off their own bat? Not many it appears. British Airways introduced a voluntary scheme on its website last year that allowed customers to calculate and pay the cost of offsetting their flight. The response rate was less than 1%.
Ref:, 26 February 2007, ‘Carbon Consciousness Hits Consumers’, Kate Norton.
Search words: carbon offsetting, climate, global warming
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Gesture-based navigation

Say goodbye to your buttons as many electronic devices are picking up on touch-screen technology. Apple paves the way with the release of the iPhone, a cell phone operated via touch-screen and without the use of buttons. LG is set to follow suit with its own touch-screen phone, and it looks like more will be on the way. Stuart Robinson of Strategy Analytics estimates that by 2012, 40% of cell phones will be using the technology, as opposed to only 3% today. And it’s not just phones making the switch. Nintendo’s new gaming console, the Wii, uses gesture-based controls, picking up on gamers’ movements to operate the machine. Other devices including TV remotes, MP3 players and GPS are set to incorporate this new interface too. Researchers say there is a great deal of room for advances in this area – computer interfaces have been much the same for the past two decades, using raised buttons and maybe a dial pad. Touch-screen technology could simplify a phone’s use, while increasing its functions. It would reduce the number of specialised buttons for functions such as accessing the Internet, instead bringing up a separate screen for the purpose with its own virtual buttons. With these new technologies come other advances. IBM has developed Shapewriter, a technology that allows users to type at higher speeds on a touch screen using a finger or stylus. An innovation named haptics has also appeared, as has been introduced into some touch-screen phones. It makes virtual buttons vibrate in such a fashion that users feel they are pressing a real key.
Ref: (US), 29 January 2007, ‘Look Ma, No Buttons’, Olga Kharif.
Search words: phones, touch-screen
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Making the switch to HD TV

According to America’s Consumer Electronics Association, 26% of households are watching high-definition television, with the number of sets shipped to the US expected to double by 2010. It’s believed the new format will change the viewing habits of the general population as did the introduction of colour television in the 1960s and cable TV in the 1970s. Along with the switch, which has been brought on by a drop in prices for HD sets, comes pressure on broadcasters to increase their HD programming. Currently the average cable subscriber has access to less than a dozen higher-quality channels, with not every show on each channel being broadcast in HD. However, HD programming is becoming somewhat of a priority for broadcasters, with research showing that consumers will switch to HD over regular programming – possibly to justify the expense of a new television set. But as studios begin to roll out more HD channels and high quality programming, there will be an increased strain put on set-top boxes. Because HD programs require more data, there is a limit to the number of channels that each subscriber can access. To combat this, DirecTV and Dish Network will boost the number of satellites, while Comcast is set to launch a new technology that will deliver a channel only when a viewer tunes in, rather than all channels simultaneously as is the case now.
Ref: The Washington Post (US), 12 May 2007, ‘Putting the Future of TV into Focus’, Sam Diaz.
Search words: television, cable TV, high-definition
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Big designs for little people

Can you see yourself fitting out the nursery with a mini Eames or a bite-size Saarinen? Spending $4000 on a chair for your little darlings may seem excessive to some, but by all accounts the market for designer children’s furniture is on the up and up. Miami-based Genius Jones, producer of down-sized versions of upscale furniture, have seen an 80% rise in sales over the past two years; Italian manufacturer Magis saw sales double in the period from 2005-2006 and in the US children’s furniture accounts for around $6 billion worth of spending (with children influencing $500 billion of sales across all sectors). So why the sudden interest? It’s not that this sector has been entirely ignored in the past, with furniture manufacturers often creating limited edition or ‘to-order’ designs for children. But since 2000 there has been a greater demand for the stuff as a generation of design-focused 30- or 40-somethings start to raise children. While Swedish giant Ikea had furniture for the very young all wrapped up, there was little going on in terms of contemporary design for other age brackets. These parents are looking for something that will complement their urban lifestyles; furniture that goes beyond the traditional cartoon characters and animal prints. They want furniture that will fit in with the rest of their clean lines and minimalist apartments. So what do the kids think of all this? Well according to Tom Dixon, creative director of Habitat, ‘they would only have been interested if I’d chosen Razorlight or someone from The OC’.
Ref: Financial Times (US), 24-25 February 2007, ’Designs for the little darlings’, Jenny Dalton.
Search words: designer goods, furniture, children
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Thinking spaces

Despite the fact that more and more people are flocking to the world’s cities, some suggest that city-living is doomed, with many people opting for the suburbs instead. A look at many American cities reveals a city centre used mainly for work and entertainment, surrounded by prosperous suburbs and then the sparsely-populated exurbs. This is natural progression for a population of car-drivers, who can afford to be some distance away from work and other facilities. Even then some of the older suburbs have built up many city benefits such as upmarket shops, theatres and a ‘downtown’; and with information technology allowing people to work from anywhere, there are even fewer reasons to travel to the city.Of course there’s always the argument for the reverse. Other trends would suggest that both the elderly and young empty-nesters will continue to find benefits in inner-city living. The former, for the close proximity to transport, health care and other facilities; the latter for the restaurants, clubs and entertainment. Several academics also believe that the city centre is the natural place for what they call the ‘creative class’, made up of artists, designers, academics etc. They believe that city-dwellers of the future will live in an ‘e-topia’ – living and working in the same building, leading active social lives in a thriving pedestrian-scale community. De-centralised production would be enabled via virtual meetings.
Ref: The Economist (UK), 5 May 2007, ‘The world goes to town: a special report on cities’.
Search words: cities, population, suburbs
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