This is our earth month edition of nonprofit technology news. This time we’ll report on some climate change news, the TrashOut app, the difference between cloud backup and cloud storage, the Heartbleed bug, a green energy innovation in Latin America that works – and another one that doesn’t, and the epic digital inclusion drone wars being waged by Google and Facebook. There’s lots of intriguing green NPTech news this month.

Recycling

I hope you’ll notice the infographic above. It’s a snippet from a larger infographic called E-Hazards: The Downside of Rapidly Evolving Technology by AlliedHealthWorld.com. It tells the story of the mounting international e-waste situation. It provides some insight on why our discarded electronic devices are a problem everywhere. If like me you’re interested in this, check out the Greener IT Challenge, an informational website that gets to the heart of the matter and allows you to get a certificate in knowing what green IT is all about.

Heartbleed: What Everyone Needs To Know

 A new software bug called Heartbleed has affected a significant number of online servers on the Internet. The problem requires pretty much all of us to change our passwords on Google (including Gmail and YouTube), Tumblr, Yahoo, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Intuit, Dropbox, Netflix, and Flickr. Mashable has kindly published a list of major web services that definitely require password changes here

Heartbleed is an OpenSSL bug that creates openings in cloud servers in which attackers can go in and extract passwords, private keys, and other data. The bug originated not from a malware attack but rather from an OpenSSL programming error. OpenSSL is nonprofit open source software that provides security on e-commerce and other websites by creating an encrypted channel between your device and the website.

You can check any particular site with the Heartbleed test to see if they're vulnerable. If they are, you'll probably want to wait until it addresses this problem before changing your credentials. For more info on this, I like Laura Orsini’s plain language description on ReadWrite. Thankfully, the TechSoup site is unaffected. We don’t use OpenSSL on our servers.

Climate Change

Americans Choose Environment over Economic Growth

In a recent Gallup Poll Social Series survey, Americans have chosen environment as a priority over economic growth by a 50% to 41% margin. This is a fresh change because ever since the economic downturn of 2008 09, Americans have invariably chosen economic growth over the environment, except for immediately after the BP oil spill in May 2010.

The Big UN Report on Climate Change

The 2007 winner of the Nobel Peace prize, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just issued its fifth report on what the science tells us about how fast human-created global warming is affecting the biosphere. It’s a monster 2,500 page report from some 300 lead authors, 436 contributing authors, and 1,700 reviewers. It’s not great news. One objective of the report is to address climate change deniers. Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization said “Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance.”

The report mostly has ominous findings. Worldwide we emit some 33 billion tons of CO2 and methane each year and the amount is growing. Climate change is already disrupting our food supply and will affect economic growth and increase poverty in poor countries, particularly in urban areas. With increasing scarcity of land and water resources, we’ll have more warfare. The big report has a tiny nugget of good news, finding that several governments and businesses around the world are making plans to adapt to climate disruptions. We’re not stopping it, but we’re preparing for it. The IPCC just issued a follow-up report a couple of days ago that finds that we have around 15 years to bring carbon emissions under control. Find a 48-page summary of the big report here. For climate change news, I like NASA’s Global Climate Change news site. Also Showtime just premiered Years of Living Dangerously, a nine-part series about climate change.

The Digital Inclusion Drone Wars

In last month’s Nonprofit Technology News  I reported on Facebook’s plans to buy U.S. drone maker, Titan Aerospace for their Internet.org project to provide low-cost Internet to much of the developing world. It turns out that Facebook did not buy Titan Aerospace Google did. Google also plans to supply low-cost Internet to the developing world and also use Titan’s big solar-powered drones that stay in the air for years to take images. The Titan drones will work in cooperation with Google’s Project Loon, which is developing large, high-altitude balloons that deliver Internet as well.

Oh, Facebook instead bought UK-based Ascenta, a five-member start-up company also in the solar-powered drone business for their connectivity lab project

ICT for Development

This is a tale of two green-energy innovations in Latin America one that works and another one that doesn’t.

Proyecto-Mirador StoveFirst, the one that works. Proyecto Mirador is a U.S.-based charity that has developed energy-efficient cook "Dos por Tres" stoves for rural families in developing countries. They are now in production in Honduras. Esther Adams and Andrea Sandvig from Project Mirador came to our TechSoup offices in San Francisco to tell us about their wood burning stove improvement that provides a better quality of life to low-income farm families while reducing CO2 emissions and creating jobs in the region.

Local people build the stoves that reduce consumption of wood by half and reduce smoke, carbon monoxide, methane, and soot particles inside the home. This new technology was tested and produced in the locations it serves, and addresses the needs of people in their current conditions. In places where nearly everyone uses wood for cooking, Proyecto Mirador is not trying to jump to solar, but rather improves on existing practices.

Now here's the one that doesn’t work. It’s called the Soccket Electricity Generating Soccer Ball. PRI's The World reporter Jennifer Collins did a great story on this classic failure of a well-meaning ICT for development device created in the United States for low-income people without electricity in Mexico. The device is an electricity-generating soccer ball called the Soccket. Kids (or anyone) play with it for a half hour and then you can plug an LED lamp into it and get light for three hours. It was developed out of a class at Harvard, and then a company called Uncharted Play that formed to manufacture the devices. The device did well on Kickstarter. Big philanthropy names like Bill Clinton and Bill Gates endorsed it. It’s a pretty ingenious idea.

When Jennifer Collins went to Puebla, Mexico, to talk to people who tried the Soccket out, she found that the things break pretty easily, are not easily repairable, and the $60 cost of them could have been much better spent to attach homes to the existing electric grid and affordably power appliances for the people there into the future.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is regarded as an area of green IT in that it tends to concentrate IT resources and energy use to a relatively few big cloud companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook. In this emerging IT paradigm most of our computing is done on the Internet and processing is done in big data centers rather than in our offices or homes.

A new nonprofit Greenpeace report entitled "Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet" rates the big cloud-computing companies on how much renewable energy they’re using to power their data centers. It finds that Apple, Facebook, and Google are doing pretty well, committing to 100% renewable energy. Amazon Web Services, which is the big kahuna in cloud computing, is doing badly, using only 15 percent renewables. Amazon hosts data for other big cloud companies like Pinterest, Netflix, Spotify, Tumblr, AirBnB, Yelp, and Vine.

Cloud Backup Versus Cloud Storage

I think it’s pretty easy to confuse cloud backup and cloud storage. The difference is pretty simple though. Cloud backup services are oriented to emergency data recovery. They allow you to back up and restore files. That's it. Cloud backup services include Crashplan, Backblaze, Carbonite, Acronis, iDrive, and Mozy. Cloud storage backs up files and also gives you working access to them. Cloud Storage services usually cost more. Cloud storage services include Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft Onedrive.

Both types of cloud data services are experiencing prices wars. Cloud backup service, Zoolz.com recently announced $2 per month unlimited backup service for consumers. Cloud storage service, Google Drive recently announced a price drop down to $2 per month for 100GB for cloud storage.

Jim’s Pick for Green App of the Month

TrashOut

TrashOut is a free mobile app for Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone. It allows users to locate, report, and do something to remove an illegal dump anywhere in the world. The app originated in the Slovak Republic but is available in several countries and languages. After someone reports a dumpsite, it sets in motion a community effort to deal with the problem. The project is funded by municipalities and waste management companies who pay a monthly fee for real-time data in special format. There is a growing list of TrashOut country managers and also organizations involved in the effort.

An Old-School Green Resource

Tom Watson, who manages the Seattle-based King County, Washington, EcoConsumer public outreach program, isn’t much of a tech guy. He still loves his flip phone, with the little antenna sticking out. He doesn’t get fancy with his communication (mostly, he admits, because he doesn’t know how). But he still manages to be a consistent source of online enviro info. For the public, or anyone, his @ecoconsumer Twitter feed curates green articles and resources difficult to find all in one place anywhere else. Last year Waste & Recycling News named @ecoconsumer as one of the top 20 essential Twitter feeds for solid waste industry professionals. If you like your Twitter to the point, without a lot of extraneous photos and hashtags, it might appeal to you.

But Tom’s green resource that initially captured my attention, and is also one of a kind, is the Waste Prevention Forum. It’s an irregular email newsletter for folks interested in waste prevention (which is usually defined as reduction and reuse, but not recycling). Those other two Rs often get ignored, so Tom tries to give them their due. A recent edition featured the new Zero Waste Campus Toolkit from the University of Oregon and a compelling TED talk by dynamic Australian consultant and designer Leyla Acaroglu. Sustainability and solid waste professionals from around the country contribute to the Waste Prevention Forum. True to form, Tom’s newsletter doesn’t have an online archive (it used to, but it didn’t work out, Tom says), and sometimes several months will go by without finding a new edition in your inbox. But if you have a thirst for this kind of green content, in a no-frills, easy-to-digest format, just contact Tom at tom.watson@kingcounty.gov and he’ll be glad to add you to his list.

Image credits

  • Recycling Infographic courtesy of AlliedHealthWorld.com
  • Heartbleed image courtesy of Wikimedia
  • Wood Stove image courtesy of Charlotte Boulton Photography and Proyecto Mirador 

If you’d like to add some of your own favorite green IT news, please log in and add them in the comments below.