Ideas for a UO Sustainability Conference in October?

Steve Mital, Sustainability Director for the University of Oregon, recently sent a call for ideas to help guide a Sustainability Conference tentatively planned for the 23rd and 24th of October, 2008.  It is being organized by Sustainability Directors at Portland State University, Oregon State University, and the University of Oregon, and the second day will reportedly be “entirely devoted to students and sustainability.”  My suggestions for the conference, written in full on the Oregon Direct Action blog, revolve around these ideas:

  • Planning this conference digitally and in the public eye so that students can be a part of the entire process
  • Adding an international component to help bridge the local-international sustainability gap
  • Networking with local sustainability non-profits
  • Drafting a set of sustainability guidelines for campus community to voluntarily adopt (i.e. minimizing paper use, using Tupperware instead of styrofoam, etc.)
They are looking for ideas on “workshops, themes, keynote speakers, etc.” until July 3rd.  Let’s make this conference worth attending!

Adhoc transportation

Here’s the problem: I, like many people I know, drive too many places all alone in my car.  One person in a three ton metal vehicle that could easily transport five.  To move all of that mass around, with such unused, waste internal space, is an inefficient use of energy.

Money is made by identifying and capitalizing on inefficiency.  Inefficiency in the market, inefficiency in a business, and inefficiency in moving humans to where they want to go.

Here’s one solution: ad-hoc transportation.  Capitalizing on the triple convergence between location-aware devices (iPhone 2 on June 9th, anyone?), social networking (Facebook, Twitter, et al), and an absurd number of nearly empty cars on the road (suburban America), the goal should be to connect people with people who are pointed in the same destination.

We’ll call it Me Drive We for the time being.  It’s the most creative, available domain I could find in 30 seconds of searching.

Say, for instance, I have a ’99 Subaru Outback Legacy, Forest Green, and want to go out to Hood River for the day to photograph a windsurfing competition.  To get directions and a forecasted drive time on the day of the event, I’d most likely use my GPS-enabled device to search up the destination.  After I’ve decided on a route, Me Drive We could give me a wee little pop-up asking if I would like to publish my trip to the public.  Me Drive We would then send me a text message with the names and numbers of people either in my area or along the way who are interested in making a similar trip.  Or it could send my contact information to them, it doesn’t matter how the connection is made so long as it is made and made effortlessly.

It shouldn’t need to be limited to one platform, either.  If I had rock-solid information on what the wind conditions were going to be the week before (and we’re speaking a lot of hypotheticals here), I would be able to use a website to report where I’m going and when.  The value in having at least one mobile tentacle, however, is that I’ve never seen something like this done, and I read a lot of tech news, and you can make it brain-dead simple with one device: the cellphone.

Apple’s new iPhone is highly likely to be released in the next month with these features:

  • 3G high-speed internet
  • An official SDK (Software Development Kit) with first-round applications
  • GPS

It’s always going to know where I am, and I might just want it to also know where I’m going.

Wait, what if I don’t want to drive or ride with complete strangers who might axe me to steal my wallet?

This is where the social networking should poke its head.  Leveraging a social graph already created with Facebook or, heaven forbid, MySpace, I could choose to ride or drive with people I already know who have shared where they want to go too.  The service (ideally) would only reveal my location and travel plans to the circle of friends I’ve already identified.  If someone I didn’t know wanted to get a ride with me, I could again capitalize on the social graph to see if we know anyone in common.  

If I ended up riding with some I didn’t know, Me Drive We could even give me suggestions for ice-breakers, based on data culled from other social networks.  For instance, 90 percent of the music I listen to is scrobbled to Last.fm, and leads to very interesting charts.  This week, my top artist seems to be Gangstagrass, who released a stellar hip-hop/bluegrass album I would highly recommend downloading if you haven’t already.  Me Drive We could take this information, or knowledge of the recent books I’ve enjoyed from Good Reads, and give me and my passenger quality cultural artifacts to discuss. 

The most obvious constraints are usability and critical mass.  By riding on the shoulders of two giants moving through the forest at the moment, Facebook, or Facebonk as I call it affectionately, and Apple’s iPhone, I think Me Drive We could easily overcome them.  Integration with existing devices and sites would super necessary for successful adoption.

You build it for us lonely drivers and I will use it.  It’s time to be more efficient with our energy.