Patagonia’s "unusual commitment to sustainability" sometimes comes "at the expense of its bottom line," reports Diane Cardwell in The New York Times (7/31/14). "Business that puts profit above people and the environment is not going to be a healthy and sustainable way for us to live and for the planet to survive," says Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. Rose adds that company founder Yvon Chouinard has "said that every time he made a decision that was right for the environment, it made the company money, though sometimes not for a while."
One of Patagonia’s newest products, a wetsuit that "is made not from conventional petroleum-based neoprene but from a natural rubber derived from a desert shrub," is a case in point. "Instead of holding the manufacturer of the rubber, Yulex, to a yearslong exclusive contract, Patagonia is encouraging its competitors to use the product, hoping to see its use grow and drive down the price." This is in the tradition of Patagonia’s introduction of "organically grown cotton products in the 1990s," which lost both customers and money.
However, the suit, "priced at $529 – $549 … will earn the company money and bolster its green credentials, an important part of how it tried to appeal to customers." Mitch Taylor, a surfer, is sold: "I was really stoked on it," he said. Another surfer, Walter Valesky, was less enthusiastic, noting that he could get a good used surfboard for that money. Yvon’s son, Fletcher Chouinard, remains optimistic: "People are starting to put their money where their mouth is, but it’s slow," he says.
Brooks Sports turned its new corporate headquarters into a statement about its company culture, reports Sarah Max in The New York Times (7/30/14). Brooks makes "the top-selling brand" of running shoes "in independent running stores," and its new quarters are "across the street from the Burke-Gilman Trail, a 27-mile thoroughfare for runners and cyclists" north of downtown Seattle, Washington. "The opportunity to be right here, so close to our customers, is amazing," says Brooks chief executive Jim Weber.
Brooks built its new 120,000 square-foot corporate flagship from scratch, and is "on track to receive LEED Platinum status, the US Green Building Council’s highest designation for environmental features." In addition, its "parking garage has a dedicated bike lane and dozens of secure bike spots. First-floor showers make human-powered commutes more feasible, though showers time out after five minutes … Dashboards throughout the building will broadcast real-time statistics on energy consumption."
The new offices also "will include the opening of the brand’s first retail location, which occupies a prominent spot on the building’s first floor. The 4,600 square-foot concept store is geared more toward connecting runners — via events, lectures and clinics — than selling merchandise." Jim Weber says the daily interaction with customers will be valuable. "We’re going to learn a lot," he says. Meanwhile, sculptures outside the store will cast from "1,500 medals" donated by runners from around the world.
Harley-Davidson figures the only way for customers to appreciate electric motorcycles is to let them ride one, reports Dexter Ford in The New York Times (6/22/14). “It’s ultimately a challenge about whether riding an electric motorcycle can be an emotional experience or only a rational one,” says Harley CMO Mark-Hans Richer. “To be a true Harley, it has to have character … It has to be cool. It has to make you feel something important about yourself.”
To that end, the electric motor is a “machined-aluminum cylinder” and the “gears it uses to send power to a single-speed transmission are intentionally designed to make a distinctive sound. The final drive to the wheel is by a belt, typical of gasoline Harley.” “It sounds like a turbine when you are on the bike,” says Mark-Hans. “And from the side, as it goes past, it sounds like a jet.” The bike, called Live Wire, is still in prototype, but Harley’s plan is to let potential customers experience it via a coast-to-coast traveling roadshow.
Dubbed Project LiveWire Experience, the event will stop “at dealerships and other locations,” from New York to Chicago and then … along Route 66 to Santa Monica, California. About 30 prototype bikes will be available to licensed motorcyclists to try, and then convey “their impressions all over the Internet.” “We didn’t want this sitting on a turntable somewhere, with an attractive model standing around handing out brochures,” Mark-Hans says. The tour started on June 24.
Tony Horwitz’s story is "a cautionary farce about the new media … we’re so often told is the bright shining future." His tale, as he describes it in The New York Times (6/19/14), began when "a new online publication called The Global Mail" offered him a $15,000 advance and a $5,000 travel budget to write a digital tome about the Keystone XL pipeline. Seeing it as "the sort of long investigative journey" he used to write "before budgets and print space shrank," he jumped at the opportunity.
The Global Mail was "lavishly funded by a philanthropic entrepreneur in Australia" and the book, called Boom, was to be co-published by Byliner, "a classy digital outfit." Byliner projected selling "up to 75,000 copies" of the book, with "a lofty cut of the profits" shared with Tony. As fate would have it, the book was set for release just as the State Department issued "a much anticipated report on Keystone XL … right on top of the news." Then, unfortunately, the backer had a "financial setback" and "pulled the plug" on the book.
Byliner and Tony managed to agree on a scaled-back contract that didn’t include much in the way of marketing support. The good news is, Tony self-promoted Boom into Amazon’s top 25 — a "best seller"; the bad news is that this meant he had only sold "somewhere between 700 and 800 copies." It was all downhill from there, with Byliner itself going out of business and Boom disappearing, for a time, from Amazon. Tony says his next book will be in "hard copy, between covers," that he "can put on a shelf and look at forever, even if it doesn’t sell."
A new school in New York will be the first to "be billed as ‘net zero,’" reports J. Alex Tarquinio in The Wall Street Journal (4/16/14). PS 62, scheduled to open in the fall of 2015, will house some "444 pre-K through fifth-grade pupils" and "produce at least as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year, and possibly even be able to sell energy back to the grid." Net-zero buildings of any kind "are extremely rare," particularly "in the relatively harsh climate of New York" and its relatively shady urban environs.
Sunshine should be in ample supply for PS 62, however, as it will sit "on a 3.5-acre lot" on Staten Island. "The first sight parents will see when they drop off their children at the new school … will be an array of solar panels covering an area approaching the size of a football field." In addition, "a small wind turbine will serve as a demonstration project" and "children can do their bit by using energy-generating exercise equipment." The design also makes use of plenty of interior windows and skylights to invite natural light.
Each classroom will also have "flat-screen monitors displaying current energy usage … intended to create a friendly competition among the students about which classes are saving more energy. Math and science teachers will be encouraged to work this data into their instruction." Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, PS 62 will measure 68,000 square feet and cost $70 million to build. It’s hoped the school will be a "laboratory for ideas for future construction" of city schools.
Walmart chairman Michael Duke wants to grow the retailer’s business, while reducing its carbon footprint, reports Gerard Baker in The Wall Street Journal (4/9/14). Michael says "there’s nowhere in our strategy that says we want to shrink the company … we do want to keep growing the company, but at the same time, per store, per square foot, per customer served, per associate, we want to improve the impact that we’re having on the world."
Those goals include "100% renewable energy" as well as "products that are sustainable for both individuals and the planet" and "a reduction of 20% of energy consumption, kilowatt-hours per square foot." In terms of producing "zero waste," Michael says that "80% of what used to go to the landfill no longer goes to the landfill. It goes to recyclable efforts and to produce good material from what some might call trash." He also says Walmart is working with "suppliers in China" to improve "energy efficiency" and "sustainability."
Meanwhile, Michael says Walmart last year launched "a big initiative on product made in the United States," so that more products are "made closer to the consumer." Michael says Walmart’s green goals are "really about customers" and "also about the people who work for the company. People want to work for a responsible company today … It’s about getting two million people that work for Walmart excited all over the world about sustainability … And along the way, we’ve saved hundreds of millions of dollars."
Starbucks is finding that the economics of recycling paper cups doesn’t add up, reports Adam Minter in Bloomberg View (4/8/14). Adam, author of Junkyard Planet, cites Starbucks’ 2013 Global Responsibility Report (link), which stated it is currently recycling just 39 percent of its cups, far short of the 100% it had been projecting by 2015. While Starbucks sells some "4 billion disposable cups a year," the big problem, apparently, is that this is not "enough cups to make recycling a viable option."
According to John Mulcahy of Georgia-Pacific, "the paper in all the Starbucks cups used in a year amounts to less than a week’s worth of production at one of his company’s paper mills." In other words, "recycling Starbucks cups isn’t a business; it’s a test project worth pursuing for PR, and perhaps for the day when Starbucks and other restaurants pool their used paper cups in a way that makes them attractive as a business prospect."
Further complicating matters is that "Starbucks cups are lined with plastic to keep them from leaking, and that plastic needs to be removed before the cups can be transformed into new paper." Starbucks last week admitted in a statement that recycling "seems like simple, straightforward initiative" but is "actually quite challenging." Alternatively, composting cups "generates greenhouse gases while destroying the recycling value packed into the cup’s fibers. Reusable cups are a nice idea, but one that consumers simply don’t embrace."
Fellows at the DO School in NYC are devising the coffee cup equivalent of bike-sharing, reports Alessandra Malito in The Wall Street Journal (4/4/14). Called the "Good to Go" campaign, it’s a "cup-sharing system" designed "to cut down on the number of disposable cups tossed every day." On April 15th, the concept will begin a "three-day pilot program … at Brooklyn Roasting Co. in Dumbo. From there, the group hopes to eventually roll out the campaign in all five boroughs."
The cup itself "will look like a to-go cup — except it will be made of a material more durable than paper but lighter than ceramic." In concept, sounds very simple: "A consumer picks up a cup from one location and drops it off at another location when it’s empty — the Citi Bike of cups." However, Katherin Kirschenmann, chief executive of the DO School, which teaches "social entrepreneurism," says it took some weeks for the fellows "to understand how complex" New York’s to-go and coffee culture are.
"The fellows are still working on the material and design as well as incentives for customers, such as a fast lane for those who bring in their own cups." Jim Munson, co-owner of Brooklyn Roasting, is optimistic the program will work. "Coffee that tastes good and does good resonates with New Yorkers," he says. "If people adopt the ‘Good to Go’ cup program and we can reduce the amount of paper waste that’s generally from people enjoying coffee, that’s got to be good for the neighborhood."
An "artificial leaf" could turn your home into its own power and gas station, reports Jack Hitt in The New York Times (3/31/14). The artificial leaf, pioneered by Harvard chemist Daniel Nocera, "generates energy more or less the way a tree does. Light strikes a container of water and out bubbles hydrogen, an energy source." In this case, the "leaf" is a "silicon strip coated in catalysts" that "breaks down the water molecule such that on one side oxygen bubbles up and on the other, hydrogen, which can be used as a fuel." (video)
"You can drop it in a glass of water and hold it up to a window," says Daniel. "You won’t need heavy engineering." What you will need, however, is some means to convert the hydrogen into fuel — specifically, "a fuel cell, which can turn hydrogen into electricity … This is comparable to what Elon Musk struggles with in selling Tesla’s electric cars. He has to persuade the public not only to buy a new kind of car, but all that goes with it: the infrastructure of batteries, charging stations, high-voltage home plugs and new kinds of auto mechanics."
"If we had fuel cells in your house and your car, then everybody would be trying to implement the artificial leaf right now," says Daniel. Fracking — the hydraulic fracturing of rock to release natural gas or oil — could be the key because it "could drive the establishment of an infrastructure for using hydrogen in the home," says Daniel. In turn, the artificial leaf might provide an alternative to the carbon dioxide pollution associated with fracking. When that happens, he says, "Your house will be its own gas station."
Industrial designer Arturo Vittori envisions sculpture, not high-technology, as the solution to water shortages, reports Joseph Flaherty in Wired (3/28/14). The problem is severe: "Around the world, 768 million people don’t have access to safe water, and every day 1,400 children under the age of five die from water-based diseases." Arturo’s solution is the WarkaWater Tower, "sculptures that look like giant-sized objects from the pages of a Pier 1 catalog."
The WarkaWater stands "nearly 30 feet tall and collect over 25 gallons of potable water per day by harvesting atmospheric water vapor … each pillar is comprised of two sections: a semi-rigid exoskeleton built by tying stalks of juncus or bamboo together and an internal plastic mesh, reminiscent of the bags oranges come in. The nylon and polypropylene fibers act as a scaffold for condensation, and as the droplets of dew form, they follow the mesh into a basin at the base of the structure."
Arturo’s design "was inspired by the Warka tree, a giant, gravity-defying domed tree native to Ethiopia." "Using natural fibers helps the tower to be integrated within the landscape both visually and with the natural context as well as with local traditional techniques." Arturo used "traditional CAD tools" to design the WarkaWater, using "the same parametric modeling skills honed working on aircraft interiors and solar powered cars." Each tower would take four people less than a week to build, and cost about $550.
In Agritopia, residents live around a working farm "in the same way other communities may cluster around a golf course, pool or fitness center," reports Kate Murphy in The New York Times (3/12/14). Despite its fanciful name, Agritopia does actually exist, in Arizona. It is one of a growing number of "agrihoods" sprouting up around the country, "at least a dozen," so far, with more on the way. Agritopia and its like are "thriving, enlisting thousands of home buyers who crave access to open space, verdant fields and fresh food." "Everybody wants to be Thomas Jefferson," says Quint Redmond of Agriburbia, a consulting firm.
Developers are also keen on the idea. "They’ve figured out that unlike a golf course, which costs millions to build and millions to maintain, they can provide green space that actually earns a profit," says Ed McMahon of the Urban Land Institute. There’s also "a potential tax break for preserving agricultural land." Interestingly, a number of agrihoods were "established just as the real estate market collapsed." Today, their property values are "appreciating and for-sale signs are rare."
Agritopia totals 160 acres, 16 of which "are certified organic farmland" and "452 single-family homes, each with a wide front porch and sidewalks close enough to encourage conversation … The hub of neighborhood life is a small square overlooking the farm, with a coffee house, farm-to-table restaurant and honor-system farm stand." The toughest part is finding a farmer who can grow "a vast variety" of crops, "then market them to residents and sell the excess at farmer’s markets and to local chefs." "There’s no manual … to tell you how to do this," says Agritopia’s developer (and resident), Joseph E. Johnston.
Frank Lloyd Wright‘s idea was to re-imagine the city based on "Jeffersonian visions of self-reliance and open space," reports Julie V. Iovine in The Wall Street Journal (3/12/14). "The city, as we know it, is to die," Wright said in 1931, and from then "until his death in 1959" he worked on developing Broadacre City, a place "where every family gets ‘the democratic minimum’ of a home and an acre … the skyscraper would be transplanted to the country to get some breathing room."
Broadacre City, to be built "horizontally on a massive scale," was premised on the idea that cars and telecommunications "would allow for the decentralization of the population and the replacement of town centers with service hubs … There would be uniform distribution and integration of homes and markets, schools and farms, industries and parks, medical facilities and airports (redubbed ‘Aerotors’ and for private helicopters)." Access would be "by car from a 12-lane highway."
Overall, Wright allocated "as much weight to parkland and landscape as to development," but Broadacre City was rife with quirks. "There’s a curious insensitivity to scale so that the zoo gets about the same amount of space as a gas station; cultural institutions are congregated off-site" (to be accessed by car); "apartments sit atop factories with no regard for pollution … with not a parking lot or sidewalk or public gathering place in sight." Broadacre City exists only as a model, currently on display at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, through June 1. (link)
Designers are "playing with food … to solve problems of scarcity, obesity and waste," reports Julie Lasky in The New York Times (2/27/14). Among them is Susana Soares, who grinds grasshoppers "into a powder that is mixed with cream cheese or butter or flavorings." Recognizing that this doesn’t sound all that appealing, she "uses a 3-D printer to turn the paste into decorative squiggles or attractive filigreed blobs" that, as she says, "look like jewelry." The insects, she notes, are "an efficient way of getting protein."
Mansour Ourasanah, an industrial designer, is also big on grasshoppers. "You can farm them at home," he says. "which you can’t do with cattle." At the Sugar Lab, meanwhile, 3-D printers are used to decorate wedding cakes, and other confections. Because the printers can "handle a range of materials … a copy of the topper can be produced in ceramic if a couple wants a souvenir of their wedding." "Cross-culturally, people are inclined to invest in customizing and embellishing a desert," says Liz Von Hasseln of Sugar Labs.
David Edwards, "an American scientist and inventor," and founder of Le Laboratoire, is known for "having introduced a chocolate product called Le Whif, which you enjoy guiltlessly by inhaling," and Le Whaf, "a carafe that vaporizes liquid, creating a cloud of tiny droplets that is poured into a glass and swallowed." "So much of great culinary experience is sensorial in a way that goes beyond caloric content," says David, who is also known for the WikiPearl, which packages "ice cream wrapped in edible skins."
Chipotle is producing a comedy series to promote its "concerns about sustainable agriculture," reports Noam Cohen in The New York Times (1/27/14). Four 30-minute episodes, airing on Hulu (trailer), will tell "the story of an idealistic boy who falls for a girl whose father … works for farmers planning to raise cows on petroleum pellets, a move meant to increase the food supply by lowering costs. At the start of the series, a cow feeding on the pellets explodes." Chipotle marketing chief Mark Crumpacker says the goal is to use comedy to promote regulation.
"As you do with all comedy, you take a real issue and then amp it up," Mark says. The strategy is "not about ‘product integration’ but ‘values integration’." Daniel Rosenberg of Piro, which produced the series, called Farmed & Dangerous, with Chipotle, says the series "is meant to strike large emotional chords – it’s not about selling burritos." Indeed, the show has "no scenes at Chipotle restaurants or impromptu testimonials to its tacos or quesadillas." As such, it "sits in between content for entertainment and advertising," says Hulu’s Bryan Thoensen.
Farmed & Dangerous "will live on Hulu next to conventional TV comedies," and its commercial breaks will include spots for Chipotle. Daniel Rosenberg says "there was no difference in this process from creating a TV show," and Bryan Thoensen says the show "has high production values along with recognized talent" (it stars actor Ray White). NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller meanwhile says the show is based on proven principles: "The best way to sell something would be to create a kind of buzz that would naturally lead people to buy your product."
"America’s trade deficit with China reinforces the two countries’ relationship as recycling partners," reports The Economist in a review of Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter (1/11/14). The relationship is premised on the fact that Americans both consume and throw away much more stuff than Chinese. It is supported by the fact that it’s "often cheaper for American scrap-yards to send their goods to China than anywhere else in the world. This is because shipping companies hauling goods to America would rather not return to China empty."
So, the shipping companies take our junk back to China, where it provides the raw materials needed to support the building boom in China. Scrap traders actually refer to the US as the ‘Saudi Arabia of Scrap.’ American demand for such manufacturing materials is low and in any case "American labor costs are too high – and environmental regulations too onerous – for it to be cost-effective to salvage most scrap anyway." Meanwhile, it has driven a "kind of innovation that diverts more junk from landfills," such as the "motor shredder, which turns old vehicles into scrap metal."
Back in the 1970s, "at least 20 million rusting cars were abandoned across America. In 2012, America recycled nearly 11.9 million cars. China, the world’s biggest car buyer, has become the fastest growing market for shredders." Indeed, "the multibillion-dollar recycling trade stands as ‘one of globalization’s great, green successes.’" Of course, "nothing is 100% recyclable. The special chemistry of many products, such as iPhone touchscreens, means they cannot be recycled. Consumers should be more aware of what is nasty and companies should be nudged to design products that are easier to repair and recycle."
Brooks Brothers and others are using DNA testing to guarantee the authenticity of their products, reports Leslie Josephs in The Wall Street Journal (12/9/13). Starbucks is also using bar codes to verify the provenance of its beans. That’s because “coffee and cotton travel thousands of miles and trade hands dozens of times before they reach consumers in the form of dress shirts and espressos. The opportunities for mishaps are plentiful and worrisome, ranging from unscrupulous suppliers to shipping mixups.”
Marketers are subject to “substantial penalties if their goods aren’t certified, and it’s not exactly good for a brand to be found to be faking it, either. “If we put our logo on a bag, we absolutely have an obligation to certify what’s in that bag,” says Craig Russell, head of coffee at Starbucks. DNA testing reportedly provides the strongest possible proof. “DNA gives you that full length of precision that physical tests do not,” says MeiLin Wan of Applied DNA Sciences, a provider of testing services. Each test costs $500, however, and some feel that it’s cheaper simply to have experts examine the goods.
DNA testing of commodities actually “has its roots in a government directive. In November 2012, the US government started requiring the Defense Logistics Agency … to use only electronic microcircuits that were stamped with DNA, called SigNature DNA, made by Applied DNA Sciences.” A company called GeoCertify meanwhile tags beans at the farm level so they can be tracked all the way to their final destination. In 2013 it “has tagged 200,000 bags of Ethiopian coffee … up from 50,000 in 2012 and 12,000 in 2011, when it was running a pilot program, the company said.”
The modern, American meatpacking industry was born of desperation during the Great Depression, reports Charles R. Morris in a Wall Street Journal review of In Meat We Trust by Maureen Ogle (12/18/13). The story goes that Jesse Jewell was watching his seed business go to seed, and hatched a plan, funded by a local bank, to buy "young chicks, which he distributed to local farmers along with seed and meticulous instructions on how to feed them. When the chickens reached market size, he brought them to Atlanta … sold them all, and paid off the farmers who raised them."
Over the ensuing quarter century, Jesse developed "a comprehensive chicken-manufacturing operation, from raw-material production – seeds, eggs and chicks – to slaughtering and packing … Chickens, which were rarely seen on urban American tables earlier in the century, became a staple." His enterprise provided a model for the "evolution of beef production," in which "feeders contracted with ranchers to bring them standardized cattle, then slaughtered the cattle at the feedlots, butchered the carcasses and packed the cuts in consumer-sized containers – ‘boxed beef’."
The result was "fresher and tastier than the average conventional butchers. Pork, poultry and other meat industries all followed more or less the same path. The ultimate standardization was confinement – raising large numbers of animals outdoors left them vulnerable to predators, fighting and other uncontrolled variables. Moving them inside into automated feeding stalls was the obvious answer.” Today, however, "catastrophic flooding of hog lagoons – lake-size excrement catchments – suggests we may be reaching the limits of consolidation."
Whole Foods is winning in smaller markets by going where "consumers wouldn’t dream of spending $6 for a pound of humanely raised pork," reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (12/17/13). Specifically, Whole Foods is succeeding in places like Boise, Idaho, where "it turns out that more shoppers do want, say, soda pop with no artificial coloring and flavoring, and specialty meats." In part, this is because Boise is home to many "college students and migrants from the cities where Whole Foods raised the bar on the grocery business."
Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb also credits the rising popularity of farmers’ markets to greater interest in local food in unexpected places. "There is a whole revolution going on around food now that isn’t limited to the coast," he says. Boise represents a new model for Whole Foods, which plans to "expand to 1,000 stores from a little more than 300." The chain expects to open about one-third of those stores in ostensibly unlikely locales like Boise. Joe Dobrow, author of Natural Prophets, notes that this shouldn’t be a surprise, as the retailer actually began as a local concern.
"Remember that Whole Foods started as a suburban business, and it wasn’t until they acquired Bread and Circus and Fresh Fields that they learned how to operate in urban areas like Boston and Washington, DC," he says. Whole Foods also spends about a year getting to know a community before moving in. Its presence has meanwhile prompted rival chains, such as Albertsons, to fix up their stores and expand their organic product mix. Naturally, some Whole Foods customers find the store too expensive, while others are disappointed it doesn’t carry familiar brands like Coke and Tide.
A new art museum in Miami looks like Robinson Crusoe might have had a hand in its design, reports Julie V. Iovine in The Wall Street Journal (12/11/13). The Perez Art Museum Miami, or Pamm as it is now known, actually was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, a Swiss architectural firm. It was built "using only materials close at hand – including fern-and-flower-covered logs." It sits "on stilts just high enough above the flood plain to catch the breezes off Biscayne Bay and keep the parking underneath and out of sight."
These "logs" actually are "watering pipes wrapped in felt and covered in local and South American flora by French landscape consultant Patrick Blanc … greenery also helps to modulate an outdoor space that might otherwise have felt too monumental … The architects’ conceit" is "to draw on a local context that doesn’t quite exist … Pamm pretends that Miami is still an outdoor paradise with the museum nestled in its midst rather than perched at the edge of a waterfront largely cut off from the city." The result "doesn’t promote a look so much as a sense of place."
Pamm’s "message that the museum experience can be informal and inviting is underscored by Adirondack chairs scattered across the veranda and by the way that the architecture fluidly connects landscape to space, outdoors to indoors, people to art." This is achieved inside in various ways, notably via an open auditorium that’s smack in the middle of things, doubling "as a hangout space" and grand staircase. The intent is to appeal to a "younger audience" – apparently as is the sign at the entrance that reads: "Open for Sunbathing. Open for Dinner. Open for Romance."
A mobile game whose goal is to kill people by spreading infectious disease is embraced by “gamers and public health officials alike,” reports Meg Tirrell in Bloomberg Businessweek (12/2/13). Plague Inc., available as a 99¢ download “on iPhone, iPad and Android,” has attracted “more than 15 million downloads since its release last year.” Its premise is that players take advantage of the vulnerabilities of countries around the world – “climate, population density, poverty – to help … disease spread before a cure is discovered.”
This appeals to W. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. “Games like this reach people who don’t think about the importance of science,” he says. Dave Daigle, a spokesman for the US Centers for Disease Control, agrees. “We think everyone can learn from this,” he says. “Public health is one of those things very few of us know about unless something goes wrong.” The need for awareness is especially high given cutbacks for funding for science in the US.
Plague Inc. is the brainchild of James Vaughan, 26, who “designed it around actual risks such as antibiotic resistance.” He did not, however, “build the game with education in mind. While a consultant with Accenture in London, he sought a creative side project” and “spent less than $5,000 developing the game over the course of a year.” He says he now gets emails from everyone “from people teaching 11-year-olds to people doing PhDs in infectious diseases,” including messages from parents delighted that “Little Timmy” is suddenly interested in “where Bolivia is” and what kind of climate it has.