Monthly Archives: April 2013

Media coverage of the Boston manhunt: the best of both worlds

Social media and traditional media don’t always get along, and this week was no exception. The LA Times claimed that social media had “spiraled out of control,” while people who used Twitter or Facebook as their primary source of information claimed that social is the only media worth consuming.

It’s a shame, because I think the the tragic events that took place in Boston this week demonstrated how traditional media and social media can work together beautifully.

When I wanted up-to-the-second updates, I turned to the Facebook page for the MIT Sloan class of 2013. Several of my classmates liveblogged updates from the police scanner, staying up all night to keep us all informed. One person wrote, “Turning off the news. By the time the news starts saying there’s no movement, they’re saying there’s movement on the scanner.” Updates were still being added yesterday; there are nearly 1,400 in total.

But when I wanted to know what had been officially confirmed or reported by journalists on the ground, I turned to traditional news outlets., the free website of the Boston Globe, was the best source. It had the best of both worlds: reported pieces and a liveblog that included selected tweets. I also turned to print media on Saturday morning, when I wanted to read a narrative that was written with the benefit of hindsight.

Overall, the experienced reinforced the importance of institutionalized media in our society. Most days, we aren’t on lockdown. Most days, none of my classmates will be glued to Twitter or a police scanner, dedicated to sending me the latest updates. Even if they did, I wouldn’t have time to follow the constant stream of information. We need to maintain strong local media not only for crises like this, but for the news that affects our lives every minute of every day.

How SABMiller is innovating in Africa

As a staple crop in the developing world, cassava makes a lot of sense: it produces a lot of calories from a relatively small amount of land, is highly drought-resistant, and can be grown in marginal soil. But there’s a big problem: cassava starts to degrade as soon as it’s pulled out of the ground. It’s also 75% water, which makes it costly to transport, so it doesn’t work well as a cash crop.

I interviewed Andy Wales, head of sustainability at SABMiller, for MIT Sloan Management Review, and he told me how the giant beer company is using cassava’s weakness as an opportunity to create a more sustainable line of beers in African countries.

SABMiller worked with a company that developed mobile processing units, which farmers use to process the cassava on-site. SABMiller than uses the processed cassava to make a local beer which competes with illicit homebrews.

SABMiller's first cassava beer, Impala, launched in Mozambique. It has since followed up with Eagle brand cassava beer in Ghana.

SABMiller’s first cassava beer, Impala, launched in Mozambique. It has since followed up with Eagle brand cassava beer in Ghana.

It’s better for the environment, because the beer doesn’t have to travel as far to get to consumers. It’s better for farmers, who have a new way to profit from their crop. And it’s better for the government, because it’s taxed. “It’s a triple win,” says Wales: “growth for the agricultural sector, growth for our business, and it’s better regulated from a health and quality perspective.”

When going green is NOT good business

Sustainability experts are constantly touting the fact that “going green is good business.” But what do you do when it’s not?

Kathrin Winker, who leads the sustainability team at EMC (and has a great blog) recently visited MIT Sloan, and told a story about how a bad business case actually fostered innovation.

EMC’s largest product is called a frame, and it can weigh up to 3,000 pounds. It’s shipped to customers in a cardboard, steel and plywood box that can itself weigh 200 pounds. A team at EMC thought it could potentially save money and reduce carbon emissions by using the boxes more than once. But there was a big problem. Recycling the boxes was far from cost effective. The team calculated that it cost $800 to ship an empty box back to the plant, compared with $300 to make a new box. This points to an uncomfortable fact: all too often, there is NOT a good business case for going green.

The video below chronicles the story, and the key moment comes when associate product manager Matt Popieniuck says: “At this point, it becomes evident that we have to make the empty box smaller so it becomes cost-effective to ship it back to the plant.”

Of course, at many companies such a conclusion would not be evident at all. It’s easy to simply drop a project that has a bad business case.

Instead, EMC staffers collaborated with their freight company and worked extra hours to redesign the box. The new box is strong enough to ship a frame, but can be collapsed to 1/4 its size. It can be reused 7 times, saves the company more than $1M a year, and keeps 1.2M pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere each year — the equivalent of taking 121 cars off the road.