AirBnB, and its wide-ranging impacts on real estate markets, tourist-dependent economies, and local tax schemes noted above, certainly heralds the dominance of the sharing economy. Did any of you AirBnB customers receive the recent e-mail disclosing the company’s new anti-discrimination policies? HBS professor Benjamin Edelman has done considerable research regarding the discrimination that’s been pervasively perpetrated by hosts who have preferentially opted for guests whose pictures and/or names suggest certain racial and geographic backgrounds (see more here: http://www.benedelman.org/publications/airbnb-guest-discrimination-2016-09-16.pdf). The company has responded with a set of policies and a commitment to systematically tracking rejection patterns with consequences for hosts, but I wonder whether such an algorithm can meaningfully change these harmful practices. It strikes me as ironic (and maddening!) that participants in a so-called sharing economy would join only to perpetuate exclusivity. Can AirBnB, whose model is founded upon the joy of meeting people different than you all over the world, use technology to help us all embrace a more diverse future?
Thanks for your post, Nico. What does it say about our society that technology has solved for our every millennial consumption need, but lags in democratizing and advancing the quality of our education system? The company Knewton (https://www.knewton.com/approach/platform/) provides an interesting example in the ed tech space — it has designed an adaptive learning platform for students to learn at different paces, and it sits atop the content provided by Pearson and other publishers to make it dynamic and flexible. Whether the algorithm is scalable is another question, but the idea seems like a nimble way for content providers to migrate quickly into the digital era.
Great article — and very much agree with the comment above regarding a “reorg” of the federal bureaucracy, given the major changes in how we communicate and transact that have unfolded over the past decades. I wonder how the element of risk (i.e., cyberterrorism) factors into how far the government can go in embracing the IoT. If they make operational efficiency decisions that streamline information and process flows, thereby centralizing large repositories of often confidential data, does that open the average American as well as our government up to a greater threat from hackers? I recently heard a resiliency expert say that the fragmented power/utilities grid in the NYC metro area was (counter-intuitively) a lifesaver during Hurricane Sandy. So it seems like a catch-22. If the feds upgrade and simplify their systems to enable better communication with citizens and among their departments, does that mean one system is more fallible than many antiquated ones, even if they slow us down? How nimbly can technology solve for and support cybersecurity initiatives? See here for more on the IoT and security: https://techcrunch.com/2015/10/24/why-iot-security-is-so-critical/
Enjoyed your article, Matt — WMATA provides an interesting example of ways technological interventions may solely create value for the consumer without meaningfully benefiting the organization’s operational efficiency goals. It’s interesting to think about ways the IoT could contribute to preventative maintenance going forward — the sensors example is a great one. Conor makes an excellent point about the distributional impacts of public transit that should compel us to ensure its survival. Have you come across the “Smart City” literature? Essentially, a corpus of policies and innovations that integrate the IoT with urban planning. Many of this work is actually predicated upon the assumption that rail will be the most common form of transit in our increasingly urbanized world. In addition to your point about remote sensing, there’s talk of robots that can inspect tunnels and bridges, repair water pipes, and test load-bearing cables. See here! http://machinedesign.com/iot/all-aboard-future-railroads-subways-and-smart-cities
Public transit can’t seem to catch a break in the US, and your post spotlights the ways this vital form of infrastructure will only become more challenged by climate change. Whether transit agencies seek dollars for maintenance, expansion, technological upgrades, or sustainability / resiliency measures, the associated funding debates all come down to a massive market failure: consumers (and policymakers) don’t understand the true cost of their transit mode options. Commute by auto is so heavily subsidized on all fronts — from the cost of the car to the paving of the highway to the gas price — and does not reflect the negative externalities posed by congestion, manufacturing, road construction and maintenance, etc. These activities all contribute to GHG emissions, and the driver doesn’t pay for it. We then subsidize public transit, a second-best solution because it too distorts market prices, and consumers expect that for a $2 flat fee on the T, we’ll be greeted by immaculately kept trains with on-time departures. It’s just not possible given decades of deferred maintenance and neglect (http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2016/04/11/mbta-budget-2017/).
The MBTA certainly has a sustainability challenge on its hands. But how do we get policymakers to consider the distortions at play in passenger transportation throughout Boston, and put all travel modes on the table for budgetary re-allocation? One issue to consider here is the organizational structure for transportation in Boston and Massachusetts: the state agency MassDOT controls the MBTA, the highways, the motor vehicles administration, and private aeronautics (http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/Transit/). Massport separately operates the airports. Each division sees different contributions from the federal government, from localities, from users, and from the private sector. If these decisions get made at the state level, can the impacts of climate change offer a rallying point for the state to promote public transit investments as part of a broader resiliency plan?
I really appreciate your closing note regarding the role of consumer decision-making. Wine, as a luxury product, seems *ripe* for marketing efforts that relate sustainable methods (“all natural”?) to wine quality. A friend of mine once worked for a winery in Sonoma called Scribe Winery — they’re receiving hype for their bio-dynamic practices, including: using wild yeast, increasing biodiversity by growing other species near the vines, and more recently growing vegetables and other crops on the property (https://thebolditalic.com/what-to-do-in-sonoma-scribe-winery-pick-up-party-the-bold-italic-san-francisco-911b0a3dca60#.ds42mitzu). Especially in the eco-conscious Bay Area, this distinctive approach has inspired partnerships with restaurants, events, suppliers, and a loyal fan following. The wine is now part of a broader lifestyle brand.
Your post also made me reflect upon how global the wine industry is: if I were to seek out a bottle of Merlot in a wine shop here in Boston, consider its carbon footprint! This would require a massive shift in consumer decisionmaking, but is there a responsibility for the industry to consider “miles traveled” from source to customer and reflect that GHG impact in the price tag? What implications would a “buy local” campaign have for the wine industry?
Your post hints at the challenges involved in being a first mover in the sustainability realm. I do wonder what motivations prompted LVS to invest: did they perceive it was the “right thing to do”? did they think it would impact customer loyalty? do they get tax or other kinds of incentives? do they see a clear path to ROI from this investment? The other comments here likewise question customer preferences and the factors that might influence a decision to stay at the Venetian vs. another resort in Sin City, and whether eco-friendliness would play a meaningful part in that decision.
It seems that some of this might be related to broader sustainability efforts taking place in Las Vegas and Nevada more broadly. In 2005, Nevada passed a green buildings incentives package to “green the strip.” Indeed, according to the Guardian, Las Vegas Sands and MGM received “millions of dollars in tax breaks” for their LEED construction activities (https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/las-vegas-sin-city-sustainable). Though this seems a bit insidious, it actually seems that the legislation inspired these companies to set a precedent for a more holistic approach to sustainability — in their buildings, practices, meetings, waste, etc., as you highlight above. If the city of Las Vegas decides to pursue a sustainability strategy in a more directed way, they’ll have an eager and innovative set of partners in the private sector, and that’s often half the battle!
Your post highlights the exceptional and unique role played by the PANYNJ — both in terms of the scope of their operations, and the particular vulnerability the NYC metro area has to climate change. An ongoing challenge for the agency and its ability to adapt involves having to satisfy the multiple jurisdictional stakeholders in NY and NJ — many of whom you identify in your post. How can they ensure that their prioritization efforts and investments are sound and consider collective outcomes?
A related conversation: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Obama administration launched an initiative called “Rebuild By Design” — a design competition focused on 10 communities within the NYC metro area with an array of infrastructure challenges (http://www.rebuildbydesign.org/our-work/sandy-projects). The project was inspired and helmed by leading Dutch water engineers (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/magazine/how-to-think-like-the-dutch-in-a-post-sandy-world.html). However, the teams faced considerable implementation barriers when it came to satisfying the demands of the various municipalities, states, community groups, and others with skin in the collective NYC resiliency plan. Hoboken wanted something different than Manhattan, etc. I wonder, given our fragmented governmental landscape, how we can move to develop regional resiliency plans that offer scale benefits and allow different agencies/groups to pool resources?
Thanks for the post! I’ve been following Vail Resorts’ acquisition activity for several years. To @eross’ question: they have partnerships set up with several resorts in France, Switzerland, and Austria (and the list is growing!). I too have wondered how they will leverage this market power — each year, lift ticket prices appreciate considerably. Their sustainability efforts to date seem limited to mountain operations: The company is currently pursuing a 10% energy reduction by 2020, and investing in technology for grooming, snowmaking, and solar power (http://www.vail.com/mountain/environment.aspx#/EnergySavingsTab). However, Vail Resorts’ typical approach also involves real estate development and a significant associated carbon footprint. They often own a considerable portion of real estate — retail and residential — at the base of each resort they operate (and the mountains are often set up as long-term leases from national parks vs. ownership). I wonder if they can learn something from our classmates’ commentary on the hospitality industry — e.g., LEED certification, “make a green choice,” waste reduction, and more in how they operate their buildings.