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On November 19, 2016, environmentalist commented on HBX – Disrupting the Business Education Delivery Model :

Interesting post Nikhil. While I agree HBS is definitely a front-runner when it comes to a sophisticated online platform I do have two reservations with regards to this program. First, while you say that they are years ahead of the competition, I would actually argue that HBS in terms of technology does not have a true long-term sustainable competitive advantage. For instance, IE Business School in Madrid has a fully online MBA program (ranked #1 in the world [1]), which has similar features to the HBX program [2]. In addition, I would be worried for HBS to dilute its brand reputation. While the Harvard brand name is so extremely powerful and will very likely remain so in the long future, the more courses such as summer courses, online courses etc. for which the entry barrier is not nearly as high as the full-time version, it does run the risk that over time employers put less value on the Harvard brand name as alumni quality has become too varied.

[1] http://rankings.ft.com/businessschoolrankings/online-mba-ranking-2016
[2] http://www.ie.edu/business-school/degrees/global-mba/program/

On November 19, 2016, environmentalist commented on If an Algorithm Wrote This Blog Post, Would You Be Able to Tell? :

Interesting post Nik. I agree that while there are several hurdles still to overcome, the technology definitely has the potential to improve journalism by taking over the lower value-added activities and let journalist focus on the high value-added components of reporting. I feel however that there is one element missing from your discussion: reader acceptance of automatically generated content. While it may be factually true that texts are indistinguishable from human-written texts, I am not sure an investor will accept automatically generated content with regards to investment advice, or even a general newspaper reader will accept automated reporting on his/her community. Such user resistance to adopt/accept this change, has slowed down many innovative products in the past and is not an element to be underestimated [1].

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2016/07/21/humans-once-opposed-coffee-and-refrigeration-heres-why-we-often-hate-new-stuff/

On November 19, 2016, environmentalist commented on USAA – A leader in Financial Services Digitization :

Interesting article Dave. USAA is definitely a front-runner in the Financial Services industry when it comes to embracing the digitalization trend. However, contrary to the general industry trend, in recent years USAA has actually been expanding it physical footprint, opening a set of “Financial Centres” [1] to provide better customer services with regards to complex transactions (and simultaneously achieve improved operational efficiency) [2]. So while I agree that USAA should stay ahead of the herd through focusing on utlizing new digital technologies, I do not agree 100% that it necessarily needs to digitize further – there is value to provide to customers through physical locations and face-to-face interactions.

[1] http://paycheck-chronicles.military.com/2011/05/11/usaa-is-branching-out/
[2] http://www.americanbanker.com/btn/25_7/banking-centers-helpful-for-service-marketing-1050406-1.html

On November 19, 2016, environmentalist commented on Ebook Wars: Amazon vs Publishers :


Interesting post on how Amazon effectively disrupted its own business model with the Kindle, and also puzzling to think about why it has not fully taken off. While I understand your suggestion to offer a free digital version of a physical book purchase to stimulate adoption, I am not sure it would reach the objective it sets out to achieve. If I just bought the physical version, than I will most likely also read that physical book and not the digital version. In fact, when students were presented with a choice to buy a physical book or get the digital version for free a large portion of students still bought the physical version [1]. I think it would also send the wrong signal effect, as it conditions people to believe the digital version is not very valuable and could lead the digital book industry to struggle in the same fashion as the online music industry to convince people to pay for digital copies. [2]

I agree that ensuring one file format for ebooks that can be used across all devices is key, to truly decrease any “barriers to adoption”. Curious how the future will look like for digital books!

[1] https://itconnect.uw.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/UWeTextCampusReport.pdf
[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/bobbyowsinski/2015/09/16/people-still-not-willing-to-pay-for-music-subscriptions-according-to-nielsens-music-360-report/#498f51f83b95

On November 19, 2016, environmentalist commented on Are schools going to disappear in the future? :

Interesting post on how the notoriously inert educational industry has started to embrace technological change through efforts such as edX. I would agree that personalization is a key opportunity ánd challenge for education, especially a mass-oriented platform such as edX will have difficulty to deliver a truly personalized learning environment. My characterization of personalized learning would be more extreme than the one set forth in this blog however. I see it as something truly offering a personalized curriculum to a student, with a variety of teaching methods available (e.g. regular exercies, gamification for those who need a more playful educational method, instruction videos, (remote) one-on-one tutoring, etc.) and an adaptive algorithm that based on students’ performance recommends whether a student needs more practice and through which method, or recommends to advance to the next topics – along the lines of e.g. Knewton’s adaptive learning platform. [1]

On your last provoking question, I do not believe the traditional educational model will disappear. Purely following online education is usually evaluated by students as having a less positive overall experience, as social interaction is more difficult [2]. It is also less socially desirable, because interacting face-to-face with one another is an important skill to develop for children. [3] I see therefore a blend of both models more likely to gain traction going forward, such as the flipped classroom where digital tools are used for instruction at home and in-class the teacher can better devote its attention to problematic topics rather than general instruction. [4]

[1] https://www.knewton.com/approach/
[2] Ponzurick, T., France, K., & Logar, C. (2000). Delivering graduate marketing education: An analysis of face-to-face versus distance education. Journal of Marketing Education, 22(1), 180-187.
[3] https://www.natcom.org/CommCurrentsArticle.aspx?id=884
[4] http://www.uq.edu.au/teach/flipped-classroom/what-is-fc.html

On November 7, 2016, environmentalist commented on Disruptive Innovation at Nike :

Interesting article on Nike’s practices. While it is definitely going in the right direction, wouldn’t you agree that given their very sizeable carbon footprint they should look for more avenues to reduce their impact on the earth? Especially if 60% of their footprint still comes from the material it uses, isn’t their a big (and imperative) opportunity for them to focus on using truly sustainable materials in their products? They have put several interesting initiatives in place as you outline, but the quesiton is whether it is going far enough. Activists may not have picked upon Nike’s contribution to pollution yet, because as you say they have larger contributors to deal with, but it would be in Nike’s best interest to pre-empt this long-term threat by getting real about sustainability today and avoid having to deal with the very real consequences of public scrutiny.

On November 7, 2016, environmentalist commented on More Plastic Than Fish in the Sea? A Big Problem for Pack2Go :

Interesting article Kat. While I indeed see merit in questioning the harshness and effectiveness of France’s plastic policy, I feel that the value placed on some of your premises do not nearly outweigh the high cost to society from plastic waste. For example, the argument that low-income families rely on plastic utensils and plates seems hard to justify as a reason for not banning plastic materials. The cost of an IKEA metal knive for instance is about $0.50 a piece [1], whereas a plastic knife is at about $0.24 [2]. The lifetime of a metal knife is infinitely much longer than a plastic knife, not justifying the cost differential between the two – so arguably it is both in the interest of society as well as low-income families to push the latter towards non-plastic material consumption.

In addition, you say you are not sure about whether replacements will be more environmentally friendly than plastic items. However, plastic items are estimated to take about 400-1000 years to be decomposed and in the meantime present a real problem to both land and water animals [3], so it seems like any attempt to improve this detrimental effect is worthwhile. Especially, as stimulated by the French government, for it to be compostable at home instead for it to take 400-1000 years to degrade.

In short, any stimulants to get reduce plastic waste are favorable to society as a whole – and I think companies such as Coca Cola will be just fine sustaining their business with packaging that might cost a couple of more cents to produce. If it takes a government to impose strict rules for those companies to get to work and innovate, then so be it.

[1] IKEA website, http://www.ikea.com/au/en/catalog/categories/departments/eating/18865/ [Accessed 11/7/2016]
[2] Partycity website, http://www.partycity.com/category/entertaining+serving/cutlery.do [Accessed 11/7/2016]
[3] Daily Mail, 2008. Available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-519870/Banish-Bags-Used-minutes-1-000-years–The-life-cycle-plastic-bags.html [Accessed: 11/7/2016]

On November 7, 2016, environmentalist commented on No, my name is not like the baseball equipment brand :

Interesting and unique example you chose here Mizuho. I feel however that the critique on the company is still somewhat mild. Climate change greatly adversely impacts the availability of raw materials for the product it is selling, yet the only contributions Mizuno has brought forward to combat climate change are e.g. reducing GHG emission from its full operations by a mere 0.2%. Switching to electric sources of energy in their HQs and thereby reducing gasoline consumption by 6% is great, but aren’t there ways for Mizuno to actually make a difference in the climate change challenge? Why is it not stretching itself to engineer a bat of equal quality, but fully consists of recycled products? Or at the very least more efficient ways to have wood as the raw material for bats than the 4 bats per tree it currently is able to achieve? Deforestation is a key contributor to climate change [1], and therefore deserves a more proactive approach from a major consumer such as Mizuno to combat the detremental effects its practices are causing.

[1] WWF website, 2016. http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/effects-of-climate-change [Accessed 11/7/2016]

On November 7, 2016, environmentalist commented on Unilever, a company for shareholders and environmentalists alike? :

Wincent, thanks for sharing the Unilever story – a very remarkable one in today’s business world indeed. While I agree that Unilever is part of the “avant-garde” when it comes to combatting climate change, I do feel there is another side of the coin that has not really been addressed in your post. For example, when Unilever faced a true choice between defending their sustainability position and going after profitability like any other company, it chose the latter. When it introduced smaller, compressed deodorant containers in the UK to benefit the earth through more efficient packaging, and the end-consumer did not adopt these smaller containers but stuck to larger containers from competing brands, it quickly put the larger, non-compressed, containers back on the market [1]. In addition, Unilever had set itself the goal to slash its carbon in half by 2020, yet has already given up on that promise and pushed back the date to 2030 [2]. The company also wanted to reduce the GHG production by its products over their lifetime to decrease by 50%, while in fact they have gone up 6% to date [3]. There are several other incidences where Unilever may not have lived up to its sustainability promise – counterarguments which I feel are very relevant when discussing Unilever’s sustainability approach.

[1] Skapinker, M., & Daneshku, S., 2016. “Can Unilever’s Paul Polman change the way we do business?” Financial Times, 09/29/2016, Available from: https://www.ft.com/content/e6696b4a-8505-11e6-8897-2359a58ac7a5. [Accessed 11/7/2016]
[2] Idem
[3] Idem

On November 7, 2016, environmentalist commented on Marine Harvest ASA – A Quiet Beneficiary of Global Climate Change :

Intruiging article Paul. While I agree with you that given that the population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion people by 2050[1], and that diets are expected to shift to higher calorie, higher protein diets as many developing countries become more prosperous[2], this has a positive effect on demand for fish and therefore benefits MH, I do feel you are downplaying the effects climate change may have on disrupting this attractive dream scenario. MH still very much relies on adequate open water areas to farm salmon, areas which are greatly endangered by the rising temperature of the earth as this phenomenon is expected to reduce salmon habitat in some areas of the world by up to 40%[3]. It is far too costly for MH to produce the large volumes of salmon all in controlled environments such as the Egg – it needs to rely on open water to produce at scale. Hence, while it may on the surface look like they are well-positioned, fighting climate change is in their strong interest so as to avoid salmon production to be outcompeted by other sources of protein.

[1]United Nations, 2015, The World Population Prospects: 2015 Revision
[2]Drewnowski A., Popkin B.M., 1997. The nutrition transition: new trends in the global diet. Nutrition Reviews, 55, p. 31-43
[3]Independent Scientific Advisory Board [ISAB], 2007. Climate change impacts on Columbia River Basin fish and wildlife. Northwest Power and Conservation Council, ISAB 2007-2