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Off-Grid Water (Service design clinic, Stanford University, 2009)

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Together with Banny Banerjee, the new Director of Stanford University’s ’Design For Change programme, we ran a professional design clinic on the theme of “off-grid water”. Our Stanford clinic focused on entrepreneurs in the Palo Alto region who were developing tools to help citizens manage water sustainably.
Rainwater Hog has won lots of prizes, but its designer and producer, Sally Dominguez, wanted our advice on the best way to translate celebrity into sales.
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Our worldly design experts concluded that people will pay better money to save their house, than to save the planet., and advised Sally to re-brand the system as an on-site emergency water supply.
Seven per cent of all US energy use is to process waste – thereby causing 30m million of tons of emissions. Charles Zhou mesmerised us with his story about the use of smart micro-organisms to optimize sludge digestion, and of microbial fuel cells to recover clean energy from wastewater. Ninety-nine percent of current wastewater treatment facilities do not recover any energy from wastewater. Zhou seems set to become the Bill Gates of sewage.
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Professor Banerjee reflecting on the event, told me that the three criteria by which their projects are selected are: beneficial impact, scalablility, and urgency. Our clinic scored well against those criteria. President Obama’s new energy secretary, Steven Chu, stated on the day we arrived that “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California”. Immediately following our clinic, a state-wide water state of emergency was declared.

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