Interviews

Earthships: The future of sustainable living

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We recently sat down with Mat Holroyd to discover more about sustainable buildings – specifically Earthships. Don’t let the name fool you – in 10 years time you could well be living in one.

What are Earthships? What differentiates an Earthship from other types of (sustainable) housing?

Earthships are buildings designed to minimize the fuel and resources needed to run the building, while reducing the waste that leaves the house. Earthships typically collect their own water, generate their own electricity, and the grey water is treated onsite. Additionally Earthships are typically built with recycled material, and when you put all these aspects together, the houses are often labeled as “sustainable”, “environmentally friendly” etc.

I should mention Earthships are the houses invented and built by the company Earthship Biotecture. Anyone who’s interested to learn how to build Earthships can buy their books or study at their academy.

As to what differentiates Earthships from other sustainable houses, probably the most distinctive feature of an Earthship is that all the different systems (electricity, water, sewage treatment, growing food, heating/cooling, recycled materials) are cohesively integrated. That is to say, Earthships are well-designed machines, that have been tweaked over decades to bring all those systems together in a practical yet pleasant package. Because of this Earthships have a very distinctive look – they often look like a glasshouse built into a mound of dirt or a hillside.

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What advantages do Earthships have over traditional housing?

Earthships do not require outside electricity or water supply, and do not need waste water treatment. Hence the bills for running the house are cheaper, but it also means you can build these houses where those services are unavailable. The temperature of the house stays a steady 21°C all year round, whether they are built in Sweden or outback Australia. Parts of the buildings can be built with recycled materials, cutting costs and removing landfill. Earthships have interior plants beds that can grow food, which can be enough for 50%+ of the inhabitant’s needs.

There are more advantages, but these are probably the most important to people.

That said, Earthships do have their limitations. Foremost, the design of an Earthship is not as flexible as a traditional house. An Earthship needs a glasshouse on one side, the side that faces the equator, which shouldn’t be in shadow. In essence, an Earthship is a machine like a car – you can’t just change things around without affecting the performance.

Apart from that, Earthships that look and have all the trimmings of a modern house are more expensive then a house with equivalent floor space. Some of those costs pay off when future bills are reduced. Additionally a lot of the skills for building an Earthship are easy to learn, and people go on to build (or volunteer to take part in builds) outside those guided by Earthship Biotecture.

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You went to the Academy build at the start of the year in Argentina – what was the experience like?

It was awesome. The academy consisted of 2-3 days of classes a weeks and 2-3 days of working on a building site per week, for four weeks. The atmosphere was great, all enthusiastic people ranging from 20- to 60 years-old – it had a school-camp like feel. It was affordable too – around US $1500 for the course, with a lot of the skills being useful for decades to come. E.g. I now know how to collect, store and filter water; collect, store and deliver electricity efficiently; building tire walls; plaster; basic carpentry skills; mix concrete and other building materials; and many other things. The academy also happens frequently within the US.

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You said Earthships remind you of Bitcoin – how so?

When I made that comment, I was thinking of how Bitcoin enables people to take charge of their own financial services (savings, trade, etc), an Earthship enables people to take charge of their own living services (water, electricity, etc).

I’ll give two examples to illustrate my point. In early 2013 in Cyprus, hundreds of thousands of private citizens and businesses who held money in banks had part of their cash seized under government order. Any savings held in Bitcoins (or for that matter, gold in personal possession) were immune to that order. Now take the current situation in Ukraine. The Ukraine government cut off water to part of the country that is under control by pro-Russian people. If you were currently living in that part of Ukraine, what kind of house would you rather be in, a traditional house requiring state provided natural gas, water and electricity, or an Earthship?

These are extreme examples but they highlight how dependent the average person is on the government, whether they are in the Europe, Australia, US, etc.

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You recently set-up some solar panels at your city apartment – what was the purpose of this and what advice do you have for other city dwellers?

A solar system on the ground level of a city yard is a terrible idea if the goal is to save money. There isn’t going to be enough sunlight to offset the cost. However, as a learning experience – it was great! My purpose was to see if I could do it, and it was really easy. Anyone can do it.  You only need four components: solar panels, charge controller, batteries, and an inverter. There are heaps of guides on the net telling you how to hook it up.

If you have a yard with less shade, or can get access to a roof, go for it! I got most of the parts off Amazon. Also, I think in places like Australia, Europe and the North America, the price of the setup is such that the cost will be offset by the energy savings after a decade or less.

How can people find out more?

The first place to start is by visiting earthship.com. There are many documentaries about Earthships. The one that introduced me was Garbage Warrior (trailer here). Garbage Warrior doesn’t explain the systems that go into an Earthship in great deal though. To help with this lack of info, I setup an unofficial wiki while I was doing the Academy. There is a bunch of information about the systems in there, but it’s a bit hap-hazard and not complete.

Image credit: all images courtesy of Earthship Biotecture or academy students

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Books

Book review: Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry

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What is it about the LEGO brand that sees this company’s products excite and delight the toy market 80 years on?

When you read page by page of ‘Brick by Brick’ you soon learn the many lessons of how to stay an innovative market leader throughout the decades and into the digital age. It’s a fascinating read as you experience the dizzy heights of phenomenal success resulting from the Star Wars and Harry Potter themed sets of toy to the calamity of 2003 when the cracks in the LEGO empire began to show.

The beauty of this read is the warts and all insight into the people behind the company, the vast array of products and the interesting reasons behind the creation of the product ranges. You are taken on a journey where every step is incredibly detailed and where it is clear that the path to success was not an easy one. Time and time again the words determination, perseverance, tenacity and failure appear. The many mistakes are analyzed and explained providing valuable learnings for the reader. One also reads of experimentation, belief and passion.

The book discusses the six principle approach to innovation that worked: An aspirational mission, relentless experimentation, systems thinking, discipline and focus, the appeal of the real and of inspiring the customer/prioritizing the retailer.

The book challenges your approach to innovation as you learn what worked and what certainly did not work for LEGO. Profitable innovation instead of run-away innovation is key and accompanying that continuous innovation becoming the norm. ‘Brick by Brick’ shares the innumerable signposts that were missed at crucial times seeing the fortunes of LEGO plummet and providing sage advice for the reader. Having offered all the insights, signposts and guidance however a crucial take-away stressed by authors, Professor of Innovation and Technology Management David Robertson and founding member of Fast Company Bill Breen, is that it is up to you to ownership and ‘make the bricks click’.

About our contributor // Jacs Ford’s inquisitive nature sees her say yes to pretty much anything – a Tough Mudder, an African Safari, sailing down the Nile in a felucca and even a HTML workshop. Follow her on Twitter via @jacsford.

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Guest Posts

The world on your terms: why you can start a successful business anywhere

globeIt is common thinking that you need to be in San Francisco to start a big software company, in Paris to create the world’s best restaurant and on Wall Street to build the a successful hedge fund.

…but that’s not always the case. Chris Hexton explains…

Should Atlassian have thrived in Sydney? How did Noma become the best restaurant in the world, in Denmark?

These people broke the rules, and so can you.

There are three things that can empower you to start a company with major growth potential, no matter where you are:

  1. A global focus. When you’re driving a car at speed if you focus directly on an object, it’s likely you’ll hit it. Similarly, if you’re focused on being the best in your home market, that’s what you’ll be. If, however, you dream of being the best in the world from day one, you’re much more likely to find a way to turn this dream into practical steps that lead to reality.
  2. Access to the tools you need. Technology has changed the way we work. “Work” is now an action, not a place. This means that with a fast net connection and some elbow grease, you can serve clients all over the world from your home town, wherever that may be. Invest in the other tools you need to be successful – top-of-the-line computers, video conferencing gear, high-end software and most importantly, people. The right team can raise your company to new levels time and time again.
  3. A passion for where you live. If you aren’t happy, it’s nearly impossible to succeed at building a business. In order to maintain the necessary motivation and drive, it’s key to spend your time in a place you love. Whether that’s San Francisco, Sydney, Stockholm or Shanghai, the right atmosphere will fuel you with energy.

Global focus

When James and I started Vero, we lived in San Francisco. After just six months we decided to move back home to Sydney, Australia.

A big part of this decision was that we had committed to bootstrapping Vero and needed as much support as we could get from friends, family and the home city we knew and loved.

Over a year later, we’re more than happy with how things have turned out and how bright the future looks. The biggest fear we had before we returned to Australia was that people wouldn’t take us seriously.

After all, ”Why would customers in Europe or the US care about someone from Australia?”

It turns out that if you deliver a product that people want and customer service that impresses, customers don’t get hung up on location.

Moreover, we don’t act like we’re solely interested in Australian customers. In fact, we think big.

Everything we do – from marketing and customer support to development and strategy – is designed to help grow Vero into one of the world’s key email service providers. We wonder how we can build a template editor as good as Mailchimp’s, an audience as inspired as KISSmetrics’ and revenue as quickly as Dropbox.

Keeping a global attitude can be hard when you’re not ‘in the thick of it’ but there are a few things that have helped us keep our eyes on the prize:

  • Competitors around the globe. From San Francisco to Paris, Vero has competitors that we respect. Keeping the fire alive and challenging us to grow as fast as (and even faster) than these great companies is a huge help in terms of ambition and global focus.
  • The hunt for customers on the cutting edge. At Vero, customers that spend time exploring how email can grow their business are a pleasure to work with. Finding customers that want to push the boundaries usually means looking to the global leaders, regardless of where they’re located. We have amazing customers in Berlin, New York, Mexico and Israel, and we’ve seen first hand just how smart people are. These customers are located in some of the world’s most exciting cities and they inspire us each and every day.
  • An open mind. Is it cool to have customers in Berlin that have more customers than the entire population of Australia? Damn right it’s cool. Is it cool to have built something that helps them connect with these customers? We live in a crazy, high-speed, global world and you need to embrace every minute of it.

The tools

You need to be in a place that has everything you need.

If you’re a 23-year-old bootstrapping the dream, this might be your parent’s basement for a while. If you need $2 million, then you’re going to need investors. If you need a tech team of four, then you’ll have to find them.

Where can you best get the resources you need? At home, abroad, somewhere cheaper? I remember reading an article in Monocle advocating the pros of starting a company in your home city. The statistics suggested success rates were generally higher, as founders can get what they need from trusted connections they have made throughout their lives.

There is no doubt that legal, tax, employment and other advice has been easy for me to find at Vero here in Sydney: never more than a single phone call away. This has helped us immensely to date.

A passion for where you live

When my co-founder, Damien, sent me this photo a few mornings ago – and this is just around the corner from where he lives – it was a reminder of the passion and joy he has for where he lives (sunny Manly, in Sydney).

Coffee at Manly

There is an important distinction between ‘comfortable’ and ‘complacent’. You constantly need to find ways to raise the bar but, when so much of this comes motivating forces like customers, competitors and even an entrepreneurs internal fire to prove they can win, it’s important to live in a place you love, not hate.

This could be San Francisco or New York City, it could be Sydney or London, or it could even be Chang Mai. There comes a time in any business where most people can’t work 16 hour days every day. Rest is important (science says so, as does common sense). Being somewhere you can do the things you love, such as surfing in the morning, makes for happier people.

About our contributor // Chris Hexton is the co-founder of Vero. Follow him on Twitter via @chexton.

Image credit: via Martin Klasch

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Events

Promoted event: Content Development for Social Media, Marketing Women, Melbourne

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What attributes of content lead to social sharing? How do we drive engagement on social?

The Marketing Women Inc. Masterclass event: Content Development for Social Media on Wednesday 4 June, will address these questions and more.

There are two social media gurus presenting at the event: Sasha Cunningham and Katrina Loughrey.

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Sasha has recently been appointed as Edge’s Senior Strategic Planner. Sasha explains that her move to Edge has been so she can focus on content marketing strategy and lead their social media offering.

Her current clients, specifically in social include AAMI, Optus, Secure Pay (an Australia Post company), Australian Unity, Bacardi and Lesson Zone.

Katrina Loughrey brings over 10 years experience as a communications and digital professional. She currently juggles the management of the Victoria Racing Club’s digital portfolio as well as being a curator of The Fetch Melbourne.

The event kicks off with plenty of networking time while enjoying some nibbles and drinks. Remember to bring along your business cards, so you can go into the draw to win a fabulous prize on the night.

Come and hear from the experts!

Register before May 28 at the early bird rate on the Marketing Women Inc website.

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Job

Featured job: Client Whisperer, Apostrophe Copywriters, Melbourne

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Apostrophe Copywriters – Melbourne’s first copywriting collective – is on the hunt for a mid-weight Client Whisperer. Discover more below.

A not-so-traditional role.
Primarily, they’re after someone who’s good with people –­­­­­­ an inspiring communicator who’s well connected in the design, digital, corporate, new business or branding world (or can be with very little effort).

You know the kind – able to deliver a pitch with the charm of Clooney, the clarity of Tim Ferris and the warmth of Oprah. A triple threat communications pro.

Must possess super powers.
The candidate doesn’t have to wear a cape or anything, but must be super brainy, super malleable and super dedicated. A day in the life of an Apostrophe Client Whisperer might include writing briefs, meeting writers, drinking caffeine, and then flicking the switch on the right brain for some off-the-cuff thinking.

The more versatile you are, the better. Play the guitar? Fly a plane? Bake cupcakes? Right on.

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Socks up.
A good attitude isn’t enough. It needs to be frickin’ amazing. Deeply collaborative with an entrepreneurial spark, this person must have a passion for people and a willingness to learn. Kudos and constructive criticism are valued equally.

The power of one.
While Apostrophe is made up of 25 writers, there will be times where the candidate will be working solo, so he/she must love his/her own company. Insert clap (or high five for one) here.

Short (or long term)
At this stage, they’re after someone for three months. In saying that, if KPIs are met they’d like to make this a full-time role.

They’ll give you:

  • A trampoline to jump as high as you want to
  • An inspiring office space (in Thornbury) buzzing with startups and entrepreneurs
  • A decent wage based on your hard work, profile and experience
  • The chance to work with a kick-ass team of wordsmiths
  • The opportunity to rename your job title
  • The freedom to do your work exceptionally well.

Nice-to-have.
While agency background (digital, branding, design or advertising) is a plus, it’s definitely not a mandatory. They know skills are transferrable and the right person will be able to shimmy them over better than Tina Turner herself.

If you feel like you have the right stuff, email them at jobs@weareapostrophe.com.au.

They’d like to see a CV and some creative answers to the questions below.

  1. What are the three words that summarise your higher purpose?
  2. What’s your favourite word?
  3. How would you connect with a person who didn’t want to be connected with?
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