[Peter Worley, ERG graduate student]

Many of us at ERG wonder why there continues to be electricity waste and resource waste, despite available solutions. You can hear the aghast complaints around the lunch table: "Why don't people set back their thermostats?!", or "Why don't restaurants compost?!"

Design Thinking (or Design Innovation) is a helpful framework to assess the possible barriers to the solution. It inspects whether the solution is desirable, feasible, and viable. Failed 'solutions' often lack one of these attributes. It gets a different name when it is applied to different domains. When creating physical products, it is called Product Design; developing services - Service Design, presenting information - Visual Design, and shaping organizations - Enterprise Design.
Source: Capterra

This framework can also be helpful for tasks in graduate school less formidable than global sustainability, like applying for a grant, shaping a student organization, or teaching a class. We apply a type of Design Thinking when writing an NSF proposal. We apply Visual Design to tailor our essays for the end-user: the tired, overworked reviewer traveling on airplane.

But what is Design Thinking? Let's break this buzzword down. Design Thinking is an over-arching method for innovating or problem solving. The idea is to simultaneously consider an idea's desirability, feasibility, and viability. Desirability is the human desire for the solution because of its aesthetics, functionality, or ergonomics. Feasibility is that the idea is possible with current technology and regulations. Viability is that the solution can be implemented economically.  The focus on all three distinguishes this strategy from other approaches like 'technical solutions' or 'continuous improvement', which focus on just feasibility or miss desirability.

I've found that Design Thinking leads to more effective and elegant solutions. I first witnessed it when I took a capstone course in Product Design, manufacturing a bee hive monitoring device that was proposed to Shark Tank's initial screening. (Spoiler alert, we didn't get on the show.) I further saw Design Thinking's benefits during consulting when I helped create a custom rebate program for a utility and helping launch a website and digital tools for an energy efficiency start up.

Now, a primer on the actual methodology. I like to put it into three steps:

  1. Problem Framing  
  2. Divergent Thinking  
  3. Convergent Thinking

We'll use programmable thermostats as an example of how to use each step. It seems that until recent smart thermostats, even the most conscientious and skilled of us would rather keep our house heated constantly at 80 degrees than dare interface with that mean robot box that seemed to taunt any attempt at a change in temperature schedule.  

Problem Framing: 

First, the designer or problem solver must frame the problem that is to be solved. There are three sub-steps to framing the problem.

Identify and Empathize with End User 
The first and most fundamental step is identifying who the end-user is that has a need for a problem to be solved and putting yourself in her shoes. Hint, it is usually a human (though there is plenty of product design for cats). This is where you'll hear the term "Human Centered Design." This is the distinction that Design Thinking puts the problem in the frame of reference of the human end-user not in the frame of reference of the designer, the engineer, or the piece of technology.  
*Heads-Up* The end-user is not always the customer (e.g. kid's toys, dentist device) 
In our case, the end-user is the everyday inhabitant, Gertrude. She is not a dedicated environmentalist and not a computer coder. To empathize you think about the long days she has at work or the frustrating spontaneous errand days and the last thing she wants is for her house to be cold just to save a couple bucks on energy. Setting a thermostat schedule is so low on the chore list. 

Define the Problem
This is also known as "The Need." This is a very difficult step. It is the classic of identifying the disease not the symptom. In our case it is rather simple, Gertrude wants a comfortable house whenever she is home and to save energy when she is not, even with a capricious schedule.  

Establish Constraints
These are often broken down into the technological, the economical, the ergonomical, and the cultural. What is physically possible with current technology? We don't have technology yet that can read our minds and determine exactly when the temperature is too low or too high. What are the cost or lead time thresholds for the product? Most people aren't willing to spend $1,000 on a thermostat. What human physical limitations must we work within? It must be comfortable (physically or cognitively) to adjust temperature settings. And finally, what taboos or traditions should we be cognizant of? Design should probably avoid a fire-engine red to fit into the typical interior design of a house. 
*Heads Up* It seems counter-intuitive, but often we are more innovative when we are forced to work within constraints.

Divergent Thinking: create choices. 

This is where the classic brainstorming comes in. No thought showers. Serious, heavy brain storming.
*Heads Up* This step is ripe for a common mistake: shooting down brainstorm ideas. 
This is not the time for critique. We need to generate as many ideas as possible. Weird ones, too. Out-there ideas bring in aspects or relationship we wouldn't have otherwise imagined. The 'quality idea' at the end is a function of the quantity of ideas earlier.

When teammate Randy suggests the thermostat that should be a big lever that comes out of the wall with a stress ball at the end, hold back the giggle or sigh and write it down. On to the next idea. Randy's idea might inspire others to consider other ideas that only have one interface point.

Source: Astrid Baumgardner

Convergent Thinking: make choices.  

This is where you start paring down ideas.

You can use mind maps, decision matrices, and prototypes. The key here is to fail early and often. This is where you'll hear the term "rapid prototyping." *Heads Up* A common mistake is to invest too much into a prototype. First prototypes should look stupid - cardboard, pipe cleaners… childish. Often people pour too much time and resources into a prototype, which detracts from materializing other ideas. This makes the creator personally invested in that single prototype, often making them more defensive and less willing to consider other options.
Maybe to appease Randy you take a dowel rod and stuff a stress ball on the end and hold it next to the wall and show how this really won't fit well behind a couch or below a family painting.
In the end, if executed well, the Design Thinking process can lead to elegant and effective products like the new smart thermostats we see that can be adjusted by a smart phone app or have few minimal physical buttons to get confused over.

If you want to learn more about Design Thinking, the umbrella group on campus for Design Thinking is the Jacobs Institute. You can find info on student groups, classes, seminars, and tools there.  Another main resource is the D School at Stanford where much of Design Thinking originated from. You might even apply Design Thinking to your life! (Yep, you can take a class at Berkeley on it. Some ERGies are doing it this semester.)

Additional images from iMindMap and Alam and Shakil (2014).


[Nick Depsky, ERG graduate student]

Welcome back for the second in a three part series about divestment from fossil fuels. To learn about divestiture in personal banking, check out the first installment here.

Besides personal banking, one of the most common ways in which people are invested in fossil fuels is via funds in retirement savings accounts (e.g. IRAs, 401k, 403b). I currently have a 403b account with Vanguard to which I accrued a small sum in my three years working in the non-profit sector following undergrad. I was disappointed to learn that many of the funds tied to my account were heavily invested in fossil fuel companies.  Large mutual funds and index funds are invested in everything, from big tobacco to Monsanto to fossil fuels. Their objective is to encapsulate and track the entire economy, using benchmarks like the S&P 500. However, recent research shows that performance of such fossil fuel-invested portfolios do not outperform those that are fully divested (Trinks et al 2018).

So, how does one find out where their money is invested?

  1. Find out which financial asset company manages your retirement account and the name of your plan
  2. Determine which funds comprise your plan. Mine was a blend of four different Vanguard index funds
  3. Review the fossil fuel holdings associated with each of these funds. You can look through huge, cluttered annual reports online or check out this beautiful tool built by the Oakland non-profit, As You Sow: Fossil Free Funds

Here’s a snapshot from FossilFreeFunds.org of one of the Vanguard funds from my retirement account:

We can see that 10.51% ($33bn) of the portfolio is in shares of companies in the global top 200 carbon-emitters, coal-fired utilities, the coal industry, fossil-fired utilities, or the oil/gas industry. You can filter by these categories individually to see the more detailed breakdown.

Alternative Mutual and Index Funds for Retirement

While many funds are tied up in fossil fuel holdings, there is an increasing number of companies that are offering sustainable funds as an option to investors and some that offer exclusively fossil-fuel free funds. One such example is Green Century Funds.

Green Century Funds has three funds it operates, totaling roughly $500m in holdings. Compare this to over $300bn in the single Vanguard fund above.  Another popular socially responsible fund is the Portfolio 21 Global Equity Fund (also ~$500m in holdings), which you can invest in via Trillium Mutual Funds.

A potential concern with these smaller index funds is greater volatility and slower growth compared to traditional index funds. However, both the Portfolio 21 Fund and Green Century Equity Fund have generally tracked their economy-wide benchmarks well.  Another consideration is that many of these funds do tend to have higher operating fees, known as ‘expense ratios.’ In the case of Green Century, this is due to their concerted efforts to be active shareholder advocates. Their non-profit structure also means that any accrued profit is distributed to the consortium of non-profit groups by which they were funded back in 1991.  Most of these groups are Public Interest Research Groups, including our state chapter, CALPIRG.

Here are five-year snapshots of growth for both the Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund shown above and the Green Century Equity Fund:

Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund

Green Century Equity Fund

How to Switch to these Alternatives

Transferring funds from an existing 401k or 403b account into a traditional or Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is called a “rollover.” For tax and income reasons, the Roth IRA may be a better retirement investment option for younger, early-career individuals.

Here’s how you would initiate a rollover:
  1. Identify your IRA of choice
  2. Contact* the financial institution that currently manages your retirement account about their rollover policies and get the appropriate forms. Here's an example from Green Century.
  3. Go down the rabbit hole of the transfer process…
*code for calling and being put on hold for 5-300 minutes

In all seriousness, the transfer process can be completed in an afternoon. I hope this post shows that there are good long-term investment options available that don’t sacrifice your financial future nor the health of the planet by supporting fossil fuels. For a big breakdown of socially responsible funds across metrics than beyond fossil fuels, check out the Wikipedia page on Socially Responsible Investing. Remember to supplement these tips with your own research or conversations with a financial advisor.

Stay tuned for the third and final installment in this series where Nick will discuss stocks, institutional divestment and community activism.


[Nick Depsky, ERG graduate student]

Do you feel powerless in the face of climate change? Do you have money in a major bank? Do you own any stocks? What about that retirement account you forgot about from a previous employer? Are you confused by the massive, opaque financial world but acknowledge the need to save for boba tea and multiple pairs of socks? Maybe you want to know how your money can be used to take a tiny bit of power away from the fossil fuel industry and reinvested in better alternatives.

If you answered “YES” to any of the above questions, I encourage you to read this post. You may become inspired, as I have, to personally divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in better alternatives.

Why Divest?

It’s true that the most impactful acts of divestment would be from large institutions and corporations, rather than from starving grad students paying a million dollars a month for a leaky little apartment room in the Bay Area. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t still wield what money you have to cast a real financial vote of indignation against the fossil fuel industry, symbolic though it may feel.

Maybe you’ve had the same thought that I’ve had in the past: “I don’t have enough money to make any kind of a difference to Chase Bank or Wells Fargo.” But I think it helps to think of your money as a form of voting. Those of us who are compelled to vote for people and policies we support should be equally compelled to align our financial assets with those ideals, regardless of how insignificant a single vote may feel in a culture that under-values voting.

Collective divestment really can make a difference. The campaign to divest from South Africa in the 80s contributed to dismantling formal apartheid, and we are starting to see a similar swell organize around fossil fuels. Besides taking money out of the hands of industry players whose actions we oppose, divestment also erodes the political and social capital upon which these industries rely to lobby and continue operating.

Major Banks

Beyond being complicit in long-standing predatory lending and discriminatory lending practices, major banks and financial institutions have also invested billions in fossil fuel industries, financing tar sands, pipelines, and arctic and deep-water drilling.  JP Morgan Chase (Chase Bank) sinks roughly seven billion dollars a year into such endeavors, with Bank of America and Citibank each investing between four and five billion annually.  Wells Fargo’s annual investments come in around one to two billion dollars.  The full rankings of banks’ contributions to fossil fuels by industry type can be seen via this tool maintained by the Rainforest Action Network.

Total financing of fossil fuels by year (source: Rainforest Action Network)

Previously, I had my entire savings in Wells Fargo, and while they contribute comparatively smaller amounts to fossil fuels than some other banks, they have also shown a tendency to disregard the law in terms of both predatory lending and opening of fraudulent accounts in the years following the 2008 crash, a practice for which they were eventually fined $185 million last year (a whopping 0.2% of their 2016 revenue).

Alternatives to Major Banks

Credit Unions:
Switching over to a credit union is a good bet, since they are not-for-profit institutions by their nature.  However, some credit unions are intertwined with large banks and the fossil fuel industry in obvious ways, and in some ways that I still don’t totally understand. Credit unions are not all equal. Make sure their practices align with your values. Generally speaking, going with a local credit union that is community-focused is a solid choice, though it might still be worth chatting with a representative about what varieties of loans they issue.  Here are some local credit unions I’ve been recommended:

This list is non-exhaustive and there are many more.  All of the institutions above are equal housing opportunity lenders. 

Values-Oriented Banks:
I switched over to a mission-oriented bank rather than a credit union. I like the fact that they are an example of a successful triple bottom line banking institution (B-corps certified) that actively funds a wide array of socially-conscious sectors.  I found two candidates in the Bay Area and chatted with representatives from each to find out more information.  Here’s what I learned:

Beneficial State Bank New Resource Bank
0% fossil fuel investment
Branches California, Pacific Northwest
Closest: Downtown Oakland
San Francisco only
Non-profit foundation All profits dispersed in forms of grants or loans to communities All profits dispersed in forms of grants or loans to communities
Housing lending Directly lends to affordable multi-family housing No direct housing lending, but invests in construction of affordable units
ATM Networks MoneyPass (US Bank, Mechanics Bank, Atlantic Credit Union) & All Point Network (inside big retailers like Walgreens, CVS) STAR & MoneyPass 
Credit cards In-house Visa credit cards starting 2018
Currently partners with various non-profits (i.e. Sierra Club) to offer cards to clients
Does not offer credit cards, but partners with a credit-union credit card agency 
Targeted lending sectors Affordable Housing
Sustainable Food and Agriculture
Green Energy
Rural Communities
Minority-Owned Businesses
Sustainable Business
Green Real Estate
Organic & Natural Products
Clean Energy

Interest Rates

I looked into interest rates on savings and checking accounts for Beneficial State Bank and New Resource Bank, and compared them to Wells Fargo.  Beneficial seems to have the best interest rates for small accounts out of all three; Wells Fargo comes in last.  Beneficial also had the lowest minimum ($1,000) requirement to open a certificate deposit (CD) account, compared to $2,500 for Wells Fargo and $25,000 for New Resource.

Here is a snapshot from an investment infographic from New Resource Bank:

New Resource’s index of “Real Economy Assets”  illustrates their departure from the policies of big banks that typically have their money tied up in the financial economy instead of community investments. Beneficial State Bank has a similar “Real Economy Assets” figure of roughly 80%.

In the end, I decided to go with Beneficial because of geographic advantages.  Their nearest office is in Oakland rather than San Francisco. And they have locations in Los Angeles, so I can tell my friends down there to switch over.  Both New Resource and Beneficial seem like great options, and I would encourage you to get in touch with them yourself if you’re thinking of switching.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this three-part series, where Nick looks at retirement accounts mutual funds. 


[Gordon Bauer, ERG graduate student]

The northern lights outside Barrow. Photo credit: Ori Chafe.

A few weeks ago, ERG Professor Margaret Torn sent a cryptic department-wide email inquiring if anyone would like to assist in ecological research in northern Alaska as part of the Next Generation Emerging Ecosystems – Arctic project. I thought for a few moments about how disruptive and inconvenient this would be: two days lost in transit, foregone work time with deadlines fast approaching, and evenings spent alone in an icy wasteland. Then I thought about opportunities that only come once in a lifetime, and impulsively sent out an emphatic yes. One thing led to another, and then suddenly I found myself in a taxi to the airport at 4am, bound for Barrow, Alaska on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

“The sea has given us so many gifts…it can have my body.” My main motivation for going to the Arctic was the physical place: I wanted to experience the icy landscape extending as far as the eye can see, the northern sun low in the sky, and the chance to see polar bears, arctic foxes, and the aurora borealis. I was not disappointed. On our second night in Barrow, we laid in a snowbank for over an hour with approximately 50 layers of clothing to protect against the polar wind, staring in awe as giant green ghosts danced across the sky. At one point an arctic fox scampered by, pausing to ponder what we were doing there. On the third day it snowed, and the Arctic Ocean turned into a giant slushie, the waves barely strong enough to break.

The work itself was a refreshing break from the office: every morning, we snowmobiled out to a field site in the tundra in the pre-dawn 10am light, dismantled frozen monitoring equipment for a few hours, and then transported it to a warehouse via sled as the sun set around 3pm. For the past five years, this equipment has been used to take incredibly detailed measurements of the arctic ecosystem and the evolving interactions between the ecosystem and climate. Among other things, an eddy flux tower measures carbon dioxide and methane released from the melting permafrost, while an elevated tram system measures changes in flora and energy balance along a 40-meter cross section. The monitoring station is dismantled for the winter every November, and set up again in the spring.

Ori Chafe (right) and Stan Wulschlegger take sensors off the eddy flux tower, as ERGie Richard Barnes (left) looks on.

Richard packs up equipment for the winter.

The daily commute.

Ori (left) and Richard enjoy some Arctic pumpkin pie.

However, what I found most fascinating and inspiring about Barrow was not the science nor the landscape, but the community itself. A hub of Inupiaq culture and one of the few places in North America with active whale hunting (bowhead whales serve as a crucial source of food for the community), Barrow feels at once foreign and utterly American. On our second night in Barrow, I drove into town with Richard Barnes—my ERG companion on the trip—to take in the sights. In many ways, Barrow looks like any other small American town, with a few key differences. The wooden homes are all on stilts to maintain stability during permafrost melt, and outside the mayor’s office on the main street sits a bowhead whale skull the size of a small car.

Richard admiring the lawn decoration outside the Barrow mayor’s office.

The Arctic Hotel in Barrow.

When Brussel sprouts are $6.99/lb, vegetarianism isn’t the most practical option.

“When someone says they support 'America first,' you have to wonder, does the America they are talking about include Barrow, Alaska?” Sadly, that arctic environment is changing rapidly, and it isn’t clear how much longer Barrow will continue to exist in its current location. As the sea ice melts earlier in the spring and takes longer to form in the fall, the waves have more time to erode the land. The flooding has become a serious problem. Already, residents have had to relocate some ancestral grave sites, and many fishing cabins outside of town have been swept away. Within the next 20 years, it is possible that all of Barrow will have to move. But in the face of inevitable destruction, we also saw signs of resilience. When we talked about the need to relocate graves, one woman we met said, “The sea has given us so many gifts…it can have my body.” She spoke with excitement about relocating to a village in the mountains.

My visit to Barrow was a strong reminder of the diversity of this crazy country we call home, and of the fragility of life at the frontier. When someone says they support “America first,” you have to wonder, does the America they are talking about include Barrow, Alaska? If so, supporting America first means supporting a diversity of cultures and world views. It means supporting not just a way of life associated with coal mining, but one associated with whaling, frozen tundra, and polar ice caps as well. Perhaps above all, supporting America first means doing all we can to stop climate change.


[compiled by Yoshika Crider and Emma Tome, ERG graduate students]

The Energy & Resources Group is by no means a homogenous space -- methodologically, ideologically, disciplinary -- but we are united by our commitment to asking and answering questions that are consequential to more than the academic world alone.

In recent months, politically-motivated events have impacted life at Berkeley, disrupting a place we call home. We asked ERGies how they engage with the world through or outside of the university, why, and to what ends. Here’s a brief glimpse into Life@ERG.

Starting a conversation

After the election in November 2016, the ERG space became a setting for many conversations about the difficult politics that affect our community, our work, and our daily lives. One of our department tea times became a brainstorm session for what we could do.

Raising money for causes we care about

“This is a picture of germinating Zinnia seeds in preparation for the sale, a variety called ‘Cut and Come Again.’ Seemed appropriate.”

“Several of us at ERG have been dismayed by the increasing "othering" and xenophobia that's been exacerbated and further legitimized in our current political climate. One of our small acts of resistance and peace in the face of all this was to grow lots of baby plants this spring, with the intention of donating all the profits to organizations working for social or environmental justice. On Mother's Day, we had a plant sale and bake sale in North Oakland, with hundreds of veggie and flower starts and a table full of cookies and brownies and other delicacies. We told everyone to pay whatever they wanted for the plants and baked goods -- honestly, just a day of community gathering to talk about gardening and eat tasty snacks together felt good. So it was a really nice surprise to see that we raised $1290 (!) at the sale, which we decided to donate to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. For me, the daily ritual of watching seeds germinate and unfurl, watering baby plants, and observing them grow was a good antidote to the the news, a meditation to keep grounded and a reminder to do the best I can, now.” (ERGie Sasha Harris-Lovett)

“This is the group of women in a group called ‘PMS - Post March Salon.’ We've been meeting monthly to discuss resistance activities, and we had our first fundraiser last month for a Democratic nominee in a flippable district in Southern California.” (ERGie Gauthami Penakalapati, pictured far right)

Volunteering our time

“I’m attaching a pic of the volunteer training day of Surf City Project. SCP takes undeserved youth in the surrounding area surfing, and shares values related to respect for the environment, healthy living, and personal growth.”

"I’m thankful for the times we are living in. I have taken a look at myself and how I live, and decided to keep changing. Where I put my money, what food I eat, how I spend my time, what I learn, how I share what I have, how I give to where I’m from and where I live. If Trump and his posse hadn’t won I would still be living in my old-fashioned ways. How would people living 30 years from now wish we had lived? What decisions do they wish we had made? Are we living in the past, or shaping the future? To keep going, one must stay ahead of the times." (ERGie Diego Ponce de Leon)

Attending marches and rallies
ERGie Noah Kittner at the Washington, D.C., March for Science

ERGies Peter Worley, Gordon Bauer, Yoshika Crider, Seigi Karasaki, Veronica Jacome, Sophie Major, Samira Siddique, and Emma Tome at the Bay Area Rally for Peace on August 27, 2017.

“After the first Milo Yiannopoulos protests in February, friends from opposite sides of the political spectrum made very different claims about what had happened, each narrative portraying a very different picture of the Berkeley community. Who punched who? How much property damage was really done, and by whom? I had my own thoughts and opinions, but ultimately I couldn't give any more of an objective account, because I hadn't been there, either. I was across the street at an ERG Chinese New Year celebration, and had been thinking of going to the protests after, but then some friends who had been there started coming in looking scared, and I decided to stay away. In late August, in response to yet another far-right rally planned for downtown Berkeley, a broad coalition of groups organized a rally called Berkeley Unites Against Hate. In the week leading up to the event, I got a flurry of  emails from administration at both UC Berkeley and  Lawrence Berkeley National Lab telling me to stay home. But this time, I knew I had to be there, if only so I could say definitively what happened.  As it turned out, the event was beautiful--bouncing music, inspiring speeches, and good friends smiling in the California sun. There were 7,000 peaceful protesters there, and together we made a strong statement about what Berkeley stands for. The headlines that day focused on the four people who were arrested when a fight broke out, but I know what the event was really about: solidarity, community, and resistance.” (ERGie Gordon Bauer)

The Bay Area Rally for Peace, August 27, 2017 (Photo by ERGie Gordon Bauer)

Women's March, January 21, 2017 (photo by ERGie Gauthami Penakalapati)

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