Applying Pascal’s Wager to Global Warming

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Applying Pascal’s Wager to Global Warming

We recently watched “An Inconvenient Truth” and I was struck by Al Gore straining every fibre of his existence to make his point that global warming was actual fact and not just some fringe point of view.

I have never seen such diverse data sets put together in such a visually compelling manner and with laser sharp focus to prove a hypothesis.

His thesis is so comprehensive that I have to agree.

He has us in thrall much like La belle dame sans merci.

Yet for all the work done by Al Gore (including hundreds of road trips across the globe to spread the same message) skepticism abounds. For example, in a 2007 Gallup study, only 29% of Indians perceived global warming to be a threat. These were of course people who were aware of global warming.

Why is it so difficult to convince people using just data? Especially for something that is as critical as our very survival.

Yet humanity is more than willing to accept ideas with far less data to support them.

Like the idea of heaven and hell.

I haven’t seen any data based film like “An Inconvenient Truth” about heaven or hell. Yet I can see far more people concerned about avoiding the mythical hell as compared to a certain hell on earth if we don’t prevent the oceans boiling over from global warming.

This got me thinking about how I would have concluded my presentation on global warming.

And I found a very close parallel in Pascal’s Wager.

Pascal’s Wager

French thinker Blaise Pascal’s wager goes as follows

  1. Man cannot use reason (and data) to prove the existence of god
  2. Since we cannot use reason we can only wager the existence of god
  3. And you must wager, If you want to safeguard your future
  4. If you believe in god & it turns out that god exists, then you win big time. If you don’t believe in god and he indeed exists, then you are in trouble. And all hell breaks out for you.
  5. In the event that god doesn’t exist, it doesn’t matter either way.
  6. Assigning probabilities to all four events above it can be proved that you are better off believing in god.

And so it is with global warming

Even if all the data in the world does not convince you, you are better off acting as if global warming existed.

For example, start walking more instead of taking the car.

If global warming does exist, then you have done your bit.

If global warming is a myth, then the walking will at least keep you fit.

 

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Extended Producer Responsibility : Part II

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In the earlier post we introduced the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). From some of the reactions to the post, I am writing this follow-up post to expand on the idea.

In one line, EPR extends the responsibility of the manufacturer of a product from cradle to grave. This means even after the consumer disposes the product the manufacturer is responsible for the waste generated. The main idea is to ensure that this waste does not reach a landfill and instead gets recycled.

At this point EPR is not mandated by law in India. However many companies, especially the electronics manufacturers are addressing the e-waste generated by their products.

For a movement like EPR to succeed and create wide impact, everyone involved, in this case manufacturers and consumers, must do their part.

1. What can manufacturers do for EPR?

Minimize waste at the design stage. This is the most elegant way of reducing waste. At the design stage choosing safe, recyclable materials, removing unnecessary parts, choosing formats like solids over liquids all ways to reduce product waste.

Sponsor waste collection programs. I mentioned some examples in the earlier post and I came across another cool EPR program by a company that makes granola bars in the style of bear naked . They have two programs to ensure that their empty wrappers do not reach a landfill.

2. What can consumers do?

Handle waste correctly through source segregation

The default option is to throw waste into one all purpose dustbin. This is the very root of the problem at the consumer end. Wherever possible, source segregation should be practised. Bio-degradable food waste should be separated from other inert recyclable waste like paper, plastic, wood etc. The food waste should be composted and the other inert waste to be sent for recycling just the way newspapers are recycled.

Make a phone call for the special cases

Special cases like e-waste, say an old unused mobile phone to be disposed, could contain hazardous materials. There are companies that specialize in collecting and recycling e-waste. These companies will schedule a visit to your house to collect e-waste. While I haven’t used their services, an e-waste management company called attero has a doorstep collection service.

3. What will krya do?

The design stage

For our soon to be launched detergent, we have thought long and hard about the design of our packaging material and have written about it in an earlier post. We are quite thrilled with our design and at the same time realize that it is work in progress.

The post consumer use phase

All packaging waste generated by our product can be easily sent for recycling by the consumers. To take it to the next level we are talking to waste management and up-cycling companies to start an EPR pilot project. We are quite excited to see how that works out.

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Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

International tidyman logo
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The “tidy man“ logo can be found somewhere in the nether regions of many consumer product labels, especially food products. It places a responsibility on me to dispose the packaging material in a trash can after using the product inside. This idea and the tidy man logo was created to keep the streets in U.K. litter free by a British charity called “keep Britain tidy” in the ‘70s. It is now commonly used across the world on all types of products.

Now this idea has been around for nearly 40 years and I am not sure if there has been any measurable impact in the way consumers dispose packaging material. Certainly the fact that this logo is now a footnote on most labels gives an indication of its impact.

It is one thing not to litter

It is entirely another thing to recycle

Along came recycling

Around the same time in the ‘70s came the recycling logo. Depending on material type, consumer product manufacturers started using an array of recycling symbols, all based on the classic 3-arrow logo.  (For more on the symbols, refer to our earlier post on this).

recycled logo

Again the responsibility of recycling was handed over by the manufacturer to me when I paid for the product. It is up to me to figure out the meanings of the different symbols and dispose accordingly. This is really is a shot in the dark and the odds of it getting done are desperately low.

This brings us to the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility.

EPR

When does the manufacturer’s responsibility end?

In the dark ages, I paid money and received a product and that was it. The manufacturer’s role ended.

The next stage obviously was the concept of customer care. So the manufacturer had to account for the product’s performance as long as I was consuming it. I had some recourse in case I was not happy with the product’s performance.

In this equation we now have a third variable, the environment.

The struggle (if any) has been to decide who really is responsible for the environment. As a result manufacturers took the trouble of putting the “tidy man” and “recycling” logos on their product. Unlike customer care there is no legal sanction for this and till date there is no clear mandate for manufacturers to account for proper disposal of every part of their products.

Extended Producer Responsibility means that the manufacturer is responsible for the product from design, consumer use to disposal. It covers the entire product life cycle.

This is a whole new idea and a whole new responsibility. It forces designers think about products in an entirely new way.

All over the world, local civic bodies are alarmed at rate at which landfills are getting used up, especially with toxic e-waste. E-waste especially from mobile phones has given cause for this alarm and even the Indian government has a draft proposal for Extended Producer Responsibility for electronics manufacturers.

This has lead to some companies like Nokia putting up a recycling bin at their stores to collect old phones and prevent them from ending up in a landfill.

In the case of consumer product companies, metallised plastic is one material that is extremely difficult to recycle or dispose correctly. It is widely used for convenience foods like chips and biscuits and due to the high volumes, is as much a concern as toxic e-waste. It is a material that sorely needs some EPR.

The EPR concept gives the manufacturer 2 options

  1. Pay for disposal of their product waste in the form of a tax.
  2. Create a reverse logistics chain to collect their product waste.

Obviously the cost of Extended Producer Responsibility depends on the type of waste the product generates.

The bright side of EPR

The key for manufacturers is to look at EPR as a way to innovate. For example, ASUS has created a bamboo laptop. That is just awesome.

Another bright star in the EPR movement is a company that we love called Teracycle. They have created a breakthrough business model where consumers get paid to send product waste to teracycle collection points. They then create cool products from the waste to make the whole chain financially viable.

Terracycle has created a terrific platform for manufacturers to participate in and take extended producer responsibility.

EPR in India

There are several companies in India that have created a business model by collecting e-waste and extracting useful metals from it. What we don’t have is a Terracycle that addresses the waste from consumer products.

I am sure it is just a matter of time.

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A sustainable business card

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Srini and I have been business card-less for the last 2 years. Printing a business card is not very environmentally friendly for some reasons.

  1. When you go to a printer, they print only a minimum of 200 cards or more. With so many cards you have to force them down family and friends or they are not used for a long time. By which time some important detail in the card like a phone number could have changed.
  2. Regular card printers work only with fully bleached virgin paper and not with any manner of recycled paper.
  3. We are Krya – we believe in saving paper and the environment before bedtime, and a standard issue business card just doesn’t say that.

Moreover being card-less has been interesting. Telling an associate / friend why it is not environmentally unfriendly has led to interesting conversations.

But a business card also is very useful, especially for a young company starting life.

So here is our take on business cards

  1. We printed our cards ourselves – off our office printer. That way we printed only as much as required.
  2. We used a single colour, black for our cards. As we’ve said before, the more the number of colours on paper, the harder it becomes to recycle. Black is also the cheapest, and easiest to produce colour for the environment.
  3. We do not laminate our cards. Lamination is an energy intensive process, and it puts a thin, un-reusable film of plastic on paper, that makes the paper very hard to recycle.
  4. We used tree-free paper for our cards – Our paper is made from cotton waste and not by cutting trees.

This is how it looks.

Krya sustainable business card

There’s one more change we will make now. (And hey it is easy to make because we design and print it ourselves).

We will create a joint business card – because that is even more sustainable than printing 2 separate cards. And because we are a creative partnership – and nothing says that more than a joint business card.

Upping the ante

To get to the bleeding edge of thoughtful business card design, we will also partner with a friend to make our cards Braille enabled.

What is a Braille enabled card?

Nidhi’s Organisation Esha, has trained visually challenged professionals who make your business card Braille friendly. They use a brailler, which is a special machine for the blind, that resembles and woks like a typewriter.

Using this typewriter they Braille emboss your card with your name and perhaps the name of your organisation.

This is how a Braille embossed card would look:

Why are we getting a Braille enabled card?

  1. Our card makes a distinctive statement about who we are and not just what we do
  2. It will delight a visually challenged person who will finally be able to read for him/herself our names and what we do.
  3. The money made on the cards goes directly to the visually challenged professionals working on our card.
  4. It costs an absurd 1Re per card. Esha takes orders for any number of business cards.

By having braille-enabled cards, we are looking forward to getting this done as every little detail about the card says something about who we really are.

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The R4 philosophy

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Do I have to work hard to be sustainable? This is the question that people have been asking since the dawn of time or in my case for the last few years.

The short answer: it depends

The long answer: it depends on your frame of mind. With the right frame of mind, clearly fixed on the big picture, sustainability is effortless. The right frame is like the difference between the special theory of relativity and the general theory of relativity.

The 3 Rs of sustainability

When I use the word sustainability, I am trying to compress a massive amount of meaning into one word. One frame to define sustainability is: use resources thoughtfully in the present moment in order to have an endless supply cycle of high quality resources.

The holy grail of sustainability is the 3 R framework, to wit

  1. Reduce
  2. Reuse
  3. Recycle

The order of the 3-Rs are very important, they are in the descending order of preference. The most important goal is to Reduce; think carefully about our consumption of resources and reduce sensibly.

The next R is Reuse, which means once something has been produced, it is a resource when reused, reduces the load on further production.

If all else fails, recycling is also a noble option. When we recycle, for example an old cell phone, we can extract a fraction of the original resource. That is better than just trashing the old cell phone to a landfill.

The 4th R : Replace

This brings me back to my original question: Is sustainability hard work?

Not if one takes care of the basics; which is having fun and enjoying the process. As things stand today, sustainability is vaguely about the environment and about saving the planet in some distant future. There is no accounting for individuals having sustainable fun right here right now.

This is an important reason why it is difficult for most of us to start taking any action on the 3 R framework however well we may understand it in theory.

Which brings me to my 4th R: Replace

Start with replacing things that are important to you on an immediate daily basis with more sustainable choices which surprisingly are also more fun & the other 3-Rs will soon fall into place.

For example I have known for some time now that regular coffee is grown on unsustainable plantations with absurd pesticide levels and often dubious labour practices. I have replaced that with fantastic shade grown, organic, fair trade coffee from a farm close to my city. And it has made all the difference. I have a unique coffee experience everyday & I know that my coffee is great for me, the environment and the coffee growers.

All I did was replace the old product with a sustainable alternative to make an immediate, direct contribution. And I am quite happy to pay about 4x the cost of regular coffee.

This single act of replace is a great starting place to start thinking about the other 3-Rs. Suddenly remembering to carry a bag every time you step out to the store (Reuse) is not so much a bother, nor is it about some vague benefit in the distant future.

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Keeping the fruit that’s a detergent dry

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Our fruit that is a detergent loves water – the geek term for that is that it is hygroscopic.

When it comes in contact with water, it starts to release saponins (the stuff that makes it foam). This is great in the machine or during a wash, because it means that with a little bit of agitation in the water, you get creamy foam that makes your clothes clean.

But it is not great if water enters the pack while transporting it to you. Because water tends to cake the powder.

Over the last year we have done several experiments with our product to keep it safe from water

We realised that we could prevent atmospheric water from entering the powder in 3 ways

By:

  1. Creating a physical barrier through the packaging
  2. Adding a drying material in the powder (called desiccant)
  3. Both of the above

Creating a barrier in the packaging

Aluminium foil is used extensively in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. It acts as a complete barrier to light and oxygen, bacteria and moisture.

Aluminium was a no-no for us at Krya for many reasons:

  1. It is strip mined from the soil leading to top soil erosion and deforestation
  2. Mining aluminium consumes vast amounts of fossil fuel. The process of extracting aluminium from is estimated to be responsible for 1% of global human induces greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. While it is extremely recyclable, it often ends up in landfills where it can sit around for 400 years.
  4. Aluminium creates occupational health hazards for those who mine it and is a suspected health hazard for those who use it.

This of course left us with plastic as the alternative for creating a moisture barrier layer

We thought long and hard before adding a plastic layer to the fruit’s packaging. We spoke to experts from the R&D department of plastics manufacturers, and NGOs in the business of recycling, and decided to use HDPE as a barrier layer. If you saw our quick guide to recycling you would notice that HDPE is one of the better plastics that can be used today. It recycles very well, and becomes more re-usable the higher the thickness of the material used.

We have used 400 gauge HDPE as the primary package for the fruit that’s a detergent – it keeps moisture away from the fruit, and is very recycle-friendly.

We also have a layer of corrugated paper over the HDPE – it acts as a second barrier, and helps us print necessaries – like how to use the fruit that’s a detergent, and where we work, in case you want to drop in and say hello.

Adding a desiccant to the powder

We added a small amount of Calcium Carbonate (3%) to the fruit that’s a detergent. This absorbs moisture and keeps the fruit that’s a detergent dry. This is helpful because once the fruit that’s a detergent reaches you, the HDPE will be cut open and the detergent transferred to a container. So it is necessary to have the calcium carbonate working hard to absorb moisture.

We are working on alternatives to Calcium Carbonate, because it is also mined. While it is not as resource intensive or harmful to people and the environment as aluminium, we would prefer to tread as lightly on earth as possible.

We are looking for ways to make the fruit that is a detergent even more awesome.

Do you have any other ideas or experiences that could help us reduce / replace our plastic and Calcium carbonate with?

All ideas are welcome – and every one, however kooky, will be explored.

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On the importance of being hypoallergenic

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The prefix “hypo” means low, below or less of. So when the prefix hypo is applied to allergens, we get hypoallergenic, a substance that is less allergic than normal. In other words a hypoallergenic substance is supposed to cause lesser allergies. Hypoallergenic is a useful term for anything that comes in contact with the skin, like personal care products or clothes.

The question is: lesser allergies than what?

An industry standard with no definition

Cosmetic companies started the usage of the term “hypoallergenic “in the 1950’s and it is now a commonly used term to describe household products, textiles and apparently pets.

Most commonly used standards in the industry, have systems for validation and certification. (For eg: Organic produce is widely regulated with many certification systems)

But there is no apparent definition or well regulated standard for hypoallergenic. This is all the more surprising since hypoallergenic sounds like a formal medical term (which it isn’t, because the medical fraternity does not recognize it). For example the Harvard medical dictionary chapter on allergies does not define hypoallergenic.

So when a product says it is ‘hypoallergenic’ what does it really mean?

  1. It does not contain allergic additives – A number of chemical additives are well documented as allergens and excluding them is an indication of hypoallergenicity. Examples of allergic additives are fragrances, bleaching agents, colour dyes
  2. It had no allergic reactions when a group of humans / animals tested it – A “patch” test is conducted on volunteers / test animals to check for allergies.  The product is applied on the volunteers’ skin and abnormal reactions like itching, irritation or redness are monitored for 12-24 hours. If no significant numbers of abnormal reactions are reported, then a hypoallergenic claim is made. Of course, the volunteer sample must be statistically valid in numbers, and in the case of human volunteers there should be a representation of different skin types to get a robust claim.

Note: We do not test on animals nor do we use animal derived ingredients at Krya.

Krya hypoallergenic standard

The Krya detergent is hypoallergenic. It is an important benefit in a detergent because clothes come into intimate, extensive contact with the skin. We have used several methods to arrive at the claim

  1. Extensive product use research for over a year
  2. It is the only detergent We use
  3. It is made from a gentle , organic fruit
  4. The fruit has been widely used as a skin and hair cleanser with use documented for hundreds of years
  5. Absolutely no dyes, bleaching agents or fragrances added. (We have added just 1 ingredient, Calcium Carbonate as a desiccant, which is a natural, edible , widely used, and well-researched ingredient )

And this is our contribution to the Hypoallergenic Hall of Fame.

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Blue screen error interrupts Blue sky thinking

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For the last couple of days we have been completely swamped by the dastardly blue screen error. For those of you who haven’t encountered one ( Google search seems to indicate this would exclusively be people  without computers or with B&W monitors), this is what a blue screen  error looks like.

Blue screen of death

This is the first time I have encountered this error & the most cursory google search showed that is also known as the “blue screen of death” which occurs when the operating system encounters a fatal  error and the system crashes.

Blue screen error is not fun and it kept increasing in its severity over several abortive attempts to boot the system. The good thing about running your company is you can rearrange all other meetings and tasks to crack the blue screen error and in the bargain gain vital IT skills. And you can write a blog post about the process and potential solutions.

Level 1

Hope this is just one of those things and reboot the PC. Then some. Then in safe mode.

Level 2

We sneak in some PC time after a normal boot and Google search points to a registry cleanup as the best bet. But then windows crashes again, so you get the registry cleaner software downloaded from another PC. So we reboot in safe mode, and then try installing the registry cleaner only to be told that new software cannot be installed in safe mode. So after a couple of reboots, the registry cleaner begins do its stuff.

Level 3

We are surprised by the sheer number, width and depth of issues that are highlighted and fixed by the registry cleaner. It’s a wonder the computer’s been functioning at all. After the first level of registry cleanup we get some normal working time and think about writing the blog post du jour.

This of course means another PC crash and brings us to level 4.

Level 4

Now we think it is time to call someone else to take a look. The first call to a laptop specialist elicits a brisk response; clearly blue screen errors are all the rage. The specialist assures us that if we reload the operating system; we will have a sure fire fix. Of course he also guarantees us that every single byte of information that we have on the computer will be lost and he is rather dicey about backups. I am surprised to be told that this entire fix would cost just Rs 800 and something tells me to probe further. The new version of windows to be loaded apparently is a “cracked” version. Any way you say it , “cracked” is still pirated and that ends the call with the laptop specialist.

Level 5

However the discussions about “cracked” software lead us to another possibility. Since we got a dell laptop with factory loaded windows, there must be some way of accessing that copy of windows which we paid for once, fair and square. As expected there is something known as Dell factory image restore, which will reset the computer to the exact state when it left the Dell factory. Again this process will delete ever single email, photo, file, profile, program on the PC , so we spend the better part of 2 hours backing up everything in sight.

The good news is that the dell factory image restore indeed licked the blue screen error. Not only that, it also gave the PC a clean start. For one year we have been accumulating several GB of data, photos, programs, freeware and we were able to un-clutter the system to a large extent.

It is never a dull day in the office at Krya.



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Why bio-degradable is not enough

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Quite often in our research on sustainability, we learn something that makes us sit-up.

We usually accept that it is awesome for a product to be bio-degradable and leave it at that. However when you pull at the thread of bio-degradability to follow it to the very end, you get a different picture.

So to begin, what is bio-degradability?

Bio-degradable matter is organic material with plant or animal origin. They can be broken down into simpler compounds by microorganisms (like bacteria) and they return to nature in a short period of time. For example wood & cotton are bio-degradable. Regular plastic is not.

The key phrase here is “return to nature”. That is, these bio-degradable materials can be re-used by nature to create new living organisms.

Enter Landfills

Human activity generates waste. Daily.

Waste falls in two categories. The solid waste, that goes straight into the dustbin. Then there is the liquid waste handled by the sewage system.

The solid waste goes from your dustbin to a dumping ground in the city called a “landfill”. Unless special, prior segregation is done, all types of waste get mixed up at the landfill. Plastic, food waste, paper, construction debris all become one massive pile at the landfill.

This means that bio-degradable waste anywhere below the top surface of the landfill has no access to light or oxygen. Unfortunately for bacteria to work their magic on most bio-degradable matter, they need light and oxygen.

This means that nothing happens to the bio-degradable matter at the landfill. The lack of light and oxygen will preserve them perfectly like mummies for eternity.

This is the crux of the post. Bio-degradability is potentially good. But it needs an effort to be converted to actual good.

A few numbers from our city

To further illustrate the point about bio-degradability, here are some numbers from the Chennai corporation

  1. Solid waste generated – 500 gm per person daily
  2. Total solid waste generated – 3200 tons daily
  3. Total area used as landfills – 550 acres in Chennai city (24 million square feet)
  4. Life expectancy of landfills – The year 2015

I was aghast that on average I am responsible for nearly 200 kg of solid waste per year. Also, 24 million square feet of perfectly good residential area are used as landfills. And in 4 years from now new landfills will be required.

Solutions

At the highest level, the solutions to handle solid waste are to not create solid waste. This means

  1. Reduce consumption
  2. Reuse stuff. Like reusing plastic bags.

In our case we carry our own bags every time we go to the store.

Once solid waste is generated, the options are recycling and composting

3. Recycling

Recycling is a terrific solution because it works at source, i.e. our home or office where the solid waste is generated to begin with. By recycling materials like paper, certain plastics we can prevent waste from entering the landfill in the first place.

For example, we recently bought office supplies that came in several corrugated cartons.

cartons for recycling

A few years ago I would have thrown them into the dustbin.  Now these cartons will be sent for recycling just like old newspapers

4. Composting

Compost is the natural end point of bio-degradable matter. In other words after the biodegradable matter has been broken down by micro-organisms we get compost, which is a great soil fertilizer and the pillar of organic farming.

Plain vanilla composting is just burying food waste in the garden. A year later the local earthworms and micro-organisms will convert it to compost.

Home composting is a massive step to help reduce the city’s load on solid waste management and reduces the need to create new landfills. More on that later.

To conclude, bio-degradable is good, and with some waste management effort it becomes great.

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Trendspotting 2011.

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It is always a good time to be trendspotting but the first week of the New Year is the best. I came across this useful presentation on the top 100 trends for 2011 put together by the creative house, JWT.

I was surprised by the large percentage of trends circling back to the space of sustainability, green, environment, carbon footprint & overall treading lightly

My top picks from the presentation

  1. Facebook e- commerce. Self explanatory.
  2. Self powering devices. Powered by the user interaction. Check this remote from Microsoft.
  3. QR codes. 2-D barcodes that can be scanned by mobile devices.

krya.in QR code

This is the QR code for www.krya.in

4. Non printable PDF format. From the big black panda at WWF. Saves the file with .wwf extension.

5.A restaurant menu with the carbon footprint equivalent of each item.

Here is the original presentation from JWT.

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