Live from RE’08: The Towel Effect

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The closing talk today was by Jean-Pascal van Ypersele from the Universite Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve and Vice-chair of the IPCC working group 1. Say that 10 times out loud fast! Anyway, his talk was “Climage change: Challenges and Opportunities for Software Requirements Engineering”. In general, he discussed the background science behind the warming trends they have measured, and I by no means am going to try to recreate that here!

But I had a couple of interesting take-away thoughts. He discussed what we call the “towel effect”. I’m sure everyone has seen the signs in their hotel rooms suggesting to save resources by reusing your hotel towels. He suggested the results of a study on the effectiveness of such programs would be interesting. Partly because he thinks the presentation of the program is usually quite awful, most people probably do not participate, and even if they did, what kind of impact does it actually have? Dan Berry made a comment that he very much tried to do this in every hotel he stayed in, and yet not once did the cleaning staff save his old towel – they always gave him a new one anyway. Anyway, the speaker’s point was this is a marketing program by the hotel to look better, but proposes that they may not be terribly effective programs for actually helping the environment.

And the other more relevant take-away discussion is – what can we in RE do? Can we help come up with good solutions that solve the towel effect problem? But there really is an interesting large scale system problem here – there are many different stakeholders with variant priorities – how will we ever align them to do the right thing for the environment (whatever that “right” thing is!). You have companies who want to make money and reduce costs. You have individuals who want to recycle everything. You have governments who need to look at their global position on this, find money to fund projects, and of course they have to be elected. The point is there are a lot of different interests, so it’ll be interesting to see if we can come up with solutions that are accepted by all users.

For more related thoughts, see the green post: part 1 and part 2.

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