What should the Chinese Gov’t do about its Air Pollution?

The runaway economic success story of the past decade, China has earned plaudits from developed economies across the globe, primarily for its attempts at free market trading and widespread economic liberalisation, but also for its attempt to become an environmental trend setter by embracing newly developed clean technologies on mass.

The country has managed to successfully avoid the same austere conditions many of its fellow economies of scale have had to contend with over the past six years, and although the country’s rate of growth appears to have slowed somewhat in the last few quarters, its ambitions certainly haven’t. Despite its many successes, China is facing a number of challenges – controlling its often volatile rate of inflation, rooting out corruption and black market operations and modernising its energy infrastructure, the latter of which has perhaps the most telling impact on the one billion-strong Chinese population.

China’s communist party leadership opened its doors to the outside world for the first time at the turn of the millennium, giving the world what was at the time a rare glimpse into the globe’s largest secretive nation. Since then, the development of new trade links have allowed the Chinese economy to gorge, resulting in a period of near exponential growth. With that however, in a twist of fate which could be views as China becoming a victim of its own success, the country’s larger cities, Beijing and Shanghai in particular, have seen its air pollution levels soar, and smog become a regular eyesore on the cities’ otherwise inspiring skylines.

A number of factors contribute to China’s smog issue, with the main being that coal plants generate roughly 70% of the country’s power, and in doing so send millions of tonnes of harmful suphur dioxide into the atmosphere. Although it may appear as if the strict authoritarian voice of the Chinese Communist Party would be enough for energy suppliers to make an effort to curb emissions, China’s governmental structure is regionally fractured, and many decentralised governments in the outlying areas simply ignore new energy protocols decreed by the central powers in Beijing.

Shoppers and commuters making their way around the country’s sprawling urban centres sport protective facemasks as part of the daily norm, with designer fashion masks flogged by well-known brands worn by many. Children, the elderly and pregnant women are among the most at risk. The problem is so extensive that the poor condition of China’s air led to 1.2 million premature deaths in the country in 2010 alone – the fourth largest cause of the death in the country, behind smoking, high blood pressure and dietary issues. Three years prior, a study by the World Bank concluded that 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China.

China’s air pollution problems persist despite a slew of measures introduced by Beijing, with food safety and clean drinking water initiatives replaced on the political agenda by smog tackling projects. Most recently, the Chinese government has agreed to cooperate with authorities in Japan and South Korea to monitor the levels of air pollution drifting through the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. The effort will see new levels of cooperation between the three neighbours, all of which have had to contend with the same environmental impediments.

Although Chinese lawmakers have laid out plans to invest more in renewable energies and to wean the country from the its dependency on coal, its motor industry is predicted to present a more stubborn challenge, despite new fuel emission standards in some major cities requiring cleaner fuels than is demanded in more developed European urban centres. The amount of consumers buying motor vehicles in China surpassed that of the U.S. in 2009 and of Europe in 2012. Ironically, a congestion tackling measure trialled during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing has contributed to the explosion in car ownership in the country, with a requirement for cars with licence plates ending in odd numbers and even numbers using the roads on alternate days leading to more consumers buying two cars – one with each type of plate.

In order to combat the rise in pollution, Chinese consumers – perhaps the most powerful group of buyers on the planet – have done their part to curb emissions. Protests by citizens opposing the construction of new chemical plants and dumping sites have already yielded results – in particular in Xiamen and Dalian – and more of the same initiative will be needed to combat air pollution, the country’s most grave environmental health threat.

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Exciting New Prospects in App Development

Irish graduates are at the forefront of the app evolution, creating new business and opportunities.

In the last few years Ireland’s reputation as one of the world’s most promising hubs for technological development has been evolving. Long boasting a large volume of multinationals on our shores, the country has become renowned not just for the high profile businesses that have jumped at the chance to set up here, but for the talents and technical abilities of the well-educated workforce that has been trained and employed to maintain and develop the global brands of corporations like Google, Microsoft and  Apple. In recent years many of these talented and knowledgeable individuals have been turning their attention to apps, a fast-growing and highly popular market with millions of customers available worldwide at the click of a mouse.

New start-ups based on app development and on apps themselves have been springing up all around the country. ‘Appreneurs’ as they’re being called (a play on the words app and entrepreneur),are arguably most responsible for the rapid growth of the apps sphere, and are behind many of the most common apps (Facebook, Twitter) on smartphones today. Whether working with the backing of large MNCs or on their own steam, app developers are changing the way we interact with our computers and communication devices, generating new business as they go.

Dr Bryan Duggan, lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology School of Computing, is keen to evangelise the benefits of learning to code and develop apps, and says that some of his graduates have gone on lead extremely successful careers. “App development is something that most our final year students are keen to learn – probably most of my students’ final year projects are app related in one way or another.”

One of the most noteworthy and successful apps released by his students was done in cooperation with the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), aiming to teach adults with reading and writing difficulties to learn how to develop their own skills through a familiar medium. The students who developed the app have since gone on the establish their own company. Glass Robot Studios, based in Dublin, is currently flourishing; developing a wide range of apps based on everything from education and learning to social media and games.

Gaming, Duggan says, is one of the most promising areas of development, and one of the most challenging. “I think personally that the fastest growing app space is the game space – gaming is really taking off. I think that’s where the innovation is coming from.”

Duggan explains that one of the main reasons why gaming apps are held in high regard by industry professionals and why they’re so popular with the public, is because they push the limits of what modern app technology can do. “The best apps are often the best because of something in its design that makes it an app – like the use of the touchscreen or accelerometer – rather than it just being a mobile website or something that just delivers content. Pushing the limit.”

Philip Kirwan, a mobile developer who has worked on a number of public service apps with his company Showoff, including for the Garda Siochana, fire, hospital and bus services, as well as in games, agrees that gaming is ahead of the curve in terms of development, and says that it will be for some time to come. “The biggest genre has always been gaming apps and probably always will be,” he explains. “Everybody loves a game of angry birds every now and then.”

Kirwan says that another rapidly growing app genre is education, which is “changing the face of the education system and the way people learn by making it fun and interactive.”

One of the most popular Irish educational apps of recent times is Numerosity,which developed by Irish educational technology provider ThoughtBox, has to date received over 20,000 downloads from a multitude of high value markets around the world, including Brazil and Germany, and has been translated into six languages.

The app is one of hundreds that has seen Irish developers prosper at home and abroad. Another is Grace, which is designed to aid autistic children in their learning, and for Kirwan is the stand-out Irish developed app.

Duggan warns however, that while app development can be a rewarding and lucrative experience, it isn’t for everyone and it takes a lot of hard work and more than one app to make a business. The lecturer, who himself has released an app onto the market – Tunepal, a search engine-based tool for traditional music enthusiasts – explains that “There isn’t much money in a single app – it depends on what the app does. Apps alone don’t make that much money – maybe a couple of thousand quid a year and that’s not enough generally to cover the cost.”

“There’s loads of apps on IOS that’s never had a single download. It’s not a golden goose.”

Both Duggan and Kirwan agree that there is much more room for apps to expand into and that the technology is nowhere near peaking.

One trend Kirwan says he is beginning to notice in his own business is a growing demand for finance orientated apps, which although they have been around for a while, continue to grow in popularity.

While apps this year and next will more than likely remain compatible with today’s technology, one thing that’s a sure bet is that apps will continue to evolve at considerable speed. “Modern android apps look nothing like android apps two years ago so there’s a constant recylcing and that’s just going to accelerate. The app didn’t exist before the iPhone, and even then there was no app store. As devices become more powerful – and that’s just been the trend in this industry for the last 30 years or so,” Duggan explains.

Exactly what apps will look like in five or 10 years time is anyone’s guess, but with the pace at which our third level institutions are churning out computer science graduates, it’s certain that Irish minds will be on the frontline.

Sunderland Man Steals Roast Because it Reminded him of his Dead Grandmother

An unemployed father-of-eight from Sunderland has drawn attention to himself after telling a court in the UK that he stole a roast from an Asda store because it reminded him of his dead grandmother. 51-year-old John Casey told the court that he had to put the meat, on sale for £12 (roughly $18), in his rucksack because it kept prompting “flashbacks”.

Casey, from Washington, near Sunderland, was caught on camera putting the meat into his bag, and although he was aware of the evidence against him and admitted to taking the roast, he denied the charge of theft throughout saying that it was necessary to keep the meat out of sight in order to control the flashbacks.

“After I picked the meat up and was walking around the shop it was the blood in bag that was bringing it on,” Casey, who never told the police that it was because of the flashbacks that he put the meat in his rucksack, explained to the jury. “Everyday my grandmother is with me. I remember her. But this was not like any other. I was reliving it – it was like I was there with her again.”

After two days of proceedings heard by one of Newcastle Crown Court’s most distinguished judges, Judge Milford, Casey was convicted of the offence and handed a two-year conditional discharge.

After the trial, which cost the taxpayer an estimated £10,000 a day to run, Judge Milford told Casey that he will not be as kind to him again. “You have caused a huge amount of unnecessary expense to be incurred by electing trial and you have no means from which you can cover the costs of this expensive trial.” Normally minor theft cases would be held in lower courts without a jury, although defendants retain the right to have their case heard before a jury.

Casey said that he did not actually remember putting the beef in his bag and told the jury that it was a “dead cert” that he would not have shoplifted of his own volition.

Taoiseach Defends Ireland’s Relationship with Apple

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended Ireland’s partnership with multinational corporations and has insisted that this week’s summit of European Union leaders will not put the country in a difficult position despite Apple’s perceived flouting of tax regulations attracting scrutiny from lawmakers across the continent.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday Kenny defended his Government’s implementation of tax codes, insisting that, “Ireland’s corporate tax rate is statute based, is very clear; is very transparent; and we do not do special deals with individual companies in regard to that tax rate.”

Kenny, whose comments reiterated points made in a statement by the Tanaiste and Minster for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore earlier on Wednesday, was confronted by journalists as he made his way to the airport to board a flight to Brussels, where he will meet with other European leaders, many of whom have been fiercely critical of Ireland’s low corporation tax rate in the past.

French president Francois Hollande, whose predecessor fought and argued vigorously for a change in Ireland’s corporation tax rate to be made a prerequisite of bailout cover, declared that his government would “fight against tax evasion by individuals and companies”. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said that multinationals need to “pay their taxes” given the investment demands they place on countries; and British Prime Minister David Cameron has described the amount of cash lost to exchequers on the continent as “staggering”.

Although multinationals’ willingness to locate in Ireland for its advantageous tax breaks and 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate has drawn fire from politicians from across the water for some time, the latest scandal is unique as Apple – the world’s richest company by revenue – is accused not just of circumventing corporation tax rules, but to paying as little as 2 per cent tax on its global profits.

Defensive Cook

The Taoiseach’s comments come as Apple chief executive Tim Cook continues to defend his company’s tax practices after being called to explain a gaping hole in its US operational income by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Tuesday.

“We pay all the taxes we owe – every single dollar,” Cook told the Subcommittee in a testy confrontation.

Cook was quick to rebuke panel suggestions that the company had paid less than 2 per cent tax in the last four years, and that it uses its Irish base to hide its profits, saying that the company adheres to the 30.5 per cent US rate it is supposed to. “Not only do we comply with the laws, we comply with the spirit of the laws,” he protested after being questioned by Arizonan senator and former presidential candidate John McCain.

Apple, which holds $100 billion in overseas profits – not taxable in the US – evaded $74 billion in taxes in the US between 2008 and 2012, the panel alleges. Sixty-four per cent of Apples pre-tax income was paid in Ireland during that period it claimed.

The panel highlighted the disparity in payments between Apple’s US operation and its Irish equivalent. “Ninety-five per cent of the productivity that goes into these products happens in California, but two-thirds of the profits are in Ireland,” Subcommittee chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan based Democrat, told the floor. Levin added that Apple paid just $38 billion in tax in the US last year, while in Ireland it registered $74 billion – despite only one per cent of its customer base being located there.

Since the hearing the CEO added that he has no plans to pull the company’s profits from Ireland any time soon.

Apple, a company which considers its image and character above all else, may wonder if its sterling reputation could be damaged by the accusations. If so, the tens of billions in profits which have lifted it above tech behemoths like Google and Microsoft, and beyond the reach of former titans like Yahoo and Research in Motion, may be in jeopardy. In the meantime, the company – revered by techies the world over for its sleek and imaginative products – may be forced to answer yet more questions that could lead to further awkward exchanges between its management and authorities, and more concerns for its hardcore fan base.

Queen’s Awards get Competitive

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This year’s Queen’s Awards saw the highest standard of entries yet.

The most prestigious accolade of its kind, the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise celebrates the best and most innovative companies the United Kingdom has to offer. Handed out annually on the Queen’s Birthday, April 21, the awards recognise companies that have performed to the highest standard in the past year; traders and operators which hail from a wide range of industries and professions, from law and finance to farming and agriculture and beyond.

The awards are made on the advice of the Prime Minister personally after they are assessed by an advisory committee. Winners of the award are not chosen by industry, and instead are picked from a pool of entrants on their merits and level of success in doing business overseas – 25% of all applicants managed to secure the award this year, an unusually high percentage. This year’s awards recognised companies that excelled in three categories: International Trade, Innovation and Sustainable Development.

In all, 209 companies were recognised at this year’s award ceremony in April, all of which were judged to have performed with excellence throughout the past year. Of those winners, 151 were given the award for their achievements in international trade, a category which celebrates the achievements of British companies exporting and setting up abroad.

Aside from the honour of being chosen to receive the award – which took on special significance in this, the Jubilee year – winners receive a customary crystal bowl and invitation to a reception at Buckingham Palace as a reward.

Mark Prisk, who served as the Business and Enterprise Minister until the Prime Minister’s reshuffle in early September, praised the awards and its winners for their contribution to UK business and its interests overseas. “The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are the highest accolade a business can receive. The standard of this year’s winners highlights the great work taking place by businesses of all sizes to help boost the growth of the UK economy. I hope that it will inspire more entrepreneurs to start or grow their business as we look to make 2012 the year of enterprise,” he said.

Aside from just recognising the good work performed by companies during the year, the awards also benefit the companies in their future pursuits, boosting recipients’ profile and confidence. In a survey of the winners carried out by the Queen’s Awards Magazine, 83% of winners said that they thought the award brought an element of prestige to their business; 79% said that it brought about an improvement in staff morale; 63% said that it attracted more press coverage; and 48% said that they believe it gave them an edge overseas.

Racelogic – Winners in Two Categories

One of the most successful companies at this year’s awards, Racelogic, which designs and manufactures electronic systems to record and analyse data from moving vehicles, agrees with the majority of the companies surveyed and believes that the award provided a great boost to the company and its staff.

“The largest benefit we gain from these awards is an enhanced UK profile, which is very useful when finding new suppliers and recruiting staff.  We have received congratulations from some of our UK customers,” explains Graham Mackie, Chief Executive at Racelogic, adding that despite its success, some of its international customers don’t quite understand the significance of the accolade.

Despite this the award still contributed to the company’s reputation and has helped it to develop more business ties. “We have continued to grow – developing new products and expanding sales into different territories.  In fact we have sold VBOX products into 8 more countries since we submitted the award,” Mackie explained. “It ratifies all of the hard work they all put in year in year out.  As mentioned above it has also helped with recruitment as we sometimes struggle, being out of a major city, to recruit qualified people – the awards show that we mean business and excel in what we do, making us a better looking employer.”

Racelogic, which also operates from a German operation in Weilburg, sells its products in 94 different countries worldwide and counts prestigious automotive names like Porche, Ferrari, BMW and Aston Martin among its customers.

Mackie, who led Racelogic to wins in both the International Trade and Innovation categories, said that he was unsure about his company’s chances in the latter, but that it deserved the win. “With good year on year growth figures and more than 90% of our sales being made outside the UK we were reasonably confident we would get an award for Export but the Innovation award was nice surprise.  Our LabSat product is unique in that it brings the world of GPS simulation down to a price that small and medium businesses can afford – allowing them to reliably test their GPS products, clearly the judges felt that this innovation was worthy of an award,” he explained.

Tecna Display – An Industry First

Another winner in the International Trade category is Tecna Display, a company renowned for its high quality portable and modular displays. It was the first exhibition display system ever to be given a Queen’s Award and proudly shows off the emblem on its website. “We have contacted all our overseas customers and they are all hugely impressed. The image of the Queen and the Royal family is also very prevalent at the moment because of the Jubilee celebrations, so this has added to our customer awareness worldwide. For Tecna Display to be recognised by the Queen’s Awards  for our efforts and exports is highly significant and establishes us as best in class in our industry worldwide,” commented Jonathan Evitt, Tecna Display’s Managing Director and the developer of its flagship T3 Modular Framing System.  

Evitt also believes that the award has given the company’s staff a boost, and says that its customers are seeing the company in a new light. “It was great. The workforce were incredibly proud. I’ve had special QA T-shirts produced which they all wear in the factory as a new production “uniform”. It’s been great for morale,” he jokes.

“It has given the company real credibility and I have noticed that our customers are treating us and the products with even more respect. It’s difficult to evaluate whether sales are to do with the award or because of other factors. I hadn’t realised how much respect the award creates until we won it.”

Evitt also explained that as a small company it’s very difficult to get any truly independent view of your business, saying that the Queen’s Awards does that and that it has given his him and his company a real sense of achievement that makes them feel that they are on the right track.

Up to its recognition at the Queen’s Awards, Tecna Display had been an extremely successful exporter, seeing the amount of products its sends abroad rocket by 92% in the last few years, something Evitt attributes to the company’s highly innovative range of products and its worldwide patents and design registrations.

“We have been extremely successful over the last few years with exports rising considerably, selling to more than 30 countries. We have ISO 9001, with a very strong quality control process and a lifetime guarantee on all our products,” Evitt explains.

“I also design all our products in house, using a product design company to “tweak” my designs and prepare the technical drawings.”

As a testament to the company’s success, Tecna display has been asked to supply the display walls for the official exhibitions at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills in Victoria and the northern exhibition for the winners and the award in Sheffield.

Bridge of Weir Leather Company – Four Time Winner

One firm that is no stranger to the Queen’s Awards is Bridge of Weir Leather. 2012 was the company’s fourth win at the awards, and was well deserved considering the boom in trade it experienced over the past year. “Bridge of Weir won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category for exactly that reason – ‘International Trade’”, explains Karen Marshall, Managing Director at Bridge of Weir Leather Company. “Our export sales growth has been remarkable over the last three years – with sales growing 150% during the period, and 90% of these sales made overseas.

 “This is the fourth time Bridge of Weir has been honoured in the Queen’s Awards and we like to think that it’s due to our tireless efforts to grow the business, develop the product, expand overseas and always with a very close eye on environmental impact.”

Specialising in automotive and contract design upholstery, Bridge of Weir leather exports to 60 countries worldwide. “Our unique brand of low carbon leather is down to the Thermal Energy Plant at Bridge of Weir – the only one of its kind in the world leather industry – that converts waste directly to energy at our manufacturing facilities and reduces our dependence on the grid for our energy – bringing benefits to both our customers and the environment,” explains Marshall.

 While most companies use the Queen’s Award to add an element of prestige to their business, Bridge of Weir has long been known as a premier leather producer, and was called upon in 1989 to reupholster the chairs and benches in the House of Commons and House of Lords. It still believes however, that the award can act as a powerful endorsement of its business.

We anticipate, as with our previous three Queen’s Awards, that our customer base will recognise the award as a very powerful endorsement of our business, product quality and progressive and environmentally responsible manufacturing techniques,” predicts Marshall. “The Queen’s Award is especially powerful overseas, and with much of our new business coming from international markets, this is a powerful endorsement of Bridge of Weir fine Scottish leather.”

 

Founded in 1905, the company – privately held by Scottish owners – has expanded to include major operations in the United States, Mexico, China, Germany and Australia, and expects its growth to continue in the coming year, backed by the award and the exposure it has provided the company.

“Continued growth through new business is certainly being supported by our latest Queen’s Award success.  Underpinning this growth is a brand new factory at Bridge of Weir which we opened in September, extending leather making facilities in Scotland which service our customers all over the world,” said Marshall. 

Marshall added that the presentation – made by the Lord Lieutenant of Renfrewshire – was an extremely proud moment for the company and its employees, saying that it is a very exciting time to be at the company.

It also marked the start of production at our new factory, which is a new state-of-the-art working environment for many at the company.  The new factory will accommodate design, laser etching, embossing, lamination, perforation, cutting, sales, training, product presentations and showrooms, packaging, warehousing and international despatch facilities,” she said.

“The new £2 million factory is now fully operational, supplying leather to automotive brands globally, including Aston Martin, Ford, Fisker, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes AMG, Volvo and others. 

Aside from the automotive industry, Bridge of Weir also supplies leather to companies in the aviation, marine and hotel and leisure industries.

Other Scottish Leather Group customers (Bridge of Weir’s parent company), will also benefit from the new leather manufacturing facilities, including Hilton Hotels, FirstGroup, British Airways, Emirates Airline and many others.”

“It is a very exciting time to be at Bridge of Weir,” added Marshall.

Another company that earned a Queen’s Award was Morningside Pharmaceuticals. Founded by its current chief executive Dr Nik Kotecha and his wife. Morningside, based in Loughborough, Leicestershire, manufactures a wide range of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and said it believes it won the award because of a substantial and continuous record on exports over the last six years.

“Twenty years ago, Morningside Pharmaceuticals was launched with the vision of giving people worldwide access to the healthcare they so desperately needed at a price they could afford. Today, I’m delighted that not only are we achieving this goal, but that we have received recognition for our success in the form of a Queen’s Award, the most prestigious business award in the UK,” said Kotecha,

Morningside exports more than 60% of its products to over 80 countries worldwide. It has managed to drum up business from 54 new customers in the last three years alone.

“Without our high standards of quality backed up by levels of customer service that are second to none, we simply couldn’t have achieved our export success, so I would like to say a big thank you to all our staff. This award is a reflection of their hard work and commitment.”

The Queen’s Award was followed by another trade award in May, this time at the Leicestershire Business Awards. It was also a finalist for the Leicestershire Business of the Year 2012 award.

Outside of the International Trade category, 50 awards were presented to companies for their innovation in business and eight were awarded for their efforts at sustainable development. 11 individuals also claimed an award, the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion, which recognises their efforts to foster entrepreneurial skills among businesspeople.

The awards have been held every year since 1966, and were first established as the Queen’s Award to Industry. Past categories include Technological Achievement, Environmental Achievement and Export Achievement.

Aside from receiving the accolade itself and a visit from a royal representative, winners of the award were invited to showcase their products at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in September.

In order to be eligible to receive an award a company must have at least two full-time employees, be a self-contained enterprise and be able to demonstrate commercial success. Candidates can be based anywhere in the UK, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. Unfortunately for a company intending to enter next year’s awards, nominations for the 2013 edition ended in September.