ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – The reputation of Switzerland for its amazing variety and quality of toilets that impressed a recent American guest of mine is not about to take a beating: very much the opposite.
A team of researchers from Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology), working with a group of Austrian designers, was given a special recognition award for reinventing the toilet, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The goal of the competition, which ran for a year and had 22 entries, was quite simply to invent the toilet of the future Prerequisites: the new toilet should need no sewer and no outside energy source, should be part of a recycling and treatment system for wastes and should cost no more than five cents per day and person.
The awards were announced in August 2012 and the team is now at work, using the CHF40,000 prize money, to build prototypes and test them by the end of 2013.
The goal is to provide hygienic toilets that offer dignity and good waste management to developing countries, with a system that would rely on local contractors, according to Eawag.
The group’s “Diversion” toilet was given the award for “outstanding design of a toilet user interface”.
Descriptions of the new toilet designs from the four top winners are available from the Seattle-based foundation.
Eawag notes that 2.5 billion people in the world have no access to a decent toilet.
The Swiss Embassy in Washington, DC, says in its newsletter that “The flushing toilet connected to a waste treatment system as we know it reaches only a third of the world’s population. With the flushing toilet, a sanitation revolution began 200 years ago. Epidemics such as cholera and severe diarrhea were stopped from spreading and kept water supplies throughout the world drinkable. Water, sanitation and hygiene are part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program. In 2011, the foundation launched the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to leverage advances in science and technology and create a new toilet that will transform waste into energy, clean water, and nutrients’.”
My American guest was struck by the creativity and common sense that goes into Swiss toilet design, as she traveled around Switzerland, from the widespread watersaving dual-flush systems to hygienic seats that move. But two of the favourites were these portable toilets, spotted at the Valais cantonal fair in Martigny in early October:
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – YouTube has helped us all fall in love with videos and it’s made it easy and cheap to make them and add them to web sites. One result is that there is a lot of rubbish out there, and a lot of people in small businesses in particular wondering how they can use video and have a quality product. I’m very pleased to see that two local companies, 23 and So Money, are offering a free morning workshop on how to use video for your organization, and that they’ve invited one of the owners of Geneva-Servette Hockey Club, Hugh Quennec, and GSHC’s communications person, Olivier Riethauser, to talk about how the club does this.
I can’t speak for 23 except for its reputation, but I worked briefly with So Money when I “starred” in one of their videos, made for the British Swiss Chamber of Commerce (BSCC). They were assigned the job of filming all 15 candidates for five business awards and the video clips give you a nice picture of some of the companies in the international community. I had a great time working with them and like to think that the short film we made was partly responsible for me winning the Unsung Hero category award.
Check out the awards ceremony video made for BSCC by So Money
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – How could we not say “hat’s off” to Alstonville, Australia hat manufacturer Jack Cunningham, who is still beaming, according to his local paper, the Northern Star, after 400 Australian gymnasts wore his Cutuna Hat Company original designs for the opening ceremony of the Gymnaestrada world event in Lausanne. The crowd of 20,000 gymnasts who participated, plus the thousands of spectators, must be a hatmaker’s dream for showing off his wares.
Cunningham says 90 percent of the company’s business now comes from the Internet, so he was surprised and very pleased to be contacted directly for the order. The Australian team was looking for wide-brimmed hats, which turned out to be useful during the rainy ceremony. “It was a pretty standard design and the hardest thing we had to do was add a chin strap,” he told the local paper.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Sometimes you step out of the office for a couple hours and come back to interesting surprises. I found an e-mail for me, addressed to “Grüezi Mrs. Lunch!” I love the multilingualness of Switzerland, but when a Swiss German decides my first name is Geneva and my family name is Lunch I wonder how well we’re all communicating.
Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) - Regular reports from the Iso office in Geneva, where the world’s standards are set on everything from beach balls to food safety to lightbulb sizes, tend to make editors’ eyes glaze over. But now and again, along comes news of a standard the world really needs, probably should have had long ago, and finally, someone is doing something about it.
Here’s to the new Iso standard for cigarettes that “limit the serious risk posed by the inadvertent dropping of a lighted cigarette onto flammable materials such as mattresses or upholstered furniture”. It gives manufacturers and regulators a standard test for cigarettes. According to Iso, it can reduce the number of deaths from fires started by cigarettes, by up to half.
Best little cup of coffee in Geneva
It’s an entrepreneurs’ week, starting with the best little new coffee place in town – Geneva, that is – Boréal Coffee, in the financial district. Long live healthy competition! There’s finally a good Anglo-saxon-style independent alternative to Starbucks where you can get a great cup of coffee, have a sandwich or a salad and run back to the office with them or sit down and relax in a comfortable, tasteful setting. It just opened at 60, rue du Stand and my own experience is that it’s perfect for quick lunch meetings or slow novel reads, depending on your day.
The owners are two young men, Julian Caron Lys and Fabien Decroux, who met when they both worked as IT managers for Cross Systems, a large IT company in Geneva. The two caught the entrepreneurial bug and worked on one startup for a fruit smoothies company in central Europe, but they were short of financing and language problems got in the way, so they abandoned the venture.
Back in Switzerland he and Caron Lys decided in early 2008 that Geneva needed the Australian coffee touch. They spent several months learning the business, learning about barista coffees, touring coffee shops in the UK, Germany and elsewhere in Europe to get a good sense of what works and what doesn’t.
It took another few months to find the right location, knock out walls, and get set up, but they are definitely on the right track.
Webster offers entrepreneurship workshop 24 June
Webster University’s Hub for entrepreneurs is offering a workshop with contest for people who want to start their own businesses, 24 June. You need to present your idea to the public, which will discuss it under the leadership of a panel of judges and the winners that evening will be given mentors for their projects. Details
Note: Hats off! has just moved to GenevaLunch and if you’ve been one of the regular readers at the Tribune de Geneva, welcome back. Hats off! is a blog I wrote from June 2006 to May 2007 for the Tribune as its only English-language journalist blogger. It is now moving to GenevaLunch to keep the editor’s life (mine) a little simpler, with my blogs in one place, using just one blogging platform (software). It’s written for all of you (us) who wear too many hats in life, or as I wrote last June, "Hats, in the metaphorical sense, are something most people I know have
too many of, and they spend a good deal of their lives trying to
balance them." Balancing your hats: I take mine off to you for trying.
ON AVS: The first old-new blog post is for anyone who is a little fuzzy on AVS (Swiss social security) rules, which means anyone who employs people or who works but is not a fulltime employee of a company. You don’t have to be a company to be an employer: do you hire someone to clean your house?
This is a busy time of year for my small company, with contracts to be signed before people disappear on vacation, car insurance and life insurance policies to be reviewed, summer schedules to sort out. The phone call from the AVS office saying I was due for an audit was not welcome news, even less welcome when the man said to set aside at least half a day. In Vaud, companies are audited every 4-5 years, he said. When he arrived he said that companies with at least three employees are more likely to be audited than those with just one or two people.
Happily it took less than two hours because my company’s books are in good shape; for once I am grateful for the money spent on an accountant. I learned a few things that you should know if you own a company or if you work as a consultant or freelance person. Here they are:
- Every company, NGO and non-profit organization based in Switzerland is liable for AVS payments to Swiss residents who work for them, whether as salaried employees or freelance workers: this money must be deducted from payments.
- Every person in Switzerland who hires a person resident in Switzerland is liable for AVS, whether the work is mowing the lawn or cleaning the house or putting your books in order.
- The exception is work done by freelancers who have registered as such with their AVS office or if they live in France with the French social security system. The office will provide an attestation if asked, which is a letter certifying that this person pays his or her own AVS. Freelancers might choose to do this because of tax benefits as a self-employed person or because you can set aside a larger sum of money in a retirement fund that is not taxed until you touch it.
- When a company uses a freelance person it should ask to see a copy of a recent AVS attestation. If it does not and the freelancer is in fact not registered, the company is liable later for back payments to cover the AVS. Worse, the company may be considered to have been this person’s employer, in which case unemployment insurance and other social charges will be billed, as well as interest for late payments.
- To avoid these problems and to be sure everyone is clear about who is paying the AVS a letter should state clearly that a) the person undertaking the work is registered with the AVS office as an indépendant and will pay the AVS or b) the company will pay the AVS.
- The line between freelance and salaried employee is arbitrary. It depends on how long and regularly the person has worked for you and the amount of money paid. The freelancer whose AVS you are not paying today may well be considered your employee by the AVS office in three years, at which point you the employer will have to pay all social charges, possibly for past work as well as future. Review the situation together regularly with anyone who works for you – or anyone you work for – on a recurring basis.
- AVS and social charges come to about 15% of the salary or fees paid, so anyone who plans not to declare income – we’ll skip over the moral issues here – should keep in mind that they will have to settle for at least 15% less because the employer is running a potentially expensive risk and does not have the option of deducting the charges from the company’s books. Should the person be paid 15% more? Use the same logic you use for taxes: do we all get paid more because we’re expected to pay taxes after income? If you live in a country with a crazy super-high tax rate, employers sometimes try to soften the cushion, but this is not the case in Switzerland.
- Do the tax people and AVS people talk to each other? Neither will give a clear answer to this, in my experience, but a tax audit or questions raised by irregular situations can lead to an AVS audit. After my own routine audit this morning I spoke with one experienced manager who outsources work frequently. "We are so careful about everything now, every little bill for SFr50 because it is really a pain if once in a while you don’t bother to deduct it or you don’t ask people for their papers." Or make sure the papers are still valid.
A final thought: women, especially those who clean house, too often balk at AVS deductions, perhaps because they don’t want to declare and therefore pay taxes on the income, but often because they don’t understand that this is their state pension fund. No matter where they come from and what country they plan to retire in, they are usually better off the day they retire if they have a fund of their own and not just their husband’s.