Clean Tech Q&A: Business 2.0’s Todd Woody
As an assigning editor for Business 2.0’s green tech coverage and writer of the popular Green Wombat blog, Todd Woody is living the Bay Area green boom. He is no stranger to booms having experienced the party days at the Industry Standard before moving on to the San Jose Mercury News. Todd sat down with me for coffee a few weeks ago to talk about the current green business market. I was glad to have the opportunity – we’ve seen countless reporters move on to the sustainable business and clean technology beat but few bring a history in all the things making up this new industry: environment, technology, business, public policy and venture capital.
Swain: What was your first exposure to clean tech and sustainability issues?
Woody: While I covered environmental issues in the 1990s as a reporter, it was during the California energy crisis of 2000-2001 that I began to notice growing interest in solar energy and other green/clean tech issues. At the time I was a senior editor at The Industry Standard magazine and was assigning stories on alternative energy as California suffered brownouts and PG&E went bankrupt. By the time I became the business editor of the San Jose Mercury News in 2005, it was clear that a new boom was brewing as VC funding for green tech ventures began to take off.
You were covering environmental issues long before the current convergence of the tech, VC and energy industries; how have things changed?
I would say the biggest change has been the growing alliance between environmental groups and big business to tackle global warming and other issues. There’s a growing consensus that the market can be a mechanism to address such challenges. While Environmental Defense had taken a market-oriented approach to solving environmental problems back in the ‘90s, EDF – as it was known back then – the Natural Resources Defense Council and other big green groups were more inclined then to sue business and government for environmental law violations and lax enforcement. Now you have the extraordinary situation where Environmental Defense has hired an investment firm (Perella Weinberg Partners) to advise it on the takeover of Texas utility TXU. That’s because the private equity firms behind the acquisition of TXU gave ED a prominent place at the table in negotiating the deal. Roll over Rachel Carson.
There’s so much hype – do you have trouble finding the products, people and companies that have the potential to make a real difference?
In any boom there will be those companies that over-promise or are just selling pure hype. But unlike the dot-com boom, most green tech companies are dealing in hard technology and are often run by engineers and scientists who tend to be less prone to exaggeration and self-promotion. Of course, even companies that have promising technology still can fail or the technology may not live up to its potential. Nevertheless, you have to do your due diligence – particularly with companies that are offering services like carbon offsets – to verify their claims or substantiate their methodology.
Your Green Wombat blog gives you a chance to do a lot of high frequency original reporting – where do you go for information to make sure you stay ahead of things?
I subscribe to scores of RSS feeds from governmental agencies, companies and environmental groups. I attend conferences and I meet with people in the field. The great thing about being based in San Francisco is that the Bay Area is ground zero for green tech. Some of the major players are within walking distance of my office.
What should the clean tech community know about Business 2.0?
We consider this to be a huge and important story and we’re aggressively pursing it. In fact, I’m spending just about all my time on green tech issues, both as an assigning editor and as a writer/blogger.
Suggestions on how to work with you and what you look for in a story?
Always email me pitches as I don’t have time to take notes on a pitch made by phone. For both the blog and the magazine I’m looking for original stories, ideas or angles (the worse thing you can do is preface a pitch by saying “You may have seen the story on Company X in the Wall Street Journal…..”) If you’re pitching for the blog you have a lot more leeway. I’ll consider any relevant idea and am happy to meet with green tech people/companies. The key is timeliness. If there’s going to be a news announcement on, say, Wednesday, I want to know about it in advance and get all the relevant embargoed documents so I can have a post up when the news hits. If it’s already over the Internet, my interest falls rapidly. The print magazine is whole different story. You need to know what we’re about and what kind of stories we do. The original and unique rule holds but the bar is much, much higher to get into the magazine for obvious reasons. But whether you’re pitching for Business 2.0 or Green Wombat it’s essential you read the publication and target your pitches accordingly.