With so much interest in what corporations are doing to make their internal organizations and the products and services they offer more “sustainable,” it’s nice to see Intel introduce a CSR blog (thanks to triplepundit for catching this). Environmental Leaders points out that McDonald’s and Sun Microsystems also have CSR and eco blogs. I’m sure some research could uncover several others as well. Send me a comment if you know of corporate blogs to profile.
This all has some significance. Most companies are racing to figure out their internal/external approach to CSR, cleantech, and whatever else falls under the green umbrella, and just like consumers, big companies need examples and best practices to follow. Even with the dozens of new events, articles and industry associations, there aren’t enough places to turn for information. These blogs, if done right, should serve as a good forum to create discussions that help companies across industries develop their approach to CSR.
I’ve talked about how these companies are already coming together with trade groups like TechNet. Adding clear and transparent corporate blogs into the mix is another step in the right direction. And I’m sure the media won’t mind new places to turn for information.
Most of us in technology communications have at some point crossed paths with Martin LaMonica at CNET. He has covered everything from application development to big Internet industry trends and news. For the past few years, he has cranked up his clean tech coverage to point where it is now part of his daily beat at one of the most popular sources for news on the Web. He comes at this emerging space from many perspectives and is one of the people that is making a real difference in keeping the public informed as the pieces connect in clean tech. Add him to your list of reporters to watch if he’s not already on it.
Swain: What was your first exposure to clean tech and sustainability issues?
LaMonica: I first wrote about “clean tech” back in 2004 when–guess what!–a PR person pitched me on a solar data center story which I eventually did because I had been interested in alternative energy media for a couple of years. Later in 2004, I did an interview with Nick Parker at the Cleantech Venture Network which gave me a broader perspective on clean tech. It was an important moment because I saw that the clean tech label was large enough to include all sorts of environmental-related technologies–not just solar and wind. I’ve cared about environmental protection for years means so I’ve been aware of sustainability issues.
I subscribe to a lot of green newsletters and feeds and more seem to be popping up every day. Is there currently enough news to support all of the people writing about it? Has the number of green-related pitches increased over the past few months or has it started to level off?
The number of green/clean tech pitches is definitely up in the past few months. It’s a bit early to say if things have leveled off yet. The rising pitch count is clearly a result of companies getting funding and marketing themselves. But even once the VC money slows down, the whole “green” movement won’t go away. It’s clearly becoming a mainstream/front page issue.
Obviously, there’s a lot of experimentation in green media–and I suspect not everyone will stick with it. I think the challenge for tech journalists–and PR folks too–is to get beyond the “clean tech company gets funding” stories that are so common now.
Between you and Michael Kannelos, you’ve been able to stay ahead of things in clean tech – did you start to focus on this topic because of a personal interest or did CNET see that you needed a solid channel covering news relating to business, sustainability and the environment?
I got into it purely out of personal interest but now it’s just part of what CNET covers. Michael’s got a good read on Silicon Valley VCs so he saw that energy/clean tech was a hot area and jumped on it.
Now, clean/green tech is an official part of my beat, rather than something I write about once in a while. Other CNET reporters cover green tech, too. We’ve also hired some high-profile people in the industry for the green tech channel on our Blog Network, so we’re committed to it.
The news is coming from the tech, VC and energy industries, and when you add in verticals like building, auto and consumer products, things can get complicated. Are there specific sectors or areas you’re paying closer attention to than others?
Yes, you could argue that the clean tech label is too broad. We don’t have very specific beats–yet, anyway. But I write about power generation technologies (solar, wind, biomass), fuels, financial stories, green buildings, and a bit of policy. Generally, I want a tech/innovation angle to a story, which is natural to me as I’ve covered IT for years.
Unlike the technology industry, the success of many clean tech companies and products has a lot to do with public policy and changes in old industries that are notoriously slow and resistant to change. On one side we have Web 2.0 and changing delivery models for software that allow startups to get moving and see success in a year or two with little up front capital. On the other, we have clean tech where things can move slowly and could take years if not decades to see real results. Do you think the reporting process for clean tech will change in the coming years when the industry starts to mature?
A lot of clean tech coverage these days is about start-ups trying cool things. These are great stories but at a certain point, if that’s all a media outlet is doing, it’s going to look shallow. We’re starting to see some stories about companies merging, failing to develop the technology they promised, or replacing CEOs. So I think the better media outlets will do these follow-up business stories.
Another thing that the better outlets will do is follow the larger issues and trends around clean tech. A lot of these new energy technologies have lots of tradeoffs–think biofuels and the whole food versus fuel debate, for example–that media outlets should try to cover.
Do you have trouble finding the products, people and companies that have the potential to make a real difference?
Clean tech is tricky in this regard. Many old ideas are being dusted off and tried again. And some of them–like solar thermal at utility scale–are totally viable. But then again, you run across claims from academics or entrepreneurs claiming to make “free energy” or enable the “hydrogen economy” tomorrow. So you have to be discerning. That said, I’m always looking for more great stories and interesting people who have the potential to make a difference.
Are you most interested in hearing from big technology companies, clean tech startups, or companies who are making investments in new technologies like solar or green data centers that can make their businesses more sustainable?
Startups tend to be the most fun because entrepreneurs are generally passionate about what they’re doing. But large corporations have a huge amount of weight and the money to invest in R & D, so I’d like to hear more from them. I haven’t done a lot of coverage of “sustainable business” practices but I think it’s got potential.
What should the clean tech community know about CNET?
We cover clean/green tech in various forms in different places. You’ll see more consumer oriented items in places like Crave or CNET.com while more of the business coverage at News.com and in the Blog Network.
Suggestions on how to work with you and what you look for in a story?
I’m always looking for news so timeliness is important. And in general, I’m looking for a tech-related story, although that’s not all I’ll do. It seems that certain areas got lots of attention, like solar these days, but I think I’m not afraid of less glamorous topics if it looks like it could have wide appeal. (I did a story on a combined heat and power home furnace and readers loved it.) Email’s generally the best way to pitch me.
It’s not uncommon this year to see news of publications shutting down or having ongoing layoffs, but this morning’s story in the New York Times about the uncertain fate of Business 2.0 is disturbing. Brad Stone’s article suggests that declining ad revenues are the cause for current discussions about the fate of the publication.
Time Inc. would be crazy to abandon Business 2.0. It’s safe to say that anyone who follows emerging technology trends, venture capital and startups, or people with hopes of sometime starting their own business will likely agree. My daily blogs and news sites are great, but we need a publication like Business 2.0 that can give us trusted and in-depth features that provide a look into the future. Business 2.0 is one of a kind in its areas of coverage, and for what it’s worth, it was one of the first mainstream publications to start paying attention to clean tech.
Time Inc. should not step away from one of Silicon Valley’s greatest publications.
It’s been a busy year for produces of green business news. We’ve seen dozens of new blogs emerge, mainstay outlets like CNET, BusinessWeek, Technology Review and Business 2.0 have cranked up their dedicated green coverage, and major players like Greener World Media, Green Options and World Changing have continued to up the ante with more content focused on business, technology and the environment. So it’s no surprise that GigaOm has formally introduced its green channel, Earth2Tech, which they describe as:
One part clean tech startup coverage – (a quick look at clean tech venture numbers shows the growing ranks of startups in hot areas like solar and biofuels); One part reviews of tech giant’s eco-initiatives (is Google’s carbon neutral initiative more marketing or responsible plan?); One part a resource page for entrepreneurs and Valley types looking for green tech [tools, rules, tips] – LBS meets ethanol?
I met with Om in April and he said this was coming so it’s great to see the official roll-out. Looking forward to seeing how Adena DeMonte, Katie Fehrenbacher and the GigaOm team approach the space. There’s no shortage of places to turn for green business news… all of this competition between content producers should lead to some great coverage.
I’m finishing up a two week east coast tour today in New York with my colleagues at Text 100 and thought I’d take a minute to see how local communities on this side of country are mobilizing around the environment. Look no further than the Lower Hudson Online and today’s story, New Rochelle gets suggestions for being greener. What’s going on in New Rochelle is similar to what’s happening across the country from small towns and schools to states and big businesses. Some are further along than others, but there’s a common thread in the way people are coming together to confront issues that have been ignored.
Here’s a look at some of the things New Rochelle’s seven-member Environmental Advisory Committee have proposed:
The city should consider various measures to protect the environment and should create a new position, perhaps a “director of sustainability,” to oversee the efforts, a committee suggested yesterday.
“We really should be following the lead of other major cities in the United States,” committee chairman Herbert Fox said of the suggestion.
Other ideas include planning to preserve and increase natural and grassy areas and recreation space, and converting sanitation trucks into hybrid electrical vehicles…The report suggests spreading the word about sustainability through a “Green Tech” education center, perhaps at the Oaks Environmental Center, using a Web site, free classes, newsletters and the city’s cable television station.
“A commitment to the environment will create economic opportunity, (reduce) operating costs and promote community health,” says the report from the seven-member committee, established by the City Council in June 2006.
In recommending new building standards, the committee said buildings should meet the criteria of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program of the U.S. Green Building Council.
The panel recommended hiring consultants to help write new building codes, taking cues from such organizations as the Green Building Council and the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers.
“Now it’s a matter of taking it to the next step,” he said.
Nothing here is mind blowing or all that impressive. What is interesting is how representative this is of the challenge clean tech companies and businesses adopting more sustainable practices face when communicating to the public. The issues surrounding clean tech are global, national, local and regional. The decisions made in a city like New Rochelle could mean big deals for a renewable energy company looking to make a move into a new region like NY. But where do communications people with 100 options for telling a story start? Hit the mainstream to drive the future of your product and industry, or focused grassroots local campaigns that drive sales and incremental but significant progress? Probably a combination of the two.
One of Text 100’s clients, Fujifilm, made an announcement a few weeks ago that by 2008 it plans to power between 32 and 44 percent of its Greenwood, S.C., manufacturing facility with energy from methane gas, which will be converted into usable form and piped in from a nearby landfill. This is an example of an initiative that’s good for the local community and the environment but can also serve as a mainstream example for other companies and reach Fujifilm’s customers and shareholders who are interested in how the company is driving sustainability.