I had the opportunity last week to attend the Clean Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs presented by Clean Edge. Ron Pernick and team put together a diverse agenda for attendees. Sessions covered everything from green building and carbon markets to “clean coal” and Wall Street’s take on clean tech.
The range of topics covered and companies represented illustrates the growing influence clean tech is having on businesses across industries. Thursday’s corporate keynotes brought together representatives from Wal-Mart, BP and Cisco. Each provided a different slant on going green either through internal initiatives or product development. Hearing perspective from an operations/business person, scientist and engineer showed how sustainable thinking is being incorporated into every level of an organization.
Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of sustainability, claims that it will spend more for products that are environmentally-friendly and last longer, but not necessarily at a higher cost. Wal-Mart’s goal is to one day use only renewable energy and create zero waste. Mark has been in a sustainability role for 90 days – likely not an uncommon level of experience in most companies that are starting green initiatives. The BP chief scientist comes from an academic background and Cisco’s green engineer recently joined the company from American Power Conversion Corporation. Diverse backgrounds and diverse approaches to green.
The keynote on “clean coal” from Greg Boyce, Chairman and CEO of Peabody Energy, also drew a lot of attention. The conference organizers were quite open-minded to invite a coal company to speak at a clean tech event and Boyce was equally brave to accept the invite. Whether or not you agree with the idea of “clean coal,” isn’t listening to companies with different propositions and participating in a “friendly” debate what clean tech is all about? Whether or not investors and consumers buy into the idea is another story.
Over the next 25 years, Greg says there will be a 75% increase in coal use. And a quarter of the world’s coal reserves. As the price of oil continues to rise, companies are bound to give clean coal a second look. Tech Review discusses a new porous material that can soak up 80 times their volume of carbon dioxide. The material could be used in coal gasification plants. The idea of clean coal has created a great deal of discussion in the industry. Questions that came up in the Q&A following Greg’s keynote included: should there be a national charge on coal to help companies move to clean coal? Why should there be a public subsidy? Why shouldn’t the coal industry pay? My thought: the sun as a resource is endless; let’s make sure the long-term solutions are a (BIG) part of this mix!
In the Bay Area alone, there are at least three or four more clean tech conferences taking place this month. Industry discussion and excitement around clean tech keeps moving.
— Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Practice
Joel Makower and his editorial team at GreenBiz.com launched a 64-page report, “State of Green Business 2008,” this morning. Aside from analysis on green business activities in the United States, it features the debut of the GreenBiz Index. And handy for anyone building out their green communications initiatives, it includes dozens of “Editors’ Picks,” lists they’ve compiled of the best books, websites, reports, business initiatives, and other resources.
The GreenBiz Index is a set of 20 indicators of green business progress that Joel and his team will update annually. It measures the following:
• Alt-Fuel Vehicles
• Building Energy Efficiency
• Carbon Intensity
• Carbon Trading
• Carbon Transparency
• Clean-Technology Investments
• Clean-Technology Patents
• Corporate Reporting
• Employee Commuting
• Employee Telecommuting
• Energy Efficiency
• Environmental Management Systems
• Green Office Space
• Green Power Use
• Packaging Intensity
• Paper Use and Recycling
• Pesticide Use
• Quality of Management
• Toxic Emissions
We’ve been tracking business media coverage for the past two years and one thing that has always surprised me is the lack of coverage in these publications about “how to” green your business. These same business publications have published dozens of articles on how to be a greener consumer, and have reported on green news coming out of businesses… but they’re business publications and CEOs, CSOs, CFOs are all struggling with what they should and shouldn’t be doing. That’s their readership, and business executives want to know more than just the news from other companies, or the sporadic bashing of a few companies for “greenwashing.” For their part, McKinsey, The Economist and the Economist Intelligence Unit have done a good job of addressing the executive audience directly, with real ideas and best practices.
Congrats to Joel, his editorial team and his publisher Pete May for keeping us moving in the right direction.
UPDATE: Check out Joel on CNBC’s Closing Bell.
Following a week of candidates campaigning in Michigan about challenges facing the U.S. economy and heightened discussion around the possibility of recession as many companies dropped their expected earnings for upcoming quarters, it was refreshing to read that the clean tech industry is continuing to prosper.
The Cleantech Group released numbers this week indicating venture investment in clean tech across North America and Europe increased 40% in 2007 – reaching $5.18 billion in 2007. Red Herring reports the high numbers are attributed to “an unexpectedly strong fourth quarter despite growing uncertainty in the global economy.”
The number of venture funding announcements in the first few weeks of 2008 suggests growth in clean tech will continue in 2008. TheDailyGreen writes the continuing rise of clean tech companies will be instrumental in battling increasing unemployment, wages dropping and housing troubles. Something especially relevant in clean tech cities like San Francisco and Austin, where we’re already seeing job creation and new opportunities.
Outside of investment news, industry leaders – Google, Dell, HP, IBM, Sony, Nokia and Ptiney Bowes – made green headlines this week. Interestingly, six out the seven mentioned above made announcements that involve developing industry standards.
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which involves 11 corporations including HP and Dell and hundreds of investors, is developing a standard method to gather carbon-emissions information from suppliers. The hope is that suppliers can more easily provide carbon emissions details to customers by following one standard rather than juggling requests in various forms.
Additionally, IBM, Sony, Nokia and Pitney Bowes announced an effort called Eco-Patent Commons, which will make available rights to environmentally friendly technologies. Twenty-seven of the first 31 patents are being contributed by IBM. It’s off to a good start – we’ll watch to see how this programs grows in the coming year and if more companies join on to support the cause.
— Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Practice
Happy New Year! We’re only a few days in to 2008 and news of clean tech funding, awards and predictions for the year ahead are already in full swing. Here are a few highlights from the week:
- Gap, Nike, Dell and Xerox were among the 21 companies classified for “exemplary disclosure that placed performance in the broader context of sustainability challenges, risks and opportunities” and named as finalists for the 7th annual awards program from Ceres and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Winners will be announced in April.
- Greentech Media reports that clean-energy companies globally pulled in $117.3 billion in public and private funding in 2007. According to London-based New Energy Finance, that’s 41 percent more than the $83 billion the firm tracked in 2006.
- Deeya Energy, a battery energy storage startup, kicked off 2008’s funding news by raising $15 million in a Series B funding. Deeya is developing battery storage technology called “L-Cell,” which has been describe as “flow battery” technology.
- Looking ahead to 2008, check out Earth2Tech’s interview with with Draper Fisher Jurvetson’s partners Steve Jurvetson and Raj Atluru that appears on the GigaOM TV Show. Steve and Raj discuss where they see clean tech investing heading in 2008.
– Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Group
Chevy’s PR team just sent me a note about an interesting youth engagement initiative they’ve run as part of their latest College Challenge. In 2006 they showed what students are capable of with the Super Bowl Ad Challenge; this year they took a green approach and invited students to design a communications campaign that educates consumers about Chevy’s current and future fuel saving technologies. Five finalist teams were chosen and flown to Detroit last week to present to Chevy’s marketing executives. They’ve prepared the following video with a few highlights.
Props to Chevy for a great idea. College students are probably the most active and passionate green demographic – what better way to learn how to market to them (and position Chevy as innovative) than having your target market try to write a communications plan targeted at themselves. One question: do we get to see the strategies the winning team came up with?
Engaging youth in activities like this is something that has been around forever. It makes sense. Bring them in, give them a challenge and hopefully turn them into advocates for your brand or cause. This has really taken hold recently in areas relating to politics or the environment where passionate individuals are given a forum to join video contests or social networking groups and move their cause forward through ingenuity and creativity. Check out the winning video from the Current & The Alliance Ecospot Contest.
Below are a few top stories in clean tech from the past week. Of note for PR folks, Text 100’s global clean tech guru, Jodi Olson, outlines the seven steps that any organization can take to assess and communicate a corporate sustainability program. Check out her article on the International Public Relations Associations‘ website. Other interesting news:
According to the new Avastone Corporate Sustainability Study (ACSS), a missing critical step in achieving a company’s sustainability goals is a scarcity of higher-capacity leaders. The study — Leadership and the Corporate Sustainability Challenge: Mindsets in Action — examined the progress of 10 global corporations with revenues ranging from $1 billion to over $100 billion.
Fortune’s Toddy Woody reports that Silicon Valley start up Ausra is building the United States’ first solar power plant factory in Nevada. The facility is expected to go live in April. Ausra looked at location options in California and Phoenix and decided on Las Vegas because of its transportation center, workforce and central location for where they think all the power plants will be. Another example of renewable energy creating jobs.
As reported by Ted Samson of InfoWorld, Google unveiled photos highlighting the 9,000 plus solar panels featured atop its headquarters, Googleplex. According to Google, the installation will produce enough electricity for approximately 1,000 California homes or 30% of Google’s peak electricity demand in its solar power buildings.
The Guardian reported this week that Shell is bailing on its solar business. Terry Macalister reports that Shell sold its photovoltaic operations in India and Sri Lanka and similar sell-offs are expected in the Philippines and Indonesia.
treehugger reports that wind energy could power all of Britain’s homes by 2020. The Brown government is unveiling a proposal to build 7,000 new wind turbines off Britain’s coast by 2020. Britain’s offshore wind farm system currently produces enough energy to power 1.5 million homes.
– Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Group
Hello fellow clean tech enthusiasts! I’m pleased to join David Swain this week as a guest contributor to Clean PR. To help us all wade through the mass of green news each week, I’ll be bringing you “Clean PR’s week in review” moving forward.
I think I picked the right week to kick off this segment. Following turkey day, some of the tech heavyweights must have been feeling especially thankful and generous. As Dave mentioned earlier in the week, Google and HP announced new sustainability initiatives. In other news:
- The Dept of Energy is investing $5.2 million to support the development of low-cost Concentrating Solar Power (CSP). DOE will also make available a Technology Commercialization Development Fund (TCDF) of up to $7.2 million to three of DOE’s National Laboratories to support commercialization of clean energy technologies.
- Greenpeace released its updated Guide to Greener Electronics. Newcomer Nintendo was singled out in a most unfortunate way as the first global brand to score zero across all criteria. Sony Erickson was recognized as the new leader due to improved takeback reporting and new phone models that are PVC free.
- Greentechmedia reports today that the World Economic Forum announced it has chosen 10 green tech companies for its annual Technology Pioneers. The companies (Cima NanoTech, FluXXion, Gridpoint, Hycrete, LS9, Nanostellar, Primafuel, Silver Spring Networks, SkySails and Unidym) were selected as part of a group of 38 winners that also came from biotech/health and IT categories.
- The National Venture Capital Association released data this week reporting U.S. venture firms invested $2.6 billion into 168 cleantech deals in the first nine months of the year. The year-to-date total is already 46% more by dollar volume than all of 2006 and the highest dollar volume ever. The three largest clean tech investments by US firms went to overseas companies. Specifically, a Netherlands based company with a focus on oilfield-production enhancement, a Brazilian Renewable Energy Co and China’s Yingli Green Energy Holding Company.
Of note for PR folks, a study released mid-month by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism reports the number of green business stories published in the U.S.’s ten largest newspapers this year has already doubled last year’s total: study (PDF). The report finds sustainability stories published in the business section still represent only a fraction of the green-themed stories found throughout the newspaper. On a positive note, editors surveyed don’t think interest has peaked yet.
For those interested in sustainability and CSR, the following reports are also worth checking out: from the Business for Social Responsibility, Beyond Neutrality: Moving Your Company Toward Climate Leadership and Assessing the impact of societal issues: A McKinsey Global Survey.
I think that will do it for this week. I’m sure next week will have plenty more green news for us to cover — Barbara DeConto
It’s a big day for green press releases in Silicon Valley. Check it out:
- Google’s Goal: Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal. A new initiative to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal. The initiative, known as RE<C, will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies. RE<C is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology, and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas. In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related investments in renewable energy. The company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns. It’s interesting to see who is covering this: everyone from social networking blogs like Mashables to tech visionaries like Tim O’Reilly. It’s not just the green business and environmental blogs.
- HP Expands Renewable Energy use in its Operations. HP announced relationships with two renewable energy providers, SunPower Corp. in the United States and Airtricity in Ireland, as part of the company’s strategy to reduce its global carbon footprint. Under a power purchase agreement with SunPower, HP will install its first-ever, large-scale solar power installation at its San Diego facility. The contract with Airtricity will ensure that nearly 90 percent of HP’s energy use in Ireland is renewable, exceeding the company’s 2007 target for carbon emission reductions.
Whenever this much hype springs up around a topic like green business, technology and building, it’s rightfully inevitable that the media pays closer attention to claims being made, as Ben Elgin did with BusinessWeek’s Little Green Lies. The same scrutiny occurred in 2000-2001 before the software industry consolidated when PeopleSoft, Siebel, Oracle and others started announcing new product upgrades faster than reporters could keep up. Were they really upgrading products or were the marketing departments shuffling around features and re-branding them as new in an effort to capitalize on all the buzz?
Rather than let the media do all the questioning, dozens of green auditing businesses seem to be popping up that can help make sure a company’s “claims” are valid. In the case below, SCS, a company that brands itself as “an independent certifier of environmental, sustainability, and food safety, quality and purity claims” developed an ad campaign aimed at helping companies move from greenwashing to accountability.
Organizations, associations and other third-parties like SCS seem to be creating their own systems, which appear to be moving the industry forward by helping companies put processes in place and understand what to talk about and what to leave on the shelf. This should lead to more real news, better educated businesses and less greenwashing, but with very few industry standards or benchmarks, relying on third parties’ homegrown systems could make for a bumpy ride. At this point it seems like the best option we’ve got.
I caught this ad in a fancy online brochure for the upcoming Greenbuild Conference in Chicago.
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.