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.
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 think there’s some dust collecting on this blog. I set it aside to tour the country with my seven-month old son for six weeks. My first post since returning is with Jennifer Kho of the recently launched Greentech Media. I first met Jennifer last year when Text 100 was introducing its clean tech group. At the time, she was at still at Red Herring and was one of the few people reporting daily on green business topics. She was nice enough to sit down with us then to share her thoughts on the emerging clean tech industry. A year later, she has a great thing going at Greentech Media, which dubs itself as an “integrated online-media company comprised of cutting-edge news, in-depth market research, and focused industry events.”
Swain: I subscribe to a lot of green newsletters and RSS feeds and more seem to be popping up every day. Is there enough news to support all of the people writing about it?
Kho: Yes, I still think there is plenty of news left to cover (and uncover) in this area. The players are so diverse, involving energy, transportation, energy efficiency, energy management, water and air and so on, that I think a number of reporters are needed to cover the industry thoroughly.
Before you left Red Herring, was the number of pitches in your inbox still increasing or did it start to level off?
The number of pitches in my inbox was growing and is still growing, but many of the pitches I get are not really matched to what we cover at Greentech Media. For instance, I’ll get pitches about new hiking trails, attempts to save endangered species or regional environmental efforts not involving technology. Also, we’re noticing more “greenwashing” from companies that aren’t really focused in green technologies.
You were covering clean tech long before it hit today’s level of mainstream attention – how have things changed?
There’s certainly more mainstream interest. Now, cleantech comes up in the mainstream press every day. Politicians talk about it, we see new fundings almost daily and I no longer have to explain what solar power or ethanol is when I write about it – at least not every time. The public is getting more savvy, as are the companies. When I first started, few of the companies I talked to each day had public relations representatives. That has changed.
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, we definitely see more of our news coming from the energy area right now – although we also are doing our best to add more coverage in other areas, like water and green IT – and readers also seem to be very interested in car technologies. We try to find a business angle for every story.
Unlike the technology industry, the success of many cleantech companies and products has a lot to do to do with public policy and changes in old industries that are notoriously slow and resistant to change. Do you think the reporting process for cleantech will change in the coming years?
Yes, as the industry starts to mature, I expect we will be moving from covering mostly new technologies and startups to covering more public companies and new applications for the technologies. Especially if, as some have speculated, there continues to be less money going into university and government research in these areas.
Do you have trouble finding the products, people and companies that have the potential to make a real difference?
I wouldn’t say I am seeing a shortage of companies with this potential. But whether they will be successful or not is anybody’s guess. We definitely will have winners and losers.
Rather than specific cleantech news and innovations, are you interested in hearing from companies who are applying these new technologies as part of a corporate social responsibility initiative?
As important as those initiatives are, we will be covering fewer of those types of stories, compared with news about new technologies. However, it’s still worth pitching us because we will occasionally cover those initiatives when they are very big or when they are surprising.
What are you seeing as big risks and challenges this sector has to overcome in the next five to 10 years?
The different parts of the sector are so diverse that they each have their own set of challenges to overcome. But, in general, I think companies will have to meet their promises, avoid too much hype and persuade legislators to approve greentech-friendly policies. One risk still is the historically volatile price of oil. Even though technologies like solar power don’t directly compete with oil, investors’ perceptions do tend to trade solar and other alternative-energy stocks higher when oil prices are high and lower when oil prices are low. Likewise, different parts of the greentech sector risk being influenced – for better or for worse – by the rest of the sector, so that if one piece disappoints, some investors might lose their enthusiasm for other parts of the sector.
The solar industry has already started to consolidate and I expect a lot more to come. Do you think other renewables/clean sectors will see the same thing as startups start to mature? If so, which sectors are next?
Yes, I think consolidation is a natural part of growth and maturity. This is already happening in wind power. Also, alternative cars and energy-efficient lighting are some areas where I expect we might see some consolidation once the technologies are ready. In fact, we already saw Hymotion get purchased by A123Systems, as an example.
Suggestions on how to work with you and what you look for in a story.
I am looking for stories involving both business and technology. That means story pitches should include elements of money and technology aiming to improve the environment. The product must be a technology, an innovative, fairly complicated piece of hardware or software. It also must be purposely created with some green intent. This focus on business and technology might well shift or expand as we grow, but it is what we’re looking for now.
As for working with me, the best way to reach me is to e-mail me at email@example.com. You also can call me at 510-268-9929. Obviously, notifying me early and giving me a scoop or an exclusive makes it more likely you will catch my attention. And if you do call, the best time is in the afternoon, when I’m off the daily deadline.
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.
eBay just introduced the beta version of a really cool widget called eBay To Go that can bring eBay listings or searches straight to a blog or just about any type of personal Website. There are three great options for the widget. I just tested it out with a quick search for wind turbines. Check out how interactive it is, and it’s showing real-time content from eBay.com. Pretty cool, and anyone can use it for free.
Check out Scoble’s auction below — all proceeds will go to diabetes research. It will be interesting to see how high this goes. Hopefully the widget lands in front of someone looking to fund a good cause.
A little disclaimer. eBay is one of my clients at Text 100 Public Relations. I thought this widget was too cool to not share it with any bloggers who read Clean PR.
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.
In many situations when a company or person is questioned in the press, it blows over when the media and their audiences move on to the next news of the day, week or month. There are times, though, when the questions hit too close to home, as it did a few weeks ago when BusinessWeek’s Another Inconvenient Truth attacked the fundamental business model and realized benefits of carbon offsets. The article chose to focus on TerraPass, one of the leading carbon offsets companies, by making a case that some of the projects being funded by the offsets were no better off than they were before, suggesting that they would have been done with or without the help of TerraPass.
BusinessWeek wasn’t the first to question offsets so rather than write about the article when it ran, I decided to wait a few weeks to see how TerraPass handled the PR challenge. By confronting the article head on, it was undoubtedly going to increase awareness of the issues raised with offsets. Proof in point, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post if they had sat on it. But TerraPass had no choice and they believe in their product. Since BusinessWeek’s article ran, TerraPass has used their popular blog and newsletter to start a transparent debate, guiding the discussion with several actions aimed at building trust in their business:
- New financial, regulatory and timing tests of Tontitown, one of the projects questioned in the article
- TreeHugger, an information resource for the green industry, interviewed Tontitown to show that the project results exceed what would have been necessary without TerraPass’ participation
- A refined review process and review panel was introduced
- Articles are running on their blog that aren’t about this “problem,” showing that business is still moving ahead as usual
Like any good company in 2007, TerraPass is using a community on the Web to defend and refine their business. It’s like a 24/7 focus group. They’ve set a good example by standing up to the challenge. The carbon offset market, wherever it ends up, will be better for it.
This comparison is far out there but I saw a documentary last night that made me realize how far we’ve come in the past 100 years. Companies can accomplish in a few weeks what it took Buffalo Bill’s Annie Oakley six years of train rides around the country to do after she was misrepresented in the press. She had a reputation to uphold and didn’t stop until she took each of the 56 newspapers that she disagreed with to task. Social media has changed the course of things. No more train rides.
- global markets for biofuels (global manufacturing and wholesale pricing of ethanol and biodiesel) reached $20.5 billion in 2006 and are projected to grow to $80.9 billion by 2016;
- wind power (new installation capital costs) is projected to expand from $17.9 billion in 2006 to $60.8 billion in 2016;
- solar photovoltaics (including modules, system components, and installation) will grow from a $15.6 billion industry in 2006 to $69.3 billion by 2016; and
- the fuel cell and distributed hydrogen market will grow from a $1.4 billion industry (primarily for research contracts and demonstration and test units) to $15.6 billion over the next decade
David Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle covered the report today, Sales soar at green-tech companies.
And of course don’t miss Business of Green: A Special Section in today’s New York Times. Highlights:
- Audio Slide Show: Big Is Beautiful
- Consumers: Attention Shoppers: Carbon Offsets in Aisle 6
- Companies: Calculate your carbon footprint
- Restaurants: It Takes More Than Veggies to Make a Kitchen Green
- Homegrown Industry: Vermont Wants You to Fill Its Open Spaces
- New Concepts: ‘Corporate Hippies’ Seek Their Bliss in a New Environmental Economy and For Internet Barons, Uncharted Investment Territory
- Friend of Nature? Let’s See Those Shoes
- A Coal Executive With a Cleanup Mission
- As the Climate Heats Up, Lawyers Sharpen Their Wits
- Call of the Truck Stop: Gentlemen, Stop Your Engines
- Across the Atlantic, Slowing Breezes
I recently sat down with veteran Silicon Valley journalist Eric Auchard for his observations on the intersection of technology and energy industry reporting. Eric is the chief technology correspondent at Reuters. When he’s not covering industry giants like Google, eBay, Yahoo! and Apple, he’s following the venture capital industry and covering disruptive and emerging technologies and companies. How does clean tech fit in? It’s disruptive, emerging and flowing with new venture dollars.
Eric’s observations reinforced the reason behind starting this blog. Whatever you want to call clean tech, it is, as he puts it, “a category that blurs the boundaries between industries and is hard for the media to define exactly.” The industry needs to be covered from all corners: regulatory, energy and tech. The same way that many clean tech industry executives and PR people don’t have expertise in all of these areas, neither do many reporters. And that’s what makes this exciting.
Swain: What’s caught your attention with clean tech?
Auchard: Traditional computer and tech investors are embracing energy as a subject; they’re applying the same business logic and application of ideas that they used to build the tech industry. So many people have a play in this and they are coming at it from all sides – energy, environment, tech, etc. “Clean tech” to many reporters is euphemistic sounding. It should be called energy and environmental technologies, or renewable energy for short.
What’s your first experience to clean tech and sustainability issues?
Twenty-five years ago the one science course I took at college at Berkeley was with Dr. Arthur Rosenfeld, who is now a guru for many in the ‘clean-tech’ movement. Even then he was talking about the intersection of science, economics and conservation.
That’s interesting; is clean tech becoming more like computer tech?
Silicon Valley could be seen as shoehorning clean tech into Silicon Valley business models rather than following the more science-based route. This begs the questions of which is the right way.
What are you hearing in the field?
One of the biggest challenges for clean tech startups is finding top management teams. People from the computer field are finding their way into industry. In the past there were a lot of scientists and ideas but the energy industry needed the startup culture and constant innovation inherent in tech. This is what’s changing under the radar: veteran tech managers and a startup culture are coming together.
What are some of the more promising things you’re seeing?
I’m hearing more about the prospect of increased alternative energy IPOs in 2008. VCs are actually starting to talk about getting their money back. A lot of portfolio companies that we’ve yet to hear about are more like science projects. Ambitious things are happening. And there’s a lot of energy and a crazy willingness to try things that have been missing from the industry previously. This is a good sign that there is more to come. It’s a good old fashioned brawl involving lots of industries, lots of powerful people, and some big problems. This isn’t a place just for do-gooders. For a reporter, it’s hard not to love such stories.
How does this compare with the coverage of the computer industry?
There are different challenges bringing tech into the energy industry, such as a bureaucratic vs. entrepreneurial mindset. Also, there are no anti-trust degrees barring oil companies and oil producing countries from driving prices down to undermine alternative technologies. Big oil could be compared to how telecom used to be viewed in Silicon Valley. I remember how disparaging Intel’s Andy Grove used to be about the telecom industry. The tension with oil companies feels similar.
As a PR person, it’s hard to find the right contact for a clean tech story; any suggestions?
Energy reporters are used to covering things in certain ways and they’re still adjusting to the way Silicon Valley companies use PR. Bringing tech ideas to market is still uncomfortable for a lot of people who have been covering the energy industry. PR needs to help journalists find analysts and independent experts to put a clean tech story in perspective. Environmental and energy issues are highly local, regulated and concentrated. At the same time that tech reporters aren’t used to this, energy reporters aren’t used to the level of invention that have characterized the computer industry.
You meet with a lot of VCs; what are you hearing?
Almost all VCs are talking about this space. But a few are taking a more integrated approach. Some are conceiving the whole industrial food chain and are solving specific problems within the chain.
What should the clean tech community know about Reuters?
A big enough story has the potential to reach more than one billion people around the world. Reuters’ content is picked up on TV by the likes of CNN, CNBC, ABC and NBC, and by almost all major newspapers and radio stations. Reuters has a variety of energy reporters around the country. We have also developed an Environment reporting team that is staffed with journalists around the world. If your story is somewhere in between energy and tech and you don’t know who to go to, I can help direct you to the most logical reporter.
Suggestions on how to best work with you?
The best times to reach me are during non-peak hours, 10am-noon and after 3pm PT. Pitch stories that have an international element or some major challenge to the industry when possible; “me too” stories don’t work – need to have real news; and measure change, show importance and find disagreements/conflict. An interesting clean tech story is a disruptive solution that has potential to scale – it can work in Africa and North America at the same time. Show the mainstream implication of what you’re pitching. Extra credit for pronouncing Reuters and my last name correctly.