As most of us in the tech world are aware, the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show took place in Vegas this week. The trend of “going green” at conferences was certainly evident with numerous companies unveiling energy efficient products aimed at consumers.
CNN.com aired an interesting piece with a CES rep demoing various green products on display such as home energy meters and USB drives that can fully charge your blackberry in 20 minutes. NPR took a look a the news as well in this morning’s show and posed some smart questions about what it actually means to be green.
HP announced plans to reduce the energy consumption in its volume desktops and notebook PC families by 25% by 2010. InfoWorld’s Ted Samson raises an interesting question to HP and its competitors. Setting reduction levels is great, but even better news would be hearing companies commit to make the most energy-efficient power supplies the standard in their systems – building green features into products rather than giving customers the option. After a year full of green announcements and hype, everyone is going to be looking for some real action and follow through.
CES itself went green this year making recycling bins available across the show floor and using “environmentally friendly chemicals” in maintaining over 100 restrooms. CES also announced plans to donate to renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects to compensate for any environmental damage caused by the show. While we’re all in favor of donations, I’d rather here about more ways CES is reducing energy usage at the show.
greentechmedia reports that industry watchers find the organization’s plans to offset 20,000 tons of carbon associated with the conference by purchasing carbon offsets from the nonprofit Carbonfund.org to be a minimal effort. This is a good point. Especially when you think about 100,000+ people traveling into and around Vegas for a few days.
However, for a major conference like CES to step up its green initiatives is certainly a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see if other conferences follow suit and perhaps up the ante. We saw Hollywood take a stab at it earlier this year.
– Barbara DeConto, Text 100 Clean Tech Practice
Even with the holidays approaching, there was no shortage in clean tech news this week. Not surprising, end of year analysis and predictions for the clean tech market in 2008 are in full swing. Here are a few highlights from the week:
The National Venture Capital Association released its 2008 predictions from Venture Capitalists and not surprisingly, the majority (80%) of VCs surveyed said 2008 will be a big year for clean tech investments.
- According to a Forrester report “Green Progress in IT,” as of October 38 percent of IT professionals said that their companies were using environmental criteria in their evaluation and selection of IT equipment, compared with 25 percent in their April survey. The main motivation? According to 55 percent of respondents, was to reduce energy-related operating expenses. While that is not surprising, the number two motivator was “doing the right thing for the environment.”
- A new study from IBM, “Plugging in the consumer: Innovating utility business models for the future,” finds that of countries survived (Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States), 67 percent said they’d pay as much as 20 percent more for energy from sources with a lesser effect on the environment. Responses came from 1,894 bill-paying households over 18 years of age. However, only 14 percent expect their energy use to decrease somewhat. Check out the finding: PDF.
- In clean tech investing news, greentechmedia reports several new deals in energy-efficient lighting including Element Labs, a provider of LED-based products for entertainment, architecture and signage applications, raising $12.75 million Series B funding.
- After a year filled with funding announcements, it is great to start hearing more clean tech product news. San Jose based Nanosolar, a maker of thin-film solar cells, announced it has shipped its first product. Along with Beck Energy of Germany, Nanosolar won a contract to create a solar farm on the site of a former landfill owned by a wastewater treatment plant in Luckenwalde, Germany. The facility will generate 1 megawatt of electricity, enough to power 750 California homes.
- If you have friends, family, colleagues looking to learn more about clean tech heading into the new year, there is a good (and brief) clean tech overview posted on ZDNet from venture firm Foundation Capital.
No “Week in Review” next week as I’ll be off for the holidays, but I’m sure we’ll have plenty more news to highlight in the new year. Have a happy (and green) holidays!– 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
Another busy week in clean tech! Here are a few news highlights:
- As reported on greentechmedia, a number of companies reported new rounds of funding. Davis, Calif.-based Agraquest announced that it has raised $20M of new capital for its biopesticides and Vermont-based GroSolar plans to develop technology to make panels easier and cheaper to install, raised $10M.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored member companies of its Climate Leaders program such as Frito-Lay, AMD and Xerox for taking strides to reduce water use and greenhouse gas emissions through the EPA’s voluntary programs. Water Efficiency Leader awards were given to Intel, Lackland Air Force Base and others for their efforts.
Xerox announced this week it reduced emissions by 18 percent from 2002 to 2006. The company’s new goal is to lower its total global GHG emissions by 25 percent from 2002 to 2012. According to Ted Samson of InfoWorld, reducing fuel usage or cars and trucks driven by sales and service employees helped it shrink GHG production.
New corporate green guides are out this week from WebEx (now a part of Cisco) and Office Depot. Office Depot’s “Green Book” and WebEx’s “Green Guide” both offer companies advice for incorporating green products and practices into offices.
According to a new survey from Forrester Research titled “In Search Of Green Technology Consumers: Why Tech Marketers Should Target This Emerging Segment,” if you’re an Apple customer, you’re likely green-minded. The study, which surveyed computer users to determine what drove them to be environmentally conscientious, finds Apple users are more eco-friendly than users of other vendors’ PCs and are willing to spend more for “green” products.
A new study from Dow Jones and Ernst & Young reports that third-quarter North Americans cleantech investments totaled $1.3 billion. More than $30 billion in the U.S., Europe, China and Israel during the first three quarters of the year. Cleantech deals are anticipated to drive VC investments to more than $40 billion by year end.
Until next week….
– 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.
As we come to the close of the year green technology and products moved forcefully in to the mass market, it’s a strong wake up call when almost 100 percent of companies failed a green test run by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing this month. A summary of the report:
In an effort to describe, understand, and quantify the growth of greenwashing, TerraChoice conducted a survey of six category-leading big box stores. Through these surveys, they identified 1,018 consumer products bearing 1,753 environmental claims. Of the 1,018 products examined, all but one made claims that are demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences.
Rather than go into too much detail here, check out Joel Makower’s observations on the results, methodology and what this says about the progress of the green marketplace.
Outside of ways Joel points out to hold green marketers more accountable, what isn’t discussed is a likely cause for the sad state of affairs highlighted throughout this report. I don’t personally represent any consumer brands pushing a green message, but I’d guess that consumer perception and buying behaviors have changed in favor of green faster that the companies building the products can keep up. The result: rather than lose to the competition and disappoint customers, partners and investors, these companies are doing whatever they can to meet consumers’ “green” demand. Because there is a massive lack of standards and green measurement best practices, they join the bandwagon and push out a misleading claim or message…moving the industry backwards.
Green products undoubtedly need to make some fast and significant progress catching up to the claims on their labels. That is our biggest hope because as long as consumers are asking for a green product and there aren’t reliable green industry measurements, companies are only going to ramp up their green marketing efforts. And I’d argue it’s as much the CFO/CEO evaluating the business consequences for not joining the green party as it is the “marketer” who is responsible for where the industry is at. As marketers, we need to get educated and do our part to not exaggerate or misrepresent our company’s product or service.
Check out the report for more detail but here are the Six Sins of Greenwashing listed by TerraChoice:
- Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off
- Sin of No Proof
- Sin of Vagueness
- Sin of Irrelevance
- Sin of Fibbing
- Sin of The Lesser of Two Evils
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.