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.
In celebration of Earth Day, here are two fun videos.
Todd Woody talked about KQED’s Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Headed on Green Wombat earlier this week. Check it out for a look at what could have been in the Bay Area without some forward looking people.
Joel Makower produced Climate: A Crisis Averted, a ‘mock-unmentary’ from the future.
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.
Here are a few interesting stories from the week:
- David Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle has the above the fold cover story this morning on the green and clean tech industry, “Green Valley; New Tech: Environmentally minded ingenuity drives the latest business wave to plant its roots in the Bay Area.” Also check out the cover of the real estate section, “Green Into Gold.”
- Jennifer Kho of Red Herring has the March 5th cover story, “Old King Coal,” which looks at the rising interest in “clean” coal startups. Lots of other news during the week in Red Herring’s Energy Section as well. Particularly, there was buzz in the industry about, “Coal Loses in TXU Acquisition.”
- Todd Woody of Business 2.0 gave us daily coverage in his green wombat blog of PG&E’s plan to put two 40-megawatt wave farms up on Northern California’s coasts in the next few years as well as the potential for the utility company to look to British Columbia for wind power. Also check out, “Feds Invest $385 Million in Cellulosic Ethanol Plant.”
- MIT Technology Review has several new articles, “Tax Credits for Plug-In Hybrids,” “Zero Tolerance for Carbon-Dioxide Emissions,” and “Nucleur Energy for the Developing World.”
- Joel Makower looks at “California’s Bold Step Toward Sustainable Mobility.” Mike Millikan of WorldChanging also looks at Sustainable Mobility.
- John Cloud takes us through the ins and outs of the choice between buying local or organic food with the cover story in this week’s TIME magazine, “Forget Organic. Buy Local.” This happens to focus on food but many of the themes and debates ring true in the world of sustainable business….who to buy from, where to get it, are your suppliers in China and next door following sustainable practices, etc.
Time for my morning run with my brother-in-law who is here to visit our 3-week old little man. The surf looks like fun. Maybe this afternoon.
Dean Takahashi of The Mercury News covered the current state of Silicon Valley clean tech affairs with yesterday’s article, “Will green tech become the valley’s new bubble?” The sub-head says a lot: “Reality of the problems makes boom, bust unlikely.”
A few highlights:
Does this green-tech boom mean the valley’s freeways will clog with smoke-laden traffic jams, just as we saw in the heyday of the Internet boom? (Although this time we may be driving hybrids or Teslas with electric motors.) Perhaps, especially if you think of all the jobs $3 billion in venture funding for clean tech in the United States — so far — can create, with much of that coming here.
….John Denniston, a partner with Doerr at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, says green tech has enormous scope because it is driven by stopping climate change, achieving energy independence and restoring American competitiveness. The valley is attacking the problem on multiple fronts, from better batteries to cheaper ethanol. These are real problems that need real solutions, in contrast to such over-hyped problems during the tech bubble as the need to buy pet food online.
In the next 25 years, electricity demand in the United States is expected to increase 50 percent. We used 139 billion gallons of gasoline last year, and that is expected to increase to 153 billion gallons by 2012.
In his State of the Union speech, President Bush said he wants 20 percent of all gasoline consumption to come from alternative sources in 10 years. Assuming gas prices of $2 a gallon, the value of the alternative fuel market will be more than $60 billion by 2012.
California is the tail wagging the dog with the passage of AB 32, which seeks to reduce emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020. Even corporate organizations argue that capping emissions is good for business because it will inspire innovation.
Takahashi also references a 116 page report, The Energy Imperative: Technology and the Role of Emerging Companies, published in November 2006 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. It’s not surprising that the President’s Council on technology consists of names like Dell, EMC, Verisign, Autodesk, AMD and Microsoft. It looks like they still need some more companies that are leading the way in environmental/renewables innovation to join the ranks. Can’t affect change if you’re not part of the team setting the national agenda.
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.