Thomas Friedman wrote a 4,000 word piece in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine on The Power of Green. I haven’t had a chance to start reading it but wanted to post the link so others who have some time can check it out. A lot of people are talking about it, and from what I hear its conclusion would have been a nice ending to my blog post from earlier today, showing that Americans will come through and take the actions required to carry the “green” movement long into the future, making it bigger than any of us have imagined. One quote from the first page:
Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century…a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward.
You can also check out Thomas on video.
Last Monday I returned from vacation and as usual it was a hectic week catching up at work. My publications and RSS feeds piled up. The size of the pile itself is newsworthy. Yes, Earth Day is around the corner (April 22). And the Supreme Court did rule that the Clean Air Act gives the federal government the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Still, it’s hard to keep up when every publication, from tech’s CIO Magazine and mainstream outlets like Fortune, Time, Newsweek and Vanity Fair to the monthly newsletter for my wife’s baby group, was focused on giving people the information they need to make smarter decisions to live more sustainably.
I have a file from when I actively started tracking news coverage in clean tech and sustainable business in December 2005. At the time there were a few stories covering the greening of the data center, Vinod Khosla’s push for ethanol, and some buzz about solar power (of course there were niche green publications covering a lot more). Not much really changed until late summer 2006 when coverage started to go more mainstream. The past eight months have been a blur. What will be interesting is to see how this hype cycle plays out. How long will this coverage sustain itself? Has there been enough of a shift in popular thinking for the public to have enough knowledge and motivation to carry out everything being talked about when/if the media moves on to the next hot topic? The coverage keeps taking on a new life; what’s next?
Some would argue that this press attention isn’t going anywhere. Things have changed enough that we’re never going back. New environmental TV shows are popping up and outlets like NBC are setting trends giving their chief financial correspondent Anne Thompson the environmental beat, and some of the world’s largest corporations like GE, SC Johnson and Dow Chemical are spending significant ad dollars to drive their eco message.
We’re absolutely right thinking that press attention isn’t going anywhere if we think the way many of us are accustomed to — in the short-term. It will, without question, be with us until the conclusion of the 2008 elections (unfortunate comparison given that this issue is much bigger than politics). But global warming and sustainable thinking, as the scientists and people a lot more knowledgeable than me will tell you, aren’t short-term issues. They stretch into future generations and require that the public be the drivers to take them forward with or without the help of the media’s attention.
This issue cuts to the core of the American identity. Our society was built on consumption. I look around my house and it is filled with gadgets (iPods, entertainment system, computers, cameras) and my sports room is piled high with gear (2 pairs of skis, 2 surfboards, 3 backpacks, 2 tents, 2 sleeping bags, soccer balls, 3 bikes, snowshoes, avalanche gear…the list goes on).
This isn’t scientific. We drive too much, we fly too much, we eat too much, we wash our clothes and dishes too often, we have too many clothes, our homes are unnecessarily large, we buy junk that needs to be replaced too often, and we buy junk that shouldn’t ever be replaced because it’s junk. Straight and simple. That’s the American Dream. It’s what people have been fighting for. The rewards are plenty. I sure do like my toys and hobbies. The downside is junk and excess, not too mention what is done to the other animals who we share planet earth with that rely on the same resources as us.
And here I am. Consumer of junk. The reason this is a long-term problem. The solution? We either innovate like we’ve never innovated or we digress in ways that go against what’s in our blood, what makes us all American. I’ll get off my soapbox and let us innovate. I’m optimistic.
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.
I’ve read similar stories before but yesterday’s piece, The real cost of bottled water, in the San Francisco Chronicle by Jared Blumenfeld and Susan Leal makes a strong and concise case why we should put away the bottles and keep our taps flowing. A few highlights:
San Franciscans and other Bay Area residents enjoy some of the nation’s highest quality drinking water, with pristine Sierra snowmelt from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir as our primary source.
Bottled water costs 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. For the price of one bottle of Evian, a San Franciscan can receive 1,000 gallons of tap water. Forty percent of bottled water should be labeled bottled tap water because that is exactly what it is. But even that doesn’t dampen the demand.
The global consumption of bottled water reached 41 billion gallons in 2004, up 57 percent in just five years. Even in areas where tap water is clean and safe to drink, such as in San Francisco, demand for bottled water is increasing — producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy.
Most of the price of a bottle of water goes for its bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing and profit. Transporting bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. More than 5 trillion gallons of bottled water is shipped internationally each year.
Just supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to the Container Recycling Institute. In contrast, San Francisco tap water is distributed through an existing zero-carbon infrastructure: plumbing and gravity. Our water generates clean energy on its way to our tap — powering our streetcars, fire stations, the airport and schools.
Luckily, there are better, less expensive alternatives: In the office, use a water dispenser that taps into tap water. The only difference your company will notice is that you’re saving a lot of money. At home and in your car, switch to a stainless steel water bottle and use it for the rest of your life knowing that you are drinking some of the nation’s best water and making the planet a better place.
The one question I still have is how can you be sure that the water actually coming out of your tap is safe? It’s clear that the water running into the Bay Area is fantastic quality, but I’ve heard (from unreliable sources) that there are old asbestos pipes running through the city, and what about the old pipes running into my 1907 home? How much impact can those things have on the H2O coming out of my tap?
I just finished watching the movie Jesus Camp and found it unfortunate that there are people connecting issues like global warming to religion, teaching kids that are way too young to come to conclusions on their own that things like climate change that can affect future generations are here-say. I’ve heard that there has been a shift in thinking as of late in these religious groups which is a good sign. I won’t comment on the movie aside from the global warming bit, but one of my favorite artists, David Byrne, wrote a review that you can check out.
Long before the words clean technology and sustainable business entered my vocabulary, I was a follower of all things health, nutrition and wellness. That must be part of where my interest in clean tech and social responsibility started. If we’re going to ask ourselves as business people and consumers to lead a more responsible existence, shouldn’t it start with how we treat our own bodies?
My childhood best friend, Peter Fleming, was always my partner in crime in exercise, sports and healthy foods. Although in the early ’90s, what we thought we were eating to be healthy was the complete opposite. We were part of the masses, following marketing schemes and gimmicks that had us chomping on processed crap, mostly full of what we now know are awful trans fats, among other things. Pete just forwarded me a good article by Michael Pollan discussing the reality of what we should be eating. It’s all common sense when you think about it.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants…And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Pete and I were always planning to start a business doing corporate wellness programs. Maybe we still should. Healthy people = happy people = less sickness = more productivity = happy people. Good equation. And pure food probably = less packaging, less shipping and less waste. Good equation. Now I need to get myself to throw out that candy bar. And we all need to make sure we stop spreading our bad habits around to the less developed countries of the world. Cigarettes, bad pharma and processed foods should stay on our turf. No need to continue spreading our mess.
For those of you in the Bay Area, I get my fruits and veggies from a local farm called Capay Organic and have been happy with them so far.
It’s always nice to start off a Friday morning with a green cover story in one of the top business publications. The article, Beyond the Green Corporation, presents a thourough and grounded perspective on the state of the industry. BusinessWeek’s sub-head says it well:
Imagine a world in which eco-friendly and socially responsible practices actually help a company’s bottom line. It’s closer than you think
This isn’t BusinessWeek’s first foray into sustainable business coverage. They’ve been doing a good job reporting on the topic for the past year. Check out their special report in August.
We’ve hit it big. Reality TV has gone green. This sounds like fun and I’m not even a fan of reality shows (although my cousin didn’t do too bad on the first Amaging Race so I had to be a supporter of that).
Check out the write-up for HDTV’s newest show, Living with Ed:
TV and movie actor Ed Begley, perhaps the greenest man in Tinsel Town, rides his electric car to the Academy Awards and powers his home with the sun and his stationary bike. But Living with Ed and his environmentalist passion isn’t always a walk in the park for wife, Rachelle. This first-of-its-kind reality green show chronicles life with an earth-friendly fanatic with humor and heart. Check out this fresh unscripted docu-soap about the lifestyle of a diehard activist who puts his money and his time where his mouth is 24/7. Definitely not recycled TV.
A fun show with a sustainable message. I’m looking forward to watching. The PR opportunity? Green product placement goes mainstream, maybe? You can only imagine all of the things Ed Begley Jr. will test out. You’ve got a product or idea that can make a difference. Tell Ed! Maybe he’s listening.
Living in San Francisco, plenty of days are filled with news of increased venture funding for clean tech companies and products. And rightfully so. VC funding in North American clean tech companies in Q3 2006 hit $934 million according to the Cleantech Venture Network.
Luckily there’s good reminders, such as Kevin Bullis’ recent article in Technology Review, Alternative-Energy Spending Fizzles Out, showing that there’s another side to the story. Or we can look back at the success (or lack of) with Prop 87. Highlights from Bullis:
Although Bush proposed a fiscal-year 2007 budget that would have increased funding for some renewable-energy resources, including solar and biomass, as well as for research into hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, the budget was not passed. Instead, Congress passed a stop-gap continuing resolution that will keep the budget at 2006 levels, which, because of inflation, amounts to a cut in funding, and it specifically decreases funding in some cases.
“We’ve lulled ourselves into thinking we’re the leading country in renewable-energy technology because we were the early leader,” Eckhart says. “But we’ve gotten old, and soft, and underfunded. We are simply not competitive in the world market anymore.” Indeed, he says that countries like Germany, Japan, China, and India are now the primary manufacturers of technologies that were originally developed with U.S. funding. “Of the largest ten wind-turbine manufacturers, the only U.S. company is GE,” Eckhart says. “Nine of the ten are non-U.S. companies. Of the largest ten solar-cell manufacturers in the world, none are U.S. companies.”
Perhaps more important in the short term than funding energy research is changing government policy, say some experts. Technology exists today that can reduce emissions from power plants and cut petroleum use, but it is not being put to use. If a price were put on carbon emissions, Moniz says, “that would be a huge influence almost immediately in terms of what existing technologies industry deploys.”
Can venture investing, research organizations and private sector innovation take clean tech where it needs to go if things don’t change at the federal level?
The December 2006 issue of the The McKinsey Quarterly Chart Focus Newsletter provides a good look at the full circle approach required for companies to successfully improve in the area of social responsibility.
“Eighty-four percent of the executives from around the world who participated in a McKinsey survey agreed that their companies should pursue not only shareholder value but also broader contributions to the public good. Most acknowledged that their companies could handle sociopolitical issues more successfully, as well. To improve, a company should identify emerging trends and develop coherent organization-wide responses—an approach that requires it to integrate social issues into all dimensions of the business, not just the making of strategy…If companies don’t adopt that approach they run the risk of misalignment—a CEO saying one thing, the rest of the company failing to translate those good intentions into practical action. A company whose external-communications strategy emphasizes the search for more environmentally friendly products and processes, for example, will stumble if it simultaneously fights limits on carbon dioxide emissions.”
PR lesson: as is true in all industries, but especially when dealing with social and clean tech issues, a story doesn’t go too far if it’s only a story. “Spin” and chasing hype will get you to first base. A company that is aligned and has an executive team that believes in what they’re doing, socially and fiscally, will bring you home, or at least to third.
For more on how companies should manage sociopolitical issues—and can benefit if they do, “When social issues become strategic.” Or check out what executives think about the way companies handle social issues now, “The McKinsey Global Survey of Business Executives: Business and Society.”