What precisely is Clean Tech? This vague, hip and ever buzzing emerging field in and around Silicon Valley is not obvious to someone not already in the know. With terms like “sustainability” and “green industry” being used freely and indiscriminately in public discourse, this event was a breath of fresh air, bringing the vague and broad reaching dimensions of “Clean Tech” into focus.
The panel of experts was convened by the Green Chamber of Commerce this past week in Silicon Valley at the impressive and eclectic TechShop and coordinated by Heather Durham, founder of SVTAGS, a cable television show covering Technology, Art, Green & Sustainability. Among the experts, Mark Mitchell Senior VP of Serious Energy, Olivier Jerphagnon, Founder of the Green Frog of Silicon Valley, Lisa Anne Pinkerton, Founder of Technica Communications, and Alper Ertas, Attorney at Novak Druce. (You can read more about their bios here.)
It is easy to see why there is confusion in discussing clean tech, as the field is not vertical and includes many subcategories including renewable energy, water and energy conservation, green building and building materials.
Although there has been around 2 billion worth in venture capital investments in this field, it is dwarfed by the 10 billion that the Chinese government has invested. Currently, China is the world leader in clean tech.
Social media (as a category) has trumped clean tech recently for Silicon Valley’s venture capital funding, and as a result, some of the financial momentum hasn’t been there for significant strides in research and implementation.
One of the major take-aways from the panel was that in order to have effective implementation and reach of clean tech innovations it is vital to partner with existing large corporations and offer them the opportunity to adopt the new, better technologies into their own massive systems and market share. Particularly with industries such as water and energy, the level of infrastructure and the dominance of only a few companies makes it vital to seek out partnerships and ally with existing players.
The good news is that the natural economic driver of increasingly costly resources already has forward thinking companies like IBM and GE investing in energy and water conservation within their operations.
Mark Mitchell described some of the opportunities within the building industry to vastly reduce energy consumption. Forty percent of the energy we use is spent on running buildings and the top three construction materials that make up the construction are steel, concrete, and gypsum plaster. The technology exists to have carbon neutral concrete, but it is not currently economically competitive. Stephen Chu of Dept. of Energy has said, ” 30% of energy in buildings is wasted.”
Olivier Jergaphron highlighted the disconnect and disparity in new technology inventions that do not benefit the larger U.S. economy and the need for green technology innovations to fuel production and manufacturing in economically depressed regions in the U.S. An astonishing fifty percent of college graduates in the U.S. are from other countries. Jergaphron also talked about the underlying reality that U.S. lifestyle norms will have to change in the future - owning multiple cars and driving long distances will not be viable. People don’t like to think about this and it’s political suicide to seriously address it at the federal level.
Lisa Anne Pinkerton emphasized the need for individuals and businesses not to wait around for government policies on the federal level to fuel change. If products can be delivered at cost, and with better performance, they will naturally start to be adopted.
What drives the market for clean tech? Information for consumers, such as carbon labeling, local and state policies like the Renewables Portfolio Standard. Because there are so many facets to clean tech, it doesn’t have the clout of a single industry and it is unlikely that you’ll see any clean tech lobbyists on capital hill anytime soon. So how do we speed up clean tech? “Local initiatives create pressure,” says Lisa Anne Pinkerton.
Mark Mitchell described the Empire State Building retrofit, an incredible case study for Serious Energy. The job entailed processing the existing glass windows of the building to install panes with greater energy efficient and has an impressive list of successes. Completed in less than 6 months (using the fifth floor of the building), the massive project took less than 3 years to pay for itself, decreased building vacancy by 60% and increased value by 30%. To top it all off, the shiny newcomer to the stock market, LinkedIn recently moved in to this newly green building taking an entire floor.
Olivier Jerphagnon described how a U.S. documentary revealing the dangers and devastation caused by fracking (a method using high water pressure to extract oil from beneath the ground) had such a profound impact in France that they have now outlawed the practice, although in the U.S. and Canada the practice is still in active use.
So what’s the take away? Opportunities for green tech within energy and water industries will only grow moving forward as resources become more scarce and conservation becomes a business necessity. Will this lead to an ever shrinking horizon? “Don’t underestimate the power of game changers,” says Mark Mitchell. “Innovation, such as a new energy source like fusion could change the entire playing field.”
Here at BetterWorld, we’re hopeful that individuals will adopt smarter green practices before we need them. One of the easiest ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint is by adopting a smarter way of working, we have framework for this, called BetterWork.
The BetterWorld Team