There remains a distinct disconnect between the Green Movement and Clean Tech. One is rooted in Berkeley, the other Silicon Valley (interesting how close they are in proximity…what is it about the Bay Area?). Somehow, though both groups are clearly trying to bring about a massive shift in our society, towards sustainability and natural systems, the two groups remain distant and distinct. Many reasons for the gap exist, though any attempt to diagnose would have to begin with a discussion of stereotypes: green is for hippies, yippies and yuppies; clean is for VCs, IPOs and the NYSE (I was going to say I-banks, but I’m not sure those still exist).
I appreciate that there are impressive young business minds in the green movement, guys like Tom Szaky of Terracycle and Ben Brown of MakeMeSustainable, to name a couple, and some world-leading scientists and non-profit directors like Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins, there is also a scarcity of true, business-bred, white-hairs. Yes, there are converts from big business who have come on board (Ray Anderson, John Doerr, Jonathon Greenblatt) to great effect, the majority of companies that are truly green are run on a shoestring by young, passionate visionaries. Clean Tech, on the other hand, is well funded, resource heavy and guided by middle-aged, highly experienced business people who had formerly run other large, conventional companies.
What I saw at AlwaysOn’s Going Green Conference was a step in the right direction in terms of bridging the gap and at the same time a clear indicator of just how deep and wide the divide is. I’m at many of the green conferences on the west coast and the attendees are often quite similar from one event to another, usually providing me at least several dozen familiar faces to reacquaint myself with. At AlwaysOn, there were only a few of the likely suspects (Axil Comras, Steve Glenn, Karen Solomon and Mike Flynn) and a sea full of suit wearing execs I didn’t know.
My take is that the price ($2,250) was too high for most of the purely greens, hence their weak numbers. Fortunately the entire show was shown live on AlwaysOn’s site and is now archived, so you can watch it for free. As for content in terms of panels and keynotes, I must say it was an incredible array of minds, thoughts and discussions. Vinod Khosla gave a tour de force about why Clean Tech is limiting itself by definition; Elon Musk shed some light on his grand philosophy and countless others described the new green world as they saw it. Frankly, an eco-nut’s buffet.
While I could write endlessly about the information purveyed and visions declared, below are some of my favorite findings:
*Always On gets social media. The front row was a dedicated “Bloggers Bullpen,” the first time I’d actually seen room made for bloggers at a green conference, and there was live blogging broadcast behind the speakers to catch the discussion taking place online. Bloggers, though, still seemed to be checking their email more than covering the event, but who doesn’t excessively multi-task these days?
*Clean Tech is just as convinced as the Green Movement that growth rates are explosive and will continue to grow; as I like to say, necessity is the driver of fate.
*Water and energy are now directly interlinked (see Sustainable Water Alliance) and rightfully so; it takes water to create energy and energy to create water, oh, and without water, humans die in 3 days.
*”Nature will show us the way,” Dennis Calvert, Biolargo’s CEO proclaimed, echoing a thread through the conference: Biomimicry.
*Both silos of the movement use the same generalized rhetoric about the future, yet with different target areas, lifestyle changes v. hi-tech changes.
*They handed out SIGG-like bottles and the attendee felt like she had to explain it: “since this is a green event we have these water bottles you can fill up.”
*Richard Hamilton, CEO of Ceres, the company that does the genetic modifications for Monsanto said “we’re not going to run out of food any time soon” … so, ahem, why do we need GMOs? To my question about gaining public sentiment in the US and EU against GMO foods: people are stupid; we don’t care about the EU because China and India are buying our products like crazy (don’t believe me, see it for yourself). Live bloggers, right behind Hamilton’s head, ripped GMOs and called Richard “scary” to his face (he actually notices it and is obviously offended). Later in a conversation with Hamilton, he likened the rise of Whole Foods to that of GNC in the 90s, declaring it to be a passing fad and affirmed that Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution of the 60s is still a successful model.
*Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures, boldly throws down the gauntlet with the statement that clean tech as we know it is irrelevant and that the new green is “Main Tech” or lighting, homes, bioplastics, the infrastructure of our daily lives. He says the winners must have a diversified effort: take as many shots as possible. The areas he was most keen on are distributed & utility-scale solar, engineered geothermal, wind storage, synthetic natural gas to the more mundane, lighting, batteries, motors, home building, engines, appliances, pumps, cellulosic and algae fuels, water systems, tools, plastics, electrochromatic windows. Investors should follow Khosla as he has his finger to the pulse of the movement. He says corn ethanol, like hybrids are a stepping stone to the market and helped to create the dialogue and innovation that are next generation clean technologies. Khosla is working on what he calls the CLAW rating system (Carbon, Land, Air, Water) which is similar to LEED, measuring eco-impacts of biofuels and clean tech.
*Quotables by Khosla
“this planet needs at least an 80% reduction in carbon emissions”
“natural gas is a dead end”… “as are vegetable based fuels”
“the goal is to solve the global climate change problem”
“non-food based biofuels models should be plugged in to all the nation’s paper mills that have been closed down in recent years”
“use perennial crops for ethanol”
“Polyculture [rather than monoculture] creates higher yields”
“Trivial amounts of land can be used to completely replace oil”
“Bioalgae is the next generation of biofuels [= lower cost/higher yield]”
*Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla Motors, Solar City and SpaceX, points out that Silicon Valley is the center of the Green Car Revolution which he, via Tesla, helped to start (true) and that the Volt came to concept because Bob Lutz was inspired by the Tesla (also true). Tesla is soon coming out with a sport sedan “Model S” $60k, 20k units, in conjunction with Daimler (thanks be to god). Soon coming out with extended range versions (>300 miles per charge) with fast charge capability (<60mins) pack can be swaped out. Musk's venture, SpaceX, is due to his long-standing goal to help humans become multi-planetary, and while flying around in space, burning 30,000 gallons of fuel per flight doesn't sound green, he offsets the emissions with another company he's invested in: Climos.
Musk’s best advice to the entrepreneur in you: “avoid the error of excess scope.”
*My Top 2 Notable Companies:
1) AquaVia: radically bringing solutions to the water crisis; noted carbon/climate change is secondary to the water crisis.
2) Coskata: best of breed biofuels company: http://www.coskata.com/
*The car we all need: The Honda Civic FFC on Cellulosic Ethanol for $15,000, lowest emissions per dollar.
*The car I want: Tesla Model S with extended charge and swap out batteries.
Scott Badenoch is co-founder and CEO of CreativeCitizen.com, the wiki for green living, where you can find over 600 Creative Solutions for living more environmentally friendly lives. Scott also consults businesses and government entities about sustainability. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: TheCitizen.