I attended the State of Green Business Forum today in Chicago, hosted by the Greener World Media. It was an opportunity for industry experts and leaders to share insights and observations on this dynamic topic. Here are some of the ideas and themes that were raised at this event, although it is certainly not an exhaustive list:
Resources are numerous, but difficult to access
Between local, state, and federal programs, there are numerous grants, low interest loans, job training programs, and tax credits available both in Chicago and nationally. It can, however, be difficult to identify the resources and know how to utilize programs. Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Environment said today, “The resources are there. We just haven’t aligned them for when a business comes to town.” She would like the city to be able to say, “We are open for businesses and here are the resources we have…”
Lack of financing and venture capital for start-ups
As Donna Ducharme, President of the Delta Institute observes, “Despite the large amount of resources, there’s a lack of seed capital. I don’t see a lot of those resources here.” She points out that there is a lot of focus on job training, but not developing the infrastructure of companies to deliver, particularly in Chicago, but also nationally. This is in large part because financial institutions are risk averse, especially in the current market.
Misconception that going green is expensive
David Myers, Vice President and President of Building Efficiency for Johnson Controls says, “Not only can you go green and reduce your carbon footprint, but you can save money at the same time.” He gave the example of the Empire State Building making energy efficiency upgrades that reduce energy use by 38 percent, with a mere three-year payback. He reminded the audience that the cheapest and greenest energy is the energy we don’t use.
Lack of carbon legislation discourages climate action
Richard Sandor, Founder of the Chicago Climate Exchange (among other speakers) emphasized that the lack of carbon legislation is creating uncertainty in the market. He said, “If you have uncertain legislation, companies don’t want to act and we both lose time.” He added, “China has no uncertainty about their public policy.” Sandor believes that ambiguous carbon legislation has slowed progress in U.S. clean technology innovation because of the price signal it sends.
Joel Makower, Executive Editor of Greener World Media said, “The incremental changes we are seeing [in carbon intensity reductions] are not to the scale and speed we need to see to address the problem.” The recent reductions in carbon emissions that he has seen are largely from reduced activity (less driving and flying for example) than from structural changes.
Green building sector experiences strong growth
The State of Green Business Report 2010 provides insightful information on the growth of LEED-registered and LEED-certified projects. If the numbers on LEED are a good indicator of the green building movement as a whole, then this is one of the few bright spots in the current real estate market.
From 2007 to 2009, LEED-certified new construction more than doubled, meanwhile LEED-registered projects in that time more than tripled. Makower commented that, “This is a remarkable trend in a year when the real estate market all but collapsed.”
Sarah Lozanova is passionate about the new green economy and is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Energy International Quarterly, ThinkGreen.com, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.