As we push towards a radical overhaul of the world economy, with the goal of establishing a sustainable human presence on the planet, it is important to manage our progress. As quality expert Edward Deming once said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” It’s a good thing, then, that we have organizations like Clean Edge to provide extensive benchmarking services in the clean technology and sustainability area.
This week the organization released its 2014 Clean Tech Leadership Index. The report tracks clean technology progress in all 50 states, as well as the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S. The state index rates three subject areas: technology (in areas such as electricity, transportation and building), policy (regulations and incentives), and capital (including financial, as well as human and intellectual). Cities are ranked based on four categories: green buildings, advanced transportation, clean electricity and carbon management, and investment, innovation and work force.
The top 10 states are predominantly clustered near the coasts. They are, in order, shown with scores:
- California (93.7)
- Massachusetts (79.4)
- Oregon (67.0)
- Colorado (66.8)
- New York (64.8)
- New Mexico (61.9)
- Washington (61.6)
- Illinois (61.5)
- Vermont (58.6)
- Connecticut (57.3)
As you can see from the scores, California clearly dominates. This is backed up by the fact that five of the top 10 cities [rank] (San Francisco , San Jose , San Diego , Sacramento  and Los Angeles ) are found in the state. The remaining cities are Portland , Boston , Washington, D.C. , Austin  and Denver .
Takeaways from state rankings
A few state highlights are worth mentioning.
- Massachusetts scored second (and, along with California, is substantially ahead of the pack) despite ranking twelfth in the technology category. The state more than made up for this shortfall with strong showings in both policy and capital, ranking No. 1 in both.
- Vermont jumped six places to move from fifteenth to ninth, bolstered by venture capital deals, energy efficiency program dollars, and hybrid and electric vehicles.
- Connecticut cracked the top 10 for the first time this year, with help from its Clean Energy Investment and Finance Authority, strong regulations and mandates, and a large amount of fuel cell capacity and clean-tech patent activity.
- The bottom five states were Nebraska, North Dakota, Alaska, West Virginia and Mississippi.
In the technology category, the clean electricity ranking (as a fraction of total generation) was dominated by Midwestern states. None of the top six in this sub-category (Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Idaho, Minnesota and North Dakota) made the top 10 overall. The top two both produced more than 25 percent of their state’s electricity from wind.
This is particularly impressive considering the fact that some of these states have faced strong opposition to renewables. California actually had about the same amount of total solar generation as Iowa’s wind capacity (roughly 5200 MW), but it was a far smaller percentage of that state’s total generation. Texas did not make the list, despite having the most installed wind power in the nation. That’s because the state energy usage is so high that wind power as a percentage (11 percent) is not high enough to make the list. (Texas uses almost 50 percent more electricity than California despite its smaller population.)
California leads in both the number of hybrids and electric vehicle. Colorado has the most LEED-certified buildings per million people, followed by Vermont and Oregon.
The policy arena, which tracks clean-tech policies including mandates, regulations and incentives, is mostly dominated by East Coast states (Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island). Minnesota, which was ranked tenth, is the only other state that wasn’t in the top 10 overall.
California has by far the largest capital investment ($2.25 billion), but because of its size was ranked second next to Massachusetts, on a per capita basis. Massachusetts spent $433 million which was the second highest overall amount.
Cities leading the charge
In the cities ranking, San Francisco once again dominated with a score of 94.4, outpacing its rival and neighbor San Jose by 14.7 points. SF took the top spot in all four categories.
Most improved this year were Pittsburgh, moving up 11 places to No. 28, and Atlanta, which moved up eight slots to No. 16. Detroit, surprisingly, moved up seven slots to No. 19, leapfrogging over both New York (23) and Philadelphia (21). That was due to its fourth place ranking in the area of Investment, Innovation and Work force. Drilling down further, this appears to be due to its number one ranking in the category of clean tech patents per million people. These were most likely due to patents pertaining to hybrid, electric and other advanced vehicle technologies.
The bottom line
This type of ranking system, despite being imperfect and sometimes heavily skewed by the criteria (and definitions used in developing that criteria, e.g. per capita basis) and weightings, can still be very useful to show overall trends and relative behaviors.
While this overview only scratches the surface, spending some time looking at a report like this can give a good overview of the current state of affairs in the very dynamic world of clean technology. For those state and municipal leaders looking to improve their standing in the clean tech world, this could be an excellent starting point. Looking at what other leaders have done in other parts of the country could be a source of inspiration and innovation.
Image credit: Clean Tech
RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.