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.
Kleiner Perkins, the monolith of venture capital, released a 1.2B dollar green fund, and yet, what is the likely result? Clean tech companies getting big, fat, juicy checks. Mind you, one of these clean tech ideas will revolutionize the way energy is produced and therefore help to transform our society, but isn’t there more to “green” than energy generation and storage? The question on my mind is whether VCs are genuinely good for the sustainability movement, outside of the clean tech arena. The answer: probably not. If you’re a clean tech company, possibly. If you have a truly altruistic company that shouldn’t have a 3 year horizon on an investment, emphatic no.
So, given that, where do you go for money if you’re a green company looking for success without VCs? The answer: nowhere. Angels likely won’t “get” your company and finding one that does is often like the proverbial needle in a haystack; most VCs won’t care and you likely don’t have the dough yourself. The result: get a job and leave the green stuff to the big boys.
But, wait, the big boys aren’t getting it done either. When was the last time you were genuinely affected by a newly funded, market-penetrating green company (especially an online play)? Do we simply give up on the sustainability movement like Adam Werbach poignantly alluded to in his seminal “Is Environmentalism Dead?”