Let’s face it, the Superbowl is watched by more Americans than any other single TV event. Personally, my guess is that at least half of the people who watch it only watch it for the famous Superbowl ads. They’re usually humorous (and this year, somewhat controversial, with the addition of the ad for an anti-abortion campaign starring Tim Tebow and the simultaneous censoring of an ad for a gay dating website).
This year, the familiar faces–beer companies, car makers, sellers of snack foods…the usual suspects–signed on for large sums of money to advertise their products. During the third quarter of the game, something occurred to me about this year’s commercials. None of them, up to that point, had even mentioned sustainability. I tried to search online but couldn’t really find anything relevant, but I seem to remember that in last year’s Superbowl ads, companies trumpeting their sustainability records, achievements, or product features, especially car ads featuring “best in class fuel efficiency.”
I had just finished a diatribe at the Superbowl party I was attending about whether the world had completely turned off to sustainability, when the first ‘green’ ad emerged. A customer at a checkout counter is asked, “Paper or plastic?” and when he chooses plastic, he is arrested and taken away by the “Green Police.”
I found myself quickly regretting my karmic intrusion into the Superbowl programming, as the ad quickly turned into yet another perhaps well-intentioned ad that casts environmentalists, frankly, as wack-jobs. I have to admit, I really started paying attention to see which companies had decided to advertise their product this way…
Just imagine if we were only now building our first electric infrastructure. Of course that would mean that we’d be decades behind our other modern counterparts. But it would also mean that we’d be in a position to build it using the very latest and best technology. That is exactly the position China is in today. And thanks to its thriving export business, it has the means to do it right. This is a good thing, since bringing so many people up to a modern standard will bankrupt the planet unless truly significant innovations are made at every step along the way to ensure the highest possible efficiency.
China is preparing to invest $7.3 billion this coming year in smart grid technology, edging out the $7.2 billion in U.S. investments (Source: Zpryme). In fact, China is now spending more on its smart grid than it is on power generation.
Though historically high gas prices provide a strong market demand for electric vehicles (EVs) in California, it is the state with an electric grid that is the least able to support these cars. With automakers set to launch at least a dozen EV models by 2012, California’s electricity regulators are scrambling to respond to the expected power needs, with policy to accommodate the emerging, private sector infrastructure required for widespread EV use. Meanwhile, car company CEOs are holding their breath–while also optimistically moving forward despite, regulatory uncertainty.
I participated recently in a dialogue with thought-leaders on whether “green” or “renewable” or “sustainability” or “restoration” or “regeneration” is the right word to describe the sea change in technology, business processes and consumer behavior now taking place in the U.S. All the participating thought-leaders were frustrated that these words were either tainted with politics, or too limiting or too futuristic to capture the dynamic spectrum of change taking place in our society and economy.
So this week I am writing a five part series exploring the nuances of what it means to our economy, our jobs, our communities and environment as America embraces a sustainable future. This first article outlines the market research on a new awareness that is growing among consumers. In the next two articles, I’ll profile two businesses that are successfully embracing these concepts to achieve year-over-year sales growth. The final two articles will profile two communities–one on each coast–that have embraced this movement to grow their local economies while also preserving their environment.
At last week’s State of Green Business Forum put on by Greener World Media, I reported live on some of the interesting developments in the world of green business presented at the conference. As a small business specialist, this kind of conference is, admittedly, somewhat foreign to me. The conferences I usually attend, such as Green America’s Green Business Conference, the Green Festival, and the like, are mostly tailored to and for small businesses, notwithstanding the occasional ‘big business in small business clothing’ such as Clif Bar and Organic Valley.
The conference included heavy hitters like Microsoft, SAP, Autodesk, UPS, and Best Buy. C-level execs sat and listened to discussion panels and powerpoint presentations from a wide variety of speakers, such as Van Jones and Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2009, Kevin Surace of Serious Materials. It was eight hours of listening to some amazing information.
As a former employee of Saatchi & Saatchi S, a sustainability consulting firm whose core competency was employee engagement around sustainability, I have a baseline level of understanding about what people take home from trainings, conferences, and other employer-sponsored events. If the mission of last week’s conference was to engage, empower, educate, and excite employees to go back to their companies and spread the gospel of sustainability, there were two key elements that, my experience says, could have been more effective for sending those disciples back into the world truly engaged and ready to fire up their troops.
After spending a decade in R&D positions in biotech, I recently parlayed my MBA into a marketing role. This is a bit ironic, considering that not that long ago, I considered marketers to be bottom feeders who find out what makes you tick and then use that information to shove something you don’t want down your throat. But I’m beginning to appreciate that marketing can be about helping connect your company or organization with customers who really do want or need the products or services you provide. It’s a powerful skill that can be transformative – and one that I think could be put to good use outside of the realm of conventional business, as well.
Here’s an example. Recently, NASA released a report titled 2009: Second Warmest Year on Record; End of Warmest Decade. Climate Progress ran the story and included an excerpt of the report in its headline: “In total, average global temperatures have increased by about 0.8°C (1.5°F) since 1880.”
With Asian Carp knocking on the door and following decades of ecosystemic collapse, the Great Lakes’ once thriving fishery business is a shadow of its former glory. The Friday Night Fish Fry, a Wisconsin tradition, is now more often imported cod rather than the lake perch or other local varieties that made it famous.
Though it may take a hundred years before some kind of stability returns to the lakes (who knows, maybe the carp will become a new local delicacy), local entrepreneurs can still see an opportunity to satisfy demand and tradition while practicing restorative techniques on both economy and ecology. SweetWater Organics operates out of a massive dis-used industrial facility on the south side of Milwaukee and produces both fish and vegetables in a “three-tiered, aquaponic, bio-intensive fish-vegetable garden.” The company is the first commercial extension of Growing Power founder Will Allen’s urban farming concepts.
Here’s a quick video that will tell you more than I can write….
In case you’ve been under a rock, the big news on the street is the incredible new Heinz Ketchup Packet which will apparently revolutionize french fry enjoyment for the 21st century. The packet contains a larger amount of ketchup than the traditional sachet and opens in two ways – the traditional “squeeze” and the newfangled “dip.” Blogs and other media are aflutter with excitement, and Heinz’s corporate communications department is no doubt popping the champagne at a veritable coup d’etat of publicity.
And why not? Love it or hate it, the Heinz Ketchup packet is an established piece of Americana, globally ubiquitous, and depending on your taste for high fructose corn syrup, quite tasty. Successfully re-designing it will cause as much of a ruckus as introducing the New Coke, except it might actually work. Trouble is, the new ketchup packet, like the old one, is still a wasteful mishmash of un-recyclable material symbolic of yesteryear’s “disposable” culture.
I’m a huge fan of science-fiction movies with dystopian futures, such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, Children of Men, or my favorite, Idiocracy. In most of these stories, the villain is an very powerful entity or its minions, and power-hungry corporate conglomerates are, more often than not, the driving force for evil. These stories have always served as cautionary tales, intended to help us see the dangers before they actually manifest themselves in real life. I’m sure that many of us living in the early 21st century find the idea of these dystopian futures actually coming true about as absurd as believing in Santa Claus (although history would certainly prove us wrong)
This absurdity is probably why the real headlines surrounding the Supreme Court Decision to expand Constitutional rights for corporations are almost indistinguishable from their comedic and satirical counterparts. Case in point: in the same 24-hour period, The Onion published the short story: Supreme Court Allows Corporations To Run For Political Office, and Miller-McCune published Office Seeks Higher Office. While The Onion story was satirical, the Miller-McCune article was not: Public relations company Murray Hill is planning to run in the Republican primary for Maryland’s 8th District.
Not unique from any economic development strategy, it is important to examine community assets to boost green job development. Toledo, Ohio, is nicknamed the Glass City because it is known as a major glass manufacturer. Unfortunately, Toledo lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 2000, leaving excess manufacturing capacity and a highly skilled workforce. Although it might sound like a stretch, Toledo capitalized off of this by becoming a solar manufacturing hub.
Considering that solar panels (thin-film or otherwise) are a glass product, this regional expertise came in handy and people jumped at the opportunity. The University of Toledo’s Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization has been in existence for 25 years. The Ohio university solar energy research programs received a great boost, with the Ohio Department of Development investing $18.6 million in university solar-energy research combined with $30 million from federal agencies and industrial partners. Toledo is now home to the largest thin-film solar manufacturer facility in the US, First Solar, as well as numerous solar start-up companies–6,000 people are employed in manufacturing and research related to the solar industry in the area. This may not replace all the manufacturing jobs lost in the region, but it is a good start.
Opening a restaurant is a dicey proposition. Even more so in this shaky economy. You have to be part masochist, part trend rider/creator. A keen intuition for what’s missing in the market, and how to serve it well, at a price people are willing to pay, repeatedly, is a must.
Various models have been tried over the years, including pay what you will and even turning the tables, so to speak, choosing who gets the privilege of eating at the restaurant.
Mission Street Food has taken another route, arguably a smarter one for these times: They borrow another restaurant’s space two nights a week, feature guest chefs and donate the profits to charitable organizations. This minimizes overhead while giving patrons an incentive to eat out that is more than just for their own pleasure, further justifying them spending their money there.
Shipping containers play an integral role in moving goods from one location to another. A Dutch company, Cargoshell, has designed an innovative collapsible shipping container that may soon revolutionize the way products are transported.
While traditional containers can transport an enormous amount of cargo, when the containers are empty, they take up a massive amount of space that is not utilized. On the other hand, the volume of a folded Cargoshell container is one-fourth the size of a steel container, reducing space up to 75 percent. Touted as the “container concept of the 21st century,” it takes one person less than 30 seconds to fold and unfold the container.
Sustainability, green technology and community impact are all hot right now. It’s easy to promote these ideas in business and agree that they’re important. What’s not easy is actually implementing new business plans devoted to them. Taking it a step further, it’s even harder to train the next generation of entrepreneurs so that they have the knowledge, skills and direction to make it happen. At last week’s StartUp Scramble D.C. University Challenge, a frantic three day event for young entrepreneurs, this important need was successfully met.
The idea of the Scramble was to take a coalition of young business enthusiasts from DC area universities (American, Catholic, George Mason, Georgetown, Howard, George Washington and the University of Maryland), lock them in a building with consultants and advisers and churn out detailed plans for sustainable startups. The goal was to start with dreams and forge them through the difficult process of refining and retooling until a clear, elaborate and concise plan of action was produced.
Geoengineering has been tossed around as a potential solution for climate change.
Jamais (Ja-may) Cascio, Senior Fellow of The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, presented an informative session on Geoengineering at the 2010 State of Green Business Forum in San Francisco. Geoengineering can be described as the use of large-scale manipulation of our environment in order to counteract the climate altering effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry. Think large scale solar shields that reflect much of the sun’s energy and shade the earth below them. Think fertilization of the ocean so that it will produce huge algal blooms that will eventually die, sink to the bottom of the ocean, and act like a giant carbon sink. Think lining clouds with elements that are more reflective so that more of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space.
Terrifying? Perhaps. In small amounts, geoengineering is underway everywhere. Have you bought a carbon offset lately? Odds are, someone somewhere is using that money to reforest a cattle-degraded hillside in the tropics. It’s manipulating the environment in order to lock away carbon. As it is scaled up, however, geoengineering takes on much larger ramifications.
The potential in geoengineering is there for last-ditch efforts to save the planet when and if climate catastrophes come. But the potential for so much more…is also there. Is it that hard to imagine Halliburton getting a no-bid government contract from America’s 54th President, Dick Cheney, Jr., for trillions of dollars under the pretenses of ‘saving the ski industry’ in the U.S.? Who will govern such projects? Who will decide when they are done, and how?
In last week’s column, I wrote about this upcoming State of Green Business Forum. As I indicated, I was perhaps most excited to hear from Van Jones, who was the victim of a Fox News-sponsored witch hunt that forced him to resign from the Obama Administration as its green job czar.
Personally, I feel Jones is one of the most charismatic leaders of the green economy, and, (forgive the nerd analogy) like Obi-Wan Kenobi, has much more potential for creating sea change now that he is free than he had while working within the constraints of the Beltway in DC. Today’s State of Green Business Forum is providing one of his first major public appearances and a forum for his reemergence into the green economy.
TriplePundit.com is published under a creative commons license. You are free to republish only headlines and excerpts of 3p articles except where explicitly permitted by agreement with 3p. We reserve the right to ask any publication to cease syndication. Please Contact Us for details or read more here.