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Hunter Lovins on Green Vehicles: Sustainability is High Performance

Sustainability Guru Heads Up an Exiting Day of Alt-Vehicle Fun, at Northern California Racetrack

Sustainability leader L. Hunter Lovins is well-known for her love of horses, and her ubiquitous 10-gallon hat. It just so happens that she also has love affair with a completely different kind of horsepower: the kind generated by noisy creatures with wheels.

Yes, it's true: your favorite cowgirl-slash-environmental-activist-extraordinaire is a motor-head speed-freak! (She's raced motorcycles, cars, and even snowmobiles.) But, according to Ms. Lovins, she is, in no way an oxymoron, or a hypocrite. Speaking at last Thursday's Accelerating Sustainable Performance Summit, Lovins said, "Sustainability is about higher performance." (a common theme of books like Braungart & McDonough's Cradle to Cradle, and Lovins' own Natural Capitalism.) She went on to note that higher performance is what motorsports is all about.
The summit was hosted by Infineon Raceway, ground zero for all things fast and sustainable, in Northern California. The idea is to bring together an eclectic mix of auto industry movers-and-shakers, green vehicle advocates, sustainability experts, academics, and media, all with a common purpose: to create a platform for disruptive innovation in clean transportation, and to leverage the massive popularity of motorsports, as a way to bring the sustainability message to the masses.

Accelerating Sustainable Performance
In its inaugural year, the Accelerating Sustainable Performance Summit wants to answer the following questions:

  • How can motorsports technology and innovation help drive advances in sustainable transportation?

  • What near-term developments can we anticipate, in electric vehicles, battery technologies, and alternative fuels?

  • How can the green automotive movement broaden its appeal, to capture the performance car enthusiast?
Taking it to the track
Infineon president Steve Page explained that, in addition to the numerous sustainability initiatives that the company pursues, in it's operations (most visible are the 3,000 4-legged lawn mowers, and its large solar installation), Infineon is taking sustainability right onto the racetrack. Page says, ""We promote sustainability with customers and offer our facilities for new technologies. We find ways to show that sustainability and performance are not mutually exclusive."

Lovins, the day's main attraction, says that motorsports will be the proving ground, for green transportation technology. "Racing has brought us...innovations: increased safety, better aerodynamics, composite materials, higher performance - it is an integration of what racing does. We need to combine what people want with what we can give them and we need racing to help us get there."

"NASCAR, the number one spectator sport, is going green. Race cars now use 15 percent ethanol. Why? Because it boosts horsepower."
Innovate or die
Lovins also noted that the shift towards sustainable transportation will happen, because there are so many different pressures converging, which will force companies to "innovate or die." From the greenhouse gas/climate change imperative, to the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, to the increased regulation brought on by the financial mess, Lovins claims that the companies which embrace all of these factors, as an opportunities, will be the most innovative and successful.

"When General Motors melted, Toyota was surging," says Lovins. "American companies needed a crisis to wake them up. We don't know what the future will be; we only know that it will be different. Business as usual can't endure. We change or we become irrelevant."

Off to the Races
There were a number of exciting announcements and cool things to see, at the event. I'm going to list them here, briefly, but check back, for links to the in-depth articles:

  • Amyris unveils new line of Earth-friendly industrial lubricants: This company, the named sponsor, for the summit, definitely had the most interesting products that I've seen, in a while. Amyris produces ultra-pure lubricating oils and fuels, made from sugar. Most interesting about these products, is that they are fermented from bio-engineered yeast.

  • Motorcycle racer Chip Yates showcased his all-electric racing bike, which he took to the Bonneville Salt Flats, in hopes of setting a world speed record: As of this writing, Chip has not yet set an official record (his first run, in the over 300kg class, was a record-quality 195 mph, he was not able to swap out his battery pack, within the allotted 45 minute impound period), he has been able to achieve one run of over 200 mph!

  • Engineering students, from U.C. Davis, showed off their hybrid gas/electric open-wheeled racer, which they hope will win top marks, competing against other engineering schools.

  • GM will be building a plug-in electric Cadillac

  • I got my first ride in a Tesla Roadster Sport (finally!), and it was awesome!: Amazing acceleration, 80 mph in the corners, on the Infineon racetrack. Need I say more?

  • HaloIPT announced Dynamic (in-motion) Charging, for electric vehicle motorsports: Remember racing slot cars, when you were a kid? Well, this is just like that. Except 48 times more.
Tail end
In addition to meeting all kinds of fascinating and influential people, in the transportation industry, I had a real blast, at the event. The backdrop could not have been more perfect, and the highlight was when the engine noise of the practicing Pirelli World Challenge racers (mere yards away from the venue), cause Page to go off script, and move the second half of the event to Infineon's soundproofed media center building!

I can't think of a better way to get people excited about sustainability.


Steve Puma is Director of Business Development for SABA Motors, and a sustainability writer/consultant. His work focuses (mostly) on clean transportation, including Plug-In Electric Vehicles, something he is very passionate about.

Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can learn more about Steve by reading his blog, or following his tweets.

Steve Puma

<em><a href="mailto:puma@triplepundit.com">Steve Puma</a> is a sustainable business consultant and writer.

Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from <a href="http://www.presidioedu.org/">Presidio Graduate School</a> and a BA in Computer Science from <a href="http://www.cs.rutgers.edu/">Rutgers University</a>. You can learn more about Steve by reading his <a href="http://www.brightpuma.com">blog</a&gt;, or following his<a href="http://twitter.com/stevepuma"&gt; tweets</a>.</em>

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