Part 1 of 2
Just ask anyone who has invested in green tech in the US in the last ten years: green technology is still not as financially viable as oil and gas. What’s happening to the green tech industry is not because it’s irrelevant or full of air headed business managers or foolish investors, it’s because we haven’t worked out the kinks in a new industry that is nothing like what we’re used to investing in.
These days investing in new technology is all about computers, hardware, software and the internet worlds of innovation which is made up of hundreds of thousands of smaller components that contribute to one single goal: the goal of every human being on earth being able to learn, stay connected and communicate with each other, (Not to mention all the other functional technologies and economic infrastructures that computers technology supports.) This industry can support many multiple companies going after their piece of the computer tech or communications super highway pie. Even if we hear more about the big guys like the Googles, Apples, Facebooks, the Bill Gates and the Mark Zuckerbergs out there, most of the industry is made up of smaller guys chipping away at their little piece and making a comfortable living for themselves, their employees and their investors. The thing is, in the high-tech industry, it can take just one tiny innovation to revolutionize the entire industry and that’s what makes the industries heart-throb: so many people and companies wanting to be the one to discover that next big thing that everyone has to have. The difference between the computer tech industry and the green technology industry is that the green and sustainability worlds have a few more contingency issues to contend with than the computer world does. Do you think the guys working on the next big mobile computing innovation have to worry about things like the weather; or the geography where their customers now live; or who, other than their competitors, don’t want them to succeed? How many politically well places highly organized and financed groups are out there denying that there is a need for more and better computers technology? The computer guys just have to design it, build it and get it to market before the next guy; because if it’s any good everyone with a need to participate in today’s world is going to want it. But how much of it is necessary to the survival of people and the planet’s ecosystem? Almost none of it.
Unlike the computer technology industry; sustainable green technology and its development is dependent on the climate, geography and even politics to succeed and survive. You can’t just put up a building and throw on a green energy system and call it done then move on to the next project and expect to go national in a year and international in five, (Which unfortunately is what too many green tech business newbies are trying to do). You have to consider how much sun, rain, snow or wind your building is going to get to decide what kind of system works best for its regional climate. Some areas would do better with a solar system and others with a wind or geothermal system or a combination of them; and some regions of the world only need to have the appropriate building envelope to cut way back on how much they spend on their HVAC system, (In most parts of California, a properly designed building envelope negates the need for heating and cooling all together.) It’s about being micro focused on development for regional areas and what big time investors with money want a piece of such tiny pies? In parts of the US, you may have more rain and little sun and zero wind, and you could still go with a tight water proof envelope system that vents without breaking the outside barrier during hot and cold seasons and not spend a dime on added HVAC. Also, green tech contractors have to determine the impact of the geography on a system: such as, what the ground will allow in the way of a geothermal system combined with radiant floor heat in combination with a solar system in low lining mountainous areas; or whether a building area uses wood, steel or concrete in their structures. Then there is local heat and moisture issues that go beyond whether you’re building near water or not. Got trees, you got mold. Got desert you got daily extreme weather changes and unprotected exterior roof and siding; got snow your got weight on your roof…. Now, what about the issue of how you get your product from here to your customer? Very little in the way of green technology can be shipped UPS. And green technology is not limited to saving energy or limiting the use of fossil fuels to make it necessary and feasible. All of a sudden, investing in the next app starts to sound cheap easy and lucrative. With this kind of investment support behind it, no wonder green technology and its high overhead development and business survival risks, plus lower long-term returns start to sound less desirable.
With sustainability issues you also have: water use, air quality, waste management and human and ecological health and safety issues. An example of safety issues is all the server climate changes in populated areas due to the thinning of the ozone layer. If the banks of the Nile where getting flooded every couple of years instead of New York City, we wouldn’t worry so much about it. Then there is skin cancer from the depleted ozone layer; environmental illnesses due to chemical saturation and on and on. When it comes to developing a green tech business and finding investors, you can’t just look for the next big technological innovation that can go global like the flexible Dick Tracy phone watch. The thing is, green technology’s market and distribution is limited by who needs what where, and which company can afford to get it to them and still make a decent ROI and it needs people to care about something more than getting rich.
Now, when it comes to politics, no one is out in the computer tech world fighting tooth and nail to stop new innovation by claiming there is no need for it. The internet super highway happened only a few years ago and now it’s in almost every corner of the world. It grew faster than even the television industry; and mobile computer technology is moving even faster. But green technology and sustainable innovation has been around for hundreds (And even thousands of years in some cases), and only saw a small surge in the 1960’s Return to the Earth Movement, but since then, every step of its way there have been groups of people fighting its production and introduction into the economic sphere. In the last thirty years, no other innovation industry has had as much money spent on stopping it as is spent on creating it. Trying to stop green technology are the climate change deniers who are politically motivated because they are financed by big business that doesn’t want to change their dirty ways. Even the building and contracting industries have lobbying groups fighting against legislation changes that would alter the building codes in their building sectors. For example the viable waterless urinal is being fought by plumbers unions because it’s not cost-effective enough for them to put in a plumbing fixture that doesn’t require water flow, or call backs when it malfunctions; but does cost more time and money to install in the first place. Let’s face it, unlike computer technologies; the green tech industry is not an open one stop shop for the next hot thing that everyone is going to want. Green technology requires each region to discern and develop their own building and designing systems that work for their unique environmental conditions, their geographical constraints and what they can get pushed through the anti-green movement. With all this going against the green tech industry no wonder the green technology industry looks to be dying before it even gets started. But it keeps coming back because our life on earth is dependent on it, even if there are people who are fighting against it; or find it requires too much thinking about complicated parts to be as fun as a computer game or app; or just not interested in it because its doesn’t create dreams of overnight billion dollar money-making success.
In Part 2, I’ll go into ways to reconsider the business, economic and political framework of the industry so that green technology can become more sustainable.