So take that, Gordon Gekko--er, Ivan Boesky. I poked around the Cleantech Forum a bit this week. Lots of gray and navy blue suits there, with few of the jeans-and-polos found at dot-com dealmaking events, but it was relatively laid back nevertheless when you consider all the money-matchmaking involved. The $3.6 billion poured into the emerging clean tech sector in 2006 is twice the 2004 amount for North America and Europe. There are billions and billions of dollars just waiting to anoint the next clean, green, money-making machine. Startup CEOs and scientists were snapping wishbones, crossing fingers, trading cards.
Want to gobble up clean stocks? Be on the lookout for the IPO of some yet-unpopular, cleantech cousin of Google! But which company will it be? One that can print thin-film solar panels? A large-scale maker of biofuel blends? A startup that's making LED bulbs cheaper?
I wandered around some booths and learned about Group IV Semiconductor, backed by $10 million and working to make silicon-based,
energy-efficient LED lightbulbs that might sell for a mere $3 a pop by
2010. Cheaper, white LED bulbs could be the holy grail of bright, low-energy lighting. SpringStar is working to get rid of things that bug you without pesticides with gizmos that mimic insects' mating calls and perfumes. However, there's no bedbug treatment yet because mimicking their stinky pheromones would make your boudoir smell pretty skanky. Engineers at Lawrence Berkeley Labs are building air quality sensors that they hope they can shrink to fit in or on cell phones. Here's more show-and-tell.
In the adjoining rooms, each panel seemed to be running nearly an hour late. At a talk about corporate market drivers, Ali Iz of G.E. said his company has been snapping up great money-making green businesses, but it needs to figure out how to support innovation that's not yet profitable without spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
PG&E, the villain of Erin Brokovich, has greened nearly every bus station in San Francisco with ads for its eco-friendly efforts in recent months. During the Cleantech Forum, PG&E let loose that it's donating a year of office space to hot startups Adura Technologies (makes wireless lighting sensors)
and GreenVolts (working on cheaper, more concentrated solar panels). I planned to make it to the mayor's announcement about launching a cleantech S.F. business campus near the former PG&E plant, but I was interrupted by friends who were wine tasting a block away. Cabbing it home two champagne flutes later, there was no hybrid to flag down. But that could change soon too.
What's next? If you're dying to get rich off of companies built to keep the planet from dying, then scroll down and look in the left column for my updated "Green Money" links of lots of cleantech-related blogs. The tickers at Sustainable Business can be useful too.
This makes for a cool visual, if anything. Several hundred activists shone mirrors on San Francisco's City Hall to rally for clean energy yesterday. The city could become the world's biggest user of renewable energy. I was indoors and didn't make it. (Photos from Mona Brooks and Greenpeace)
The Consumer Electronics Show kicked off today, and geeks are freaking out about what's faster (left), smaller, and more dazzling in the digital world this year. I haven't had much of a chance to check out green tech yet since I'm working like mad, and the "Innovations Plus" area is far from where I've been wandering. "Defining tomorrow's technology" is the slogan of this convention. Yet so far, the most "environmental" talk I hear involves outfitting your home with wall-to-wall TV screens and security systems. Still, there are glimmers of green change, such as this Zap electric car in the central tent area. There's a fuel cell charger for cell phones and a fuel cell laptop battery. The Sony e-book reader might save some trees. And I want to make it over to see ICP Solar booth to check out its thin film solar tech.
You should have seen the army of CES assembly at work yesterday; the exhibit halls during convention setup were a maze of beeping forklifts, chemical odors, electronic cables, sheets of plastic that could cover a two-flat. What will become of all this, of the forgotten shreds of astro turf, or the acres of ultra plush carpeting that pads the sprawling booths of Microsoft Vista, HP, and other A-list vendors? Will it all be left here for future generations to gawk at when they tour the ruins of a dehydrated Las Vegas? While nearby natural springs may have attracted Spanish explorers to Vegas in the 19th century, the lack of a massive water source to quench this boomtown lacks a permanent solution.
Today, the foot traffic at CES is Manhattan-like in density and stride, but lacking in grit, and homogenous in that relentlessly professional way. Garbage is born at every turn, though it's neatly carted away in big unsorted lumps. No recycling in sight. To be fair, this is true of most large-scale American conventions. I asked some maintenance people about that. Lo and behold, they pointed me to the CES main office, nestled away from the hubbub of the hallways and sporting several Office Depot variety office plants.
Hi, I said. I'm interested in this Green Saturday eco-friendly stuff and I wonder, is CES applying any of those ideas to the way the convention is run? For example, is there any recycling of waste or exhibit materials? The cordial receptionist told me that the operations people were away. Instead, I should ask across the hall where the marketing gurus were stationed.
So I strolled over there. Recycling? The desk attendant gave me a blank stare. She disappeared for a moment into a side room, then reappeared to point me to the Green Saturday page in the full-color, hopelessly unrecycled, glossy convention guide tome. Yes thanks, I said, but what about in terms of the way the convention itself is operating? Out came a marketing manager, who was polite but seemed wary of my off-the-radar question. She let me know that there's some e-waste recycling booth somewhere in the exhibition labyrinth, but the government affairs people should know more. Go across the hall,she said. I returned to desk #1 and left my name and contact data for the operations manager in case she wants to get back to me with what I expect to be predictable answers. There's "innovation" screaming from all angles of this corporate madhouse of a conference, but the pollution caused by so much high tech might make you yearn for the troglodyte era. Will I be surprised? Stay tuned.
By the way, I waited 40 minutes in line (left) at the convention Starbucks to get some nap-preventing foo-foo coffee drink. Sticking to the Starbucks Challenge, I asked if they had fair trade coffee. Coffee what? You know, Starbucks has that Estima blend...oh never mind, too many drowsy suits in line behind me. Maybe the greenest thing I witnessed here today was the green tea frapuccino (no whipped cream) ordered by GigaFast girl #2 (see top of post).
Why not boycott commercialized Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Chrismahanukwanzakah, Chrismukkah, Festivus, and Jewmas altogether? Don't wrap anything for those holidays. Instead, give a New Year's Nothing. By this, I mean giving someone a humanitarian gift, one that gives a new start to someone else. Write a card to announce that the $20 that would have gone toward another pair of gloves instead helped to buy a village doctor a bicycle. By imposing philanthropy upon your giftee, you're spared from dealing with bows and ribbons, and the giftee is spared closet space.
Start with the Alternative Gifts International catalog (via Two Steps Forward). This site hooks you up with all sorts of ways to help people around the world, such as $20 to get a family a solar water cooker. You could pitch in for a microloan via Kiva, which will return the money eventually to your giftee's delight.
If you're building a website, you need to park it somewhere. But did you think about all the energy needed to power the servers that keep your web pages safe? Check out some of these web hosting companies that run on solar and wind power instead. There was some buzz earlier this year in Wired and elsewhere about solar web hosting, but I didn’t find any advice about how those services stack up against each other. Here's proof of this writer's OCD: another chart. Click on it to enlarge and read; continue to the end for more details (see earlier charts comparing green cell phone plans and car sharing services, and green "megatrends").
I was just wishing for a solar-powered bike headlight for riding home from work these early-dark evenings. A Treehugger fan traveling in Japan just spied this battery-free CatEye bike light that gets power from your motion and from the sun. But don't try to get one as a holiday gift; it's too new for stateside stores.
RedFerret found this bike light (right) that charges its AA and AAA batteries with tiny solar cells. You can order blue, orange, or silver versions from Natural Collection in Britain, but postage will add 20% for North Americans, bringing the total beyond $50. Hippy Shopper has a similar solar-battery bike light for 20₤, which you can get through Ecotopia (same bummer shipping for non-Europeans). But have hope, America; at least solar bike light power is on the horizon. Maybe next year?
"And to think we used to question his commitment to the environment. Excuse us while we go cry in the corner," mourns the Grist List. Speaking of weeping, presidents, and sustainability, did you know that George W. Bush is a closet solar power user? His ranch in Crawford, TX, is "a paragon of environmental planning," reported Cowboys and Indians magazine years ago:
The passive-solar house is built of honey-colored native limestone and positioned to absorb winter sunlight, warming the interior walkways and walls of the 4,000-square-foot residence. Geothermal heat pumps circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground. These waters pass through a heat exchange system that keeps the home warm in winter and cool in summer.
Hikers and students can choose from a host of solar-powered backpacks. And now urban party girls, dashing home after running into the inevitable after-hours-party stalker, won't have to fear a dead cell phone or lost keys inside a dark purse when they get to the door. The inside lining of the Sun Trap handbag (left, via Gizmag) glows for 15 seconds with power from an external solar cell. It can also charge mobile phones and PDAs; too bad it looks too clunky for clubbers--unlike the shiny Power Purse clutch (right) showed off by Grist last month.
Within just five years there will be 50 million environmental refugees, warns the U.N.
"Over the coming decades, we're more likely to see people abandoning their homes due to drought, or famine, or disease, or sea level rise--the so-called "slow motion disasters,"" says Jamais Cascio of WorldChanging.
And as we've seen in southern U.S. states this summer, the problem's not limited to the developing world. Nor is the emergence of alternative energies
limited to the developed world; some of the least expected places are nourishing sustainable solutions...