CleanTech revolution: Is it only a green dream?

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In his CleanTechies Blog post, Tom made a strong case that working on the supply side of sustainable agriculture is important at this stage because demand is strong.  He cited data showing strong consumer interest in locally grown food and their willingness to pay a premium for local produce.  I have seen similar data showing strong consumer interest in green/clean cars, energy, and other consumer products.  Tom’s argument can be made in each of these other industries.  The supply of sustainable transportation options is lacking.  Green energy is not available in sufficient supply.  Opportunities to make products & services more sustainable abound.  Tom and the many others who are working on solutions to the many constraints to sustainability should be commended and encouraged.

While I agree with the bulk of Tom’s post, there are three issues that may make focusing solely on the supply side of “green” a sub-optimal approach.

Say vs. Do

Johan commented on Tom’s original post:

“Though I agree that we need supply side innovations, I doubt whether your polls reflect people’s buying behaviour.”

Actual purchase behavior almost always falls far short of the results of surveys of “intent to purchase.”  What people say and what they do are not always the same, and when it comes to research surveys this is especially true.  For example, in one category with which I am familiar a 1/3 relationship between stated intent to purchase and actual purchase is typical.

Mass vs. Niche

Some green/clean solutions are geared towards niche markets or a subset of consumers.  Many niche products, such as premium priced electric vehicles, are supply constrained.  For other products, especially those that hope to attract mainstream buyers, increasing the green demand or relevance of the green credentials will become more important.  Successful mainstream green products (e.g. Prius, CFL bulbs) have addressed this by coupling the green aspects of their product with other attributes (most often economic).

If you build it, will they come?

Companies spend billions of dollars to advertise their products.  At the same time, there are numerous examples of green behavior being dependent on the way consumers are presented with options and information.  The importance of consumer awareness of, and accessability to your green products and services should not be underestimated.

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