What is CleanTech… and, is it really an “industry”?


I would answer the first part of the question simply: CleanTech is any technology that competitively produces equal or greater amounts of utility than the existing substitute through a sustainable process.

As for the second part of the question… My answer, perhaps shockingly, is “probably not”. Can one seriously push around a catch-all that encompasses electrical generation, water, construction, waste management, packaging, agriculture, IT (hardware and software), biotech, nanotechnology, and (gasp!) transportation?  These are all clearly established business sectors in their own right, can we now claim that the world has an ‘nascent industry’ which people should prepare for professionally?  Perhaps it is an industry in some sense, but  I would add “who cares.

The excitement around “CleanTech” is great, and calling it an industry might be helpful because it brings a level of focus and interest into the development of sustainable technologies. If calling CleanTech an industry finally gives the world an accredited and well organized lobby, then let’s call it an industry.

What will increasingly force all industries to innovate and incorporate CleanTech into their operations is the interrelation between environment, energy and international legislation.  Once broken down to “utility in exchange for energy and environmental impact” everything becomes a substitute.  To get ahead, all executives will need to navigate through global legislation and strive to be increasingly efficient with our global resources, or else consumers will find a competitor that is.

My advice to you… if you want your company and industry to be around in the future become a CleanTechie in what ever you do. That’s it.  For further reading on why I think executives need to watch the environment, energy and international legislation and why cleantech will flourish because of the confluence of these three things, read my notes over the next couple days.

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  1. robert keville on

    As a business owner who provides sensors, covert and environmental, to the us government I can tell you that what makes us think more ‘Green’ has more to do with the bottom line than anything else. The question is and always has been how can I do my job with less money and time without having to deal with onerous government intervention via regulations. Therein lies the rub. Any time the government is involved costs go up and profit goes down. I am in business to make money and if going green will help me do that then I am all for it otherwise I don’t want to hear about it. I believe that every company should be environmentally sensitive and aware because it makes sense. It won’t make sense if green becomes an industry with government mandates. Develop the products that companies can use to increase their bottom line and growth will follow. Develop products that are mandated by national or international regulations and growth will shrink. If companies go out of business because they can’t afford to implement green anything no one wins.

  2. There was a very interesting new wave poem of the 1970s which had a line – ‘get your punk in Woolworths’ it was about the rise of punk music and culture in the UK and how it was changing from niche to mainstream….. Is this what is happening to the green movement….? I agree with your post but would suggest that as green gets adopted by business it will disaapear and become business as normal in a similar way to Health and Safety or the role of trade unions.

    So get your cleantech in woolworths… although woolworths in the UK has just gone bust!

  3. @onetoremember that is precisely my point – that as it becomes mainstream, the importance of sustainability will affect all industries. and each will have to adopt so called cleantechnologies.

  4. As former president of a research analyst firm, I had the same question: How can clean tech be an industry, when it is defined to encompass a broad range of technologies and products that solve different problems for diverse customers? After speaking to some investors in this “sector,” however, I found my answer. Clean tech, to them, is an investment thesis, not a market or industry. If you buy the thesis, then there are numerous sectors that turn on the clean tech thesis you can invest in (or work in). But they don’t, in my view, have enough in common with each other to meet the operational definition of an industry or market.

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