Vol. II: Is CleanTech really an industry? (Today: Environment)

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As a continuation of my post from Monday (What is CleanTech… and, is it really an “industry?”), my thesis continues to be it is not an industry, but CleanTech is indeed a “movement” or a shift in business thinking that will allow for some very new and creative businesses solutions to emerge.  Today I expand into the first of the three pillars (environment, energy, and international cooperation/legislation) that will increasingly bring all business sectors together and drive them to innovate and incorporate clean technologies… or, not at our species’ peril.

1. ENVIRONMENT

Not unlike bacteria, humans continue to produce (and reproduce) until they have reached an unsustainable peak. Evidence of this is the persistent need for expansion as was seen in the Roman Empire; or more starkly, the rapid decline of the Mayan culture.  While the recent financial turbulence may not have long-term effects on overall population growth, as we project our consumption rate of our available resources and crowd into the space we have left to grow into, it has become increasingly apparent that our environment is a very real constraint to continued unbridled growth.

In the past we have, slowly, identified alarming symptoms and traced them to their cause. Slower still, we have used legislation and economics to curb the unchecked exploitation of the environmental commons.  Yet, as some humans have attempted to slow deforestation and reduce the use of many carcinogens, noxious chemicals, ozone depleting gasses and more through controls, their efforts are often stymied by a global capitalist economic system allows for graft and lobbying efforts by those who profit (at least on the short term) from looser and less sustainable regulation.  Consequently, our environmental situation is becoming increasingly dire.

As the human race has moved into almost every cranny of the Earth, even those previously vacated because of environmental degradation, we have come to realize that it is not a very big place after all. Sustainable economic success is predicated by some level of environmental harmony lest we wipe ourselves or our customers out. We have become too adept at taming nature to suit our short term needs, and as the World’s population grows, we see that there is no where else to go.  Economically driven environmental disasters like Bhopal and the Exxon Valdez oil spill produced effects felt by fellow humans globally, in the past these have been the kickstart needed to curb environmental exploitation.

The success, if not comfort, of our species hinges on recognizing that there is an equilibrium and that we should not produce things that the earth cannot reabsorb in a balanced fashion.  The energy resources we have grown accustomed to using have shown themselves to be finite, especially when consumed in the quantities we are familiar with. Furthermore there is strong evidence to suggest that the earth will face repercussions from carbon and other effluents of fossil fuel – climate change is only one of them.  Similarly, myopic humans cannot consider ‘geologic time’ which means we cannot accurately estimate the long-term effects of nuclear radiation on our containment strategies.

Our environmental situation is such that processes that don’t operate in a sustainable cycle will need to be eliminated. Or we can wait for cataclysmic disasters. Or we need to have much smaller population then we will once again be able to trash a campsite and move on to the next one in the hopes that by the time the next human arrives nature will have repatriated our trash into organic matter and smoothed the ripple of our presence.

I wouldn’t worry too much about “mother earth” – she will continue to exist well beyond us, the question becomes can we keep it as a place that is inhabitable by humans.

More to come on Energy and International Legislation… in the meantime, don’t forget to vote for CleanTechies. As they say, vote early and vote often – you can do it once every 24 hours.

-Ian

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Ian,

    A very nice post, thank you. It does seem to me that as we all float on this lifeboat through space, it would behoove us to row together in a sustainable manner. If we continue doing what we have been doing, I have little concern for the cockroach population of the planet, however, I am concerned that homo sapiens will no longer be here. Keep up the good work.

    Warmly,

    Jim

    http://www.CooperationEarth.com/earth

  2. Elizabeth Guerra on

    I agree! The renewable, sustainability, and resources management markets that have popped up are nothing new, and have been in a small portion of all the industries currently in existence. While it may feel like a categorical catch all that is not the way a business should market themselves. Our aim should be to make a Green Market Economy, where our Green/Clean Tech practices are part of our marketability, not our industrial segment. Simply being green would make you Kermit the frog. However, practicing a standard of business that offers reduced waste, environmentally healthy practices, or consumer products directly related to sustainability makes you a more marketable and potentially profitable option for the future.

    Example: A Solar company is a not in the Clean Tech industry– They boast clean tech principles in the SOLAR INDUSTRY.

    Clorox is not a Clean Tech or Green company either; however their most marketable product is currently an environmentally friendly form of chemical cleaner…. In fact it could be called a non-chemical cleaner as it boasts being completely made of naturally found compounds. I personally still call it a chemical cleaner because the reason it works is because of its chemical properties, whether it is naturally existing or not. That makes Clorox a company in the Consumer Household Products category with a marketable product.

    No disrespect to the Green Sector or the folks looking to “Green”

    our way into a new decade, but cleaning up our act is what we want, not starting a whole new show with new script.

  3. Thanks for the posts so far, will keep reading as they appear. At the risk of asking a stupid question – would Clean Tech be better described as a paradigm? Any practice that balances itself would be considered green – i.e. a temp agency that is totally web based so work is “telecommuted” could be called “clean tech” as it produced no noticeable environmental footprint.

  4. Elizabeth Guerra on

    That is an interesting point, actually, I’m sure that is a very succinct way to put it… It is not only a pattern of behaviors but a trend toward which the societal norm seems to be headed. In fact it serves quite well as a function of understanding, when you try to think that anything could be “clean tech” as you so explained with the temp agency. Think of the dichotomy of sustainability practices, and a garbage company. Waste Management boasts a generally more “green practice” and speaks to the merit of reducing waste… but wouldn’t that put them out of business???? A paradigm has no need to be contradictory, yet it views a construct that will adhere to a practice which (in an intellectual sense) tends to follow that of the general community. (That is, if I am not confusing paradigm with another word, but all the same I think you chose a great descriptor!) Waste Management and others who are leaning to fundamentally change their practices, are not doing so at the risk of telling people to not throw away garbage, but in the aim of bettering their business and its image in the paradigm shift to Eco/Sustainable/Clean/Green Thinking.

    Rock on Tom! I’m going to start dropping “Paradigm” instead of “sector” and

    “industry” into my conversations first thing in the morning!

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