Youth + Technology = Cleantech


A generation of businesspeople is emerging that is primed to change the way consumers consume. These businesspeople are both technologically literate and have a conscience to act sustainably beside their business ambitions.

The previous generation of consumers were sold to using values of carefreedom: the consumers’ dreamworld was all about having ‘plenty’ rather than ‘enough’, it was powered by fossil fuels and located in a privileged place where you don’t have to worry about the third world.

But now global warming threatens the whole planet there is a sense that we are all in jeopardy, both in terms of pollution and bad karma for polluting. The same irresponsible dreamworld still exists for consumers but there is a growing sense of responsibility and desire to define ourselves against the generation that came before us.

In the US the west coast is birthing most of the country’s cleantech companies, just as it births most of North America’s straight tech companies. The top five places for cleantech is as follows:

1. San Jose, California

2. San Francisco, California

3. Portland, Oregon

4. Sacramento, California

5. Seattle, Washington

Organizations driving Cleantech innovation in the US


Stanford University’s Design for Extreme Affordability ‘creates an enabling environment in which students learn to design products and services that will change the lives of the world’s poorest citizens.’

The Extreme is a six month course and it’s very different from product design courses that teach students how to take a product to market. Extreme emphasizes collaboration, and empathy with users in order to find and then develop ‘seemingly impossible and extremely affordable solutions’. Rather than telling consumers, ‘Yo, you need this!’ Extreme asks users, ‘Hello, what’s the problem?’

Typically the course is split fifty fifty between females and males. A quarter come from business background, the other quarter from engineering disciplines, with the final fifty per cent made up of other courses likely to lend valuable insight to the project.

The six month Extreme course tackles an issue affecting poor people and culminates in a presentation of the students’ project to a panel of industry experts. For students who want to take the project further after the course ends, perhaps by setting by a marketable business, there is a fund called XSEED.

CleanTech Open

Out of Silicon Valley has flown the CleanTech Open. With a business focused intent that sets it apart from the affordable solutions of EXTREME, CleanTech Open is a business launch pad for cleantech startups that aims to assist entrepreneurs ‘Go Big’.

The CleanTech Open runs competitions rather than projects and this prize is usually startup cash or mentorship and business support. Companies that have been helped by the CleanTech Open include companies specializing in draught exclusion, nanotechnology, a new kind of fire suppressant and energy efficient lighting. These have been awarded millions of dollars in startup capital; generally CleanTech Open companies’ interests are based in developed countries.

An example of a UK cleantech company

One of the ways in which tech is being used is in quantification. Compare energy and emissions monitoring to instruments that capture and present granular data, like pedometers. UK company CarbonDiem is an example of a company that measures the carbon footprint of individuals using an app downloaded onto smartphones that calculates their emissions according to mode of transport.

CarbonDiem delivers a value proposition for large organizations, enabling them to understand their transport emissions by using the existing infrastructures of smartphones, GPS, transport networks, and environmentally conscious users who will download the app – which also guarantees total data privacy.

CarbonDiem presents data in certain ways so it can be used for a highly specific purpose: in twenty years transport emissions are forecast to make up over half of all emissions, and hopefully this app will provide part of the solution.

CarbonDiem was founded by Andreas Zachariah, who developed his Royal College of Art degree show on carbon calculators into a product now used by clients including the BBC and BT.

Apps are adaptable. CarbonDiem is currently in use in the UK but is being developed for North America. Where EXTREME is designed to solve issues in the developing world and educate developed countries, Carbondiem has been built to troubleshoot first world nations. Cleantech is technology for the 90% not the 10%.

“I keep asking why 90% of the world’s designers work exclusively on products for the richest 10% of the world’s customers.” Dr. Paul Polak, International Development enterprises, “Out of Poverty”.

Article by David Thomas who writes about clean technology and solar power for The Eco Experts, and about energy efficiency for You can speak to him at @theecoexperts and @gduk

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.


  1. Sounds very exciting, but I would suggest it will be even more exciting when people are no longer referred to as “consumers.” Then we’ll be getting somewhere!

    Dave Gardner

    Director of the documentary

    GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth

  2. on

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