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April - 2007 - issue > Technology
Creating a new green revolution
Gurminder Singh
Saturday, March 31, 2007
At the dawn of the 21st Century, we sit poised on the brink of a momentous shift. Already the staggering economic opportunities are being identified and invested in emerging green companies. It is no longer enough to create a startup that allows more people to tag, sort, comment upon, or remix the curiously low-quality artifacts of the early digital age. The challenge for those engineering startups or products for the world behind the screen is a cultural and sociological one: How do we use the power of the network to address the biggest challenges we are facing in the 21st century? If your big idea helps people navel-gaze more contemplatively but does not do anything to reduce the meltdown of the Greenland ice shelf, you are not thinking big enough. The next generation of products in the world will be green and will be created by entrepreneurs tapping into this expanding global market of $650 billion.

With climate change hard upon us, a new green movement is taking shape, one that embraces environmentalism’s concerns but rejects its worn-out answers. Technology can be a front of endlessly creative solutions. Business can be a vehicle for change. Prosperity can help us build the kind of world we want. Scientific exploration, innovative design, and cultural evolution are the most powerful tools we have. Entrepreneurial zeal and market forces, guided by sustainable policies, can propel the world into a bright green future.

Clean technology is an area where the rules are yet to be established. There are new opportunities. New companies and clean tech ideas are attracting more interest from technology veterans such as Epstein and mainstream venture capitalists looking for the next big thing.

Four key principles can guide the way:
Renewable energy is plentiful energy. Burning fossil fuels is a filthy habit, and the supply will not last forever. Fortunately, a growing number of renewable alternatives promise clean, inexhaustible power: wind turbines, solar arrays, wave-power flotillas, small hydroelectric generators, geothermal systems, even bioengineered algae that turn waste into hydrogen. The challenge is to scale up these technologies to deliver power in industrial quantities - exactly the kind of challenge brilliant businesspeople love.

High Efficiency creates value. The number one US industrial product is waste. Waste is worse than stupid; it is costly, which is why we are seeing businesspeople in every sector getting a jump on the competition by consuming less water, power, and materials. What is true for industry is true at home, too: Think well-insulated houses full of natural light, cars that sip instead of guzzle, appliances that pay for themselves in energy savings.
Green Cities beat suburbs. Manhattanites use less energy than most people in North America. Sprawl eats land and snarls traffic. Building homes close together is a more efficient use of space and infrastructure. It also encourages walking, promotes public transit, and fosters community combine thus integrating green technologies, clean energy and green city processes and we have a greener environmental future.

Quality is wealth. More is not better. Better is better. You do not need a bigger house; you need a different floor plan. You do not need more stuff; you need stuff you will actually use. Ecofriendly designs and nontoxic materials already exist, and there is plenty of room for innovation. You may pay more for things like long-lasting, energy-efficient LED light bulbs, but they will save real money over the long term.

Redesigning civilization along these lines would bring a quality of life few of us can imagine. That is because a fully functioning ecology is tantamount to tangible wealth. Clean air and water, a diversity of animal and plant species, soil and mineral resources, and predictable weather are annuities that will pay dividends for as long as the human race survives - and may even extend our stay on Earth.

The crossover from IT and materials (science) into the clean tech space has dramatically improved the offerings of products and services and made it a lot more economically attractive.

The next entrepreneurial revolution is in full force. The consciousness of the free market is slowly shifting from infinite consumption to sustainability. Opportunities are emerging for the next wave of green entrepreneurs in carbon-neutral technologies, renewable energy sources, recycling as manufacturing process and much more. Leaders in the venture capital world (like Vinod Khosla) have shifted their focus to this arena. Green is the way of the future. It may seem impossibly far away, but on days when the smog blows off, you can already see it: a society built on radically green design, sustainable energy, and closed-loop cities; a civilization afloat on a cloud of efficient, nontoxic, recyclable technology. That is a future we can live with.

Helping cut down on evident pollution problems in places such as China or India is satisfying, but ultimately the reason clean technology is appealing is because the returns on investments will be very attractive over the next 10 to 15 years. The demand for clean everything—air, energy products, clean water, recycling of tech, better use of waste material—all of that is very much fundamental to business practices. It’s no longer something industries can ignore. .

Now is the time for the Indian and South Asian entrepreneur to join by bringing innovation and creative to whole new level. Confronting the challenges in this “Going Green” business opportunity will require rethinking the entire way we use industrial processes, and also services we create while developing a highly efficient energy matrix to power the products and services of the near future. Entrepreneurs from the South Asian community have been the engine for innovations and powering the entrepreneurial zeal in Silicon Valley and beyond. The time has come now to develop new breed of entrepreneurs and companies whose mantra is to “Go Green through innovation”.

The author is the founder and Co-chairman of Green Technology Institute at UCLA. He was recently honored by the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Governor of California for his pioneering work in assisting green entrepreneurs. He can be reached at gurminder@yahoo.com
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