The Clean Revolution

Technologies from the Leading Edge

The following is an excerpt from The Clean Revolution: Technologies from the Leading Edge. To read the full report, please download the PDF file by clicking on the link to the left.

Is "clean technology" an oxymoron . . . or the future of our planet? Does it represent one of the great business opportunities of the new millennium . . . or will it rise and fall like so many over-hyped technologies of the past? Will it engender a revolutionary shift in how we live, work, and play. . . or a more evolutionary shift largely transparent to the masses?

When it comes to clean technology, questions far outnumber answers. To most business people, the very notion of "clean tech" itself begs any number of questions -- from "What is it?" to "Can technology ever really be clean?" to "How clean does it have to be to be clean?" to "Isn't all this simply a logical extension of business as usual?"

Clearly, this is not business as usual. Indeed, for all the hype about the New Economy -- the irrationally exuberant e-world that dominated headlines and mindspace for the past few years -- a real, and sustainable, new economy is emerging. It is based not on ephemeral (and dubious) products and services, but on providing clean energy, clean transportation, clean water, and other goods and services that embody the principles of industrial ecology, resource productivity, and natural capitalism.

This is no mere recasting of the '70s "appropriate technology" movement, though the seeds of many of today's burgeoning success stories were sowed during that period. The new clean-tech era is represented by a diverse and dispersed corps of companies, from start-ups to multinational giants, with support from forward-thinking investors, scientists, politician's, and customers.

In May 2001, GBN -- in partnership with Clean Edge, Inc., a consulting and publishing firm focusing on clean technology -- brought together a remarkable assemblage of member companies, Network members, staff, and other resources to examine the world of clean technology. The goal was to pose, and attempt to answer, three critical questions:

  • What, exactly, is "clean technology"?
  • Why is it now coming to the forefront?
  • How can companies profit from these new markets?

In the quest for answers, participants visited more than a score of clean-tech sites around the San Francisco Bay Area -- a region at the epicenter of concern about environmental degradation, energy and water resources, and constrained mobility -- to meet with a variety of experts on the promise and pitfalls of clean technology. Along the way, groups of participants "invented" a number of clean-tech products and services aimed at meeting the simultaneous goals of creating profitable new markets, reducing environmental impacts, and improving people's lives.

Clean-tech examples could be found throughout the member companies in attendance:

  • Texaco has a significant stake in a leading fuel-cell company and is actively engaged in designing a global hydrogen infrastructure to power vehicles, homes, and businesses.
  • Procter & Gamble recently introduced a new product system that makes water in developing countries germ-free and safe to drink, potentially improving the lives of the more than one billion denizens of the planet who lack potable water.
  • Dow is partnering with Cargill to manufacture NatureWorks, the first mass-produced plastic made from corn and other annually renewable resources.
  • DuPont is reinventing itself to deliver chemical services instead of products, simultaneously improving resource efficiency while better meeting customer needs.
  • Hewlett-Packard recently launched an initiative focusing on sustainable business ventures that benefit the rural poor in developing countries.
  • Herman Miller's Michigan headquarters building boasts some of the world's greenest designs and materials.

The meeting was endowed with a wealth of gifted resource people, including some of the leading voices on industrial ecology, natural capitalism, sustainable business, nanotechnology, renewable energy, "hypercars," green buildings, water resources, and technology and innovation management.

And so the stage was set: Is clean technology a driving force for a new "New Economy"? Can it be? Should it be?

We set off to find out.

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