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Maybe Green Isn’t a Revolution – But an Innovation

Maybe Green is less a revolution and more a new innovation.

A Green Movement has certainly been upon us since the release of Vice President Al Gore’s groundbreaking and Oscar-winning film “An Inconvenient Truth”. That film, more than any other single event, captured the imagination and raised the awareness of man-made global climate change. Since that time, going green stories of corporations, educational institutions, government agencies and a myriad of other organizations have littered the media and news outlets. Advertisements for green products, books on living green, and advisories to increase recycling and conserve energy have grown in number and urgency.

All of this is good and if you believe Al Gore, the majority of climatologists, and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is needed. Still, one sector of our economy and our lives has not joined the movement.

Small businesses – responsible for the majority of our nation’s jobs – don’t seem to have changed practices as much as their larger counterparts claim to have. Small businesses haven’t gone green even when most people now feel that it is the right and perhaps even moral thing to do because they are so focused on keeping the lights on, they don’t have time to worry if they are compact fluorescent light (CFLs) bulb or not. They may not see the business advantage for going green, likely don’t have the time to figure out how, and either aren’t being rewarded by the consumer for doing it, or punished for not making the transition.

What does that mean?

Should we lose heart and give up hope for a climate-stable future? Not in the least. Perhaps this is simply an indication that the green movement is not so much a revolution of existing business models and practices as it is an opportunity for new research and development as well as technological innovation. Green may not mean Mom and Pop will use less energy and recycle more, but that a whole new sector of jobs will be created learning how to turn cellulosic algae into car fuel, extract energy from powerful, predictable, and near-constant ocean waves, and modernize our power grid to accept and distribute power from traditional as well as alternative sources (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal).

In this light, Green may follow in the footsteps of the introduction of air conditioning, the advent of the computer, the Internet and biotechnology. Each of these saw an increase in productivity, research, led to job growth which leads naturally to economic expansion, and is exactly what our country needs right now – even more than a stimulus – to claw out of this recession.

Sure, it would be great if all U.S. businesses, large and small, switched light bulbs, telecommuted to reduce miles driven, and maybe set their thermostats up a few degrees in the summer, but those activities don’t create new jobs. And unless such changes take place globally, they will have no noticeable effect on global climate change.

On the other hand, firms competing to be the first to accelerate a car with hydrogen are a part of a new industry, with the potential for numerous high paying and local jobs, and opening new markets and new exports for the U.S. These are the things that foster and reward innovation, hold the promise of reducing our addition to foreign oil and fossil fuels, and stand a chance of reversing the melting of the world’s glaciers.

So where do we go from here?

It remains critical to educate and assist everyone to do their part for the planet. Progress measured by one small business or one person at a time is still a sign of progress even if the results may be hard to measure. But, let’s also recognize that the best opportunity for salvation comes from our green technologists, alternative energy researchers, and environmental scientists. Their efforts can both save our nation economically and the world from the worst of what climate change may have to offer. Governments’ role can be to use tax incentives, grants, laws, regulations and all other resources at their disposal to foster an environment conducive to the growth of such technologies and the firms and research labs where they are developed.

I’m not sure what Al Gore’s role was in developing the Internet, but let’s hope one day we’re all debating his role in the birth of green technologies.

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April 23, 2010 - Posted by | Past Episodes

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