November 16, 2007

Green Tech Has Arrived!

It's a new day in America. At long last Amory Lovins is vindicated. He and his associates at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) are reaping the rewards of his engineering and economic genius after 30 years of waiting for the the private sector to figure out that conservation is profitable. Basically, global warming had to get unavoidable while the federal government sat on its hands for corporate America to grow its own conscience. It's a beautiful thing to behold, even if it's not clear it will be sufficient nor happen fast enough to avert major ecological disaster.

If you don't believe me, check out what Frito Lay is doing. Here's an excerpt from the New York Times 11/15:
Over the next several years, Frito-Lay plans to install high-tech filters that would recycle most of the water used to rinse and wash potatoes, as well as the corn used to make Doritos and other snacks, and then burn the leftover sludge to create methane gas to run the plant’s boiler.

The company will also build at least 50 acres of solar concentrators behind the plant to generate solar power. A biomass generator, which will probably burn agricultural waste, is also planned to provide additional renewable fuel.

The retrofit of the Casa Grande factory, scheduled to be completed by 2010, would reduce electricity and water consumption by 90 percent and its natural gas use by 80 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 50 percent to 75 percent, the company said.

Frito-Lay hopes the project will help the company save money on energy costs, particularly as oil prices approach $100 a barrel. What works in Casa Grande, one of 37 plants it operates in the United States and Canada, would then be replicated at other sites where possible.
That's plainly miraculous to me. And GM is moving to recycle all its factory materials!

Let's just sit back and savor the moment. It's a great thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. But it's also a call to action. Finally it's becoming hip in the business culture to be green. Entrepreneurs, investors, activists, and visionaries take heed—and heart. There's lots of money to be made. If only Al Gore had been confirmed, this trend would likely already be firmly established. It's the great challenge of our era. And it's reinvigorating to see that we are actually facing it. Even if it does turn out to be too late.

Here's an inspiring video on
RMI's new hypercar. And below are the consulting firm's main principles of Natural Capitalism, all at work in the above examples. Numbers 2 and 3 are providing the biggest lessons for business interests today:
The journey to natural capitalism involves four major shifts in business practices, all vitally interlinked:

1. Radically increase the productivity of natural resources. Through fundamental changes in both production design and technology, farsighted companies are developing ways to make natural resources—energy, minerals, water, forests—stretch 5, 10, even 100 times further than they do today. The resulting savings in operational costs, capital investment, and time can help natural capitalists implement the other three principles.

2. Shift to biologically inspired production models and materials (biomimicry). Natural capitalism seeks not merely to reduce waste but to eliminate the very concept of waste. In closed-loop production systems, modeled on nature’s designs, every output either is returned harmlessly to the ecosystem as a nutrient, like compost, or becomes an input for another manufacturing process. Industrial processes that emulate the benign chemistry of nature reduce dependence on nonrenewable inputs, make possible often phenomenally more efficient production, and can result in elegantly simple products that rival anything man-made.

3. Move to a “service-and-flow” business model. The business model of traditional manufacturing rests on the sale of goods. In the new model, value is instead delivered as a continuous flow of services—such as providing illumination rather than selling light bulbs. This aligns the interests of providers and customers in ways that reward them for resource productivity.

4. Reinvest in natural capital. Capital begets more capital; a company that depletes its own capital is eroding the basis of its future prosperity. Pressures on business to restore, sustain, and expand natural capital are mounting as human needs expand, the costs of deteriorating ecosystems rise, and the environmental awareness of consumers increases. Fortunately,these pressures all create business opportunity.

The next Industrial Revolution is already being led by companies that are learning to profit and gain competitive advantage from these four principles. Not only that, their leaders and employees are feeling better about what they do. Shortages of work and hope, of satisfaction and security, are not mere isolated pathologies, but result from clear linkages between the waste of resources, money, and people. The solutions are intertwined and synergistic: firms that downsize their unproductive tons, gallons, and kilowatt-hours can keep more people, who will foster the innovation that drives future improvement.