Will green technology be the leading industry of the 21st Century?

by Franke James

I’d place a bet that green technology will be the leading industry of the 21st Century (if we survive religious wars that is). Some people believe that the ‘green’ opportunity has already peaked. But I think we’ve hardly begun. We’re at the starting line for the ‘Carbon-Neutral Race’, and we’re not wearing state-of-the-art gear. What type of car do you drive? And how do you heat your house? If you answered ‘hybrid’ and ‘solar’, good for you. But you’re in the minority. And that virtuous smug feeling will disappear as soon as you think about the infrastructure that underlies our major cities. We have a lot of work to do worldwide. As good as North Americans can be (hoping to reverse the damage done), remember that China and India are on the upswing in terms of energy consumption. Their growth-at-all-cost mantra will only increase the impact of global warming.

We need to be a lot more uncomfortable before radical change happens. The most dire effects of Global Warming, those that will make people change their lifestyles and force governments to legislate tough anti-global-warming policies are still down the road. And that is why I believe that global warming presents us with a great economic opportunity that will touch virtually every industry you can think of.

6 Responses: 6 Comments

  • I think that the competitive advantage of “green technology” is past the peak and about to be lost. It is now a basic cost of doing business to be “green,” or at least to appear to be green. No manufacturer would make a heavily power-consumptive appliance today (note that autos are a different matter, since vehicles are wrapped up in identity in a way that washing machines are not). So Thomas Friedman, as usual, is great at reporting a piece of what has already happened – a perfect example of living in McLuhan’s rear-view mirror.

  • Rami Mayer says:

    Excerpt from interview with Rami Mayer, Schulich School of Business

    Mayer wrote: “There is no doubt that green technology and ‘green’ initiatives are on people’s minds in Western societies (that is developing, implementing and adapting strategy to create environmental, social and economic value).

    However not in Asia — at least not yet. Asia is driven by substantial economic growth regardless of the consequences.

    Case in point, for the Beijing Olympics, the city is undergoing a major boom in construction. In order to enable participants to enjoy smog free games (an expectations from Western societies), many industries were moved out of the city. Remember, many of the industries have smoke stack which are major pollutants. For the Olympics, these industries were simply displaced to another location. They are still spewing pollutants as they were before just not in Beijing itself.

    Green initiatives are to be showcased to the world in a way that displaced the problem from the city limits to areas outside of it. The Chinese did plant many trees, but even they concede that the initiatives may not be enough to stop years of disregard to the environment. There is still the risk of smog to come down during the games. For that they also have a plan (and no, it does not involve long term measures). Just in case, they are putting huge fans on top of buildings that will ‘push’ the smog away. Short term solution, but one that would get their desired result. What is happening in China is not fueled by triple bottom line approach, but rather by showcasing Beijing to the world and making an impression on all of us who will be watching.

    In China only legislation that will be strictly enforced will yield significant results and headways when it comes to an environmentally friendly approach. Sustainability in the broad term may have an interest — the risk management part for example. It is not however top of mind for the Chinese. Not just yet. They are still 10 years behind those in the West.

    The situation is even worse in India which is plagued by an Aids pandemic and a slew of other social problems. The drive for rapid growth is a priority not green friendly initiatives. There are exceptions — the TATA group is very big on social concerns, but this is the exception and not the rule.

    Having said all that, here lies the opportunity for the green entrepreneurs in Asia — turning green initiatives into competitive advantage. They need to put pressure on governments in a way that will force or cajole them into legislation and enforcement of green initiatives. I believe that change in Asia may be fueled by a natural disaster the likes of the lead pollution incident that took place in Japan a few years ago and brought about a ‘revolution’ and a new way of thinking and approaching this topic. Change will take place in Asia when it is forced by the government or as a result of a natural catastrophe. It’s a shame that it will take some time for them to realize that the environment is not a “free good???, but rather a scarce recourse that needs to be managed. Indeed, organizations at large (in China and India) are not ready to implement the strategic and organizational processes by which new grassroots ventures come to recognize unconventional niches and then successfully create new economic and social value in ways that harness and sustain this green and to them, novel sources of competitive advantage.”

  • zappymax says:

    Will green technology be the leading industry of the 21st Century?

    how will we change our way of life, each of us, to adapt to climatic change already caused (in part if not completely) by fuel emissions and heating/airconditioning ? the problem is different in the western “consumerist” world, vs africa or parts of asia, where economic growth seems the absolute priority.
    Wheather problems and climatic eccentricity (?) grows up even in “tropical” places like Mexico city, where i am now, where in the summer wheater is becoming colder (for huge clouds cover) than in the winter season ( then becoming too dry, too hot but clear).

    I donno if economic growth should be kept as the basic and unique ideological motor of progress. Progress means speeding all the way, but to what purpose do we speed without accepting the risks at the end of the road ?

    Of course i woudn’t accept easily to walk all the time instead of using just at least a bike (chinese did massively that for decades until recently), a tricycle, a moped or a small car.
    But i certainly will never produce or use a Hummer.

    The proeminent part of the problem NOW is huge energy consumption, for any production (chemical, construction, aso) or transportation, in the west and progressively in the asian continent.
    Possibly hybrid cars will be used normally if not forcibly by developping countries like china or India and even more easily than trying to change the mentality of big SUV/LUV/PickUps/Humvees and their likes in the west, used to “use normally” excess as a way of life.

    Reducing plastic production changing those for really recyclables products should also be important. Even if plastic use should reduce the use and therefore the destruction of fine or common woodlands when producing accessories , houses to be tornadoed in the .Us, or plywood or agglomerated wood furniture, the same destruction of forrests (who are the most basic oxygen producer on this planet) keeps growing in the most remote parts of any continent.

    The economics are also controlling every aspect of climate change. If a big government tries to change the ways we common citizens are using energy, what will “democracy” answer to that imposition, even if such is well intended and could produce global improvment ? Do we need a real cataclysm to forcibly make people think or at least cumply with a restriction imposed progressively to assure their own future survival? Shall we need a terrific phenomenon like a world war for water, like when the ww2 changed many minds and forced so many to restrict their consumtion of apparently futile things like chocolate or gasoline ( even if gasoline was well overused for any military purpose, including really polluting tanks or Stratofortress bombers…).

    Political change vs imposition of new rules to save what still can (what, finally, if the world is globally like a vast bunch of really absurd consumers ?) (sorry for ecologists still a minority…)

    Another specie will survive after our drowning or suffocation . meaby some insects or birds, or water mammals, in a few millions years after our quite animal “human” race will have been forgotten , will receive from outer space, and understand – the platinum symbollically engraved plaque send by some spatial orbiter some decade ago.

    They could ask themselves or wonder why we disappeared, just as we ask the same now about some big dinosaurs. Meaby our end will be caused by human overpopulation pushing overconsumption and exhaustion of any kind of resources including oxygen..

    Those surviving animals will probably have at their disposal a very new kind of “green” world. Should they become by evolution as smart as we were (even if such smartness became suicidal for not realizing on time what we were destroying four our daily comfort)

    why not ?

  • Will green technology be the leading industry of the 21st Century?

    “Hybrid” isn’t just for cars.

    Geothermal heating and cooling can be considered a hybrid form of heating as it uses electricity to access a heat source / heat sink. In my neck of the woods you get a 4x thermal advantage.

    Likewise plug-in hyrids can take advantage of off peak or dump load power. Plug-in hybrids are a power deferrall method.
    Deep cycle batteries available today can be used to buffer electricity collected off-peak along with solar or wind. You don’t need to go 100% solar or wind to approach net-zero, even with a plug-in hybrid. If nanosolar succeeds in making solar economic the world of infrastructure changes. In some ways the dry light densitity southwest, long the bane of the environmental crowd, sits at a distinct advantage as there is lots of light, cooling is timed with peak solar. If they begin to manage wise use of water they will have a distinct advantage over the colder more dense north.

    So while there may be a new green market the beneficiaries may surprise you.

  • Franke James says:

    Michael thanks for joining the debate on whether green technology will be the leading industry of the 21st century. Check out the article ‘Fear is Rising’ where I interviewed Charles Lockwood about building green. His observation,

    “Trillions of dollars of commercial real estate around the world is about to become obsolete . . . because green buildings are going mainstream. “Standard??? buildings without the many benefits of green buildings — particularly lower overhead costs, like energy use, a healthier indoor environment, and greater productivity just won’t be able to compete.

    Massive obsolescence isn’t new to commercial real estate. When earlier innovations were introduced into commercial buildings – like elevators and electricity in the late nineteenth century, and central air conditioning in the 1950s and 1960s – all properties lacking these improvements quickly became outmoded, and their value fell as top tenants headed for more modern pastures.

    I look forward to hearing other people’s comments on the question…

  • Jock Gill says:


    If releasing sequestered carbon into the biospere is destabilizing the biosphere, the solution is to stop releasing sequestered carbon.

    Of course this means making it exceedingly expensive, prohibitively so, to burn oil, coal or natural gas. This alone means that green technology has not yet begun to peak and will have to be the #1 leading policy issue, political issue, religious issue, cultural issue as well as economic issue for a very long time into the future.

    It would point out that the atmosphere is currently struggling with 380 ppm of CO2. Joe Rohm and others report that there is a tipping point into a future we desperately want to avoid somewhere between 400 and 500 part per million of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Can we mount an effort greater than the Normandy invasion or the Apollo project to hold the line and not cross the tipping point to a very hostile environment?

    That is the question. It is estimated we have about 10 years in which to be successful. The Bush administration will have squandered 8 precious years we needed so badly. If we can, the rewards will be great. If we can not, the consequences will be harsh.


    Carbon Neutral by 2020