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May 24th, 2010
Last Month the IERG (International Executive Resources Group) held a panel on International Clean Tech. This was the follow up to their, equally good, presentation on Sustainable Operations practices in an International Business. Normally, I don’t write about panels, but several of the panelists brought up new issues that I wanted to share.
First off, Francesco Fragasso the CFO of Nuvera Fuel Cells, located in Billerica, Mass and Milan, Italy made the business case for sustainability. When asked if there was a market capable of sustaining investment in clean tech (haha, pun totally intended), he responded by saying that there is a “real market because there is a real need.”
He then went on to say that loving mother earth is not the only or predominant reason for making these investments.
He listed three main points:
1. CO2 reduction/operational savings
2. Source Securitization (the big motivator)
3. Competitive advantage held by technology leaders.
So yeah, preaching to the choir, duh, not telling you anything new. Still, it always makes me smile when I hear a seasoned business person talk about sustainability and clean tech, from an ‘it just makes business sense on every level, get with the program perspective,’ as opposed to the sustainability=hippie-tree hugger talk that generally gets thrown around.
Next up was Eva Thorne a professor at Brandeis University. She brought up Brazil as an international super power when it comes to clean tech, a fact of which I had little knowledge. Brazil produces 89% of the world’s ethanol. What’s more, Brazil produces sugar cane ethanol as opposed to the questionable corn variety. Sugar Ethanol is the most advanced biofuel to date (claims the EPA) with a 61% reduction in total life cycle green house gas emissions. One of the cool attributes is that leftover cane waste can be used to power the plant that is creating the ethanol. Woohoo! Brazil is also a leading user of hydro power and has great potential for wind energy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel_in_Brazil
The gist of it was, that Brazil has become a global power because of their energy self sufficiency and effective government policy. Their place in the export market has catapulted the country forward. Much of this technology development was due to their Military government seeking fuel sufficiency, ordering the research and allocating the funds accordingly. Dictators don’t have red tape. So there is the silver lining of the military dictatorship—They get shit done. (please hold the hate mail. Yay Democrocy! Happy?)
Finally, there was a lively discussion between the panelists and the audience surrounding hybrid vehicles. The question posed was, if hybrids are so great, then why are they not sweeping the EU market. The panelists focused mostly on the fact that they use Diesel, which can be a very clean fuel. They also brought up that the efficiency of our hybrids is comparable to the efficiency of their diesel vehicles and mentioned that due to government policy their price per gallon has been around $9.00 for years now. The audience seemed to walk away unsatisfied with the general consensus being, ‘why should we bother with a hybrid if the Europeans haven’t gone crazy over them?’
The panel didn’t connect the dots really. The point is that hybrids seem amazing here, but they are still incredibly inefficient. We could do so much better. Most of our hybrids are less efficient on a life cycle basis than a really compact diesel vehicle. Yes, Europe has been living with high taxes, equaling high gas prices for years. As a result, everything including their SUVs and tractor trailers are tiny in comparison to ours. We just can’t beat the efficiency they have had established for years. It is always a little culture shock when I visit France. I feel like a giant for the first few days.
So, that’s all for now. It was really a good conversation and I was happy to have attended. Gotta love it when international executives are having constructive conversations about what they can be doing to develop more clean tech!
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