The West Coast Green Conference, recently held in San Jose, Calif., was a showcase of green technology companies and the people who finance them. I came away from this conference with three observations:
- There's an explosion of new green products.
- Business is booming.
- Prices are getting competitive.
As the world yearns for fossil fuel price relief and ways to achieve lower greenhouse gas emissions, over the next 10 years this revolution is estimated to grow into a trillion-dollar annual economy. While much of the current focus is on energy, the fact is that carbon-based products are the foundation of our current global economy. And that needs to change. Take cement, for example. It's the third largest source of carbon dioxide emissions after energy and transportation, and it's a trillion-dollar-a-year industry.
What I saw at the West Coast Green Conference was row after row of new solutions. Some saved money and the environment through lower costs for materials. Others created benefits by reducing energy consumption. And many products aren't yet lower in price than our traditional carbon-based products, but they're cheaper than last year and expected to be price competitive in the coming years.
Now is the time for entrepreneurs to look at starting a green business. Even in a down economy consumers are looking for ways to save money. And going green is now the path for also saving green.
So how to begin? First, start with what you know. Do you run a restaurant or construction company? There's an explosion of new products in both of these market segments. If you're in roofing or are an electrician, then the skills for installing roof-top solar are similar to those you use now. Solar energy's cost is falling toward price competitiveness with utility-supplied electricity. And Congress has extended the 30 percent investment tax credit until 2016 to those who buy and install a solar power system; Congress also uncapped it for residential use, which previously had a $2,000 limit. If you sell appliances, there's a flood of new energy-efficient products coming down the pipeline that will also be "smart" by tracking utility companies' prices to determine the cheapest time to operate.
Maybe you've started looking at these products as a way to cut the cost of your business operations. But have you considered starting a business around them? Take your existing business and turn it into a test center for the green technologies that interest you. Get your data on how a product saves or makes money, and then go back to the product's company and inquire about a business relationship in which you could be a distributor or franchisee.
Maybe you have a green technology. It's a good time to raise money from venture capitalists for green technologies. They're investing tens of billions of dollars and thirsting for the first green Google or Microsoft-like company to evolve. They're looking for investments in energy production, energy efficiency and smart metering appliances. They also recognize that many really good technologies were developed in response to the 1974 OPEC oil embargo but never got to market. They're now funding these "old" technologies, which are even more valuable now that we're experiencing higher fuel costs and electric utilities are experiencing double-digit rate increases.
If you have a green product, the retail industry wants to go green. I heard one attendee at the conference talk about a green fashion show in New York City. The clothing and furniture industries are undergoing a design revolution as they explore sustainable materials and manufacturers.
Finally, one of the most heartwarming and yet hugely profitable stories I heard at the conference was the commercial effort to bring sustainability to the "bottom of the pyramid". There are a billion people in the world without access to clean water and people dying every day due to bad water. There's a company called IDEO that's pioneering designs for solutions to provide the world's economically disadvantaged with both affordable and clean water and energy.
What I took away from this conference was that if you are a person who has ideas or products that could help the world's economically disadvantaged and our environment, then there are sources of funding from investors, governments and nonprofits looking for your entrepreneurial solutions.