Notes from a Green Brainstorm

Hundreds of leaders from business, policy and NGOs in the same room for two days, naturally some interesting things will emerge. Below is a quick sketch of trends and comments from the just wrapped Fortune Brainstorm Green that I thought of particular note:

  • The media “needs to get off cars and on to buildings” - Autodesk executive chairman Carol Bartz on the fact that the issue of buildings sucking energy, material and water is still not getting the attention it deserves. The numbers back her up. Conversely, it was noted by others in the green building space like Hycrete and Serious Materials that after a two decade hiatus, venture funding has found its way back to building in the past 2 years.
  • A new version of LEED is set for unveil at Greenbuild in Boston and will be a “quantum leap” - head of USGBC Rick Fedrizzi
  • Seems to be growing unease, and even skepticism, that cap and trade is going to be as easy at many thought. 2011 was heard repeatedly as a possible timeframe for legislation. Will a nascent business consensus fray into a mess? Are the economics fully understood to push forward aggressively? Is the Hill ready? Anecdotally at least, the answer is still clearly in the balance. One interesting alternative presented was Cap and Dividend.
  • Like building, energy efficiency is still struggling to get more than a lot of lip service. Is recession the catalyst for cracking that nut? It was mentioned as a possibility.
  • Hybrids and small cars are the fastest growing segment of US automotive market, according to Beth Lowery of GM. “The price of fuel is driving behavior,” she said.
  • “Living building” that taps into biomimicry is going mainstream. HOK - the giant architecture and design firm is starting to position itself as “bio-inspired”, according to Janine Benyus, the founder of the Biomimicry Guild. Benyus’ group is also looking to launch Asknature.org – a cool idea that allows anyone to query a database with questions about how nature addresses specific issues.
  • Coke’s environmental guru Jeff Seabright said look for something soon about consumer-facing information about “water used” in the company’s products. It may not be on-package information, but something is coming. This would be welcome, since embedded water in consumer products is still very opaque to the consumer (for example, according to Dow Chemicals’ Scott Noesen, it takes 2,000 liters of water to make a McDonald’s hamburger if you do the whole-cost analysis.) There is nutritional information, now carbon labeling information has appeared, and water is the logical next step. Let’s hope it happens.
  • Vinod Khosla was the most provocative in my opinion during a 1:1 with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky. Highlights include:
    • Next generation batteries are not on a rapidly declining cost curve and require a quantum jump with a high probability of failure
    • The “Prius is more greenwash than green”
    • Technology for clean energy will only succeed if it passes the Chindia price test. If it’s affordable in China and India then it has a shot.
    • Carbon emissions from all-electric cars are 3x more than that of cars powered by cellulosic ethanol.
  • The highest correlation in the movement of solar stocks is the price of oil (not the price of natural gas as would be expected) - David Edwards, analyst at Morgan Stanley
  • Both Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant and Khosla cited the same statistics placing biofuel as the fourth leading cause for the spike in global grain prices. The top three – rise in oil prices, drought in Australia and change in eating habits in developing countries like China (to more meat). I found one paper on Khosla’s site about Fuel vs. Food, but it didn’t appear to include the above list. Anyone know where it comes from?
  • When Fortune’s Marc Gunther asked a panel of Xerox, GM, SC Johnson and Dupont executives what grade corporate America should get in addressing environmental challenges (10 being the best grade), all of them said “1″, with the exception of GM’s Lowery, who gave a “2″ because of innovation happening around new technologies. If you want to actually score a company, you can thanks to the CEO of Stonyfield Farm Gary Hirshberg, who has created an online corporate scorecard at Climatecounts.org