Frontseat to Cleantech Future: COPENMIND

Cleantech events abound these days, but the organizers of COPENMIND are taking a novel approach – creating a giant shopping mall for the most cutting edge cleantech ideas coming out of academia. Besides having a clever name, COPENMIND will hopefully drive more rapid technology transfer from leading research institutes to the market. In September, the event in Copenhagen will bring together 200 top-notch universities from around the world to provide potential business partners with an inside look at what’s next in cleantech, according to event founder Steffen Moldow. Joining the scientists will be thousands of corporations, as well as investors and leading public figures. It’s no secret that universities are poor marketers, so providing a venue that allows them to get their IP in front of the people who might fund commercialization is key to a more rapid development of the cleantech sector. Pre-event match-making will kick off on May 1 through COPENMIND’s website.

Besides technology transfer, the event will also focus on sponsored research and recruitment. “The event will help solve the issues that are discussed at Davos,” Moldow told me, referring to the World Economic Forum. Cleantech areas of focus include: climate change & air pollution, energy, water, waste & recycling and agriculture & land.

The event will also provide a nice prelude to COP15, the highest body of the UN Climate Change Convention, which is set to take place in Copenhagen in 2009 and will set global climate change direction from 2012.

Global Cleantech Race Quickens: SEZ to LCZ

China’s amazing surge as an economic power started with the creation of special economic zones (SEZs) nearly 30 years ago, as did my “it’s complicated” love affair with the country. The zones provided a blueprint for the rest of the country toward accelerated wealth creation. They also marked the beginning of a catastrophic decline in environmental capital. Now the country may be dusting off the SEZ concept and considering the creation of Low Carbon Zones (LCZs). My involvement in the US-China Clean Energy Forum and JUCCCE has put China front of mind, as has my front-row seat in the international race to see who becomes the superpower of cleantech. In the resource-constrained world of the future, the economies that are most efficient (i.e. best at innovating and adopting clean technologies) will win. First proposed in 2007, the idea of Low Carbon Zones was an outcome of interaction between EU and Chinese think tanks, with the support of the UK Foreign Ministry and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The concept, thumbnailed here and here with even greater detail here, states:

LCZs would aim to stimulate transformational regional political leadership, endorsed at the national level, to create an enabling environment for large-scale innovative low carbon private and public investment. Just as SEZs provided China with a laboratory to shape its participation in the global market economy, the LCZs could pioneer approaches to decarbonisation compatible with Chinese institutions and development approaches.

It appears an initial pilot of the LCZ concept is planned for China’s heavy industrial province of Jilin. I hope the idea flies, as it’s clearly in the global long-term interest. But no doubt questions of IP, tech transfer and ultimately money could create concerns within the industrialized democracies that the West is once again funding China’s development, only to be left holding the bag.

Another seemingly similar initiative in China has recently emerged from the Climate Group, outlined in a new report, which also focuses on developing low carbon cities. According to the Climate Group, the program aims to recruit, motivate, and engage 20 Chinese cities in a five-year campaign to transform and accelerate the local market for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. MOUs have already been signed with the cities of Guiyang and Dezhou.  It’s unclear from the materials I’ve read what the specific funding mechanism for either of these concepts will be, although with the backing of groups like the NDRC at the central government level, it’s certainly within the realm of the possible. As I’ve written about before, China’s scale offers the greatest potential for any country (except for maybe India) to drive down costs of cleantech and make clean solutions truly commercially viable.

But that doesn’t mean other countries aren’t trying to compete. Less developed ideas seem to be emerging in the US and Europe. Cities like Seattle and Boston have been floating the idea of cleantech innovation hubs. Various states are also vying to attract cleantech investment and economic stimulus money, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Michigan. In Europe, efforts are also under way to create the region’s first cleantech incubator, which if successful, might be followed by others. And of course, there is the Oz-like effort in MASDAR in Abu Dhabi (“pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”), where the Wizard is oil money.

It’s great to see a growing understanding that low carbon leadership will mean future political and economic leadership in the world. I just hope that those in the emerging Cleantech Great Game keep in mind the lessons of the original Great Game – that the fight for supremacy over a largely unmapped, strategic territory often leads to unnecessary pain and suffering at the expense of the common good. Let’s hope that the newly announced International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) can play a role in fostering the needed collaboration and help us put aside the myopia often caused by financial gain.

Green Eggs & Spam: Work Remains for Marketers

According to the State of Green Business 2009 released today, consumers aren’t buying it when it comes to corporate green marketing. The most damning excerpt of the report’s section on marketing cites a Brandchannel.com report that found readers could think of not one brand that was “truly green or going green”. Nice try ecomagination! I guess we’ll have to see if GE’s Super Bowl ads on its smart grid business make any difference in perception. In the meantime, thefederal government is also doing its part by refreshing rules governing green marketing claims. The rules are badly needed. As is evident from the SOGB report, it’s still possible to build practically any argument for or against green marketing depending on the data/research you use. We need standards. Here’s the section on green marketing from the report:

A rise in green marketing efforts has been matched by a nearly equal rise in claims of greenwashing by activists, bloggers, and others. Increased concerns about energy, climate, toxics, and other environmental issues have led some of the largest consumer brands to enter the green marketplace, prodded by retailers such as Wal-Mart, which has been pushing suppliers to offer affordable green products. But with the new players and products has come a new wave of claims about greenwashing, or at least public frustration that companies aren’t doing enough, aren’t telling their stories well, or both.

Green claims have continued to grow. An Earth Day report revealed that 2007 saw the largest number of green trademark applications since 2000, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: More than 300,000 applications for green brand names, logos, and tag lines. Companies like Apple, Canon, Clorox, and Fiji Water entered the green marketplace for the first time, raising awareness — but also questions and, sometimes, controversy. Given the lack of definitions, just about anything can be claimed as “green” — or “greenwash” — further muddying the waters.

One problem is that consumers are ambivalent at best about shopping green. They claim they want to, but they also say that they don’t trust companies. For example, surveys show that the number of people concerned about climate change continues to grow, and that consumers believe businesses should bear the heaviest load in addressing it, but they aren’t convinced that the business sector is doing as much as it should. Marketers aiming to shift their audiences toward making greener purchasing decisions are coming up short for the vast majority of the population, although a small subset is green enough to helpspread the environmental awareness on their own, according to one study. Although about half of those in another survey said they trust companies to be truthful in their environmental marketing and believe companies are accurately presenting information about their impact on the earth, nearly 60 percent would like to see more government regulation of green claims to ensure they are accurate. Given the Federal Trade Commission’s review of green marketing claims launched last year, they just might get it.

The upshot is that despite the continued upswing in green business activity, there’s no concomitant rise in consumer awareness or trust. Case in point: With no prompting, nearly half of all respondents to one survey were essentially unable to name a single feature of a green home — not solar power, compact fluorescent light bulbs, home recycling, or Energy Star-labeled appliances. And when readers of Brandchannel.com were asked what brand they think of as truly green or going green, the top answer: none at all.