Human Health: the Cure for Climate Insanity?

While reading Bryan Walsh’s thoughtful review of a new book The Conundrum by David Owen, I noticed that the review was posted under’s “health” section. The book is about energy efficiency.  What does energy efficiency have to do with health? The seeming disconnect between the two, plus a number of other things I’ve seen in the past week, prompted me to revisit an idea that I’ve been meaning to address for a while: Is is possible that humanity’s selfish concern for its own health will be the ultimate road block to inevitable ecological destruction?

I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure that the answer will likely come from China (or India).

My old friend Bill Bishop, a long-time Beijing resident, posted a recent photo of his air filter after a couple of months removing coal dust and other harmful particulates. Scary. He is not alone, with a recent rush on indoor air filters reported by the Chinese media.  But as those reports point out, most people cannot afford the costly systems.

A lot of China-watchers tend to discount the impact of environmental pollution on the country’s development, preferring instead to debate the possibility of a hard landing due to loose bank lending, housing bubbles or other economic causes.

Clearly, health concerns can help drive change. The oil company-backed Prop 23 campaign in California – which sought to overturn the state’s progressive climate policy – was in part successful because of the support of the American Lung Association, and its ad campaign.

In China, where three decades of double-digit economi growth has resulted in a water crisis, unprecedented air pollution, the toll on human health is just starting to be quantified. But it doesn’t take data for people to know that something in China is wrong, and there is growing social unrest because of pollution.

Social unrest is the boogey-man for China’s rulers. It will be interesting to watch as the dynamic between continued growth and continued deterioration of public health plays out.

Here’s hoping health wins.

EV to be Most Hyped News of 2011: Survey

Media covering renewable energy and cleantech overwhelmingly expect the biggest news hype of 2011 to come from electric transportation, while they identified energy efficiency as the most deserving of coverage, according to my annual survey. With more than 70 respondents from newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and blogs, the survey also revealed that more than two-thirds of media expect demand for cleantech coverage to be greater this year.

The survey strongly confirmed one trend – the migration of content online; and appeared to shoot down another – lack of adequate budget. Nearly all of the respondents – 96% – said their work will primarily appear online, while almost 70% said that they would have enough resources to do a good job of reporting on cleantech this year. At the same time, there is a willingness to use content (video, animation, graphics, etc) produced by non-media sources (73% said they frequently or sometimes used content developed by companies).

In addition, the survey revealed some social media habits with regard to obtaining information, with Twitter (82%) by far and away the top choice of social tools for tracking news.  The RSS feed is also clearly not dead, with 57% naming it as the second tool of choice.

EV received 56% of the votes to be the most hyped sector in 2011, more than double the nearest competitor – smart grid, which received 20% of the votes. The only other technology that registered double-digit percentages was carbon capture and sequestration (16%).  On the flip side, media identified energy efficiency as the area that deserved the most media attention, with 42% choosing EE. This is ironic since I’ve often heard reporters say that they want to cover energy efficiency, but editors find it too boring (this is backed up by page views). The other technologies deserving attention mentioned by  more than 10% of respondents were: carbon management (20%); solar (13%); smart grid (13%) and water (11%). One of the most important sectors from an impact perspective, agriculture and foresty, got no votes.

As in previous years, the overwhelming majority of those surveyed (68%) said B2B coverage would take priority this year, with the remainder paying more attention to consumer technologies. Overall, the overall trend is also of continued interest in the sector – 62% expected increased demand for cleantech news among audiences

Interest in policy coverage also remains high, with nearly 80% expressing significant or moderate interest in tracking government developments.

Clean Energy: Too Many Interests, Not Enough Group

There is a lot of interest in clean energy. Here’s just a partial list of the US groups out there: American Business for Clean Energy,  Business Council for Sustainable EnergyEnvironmental EntrepreneursInvestor Network on Climate RiskBiomass Power AssociationRenewable Fuels AssociationClean Economy NetworkUS Climate Action PartnershipClean Energy WorksUS Clean Heat and Power AssociationSolar AllianceWe Can LeadAmerican Wind Energy AssociationAmerican Coalition for EthanolAdvanced Biofuels CoalitionWind CoalitionBusiness for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy,  Growth Energy,National Hydropower AssociationGeothermal Energy AssociationSolar Energy Industry AssociationSolar Electric Power AssociationCeresAmerican Council on Renewable EnergyAmerican Biogas Council,Carbon War RoomAlgal Biomass AssociationFuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy AssociationElectrification CoalitionAmerican Council for Energy Efficient EconomyGridwise AllianceDemand Response and Smart Grid CoalitionAmerican Energy Innovation CouncilBlueGreen Alliance, Water Innovations Alliance.

Remember, that is a partial list. And that doesn’t even include state and regional groups, of which there are dozens more.

Get the picture? A jumble of letters: “C” for council (five) and coalition (five); “A” for association (11) and alliance (four) and “S” for solar (three); plus at least four groups directly and indirectly touching “B” (for biofuels) and more than half a dozen groups broadly positioned around “E” for energy. What does that spell? Trouble with a “T”. At a time when the clean energy industry needs one powerful voice to drive policy and get federal and state lawmakers to actually do something visionary, what we are getting is a 100-part disharmony of sometimes clashing, sometimes overlapping agendas. With the recent shift in political winds in DC and many state houses signaling a tougher road ahead for a clean energy agenda, the need for that unified voice is even greater.

In fairness, an examination of the missions for the various groups often shows material differences in their focus, but how important are those differences in the broader picture? That is a question that we need to be asking ourselves.

The environmental NGOs – EDF, NRDC, WRI, etc – failed to influence national policy in a significant way during the first half of Obama’s current (and possibly only) term. But the truth is that, when it comes to getting more aggressive adoption of clean energy policies, the same can be said for the business interest groups listed above. A rationalization and consolidation of these groups is a reasonable expectation, and even if that fails to materialize, there is a strong need for an all-encompassing umbrella “organization of organizations” that rises above the petty jealousies and turf wars that often make the trade association, non-profit world ineffectual and scattered. Just as a consolidation of the cleantech industry itself is overdue, so too is one for the organizations that represent it.

Ironically, my involvement in the Clean Economy Network (CEN) was motivated by a desire for an industry defined by “distributed energy” to become more centralized in its approach to policy. Whether its CEN or some other group that occupies a higher, more unified plane, one thing is certain: faced with a torrent of cash-infused lobbying from big oil and coal companies, a drip campaign from dozens of groups representing a fractured clean energy industry won’t have the desired impact – rapid and decisive action from policymakers.

I plan on being in Washington, D.C. on January 24-25, 2011 to attend the first CEN business leaders summit, with the hope that at least part of the proceedings will be a serious dialogue on organizational strategy for the clean energy industry. It would be great if the representatives of all the groups owning patches of the industry can be there too to create a more cohesive quilt.

marketing monday: it’s all about the bennies

The State of Green Business (SoGB) report for 2010 has been released, and as always it dedicates a section to marketing. The basic take-away from this year’s installment was not surprising. Number one, that there is a “great chasm of ignorance” on the part of US consumers around green terminology. And number two, that marketing green to consumers has to be built around this simple truth: they “want products that aren’t just greener, but better – that offer some kind of personal benefit, whether they’re cheaper to buy or own, have enhanced features or higher performance, are more convenient, less wasteful, healthier for their families, or simply cool”.

In other words: people are self-interested.

The full section is excerpted below:

It stands to reason that during a recession — with high unemployment, job insecurity and a dramatic upswing in foreclosures and bankruptcies — shoppers would stick to basics: tried-and-true, affordable products. If so, that would be bad news for most green products, with their unfamiliar brands and often premium prices.

But you wouldn’t know that from reading the polls. A succession of market research surveys during 2009 seemed gushingly optimistic about consumers’ willingness to embrace green shopping. Example: Four out of five people said they were still buying green products and services, even in the midst of the recession, according to a study by Opinion Research Corp. Another found that shoppers from São Paolo to Shanghai were ready to shell out more cash for eco-friendly products, even as the recession ate into their buying power. Indeed, a handful of surveys even claimed that consumers were willing to pay more for green products.

What in the name of Al Gore is going on?

It’s a complicated question, to be sure. Consumers, say the experts, are continuing to make green choices, but they’re being pickier than ever about doing so. As a result, green marketing, always a challenging proposition, has become all the more challenging.

One thing seems clear: Premium pricing for green is a non-starter for most shoppers. That’s expected when people are pinching pennies, euros and yen. And consumers’ willingness to make green choices seems more likely when there’s a personal benefit in addition to a planetary one. As such, there’s a growing appetite for products that can cut utility bills, like energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.

Even still, there remains a great chasm of ignorance — “radical transparency” notwithstanding — that’s keeping consumers dazed and confused when they shop, and more than likely is tamping down interest in green purchases.

For example, one study found that while most consumers view “energy efficiency,” “smart energy” and “energy conservation” as positive concepts, few fully understand what those and other energy-related terms actually mean. Another survey found more Americans buying energy-efficient light bulbs, but the majority remain in the dark about the federally mandated phaseout of incandescent bulbs that starts in two years.

And then there’s the Snackwells Effect, named after the Nabisco cookies that are marketed as diet foods, being lower in fat or sugar than regular cookies. Studies found that people offset those low-cal benefits simply by eating more of the cookies — after all, they’re “healthier,” right? Similarly, studies have found that people lose 5 percent to 12 percent of the expected energy savings from efficient light bulbs because they leave them on longer, and 10 percent to 30 percent of the savings of efficient furnaces because they raise the thermostat. After all, they’re more efficient, right?

All of this has made green marketing far more perplexing than most marketers bargained for, requiring more complex and nuanced messages and value propositions. In reality, the proposition is probably rather simple: Consumers want products that aren’t just greener, but better — that offer some kind of personal benefit, whether they’re cheaper to buy or own, have enhanced features or higher performance, are more convenient, less wasteful, healthier for their families, or simply cool.

That message was driven home by analysts at GfK Roper, which for years has conducted regular “Green Gauge” consumer surveys. “What’s interesting is that when you look at and compare some of the attitudes and behaviors in the U.S. to other developed markets, the U.S. is actually more like a developing market in terms of the way they think and behave green,” Tim Kenyon, GfK Roper senior market analyst, told “In a developing economy, there’s much more of a personal self-interest involved in making green purchasing choices, and less emphasis on the greater good,” similar to what Roper was seeing in the U.S.

American consumers, it seems, may have more in common with their counterparts in Chad, Chile and China than one might ever have imagined.

Will the next Ray Anderson please stand up?

I had the pleasure of hearing Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, at the recent Clean-tech Investor Summit. It’s always nice to get re-invigorated by a person who not only inspires through his efforts to create a better world, but who is also a great communicator. Ray is certainly both. After the event, friend Joel Makower and I were wondering out loud if there were any CEOs out there besides Ray who brought with them the same level of inspired thinking and concrete action in the realm of sustainability and cleantech. They are no doubt out there. I have some of my own thoughts, but I want your suggestions. I’m not looking for consultants (I’ve got nothing against them, being one myself). So to be clear: I’m looking for men and women who are on the frontlines of running big business who 1. are pushing the envelope when it comes to innovating through sustainability and 2. who are charismatic conveyors of how they are doing it. I think Bill Gates (albeit no longer a CEO), took himself out the running with his insulation is stupid rant this past week.

Feel free to comment here or make a suggestion on Twitter to @mrcleantech


Roundup: Cleantech Predictions for 2010

Based on the rash of predictions for cleantech in 2010 from investors, consultants and media (see the full list at the end of this post), I’ve pulled together a “trend of trends” list below that attempts to synthesis the broader, over-arching themes. As always, I’m amazed that water isn’t on the top of every list, every year, although there are some positive signs on that front. So here are the 12 things that filtered to the top:

  • Energy efficiency will have a big year, with buildings and information and communications technology (ICT) front and center (nice to see the “wow” factor over technologies like solar being tempered by the realization that there are a lot of cheaper ways to meet immediate goals for reducing emissions)
  • Private investment will revive (with one prediction for a record-breaking year), but fears persist that the pending end of stimulus dollars will cast a long shadow over the market
  • Differentiation – i.e. marketing – will increase in importance as we move from a technology-heavy phase to a commercialization-focused phase (something I’ve called attention to in the past).
  • Consolidation and industry shake-out will accelerate, as will increased involvement of major corporates. Many VC-backed firms need an exit (especially in smart grid, solar and biofuels), so expect a few IPOs, but mostly M&A or failure as scale becomes more important and winners and losers emerge. And as the market grows and the issues being addressed become more complex, big multinationals with vested interests will try to play a larger role
  • Smarter transportation – especially electrified – continues to gain traction, while next generation liquid fuels (cellulosic in particular) takes baby steps
  • It’s more than energy, stupid. Land, water, rare earth metals, etc take more mind share as understanding grows  that the issues we face go beyond energy and carbon
  • Importance of carbon measurement and management will increase, but folks seems pretty skeptical that even if climate legislation/treaties get enacted that they will be aggressive enough (some expect sector specific carbon regulation – i.e. aviation and shipping – instead of economy-wide measure
  • Distributed solutions continue to erode the power of centralized systems (in energy generation, building, transportation, etc)
  • Some technologies expected to garner attention: Waste to energy, waste biomass, power storage, geothermal, aquaculture, ultracapacitors, desalinization, building materials, large-scale solar
  • There is a lot of expectation around advancements and interest in upgrading the electric grid; although there was a warning to expect at least one major failure of a smart grid rollout (not to mention that people have been predicting an intelligent grid for many years)
  • Standards gain a higher profile – whether building codes, water or carbon labeling, unified standards for the smart grid, etc, creating a clear marked playing field grows in importance, including communicating the rules to consumers as needed
  • International competition to be the cleantech leader intensifies (again this is something I’ve written about in the past, so not really news in my opinion)

If you want to read for yourself, the various predictions I’ve pulled from are here: Energy stocks to watch from Seeking Alpha; Overall industry outlook from the Cleantech Group; Clean energy predictions from Deloitte; Two different VC perspectives, one from Lightspeed Venture Partners  and the other from Rob Day at Black Coral;  5 biggest hurdles from Earth2Tech; IT and corporate green from Greenmonk’s Tom Raftery; Green building trends from Earth2Tech;  Top 10 promises from cleantech companies from Cleantech Group; Smart grid from Earth2Tech.

Go “Gig” or Go Home

At the launch of the Gigaton Throwdown in DC last week, entrepreneurs and investors adopted a new metric for cleantech businesses other than internal rate of return – something called gigaton scale. The herd mentality that has characterized cleantech over the past three years continues today. In 2007 it was biofuels, in 2008 it was solar, and this year it appears to be smart grid and efficiency (which is ironic because for the longest time investors swore up and down that energy efficiency didn’t fit the VC model). What is so captivating about the Gigaton Throwdown is that it challenges businesses, investors and policymakers alike to focus on the technological pathways that have the potential to abate one gigaton of carbon or GHG equivalent per pathway per year by 2020. And executives with vision appear to be buying in. The CEO of Novozymes, Steen Riisgaard, for example told me during a recent conversation: “Thinking at gigaton scale is helping us identify our ultimate potential. Novozymes has the aim to help our customers achieve a 75 million tons reduction in greenhouse gases by 2015. But we actually believe the potential is much, much higher if you look at the entire industrial biotech space, where we think can reach gigaton scale within 10-20 years.” Similarly, Marty Lagod of Firelake Capital referenced one company, EOS Climate, in his investment portfolio that he bet on precisely because it has the potential to reach gigaton scale. Marc Porat, who has founded three cleantech building companies (Serious MaterialsCalStar and ZETA Communities) has focused on building materials and building efficiency for the same reason. In his typical candor, he said that a lot of cleantech businesses in Silicon Valley are “vanities, which will not make a difference”. He’s absolutely right. And while businesses and entrepreneurs seem to be getting it, according to Cathy Zoi, the newly confirmed assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy, policymakers in DC “don’t fully understand the potential scale of clean energy”. If the Gigaton Throwdown is successful it will change that, and bring all parties involved in the clean economy to the common realization that gigaton scale – besides meaning the possibility of climate stabilization within the necessary timeframe – also means gigadollar scale.

Cleantech Media Survey: 2009 is Policy, Blog Year

Media covering cleantech expect to pay significant attention to policy in 2009 and they also have declared it the year of blogging and video, according to results of my first Annual Cleantech Media Survey released today. With an Obama administration set to take office and the next president’s commitment to end oil dependence and address climate change, 77% of those surveyed said they expect media to place “significant” emphasis on policy-related cleantech coverage, with the remainder saying policy coverage would be “moderate”. In addition, the survey of more than 100 media – leading blogs as well as mainstream newspapers, magazines and broadcasters – revealed that roughly three-quarters expect to see growing demand for cleantech sector news (from both readers and editors) this year compared to 2008.

Solar will remain king of the renewables. Two-thirds of those surveyed named solar as the renewable energy source to be most covered in 2009, with wind and next generation biofuels coming in a distant tie for second at 15% each. And of note, media expect energy efficiency – long a tough sell to editors and readers – to be the top non-renewables cleantech story for 2009, with 40% naming it their top choice. Carbon market and related technologies was second at 25%, with EVs and industry consolidation coming in at 17% and 15%, respectively.

As far as delivery of cleantech news, a majority of survey participants – nearly 60% – said blogs would be the key tool to tell the cleantech story in 2009, with video garnering one-fifth of the vote (Twitter, podcasts and slideshows also received mention). Concerning to the overall state of cleantech media, a total of 62% of those surveyed expect new media to continue to grow and traditional media to continue to shrink, or for new media to take market share from traditional media. A quarter had a balanced POV, expecting both new and traditional media to look for mutually beneficial distribution relationships.

Among the respondents, there is little consensus on the major untold story for 2009. Categories that received multiple votes included efficiency (including smart grid, building energy use and demand response), coal, power storage and cleantech as the engine for economic recovery. Others receiving votes included CleanNano, bioplastics, the Mideast as solar mecca, urban windmills and water as the next “peak” story, Several media also expect the main untold story to be a negative one – examples included: realization of how long it will take for renewables to become more than a rounding error in the energy diet; new forms of greenwash as companies scramble for Obama dollars, and how solar PV and hybrid cars will contribute nothing significant to cutting GHG.

Some reporters and organizations have done their own stand-alone predictions for the new year. Kerry Dolan of Forbes, for example, predicts that the grid will be big in 2009, and that solar will continue to soar. American Wind Energy Association also did their predictions for wind in 2009, Jetson Green offered up seven trends to expect in 2009 and Greener Buildings offered up their forecast as well.

If you’ve seen other media forecasts for 2009, please add them to the Comments section of this post.

“Follow the Green Brick Road” to Recovery?

Back on September 9, John Podesta’s Center for American Progress released a study called Green Recovery, which promised two million new jobs from a $100 billion investment over two years. That day was also my birthday, so my attention was elsewhere. But nearly two months later in the wake of the financial meltdown, taking a second look at the report seems worthwhile, since now more than ever, a road to recovery for the United States and the world could very well be paved with green bricks. Conversely, it could also be a story of “low carbon prosperity” that sounds good, but ends up dead on arrival. The landscape has changed greatly since September 9. To use one last Wizard of Oz allusion – we are no longer in Kansas. Credit has dried up, global stock markets are in chaos, unemployment is spiking and consumer confidence is at record lows. As a result, does this now put the basic assumptions in the Podesta report in question? ($50 billion in tax credits, or half of the proposed $100 billion, for example, would seem a non-starter today). More importantly, even if the assumptions are unchanged, will the perceived cost of carbon policy at a time of economic instability suck the political will out of Capitol Hill, a place over the last three decades renowned for monumental cowardice in the face of monumental challenge. The stakes couldn’t be higher, especially on the eve of an Obama presidency and Podesta heading the transition team. It would be great for the Center to produce an update to their report, taking these new factors into account. But until that happens, some prominent voices in October continued to build a case for this notion of a Green Recovery as a message/vision worth rallying around.

Deutsche Bank, in its Investing in Climate Change 2009: Necessity and Opportunity in Turbulent Times, argued that the economic turmoil of the past month sets the stage for a one-time windfall:

We believe that, when combined with energy security, climate change policies will play a role in government efforts to stimulate their economies in 2009. Governments now have an historic opportunity to define long-term regulatory frameworks to encourage private investment in climate change initiatives. Additional opportunity exists for governments to boost their economies by funding infrastructure projects that will serve to foster energy independence and climate-proof their economies.

As a result, the debate around climate change has started to shift away from issues of cost and risk toward the question of how to capitalize on investment strategies that span a vast array of asset classes and industries.

Similarly, Goldman Sachs GS Sustain weighed in, citing a “warming investment climate” for sustainability, and an increasingly clear rationale for corporations to view low carbon action as a key business driver:

Going forward, we expect the importance of climate-change performance to rise further and extend to an increasing number of sectors where the direct costs and benefits of companies’ different strategies may currently be less quantifiable but will, in our view, become increasingly important aspects of their ability to achieve and sustain industry leadership.

Finally, economist Nicholas Stern has also provided a valuable perspective, noting that the right policies will offer a globally sustainable model for growth:


Let us grow out of this recession in a way that both reduces risks for our planet and sparks off a wave of new investment which will create a more secure, cleaner and more attractive economy for all of us. And in so doing, we shall demonstrate for all, particularly the developing world, that low-carbon growth is not only possible, but that it can also be a productive and efficient route to overcome world poverty.

It all sounds good. Public works programs, a la the New Deal, to make smart upgrades to the outdated grid and public transportation infrastructure, jobs that can’t be exported coming from installation of solar panels and other clean energy solutions, cost curves from McKinsey that provide a roadmap of affordable carbon abatement measures including significant savings from energy efficiency, etc.

But there will also be those that counter with a picture of inefficacy and a price tag that’s too high, as we caught a glimpse of during Senate infighting in June over possible climate policy. Already, new messaging against aggressive climate policy is emerging. A recent letter to a Florida paper offered a glimpse of the opposing camp and its messaging, criticizing Gov. Crist’s recent recommendations on climate, and warning of a “carbon police state”.

What’s so exciting right now from a positioning and messaging point of view, is that the global economic crisis provides the first real opportunity for the clean energy industry to fundamentally pivot away from the politically and emotionally charged topics of “global warming” and “green” (and their polarizing, Al Gore/treehugger affiliation, which turns off a large part of the population) and own outright the promise of growth, recovery and prosperity, issues that everyone can relate to and support.

The rubber is about to hit the road. The next three to six months offer a chance in the United States for elected officials to be heroes or hucksters. It is no secret that the oil and coal industries have outspent the renewables industry by tens of millions of dollars in the past two years in campaign contributions, so it won’t be surprising to see some of our politicians fold. What’s needed is a concerted effort on the part of the broader clean energy community – the Apollo AllianceCleantech and Green Business for ObamaEnvironmental EntrepreneursChange to WinUSCAPEvangelical Climate InitiativeClimateWorks FoundationUS Conference of Mayors, etc – to unite and make sure that the message that is delivered in Washington, D.C. and state capitals is this – climate change notwithstanding, the clean energy economy is a legitimate and feasible road to recovery. It appears that two additional stimulus packages are set to emerge from DC in the near term, one lame duck and one post inauguration. The industry achieved its biggest win so far in the $700 billion stimulus package, with an 8-year extension of the investment tax credit for solar, and it is possible clean energy will benefit from the two upcoming packages as well. But that is just a start, and our thinking needs to be more expansive and inclusive. It’s the Recovery, stupid.

A Cleantech World for Poor is Possible (and Profitable)

The distributed and micro nature of cleantech means that it has an important role to play in helping the world’s poor, especially in the areas of energy and water. In fact, cleantech in the developing world is increasingly seen as aneconomic opportunity for local communities (for example, solar water heaters in China). Perhaps just as important, the introduction of clean energy into the developing world, if successful, could have a hugely ameliorating effect on global climate change as those economies expand, people are pulled out of poverty and consumption increases. Solutions for the poor are often lower tech, but higher inspiration. Take the group of six African students who came up with a method of using the sun’s energy to take humidity from the air and turn it into potable water. Or the compost toilet that came out of the Interprofessional Projects Program (IPRO) series appropriately called Developing Extremely Affordable Products for the Rural Poor of the World. More recently, the Sahara Forest Project was announced, with the goal of using concentrated solar power and seawater greenhouses to produce clean energy and water in Africa on a much greater scale. Other great examples that are also equally inspiring have been built around small scale wind, solar cooking, micro hydro, PV-powered water distillation and pumping, biogas, rainwater harvesting, etc  My closest association with the growing momentum in this area is my work with clean-emission cookstove company Envirofit, which is trying to end indoor air pollution, a silent and largely unknown killer in the developing world that results from the burning of dirty cooking and heating fuel in cramped quarters. Envirofit, although a non-profit, is taking a business approach to the problem. Traditionally, the failed top-down philanthropic model was built on spending money to buy clean-burning stoves, giving them away and hoping they didn’t break. Instead, Envirofit is letting the market lead from the ground up – its building a sales, distribution, financing and service infrastructure around the stoves so that locals, starting in India, can actually own the process, as opposed to simply being recipients of charity. This market approach is gaining ground across the donor and NGO world, and initial results from the Envirofit approach in India are very promising.Dr. E.F. Schumacher was one of the earliest proponents of what he called “intermediate technology“, a belief that there are cheaper, more appropriate ways of addressing problems in the developing world other than the capital- and resource-intensive ways of the West. Although motivated by different reasons, more and more for-profit companies are working to improve the development of clean water and energy technology in poor countries. Some companies, like Coke and others in the food and beverage industry, are simply involved because they have no choice (they only remain in business if there is clean water). At the international level, the World Bank, after signing on to support the Clean Energy for Development Investment Framework, announced it would raise a $5 billion cleantech fund for the developing world earlier this year, and Japan has also committed to $10 billion for its Cool Earth Partnership. Some influential private funding organizations are working increasingly in this area as well, including the Acumen FundBill & Melinda Gates FoundationLight up the World Foundation and Shell Foundation. If you are looking to make an individual contribution, consider INVESTGreen MicrofinancePractical ActionGlobal Green and Global Giving.

Ultimately its going to have to be a combination of private sector innovation and capital, and public sector support to bring the might of cleantech to the poor in places that lack basic infrastructure and are often remotely situated. Of course, poverty is not the exclusive domain of the developing world. Action is also being taken in the United States and other richer countries to bring clean energy to the poor.

Here’s a list of 12 technologies and initiatives with potential to help solve the clean energy and water conundrum for the world’s poor. Additional programs focused on the use of solar to alleviate poverty and health issues can be found here and here.

LifeStraw – Lighting Africa – Watel – Envirofit – Sahara Forest Project – Warm Winter Challenge –  World Clean Energy Awards – Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development – Grameen Shakti – Architecture for Humanity –SELCO – REN21

This post is my contribution to Blog Action Day.