11.01.2007

John Doerr on the need for Greentech

Today I had the pleasure of hearing legendary venture capitalist John Doerr (KPCB Bio, Wikipedia) speak about the need for investment in green technology. As one of the champions of Kleiner Perkins' Greentech Initiative, John has spent a good deal of time studying the issue in-depth and it shows. It's no secret that greenspeak is all the hype now, but I'm often disappointed by advocates' ability to make the argument in a way that is poignant and actionable. Before today, Al Gore might have been the only person I'd ever heard present on the issue and left me thinking "wow, I need to help."

John did a great job, though, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights. The two key tenets of John's speech were:

1. "It's not enough"
The amount of change needed to have a chance at avoiding an irreversible climate shift is orders of magnitude greater than what's happening today.

2. Solutions must be economically sustainable
Because solving this problem ultimately requires altering the consumption habits of people worldwide, solutions will only come from creating tangible incentives for change.

With regard to tangible impact, John pointed to large corporations as a key enabler. Wal-Mart for example, vowed to decrease per-store CO2 emissions and green it's truck fleet. Wal-Mart is especially important because of it's influence in environmental danger zone China. How great is that influence? According to John, Wal-Mart is China's 6th largest trading partner...or it would be if it were a country.

More important than any single entity (corporation or government) is the role played by commercial standards. Energy star appliances, insulated buildings and energy efficient light bulbs are examples of some such standards that can have massive impact, but are sadly poorly adopted in the developed world, let alone emerging markets. In many instances, though, such standards are lacking. Examples include energy-devouring SUVs, flat screen TVs and Windows-based computers with little to no energy conservation rules.

Some facts and stories to ponder:

- Scientists estimate that reducing emissions by over 50% globally (despite population and economic growth) will give us only a 50 / 50 chance of solving the crisis.

- Brazil has lead the way by mandating two years ago that all cars sold in the country are flex-fuel compliant (i.e. can run on ethanol). As a result, Brazil cut nation-wide emissions by 10% and is now energy independent of the middle east.

- <5% of energy created by humans comes from natural, renewable sources. >50% of all human energy consumption is wasted.

We can do this people. Who's with me?

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