Sunday, July 13, 2008

Energy & the Environment: Reason for Optimism?

There's a fairly huge topic in business/society/the world today that demands attention... energy and the environment.

Each could of course be treated as a separate topic with umpteen numbers of subtopics (all important), but for the purpose of this post, I'd like to bring them together and look at some of the articles I've noticed lately in this area. To start off, there's a baseline distinction to keep in mind when considering energy... public (i.e. government) vs private (i.e. you and I and the companies that we live and work around.

Public action: Not much confidence that anything will happen there, especially with the current administration. To this point, there's a June 2008 essay in Time Magazine titled "The Oil Follies? Our Fault" that speaks to the lost opportunity following Sept 11 when President Bush could have likely invoked with public acceptance a significant gasoline tax. Benefits of this from the public side would have been bringing money into the coffers (at a minimum for fighting terrorism and perhaps even funding alternative energy research).

On the private side, this increase in gasoline costs would likely have caused consumers to reduce gasoline consumption (as they're doing right now, some 7 years later). This idea and the positive benefits from it are detailed in "10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas" from the July 14 2008 issue of Time.

On the corporate sector private side, consumer demand for reduced energy would have sped up the process (as in happening now) of developing alternative sources of energy to replace the rapidly depleting and environmentally harmful current forms (i.e. oil & coal).

There's a large number of examples of this corporate private sector movement towards energy and the environment. They range from pure energy development to environmentally sound actions apart from energy itself.

A couple of examples of energy development can be found first in the Oct 15 2007 issue of BusinessWeek which features a story titled "Solar's Day In the Sun" on Silicon Valley startup Ausra Inc and second in the July/August issue issue of Fast Company Magazine... in which investor Vinod Khosla, "The King of Green Investing", is profiled.

If you're looking for stories of companies focusing on environmental efforts rather than pure alternative energy development, examples abound there as well. In Sept 2007, Fast Company profiled former Sierra Club wunderkind president Adam Werbach and his environmental consultations with Wal-Mart titled "Working with the Enemy."

More recently, BusinessWeek in it's June 30 2008 issue published "I Have Just One Word for You: Bioplastics" about biogradable plastics and Time gave us "Pick Up a Mop" in it's July 14 edition about the idea of, and science around, soaking up already emitted carbon dioxide.

So, energy and the environment... huge topics both that are getting a lot of attention both separately and together. I stated earlier agreement with the Time piece arguing President Bush should have taken steps around energy in the form of a gas tax after 9/11, but he didn't, so the question becomes 'is it too late for optimism?'.

In an excellent commentary (which I would love to link here, but can't find) contained in one of his 2008 Esquire Magazine "Editor's Letters", David Granger gives his optimistic view of future energy given the new technologies coming about . Additionally, I echo the sentiments in the "Things to Like About $4 Gas" piece around consumer demand making a difference. Finally, there's the hope (which may be fools hope, but we gotta take what we can at times) of changes stemming from a new administration in the White House.

When you come down to it, there's opportunity to make things better and I'm guardedly optimistic (and very hopeful) we'll embrace that on all fronts... public and private.