Seeing news of funding being pulled from green technology alongside reports of a Delaware-sized ice sheet breaking off the Larsen C ice shelf can paint a picture that is bleak at best. But looking at the state of green technologies — also known as clean or sustainable technologies — through a business lens will leave you feeling something else entirely. Like me, you will realize that there are many reasons to still have hope.
1. Private sector innovation
The first source of optimism lies in the fact that, despite the significant cut in federal funding for renewable energy technology, there remains enormous business sector support for such innovation. The current administration may have changed a clean energy budget that was once as high as $46.2 billion under President Obama to just $636 million, but the private sector is shifting towards this technology nonetheless. Since 2014, a campaign calling businesses to shift to 100 percent renewable energy — the RE100 campaign — has attracted 102 global businesses, with Google, Walmart, Starbucks and Ikea among their ranks. Investors, too, are stepping up to the plate. A month after President Trump was elected, Bill Gates announced the launch of a $1 billion clean energy investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Gates was joined by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and many others. This year, Warren Buffett and his company, Berkshire Hathaway, are projected to spend almost $1 billion on wind facilities in Iowa alone. Overall, nearly one in every five U.S. dollars invested today touches sustainable investments.
2. Circular design
The second ray of hope can be found when you look beyond green technology and focus instead on the “greening of technology.” Here you’ll find a treasure trove of innovative techniques to improve the supply chain, reduce waste and toxic byproducts during manufacturing, and deliver products to consumers in more efficient and environmentally friendly ways. Take the auto industry as an example: Fans of sustainable technologies may jump to think of brands such as Tesla, but the truth is that many other auto manufacturers have made enormous progress on improving the performance and efficiency of their vehicles. Ford, for example, has developed a technology to convert the carbon dioxide (CO2) from its waste stream into plastics that can be used for car parts. This ingenious re-use of materials is an example of circular design, which is predicted to bring $4.5 trillion in new economic potential by 2030.
3. An international trend
Clearly, the momentum towards sustainable technology is building, and not just in the United States. Global brands are leveraging technology to improve their products and services around the globe, while conserving resources. Nestlé, for example, opened a zero water powdered milk plant in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico in 2014. Using cutting-edge technologies, the factory can extract water from the milk it processes rather than using an outside water source, saving 1.6 million liters of water per year. Procter & Gamble similarly aims to use technology to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing, setting an ambitious goal to eliminate all manufacturing waste from its global production sites by 2020. P&G is working to ensure that all waste materials in production plants from Lima, Ohio to Baddi, India are either converted into a finished product, recycled internally or externally or reused in alternative ways.
For these three reasons and many others, the state of sustainable technology today is both positive and promising. Even without governmental support domestically, cleaner, more environmentally friendly technology is becoming the international norm. The business case to support green technology is becoming stronger by the day, and businesses that don’t follow suit will face a future that could very well be hopeless.