2012 has been a remarkable year for clean technologies and business sustainability. What were the clean economy's biggest stories? An insightful source of trends, stories, and questions is best-selling author Andrew Winston's recent post on the Harvard Business Review's Blog Network. Below are some especially salient selections.
Macro Trend: Clean Economy Continues to Grow
Two of the biggest energy stories this year have been 1.) the rapid increase in American natural gas production and 2.) the high-profile failure of solar manufacturer Solyndra. Despite the common confusion surrounding these stories, many subject matter experts agree that the clean economy IS winning. In another Harvard Business Review blog, Andrew Winston and Jigar Shah address the myth of the "Sad Green Story".
Besides energy production, one auto market analyst declared 2012 the "Year of the Green Car," with more high-MPG models, 500,000 hybrid sales in the U.S., and plug-in sales up 228%. To top off the year, the pure electric Tesla Model S was selected as the Motor Trend Car of the Year.
Company Stories: Sustainability Innovation Opens Up
Great companies such as Unilever, Heineken, and EMC ask the world for help in finding sustainable solutions for their businesses. Unilever published their "Challenges and wants" including ideas for a natural red food coloring and solutions for big issues such as how to bring safe drinking water to the world's poorest regions. Unilever has received over 1,000 ideas and is "pursuing 6 to 7 percent of these with internal teams." Other notable open innovation models this year included Heineken's $10,000 sustainable packaging contest and EMC's eco-challenge with InnoCentive on e-waste.
Question for the Upcoming Year: Can We Value Externalities like Ecosystem Services and Internalized, Intangible Benefits?
As business management pioneer Peter Drucker described, "what gets measured, gets managed". There are now strong business cases to begin measuring. "Climate change is one of the greatest wealth generating opportunities of our generation," says Sir Richard Branson, Founder of The Carbon War Room. Microsoft launched an internal carbon tax and some major companies (Coca-Cola, Nike, Kimberly-Clark, etc.) pledged to value natural capital at Rio+20. It is encouraging that natural capital and environmental services are finally being recognized. This mindset can lead to better decision making for businesses, for our environment, and for our future.