Blog posts don’t matter… do they?

Blog_Now

In a recent conversation with the HB team, someone asked if the work we do to keep our blog up to date with relevant content, interesting perspectives and topical news was worth it. You see, it requires a great deal of time and investment to do it well and to do it consistently. And sometimes it’s a struggle to keep up with the pace of the rest of the world’s zeal to produce content. But it is so worth it.

As a member of the HB new business team, I talk to a lot of prospects. Among the things that come up in our conversations is how they found HB and what interested them about us. This is also true of prospective employees and new partners. Very often they mention our blog. For example, last week one of the first things a prospect in the energy and sustainability world brought up was Nicolas’ blog about Solar. In another recent meeting, a prospective employee brought up a post I wrote years ago about an unfortunate incident at the OCCC. And there’s the prospect who was about to make a decision on which agency to select, read Chuck’s post about Tom Brady and chose HB.

A blog is an opportunity to express a point of view, take your opinions for a stroll, vent or wax poetic about… anything. And yes, it’s worth it.

Somerville Means Business…Green Business

lightbulbMassachusetts is leading the clean and green tech revolution in the United States. From Governor Patrick’s leadership to our top-tier universities and every startup in between, we have all of the necessary elements in place to help drive our progress.

It’s important to note, however, that all of this innovation isn’t happening in downtown Boston. Many are quick to assume that the Bay State’s cleantech advancements are developed in the Innovation District or the Leather District but believe it or not, many of the latest and greatest technologies are born just across the river in Cambridge and Somerville.

The latter of the two is stepping up its green tech game by launching an initiative to engage members of its community to help mold Somerville’s energy future. At Greentown Labs earlier the week — the pioneer of green and cleantech in Somerville — Mayor Joe Curtatone announced the City’s official Request for Information (RFI) in an effort to gain information that will help develop a program for the City to collaborate with emerging green tech companies that can be applied throughout Somerville.

According to the City’s announcement:

“The purpose of this RFI is to gain a greater understanding of the projects and services that green tech companies can offer to pilot, demonstrate, launch or apply as part of the greater effort to experiment and develop new ideas that will support sustainability in the City of Somerville including our 2050 net zero emissions target.”

Cue the cleantech entrepreneur happy dance! Amiright?! Not only is Somerville hugely supportive of green tech innovations, it’s asking its brilliant community members for their ideas about how different technologies can be rolled out throughout the City. Hats off to Mayor Curtatone and his whole sustainability team. It’s not everyday you see city leadership asking its people for disruptive concepts to ignite positive change.

 

It’s Not Easy Being a Green Apple: 3 Cleantech Lessons from the iPhone 6 Announcement

Apple logo with a green leaf.

Apple logo with a green leaf. by Scott Beale, on Flickr

Buried deep in Apple’s big announcement yesterday was a small checklist that ticked off their environmental credentials. I cannot overstate how unimportant this was to the full announcement, the fact that it was even on stage is surprising.

You won’t find the checklist in any of the coverage, which focuses entirely on the features and benefits of the new Apple products. There is plenty written about the new Pay feature as well as the design of the Apple Watch, but want to know how green the product is? I found only one story on that and it’s mostly a critique of people critiquing Apple’s environmental credentials on Twitter.

The checklist itself can be found on the iPhone 6 specs page. What, you’ve never read the specs on the iPhone 6? Oh, well go do that, then scroll all the way to the bottom and you’ll find a small checklist. Here’s a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 6.36.41 AM

It’s a decent list, but look at how it’s presented. The important elements are in darker text so your eye finds them fast, the rest are really secondary. You know it’s environmental because it has that cool Apple logo that they roll out once a year.

But I don’t put this here to bash Apple, they’re just reading the market and maybe satisfying that segment that wants to check the “green” box. They know that consumers have a passing interest the environment and the list is enough for them to say “OK, Apple’s got this” and then move on to the cool stuff like how big it is, how fast it is and when can you take my money!

takemymoney

For companies in the cleantech and clean energy space, this means something much more.

When branding a sustainability, clean energy or cleantech company, it’s important to keep the true buyer in mind. If you are marketing to a checkbox item, then you’re not core to the business thereby making your sales position weak. Worse, your value proposition won’t enable you to charge a fair price, or even a premium, for your products, since “nice to haves” are cheaper than those products that speak to core business needs.

Here are 3 lessons from Apple’s announcement:

1. Separate the Mission from the Message

Tesla makes cars. Tesla makes technologically advanced cars. Sure, the team wants to disrupt the auto industry and even have an environmental bent by taking on the internal combustion engine. But at its heart it makes cars that are as good or better than anything that Mercedes puts out. That’s what sells, it’s what people want, it’s what Tesla makes. No one buys a Tesla just because it’s electric.

Yes, you may have a mission of saving the environment, you may even have done the math and realized that if a large portion of your the market uses your product, it can reduce water usage, power usage or CO2 by massive amounts. But, before any of that happens, the buyers must make a business decision to buy and that decision is based on factors that simply don’t include “being green.”

2. Focus on the Real Competition

You may feel like the competition is in the environmental industry, but it isn’t. Apple may be committed to putting a glass on its iPhone (and Apple Watch) that uses no arsenic, but first and foremost the glass must work for the phone. If it’s weak, cracks and scratches easily, or doesn’t have the right feel, then it wouldn’t be on the iPhone. The company may be running an entire factories and data centers by solar power, but if that power drives up the cost of doing business or can’t support the manufacturing infrastructure, then Apple will just put itself back on the grid. First and foremost, the plant needs power. How it gets that power is secondary.

As a company, your real competition is the alternative method of doing business. Your solution needs to not only be sustainable and provide a positive environmental impact, but also do the job as well, if not better, than what it’s replacing.

3. Listen to your Sales People

Sales folks are on the front line and constantly getting feedback from customers, they know what works, the competition and the true concerns of their prospects. Listen to them, go on calls with them, get their feedback on the messaging. They will know what motivates customers and therefore what should be built into your marketing messages.

 Just like in other industries, any advances are only as good as the benefit they bring. And for cleantech and sustainability companies, that benefit must go beyond the environmental impact.

The Promise of Cleantech

At HB, we’re invested in learning about and supporting the cleantech industry. So when 60 Minutes ran a report on January 5 called, “The Cleantech Crash,” we scrambled to learn more.

60 Minutes Cleantech Crash

60 Minutes Cleantech Crash

According to correspondent Lesley Stahl, the cleantech industry is dead. In her interview with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Stahl examined his personal investments in cleantech and the millions of dollars the federal government has poured into (depicted as: wasted on) the industry. Throughout the piece Stahl was laser-focused on portraying major failures and supporting a clear message: run away from cleantech.

However, not even ten days later, Khosla emerged unedited with his own, differing message in an open letter to CBS. His bottom line? Cleantech is at a crossroads (not a sharp decline) and the 60 minutes piece was a case of poor reporting, biased editing and haphazard fact checking. GigaOm reporter Katie Fehrenbacher provides a great review of what 60 Minutes got right and where they really missed the mark.

Of course some of the information presented during Stahl’s interview with Khosla is true. But do the many failed ventures and cleantech companies amount to an industry in demise?

This question about failure begs us to ask yet another question: how do we define progress and success?

Khosla touches upon this when he states that we need to take big risks in order for the cleantech industry to achieve the huge success we believe it’s capable of. In other words, the big risks inherent in cleantech investment beget both stumbles and strides. And in an industry that is constantly learning from its own evolution, these failures also form the fundamental building blocks of progress.

Not all of the media is down on cleantech either. Two days prior to airing the piece, The New York Times wrote about the solar power craze on Wall Street and its popularity among investors.

Here at HB, we see this buzz about cleantech as a good thing—even if it includes some bad press. Though the conversation is already exploding, we think there are five key drivers to growing and sustaining the industry until it explodes (in a good way, Lesley!) in the near future:

Innovation – This may have been the buzzword of 2013 but the truth is, crazy, out-of-the-box ideas are exactly the innovative projects that will propel cleantech to the next level. What’s the next big thing? What’s the next Tesla? Organizations like The Cleantech Open encourage innovative entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges. These innovations, with the support of various accelerator and incubator programs, are what we need to create a more environmentally friendly society.

Community – Not only are we noticing more and more accelerator and incubator programs for cleantech startups, we’re also watching a community of people and organizations join forces to create a more sustainable planet. Luckily for the cleantech startups based in the Boston area, the nation’s premier community for such groups is right in their own backyard.  Greentown Labs has quickly emerged as the go-to example of what a cleantech community should represent. The 37 member companies are all working to develop the next revolutionary cleantech product. While working in the prototyping space, lab space or office space, the companies are given an opportunity to network with other members and participate in educational events to spread their cleantech innovations on a local and national scale. As organizations continue to follow in Greentown Labs’ footsteps, the cleantech community will continue to grow.

Sentiment According to a recent Navigant Research Study, “the average favorability rating for the 10 Cleantech concepts, which fall under the categories of clean energy, clean transportation, smart grid, and building efficiency, rose to 51 percent, the highest level seen in Navigant Research’s annual survey since 2010.” Favorable views toward cleantech will only help spread awareness and understanding of why and how Cleantech can help improve the world we live in. The more people who adopt a favorable attitude, the more likely the greater population will agree that renewable energy is a key part of our future.

Adoption – Every day we notice more specialized industries adopting different varieties of cleantech. From commercial buildings using energy recovery ventilation to decrease their carbon footprint or breweries adopting waste water treatment and reuse systems, implementation is happening all around us. There’s a reason we’re seeing “eco-friendly” and “green-building” everywhere we look and it’s because people are jumping on the cleantech bandwagon. Lesley, you’re welcome to join!

Action – Cleantech is not smoke and mirrors—it’s happening all around us. Whether it’s an energy-efficient light bulb, a new hybrid car or a power management tool that reduces the consumption of energy, cleantech is everywhere and it’s here to stay. Just look at Google’s recent acquisition of Nest Labs, the maker of the Nest Thermostat. This acquisition is Google’s 15th renewable energy investment; clearly the professionals in the renewable energy industry are doing something right.

During Khosla’s interview with Stahl he notes his drive and steadfast commitment to the cleantech industry. “Look, we have to take risks. And risks mean the risk of losing money. So let me ask you a question. We’ve been looking for a cure for cancer for a long time. How much money has the U.S. government spent?  Billions and billions of dollars. Should we stop looking for a cure for cancer because we haven’t found a cure?”

So we haven’t found the cleantech golden goose yet, that innovation that will solve all of our environmental struggles. Maybe we never will. But there are a growing number of success stories that are changing the way we think about our businesses, our homes, and our planet. Not bad for a failing industry, IMHO.

Edible Campus

edible-campus

I found inspiration in an unexpected place this summer: McGill University in Montreal. Its School of Architecture collaborated with local NGOs to create productive garden growth in a concrete, prominent urban corner of the University’s downtown campus. The result – an edible garden that transformed an existing neglected space into a beautiful, strategic food producer.

Here’s how McGill reinvented a 3287 m2 barren concrete space:

  • Vertical growing: Beans sprawl a wall on the side slope of the entrance to an underground academic building. Another wall with few windows became the support system for squash and tomato vines.
  • Containerized garden: A bare concrete plaza turns into a garden path with containers and arches growing vegetables and herbs.
  • Rooftop garden: An underutilized, unattractive terrace became a bountiful fruit and vegetable garden.

In 5 months, the total harvest reached nearly 400 pounds. The food is donated to individuals around Montreal with mobility impairments. The edible campus demonstrates how productive planting can transform underutilized urban spaces.

Start planning during the long, winter months. A small garden can have a big impact.

vertical

containers

Photo Credit: McGill University

Streamlined Design

I enjoy walking through Ikea and viewing their space-conscious design. They make living in 251 square feet look organized and desirable.

I had the opportunity to board the PlanetSolar boat – another great example of space-conscious design – while it was docked in Boston. Running solely on the energy found in light, the technology is nothing short of impressive. While on the boat, I took particular note of how the boat’s interior was deliberately planned.

Both the boat’s technology and living quarters utilize a streamlined design. Lifeboat and supply containers become sofas or resting places with mattresses. Storage crates turn upside down for table tops and items in the kitchen are well-secured. Cables are secured, running along the ceiling.

The efficiency of space management is truly a remarkable art form.

Ubiquitous Carbon

Carbon

Earlier this month, the United Nations met in Durban, South Africa to discuss the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol.

Delegates from around the world discussed the idea of a carbon tax with the hope that it will help reduce emissions over the next 10 years. Under the current agreement, richer countries must follow regulations while poorer countries contribute voluntarily.

As noted by The Huffington Post, The Protocol debates escalated throughout the meetings, with the United States’ support for business outweighing its support for the environment.

The United States, whose Congress is generally seen as hostile on the climate issue, is concerned about conceding any competitive business advantage to China.

As an American, and one who greatly values our environment, I’m frustrated by the US delegates’ protectionism of the country’s economic power over all else (mirrored by China and India). Can a temporary decrease in GDP — which many argue would not happen anyway — be so bad if it helps guarantee a hospitable planet for another thousand years?

Update: Participating nations stayed an extra day and a half, and it looks like some good came of it.

Green Muting – 24-hour news cycles and jaded audiences keep us quiet

Green MutingAs an increasing number of businesses recognize the importance of being green(er) and the marketing value of green messages, we have seen the rise of both “green washing” and “green muting.” The Greenwashing Index defines green washing as “when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. It’s whitewashing, but with a green brush.”

Green-muting, on the other hand, is when businesses don’t talk about the positive environmental choices they are making. Joel Makower introduced me to both concepts in a presentation he gave a few years ago. I continue to encounter both in my personal and professional lives, most recently during a client meeting.

In this case, we spent the day with Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTE Corp), discussing what’s next in marketing and PR as the company works to make a serious mark on the global energy landscape, starting in the Bahamas. As we discussed [Read more…]

In the Age of Tech, Measurement Reigns.

As more individuals, from tots to seniors, have easy access to user-friendly technology like smart phones, cloud computing and video streaming, the amount of information targeted at those individuals continues to skyrocket. Instant news updates, email marketing, mass-produced opinions arrive through all our channels, causing many of us to stop and plead, “Slow down! What am I supposed to DO with all of this information?”

Many clients come to us asking for ways to monitor, navigate and participate in industry conversations where they have neither the time to pay attention or the resources to understand how their brand comes up performs. They light up when we explain how we use some of the latest technology and tools to do just that. As it turns out, technology is partly the reason for the problem, but also the conduit to a solution.

Something similar is going on in the energy industry. Energy consumers (i.e. pretty much all of us) light up (pun intended) as new technology hits the market to help regular people measure, manage and better understand the often mysterious energy usage information we receive from distributors and providers. As our client LEM, a pioneer in electrical measurement, would say, you have to measure it to manage it.

True, technology companies have dabbled in this market for over a decade with light controls, security systems and camera monitoring. What’s been missing, though, is a system that does it all, including actionable metrics on energy usage, from one simple, easy-to-use interface.

Check out the complete home automation companies below that surfaced over the past few years. Some are just a few years old, and others are older as they started with alarms and security systems before moving into comprehensive home automation and energy management.

Vivint – http://www.vivint.com/

Life|Ware – http://www.life-ware.com/

Control 4 – http://www.control4.com/

Elan Home Systems – http://www.elanhomesystems.com/

Crestron – http://www.crestron.com/

Ah. Doesn’t it feel better to be in control?

Innovative, Lightweight, More Fuel-Efficient

It is pretty amazing how quickly life changes. I used to think, “I’ll never do that” when I saw people drive by in campers and RVs…never say never!

Ten years ago my husband and I would spend hours at REI shopping for camping gear. We purchased compact and lightweight products for our expeditions. Weekends were spent camping in the north Georgia mountains along the AT in the torrential rain, hot summer heat, snake and bear infested territory. We stayed cozy in a Marmot four-season tent under the stars. Yes, we were once the die hard campers backpacking everything in – our dog even had a backpack for all of his belongings.

Well, it was only a matter of time before we became “one of them.” After settling down and having a family we found ourselves missing the camping years. Tent camping didn’t seem realistic with two young toddlers, so we purchased a pop-up camper. We now spend a majority of our summer vacations camping along the coast of Maine with running water, electricity and heat.

We’ve enjoyed the pop-up for the past two years but somehow we’ve found ourselves looking at the Earthbound RV’s. These particular campers are completely eco-friendly and fuel-efficient. They’re modern looking compared to other RVs on the market that have a 70’s or 80’s feel. The sleek and creative design keeps the environment in mind using low organic construction materials. This concept only makes sense since you’re trying to enjoy the great outdoors. Who knows, maybe we’ll trade-in the pop-up for one in the future.