Building Social Community Around Clean-Tech Initiatives – The Social Tactic Acid Test

Note: this was first published by AgencyPost and can be found here.

If you’re in business, you understand the concept of adding value. You evaluate every action in terms of whether it adds value to your business’ goals or bottom line. So how do you evaluate community-building initiatives?

The Conundrum of Social Community

In our business, we regularly hear from companies that built strong Facebook followings only to realize that they can’t figure out how the “community” adds to their bottom line. Yet they are deeply aware of how communities could take away from the bottom line and how a single bad experience could lead to a brand-destroying social media explosion.

Yet social communities cannot be avoided. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, your customers and prospects want to know more about you and want to connect with others in your circles. And while the challenge used to be around which tools to use, now it’s about how you make the community valuable. We believe the question should be turned around: Ask not how your community adds value to your business, but how your business can add value to your community.

This is where clean-tech companies have a great advantage. Unlike many businesses that leverage subjective values for differentiation, clean-tech companies can leverage in-house expertise and experience to make a material difference to their communities. For example, apparel companies such as Lululemon and Life Is Good create communities around corporate social responsibility initiatives. Yet what they do best is make clothes and selling those clothes is how they make money. In essence, they run two businesses to make the apparel business successful: a clothing business and a social business. For a clean-tech company, the relationship between what makes money and what adds value to the customer is naturally much closer. [Read more…]

Why HB Bets on Clean-Tech – and why the revolution is hard to see when you’re in it

Swimming in beer at Fenway Park

The Boston Red Sox play at a cathedral of a field… Fenway Park. If you’re from the Northeast, you’ve probably visited the park for a game or a tour. And if you’ve been there on a summer day, baking in the sun, sweat on your brow and shirt sticking to you and your bleacher seat, you appreciate an ice-cold beer.

Now imagine you’ve been handed an empty cup and your ice-cold beer is merely dripping into it, one drop at a time. Pretend that the content of the cup doubles every minute.

At first, watching it becomes unbearable as your thirst grows, and it looks like the cup will take forever to fill. After six minutes, there is barely a gulp of beer sloshing around the bottom of the cup. But at 10 minutes the cup overflows. After 20 minutes a thin layer of beer covers the bottom of the park, as if a quick rain shower just swept through. Forty-five minutes into this experience, the players on the field are knee-deep in beer. You might think the game will end long before any noticeable difference, but four minutes later, the park is completely full and you’re swimming in ice-cold beer. Forty-nine minutes to fill Fenway Park to the top of the Green Monster. This is the power of exponential growth. [Read more…]

Environmental concern – Not for everyone… yet.

I recently read an article in the Seattle Times about arctic sea ice melting at unprecedented rates and Russia’s comment about the resulting new shipping lanes. The good news: this apparently can cut the the journey for some shipping between Europe, Asia and America by 50%. The bad news: rapidly melting arctic ice already affects global climate and coastal communities.

Courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center, nsidc.org

I looked for other commentary in the Seattle Times, searching for an “environment” or “green” section of the paper. But there was none. Many of the media sources I use have dedicated sections for environmental/green news. These include The New York Times (usually under Science), The Washington Post (under Energy & Environment), The Los Angeles Times (under Science & Environment), The San Jose Mercury News (under Science & Environment) UK’s The Guardian (under Environment), France’s Le Monde (under Planete) and The Times of India (under Environment).

I follow news from other worldwide outlets that seem to have no section dedicated to the environment, and rarely to science. These include Russian news outlets Pravda, Moscow Times and St. Petersburg Times, Sweden’s The Local, Germany’s The Local, Brazil’s Rio Times, Argentina’s Buenos Aires Herald, China’s China Daily, Shanghai DailyPeople’s Daily and , Hong Kong’s The Standard, Singapore’s The Straits Times and The New Paper, AsiaOne, and of course Al Jazeera.

Does this evidence suggest only the richest audiences care about the environment? Not really. Plenty of outlets here in the US haven’t considered the “environment” worthy of its own section – for instance The Houston Chronicle and Chicago Tribune. And those regions certainly don’t lack wealth.

My conclusion regards the assumptions we often make. As we participate in the US efforts to catch up to Germany and other progressive nations in developing clean technology and preserving our environment, we should not assume that all people in all places share our concerns or ambitions. Such assumptions are tantamount to zealotry – comparable to people of faith who assume that their faith is the only valid one, and think less of those who don’t share it (or even worse, assume some horrible fate awaits non-believers, such as going to Hell).

Instead we should acknowledge that even as ice-cap melting sends chills of fear up our spines, it can be interpreted as good news by others. Even as environmental degradation and dependence on foreign oil keeps us up at night, our fellow Americans (and global citizens) have many other concerns that take precedence.

Bridging the gap remains our mission, not by talking ever more loudly to dominate the conversation, but by respectfully and repeatedly stating the case, and encouraging change where we can. To start, I suggest a call and a note to any news outlet you enjoy, saying that you would be more likely to return for news if the outlet offered pages or sections dedicated to the environment or clean technology.

By the way, if you currently have a favorite mainstream media outlet that covers environmental or clean-technology news, please let me know.

Clean Tech Changes The View – OK by Me!

Wind Turbine at Bershire East

From power lines to lakes, rivers to roads, pilots use visual flight rules (VFR) sectional charts to understand what the landscape will look like underneath them when flying VFR. Wind energy generation facilities present a new landmark on VFR charts, which is easily identifiable from the air.

On a recent flight, I knew that I was coming up on the back of Berkshire East ski area, even though I couldn’t see the slopes. The ski area’s wind turbine, which powers 100% of the resort’s electricity needs, rises high above the hills with very little around it. [Read more…]

The Green Chemistry Narrative

Dr. John Warner begins his presentation with a description and photo of his 11-member family, the 35-cousins who lived within two miles of his childhood home, and his high-school band.

Dr. John Warner

Dr. John Warner

He then takes you through his nearly happenstance run-in with chemistry, and then his meteoric rise into academia and industry — breaking records for the numbers of papers he publishes in high-school, undergraduate and graduate school, and authoring over 100 patents.

Then he shows two photos of a little boy, his son, who passed away at the age of two. He asks you to imagine how he felt the night after his son’s funeral, as he wondered which of the thousands of substances he had handled might have caused the liver condition that killed his child. In all his years of training, of work and of unbridled academic and scientific success, from Princeton University to the the Polaroid Corporation, John Warner had never been required to take a course on toxicity.

Green Chemistry Book CoverI had the privilege to hear John Warner tell his story at a recent Renewable Energy Business Network event at Warner’s company, the Warner Babcock Institute. During the first part of the evening, [Read more…]

Energy efficiency vs. production

The March 26 Wall Street Journal published an excellent piece on how electricity companies are rethinking power plant plans and providing an opening for renewables. The piece addresses how power plants are a huge consumer of water, accounting for nearly half of all water withdrawals in the US — much of which is returned to waterways with the loss of 2% to 3% (which is substantial — 1.6 to 1.7 trillion gallons of water per year). New technologies are helping power companies build plants that require far less water. The article mentions a power plant in Northern California with a cooling system that can “cut its water intake from 40,000 gallons a minute to 1.6 gallons.”

Such systems are part of what we at Hart-Boillot think of as the clean-tech supply chain, and are a critical part of moving to reduce consumption and the global human carbon footprint. Many pundits feel that even without developing alternative sources of energy, we have the technology and ability to make massive reductions in our usage — some claim that such reductions would preempt the need for alternative sources which by themselves are energy intensive to build and deploy.

Amory Lovins, head of the Rocky Mountain Institute and one of the most compelling speakers I have ever heard (clean, green or anything else), published this paper in 2005: Energy End-Use Efficiency. He starts with: “Increasing energy end-use efficiency—technologically providing more desired service per unit of delivered energy consumed—is generally the largest, least expensive, most benign, most quickly deployable, least visible, least understood, and most neglected way to provide energy services.”

Lovins distinguishes efficiency from conservation — efficiency meaning to do more with as much or less energy — and spends some time on how much economic benefit can be derived from efficiency gains.

Pieces like the Wall Street Journal article and the Lovins white paper remind us of the important role our clients play in the clean-tech supply chain. Devices such as Vicor’s power supplies and LEM’s wireless energy meters may not have the sex appeal of solar panels and wind turbines — yet they are critical to raising efficiency in numerous markets and delivering a cleaner, greener world.

Boston GreenFest – a pleasure and an honor

A few words with Boston Greenfest organizer Karen Weber of the Foundation for a Green Future, and Hart-Boillot was on board. What better way to help advance some of our clients’ and our civilization’s causes than to contribute to such an event?

Boston GreenFest, which takes place on September 26 and 27 at City Hall plaza, needed assistance from all Hart-Boillot practices – media relations, to get the press and broadcast media interested and participating, creative services to design and produce numerous ads for all the media that have offered pro-bono insertions, and strategic communications to ensure that the look/feel and messaging are appropriate to the grass-roots mission.

While Boston GreenFest is a grass-roots initiative, it boasts an impressive list of sponsors and exhibitors. Get it in your calendar now, and get ready to learn about new technologies and ideas that can change our lives and help our planet at the same time. And, be prepared for great food, live music, and an expected 18,000 attendees.