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…]

From Shoe Laces to Clean Energy. Small Adjustment Yield Big Results

I watched Terry Moore’s 3-minute Ted Talk about how to tie your shoe laces, and was impressed by how a small change in tying shoe laces made a big change in Mr. Moore’s life.

Ahhh, the frustration!

From now on, it will also make a big change in mine, which I can quantify: Let’s suppose it takes me 20 seconds to re-tie both shoe laces, once per day (I’m slow), and that I will live the average American white male life expectancy of 75.7 years (2006 stats). In that case, Terry Moore saved me a little more than 60 hours between now and the end of my life. I’m grateful for each of those hours.

Ted Talks, YouTube, and numerous media and social media platforms allow us to spread knowledge and progress at unprecedented speeds. 150 years ago, the shoe-lace secret may only have helped one family or one village for decades before spreading to neighboring towns or, more likely, fading from common memory after a blight or epidemic.

As Gary Vaynerchuk notes in his book, The Thank You Economy,  “According to Facebook, as of 2010, the average Facebook user has 130 friends, and the average Twitter account holder has 300 followers, which in total add up to a potential 7,740 people who suddenly have [access to the same information].” If that were my network and all of them were roughly my age, we could count on 19,350 days, or 53 additional years added to humanity’s opportunity to do something other than tie shoe laces. And that’s just based on one average person’s network.

What a gift from Terry Moore to all those who eschew Velcro for old-fashioned laces! More importantly, what a boon for those who wish to tackle even bigger problems, and among the biggest ones, global warming and the need for clean energy.
Take a recent New York Times article about Chicago’s preparations for warmer climate and greater precipitation. The article shows how relatively small changes, such as paving streets with  permeable materials and changing the kinds of trees the city plants, will have enormous impact, saving millions of dollars and potentially many lives. Through the Times’ website, blog posts, tweets, re-tweets and regular old print, the article will reach millions — including city planners in other regions who, a century ago, would probably not have heard about The Windy City’s deployment of new technologies and methods to deal with a commonly-faced challenge.

Plan B 3.0, which I recommend to everyone

In Lester Brown’s Plan B books, the author notes how many small changes can have a huge impact. Lester Brown runs the Earth Policy Institute, whose short paper on Cutting Carbon Emissions 80% by 2020 offers numerous examples of seemingly small changes which, when multiplied, have enormous impact. For instance, “The energy saved by replacing one conventional incandescent 100-watt bulb with a CFL over its lifetime is enough to drive a Toyota Prius hybrid from New York to San Francisco. If everyone around the world made the switch and turned to high-efficiency home, office, industrial, and street lighting, total world electricity use would fall by 12 percent, equivalent to the output of 705 coal-fired power plants.”

This is the power of scale. With social media, that power has shifted from a few global corporations with the ability to market to millions of people, to millions of people with the ability to reach and influence billions.

In a compressed time-frame, thousands of  individuals, including me, will save years by changing one small facet of how they tie their shoes. If we can change the way we tie our shoes, it’s not such a stretch to think we can change our light bulbs, our driving habits, our thermostat settings, and our buying habits to adopt clean-technology solutions at unprecedented rates.

To those who dwell in the past where change took centuries or decades, the 350 ppm (of carbon dioxide) goal  that Bill McKibben, Al Gore and so many others are urging the world to reach, might seem impossible. It’s easy to understand why it would, when you consider the monumental work it will take to get there. But when you consider the power of today’s social networks, such a goal becomes not only possible but realistic. Today, thanks to tying my shoes a little more effectively, I have a few more hours to work on it.