Special Reports
Starting a Green Business – Green Technology Companies

By Bill RothIn
November 25, 2008

The West Coast Green Conference, recently held in San Jose, Calif., was a
showcase of green technology companies and the people who finance them. I
came away from this conference with three observations:

There's an explosion of new green products.
Business is booming.
Prices are getting competitive.

As the world yearns for fossil fuel price relief and ways to achieve lower
greenhouse gas emissions, over the next 10 years this revolution is
estimated to grow into a trillion-dollar annual economy. While much of the
current focus is on energy, the fact is that carbon-based products are the
foundation of our current global economy. And that needs to change. Take
cement, for example. It's the third largest source of carbon dioxide
emissions after energy and transportation, and it's a
trillion-dollar-a-year industry.

What I saw at the West Coast Green Conference was row after row of new
solutions. Some saved money and the environment through lower costs for
materials. Others created benefits by reducing energy consumption. And
many products aren't yet lower in price than our traditional carbon-based
products, but they're cheaper than last year and expected to be price
competitive in the coming years.

Now is the time for entrepreneurs to look at starting a green business.
Even in a down economy consumers are looking for ways to save money. And
going green is now the path for also saving green.

So how to begin? First, start with what you know. Do you run a restaurant
or construction company? There's an explosion of new products in both of
these market segments. If you're in roofing or are an electrician, then
the skills for installing roof-top solar are similar to those you use now.

Solar energy's cost is falling toward price competitiveness with
utility-supplied electricity. And Congress has extended the 30 percent
investment tax credit until 2016 to those who buy and install a solar
power system; Congress also uncapped it for residential use, which
previously had a $2,000 limit. If you sell appliances, there's a flood of
new energy-efficient products coming down the pipeline that will also be
"smart" by tracking utility companies' prices to determine the cheapest time to operate.

Maybe you've started looking at these products as a way to cut the cost of
your business operations. But have you considered starting a business
around them? Take your existing business and turn it into a test center
for the green technologies that interest you. Get your data on how a
product saves or makes money, and then go back to the product's company
and inquire about a business relationship in which you could be a
distributor or franchisee.

Maybe you have a green technology. It's a good time to raise money from
venture capitalists for green technologies. They're investing tens of
billions of dollars and thirsting for the first green Google or
Microsoft-like company to evolve. They're looking for investments in
energy production, energy efficiency and smart metering appliances. They
also recognize that many really good technologies were developed in
response to the 1974 OPEC oil embargo but never got to market. They're now
funding these "old" technologies, which are even more valuable now that
we're experiencing higher fuel costs and electric utilities are
experiencing double-digit rate increases.

If you have a green product, the retail industry wants to go green. I
heard one attendee at the conference talk about a green fashion show in
New York City. The clothing and furniture industries are undergoing a
design revolution as they explore sustainable materials and manufacturers.
Finally, one of the most heartwarming and yet hugely profitable stories I
heard at the conference was the commercial effort to bring sustainability
to the "bottom of the pyramid". There are a billion people in the world
without access to clean water and people dying every day due to bad water.

There's a company called IDEO that's pioneering designs for solutions to
provide the world's economically disadvantaged with both affordable and
clean water and energy.

What I took away from this conference was that if you are a person who has
ideas or products that could help the world's economically disadvantaged
and our environment, then there are sources of funding from investors,
governments and nonprofits looking for your entrepreneurial solutions.

Bill Roth is president of NCCT, a San Francisco-based consulting firm
facilitating innovations in sustainability marketing and green business
strategies. In addition to participating in the launch of the first
hydrogen-fueled Prius, he has held executive leadership positions as
senior vice president of marketing and sales with PG&E Energy Services,
COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions and president of Cleantech
America, a developer of solar power plants. Roth’s latest book, On Empty
(Out of Time) details an emerging multi-trillion dollar green economy that
is revolutionizing the business world.


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