Three Legs of a Stool: The New Green Technology-Based Industrial Revolution

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Even with the front-and-center headlines of world politics throwing shade to other news worthy events a quiet revolution is taking hold. Just under a year and a half ago the Paris Climate agreement was birthed with rosy cheeked and wide-eyed predictions of its mark on global climate change. We are now starting to see the realization that we are indeed in another transformative industrial revolution, one that is being driven from the ground up and leverages technology in ways never thought of before to be successful. All this in spite of the fact that the U.S. (a major contributor to global climate change) now has an administration that is hell bent on reliving the late 1950s and early ’60s with many, including the president, seeking the head of the EPA on a platter in the false idol of “profit.”

There are three main areas that are allowing this movement to remain in a forward path — politics (at all scales), corporate leadership, and technology. Indeed, a few of the major players are in utter turmoil, including the U.S., Britain and Russia in which each are facing epoch-shaping challenges of their own doing, but in general politicians realize that they may be facing a revolution of a different kind if their constituents can’t breathe clean air, drink clean water and live on clean land. Where this is most prevalent is in the majority of other countries that are signers of the Paris agreement who generally look to the West for leadership and failing that have picked up the mantel to do their part. Even China, with all of its own political turmoil and devaluing currency are pushing forward with sweeping initiatives to combat their carbon footprint. This will allow the basic tenets and underlying goals of the Paris Agreement to stay intact despite what my happen with Brexit or Trumpism.

The second leg, corporate leadership, has quickly recognized the benefits of not only accepting the Paris Agreement, but how to leverage the commercial and economic benefits of aligning with it. We see the underpinnings of this written in corporate responsibility reports where shareholders are demanding action plans and investments in sustainability efforts even so far as to pull out of companies not rated favorably in the new green economy.

The corporate world also recognizes the power of the consumer increasing its desire to invest in products that are not harmful to the planet in turn driving up available choices while highlighting the benefits to the environment. Consumer brands are taking the long-term approach to sustainability now rather than just paying lip service on a short term PR run. This requires them to detail to deliver both deep decarbonization while working to reinvent capitalism. Most evident is the race of corporations to sign up to the RE100 and science-based targets initiatives (SBTI). These firms are doing this without signing onto a public commitment like this without vetting the pros and cons extremely carefully. This is also not altruistic in that they also recognize that there can be significant savings in operational costs and increased profit margins by transforming to a renewable power platform. Global companies such as Google, Apple, IBM and Walmart are all on board to use 100 percent renewable within a matter of years. Many of these companies are also embracing third party, independently verified reduction targets designed to keep the global temperature increase below 2˚C.

The third, and arguably the most important leg, is technology. Clean tech version one saw the move of conceptual lab grown clean tech out into the markets including solar, batter storage and smart grid devices take of the consumer world. Clean tech version two saw life spans, scalability and viable commercial implementation proved out. This also allowed for costs to drop in a rapid fashion and for the product features to be tweaked to right size with demand. As we are moving into the next level of clean tech we are seeing the infancy of this technology take off at scale into major markets a a mainstream commodity. Wind and solar now undercut fossil fuels even after their subsidies were stripped in addition to providing high paying jobs to markets that once were dominated by coal, gas and oil. Additionally, clean tech is dramatically improving the efficiency of the dinosaurs that still use fossil fuels and do so in a less harmful way for the environment.

Having a circular economy is no longer a fringe idea, but a mainstay of reality. Supporting this is the notion of having little resistance to creating policy support at the local, state and national levels further pushing it into the mainstream.  Battery technology is a great example of this being led by Tesla in the U.S. now deploying grid scale storage to the home or business at a fraction of the cost to transport overland via traditional power grid generation. Additionally, the scalability of these technologies puts a significant amount of control in the hands of the consumer in terms of function, usability, recyclability and purchase. Also, in the ICT industry for example, rapid progression of high lumen output LASER projection systems with high dynamic range color capability are operating at lower power, higher brightness and contrast in a smaller footprint at a rapidly falling price point that benefits the consumer and the environment.

This rapid progression of technology makes it a clear and easy path for manufacturers to recognize the benefits to them and their consumers which in turn help to reduce the political risk associated with uncertainty of producing meaningful low-carbon legislation. This is in spite of the populism of nationalistic politics in today’s geopolitical landscape. It will continue to happen in spite of it.