20 November 2008

The New New Economy: This Caulking Gun For Hire

Silicone caulking can be used as a basic seala...Image via Wikipedia"Caulk, baby, caulk," exclaimed Melissa Berman, CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), as she held up a caulking gun to close today's New New Economy conference in New York.

Caulking guns and energy efficiency haven't got this much play since Jimmy Carter turned down the thermostat at the White House and donned his peanut-colored Mr. Rogers cardigan on national television.

The conference, hosted by RPA, focused on investing in climate change solutions during challenging times. It was attended by over 400 investors, philanthropic advisors, foundation heads and philanthropists.

Van Jones, of Green for All, kicked off the morning in his inimitable style, at times poking fun at and exhorting the crowd, but always on target with solutions.

Jones makes green seem, well, fun and relevant, and yet still manages to communicate the gravity and urgency of the situation. Greens everywhere should study his style and delivery, as well as his message.

The American economy needs to be retooled, Jones said, from an economy based upon consumption, debt, and destruction to one based on production, thrift, and restoration.

"You might call it a new green thing, but my grandmother put it another way: 'Don't waste stuff.'"

Mr. Jones's sentiments set the tone for the day and ran like a thread throughout the sessions.

The three sessions I attended, on sustainable venture capital, carbon markets, and microfinance, all built on his three themes.

"Efficiency is key," said Diana Propper de Callejon of Expansion Capital Partners in the venture and private equity session. We need to figure out "how to pay people to conserve, to help utilities generate less and still make money."

Al Gore and David Blood (or "Blood & Gore," as moderator Stuart Davidson referred to them) closed the day's sessions speaking about their experiences at Generation Investment Management, the firm they launched five years ago.

Gore has settled into his role as climate statesman very well. And one can't help wondering where we'd be if the outcome in 2000 had been different. (Arguably, Gore has had more impact from his private sector approach than he would have had as president.)

Arguing for mainstreaming sustainability in all investing, Gore said, "There are a bunch of subprime carbon assets out there. If you or your portfolio manager have a lot of money tied up in subprime carbon assets -- lookout. They are about to collapse."

That comment sent the audience pulling out their iPhones and BlackBerrys. I'm looking for a bubble in caulking gun company stocks over the next quarter.

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