26 November 2008

Review: The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones

"Our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization," Van Jones writes in his book The Green Collar Economy.

"Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet that need...in the end, our success and survival as a species is largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs--and the success and survival of their enterprises."

Jones has spent the better part of the past few years calling for "green jobs." A call that is fast becoming part of president-elect Obama's early agenda that may chart the course for his first term.

As founder of Green for All, Jones identifies what he calls "one solution that can fix our two biggest problems." Green jobs.

Jones has written an important book. In part because it puts his message of change and transformation into context as it relates to the great movements of social and environmental change of the last century -- while suggesting a path forward for change in the 21st century.

To Jones, green jobs can help transform our economy, put people to work, and create opportunity for those who have been neglected. He suggests that the new green economy can also help provide pathways out of poverty for many of the disenfranchised.

"That is good news for people who are being thrown out of work in the present recession," writes Jones. "That is good news for people in urban and rural communities who are suffering from chronic lack of work. That is good news for our veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That is good news for people returning home from prison, looking for a second chance."

He also surveys the range of platforms for dealing with climate change, energy, and economic crises, including those of organizations with which he is involved, such as 1Sky and the Apollo Alliance.

Jones identifies a need for a "Green Growth Alliance" to be formed between the five main interest-partners: labor, social justice activists, environmentalists, students, and faith organizations.

Jones suggests we can't buy and drill our way out of this dilemma. "We can, however, invent and invest our way out," Jones writes. "Choosing to do so on a massive scale would have the practical benefit of cutting energy prices enough -- and generating enough work -- to pull the U.S. economy out of its present death spiral."

There are countless books out there about going green, and tackling climate change and energy issues. What's different about Van's book? Simply put, it is his message that economic progress and environmental protection can be joined with social equity issues to forge a triple-bottom line solution benefiting all three.

"The necessary solution," Jones suggests, is "a crash program in conservation and renewable energy -- so that we can save our ability to survive on the only planetary home we have ever known."

And with president-elect Obama calling for an economic stimulus that includes investments in infrastructure and energy efficiency, Van Jones's message may be getting its green day in the sun.

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25 November 2008

On Four Years of The Green Skeptic and Being Thankful

It's been four year since I created "the green skeptic" blog. A lot has changed in that short span of time -- and we have much for which to be thankful.

Despite the collapse of our economy, increasing numbers of poor people, and even more dire predictions of climate change crisis, we are on the verge of real change in the world.

I refuse to be pessimistic; skeptical, but not pessimistic.

I believe that four years from now we'll be on our way toward making lasting progress on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and creating jobs. We won't be all the way there, but we'll be making progress.

It will take us awhile to weather this downturn and craft a thoughtful and pragmatic response. But I believe we will get there.

And there appear to be many others who agree that the next great wave is a green wave.

It's just slow-moving right now, which is good; slow-moving waves tend to build stronger and conserve their energy for the shore.

Happy Thanksgiving. And thank you for reading.


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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19 November 2008

Global Entrepreneurship Week: Unleashing Ideas

I'm reblogging a post from Nathaniel Whittemore, the founding Director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University. Cool stuff.

This week is the first Global Entrepreneurship Week, a celebration of creativity, innovation, and inspiration designed to connect young people around the world and spark fires of entrepreneurship to solve big problems and create new opportunities.

Launched by Make Your Mark and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurs, the week brings together literally thousands of organizations holding events around the world. In the United Kingdom, for example, more than 600 partner organizations are hosting more than 3,000 activities.

The week is particularly focused on introducing the Millennial generation to the idea of entrepreneurship and enterprise. For example, events held yesterday included:

  • a debate called "In the Current Economic Climate, Can Entrepreneurs Change the World," as a part of ChainReaction,
  • a video conference about entrepreneurship and the Millennium Development Goals between Ghanian university students and California Polytech State University,
  • a debate about entrepreneurship and the local environment in Porto Alegre in Brazil

I'll be posting videos and commentary all week. You can follow along here or check out some of the main sites aggregating content from around the world:

  • Unleashingideas.org - the main site for Global Entrepreneurship Week, where you can see the full variety of activities happening around the world
  • the Kauffman Foundation's page for GEW, which includes "Daily Dispatches" with some of the most interesting happenings
  • the official Youtube Channel
Reblogged from socialentrepreneurship.change.org

Go to the original source: social entrepreneurship

More on Global Entrepreneurship Week here and here.

And a blog from Singapore: Connect the Dots

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17 November 2008

On Why Throwing More Money at GM and the Other Big 3 US Automakers is a Bad Idea

<span class=
The big three U.S. automakers are circling their wagoneers and SUVs and hovering over the bailout trough. And Democrats want to reward their labor votes by letting the big three feed off the TARP.

Even President-elect Obama, speaking on CBS News 60 Minutes last night, said we can't let the big three fail. At least he offered conditions.

"We need to provide assistance to the auto industry. But I think that it can't be a blank check," Obama told Steve Kroft. He wants an answer to the question "what does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like? -- so that we are creating a bridge loan to somewhere, as opposed to a bridge loan to nowhere."

I don't think a sustainable U.S. auto industry includes GM. They've been failing for years, and their hubris, along with some bad negotiations with the UAW, have gotten them into this mess.

Bailing them out now will just postpone the inevitable. These dinosaurs are going to die -- in fact, they are already dead.

Other industries have gone through the restructuring offered by bankruptcy and emerged, why can't the auto industry? It's a viable alternative.

Why should we trust losers like GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, who told an industry trade publication that he won't offer to resign should he successfully scarf up some of the TRAP, er, TARP funds.

He won't resign? What part of failure doesn't he understand? They should make General Motors (GM) and Wagoner an example and let them go bankrupt.

GM has had a failure of imagination (except for self-interest) for more than half a century, ever since they destroyed the light rail and trolley car industry in the 40s and 50s.

Alfred P. Sloan, then GM president seized a great opportunity, "We've got 90 percent of the market out there that we can somehow turn into automobile users. If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars. And if we don't, then General Motors' sales are just going to remain level."

The documentary film film "Taken for a Ride" (1996) tells the story of that sordid affair in GM's history.

GM has never cared about us -- ever -- why should we care about them?

Oh, sure, I hear the whining about all the downstream jobs that may be affected by the failure of the big three -- one of which, Chrysler, is a privately held company. But, I've got news for you: the automakers don't give a shite about those downstream suppliers and parts manufacturers. This is about keeping business as usual going for as long as they can.

Mark my words, Wagoner and his cronies will take the money and run, just like they did when the Clinton administration created the taxpayer-funded $7 billion "Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles" to help jumpstart fuel efficient technologies capable of 80 mpg.

That effort was scrapped for the more profitable lines of SUVs GM and others cranked out when oil was cheap. (The government's own PNGV website devoted to that project is no longer live.)

And then there was the EV1, the subject of the documentary film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" According to the film and its sources, GM made a tremendous effort to erode demand for their own product and then killed it. Literally. GM allegedly took back every EV1 and disposed of them, a few ended up in museums, but almost all were found to have been crushed.

Wagoner, told Motor Trend magazine in 2006 that the worst decision of his tenure at GM was "axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. It didn't affect profitability, but it did affect image."

Now GM has the Chevy Volt, FlexFuel SUVs, and are working on other hybrid technologies. They are making progress, but kicking and screaming the entire way.

Volt has so many issues
they will be lucky to get any on the road by the end of this decade, and its projected price will be out of the range of most Americans.

And with <$60 per barrel oil, I've seen more than one GM dealer pimping their backlog of SUVs again, with good terms.

They haven't learned and never will. They can't. Because the problems of GM have to do with 30 years of management mistakes that now has them having to grow for the sake of growing. That is not a winning strategy.

As Wagoner himself told Business Week in 2003, "We have a huge fixed-cost base. It's 30 years of downsizing and 30 years of increased health-care costs. It puts a premium on us running this business to generate cash. Our goal is to grow. We don't care who we take it from."

We don't care who we take it from. Now, that's a winning outlook and proof positive that we'll be throwing bad money after more bad money by investing in the future of GM.

It's time to let them go bankrupt and let the smart survive. And let's invest the money in a better car company made for the new green economy.

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13 November 2008

The Founder Factory: Where Phillypreneurs Came Together

I attended a very cool event today called Founder Factory at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.

Hosted by Philly Startup Leaders and the MAC Alliance, the Founder Factory was a sold-out, one-day conference where wisdom from Philadelphia-area business leaders was shared with other Phillypreneurs.

Highlights from the presentations included successful area entrepreneurs such as Lucinda Holt, Steve Goodman, and Josh Kopelman.

Steve Goodman, the legendary lawyer from Morgan Lewis, offered an historical perspective of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Philadelphia area since he arrived in 1969, much of which he helped foster. Goodman did for Philly what Fred Wilson did for New York in his keynote at Web 2.0 in September.

Josh Kopelman, founder of Half.com and First Round Capital, assayed the current financial situation and looked forward to mid-2010, when he feels the logjam in venture funding will have to be deployed and things may start flowing again. He also used the example of some great world monuments many of which, including the Eiffel Tower and Golden Gate Bridge, were being built during earlier recessions.

His conclusion? Great things happen in the face of adversity. Just what many of us who are starting things now needed to hear.

Serial entrepreneur Lucinda Duncalfe Holt offered 5 things every entrepreneur needs to think about, focusing especially on people, flexibility, and execution. (Lucinda and Josh also had the best slide decks I've seen in a long time. The key: pictures, not a lot of text -- oh, and it doesn't hurt to have a liberal dose of Hugh Macleod cartoons.)

In addition to the stories shared by these and other entrepreneurs, they also offered feedback to three Philly-based startups in a "Fishbowl" setting, including search engine DuckDuckGo, DropCard, and GoBYO.com.

A fantastic event that, along with DreamIt Ventures, IgnitePhilly, and other recent events, demonstrates that there is something percolating in Philly.

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11 November 2008

More On What's Next for the New Green Economy

I've been thinking more about last week's panel discussion, "What's Next for the Green Economy?"

A few of the questions made me think about President-elect Obama and what he'll be facing when he takes office in January.

So I thought I'd try to answer some of the questions here and, in a future post, I'll offer my two cents to Mr. Obama.

Will a Green Economy rebound faster from financial turmoil?

I think it will, if only because the concerns that are driving the green wave are not going away anytime soon: dependence on foreign oil, stemming climate change, and high fuel prices.

(On the last point, while price per barrel is down in the mid-60s today; it averages out around $109 per barrel for the year. As energy analyst Gregor MacDonald points out in this post, the average price over time is more important for commodities like oil.)

Will consumers stick with Green during tough times?

Tough one. Depends upon how hard hit they are where they keep their wallets. The good news is, companies like Wal-Mart have already made commitments to go green and are making money at it.

It will be tough to maintain momentum if the costs of greener goods don't come down or if manufacturers stick to luxury green items. Overall, however, there are gains in green stuff like organic foods and some consumer goods, such as Energy Star-rated appliances. (TVs should see a bump-up, with the changes coming in the new year concerning the switch to digital signals.)

What is the next administration really facing that's not being talked about in the media?

How to pay for the huge transformation from old, dying economy to new green economy. You can't nickel and dime your way there, but with the War in Iraq (and Afghanistan) still going on and $700B bailout of banks and potentially more for automakers. Where ya gonna get the money?

Does America need a energy technology bubble just like the information technology bubble?

Yes. Bubbles can be good. As author of Pop! Why Bubbles Are Great for the Economy, has written, "the excitement of a new technology interacts with some of the more unstable components of America's character—boundless optimism, a tendency toward entrepreneurship, a tolerance of creative destruction, and greed—to produce a kind of mania."

We could use a little of that boundless optimism today. Dontcha' think?

When the bubble bursts, we'll be left with a new green infrastructure that will keep the new green economy going.

And it may just save our assets.

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09 November 2008

What's Next for the Green Economy?

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussing “What’s next for the green economy?” Hosted by the Eco Investment Club of San Diego, it was a lively discussion of great questions from an engaged audience.

With the financial markets in a tailspin (although they were getting an anticipatory boost that day) and crude oil prices also dipping to lows we haven't seen in some time, it was no surprise that "what's next?" was a question on everyone's mind.

My fellow panelists included Glenn Croston, author of 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference, Oren Jaffe, co-founder of EcoTuesday, Jan Schalkwijk, CFA and Principal of JPS Global Investments, Ron Robins, founder of Investing for the Soul and author of the blog, Enlightened Economics, and Dave Iverson, a noted economist and environmentalist.

The questions ranged from investing to energy prices to the impact of the next administration on both. Here is a sampling of some of the questions:

Will a Green Economy rebound faster from financial turmoil?

Will consumers stick with Green during tough times?

What is the next administration really facing that's not being talked about in the media?

Does America need a energy technology bubble just like the information technology bubble?


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07 November 2008

Fuzzy Math? Some See Unrealistic Numbers in Obama 5M Green Jobs Promise

President-elect Obama has an ambitious plan to create 5 M "green jobs" with an investment of 150 B over the next ten years.

Under the current definition, green jobs include insulation and solar panel installers, wind-turbine manufacturers and green building construction workers, as well as infrastructure jobs such as those associated with the electrical grid and rail mass transit.

But some, according to the Wall Street Journal, are questioning the numbers in the plan.

And as Congress considers an additional economic stimulus package that may include green jobs, there could be even more debate -- especially from those most influenced by traditional energy lobbies.

"The green-jobs argument," WSJ reports, "rests on the notion that big capital investments in new-energy technology today will be more than offset by savings in reduced fossil-fuel costs. Though oil prices have fallen, the International Energy Agencyy predicted Thursday that once the economy picks up again, they will resume climbing, potentially topping $200 a barrel by 2030. The IEA called the current energy system 'patently unsustainable' and called for 'radical action by governments.'"

Some argue that 5 M is not a net number; that, in fact, some of these green jobs will merely supplant other jobs in the traditional energy economy or that green job gains will be "more than offset" by job losses elsewhere in the economy.

But whether we're talking 1, 2, 3 or 5 million jobs seems to miss the point.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, "private sector payroll employment has fallen by 1,825,000, or 1.6%, since October 2000, the month when unemployment began to rise." This is, according to EPI, "a slightly greater decline than in the 'jobless recovery' of the early 1990s."

The point is an influx of capital into potential job creation in a new and emerging sector is going to be a better stimulus than rescuing failed banks and promoting business as usual. And certainly a better idea than rewarding auto-manufacturers for their failed vision by bailing them out too.

"The added allure of clean-energy spending as economic stimulus is that the industry is relatively young and growing fast," writes Jeffrey Ball in WSJ. "Unlike the fossil-fuel industry, which has matured over decades, it is just starting to build its basic infrastructure -- wind turbines, solar panels and a more-sophisticated electric-transmission grid."

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05 November 2008

Mr. President-Elect, Bring On the New Green Economy, But Be Practical

Now that the election is over and Americans have selected Barack Obama as our next president, it is time to get back to work.

I'm not going to dwell on the historical heft of this event; many people have and will.

Suffice it to say that, regardless of your politics, you had to be proud to be an American last night. We are truly the land of promise and opportunity.

And it is opportunity that I hope President Obama will focus on when he takes office in January.

Now is the opportunity to transform our economy from one based upon greed, deception, and pollution to one of green, transparency, and solutions.

We heard a lot from both candidates about the new green economy, a new energy economy, during the campaign. Much of it was aspirational and not entirely pragmatic.

As he moves forward with his plans, I'd like Mr. Obama to live up to this statement from his speech last night:

"I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree"

It is time for us to get a realistic path forward for the new green economy, which is the best way to turn this economy around and move America forward again.

But it is important to take pragmatic steps within the limitations of the current economic climate.

We need real answers about how Mr. Obama plans to move this economy toward its green future. The goals he outlined in the campaign -- 5 million jobs and $150 Bn -- may not be realistic in the short term.

But in tempering his ambitious goals, I hope Mr. Obama will stick to his guns on going green.

It is important to our future that we have realistic, measurable goals and strong leadership at this time -- now more than ever -- especially on alternative energy, climate change, and overhauling the financial sector.

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02 November 2008

Review: Investing in Renewable Energy by Jeff Siegel of Green Chip Stocks

Book cover of Book cover via AmazonInvesting books are almost as tough to time as investments. Books are time-bound. What's happening when you write it will no doubt change by the time the book is published. The market may peak or collapse. Or the stock you recommend may tank. The company you featrue, as happened with VeraSun (VSE) this week, may go bankrupt.

Better to stick to the web for real-time recommendations and commentary (see my StockTwits post from a few weeks ago).

And investing books in an emerging sector in a volatile market are even tougher to time.

2007 was a banner year for alternative energy. The clean tech sector garnered more than $117 billion in new investments that year.

By January 2008, alt-energy stocks were imploding and pundits were crowing about the bursting of the next bubble.

Then all hell broke loose, the credit and mortgage crisis hit, the economy tanked, and the price of oil plummeted from its all-time highs.

October 2008 will go down in history as one of the blackest months on Wall Street.

What a time to launch a book, let alone a book about alternative energy investing.

But that's exactly what happened with Jeff Siegel, who, along with Chris Nelder and Nick Hodge, have just released Investing in Renewable Energy: Making Money on Green Chip Stocks (Wiley, 2008).

The good news is the authors run an investment advisory service that focuses exclusively on renewable energy and the organic and natural foods markets. You can subscribe to his service and e-newsletter at GreenChipStocks.com.

To their credit, they do print a disclaimer about the relevancy of printed media in an age of instant analysis, and suggest you don't take investment advice from the book without doing your own research.

That said, there is enough worthy and relevant information in this book to make it worth having on your shelf along with last year's The Clean Tech Revolution, by Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder, if only for the insights into the sector and the general knowledge about what to look for. (See my review of Clean Tech Revolution here.)

Messrs Siegel, Nelder, and Hodge do know the sector well and have thoroughly researched the various technologies, from solar and wind to geothermal and efficiency. They don't spend as much time visiting with companies as Pernick and Wilder did, but they do offer insights into the benefits and drawbacks of some well-known and some lesser known publicly traded stocks in the sector.

Their overall premise is that "green chip" investing will pay off in ways that blue chip investing once did. Recent Green Chip newsletters indicate they are still bullish on the sector, albeit with tempered enthusiasm over the short term.

"There is little doubt that the companies operating within this industry today," write the authors, "will ultimately become the dominant players int he overall energy generation and transportation mix of tomorrow."

Why? Because "our insatiable energy consumption and lack of conventional supplies to meet our growing demand," the authors write, "this is probably one of the safest long-term bets you can make."

I'd emphasize the LONG term in that sentence and, if you buy this book, make sure you subscribe to Green Chip Stocks as well to keep up on market conditions that will affect the overall profitability of renewable energy.

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