Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Making a Bunch of Green by Going Green

So being that today is Earth Day, I thought it would probably be a good idea to write about something that has to do with the environment. The problem is I have always had some degree of reservation when placing entrepreneurship and environmentalism in the same sentence. It’s not that entrepreneurs can’t uphold environmental principles or help reduce pollution or any other dilemma. It’s simply the intense difference in image and meaning surrounding the two concepts. Often people will say that going green should be an altruistic thing that you do for the earth and for future generations. The concept of making a profit while doing so is often associated with greed or inefficiency.

Yet, I would say that making a profit while simultaneously bettering the environment is something that should be respected, and perhaps even promoted in the coming years. And entrepreneurs who innovate in this manner may soon become leaders of the environmental movement.

Take James Poss of Needham, Massachusetts for example. He invented the BigBelly trash can and started Seahorse Power Co. to advance his product. The BigBelly trash can is similar to any other trash can except it uses solar energy to compress trash when the trash can gets too full. This means that people can pile more trash into their trash bins, which in turn means that trash collection frequency is drastically reduced. As the number of diesel-burning garbage trucks decreases, the amount of fuel burned by these trucks decreases as well. Moreover Poss’ Device has put him in places of influence on a national level—the U.S. Forest Service and the Borough of Queens are both clients.

Other entrepreneurs such as Professor Daniel Kammen tend to focus more on the research and innovation end of entrepreneurship. Kammen, a professor at UC Berkley and Cornell alumnus, developed a UV tube for light bulbs that saves energy and cuts down on costs. Although Kammen had the opportunity to plunge fully into growing a company, he chose to stay in the innovative phase so that he can contribute more to the current knowledge of sustainable energy. (Click here to listen to eClips content from Kammen)

While entrepreneurs like Poss and Kammen have different goals and priorities, it is clear that such entrepreneurs are jumping into the market very rapidly. The Center for Small Business and the Environment (CSBE) said clean-tech startups accounted for 6.4 percent of all North American venture investments in 2003. And this number is only going to keep climbing in the coming years. Clearly, environmentalism is becoming a global issue. Look to entrepreneurs to lead the way.

Allen Miller
akm64@cornell.edu

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