Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Lisbon Strategy VS. VLAB Clean Tech Value Chain Event

I started this blog in part as a response to attending the VLAB Clean Tech Value Chain event, which really got me thinking about the role of business and government - and the Valley - in addressing sustainability issues. What can we count on business to do? What is government addressing? And where are the gaps...and who are those issues assigned to?

Drawing on what the panelists in this excellent event told us about their worlds, it's clear that the cleantech kids are getting perhaps a little bit of a stimulus, but it doesn't appear to be a fast track pass to "Go to the head of the class." While the economic stimulus package helps us build roads, it doesn't appear to be driving us at high speed to a new world of electric cars produced in America. And it's apparent that Silicon Valley may be too mature to really drive serious innovation in cleantech. Too fat from years of the tech sector, the Valley VC are the big guns out there for the big exit with the least capital investment...which is driving them to prefer smart grid investments, software investments, and the like. In the meantime, they may be missing the biggest gold rush of the 21st century, especially now that the genetics sector is under the gun (witness the new gene patent lawsuit brought by the ACLU mentioned in the NYTimes today.)

In the meantime, look at China...As PR Yu mentioned, China is becoming a major exporter of solar technology. And U.S. investors suddenly seem to be taking note, witness a brand new article in the NYTimes today. And as Fraser Smith of Electradrive mentioned, while IT and the tech sector was largely a locally funded phenomena, as far as cleantech goes, the game is already global.

Some formerly U.S. based companies are going to go public in Germany, where the tax laws are more favorable and the country is already a leader in solar. And here on this panel, we have Siemens lining up outside the gates of UCBerkeley, ready to fund cleantech-ers. Cyclos of Berkeley is one of their 10 portfolios companies.

What is behind all this? Is it the 8 years of Bush-ism and oil company world domination? In the meantime, Europe has been making eco-innovation a major platform in their business planning with its Lisbon Strategy. The Lisbon Strategy slogan is "clean, clever and competitive."

According to EU Green Plan author, Herman Sips, who I interviewed in Nov., "Europe has decided to make eco-innovations - that’s the buzz word in a way, or a shortcut to put it that way - to make that part of their economic strategy, maybe not yet at the heart of that strategy but very close to that. And it’s called the Lisbon strategy, which aims to make Europe the most competitive region in the world and the cleanest one and it's clearly seen that eco innovations are the key to that...what the EU is doing is setting up specific technology platforms, where everyone who has a sort of interest in a certain technology gets to the table and tries to shape markets in such a way that green development and implementation of technology spurs off.

"Basically the idea, in all honesty, came from the Dutch presidency in 2004 and from the recogition if you try and find a niche way you can compete in, with the U.S. but also with bigger players in Asia, it can never be on flexibility, it can never be on labor costs, so then we thought it has to be something around quality - so it better be environmental quality. So we came up with the slogan "clean, clever and competitive."

To see Sips' video interview, see this brief clip:

There is also a transcript of the longer (unedited) video interview I did with him here on Google docs.

To learn about applying the lessons of Green Plans in California, check out the Fort Baker Leadership Conference, where work is taking place at a high level to inject this kind of political momentum into California and the U.S. For more about Green Plans, see the Resource Renewal Institute web site or YouTube channel.

My question, and quest, is to find out what the U.S. is doing to compete with the Lisbon Strategy, if we have any strategy at all? If you know of anyone to comment on this topic, send them here.

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