In his recent op-ed for the New York Times, Al Gore laid out a clear plan for America to lift itself out of both the energy and economic crises. The movement to build a clean energy future began in the grassroots, and has become a nationwide imperative involving the government, companies and individuals alike. Gore called upon Barack Obama and the new administration to help our country achieve energy independence while bolstering the economy and creating jobs. Those of us working in the green industry already believe that environmentalism represents the positive change our country and economy needs. So how can environmental executives inspire others to support the green economy in tough times?
1) We do not need to choose between our planet and our wallets. Consumers are motivated to spend money on green products and services, despite the lagging economy. Recent research from the Natural Marketing Institute showed that more than 80 percent of U.S. adults had some form of “green motivation” – whether that means purchasing eco-friendly products or changing conservation behaviors. The incentive to buy green can, and should, naturally align with the desire to save money. Environmental entrepreneurs are leveraging this coincidence to great effect.
Investors, too, see tremendous opportunity for clean tech and alternative energy stocks. A recent Deutsche Asset Management report speculated that the clean tech market would be stimulated by government regulations and policies. In other words, government backing of alternative energy policies or CO2 emission caps would in effect create a more sound and stable investment environment. While the stock market now is anything but sound and stable, clean tech investments may offer a glimmer of hope – while reversing the trend of global warming.
2) Take a look back through the history books. Economic downturns can be (and have been) engines for innovation. They’re traditionally opportune times to invest in R&D, create research jobs and ultimately drive innovation. Even big oil companies, such as BP, are seizing this opportunity by pouring millions of dollars into UC Berkeley research to find the next clean-burning biofuel. Other companies can support U.S. academic centers to propel our culture of innovation, or concentrate on development in-house.
3) Not all investments in the green industry have to be huge. Consumers are making small, but intelligent, conservation strides and purchasing green goods and services. Companies are making calculated investments in green products to reduce CO2 emissions, cut their bottom lines and ultimately improve their corporate images. Both groups are awakening to the core philosophy of the green movement, which favors conscious consumption over excess and encourages people to make smart choices to improve their lives and their planet. We can use these individuals as inspiration for others to take measured steps toward a healthier planet.
Even in a recession, green businesses leaders have the unique opportunity to do well for the environment, provide a valuable service for their customers, and make a profit for their shareholders. There’s already strong proof that the green industry can offer our economy a much-needed boost. And, if Gore’s approach rings true, 2009 may bring the U.S. not just more jobs – but good, green jobs.
Patti Prairie is the Chief Executive Officer of Brighter Planet, a for-profit company that helps people reduce their carbon emissions and build a clean-energy future.