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The ‘Great Convergence’ of Clean Tech and Development

deirdre-snyderThe “Great Convergence” between clean tech and development seeks to fuel growth through the incubation and rapid commercialization of new, sustainable technologies.

That is the concensus of more than 100 of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, change agents and financiers engaged in sustainable innovation and base-of-the-pyramid enterprise development, who gathered to accelerate the rate of change toward the “great convergence” in the world-the joining of clean technologies with the base of the pyramid.

June 1-3, 2009, the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University held its inaugural Global Forum on Sustainable Enterprise in New York City.

The Cornell Global Forum was conceived by Stuart Hart, the Samuel C. Johnson Chair in Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Johnson School, and embodies the vision of its Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise which is facilitating a new private-sector-based approach to development, focused on creating profitable businesses that simultaneously:

  • Raise the quality of life for the world’s poor
  • Respect cultural diversity
  • Conserve the ecological integrity of the planet for future generations

Stuart Hart kicked off the Global Forum on June 1 at the Museum of Natural History while David Skorton, President of Cornell University, provided an update on Cornell’s progress in sustainability including an upgrade to the University’s central heating that will utilize co-generation of heat and power and cut green house emissions by 20 percent and reduce coal emissions by 50 percent.

L. Joseph Thomas, Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean of the Johnson School, spoke of the critical role the private sector plays in driving innovation and the promise for realizing the vision of a more sustainable world.

As the evening’s keynote speaker, H. Fisk Johnson, CEO of S. C. Johnson & Son, discussed the divergent consumption problems facing the world today: the developing nations find consumption is a matter of meeting basic needs while developed nations consume as a matter of convenience, fulfilling social needs, or even to bolster self esteem, commenting, “One society consumes to live, another lives to consume.”

During the remaining two days, delegates were split into groups for working sessions. Each group was tasked with identifying synergies and next steps related to the “Great Convergence,” while focusing on specific target areas including: renewable energy, distributive generation, biomaterials, biofuels, water (three groups), capacity generation, sustainable materials, food/agriculture, health and convergence.

The momentum generated during the working sessions carried into the closing session June 3, which featured some of the leading minds in the field, including the Honorable Al Gore, H. Fisk Johnson, Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Board for Tata Group, and Stuart Hart. Charlie Rose served as moderator and presented the participants with questions from the live audience as well as those watching via broadcast from more than 26 locations across the United States.

Al Gore was funny, incredibly well informed, and easy to understand. He was one of two speakers who earned applause from the audience — at one point, in his praise of H. Fisk Johnson’s company, for its pioneering work in sustainable operations. Ratan Tata was the other, when he responded to a question about the fuel efficiency of his company’s Nano vehicle (65 miles per gallon).

H. Fisk Johnson’s comments were believable and heartfelt, as he described the vision of his grandfather and father for S. C. Johnson & Son. A commitment to business practices that go beyond reducing impacts to actually repairing the earth is part of the company’s DNA, Johnson said. He also shared his humorous, albeit discouraging, experiences in encountering barriers to placing a wind mill in his backyard for power production.

Stuart Hart provided the broader, global perspective to the discussion. Neither a businessman nor a politician, he described the challenges of bringing both new and old technologies to the developing world.

“Small scale solar, wind mills, radical technology cooking stoves that people don’t need wood to cook, point-of-use drinking water,” Hart said. “This whole range of technologies is disruptive to the way we currently do things, but has enormous potential.”

The event generated informed discussion and connected leaders from around the world so they can now take actionable steps related to sustainable innovation and base-of-the-pyramid enterprise development.

Deirdre Snyder is the assistant director of public relations for the Johnson School at Cornell University. She has previously worked as the communications director for Thomson Delmar Learning, now part of Cengage Learning, and as the brand manager for CNN International in Latin America.

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