- “We allowed ourselves to believe in a sort of modern day mythology about the infinite resilience of our finance system, and to allow greedy, short-term thinking to get the upper hand. In a nutshell, we borrowed money we didn’t have, to buy stuff we didn’t need.”
- “We are seeing signs of failure in every single aspect of our relationship to the planet … if we stopped all fossil fuel burning this afternoon, the Earth’s fever would continue to mount for 40 more years before it began to break.”
- “How far an item travels, is actually a very minute percentage of the footprint of an apple, yogurt or bottle of beer. The far larger footprint is in how the product is grown, that is the type of agriculture accounts for more like 50-60% of the carbon footprint. In other words, buying organic from a long distance may be far more carbon-friendly than buying non-organic locally. The point is, we need to be sure our brains are as engaged as our hearts when making big decisions.”
- “I have learned that, whatever you choose to do, there is no point in producing the same quality as anyone else. In fact, that is likely a strategy for failure, for you are almost certain to be out-competed by someone who is better capitalized.”
- “At a societal scale, those of you who question conventional thinking will be in the best positions to seize the next wave of jobs and economic opportunities. Consider for instance, that with the amount of sunlight that strikes the US each day, we would need only 10 million acres of land – or only 0.4% of the area of the United States – to supply all of our nation’s electricity using solar photovoltaics.
When you consider that the US Government pays to idle approximately 30 million acres of farmland per year, you can see how confused our priorities have become.”
- “Success will be when you finish eating the yogurt, you will eat the cup.”
- “Solar isn’t just for Arizona anymore, either; right now in New Hampshire there are homes powered completely off the grid – built at competitive costs. For less than half the normal garage roof space, you can power your house with no fuel, no pollution, and no ice storm outages. Soon it’ll be down to one-quarter of that garage roof. And we haven’t even talked about solar hot water, which is even cheaper than solar cells, or wind power, which is cheaper too. Best yet, these power sources are built, installed, and maintained locally, right here in America, unlike the billion dollars per day we 'export' out-of-country for oil, for example.”
- “Renewable technology isn’t just a energy issue, it’s a global competition. We don’t have a natural monopoly on sunlight or wind, and the Danes, Germans, and increasingly, the Chinese 'get it.' They aim to be the energy technology vendors to the world, and—having paid more attention to it than we have—they’re as good or better than we are.”
- “Questioning conventional authority is a powerful way to succeed in business and in life. A couple of guys from UPS once asked ‘why not try to avoid left-hand turns,’ with their 95,000 big brown trucks.”
- “What we discovered from doing good is a new business formula that is now being mimicked by the largest companies on earth…. when you make a better, higher quality product, you leap all the way to loyalty without having to spend as much on advertising…. When you make it better, you get loyalty. And with loyalty comes the most powerful purchase incentive in commerce—word of mouth.”
- “I can assure you that there will be more jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, preventative health care, organic/non-toxic agriculture, textiles and cleansers (I have yet to meet the consumer who prefers to eat the yogurt with more pesticides or synthetic hormones than in the traditional fields.).”
- “The whole notion of service is very attractive to smart employers. From a practical perspective, those of you who volunteer and give your time and energy to work on positive change are exactly who we CEO’s want to hire.”
- “Don’t forget that as consumers, we wield enormous power to choose the polluting, consumptive and failed ways of the past or the renewable and sustainable ways of the future too. When we purchase anything, we are voting for the kind of communities, society and planet we want. And I have learned that corporations spend billions of dollars to tally those votes.”
- “We stand at the edge of the next wave, the sustainability revolution in which we use green chemistry which leaves behind no toxic residue, cradle to cradle technology which generates no waste, renewable energy with no carbon footprint, industrial ecology with waste from one process being the food for another, will be the norm.
- “Personally, I feel there is no greater societal priority than to embrace the conversion to renewable energy and organic food production with all of the climate, ecological and health benefits. When people tell me that organics is not proven, I respond that it is the chemicals that are not proven, but the early results are poor as we face an epidemic of cancers and preventable disease. The same is true of our energy policy, which has been driven by generations who have grown up in the oil and coal business and believe that mining the earth’s crust is the only way to fuel our needs.”
Marc Gunther is one of the most respected thinkers, writers and speakers on business, the environment and corporate social responsibility.
Last year, Ethisphere ranked him # 39 out of 100 “influentials” in business ethics, ahead of Jim Koch, T. Boone Pickens, James Goodnight and Paul Newman. It’s a well-earned reputation.
In a wide-brush conversation, I asked him about his early influences, career highlights and how he became enamored with business ethics and sustainability.
Gunther grew up in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. “I was a child of the Sixties. My parents weren’t that politically involved, but our Rabbi was part of the civil rights movement; he had marched with Martin Luther King. That inspired me.
“I was an idealist, growing up during one of the most interesting times in history with JFK, Martin Luther King, RFK. Incredible social progress was being made, from the civil rights movement to the women’s movement. Vietnam and Watergate were happening. This had a big impact on me.”
Gunther graduated from Yale in 1973 with an English degree, but couldn’t find a job in journalism. His first gig was with a clean air activist group funded by Ralph Nader. “I inspected boilers in New York City, making sure pollution controls were being met, working with City enforcement groups. It was literally a dirty job.”
Then he cracked journalism.
Over the next two decades, he climbed the newspaper ladder, starting with the Paterson (N.J.) News, then The Hartford Courant, The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and Washington Bureau of Knight Ridder. He covered many topics, but wrote most often about TV, media, politics and business. Gunther also interpreted the Internet in the nineties, writing stories like "What is cyberspace?" and "What is e-mail?”
When Fortune magazine hired him in 1996, he wrote even more about business. “I was beginning to wonder what had happened to my idealistic values. I had gotten off track.”
Around the time Gunther turned 50, he wrote a cover story for Fortune called “God and Business.”
“I interviewed people at the intersection of religion and corporate America. People like Jim Collins of "Built to Last" talked about business and values. I spoke with a Notre Dame priest who also taught MBAs. These people got me thinking about business in a fresh way. They were treating people well and believed business can – and should be - a force for good, for positive social change.”
The story became a turning point for him professionally and personally.
“Until then, I had a cliché view of business. The tension that existed between business and values got me thinking in a fresh way. Suddenly, I was no longer interested in writing about media companies, the entertainment industry, American Idol.”
Gunther began writing with “a sense of purpose.”
He wrote a cover story about the greening of Walmart and one about Jeff Immelt’s efforts to reshape the values of General Electric. “Those were two very interesting reputational turnarounds.”
He wrote a cover piece about Hank Paulson, as well as spirituality in the workplace. He authored stories about the business of carbon finance, the rise of corporate social responsibility, the zero-waste movement, genetically-modified rice, environmental activism, corporate governance, AIDS and gay rights in corporate America.
Last December, Gunther (and about 100 others) was let go by Fortune. He calls this experience “a hugely valuable event,” because it connected him with even greater numbers of interesting people and opportunities. Gunther likens it to an economic model called creative disruption “where things are destroyed and then new things spring up.”
The social media revolution is serving him well. His popular blog is proliferating. Gunther is on Facebook, YouTube and he’s started Tweeting (@MarcGunther).
Proving "creative disruption" brings good karma to good people, Gunther not only still writes for Fortune, he authored the current cover story “Warren Buffett takes charge” about the Chinese company BYD.
Gunther smiles and in his self-effacing style says, "This could be a first - a laid off reporter writing a cover story for the publication that let him go, four months after it happened."
Peter Green, President and CEO of Advent Solar, a leading manufacturer of innovative solar cells and modules, talks about the parallels between the semiconductor and solar photovoltaic (PV ) industries, and highlights new opportunities for innovation based on these parallels.
There was lots of passion on display at Tuesday’s Clean Technology event at the Harvard Club (disclosure: sponsored by Beaupre and Brodeur Partners).
“Cleantech hasn’t had its Netscape moment yet.”
“The science is so compelling it’s hard to turn back.”
“This has become personal to them (CEOs). They are, on some level, thinking about their legacies - what kind of world they’re leaving for their children and grandchildren.”
“This is the growth sector for America.”
The pace of change isn’t fast enough, but New England is off to “a fantastic start.”
If Obama is elected, it will be positive for clean technology, “We’ll look back in six months and be amazed.”
The revolution will occur via 100,000 “small garages” vs. a Manhattan Project-like effort.
We’ll need unprecedented private sector creativity and public sector political power working together like they’ve never done before.
Investment and growth for cleantech is markedly different vs. the software industry.
The VC industry is ripe for upheaval; a shakeout is looming.
Clean technology media pioneer Scott Clavenna said “We lost eight critical years. We need leadership from the top, at the White House. We need our (new) President to say, “This is what we’re going to do” and then stick with it. It’s time for a bold step.”
Our parent company, Brodeur Partners, announced the results of a new survey with clean energy and environmental reporters regarding their industry outlook and use of social media.
The key takeaways:
- Journalists are skeptical about whether the United States can significantly decrease its dependence on fossil fuel.
- Academic institutions and government bodies are the most trusted sources of information on cutting-edge clean energy technologies. Over 90% of journalists view these as credible news sources.
- Most are influenced by blogs and spend more than an hour each day reading them.
You can read survey results here.
In case you missed it (most people did), yesterday saw the launch of the nation's first mandatory cap-and-trade auction for carbon emission credits ... with little fanfare.
Ten northeastern states, including our little
But already the system has its critics. After a tepid first day of trading, the Wall Street Journal took a skeptical view of the program's long-term viability. The New York Times pointed out how emissions cap will have little impact at first because it's based on overestimates of CO2 output. And others cry that it's no more than a tax in green clothing that will raise electric rates (which it probably will, at first, but lower over the long term).
But the critics are shortsighted. What's more more important is that a real, free market-based cap-and-trade system for global warming reduction is now in place. There's a platform and regulatory mandate for cutting greenhouse gasses that didn't exist before. It's a build-it-and-they-will-come opportunity. It's a good first step.
Call me a green romantic. I know RGGI won't save the world right away, but at least we're finally giving power companies financial incentives to modernize plants, reduce emissions and explore alternative energy approaches. The program freezes greenhouse gases from power plants at current levels, and promises significant reductions long term.