Green Technology: The Key to More Jobs, Higher Exports, Cleaner Environment, Better Reputation?

The Science of Necessity

We all agree that America needs to create more jobs, although there is certainly less agreement on how to do so. A few years ago, green technology was the solution to our problems, but energy prices sagged, investment dried up, and our patience for innovation waned. Though it seems the polish of green technology has dulled, let us not forget that the factors driving the rush have not disappeared, and will reemerge sooner than we think.

Instead of waiting for the next energy crisis to strike, let us use the current economic situation as the catalyst for renewed investment. While the days of a quick fix through quotas and 100 MPG retrofitted Priuses are largely behind us, a number of reasoned engineers, businesspeople, and government leaders have quietly moved forward using the spirit of the boom and the lessons of the bust to their advantage.

At a recent seminar convened by Meridian International Center, an interesting discussion took place among members of the diplomatic, public, and private sectors on this subject. All agreed that investing in green technologies is "common sense" -- but the reasons went well beyond environmental concerns. Research has shown that returns on investment in green tech are nearly certain to include large-scale job creation, increased American exports, add a desperately needed growth sector of the economy, and provide substantial long-term (and often short term) cost savings for companies of all size. Reinvestment anyone?

Yet the group also acknowledged the important diplomatic function that green technology plays. Our discussion included representatives from the United States, Finland, Georgia, and Nigeria -- all of whom noted that environmental collaboration must represent part of its overall diplomatic strategy. The realization that we have a common responsibility to protect the world we all share is the first step in tackling larger issues. Borders are man-made -- and the effects of environmental damage and over use rarely have the decency to stop at check-points. Working together to tackle the manageable issues of energy consumption is crucial, and the US has both the opportunity and obligation to take a leadership position in the world.

Diplomatic Buildings as Tools for Diplomacy

Just off of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C, the Finnish Embassy stands out in a city that defaults to traditional. With its clean lines, innovative building materials, and extensive integration of living greenery into the climate control ecosystem, it is unlike any other diplomatic building in the capital. The building is the first embassy in the United States to receive the EPA's Energy Star for superior energy efficiency, as well as the first to be awarded the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification. Listening to Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde speak about it, one quickly notices the pride and passion that went into setting this example.

Most people probably don't know the US has been taking similar steps in their Embassies in recent years. For decades, the US Department of State has employed public diplomacy programs as a tool of relationship building -- through American Centers abroad, English language and other educational opportunities, cultural showcases, and opportunities like Fulbright and International Visitor Leadership Programs. Increasingly, the Department has recognized the value of public diplomacy as a showcase for American innovation and technology as well -- using it as a tool for trade and economic growth.

U.S. Entrepreneurship Leading in the Green Tech Field

An example of this is seen through the eyes of a small business called Multistack, an American company pioneering a new generation of climate control systems. At our seminar, Multistack joined representatives from the U.S. Department of State to discuss how government architects worked with company engineers to incorporate innovative technology into the design of new and retrofitted Embassies.

Throughout the world, you can now see dozens of examples of American technology combating the single greatest use of energy worldwide -- interior climate control. While there's rarely a shortage of energy in our country, many countries are not as fortunate -- and by setting an example in this simple issue, we not only showcase our technology, we reduce demand on burdened electricity systems at home and at US properties globally, and create jobs domestically. A virtuous cycle is set in motion when other countries follow our lead.

While politicians wrangle with government's role in business, Multistack's experience is one example of a public-private collaboration that works. After years wondering where our economy is going, it's nice know we can work together to move smartly in the right direction. And for those of us who go about our life rarely thinking about energy efficiency -- usually only when watching the gas pump tick ever-higher, or paying our electric bill in the summer -- we are missing a tremendous amount of innovation and development in a sector that we are wise to invest in and seek to lead. It is time to start building on some united successes with the smartest people in industry and governments around the world. And that is energy well spent.