Looking to Market Forces, Not Government, to Make the World Greener

For some time now, most of the proposed renewables-focused legislation has been centered on retroactively trying to make "green" end products, rather than making them environmentally friendly from the start. This is, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently said, what is plaguing the push to be "comprehensively" greener. His New York Times op-ed goes on to quote DOE's lofty goal to: "accelerate the normal progress of science and technology for energy research" and thereby "discover and commercialize the energy breakthroughs we need."

What is critical is to understand that there are no "instantaneous" solutions.

But if we are to step back and think bigger, where shall we focus our attention? Forgive the pun -- but, in our quest to make the world greener, where is the forest we have so long been mistaking for the trees? Many experts in the field would offer up the government money-trail as convincing evidence. Where are federal dollars headed to encourage growth and innovation? After all, billions of U.S. dollars have been spent on kickstarting green technology over the past several years on innovations in corn ethanol, wind, and solar power, to name a few examples.

Consider, though, that the greenest technology in the world will help no one if it cannot be commercialized, marketed and scaled. So in addition to government assistance, the private sector must also rely heavily -- really, primarily -- on itself to create and market the latest and greatest in the green space. What's more, we're seeing increasingly that in order to deal practically with the challenging environmental issues before us, we must understand that the future of the green movement depends upon investors and stock brokers as much as scientists and educators.

This is what it means for the green movement to take a step back and, as Dr. John Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute implores us, look at the "big picture" of true sustainability. It is a process that requires investment and strategic placement of private monies -- not only government subsidies -- and the business acumen and leadership skills to present it to the market in a compelling and attractive way.

Over the past few years there have been a number of good examples of the private sector's ability to innovate within the green space. Elon Musk, of Tesla Motors, is one more recent example. Though there have been other ventures that, while not as colorful as Mr. Musk's electric car, are no less noteworthy.

For instance, Bloom Energy's so-called "Bloom Box" was named one of Time Magazine's 50 best inventions of 2010. The secretive California-based energy startup has already amassed around $400 million in venture capital, and have created a device for green power-generation "using solid oxide fuel cells, which provide juice by oxidizing a fuel source. In the case of the Bloom Box, that fuel source is natural gas, though the company hopes to substitute cleaner sources in the future. Silicon Valley companies like Google and eBay are already using Bloom Boxes for greener backup power, at a cost of about $800,000 each."

In addition, my own company, Vertichem, is currently raising money to help us commercialize our patented technological process. It allows us to replace oil-based chemicals with renewable, green chemicals in dozens of everyday products.

Start-up innovation aside, private capital investments are also helping to green already-existing industries. Take, for example, the Spokane, Wa.-based Inland Paper Company. With a $40 million private investment the company made in 2008, they have been able to secure new printing equipment that will reduce natural gas use by 75 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 33,000 tons annually, according to GreenBusinesses.net.

These are just a few examples of private industry's ability to provide practical, market-oriented efforts in the greening of our planet. This is not to say that government support should be ignored in these endeavors -- quite the opposite. Rather, we in the private sector should not look to Washington as the main source of financial support. Government changes, and so do the priorities of those who shape it. In my experience, the constant in all of this -- ironically -- is the ever-changing marketplace.

Smart money will be following green innovation in the private industry for decades to come. As the economy remains volatile and budgets are contracting, private companies interested in going commercial should not look solely to government for financial assistance in making our world greener.