Despite sinking into the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the levels of green innovation rose to historic heights in 2009. This has been a trying year marked by economic decline and the near collapse of global finance. On the environmental front, progress was hampered by an uncooperative US Senate, the ruse of climate-gate and a less than stellar result at COP15. However, the plethora of bad economic and environmental news in 2009 overshadowed the wealth of eco-innovation.
Led by renewable energy, the stock market has been a guiding ray of hope. Solar and wind have continued their meteoric rise and this year they were joined by geothermal, which is experiencing significant growth. The Geothermal Energy Association year-end review indicated that despite the recession, geothermal energy grew at a rapid pace in 2009, adding 750 full time jobs and 2,827 construction-related jobs due to a roughly $800 million investment in the technology. US geothermal power capacity rose 6 percent during the year. Currently, 144 new geothermal plants are under development in the US.
In 2009 governments encouraged eco-innovation in a variety of ways. Governments all around the world poured stimulus money into their economies with the aim of increasing research, development and implementation of greener technologies, practices and processes.
Government efforts are not restricted to spending. In the UK, the Intellectual Property Office announced that green inventions will be fast tracked through the patent process. Rather than taking 2-3 years, under the new patent guidelines green inventions can now be patented in 9 months. Expediting the patents for eco-inventions contributes to sustainable growth, enhances security, creates jobs and offers benefits to business, consumers and the wider economy.
Companies are innovating countless products that reduce emissions through greater efficiency. Energyware has developed Energyfit, an energy saving software for computer networks. This software is designed to help both small and large businesses cut electric bills and reduce CO2 emissions. Philips Electronics has developed an LED bulb that reportedly produces as much light as a 60W incandescent bulb using less than 10W, and lasting 25 times as long.
Not all great ideas come from corporate behemoths, many small ventures also benefited from eco-inventiveness in 2009. The founders of YouRenew.com launched a green business out of their dorm room at Yale University and are now moving into a new 4,000 square foot office. YouRenew.com pays for old electronic devices, which they in turn recycle. They are also launching a site for companies called CorporateRenew.com.
Throughout the last year, green business ideas have garnered attention and won contests at local fairs and international competitions. At a business idea contest hosted by the University of Michigan, there were over 2,000 submissions and four of the nine winners had Green Ideas. The winning ideas included a portable solar-powered mini-generator and an inexpensive water condenser intended for use in the third world.
In 2009, the US Department of Energy launched its L Prize competition to encourage the development of a more energy efficient light bulb. The L Prize offers the incentive of a cash award and federal purchasing agreements worth approximately $10 million.
At a recent US business idea competition, 6 College students defeated CEOs and MBAs by coming up with an idea for a portable water bottle with an inbuilt filter. Their win earned them $27,500 in start-up funds, demonstrating that even these smaller contests are driving the green agenda and providing a platform and seed money for green innovation.
Eco-innovations are not restricted to products, they are also reaching into processes. This year, Johannes Schneider and his research team at the University of Mainz developed an algorithm that can help maximize the efficient use of confined shipping spaces, this decreases transportation costs and associated emissions.
The growth of green inventiveness is mirrored by the increasing number of green degree programs. As 2009 comes to a close, the clouds of economic disarray are being pierced by glimmers of green innovation.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources for information and tools on sustainability. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics and eco-economics.