I first encountered the “green economy” as a strategy consultant at Bain’s early stage technology incubation arm, Bainlab, back in 2000. What back then was a field (if you could even call it that) predominantly focused on large scale energy generation technologies i.e. wind turbines, has flourished into a multi-faceted, dynamic driving force in our economy, with low carbon innovations now appearing in every sector. As managing director of Sustainable Ventures, I’ve had the real privilege of seeing some of these opportunities, first emerging on the horizon, transition into fully fledged markets in their own right, and crucially, unlocking multiple social and economic benefits along the way.
Going forward, the pace of decarbonisation and its impact is only likely to increase as more consumers, businesses and governments are swayed by the green economy’s inherent resource efficiency and underlying, long-term economic rationale. Energy UK’s shift in position last month is one example. Indeed, the “green economy” will cease to be a distinction, as resource efficient business becomes the norm. Policy will certainly have a role to play in enabling society to tackle some of its biggest environmental challenges, but as an entrepreneur, for me the real excitement lies with the commercial innovations opening up across the economy, where real bottom-up change is reshaping the society which we live in. Here I’d like to focus on three of these trends, with a nod to some of the companies I’ve worked with along the way:
Connected Energy – A Green Internet of Things (IoT): From smart home appliances to the emerging connected cars sector, the IoT is not only very much now shaping the innovation trajectory, but is also opening up various new opportunities for low carbon innovation, especially around smarter asset utilisation.
Businesses such as Green Running, who specialise in energy monitoring, use artificial intelligence to capture data on buildings’ energy performance – a million times every second. With this Green Running can disaggregate a property’s energy bill down to individual appliances, allowing customers to see exactly which devices are working efficiently. Crucially, it’s not just the ability to capture this data that makes Green Running, and many other IoT innovations valuable, but their ability to then derive accurate, reliable, and meaningful insights from the data, with which customers can make better decisions; saving money on their energy bills, finding more energy efficient appliances and reducing their carbon footprint. If the last six years have demonstrated our ability to generate data of unprecedented volumes, over the next six I see us being able to extract increasing value from the data to make a real tangible difference to consumers.
Moving forward these capabilities will continue to infiltrate new domains, unlocking greater resource efficiencies. Last month the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s report Intelligent Assets: Unlocking the circular economy potential detailed the surge in connected devices (~ up to 50 billion globally by 2020), or the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Enhanced connectivity can shift usage patterns to where value creation is increasingly decoupled from finite resource consumption. From improved asset choice to optimised utilisation levels, ventures such as AutoTrip, (experts in automated business mileage expensing), are unlocking a whole range of efficiencies, showing that green business can be synonymous with cost-efficient business. Moving forward I anticipate this type of application, especially asset optimisation, will become increasingly prevalent, as misperceptions of ‘green business’ equating to expensive PR are fully rejected.