Target Green

Q&A: William Brent

William Brent is SVP at Weber Shandwick Worldwide. He also leads the agency’s clean tech practice.

What is the next big thing in clean tech?
Water and carbon. Water technology will be huge as pressure continues to mount on something that is a non-renewable resource. Carbon as a commodity and the infrastructure around that will be big. Industrial biotech has some very interesting applications for the clean tech space as well, both for controlling emissions but also developing new cleaner sources of fuel. Of course I have to say wave energy too. And in an odd way, there is a back to the future component to clean tech, where technologies that have been around for a while are finally becoming commercially viable. What will also be interesting to see is how different threads within the clean tech space start to get tied together – chemistry, biotech, nanotech – and who will do the tying. Consolidation is coming, vertically and horizontally.

What role will China and India play in clean tech?
A big one, or we’re all in serious trouble. China has one-eighth the per capita energy consumption of the US. India has one-third that of China. But they are gaining rapidly. Green house gases are not a localized phenomenon like other environmental threats such as nuclear waste, which is typically buried near its source. With CO2, we are all affected, no matter where it originates. Having lived in China for 16 years, I can tell you that there is an environmental freight train coming, and its not a hybrid. By some estimates, China and India are expected to account for nearly 50% of global GDP by 2050, and if that’s dirty growth that’s a big problem. On the flip side, the opportunity is huge for clean tech businesses in China and India, and its exciting to think that technology has the potential to play a significant role in addressing the problems we face (as does marketing and communication, albeit in a supporting role).

Is the clean tech honeymoon over?
I think unlike the general green movement, clean tech is always going to have something new to say. It’s my perception that “green” will before too long be the rule, not the exception, resulting in it fading into disuse – it will just be our natural state so there will not really be a need to call it out. Technology, on the other hand, will always be evolving and there will always be a need to communicate new benefits and to build new advocates for it.

Would you agree that there is a clean tech bubble?
Having lived through the dot-com bubble (and launched a failed dot-com myself), the clean tech phenomenon seems different to me in one fundamental way – we know the size of the addressable market. World energy demand is quantifiable, so there is no room for a bubble. We know how much gasoline is consumed each year, for example. We know what’s needed to replace coal, since we know how much coal we burn. We know how many light bulbs are used, etc. With the Internet, we were in unchartered territory. What’s unclear in clean tech is what the mix of technologies will be that occupy that quantifiable space, and I think that will be fascinating to see play itself out.

What clean technologies are non-starters?
From the media and other influencers, you see an increasing amount of skepticism toward first generation ethanol, hydrogen and carbon offsets. But I would say that in general, the media is still very much in a learning curve about clean technologies, so there is a lot of confusion among consumers about what works, what doesn’t, what cuts GHG and what doesn’t. Again, that’s one of the things that marketing and communications have a role to play in.

What regions around the world are doing the most to advance environmental innovation?
The US, Europe, Israel and Canada. It will also be interesting to see the role BRIC — Brazil, Russia, India, and China — plays going forward as well as the rest of the Mid-East.

1 Comment so far

  1. [...] year, I said that a time would come when the term “green” would fall into disuse. I’m now wondering if that time is nearer than I originally thought. I’m already sensing some [...]

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