Like a lot of Americans, I watched the State of the Union Address by President Obama tonight wondering what it would mean for me, my family, and for all of us. Plenty of folks on all sides of the political spectrum have been saying that Obama has gotten things wrong when it comes to issues like the environment and the economy. Some feel that he has gone too far while others feel he hasn’t done enough. Whatever your party, I hope we can agree that great things are possible if we set our mind to it and work together. And we need great things to happen. Millions of people are still out of work, and a great many businesses remain uncertain of their future. For all of the challenges that we face though, we can meet these challenges and emerge stronger than ever. We can both boost the economy and help the environment, with green businesses large and small making it happen.
Early in Obama’s first year in office, the stimulus package, or ARRA, included over $70 billion of incentives for clean energy, clean jobs and clean businesses. That’s a lot of money, but its money well spent because clean energy is a key driver of economic growth in the 21st century. As Obama said in his speech, “Providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future — because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”
Energy is a multi-trillion dollar industry around the globe, and whatever we do the energy industry in the rest of the world will not be standing still. Energy around the world is shifting away from old, inefficient and dirty technology to new, clean, and renewable energy. China, India, Europe, and other countries are already investing heavily in this change, paving the way forward. The US can cling to old businesses or lead the way forward to create strong green businesses and good green jobs.
Climate change legislation stalled in the Senate has been written off by many, saying that fighting climate change is too costly and bad for business. Passing climate change legislation would be difficult in the best of times, and any legislation that eventually emerges may not include cap and trade and no doubt won’t please everyone. But a well crafted piece of legislation will protect our economy, our security, and the environment now and far into the future. It seems inevitable that the US will take action to fight climate change sooner or later. Shifting to cleaner energy sooner will speed the transition to a healthier economy and environment, regardless of one’s views on climate change.
And the opportunities in the green economy are not restricted to a select few. People often ask me how large the green economy is, and the question is surprisingly difficult to answer because the green economy isn’t walled off from the rest of the economy. Adding up the sales of solar panels, wind turbines, organic food, and electric vehicles doesn’t really capture the whole picture. It misses a greater trend, the greening of the whole economy as businesses everywhere wake up to the opportunity to be more profitable by embracing green efforts. Whatever their motivation is, and whether we think of them as green or not, some of America’s largest corporations like Wal-Mart are making a big push to be more sustainable, as well as profitable. They aren’t doing it for political reasons, but because going green is good business.
The impact of green initiatives are rippling throughout the economy to create opportunities for small businesses and innovative entrepreneurs as well. Somewhere out there right now the green energy Microsofts are taking root and growing. As great as they are, all of the green business efforts from startups to Wal-Mart have only scratched the surface so far. The opportunities are vast for businesses and people from every background providing green building, clean water, good food, renewable energy, transportation, energy efficiency retrofits, and a host of other green products and services.
As people and businesses across the US look for a new direction, looking backward is not the way to go. We can only move forward. The world is changing, and green businesses are part of a positive change for both our economy and our environment. We can move beyond a divided map of red and blue states to a map full of green states that might disagree on many things, but all agree on the importance of creating a better world full of opportunity for ourselves and for our children. That is the type of opportunity I hope we can all embrace.
Contact: Glenn Croston