When GreenBiz Meets Cleantech: State of Green Business Forum 2010

What happens when green business meets cleantech?

When those companies are like Best Buy, Autodesk and Serious Materials, you get firms that align their products and services with efforts to foster sustainability -- and in some cases guide the marketplace toward broader and deeper adoption of environmentally responsible practices.

That's what Best Buy Senior Vice President for Sustainability Rick Rommel, Autodesk Director of Sustainability Lynelle Cameron and Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace told moderator Marc Gunther, GreenBiz.com's senior contributor, during a panel discussion today at the State of Green Business Forum 2010 in San Francisco.

The event coincided with GreenBiz.com's release of the annual State of Green Business report and the panel provided the opportunity for the participants and the audience to delve further into  the possibilities that emerge when the aims of green business and prospects for cleantech overlap -- a trend that's becoming more prevalent, the report found.

“We started as a stereo store and we added, over time, categories that were relevant to our customers,” said Rommel of Best Buy, responding to a question from Gunther about the firm’s sales of electric bikes (and its investment into the bikes’ manufacturer Brammo), as well as its interest in green cars.

“We have a long, distinguished history of bringing the latest, greatest technology to you (the customer),” Rommel said, “and as we see transportation have the ability to connect with your phone, music -- the vehicle is beginning to look more and more like a computer on wheels. So then I bring the question back to you, should be we be selling electric cars?”

Rommel's call for a show of hands among the audience of roughly 400 people, gave him a green light on that proposition.

Surace, the chief executive of Serious Materials, also focused on the importance of education among consumers and at the professional level — such as the architects and builders who are the target market for his company’s high-performance, high-efficiency windows, sheetrock and other building materials.

The idea of laying out a little more cash now for building materials, which will pay back the investment through savings in as little as two years, and then yield savings for the remaining life of the product,  is a tough concept for people whose aim had been to put the cheapest product possible into a structure, Surace said.

“We have a lot of education to do,” he said.

Prominent projects such as the retrofit of the Empire State Building go a long way to build the public’s and industry awareness of the benefits and business case for energy efficiency, Surace said.

Though his firm has not officially detailed its role in the project, Surace alluded to his company’s plans in a recent speech before House Democrats and did so again today. It’ll involve upgrading the existing glass in all 6,500 dual pane R-2 windows of the buildiing -- that’s 26,000 panes of glass -- and converting them to super-insulated, R-8 windows.

Cameron’s firm, which develops 2-D and 3-D design software for creators, designers and planners in industries ranging from animation to building, has devised a novel program to speed awareness and adoption of technology supporting sustainable design.

Last summer, Autodesk launched its Clean Tech Partner Program and expanded the effort last month by extending grants of its design software to 100 cleantech firms.

Autodesk products enable users to build digital prototypes and test different constructs, products and materials to model different solutions for achieving various goals.

“Our thought is that if people use the tools they would be able to design things more sustainably,” Autodesk CEO Carl Bass said earlier in the day.

“I think, historically, and even today, it’s hard to design sustainably,” Cameron said. “[I think] we can guide people -- we’re not there yet but that’s our vision.”

Image CC licensed by Flickr user
Ian Muttoo