How to Innovate ... Sustainably

How to Innovate ... Sustainably

So I have a confession to make: I’m kind of bored by eco-efficiency.

Yes, I know that last week’s announcement of new government standards for refrigerators and the super-insulated double-hung windows in the Empire State building and Yahoo’s new "chicken coop" data center in upstate New York are all important ways to conserve energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the planet.

But what really gets me jazzed is innovation that gets us closer to a sustainable world, not incrementally, but by leaps and bounds: innovative business models like Zipcar and RecycleBank, innovative products like P&G’s Tide coldwater or Method’s 8x laundry concentrate, and innovative ways of thinking about business like Waste Management’s Green Squad, which helps companies reduce waste before it’s created.

That’s why I’m excited about the first GreenBiz Innovation Forum this month (October 19-20) in San Francisco. It’s about “models, methods and mindsets for transforming business” to make it more sustainable. My friends and colleagues at GreenBiz.com, led by Joel Makower, have put together a terrific group of speakers, as well as hands-on opportunities for all of us to learn how to think more creatively.

IF10 bannerI’m looking forward to reconnecting with Janine Benyus of the Biomimicry Guild and Aron Cramer, author of a new book called Sustainable Excellence. (They’ve all spoken at FORTUNE’s Brainstorm Green conference.) I’m eager to meet author Hunter Lovins of Natural Capitalism Solutions, John Warner, a pioneer of the green chemistry movement and Tim Brown, the CEO of Ideo, among others.

Corporate executives who will talk about how they foster innovation include Stephen Meller and Len Sauers of P&G, Scott Elrod of Xerox PARC, Jim Hall of Waste Management, and Adam Lowry of Method. I’ll be moderating a panel with Adam and Andrew Williamson of Physic Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in “companies that are developing technologies, products and services to enable consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.”

I hope to see you there -- you can request an invitation here.

And if you are in the solar business, I could well see you the week before (October 12-13) in Los Angeles, where I’ll be moderating a CEO panel at Solar Power International 2010, North America’s largest business-focused solar industry convention. I’ll be speaking with Tony Clifford, the chief executive officer of Standard Solar; Dan Shugar, the chief executive officer, Solaria; Terry Wang, chief financial officer, Trina Solar; and Matthew Baker, commissioner, Colorado Public Utilities Commission. We’ll talk about what’s needed to dramatically speed the growth of the solar business in the U.S., and you can be sure innovation will be a big part of our conversation.

In between, I’ll be at the Society of Environmental Journalists 20th annual conference in Missoula, Montana. I’m a newcomer to SEJ, but I did get to last year’s conference in Wisconsin and it was a great learning opportunity. This year there will be lots of talk about the west–water, wolves, natural parks and such–as well as panels about nuclear power (which isn’t popular with the SEJers I’ve met), the BP oil spill, nanotechnology and and even geoengineering–perhaps the most innovative approach imaginable to the climate crisis.

GreenBiz.com Senior Writer Marc Gunther is a longtime journalist and speaker whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc maintains a blog at MarcGunther.com. You can follow him on Twitter @marcGunther.