Last week Fortune Magazine held a 3 day conference called GREEN BRAINSTORM on the gorgeous cliffs of Laguna Niguel and SHFT was there for the second year. It’s a rare opportunity to see leaders of industry mingle with government policymakers, leading environmental thinkers, and venture capital moguls. In the wake of Copenhagen, where the outcome was underwhelming to say the least, the conference definitely had a very practical no-nonsense tone to it. It was as if the public sector had failed, and these leaders knew that it was in the private sectors hands to act. It seemed more focused on the possibilities that face us and on solutions rather than on the problems.
Highlights included a one-on-one with Time’s John Huey and outgoing Wal Mart CEO Lee Scott who said that corporate America is going to be held accountable in the future. And at the opening dinner that night, Stuart Brand, the keynote speaker, spoke about his switch over from being anti-nuclear to pro-nuclear as a clean energy option - powerful endorsement coming from an eco-zealot like Brand. He also described a moment he had on acid in '68 when he was staring at the San Francisco skyline and envisioned the iconic image for the Whole Earth Catalog.
Another stand out was a session called Water: Better Than Gold, where sobering stats on our water supply were laid out. Here are a couple of staggering ones: One third of the population don’t have access to clean drinking water; and it takes 600 gallons of water to feed one person for one day. We tend to think of water as a third world problem, but as Tamin Pechet, CEO of Imagine H2O, pointed out, California is in dire shape, with 19% of it’s energy going to move water. He re-iterated the CEO of Monsanto Hugh Grant’s statement that 70% of all fresh water is consumed in agriculture and that we’ll be out of it by 2050. The answers? Cleaning brackish water, desalination, and getting people to think differently. The question of water being even more urgent an issue than carbon was raised. There was a lot of talk throughout the conference of carbon as a currency, cap and trade, incentives and dis-incentives. It seems we need to be talking more about water in the same terms.
Well done, Fortune. The outcome, to us SHFTies at least, is that a lot of businesses are working towards sustainability in a very earnest and urgent way. Whether they’re motivated by the other kind of green doesn’t really matter.
- Peter Glatzer