The brink of a new Industrial Revolution?
Panelists at a PubTalk in Baker City excited about future of sustainable business
The era of litigation and lock-up-the-land mentality is giving way to a new sustainable business model that could fuel a 21st century economic boom comparable to the Industrial Revolution, panelists said at Thursday’s PubTalk in Baker City.
Speakers discussed changes in the environmental mindset and opportunities for businesses, farmers and ranchers, and would-be entrepreneurs to hitch a ride on the emerging sustainable business revolution.
“We’re no longer blinded by greenies; we have a profit model and know how to make it work,” said Jake Jacobs, Baker County economic developer.
“Sustainability is a global market wave potentially larger than the Industrial Revolution,” Jacobs said. Given the abundant natural resources and sustainable attitude reflected in Baker City’s commitment to preserving its historic downtown, Jacobs said cashing in on the sustainable business model “is something we ought to be able to do in Baker City.”
While the color green used to represent a hands-off, preservationist mentality, Jacobs said that with the new focus on sustainability, “green is the color of money.”
PubTalk moderator Wayne Embree, a seed-stage investor who founded Cascadia Partners and co-founded six funds with investments in nearly 100 companies, agreed that there’s money to be made from adopting sustainable business models.
However, Embree said the most successful startup investments he’s made in sustainable businesses were those that “start with ideas that people think will make the world a better place.”
He cited Wal-Mart and Safeway as two major retailers who are selling green products and are building and renovating their stores to reduce power usage.
“The green solutions are winning because the economics are there,” Embree said.
In that business environment, Embree said entrepreneurs launching businesses that emphasize energy efficiency, alternative energy, or producing green projects have “got a great shot at success.”
Two areas with lots of potential are businesses that produce sustainable products or services, including energy conservation and alternative forms of energy production, such as wind, solar, geothermal and others, Embree said.
As an example, he said two-thirds of the electrons used to generate and transmit electricity are wasted with the current system of using fossil fuels to create steam that turns the turbines.
Embree said he would invest in any company that could cut that waste by even 1 percent, which on the grand scale would be a huge savings for large utilities.
While goals such as reducing energy use have been mostly voluntary to date, Embree said mandatory regulations are on the horizon, and those could affect businesses ranging from automobile factors to farms and ranches.
Panelist John Gardner, a engineering professor in charge of a carbon reduction program at Boise State University, said one thing that everyone agrees on is that the world will run out of oil and other fossil fuels that produce most of the world’s energy.
“We are going to run out of coal; we are going to run out of natural gas; we are going to run out of gas. As the price goes up for these resources, it’s making alternative energy more possible,” Gardner said.
As people look for ways to trim their energy use, and thus their budgets, Gardner said there’s a tremendous market for products and services designed to help them accomplish their goals.
Gardner said the most efficient location for a power plant is at the source, which is why Boise State has decided to retrofit its on-site natural gas boiler with energy efficient upgrades, and possibly convert it to a co-generation plant capable of generating power from wood wastes as well as natural gas.
The cost of this work could be offset by energy savings within five years, he said.
Jeremy Thamert, owner of Oregon Power Solutions in Baker City, said wind farms are an excellent alternative energy option in this part of Oregon.
With the volatility of fossil fuel prices and uncertain future availability, Thamert said wind turbines can restore the ability of homeowners, businesses, industries and power companies to control their long-term energy costs.
While site assessment and development of commercial wind farms has been the focus of Oregon Power Solutions for its first five or six years, Thamert said Todd VandenBos recently joined the company to head up its new energy audits division. That division handles grant applications, installations and sub-contracting of equipment, insulation, replacing or sealing doors and windows, and other improvement needs identified through energy audits, which cost roughly $550 for a typical home.
During the PubTalk, members of the audience asked panelists how to get sustainable forest management practices approved, such as thinning overcrowded timber stands and using the wood to produce energy or convert to biodiesel.
Gardner and Embree said legal challenges to such projects aren’t likely as long as projects are part of a sustainable forest management plan.
Sandi Fuller of Marvin Wood Products in Baker City said the company’s focus on sustainability led to changes in production practices that have greatly reduced the amount of wood wasted in the manufacturing process.