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Combating Climate Change: How Entrepreneurs Are Doing What Congress Can't or Won't

Mark Marich on June 07, 2010 Source: Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship

Guest post by Byron Kennard

Byron Kennard"Historically, when environmentalists see a problem, their reaction is to regulate it," says Mark Clevey, a clean technology guru who has helped dozens of green small businesses in Michigan get off the ground. “When entrepreneurs see a problem, their reaction is to seek a solution that’s profitable.” Clevey contends that entrepreneurial approaches usually produce better solutions faster than regulation.

Clevey is right. What’s more, I believe the entrepreneurial approach produces better political solutions as well. When entrepreneurial solutions work, they create new jobs and business opportunities. These are big plusses, effectively countering objections that environmental safeguards destroy jobs and harm the economy. At the moment, for example, such objections are stalling climate legislation in the U.S. Senate.

So how do we get more of these nifty green entrepreneurial solutions?

The best place to start is by recognizing that small business is the source of most technological innovations, green or otherwise. I've preached this message for more than 10 years as an advocate of green entrepreneurship. I've preached it as I've watched small entrepreneurial businesses struggle to compete on a playing field that is unfairly tilted to favor politically powerful big companies.

Where are environmentalists in this fray? In my experience, environmentalists have paid scant attention to the entrepreneurial process – especially as it is experienced by struggling small businesses. Instead, they are focused intensively on getting legal and regulatory remedies. To be fair, environmentalists argue that such remedies will create a flood of green innovation, launching a technological revolution. Justifiably, they cite studies showing the abundant innovation stimulated by the Clean Air Act.

But it's 2010, and I’m looking at the climate legislation stalled in Congress. I'm looking at the growing menace of global warming and government's apparent inability to confront it. That's depressing. But on the bright side I'm looking at a marketplace that is being flooded with green innovations right now.

There's a wonderful lesson to be learned here: true entrepreneurs don’t wait to be told what to do. They don't sit around hoping that new laws or regulations will improve the entrepreneurial climate. Instead, entrepreneurs accept things as they find them and in that context figure out a way to do their thing if it’s at all humanly possible.

True entrepreneurs will find a way to thrive even under the most adverse circumstances. In the period from June 2008 to December 2009, for example, clean tech sales increased a whopping 17 percent, according to The Stella Group, Ltd., a Washington, D.C. marketing firm.

These green entrepreneurs have already launched a revolution.

Their arsenal of existing new technologies, if fully exploited and widely deployed, could make a huge dent in greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps helping to avoid catastrophe. So I ask: shouldn't this be a priority?

And how do we make this happen in the absence of either a cap or a price on carbon? Is there a role for government that’s politically palatable and economically prudent? There are no easy answers but there’s a way to start that’s simple, modest and obvious.

Ask green entrepreneurs what they think should be done.

There’s a treasure trove of information to discover here. Green innovators know from hands-on, often brutal experience just how the American entrepreneurial system works and – just as important – how it fails. I say pick their brains. And do it systematically.

For this purpose, the federal government might convene a series of field hearings that would consult panels of green entrepreneurs working in agriculture, energy, housing, transportation, and so on.

By drawing on the hard-won wisdom of these entrepreneurs the federal government might just learn how to stimulate more green entrepreneurship by leveling the playing field and by improving access to credit and to markets. The feds might also learn how to improve the existing, already funded programs intended to help entrepreneurs, programs that often get poor marks from the very people they are intended to help.

Such insights could well lead to a new near term strategy for tackling climate change: silver buckshot. This strategy recognizes that there’s no silver bullet that will eliminate the threat. Many diverse responses and approaches are needed. A silver buckshot strategy will produce incremental solutions, aggregate many small gains, and secure immediate greenhouse gas emission reductions. Plus it creates new jobs and new business opportunities. Thanks to green entrepreneurs, we’ve got a well-stocked arsenal of silver buckshot. So let’s use it. Let’s ride the wave of the technology revolution that we’ve already got.

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This green business phenomenon is extensively documented in Small Wonders, a 2009 report issued by The Center for Small Business and the Environment. To view or download a copy of Small Wonders, go to: http://www.smallwondersreport.org .

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Byron Kennard is Executive Director of the Center for Small Business and the Environment, a non-profit organization located in Washington, DC

Category:  Energy  Environment 

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