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That's a great question. For most humans, the ideas are common sensical. We have not yet found a CEO, who when talking about doing their headquarters,---and we did Nike's, did Kraft, did IBM's European headquarters, we're now doing VMware's, we work with people like Google--I have not met one CEO yet who has ever said, "Give it to me toxic." Not one.
And I've also found that we use economic arguments with people who use economic language and this is just common sense. So if you can't make an economic argument, you don't get to do it.
But what we do with solar, for example: We use what we call anticipatory design. So we'll say we won't put solar collectors on your building right now because your shareholders are not going to be happy because the economics may not be there right now. But we'll design the building to receive them as soon as they are economical.
So when the lines do cross, the building's totally ready to receive them. And all CEOs we work with would love that because it's a very strong, simple prospect that doesn't cost them.People here want to start companies. Is there a design element to creating a company? Do you use some of these concepts of sustainability as an investor?
One of the things we do is look at the companies and figure out how to make the markets for them. For example, we can look at building materials and technical systems--because I come from the world of customers; I work with products all the time. We're designing cities for 14 million in China right now. I have a sense of what they're looking for. Will the developers building cities buy this or want this? And can we take companies we are working with and say, why don't you design it and take it into this market. I also work with big corporations like BASF so we can take it to them and others and say, "Is this something you'd buy?"
Is that where you see the demand coming from: large companies and governments? Are they the ones driving demand for clean tech or will we see smaller firms buying these goods as well?
I think we'll see all of the above. The real question is: where is the velocity and where is the scale? I think the velocity is in the commercial sector and I think the scale is in the commercial sector. The regulatory environment is obviously very critical for a lot of this and we're seeing a lot of regulations in Europe. They're going to drive global standards.
So a lot of the (start-up) companies we look at will need to meet global standards for quality and everything else. As long as we can do that with an economic framework, we'll be open to the world markets, which will help us in our scale.
You said that you're optimistic. Some people have been working on clean technologies, like solar, for years. It seems solar has been just around the corner for a long time. What is it that gives you optimism now? Is there something changed or has the technology progressed or are people just paying attention to this more?
I'm an optimist. I built the first solar-heated house in Ireland in 1977, which is a signal of my optimism because there's no sun in Ireland. But it worked great and it still does.
I've been watching this carefully. I developed patents in wind in 1981. So I've been around this block a few times. And I think that's where my value is now: as an advisor in this space. I've been watching this happen very slowly.
Just remember in 1973 (Saudi oil minister) Sheikh Yamani...they asked what would (OPEC) do when there is competition for oil. And he said, "We'll just drop the price of oil every time there is competition."Which is what has been happening.
Which has been exactly what they did every ten years and it just destroyed clean tech and energy. He said they would do it. He said it right out loud. They followed through on their plan. It's not like they were duplicitous.
At the same time, he was asked: When do you think we'll be at the end of the age of oil? It was an amazing answer. He said, "I don't think we'll ever see the end of the age of oil."
But I can tell you this: the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones. So I think that's the question in this room: Are you making stones?
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