On the VERGE of a “green” transformation

Next week brings a global conversation around a big idea being called  VERGE. The notion is that  energy, information, building, and vehicle technologies are converging, in ways that will make the planet radically more sustainable. The coinage comes from my friend and colleague Joel Makower, the chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, the  producer of Greenbiz.com, where I’m a senior writer.

Like the Internet that makes it possible, VERGE will have a “deep and lasting impact,” Joel says. “It will change everything. Or, more accurately, it will focus and accelerate the changes already under way.”

We’ll be talking about VERGE at three high-level VERGE roundtables on June 21 and June 22 — one in San Francisco led by Joel and another in Shanghai led by Rob Watson, a  pioneer in the world of green buildings. I’ll be moderating the conversation in London, joined by executives from such companies as IBM, Cisco, Marks & Spencer, CH2MHill and Autodesk. Sustainability gurus John Elkington and Peter Madden will be there as well. You’ll be able to tune in live to all three events, culminating in a free, six-hour virtual event on June 22.

Here’s how Joel explains the VERGE in a recent story at GreenBiz:

Each of the four VERGE technologies is evolving quickly, with its own market, economic, policy, and technological dynamics.

  • Energy technology is becoming decentralized, cleaner, better managed, and easier to store.
  • Information technology is making every device, building, and vehicle smarter, able to connect into a vast Internet of things that can be addressed, monitored, controlled, and optimized.
  • Buildings are becoming more intelligent and efficient, better able to optimize energy and resource use and enhance human comfort and productivity, with the potential of becoming net-positive, from the standpoint of their environmental footprint.
  • Vehicles are getting smarter, too, able to communicate with their drivers, other vehicles, and their surroundings, becoming safer and more efficient while connecting passengers and fleet managers to a broader transportation and energy grid.

The convergence of these technologies has happened organically, the natural result of innovations built upon other innovations. Increasingly, however, there is a larger vision: of a highly interconnected world, where information technology infuses energy systems, buildings, and transportation vehicles and networks, tying them together, making each smarter and, as a result, enabling continuous waves of innovation and radical resource efficiency. Together, this convergence also promises to improve lives, both in developed and emerging economies.

Some of this will sound familiar, of course. IBM has effectively placed itself at the center of this set issues with its marketing around Smart Cities and Smart Buildings. In a recent article in FORTUNE, Bill Ford, the chairman of Ford Motor, describes his company’s vision of the future of mobility. Cisco executives like to talk about the Internet of things. (See my blogpost, The Internet of parking spaces.)

It may sound like something out of The Jetsons but, as Joel writes,  early stages of the VERGE vision are already here:

Autonomous vehicles that can travel efficiently and safely with little or no driver interaction. Hyper-efficient, zero-energy buildings able to generate and store energy, variously buying or selling power to the grid. Cities embedded with intelligence that move traffic, connect people, reduce emissions, enhance safety, and maximize well-being. Platooning technologies that allow cars to travel at close range at high speed, reducing congestion and emissions.

These are not futuristic pipe dreams. Each is being developed or deployed, funded by governments, venture capitalists, and some of the world’s biggest companies.

Along the way, many of these companies are finding their way into new industry sectors. I’ve written in the past about the countless “new energy companies” — companies ranging from Dupont to Procter & Gamble that are finding themselves selling energy-related products and services. I’ve written about a similar phenomenon in the green building arena, with companies as different as Firestone and Fireman’s Fund developing significant business offerings in that market. So, too, with transportation — companies like Google and Qualcomm that are developing vehicle-related products and services.

Suffice to say, VERGE is a massive business opportunity.

Again, much as the Internet did, VERGE is blurring lines between industries,  distributing power  and threatening entrenched interests. Every company (or person) that puts solar panels on a roof becomes an electricity provider, competing with their local utility. We don’t know yet whether the wired home of the future will be brought to use by home builders, software firms, Home Depot, Best Buy or all of the above. Will there by the equivalent of an Apple in VERGE–a visionary company that makes life easier by solving an array of problems in a delightful way?

Like the Internet, VERGE will be hard to avoid, Joel writes:

If you’re involved with buildings, facilities, energy, purchasing, logistics, fleets, or IT — not to mention sustainability — you’ll find yourself increasingly buffeted by VERGE innovations. So, too, those who manage and operate cities, schools, and hospitals.

Over time, it will also affect our personal lives — how we shop, work, and travel, for example.

VERGE technologies are being accelerated, he goes on to say, by energy and resource constraints, urbanization and rapid growth in the development world where there is more awareness of environmental issues than there was when the U.S. industrialized and become more urban (and suburban). No one has to tell people in Brazil that littering isn’t cool; they know that.

Joel draws other parallels between VERGE and the Internet, among them the fact that the net took decades to develop, and mostly did so before most of us noticed. The same may be true of VERGE.

He quotes Stephan Dolezalek, group leader of the cleantech practice at VantagePoint Capital Partners and a Silicon Valley veteran, as saying that the convergence of IT, energy, buildings and vehicles is inevitable. Says Dolezalek, who will be participating in our San Francisco roundtable: “We know how this movie ends. We’re just not certain of the plot.”

That’s because it’s up to all of us to figure how to get from the world we’ve created — one which is wasteful, unsustainable and evidently on its way  towards a climate catastrophe — to a world that is clean, green, healthful and sustainable. As Alan Kay, the iconoclastic computer scientist once put it: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

To learn more, join us next week for GreenBiz’s VERGE virtual conference.

Comments

  1. Great article and great vision. I TOTALLY agree. However you left one key cornerstone out of this GREEN VERGE and revolution! Nutrition. Yup…none of this will be done without keeping people healthy..or getting them healthy and ALGAE is finally being recognized as the way to do it (in full disclosure..that’s what we sell to consumers…but in a way that’s never been done before…we make it HIP, STYLISH and COOOOOOL). Anyway, algae is 100% green, 100% raw, and 100% healthy. It also has the highest concentration of protein IN THE WORLD (60% -70%). Did you know that animal protein is just 22%? NASA says the nutritional value of 1 kg of algae is equal to 1,000 kg of fruits and vegetables. BUT here’s where it really rocks……growing algae releases SO much oxygen into the air (and gobbles up carbon dioxide) that researches now say that growing algae IS THE ANSWER to the polution and ozone layer deterioration. Algae releases so much oxygen that its helping repair the ozone layer MORE than the Amazon rainforests!! AND growing algae requires virtually NO fresh water! Did you know that 80% of ALL fresh water in the USA is used for growing traditional crops . Our planet has far too little freshwater to sustain this. Fresh water acquifirs are DISPPEARING at an alarming rate. Many will go dry this generation. A single acre of corn grown in irrigated fields consumers ONE MILLION GALLONS of water. Growing algae is self contained in its water requirements…algae can remove toxins from water..so it just recycles it over and over and over. Additionally, the protein in one acre of algae is equal to 10-20 times the amount of protein from soybean and about 50 times that of the protein gained from raising cattle. And on top of that, as you probably know, the gas released from cattles (yup cattle farts) is the largest destroyer of the ozone layer…by far. Beats cars bigtime…..so when you replace animal protein with algae protein…you not only clean up the health of EVERYONE who eats algae…you also clean up the environment and the atmosphere. I think they call that a win-win!! Anyway, if you want to learn more, please feel free to contact me or check out our website at http://www.naughtybits.com or http://www.naughtynutritionist.net. My email is carnston@naughtynutritionist.net and my company’s goal is to get Americans healthy again…….and green algae is the fastest, easiest way to do that…and all with a smile too! Hope you’ll try them! Your body (and the earth) will thank you if you do! :)

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