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Where to for environmental innovation post Copenhagen?

Regardless of where you stand on the environment, for most people Copenhagen seemed to end in a shambles.  Does it mean the end for environmental innovation, at least in the short term?  We don’t think so.  

There will be ongoing debates about the timing and magnitude of climate change and how best to tackle it.  Governments, international organisations and non government organisations will continue to argue over the pros and cons of emissions trading systems, carbon taxes, renewable energy incentives and technology transfer and support mechanisms for developing nations.  

Over coming decades the world will be forced to find solutions to three fundamental issues – food, energy and water.  They are all inextricably linked by one common element - climate change.  

We are currently working with organisations implementing technology solutions in alternative energy sectors such as wind, solar and wave, developing environmental solutions in waste management and providing water harvesting solutions.  There is no doubt there is plenty of environmental innovation happening.  

Despite the confusion flowing from Copenhagen we believe it is inevitable that the international community will move forward with initiatives to deal with climate change.  The form of the initiatives, whether they are co-ordinated or piece meal in nature and the timing for implementation is all uncertain at this point.  

So what should environmental innovators make of the current situation?  In our view it comes down to good entrepreneurship, whether it is smart, nimble start ups or established companies developing new services, technology or products.  

Successful entrepreneurs have a knack for developing profitable solutions to real problems and environmental innovation is no different.  The key challenges for environmental entrepreneurs will be to:  

  • identify environmental problems and potential solutions that are likely to lead to profitable businesses without government policy support.  At this stage, that is more likely to be in the area of improving infrastructure efficiency (green building initiatives, more efficient use of water, smart energy meters etc);  
  • keep a close eye on government policy developments and initiatives.  In the alternative energy sector in particular, key changes to government policy settings have the potential to make non profitable businesses profitable overnight;  
  • appreciate the power of vested interests.  While some solutions are glaringly obvious from a straight environmental perspective, there are some very large Australian businesses that will not give up commercially lucrative businesses built up over many years without a fight;  
  • secure capital to build their businesses.  While capital markets are improving capital, particularly for early stage ventures, will remain scarce in the short to medium term at least.

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