December 30, 2009

Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk

Private sector can lead on carbon issues

We’ve talked a lot about sustainability in the last year or two, and durability, and LEED, and new construction materials. We’ve talked about BIM, and light-rail transit, and urban design.

As we look ahead to a new year, we can expect more of the same. At the heart of everything, though, will be the looming problems posed by global climate change and the inevitability of higher energy prices as global oil supplies dwindle over the next few decades.

The changes we face as we gradually develop a low-carbon economy will require imagination and innovation, and those, in turn, will require a major effort by the private sector as governments slowly construct a clear framework within which businesses can operate, and a binding international deal on carbon emissions.

Korky Koroluk

The private-sector efforts have been under way for a while now, largely in the background.

Two groups are doing some of the best work: the Combat Climate Change (3C) coalition and Cleantech Group LLP.

The Combat Climate Change group is made up of international industrial giants, including such well-known names as BP, Citigroup, Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, GE, Royal Bank of Canada, SAS Group, Siemens, Unilever and Volvo.

The Cleantech Group also has big international players as members, including Deloitte, Credit Suisse, Carbonfund.org and several capital funds, plus, interestingly, the province of Ontario.

3C deals with policy initiatives it sees as central to the greater problem of climate change.

Cleantech, as its name implies, is more narrowly focused on clean technology, which it defines as “new technology and related business models that offer competitive returns for investors and customers while providing solutions to global challenges.”

To this end, Cleantech has identified 11 industry segments within which it works. They include energy generation, energy efficiency, transportation, water and wastewater, and materials.

Within those segments are many subjects that bear directly upon the construction industry and the projects it builds. These include wind, solar, hydro and geothermal energy, energy efficiency in lighting systems and buildings, transportation structures, water and wastewater treatment and nanomaterials.

Supporters of President Barack Obama like to point out that his stimulus package aims to create or save three to four million jobs in the United States by the end of 2010 — at about US$235,000 per job.

But Nicholas Parker, head of Cleantech Group LLC, has figured that investing $100 million of venture capital in clean technology creates 2,700 jobs.

That works out to $37,000 per job, underscoring yet again how much more efficient the private sector is in creating jobs.

So what these two organizations (and many environmentalists) are saying to government is, in essence, write some rules, lay out the playing field, then hand the ball off to the private sector.

Governments are notoriously bad at looking beyond the next election. Business, (well-run ones, at least) are good at taking a longer view.

But they need a regulatory framework that isn’t going to shift under their feet as politicians bicker.

So if I have a hope for the new year, it is that governments listen more to organizations like the two I’ve mentioned, and not just to those representing narrow industrial sectors, like oil or coal.

I’d like to hear more ideas from business about innovative ideas it has for combating climate change and building a low-carbon economy.

If you want to know more about the 3C or Cleantech, you’ll find their websites at www.combatclimatechange.org and www.cleantech.com

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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