Home » Blog » TED2007 » John Doerr: Going green, making green

John Doerr: Going green, making green

The formal program of day two begins with Michael Wesch’s marvelous film, Web 2.0 – the Machine is Us/ing Us – it gets a warm response, and I’m blogging it mostly because I want to watch it a few more times – it’s very beautiful.

The first theme is “Open for Business”, and hypercapitalist John Doerr. Rather than talking about his web achievements – funding Netscape, Sun, Amazon, Google and others – he begins by talking about climate change: “I’m really scared. I don’t think we’re going to make it.” After watching Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, his daughter turned on him and said, “Dad, your generation created this problem, and you’ve got to fix it.”

Doerr and his partners have started researching the problem of climate change- and the business opportunitities associated with it. He quotes Eugene Kleiner:”There is a time when panic is the appropriate response.” He and his partners have been travelling around the world, trying to network their ways to solutions.

Doerr tells us that companies are really powerful, using the greening of Walmart as an example. Walmart has committed to reducing energy consumption 20% in existing stores and 30% in new ones. The major energy costs of a store are heating and cooling, lighting and refrigeration. So Walmart is painting roofs white, adding skylights and putting refrigerated goods behind closed doors with LED lighting. These are simple, smart, easily available technologies.

Walmart is huge, and has influence on other corporate giants. They run the second largest vehicle fleet in the US, and is the largest private employer in the US. As a country, they’d be the sixth largest trade partner with China. Walmart’s new thrust is selling compact fluorescent bulbs – they sold 65 million this year and plan on selling 100 million this coming year. But Doerr points out that consumers don’t like them. People need to understand what their actual energy impact is – he believes that people’s lack of awareness allows them to make bad energy decisions.

Policy matters as well. He and his colleagues have been pushing for a market based system in California to cap and regulate carbon emissions. The bill – AB32 passed – which caps emissions and demands a 25% reduction in emissions by 2020. In the process, Doerr tells us, California will create 83,000 new jobs. But California produces only 1.5% of the world’s CO2 – how do you spread this idea further?

He and partners met with Jose Goldenberg, the “father of the ethanol revolution” in Brazil. The Lula government has demanded that every gas station offer ethanol and that the new vehicle fleet use flex fuel. This means that there are now 29,000 ethanol pumps in Brazil, and 85% of new vehicles are flex fuel… as compared to 5% in the US.

Doerr goes on to mention another key global problem – malaria, which kills 1.5 million people a year. It could be addressed with widespread use of medication, but at $2 a dose, it’s too expensive for most Africans. A company he’s invested in is making much cheaper Artemisinin, using synthetic biology. Basically, this involves using existing organisms to build new chemical compounds, including Artemisinin at $0.25 a dose. The same technology may also be able to make better biofuels.

Doerr tells us that Alan Kay’s dictum that the best way to predict the future is to invent it can be echoed by venture capitalists – “the second best way is to fund it.” Unfortunately, there’s not much funding at the government level – the government spends less on research on renewables than Exxon makes in a day… and Exxon spends less on renewable R&D on that. “It’s almost criminal that we’re not investing more.” But it can’t just be the US – if China keeps expanding in carbon use, they’ll vastly outpace our emissions. Doerr met a Chinese leader who asked, “Why should China sacrifice economic growth when the US isn’t cutting carbon emissions?” It’s a hard question to answer.

Doerr tells us that going green is the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century. He advises us, personally to get carbon neutral and to lobby legislators for carbon cap bills, or to help our businesses to go green.

It’s very clear that Doerr is deeply moved by this topic. He chokes up when talking about looking forward to the conversation he may be able to have with his daughter in 20 years if this campaign is a success, then walked off stage and embraced her.

2 thoughts on “John Doerr: Going green, making green”

  1. This film made me choke up. Such optimism! I hope we can live up to that. Perhaps we already are living up to it, creating it ourselves, without even knowing it.

  2. @Betsy, I know what you mean. For some reason the film chokes me up as well. There is something about it that brings forth a dream of a better world, a dynamic semi-utopia where freedom of information coupled with cheap tech is a major democraticizing force and where the previously speechless or silenced can find their voice. Working with AIDG, a non-profit that is working hard to incorporate open source and Web 2.0 tools (Flickr, Squidoo, a blog, facebook, youtube, etc.) into its community building efforts, I definitely feel the way this wave is improving … everything.

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