Tim Longhurst's Blog

John Doerr at TED – Seeking salvation & profit in greentech

May 19th, 2008 · No Comments

John Doerr’s presentation at TED highlighted several responses to climate change worth knowing about. He made it to the platform in part because he has been instrumental in his business investing $200 million in what he calls “greentech”.

Before I go on to my notes, here are a few resources introducing Doerr (most noted for his involvement in the financing of startups including Google & Amazon) and KPCB, the business in which he is a partner:
John Doerr on Wikipedia
John Doerr on KPCB
KPCB on their Greentech investments

The two standout case studies introduced in Doerr’s Greentech presentation were Walmart’s greenhouse targets and Brazil’s experience with ethanol and the power of policy.

Greening Walmart

Walmart’s CEO, Lee Scott, is said to belive that “Green is the next big thing” and made commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% in existing stores and 30% in new stores within 7 years.

Walmart is the largest private employer in the US and the largest private user of electricity. If Walmart were a country, they’d be China’s sixth largest trading partner. Their business involves 60 000 suppliers and 125 million customers in the United States.

So far, examples of Walmart’s three major drains on energy are lighting; heating & air conditioning; and refrigeration. So Walmart has made simple decisions including: painting roofs white to deflect sunlight; install skylights to take advantage of natural light; install doors on refrigerators to insulate food – the fridges are illuminated by LED lights.

Now of course there’s a strong case to be made that considering the amount of disposable crap Walmart sells everyday (watch the Story of Stuff for more) they haven’t exactly turned into an eco-store, but it’s a good case study when such a huge business is making headway in this area. For a full critique of Walmart, check out the movie, Walmart: the high cost of low prices.

Brazil’s move toward ethanol

Jose Goldenberg is described by Doerr as the “father of the Ethanol revolution”. In Brazil it has been mandated that every gas station carry ethanol. It has also been mandated that cars be manufactured to accept flexfuel. Brazil now has 29 000 ethanol pumps (compared with 700 in the US) and in three years the new car fleet has grown from 4% flexfuel to 85% (the US is lagging at 5%). 40% of gasoline in Brazil has been replaced with Ethanol, resulting in an overall 10% CO2 reduction for Brazil.

There are big questions about the role ethanol is playing in the increasing costs of food. By turning food crops into cash crops, we are seeing food prices increase, which is having the biggest impact on the world’s poorest people. This from the Earth Policy Institute:

“A University of Illinois economics team calculates that with oil at $50 a barrel, it is profitable—with the ethanol subsidy of 51¢ a gallon (equal to $1.43 per bushel of corn)—to convert corn into ethanol as long as the price is below $4 a bushel. But with oil at $100 a barrel, distillers can pay more than $7 a bushel for corn and still break even. If oil climbs to $140, distillers can pay $10 a bushel for corn—double the early 2008 price of $5 per bushel.”

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Category: Our living planet