Fortune Brainstorm Green 2011 is looking forward to a more sustainable future. More companies are learning to better balance on the three pillars that encapsulates what many consider a sustainable company: Economic, Environmental, and Socially Responsible. Over the past three days, the leading knowledge movers and shakers of the Fortune 500 world, along with NGOs and entrepreneurs, shared their thoughts on whether or not the sustainable glass is half full, half empty – or if it just doesn’t seem to be carrying enough water. Read ahead for the highlights.
At the close of day 1, Richard Branson announced his new underwater adventure and made some comments sharing his half-empty perspective on the demand for fuel: “We did a lot of research on when the demand for fuel will exceed supply and we put out a report every year. And it’s frighteningly soon. And when that happens, we can easily see fuel going to $200 a barrel… So I think that everybody in this room has got to work extremely hard- not just with global warming but with ways of saving energy as fast as possible… otherwise we’re going to have the mother of all recessions.”
He also noted the role of corporations solving problems versus the government: “I think the problem today is that I think you can’t rely on governments to sort out problems…. you can see how difficult it is to govern America…. Therefore, I think it’s up to corporations to get on and do the job. ”
At a breakfast roundtable on day 2 entitled Building a Low-Carbon Economy, Winners and Losers, the Director of NRDC’s Climate Sector, David Hawkins noted that the glass is half empty stating that “it’s not the rate of increase in clean tech indicating our future, it’s the rate of investments in old tech still coming online.” He added that although China is investing in clean tech, their newly released five year plans still calls for another couple hundred gig watts of coal.
On a panel entitled Will Coal Stay King? Bill Weihl the Green Energy Czar at Google sees the glass half-full as the company looks for ways to invest in energy that creates zero emissions, pushing the the alternative energy market to scale.
The discussion was followed by another panel: Is Green Marketing Still Relevant? Suzanne Shelton, President and CEO of the Shelton Group, remarked that we tend to be tricking ourselves into thinking the glass is half full, further noting that while 63% of consumers want greener products only 20% of the population is actually putting money where their mouth is. Research by the Shelton group has also indicated that 90% of the population say that they have done things to make their habits more sustainable, and 77% of the population say they have changed all of their light bulbs to a green alternative – both not true.
Inhabitat favorite William McDonough also made an appearance in multiple discussions over the last two days of the conference. McDonough sees the glass as overflowing, as sees potential in finding ways to deliver good design solutions to the masses. In China, he is working on a way to feed entire communities with wind powered vertical greenhouses and dedicating half of his architectural and design practice to public architecture projects.
In a conversation with Time Magazine’s Environmentalist of the Year, Van Jones spoke about his belief that we can begin to fill the glass by reframing the “American Dream” to build a more sustainable future by creating a new narrative frame of reference. One of his visions calls for citizens to fight for their right to be an energy producer, whereas at the moment we are forced to be energy consumers. Americans should be talking about “Cowboy Power” not “Hippie Power” he spoke.
Whether or not the glass is half full or half empty, rest assured sustainable change is happening – albeit on an incremental scale one glass at a time. We just hope that some of the newly formed relationships between the power players at Fortune’s Annual Brainstorm Green make the transition into business deals and collaborative projects that continue to push the sustainable threshold.