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Demand for Green Technologies and Conservation Practices Evolves, Fueling Investment and New Product Development, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

In recent years, the emphasis on, and financial support for, green technologies has come from three distinct directions:  1) citizens and their nonprofit organizations, 2) governments and 3) the corporate sector (including investment firms).  In many cases, concerned citizens and their nonprofit organizations have been the earliest supporters of sustainability and green practices.  This category includes people concerned about the environment and similar issues.  Frequently, once organizations were established, lobbying of government agencies ensued along with organized funding of selected green projects.  Examples of green initiatives that evolved in this manner include recent bans on plastic grocery bags in many communities.
Next, mandates and funding emerged from government agencies.  Through the years, as citizens became more interested in seeing green technologies developed and adopted, they influenced government at various levels.  This occurred both at massive scale on the national government level (such as the Clean Air Act in the United States) and on state and local level (such as mandates that electric utilities serving a given state or city generate a certain amount of their power via renewable sources).  Eventually, government began providing substantial economic incentives through tax credits, loan guarantees, subsidies and funding for research and development related to green technologies.  A good example is hybrid and fully electric vehicles, as purchasers of these cars have been enjoying substantial tax breaks.
In the United States, federal and many state governments have offered substantial tax credits and other incentives to people who chose to purchase electric or hybrid vehicles.  At the same time, the federal government has provided both grants and loan guarantees for research and development as well as manufacturing in related sectors such as advanced automobile batteries and electric propulsion.

The Long Critical Path to Development of a new Green or Sustainable Technology
=         News media coverage, a nonprofit organization or the development of a potential new solution creates interest in a specific need or problem.
=         Government agencies are lobbied regarding this situation.
=         Government mandates are issued and/or government funding, loans, grants and incentives are established.  This government action may support research and development, manufacturing or the actual purchase of new products and services by end users.
=         Venture capital backs entrepreneurs who want to develop products or services specific to the situation.
=         Big business gets on board where return on investment can be seen, where sustainability becomes a corporate focus or where businesses are forced to adopt new practices due to new regulations.
=         The best new technologies and practices eventually become financially self-sustaining.
Source: Plunkett Research, Ltd.

     Tax credits from government and grants from non-profits cannot establish a viable, long-term green industry by themselves.  True, long-term financial support for green technologies will eventually have to come from sales made to final buyers of goods and services.  To put it another way, sustainability eventually must become self-sustaining on a financial basis.  This is particularly true in today’s economic climate, where taxpayers worldwide are demanding more effective and efficient government programs and better management of government debt and expenditures (thus putting pressure on government to reduce grants, tax credits and other types of funding that might otherwise be seen as a blank check for the potential benefit of political insiders).  
There is growing evidence that a consumer-driven market for green tech is slowly taking shape.  Today, giant corporations, among the biggest end-users of raw materials, products and services that might be more efficiently consumed through the application of green technologies, are likely to have their own sustainability departments or special executives in this area.  For example, global software giant SAP AG has a “Chief Sustainability Officer.”  Likewise, leading investment banks are developing experts in green tech.  Goldman Sachs operates a “Clean Technology and Renewables Group.”
As the return on investment from adopting green tech increases, such as the return on retrofitting older buildings so that they use considerably less energy in day-to-day operation, then businesses (and households) will see the logic in making investments in such technologies.  As green technologies advance, and they are doing so at considerable speed in many sectors, and economies of scale kick in thanks to high-volume manufacturing, then it will become easier and easier for both businesses and household consumers to change their buying and capital investment habits to support green technologies.  Put another way, high-efficiency light bulbs at $30 each are not very appealing to consumers, but bulbs at $2 that have considerably longer life and burn much less power than traditional bulbs would be relatively easy to sell, despite the fact that they would be much more expensive than traditional bulbs.  Many manufacturers and services firms, both large and small, see great profit potential in positioning at least a part of their offerings around sustainability. 

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