“Green tech” was all the rage in investing circles not too long ago, with superstar venture capitalists like Vinod Khosla investing heavily in sustainable power generation and related sectors, and mercurial entrepreneurs like Elon Musk launching an entirely new automobile company, Tesla Motors. The shine faded a bit with high-profile failures like Solyndra, the large-scale solar company which filed bankruptcy and suspended operations not long after receiving a multimillion dollar grant from the U.S. government.
The good news is that innovation is alive and well in sustainable technology circles, and we’ll take an occasional look at products on the radar. Here’s a brief roundup of three interesting, varied products in sustainable tech — some you may have heard of and others, maybe not:
Good Guide: In September 2008, I had the privilege of watching Good Guide launch to the world as part of TechCrunch50 in San Francisco. Good Guide is an online guide for products ranked for their health, environmental and social performance. Good Guide employs scientists and other experts around the world to examine products from personal care to pet food, and automobiles to appliances and apparel, among other categories. These rankings are presented alongside user reviews and ratings, resulting in a free, overall product overview. It was just purchased by UL Environment, and we’re not sure what updates or changes that may mean to the business model or functionality, but we’ll keep you posted.
Nest: Nest is a “learning” thermostat that automatically adjusts your home’s temperature settings based on what it learns about your schedule over just a week’s time. It allows you to monitor your energy consumption, and offers up a visual cue in the form of a leaf when you’re actually saving energy based on your settings. The Nest redefined the user interface for programmable thermostats, making it incredibly simple (and fun) to use. The only challenge? Cost. A quick Google search pops up a $249 price point (compared to roughly $50 for a standard, programmable thermostat). So though the Nest leverages one big piece we know about changing energy consumption behaviors — it makes the problem visible and the solution automatic — it comes with a barrier that’s practically insurmountable for most Americans these days.
Practically Green: This web-based application applies social and gamification principles to behavior change (a topic near and dear to our hearts here at Shelton). It works like this: Practically Green has a long list of actions you can take to live a more sustainable lifestyle. You mark which you’ve already done, set goals for those you haven’t, and challenge friends on Facebook to do the same. The website offers points, levels and badges for reaching your goals, something known in the biz as “gamification.” For example, you earn the “Conscious Consumer” badge by modifying everyday habits to be more climate friendly, or the “Waste-Free Baby” badge by making or buying organic baby food, among other activities.
Each of these three green tech products is intended to be integrated into consumers’ daily lives to help them lead a more sustainable lifestyle. They appeal almost exclusively to the approximately 25% of Americans who are most engaged in sustainability and energy efficiency. Broadening their markets – and offering meaningful and relevant messages – to capture the other 75% (comprised of 3 other distinct segments) will be a key challenge for each. It will be interesting to see how they evolve.
In future editions of the Sustainable Tech Product Roundup, we’ll take a look at Recycle Bank, some innovative transportation technology, and a water-powered alarm clock. But we also want to know what YOU think is interesting in Green Tech, so let us hear it in the comments area of this post.