While I did not exactly count, I can make a fairly educated guess that over 2 billion folks worldwide are involved in sort of a profession or another – I mean, these many folks do some work for a living (a 2014 Gallup poll estimate about 1.3 billion are employed full time, so 2 billion for all put together doesn’t sound way off the mark)
If I were to ask these 2 billion folks on how many of them thought they could contribute to clean technologies in their profession, I can well imagine the confusion on their faces.
“Cleantech did you say, sorry, never heard about it. We have nothing to do with it,” could pretty well be the stock answer from a large majority of them.
They would be wrong.
Whoever you are, whatever is your profession or business, you could actually either formally or informally contribute to cleantech.
In fact, it was this realization that motivated me to start the Cleantech Guide.
You see, cleantech is not a new tech – it is about tweaking existing technologies such that they enable a more clean, green and sustainable world. Sure, there are some clean technologies that are really new (say, something like a nuclear fusion reactor that is being tried out), but in most cases, cleantech concepts either add widgets to existing technologies or use concepts used in existing technologies to develop equipments and processes that enable a cleaner environment.
As a result, not surprisingly, cleantech is already a part of many professions & businesses, even though blokes in those professions may not be knowing them as cleantech!
Let me give you examples that will hopefully convince you how cleantech is already becoming a part of a large number of professions and businesses:
- Process Industries – Many industries in the food, pharma and chemicals sectors already use waste heat recovery systems. These could be in the form of what are called CHP (combined heat and power) systems, or by capturing waste heat and converting it into useful heat. CHP is today extensively used in many process industries as this significantly increases the energy efficiency of heating processes.
- Auto – The auto industry has been working on the core combustion system for decades to ensure higher mileage per liter. In addition, the auto industry had started using, starting a few years back, a number of innovative and advanced materials to increase fuel efficiency.
- Hospitality – Sustainability and “being green” are important differentiators for premium hotels and tourist locations today. A good many of them have already embraced organic food and sustainable materials in the rooms and for packaging. And they have not stopped there. The hospitality industry has also gone big on energy efficiency and resource optimization via a number of solutions – from intelligent lighting and HVAC for rooms, to water conservation through waterless urinals, and adoption of practical waste management and waste-to-value technologies.
- Retail – Many of you will be aware of sustainable packaging (bioplastics for instance) and organic food already being a part of many retail chain operations. A number of retail chains have also started implementing measures to significantly cut down carbon emissions from their operations through installation of solar panels on their roofs, energy efficient logistics operations, and in some cases, through the use of electric vehicles. In addition, many retail chains have adopted recycling and other waste management technologies – all these are cleantech.
- Electrical – Pretty much every common electrical equipment we use at home and office have become far more energy efficient in the last 10 years (think Energy Star ratings). As an electrical engineer, you will have significant career and business opportunities opening up if, in addition to knowledge of core electrical engineering, you also have the ability to scope out and incorporate efficiency mechanisms in the electrical infrastructure.
- IT – The infotech/computer industry has started contributing significantly to cleantech through concepts such as smart grid, sensors and analytics, and going big on energy efficiency and use of renewable energy for their data centers. Of late, I am seeing an increasing number of IT firms searching for experts with domain knowledge in renewable energy (solar, wind etc…), in power electronics and knowledge of the electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure (the grid).
- Construction – The concept of green buildings has been around for sometime now, and commercial or industrial buildings constructed in many parts of the world already boast of LEED or equivalent green certifications.
- Food – Organic food is the most obvious “cleantech” component in the food and beverages sector, but there are a number of cleantech solutions being used in the agri and crop sectors – many of these make use of latest concepts such as analytics and cloud computing to optimize resources for the entire farming value chain.
- Pharma & Chemicals – There has been a significant increase in the use of natural ingredients in pharmaceuticals, many of these substituting synthetic ingredients. Similarly, a number of personal products such as cosmetics have started including more natural ingredients and eco-friendly chemicals in them.
- Fashion – Some of the recent movements in the fashion industry have had to do with use sustainability concepts all along the value chain (from using organic fiber, to reuse and recycling/upcycling).
- Renewable Power Purchase – Many large companies have started purchasing wind or solar power for at least part of their electricity consumption. This list includes many of the world’s top brands such as Google, Apple, General Motors, P&G.
- Waste Water Treatment – Most companies that generate industrial waste water already have effluent treatment facilities within their premises. While all ETP technologies might not be classified as cleantech, many ETPs have some cleantech components included as part of the system.
- Education – Cleantech is increasingly being included in the curricula in colleges and schools.
The above list is only indicative of what is already happening, or almost happening. Unless you are working in a very select profession, there is every chance cleantech already is, or will soon be, a part of your profession.
And don’t imagine that only the white collar professions are embracing – it is pretty much every profession on earth. In fact, the “closer to earth” the profession is, more could be the number of cleantech components – a really good number of cleantech solutions and processes are being adopted by agriculture, for instance.
While we hear only about cleantech products and innovations from large companies or prominent individuals, the nature of this sector actually ensures that innovative solutions are being developed all around us. This reminds me of an interesting conversation I had with a social entrepreneur a few days back, when he mentioned that there are at least 2,250,000 inventions made by ordinary Indians that have been actually included in a national innovation database. Many of these are illiterate farmers and sometimes even women in remote villages who had never seen a city. A sampling of these innovations showed how necessity had made them come up with sustainable ideas that solved a lifestyle problem.
Amazing! If illiterate farmers and village women could come up with ideas that can make a world more sustainable, each and every one of us, far more educated and with better access to the latest information and expertise, can come up with a few too – whatever is our profession.