Advancements in the technology around greentech and cleantech have gotten the world pretty far in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other goals, but the next big driver of innovation isn’t coming from the hardware side, says Sunil Paul. The Spring Ventures founder told the Green:Net conference Thursday that the next big wave will be in the “CleanWeb,” which marries information technology enhancements — such as Twitter, Facebook and the social web — with green initiatives.
Paul, who invests in cleantech and is also co-founder and chairman of the Clean Economy Network, the largest green business organization the US, told the attendees at Green:Net that information technology “is actually going to prove as valuable as the application of new materials and nano-technology and bio-technology have been” for the environment.
The Spring Ventures founder said that while the environmental technology world has made a lot of progress, with cost-effective solar and wind power either available or on its way, that progress pales next to the kind of growth that social tools and services such as Facebook, Twitter and Zynga have seen over the past several years. Only by harnessing the power of those tools can the environmental and cleantech world hope to boost the efficiency and reach of its solutions, Paul said.
Green power and Zynga games on Facebook may not seem very similar, he said, “but which of these generates revenue through something you can’t touch or taste or feel that is delivered through a wire to your home?” Both do, said Paul. And while the infrastructure side of the environmental technology world is getting more efficient, it isn’t doing so nearly as fast as computing power is.
Paul said that some examples of the CleanWeb in action are the rise of car-sharing services, which reduce emissions dramatically by allowing users to find rides with others. “This is your next car,” he said, holding up his cellphone. Another example is the room-sharing service AirBnB, which allows people to rent out rooms their homes, and has already booked two million nights around the world since 2008. According to Paul, this is the equivalent of the largest hotel in the U.S. being booked solid for a year.
Infrastructure gains have gotten the environmental industry pretty far, Paul said, “but the CleanWeb is the ability to distribute software and services on top of that infrastructure that makes it more efficient, and that is the next big evolution in clean-tech.”