Thursday, October 18, 2012

GE's Mark Vachon Says Greentech Opportunities are in the Developing World Not in the US

According to Mark Vachon, a 29 year GE veteran and the leader of ecomagination, the best opportunities for greentech are in the developing world and not in the US. GE has adopted a business strategy that has invested $5 billion in clean tech research and development and generated $106 billion in revenues through 2011. Ecomagination is an innovative program that is crowdsourcing green ideas. The program is developing innovation and technology for alternative energy and eco-friendly solutions. Ecomagination underscores GE’s commitment to imagine and build innovative solutions to today’s environmental challenges while driving economic growth.

As reviewed in the Daily Beast, Vachon disagrees with those who say we have to choose between economy and the environment. We really do not have to make a choice we can have both.

“We’ve been presented with a false choice: either great economic performance or great environmental performance,” says GE’s Vachon. “But through innovation, we can solve both challenges.”

“We don’t expect a clear-cut policy in the U.S. any time soon,” says Mark Vachon. “But that doesn’t mean we ought to put our pencils down. In fact, having business lead in this space might be exactly what we should do.”

However, as Vachon states in a 2011 Forbes article, the greatest growth opportunities are not in the US. According to the Ecomagination chief, the best greentech opportunities are in developing countries like China, Brazil, the Middle East.

“The world of developed-in-the-U.S.-and shipped-elsewhere is not really relevant,” says Vachon. “You have to be locally relevant and being locally relevant at the R&D phase and partnering with local universities within those geographies is a way to do that.”

“I did presentations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” he added. “It’s just fascinating to be in this fossil-fuel Mecca and be surrounded by this concerted effort to shift to renewables. That’s incredible.”

“This design signal we’re getting from the marketplace is affordability, efficiency and environmental sensitivity,” says Vachon. “And those design signals turn out to most loudly expressed in developing countries.”

GE has applied those lessons at home as well. Last year it launched the $200 million ecomagination Challenge to crowdsource ideas for the smart grid and other green technologies and teamed up with venture capital firms to invest in promising early stage startups.

“I think it’s clear, particularly in these fast moving spaces, that not all good ideas emanate within those four walls,” Vachon said of GE. “So casting a broader net, earlier in the process, is smart from just a plain innovation origination perspective. A lot of these technologies will morph and go places no one can predict today.”

The fact that the developing world is emerging as an incubator of innovation does not bode well for US global competitiveness in greentech.

“As the whole global dynamic shifts to the fastest-growing economies not being here, it’s just a big wake-up call to stay relevant”

© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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