Greener on the Other Side

How the Internet Can Save the Planet
August 20, 2009, 7:16 pm
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In preparation for what I hope is a panel at SXSW (vote for it here) moderated by my esteemed boss lady Summer Rayne Oakes, I wanted to outline some of my personal thoughts on the lack of connectivity between the internet and the environment. My career sits at the nexus of these two revolutions. I’m working on an Internet startup designed to streamline the supply chain for sustainable fashion designers. It leaves me scrambling to learn everything I can about both movements, but often I feel like I have a leg on two banks of river.  Both revolutions are infants by all accounts, but what’s perplexing is their detachment.

Let’s start with the Internet. The Internet as an industry is not doing well. It’s immensely popular, innovative, socially, culturally, and educationally life alerting, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of money. YouTube (one of the examples used in Chris Andersons incomprehensive book ‘Free’) is estimated to have made around 200 million dollars last year. You may think to yourself, shit 200 million isn’t bad, but YouTube is ranked number 4 on Alexa making it by all means one of the most powerful sites on the entire web. Look up the number 4 energy company, the number 4 bio medial corporation or the number 4 financial firm and you’ll see how measly 200 million dollars is. I understand of course, that the Internet is still in its infancy, but when its number 4 player only makes 200 million dollars something is askew. Other than giants Google, Yahoo and Facebook few top sites have billion dollar potential. Twitter is ranked number 13 and hasn’t even decided on a revenue model yet. This means one of two things; It’s still way to early in the composition of the web to see how it will be profitable. Or, the Internet (generally speaking of course) really doesn’t know how to make money and what’s worse, may not be properly structured to. Before the first bubble burst VC’s and the average investor alike were more then willing to overlook short-term profitability for inconceivable long term potential. Now, as Web 2.0 comes to a close, the honeymoon is officially over. Looking from the ground up, the start-up community from coast to coast is all in a tizzy. Few of the thousands of start-ups with or without funding have the ability to convincingly answer that ever-important question, “what is your revenue model?” It makes sense to me why, up until the last few years the tech community wasn’t really worried about their revenue stream so the 20 some odd years of experience this industry does have, in some ways, isn’t applicable.

Now lets talk about the environment. In certain aspects a much older industry than the web, conservationism dates back to the 19th century. The “Green” movement however, is relatively new. I don’t love the term “green” but in this context it best describes the social and cultural progression we’ve seen in the last decade. When global warming finally hit the collective conscious we realized that the human being was at a pivotal moment in its existence. Soaring energy costs and turmoil in energy producing regions present catastrophic political and environmental problems, but also unrivaled economic opportunity. All of this has been muddled by an economic crisis and what should be an uncontroversial debate about health care that is instead a floundering political parties last gasp for air. I understand the valid concern for these extremely important issues but the environmental problems facing our planet exceed anything we can even imagine. The beauty is that our environmental woes provide the perfect solution to our long term economic instability. That fact has been skewed by an aforementioned political parties disenchantment with reality and scientific fact, the over branding of “Green” or “greenwashing” which has led many to ignore the issue much like they would any other overly branded concept and the poor assessment that technology will just fix everything when it becomes an imminent danger. All told, the environment needs a second wind.

In sum, these two larger then life movements both have some serious ailments but their problems appear to be tangentially related: The Internet is looking for a direction (a direction that actually makes money) and the environment needs a miracle of human collaboration and invention. That seems like a good fit to me.  For the last 20 years, and rightfully so, the tech community has devoted a tremendous amount effort to improving the Internet itself. Online tools are created before their true purpose and value is revealed. It’s kind of like getting dressed in the dark but with a closet full of great clothes. Now, there is an opportunity to develop specific platforms that aid in saving the planet. It melds perfectly with the idealism that surrounds the Internet and it’s a far greater cause then “connecting” upper middle class white kids. So get on board Internet people, you don’t have to pretend you are changing the world with a social net site for cat breeders…you can actually do it.


1 Comment so far
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Deep, dude. Deep.

Comment by Natalie

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