China Entrepreneur Network Forum 2011
Resetting the World for a Sustainable Future
In focusing on localized solutions for a global health problem, Kevin McGovern believes he has created a template for sustainable enterprises. McGovern, chairman of the Water Initiative, explained during a panel discussion at this year’s China Entrepreneur Network Forum that his company’s proprietary system for purifying water at the point of consumption provides opportunities for small enterprises, is energy-efficient, and is more effective than large-scale water treatment plants.
The Water Initiative served as a prime example of the ideas presented during a discussion of “Resetting the World for a Sustainable Future,” at which panelists also touched on the challenges facing firms venturing into green and clean technologies, opportunities for entrepreneurs, and the importance of collaboration going forward.
“We are facing a new industrial revolution, and it involves all of us. Entrepreneurs need to think outside the black box that contains traditional business practices,” Otto Lin, CEO of the Nansha IT Park in Guangzhou, China, said. “To have a competitive advantage in the future, companies will have to think about creating a new culture that values sustainability.”
Alan Paau, Cornell’s executive director and vice provost for technology transfer and economic development, agreed that dramatic change is at hand, but noted that developing and commercializing new technologies will require a workforce with new job skills. “In the future, the jobs most in demand will be creativity-based, in areas such as information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, clean technologies, and agriculture,” he said.
Another critical challenge for establishing sustainability is energy use and security, said Jeff Tester, Croll Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. “We need to connect energy, economic development, and the environment to establish a sustainable future. Renewable energy sources are needed, but their availability is limited and costs are still high, compared to traditional energy.”
Tester suggested that one way to address this issue is to establish entities such as the Atkinson Center, which takes a multidisciplinary approach to supporting sustainable energy sources and reducing the use of fossil fuels by emphasizing renewables — such as biofuels, wind, and solar — as well as reducing energy consumption, and promoting alternate modes of transportation.
Removing barriers to greater acceptance of sustainable practices and technologies also will require collaboration and cooperation, panelists said.
“We are in a time of individualization, both personal and at the governmental level — and that is not good,” McGovern said. “To create lasting, sustainable, energy solutions we have to have cooperation. We have to find leadership through cooperation among nations, especially for water and energy.”
Tester said that the adoption of new technologies now sitting on the shelf may require government incentives. “You have to get people interested in new products and the benefits of sustainable technologies. One way to do that is to make them more affordable to produce and commercialize,” he said.