Have Copenhagen And Climategate Killed Green Tech?

Confidence in climate change may be at an all time low, but what scares Peter Judge is the possibility that the hype could start again

Copenhagen was a failure, the public doesn’t believe in man-made global warming, and emissions trading may be dead in the water. Those are the dismal highlights from the green tech world this week.

Most executives think sustainability is just for public relations, according to a survey which the Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU) carried out, at what will probably turn out to be the lowest point for enthusiasm about sustainability: just before Christams, just after the failed Copenhagen summit, amid the continuing storm of allegations arising from the stolen Climategate emails and during a very cold winter for the Northern Hemisphere.

Will government legislation make a difference?

The survey found, surprisingly, that executives want clarity on environmental legislation, but they are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the ability of governments to make any difference over climate change.

These execs could have something to please them this year, as Energy Star standards are coming out for servers and enterprise storage.

This might compensate them if carbon trading hits the buffers – which begins to seem a possibility. Even though the UK is bringing in CRC “cap and trade” regulations this week, a similar bill in the US has failed, and it remains to be seen whether President Obama will manage to have another attempt to get emissions trading passed into law.

Scrabbling around for something good to say, Iain Scott of the EIU said this is a “storm”, a blip in green confidence, which will be restored as people get back in line behind increasing efficiency and reducing energy use.

He also suggested a simile which I actually found almost as scary as the spectre of green failure. “The green situation,” he said, “reminds me of the situation with the Internet around 1995.”  In other words, he explained, sustainability is currently the preserve of green geeks, and it’s being put into practice in isolated pockets, while the rest of business is oblivious, skeptical, or downright derisive.

Green IT to follow the Internet model?

He may be right of course. But if he is, does this mean we can expect green to follow the same trail as the Internet?

That would mean five years of increasingly ludicrous hype, a hysterical green boom, followed by a green bust. The Internet went through a stupid phase where any dumb web store start-up could grab and burn millions of pounds of investment money, then go back for more. I’m really not sure I could bear green tech going through the same cycle.

Already, green tech is pulling in the biggest share of what venture funding there is at the moment, and we all know the low success rate of venture-funded startups in new areas. Environmental groups have begun to criticise the business models being built around the new economically-minded environmentalism. For instance, protestors from last summer’s climate camp dismissed emissions trading as a “scam” in a protest at the Carbon Exchange.

We all know that the Internet boom eventually gave way to Internet usage based on reality instead of hyped up fantasy, but it has taken years to get to that situation.

Is green tech going to have to go go through the same cycle?