Scientists can come up with 1,000 innovative ways to save the planet, but most of them won’t go anywhere until business gets on board. The future of green energy will rely on two key ingredients: brilliant scientists to develop the technology and sharp business strategists who understand and implement their work. All the idealist dreams in the world won’t amount to much if “green” technology does not sell.
Arizona State University recently attempted to merge science and business by bringing together 30 of the brightest students from across the country to study sustainable energy sources like solar, hydroelectric plants and power generating bacteria.
"Collaborative research is most effective," points out Jay Golden, a professor in ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability.
Students majoring in engineering and other sciences were encouraged to consider business principles of new technology. Golden says that business students' eyes don’t light up until they see the “green” profit potential in sustainability.
"They're looking at the cost, the tax incentives and what it will require to take this technology into the future," Golden said. "They are also the ones who will invest in these technologies as venture capitalists and who will own these companies."
The seminar reflects a broader trend at the participating schools to merge business and science. For example, ASU just graduated its first class of two-year Certificates in Sustainable Technology and Management, including an energy manager from the city of Phoenix. And the University of Michigan offers a three-year program where students receive an MBA and master's degree in environmental science.
The fellowship was a joint effort from ASU, Cornell University, the University of Michigan, Duke University and the American Council on Renewable Energy, and officials hope to make it an annual event, bouncing among the campuses.
"I'm just impressed with how many of these technologies are within our grasp," said Evan Berger, a 24-year-old MBA student at Columbia. "That gives me hope. Now, it's a matter of awareness for companies that are getting ahead of the curve. Science and business have operated in separate silos for too long."
While most people are aware of green-energy basics, like solar power, few are up to speed on the cutting-edge technology, like generating electricity from wastewater, said Kylene Yen, 21, a business major at the University of Michigan.
"A lot more could be done to educate people" about these issues, Yen said. "There is a basic level the general public knows about these technologies. I'm learning to appreciate the creativity of the new solutions being thrown around."
Business students need to learn how to explain science to peers, another student added.
The media have "made renewable energy very sexy," said Angelique Xanthopoulos, 29, a Duke MBA student. "But as a business professional, you need to be able to explain it in layman's terms, and present it in a way that's understandable."
Industry in general is beginning to pay attention to renewable energy, even if it’s not by choice.
"You can be a CEO and you can think that climate change is a lot of bunk . . . but your market is shifting, and you better pay attention," said Andrew Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan. He has written several books about corporate environmentalism.
Hoffman says that means that even if CEOs prefer to ignore environmental concerns, along with protesting environmentalists, they may soon find themselves doing so amid protesting shareholders.
Posted by Rebecca Sato
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